It was like a 1950s Hindi movie set. Or was it like a Hawaiian movie set or a scene from the TLC channel set in the Maldives? Beautiful straw and bamboo cottages evoking memories of a Caribbean paradise with beautiful ladies, frolicking children, gentle breezes, wide expanses of hyacinth infested water bodies, delicious food, charming conversation, singing and dancing. Impromptu poetry recitals. Romantic interludes under a humongous moon peeping in and out of autumnal clouds. Torrents of rain - then flashes of sunlight, temperatures not too unbearable. Distant rolling thunder. A firefly or two setting hearts on fire. Cerebral conversation, evocative laughter. Loud singing in the distance in accompaniment of kortals, cymbals, dholok and the harmonium.
Gentle reader, you could be forgiven for writing off the wild imaginings of this writer. But the fact remains there indeed is a place like this only thirty eight kilometers out of Dhaka and a comfortable hour' drive. But a word of caution: you need to have the mindset to enjoy such a situation, such a semi-rustic idyll. No air-conditioning, no sit down dinners with fancy china and starched napkins, no candlelight but enough moonlight and starlight to make you wax lyrical. Yes, a bit of mud thanks to the rain, where ladies' stilettos could get dirty or fancy saree hemlines get soiled. But, c'mon, when you want to have fun you have got to overlook the lack of the usual amenities! An adventure is an adventure and how can you have fun without some unforeseen obstacles in your path?
Ah! The joys of facebook. You see pretty ladies in idyllic settings and your heart yearns to be a part of the picture. You mope and you swoon, then gather enough courage to ask the beautiful lady, "Where have you been?" She plays hard to get, then relents out of compassion for a poor soul and let's out the state secret. Immediately you start planning and scheming for an outing there! What more fun could there be than to have that beautiful lady as a companion on a trip there? So the plot thickens and you start recruiting unsuspecting friends into a troupe for the "outing". No wonder there are other wolves out there in sheep's clothing and the unsuspecting wives have to be cajoled into playing bit parts in the grand scheme of things. Slowly and surreptitiously the plan starts taking shape and before you know it, it snowballs into a life of its own. I start getting calls like "Tanveer I'm in". "Don't leave me out". And guess what - many such calls from other beautiful ladies "Tanveer Bhai, don't forget me!" What's this "Tanveer Bhai" thingie I think. Why can't I just be like Tanveer, cut out the "Bhai" for Chris' sakes it makes me feel ancient, an anachronism. Soon I'm spoilt for choice! I've got my hand in the cookie jar, the honey pot! All I need to do it now is to pull off the entire effort with aplomb, with perfect timing and get away with it without the wives getting wind of the real fun that's going to be involved.
So the die is cast, an introductory Friday morning breakfast at our favourite haunt,"Star Kabab", Banani, is chalked out and the date for our trip to Pubail is set in stone. Necessary text messages go back and forth over the next few days to recap all details and the excitement level builds up. We are to start right away after Juma'a prayers and assemble at Gulshan Circle 2 at 1:45 sharp 6 vehicles, 16 people.
But Mother Nature has other plans. Heavy downpours start at 1:30. It rains cats and dogs but our hardy participants are not to be discouraged. We gather by 2:30 p.m. and set off at 3 as the last of the crowd joins in, doused in the rain. The deluge dampens the spirit of one lady and she decides to pull out. We bid her fond farewells as we rev up our engines and off we go through knee deep water on the Gulshan-Baridhara road.
Our stomachs are grumbling by the time we reach our destination after some mild hiccups with the directions. Wow but what a feast was awaiting us! There was an abundance of typical Bangali deshi food chitoi pitha with kacha morich bhorta as an appetizer. Ilish paturi, three dishes of chhoto maach simmered in vegetables. Umpteen bhortas and bhajis begun, aloo, kacha kola, shak you name it with polao and murgir korma thrown in as well. Ghono dal with shada bhat, what have you! Jewel had rightly said you will remember your childhood trips to your Nanar Bari (read Mamar Bari) in the 60's! Sadly, Jewel couldn't join us as he had left for Bangkok an hour earlier and called from there as we were digging into the Barmecide's Feast !
With a meal like that inside of you , one tends to get horizontal. And that's what exactly many of us did on the comfortable beds and the beautiful bamboo jetty abutting into the water body right in front of the dining hut. Mercifully the rain had abated and we waited with bated breath for the moon rise that I knew was at 11 minutes past 6 p.m. Alas! The sky was cloudy and no full moon was to be sighted till 8 p.m. I took upon myself to inform anybody interested to listen that this was a Full Harvest Moon. The last time the Harvest Moon coincided with the Autumnal Equinox was on September 23, 1991 and we won't see this phenomenon again until 2029. To be sure no body was listening.
Gorom cha with gorur dudh as also lemon tea was served with freshly made beguni, piyaju and aloor chop and, surprise of all surprises, spicy muri bhaja with just the right proportion of kacha morich, piyaj, shorishar tel and adar kuchi! We dug in with relish. The local musicians who were busy singing kirtons in a different hut came over with there accoutrements and everybody joined in the singing and dancing with gusto!
Ultimately the Full Moon did make a show after playing hide and seek many times through the clouds - and then we were bathed in a bright silvery ethereal light. What a heavenly body! The moon outshone all the other five heavenly bodies around me as we floated gently on the beel/haor with Arun the majhi and myself the only other male on the large flat-bed country boat. Scenes from "Amar Prem" flashed through my mind. I spouted lines from Alfred Tennyson's "The Beggar Maid" and Wordsworth's "Daffodils" but made nary an impression on the ladies they were enjoying singing a few lines from long lost songs with me joining in with my "beshura gola". We spent an hour in paradise and plucked lilies (shapla) from the beel. We planned other similar trips to Srimongol (Hyler haor) and the tea gardens in Sylhet. Oh, it's fun to dream!
A late dinner was served at 10 p.m. barbecued chicken, khasta porota, chaler atar ruti, bhuna chicken, ghono dal, mixed vegetable a sumptuous dinner. By 11 p.m., fully satiated with joyful memories and heavy hearts, we departed from our new found paradise and returned home driving through blinding rain. The heavens had again opened up after giving us respite to enjoy ourselves the whole evening and into the night.
Past midnight we were home and after a flurry of phone calls to make sure everyone else had reached home safely we were off to bed to sleep perchance to dream.