Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Mad Trip Into The Mad World of my Mad Family - Part III

I had never thought I would wake up at the crack of dawn hearing a cock crow. Wait! A village full of roosters crowing... there can be nothing more irksome than not being able to shut out that cacophony even with a pillow on your ears. All the thrill of living a rustic and idyllic life for two days was forgotten. I woke up cursing (ha ha... in a spiritual abode! I am sure as hell going to hell *grins evilly*). I tried to get off the bed and drink some water only to have my legs and arms get stuck in the mosquito net. My wildly flailing arms did nothing to help me get untangled. I only ended up realising that my earphones had also managed to wind themselves around my arm and were adding to the confusion. I am sure Mr. Bean would have found me amusing then.

A look at the clock said it was only 5 am. I wanted to go back to bed, but obviously, the sounds all around told me that the people in the house and in the rest of the hamlet had already set about performing their tasks for the day. I walked out to the porch on the first floor to look at the sight around. The sky was getting brighter every moment and it was peaceful. My irritation melted away as I stood there and breathed in the scents swirling in the air. And then, the smell of cow dung hit me. I looked around to see Prahlad running across the courtyard to guruji's vegetable patch with a pail full of dung. It was to be used as manure for the brinjal and the tomatoes growing there. All my romanticised feelings buried under the gross smell of poop, I grumbled and went back to bed and lay reading a book.

At about 7, a snooze later, I got out of bed and headed to the bathroom with my toiletries and clothes to discover a waiting list of people waiting to get into the bathroom. I mentally slapped my forehead because I should have got done with all the bathroom work as soon as I had woken up. Now, I was way after 3 people, only to be able to use the bathroom. First come, first serve. It was like being back at boarding school.

Everything done and with ready for the grand puja (and me trying to come up an excuse to scoot from the scene, ranging from most sane and pathetic to most outlandish and unbelievable), we gathered out in the temple courtyard at around 11am. Kirtan and baul singers from the hamlet had gathered to sing on the special occasion. Well, the occasion was actually special. It was Radha Ashtami. So, began the kirtan. From a noisy and chattering group to their extremely melodious swing taking you to the crests of supreme divinity, the kirtan singers took me to a different level of being. Somewhere among them was a lady, who had appeared very ordinary and very snooty before the puja had begun. But now, as she took to the microphone and gave melody and feeling to the simple chant of Hare Rama hare Krishna, she seemed one with her God. Her eyes turned dark and deep with her devotion, and she looked beautiful as she kept us in thrall. The dhols, chaotic in their individual beat, and yet so much in synchronised tandem with her singing made us us want to sway to the chant. It was, I think, the most spiritual moment of my life till date.

We proceeded to perform the rituals of the puja, with me doing most of the work. The aarti, the bhog and the chanting of the mantras after guruji. After the bhog, the first part of the puja was over. It was around 3pm, and the next part was to begin after sunset. Aunty, mom and I served food to all the people gathered for the puja as they sat in lines in the courtyard with banana leaves spread out in front of them. We ate some fruits and pithe (a variety of sweets made of rice flour, pulse flour, coconut and jaggery). We tried to rest, but low voltage and high humidity ensured that we just swat flies and mosquitoes rather than get some shut-eye. I listened to some more songs, read a little bit more of my book, and waited for the day to pass. For tomorrow, I would be seeing my cousins after three long years.

Before the second half of the puja began, dad, mom, uncle, aunty, guruji and I sat outside the house, just off the courtyard, talking generally. Guruji was very concerned about my comfort, since he assumed me to living in AC all the time and used to the classiest forms of luxury in my everyday life. I'd like to live a life like that, but no thanks! I'd rather be on my own. And by that train of thought, I was having a ball. Yes, I did miss checking my mails and the occasional facebook, but I could live with that. The kids were playing nearby and guruji's two grandsons, Hare Rama and Hare Krishna were leading a group in what looked like a political procession. When we were children, we played office, school, doctor and kitchen scenarios. But the dirty party politics in the Midnapore has made children learn to play "politics" at the young age of 8 and 11. Disgrace!

