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When The Twain Shall Meet

Priyanka Roy Banerjee

 
Part 1 - West / Part 1- East Part 2 - West Part 2 - East

West

The moment Jason McIlroy II stepped out of the brand new terminal at Dumdum Airport, something familiar about the city struck him. It is nearly impossible for him to be familiar with Calcutta since this is the first time he set foot outside Great Britain. Jason is a true blue blood Irish as his title suggested. The McIlroy family has been descendants of the King of Ulster in Northern Ireland, a tiny country in the United Kingdom not many in the third world know of. Jason has nothing royal in him though, save the family title, a few trinkets and silver passed on by his forefathers and mothers. His flight had landed very early in the morning and post a frantic search he could finally manage to locate the groggy middle aged man who was scheduled to pick him up. The man was almost falling off the rail at the arrival enclosure where he waited for Jason with a placard Jason was looking out for a placard with his name on it, and when he had skimmed through all of them present, he eventually spotted the one supposed to be for him. Except that the name was misspelt as Jason Macil Roy. Obviously the person in charge had comprehended the name phonetically from his authorities, not waiting to confirm it in writing. The incident brought a speck of smile on his lips since Jason was ready to face every adventure that India could offer him.

The pick-up person, apparently a driver from the company was taking him to the hotel for check-in. Jason settled himself comfortably in the car which raced through the sparse early winter morning traffic. It took them barely fifteen minutes to reach the hotel situated in some place called Rajarhat. The driver informed him in broken English that his contact person from the office would call late morning, assuming that Jason would take a nap for few hours. Jason grew a little impatient as he had slept well in the flight and he wasn't used to sleeping all morning, whatever the situation might be. He unpacked, took a shower, ordered a 'Continental' breakfast from the hotel menu that somehow resembled a British one. He felt a little jet-lagged after satiating his tummy and wished he had a beer. However, he decided against it as he had already been briefed by his Indian colleagues not to consume alcohol before office hours in Calcutta. Jason didn't know much about Asian people, particularly Indians, but he presumed none would be as thirsty as the Irish. He was born and raised in London, and yet his Irish genes craved a beer or two in the morning some days. He had seen his father gulp a beer instead of juice with bacon and eggs before leaving for work.

 

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Burdened with a vacant hour or two to waste, Jason scoured the television for something interesting to watch. He always had tight schedules back in London which suited his workaholic nature perfectly. Watching television early in the morning siting idly in a hotel room was beyond his imagination. Jason tried to be in terms with an old favourite movie that was being aired when his concentration was jarred by rings of the phone in his suite. A deep baritone, vaguely familiar, resonated through the receiver,

“Good morning Jason, welcome to Calcutta.”

Jason had to guess for a few seconds only, as the tone and warmth gave the speaker away.

“Morning, Roy. What took you so long?”

Som chuckled to himself despite the call being a formal one. Jason was the only person who
called him 'Roy' when everybody else acknowledged it as his surname. He loved the wry and not-so-subtle Irish humour that Jason was famous for. Rather he was infamous among his Indian counterparts for his sarcasm. But Som liked the bloke. He wasn't arduous to work with, until somebody stepped on his tail.
“Hope you had a comfortable journey. Now let's get to work. I'll send a car to your hotel in half an hour.”

“Finally!”

Jason never let a scope of sarcasm pass by unnoticed. It came to him naturally and he knew it made a lot of people hate him. But he cared a fig as long as it made them work, on time. His visit to Calcutta were a short one spanning just two weeks. He worked for a leading bank in London that had outsourced software development to quite a few multinational companies throughout the world. One of them has been handling quite a few accounts of the bank, and now its Calcutta branch was allotted with a new project Jason was in charge of. Work had already begun a few months ago, Jason and his team collaborated with Som and his team. Gnawed by the recession bug, the bank authorities had started laying people off and outsourcing work to offshore countries at paltry rates. To cut down further, they had sent Jason to Calcutta to deliver a knowledge transfer session. It was cheaper than flying Som or his colleagues to London for two weeks to learn. With Jason being an excellent task master and an extremely competent employee, the bank hoped that the initial tutorial would be wrapped duly in two weeks.

