Author: besumana

Dil pe mat le yaar

Just laugh it off!

It’s not the film I am talking about. I am deliberating upon the phrase – ‘dil pe mat le yaar’ or ‘don’t take things to heart’ or ‘don’t mind my dear’. Wouldn’t our lives be so much simpler if we could imbibe these phrases instead of bothering about every little thing? Wouldn’t we be happier, carefree?

Of course we are humans, we are supposed to feel. We have a heart and that’s what separates us from machine or robots who are now even threatening our jobs. Our ability to feel and our Emotional Intelligence (the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict) gives us an edge over these mindless machines.

We love, we nurture, we are sensitive towards others, we have empathy and that’s what makes us so great. Our warm, red and complicated heart sets us apart from our own creations’ machines and robots as well as from God’s other creations. No wait, it’s not our heart, it’s actually our brain. Our heart that has been so romanticized keeps beating only to circulate our blood.

Emotions, like love and fear are controlled by the limbic system, part of the brain located in the temporal lobe. While the limbic system is made up of multiple parts of the brain, the centre of emotional processing is the amygdala. Shaped like an almond, the amygdala is responsible for multiple emotional responses, like love, fear, anger and sexual desire. That emotions are from heart or emotional people are ruled by the heart is just a human construct.

So, it’s all about the brain after all, different parts of the brain dominating different people. Thus we have the logical, the creative and the emotional or the sensitive. I not saying that one is better than the other or we need to stop being sensitive or emotional. In fact, love, compassion and empathy are feelings or qualities to be cherished. All I am saying is we need to strike a balance; we need to stop bothering about every little thing and focus on the bigger things.

Recently I read a post by my cousin and fellow blogger Amrita or Moli as we call her. She’s a doctor, a wife, a mother of two boys, a writer and a blogger. Wearing many hats, trying to attend to everyone and everything must be quite a task. In her blog Everyday Little Things she writes about the challenge of trying to please all in the post ‘Lazy writing,’

I had relatives visiting, we went to beautiful locations. The experience could have been surreal had I not occupied myself worrying about everyone clicking together, eating together, moving together etc.

Does that happen to everyone else? Is everyone wary of other well-meaning people judging your home, your lifestyle, your kids ? Do we all waste our time with needless perturbations. Am I over cautious or just a kill joy for myself?

She has been so bothered by all these that she couldn’t make time to write, something that she loves to do. I could quite imagine Moli running helter-skelter to please everyone and as her elder sister my heart went out to her. My advice to Moli was:

Hey Moli, read your post. My advice to you, while  it is good ​to be concerned about other people’s happiness, your happiness is important too.  You can’t make anyone happy unless you are happy. And more importantly, do what you feel is right and don’t bother about what other’s think. Some people will judge you no matter what you do but that should not deter you. As someone said, ‘it’s all about mind & matter, if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.’

Potato Tales: All About Aloo

Bengali aloor dum. Image courtesy Whiskaffair

We Indians and aloo. The starchy potato or aloo is probably the most popular vegetable in India. There’s aloo in our samosa and aloo in our dosa, there’s aloo parantha and aloo bonda, there’s aloo tikki, aloo chat and what not. Especially in a bong household most veggies are paired with aloo – aloo kopir dalna, aloo pataler dalna, aloo peper dalna and the list goes on. There’s aloo in our mutton and fish curries too. Aloo or potato in these non-veg curries especially mutton adds a flavour that is much coveted.

Aloo doesn’t only lend support to other vegetables it stands on tall on its own as well. It’s probably the friendliest veggie that easily blends most veggies and yet has a character of its own. Aloo bhaja, aloo posto, aloor dum, aloo bhate (Bengali version on mashed potato) are a few popular Bong preparations. Not just in Bengal versatile aloo has popular culinary representations across India – Kashmiri dum aloo, Brijwasi aloo of Vrindavav, dahi aloo in UP and aloo chokha in Bihar are relished by people across India. Much to the surprise of Westerners’, we Indians have aloo with roti and chawal – carb with carb as they put.