I tried to get the attention of the kids by holding up a packet of candies. They came running, but some of them went the other way. It took me less than three minutes to know that those kids had gone to call the others who were in their houses and would lose out on the candies if they didn't come and get them. Now, random women, who came in also made excuses like they'd been working the whole day and their throats were parched so they deserved some candy. Still others who said that their grandchildren, nephews or nieces were at home and couldn't come, so if they could take some candy back for them... It was amusing, and I distributed candy to everyone, making sure no one got extra (since, now there was only very little left). The smiles and the cheer made being there worthwhile. And the kids got friendlier with me every time I distributed the sweets. It was a good feeling. Too bad that I kept thinking of relating all this to someone who would listen with interest. Some part of me inside was still sore and discontented.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Mad Trip Into The Mad World of my Mad Family - Part II

Like in all comedy of errors, for a drive that should have ideally taken us only two and a half hours, it took us a good six hours to reach Guruji's house in a hamlet in Temathani, a little ahead of Katakhali. The route got more difficult as we neared his house. Kachha roads, made slushy and slippery in the rains, narrow enough only to precariously accommodate our car's breadth on it's extreme ends. Dad was driving with calculated confidence, uncle was holding on to his seat, as if it were his dear life, and aunty and mom letting out yelps of fear with every lurch and calling out to the Gods to protect us. I was unconcerned, confident about dad's driving skills, but worried that the Gods might punish us again for the shrill shrieks of the women were annoying, distracting and scaring dad more than the tricky road ahead of us.

We reached our destination at around noon and toppled out or the car, feeling suddenly clammy - because of the humidity after the AC and the shy, almost reverential and somewhat inquisitive gazes of the dozen or so village children who had appeared from nowhere. Afraid of annoying us in any way, they kept shouting instructions to each other keep out of our way, except aunty's, who was a regular to Guruji's abode in the hamlet. The kids had come to expect her to distribute candies to them every hour. Guruji's own and adopted family of sorts came rushing out with sunny smiles and welcomed us with a lot of warmth. It was all very endearing and nice.

Guruji has made his house himself, with some assistance from his man friday - Prahlad, the local carpenter, a semi-trained electrician and an amateur mason. (Guruji is actually an engineer by education, he turned to spirituality quite late in life). It's a clay house with two floors, and very cool despite the infamous Bengali summers. The bathroom and toilet, located on the ground floor is tiled, and has a tubewell that brings in the water from the pond located behind the house. There are no taps. It was fun using the bathroom (okay... I know I am sounding crazy now). The kitchen was huge and as guests, we weren't allowed to enter it, and we were always served our food on banana leaves on the floor in the area outside the kitchen. It was all so simple yet so lovingly done for us, and it reminded me so much of my childhood and the weddings and occasions in those days, when eating on the terrace, on banana leaves was the happy ritualistic norm.

Dad, uncle and guruji had meetings set for the day, where dad, being a businessman, was to tell the local farmers, fishermen and small traders how to conduct their businesses or transactions more efficiently and improve their standard of living, and maybe make them aware of government initiatives that could save them from being swindled by middlemen. After they were gone, aunty and mom and I sat with the ladies for a short while and then got back to resting, for no one had had sufficient sleep. Post lunch, that consisted of lots of deep fried vegetables - begun, potol, aaloo, bhendi- maachh bhaja, maachher jhol, shukto and bhaat (fried brinjal, pointed gourd, potato, lady finger, fish fry, the famous Bengali fish curry, a special Bengali preparation with all kinds of vegetables and rice),  satisfied and full, we went back to our room again and this time I slept soundly. 
[Pssst... don't judge me, but I think I wrote these lines about food the fastest and most enthusiastically. An Oriya does love food.]

The evening was balmy too, but the cool breeze wafting and bringing along with it a beautiful combination of scents of summery blossoms made it very pleasurable to sit outside in the temple's courtyard. The temple, also built by guruji in 1982 is a Radha-Krishna temple, small, but beautifully and dutifully managed. The evening aarti was done and the incense of sandal and jasmine too soothed and calmed us. I was listening to songs again, this time on speaker, while mother and aunty were talking (yes, again! some calibre they have!) I had gotten along the packet of candies for the kids and after I distributed it among them, I made friends with them as they played with my cell phone and scrolled across its menu using the tracking ball. They were thrilled and in wonderment. The eldest among them was 10 years old. They go to school and seemed aware about a lot of things when I quizzed them about their studies. But it was funniest when the tracking ball was scrolled down to the internet icon, and looking at the animation one of the younger in the lot exclaimed in excitement, "hai go! pruthibi ta ghuriya jaye re!" (Hey! The world's going round!)

