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Sunday, December 12, 2010

"These are a few of my favourite things..."

In a lifetime of innumerable springs and chilly winters, as in my case, you do gather some of your favourite things that makes you smile. How do you gather those favourite things? Well, unknowingly, mostly. Do they get dusty? Yes, sometimes they do. But then you do take them out once in a while, polish them and get comfort at the knowledge that they are there. 

I like it when the camels from Rajasthan entertain the neighbourhood children in Bangalore, their fear, their awe, their giggle and the camel's nonchalant ways. All for five bucks.

I like the 'faraway' look on a man's eyes when his driver tackles the mad city traffic, unlike the diligent ones who are mostly glued to the road, heads straight, eyes fixed with utmost sincerity as if Angelina Jollie is going to miraculously appear infront of the car and belly dance! Strangely though, even with such concentration on the road ahead, the men would invariably mess it up when they are behind the wheels, same road, same turns.

I like it when the traffic comes to a standstill as the local shephard tries to ferry his parade of sheep, goats and cows from one side to another. No body honks. I like the calm.

I like it when kids keep pulling their parents in the razzling dazzling shopping malls towards cookie man or candy stores, while the dad lustingly stares at the Apple store and the mom gravitates towards Soch. Family dynamics contribute to healthy cohabitation.

I like it when once in a while I end up in the gym, music blaring, calories burning, moving surface and thumping lungs push me to test my fitness. It is in a miserable state, I realise ever so often.

I like it when in faraway Leh, a local craftsman writes down his address on a paper and hopes that I will send the pictures that I took of him by post. I hate it when I keep postponing that.

I like it when the smell of freshly baked chocolate cake, my umpteenth attempt at getting it right, fills up the air on a Sunday afternoon. It's a different thing that I never get it right.

And when the rain comes pouring from the skies and the roads are flooded and the kids sail small paper boats and thunder rips apart the neighbourhood, I curl up under the blanket with a Rohiton Mistry and forget about the world. Yes, that sure is one of my favourite things.

Friday, October 1, 2010

D-Day comes and goes...modern India doesn't care

My day started as usual, the road was alarmingly empty, the usual school buses that ply the road in the early hours, when I go to office (irony!!!) were conspicuous by their absence. I got into an auto, Imtiaz drove me to my office. On the way, I asked him how does he feel about today? He shrugged and indicated it's business as usual. I smiled.

In the office we discussed who has what stock of alcohol. The shops will be closed till Monday. We found out that we had enough. The office deemed it necessary that we leave early. I went to a colleague's place. His wife cooked some lovely alu-posto and we chatted. On my way back, I got into an auto. Raju drove me home. On the way, I asked him how does he feel about today? He shrugged and indicated it's business as usual. I smiled. Roads were still empty.

The verdict came, the verdict was analysed, I worked from home. Mom called, "Can you go back home before 3? The verdict is due at 3.30." I said that I am already home.

For one day the media chose to leave Kalmadi alone. Voices blurred out from the television set. Another colleague, who chose to work from office said, "I am missing the Aaj Tak' drama.

The day ended.

We have moved on!! Can the media also stop, please? How many people do they need to interview to know that we've moved on? Can the politicians also stop, please?

The beer is getting warm...I had my stock ;)!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Of love, romance and being incorrigible

(c) Durba Gupta

I am a self-proclaimed, incorrigible, mushy kind of piscean love addict. I day dream profusely of my romantic endeavours and misadventures. Over the years, I have seen many of my close friends, relatives, acquaintances and myself go through this beautiful experience. When I was young, a friend once told me that love is like a cigarette. It burns out. And when it burns out, it leaves behind a heart burn ;) of a different kind. My skeptic friend is married with a kid now, after 5 years of whirlwind 'going out' with the girl of his dreams.

Being the non-conformist I had always been, I never quite paid any heed to my friend's observations. So when in schools I watched girls and guys exchanging notes, and eating their tiffin together (yes, that was romance in our days), I was pretty sure that love will come and sweep me off my feet soon. There were quite a few of us who subscribed to that 'vision'. Strangely though, none of use quite 'actioned' on it, we just hoped it would come our way.

