Kanpur, and my pet orangutan..

There is a 28-year old orangutan at the Allen Forest Zoo in Kanpur. He was a friend..

When we used to live there, Kanpur was a lesser polluted city perhaps. And the part of town we used to stay in, was a niche in its own.. The area in our backyard was a sprawling forest covering a significant area, and deep within it was a meandering canal named Thandi pulia.. Thandi, for the place was at least 5 degrees cooler than the city itself!

And beyond it, on the other end of the woods, were ruins of a hospital for the lepers. I have never been there, but I have heard about it from my mom.. The forest was a measure of quarantine in earlier times of the hospital. Now it stands desolate..

For reasons such as proximity, I was made familiar with considerably-wild animals (if not tigers!) from a very young age.. I would have almost learnt the timely calls of peacocks and other birds and what they meant had I lived there any longer; I was however, familiar with the timely visits made by the monkeys, langurs, raccoon, foxes and others, such as these.. There was always a raccoon in our bins, searching for food.. Peacocks in our garden! Once my mum caught me tapping on the glass panes of the window from inside, while eating a banana and a langur was staring at me, tapping on the window from the other side.. His black face and red eyes apparently made no scary impressions on me..

Thank God, I still hadn’t read Michael Crichton's Congo back then!


See? Reminiscing about Kanpur and my wild beginnings (LOL!) made me forget what I started writing about.. I was talking about my Orangutan friend! Firstly, NO, he didn’t belong to the forests behind my house.. He was, perhaps always, an esteemed resident of the Kanpur zoo..

The first time I was taken to the zoo, was with my dad and mom, and I had a banana in my hand.. I love bananas, yes, for some sustained, obscure evolutionary reasons of my primal origin maybe.. but I like bananas a lot! So, here too, I had a banana in my hand.. No wonder the monkey-cages were in absolute chaos!!

We saw this animal, we saw that animal, and then we came across this ground that holds within, two Orangutans – red in color, super hairy and too much of loose skin hanging around! The grounds had trees providing plenty of shades and a wide moat around it.. One of the orangutans were basking under the sun, while the other one was.. staring!

Staring directly at me! Or as I confirmed later, the banana.. Then it started walking towards me slowly, eyes sharp, expression unhinged, and movement unperturbed.. I made sure the moat was wide enough and glanced sideways to make sure my mum and dad were there.. The Orangutan stopped just at the other side of the moat and raised its arm towards me and opened its palm. A gesture, asking me for the banana!!

Suddenly I was the central attention among the public..

Everybody wanted to snatch off the banana from me, the 6 year old and give it off to the beast on the other side of the muddy water.. My dad asked me if I wanted to give, and that was when I almost felt obliged to give it up to the ape! I threw the banana as a missile, over to the other side and the monkey caught it in one hand, without much ado.. Show off!

Then it started jumping, making screeching sounds, showing teeth (a LOT of the sparkling white teeth!), and swaying its elongated arms wildly.. Man, it was happy! Even the lazy-ass-of-a-mate Orangutan lifted it’s head to see about the commotion. It went back to its slumber as this one refused to share the banana..

The trainer then came to us and said ‘Mangal is very happy! He says thank you..’ Mangal was the Orangutan that took my banana.. and it wasn’t so bad after all!

We started making repeated trips to the zoo after that, started looking after Mangal indirectly, feed it and well, just to make sure that it is there.. Give it some company, some more bananas.. We started knowing each other very well ever since, until the day we left Kanpur..

Mangal, meaning auspicious or prosperity is also the Devanagari name for the planet Mars..


10 years later, I and dad visited Kanpur again and surely made a trip to the zoo.. It’ll bring tears to the eyes if you see the condition of the zoo now, it’s a widely discussed and debated topic so I won’t comment much on that except only to say that we’re not disappointing anyone, this is always expected of us, anthropocentric narcissus that we are..

We went straight to the Orangutan enclosure and noticed lesser trees and more number of animals – about four now.. We didn’t know whether the beast I had made friends with was there anymore; the trainer was a different one anyways.. We hung around for sometime, the crowd around me was transient, a popcorn crowd – no bananas in sight!!

Dad broke the silence, shouted ‘MANGAL!’ called his name out loud.. twice, with halved expectations the other time..

The crowd turned, the animals turned, everyone taken aback.. but there was only one old, weak and fragile ape staggering its way towards us – Mangal! Me and dad had debated the mortality of apes, before coming to the zoo.. but the old son-of-a-beast didn’t die on us!! It took ages to come, with teeth all bared out again.. some broken, some blackened.. but the smile was no smaller than any I’ve ever seen in my life!

We took out the bunch of bananas that we had brought along and hurled it towards Mangal. He couldn’t catch it, but the enthusiasm was the same old, familiar one.. Only this time, it went back to the rest of his family to share it.. Minutes later, it walked back flanked by a female orangutan, possibly his wife.. and around them were little red balls of impish restlessness – grandchildren!

The scene was akin to the scene from Forrest Gump where Lieutenant Dan visits Forrest on his wedding day.. you just cannot describe it.. tears may roll down your eyes, but you don’t know how to describe the emotion in words..