In the West aloo or potato is often the substitute for our roti and chawal, served with roast chicken, baked fish and veggies etc. We also have popular potato snacks like potato chips, French fries and very classy potato in jacket. Potato is probably one vegetable that is popular across the world, across cultures. Weight watchers may raise their brows, but gol aloo or starchy potato is a nutritious vegetable rich in potassium, iron and vitamins.

The origin of potato

Potato or aloo is one vegetable that has travelled across the world. Potato was first found in Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia sometime between 8000 and 5000 BC. The cultivation of potato is South America may go back 10,000 years, however the earliest archeologically verified potato tuber remains were found at the coastal site of Ancon, central Peru dating back to 2500 BC. Since then potato has travelled to many countries.

Potato first reached Europe sometime before the end of 16th century, first in Spain and then in British Isles. In France potato was introduced at the end of the 16th century. According to the 1785 edition of Bon Jardinier, “There is no vegetable about which so much has been written and so much enthusiasm has been shown … The poor should be quite content with this foodstuff.” Yes, potato was largely considered to be food for the poor then.

Throughout Europe, the most important new staple food of the 19th century potato had three major advantages over other foods: its lower rate of spoilage, its bulk (which easily satisfied hunger) and its cheapness. The crop slowly spread across Europe, becoming a major staple by mid-century, especially in Ireland.

Aloo comes to India

Potato started becoming a popular food in the East as well. Introduced in  China toward the end of the Ming dynasty, potato immediately became a delicacy of the imperial family. Sometime between 1735–96 the growing population of China led to potato cultivation across the country and it was acclimated to the natural conditions.

In India, author Edward Terry mentioned potato in his travel accounts of the banquet at Ajmer hosted by Asaph Khan for Sir Thomas Roe, the British Ambassador in 1675. The vegetables gardens of Surat and Karnataka mentions potatoes in Fyer’s travel record of 1675. The Portuguese introduced potatoes, which they called ‘Batata’, to India in the early seventeenth century when they cultivated it along the western coast, thus we have batata and famous batata vada in Maharashtra. British traders introduced potatoes to Bengal as a root crop, ‘Alu’, and alu became Bengal’s much loved aloo. By the end of the 18th century, it was cultivated across northern hill areas of India.

Aloo wins over India

Since then potato or gol mol aloo has won over Indian palates. Though aloo maybe round and some preparations like fries and chips fattening, the vegetable by itself in not fattening. Potato is an all-purpose, high fibre vegetable than can be quite nutritious if prepared in the right way!

Udaipur and Me: my solo travel saga continues

Starry-eyed selfie

British administrator and Oriental Scholar James Tod felt Udaipur is “the most romantic spot on the continent of India,” and he was bang on. The city of lakes surrounded by Aravalli’s or Jagra, as the range is called in Udaipur, will captivate you. The palaces and monuments will softly whisper their mesmerizing tales in your ears. You can sit by the lake for hours and soak in the gorgeous city. No wonder Udaipur is a popular destination for weddings and honeymoons. But even if you are travelling solo the company of the beautiful city is all that you need!

I fell in love with Udaipur the moment I stepped out of the aircraft on Diwali morning. Udaipur’s Maharana Pratap Airport captures the flavour of the city. I have never seen such a nicely done airport before. The cab ride from the airport, 22 km East of Udaipur, to Hotel Sarovar Pichola in the heritage city is about 40 minutes. While driving through the newer parts of Udaipur, modern and smart with malls and branded stores like any other city, the cab driver started talking about his city. “Madam people of Udaipur are rich. Sixty per cent of them are into hospitality and the rest in mining. Udaipur is also called the city of zinc you know.” In Udaipur, every cab and auto driver have their own tales of the city to share. He even offered to take me on a city tour the next day for Rs. 2200/-, which seemed quite reasonable to me then.

Exploring Udaipur

On reaching the hotel I was told that auto would be a more reasonable choice therefore I set out to explore the city on an autorickshaw. I heard a lot about the silver and stone jewellery of Udaipur. Being a lover of silver jewellery and handicrafts I decided to check out the markets first. I headed to Bapu Bazaar on learning from the auto driver that silver shops are to be found in that market. On the way, he also mentioned that I may like to check Shlipgram. Therefore, we stopped at Shilpagram first, a multistoried emporium that houses traditional sarees, fabrics, handicrafts and jewellery. After picking up an indigo saree and Kundan earrings from there I asked the guy to take me to a silver shop in Bapu Bazaar.