As I awaited for love to knock, I also judiciously observed how love unfurled around me. Every winter it used to get very foggy in the mornings where I was born. But as providence would have it, we all had to still go to our respective private tutors at 6 in the morning trying to crack the frivolities of laws of motion, organic chemistry and Poisson distribution. Private tutorials were heavens for budding romances, writing on each other's copies, playing footsies and stealing glances. There was this one boy, who had particular interest in a girl friend of mine. He would cycle next to her rickshaw every morning, wearing a traditional monkey cap and mittens. He was not part of the same tuition, but would always be there to guard her in those foggy mornings. In him, love smiled.

One of the most memorable love stories of my childhood was that of a kaku and kakima's (uncle and aunt). She a talented singer, he a tabla player. They were the silent lovers type, always a team, always together. Today when I see myself or friends around me trying to analyse every single aspect of marital discord, I wonder how those two, without so much so having any disagreement in public, led such a loved life. He would look at her and know when to stop and she would pout her lips and make him forget his argument. In them, love lived.

A certain school mate of mine nurtured rather loving feelings for another girl. They had been studying together for 18 years, but never quite expressed their mutual feelings. Years later, the boy knocked at her door and told her that he has got a job and would like to marry her. She stared at him for a while. Today, they are happy parents of a lovely daughter. In them, love dreamed.

As the decades passed by, I've seen the various incorrigible enactments of love changing and metamorphosing from emails to psychedelic parties. 'Am not so sure if that is love as I see it, but every now and then I do see his eyes following her on the dance floors, a look that is torn between longing for a long lasting comfort and momentary comfort, a stare that wants to belong and the one that wants to explore. In them, love changed.

I do not want to define love, but I see love when my cook accompanies his wife to their village to attend her father's funeral, knowing very well that he won't be paid. I see love when he takes her on occasional evening walks in the park in between work, and she smiles shyly. I see love when the untouched side of a bed awaits for someone's return, I see love when my neighbour's wife smiles proudly at her husband's vegetable garden and I see love when someone narrates their love stories with equal passion as if it happened yesterday after 20 years. I see love when a friend cries profusely over a lifetime of separation, I see love when I see the couples holding hands, eating Indian food on Devon street, Chicago. I feel love when I ...

So with so many love stories and yet so many heartbreaks, is love overrated? A friend once told me, "Love is not overrated, romance is." Probably she is right, but I stay a die hard romantic, incorrigible, daydreamer for whom love is just plain beautiful.

What are your thoughts on love?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

They see so many lives

(c) Durba Gupta

They see so many lives. Enacted. Every day. In front of their eyes.

Since I was 10 or 12, I always wanted to marry someone whose profession is driving. Just the idea of distance wheezing past you was intoxicating. Travelling for miles...to new places, to new lives, to new thoughts and new smiles. The idea always fascinated me. I remember we used to take long distance trips twice or thrice every year. We would hire couple of cars and the whole family would travel. It's not that we would go to new places every time. Mostly these were much frequented places, but every time that I sat next to the man behind the wheel, his eyes glued to the road, his hands firm on the steering and air on his hair, I would see the same roads bring out surprises on every turn. And when it rained, I would pull down the window, prop myself out and let the rain peirce through. People at the back shouted. He would just smile. When the family squabbles broke out, he would hide his smile. He saw our lives.

Over the years, being a scary chicken behind the wheels myself, I have mostly resorted to the guys who see lives enacted, everyday. Although I never got to settle down with one, as my dream at 12 would go, but I had my share of many stories of those who see stories everyday.

My flight to Richmond touched ground at 11 in the night. Although it was my second trip to the place, I was a bit worried for travelling this late. But I had to be in office the next day. As I picked up my luggage and walked out, sure enough there stood a man in his late 30s with a white board that read 'Duerbar Gapita'. I knew it was me. I said, you've got the name wrong. He smiled and blamed his boss. As I settled down on the front seat, he apologised for the smell in the car. He said, his friend had an unfortunate projectile incident in the car, last night. I said it's alright. He drove down the Chippenham parkway and narrated his story of hating late night driving, hating being stuck in Virginia and that I was in safe hands, made me wonder how easily I relaxed as he wheezed past those unknown roads, took a left turn from Red Lobsters and parked right in front of my hotel. He apologised again, and wished me a good stay.

Every now and then I would board a cab where the cabbie would be busy giving me advise. Around the safe route to take, how the petrol price is increasing, that his meter is not spiked or how he hates the traffic. But once in a while, I do get in a cab, where the cabbie discusses politics. In one of my rides back to my hotel, I once had the pleasure of riding with a Singaporean cabbie who discussed in details what the Congress government can do for India, that Sonia Gandhi is very capable and that with their second election victory Congress is going to stay in power for long. It is amazing how well informed he was, unlike many of my fellow countrymen and women.