The trainer came to us, a huge smile on his face, as we had given his audience quite a show.. ‘Aap Mangal ko jaante hain, sahib?’ Sir, how do you know Mangal?

‘Yes, He is an old friend of ours..’


A very old one indeed.. Sometimes, I’m sorry I grew up, I’m sorry I moved, I’m sorry time doesn’t stop, I’m sorry things don’t stay the same, I’m just sorry I pull away, I’m sorry I have to leave friends, I’m sorry that I have to miss them..

Kahaani - Part Review, Part Experience...

(Contains Spoilers!)

Saw the movie KAHAANI, and fell in love with my home, Kolkata all over again..

The thought that Vellore always tends to disappoint us, is perhaps a bygone trend now in my pre-final year.. for now I can safely say that we've got used to it! But it still manages to amaze us at times..

At times such as last Saturday.

The first 3 websites that turn up in Google upon typing 'KAHAANI VELLORE SHOW TIMINGS' show 2 theaters in Vellore, that are also part of the BIG CINEMAS chain, exhibiting the movie KAHAANI.. So as per the almost-an-established-rule-of-thumb, we start by the last minute and end up half hour late to this theater halfway across to the other end of the town.. only to see a Tamil 3D Horror movie being put up!

'Hindi cinema illa, only Tamil cinema..' declared the goon-ishly looking Humpty-Dumpty in front of the ticket counter. Probably a black-ticket dealer? Though I can't imagine why anyone would come to see this movie with the poster featuring a bloodied claw of a crow or something, which we were supposed to believe to be that of a demon - so forget about getting tickets in black..

'But.. but it showed hindi move Kahaani on your website!' I protested! Feeling crestfallen and panicky, the reason mainly being my accompanying Rupsa's mother and 2 cousins for this movie.. OR basically my being the only responsible and dependent guide in Vellore that you can get for free.. But it so happens that the theater-owners don't even know they have a website online!!

The fault, however, was mine. Why did I even bother!! 'Raghavendra Cinema Hall' has always been the savior.. I failed a loyalty test there!


Next was Sunday, where I'll formally introduce Rupsa's mother and her 2 cousins - Bonny di recently passed M.B.B.S. and on her way to study for an M.D. (she's one of those star genius ones, trust me! you, me are way too inferior..) and Tatai da is the senior-most (among us) fun-loving, funny, cheerful and way too amusing to get your bore-some time pass easy..

Anyway, to talk about KAHAANI would be to start the way the movie started, with the power-packed song, 'Kolkata!! Yo SEXY! AAMI SHOTTI BOLCHHI..' or maybe with the statement, 'It is a cracking thriller with the enjoyment quotient being directly proportional to the amount of time you spend thinking about the plot!' The more one tries to connect the dots would be to hyperbolise the incredibility of.. the movie? No, the script and it's proof-reading, maybe!

It's a Hollywood-ishly styled movie, without aping the West in any way.. The actors were finely chosen for they were tailor-made for this role. Vidya Balan is turning out to be our indigenous Merryl Streep! (Watched IRON LADY a few days back and felt the movie was chosen for Oscars just because of Streep's brilliant portrayal of Thatcher..) Where were we? Oh yeah, same emotions here.. While Vidya Balan continues to shine and eclipse other contemporary actors, Bengali actor Parambrata seems better as a young, emotionally vulnerable cop than Topshe! Nawazuddin Siddiqui is, for me, the second best actor in the cast portraying a hard-nosed and duteous IB officer and Saswata Chatterjee plays a roly-poly life insurance agent moonlighting as, quite ironically, a contract killer..

The Yellow Taxi and Mrs. Vidya Bagchi

Bob Biswas (played by Saswata), the contract killer, was another pick from the people.. 'Nomoshkar.. ek minute?' might be trending soon among the Indian population of creepy kids who like to play 'Secret agent-Secret agent' Parambrata was vulnerable like he always can be in his roles.. for him, Bonny di had remarked 'His frustration might lessen if he stops travelling by the late night trams..' So TRUE!

The story in the end, co-written by director Sujoy Ghosh and Advaita Kala is a cakewalk.. How the director had come up with his earlier movie HOME DELIVERY will always be a greater mystery than the one sitting at number 19 on imdb's list of the greatest thrillers of all time.. the most brilliant achievement was the cinematography and camera work done on the portrayal of Kolkata itself! After Baishe Srabon (Bengali movie), this is perhaps the second time the famous and romantically depicted machinery called Kolkata seems ominous and dangerously-frenzied!

Aaaaand.. now I'm missing home!

Oh, maybe the only down-side I found in the movie was the last 5 minutes of it. The not-so-needed narration in the famous voice of Amitabh Bacchan.. It could have been avoided, right? After a pacey unfolding of a thriller story, the movie only minifies its impact by finishing it slow on a piece of mythological relevance in the end..


