Torrential rains lash out against the glass panes. Gusts of wind enter through a gap from the exhaust fan in the kitchen, whistling. But the sounds of nature get muffled by the news debate on TV.
Ghosh Babu looks at the clock. An hour to go before his wife lays out the spread on the dining table. His mouth begins to water. Khichdi has always been his favourite. But it’s the roe of the hilsa as its accompaniment which makes his wait seem eternal.
“Baba!” The little imp chooses that precise moment to interrupt his reverie.
“What now?” he bellows.
His ten-year-old son looks him in the face. “I need crayons for my school project. Now!”
Ghosh Babu tries to recollect a day when he did the same in front of his baba, but fails. Memories of flying Bata chappals come rushing in, and he shrugs them off hurriedly.
He opens his mouth to utter something, but pauses when his wife barges in. The devil looks at his mother with an innocent expression and mumbles, “I need some money to buy crayons, ma.”
The lady of the house gasps, eyes widened like Ma Durga. “In this rain, Bumba? Are you crazy? Which sane human will go out?”
Ghosh Babu can’t believe his ears. Is she supporting him? When did this miracle happen? His chest puffs up like a balloon.
“I will send baba.”
Balloon deflated, he gets up and coughs four times. The glare from his wife seals the deal. Bumba running out of crayons is a calamity worse than mustard oil vanishing from Bengali households.
Giving in to the inevitable, Ghosh Babu takes out a huge black umbrella from his wardrobe. He slips his feet into a pair of Hawaii chappals. His hilsa-sized ego has taken a severe beating. Do they think he is a coward to be scared of the rains? No. He will show them who’s the boss.
He emerges out of the house.
The black dog in the street scurries away. Ghosh Babu crosses the road. The sweetmeat vendor next to the stationary shop yawns. The display is tempting, but Ghosh Babu makes the ultimate sacrifice required of a Bengali father. He ignores the roshogollas, and concentrates on the greater goal. On the way home, his foot comes into contact with a stone, and he almost stumbles over. He clutches onto the precious treasure. However, in the milieu, he loses grip of the umbrella.
Muttering a curse, he manages to reach home, soaked to the bone.
“Did you damage the crayons?” his wife asks.
Ghosh Babu shakes his head. He resists the urge to fling them in her face, and limps to the bedroom to get the bottle of Eucalyptus oil for his watery nose. His ankle is sprained. But there’s nothing a tube of Boroline cannot cure. And not to forget the manna from heaven – the hilsa!
Babu – Bengali term for Mister
Boroline – An antiseptic cream without which a Bengali feels incomplete
Baba – Father