( Oyster Bay Beach is a small, boutique hotel right on the beach @ Puri, in the state of Odisha, India. It belongs to my sister)
When ‘Oyster Bay Beach’ started functioning a couple of years back, I told my sister that besides all the modern day comforts one seeks at a hotel,her place should have charm and warmth. She agreed.Charm and warmth does come from the color, the ambiance, the decor etc. Most importantly, however, it comes from people and relationships.
Adding both charm and warmth alongwith ‘sweet’ness to Oyster Bay Beach is Gopabandhu.
He is a fixture from my childhood visits, many years back, to the beach town Puri. At that time he was a sprightly , young man selling traditional sweets & savories of Eastern India like ‘roshogolla’, ‘chena bara’, ‘kala jamun’, ‘samosas’ etc. He would arrive early in the morning at the Government ‘dak-bungalow’ ( guest house) with his pots full of hot , delicious stuff . Our mouths would water, as my sister and me would wait impatiently for him to dole out the sweets on ‘sal’ leaves. No steel or glass plates was used and plastic/thermocol ones were unheard of then.
‘Gopu da’ ( ‘da’ means brother) as we would affectionately call him , always had the latest juicy gossip about the town, its inhabitants and surprisingly about the local administration on his fingertips. He also seemed to unwaveringly know the beach spots where we could find loads of pretty sea-shells and driftwood. As we would chat with him and giggle at his stories, he would invariably talk about his two daughters who were in his village. When my father would come out to pay him, he would refuse to take money saying ‘ Shahib, I feel as if I am feeding these sweets to my two daughters at home’. My father would smile and nod. Then he would talk to him or a while making Gopu da feel elated and proud that ‘police SP shahib’ was giving him time. The parting scene between him and us would always be with my Dad giving him a tip of Rs 50/-.In those days, this was a princely sum and far exceeded the value of the sweets & savories we would have had. ‘Gopabandhu, this is from me to your two daughters’, my Dad would say. Have you guys read the short story ‘Kabuliwallah’ by Tagore ? The relationship of Dad ,us and Gopu da is reminiscent of it. ( Read the story here :http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/rubel/kabuliwala.html )
Years passed. My sister and me left our home state to study, find jobs, get married etc. Our visits to Puri also became very hectic, short ones with very little of the laid back ,carefree grunging of our childhood.Smart hotels and guest houses sprung up in place of the quaint ‘dak-bungalows’. The posh localities did not welcome people like Gopu da.
When my sister’s hotel started, we were able to track down Gopu da 🙂 He cried when he saw us. He has become old and frail. His daughters are again far away from him, raising their families. He is able to meet them maybe once in two years ? Proudly, he told us that he has a grandson now. Guess what he named him ? ‘Rabi’, after my father 🙂
The accidental sufi thinks to herself. This is a tale of friendship between two men crossing hypocritical,man-made boundaries of class, status, wealth etc just as friendship is meant to be.
So Gopu da’s business now flourishes once again.Guests at the hotel get so addicted to his delicious fare that jars & boxes of sweets are packed for their journey back home.
Of course, I once again tuck into them, most vigorously , on my visits 😀
On my most recent trip, a couple of days back, I was a bit disconcerted though as I sank my teeth into a hot, sweet, juicy ‘roshogolla’ because Radio FM played this 😉 Jeez! Hips don’t lie…..