The kids took me around the hamlet, showing me their playground, the guava trees they play near and their school. It was a nice walk, except for the uncomfortable feeling of being stared at like I were a celebrity. It was embarrassing initially, but once I smiled back at a few ladies outside a house, they started to talk to me, and it wasn't as embarrassing anymore. I came back to guruji's house once it was dark and there were so many mosquitoes, I was afraid that an armada of them would carry me off to some other place. Also, the power supply chose to give up on us. Apparently it was the weekly evening haat that day, and so, the voltage was very low. Amidst all the voices around me, I sat thinking about the way my life had been shaped by recent events. I had been pensive, a litttle hopeless. I was quite directionless at the moment.

We kept sitting in the courtyard till about 9:30 pm, occasionally chit-chatting with the household women, till dad, uncle and guruji came back from their meetings. They seemed tired and the day ended quite uneventfully, with simple dinner and all of us retiring to our rooms for the night. While uncle and dad slept in guruji's study (which had a couple of nice beds laid out), and aunty, mom and I shared another room on the first floor. The pooja was to be tomorrow, and I had started to feel butterflies in my stomach. I decided to listen to music, and go to sleep to calm myself . I did, only by thinking of some nice moments I had had and some comforting words I had been told. I had a feeling I was going to handle things just fine. After a long time, I smiled myself to sleep, not a happy smile; but just comforted enough.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Mad Trip into the Mad World of My Mad Family - Part I

After barely four hours of very interrupted sleep, my cell phone clock decided it was time for me to wake up and blared out Enrique Iglesias' "Be With You" with a hope that I wake up all grinning and smiley dreaming about Spanish hunks. Wrong! I grunted and groped for the damned instrument and tried to switch it of, all with my eyes tightly shut. It chose to hang just then, forcing me to prop myself up on my elbows, prise it open and pull the battery out to silence it. Apparently, even delicious Spanish hunks are unwanted when a tired woman is trying to get some sleep. Alas! Only sleep was not to happen. For in a house that is being remodelled, and only one bathroom in the house (tragically attached to my room) to be used by four other people to get ready for the road trip, the traffic flow in and out of my room was incessant and desperate attempts to snooze were futile.

Leaden feet, scowls and some hurried freshening up later, I was ready and waiting next to our car in the parking lot by 5:45 am. There were five of us making the trip - Dad, Mom, Dad's childhood friend, his wife (they were in Calcutta to shop for their son's wedding in November) and I. The men and I couldn't figure out what was taking the women so long. We forgot to account for the gazillion "last minute things" they always have to do and, of course, the obligatory morning pooja before they started with their destination for the day. According to them, that would save us from any mishap during the journey. I cringed inwardly while I nodded vigorously in agreement, obviously to avoid a lecture on religion and spirituality first thing in the morning. I was also left wondering if God liked being woken up form his sleep at such ungodly hours.

With dad at the wheel, uncle next to him and the three heavy-weight ladies stuffed in the back seat of an Indigo Marina, already bowing under the weight of luggage that was loaded till the top of the boot space. The rear view glass was blocked with bags of all shapes and sizes, and how can we Oriyas forget that one big bag of ready to eat food packed for any time we felt hungry, or even plain bored? We hit the streets of Calcutta at 6 am. The roads were damp from the rains of the previous night. So was the paint on the old building walls that are the charm of the city of joy. I was seeing Calcutta this early in the morning after a really long time, and it was reminiscent of the morning walks and the chai at thronging Maharani tea stall on the way back home.

Sweepers cleaning the last day's garbage off the roads; newspaper delivery trucks and the stall men negotiating the day's numbers; the pharmacist in a 24X7 medical store asleep on the chair behind the counter in his shop; morning walkers, some with their dogs, briskly walking their routes, kachuri-tarkari and cha stalls with the same morning walkers milling around them; the park benches seated with the retired dadus and the still chirpy and bossy didas indulging  in their customary laughter club meetings and the famous Bengali adda... and the sounds and smells that accompany these characteristic sights of my dear city.

For the first half-an-hour, I take all of it in, letting my senses bask in the explosion of  things so pleasant, thanks to my dad's need for a cigarette. Once mom started complaining about her hair getting messed up in the wind, we had to roll up the car windows. Mom and aunty got into talking abut their kind of stuff and dad and uncle engrossed in recalling the road trips they took while in college. I was thankfully not required to be active in either conversation. After having caught interesting snippets from both pairs, I plugged my ears with earphones, closed my eyes and let go to the great medley of songs that I had painstakingly transferred to my cell phone the night before. Yes, that is why I had had only four hours of sleep and the comedic story warrants another blog post dedicated solely to it.

