Everything was going well in his life, when Dr. Chatterjee suddenly found everything had gone wrong. He was a doctor, for Heaven’s sake, and he didn’t know that his wife was harbouring a lethal infection. She complained of a slight headache, then a more acute pain, and the next thing she was dead.
He worked in the busy emergency department of a large hospital, invariably kept long hours, and was admired by colleagues for his unstinted devotion to work. His patients loved him, both for his skill and his genial bedside manner. Now he discovered that he could work the way he did only because his wife had run the rest of his life punctiliously like clockwork.
What would he do now? What could he do, most of all, about his twelve-yearold son whom his wife had just placed in a new school? How should he look after him and find the time to help him with his books or his sports?
He turned to his friend and erstwhile patient, my father. The moment my father heard the school the son had joined, he called me.
“This boy has just lost his mother,” he told me, “and his father, Dr. Chatterjee, is a very busy emergency room doctor. If he has to attend to his son, his patients would go without care. The boy has joined your school, he goes to the same class. So I am putting you in charge.”
He continued, “From next week, you will escort him to school and bring him back with you. He will stay with us during the week. Your mother and I will look after him at home. Outside, he will be your responsibility. The weekends you will take him to his father’s apartment in the hospital. All other times, you must look after him and be his best friend.”
He added, as a final word, “Remember, you have a mother. He hasn’t.
”Come Monday week, I took him to school in a bus. When his father came to drop him off, he wore new, well-ironed clothes and well-polished shoes. I noticed now: he was an exceptionally good-looking lad, tall, lithe, lustrous dark hair, large soft eyes and a truly remarkable face with chiselled features. He had his father’s grace and mellifluous voice. He held my hands and thanked me for my company.
He had a somewhat imposing first name, and I wondered if I should float the idea of a simpler first name. The idea became moot by the end of second day of school. His classmates had already dubbed him the Prince.
Prince was very intelligent, but not particularly interested in studies. He did all right in his classes and tests, and I could report so dutifully to his father and mine. I also reported, to their satisfaction, that he was well accepted in the school. This was a gross understatement, for in a few short weeks, he was one of the most popular boys in the school. This had to do doubtless both with his gracious manners and his sterling looks. As his popularity and circle of friends grew, our closeness waned, but we remained good friends and saw a good deal of each other.
Our paths parted after school. I went to a premier college, where the accent was relentlessly on academic performance. He chose a middling college where a clever sort like him could sail through without demanding diligence. He could do better, but did not have to.
Less than a year into college, at a private party Prince met a film director who was searching for a new face to cast in his next movie. To his father’s distaste, Prince ducked out of college and took the role. The film was a minor hit, and got him further offers. His next three films were all hits. He became the biggest name in the film studios of eastern India,facetiously called Tollywood. He got calls from Bollywood, the rich, mammoth studios of western India. Prince soon became a star not just in India or South Asia, but also in the Middle East and east Europe.
Five years ago, on a rare visit to India, I went to a social event my brother, a movie producer, hosted. Amidst all the banter and laughter, I thought I heard a voice I recognised and turned immediately. It was Prince all right.
As he held my hand with his hallmark grace, the mellifluous voice prompted, “Tell me, where have you been all these many years?”
(The writer is a Washington-based International development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected])