Month: July 2021

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!

Light and Darkness

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!

Romancing with the mountains

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!

The Celestial Mountains: Photo courtesy Sanjay Roy

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.

The hilly town: Photo courtesy Sanjay Roy

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!

Colours of sunset: Photo courtesy Sanjay Roy

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! 

Of writing and being read

For long I imagined that the job of writers or poets was only to write. Once they created something beautiful the world would discover them, hail them and celebrate their greatness. Being a student of literature, I have read various anecdotes of great writers immersed in their work, completely unaware of the world around them. And once the masterpiece was created, they would be discovered, somehow. But the catch was many of these greats were recognized much later in life and often died poor. The great romantic poets Shelley and Keats lived and died in abject poverty. But the fact that they were only concerned about their work and didn’t care for money or fame lends a certain aura to their image, makes us respect them even more.

So, with the image of a writer who is only concerned about writing firmly etched in my mind, I started my journey as a writer. It started with this blog, writing nostalgically about the charm of yesteryears or anything that I hold dear. I found some readers along the way, mostly my classmates, friends, family and acquaintances who would take time to read my blog and comment. I was thrilled when my cousin told me she enjoys going back to my old posts and re-reading them. Once, when a friend me pinged to check why I hadn’t posted my blog that week, I felt I had achieved something as a writer. “I wait for your posts,” she added to my delight.

I didn’t give up my job though, don’t intend to. Writing is my passion, something that I do in late hours after work. I enjoy writing, I want more people to read my posts and share their feedback. My job pays the bills.

Encouraged by the response, I started writing short stories. One day, to my surprise, I wrote a poem. Maybe I was falling in love, or falling out of love,  and my emotions found expression in poems. When I visited Agartala this year I was torn to see unplanned development all around ruining my once serene hometown. The nostalgia for the Agartala lost was a trigger for me to write poems. And suddenly I felt the urge to publish my collection of poems.

Poetry as a genre doesn’t interest publishers I was told, definitely not from a new writer. My friend, who’s a writer and a translator herself, advised me to go with a self-publishing house Notion Press. I burnt midnight oils, put my manuscript together and came out with my first collection – Love & Longings. I am quite happy with the end result I must say. When I called up another friend of mine who’s in the publishing industry and told her about the book, I was asked what I plan to do about promotion. “I have written a book. Isn’t that enough?” I asked. “No, you have to promote it,” she said. Though I am a PR practitioner self-promotion doesn’t come easily to me. I suck at selling myself I have been told. Authors now focus on building their profiles. It’s not just about being read, it’s about the image, I learnt.

I started my career promoting books for an NGO and a niche publishing house Katha, but things have changed drastically since then. In those days, I am talking about early 2000, it was about sharing the book with newspapers and magazines for a review . The reviewers would then judge the book on its merit and write a review. We couldn’t do much besides sending the book out and checking with the editors if they would be considering it for a review.

Since I wanted people to know about my book, I posted on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the response and the congratulatory messages. I also received many messages and proposals from people offering to promote my book.

Despite so many encouraging messages, according to Notion Press, only 15 copies of my book have been sold so far. Now that I have started writing, I also realize, I do want people to read my work. And herein comes the dilemma…should I promote my work or not? Do I have to pay people to say good things about my book?

Being in Public Relations I know that visibility is important, but it is more important to have a good product. I do hope people read my poems; I do hope they share honest feedback. Probably this post is my attempt at self-promotion.

Chatterjee Mashima’s makeup kit – Snow, Powder, Boroline

Snow (vanishing cream), powder and Boroline – that was all a Bengali lady needed to look good about 50 years back or more. Here I am talking about the generation before my mom’s. In the evenings or before stepping out, these ladies would wash their face apply snow (often pronounced as sono) and powder on their face (talcum powder, not compact), tie their well-oiled hair into a bun and put a sindur bindi. They would wear an ironed Bengal cotton sari and step out looking fresh, sometimes powdered.

My mom had a kakima (I called her Choto Didun) who would follow that regime in the evenings. She would always have snow (Charmis or Ponds vanishing cream) and powder on her dressing table. I was a little kid then, not even 10, I would look at her amazed whenever she would apply snow or vanishing cream to her face. In no time her oily face, due to the hot humid weather, would look fresh and bright. That could have been the reason why snow was so popular with ladies in Bengal.

At that time snow seemed like the ultimate makeup item to me. My fashionable mom had various lotions, moisturisers and foundations but not snow. I would sometimes sneak up to Choto Didun’s dressing table, open the box of snow and smell it. I was of course to scared to apply it on my face lest I got a scolding from mom.

And Boroline was something that every Bengali household had, used generously for soft supple skin, or chapped lips and even as an antiseptic for minor injuries. Boroline was versatile. I remember every night before going to bed, mom would spend at least 10 minutes massaging Boroline to her face. She still has a glowing complexion and maybe Boroline is the secret.

Bengali women were proud of their long black and that they would oil ever so often. Jabakusum and Lakhi Bilas were two popular hair oil brands that were available in every household. I even remember my mom using these brands. For, in those days, you wouldn’t be considered fashionable if your hair weren’t oiled. I wonder if these brands exist anymore.

Boroline, of course, has survived the onslaught of time and is popular with Bongs to date. My dad still thinks Boroline is the answer to all skin problems. Whenever they visit, they get a tube of Boroline for me. I think it works well as a bedtime cream on dry winter nights!