My stay in Agartala this time has been hot and humid. Though I spent my childhood here I can’t bear the humidity any more. The uncomfortable heat made worse by pressure of deadlines to be met. With COVID induced WFH we don’t really get a break anymore.
Coming home also brings along social responsibilities and commitments. Visiting relatives or friends almost every evening, taking my Mom or nephew out for shopping. I had packed some nice outfits and saris for the trip, unfortunately most haven’t been worn as I couldn’t bear to dress up in this muggy weather.
Sitting in humid Agartala I watched the videos of rain deluged Delhi airport. Generally it is the other way round. But this time the rain Gods were not so generous on Agartala. Though there were occasional rains, it didn’t help with the humidity.
Finally the skies opened today afternoon, just the morning before I was supposed to leave. Heavy downpour accompanied by wind and then steady drizzle.
I was working on a presentation, I tried to focus for while. Finally, I shut down the laptop and came to the terrace, sitting under the tin shed on the swing enjoying the pitter patar rain. Rainy afternoons that were a big part of me growing up has become a rarity now. So, I decided to steal it and soak every moment in!
Remember Campa Cola. It was such a rage in the 80s. While growing up that’s the only Cola I knew. They also came up with Campa Orange that I really liked as a girl. Then there was zingy Gold Spot.
I first tasted Campa Cola when I was five. We were staying in Kacharapara then, a town in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district. My father was on study leave, pursuing Agri MSC from Kalyani University. My much older cousin Boro Pishi’s (bari bua) son Tapu dada was visiting us from Kolkata. Whenever Tapu dada or his brothers visited it would be party time for me. They would take me around, buy me whatever I wanted, goodies that my parents usually denied. This time I wanted to have Campa Cola.
I still remember sitting in a restaurant with Tapu dada, sipping slowly with a straw into the glass bottle. I was drawn to the drink after seeing colourful ads of Campa Cola in magazines. The fizz however was too much for little me handle and I was struggling to finish the drink. Tapu dada patiently looked on as I sat with the bottle for an hour. I don’t remember if I managed to finish the drink.
Gold Spot was the zing thing. We also had Thumbs Up, the taste of thunder and lime and lemony Limca. I remember Kitu Gidwani’s Gold Spot ad in the late eighties that took Door Darshan by storm! I still enjoy watching the ad on YouTube:
He is crazy about speeding/ I go crazy over his driving/ He is crazy about mobike race and I go crazy just keeping pace/ You bet, he’s crazy about me./As crazy as crazy as we’re about …Gold spot, the zing thing, Gold spot, the zing thing/Gold spot
Those were the days of Desi Colas that came only in refillable glass bottles, slightly inconvenient but more environment friend. Campa Cola, introduced by the Pure Drinks Group in the 70s, ruled for over two decades. Pure Drinks Group, pioneers of the Indian soft drink industry, introduced Coca-Cola into India in 1949. They were the sole manufacturers and distributors of Coca-Cola till the 1970s when Coke was asked to leave the country. The Group launched Campa Cola then with the slogan was “The Great Indian Taste.” Orange flavoured Campa Orange was introduced soon after.
Gold Spot, a very popular desi drink in the 80s and early 90s was introduced by Parle Bisleri. An initiative of the company’s founder Ramesh Chauhan, Glod Spot came along with Thumbs Up and Limca from the house of Parle. The Global soft drink giants Pepsi and Coca Cola had exited India in the 1960s due low sale and other issues. The desi Colas ruled the roost enjoying huge popularity with the youth.
But then the giants returned in the early 90s and the desi Colas lost their fizz. Campa Cola perished, Glod Spot gave in to Coca Cola’s Fanta, Thumbs Up and Limca were taken over. It’s not because the global brands were better, it’s because they had more muscle and money power.
For me Cola is still Campa Cola, Zingy is still Gold Spot. Maybe it’s the aggressive marketing of the global giants or the loss of the desi flavours, Cola has lost its fizz for me since!
