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Category Archives: Romance

Once upon a time in 1003, Hatat House

This is 1003, Hatat House, which was home to the family Ghosh, between 2003 and 2008, in a quaint little desert city, in the Middle East. I have lived five wonderful years of my life here and have loved this house for its high ceilings, large French windows, the sunrise every morning, the eastern sun streaming in through the windows and the fact that the Bee and I had painted this empty canvas in the colours we loved the most. Here is a tour of our home in the desert city with PreeOccupied , one of my favourite blogs by a wonderful friend called Pree.

Pree believes in sharing all that she sees as beautiful. An amazing photographer , a believer in anything and everything that is beautiful and colourful, she loves creating, be it  creating  a warm home or rustling up a storm at the dining table with her culinary skills.

Here are some more snapshots from 1003, Hatat House, for more go and visit Pree.


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Strange love : On the Agastya trail…

Agastya’s envy had then blurted out, he wished he had been Anglo-Indian, that he had Keith or Alan for a name, that he spoke English with their accent. – English August, Upamanyu Chatterjee.

In my first year of college, on a wintry evening I fell in love with  Agastya August Sen, a snob and a dopey stuck among the primitives of  Madna. August, who “spoke, thought and respired”  in English.  August who had to survive, no matter what. August, a lover of jazz and who read Marcus Aurelius. And ever since that day, ever since I was 17, I  kept looking for him in crowded buses, in metro stations, in Nandan, in Rabindra Sadan, at Rotaract meets, at the university campus – in a Kolkata bustling with people but none like August.

No, I was not obsessed, I walked into it with my eyes open. I knew he was a storybook character. But he was the closest I had come to a suitable boy who believed in being unapologetic about his love for the Queen’s language and being uncompromising  for what he loved. That was where  my love story started and ended. With my ‘perfectionist’ core , I too wanted to sound like a native of the tongue I acquired, just like August. And my Bong crux yearned the glory of a well spoken, well read,  well bred and all the other kinds of “well” ness (of  Bangla) that a well brought up Bengali should be. Besides that, I too, in many  ways, had started to feel  trapped, living life among a well fed, ‘fair of skin’, pedigreed tribe – who flourished by weighing and selling  gold and silver by the gms. This was my Madna,  in the heart of a city caught in yore, among a confluence of  baniyas, mostly from the western part of the country, converged along the central artery of the city over the last century, lost in  a milieu who refused to   perfect the art of their mother tongue, leave alone the Queen’s tongue.

You see  my parents’  foresight had put us, my sister and me, through the rigours of “English medium convent education”. And I suppose it must have been there where the arranged marriage happened, between the love for the languages and me.  The prolonged presence of the  two languages, English and Bengali, made them a crucial part of my life. Hours of Wren and Martin, verse after verse penned by Shelley, Keats, Byron,   pages of Shakespeare, Shaw, Maugham; and then attending Ms Gomes’ classes on the nuances of Bangla byakaran, bisheshwa, bisheshan, kriya, sarbanaam, sandhi, samas, krit pratyay, taddhit pratyay, reading  and appreciating Bonophool, Moumachhi, Satyendranath, Rabindranath, Saratchandra, Bankimchandra – phew! So by the end of it all,  the lack of  linguistic perfection in a person left something incomplete for me. And at times it even denied me the simpler pleasures of teenage and youth.

At 15 ,  I received my first love letter, from a ‘eligible in all respect’ boy from the English medium missionary school down the road from mine. But even with stars in my eyes I halted my reverie midway – three grammatical errors and five spelling mistakes! I know, I will sound like my fifth grade English teacher here, but can’t help it!  Mrs. Mandel would always say, “the search of perfection begins with detecting imperfection” and I may have had taken it too seriously. Ahem, you think so too?

All through college and university Agastya had the last laugh. A crush coupled with a few skipped heartbeats would inevitably be followed by a not so pleasant dawning of realisation that I was very much rooted in Madna. Love would quickly be replaced by the axiom  that my search for linguistic perfection was actually a wild goose chase as none would pass my “litmus” test in speaking,  writing or even thinking in  proper, grammatically correct forms of the languages they inherited or acquired.

The news syndication, was where my lofty pride of “walking, talking and breathing” English met the first reality check. I realized even I made grammatical errors, misspelt words and to quote my erstwhile editor, I was at times “a disaster”. In other words, lofty me was humbled. My Editor-in-chief  ran every piece of edit through her washer and dryer before it could be put to bed. Reducing beautifully crafted articles into shreds, at times with a pair of shears, was her forte and my nemesis. But the company of the enlightened veteran also ratified my belief that I was not paranoid, that  my Madna was real and Agastya was right.

