Homesick, Maa Aschen etc.

The azure sky of the slow evening of the ‘Gujjuland’ is filled with the festive spirit. Today as I sit down with a cup of coffee and my laptop, I can hear the sound of drum beats as people celebrate. The generally silent and disciplined neighborhood around my apartment is in a festive frenzy, children screaming in joy, prayer bells ringing and the scent of the incense all around .There are celebrations overnight. The drum beats seems like Dhak to my ears and dawns a sudden realization in me, Durga Puja is right in the corner.

The changing colour of the autumn sun in the far away skyline subtly touched my chord of nostalgia,  taking me back to my ancestral home in South Kolkata, the smell of Sheuli and Chatim at the back of our Uthon- backyard of our house. The Gariahat road and the New Market must be bustling with crazy shoppers, a fine blend of friends, family, cousins, lovers and ex-lovers relishing every second of the upcoming pujo. The taste of luchi, alur dum, khichuri bhog and payesh seeped into my savory glands as I started reminiscing. No matter where one is located, the feeling of ‘Maa Ashchen’ invariably transports us to our homeland - Bengal. I realize something is surely missing here!

Just like always, whenever I am away from Home, I impose a total media ban on anything related to the Pujo, taking a leaf out of our Indian Government’s Ostrichian principle that if I bury my head in the ground and restrict the flow of information about anything, then it ceases to exist anymore.

That’s the reason I refuse to do online Protima Dorshon , which majorly comprise of innumerable pictures of Durga Puja on my Facebook and Instagram “friends” walls followed by several other websites. I do NOT appreciate being wished “Subho Mahalaya” and stay away from Pujo by blotting them out, I try to convince myself that Pujo does not exist and this illusion helps me to get over these few days. After all, as Durkheim demonstrated in Suicide, you feel miserable when everyone else is having fun and you are not.

Mahalaya just passed us by. No, I did not try to rake up an Mp3 of Birendra Krishna Bhodro’s endearing recitation of Mahisasura Mardini. As a matter of fact, the only time I like to hear Mahisasura Mardini is during the dawn of Mahalaya, half-asleep, at home in Kolkata, awash with the beautifully serene tunes of Pankaj Mallick, my own heart beating in anticipation of Pujo to come.

Listening to it at any other time is severely unsatisfying—that’s the exact reason why I hate it when they play it during any other day day—it’s like hearing the ting-a-ling of the ice-cream vendor when you know that there is no ice-cream in his cart.

Admirable emotions and I agree with Mahishashur Mardini losing much of its endearing qualities when heard out of its regular space-time context. Yes, I would like to shut out Pujo as much as possible too – but when the Bengali in me starts reminding that it’s another Pujo that I will be staying away from home, I just couldn’t stop. So for today, just today, I am letting myself go – releasing some of the pent-up sentiments – all the sappy, seven colors of the rainbow memories.

Time to let off a silent and envious sigh thinking of how my city might now be throbbing with exuberance, the electric (quite literarily) atmosphere and most of all, the fun everyone is having back home during Durga Pujo, while I am several thousands of miles away – waiting for some kind of tele-transportation to happen just like a sci-fi movie. It’s now the time to prepare myself and not to be sad as my inbox starts getting filled with pictures of pandals and protima followed by Shubo Bijoya wishes in a few days.

Quite like many others, at different stages of my life Durga Pujo has meant slightly different than the previous one. As a kid, it was mostly the amusement of the creation of Maa Durga by the other Devtas in the heaven to combat the evil Asura. It was the time for pandal hopping, protima dorshon and to some extent, the kitschy animated lightning of the pandals and the area surrounding them. It was the time of nagging my elders to take me to the local fair for another round of merry-go-round, phuchka and ice cream. And it was the time for getting new clothes which was somehow forced on me; later, I would convince most of my relatives to give me cash instead of clothes that I used to buy new books! My pishi- my paternal aunt, somehow knew about my love for books, because she will always be the first one in my family to gift me Anondomela Puja Barshiki.

