Biren had no great attainments to boast of being born in a poor family, being an ordinary graduate and with no special skill to fetch him a job, let alone a decent one. But strange as were the ways of god, he was endowed with a tall physique, handsome look, a very fair complexion that was usually associated with the rich and famous. Though his hairline was receding, the constant twinkle in his eyes added to his charm that evoked an instant admiration.
He had a weakness for good food that was not available at his home. Being an unemployed graduate in Kolkata looking for job in the day time, his evenings were relatively free. The leisure in the evenings gave him time for some adventure and satiation of his taste buds by attending wedding receptions uninvited. His good look and attractive personality served as an easy passport to any gathering, big or small.
He had a finely embroidered silk Khurta in cream colour and a nice dhoti with attractive border, though used ones, gifted to him by a well to do neighbour when Biren helped him physically to shift all the things to a new house. He used this pair of clothes sparingly once or twice a week depending upon the marriage receptions held in the vicinity.
He had a close friend who was driving an Innova car for a private travel company. The car did not sport any indication that it belonged to a travel company. Dressed immaculately, he would alight before the gate about an hour after the commencement of reception. His friend would rush to open the door for him making the onlookers believe he was someone in particular. He would be welcomed at the gate with someone sprinkling rosewater and another handing him a red rose for his buttonhole. With a slight nod of his head, he would nonchalantly walk in measured steps turning his head sideways on both sides.
Once inside he would quietly walk to one of the middle rows of chairs and settle down unobtrusively listening to music if any or the noisy band that was favoured these days. He generally avoided conversation and if unavoidable replied in monosyllables with other guests who gravitated to him thinking he is someone big. The larger the crowd he felt comfortable in merging with it. After about 30 minutes he would unobtrusively sneak into the dining hall and enjoy leisurely the sumptuous feast served generally in buffet style these days.
The Bengalis love for good food is best seen in their weddings and no effort is spared to make it a gala and rich fare. The spread invariably would be large suiting the different palates of guests. The popular and basic items that are never missed vary from the starters like mochar chop and macher chop and then luchi or koraishutir kochuri with aloo dum, potoler dolma, mishit pulao, fish paturi wrapped in banana leaf, Bengali mutton curry, chicken chaap and with desserts like rosogolla, sandesh and mishti doi. Biren would not hurry but do full justice to the fare offered relishing every item by sucking his fingers and with a satisfied nod of a gourmet
Once finished, he would linger around for a short while changing seats and make an exit quietly. Luckily he has never had any hassle so far with none detecting the interloper he was.
But he had a strange foreboding this day that things may not be as smooth as it had been thus far. Nevertheless, he assured himself that he can manage any eventuality his wit. As he alighted from the car in the early night and entered the reception hall nonchalantly, an elderly gentleman of about 65 with a bald head, dressed in a typical Bengali style with the end of his long dhoti tucked in the side pocket of khurta, welcomed him with a broad smile.
As he led him inside, he casually asked, “I am sorry I am not able to place you. Are you from the bride’s side or the bridegroom to enable me to get you seated with appropriate people?”.
“Thank you, Sir for the warm welcome. I can find my way myself and enjoy meeting people to whichever side they belong.”
“I am sure of that but you have not answered my question to which side you belong. I should not be faulted later that I have not taken care of a honoured guest appropriately,” the old man smilingly persisted.
As generally bride’s people stand at the gate to welcome guests, Biren said he was related to bridegroom. The loquacious bald man asked him in what way. Not to be taken aback Biren said,” I am actually Tapas Ranjan’s cousin,” remembering the name displayed in flowers outside the banquet hall.
“How lucky. I was just now talking to his brother. He was sitting alone. Let me take you to him” he said as he held his hand and started walking to the front.
Biren, though alarmed at the prospect of detection, could not back out except saying, “Thank you. I will go to him after meeting my other friends.”
Meanwhile someone luckily for Biren, came rushing to the bald man and took him away on some urgent business. Biren sat in a nearby chair for a few minutes and with no sign of the bald man, he sauntered towards the dining hall. Luckily no one came and he could relish the hearty meal with hundreds of others.
It was at the ice-cream stall when he was enjoying faluda ice-cream that the bald man saw him. Profusely apologizing for leaving him abruptly, he said “Tapas’s brother is sitting alone and I mentioned about you and he is eagerly waiting to meet you,” and literally dragged Biren who started sweating profusely.
Approaching a lean man in a colorful knee long khurta, the bald man said “Hey Binod, I have brought your cousin You don’t have to sit alone without company. Lucky I could see him at the dining hall.”
Binod turned at Biren and looking intently asked him, “Did you say you are a cousin of Tapas? I am his elder brother. I should know you better.” The bald man was craning his neck to hear what Biren was about to say.
Resourceful as Biren was, he replied without batting an eyelid, “We were actually roommates at Durgapur Engineering college. We used to be together always that others called us brothers. We used to introduce ourselves as cousins.”
“My younger brother never stayed in a hostel. He attended college from home. Tell me the truth. Who are you? I can call your bluff by taking you to Tapas.,” he said in an abrasive manner.
Meanwhile the bald man siganalled to a few youngsters who immediately crowded around them.
When Biren was mum in this piquant predicament, one of the youngsters pulled his Khurta and another put his hand around his neck. Even as Binod warned them not to touch Biren, one impulsive young man hit him on his head. Soon there was a loud commotion with Biren being called, a fraud, an impostor, a fake, a chain snatcher and someone said a kidnapper of young children. Blows started raining on him, when they heard a loud voice commanding “Stop it this moment, I say.”
They turned to see Tapas rushing in and hugging Biren said, “Sorry Ashok Da, I am extremely sorry for this unruly behavior on a mistaken identity. It is years since we met. How is your Ma?” He turned to his brother and asked him how he could allow these people to manhandle his friend.
His brother Binod said,” He was your roommate in engineering college hostel. When did you ever stay in a hostel? That was why I suspected and wished to bring him to you. Meanwhile this unfortunate thing happened. Sorry Tapas.”
Tapas clarified,” Ashok Da was in the hostel and I used to spend most of my time with him. He used to clarify all my doubts and would not go for lunch without me. I am greatly pained that this should have happened,” and told his brother to fetch the yellow gift bag immediately.
Asking others to disperse, Tapas asked him when alone, “It does not matter who you are. You have come as a guest on my wedding day. I do not wish any humiliation and that was why I pretended I knew you. Did you have your food? I am sorry for this incident.’ Biren nodded his head in shame unable to look at straight at Tapas’s eyes.
Giving the yellow bag his brother brought meanwhile, Tapas asked him, “Was the food delicious? Thank you for coming. Here is my card. Do contact me after a month if you need any help,”
As Biren folded his arms to show his respect,” No, no, you are my elder cousin” said Tapas and bent deferentially.
When his brother asked after he left who he really was, Tapas replied, “He is one of the hundreds of guests on this happy occasion who came to bless me. Leave it a t that.”
Biren opened the bag at his house to see a silk khurta and a fine dhoti with colouful border. Tears started flowing at the magnanimity of Tapas and his effort to save him from humiliation, He decided to put an end to his detestable habit forthwith.