Over the years the smartest cabbies I have come across hail from the big bad charming city of Bombay where they swindle a 500 bill for a 100 bill, their cabs decorated with all kinds of felt and velvette complete with chandeliers that bump on your head in their attempts at making a home in their little fiats, to the ones who would pass on their mobile numbers back in 1999 (long before Meru culture) to be an 'on call' cabbie! They are the smartest!

But the most entertained ones, 'am sure are from our old city Calcutta, where very animated parents, lovers, siblings and friends get in the cabs and vent out their emotions through words, actions and silence that the cabbies witness everyday. I still remember, in my late school days, me and a friend got in a cab. We were discussing some book and it led to his expressing those familiar emotions for me, and I started playing the familiar game of how he deserves so much better! By the time we got off the cabbie, my friend was still not convinced; the cabbie handed us the change, smiled at my friend and said, "Dada chhere din. Oshob to rojkar byapar. Ek cup cha khan matha thanda hoe jabe." (Bro, drop it. This happens everyday. Drink a cup of tea and chill!) My friend didn't take too kindly to him :).

So if I were to interview cabbies from various cities to share their experiences, 'am sure I will come up with an extraordinary novel. May be I should try that, couldn't marry one, but at least can finish my novel (I've written the first chapter and the last chapter.) with their stories.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

To the people of Leh

My prayers reach out for the beautiful people in Leh. I hope the relief measures are successful and the ordeal comes to an end soon for them. RIP for those who are no more...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

She can see the rain coming...

They say. They have been saying this since she was two. Or was it since she was five? She nods her head and looks down at her arms; arms extending to a perfect set of palms. She stares at those. These palms have held the first drops of every rain that had drenched this land.

Every year when the sun hits its peak and the lands go dry, the cattle heave and the river loses its way in the sand, they all come to her. For they believe that she can see the rain coming. Rain that will wet their dry lands, give life to their cattle, and rhythm to their river. Every year, when they come at her doorsteps praying for rain, she walks out and looks up at the blue sky. Slowly the storm gathers in her eyes, spreads to the sky and then lashes down to the earth. She catches the first drops in her palms, always. Every year. This year, she thinks...cannot be an exception either.

She gets up and slowly walks out of the door. They all stand up. They always do, whenever they see her. A mild whisper spreads in the crowd, ‘She has come out!’, ‘The rain is coming.’, ‘The God has mercy.’

She cannot hear most of it. She cannot see most of them. She walks off further, into the sun. The sun... scathing the earth, scorching the cracked soil, burning the dry leaves. She looks up at it. Storm gathers in her eyes. They can see the storm in her eyes. They cheer, ‘It is going to rain!’

She stretches out her arms and brings her palms together in a perfect cup. She waits. They wait. Along with her, in bated breath. The first drop comes down and settles in her palms. Then the second and the third. She turns back. The sun beats down harder.

She holds out her palms to them. They stare back in surprise. Tears roll down her eyes and gather in her palm. One drop after another. They do not understand. Why is it not raining? They wonder. She cries, she cannot bring down the rain anymore for them. They pause.

Can they bring the rain for her? To wash away some of her tears...?

**To a lady I had met recently, whose tremendous courage built a family.

On a different note, uploaded another set of Ladakh photos. Please click the link below to check. Please do share your comments.

Monday, June 28, 2010

From the ranges of Ladakh...

I have always wanted to go to Ladakh. It's been almost eight years. Finally, this month I found myself flying over the majestic Himalayas to breathe, live, and experience the place. I won't spend much words on this one. So here's the first set of memories from the place!

As someone behind the lense it was a challenge to keep off from the postcard shots, the place is famous for. I just wanted to capture moments, people, life and space of this beautiful land.

Travelling through Ladakh (Most of the photos have captions, so I will refrain from my blabber)

Life in Ladakh was a breath of fresh air for a city-bred like me. In its colors, smiles, sun, simplicity and courage lies it's life. I have tried to capture some of that in the following section.

Moments in Ladakh (Again most of the photos have captions, so I will refrain from my blabber.)

(C) All images Durba Gupta
I have another set of photographs of th places in Ladakh. I will upload those too. And if you haven't been to that place, go - just go!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What a bad idea sirjee!!

