Desperate times call for desperate measures. And no one knows this better than Calcuttans who are often forced to change and chop their plans, thanks to bandhs.
My sister was in Delhi during the Diwali week. We had just started chalking out plans for the weekend when the news arrived: a group of political parties had called for a 24-hour bandh on November 12 protesting against the Nandigram violence. And Mamatadi willing, it could go on for another few days. No problem, we said, after all it’s for a just cause. But our bravado took a beating when we realised that my sister’s air ticket for Kolkata was booked for Monday, the day of the bandh.
My initial reaction was — cancel the tickets. But my sister trashed it because she had some urgent work the day after. “But Tuesday is also a bandh and how will you reach home? Surely no one will be allowed to get out on the streets,” I pleaded. “No, you don’t understand Kolkata politics. Tuesday will never be a bandh. A four-day weekend is enough. It’s only political posturing,” she said.
I gave up and called my brother-in-law in Kolkata. Before I could even finish telling him about my plans of cancellation, he cut me short and unveiled his perfectly laid-out battleplan. “I have booked an ambulance. We will whisk her away from the airport like a VIP,” he divulged. “An ambulance?” I was half amused and half aghast. “There is no other way. Only an ambulance can get her home. Don’t worry, everything will work out fine,” he assured me. So she will have to fake sickness? I asked. “We will see to that,” he said and hung up.
D-day arrived and sure enough she was on the plane to Kolkata. A while later I got a call. “Hi, I am home,” she said cheerfully. “So how was the ambulance journey? Did you pretend that you were sick?” I asked her. “No, didn’t need to. But believe it or not there are five more ambulances outside the airport waiting for ‘patients’,” she laughed. The ambulance driver had charged her Rs 1,200 for his service.
“I have five more ‘bookings’ for the day. Cars with ‘Press’ stickers are in great demand today. These bandhs are brisk business, didi,” the driver told her before zipping off to the airport for another trip. And, yes there was no bandh the next day because Mamatadi had decided to shift her focus to ‘non-cooperation with the government’ from ‘immobilising Bengal’.