Finally, a serendipitous  meeting and a couple of paeans of love later, I married a Brit  by birth Bee who also happened to be a pedigreed Bangali, but by accident.  He had been the only beacon of hope after my unrealistic love story with Agastya. The Bee was flesh and blood, had a commendable command over English and the same unapologetic fervour for the tongue (excuse me, his mother tongue, being born there and all that) so I lost no time in saying ‘yes’ to him. His Bengali was nothing to write home about, and here I made an exception, lest I thought I’d die a cantankerous spinster and also because I was sure it would correct itself under my supervision.

But …

To be continued …..

 

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Oh, Kolkata!

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”- Carl Jung

It was not so long ago that I was following a conversation about Kolkata between a writer and a traveller friend of his. As it is, I always enjoy listening to people talking about my city. But this time it was not such a pleasant experience. The traveller, an NRI from a bustling metropolis, shared his harrowing tales about Kolkata when he  made his way home through the city. In his words Kolkata was no more than a dead city – disorganized, desultory and deluged by people from all corners of the globe.

It  left me somewhat disconcerted. I searched for words, for impressions to defend Kolkata. But nothing came to me – no riposte, no denial, not even a sigh. For a long time I  felt nothing.  Was I sad? Was I angry? Was I  disappointed? Was a part of me silent in resignation?  Why was there a void? Why wasn’t I up in arms defending a city so dear to me? For a long time I didn’t know why I didn’t want to react.

And today as I sat  absorbed in a listless afternoon, waiting for the calm to lift, waiting for a breeze to lift my spirits, waiting for the vagrant clouds to thicken and  darken again, for lightning to strike and  the sky to rage with the gathering storm, it came to me.  I realized my affection for Kolkata ran too deep to be impelled to lash out, to be provoked by comments made by somebody who happened to be passing through Kolkata at the wrong time of the year.

I presume  that to understand and love Kolkata, or any other aging city in the world, one has to  accept that  decay and  chaos are  integral to an old city. And having accepted the crumbling city, look deeper into the soul, search for its music, map its streets, taste its spirit, trust its people and love it in spite of its faults. Having thus resolved the storm within, memories of my home, my city, my Kolkata came to soothe me like the rain.  I was not fighting a battle anymore , only reminiscing about my Kolkata and why I love her so.

My memory of Mahantaji and his brotherhood of monks in my first school, a Buddhist missionary institution tucked away in the middle of the Chine Para, the Irish convent I graduated to in the heart of  Anglo Para, wandering through meandering by-lanes, discovering  new alleys on longer summer afternoons, walking home through alleys that have been denied the invasion of daylight – was growing up with Kolkata.  Climbing over walls to invade the neighbour’s terrace to visit a friend, the songs I learnt to hum because our neighbour loved to listen to his radio loud, watching the same people exiting the same rundown doors forever,  the parar Durga Pujo, the para cricket, the adda at street corners or in our baithak-khana  – was being a part of the Central Kolkata lane where I grew up. The boi para, the neighbourhood theatre that  ran only old Bangla classics, the eroding facades of mansions echoing their former glory hidden at every bend of each lane, extravagant lattices, wooden shutters on arched windows, elaborate balconies – these and many more gems strewn at nooks and corners of a Kolkata urging to love.  Getting wet under the open sky on an open terrace on a rainy afternoon, watching  colourful kites flying in the lazy summer wind, lying on my back on the terrace and counting  stars with my sister on a clear autumn night, the Palash that awaited me every spring with its flame coloured flowers ouside my college gates or just waiting for the Kaal Baishakhi after a scorching day – was a Kolkata that made me a dreamer.

Another Kolkata also remains embedded in my memory.  A Kolkata of poets, painters, story-tellers, singers, of thinkers – people who make Kolkata proud, a Kolkata that was a distant dream in my youth but which never made me feel isolated. I was very much a part of the same Kolkata,  very much absorbed in this artistic abundance.

And inspite of the undying spirit of this city of palaces and shanties, bridges and temples, trams and metro rails – to most  Kolkata remains a dying city, beyond any hope and beyond any repair. Kolkata, the  city which like a stubborn child has refused to change with the changing times. The city that continues to draw ire from us, and other out-of-towners, scornfully thumbing its nose at all as it digs in its heels deeper and refuses to mutate.

