Several years ago, I was in Dehradun staying in hotel Madhuban. I was all alone and had decided to have a quiet dinner in the Vatika restaurant with a glass of Old Monk rum and coke.
I was a bit early perhaps as I did not see many people in the restaurant. A couple, few tables away, drew my attention as I heard them speak in Marathi (my mother tongue). It is not very common to see Marathi speaking people in the northern States like Himachal Pradesh and in cities like Dehradun.
I soon realized that their conversations were now in whispers and they were in fact staring at me. I was a bit uncomfortable and wasn’t sure why I had become a person of focus.
Vatika at the Madhuban
Just then the man got up and walked towards my table and sat on the chair next to me.
“Mangeshji, we are so honored and delighted to meet you here. I am a great fan of your poems and so is my wife”
He said this in Marathi in an emotional voice.
Mangeshji, he referred to is a well-known Marathi poet Mangesh Padgaonkar. An amazing poet, orator and a sensitive and romantic personality. Padgaonkar had received amongst several awards a Padma Bhushan for his contributions to the Marathi Literature.
Mangesh Padgaonkar has been one of my favorite poets. I did not realize however that his face resembled mine, perhaps due to the Frenchish beard that both of us sported.
Clearly, the gentleman was mistaken. And before I could explain to him and clarify, his wife joined the table. She said
“Sir, many of your poems have haunted me, especially those in your collection Gypsy. We often discuss your poems in this collection”
She then blushed a bit. In fact, Vijay (her husband) gave me Gypsy as a present before our marriage.
Gypsy collection was my favorite too. In fact, I had attended a program where poems in the Gypsy collection were discussed by many stalwarts of the Marathi literature. Many critiques considered that Gypsy as an expression of Padgaonkar’s alter ego.
The couple spoke highly about me (meaning Mangesh Padgaonkar) and talked how my poems influenced their lives. I did not know what to say.
I thought for a while and then decided to play a new role as Poet Mangesh Padgaonkar. Why not? I let myself go.
Wife Sunetra requested and so I invited the couple to join me for the dinner.
Our conversations went smooth and as smooth as the rum and coke that I was having. I knew a lot about the Poet, his passions and interpretations, and so I could speak with conviction about “his” views. I also disclosed the secrets about how some of the poems were written – in some cases recounting the stories I had heard during the discussion on Gypsy that I had attended and, in some cases, just through my imagination. All this conversation was exciting to the couple and they were so overwhelmed and grateful because of my generosity.
“Sir, one last thing – need your autograph as a memory of meeting you today” Vijay made a sincere request. I pulled out a paper napkin from the table and signed “All my best wishes, Mangesh”
I never forget this incident. On the hindsight, I think I should have clarified that I am not Mangesh Padgaonkar in the first place to that innocent couple. But, instead of sitting alone in the Vatika restaurant with my rum and coke, I thought playing a new role as Poet Padgaonkar. This was exciting to me. It was a different experience. I think the opportunity tempted me because I loved and respected Padgaonkar’ s work so much that one day my subconscious wanted me to be like “him”. It was like a secret life of Walter Mitty as penned by James Thurber.
The story did not stop here.
I remember when I underwent two angioplasties in Hinduja Hospital, I realized that this technology of human engineering was utterly supreme compared to the effluent treatment plants and air quality monitoring systems I was designing. I was conscious when the stents were inserted into my beating heart and the screen showed how skillfully the stents were positioned and ballooned. I was so impressed by Dr Rajani and his team that I wished I was an invasive cardiac surgery specialist. Next birth perhaps, I said to myself.
Few months back, I was in the Juice Saloon for a haircut in Worli in Mumbai. I had booked the time on the name Dr Modak.
The hair stylist was a young man in early twenties. While placing the apron on me, he said “Doc, what’s your specialization”. I wanted to say that I am no medical doctor but Doctor of Environmental Engineering, but instead I blurted out “Invasive Cardiology”.
Juice Salon at Worli, Mumbai
“Wow”, the young man said while working with the scissors.
“You must be a stressed-out person Doc. How many procedures do you do in a day?” He asked while shampooing my hair.
(I realized that the young man knew the medical lingo)
“Well, at least two in a day – goes to four sometimes” I said this wearily.
I saw the young man was impressed.
“You are attached to Hinduja Hospital, right? He spoke loudly as he was drying my hair that made a noise.
“Yes, I am” I answered
The next time I visited Juice Saloon for my pedicure and manicure. It was evening. I was greeted by a girl. She said
“Hi Doc, packing off for the day or any more surgeries still to do?”
I realized that everyone working in the saloon, knew about the Doc Modak from Hinduja who specialized in invasive cardiology.
I smiled. “Yeh, still one more to go. I will be heading back to the hospital after get these nails done”
While the pedi-mani work started, I noticed that there was a woman sitting on the next chair doing nail polish. She was selecting the shades.
The pedi-mani girl turned to her and said “Oh Madam, you must be knowing each other. Doc Modak is attached to your hospital and is in the invasive cardiac unit.”
The woman looked at me. I bet she could not recognize me. I saw a dead expression.
The pedi-mani girl continued. “And Doc Modak, this is Dr Shruti, head Nephrology in Hinduja. I am sure you know each other”
I was stunned. I realized that my new role wasn’t going to work anymore. Now I should be avoiding coming to Juice and switch to Lakme’ s unisex saloon.
I was embarrassed but decided to “fight”
“Never seen you before Doc Shruti? Did you join recently?” I asked politely
Doc Shruti smiled and said “Yes, I just joined couple of months ago”
I was relieved. Thank God.
I stepped out of the Saloon and got into the Natures Basket store next doors.
I saw Dr Shruti there. She was shopping some healthy food.
She approached me as she saw me getting in
“Well Doc Modak” She said in an apologetic tone “I am really sorry, I am not a Doc of the medical kind and I don’t work in Hinduja’s nephrology department”
“I am Ph D in Economics. It’s my dad who used to be head of nephrology in Hinduja. He always wanted me to follow his career, but economics excited me more. When I took my appointment at the Juice as Dr Shruti, the girl in the counter thought that I am a medical doctor and just for fun, I thought of playing a role as a nephrologist at the Hinduja, remembering my father”
I shouldn’t have done that – but it was so tempting”
I said “Don’t worry Doc, I fully understand”
I told my Professor Friend about my experiences of playing new roles just for a while. Professor was extremely angry. He raised his voice and said
“Dr Modak, do you realize what are you doing? Its going to lead to a serious mess one day. Better stick to the role you are known for and are expected to play. Be honest and proud about it. Don’t romantasize”
He then lit is cigar and said “And please leave the game of playing different roles to the politicians of Maharashtra. They know the best how to do this just for a while”
I thought he was right.
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Cover image sourced from https://mydailyhealth.co.uk/false-self-do-you-end-up-playing-a-role-when-you-are-around-others/