Watching celebrity chef Rick Stein’s series on India on Amazon Prime was like walking back in time, says Lakshmibai Thampuratty. The Kolkata chapter of Rick Stein’s India brought back cheerful images of her days in the City of Joy where she had been to two years ago.
One of her enduring memories is that of the endless hours spent in the National Library of India in Alipore. Since language was a stumbling block, finding one’s way to any particular destination was no easy matter. So she sought an easy way to fix the problem. Lakshmibai set the name Shakespeare Sarani Police Thana on her Uber app which she would diligently press while waiting for her taxi at Gate No 4. Innumerable gates were leading to the library with each gate given a number for easy identification. Ultimately, Gate No 4 became her main waiting point.
The story goes back to one afternoon while Lakshmibai was waiting at her gate after booking an Uber ride when her attention was caught by what looked like an autorickshaw stand very much like the ones in Kerala. But it turned out to be a rickshaw stand. As there still was quite some time for her taxi to arrive, Lakshmibai slowly walked up to the rickshaw stand.
Though she toyed with the idea of taking a rickshaw ride home, she put the idea off as the distance to her destination was way too far. But something kept pulling her back. How could she possibly not enjoy Kolkata’s joyous rickshaw ride while in the city? Getting back home without one such ride looked ridiculously silly. Well, if I can’t have a ride, I might as well have a picture of myself inside a rickshaw, she told herself. She looked around, but the rickshaw-pullers, least expecting a ride, were seated in a shop close by engrossed in something else. There were two of them, one quite young and the other, pretty old. The old man reminded Lakshmibai of Sathyan who essayed a memorable role in the Malayalam classic “Odayilninnu”. Both seemed to be resigned to the reality that they would have no more rides for the day.
The younger rick puller was busy punching on an old mobile phone. Lakshmibai pulled out her phone and turned on her camera. She then went up to him and asked him whether he could click a picture of her seated inside the rickshaw. She, however, made it clear that all she wanted was a picture, not a ride. The man was on his feet in an instant. He grabbed the phone from her and looked all set to click that famous picture. In the meanwhile, Lakshmibai struck the right pose and perched herself inside the vehicle. But the photographer was still fidgeting with the phone. He twiddled the device through his fingers and finally asked her: “Didi, how does one take a picture with this phone”? A small tutorial later, Lakshmibai struck her pose once again.
Her efforts were not in vain, for the novice lensman clicked picture after picture of amazing shots. Thrilled to bits, Lakshmibai got down only to realize that there seemed to be something amiss around. Gone was that atmosphere of bonhomie. The man was in no mood to return the phone. He went prancing around, clicking at whatever he set his eyes on.
Anxiety set in. How to get the phone back? Besides, the taxi would arrive in a matter of minutes. What if the man refused to return the phone? By now, it looked like the scene was taking a different turn with the old man also getting excited at the turn of events, transforming himself into a model and striking different poses for the youngster. It was then that an idea struck her. The good old story of the monkey and the cap seller flashed by! An oft-told story in school, Lakshmibai remembered reading it in Balarama, the children’s classic which all kids in Kerala could relate to, once.
So, in cap seller style to the monkeys, she said: “You’ve been kind enough to take so many pictures for me. How about me taking a few pictures of yours? You pose for me, I’ll do the rest”. Thrilled at the prospect, the young man handed over the phone to her and struck innumerable poses. Lakshmibai hid her amusement and took several pictures. The exercise seemed to go on and go when much to her relief, she got a call from the Uber driver. He was waiting for her at Gate No 4.
“My taxi is here. Let me go now. We’ll take more when I see you next”, said the young lady before fleeing the scene. Once inside the taxi, she could not help taking a look back. There stood the man turning his old Nokia feature phone around. For a moment, she choked on her emotions. But then as the car gathered speed the image of a man longing for something he could not have also begun to blur.
(Author is an Assistant Professor at a government college and a classical dancer)