The adolescent years spent more with friends, new love and “eye-spice” mostly the south Kolkata are of Maddox Square, Ekdalia Evergreen and such. However, there were also some forays to the famous North Kolkata gastronomic wonders and a very different kind of erm… Pujo (if you can catch the drift), or a simple adda.

But throughout my years spent in Kolkata during the Pujo, certain things always remained the same. It started with listening to Mahishashur Mardini on radio, the smell of Chatim, the sounds of dhaak from the very early morning of Panchami and my dad who not being much adventurous like us on Puja Spirit taking us to see some of the famous Pujo Mandap by his car on a Panchami evening to avoid the rush, the smell of my mother after the morning Sasthi Pujo with her red big sindoor bindi serving us the prasad , late evening gossips  with friends on Saptami , the dhunchi-naanch during the evening aarti at my mamabarir’r pujo. Ashtami was the day of grandeur and on Nabami; baba will take his car to the Haji Saheb’s meat shop at Park Circus and get the best of mutton for home. The smell of the mutton curry and pulao made by maa later of the day still lingers in my taste buds. The feelings of all these funs will take a temporary halt starts dawdling in my mind. The sadness of Dashami, somewhat alleviated with the abundance of sweets in our house on that evening.

In all the years I have been outside Kolkata, I have never attended that staple of the probashi bangalee Durga Pujo which gets its actual momentum specially on the weekends. The reason I have not is simply because if anything, Pujo means being at home, in the company of the people you know and whom you care for - I suppose the sense of belonging a cat gets when it curls up on its favorite rug! And for me the Probashi Durga Pujo would not be that. I wouldn’t know anyone there, would just go, pay, see the Durga idol, overhear some puerile conversation about the recent Sabyasachi’s Jamdani sari and Dolly’s special tea, eat and leave. That’s not Durga Pujo, that’s a circus and a free dinner!

Just like a Diet Coke, pretty asinine and burlesque!

And so I am prepared to face another Pujo with brave heart…with me denying its existence…cheating once in a while by reminiscing about times gone by ,mumbling to myself how far away I am from home and promising maa and myself once more that I will be in Kolkata next year.

A Kolkata Window

While flipping through various sites about Kolkata and her charm, I came across this fantastic quote from Chidananda Dasgupta – the soaring film maker and critic, “What can one say about a city that discusses Spinoza and Bertrand Russell during a power cut?”

A quick smile played across my face and thought, “Well, what you can say about the city which talks with pride about Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen? The city, which is the intellectual hub of every poet, artist or film maker. The city that talks about the irresponsible rickety govt however celebrates the spirit of bandh willfully. That city which is sometimes mocking called, ‘the city of joy’. That city where everyone knows about communism just as much, ilish maach and golda chingri

The city which is proud about those dilapidated trams as well as, the underground ‘Metro’ rail. Where, the Nahoums of New Market is as famous as The Flurys of Park Street.  The city whose head is full of revolution but the hearts beats of ‘adda’.

Photo Courtesy: Google 

The city which stands as a queen during the Durga Puja, acts like a Shehjzadi during Muharram and live likes an angel in the months of Christmas.

That is as serious about its literature as about her ‘very’ own, mishti and maacher jhol.
Like seriously, who can ever not be in love with the indomitable spirit of Kolkata?
Kolkata has always been an abode of beautiful contrasts. She has her very own colors – the colors which no one can fade.

Who knew when almost three centuries ago, an English trader Job Charnok came to this city to do business. Right at THAT instant everything about these three villages changed. Kolkata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur were about to be the proud intellectual hub in the history of the world. 

Calcutta was rapidly changing its colors; it became a city of contrasts to much of these days. There are dazzling shopping malls co-exist with shaggy, dirty Jagubabur Bajar. There are books in Oxford and Crossword; there are books even in the lanes and by-lanes of College Street. There is Coffee House and then, there are CCDs.