The memories of lying on my back under a starlit sky, counting the stars, the magic of the shooting stars. The moonlit nights had a different appeal. There’s something about the moon that has fascinated me as a child, the changing shape, the patterns on the moon or rather the craters. I have always found the moon enigmatic and mysterious. Each star had a different story to tell, I thought. There’s so much secret hidden in the dark blue night sky. But alas, the bright lights of development eventually hid the night sky.
The pleasures of those rainy mornings, with absolutely nothing to do, just watching the rain or floating paper boats in deluged the courtyard. The music of the pitter pater silver rain, the simple pleasures of rainy days. Me sitting by the window, daydreaming, fantasizing about my dream lover who will sweep me off my feet. The grown-up world stole my rainy days. The traffic snarls, the water-logged roads and the miserable drive to work killed the romance.
The fun and joy of festive days – Lokhhi pujo, Saraswati pujo, Diwali at home. With my gang of cousins, we would raise money from the grown-ups, Nomentu (my dad’s younger brother lovingly addressed so) being the most generous donor. We would make a pandal with mom’s old sarees and garlands of marigold and march to the market to buy an idol. Walking in happily with the Goddess, sound of conch, kashor and ghonta. The deadlines, the tight schedules, the obligations of being an adult, stole those days from me, burying them somewhere deep.
The first crush, the first kiss, the excitement, the happy fantasies. Life was like a Mills & Boon romance, the lovers spat, the make-up kisses and the illusions of happily ever after’s. Broken dreams, shattered hearts, promises forgotten or never made. I pick up the pieces and dream again of my prince charming who’s waiting somewhere. Sweet memories of being in love…
That’s the beauty of memories, the lens of nostalgia makes the past look beautiful. The long hours of load shedding or power cuts, having to finish our homework in candlelight, the heat and the mosquitoes stinging me are forgotten. Only the beauty of the starlit night remains. On those long rainy days, the inconvenience of having to walk through the dirty deluged road is forgotten, music of the rain is what still allures me. Despite all the heartbreaks, it’s the memory of the kiss on a beautiful moonlit light that brings a smile to my lips.
Maybe it’s the simplicity of those days, maybe life is all about making beautiful memories and filtering out the inconsequential…
Bongs their daak naam! Daak naam can be loosely translated as pet name or nickname but it’s much more than that. Almost every Bengali has two names – the dressy ‘good’ name for the outside world and a short, sweet, often funny and always meaningless daak naam or pet name that is used at home by family and close friends. For instance, Pinaki Dasgupta could be called Poltu at home or Nibedita Mukherjee’s daak naam could be Babli. Famous bongs have famous pet names, for instance, Rabindranath Tagore was called Robi and Satyajit Ray was fondly addressed as Manik da and R D Burman as Pancham da.
Daak naam or pet names are easy to pronounce, there’s something intimate and personal about them. Maybe that’s why as kids we would fiercely guard our pet names from our friends and classmates. We would resort to all kinds of tricks to learn each other’s pet names. And once someone’s pet name was revealed that would be an event. We would tease the person by calling out his pet name at the most inconvenient times – in the school bus, in the playground, in between classes, so that more kids would know the name and join the fun.
Bongs also have a knack for weird pet names. Boys are often called Jhantu, Hadan, Bhodai or Piklu at home. Girls are named Puchki, Buri, Bula or Mammam. Raja, Tutu, Bappa, Babu or Bapi for boys and Mamuni, Mamon, Bulti etc. for girls are some common pet names. The eldest son is often called Buro and the daughter Buri and the younger ones Kutti or Chutki.
Though pet names are often funny and awkward, they are enveloped in love. Sometimes lovingly a family bestows several pet names on a child. For instance, my nephew is Raghav for my parents, his Bua calls him Jeet, he is Shona for his parents and for the world he is Diptanu.
