Calcutta 1955. I had passed my inter-science examination with first class. Getting a first class then, was rare, an achievement. For our traditional traders’ family, science biology was an unusual subject. My brothers after graduation in commerce had all started to work. As if to assert my individual identity I decided to opt for medicine for further studies.
No competitive examination was then required for entry. Selection was on the basis of intermediate marks. With first class, I had a fair chance of admission to MBBS course.
There were four medical colleges in Calcutta, one government and three private. I applied for admission to all the four. Apart from state quotas, and few donation seats in private colleges, there were no reserved seats then. Having done my intermediate from Bengal I was a domicile of the state.
I did not get shortlisted in the government medical college. I was shortlisted and called to appear before the admission board of the first private college. After checking my papers, the chairman asked, “You know Bengali?” On my answering in negative, I noticed members put a cross against my name in the sheet. My name was not in the selection list. On enquiry I learnt that to be able to interact with Bengali patients, a candidate was expected to know Bengali.
In the second private college when the same question “Bangla jano?” was asked, I cautiously replied “ektu ektu jani” (a bit, yes). A member, after looking up in the file asked, “tumar anko chhilo na?” (You did not have math?) I did not know anko means math. I thought he was enquiring about my domicile certificate. So I replied “it is there Sir.” “What is there?” the member shot back.
“My domicile certificate, Sir”. They all laughed. I was not selected. Interview in the third college. Same question, “Bangla jano?” This time I was ready with the reply, “Jani Sir. Boojte pari. Kintu aamar practice nei, bhalo kore bolte pari na.” (I know Sir, I understand it. But lacking practice I can’t speak it well.)
“Tumi to khoob bhalo bol chho. Banglaye utter davo.” (You are speaking it very well. Answer in Bengali) he commanded. I felt, I was caught. One member asked, “Tumaar anko chhilo na?”(You did not have math?) “Na sir.”( No sir) I replied confidently.
Another member, “Tumi metric Bareilly thike korle, tar aage kothai chhile?” (you did your matriculation from Bareilly. Where were you before that?) “Rajsthan” “Are you a Marwari?” “Yes Sir!” I answered perhaps with unnecessary firmness.
“You appear to be pretty proud of being a Marwari. Achha bolo to Rajasthan kise’r jonya famous?”(Tell us what is Rajasthan famous for?)
It was obvious I was being cornered. I resented it. Reflexly, clenching my fist I said, “For bravery, for valor!”
He laughed, and in a sarcastic tone asked, “Besh! Rajasthaner bahadur loge’r naam bolo to.” (Good! Name some braves of Rajasthan.) With a gusto I started, “Prithviraj Chauhan, Raja Man Singh, Maharana Pratap, Chhatrapati Shivaji…” “Shivaji?”
I realised my mistake. “I am sorry Sir. He was a Maratha, but he is so very famous in Rajasthan that we take him to be our own hero.” Some of the members nodded in approval but the member (I learnt later he was from communist party) did not let it go. In a sarcastic tone he persisted “Why didn’t you say Rajasthan is famous for Birlas.”
It was too much for me. I tersely replied, “Sir, excuse me. Do you think if you become rich tomorrow, Bengal will be famous for you?” It was a clumsy inappropriate answer but before I could apologise, the member with a Gandhi cap interjected “Besh bole chho!” (Well said!)
I was apprehensive. Like the earlier two colleges I expected the same fate here. But contrary to it my name was in the selection list. I was admitted to the prestigious R G Kar Medical College, the oldest private college of the country. There were many students from other states.
States that did not have a medical college of their own had a quota of seats for the government sponsored students, from Kashmi to Kanyakumari and Gujrat to Nagaland. There were seats for foreign countries also. It was a very happy mix. I had no difficulty to learn Bengali. Cuss words to begin with. Bengali cinema’s heroines greatly helped.
Till we started speaking in Bengali there was a feeling of Bengali — Non Bengali and feeling of alienation. Interaction in Bengali led to easy acceptance. However, there was an undercurrent of resentment against Marwaris in general public left encouraged sentiment of haves and have-nots.
Apart from acquisition of professional competence, it is here that life’s lessons were learnt; it shaped my entire life, gave me all that I needed. The sweet sour experiences — My Bengali friend. I used to visit him at his home frequently and was well accepted in the family. His eight-year-old little sister was my special friend in the family. Fair, frail looking, angel faced and delicate, I had named her Dear Delicatus or DD.
I used to tell her tales, show magic tricks and always brought for her favourite chocolate. One day I was with my friend when she returned from school. She dumped her school bag and still in her school uniform rushed to me. She collected her chocolate from me and munching it suddenly asked her brother, “Dada, Kabra da ki Marwari?”(Dada, is Kabra da a Marwari?)
Little surprised my friend answered, “Han! keno?” (Yes! But why?) “Kintu inee to khoob bhalo lok” (But he is a very fine person), she said innocently still munching her chocolate. My friend was embarrassed, but recovering from it he teased her, “Keno tomake chocolate deya se jonai he bhalo lok?” (Just because he brings chocolate for you, he is nice person?)
“Na! inee khoob bhalo lok”(No, he is a very fine person), she said emphatically. “Ki kore jan’li”(How do you know?)
“Aami jani, aami cheente pari, inee khoob bhalo lok”(I know. I can discern, he is a very fine person), she asserted.
“Tuma ke ke bol’lo Marwari bhalo lok hoy na?”(Who told you Marwaris are not good people?)
“Class teacher’re mey aamar songe podhe, shay ee”(My class teacher’s daughter, my classmate, she told me)
“Kabra da ke bol o’r joney o chocolate ene debe”(Ask Kabra da to bring chocolate for her also), said my friend closing the dialogue and asked her to go and change her dress.
Pure innocence! How I loved her asserting “Aami jani, aami cheente pari. inee khoob bhalo lok “(I know. I can discern. He is a very fine person). There could not be a better expression of pure innocent love.
After graduating in medicine and house job, I moved to Udaipur in the mid sixties. There was a sizable population of Bengalis in Udaipur. Because of my Calcutta background and ability to fluently converse in Bengali I was accepted by the city’s Bengali community as one of them.
I was in Calcutta for 11 years. It was a pleasant surprise for me to learn, later, that DD my Dear Delicatus, was married to a Bengali boy in Udaipur. At the reception, there she was, dressed in bridal sari, hands full of red and ivory bangles, magal sutra and sindoor.
“Ki re! Marwari dada mone aachhe? Cheente paachhish?” (Do you remember Marwari dada? Able to recognise?)
Narrowing her eyes and looking straight in my face, she replied, “ki kore cheenbo, hathe je chocolate nai” (How could I recognise, there is no chocolate in your hand).
Bride asking for chocolate? They all laughed when I told them the story of “Kintu inee to khoob bhalo lok”.