Letting go and holding on

What is life if not a see-saw ride between letting go and holding on. Be it old toys, a tattered pair of jeans or a love affair gone wrong, letting go is not easy. We let go and then run back again and grab it, whatever we can – pieces, fragments, shreds. They fill us for a while, give us a happy high. Soon the pieces start hurting us, the rough edges scratch our soul, the uneven chunks weigh heavily and drag us down and we hit the low.  Like a heavy child on a see-saw, we know not how to raise ourselves.

Reluctantly, we let go of the pieces again from our pockets and our purse, from the little nooks and corners of our hearts. The empty lightness lifts us up. Elated we breathe in fresh air, joy and happiness. Some we retain some pass through our hollow shell. Eventually, we fill in the emptiness with new love, new interests and stories. Some cling to us while some slither away, making us go through the difficult and painful process of letting go yet again.

“Let go, for only then can you move on,” we hear so often. It’s not as simple as it sounds. No matter how hard we try some fragments stick on to the edges of our desire, they lay hidden in the nooks and corners of our dreams, in the lazy folds of our memories. We weep at firsts, then sigh hopelessly, eventually the memories sometimes stir and bring smiles to our lips. We look back longingly, indulgently as we move on and embrace the new.

Our first love, our first kiss, our first heartbreak. We were ecstatically floating in happy clouds till the rumbling thunder of the broken heart threw us on the hard ground. It hurt so much, the unbearable pain, the endless tears and then the unending numbness. We struggled to let go, yet we held on and it hurt more. Our heart so shattered, as if it will never mend.

But one day, unwittingly, we are whole again. Some fragments still cling to us, they adorn us, make our lives richer. We relish the memory of the first kiss, of our loves lost, of dreams that we dropped carelessly as we strode along. The pain has somehow eased, the numbness is forgotten, all that remains are the alluring fragments of the past that make our present richer and inspire us to pursue the future. We become a stunning vase of cracked glass that holds fragrant flowers. The flowers dry, we change them for fresh ones but the fragrance remains with us forever. As Rumi once said, “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”

Phantom, my dream lover!

The masked Phantom on the back of his horse Hero, with his tamed wolf Devil following closely on the tow. The skin-tight costume showing off his chiselled body and the mask covering, what seemed to me, a very handsome face. He lives in the forest in a fictional African country Bangalla and fights the poachers and the criminals. The crime lords don’t know whether he is for real or supernatural, he’s fast, he’s stealthy, he never shows his face, he dwells in Skull Cave. His punch leaves a deep impression of the skull on his enemies face. His many names – “The Ghost Who Walks”, “Guardian of the Eastern Dark” and “The Man Who Cannot Die,” runs a chill down their spine.

I grew up reading the comic strips of Phantom in the Bangla daily Anandabazar Patrika. As soon as I would get back from school, I would first grab the paper and read the comic strip – to see how Phantom punished the bad and protected the good. In Bangla Phantom was Aranyadeb, protector of the jungles. He was also known as Betal. Anandabazar would carry one strip every day and we would eagerly wait for the day after to know what happened next. There would be two comic strips running parallelly – Aranyadeb and Jhadookar Mandrake or Mandrake the Magician.

Phantom or Aranyadeb in Andandabazar Patrika

Aranyadeb or Phantom and his many adventures had me hooked. He was not just a fighter of the evil he was a great lover as well, effortlessly romancing his beautiful wife, the wavy-haired Diana Palmer. Though he never showed his face, or maybe because he never showed his face, I was completely in love with him. He’s my first crush, my dream lover! I envied the beautiful Diana who would melt in his arms. When in college I wanted to get curls like her, but alas my straight hair wouldn’t hold the curls.

Phantom is the only superhero without any superpowers. No bat sense or spider-sense, or high tech gadgets, his intelligence and strength are enough to defeat even the deadliest enemy. Perhaps that makes him the real Superhero!

With his lady love Diana

But, unfortunately, over the years, Phantom’s popularity has waned. Though the comic is still available, he’s not as popular as Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man or even Hulk. He doesn’t belong to the Marvel Comics franchisee you see.

The Phantom,  an American adventure comic strip, was first published by Lee Falk in February 1936. The series began as a daily newspaper strip on February 17, 1936, followed by a colour Sunday strip on May 28, 1939; both are still running I believe. In 1966, King Features stated that The Phantom was being published in 583 newspapers worldwide. At its peak, the strip was read by over 100 million people daily. Falk worked on The Phantom until his death in 1999; since then the comic strip has been written by Tony DePaul.

Well, but who reads newspapers now. Kids today are not excited about comic strips as our generation used to be. As a result, Phantom lost out to his glitzier Marvel and DC counterparts. A few screen renditions of Phantom were not as successful, probably they couldn’t capture the charisma of his humanity, the very essence of his strength.

No matter where you are Phantom you will forever be my real Superhero, a fighter and a lover who’s second to none!

Stealing a rainy afternoon

Stealing a rainy afternoon

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!

Desi flavour of Campa Cola and the zing of Gold Spot!

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!

Nostalgia, memories, the lingering sweetness…

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.

Rain makes me nostalgic

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.

Those childhood days were so much fun

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…

Daak naam/Pet name

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.

With my sisters & cousins. From L to R: Miki, Mimi, Munni, Sumi, Molly & Munmum (that’s me)

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.

With Raghav urf Jeet

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!

Rain, rain, come again!

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.

Rain drenched rose

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.

Rain-soaked parks

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.

Shades of Grey

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.

Grey makes the happy colours stand out

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!