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     Volume 7 Issue 17 | April 25, 2008 |

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The Lunch Club Revisited

Azizul Jalil

“The Lunch that Never Ends: 1973 and Counting”, an essay by this author, was published in the Star magazine in 2005. It was mentioned that a thirty-fifth anniversary celebration of the lunch club would be held in 2008, which then was not too far away. At that time, the members and their wives, who were co-opted after retirement of the spouses, were apprehensive about the planned lunch. The members were all Septuagenarian and the ladies were also gracefully getting on in their years. So it was not unnatural for morbid thoughts coming into their minds. Even after heroically getting over that and leaving such matters in the hands of The Almighty, there were some other issues to settle to ensure the presence of all in the Washington metropolitan area for the celebratory luncheon.

The life and travels for business or pleasure of the members did not change very much since 2005. Every two months or so, whenever three of the four couples were available, they met at lunch in Bethesda or Virginia restaurants to enjoy their continued association of many years. Meanwhile, Rangachar, in between his regular consulting work in Yemen, started to spend more time in Bangalore where his wife, Bhagya, does social work. His presence in Washington had to be firmed-up somehow, particularly since he was not internet friendly and was elusive by nature. Sandra, the Italian wife of Kundu, volunteered to take the onerous responsibility.

The Lunch Club Members

Gandhi, originally from Multan in the Punjab, and based in Virginia continued with his consulting assignments. This took him for a greater part of the intervening years to two of the states in India and Sri Lanka. Rangachar joked that his state was still trying to recover from Gandhi's earlier fiscal policy recommendations, and wondered what lay in store for the other recipients of his advice. Kundu sold his villa on the Adriatic but still visited that coast a few months each summer and also his native West Bengal. Jalil and Lily traveled to Georgia and Connecticut to see grandchildren and visited Rangoon, Prague, Budapest and Vienna as tourists. They also spent considerable time in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Jalil managed to publish two of his books in Dhaka.

In mid-March this year, rumours were afloat that Rangachar was sighted in Bethesda by some other friends. Contacts were established with him after concerted efforts and a mutually convenient date and time was settled for all to attend the lunch. It was also decided to meet at the Washington Harbour in the District of Columbia in a restaurant named Sequoia. It is right on the Potomac, with a wonderful view of the river and the Kennedy Centre. Saroj, Gandhi's wife, graciously agreed to make the necessary bookings. The dress code, though informal, was proposed to be jacket and tie for the men and national attire for the ladies. This created spirited email exchanges between some of the members. Gandhi and Rangachar, who usually are plainly dressed, expressed their inability to conform to the dress code. They reported that after their retirement many years ago, they gave away their coats and ties and were not prepared now to invest money in good clothing. They appeared in casual attire. The group met on a glorious spring day in March 2008. The weather was mild and the sun was shining. The cherry and pear trees were in full bloom amidst occasional yellow forsythia bushes, creating a colourful ambience all around.

At the joyous reunion, friends recounted their past discussions. A few old jokes were repeated and everyone enjoyed with a hearty laugh, which may have drawn the adverse attention of the other diners. There was the usual warm narration of activities of the grand-children and how delightfully they were growing up. As can be expected at this age, health issues and concerns were discussed and information was exchanged on health insurance coverage and costs. The ladies were also interested in diet and a few good and healthy recipes.

What were the attractive features of these lunches that kept it going so long? That question was first answered by Saroj. She mentioned that the best part, as far as she was concerned, was that the lunch club provided a forum where even sensitive political, social and religious issues could be freely discussed amongst people of different countries, background and faith. It was a model of Indo-Bangladesh co-existence. According to Gandhi, the lunches made him a better person in many ways. In his modesty, he was perhaps referring to the lunch club's moderate and gentle discourses! Kundu said what attracted him the most was the intelligent review of a wide variety of matters, past and present- the so called 'Harvard analysis'-- in numerous lunch sessions-- that being a reference to Gandhi's Harvard doctorate. Lily, Jalil's wife, mentioned that each one benefited from the friendly and practical discussions. Even personal concerns featured in numerous interchanges. These often provided relief of tension and indicated possible ways out of complex situations. Jalil was of the same opinion. Sandra and Rangachar, usually persons of few words, concurred.

It was decided that the next celebration would be after five years-- at the fortieth anniversary. It was an ambitious program indeed! In order to have Bhagya's presence to complete a full house of eight members, a regular lunch session was planned for her imminent visit to USA. Then the members stepped out of the restaurant into the sunny afternoon of Washington for a group photo session against the background of the cherry blossoms, the Potomac River and the Kennedy Centre.

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