Goddess Durga ponders upon her earthly sojourn: the changing flavours of Sharod Utsav

Goddess Durga is getting ready for her annual earthly visit to grace the Sharod Utsav or Durga Puja that is celebrated with much gusto in West Bengal, Tripura, Orissa, in C R Park in Delhi, and in smaller scales across India. According to mythology, Durga was first worshipped in spring (Basanti Puja) by King Surath.  Advised by Sage Medha, the exiled King Surath invoked the Goddess to win back his lost kingdom. Though Basanti Puja is still celebrated, Sharod Utsav has assumed far grander proportions. Goddess Durga was first worshipped in autumn by Lord Rama who sought her blessings to defeat the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama’s ‘Akalbodhan’ (untimely awakening of the Goddess) is what has captured the popular imagination. Durga Puja or Sharod Utsav is the biggest festival in Bengal and the East.

This year, however, the Goddess seems to have lost her usual enthusiasm for her annual earthly sojourn.  As she packs her bags with her best saris and jewellery listlessly her husband Lord Shiva enters the bedroom.

Shiva: Is everything all right with you Devi? You are usually so excited about these annual trips?

Durga: My Lord I do enjoy my earthly sojourns, but of late I have started feeling its more pomp and show and the real spirit is missing. So much money is spent on huge pandals built on innovative themes, elaborate light work, decorations and loud music. But not enough attention is paid to the pujo, following the rituals and the traditions. I miss those simple ek chalar pujo (the idols of Durga and her children in one simple frame). People would make idols with clay and natural colours and adorn with shola (milky-white sponge-wood). I yearn for the beats of dhak and kashor, the deep blow of the conch. This loud music played on the music system is deafening. I can’t even smell shiuli phul (night flowering jasmine) in most places.

Earlier, before my arrival, the ground used to be strewn with shiuli phul. I hardly see those plants anymore. My pujo was mostly performed in households and women of those houses would get up very early to make all the preparations and to cook an elaborate bhog. There would be lotus, shiuli and so many other flowers. Dhakis would compete with each other, everyone would participate in dhunochi dance in those simply decorated pandals. The whole community would get together for my pujo.

Now women have no time to get into all these. They just get dressed and come to the pandal. Everything else is outsourced. People are more interested in eating rolls, chops and biriyani than bhog.

Durga sighed and sat on her bed.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Shiva: My dear I agree a lot has changed. Not many people have the time to perform elaborate pujo or even offer Anjali to you. They are too busy with their day-to-day lives, their jobs. Life is more complicated now than it used to be a few decades ago. But no matter what, your pujo infuses a spirit of festivity and celebration. Regardless of how busy these people are, they take time to visit you in new clothes, forget their worries and look forward to the future with optimism and hope.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

And if you look closely you will observe a lot of positive changes, especially in women. Most women today are well educated, have a good job. They are conquering outer space, running companies, performing lifesaving surgeries. They are the very manifestation of your shakti. They may not have time to perform all the rituals of the pujo but they worship you with their spirits. Be it a pandal in Kolkata or Agartala or Gurgaon, women still gather to dance to the tune of dhak or perform dhunochi dance in a traditional manner.

The potters of Kumartuli and light artisans of Chandannagar wait eagerly for your arrival every year. Their bread and butter depend on you. With so much buying, selling and festivities you infuse positivity, you symbolize hope.

Durga: What you are saying is true. Not that I mind all the glitz and the glamour that is associated with pujo now. But with so much technology I sometimes miss the real connection. Even after coming to my Pandal people are glued to their phones. They are more interested in taking their selfies and videos with me and posting them on Facebook or Instagram. They are so governed by social media likes.

Look at our children, these trips to the earth have got them addicted to social media. Ganesha is forever showing off his wisdom on Twitter and Karthik can’t stop posting pictures on Instagram. I am told he’s trying Tik Tok now, our Karthik wants to be a Tik Tok celebrity. Lakshmi is hooked to online shopping and Saraswathi is doling out knowledge capsules on Facebook. They are preoccupied with their phones and ipads; they don’t even have time to talk to me anymore.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Shiva: My dear social media is a form of communication now; it is a good way to connect with the youth. But I do agree this generations’ focus on social media is excessive and they need to strike a balance. Maybe our children, through their posts, is trying to help them achieve this balance.

Durga: Also look at all the artificial, colours, chemicals and POPs used for my idols. Look at the pollution they are causing. My heart bleeds to see what’s happening to Ganga, Yamuna and the other water bodies. They are choking, they are dying.

Shiva: On that, I entirely agree with you. But I am also hopeful they will change their ways before it’s too late. They have already started talking about environment-friendly idols and natural colours.

Durga: They better change soon, or they will witness your thandav, maha pralay.

Shiva: Go give them the strength and the wisdom to change for the better.

Durga: Yes dear, you are right. Mankind has indeed achieved a lot. Instead of focusing on their mistakes might as well inspire them to build a better future.

Durga gets up and starts packing eagerly. Mahadev smiles, bows at her and leaves the room.

