Few Old Men

Craftiness and nastiness of some old men become folklore among others. Arindam profiles a few old men, known for their bojjathi, in a lighter vein. No offence meant to anyone, living or dead.

As men grow old, they become mellow or melancholic. The term ‘bojjath buro’ is fairly common in Bengali. Bojjath, though untranslatable is a mix of bitter, crafty and nasty. It also has a dash of a calculating and scheming mind. Such a person is difficult, obstinate and might sting sharp, with words and action.

Strangely, the term bojjath buro, is both an endearment and an insult, depending on the tone and facial expression of the speaker. The nastiness and craftiness of some old men become folklore among friends. And such people, alive or dead, stay alive in our adda (aimless chatter).

I present different shades of bojjathi of some old men that I picked up in various addas among family, friends and kin.

Selective Blindness: The archetypal bojjath buro is a person with selective blindness. He fails to recognize girls and women. He feigns blindness. He attempts to identifydamsels by touching her face and arms. His hands always stray to the ‘objectionable’ areas of a woman’s anatomy by mistake. How can you blame him? He can barely see. If there is a guy, he does not need to touch them. His eyesight is good then. Such a guy is the bojjath dadu (grandpa). Sisters, cousins and sisters-in-law caution each other about such a guy, among sniggers and giggles. Almost every city, every locality has one such seemingly harmless, lost dadu. His sly innocence is exemplary!

Action Speaks Louder than Words: Khan Sahib (withholding first name) was feared by one and all. His many sons, grandsons and their wives – 26 of them – held him in awe. He was  unpredictable. Strangely, he never yelled or threw tantrums. He would do such a thing that would embarrass all, while he sat outside, smoking his hukka as if nothing happened.

This is an incident about 15 years back. In many localities, water supply was erratic and scarce. One had to fill buckets and drums. Khan Sahib had asked the women, addressing no one in particular, as is the tradition in Indian families, to fill water. He asked them gently, a few times. But, busy with their household chores, they forgot to do so. Eid was round the corner. The womenfolk trooped out, clad in burkha, to the market. Khan Sahib decided to fill water instead. He filled every available utensil – glass, bowls, plates, etc. Not satisfied, he plugged the drains in the rooms, verandah, courtyard with pieces of bricks and rags and filled the entire house with water.

When the womenfolk returned home, Khan Sahib was sitting in the verandah outside the home, smoking his hukka peacefully. Shocked to see the entire house filled with water, including every utensil, one of them mustered courage and asked, gently, “Aap ne itna pani kyon bhara?” (Why did you fill so much water?). Khan Sahib merely said, “Aap sab ko teen char din aaram rehega.” (You all may relax for three to four days).

Here we have a cool bojjath. Why yell and shout? Action speaks louder than words!

Meal Deadline: Nidhu Babu (name changed) was known for his punctuality to the point of absurdity. He was a retired person. Rain or shine, his meal deadline, lunch at 12.30pm and dinner at 7.30pm, would never change. Not even by a minute. The clocks might go wrong but not Nidhu Babu. The women were scared lest they miss the right time. They had nicknamed him as ‘Ghori Babu’ (Watch Sire). He would sit on the dining table, all by himself, outside the kitchen and cough audibly. That was the signal he had arrived. If the meal did not reach him within few seconds, he would scoop and cast away the rice from his bell-metal thaali (large plate), uttering in anger, “Baadh dilam” (removed it). If his meal arrived two or five minutes late, he would throw away the rice that he might have consumed in those two or five minutes from his plate onto the table. If the delay was 10 minutes, without saying a word, he would leave. No amount of persuasion or apologies would work. No one, not even gods, could feed him. This is an example of time bojjathi.

It would be unfair to talk of crafty old men alone. The story would lose balance, in newspaper parlance. Here’s a naughty example of a Good Samaritan.

A Chopped Hand in a Pocket: Lau da, a relative of ours, was a large man with a larger heart. A kind soul, he had created a cremation fund, wherein he set aside a portion of his penance, for the last rites of unclaimed bodies. Many moons ago, I had interviewed him for a newspaper that I was heading as bureau chief. I recount two interesting episodes that he had shared with me then.

He used to work in the Post & Telegraphs Department. Almost every day, he would take leave from office to attend funeral rites of one or the other person. His boss, popularly known as ‘Panditji’ (an endearment for a Brahman) was exasperated with his frequent leaves. One day, he decided to say “No”. Lau da had tiny pieces of bones, a small skull, some sea shells, etc wrapped in a red cloth. He asked his peon to get him some flowers and fill a small pot with water. He took these out and arranged them on his table, just to scare god fearing Panditji. His boss was scared of death and anything associated with it. He quickly agreed to allow Lau da a leave. He also assured him he would not record that leave, lest he was spared of the ‘deadly puja’. Lau da and I laughed as he recounted this.

He was informed of a young girl, student of class XII, who committed suicide after her internal exams. Her paper was tough and she was perhaps afraid of failing. She had jumped before a moving truck. Her body was spliced. After performing her last rites, while returning, he stumbled on something. On closer examination, he found that it was a chopped hand of that unfortunate girl, with ink marks on her fingers. Thinking that dog and other animals would eat it; he picked it up and shoved it in the pocket of the long coats he was donning – the one that railway guards wear. He told me that he thought that he would slip it in some other pyre the next day – he would go to the burning ghats every day.

He hung the coat in the bathroom and had a nice warm bath. Next morning, his wife thought of sending that coat to the dry cleaners as it appeared dirty. She was checking the pockets for keys and money that he kept and forgot in his pockets. She found a chopped hand instead. She yelled and fainted.

He was censured. Even Good Samaritans make little mistakes.

Now, we can’t call this bojjati!

Afterthought: No matter how harsh or nasty these men were, they held a place of pride in the family. They remained ‘the patriarch’ of the house till their last breath. Things have changed now. Old men (and women) are relegated to obscurity. They are a pain for most. Old age homes are filling up with elders, who, no matter how brave they appear, are broken within.

In hindsight, bojjathi, small or big, is beautiful.

Pix from Net.


Arindam Roy

Arindam Roy

Arindam Roy has 35 years experience in various newsrooms. He was the Managing Editor of a reputed Gurgoan-based Citizen Journalist portal and has held senior positions in several publications. As Correspondent and Bureau Chief, he has written extensively for Associated Press, Times of India, Hindustan Times and multiple news outlets. He has contributed 13 chapters to various publications. Of these, seven chapters were published in two Coffee Table Books, published by the Times Group. He is a co-author of a novel, Rivers Run Back that he penned with Joyce Yarrow. The novel was launched at the American Centre, New Delhi, on January 2015. He lives in Allahabad.
Arindam Roy