Silver Art Gallery was our next stop. I was floored by the design, the range and the price points. Silver in Udaipur is much cheaper than in Delhi and the designs so different. I picked up two pairs of earrings and a Kada from the store. It was almost lunchtime and I wanted to sample Rajasthani food. “Natraj chale jaiye madam,’ the guy attending to me in the shop advised.

As I stepped out of the shop looking for a conveyance to go to Natraj, an elderly auto driver stopped before me. I had initially decided to go back to the hotel after lunch but Ram Bhai, the auto driver, convinced me otherwise, “Aaj hi ghoom lo madam. Kal Diwali le ke baad aur bhir ho jayega.” As I didn’t know much about the city except the names of the tourist spots, he decided the route. He took me to Fateh Sagar Lake first and convinced me to take a speed boat with four strangers (something that the usual me would never do). I sat in the single seat at the front and quite enjoyed the ride I must say.

Ram Bhai

Udaipur, once the capital of Mewar founded by Maharana Udai Sign in 1559, has seven artificial lakes. The heritage city was built around Lake Pichola, the oldest lake of Udaipur. Fateh Sagar, another popular lake that was formed later, lies in the north of Lake Pichola. I was taken to an underground fish aquarium on the banks of Fateh Sagar next. It is a new addition to the tourist attractions of Udaipur. There’s nothing historical about it but the pretty little fishes are refreshing.

Saheliyon-ki-Bari (Courtyard or Garden of the Maidens), a beautiful garden with fountains and pools, built by Rana Sangram Singh for his queen Shakuntala, is also on the banks on Fateh Sagar. Queen Shakuntala was accompanied by forty-eight maids when she got married. She wanted a garden where she could hang out with her sahelis or girlfriends. ‘The foliage was much thicker in those days,’ said the tourist guide. ‘Women observed purdah then. Even the sun couldn’t penetrate the thick greenery.’ He also told me that the fountains were once natural, drawing water from the Fateh Sagar. They use a pump now to regulate the flow and ensure that there’s less wastage.

Diwali evening

I headed back to the hotel after that, the music of the fountains still playing in my ears. Being Diwali I dressed up for the evening and sat in the rooftop bar with Lady in Red to witness the festival of lights, and what an experience it was! Well-lit monuments and their reflections in the lake, firecrackers going up in the air added a romantic aura to the festival.

 Day 2: Sajjan Garh Fort, City Palace and more…

The construction of the Sajjan Garh Fort, also known as Monsoon Palace, was initiated by Maharana Sajjan Singh. He had originally planned it to be a five-storey astronomical centre. The construction came to a halt after the premature death of the young king at the age of twenty-six. His son Maharana Fateh Singh later completed the palace and turned it into a monsoon palace and hunting lodge. The popular James Bond film Octopussy was shot in the Monsoon Palace

View from Sajjan Garh Fort

Located on a hilltop overlooking the Fateh Sagar Lake the palace offers a panoramic view of the city. It’s great during the monsoon with clouds overlooking the Monsoon Palace. It’s also a good point for watching the sunset, I later learned.

Ram Bhai had reached the hotel with his auto sharp at 10:30 am to take me sightseeing. He dropped me at the gate of Sajjan Garh Fort, “Madam van le lo upar jane ke liye.”  It’s about five kilometres hilly drive to the fort. One can either get a pass made for their private vehicle or take shared vans that keep plying up and down. A shared van! I stopped for a moment but I had to see the fort. So I walked up to the counter and got my ticket and a pass for the van.

I sat at the front seat of Tata Qualis and even picked up a conversation with the driver Govind. On my way back I found the same van, Govind on the phone while waiting for passengers. The van filled up in no time and we made our way down.

