Month: February 2021

The Art and Science of Love

Love, the ever elusive, the ever unfathomable love. While Robert Burn’s love’s ‘like red, red rose/ that’s newly sprung in June,” Lord Byron’s lady love “walks in beauty like the night/ of cloudless climes and starry skies/ and all that’s best of dark and bright/ meet in her aspect and her eyes.”

We are crazy in love, utterly happy in love. Love inspires us, love makes us do silly stupid things. Love wins us wars; we give up kingdom for love. And when love hurts, it’s as if our world’s falling apart. We are lovelorn, love stuck, lovesick, love makes the butterflies flutter and the little birds’ twitter. So much has been written about love, unforgettable poems, plays and brilliant epics. Love has been translated into beautiful and timeless art, giving us many master pieces. While poets’ and writers’ string enamouring, melancholic tales of love, trying to unravel the mystery that’s love, scientists have come up with a perfectly rational explanation for this very irrational emotion. And believe it or not heart has got nothing to do with it!

According to an article that appeared some time back in The Harvard Gazette – When love and science double date – Love turns on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is known to stimulate the brain’s pleasure centres. The serotonin levels in our brain drops when we set sight on the ones we love, adding a dash of obsession and leading to crazy, pleasing, stupefied, urgent love or infatuation.

Even different phases of love can be scientifically explained though it’s fairly complex, admits even the scientifically minded. Richard Schwartz, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS), who has built a career around studying love, hate, indifference, and other emotions, says that during the first love-year, serotonin levels gradually return to normal, and the “stupid” and “obsessive” aspects of the condition moderate. The first flush of love is followed by increase in the hormone oxytocin, a neurotransmitter associated with a calmer and more mature love. Despite what poets or philosophers may say, it is this chemical oxytocin that helps cement bonds, raises immune function, and begin to confer the health benefits found in married couples, who tend to live longer, have fewer strokes and heart attacks, be less depressed, and have higher survival rates from major surgery and cancer.

So much for scientifically explaining love. The complex emotion may be triggered by various chemicals in our brain, it still makes our heart skip a beat and the butterflies flutter in our stomach when our eyes meet the ones we love. The bitter-sweet ache of love is something that brain can never really figure out. I have often wished I could be wiser in love, but surprisingly the very brain that triggers the emotion refuses to pay any heed. Such is our rationally irrational love, an enigma that none can unravel!

Discovering Chobimura

Coming home can be a somewhat divided experience. While the comfort of home envelops you, there’s a sense of familiarity that can lead to boredom. Having grown up here you feel there’s nothing new to discover. But when you look closely, you will find that a lot has changed. While the wheels of progress may have marred the tranquil childhood memories, new wonders have added to the allure of homecoming. Chobimura tucked on the western banks of Gomati river in South Tripura is one such wild and rocky abode that I will visit whenever I come to Agartala, my hometown. 

I first saw photographs of this unspoilt place in my cousin Sudip’s social media post who had visited Chobimura in December 2020. Looking at the pictures of him gliding through the deep and dark river flowing between the hills covered with lush green forest, beautiful sculptures carved on the rock, I thought he was out on a river safari somewhere. Though I grew up in Agartala and travelled across Tripura I have never heard of Chobimura before. These hills and sculptures of Goddess and Gods carved on the stone were hidden by the sharp curve of the Gomati river and was discovered only in early 2000. When I decided to come home, Chobimura was on the top of my to-visit list. 

On learning about my eagerness to go to Chobimura my brother-in-law Partho promptly organized the trip. We set out early morning (around 9 a.m.) from Agartala on an SUV, 6 of us with gas oven and some utensils in the dicky. Yes, for Partho insisted on a picnic or Choruibhati. We would cook our lunch on the banks of Gomti. My former classmate Biswabasu, who happens to be my brother-in-law’s friend, joined us with his family and took charge of the entire cooking.

After driving through Bisalgarh and Udaipur we went up the roads curving through green hills to Amarpur. Chobimura is another half an hour drive through the hills from Amarpur. The road up the hills, bordered by trees sometimes forest, with small cottages and mud houses scattered, is one of the most picturesque routes that I have driven through. My heart so yearned to knock on the door of one of the cottages and spend a few days with them in the peace and quiet of their little green village. 

Ten-handed Chakrakma

The roads are good, there wasn’t much traffic, and we reached the banks of Gomati in Chobimura in two and a half hours. As Biswabasu and his wife Moon started preparing lunch we hired a speed boat for Gomati ride and to get a closer view of the stone carvings. Owing to the various deities carved in the stone these hills are also called Devatamura, the hillock of Gods. The ten handed tribal Goddess Chakrakma is the main deity here. A huge idol of Devi carved 20 ft high, with snakes for her hair and Rudra Bahirabhi at her feet is awe-inspiring indeed. We stopped the speed boat and climbed up the stone stairs to the feet of the Goddess. It is a wonder to see Tulsi plants and red hibiscus (jaba) flowers growing on stones below the ten-handed Chakrakma, another form of Goddess Durga.

