Month: March 2021

When Friday lost its zing!

Photoshopping to bring the zing back

Friday before a long weekend, that too the Holi weekend! What cheer it should bring, such excitement, so many plans. But surprisingly it feels like just another day. I drove to the neighbourhood market in the morning, and everything looked so usual that I almost forgot Holi’s round the corner. With a ban on playing Holi in public places owing to the surging numbers of COVID cases again, the sale of gulal is on a low. As I was driving back, the anchor in one of the FM channels while talking about a new movie casually mentioned how Friday movie releases are not such a great affair anymore. Queuing up before a movie hall to catch the first show of a much-awaited film was such a big deal once. With the pandemic, lockdown and theatres remaining shut for months, I haven’t watched a movie on the big screen for over a year now.

Fridays when I would hum to work, try to wrap up the tasks at hand as soon as I could and then catch a movie or go for a drink or just head home and watch TV till late thinking happily about the weekend ahead, is a distant memory now. With work from home kicking in post-COVID, Fridays have lost their zing and weekends their charm. The phrase ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ doesn’t ring true anymore. Work spills over to late evenings and weekends and holidays as well. “You are home after all”, is the attitude. Though I am not an advocate of going back to the ‘old normal’ when we would brave the traffic for hours to reach office on time, I do feel work from home needs boundaries. Personal time and space need to be respected.

Work from home has taken some sting off Mondays too. Monday morning blues are not so gloomy anymore, could be because we are forever checking our emails, attending calls even on weekends. Nothing feels special about any day, one day just tumbles busily, sometimes lazily into another. Be it the sting or the zing it’s spread evenly across all days. Each day looks so alike that at times I almost forget which day of the week it is.

Maybe I am just bored, maybe it’s the curbs, maybe it’s me still trying to make sense of things. Whatever it may be, Friday for sure has lost its zing!

Tracking the time with Sun, Moon and Stars

I was born on a Monday on the 6th day of the Bengali month Kartik and 23rd day of the English month October. Somehow 6th Kartik and 23rd October have rarely coincided since then. As we follow the English calendar or the Georgian calendar 23rd October is my birthday, I don’t even know when 6th Kartik comes and goes. My mom who keeps a track of Bengali dates sometimes casually mentions “Oh, today’s 6th Kartik, your birthday.” So long it never bothered me why the Bengali and the English dates didn’t match.

Even our festivals never fall on the same dates. I was born on the day after Lokhhi pujo (Kojagori Lokkhi who is worshipped a week after Dashami or Dussehra). Since then, my birthday every year coincides with either Durga Puja, Dussehra, Diwali or comes very close to one of these festivals. In fact, our festivals don’t fall on the same dates every year even in the Bengali or Hindu calendar. That is because we track time as per movements of the sun, moon and the stars. These religious festivals take place only when the stars are aligned in their right planetary position. We Bongs refer to Panjika or the Hindu Almanac for the same.

Panjika or Panji is the Hindu astronomical almanac published in Bengali, Odia, Maithili and Assamese. Called Panchangam in other parts on India, it is published annually and is a handy reference to determine the most auspicious times for our rituals, festivals, celebrations, marriages etc. Panjika also records Muslim, Christian and other festivals, dates of birth and deaths of many leading personalities and carries informative articles on astrology. Panjika applies 2 methods for calculation of planetary positions – Surya Siddhanta and Bisuddha Siddhanta.

To understand the discrepancies in dates in different calendars, it is important to understand how we track time. Our forefathers observed the movements of sun, moon and other planetary bodies for timekeeping. The Georgian calendar, that is now followed world over, is based on the movement of the earth around the sun. It was introduced in October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII as a minor modification of the Julian calendar, reducing the average year from 364.25 days to 364.2425 days. Therefore, every 4th year is the leap year.

Many religions and cultures, like the Islamic culture and Asian countries like China, Hong Kong and Vietnam, follow the lunar calendar. A lunar calendar is a calendar based on the monthly cycles of the Moon’s phases. Since each lunation is approximately ​29 12 days (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, 3 seconds, or 29.530588 days), the months of a lunar calendar usually alternate between 29 and 30 days. A lunar year is only 354 days, 8 hours, 48 minutes, 34 seconds (354.367056 days), hence purely lunar calendars lose around 11 to 12 days per year relative to the Gregorian calendar. 

