Last row from left to right; 1- N Vishwanath, Nand Vardhan Naithani, VS Behla and his son Vikram 2- Naithani, Nagar and Shailendra picture taken outside Manibhuvan some 50 plus years ago !
It has been two months since he left this mortal world on his onward journey into higher dimensions.
Although our contact over the last two decades had become occasional, it had the same warmth, same feeling of oneness that had taken shape in early years of our working together in NDDB.
And I so vividly remember those days as though it was only yesterday. In fact so vivid it is that I even remember what he was wearing and what bemused expressions he had when we first met in NDDB’s third floor office in Amul administrative building in 1970.
Nandi had, before coming to Anand briefly worked with Shailendra when he was doing a milk market study in Delhi. This study was before we together conducted another larger milk market study in 1971 as a follow up to the FAO-WFP mission’s visit. Nandi was on the team with Shailendra to tabulate field data and to carry out preliminary analysis.
On his return from Delhi, Shailendra felt that there still was a lot of work to be done and he needed extra hands to complete the task. This was the time when we didn’t have even electric calculators forget about computers. We were just a handful in the Management and Manpower Development group, mostly as ‘one man team’ to work on a given project and it was hard to pull internal resources to help a colleague dealing with a large market research project like a milk market study of a metro city. So, when Shailendra asked Mike (Dr. Michael Halse), if a temporary hire can be made, Mike asked him if he had identified anyone who can immediately get on with the task. Shailendra mentioned Nandi Naithani and the rest is history.
As Shailendra and I were sharing accommodation, ( Behla being the third person used to be mostly on site those days), Shailendra asked me, “Nagar, a person by name Nand Vardhan Naithani is coming from Delhi on a short duration-3 months assignment. Do you mind if he stays with us in Manibhuvan”?
That was music to my ears- we both needed a new face in the stale equation. After all how long can you see the same face day in and day out? How long do you keep talking on the same topics, how many idiotic movies you go to just because you have run out of topics to talk and other activities were limited? I unhesitatingly welcomed the idea.
Two days later, on a fine morning around 10.30 am, a lean fair complexioned young man wearing a full sleeved camel coloured shirt and light grey trousers with a cotton shoulder bag and holding a small suitcase walked up to my table and asked me, “Where can I meet Shri Shailendra Kumar”?
I looked at him, offered him a seat, and then pointed to an empty chair next to mine and told him, “Right here. He will be here in few minutes”. I then asked him, “You are Naithani, right?”.
‘Yes’, he said and then I introduced myself.
Then followed a long silence. Naithani was looking around and trying to feel the atmosphere. I don’t know if he was thinking if he was in the right place as our office didn’t look like a‘typical’ office. In the cabin behind me there was only one person- Dr. Kurup, merrily puffing his cigarettes. Soon PV Mathew walked in with a lighted cigarette in his hand. Expectedly, it took him a while to ease in. After about fifteen minutes, Shailendra emerged from Mike’s cabin, came to my table and welcomed Naithani to Anand. In the meantime our good old peon Matin Parmar had served us a cup of tea that we quietly sipped.
When Shailendra asked him if he needs to use a bathroom and would like ashower, Naithani said that he had one at Baroda railway station before taking the train to Anand. Shailendra then took him to meet Mike and what Naithani saw put him at ease- it was the smoke filled chamber. So, soon after he came out from Mike’s cabin, the first question that he asked was, ‘Can I smoke’?
In the evening, as we were leaving office, Naithani asked Shailendra if he can help him find a place to stay. To this Shailendra said, ‘We are going home, come with us. Three of us then walked to Manibhuvan. On reaching there, Shailendra declared, ‘Nagar and I stay here. Now you will stay with us’, and watched Naithani’s reaction. He was so relieved as I am sure the question of where he is going to stay for three months must have bothered him the whole time he was with us in office.
We had a great time together in Manibhuvan. But we separated after about an year as Shailendra and I moved to the campus. We got accommodation in the hostel while Naithani, who had by then become a permanent employee was still not qualified for campus accommodation.
When I moved to D-11 (a few months after being on the campus), one day we suddenly lost the privilege of eating in the hostel mess. But since Naithani and I moved to field for MIS studies for OF-I, soon after losing the privilege, it didn’t occur to us then that, on returning to Anand from the field, we will be again faced with ‘no food’ situation. So, on return from field after nearly ten months,we decided to run a kitchen together in D-11.
While in Manibhuvan, Naithani had occasionally given us a glimpse of his culinary skills. During one of these sessions, he described two typical Ghadwalipreparations- ‘Phanu’ and ‘Chansu’. So, when we started our kitchen, a day came when we could try ‘Phanu’- a dish made from ‘Urd’ daal. For someone like me who comes from ‘Daal-Baati’ heartland of Rajasthan, the prospect of eating a hot and spicy Urd daal based preparation was too exciting..
But it didn’t happen for quite sometime. In fact I almost forgot about it. Then one day, I had to go to Ahmedabad on a day trip. I was to be back home by 8 pm. For that day’s dinner, Naithani offered to make ‘Phanu’ for me and as he needed the key ingredient for it, I bought half a kilo of Urd daal from the only grocery shop at Jagnath Mahadev.
When I returned in the evening, I found Naithani working in the kitchen. He told me to take a shower as he was giving finishing touches to the ‘dish’. When I was in the middle of the shower, he called out and declared that he is leavingto attend to some important work that he had forgotten about. And he hurriedly left.
I came out of the shower, rested for a while and then headed to the kitchen to eat the long awaited ‘Phanu’. I saw that the kitchen had been very thoroughly cleaned and the sole saucepan had the lid on. On the side shelf, he had kept a fresh loaf of bread from Ambrosia bakery.
I was a bit surprised as there was no sign of his having eaten. ‘Is he unwell’, was the first thought that crossed my mind. I thought that I will first eat as I was terribly hungry and then go over to his place in Amardeep society to check if he was okay.
I didn’t have to do it. As I opened the sauce pan, I found it was full of some gruel- pale yellow and almost a sticky paste. I took a bit of it and tasted. It had nothing in it except a bit of salt and it looked and tasted horrible. I instantly knew what that urgent work was. That night was however saved by the bread and some mango pickle.
Next morning when he came in, I asked him, ‘Finished your urgent work? You should have at least taken some ‘Phanu’. You didn’t have to go hungry’.
And his reply was, ‘In fact half way through, I forgot the recipe and making good the escape was the best I could think of.’
We both smiled at each other. He promised me that he will try it some other time but will not use the entire half a kilo of daal in one go. “What, you used all of it?”, I asked. And his innocent reply was, ‘in fact I forgot the proportions as well”.
That was him, simple, pure hearted- almost child like and so amicable.
You will be missed Nandi but for ‘Phanu’, I will catch up with you sometime, somewhere else in another dimension.