Photo Courtesy: Google 

When you will step in Kolkata, you will find the latest cars zip-zapping through the traffic as well as, hand-pulled rickshaws. There is opulence of wealth and there is extreme poverty. But still the city is not Mumbai, but Kolkata – rather my, Calcutta.

You can find any intellectual celeb in few old-fashioned pubs or bars or even cafes in Calcutta in a crazy rainy evening. You will find the same ones in one of the top posh ‘stars’ in the city with 20’s classic playing in the background served with the rarest French wine!
It is this quality that makes this city unique.

The spirit of ol’ ‘marketing’ (Sic.) in the New Market is as pleasurable as shopping from one of the Parisian Designer Brands in a shopping mall.

You get a grand feeling while coming from Howrah Bridge to Fort William. From Raj Bhavan to the world famous Eden Gardens. From Shyambazar’s paNch mathar more to the lavish city restaurants in Park Street. This, unique culture drives the juices for art, literature and music. This is THE ‘mojo’ of the city. 

Calcutta was the cradle of the Indian Renaissance and its legacy is still standing still in her broadways and lanes. It breathes ‘hope’ to those several of us who are living far away from the very heart of the city. It’s the love only a child can understand of its mother. It’s that intense desire to go back.

Photo Courtesy: Google 

The city breathes art. Whether you watch an artisan in Kumartuli drawing HER Holy Highness Goddess’s eyes with as precision as the para’r bhNepuwala plays its flute. Where to travel to the nearest metro station, your para’r kaku takes hand-pulled rickshaw every day.  You will understand that Calcutta’s fascination defies in every analysis. For many, therefore, and for us Bangalees, it is an addiction of prem of the mind and soul…

When my JOB ditched me

The day when my office colleagues were thanking God for making it a Friday, I wished THAT day should had never come.

As we were about to finish the day's work, the two top honchos came to my office and declared I am redundant for the company. It took me two more minutes to digest the whole idea and put a very, very fake smile to say, “That’s alright!"

I needed to pack up my belongings and leave the building in a month's time. In other words, I was fired. All these years of my career were over in a snap. I was devastated and I was bitter. I went to my empty, rented house… feeling every bit the victim.

This was the time I needed the money the most! I needed money to pay for my shelter in a strange city, I needed money to save, I needed money to eat food, I needed money to travel - like the rest of us, I needed money. I wanted to destroy something. I wanted to make them pay for the injustice. I wanted someone to suffer!!

I left my high-flying job and a family of ever-supportive parents back at home. I left the comfort zone, just for this position. I sacrificed the guy who held my hands for the last time in Kolkata and said," Don't go!"

And here I am, devastated, bitter and repentant. From the second minute, I was browsing through several job-boards and waiting desperately for an answer. "I just lost my job... now what? What should I do?"

The next day was a Saturday and I spent the entire day applying for jobs. All morning and afternoon. And when my friends asked me how it is going, they were shocked to see my expression...that I never wanted to show. It’s pure embarrassed frustration. I felt as if my pride has been thrown to the wolves. I have never been a very aggressive employee and thankfully my boss supported me to find an answer for my termination - a better employment. I was so shocked that I didn't even have the guts to cry my soul out.

At work, I was dying a slow death at my desk every day. Suddenly my days are numbered. It takes a lot of mindfulness to keep my mind from wandering, or gaze from flicking to my phone. I was desperate like a hungry lioness. I blamed the world, time and again. I felt helpless and guilty to leave home, my job as a page 3 reporter, some brilliant friends and a loving boyfriend behind to get into the career-bandwagon. And the cherry on the top, I have to let my creative juices flow. I need to create brilliant articles.

There has never been a second, where I haven’t thought about the devastating effect of the situation. I just lost the ability to pay my bills, provide medical coverage for my family and last but not the least, to SURVIVE.  Shock, panic, fear, anger, depression, and resentment cropped up in my head.