We stopped for some coffee at a highway dhaba and to buy flowers for pooja in a village on the way (why flowers and what pooja you ask? Hang on.). Somewhere in Medinipur (WB), there was a flat tyre, which I helped dad change, and pulling out all the heavy luggage from the trunk of the car and rearranging it in the manner of a jigsaw puzzle was no mean feat. There were two suitcases, seven bags, a huge carton containing some 150 sarees and two cartons full of food stuff to be delivered (hang on!). I also hired a van and went some couple of kilometers backwards on our route to get the flat tyre repaired. So much for the early morning pooja to appease the Gods to let us have a safe and not-troublesome journey. I bet they were peeved at having been woken up so early and they had decided to teach us a lesson. I had dragged uncle along, and we were having fun. My parents thought I was in the adventurous mode. Truth be told, they have never seen me in my true form.

For all those who are not used to rural Bengali colloquialisms, a van is a cycle driven cart - used to transport things and people over short and not-so-long distances. The way I took a lead to go and get the tyre repaired came as a shock to my parents. Mom got motivated too, and offered to come along, riding on the van, with her legs dangling down its back, her expensive crepe saree's pallu wrapped around her and tucked into the waist. Only after we convinced her that she would get a backache and her saree would be ruined, did she grudgingly relent. The songs playing on the repairman's mobile phone were predictably 90s, but brought back zingy memories of their terrible picturisations and made me double up with laughter- insanely popular (how?why?) songs of Jeet, Jaan Tere Naam  and Daag - the Fire! That done, we resumed, on a route I had not seen before on our innumerable trips to Bhubaneswar. But it had been a while since I drove down there, and I just assumed it was a newer route. How wrong could I be!

I still did not ask any questions. But during the changing of a second flat tyre (yes, in a matter of 30 minutes!), bang in the middle of the morning haat in another village, I heard my mother tell one of the many helpful men who came forth to help dad change the flat tyre that we were headed towards Katakhali. I was taken aback. My feelings bordered on gross indignation. I felt cheated. I did not know what to say. The name 'Katakhali' rang no bell, howsoever tiny, in my big head.

It was after we thanked these men and plonked ourselves into the car again, that I asked where we were actually headed towards. "Why? We're going to Guruji's ashram. I thought you knew. There is a pooja in your name tomorrow, you know, to help soothe your temper."

That flared my temper again, but I decided to look as calm as peace itself. I clamped myself shut to avoid being bombarded with advise about how a girl needs to be calmer, cooler, more, well... more like a "girl". Uh oh! That didn't help. There was still a barrage of advise from dad, mom and aunty. Uncle hates talking too much, and he looked at me, silently extending his apologies and sympathies for the ordeal I was in.

I have nothing against Guruji. He seems to be a nice man and he doesn't force me into believing or doing anything I don't want to. He and I have had discussions about dogma, spirituality, religion, and life in general. In fact, what I appreciate most about him is that he is a karmayogi and that he respects my opinion and my questioning nature.

But I was irked; for the sole reason that I was not told about this puja and I was going to be forced into sitting for it. I breathed deep and decided to make the best of what was to come. It would be my first stay in a village and I intended to have my share of fun. I stuffed my ears to the strains of 'Come Undone' and looked out of the window with something akin to excitement and dread brewing in my gut.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Healing Showers of Pain

Thundershowers at almost midnight in a warm sultry Kolkata....! Tupur tapur on the window sill... multiple tiny rivulets flow along the glass panes making for a pretty picture...  I look through the glass to see a distorted world... The cynic in me laughs and says, "As if it ain't distorted enough yet..."
The distant streetlamps are a pretty blur behind the curtains of shimmering falling water. The streets a field of skittling raindrops, as they hop, skip and jump and finally settle in the lap of a comforting puddle...  The puddle itself trembling with the tremors of quietening every single raindrop it absorbs... Absorbing into itself its every turmoil, its every fear, its every shiver...
The distant sound of thunder like a drum roll... Calling out to solitary souls to rejoice in the storm... To let it wash away the pain, the hurt, the anger, the pessimism... To let it take over the barren and fill it with something of splendour... If only I could let it... For pain seems to have made its home now... Unrelenting, unmoving, uncaring...
Sigh!! How I still only crave for what I cannot have...
The past catches up
Overshadowing my now
Blinding the paved route ahead
I twist and turn
I fiddle with its stronghold
I try to break free
I writhe, wanting to escape
I am pushed forwards
By the same past
That catches up with me
And cruelly taunts me

