Yogesh, my husband of 20 years is fondly called Bantu. Going by his personality and demeanour, the name suits him to the T. In fact, nobody calls him Yogesh as it becomes too formal for his informal and humorous personality. Humour is a signal of intelligence but Bantu is rarely accredited for wit and acuity despite being funnily humorous. On the contrary, everyone loves to pull his leg, conceding his eccentricity with a chuckle. Funnily though, he never seems to mind it. In fact, I have seen him gaining enough momentum at his self-deprecation.
A trait uniquely characteristic of Bantu is an inexplicable emotional side to the extent of being unrealistic. He can go to any lengths to fulfil his emotional needs. So much that he needs an emotional anchor in everyone. One instance of his emotional side came to fore when he was being posted to Canada for an year, on deputation. As we were planning to move, he threw a fit (literally) announcing at the last hour, "I am not going if Clifford (our Pug) is not coming with us". We all wondered if he had lost his mind but with Bantu anything was possible. Sure enough, his voice when he spoke was steely with resolve. So, in between our frenzied bouts of packing were our visits to the vet to get the paperwork done for Clifford. Only when Clifford's going with us was finally confirmed, did Bantu actually start with his own packing. This outflow of emotional exuberance has landed him in trouble many times but to no heed.
Bantu's vocabulary is another area that deserves special mention. His talks are peppered with a crass set of phrases and words that add spice to an otherwise drab and dull conversation. Just as the right colour adds instant opulence to one's wardrobe, liberal use of eloquent words like कमीने etc (by Bantu) at the most appropriate times add up to a big statement.
गधों की फ़ौज, सुपर गधा, bhikhari, भुख्खड, chindi, chindi giri, chillu pillu are some words that flavour his talks and animate his conversations. Initially, this habit of his left me shocked and irritated but sooner or later I reasoned that it wasn't pun-intended.
There are certain must-do things in Bantu's daily schedule. His day starts with the morning sessions of mansik bhojan (fodder for mind) laced with the happenings of the world around. The first 20 minutes of his day are caught up in gathering data over the phone. The foggy state of his mind stealthily gives way to a clearer and fresher mood- he displays a surprising elevation of mood with every new piece of news collected. The more scrumptious this Mansik Bhojan, the better prepared Bantu is to face the challenges of the day ahead.
Another exclusive trait that defines Bantu's personality is his affinity with freebies. Availing discounts and freebies alleviates his mood like medicine. His experience of many years in the marketing field has developed unbeatable negotiating skills in him. Life is an equation of profit and loss- his life interspersed with many episodes that have been a source of erratic excitement for him as well as for us.
An instance that still brings a smile on my face happened in Costco. Costco is an American membership-only warehouse store that sells a wide variety of merchandise. Because of the humongous size of the store, people usually prefer to shop on the weekends. As a marketing
strategy to promote its brands, Costco provides free samples to its potential customers. People tour the sample tables, relishing the freshly prepared samples in between their hectic rounds of shopping.
On one of his weekly visits, as luck would favour
On one of his weekly visits, as luck would favour, Bantu chanced upon a sample table where Sushi was being served for sampling. He started with his Sushi-eating spree by savouring 3-4 samples, offered by a petite salesgirl. A couple of minutes down the line, he emerged again and gulped down a handful of Sushi. As if the stall was his natural domain, Bantu resurfaced within a few minutes (much to the salesgirl's chagrin) and could somehow manage a few more pieces. However, the sales girl could not contain her wrath the fourth time and blurted out tersely, "Sir, this stall is only for sampling and not for buffet". Her sudden outburst was indeed embarrassing but I broke into peals of laughter. Bantu left the table sheepishly much to the amusement of other onlookers.