Inside Sajjan Garh

There’s a National Park next to the fort that I skipped and went to Shilpgram instead, not the emporium but a crafts village though they share the same name. Not many stalls were open at Shilgram but I did manage to pick up a beautiful Rajasthani skirt for my niece and Udaipur’s famed miniature painting. December is the time when they have a fair where craftsmen display their work. Realizing that I liked shopping Ram Bhai took me all the emporiums around. I did end up buying an ear in semi-precious stone, set in ‘anar ruby’  I was told, from one such place.

He drove me to Maharana Pratap Gaurav Kendra at Tiger Hill in Udaipur, which he insisted is a must-visit. Unfortunately, the place was shut that day so we headed to the City Palace. My hotel is just a kilometre away from the City Palace so I let Ram Bhai go. Rs. 1500 was all he charged for two days city tour.

The City Palace has been built over a period of nearly four hundred years. Maharana Udai Singh started the construction in 1553 and several rulers of the Mewar dynasty over the next four-decade added to it. When Udaipur became the capital of Mewar, City Palace was the seat of power. Now the intricately built palace houses a museum and galleries. Beautiful glass inlay work and paintings of past monarchs and their glories adorn the palace. With many narrow passages and stairways, security was of paramount concern when the palace was designed. The palace overlooks the Pichola Lake and Taj Palace Lake Hotel. An 18th-century marble structure on a lake island originally part of the palace has been leased out to the Taj Group. It was late afternoon then and I had to push my way through the throng of tourists, mostly from Gujarat, to make my way through the palace.

Shilpgram

Jagdish Temple is just next to the City Palace. I bowed before the temple deciding not to go up the stairs and walked the lanes instead. There are small shops with Rajasthani handicrafts and jewellery on both sides of the road. I walked into a small silver shop close to the temple ‘Natural Collection.’ The man behind the counter opened boxes of jewellery, both set in stones and plain silver. Of course, I picked quite up a few pairs of earrings, not just for me my friends as well.

I stopped by Bagore-ki-Haveli and Gangori Ghat on my way back to the hotel. My last evening at Udaipur. After a tiring and satisfying day, I headed to the rooftop bar to get my fill of Udaipur in the evening, peaceful and beautifully lit up. You can never have enough of this gorgeous city!

Me, myself and Udaipur: my solo travel tales

I have been planning to travel solo for a while. Wanting to experience it to see if I enjoy going solo. Though I did travel a lot on work, exploring the city on my own whenever I visited a new place, that doesn’t exactly qualify as solo travel. So this time before Diwali I decided to visit Udaipur on my own.

The Udaipur is beautiful on Diwali. Also, the City of Lakes is pleasantly cool at this time of the year. “I want to go Udaipur in Diwali,” I pinged my friend. “Go for it,” came the prompt response, and that was all the encouragement I needed. I immediately started checking the hotels and the flights.

Striking a pose: City Palace

Since this was my first solo trip, with my excitement adding to my experiences, I plan to do a series on Udaipur & Me or Me in Udaipur.

Careful planning: better to leave nothing to chance when travelling solo

Flights could wait but I needed to book the hotel first as Diwali is a busy season in Udaipur. After looking at various hotels I settled for Sarovar Pichola, a 3-star hotel on Lake Pichola Udaipur. It’s a very popular, hotel with a great view and location, I learnt from various reviews and recommendations. Since I was travelling alone, I wanted a city hotel and Sarovar Pichola is in the heart of the heritage city. Lake Palace lies on the other bank of Lake Pichola, diagonally opposite Hotel Sarovar Pichola. I could just step out of the hotel and walk the narrow but clean lanes of old Udaipur and get a feel of the city. The hotel had just one room left that I promptly booked.

Udaipur has direct flights from Delhi, good connectivity is one reason why I chose the city. I booked myself in a morning flight on Nov 4th and return on a late afternoon Nov 6th flight. I would have two full days to explore the city, though my heart craved for more once I lay eyes on the gorgeous Udaipur.

Since it was a two-day trip, I packed light – comfortable clothes in vibrant colours to match the city and shoes that I could walk in. I also carried a small medicine kit with antacid, paracetamol, pain killers and band-aids (just in case). I was so excited that I could hardly sleep the night before and finally on Diwali morning I landed in Udaipur.