My boss gives a look at me and tells me, “Get to my office right now and let's get a game plan. We can work it out. It's not so difficult." - These words were like a balm to my bruised confidence. He helped immensely in whatever little way he can. My friends, acquaintances, colleagues – everyone is more than supportive. Suddenly fining a job was just not my own responsibility. It was for all of them. They all started getting recruitment news. They used their contacts, and those contacts used theirs. I felt grateful, thankful and a bit less strained. 

There are some time, when I know I don't know whether to scream, go blind or eat an apple. It is funny and very, very strange and hard. 

When I go to an interview, I know I need to act smart, intelligent, confident etc. etc. - but only a part within me knows how difficult it becomes to be someone with a broken identity and uncertainty lurking around the corner.

I am hopeful. I am certain. I know 'this too shall pass'. But...

And I want to THANK YOU!

Dear S,
Sending you this letter is taking an incredible risk, as what I say here may jade you further against me. However, I have not been forthcoming about where I have been over the years, and honesty is the only way this is going to work. I do intend to write this seriously but the truth is sometimes best when, as Al Franken once noted, "it is tinged with jokes".

Given a forward mindset, a good sense of humour, and a solid sense of self, we can both become incredible people. I believe you can become the fantastic, assertive, self-defined man you seek to be. In retrospect, I see that you have always fought to define yourself separate of others. In short, doubt not that my trust or belief in you has changed. You are ultimately someone I will always consider a friend.

 I have been given a chance to stop, consider myself as to who I am becoming, and have subsequently chosen a much different path than I would have if we had continued. I am intent upon becoming my best self, someone whose actions are speaking louder than her words, and whom outwardly displays the inward quietness she desires. I’ve lacked focus the past years I’ve been and you dealt marvellously with that. Trust that I am still weird, just more thoughtful about it, “consciously weird” if you will.

We threw ourselves together without quite looking where we were stepping at first. That was a mistake on both our parts, I think. The excitement of finding someone you are both truly attracted to and deeply care for is a powerful force, and I realise now the responsibility it requires in its handling and display. 

I had no say in the how and when you ended the relationship, but I had total say in what I chose to do with the rather painful experience. And now, so many years later, I fully appreciate your coming into my life and exiting it right on schedule. I believe it all unfolded divinely – even thought it sure didn’t feel like it at the time. At the time, I felt like my life was over, but really only that chapter was, and it was up to me to carve out a new life – which I believe I’ve done.

If anyone had asked me years ago whether I would have ever forgiven you for walking out on me, I most-certainly would have said “no way”, but time, as it’s been said, is a great healer.

So I want to say thank you for loving me and for leaving me. I needed it, as much as a child needs a slap on the face. You made me to realise to 'hold' on to a relationship, to nurture talents individually and to let go of the inhibitions. You made me to go out 'there' and pursue a career which I was most uncertain about. 

I could never have made it this far without you dumping me. I can honestly say that in many ways, I feel that “being dumped was one of the best things that have ever happened to me”. You might even say I’ve made a career out of it…

With that, forwards to happiness. I don’t know what turns our respective paths will take, but I do believe that they will both be incredible and fantastic beyond our wildest dreams.

Thank you for being my lover, my best friend and confidante for the years we were together.

Thanks for those little evenings outs and roll over few pegs.

Thank you for the hilarious comments – which may be what I miss most about you… 

Thank you for all those times you chatted to my friends when you might not be even in a mood to talk and thanks for being the type of guy that mixed so well and happily with my friends.

Thank you for all those times you made me feel special, treasured and beautiful especially on days when I just couldn’t see it.

Finally thank you for being supportive and also supporting me.

P.S. It may appear I am not “over you” – but never from the moment you ended it, did I ever, ever, ever want you back. This was meant to be uplifting - to show I had learned and grown from the experience and was even grateful for it – and not that I am pathetic for writing this out years on. It’s all good, I’m still breathing…