It is this one thing, this reluctance to change too much too soon, the resistance to molt and obscure the past that keeps me going back to Kolkata. My Kolkata   remains just the way I had left it on a sultry afternoon, in June, eleven years ago.  To me seeing the same roads, the same people, the same buildings, the same careless beauty – brings back a sense of belonging, to a city stuck in a time warp. The faded photographs in a torn album, the nooks and corners of the streets I have traversed for as long as I can remember; the smells that have forever stirred the same memories in me, all  resonate a sense of  homecoming for the soul in search of roots.   Kolkata has always allowed me to remain myself, has compelled me to retain my identity. Like Kolkata doesn’t feel the need to change for anybody and unlike most of the other cities that I have either visited or lived in,  Kolkata doesn’t compel me to concur with the change outside .

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An old door in my neighbourhood, waiting for a breath of fresh air….

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The lone tower of Kolkata Corporation Coin Museum, on College Street (Bidhan Sarani), after the rest of the market was demolished.

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A balcony from my past.

India Counts

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2009 in Calcutta, city, Kolkata, Memories, Romance

 

My Kind of Girl

I remember starting to read a book a long time ago, Moner moto Meye by Buddhadab Bose. I also remember abandoning it midway. Pining about unrequited love, hopelessly brooding about “love is somewhere else, in the distance, even if maybe it’s only a wish for love, only imagination – not real” – all that had not made any sense then, when I was all of 19.

Recently I read the same book in English, My Kind of Girl, translated into English by Arunava Sinha. I picked it up from where I had left it at 19. Now I discovered the picture painted in those pages, the poetry hidden in the prose. Buddhadeb Bose’s “moner moto meye” (loosely meaning a girl to my heart) remained “moner moto” – a beautiful picture, most often out of reach, a memory of youth, a memory of the brush with love for the first time, rekindled in the minds of four Benagali babus spending a wintry night together in a railway waiting room, suddenly stirred  out of the abyss of their middle aged mind by a newly wed couple who “stood there for just a few moments, said something softly before they turned and left”.  And “that seemed to blow a breath of warm air through the wintry waiting room” and they embarked on a journey of sharing their stories. The stories shared over steaming cups of coffee revolved around  each of their “Kind of Girl”  and why they  all “wanted to see her for one time as a real person”.

The language was simple, only at rare occasions with a small twist or a quick turn of phrase which made the experience real, the image real, making the book un-putdownable. I could almost read the Bengali phrase hidden in the English words. I visited Paltan in 1927, I sat and watched Makhanlal’s father clean out a big platter of food accompanied by several bowls of delicacies and then “embracing … bolsters in readiness for … sleep” – images that are typically Bengali but sincerely rendered in English.

“Is the memory of happiness that has passed, happy or sad?”

It spoke to me, I felt the thrill of love, and I felt the pain, the hopeless hope, the fear to accept love and then regretting it, rejection in love and the bravado in the face of it. It was alive with  images of middle class Bengali life in the middle of the 20th century, the restrictive norms of rights and wrongs passed on to  the younger generations so that they too stuck to their middle ground and chose the easy over the right.

The book also had it’s light, breezy moments when the fickle female heart found respite in the obvious, the regular, the ordinary – or whimsically soared, being the object of affection of three not so urban males only to be swept off her feet by someone “Fair of skin, dressed in a dhoti and kurta made with a fine material, he turned your heart into a flying bird with a subtle fragrance if you went near him.”

I do not regret not reading the book back then, when I was 19. It may not have spoken to me the way it did now and I may not have listened to it with rapt attention as I did now.

Moner moto meye

 

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Gali ke mod pe suna sa koi darwaza…

There was a gentle rain falling outside. The incessant caress of the water had washed away every speck of dirt from each leaf, each blade, every flower. The roads, once covered in the dry summer dust, had soaked in the rain and was now wet. The old houses wore a drenched look, gathering moss on the eroded walls, ferns bursting out of the cracks and crevices.

Inside it was damp, dark and dusty from unuse. The closed cupboards reeked of mothballs, the rotting wood peeled out of its polished surface, the walls bulged and bloated in places thanks to the humidity in the air.  The restive soul wanted a breath of the fresh, wet air, heavy with an unknown fragrance from an unknown white flower blooming in the wet bush outside the door. He did not belong to this city anymore. But it rained the same way from where he came.  And that was why he wanted to be outside, under the drizzle, letting it’s cool touch remind him of home. He was not particularly homesick, but the rains made him nostalgic.

