Then I decided to walk to work, since the plant took only twelve minutes to reach and I felt a daily constitutional would be good for me. As I started for office the third day, a car stopped next to me, and a warm invitation rang out, “Hop in!” It was Enrico. It was too friendly a gesture to balk. I abandoned my ambition of a healthy stroll and boarded.
“Call me Rico, everybody does,” he said as he shook my hand.
That was the beginning of our friendship.
Rico’s father, Giovanni, was born in Tuscany, in the city of Carrara sixty miles northwest of Florence, famous for its wealth of blue-grey marble. The city name, as well as the name of the river alongside, Carrione, accounted for the family name, Carracci. Rico studied engineering trades and joined a British shipping company, which brought him to a major colonial port in Britain’s overseas trade, Kolkata. He married a local Eurasian girl and settled down in India.
As I walked to and from work, quite a few times Rico -- who invariably drove to work, for he sometimes needed the car for his chores – would stop and pick me up. I liked walking, but I also liked his company and enjoyed our brief chats. I noticed that he never talked about work; nor did he ever talk about the club, his colleagues or even his family.
I was a city person who had seldom visited or had any interest in the countryside. The only tree I could identify was a banana tree that had bananas on it. The only animal I knew was a pony my uncle had once let me ride. The only thing I knew about birds was that they flew. Rico’s interest and his unfailing perceptions made me sit up and take notice.
Two months later he really amazed me. We were returning from the plant and talking as usual, when he shushed me into silence and stopped the car on the side of the road. He cut the engine and then extended his arm through the open window of his convertible. I was befuddled, for I saw no reason for his conduct. Rico made a sign that I should remain quiet. We continued to sit still for several minutes, when a small blue cardinal came and landed on Rico’s outstretched arm. The bird sat quietly for several minutes, gazing at Rico, then chirped. With a pause it chirped again. Another pause, another longer chirp. Finally, Rico whistled back, very softly and very briefly. The cardinal sat another several minutes on his arm, looking at him, and then flew away with a flourish.
From inside the cage the dog made menacing gestures at Raj and me, but Rico immediately wanted to open the cage door. I was certain that he would be bitten too, but the moment Rico stood at the door of the cage the wolf-like dog suddenly had the aspect of a lamb. As Rico opened the door to the cage, the dog walked slowly up to him and licked his lowered hand. As Rico spread his arms, the dog hopped up to them and stayed calmly with Rico for the next half hour. I don’t know what happened after that, but the memory of the dramatically changed behavior of the dog on its encounter with Rico will stay with me for a long time.
I am told that, when Rico retired from service, he decided neither to return to Carrara nor to live in the lovely apartment he had in Kolkata. He built a small cottage in a village in eastern India and lived the life of a small farmer. It did not surprise me to hear that there was a bird sanctuary near his cottage.