The hills also have images of other Hindu Gods like Shiva, Vishnu and Kartika. The carvings on the rock walls date back to the reign of King Chichingfa’s grandfather in the 15th century during, according to local lore. It is still a mystery how such exquisite carvings were carried out in such a remote location on straight rocky hills with hardly much foothold.

After a close view of these carving and leisurely enjoying the boat ride, surrounded by luxurious green forest on both sides, we turned back. The boatman stopped at the other bank so that we could visit a cave in the hills. Legend has it that King Chichingfa stashed all his wealth in this cave in a large wooden chest that was guarded by cobras. According to another lore, it was actually the cobras that scared away the Jamatias (indigenous tribal people) and the wilderness took over. The stone carvings, the unblemished natural beauty and the local lore’s made the ride absolutely memorable.

Freshly fried fish

While we were enjoying the boat ride Biswabasu and Moon were busy cooking – dal, fish fry, dry fish chutney, mutton curry and rice. We sat on the banks, relished the freshly cooked food, strolled around to take in every bit of the beautiful Gomati. On the way back, we stopped by the Amar dighi (lake) at Amarpur. On the banks of this huge lake temple of Goddess Mangal Chandi (another form of Durga) was built centuries back. The temple has stone images of the Goddess and her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati. There’s a small temple for her consort Lord Shiva right at the entrance. After paying our respect to the Goddess we headed back to Agartala. We were back home by 7 p.m. after a wonderful day out!

Goddess Mangal Chandi

Packing our world in a suitcase

We bongs’ love to travel. At least a couple of times a year we pack our things and get out to explore the unknown – to the mountains, to the sea, or sometimes to just spend few days with grandparents or extended family. And travelling involves elaborate packing. When we were kids’ mom used to pack our things in two huge suitcases, one that was given to my parents when they got married and the other one, they bought later. She would pack our clothes, shoes, woollens if we were headed to the hills, toys, books snacks and what not. Covered in thick canvas cases those suitcases lasted for years. I think one of the suitcases is still lying somewhere in our loft with unwanted things packed in.

Once yellow now rusted trunk lying on our terrace

Travelling was always so much fun. Mom would pack till late ensuring she didn’t forget anything. My sisters and I, perched on the bed, would look at her with glee and excitedly discuss the forthcoming trip. In the morning we would set out, fly to Kolkata and then take a train from there. While waiting at the station we would comfortably sit on the suitcases, munching biscuits while our parents would have hot khullad chai.

There were no fancy travel bags and cases in those days. There were sturdy suitcases, there were trunks and simple canvas holdalls that would wrap in small mattresses and pillows. We would carry these holdalls with us for long train journeys. Railways didn’t provide beddings then. We would spread bed sheets on first-class compartment berth, lean on pillows and make ourselves comfortable, staring out of the window of the moving train, sometimes singing aloud.

Carrying past into present, beautifully done by Titas

Trunks mostly came handy when we were moving from one city to another. Those huge metal boxes safely housed all our belongings. Be it utensils, furnishings, books or toys, we could carefully pack our world in those trunks. Back home, a big black trunk and a smaller yellow one are still carefully kept, filled with memories and whiff of the past. Those travel cases didn’t particularly look good, but they served the purpose. No one ever imagined that look even mattered as long as they safely carried our stuff from one place to another.

But then came VIP followed by so many other local and international players luring us with trendy travel cases and bags. Somehow look became more as important as functionality. I remember when I went to the hostel, I demanded a new VIP suitcase. Travel cases and travel accessories are so trendy now, they come in so many different colours, shapes and sizes, with smart compartments and pockets. Unlike our no-frill all-purpose suitcases, we have overnight travel bags, suitcases for business trips and leisure trips and then there are trekking cases, beach bags etc. But we dare not sit on them coz, unlike those sturdy old suitcases these stylish cases can’t bear the burden of our weight. They don’t last forever, but who cares, we get tired of them anyway. For, travelling is not just about gathering experiences anymore, it’s also about showing off our stylish travel cases and accessories. We like to make an impression you see.

Stepping out in style

So, as I embarked on my first trip in 2021, I decided to pick up a new travel case and step out in style. After being indoors for a while, I intend to explore the world as much as possible this year and I do hope that my travel cases and suitcases will match my step!