Author: besumana

I Want Real

Back to back video calls, webinars, phone ringing constantly, e-mails pouring in. Regular calls with the team to discuss and plan the day for don’t see each other anymore. Scrambling to meet deadlines, virtual office seeping into our evenings and nights…

Calls with friends and family, sometimes on video, for we don’t know when we will meet them for real… COVID-19 pushes us into the bounds of our virtual worlds.

After all the calls and video conferences and deadlines, if we are left with some time, we browse the OTT channels to watch a movie or a series. Or we surf the social media platforms and talk about our life virtual. We can visit the Louvre or Niagara Falls virtually if we like or take a Jungle Safari.

The masked Normal

Yes, virtual, that’s what our life has become. For real is so rare, real needs to be handled with so much care. We don’t need to struggle to hide our feelings anymore for our faces are masked for real. We can’t hug, we can’t kiss, we need to maintain a 6 feet distance or our lives are at risk. Going out for a coffee or drink, taking an impulsive weekend trip are things of the past. The ‘New Normal’ that we once talked about is the ‘NORMAL’ now. Who knows whether the ‘Old Normal’ will ever return?

Yet our optimism or rather our foolhardiness knows no bound. The moment the virus shows some abating we throw all caution to air. Go out unmasked to weddings and parties, election rallies and marches, play Holi and take a dip at the holy Kumbh. Scientific arguments can’t win over idiocy and COVID-19 returns in full glory or rather in fury.

We have lost 2020 to the pandemic and now we seem to be losing 2021 to our callous attitude. Yes, we have all been locked in for too long, these restrictions have frustrated us, the virtual world is getting on our nerves, but if you want Real, get Real! Let’s not nurse any false sense of hope and optimism, only with utmost caution and care can we bring our Real world back, or at least some semblance of Real!

A piece from my childhood – gifted to Katha by Titas Mazumdar

I have very fond memories of my maternal Grandparent’s home in Krishnanagar… our summer destination every year during my school days…

The Greens

My grandparents had a big house by the Jalongi river with a lot of greenery all around… coconut, mango, guava, jackfruit, black plum, betelnuts trees to name a few… My major attraction was to climb the guava tree to get hold of the fruits, picking raw mangoes from the ground after an evening of thunderstorm and once in a while taking a dip in Jalongi along with my Dida… I often narrate these stories to my daughter who is growing in the concrete jungle of Gurgaon… these stories are like fairy tales from the land of fantasy for her…

Most of the modern housing now-a-days in new India is high risers in gated community where there is always scarcity of space… rarely we get to see individual houses surrounded by so many fruit trees in urban dwellings.

Fortunately, my husband’s ancestral home still holds the old flavour of individual housing surrounded by ample trees, though the count has drastically reduced over the years due to ever-expanding human needs. They still have preserved a lot many which was good enough for my daughter to experience a piece from my childhood…

Every year we visit this small suburb of Kolkata called Nimta for just a couple of hours to meet our extended family and due to a shortage of time never got a chance to explore the surroundings. This year we planned for a 2-days stay and guess what? It was an enriching experience for Katha my daughter which she will cherish in her later years. The entire day she was with her cousins playing around the neighbourhood like a vagabond but that was not the main attraction. My husband and his cousin planned to go fishing with Katha and it turned out to be the major attraction of the trip. They went to the nearby pond and spent hours there and finally got a huge Tilapia fish. The excitement and sparkle in her eyes were priceless. The same fish was cleaned, cut and cooked in mustard paste and served for lunch…Katha couldn’t believe she was actually eating and enjoying her own catch. Being a Bong she is also a big-time fish lover.

The next adventure was with the tress in the backyard which was full of ripen stone apple and raw mangoes. The kids were excited, and the men got up on the terrace to get the ripe fruits hanging there. The satisfaction of having a spoonful of soft yet fibrous pulp of stone apple which you just plucked after some hard work is immense. My daughter didn’t miss out on plucking the raw mangoes along with her uncle which was later grated with salt, sugar and chillies to go with the evening barbeque…

The entire experience was exhilarating, and I was happy and satisfied to give Katha her a tiny piece from my childhood… it’s all about creating memories and storing them safely to cherish later!

To all ye fools

Fooled ya

Remember how 1st April used to be such an important day when we were growing up. Not because it was the beginning of a new financial year, because it was April Fool – All Fools Day. The day we would play innocent pranks on each other – there’s a spider on your back, an insect on your head or the teacher just asked for you or you got a call from home. We were forever plotting and planning to make a fool of our friends and classmates while we were on our guard to avoid being fooled. Such careless childhood days when we could laugh at pranks, at silly jokes, more importantly, laugh at our foolish selves. I still hear the chorus ‘April Fool,’ when someone succumbed to the prank.

April Fool or the custom of setting aside a day to make a fool of others by playing harmless pranks is celebrated across the world for centuries. In Ukrainian city, Odessa April 1st is an official city holiday. Though we don’t know for sure how this custom came to being.T here’s a disputed association between April 1st and Geoffrey Chaucer‘s The Canterbury Tales (1392), a collection of 24 stories written in Middle English. In the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, a vain fellow Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox on Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two, that readers understood as “32 March”, that is April 1. Though modern scholars believe that there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon, 32 days after March, 2 May or the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, that happened 1381.

In 1508, French poet Eloy d’Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril (April fool, literally “April’s fish”), possibly the first reference in France. Some writers suggest that April Fool dates back to the Middle Ages when New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns, with a holiday that in some areas of France, ended on April 1. Those who celebrated New Year’s Eve on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates and came up with April Fools’ Day. January 1 as the beginning of a New Year’s became common in France only in the mid-16th century and was adopted officially only 1564, by the Edict of Roussillon.

In 1561, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1. In 1686, John Aubrey, an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer, referred to the celebration as “Fooles holy day”, the first British reference. On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”. Some even say that April Fool’s Day may go back to the Biblical times, the Genesis flood narrative – the mistake of Noah in sending the dove out of the ark before the water had abated on the first day of April.

Whatever the origin may be, we once played silly pranks and laughed at each other on April 1st. That was before we grew up to be a generation so thin-skinned and hypersensitive that any innocent comment or prank would offend us. We somehow lost our sense of humour and seemed to forget that we only make fools of our own selves. Whether we are trying to outsmart our parents by reading Robin Cook instead of practising Math for boards or hoping against hope that the cute boy will fall in love with us when he’s only interested in our notes. Years later, looking back at our exam scores, we realize what fools we have been. But we continue to fool ourselves, continue to hold on to silly dreams, we make stupid mistakes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Life is all about looking back, laughing at our follies and being better for it all. The only fools are ones’ who are so pompous that they don’t even see their follies!

So, all ye fools, let’s be trivial, let’s laugh at each other and more importantly let’s laugh at our own stupid selves for that’s what makes life worth living. 

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.  

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!