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In his shoes.

Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame

 

I know now how he felt, all those years ago, when he looked up at the brick and mortar carcass that was slowly, day by day, taking the shape of his dreams. Now I know, because I find myself in his shoes.

Those were the days when he had less gray hair and generally more hair, toured the North Eastern parts of the country extensively on work, smoked cigarettes virtually non-stop and blew rings of smoke lazily into the air, much to the glee of my sister and me; those were the days when he had only one good reason to visit a by lane tucked away behind a labyrinth of lanes off the boi para of College Street – an old, dilapidated house that had been razed to the ground and a new house was slowly raising its head from the rubble much like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes of the past. This was our house. The house he was building.

I used to accompany him on many of his weekend trips to what would one day become our house, clutching on to his big finger as I hopped and ran to match my seven year old steps with his leonine strides. As we got closer to the house his steps would quicken. Finally, he would pick me up and cover the last two or three turns of the alleys that lay between us and the house, at a pace that I could not keep up with. Once there, he would turn into a very different person – almost like an impatient child who would overflowing with questions about his new toy. I remember him tugging at the iron rods clumped together to form the core of the pillars of the foundation (to check their strength, perhaps?); watched him as he ran his fingers through the cracks that had emerged on the freshly plastered walls with a look of disappointment writ large on his face; remember him peering closely at the veneer on the freshly polished doors and windows; and always remember asking myself why he chose to do so. Our visits were filled with many technical questions that I knew nothing about: slopes, inclines, thickness of the walls and strength; but behind all of these questions, the one question that I could sense was uppermost in his mind was the one I rarely heard him ask: “When will all this chaos be over and when will we get to move in?”

Our house stands tall today, with its balconies on the south face overlooking a park; the broad bay windows that let in the first rays of the morning sun standing tall and proud; and a big terrace and a narrow strip of land at the back dotted with his favourite plants and flowers. Today, my father lives with my mother in that house still, long after his two daughters, my sister and I, moved out in pursuit of our own lives.

And as our apartment is under renovation, I find myself in his shoes today. In the last four months not a day has gone by without me poking around the rubble amongst the broken walls, pile of bricks, bags of cement and stacks of plyboard. I stand there and gaze at the gaping holes that were once walls and see doors that I had so far dreamt about, look up at the cavern which used to sport a false ceiling that has been replaced with rafters, and Italian marble floors, which I believe would be better suited in hardwood. On one occasion, not so long ago, I remember the Bee and I didn’t talk to each other for three days because we could not agree on the colour of the walls in the study, he wanted a brooding midnight blue and I wanted a rusty red. On the fourth day we decided we both preferred Olive Green…

Now a lot of ground has been covered and the walls are getting their first coat of paint. I was there even today and passing by a mirror thought I caught a glimpse of my father even as I ran my hand over the fresh coat of paint, pointed out a few cracks to the masons, irritated the life out of the carpenter by asking far too many questions about the louvers I wanted and added some ‘innovative’ improvements to the bookcase they had already finished. I came away happy that my dream is slowly turning into reality.

 

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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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And then, there was Facebook

The courtyard was tucked away at the end of the blind alley. As the hot summer sun would start to tilt westward, the forever familiar faces would appear in the neighbourhood windows, calling out  names, impatient to run out of the house. My name was also on that list, I now remember fondly, counted an equal among my peers. It was a mixed bunch, some of us tried to speak in Gujrati or Hindi to sound like  them while they  joked in Bengali. And by 4 o’clock in the afternoon the courtyard would be full of little voices laughing, joking, crying, fighting and more than anything running around with the wind in their hair. 

And soon with the change of season the equation in the camaraderie among the little boys and the little girls, who were now in their adolescence and early teens, started to change. The girls and I started to wear plaits, grew quieter, took to giggling and chatting more with the sisterhood on the terrace while the boys continued with their backslapping brotherhood and loud, rowdy ways. Once in a while the playful backpackers, would yank at the shy plaits in mischief, not quite ready to understand why they had replaced the giggly ponytails .