Reaching the Hotel

I smartly walked up to the Uber Bay ignoring all the cabbies waving at me. ‘No cabs,’ the app said again and again. Finally, an old man pointed out the pre-paid window for booking cabs ‘Uber doesn’t come here,’ he said politely. Once I booked the cab driver told me that we would drop me 500 meters away from the hotel. Sarovar is in the heritage city and cabs are not allowed to enter these narrow lanes. After driving through the newer parts of Udaipur, a smart city now, I entered the heritage city. “This is crematorium for the royal family,’ said the driver as we were entering the old city. He dropped me close to the Chandpole bridge, a footbridge on Lake Pichola. ‘You can just take the bridge, your hotel is not very far,’ he said. ‘Or you can take an auto if you like.’ Since I didn’t have much luggage, I decided to walk. Best way to experience the city I thought.

Thali for lunch at Natraj restuarant

A three-story heritage building has been converted into Hotel Sarovar, therefore no lifts. While my room was on the ground floor the restaurant with a terrace is on the third floor. The view from the terrace looking into the lake is just breathtaking and the food is good, so I didn’t really mind climbing up and down.

Exploring the city

After checking in and a quick breakfast I set out to explore the city. ‘It’s a small city, Ma’am, you can take an auto. Cab will be unnecessarily expensive,’ advised the guy sitting at the reception. I usually prefer to take a cab but this time I decided to take an auto. I stepped out of the hotel with no particular destination in mind. I decided to check out the silver jewellery that Udaipur is known for. ‘Take me to a silver shop,’ I told the auto driver. ‘Bapu Bazaar mein hai,’ he said as I got in.

Then followed two days of browsing through the beautiful jewellery and handicrafts, trying local foods and of course exploring the beautiful palaces and museums. Listening to auto drivers talk about Udaipur as they drive me through the city, the stories of tourist guides who doubled as my photographer, walking the lanes, sometimes even requesting strangers to take my picture. These are things I would not do in the normal course; in the solo trip, I found a new me.

Udaipur lit up on Diwali

In the evening I would sit in the rooftop bar enjoying the view and a drink, tired and satisfied. The view of the city from the rooftop, especially on the Diwali light with palaces and houses along the lake lit up and people floating diya on the lake was breathtaking.

Solo but not alone!

Though I would sometimes crave company in the evening, I quite enjoyed my solo drinks. I would call a friend or share pictures of my trip. Yes, I did keep my friends posted while I was making the most of my time alone.

I had my apprehensions about travelling solo. I could be bored or uncomfortable I feared and spend the day sitting in the hotel. Surprisingly, though there were couples and families all around me, not for a moment was I bored. I went to my room only after dinner when I was too tired, looking forward to the next day. Udaipur and me was such a perfect company!

Wait for the next post to know more about the city…

Specky Me!

In my new specks

And finally, it happened! I have been asked to wear glasses. Well, that’s no surprise. People usually need reading glasses after crossing forty and I am well into my forties. Though my eye sight’s been always good. While many of my friends and contemporaries had to go for reading glasses, my eyes didn’t let me down. It’s my genes I thought. In my family people needed reading glasses much later in life. But then the lockdown happened, and screen time just went up manyfold. “It’s the lockdown effect,” the ophthalmologist told me after looking into my eyes.

I start my day reading news on various apps on my phone. Then 8-10 hours before laptop. The world has gone virtual, even meetings are on screen now. Late evenings I either entertain myself on an OTT platform or read or write, on screen off course. I sometimes get on video call with family or friends.  So, screen has become all pervasive. Screen, be it mobile, laptop or TV, overpowers me and dominates my life. No wonder my eyes gave in!

It happened one fine morning, about a week ago. I was working on a presentation my eyes suddenly felt very tired. I had to strain my eyes to continue working. I tried watching TV in the evening, but the screen felt too bright for my comfort. So, I went to bed early thinking I could sleep it off. Next day was as bad and it wasn’t getting any better, so I decided to visit an ophthalmologist without further delay.

Going to the doctor finally!