As soon as Jason stepped out of the car, he had to halt for a few seconds to applaud the building he was about to enter. It appeared to be a work of art than being a  boring corporate office and stood out among the other concrete structures around. He felt pleasantly surprised as he had never before spent a moment admiring an office. Weren't they supposed to be drab blocks of concrete and tinted glass in various geometric shapes and sizes depending upon the price of the land on which they were erected? He kept mulling on the aspect and entered the lobby where he had to flash his passport to the security before he could be greeted by Som and his team. The two men shook hands, meeting each other for the first time after communicating electronically for the past few months.

East

Som Roy noticed his colleagues, both senior and junior, admiring Jason silently in awe. The man was around forty and quite Irishly tall and handsome. He wasn't quite fair though, which was astonishing considering his lineage. He sported a muted tan quite unusual for a Londoner. Som was much younger though, a Project Manager at thirty-two and good looking in the usual Bengali way. He was amused at the inherent tendency of his race in creating a mental spreadsheet of a person's physical assets at the first look. He felt mildly ashamed and glanced chidingly at his team for drooling over a foreigner and making him instantly uncomfortable. The man has come here to work, for Godssake! He gathered everyone and sent them back to their cubicles. He then turned his attention to Jason.

“The hotel is comfortable enough?”

“Cut the pleasantries, Roy. I've stayed at motels when I was younger. This is much better than
an average London hotel.”

“I'll show the office around to you, introduce to your trainees and you can begin your session post lunch.”

“Which means I lose half a day after landing.”

“Now that you'll have to talk with your travel desk about. I did not plan your schedule, Jason.” Som sounded calm and polite with a firmness that the other could easily sense.

Jason felt a tad guilty of himself. It wasn't Roy's fault at all. He would end up weakening the camaraderie he had built with Roy in order to work smoothly. He apologized.

Som followed the fixture he had mentioned and after settling Jason with his trainees in the conference room post lunch, he resumed his workload. He had too much on his platter already and coordinating with Jason had eaten away some of his precious time of the day. He was scheduled for training too, but that would near the end of two weeks. He hoped the training period would not turn out to be a disaster. As for Jason, he wasn't so sure. The man is better suited as a client, sitting away, shooting instructions electronically than firing away on face. He hoped his team would be receptive enough to Jason's liking and grasp things with ease. Rest, would automatically follow.

 

West

Jason was tired to the core. Six days had passed since he landed in Calcutta and he had summoned the trainees on Saturday too. By the look on their faces, none were happy to work on a holiday. But Jason couldn't help it. He had a very tight schedule to complete in fewer days than required. Fortunately, Roy came forward to help and boost his team. He sat through the training till it concluded in the afternoon. Roy had been following the training closely in spite of being heavily loaded with work himself. He brushed up on the trainees too, and that was evident when they came back on the following days. Jason was hugely impressed with Roy in a few days. He had a fair idea that the bloke was efficient beyond his persona, but his assumptions were overwhelmed with the amount and quality of work he witnessed in the previous week.

They were sitting in the mini lounge bar of the hotel where Jason stayed. He had been drinking every evening, invariably after such hard work. Today Roy had offered to buy him a few drinks. It was their first meeting outside office premises and they bonded well after a few beers. Roy and McIlroy shared a few personal information as well over their brews. Jason was surprised to know that Roy still lived with his family. It was very Indian to him, and though he didn't admit even to himself, he longed for his family at times. His parents were divorced and it was too much of work to visit them separately at different parts and suburbs of London. He missed having a sibling or two, while Roy shared his space with parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. It sounded like Christmas throughout the year though he imagined there would be huge differences among such diverse people too. He had craved for independence as early at the age of ten owing to the constant bickering between his parents. Now that he lived independently for more than twenty years,

he missed the family dinners and Christmas turkeys. McIlroy I hadn't remarried, so it was
easier to stay with him on holidays, but it would still be lonely after a day or two when they had exhausted on topics to talk about. Jason had never been to Northern Ireland in his lifetime. His grandfather had migrated to London after a family dispute which he never divulged to his children, which made Jason a second generation Irish immigrant. He wanted to visit Ulster sometime though, in search of the ruins of his ancient family.