I was born 4 years after my parent’s got married in a joint family full of unmarried uncles and aunts. I was a pampered child with many names. While Mummun is my official pet name, I was fondly addressed by a different name by each member of my family. And some of these weird names have lovingly stuck to me. My mom used to call me Buggi (thankfully she has now moved to Mona). Ranga Pishi (my favourite Bua who unfortunately left us early) would call me Manku and my cousins had a field day teasing me as Monkey. Mannam, Gudum (because I was a chubby kid) were other names. Luckily Monkey is forgotten but Buggi is not. My cousins call me Buggi or Buggi Didi in public. I used to be annoyed and embarrassed earlier, but now I feel loved.
That’s something about daak naam, they are embarrassingly loving. We are reluctant to reveal them, but we will never let them go!
Remember the nursery rhyme: Rain, rain, go away/ Come again another day/ Little Johnny wants to play – that is never me. I always love rain, almost unconditionally. I want it to rain, drizzle, pour, no matter what. Rain never comes in the way of my plans; it adds to it.
Maybe because I hail from a place where it rains a lot. My hometown Agartala is blessed with rain. We have a bountiful monsoon there and often generous non-seasonal rains. As a little girl, I remember waking up to rainy mornings and eagerly getting ready for school. On those mornings, even if mom would be reluctant to send me off, I would rush to the bus stand in my raincoat, insisting that there was an important class that I couldn’t skip. The joy of walking in the rain, the errant drops kissing my forehead, sometimes in ankle-deep water, was something I wouldn’t miss. Attendance was thin on such days; teachers would go easy on the poor rain-soaked kids. We were allowed to take off our wet shoes and socks and let them dry under the fan. Those rainy days, more fun & play and less studies, are probably my fondest memories of school.
There were days when rain would catch us by surprise. Our school, Holy Cross, was surrounded by huge playgrounds and trees. There were times when we would be playing under a tree far away from the school building and it would suddenly start pouring. We would come back to the class happily drenched to be sent off to the common room to dry ourselves.
On those rainy Agartala days, I felt like a peacock dancing in the rain. I had no other care in the world except soaking in the happy drizzle. Sometimes it would rain so much that the streets would be flooded, and we would be stuck at home. I would sit by the window for hours staring dreamily at the clouded sky, drizzling or pouring rain or the deluged courtyard. Thunder, a flash of lightning or storm that often came along with rain added to the allure of those wet days.
As I grew up and moved to drier climes, rain became rarer and eagerly awaited. While studying in Hyderabad, I would wait for the rain to pour on our rocky campus and wash away the heat. Memories of running back from the class to the hostel in the rain or walking lazily with a boy who wouldn’t leave my side all drenched. The thrill of walking up to a man waiting for me outside a coffee shop in the happy winter drizzle. I often felt like a Jasmine tree washed in the rain, flowers shivering and quivering, waiting to bloom again.
Living in NCR now, the wait for rain is sometimes unending, the long scorching summers and the sparse monsoons. The dry heat sears the dreamy Jasmine, the plant is parched waiting for it to rain. The peacock refuses to dance and the sweet boy has receded to some far-flung corner. On such harsh summer days, I wish it would pour, the streets would flood and the rivers swell, washing away all the dry dead twigs and the broken dreams. Maybe once the despair is swept away the flowers will bloom; I will dream new dreams and dance like a peacock again on the rain rinsed greens.
Grey and its many shades! No, this has nothing to do with 50 Shades of Grey and its protagonist Christian Grey and his twisted sexual fantasies. I am talking about the colour grey here – the dull, drab grey that we abhor, and eventually learn to accept. For, we realize there is much more to grey – it can be threatening, melancholic, conflicting and even enigmatic – there are many shades of grey!
When we are younger, we like bright and happy colours – red, yellow, green, orange, pink. Who wants dull grey? We can deal with the clarity of black and white, but grey confounds us. It’s neither back nor white, neither here nor there. We can’t put it in a box. It defies any definition. For black and white has merged to create grey. And not just one grey, many shades of greys!