Another episode that had me in splits was when his friend from Chennai invited him for a free lunch. A community park in the vicinity was converted into a reunion hub, exclusively for the South Indian community of India. A potluck cum recreation gala was organised- only hitch being that one had to register on a website to be able to enjoy the rendezvous. The mere mention of FREE lunch streamed out an ejaculation of creative juices. Bantu's mind worked frantically-his fertile imagination took a split second to remodel his name from Yogesh Pande to P. Yogesh. I became P. Shanu and my dad was re-christened to P. Harith. We were updated fast about the set-up and frisked into the car even before we could protest. As we entered the premises, visibly nervous, I noticed that it was quite a large gathering. Disguised under the fake identities, we desperately tried to look best with fragrant gajras (jasmine flowers that are characteristic of the South Indian community of India) and plastic smiles. My heart took a leap the moment I set my eyes on the big burly fellow (organizer of the event) at the entrance. I, panic stricken at the thought of being left alone with the organiser, frantically moved ahead to match my pace with the mastermind of the plot (read Bantu). However, my anxiety took a dive the moment I noticed the confidence with which Bantu sailed through- his confident gait bestowing some of his confidence on my shaken souls.
Another habit that forms the core of his personality is his ability to blabber nonstop on one topic. I have nicknamed him "elastic" for this one. This irksome habit of his has given way to amusement- no doubt it invariably leaves us sheepish sometimes but compensates as a dose of entertainment on some occasions.
Mr. Sharma is a family friend, who made Canada his home 20 years back when he was sent to the country on a project through the organization he worked for, in India. Though born and raised in India, his adulation with Canada was phenomenal.
One of the evenings saw us invite Mr. Sharma and his wife for high tea. After the exchange of formal pleasantries, Bantu was in his element. The conversation was most congenial till it hit the delicate topic of "To Be Or Not To Be" (in Canada). As if following an unsaid rule, Mr. Sharma debated as being the "for" contestant and Bantu secured his position as "against". The pros and cons of the place were discussed and scrutinised as if under a surgeon's knife- all in good fun till Mr. Sharma unwittingly dared to venture to an area of dissent. He boasted and bragged of his
connections, all tolerable (by Bantu) till he declared, “I am a Canadian national and I feel truly obliged to this country for welcoming me so beautifully almost 20 years back". Suddenly, it was too much on Bantu's plate- not digestible anymore. He blurted out instantaneously, "Sorry for pricking your fantasy bubble, ironically, you can never be a Canadian national in your lifetime. It may be disheartening to the core but you have to be born again to make this happen, maybe you can be lucky in your next birth".
What followed were some fact based discussions that proved that Bantu did have a valid point. You could be a Canadian permanent resident or a Canadian citizen by law, but a Canadian national, only by virtue of your birth. Mr. Sharma's attitude was hard to fathom- it seemed unclear if he was more gratified at the newfound information, or more infuriated at the curtness of Bantu's remark. He had half expected such an encounter (or intense confabulation). His mood, however, seemed to reflect, "It is better to lose in action than to wither in despair".
All's well that ends well- much to our relief, he embraced Bantu in a burly hug and thanked profusely for having himself updated by Bantu's fact-based information. Strange, despite being at the receiving end, Mr. Sharma had still ended up being wooed with Bantu's masterful manner and aristocratic debate (read constructive criticism).
Bantu’s utmost discretion in life is another idiosyncrasy that holds me in awe of him. For the past many years we have been leading a nomadic life, practically living out of suitcases. We have lived in different dwellings- furnished rentals, Airbnb, long term stays, short term residences, and have accumulated myriad wisdom from these experiences. Despite our transient status that can be trifle annoying, the fun element of these upheavals is jocosely palpable.
As soon as we move into a new lodging, Bantu goes wacky trying to find any lapses or peccancy in the new abode. His ludicrous behaviour is a sight to behold. I have caught him voraciously clicking pictures of every minute fault- taking snapshots of any tiny breakage, improper surface, damaged roof, or plumbing problems- his eyes consuming any microscopic detail lest the landlord should embezzle him of his prized security deposit later. Some of the landlords have been openly bitter about his strange behavior, some genial ones have overwhelmed us with their generosity. One thing is however certain- his overly cautious attitude leaves no room for any pilfering, but the initial few hours of his manic behaviour in a new lodgement are absolutely comical.
These irritating habits notwithstanding, his sociable and agreeable personality, iced with a quirky sense of humour goes a long way in building long lasting relationships with people. A deep rooted trait of helping people selflessly is his path to lasting love, bonding and friendship.
Today when I think of the traits that define him, I have a smile on my face. Barring a few sporadic episodes, my relationship with him has been fun and filled with good cheer. With him every experience has been an opportunity to learn and grow, to taste life with a newer and richer aplomb.
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