Interesting titbits

How Ganesha outwits Karthik – shared by Puja

Narada delivers a mango from Lord Brahma to Lord Shiva for his son – it’s no ordinary mango, one who eats it would gain knowledge and wisdom. Lord Shiva is faced with a dilemma as both his sons want the mango. To solve this Shiva, after consulting Durga, decides to hold a competition between his two sons – whoever finishes circling the world thrice first will win the mango. Go getting Karthik immediately sets out on his peacock. Plump Ganesha on his rat stands no chance.

Witty Ganesha requests his parents to sit together and circles them thrice with folded hands and then demands the mango. “My parents’ are my world,” says Ganesha. Touched, Shiva hands him the mango.

Tridevi

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Durga Puja marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting buffalo asura, Mahishasura, epitomising the victory of good over evil. As per Bengali traditions, Durga visits her natal home with her children – daughters Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth, prosperity) and Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music) and Ganesha (the god of wisdom and good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war).

In Shaktism, Durga or Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati are the manifestations of goddess Yogmaya also known as Adi Parashakti. Durga represents the transformational power of divinity, the power that dissolves the multiplicity of the Hindu gods into their unity. She is the direct incarnation of Adi Parashakti.

According to Vishnu Purana, Lakshmi is the daughter of Sage Bhrigu and Khyaati and consort of Lord Vishnu. In Rigveda, Saraswati a river also personifies the Goddess, she is the consort of Lord Bhrahma. Goddess Durga is Goddess Laxmi and Goddess Saraswati in her mild form – the Tridevi.

Understand a sari, own a sari, fall in love with it – says Joy Mitra

Joy Mitra, a leading designer and a dear friend, weaves magic with his anarkalis, lehangas, kurtas, dupattas and Indo-western wear. Most of all I love the saris that he designs. He takes the traditional Indian weaves like ajrakh, kalamkari or handprinted cotton and silk and turns them into masterpieces. Being a sari lover myself I decided to talk sari with Joy

What do you think about saris? Why do your work with saris?

When I say sari, I mean drapes – the basic attire of the subcontinent that probably evolved 5000 years ago. We all know that very state has its own drape, its own way of wearing sari. The modern way of draping sari evolved 100 years ago, made popular by the women of the Tagore family. It’s a beautiful attire that complements the Indian body type.

Sharmila Tagore in a Joy Mitra

However, over the years we have seen a dip in the popularity of sari. There was a time when Indian women flaunted sari. Even girls of senior schools and colleges would wear sari, were encouraged to wear sari. This changed 80s onwards with sari becoming just another outfit. And now I hardly see modern city women wearing sari, it has been reduced to a costume for special occasions. There are various reasons for this change. Modern city life doesn’t encourage sari. Many women don’t know how to drape a sari anymore, western outfits are much easier to wear. Therefore, it is important to first understand a sari, own a sari, fall in love with it. Give sari a chance and you will see how much it can change you, add to you.

But coming back to saris, they will always be there. The number of people wearing sari may vary, the number of sari lovers may rise or fall, but sari will never die.

We have seen 100-day sari challenge bringing back some excitement around draping a sari

There’s always excitement around any movement, be it bringing back the handloom, or planting more trees or saying no to plastic. We create excitement around things or issues that we as a society want to push, to make them for relevant for the time. Of course, there is a group of people who love sari, swear by sari and want to wear a sari. They want to bring back excitement around saris, not only because it’s a beautiful outfit but also to encourage our weavers. Our banarasi, kanjivaram, ikat and tangail weavers. That is also our job as a society.

When you started, and I have seen you right from your first show, you used to make those beautiful cotton saris in ajrakh and kalamkari. I absolutely loved then, but then you stopped. So, it’s good to see you bring them back again. Can you tell me about your kind of saris, what makes them different?

I like working with traditional saris, I have a very earthy taste. I love these rustic Indian colours, natural dyes, Indian prints, block prints, kalamkaris and ajrakhs, these have always been my first love. Of course, I am also in the trade, in the business of selling garments so I keep changing and evolving and coming back. It’s a cycle. It’s not that I stopped, it’s just that I was not doing that many ajrakhs and kalamkaris for a while. I am back to ajrakhs, kalamkaris, sanganeri and bagh prints again because I genuinely love them.

Is there a taker, especially in a place like Delhi where we see more georgettes and chiffons?

That can be a challenge. I invest a lot of money in some cotton saris, I find them so beautiful. But most of my clients would say ‘that but that’s a cotton, why will I wear a cotton sari for a wedding or a festival?’ And the funny part is if I don’t tell them and a show a picture after I have done a shoot, they immediately want that sari. This psychology that cotton can’t be expensive, cotton can’t be worn to weddings annoys me. I work with chanderis, silks and georgettes as well. Each has its own appeal. But as a designer, I am more inclined towards silks and cottons.

Anything different about the kind of work that you do with your saris, and the kind of blouses you team up your saris with?

I need to do something different, something that inspires me. However, I should be able to sell my pieces as well, it’s a process. For me it’s not about being different, it’s about making something truly beautiful, that’s all that matters.