For a long time, I avoided grey. I found the colour boring, sometimes confusing. I was all for happy colours, all for clarity. I wanted definite answers. For me, it was either right or wrong, no in-betweens. I either liked something or somebody or I didn’t, and I what didn’t like, I ignored. I made no effort to be nice to people who didn’t match up to my standards. I would rather be alone than be with people I didn’t care about. My friends, who knew me better, called me reserved. But not everyone was as kind. Most people found me snobbish. But that somehow didn’t bother me, as long as I had clarity.
Things changed once I entered the world of work. I realized I couldn’t ignore a person just because I disliked them, no matter how valid my reasons maybe. You could probably get away with it in some spheres of life. But in my profession that involved dealing with people, it was impossible. So, I learnt to get along with people irrespective of whether I liked them or not. I did so grudgingly at first, then eventually got used to it. I realized that it didn’t make me fake; it made me a better person. I was less dismissive and judgemental.
Then the little boxes defied me. The right and the wrong, the good and the bad, the light and the dark, and so many other opposites that I compartmentalized often got jumbled. Things got even more entangled when emotions entered the equation, all those ‘Love me, love me not’ moments. The conflicting sentiments confounded me. I would be perplexed, sometimes depressed, not knowing how to deal with them. Until I realized it was impossible to put things in different boxes. The greys are for real, as real as black and white.
And not all greys are dull. There’s romantic grey like a monsoon day that brings silver rain or the enigmatic grey of the evening sky that merges with the night. Grey can be threatening, grey can be looming and uncertain, but once we learn to deal with greys, it’s not that bad. Grey is a mature colour that teaches us to accept life as it comes!
We celebrate the Festival of Light on a new moon autumn night that falls on the Hindu month of Kartik to drive the darkness away. Anything that is dark is somehow associated with evil in our culture. We light lamps or diyas on Deepavali to celebrate the victory of good over evil. According to Hindu mythology, Deepavali marks the day when Lord Rama returned home after vanquishing Ravana, the asura king. The golden Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped across North India to usher wealth and prosperity on that night. Homecoming of Lord Rama did mark the beginning to happy days for his subject in Ayodhya. In Bengal and east, however, we worship Goddess Kali on Deepavali night. Fearsome Kali with open hair, bloodshot eyes, garlanded with skulls is considered to be the vanquisher of evil – the dark Kali violently and uprooting the dark evil.
The image of Kali has always evoked a mixed response in me. The bloodthirsty semi-naked dark blue Goddess adorned with a garland of skulls of the demons she has crushed, holding a severed head dripping blood, wearing a skirt of severed limbs, her bloody tongue jutting out as she steps on to her consort, Lord Shiva. Yes, Shiva needed to fall on her feet to calm her down. I have sometimes wondered how or why our patriarchal society conceived of female power so ferocious so, so untamed? On the night of Deepavali, Kali bhakts in Bengal stay up the whole night and worships Goddess Kali who used her darkness to annihilate darkness. Though, having grown up as a Bengali, with images and pictures of Kali all around, one can sometimes take this enigmatic Goddess for granted. I have always felt there is more to her than meets the eye. And the more I read about her, the more questions she evokes.
Kali’s blackness is associated with the eternal darkness that can destroy and create. As Shamsana Kali she presides over the crematorium, the land between the living and the dead. She is associated with death and dark magic or Tantra. Kali is central to Tantra Sadhna in Bengal, a spiritual practice that involves the dead. Though she is much revered, this dark blue Goddess is never worshipped at home. Her wildness and untamed spirit inspire awe, her raw feminine energy refuses to be domesticated. She effortlessly dwells in the realms of life and death. Kali has always reminded me of the darkness that lurks under the flickering flame, the opposites that embrace each other to create harmony. She lends deeper appeal to celebrations of light.
Not many of us are aware that this wild Goddess manifests herself in 10 different forms. In one such forms, Kamala Kali, she is a tantric form of the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi. This form of Goddess Kali is worshipped as ‘Gaja Lakshmi’, as she has two elephants by her side, the southern states.