Jason had been lonely for years. He hadn't married yet as he never met a girl whom he would like to share his whole life with. Roy, on the other hand told him that he has had a bitter break up very recently. Jason felt sorry for the bloke. It is easier to accept loneliness if it has been there forever than having to cope with it suddenly. He bought two more rounds before bidding goodbye to Roy, who hailed a cab back home. He felt good after months, sharing his loneliness with a near stranger on foreign soil drinking foreign beer. The cathartic experience made him sleep like a log. He awoke fresh on Sunday and embarked on a day long tour of the City of Joy, arranged for him by Roy.

 

East

Sunday mornings have always been the best ones for Som since childhood. He enjoyed the family anecdotes by his grandfather, who would evidently be happy to see the whole family together at the breakfast table. These breakfasts have been their only meals together as a joint family under the same roof. All other meals were prepared separately by each nuclear family within their three storey house. Each of them shared their experiences from funny to harrowing, frustrating to inspiring with the others each Sunday. Som was a latent favourite of his grandfather, which procured streaks of juvenile jealousy in his cousins. His grandfather or dadu as he fondly called him, paid all attention to every detail Som narrated as a part of his growing up. These days, dadu had developed an interest in the corporate way of work and wanted to know more from Som.

He had previously told dadu about his Irish client Jason, their interactions and banters over the office chat forum. This Sunday dadu inquired Som about working with Jason on real terms. Som hadn't seen dadu for three days in a row owing to his workload and odd hours of work. Today he was prepared for an extended chat tete-a-tete during the morning. He described Jason to dadu, and had just started joking about McIlroy meeting Roy when he saw
dadu's ears perked up suddenly. He picked the word McIlroy and reacted to it instantaneously.

“What did you just say, Som? McIlroy?”

“Yes dadu, Jason McIlroy. He's from London, but originally Irish.”

“I know.”

“Of course you know, you are a historian.”

“Do you know if his forefathers were from Ulster province in Northern Ireland?”

“I have no idea, dadu. He's a client of our company and we tend to maintain a formal relation. Though I met him beyond office hours last evening and chatted for a long time. But, why do you ask?”

“I'm no longer sure why I ask, Som. I think its time for me to let out a secret long withheld by our family.”

Som kept silent, waiting for dadu to collect all the pieces of the puzzle he was about to reveal.

“When I was ten years old, my aunt ran off with a soldier in the British Army who was posted in Calcutta. He used to visit our place quite frequently for some clerical work that my father did for the British Government. It was a difficult time for all of us, the second world war had started affecting every household in the city. My aunt was not married till that year, she wanted to be a graduate before marriage. A rare ambition in those times, which made her study privately at home and appear for the examinations.”

Dadu paused for a minute to catch his breath. Som had a faint inkling of what was coming.

“The soldier turned out to be Irish, his name was William McIlroy. My aunt fell in love with him.  As you can guess, it was impossible for a Bengali woman to marry a foreigner, let alone fall in love with him. Everyone in the family resisted, but my aunt stood firm. She eloped with him to Belfast, as she had written in her leaving letter.”

“And then what happened? Did she ever come back?”

“No way. She managed to send another letter, a few months later in which she stated that the McIlroy family in Belfast too had refused to accept them as a couple. William McIlroy had decided to move to London, she wrote us from there. And then, she never wrote again. My father tried searching her in later years, but it was futile. They had disappeared in the London metropolis. When I studied History, I recalled the title McIlroy faintly and did some research on their family.”

“So, what do you conclude? Is Jason related to our great-aunt?”

“That is for you to find out, Som. But you have to keep in mind that it may take you a lifetime to find the facts, or you may never lay your hands upon them at all. I had to pass this secret to someone before I died, and fate brought your McIlroy to our doorstep.”

Som was astounded. The proposition of Jason being related to him sounded too strange to believe. But it gave him a unique mission in life apart from his work, education, career and other mundane things.