I am often asked ‘Is this in?’, ‘Is that out?’ ‘Should I buy that?’, again these questions upset me. For me, a garment is either beautiful or not. If I like something, I will like it even after 10 years unless my taste has changed completely. What is beautiful is always beautiful. You don’t go to Taj Mahal and say ‘Oh, Taj Mahal was so beautiful 10 years back now I have outgrown it.’ It will always remain beautiful. Especially the Indian weaves and textiles, they are timeless.

Another worry, a lot of these prints are replicated by digital printing, which of course is faster and cheaper, and more people can wear them. But the essence is dying. The whole process to make ajrakh sari takes 40 to 60 days – so many kinds of layering and dying. Digital machine replicates it in a day and that hurts me. That’s the reason why so many of these weavers are leaving their jobs, looking for other work. I feel it is our responsibility to promote these traditional textiles and prints. Sustainable fashion it’s not just about promoting cotton or certain fabrics or a craft. It’s more challenging, it’s about sustaining the society, this whole ecosystem of weavers and dyers, all of us have to work towards it.

Aparna Badlani donning a Joy Mitra sari in Bengali style

Bengal has a very strong tradition of saris from tant to baluchari. But you don’t work with those saris?

I do, I work with these saris from time to time. Maybe if you come next month you will see many tangails and balucharis. I love these saris.

Most people feel balucharis are not in vogue, and I feel sad about it. Any particular reason for that?

We don’t see the real balucharis anymore. The whole palla and border of a real baluchari would tell a story from Ramayana, Mahabharata or Panchatantra. It was not a repeat border, the whole sari had different patterns depicting a story. Thus, weaving a baluchari took a long time and making it a very expensive affair.

Secondly, baluchari looks almost like a banarasi, just that banarasi uses more zari while baluchari is more resham. Both these saris come from the Indo Gangetic plane. Banarasi is woven near Banaras, then comes the famous bhagalpuri silks and cottons from Bhagalpur. Further down in Bishnupur where balucharis are woven and then you have the dhakais and jamdanis of Bangladesh. The whole belt is rich with variety of weaves and textiles that vary with changing atmosphere and culture.

Balucharis were too expensive and the dazzle of benarasi was much more making them a popular choice. Baluchari was made popular by the rulers of Bengal, but this beautiful sari somehow got lost and is still dwindling. Also, baluchari appeals to a certain taste and that’s another problem, you have to understand a Baluchari. It’s like a paithani, a very expensive and a beautiful weave that not everybody would like to own. Or a real kanjivaram with gold work. Sadly, there are not many takers for these saris. People are going for digital, from pure to artificial, so these real saris and the real crafts are dying

I remember our mothers had 4 to 5 expensive saris that they would wear for all occasions. Now you need a different outfit for every function.

That culture has died, and that’s not just for sari, that’s for all outfits. Our life is like Facebook, we constantly need to put something new. We can’t tell the world we have the same sari. We are fishing for something new to post every day. And that’s why we opt for those easy, faster and cheaper variants. It’s like a fast-food culture, it’s a fast-food lifestyle

But we still have sari lovers

There will always be, though the number may have reduced over the years. Maybe lesser women are wearing saris now due to financial or cultural reasons, or just practicality. But sari will never die

Women who inspired you to do sari, or you love to see in sari.

I am from Bengal; I have seen my grandmothers and mother wear the best of saris and that’s how I developed a taste for sari. The range and the variety of saris that we have are just fabulous. Even today when a client comes to me with an old traditional sari and asks me to highlight it or do some work on it, I shy away. They are so beautiful. I ask them to keep them as they are and pass them to the next generation. I want more people to love sari.

I hope with your saris will revive that love

I hope I do more saris, all kinds of saris not just handloom. Every sari looks different on different body types. I want people to experiment more with sari and drapes. It could be a cotton sari, silk or georgette, start wearing saris, start developing a taste for this beautiful drape

Your favourite drape

The modern drape is beautiful. And of course, being a bong, I like the Bengali way of wearing a sari. I have used this drape in many of my shows. I find it very beautiful and elegant, effortlessly sexy.

Thank you Joy, I hope more women start wearing saris after reading this interview.

A Day in the Life of Sunita Sharma

A humorous take on everyday life by Chandana Dutta

Sunita hurried to the trunk at the edge of her room. She squatted and quickly took down the odd utensils kept on it. On one side of the trunk was a pitcher. She stood up and bracing herself against its weight, placed it gingerly on the floor. Not again, the top of the tin was pockmarked, with rust and wetness. Anyway, she was late for work and couldn’t dwell on these small things right now. She heaved open the lid, took out the polythene packet kept inside. She unscrewed her skull in a few movements, took out her brain and put it inside the packet. There! It was safe now. Till she returned from work a few hours later. What purpose would it serve if she carried it with her? Why use her brain for the work expected of her? Really, there wasn’t much to do anyway. In any case, now that she had left her dimaag behind, it wouldn’t matter if she reached late, or skipped working somewhere, or broke a glass or two, maybe put the clothes that were to be ironed in the fridge instead. After all, it was just another day.