And before the raging hormones could take control over the mind or the heart, some of us had to move on to other parts of the city. The moving away changed a lot. I moved away from the warm comfort of the familiar faces and moved into a colder para  which offered more of acquaintances and less friends. Once the initial barrage of ‘we all miss you’ letters had died down, I settled down for the occasional birthday or seasons greetings. And after a while, they too became rare. Time had come  for the ‘blind alley and its gang’ to fade from my memory.

We have all gone through this phase when we trade one set of friends for another, retaining only the favourite few. These are the ones who we call, we keep in touch with and turn to both in despair and in glee. It happened to me as well, in some cases I was retained in address books and in others, I retained some of the old faces. So whether it was  a fight, a breakup or a crush, whether it was to share grief or joy or simply to fight we called each other or visited those close by. I accepted that with each move, from one alley to another, from school to college and then on to university, I would make new friends and while  some old friends would remain in my address book, some would fade.

The transition from an address book to the phonebook stored in a memory chip was not too difficult. And keeping in touch couldn’t get any better. Mobiles brought in a revolution  that changed how we would  ‘keep in touch’ henceforth. It suddenly brought back calling or texting to wish near and dear ones on various occasions into fashion. By this time I was also in another country, where mobile giants kept lowering call charges to kill competition. I spent hours creating messages for any given reason in any given season, birthdays, Diwali, Durga Puja, Christmas, New Year and I know some significant few still remember my fervour and as a result the deluge in their inbox.

But it was early 2007 when an email landed in my new Gmail inbox. “Come, join me on Facebook” it said, sent by a dear friend who I couldn’t refuse. Earlier I would stay away from  social networking sites, the likes of Orkut, because I found them a lonely place. Each name I had looked up returned the same message every time, “Sorry, the user you are looking for does not exist”.

Facebook was comforting in a strange way as I found a lot of  my friends, my compatriots, there. And one day I found a  curiously familiar face in my inbox with a question I had expected the least. The slightly balding, heavy-set face had a smile I knew from a forgotten time. He had left a message asking me where my plait had disappeared, a question relevent only if I was the same girl from the blind alley of his childhood. 

And soon my friends’ list on Facebook started to fill up with old, smiling faces from across the world. All were faces with whom I had common roots, in the alley, in school or college, at the University campus. Some went back to the cities I had moved on to with my new life, to coffee mornings in a desert city, to hours of Arabic lessons, long days spent at work or a group of knowledge seekers quizzing into the night.

Without the new revolution called social networking, these faces would have faded and would have been pushed to the dark alleys of the mind with the old ones. The freckled boy, who yanked at my plait and had once hit me with a deuce ball lived in Australia with a smiling wife and two pretty daughters with pony tails. One of my best friends from school, whose number i had misplaced and who never called back, was a research scholar at UCLA, California. The lady who got her Omani driving license at one go now lived in Zurich. My American friend from the Arabic lessons at Polyglot Institute had finally married his Phillipino girlfriend.

Smiling faces with perfect holiday albums and picture perfect lives gave me hope. Facebook helped me connect with that part of my life with which I had almost forgotten,  friends with whom I had lost hope to reestablish  contact. For nomads like us, like me, the fact that somebody from the past, distant or near, would remember, care to look up and connect gives a different high.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2009 in humor, Kids, Memories, Summer, Uncategorized

 

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the floor was coloured red

The other day I happened to walk into a conversation among strangers about something I must have  loved for a long time. I didn’t realize it till the mention of it brought back memories in rushes.

I remember spending countless days rolling on that red floor of  yore, my lazy summer afternoons with Satyjit, Sharadindu, Sunil, Shirshendu. On afternoons, when it would be dark and cloudy or even rainy, I’d curl up on the dark  mahogany four poster bed and watch the rain find it’s way through the chinks of the shutters on the window, roll down the ledge and make watery designs on the red floor. Or on a fast disappearing winter afternoon, the coloured glass pattern in the arch above the window would cast longer shadows on the floor and I would sit mesmerized by the changing hues of the red.