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

My Blessings in Disguise

Along the shore of life, I stop, turn and look
The footprints of memories - some fresh, some fading,
Some undesirable ones washed away by the waves of time,
The precious ones protected by pretty gilded rocks.
I retrace my last few steps, walking past these timestamps
They come alive; the hues of cheer and bonhomie all intact

The fulfilling friendships, the contented loves and the happy romances
The artsy stuff that brought me joy, the talks about movies, the books,
The unimaginably pretty women who made them good (don’t ask!)
Those booze nights with that special girlfriend and roomie,
Laughing with her over the hush-hush girl stuff
And hugging each other in the middle of the street just because…

The jokes in the balcony, the unbridled laughter and the wisps of cigarette smoke,
The late night chats, the heart to heart with a new friend.
Friends old and new pulling my leg, having me believe a distant light a spaceship
The noisiness that made us all feel at home,
Repeated invites for dinner which I regretfully refused
Meaningless banter in retrospect feels like the most meaningful times I spent.

The walks along the streets of cities that made me
The lone times that left me to play with my fancy
The random e-mails reminiscing an old joke, or making a new one
The visits to the quadrangle that gave me a second family
Fighting over movie show times, over what food to eat
Over where to go, over why a dream won’t ever be real.

Talking to the phantom who brought along stories of his own
He’d ask me to stay, but I’d unwillingly have to go back to my reality.
Sharing the last bit of absinthe conspiratorially with a long-lost partner in crime
Playing with dainty raindrop beads on the balcony railing
While singing out aloud a tune that friends loved to hear me sing
Among thoughts that made sense, thoughts that didn’t,
There were premonitions and scary omens
Pushed back into unheeded corners of my head as soon as they came.

Warmth in my heart on seeing my friends find love and companionship
The bittersweet bye-byes after every time we met, the hugs, the tears
And the promises to meet very soon again
The 4 am phone calls to make sure I was okay every time my heart broke
The other 4am calls to just tell me that they care, they are there
Still others that told me they were just missing me
And the indescribably cherished times we all shared.

Places, people, episodes, quotes, laughter, hugs and the random fight
All vividly painted in a collage of honest illusions that happened
As I close my eyes, they replay one by one, bringing back
A treasure trove of laughter, smiles and sometimes, uncontrollable guffaws
I hold them close, those bits of my life trying to fix something broken inside
Their warmth comforts my tired and drained core
The incompleteness forgotten, they lull me into a peaceful slumber

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Life's Deceptions

Little drops of sadness, draining the mirth out of a forlorn heart;
Small meaningless sounds betray the sentiments wanting to tear apart.
Those few tender moments of covert contentment and long sighs
Spent in gently tracing the lines of something running deep inside.
It touches through the skin, the flesh and the claret flow of life,
Seeping into an unknown cold corner to light a gentle and inspiring glow
Warming and bathing in a mild glaze memories that were born.
With every touch a spark, every breath a sigh, every word a caress,
Melting the stony faithless skeptic into a breathing believer of happy existence.
Tricks to deceive gullible souls looking for the chance of finding love,
Played by a sick sadistic force treating itself on cries of loss, fear and barrenness-
There wins fate's machination over a humble spirit looking for nothing but company.
Left behind is only a carcass of a hopeful hazy illusion of what could have been.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010


I am at the Crossroads again
One dream lined route pulls me towards it with promises galore
My fate seems to be pushing me towards the bleaker, darker, lonelier path
'Twixt the pull and the push, I stagger, swagger, lose sight of where to go

My eyes play tricks on me, deceiving me with nightmares
Groping about on slimy loveless labyrinthine walls in pitch blackness,
My eyes play tricks on me, treating me to delightful fancies
Holding hands and staring blissfully at the clouds in our outspoken silences

My heart, still beeking in the sunshine of Utopian amour
Skipping a beat now, and pulsating then with wild tribal rhythms
I shake myself out of the reverie, sigh, and try to choose from what's before me
Oh the pull and the push! you are the cause of all this misery

As this air of hopelessness hangs low
I only wish for a tide of my fulfilled wish to wash over
My spirit wants to fight the unfairness of it
But all I can do now is succumb and wait for destiny to take a call.

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