She stepped out into the hot sun not bothering with the door. It wouldn’t shut, the wood had rotted away in parts and the entire thing was sagging. It would hold like this for a few days perhaps, maybe not. Never mind, there was hardly anything inside that could be stolen. The first house was just round the corner, hardly a couple of minutes. Now look at this idiot, how suddenly he braked. He clearly hadn’t expected her. What she couldn’t figure out was how these people drove, if he had just kept left, the entire dirt footpath was free. He could drive there. And here he was all ready to climb over her right in the middle of the road. These people in big cars, didn’t have the brains to figure out that people would be walking on the road. 

She opened the gate to the house. There, they had kept the front door locked, again. She rattled the handle. Then she turned towards the road, better to see who was passing by. Arre, they haven’t opened the door yet. She rattled the handle some more. God knows what’s wrong with these people, they can’t hear or what. Just then Mrs. Sharma from the other side called out, “Arre, Sunita, beta bell baja do. Tabhi to sunai parega.” Uff, this woman. What was the point of a calling bell when she could rattle the handle hard? Anyway, she did as told. The door flew open in just a minute. “Why didn’t you open the door sooner?” “I didn’t hear the bell at all, only once.”

Sunita went about collecting the plates and glasses off the table. Once everything was placed near the sink, she would begin washing. “You’ve placed those glasses right at the edge Sunita, be careful.” “I work every day, don’t I know what to do!” She had perfected the art of ignoring these women right from day one. They were always saying something or the other, none of which made sense. The “Main Balak Tu Mata Sherawalian” ring tone shattered the silence. It must be her mother. She always called at this hour. She half-turned to pick up the mobile and crash went two of the glasses. “What happened,” Bhabhiji rushed up from her work table. “Just look at these stupid glasses, they were in the way. Anyway, only two broke. Mai saaf kar doongi.” Bhabhiji fled back into her room overcome by her emotions, she closed her door. She would now probably need some alone time to regain her equilibrium. Why do they even use glass, I tell you? Steel’s not good enough for these people. Anyway, her mother must be wondering why she hadn’t picked up the phone. She might just think something had happened to her daughter. By now frantic, she must have called practically half her family with details of their missing child. “Arre, Amma, kuch nahin. Just two glasses, they broke. I cleaned up before calling you back.”

Very soon, oblivious to where she was, and what she was meant to do, Sunita and Amma were discussing just about everything under the sun. Lachmi the tailor had to close his shop for a few days because they couldn’t find his wife. Three days later they figured out that she had left for her mother’s, just two villages away with her brother who was passing by. Of course, in all the rush, she had simply forgotten to tell her husband. Sunita’s younger sister, who lived in Timarpur in the big city, was running a fever, 99.8 or so. But surely that called for a few injections at the local doctor’s otherwise how would the fever go down? Poor thing, she was always so weak, especially now after her fourth daughter was born, and a fifth, god forbid it should be a girl again, was on its way. But then the brother-in-law was doing so well, working in the shoe shop in their neighbourhood. Never mind, if he had to leave by 8 in the morning and return after 10 at night. Still, it was the big city and a shoe shop at that. And how well her sister kept the kids! Each time they visited the village, they were all dressed prettily in identical hot pink gauzy lace frocks. Of course, the lace would bite into their innocent skin and keep them itchy and irritable all the time but they looked so pretty. Oh, and then the news about Bare Chacha. Bare Chacha worked on a farm in the village. The owner’s daughter’s father-in-law’s pet dog was unwell. Very weak. And needed as many blessings as possible. Would it be possible for Sunita and Jamai Raja to join everybody at the village for a path and bhandara? Bare Chacha would be so upset if the family did not rally around full force. After all the dog was such a pet of the entire family. How could anybody not feel the pain? Surely, collective prayers would help. Why not, Sunita could easily skip work for a few days. After all, this was such an important occasion. Surely Woh would also feel the same way.  

Finally, the dishes were done and Sunita had to call off. She would call back again soon after talking with her husband about their travel plans. They could easily take the night bus. Luckily they could just buy the tickets when they boarded.  

Just as she was about to leave Sunita realized that she hadn’t told Bhabhiji anything. She turned back and opened the door. “Kal se nahin aoongi Bhabhi.” Bhabhiji somehow lifted herself up from the chair and tottered out on her weak legs, completely drained by this news. Perhaps she would also benefit from some collective prayers for her own mental health and well-being. But what was one to do? One must accept one’s fate, whatever it may be. “When will you return?” “I can’t say anything right now. The dog might get better but God forbid, someone else might fall ill, or get married. I’ll let you know when I’m back finally.” Sunita flashed her a happy smile, adjusted her saree and exited. It had been a successful morning half after all. Come to think of it, there wasn’t really any need to go to the other houses. After all, if she was to leave soon, she would need to pack, right. In any case, they would find out soon enough.

So, she was back again at her door, having jauntily owned half the road. Dare someone drive over her? Why should she walk on the footpath when there was a perfectly decent road already to be walked upon?