We all know that the Indian television is plagued by advertisements, consumerism at its peak, etc etc and gone are the days of 'Bhul na jana...ECE bulb hi lana', or 'Palmolive da jawab nahin'. Instead we have an array of advertisements that assault our intelligence, morale or sense of beauty. Since I don't have anything better to do than stare at the television most of the time, here is a small list of top five picks of mine assualting my senses every now and then.

Fifth in the list is the very metrosexual Shahid and his piece of advice. He urges metrosexuals not to spend XXX hours on grooming their hair, and should spend more time on grooming their face. Easy for him to say, it's all grafted for him!! He also elucidates the various necessary composition in this particular men-'whitening' cream. So how do the dates go these days? Gals say, 'my cream has 5 beneficial components', and the boy goes 'huh - in your face, mine has 6'!! I dunno, call me old fashioned, but men giving me counts of hours spent in front of the mirror...nah...

Then comes a brawny man in a white banyan, twists the villains and gases (read accelerates) the vehicles. Then he settles down with a hottie in a tent and urges the menfolk to 'live like a macroman!'. So how do you define a macroman? Hormone induced muscles, hottie girls on film sets to exchange suggestive glances with, white banyan, and probably colorful chaddhi? Ahh eyes...my eyes...they hurt!! I would anyday settle for an 'andar ki baat hain'!

Next on my list is chhota sirjee with a message that my peanut brain finds quite controversial...use mobile phones and save the environment, seriously?!! With the house sparrows disappearing fast as a result of increasing number of mobile towers, eye problems diagnosed in kids because of the radiations, they actually promote, sell and get away with this idea? Please!!! My grey cells, the tiny half-dead ones are revolting! bad bad idea!

Second on my list is the aamraaas lady in 'rasiya' mood, heaving for a drop of aamraas while handsome man oggles. Tazaa khabar, aamraas is the new fruit flavored viagra! Why? Why? It's a mango juice for crying it out...take it or leave it!! How is slicing the market so fine gonna help? Who are they enticing anyways? The fans of 'raisya' lady? Ah my head hurts!!

The winning entry, in my humble opinion goes to one Mrs. Rai Bachchan, pouting, jutting and rushing towards the camera in vengeance with a solution for 'Girrdte Rrroookhkhe, bwejwaaaan, baal' (You all can reach out to Serendipity for a 'rendition' of the same). I mean seriously, how many of us 'girls' really buy this, nope not the product; the accent, the exaggerated jiggle or the semblance of fashion?!! Do we?

The ones I like? Presently topping the list is the mentos ad, poor donkey :(

Please feel free to share your picks!! I am sure I missed out on some gems!

to your comments

@Serendipity, actually it is a novel idea, take the dil out of it and assign eyes (eyesore ones), ears (the yaap yaap ones), etc etc (won't drill down further) for each experience ;)
For Sumitradi...she comes to your place, I can share her number, if you want! :)
@Sara - thanks gal! packing done? btw ami ekdom-i gaite parina; and that makes it even more tragic
@ Sanjay, pls do write your memories, and I have a feeling those would be quite similar to mine ;) the barir uthon and the aam gachh!
@ Dip thnx! blore these days.
@ Gunjan - Nope sir...I am waiting for Gaara to grow up - 18 more years, just need to keep these wrinkles and grey hair at bay, and I will be all ready for an intro :) Howz buster? Still growing a long tongue? oh btw i rem one 'dard-e-disco' of yours (she was so for several others too)...the girl from north east, I think...archi...;)
@ Pinakie, good to see you in the blog world. New photographs?
@ Siva - your comment (for bagful of memories) made me think, tried to address your comment by the last two lines (newly added!) - i think the predictability was missing in the write-up
@ Vijay - boy 'am flattered :) Also I know it should be 'pain of disco', but 'disco pain' is so much better. So howz it going? You must have completed your graduation by now. Planning to stay back in Uncle Sam's land?
@ Anu - went through your page - your bold style always amused me :) As for the write-up (Sumitradi inspires...), yep the idea was not to reveal too much - how she inspires me? In every way to look at life and handle what it throws at us ;) no tickets for kites to appraisal trauma :)
@ New beginning and ayon, thanx for dropping by and your comments!
@ The sour one, linked your blog in the post (Sumitradi inspires...) - love the blog alias. You write on the trip, if not anybody, about the smiling one ;) can be the first post of ur blog.
@ Iris I really think the dance idea is good! Good to see you blogging ;) I wish it works out for Sumitradi too!
@ K'niche...ha ha ha such fun!! r u guys friends now? :) thnx for dropping by.
@ MyoChi, 'am still reading your posts one by one. Really interesting, and brand new stuff for me. Thanks for visiting. Agree with the societal typecast thingy. The very fact that I notice it and appreciate this shows the typecast hangover :).
@ Bhargavi, thnx for your mail and appreciation! well most of my write-ups are from real life experience. It may not be exact word to word, that's my creative license ;) but mostly how I see things and how those register in my mind. (No fictiom as yet) 'Dard-e-disco' is reserved for those fleeting malfunctioning of the 'dil' and timeconsuming day dreams, hence the discretion in choosing the events :)
@ Julian, Thanks for dropping by!
@ Woken Up...omg! omg! omg! - u r so right! how cud i forget that?!! Was he from another REC or army? lowe u for that. also what do we call the long term ones? those are simply 'disco' or 'pain' or 'twist' - not to go hand in hand ;)
@ Nikhil, thanks man...in a celluloid format it just takes me to pa(n)ther pa(n)chali...that's the epitome of childhood on screen to me.
@ Upu - yay!!! much better ;) also let's not forget the greek god in what was it, Merecedes?
@ Shashank, viva la salsa, man! How r things?
@ Richie Rich - There is problem in your site!! Do i have to have to create a login? Have tried on both the laptops :(. This side of me - have you forgotten the drunken night in pune? ;)