Then came the time when I was walking, running, lounging  on the mosaic of colours bordered with green in our new house. The house had window seats in  green mosaic and I would spend long afternoons pondering over Maugham or just stare out at the sky with  Joan Baez  and  ‘Hey Jesse, it’s lonely ….. come home’ or have the floor strewn with paper, paint, brushes while I  took flights of fantasy.

And one day  in my red Benarasi, I crossed over a threshold, on to a pristine white alabaster floor leaving behind a trail of footprints in red alta .  A new ‘I’ came into being, a new relationship dawned, relating me to many more and   breathed  life into a sprite.

Life moved on to  different cities, different mosaics and terrazzos, on to various shades of alabaster and granite, in barsatis, in shiggat (Arabic for ‘apartment’), in penthouses. But never again did I come across the red of that floor of yore. Not that I yearned for it, but somehow all my memories of my girlhood would have that touch of red.

Now in the eve of my life,  I  tread on my mosaic, a red mosaic , a red from my childhood, a seamless wonder that the adult seems to have clung on to all  this while.

mosaic Picture courtesy: mosaicartsource.wordpress.com

 

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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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Unconditional Love

Had one of the most profound conversations with my 8-year-old last evening. 

It is one of the sultrier Mumbai evenings. Another day gone in waiting for the illusive monsoon. The Bee’s  back from his buzzing hive post a busy day, a  two and half hours of drive back to happy Mumbai suburbia, with a rusty neck and a creaky back. He has  “Fragile, handle with care” written all over him. The tiny R and the adult M keep out of his way till he’s managed to scrub off every bit of grime and sweat with the special sea salt body wash meant also to soothe frayed nerves.

Almost civilised, by his own submission, he is now ready to mingle with the two women of the house. Half an hour goes down well with  Camomile tea flowing and M and R taking turns at beating the Bee at Domino. R quickly retorts, after winning the third time in a row, “Well, what can  I say, I’m a fast learner!”  She, incidentally, learnt the ropes  the same evening!

Time the enemy! The Bee’s clock’s ticking and before long the ” Brit to the core” aura announces “It’s 9:00 already, why aren’t we having dinner?  Tiddliwink, aren’t you supposed to be in bed by 9:30?”

With that the evening reverie draws to a close and I waddle off to dish out the final meal of the day, the only one that all must sit down and enjoy together.

It’s a simple meal and with the 8-year-old  eager- beaver laying the table, serving the meal is a breeze. I take pride in dishing out the exotic Mughlai keema I’d fished out of a woman’s weekly of yesteryear and am ready to fish for the compliments as a reward of my toil.

The meal should have gone rather uneventfully. I have already started R off with her dinner before I serve out ours. She takes a couple of detours on her plate before she attacks the keema, the Bee alights to join her.

She looks directly into my eyes and asks “Can I say something?”

Generally our dinnertime conversation is breezy, so I relent.

“Ma, how will you feel if Bau and I praise something you have cooked?”

“Elated, of course!” I am overjoyed. The Mughlai keema can now become one of the standard dinner fares!

“What if we don’t tell you that it tastes horrible?  Instead, we eat it and praise it and then ask you to cook it again?”

“Well, I would think you love me too much to hurt my feelings. And it’s your unconditional love for me that makes you praise it and ask for more !” I can almost hear my heart sinking.

The sprite returns an impish smile, “I’d love to have your Mughlai keema everyday!”

I taste some, and some more to make sure it tasted the way I thought it tasted and a third attempt confirmed my fears. I’m sure the Mughals loved to salt their food while cooking.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2009 in humor, Kids, Life, Love, Uncategorized, Women

 

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