Once back inside her room, she headed to the trunk. She took down the utensils once again, the pitcher as well. Once again, she cursed the wetness and the rust on its top. But then there wasn’t enough time to think about it right now. She unscrewed her skull and put back her brain. Now she could think properly. She took out the lone jhola inside, put in the two sarees she had and a set of clothes for her husband. Not much else there. This time she put her utensils into the trunk. Locked it. Her packing was done. In fact, they could leave as soon as Woh was back for lunch. She lay down on the chatai. And switched on the radio. Bliss.

Chandana Dutta, Founder-Member of the outfits Akka Bakka and Renge Strains that work with Art and Creative Writing with children and adults, has been Assistant Director for the publishing wing of Katha, a pioneering organisation in the field of translations. She set up the publishing outfit Indialog of which she was Chief Editor. She was Editor, Indian Horizons, a quarterly on art and culture published by the ICCR, New Delhi. She translates from Hindi and Bangla into English. She holds a Ph. D. from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Flashback: College Days

I was a college girl once, almost two decades back when life was all bright and chirpy, everything seemed possible, the world was buzzing with the promise of a rosy future. After finishing school, I joined the Women’s College in Agartala to study English literature. Not my first choice though. I wanted to become an engineer, leave Agartala for a top-rated Engineering college, but didn’t study hard enough for it. I assumed it would just happen, so naturally, I didn’t make the cut. I was firmly told by my father that he wasn’t going to pay for my studies in any second-grade institution, might as well stay back in Agartala and focus on doing well in graduation.

Snapshot: College Days

I was very upset with the developments, but I also changed gears quickly, decided to study literature instead of science and fortunately got over the setback soon. I had a knack for literature, and I enjoyed reading poetry or discussing postmodern theory better than scientific theorems. I came across a few brilliant teachers or mentors who further honed my appreciation for literature. I also made some excellent friends who have remained good friends over so many years. My disastrous performance in class 12 boards pushed me to make the most of my graduating years and I did manage to do well. I also learnt an important lesson, of never taking anything for granted, things just don’t happen, you must work very hard to make them happen.

College, back then in Agartala, was very different from college now. We would conservatively dress in long skirts or salwar kameez to college. Some girls even wore sari. Short skirts, even jeans were unthinkable in Agartala in those days. In plaited hair and attire approved by moms, we were the cool college girls. Happy, carefree, working hard, with many so dreams and ambitions, I still look back fondly to those days. We were nothing like the kwel college kids of today, with their fashionable skimpy clothes and latest gadgets, but that didn’t seem to matter at all.

I still remember my first day in Women’s College, finding my way to the 1st year English literature classroom with no familiar faces around. I was the only one from my batch who opted for English literature after plus two. I wasn’t feeling great, I was still smarting for not being able to take up engineering, blaming casual attitude for my poor show. But once I sat in the class friendly faces smiled at me. My new friends made every day in college so much fun. We would hang around in the college canteen, go for tuitions together. I grew especially close to Aditi and Piyali, a friendship that we cherish to this day. Walking together in scenic College Tila were we would go for tuitions, dressing up for college festivals and special occasions, picnics, those happy days when life seemed so simple!

A surprise visit from college friends on my birthday at Agartala

During my college days, I actually started taking interest in studies, I enjoyed the lectures as much as the other activities. I was fortunate to have had teachers’ and mentors who have kept my love for literature alive in me to this day. I would particularly look forward to the sessions with Rupak da, who was a PhD scholar then, helping us with a few papers. Those endless discussions and debates, different perspectives to the same poem or literary characters were so stimulating. He encouraged me to read, to be creative. He probably believed in me more than I did and maybe that encouraged me to start writing after so many years. I started writing for myself that shaped into this blog. It may not be literary or intellectual but writing gives me an outlet, helps me look at things from different perspectives.

After post-graduation, I took up PR, a career that has nothing to do with literature. Though at times my job can get quite demanding, leaving me little time to read, I keep turning to literature whenever I can. There’s a part of me that that craves to get back to literary pursuits, another me that so enjoys the challenges of my profession!

When love came calling

A lyrical prose

When love came calling the young girl peeped out of her bedroom window and saw the tall high school boy pass by on his bicycle. She didn’t know his name, but she knew she loved him. “One day he will look at me, one day he will know how much I love him, and we will be together forever and forever,” she dreamt.

But one day soon the boy left the little town, never knowing the girl or her love for him. The girl would look out of the window for hours and sigh when her dream lover would never show up. For he may never know, but he was her first love and it saddened her little heart to know not where he was. Then one day the world beckoned, the young girl left her little town for a new city, for new friends, college and lure of unknown.

When love came calling, she looked up from the book she was reading in the college library into the eyes of her class topper. They walked hand in hand in the beautiful rocky campus, spent hours under the quiet stars. He was the first man she kissed on a beautiful moonlit night. “He’s your one and only love,” she heard the stars whisper. College was over soon, they kissed goodbye with a promise to meet again.