Interestingly, Kali Pujo is preceded by Bhoot Chaturdashi or Bengal’s own Halloween. On Bhoot Chaturdashi our 14 forefathers are called upon and warded off on the same day. Choddo Prodip or 14 candles are lit in 14 corners of the house, a practice that I follow even in Gurgaon. According to folklore, the spirits of ancestors come back to us on this night and these diyas help them find their homes. It is believed that our Choddo Purush or fourteen ancestors descend to bless us and ward off evil spirits and ghosts. But they are spirits too, so we need to ward them off after being blessed. What a strange practise that challenges the opposites and the barriers that we carefully construct.
Kali, also known as Adishakti or Kundalini Shakti, is the divine feminine energy or the light that makes the Universe live, but she can also burn it. Therefore, when we worship Kali, we celebrate these very opposites, revere her, fear her. The darkness that our society looks down upon is adulated. The dark blue Goddess who effortlessly embodies the contradictions is probably mocking at the futility of all boundaries – the good and the bad, the black and the white, of the different compartments that we have carefully built over the years. For, Kali’s darkness brings light and under the flames of every lamp plays the dark shadow!
Summer has been tough this year. Cooped up at home, with temperature soaring above 45 degrees, overworked. And to make matters worse, a very delayed monsoon. I have been dying to get out for a while, get away from things that have been pulling me down. A solo trip was all my heart desired!
Finally, I managed to steal a few days and plan a trip, or rather the trip was planned for me. It wasn’t solo after all, but I am not complaining. It turned out to be one of the best breaks ever on the mesmerizing hills of Ranichauri. This lesser-known hill station was suggested to me by my friend Sanjay. He was planning a trip there with his business partner Nupur and said that I could come along if I was not too hell-bent on a ‘solo trip’. I decided to tag along as Sanjay and Nupur took care of the hotel booking and everything else. And all the beautiful pictures that you see have been taken by Sanjay.
So, we took off at 4 a.m. from Gurgaon and after a few stops on reaching Uttarakhand for RTPCR checks, we reached our hotel at Ranichauri before 11 a.m., all thanks to Sanjay’s expert driving! About 74 km from Rishikesh, Ranichauri is a secluded hill station in the Chamba district above Tehri. It lies at a height of above 5500 feet.
If mountains are often described as celestial, the mountains of Ranichauri definitely are. As our car entered the hilly village the cool mountain breeze soothed me, the lush green hills and the clouds floating on the hills, sometimes covering them, sometimes revealing them, transported me to a different world. I sat on the verandah for hours watching the sun and the clouds romancing with the mountains. The clouds floating over the hills, or sunlight falling on the green mountains would change them, give them a different character, lend them an enigma. It was fascinating to watch the clouds flirt with hills, kiss them and glide away, sometimes wrap them and engulf them in their mysterious grey. The weak sun would fall on hills and give them a different colour once the clouds decided to move away. The beauty of the mountains in the monsoon is so heavenly. No wonder Gods dwell in Kailasha Parvat and float around in clouds!
Next day we decided to drive around and explore the mountains. The drive up to the Horticulture University at Dhandachauli, with green hills on both sides, was beautiful indeed. Better still, drive through the unknown mountain roads, with rainwater springs singing their way downhill, mist floating down and kissing us as we got off the car to take a fill of the relatively untouched natural splendour. It was an experience I will never forget!
We trekked around, delighted by the chirruping of different species of birds, looking at the hills from different points, different angles. The green foothills covered by the forest of pine and deodar trees, beautiful flowers blooming everywhere, was a welcome change after hot and dry NCR. There were monkeys abundant. Leopards stole dogs and cattle at night, we were told.
Of course, we went down to the Tehri and hired a speedboat for a ride in the dam. While the dam is huge and beautiful, it’s no match for the enigma of the mountains.
If you are a mountain lover like me, yearning to get away from the routine city life, Ranichauri is the place to be!