@ Anon - thanx for all your comments! dunno abt empathy, think 'am just plain naive;)
Okay last exam over!! 'Am off to my trip...carrying my camera and hopefully the lenses will be kind to me ;) Cheers!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Dil mein mere hain Dard-e-Disco!!"

(There’s disco pain in my heart.)

He was 5. She was 4. They were family friends. Fathers enjoyed their scotch together, mothers shared cooking recipes, uncles and aunties used to chat, and they used to play. Chasing the ducks, petting the dogs, her Chinese cut hair, his too!! Family friends are comforting; I mean if you think long term. Parents already have a common ground, one tick mark there, the boy and the girl grow up together, so they know how nasty it can get, no surprises there either. So it’s just the challenge of keeping it exciting, lifelong…now who doesn’t have that challenge?! So at the age of 4, the plan seemed reliable. They went to the same school too. The boy would give her tips on how to handle the maths teacher in standard 1, and she would share Kwality (Not Kwality Walls) icecreams with him. Everything was perfect! Then one day, the boy’s family moved to the US – just like that!! I sang ‘Dil mein mere hain dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco…

That was my first ‘Dard-e-disco’.

When I was in standard 3, I realized the existence of a rather cute boy. He used to sit two desks from me and would smile shyly. I used to squint at him, and do maths (mainly the multiplication tables for 8, it was a b****). Before the summer holidays, the maths teacher distributed the answer sheets for the half-yearly exam. To my pleasant suprise, I found to have conquered the 8*9 and had scored full marks. He ran to my father after school and said, ‘She scored full marks!’ This time, I smiled shyly at him. The school opened after the summer vacation. I waited to smile at him. Friends said that he had moved to another school. I sang ‘Dil mein mere hain dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco…

That was my second ‘Dard-e-disco’. Years later, I stumbled upon him on Orkut. I again sang, ‘Dil mein mere hain dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco…’ and logged off.

Saraswati puja was a big event in our place, both in the school and at our house. We used to do night-outs to come up with a theme, decorate the pandal, get the idol, plan the bhog, etc etc. It is during one such night-outs, at the age of twelve, I met an engineering student, 6 years older to me. He was helping out with the decorations, putting up the frames, painting, keeping the accounts, and drinking several cups of tea. He ignored my existence. I happily acknowledged the same. I followed him everywhere, his 'beck and call', and found great satisfaction in fulfilling his smallest desires, from bringing the hammer to cleaning up the paint brush. On the day of the puja, he came in a white kurta and payjama, smiling and reassuring, as ever. I almost didn’t notice the saree next to him.

I turned away and sang ‘Dil mein mere hain dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco…That was my third ‘Dard-e-disco’.