The entire time, upto the climax, all of us were sitting tight with anticipation. The piecing-together-the-puzzle moment immediately after the climax got that softly-synchronized 'Ooh!' from everyone in the theater.. especially that from my Tamil friend Divya, the cleaning away the fingerprint parts; it was so loud that people actually turned around.. Overall, it was a satisfying Sunday after a disastrous Saturday!

It even reminded Divya, her debacle over how the people in Kolkata, pronounced her name as 'Dibba' the last time she visited (you have to agree that's funny!) and her forced request on how it is 'V' and not 'B!' ...maybe next time, they'll quote directly from the movie, 'Kolkata mein Divya, Dibba, sab same feelings!'

The catch of the day was however, Bonny di's comment.. Being an M.B.B.S. she was saddened at a particular event in the movie, where a surgeon, Doctor Ganguly is executed by Bob, the hired killer upon trying to help, by providing a missing link to the murder mystery.. she cried out,


A friend in need..

I was never really interested in poetry.. But sometimes, when I stumble upon it, I think it surely conveys more than prose. More than a movie. More than the drama. Few lines, packed with a few words, all in disguise! All trying to say something away from their literal meanings. Individual meanings for different individuals.. A taste of everyone in the small concavity placed near their hearts, their niche.

Yesterday I came across such a poem, 'Remains of the Past' by Javed Akhtar from his collection named Tarqash (meaning 'Quiver') that inspired me to make a decisive call. I don't know whether I could put up the entire poem here, but let me quote the first paragraph from it..

'A half-preserved stone statue,
A few old copper coins,
Mysterious jewels of blackened silver,
Some broken plates of brass
Were found in a desert
Under the ground...'

Is this what they call nostalgia? For after reading this poem, I stared at the wall and all my buried thoughts, the tension, unsolved issues started to surface.. I went with the flow and started jotting them down on my laptop! I don't write much abstract, for I'm a man of few words. But today I realized that I think in abstract quite fine..


No, he wasn't fine! Not one bit.. He was screaming silently - like a centrifuge, humming its way in revolutions, shaking, breaking, crushing, squelching cellular microorganisms into shreds; to bits and pieces. Everything around him seemed to spiral down to the same damning obscurity.. It was like he was drifting through time, but instead of passing through the entirety of it, he was being dragged into it further, deeper and deeper, like towards an apocalyptic finale! But time and again he realized that there was nothing apocalyptic about it.. He was just losing control of things around him. Things such as relations, understanding, assumptions, moments and he needed to get all those back in control again.

He was maybe waiting for a call. A call that cannot possibly take it all away, but maybe fraction it.. A call from a distant friend.


For all we know, the friend was drifting too, in the same muddy waters.. shrieking in silence, akin to the rigor of the suspended potential of a seconds' hand in the clock just before it strikes the next second, the next moment, in the anticipation of the next instant.. It was like standing at crossroads. Situations forcing her to choose one road, emotions pointing another, facts indicating towards the wrong direction while time is pointing at the last remaining road.. Heart though, wants her to stay at the crossroads. Move an inch towards one and she'll be betraying the other three.

She's yearned for an awaited call too. A call that cannot possibly put a stop to the drift, but definitely provide strength to withstand this nauseating impetus through time.. A call from that distant friend.


When in school, we used to call her driver 'Chomu!' for reasons unknown.. Honestly, I tried my best, even Abhirup did, but could not recall how we started calling him that! Actually, to think of it, Ashrujit started it.. and that too straight on his face, the daredevil that he was, and of course we thought he didn't know. Maybe he did, we never know now.. All I know was he used to detest us - taking advantage of Anita, her goodwill and her ride - the old Maruti Suzuki 800, green and forever-dented on the bumper to the back, on the left side..

Everyday, after school, she'd drop us at the Gariahat crossing, from where we used to manage our own way back to our homes.. Chomu used to flinch each time Ashrujit would point to some random hot girl on the footpath and shout out 'CHOK-CHOKE!' flashy! declaring it to everyone sitting in the car including Anita and her driver..

I didn't talk to Anita for a week, when she told me that Hedwig is the first casualty in the last part of Harry Potter series, a day after it was released and I was still to lay hands on the book.. Later I did the same to with, in retaliation, once I overtook her on the book.

When my mum was in the hospital, fighting cancer, she was the only one among the people who came to see her, who had brought flowers.. These are the half-preserved stone statue, a few old copper coins, mysterious jewels of blackened silver, the broken plates of brass that we find in a desert under the ripples in our head.. I never forget such things and hold on to them like my siblings.


'A half-preserved stone statue,
A few old copper coins,
Mysterious jewels of blackened silver,
Some broken plates of brass
Were found in a desert
Under the ground...'

'That desert where
once upon a time,
a city stood'

Finally, I did it last night. I gave her a call and had a long talk, a long conversation, where we spoke and listened equally.. the drift stopped, momentarily, for both of us and we felt solid ground again! 'Hey.. yeah I'm fine.. actually no, I'm not!' Time seemed to stop by and listen to what we had to say, maybe felt sympathetic too, if the system permit..

Anyways, The drift started again today morning, though this time I knew I could take a break and step down on terra firma, at times in between.. for I know that I'm not alone!