They did meet in a new city, with newer dreams. But while she dreamt of love forever, he dreamt of freedom, of love without shackles and soon he tossed her heart away. It hurt, she cried and cried for many nights. “I can never love again,” she thought.

When love came calling, she walked up to a young man outside a movie theatre. They watched a film together, enjoyed a quite meal. She thought this was love, he thought he liked her, but love was too complicated. Though he told her so, she kept hoping and dreaming and loving with all her heart. “We are so good together, what more can he want?”

She gave him love; he didn’t want love. Gentle he was and very charming, one day he gently tossed her heart away. “What did I do wrong? Why do my love stories forever end in tragedies?”, she asked herself while she cried her heart out. “I am done! Love is a mirage; it can’t lure me anymore.”

When love came calling, he smiled upon her outside a coffee shop. They talked, they laughed, they shared so much and this time it did feel different. He would love her like she has never been loved before, he would be engrossed in his own world and block her out like an unwanted call. He would come back each time though stronger than ever. Win her back, calm her down, soothe her with his love.

There was heartache and there was happiness, there was loneliness and there was feeling loved. There was a feeling of isolation in which her heart would get engulfed. There was utter joy when her heart would sing like a little bird. There were butterflies in the stomach, there was music, there was a promise, or so she thought. There was pain, there were tears and there was silence, silence that would make her numb.

The cycle of love and feeling unloved, of uncertainty, of assurance, just going round and round in circles, exhilarating and nauseating, should she take a step back? But love came calling and her hapless heart knew not whether to open the door to poignant love or shut herself out from the music, from the butterflies, the occasional flutter and walk the path alone holding her head high, masking her pain with her pride.

Feeling festive, are we?

While catching up with my friend over Saturday lunch I found her little daughter busy at work. “What are you doing?”, I asked nine-year-old Prapti busy cutting coloured papers in shape of flowers. “I am making rakhi for bhaiya and dadu,” she replied excitedly with a twinkle in her eyes. My friend smiled, “She loves making things, so I thought I would encourage her to make rakhis.” With the help of her mom, Prapti made beautiful rakhis. “This is for dadu and this one for bhaiya,” she said smiling happily. “And Mamma you and Papa have to come to my school on 14th,” she added in the same breath. Independence Day celebrations in the school that she was participating, in I was told.

While catching up with my friend over Saturday lunch

It was my turn to be quizzed then, “Do you know who designed our national flag? What does colour green in our flag stand for?” Of course, I didn’t know. I tried to look at my phone stealthily to google the answers. “No, no you can’t google. Papa did that too and that’s cheating,” came the sweet retort. “Ok Prapti, I don’t remember,” I admitted. “Our national flag was designed by Pingali Venkayya, and green stands for growth, saffron symbolizes strength and white peace,” said Prapti with a proud smile. Immediately after the quiz session she turned to her mom and pleaded with all cuteness she could muster, “Mamma can I please put mehandi for rakhi?”.

Looking at Prapti, brimming with excitement for Rakhi and Independence Day, (both on the same day this year so double whammy for her), I tried to remember the days when I was as excited about festivals. Nowadays, festivals mean a few extra hours of precious morning slumber on a weekday., “Mid-week holiday, yay!!”, everything else can follow. On Rakhi I would get up early enough though to cook lunch for my cousins like I do every year. It’s always a fun, relaxed family lunch, something that we look forward to. An occasion to meet in our otherwise busy life and that does make Rakhi special. There would be tying rakhi, exchanging gifts etc. Though it comes nowhere close to the exuberance of Prapti, preparing for Rakhi days ahead, the love and the effort that goes behind each rakhi she makes.

For all my patriotism and love for my country, I don’t remember when I last attended a flag hoisting ceremony on Independence Day. I don’t even bother to switch on the TV now, just happily sleep through it. Yet there was a time when out of excitement I would hardly get any sleep on the night before Aug 15th. For we would join our father to his office for the Independence celebrations. My father would hoist the national flag, give a brief speech to his staff and we would salute the national flag and stand in attention to sing the national anthem. What a proud moment that was! After that, we were given snacks and sweets as refreshments. Those simple snacks tasted so delicious. As I grew up, moved out of home, I somehow left behind that excitement that comes with Independence Day or any festival for that matter!

Little Prapti, dancing around in excitement, reminded me of what I have forgotten, how much I have left behind!

Good old Tom and Jerry!

Tom & Jerry! To me they are ageless. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry and their antics, the clever little mouse Jerry almost always scoring over Tom, the hapless cat. Their endless, meaningless squabbles made the Sunday mornings so much fun. Though they fought endlessly, devising innovative ways of torturing each other, they had each other’s back against Spike the bulldog. Their never-ending bickering has been often been equated with sibling rivalry, brothers who are forever getting at each other without intending real harm.

Tom & Jerry shows have also been criticised for excessive violence – Tom running after Jerry with a hammer or an axe, while Jerry would device diabolic plans of setting his tail on fire, might make the wrong impression on the children, feel many. For me, Tom & Jerry is just fun. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry, spent many weekends binge watching the cat & mouse chase each other even after I started working. They always gave me a good laugh and made feel so light & happy. Violence is not an emotion that I ever associated with Tom Jerry. 

