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Monday, July 05, 2010


Personal History - Voices and Memories


Small Things

Fireworks displays and picnics are over.  The long, July 4th weekend came and went. And it was warm.  We have not had many such days this summer.

For me, like most septuagenarians, the number of friends from the past is shrinking.  Didn't have many of them to count on in the first place.  But there are friends that one thinks of because memories of the days and events associated with them are pleasant. 

So,  when a 92-year old friend, who made a habit of keeping in touch for decades stopped communicating it was cause for concern......he had not acknowledged two letters and photographs that I mailed.  He lived alone in New Jersey. I thought of calling  him but kept putting it off because I dreaded the thought that no one might pick up the phone or, worse still,  a recorded message from the telephone company that the "number is no longer in service". 

One day, last week I took the plunge and called.  What a pleasure it was when Charlie answered the phone.  Not as strong but it was the same, deep voice I knew.  Said he was in hospital for kidney infection and feels weaker.  Charlie never married. I brought him upto date with news of my children and grand children. Talked about the weather here in San Francisco Bay area and in New Jersey; the shenanigans of politicians, and the dismal outlook for our country.  A voracious reader, Charlie is always surrounded by books (non-fiction) and reads The New York Times.  He can no longer go down and cross the street to buy the newspaper but someone delivers it to him. 

When we ended the conversation I thought of Kolkata in 1969 when I first met Charlie. The  monsoon rains that brought all public transport to a halt.  A bad time for me and my colleagues. Often, a driver of one of the office cars was instructed by Charlie to take us home.

                                        Kolkata - Rickshaw puller on a waterlogged street
                 Source: http://www.corriere.it/Media/Foto/2003/10_Ottobre/07/calcutta.jpg

Then there were days when he ordered kathi rolls from Nizam.  The office smelled of spicy chicken kababs, grilled over flame on skewers,  and onions.  Rolled in greasy parathas, they were a treat.

Time marches on.  American Export Lines, the  steamship company that Charlie and I worked for no longer exists.  The business of shipping has changed, many functions performed by people have become automated, impersonal.  In those days the ships carried crates of tea, rolls of jute, bales of  hide and human hair, from Kolkata to the United States. Now ships carry cargo containers and until one looks at the shipping manifest the contents remain unknown. Progress....in a way, yes.  Being put on hold by a recorded voice and then listening to canned music and required to go though pushing buttons on the key pad is also progress according to the corporations that subject us to shoddy service.  And so it goes.


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