When I went to the house from where the call came, I was received by a gentleman who had oriental looking face and a wide grin not at all in keeping with the one in whose family someone was sick enough to have needed a doctor to call home. Later I realized that this man Bir Bahadur had this grin on his face most of the time.
Col Sukmoy Das must have been in his seventies when I first met with him. Unlike other retired army officers he did not lead a genteel impoverished life entirely dependent on the measly pension that the army gave them. At least it was so in those days [twenty odd years ago]. He attributed everything that happened to him to lucky providence. His coming to riches too was one such. The shares that were pledged to him against a loan which was never returned by one of his friends who later died appreciated so much that he ended up a rich man. Did he then live like a rich man? If you go by the usual definition, definitely no. But my own assessment, he was a very rich man at heart. Let me explain. You can draw your own conclusions.
I told this grinning Birbahadur who I am and about the call and the reason why I am there. He became alert and for a moment his grin was replaced by some anxiety. This I have noticed on several occasions. When they see me, instead of relief they become anxious as though at the next moment I will be passing a death sentence. ‘Yes sir, saab he not well, come come, he in bedroom’, and without much of a ceremony, he escorted me to the sickroom and the job done and his grin back, he disappeared.
I found no one in the bedroom which was in considerable disarray. At that moment I heard loud sounds of retching from the closed doors obviously a bath room. A moment later an exhausted looking Col Das appeared. I introduced myself and told him about the call that came from his home. ‘Yes, yes, rather peculiar this happened, normally Hercules rum [ a popular brand those days] is of good quality, but you never can tell these days, even rum they have started adulterating’ he stopped to catch his breath before continuing, ‘normally I drink four large rums at night and I am fit as a fiddle next morning, but this time I have this violent hangover, there must be something wrong with the bloody stuff I drank yesterday night’. I did not have much to do as the diagnosis was fairly accurate. Nevertheless, I had to examine him. I found nothing wrong and he appeared quite fit considering he was past 70. I gave him a prescription for an antacid and returned home. On the way the anxious Bahadur asked me about what was wrong with his boss. When I told him the reason he wouldn’t believe me, he said,’ I drink same rum, but I am Ok, why saab get stomach trouble? I said,’ may be you drink less’. ‘No, doctor saab [Sir in Hindi] he drink four and he give me also four same same’. This master and servant sharing the same drink to gether appeared very strange because at that time I did not know the friend ship between them. I did not have a definite answer but hazarded a guess, I told him he was younger than the Col and his stomach could take the load and the older stomach of the Col couldn’t. Birbahadur did not agree. He said,’ you don’t know Col saab, he drink half bottle, and then thread a needle, maybe he eat wrong at night’. May be you are right, I said and I returned home.
I and Col became friends over the years till his death some 15 years ago. Though retired and rich, he never wasted his time. He would call me for trivial reasons when he could easily have come to my consulting room. It is quite possible he wanted my company and to share his rum [I did drink this obnoxious alcohol occasionally those days]. After getting me a drink which Bahadur brought, he would tell Bahadur in chaste Ghurkali [language of the Ghurkhas],’ fix one for yourself and join us’. The three of us would sit and spend some happy time. Of course I drank far less than these two old soldiers but it did not take away from the connival atmosphere.
He rarely called me during day time but when he did I usually found him tinkering with his car or doing odd jobs around the house or his well kept garden. His friend cum assistant usually stood around watching the boss work, occasionally handing him the tools required. He had an Ambassador car [those days this doddering hulk was the most popular car on Indian roads as other cars were not available] which he personally maintained. Once when I went to his home and asked Birbahadur where is the col, he said,’ under the car’ I went to the back of the house where the car was parked to see the col wriggling out with grease on both hands. He wanted his blood pressure checked! Another reason to get me over.
Those were the years when I was building my practice and col was aware of the many problems I faced and it was his way of helping me. He was such a gentleman that he never made me ill at ease when I was with him. My army service of few years also helped to cement our friendship.
Bir Bahadur and Col Das had served the army in the same regiment and they developed a special relationship and after his retirement Birbahadur was invited to share the living with Col Das. Birbahadur was the man Friday and his wife was the house keeper. Col had lost his wife many years ago and the only son was away living in Germany.
Col died in his sleep one night. When I went to certify the death I found Bahadur very sad with moist eyes. Later I came to know Col had made his life secure. Both Bahadur and wife went back to their native Nepal. There is a multistoried apartment complex where the house once stood and whenever I pass by that place, the memories of these two old soldiers and the happy times I had with them come flooding back.