My journey of cartoons started with Barbapapa, Barbamama and their family. Those adorable shapeless creatures I faintly recall, who never made an appearance in Indian television since the eighties. Then came Mickey & Donald with their entire entourage who entertained us for years. Tom & Jerry added a new dimension to the cat and mouse chase.  Each episode was so much fun, there wasn’t one boring moment with Tom & Jerry.

But then one day Tom & Jerry were gone. There was Looney Tunes, Power Rangers, Power Puff Girls and what not. Somehow, I lost interest in cartoons after stopped playing. I didn’t enjoy the newer shows as much.

Tom & Jerry did make a come back again, though they didn’t get the prime-time slots. I was excited, nonetheless. “So are you watching Tom & Jerry,” I asked my 9-year-old niece. “Oh, they are for old people,” she said wrinkling her nose. Really, have I grown so old!!

Celebrating being a woman

A beautiful rain-washed August morning! Perfect day to usher in festivities with Teej.

Teej, a festival popularly celebrated in Nepal and across various states of North India, by married women for the well-being of their husband and by girls’ seeking a ‘good’ husband, is often scoffed upon by feminists. I didn’t have much regard for the festival either, till I delved deeper into the stories and the legends behind Teej.

The festival of Teej is dedicated to Goddess Parvati and her union with Lord Shiva. Legend has it, Parvati went through severe penance and 108 births before she could be united with Lord Shiva. Since Shiv Parvati are considered to be the ideal celestial couple, it was deemed perfect for women to pray for their husbands and marital bliss on that day and for unmarried girls to pray for a husband like Shiva. The narrow patriarchal definition of the festival naturally doesn’t appeal to many modern women. We are certainly not defined by marriage or our husbands or the lack of it.

Let’s look a little deeper. Parvati is no ordinary woman. She is the very manifestation of Shakti, the Mother-Goddess, who was invoked upon by Gods to tame Nataraja – Shiva the destroyer. Their union brought harmony to the universe – the communion of Pratriki, nature and Purusha, god that represents life.  Prakriti, who is responsible for the creation, is by no means part of Purusha. She is the energy, Shakti that even God’s invoke.

Haryali Teej and Hartalika Teej are two popular variants of Teej that welcome monsoon. Women dress up in Green (colour of monsoon, colour of nature) celebrate the festival with song, dance, katha of Shiv Parvati and other rituals. Like most Indian festivals, food, especially sweets like ghewar, gujiya, are an important part of the celebrations. It’s about dressing up, feeling good, singing, dancing and celebrating being a woman.

My Teej, my way

There’s again a very interesting story behind Hartalika Teej – a combination of “harit” and “aalika” meaning “abduction” and “female friend” respectively. Goddess Parvati, incarnated as Goddess Shailaputri, was the daughter of mighty Himalaya who promised her hand in marriage to Lord Vishnu, much against her wishes. When Parvati mentioned her predicament to a female friend, she abducted her and took her to a thick forest, so she could marry the man of her own choice. Again, it’s about celebrating choice!

Teej to me is a festival celebrating womanhood – women as Shakti or Prakriti – nature that nurtures life and creation!

Colours and flavours of the black & white days

Excerpts from WhatsApp post

Black & White Westin or EC TV, chilled lemonade with ice cubes from 165 litre Kelvinator refrigerator & a loud telephone that brought the house running towards it the moment it rang. Yes, there was a time when these were the only household gadgets (if I may term them so), that came with a huge aspirational value. If you had all these three items at home, you could consider yourself to have arrived in life. There wasn’t much to aspire for, except maybe a scooter. Owning a car – an Ambassador or a Fiat was not very common in those days. Only very few affluent people had a car and the rest didn’t even complain about not owning one. That was the world I grew up in!

I remember smiling proudly after my father brought home black & white EC TV just before the Asian Games, Asiad 86 was it? I was very little then, had no understanding of sport but would watch the games with the whole neighbourhood anyway. As ours was one of the few houses in the neighbourhood with a television, next-door neighbours would drop in everyday to watch the games. My parents put extra chairs in the drawing-room, spread a chatai on the floor to accommodate as many people as possible. Neighbours and friends were more than welcome to come over watch the Asian Games, or Chitrahaar or weekend movies later. Television was not 24X7 then. We would switch on the TV and wait for the legendary Doordarshan opening tunes and for the programmes to follow. Our TV watching hours were rationed of course. We were only allowed to watch cartoons and a few shows that our mother thought apt. I would strain my ears from the study table, sometimes peek through the curtains, trying to catch a glimpse of Chitrahaar or weekend movies that mother would watch with neighbourhood aunties.

Black & White TV with its entire paraphernalia
Image courtesy India Uncomplicated

Any talk about TV is incomplete without the antennae, fixed on a tall pole on the rooftop. It was a common sight to see somebody perched on a tree moving around the antennae while somebody would be screaming out of the window, “It’s clear now. No, no, turn it left, little to the right.” That was us trying to catch a better signal for the television! The TV did not come with a remote then, but with a stand or a trolley and a bulky wooden TV cabinet with shutter. Once turned off the shutter would be closed and sometimes covered with an embroidered cloth.