Meanwhile, I was disillusioned by the prospects available in my close proximity (the school, neighborhood, family friends) and decided to look far and wide. One man drew my attention. He blazed the television screen with his aces, his fury, his long hair, and his rebellious demeanor. I watched his every match, cried at his defeats, and rejoiced at his wins. I almost reached the deserts of Nevada, with him. I kept each and every copy of the various sports magazines, and pulled out his photos. Then he won the Wimbeldon. I watched it, and believe that my watching it had something to do with his winning. I truly believe (no past tense). Anyhoo, next day the papers announced how his girlfriend also watched his win from the player’s gallery.

This time, I didn’t have the voice (from the previous night's cheering) to sing. I just noted it down, my fourth ‘Dard-e-disco’.

After careful consideration, I decided that tennis, USA, etc. are too far off, let me look at some place closer. The closest was the television set, again. So I stared at it, again! This time a truly handsome man emerged from a box, chiseled face, smooth hair, great body, kind eyes…the melody played at the background ‘Ek dil chahiye bass Made in India’. I was pretty sure that this is the one! So I survived one Madhu Sapre, some Dipannita Sharma, etc etc. till oneday, some fifteen years later, he finally got married...to someone else!! I still remember, couple of us sighed, hearts broken. That day we left office early too.

I finally had to sing for him, ‘Dil mein mere hain dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco…’ By this time, I have lost count.

So the sweet 16 breezed by, the charming 25 came and went, I crossed the danger 30, and stumbled at the magic 35, the ‘dard-e-discos’ are few and far between now. I don’t blame my grey hairs for that, I think we don’t have ‘men’ of our generations, any more ;). So here’s to the ‘dard-e-discos’ of my life, and our lives, although they generally have very short runs, but boy o boy are those wonderful, and in my case although many of them didn’t know that I exist, I still had complete liberty over my Piscean daydreams; so here's one last time, ‘Dil mein mere hain dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco… dard-e-disco…!

**"Dil mein mere hain Dard-e-Disco" is a song from some hindi film. I take no credit for this creative metaphor.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sumitradi inspires…

She is a frail woman in her late fifties. Glasses, thick frame, a plait, trademark cotton saree, one cotton bag (jhola), and a cycle.

(c) Durba Gupta

The mornings in Pondicherry are amazing. The sun peeks through the clouds getting ready for the harsh noon, while the sea breeze, still lost in the nightly romance brushes the trees. The leaves scatter around in idle grace. Hundreds of cycles paddle towards the Ashram canteen for the morning breakfast. The cycles nod at each other, they stop by and exchange pleasantries – I believe that is the ritual, every morning. Ashram’s breakfast includes pieces of bread, milk, and one dalia sweet. They sit in lines, on the floor, young and old, Indian and foreigners, and eat their breakfasts like an ‘emperor’.

Sumitradi goes there too. Some days, she might miss, but most days she is there. She knows the menu by heart. It’s been five years.

I’ve always wanted to go to Pondicherry, may be to brush up my poor French, to capture the beautiful French quarters of the idyllic place, to have good food, to enjoy the sea, and all that jazz! So, last Christmas, I booked myself to a rather artistic hotel for a couple of nights, and took a night bus to Pondicherry. I also cajoled a colleague into joining me in the trip. The bus reached Pondicherry at 6, we took an auto to the hotel, and after few setbacks reached our destination. We explored Pondicherry the whole day and came back to a rather noisy hotel! An impromptu party was going on, loud music, and to top it all the furniture from our room was moved to accommodate the party. We were furious!

Sumitradi is a physiotherapist. She has been working all her life in a place called Burdwan in West Bengal. I imagine a small house, brothers and sisters, mother and father. Sumitradi comes across as a provider.

The next morning the hotel owner called. He empathized with our disappointment over last night’s fiasco. He offered us a free massage.

We met Sumitradi.

Sumitradi came to Pondicherry in the early nineties, for the first time. She had been coming to Pondicherry, since then. She decided that when she retires she will become an ashramite. So one fine day, in 2005, Sumitradi bade farewell to the place and the people she had lived her whole life, and took a train to Pondicherry.

However, the Ashram did not take her in. The retired lady rented a one BHK and stayed back. She became a masseuse. Everyday Sumitradi dons a saree, takes her jhola and paddles to the weary bodies. Every day she chooses to stay back and hopes for a place in the Ashram.

Sumitradi inspires me. Hailing from a humble background in a small town, her courage of conviction to live life the way she chooses to, inspires me. She chooses not to board a train back to the people and place she has lived her whole life. She chooses not to live off her pension. She instead chooses to dream, and to hope that someday she will be living in the Ashram. To Sumitradi, you inspire me…!