“I can see your eyes are dry,” the doctor said after one look. “Now let’s check your power.” After checking my eyesight for both distance and close reading she announced that I have cylindrical power in one eye. “Oh, I thought I would need reading glasses,” I said. “That’s also there, though the number is not very high. But you will need to wear glasses all the time because you have cylindrical power in one eye.” Gosh! I did imagine myself flaunting my stylish reading glasses but having to be spectacled all the time. “You can either go in for progressive lens or two different pair of glasses,” the doctor added.

Choosing health & the right pair of specks

I will go in for progressive lens, I decided immediately. Two different pair of glasses would be too inconvenient. No, this has nothing to do with reluctance to admit that I need glasses to read. I have seen people averse to taking out their reading glasses in public for some vain reason. They cringe their eyes while working on the laptop or reading a message on the phone but refuse to wear reading glasses. It dents their ‘youthful image’ I guess. I have often wondered why people choose vanity over health. As far as I am concerned, it would be easier to get used to one pair of glasses rather than two.

I didn’t want to delay getting spectacled any further, so I immediately drove down to BONTON Opticians. Progressive lenses are expensive, the  comfort range of progressive lenses starts from rupees thirteen thousand, I learnt. “Well can’t you give me contacts for my cylindrical vision and a reading glass?” I asked. “Ma’am your power is too low for contacts. It will be good if you go for progressive lens,” the shop manager advised.

Next step was choosing the right frame. I will be wearing specs all the time, so the frame has to be both comfortable and smart. It took me while to decide. I tried almost every frame in the store. I didn’t want anything boring, nor anything too flashy. The shop manager was very patient I must say. Finally, I zeroed down on a half-rimmed metal frame. The pair cost me almost twenty thousand. But what the heck. It’s an investment on my health and on a fresh look of course!

My New Glasses

BONTON delivered the glasses to me on Sunday evening. It will take a few days to get used to the new pair I was told. Second day in the glasses and I am still getting used to them, though I am very happy with the comfort before the screen and my new look!

Of birthdays and celebrating life

Celebrating life or celebrating being alive, that’s what birthdays are to me. Caught up in so many big and little things we often forget to live. Our birthdays remind us that life is the greatest gift that needs to be celebrated every day. True we are working hard and running around to make our lives better, but what’s the point of all that effort if we forget to live. Birthdays, to me, serve as that very important reminder.

For me, birthday is one of the most important day, and I am glad to be surrounded by people who make me feel the same way. No I don’t expect people to remember my birthday and sulk if they don’t wish me. I am simpler than that, or so I think. I remind the people close to me about my birthday and tell them what I want. I feel blessed when they move things around to make that happen. For instance, this year my birthday fell on a weekend and I wanted an outstation birthday. Corbett was on my wish list and everything was meticulously planned. But rains played spoil sport. Uttarakhand, including Corbett, was deluged just few days before our trip. Though I agreed to cancel the trip, it was the sensible thing to do, my heart broke at the thought of being at home on my birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home. But this birthday I wanted to be away, maybe because I have been indoor for too long, COVID, work from home, social distancing etc.

My friends came to my rescue again. They booked a property in the outskirts of Jaipur and we set out to celebrate my birthday. Though Jaipur is not as exotic or wild as Corbett, I love the city and the property that we stayed in was beautiful. Be it an evening trip to the Nahargarh Fort or gazing at the stars as we sipped our drinks leisurely at night or cutting my birthday cake with the kids (Prapti, Aliya and Amira) every moment was special. My friends who made this trip happen, Poonam, Sanjay and Sanchita, made sure I very felt special.

Posing in a dress by Poonam & pendant by little Prapti

I sometimes hear people say that there’s no point celebrating birthdays after a certain age for it’s about growing older. That’s not how it works for me though. Birthdays tell me that age is just a number. Birthdays remind the child in me in be alive no matter how many years I add. Birthdays are about living, about loving and being loved. It’s about making a little space in everyone’s mind, no matter how small. For even when people wish me on social media, I feel so special! And this birthday was special indeed, although I did miss so many special people!

Though my birthday break is over and I am back home to my regular life, the excitement and the happiness of the weekend lingers on. The happy memories, the beautiful photographs, the hopes and the dreams will make the year fly and carry me on its wings to an even better birthday celebration the year after!

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!