But he was also not new to this city. He had once lived in this alley with the decaying houses, from his first day till when he became a successful engineer.  The doors in the alleyway reminded him of the many faces behind them. There was a man who listened to the radio very late into the night at no. 3A, the lady in 4/1/B was a widow with four children, the house with the unusually purple Bougainvillia creeping up it’s walls used to be the home of one of his best friends who had since moved to the Middle East. He wondered how many of those faces were still a part of the decaying houses behind those doors of the alley that ended at his door.

cobbled alley

It was only yesterday, when he stood in front of this door, he had felt a happy lost feeling. Lost in the alleys of his childhood, his house tucked away in the older part of the city with the chaos of life around him. And then his gaze had turned to the green door next to his door, a special door from his boyhood. The fragrance of heena from the freshly washed hair, the clinking of thin, gold bangles, an array of colourful chunnis, the dark kohl lined, almond eyes darting coy looks and then quickly looking away if he happened to look.  He remembered  a  bashful encounter on a Holi morning – the only time when he happened to caress the blushing, warm, softness of the cheek , with her sporting a disobedient plait playfully pushed back where it belonged – an image from his eager boyhood.

But the man had not come back to reclaim unrequitted love. They never had a love story. He had found love in another city, in another girl. She had been married to a banker in a relatively newer part of the city.  He had another purpose today to have returned here thus.

He walked out into the small opening outside his door where the unknown bush grew the unknown white flowers with a heavy, sweet scent. Turning around, he looked up at the facade that was a pale shade of yellow many monsoons ago with broad parapets and arched windows. The window on the second floor was his, with his table and chair by it and his world of books, music, kites and football. The table and chair are now housed in his home with some other memories, the rest gathered dust and grew mouldy behind the closed door of this house.

Then with a shrug he turned the brass key in the latch. This would be the last time he would step into this house again.

But at a later date, the house will don a fresh coat of paint, the windows will be thrown open to the southern wind, there would be new curtains in the old fashioned windows, there would be new footsteps on the stairs climbing up and down. A  new love story would perhaps bloom with another girl next door. With that promise to his past he handed over the keys to the man who stood outside under a black umbrella holding a cheque to his name.

 He climbed into the waiting car at the end of the alley, rolled up the glass and took one last look at the house  before it went out of sight forever.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2009 in city, Life, Love, Memories, Romance

 

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Being Soma…

“And that would be, which Soma?”

“Soma Sen, IX A”

“Which Soma Sen from IX A?”

The irate cashier looked up from his cash register. I knew this was coming.

“Soma Sen II !”

“Spell your surname for me, please” …. (‘People and surnames’, I almost heard him thinking aloud)

“Its S-E-N and a Roman II “

Then I pardoned him for not knowing. He was the school’s new cashier. The other old man had kicked the bucket a couple of months ago and being in a Catholic convent school, we dutifully had to attend a prayer meeting with a rare picture of him smiling back at us. It’s elementary. I was Soma number 5 in the motley population of that year’s ninth standard. And Soma Sen II in IX A.

Things seemed to be a little better in College, when I found to my respite that the whole English department belonged to me. No surplus ‘Somas’.

Loved it, till a batch mate smiled sweetly at me at the freshers’ party, “Hi I’m Soma, from Geography. Didn’t quite get your name?”

“Soma, what else!”, I grinned….. what did she expect? A Bonolata Sen or better still Monomohini Sen?  But that day, I could have traded my name for anything as inane….

Cut to a later date. A couple of days into a whirlwind courtship, Adonis announced, “Would you mind if I called you something else? Something but Soma?”

I almost melted. Story book romances are supposed to be made of stuff like this. I swooned. My heart skipped a beat.

Finally, my knight in shining armour was going to rid me of my curse.

“Choose a name you like”, he said.

What? Wait! Wasn’t he supposed to do that? As in already have a name ready? Being so enamoured and all that?

And then, very matter of factly he dropped the clanger, “You see, I didn’t exactly plan to meet, fall in love and marry a girl who shares her name with my brother’s wife.”

The ceaseless exercise of acceding to nomenclature and being one Soma among a multitude gives rise to a frantic desire….   not to be Soma.  Be anything, but Soma.

Yet I continue to be Soma…

 
 

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