Month: August 2019

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?

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.

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!!