Panjika

The Vedic culture developed a sophisticated timekeeping methodology and calendars for Vedic rituals. Timekeeping was about tracking the nature of solar and lunar movements and other planetary bodies. Timekeeping was important to Vedic rituals, and Jyotisha or astrology tracked and predicted the movements of astronomical bodies in order to keep time and fix the date and time of different rituals.

The Hindu calendar that was derived from the Vedic tradition is lunisolar calendar, traditionally used in the Indian subcontinent and South-east Asia, with further regional variations for social and religious purposes. The calendar adopts a similar underlying concept for timekeeping based on the solar cycle and adjustment of lunar cycles every three years. Unlike the Gregorian calendar which adds additional days to the lunar month to adjust the mismatch between twelve lunar cycles (354 lunar days) and nearly 365 solar days, the Hindu calendar maintains the integrity of the lunar month, but inserts an extra full month by complex rules, once every 32–33 months, to ensure that the festivals and crop-related rituals fall in the appropriate season.

There’s also an argument about the accuracy about the different methods of timekeeping. While the Georgian calendar being easier to follow is widely accepted, some believe that the Lunisolar calendar could be more accurate. But, accuracy, I feel, is a matter of perspective. Different calendars follow different methods of timekeeping, hence the discrepancies. It doesn’t make one right and the other wrong. Though it’s easy to think of time as linear and calendar as scientific given, these different calendars show us that time is anything but linear. It’s relative, keeping time is complicated. Modern timekeeping devices that accurately measure time even to the fraction of a second, have been invented to give us the impression that we are in control while time is slipping away!

The play of hope & despair: lockdown musings…

I don’t usually give in to despair. I take pride in being an out and out optimist who bounces back in no time from any challenging or desperate situation, be it professional or personal. But when I rarely do despair it sinks in very deep, leaving me incapacitated emotionally, making every day feel like drudgery. The lockdown due to COVID-19 was one such rare occasion. For almost a month I felt as if my world would collapse, at times I felt I would break down. There were times at night when I would wake up, gripped by anxiety for the well-being of my loved ones, an odd fear that I may die all alone. One night I woke up startled by the sound of an aeroplane, a warplane I thought, that would drop a bomb and roof would collapse over me. The fear froze me for a few minutes. Maybe there was no plane, maybe it was just one of those special aeroplanes, can’t say for sure!

Past few months have been difficult, the lockdown has been hard on most of us. For me, staying alone, I was suddenly hit by a feeling of complete isolation. It’s not that I have a thriving social life, or even miss not having one. I am selectively social at best, catching up with a close friend over a coffee or beer after work or on the weekends. Many weekends I happily spent with myself – reading, writing, cooking, watching something, or just doing nothing. But once locked in, I started missing the routine. I missed going to the office every day and greeting my colleagues. I missed my infrequent evening outings terribly. Though I have been working from home, virtual meetings and phone calls were an everyday affair, it didn’t feel the same. I would talk to my friends and family every day, sometimes on video, but I so missed the human touch. 

And the fact that I am somewhat of a perfectionist, trying to keep my house spick and span while meeting all the deadlines at work, only made things worse. I would jump off the bed every morning, rush through chores like sweeping, mopping and dusting, open my laptop by 9 a.m., for somehow with work from home the deadlines only got steeper. I would be completely drained by the end of the day, often surviving on Maggie.

One evening the sinking feeling gripped me so hard that I called my cousin who happens to be a psychiatrist. A long chat with her, friendly, sisterly, sometimes her professional tone helped. I decided to let go, I decided to focus on the positives. House could be messy, it’s ok if start work at 9:30, I told myself. I would spend hours in the balcony gazing at the stars or my little flowers. Nature that healed since the lockdown, helped me heal. The promise of a special someone that he would be with me moment the flights resumed gave me hope. 

But when the time came for him to arrive, he let me down. I was stunned, the sudden turn of events left me numb. I was afraid that I would sink to despair again, but surprisingly, I held my own. I went on with my days as usual, feeling less isolated as the restrictions eased. Despite my heartbreak and some moments when I would feel miserable (still do at times), I managed to look ahead with optimism and hope. My emotions found expressions in Lockdown Songs – a few poems that I penned. Cliched as it may sound, I chose to believe the boomerang theory – whatever’s mine will come back to me if it doesn’t, it never was. 

