Farewell poems at the Consulate

When I was working at the Indian Consulate, the Indian Ambassador to the United Nations was R.K. Nehru, Prime Minister Nehru’s cousin. We were told that he had wanted to marry a Hungarian girl. His family said, “No, no, do not do that. You are of a Brahmin family.” He did not listen. In those days we had the Consulate and the UN Mission in the same building. One day this Ambassador paid a surprise visit to the Consulate. There were six or seven sections. He went to all the sections, only to say how disappointed he was in all the workers. He said how lucky we were that his term had expired, because he was so displeased! The Passport-Visa Section, the Commercial Section and all the other sections got the same serious message.

Farewell parties always took place on the second floor at the Indian Consulate. I had got some information about R.K. Nehru when he was the Indian Ambassador to the USA. Although he had “blessed” us with his criticism, I wrote a farewell poem about him. I went to Mr. Mehrotra and said, “I would like to show you this poem.” Mr. Mehrotra liked it so much! As usual, according to him whatever I did was very nice. Mr. Mehrotra was the master of ceremonies at the party. He gave a wonderful speech about this Ambassador. He knew so much about him.

There was a special kind of microphone. You stood in front of it and you talked. All the listeners in the whole hall would be able to hear everything. You did not need a traditional microphone. I stood there and read out the poem. The Ambassador was so moved. He was taller than the tallest and his wife was shorter than the shortest. I was quite tall in comparison to her. In front of so many people, this Hungarian lady lifted up her hand and put it on my shoulder. She said to me, “Ghose, Ghose, is this your first poem?”

I said, “No, no, Sister. I have written hundreds of poems.”

“In English?”

“Yes. My mother tongue is Bengali, but I have written also in English.”

“Oh! Such a beautiful poem! Such a beautiful poem!” In front of hundreds of people she was blessing my shoulder and saying such nice things. This was my first experience in reading out one of my poems at the Consulate.

Then came B.N. Chakravarty. He was a Bengali, very tall. He was Ambassador to the UN. The Consulate and UN Mission building was very near Central Park. One afternoon this Ambassador was in Central Park reading a newspaper. I think it was Shivaram who said to me, “He is Bengali and you are Bengali. He will be very nice to you. Go and say hello to him.”

I was quite shy and reluctant. I was a junior clerk, and he was such a great man. I went up to him. When I said, “Sir,” he put his newspaper down. “What do you want?” he said in English. I told him my name and a little more.

“Where do you come from? Where were you born?”

I said, “Chittagong.”

He became so upset! “Chittagong? My mother died in Chittagong at an uncivilised place! My father was stationed in Chittagong, so I was there. My mother died in Chittagong Hospital, with no proper treatment.”

Here our conversation ended. His mother died of the same disease as my mother: goitre. In America, every day people are cured of goitre. It is such a simple disease, caused by a lack of iodine. His mother died of that disease in Chittagong.

A few months later his farewell party was going to take place, in the same room on the second floor. Although he had become upset when I mentioned Chittagong, I got his resume and I wrote a poem about him. There would be one main speaker at the farewell party, and then a few others would say nice things about him.

I read out my poem. When I finished reading out my poem, tears were rolling down his cheeks. In front of everyone, he put both his hands on my shoulders. He had only tears, no words. That was B.N. Chakravarty, a pure Bengali.

Then came our Consul General S.K. Roy. He was so kind, smart and elegant. One incident I have told so many times. He was coming out of the elevator, and I was about to enter. When I saw him I ran away. In those days I could run; I did not walk! He came out of the elevator and said, “Ghose, Ghose! Am I a tiger? Am I a snake? Get in!” He commanded me to go into the elevator. He was going to one floor and I was going to another.

He had married a Muslim lady. She was well educated, very well dressed, cultured and very, very nice. Both the families were dead against the marriage, but they did not listen to their parents. After ten or twelve years his Hindu family accepted the Muslim girl, but her family could not come to that point, even though S.K. Roy had become an Ambassador and he had been Governor of Assam.

Before S.K. Roy’s farewell, his mother died. I went one Saturday to the Consulate, and one of the guards said to me, “Ghose, this morning the Consul General’s mother passed away.” I knew nothing about her, but I sat down and wrote a poem about the mother and the son. I was waiting for the Consul General to come down. In an hour or so he came down. He was, as usual, in a hurry. He did not know how to walk — he only marched or ran, with thunderous feet. Practically dancing he used to come down from the second floor. He came down and he was going away, very quickly. I said, “Sir, Sir!”

Then he turned. I said, “Sir, I just heard about your mother.” I showed him the poem, on a small piece of paper. Tears, tears, tears ran down from his eyes. He read the poem, and then he took it with him. He gave me a very sweet smile.

When his farewell time came, I wrote a very, very nice poem about him. Mr. Mehrotra was very moved. About two hundred people had gathered together. I read out my poem, and everybody heard it. Tears, tears! Indians know how to shed tears.

S.K. Roy had a desire to buy a little boat to take to India, something very cute. He had three secretaries. One of them came to all the sections to inform the workers that he wanted to have a boat, so we could collect money. Everybody gave according to his capacity or willingness. I still remember that I gave seventy dollars! In those days, for me to give so much money! I was a junior clerk; Mr. Ramamoorthy was senior to me. I gave seventy dollars. S.K. Roy was such an important person.

Then came the last poem, for my dearest one, Lakhan Mehrotra. I think that poem was preserved. Others we could not preserve. That poem I read out very beautifully — I can use the word “sonorously” — with so much strength. He deserved every word.

These were all the farewell parties in which I participated at the Indian Consulate. In those days, like now, it was not a difficult task to write poems. I was born as a poet, and I did write poems.

These are my Indian Consulate chronicles! God knows how many more there are.

10 December 2006, Antalya, Turkey.