In those days, people would often borrow a bottle of chilled water or ice cubes from our good old Kelvinator, placed on a stand with a fridge top, and the handle of the refrigerator wrapped in a towel. Neighbours sometimes left a bottle of water in the fridge to chill. They would drop in often to make or receive calls. The telephone was generally kept in the corner of the living room, carefully covered with a crocheted or embroidered piece of cloth. My mom would entertain neighbours with tea and snacks whenever they dropped in to watch TV or make a call. Our next-door neighbours would drop in after dinner and stay back till late waiting for their daughter, studying medicine in Delhi, to call. The concept of privacy was somewhat different then; nobody would bother to leave the room when someone was making or receiving a phone call. Maybe in that world we were warmer, generous and more open. We had fewer qualms about reaching out to people.

I grew in that world, cherishing the orange Parle G lozenge or Poppins, happily blowing the bubble gum and occasionally indulging in Five Star or Double Decker or Amul Milk Chocolate.  Maggi was the most sought-after fast food and evening snacks were muri makha or chire bhaja or some such home-made stuff. Pocket money was always restricted to five or ten bucks and always accounted for. We devoured on Phantom, Mandrake, Archie’s, Tin Tin and Chacha Chaudhary. We also read Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and later Sydney Sheldon. I remember when I was in school, Ananda Bazaar Patrika carried a comic strip of Phantom (in Bangla of course) that I would religiously read every day. The amazing world of Phantom and his beautiful wife Diana!

Seems like yesterday. I can still hear the phone ring and the faint melodies of Chitrahaar. I can visualize my sisters and me rustling around in our velvet maxi skirts. But then when I came across a WhatsApp message ‘on some things our generation can identify with’, I realized it’s been so long, and we have left so much behind!!

The allure of eternal youth

“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety,” the famous lines from William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra that describes the legendary beauty of Cleopatra.

Many of us may not have read the play but we are familiar with these lines. Is it the enigma of Cleopatra, is it the idea of ‘ageless beauty’, what is it about these lines that resonate with us? My guess would be ‘ageless beauty’ that appeals to our secret desire to be forever young and beautiful. For who doesn’t want to look like a twenty-year-old even in their sixties. Impossible it may be, but we, desperate optimists, don’t give up hoping and trying. Thanks to our relentless optimism and strong urge to tap the fountain of eternal youth, industries and businesses have flourished that claim to hold the key to eternal youth.

First, there are battery of plastic surgeons with ‘magic’ solutions like Botox and liposuctions, nose jobs, lip jobs and what not. We have seen many disastrous results, but that doesn’t deter us from trying. Three times Oscar nominee Renée Zellweger went into self-imposed exile after a supposed plastic surgery that didn’t quite go her way. We have several instances in Bollywood, from Anushka to Sridevi, where their attempts to add to their beauty through plastic surgery backfired. But who cares, we won’t to give up trying. Unrealistic says logic, possible says vanity, and we would do just about anything to look younger and prettier.

Then, there are less painful options offered by several beauty clinics and parlours. From VLCC to Shahnaz Husain to our neighbourhood beauty parlour, the mantra is eternal youth. Their facials and beauty treatments stop the process of aging, or better still reverses aging. For those who can’t make time for parlous there is a whole array of anti-aging products available – from creams to lotions to face packs.

And in case you didn’t know, there are so many secret homemade recipes to eternal youth. Fenugreek paste seed can grow hair overnight, while a paste of baking soda in coconut oil can make you look 10 years younger. A combination of milk, green tea and rice powder can give a 50-year-old the flawless complexion of a 20-year-old. I was amazed when the idea board of my recently created Pinterest account popped up such simple secrets to eternal youth. I immediately rushed to kitchen and mixed baking soda and coconut oil and applied it generously on my face. My skin looked cleaner and I felt younger for the rest of the day. But then how many 50 somethings have I come across who look like a twenty something? None that I could think of.

On the contrary, I have come across so many beautiful and graceful people in their fifties and sixties. My mother is probably one of most gorgeous women in her sixties. Yesteryear divas like Waheeda Rahman and Sharmila Tagore still captivate us with their beauty and elegance. I feel fabulous in my forties and so does so many of my friends. The very talented Meryl Strip sizzles in her sixties and age is just a number for the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Richard Gere. Our very own Khans, who are still trying to play thirties, should take a leaf or two from the book of George Clooney, considered to be one of the sexiest men even in his fifties.

Queen of Egypt Cleopatra, who ruled in the first century BC, was one of the most famous and intelligent female rulers of her time. When Shakespeare talks about her ageless beauty he is probably referring to her whole persona, not just physical attributes.

In our quest for eternal youth we often ignore the most apparent fact – the secret to ageless beauty is about accepting the process of aging. Once you have come to terms with that, age is just a number!