(C) Durba Gupta
*Name, place (not Pondicherry!) and timeline has been changed.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A bagful of memories...

I grew up in a joint family. At any point of time, there were 7/8 people sharing 3 rooms. We always had dogs, again 2 or 3 of them, ducks, who would poop as they waddle by, few chickens, a cow, and at times a goat, a goat that we would just grab from the road, milk it and let it go :). Almost every other morning, we would find some feathers in the chicken coop – remnant of a nightly cat attack. We had a guard too; he of course chose to sleep. Our dogs were uncharacteristically friendly with the cats that ruffled the chicken feathers at night! My boro pishi (aunt) was the one who suffered the most, she would have to go out and get one more chicken the next day. :(. The count thus stayed more or less the same.

While the focus was on studies, as that seemed to be the only path to salvation, we had our moments. My chhoto kaku (uncle) was a rebel (don’t know if he would agree to that!), and he always endeavored to show me the significance of not doing ‘what’ everyone wants you to do. I was the only kid in the house! So I was pampered to no ends. In 1983, the great Kapil Dev led the Indian team to history. We watched it. My mom fried dal pakodas and we served them on a plate, in front of the Black and White television when Gavaskar took to the crease – we wanted him to score big, and thought the dal pakodas would help. 

The underlying Gavaskar-Kapil Dev rivalry didn’t escape our house, either – so my father grimaced at the pakodas. Gavaskar refused to devour them, and left the crease soon.

21 years later, I dialled a certain number, hands trembling, forehead sweating! The heavy voice on the other side greeted me. I acknowledged, and told him that I needed a quote from him for a certain article. He most graciously obliged. I closed my eyes, and breathed deep. I had just spoken to Kapil Dev.

Another 5 years after that, far away from journalism, a journalist friend (Chinmaye) took me to a Ranji trophy match. A man in a trademark cricket hat smiled at me, and said, 'I have been watching you! You haven't had lunch!' I smiled and thanked him for the being the best wicket keeper in the 1983 world cup. Mr. Kirmani simply nodded!

We also used to have floods every monsoon. The water drops would make strange noises on the tin roof all night, and in the morning we would find ourselves on the bed and water all around. There would be snakes swimming by and we would struggle to get the chickens to a dry place. The ducks, as aquatic as they can be, were tormented by the rising water!!! So we fetched them too. The dogs would bark at the snakes, but shy away most of the time. The only one that would hold the fort would be the cow, we called her Kalu. No guesses there, she was as dark as beauty can be!

So there stood Kalu, in the rising water, calm as a cucumber with her big eyes, reassuringly looking at the floating snakes, swatting the flies every now and then with her tail, unperturbed by the chaos around her.

Baba said, she’s not brave, she’s just being a cow!! We felt that was mean.

18 years later, in the Markin Juktorashtro (USA), I found myself in a cold Chicago evening, gathered in the Anticruelty society for a film screening. It was an event for the volunteers with pizza, a game of blackjack and sodas. The film, no price for guessing, was ‘Cats and Dogs’. Emma sat with her little spitz, Alice. We exchanged greetings. Alice watched the film with great curiosity, while Emma and I chatted. It turns out that she has an Irish background, and cows there swim!

Ha ha – in your face, dad! Kalu always knew she can do it.

Every summer, my boro kaku used to come, when the schools were off for summer vacation. Boro kaku was fun, an accomplished singer and a great sport! He would bring with him stories, of the dacoits and the thieves, of the brilliant students and daring expeditions (being chased by a monkey, slapped by one, slapping one or even faking as a cycle rikshaw driver to get away with a prank!!). We would have a big lunch, and then he would sit on the easy chair and tell his stories. I would get a five paisa coin for every grey hair that I would pull up.

19 years later, as a Singapore cabbie drove me to the serviced apartments, I saw his dashboard full of coins from all over the world. Sure enough, there was one five paisa coin. He asked me for the new two rupee Indian coin, I was more than happy to oblige. I hope someday, for someone, it might bring back memories.

Memories make us who we are, memories help us undo what we are about to do. Memories give us the courage when we are about to take a big decision, memories warn us, when we are about to break one promise.

So whether it's a bagful, a pouchful, or a fistful of memories, know the ones we've thrown away and why, and hold the ones we have kept, close to our hearts, for some things are for keeps!