And it did come back, I don’t know for how long, but I decided to hold on to hope, on matter what. Or maybe, I finally realized, only I can make me happy!

Rediscovering the allures of Tripura

Tripura, the place that I have grown up in, spent the first 20 years of my life there. Tripura is familiar, will always be my home state. But when you go home after a while and look around you realize there’s so much more to it, so much that you have taken for granted when you lived here. You realize how beautiful your home is. The once familiar paths throw up new wonders as you look at them with new eyes.

Kamalasagar

True Agartala has become a little crowded now, progress you may call it, and I like the Agartala that lives in my memories better. But the moment you step out of Agartala a rustic green Tripura greets you. So, off we drove on a Saturday to visit some places in the vicinity. After driving through the roads bordered by trees or green rice fields and small towns and villages with pretty little mud houses set in huge courtyards, our first stop was Kasba Kali Bari or Kamalasagar Kali Mandir. About 45 minutes’ drive from Agartala, this small and beautiful Kali Mandir is built on a hill on the banks of a clear blue lake Kamalasagar. The temple gets its name from the small village Kasba and the beautiful artificial lake that now lies on the Indo-Bangladesh border. Although Maharaja Kaliyan Manikya started building the temple, Maharaja Dhanya Manikya ultimately completed it in the late 15th century. The shrine in the temple is that of Goddess Durga believed to be very old dating back to the 12th century. The ten handed Durga fighting the buffalo demon Mahisasur is worshiped as Goddess Kali.

Legend has it that that the then monarch of Tripura Maharaja Dhanya Manikya, ordered the lake to be dug at the foothills on the temple in the 15th century. The lake has been named after his wife Kamala Devi. According to local lore, Tripura was battling a severe drought when Kamala Devi was visited by the Goddess in her dreams. The Goddess asked her to dig a lake before the temple to end the drought. It is said when the dry earth was dug for the lake it yielded water. Maybe there’s some truth to it, maybe it’s just a folklore, but it definitely adds to the allure of this beautiful place. My cousin Sudip who organized this trip narrated the tale to me.

My cousin Sudip posimg with murals on the hill leading to the temple

We then stopped at a tea garden in the village, called Kamalasundari Tea Garden, named after the lake. Walking on the dusty path bordering the green tea shrubs, labourers sprinkling water on the plants, felt like a different world. Of late tea cultivation has become big in Tripura. Beautiful tea gardens are strewn all over the state that now has 58 operational tea garden and has registered 3.58 crore kg green tea leaf production annually. Tripura even exports tea now, an Agri venture that has enhanced the green charm.

Melaghar was the place we visited next. About half an hour drive from Kasba we first stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised by an elaborate Bengali platter that was served – masoor dal, aloo baigan sabzi, aloo bhate (mashed potato with mustard oil & onion), aloo gobi dalna (bong cauliflower curry), jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry) and hisla fish, papad and salad, served with rice of course. We bong and our fondness for aloo!

Pagli Masi

After lunch we set out to catch a glimpse of Pagli Masi, an old or rather an ageless woman who lies in her little room and is believed to have survived without food or water for over 50 years. There’s temple dedicated to her and people worship her as an incarnation of Goddess Kali. She lies in her room covered by a blanket, her face often covered by a piece of jute. People wait for hours for her to peep out of her cover and show her face – a strangely beautiful shrivelled old woman who dwell in the realm between faith and logic.

Melaghar also houses the famous lake palace – Neer Mahal. Once the summer palace of Tripura it was commissioned by Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya and completed in 1938. It served as the summer residence of the king and approximately Rs. 10 lakhs were spent on those days to build the palace. A British company Martin and Burns was commissioned by the king to construct the palace. We took a speed boat to the palace, walked through its many rooms, trying to imagine the royal luxury and excesses and the many stories whispering from the nooks and corners. Despite so many people around you can hear the murmurs of the past if you listen carefully.

On the banks of Neer Mahal

After a fulfilling day we drove back. I was trying to seep in the old and the new of my familiar state, my home. Or maybe it was the same old that I gazed at with new eyes. Or maybe with time they have gathered more tales, their cracks and crevices, though plastered and painted, have so much more to say. Tripura was the same, yet seemed so different, so much more beautiful.