Vikash â€œBulbulâ€ Roy, is much more than the owner of the vehicle we rent. He is our Godfather, our band manager, our bodyguard, and social planner. The name we call him, â€œBulbulda,â€ literally means â€œBig Brother Nightingale,â€ and if there is anything we need in Birpara, there is no doubt: as Sarmishtha and Debasish have told us a hundred times, â€œBulbulda will arrange.â€
Bulbulda took care of our apartment, he gained us access to tea gardens we needed to survey, and when we got sick, Bulbulda made sure the best doctor in town sped over on his motorcycle. And when itâ€™s your wifeâ€™s birthday and she asks for a multi-day celebration that includes a henna party, elephant safari, palm-reading, wine (a rare treat), and one night of air-conditioning, thereâ€™s only one person to call: Big Brother Nightingale.
Bulbulda and his wife, Bodi, joined us for most of the festivities, which began with henna painting in our apartment and continued the following day with a road trip to Siliguri, normally a three hour drive to the west. Of course, Bulbulda had a few obligations to take care of on the way. We stopped at his friendâ€™s business opening, which was being celebrated with a puja, or offering to four Hindu deities: Ganesh for luck, Lakshmi for prosperity, Narayan the Goddess of the Gods, and Visokarma God of Technology. It was a telephone business that was opening on the side of the highway and the friend and his family were dressed to the nines and offered us plates of sweets as we stood in the heat and chatted before continuing on our way.
The next stop was a tea garden, of course. Sarmishtha and Debasish had been charged with collecting a few more death certificates and informing the workers about a certain government relief form, so we sweltered in the shade a bit more, then moved on, driving the back roads through rice paddies and tea fields, finally arriving at Bulbuldaâ€™s brother-in-lawâ€™s house, where we removed our shoes, entered, and were served more sweets and tea.
Finally, it was time to check in. Bulbulda knew a guy who knew a guy who got us 30 per cent off at a decent hotelâ€”our first air conditioning and television in over six weeks. Everybody crowded the elevator to inspect the room with us, then we sent our entourage on their way and soaked in the (relatively) luxurious room for five hours before meeting back up for drinks, dinner, and cakes.
The next morning, it was onward to elephants, a four-hour drive back to the east. The Hollong Bungalow had been booked solid, as the park just opened back up for the season. But this did not matter, said Sarmishtha. Bulbulda will arrange.
Happy Round-the-World Birthday, amar ranga-bo!*
*Bengali for â€œmy beautiful bride.â€