THE STRANGER



Life is made up of moments. Some small, some large, some sweet, some bitter. They come, they go. But some linger on, longer than usual,  and become memories. Today I am opening my memory vault to narrate a story that has left an indelible mark on my life. My university education along with the rich and inclusive Bengali culture had given me a certain secular outlook on life which I was proud of. But this incident changed it all. It made me question myself, and altered the course of my life forever….

It was the time of assembly elections in Bengal. I was on training for my election duty. My interactive session was over by 12 oclock and we were instructed to assemble again by 2.30 pm. As I had enough time during the lunch recess I just looked for a quiet spot on the lawn, opened a novel and started reading. Through the corners of my eyes I could see a person who was sitting a few yards apart looking at me. After a few minutes he got up and walked up to me.

The Stranger : What are you reading?
Me : (For God’s sake just leave me alone) Oh! Just a novel by Agatha Christie.
The Stranger : Is it any good?
Me : (Why don’t you mind your own business) It’s just a thriller. Good way to pass the time though.
The Stranger : Can I sit here?
Me : (Fuck off) Sure.
The Stranger : Are you here on election duty?
Me : (No, I am here to sell pakoras) Yes.
The Stranger : What do you do?
Me : (None of your business) I work for a Nationalized Bank.
The Stranger : So they give election duty to Bank employees now. Huh!
Me : Yes, just my luck. What do you do?
The Stranger : Oh I am a driver at the local BDO office. How is life in the Bank?
I could see that this fellow was not going to leave me alone. So, I finally closed the book I was reading and we started chatting. After 15-20 minutes of conversation( if you could call it that, he was mostly doing the talking, and I the listening), during which we became fast friends, he pointed out that It was time for lunch, “Aren’t you hungry yet?”. “Indeed I am”, I said. “Have you brought lunch from home?”, he asked. “No, I have not”, I replied. “Let’s find a cheap restaurant to eat then”, he said. We agreed and together we went in search for a place to eat.

 After about a 100 metres we found one which looked clean and tidy enough. I was about to enter it when I heard my new friend cry out, “Don’t go in there”. “What’s the matter?”, I asked. “This place is not right. Lets eat somewhere else”, he replied. I was confused. I followed his furtive glance and saw the name of the place, NAZEER FOODS : Indian and Mughlai. Pure and Halal Food. Now I understood. My stomach was already growling and I thought, seriously, now we are going to play Hindu-Muslim at this point of crisis. I was about to say something when he again pleaded, “Bhai, lets go someplace else.” Bloody racist, I thought. But I acquiesced. So, we went in search for a sudh Hindu restaurant.  

Looking around I saw that this was a Muslim area. I was now in an indulgent mood.
Me : This looks like a Muslim neighbourhood.
My Dear Friend : Yes, looks like it.
Me : The place is swarming with these people. Slowly they seem to take over the whole city. It will be difficult to find a Hindu restaurant here.
My Friend : Lets keep looking.
So, we kept on walking. After about 10-15 minutes of walking a signboard greeted us: Radhey Shyam Hotel. At last. Hunger was practically playing a KKR vs CSK IPL final in my stomach. So we promptly ordered two plates of fish and rice (the quintessential Bengali delicacy called Maach-Bhat). The food was good and we had our hearts fill.

After the hearty lunch as we were walking back we noticed a shop selling paan and cigarettes.
My Dear Friend : Do you smoke?
Me : No. But you carry on. I don’t mind.
My Dear Friend : No Bhai, some other time.
Me : All the walking and searching for the perfect restaurant seems to have paid off. The food was good.
My Dear Friend : It was indeed.
By the time we were in sight of our destination I was very thirsty. We bought couple of bottles of Bisleri. As I was drinking the water my friend remarked, “It was nice meeting you.”
Me : I am glad too meet you as well. By the way I forgot to ask your name.
My Dear Friend : Mohd. Ansari.

My jaw dropped open…..


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