“Basically, you are a Refugee!”
A huge round of thunderous laughter serenaded Shambo’s living room in Gurgaon.
It was the occasion of the house warming party for the new apartment that Shambo had managed to buy in one of those luxurious apartment blocks in this new city. The EMI will cut a deep hole inside his pocket, but the name plate on the door would more than make up for it.
Shambo’s mother still refers to Gurgaon as “Dilli”. Shambo had failed to explain that Gurgaon was more of an excuse in the name of a city. He went out one day to find a proper book store nearby his house, but had failed to find one. The look of disgust on his face was so palpable that the “autowallah” had to ask – “Kya hua bhaissab, sab thik to hain na?”
Yet, this place was his home now. He has managed to buy his own house here, with his own money. For every single thing that he hated Gurgaon for, he respected the place for giving him a job, an identity and the financial independence that his home town could never give him. Gurgaon valued his hardwork and tenacity.
“What happened, Refugee? Can we have some more beer please?”
It was Bhatia again. Harish Bhatia was an otherwise happy go lucky person, if he did not insist on telling every time that the flocks of jobless youth from West Bengal coming to Gurgaon and Delhi every year was alarming.
“Even my maid is a Bengali, yaar. All these Refugees.”
There was no point talking to Bhatia about who were designated to be Refugees in the international parlance. Simply, because he would refuse to understand.
Instead, Shambo decided to smile.
Interestingly, giving company to Bhatia today was his dear friend Ambarish. Ambarish and he attended college together and had come to Gurgaon together to join their first job here. Both were young and even though Ambarish switched jobs and did not end up doing as well as Shambo, their friendship survived.
“Arrey Bhatia, Shambo is a born Refugee”
“What Ambar” Bhatia could not pronounce the tough Bengali syllables of Ambarish’s name “even you are a Refugee from Bengal, why are you switching sides now”
“Arrey really, Bhatia. Ask him how his ancestors crossed the borders and came to India from Bangladesh. All Refugees had flooded Calcutta then. I am not a Refugee, he actually is one”
“What? when? There must be a law and order issue”
“There was. all these people made the roads terrible. They used to stay on streets. Right Shambo? Arrey tell Bhatia about your shanty in Jadavpur. Where are you hiding?” Ambarish started laughing out loud.
“Oh my god! Roy yaar, do not tell me that you are not an Indian. You came illegally here?”
Shambo tried to brush off the jokes which did hurt him in one little corner of the heart. Yet, he was the perfect host for the day. More than Bhatia, it was Ambarish’s words which hurt him more.
Ambarish belonged to one of those very well to do families of Calcutta. He stayed in palatial bungalow off Swinhoe Street, one over which his father and uncles are still fighting a messy legal battle. His ancestors traced their roots from a landlord’s family in modern day West Bengal. Partition for them was a historical mistake. One which made the city they lived in, once full of European grace and grandeur, filled with filth and hungry countrymen from across the border.
Shambo’s road to this posh Gurgaon apartment was not filled with perfect birthday party frames that hung on Ambarish’s mother’s bedroom at their Ballygunge house. His parents came to Calcutta during the 1971 war. The cathartic war had made his father a completely bitter man. Or so he had heard. He was born a few years later in their small dingy one room house in Jadavpur that they rented. His father who was a school master in Mymensingh, had to take up the job of an electrical plumber here. His mother whose home was her world till a war changed everything, sewed dresses and blouses for their neighbours and made ends meet.
They could never send Shambo to the elitist English medium school that Ambarish attended, but they tried to give him their best – an upbringing that he was proud of.
“Come on Ambarish, you at least know a bit of history and your general knowledge is not that bad” Shambo retaliated while taking a dig at Bhatia who was a constant source of fun for his lack of general knowledge, one thing that every Bengali prided upon “It was an international Refugee crisis”.
“Ha ha ha, do not make it sound political Shambo. Remember we used to call you a Refugee in college. Are you guys still sitting over that piece of land that you forcibly acquired in Jadavpur? It has become prime property now.” Ambarish’s voice was not steady. He did not lose control so easily just by having 3 beers. Shambo knew that.
Shambo’s parents still stayed in Jadavpur – in that small dingy one room. For them, it was the world. Probably, they would visit his house one in Gurgaon and then pester him all over again to get married.
“Arey Bhatia, you do not know these Refugees from Bangladesh…all Bangals. They have forcibly taken away land and sitting over them.”
“What Roy? even you are fellow Bengali is now calling you a Refugee. and I get to know that you are not even an Indian. Show me your passport yaar. I hope you are not a spy.”
the laughter spilled over,
“I am an Indian. More than you guys. Shut up folks.” Shambo smiled and tried to maintain his cool.
He remembered the day when Ambarish first came to know about his decision to buy this apartment. It followed the news of his promotion as a Vice President in the European multinational that he worked for.
“You have marched long ahead in this race, my friend.” Ambarish had said. He still stayed in a shared rented accommodation with his colleagues from his new office.
Shambo suddenly had remembered that time when it was the time for their first yearly appraisals. They had the same boss to report to and while he had written rave reviews for Shambo’s performance, Ambarish was given a slight warning for being non committal and laidback.
“Lucky dog! That uneducated North Indian couth has fucked up my review.” Ambarish had said.
“Chill bhai. And you know Sudhir bhaiya is one of the best technical experts in this office. He loves Bengalis.”
“Dhurr, you will say that only..bloody you are a oil vending machine for him.”
Shambo had kept quiet and laughed that day.
“Such a horrible thing yaar. Where will they go? And just for them, Greece has become so unsafe now. My sister was planning he rhoneymoon there, now they will have to go somehwere else….foreign”
The centre of conversation had now shifted to the Syrian refugee crisis. The montage of images thousands of homeless people arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos and trying to gain access to mainland Europe was being constantly shown on BBC. Shambo had recently purchased this huge High definition LED television set along with a home theatre system.
“Come on Bhatia. This is a real humanitarian crisis and all your Punjabi brain could think about was your sister’s fancy honeymoon?” Ambarish was back to being the well read and well aware Bengali that he generally was.
“Oye, do not give gaali, okay..you Bengalis polluting my city.”
A laughter full of banter broke out again while a ‘Refugee’ who had crossed thousands of miles on a dingy boat across the sea to reach a ‘safer’ place was being interviewed.
“How is the TV guys?” Shambo chipped in.
“Amazing dude and the false ceiling also – looks straight out of a Bollywood movie set” Bhatia was seemingly under the influence of alcohol by now.
“Seriously re, You have just built a palace. Just the chandelier could have been a bit brighter.”
“Really, will replace it then. After all, I can afford to do that. No landlord’s permission required for me anymore” Shambo winked “It is my house, bought with my money and a result of my hardwork”.
He noted that Ambarish looked at him and then looked back at the TV where the ‘Refugee’ spoke about his dreams of learning, working hard, and making a future here in a new country.