Category: 40s

Bachelor Girl

Conversation with my neighbour on a lockdown morning:

“Hello, ma’am, ma’am.” I was watering the plants. As I turned, I saw my neighbour from the balcony downstairs waving at me. I don’t really know him though I occasionally see him in the common area.

“I just heard one family on your floor has tested COVID positive. What are you doing?” he asked looking very concerned. “What can I do? I am just staying indoors,” I replied.

“Myself Amit Kumar (name changed). I work for an IT Company. I have tried talking to you earlier also but you stay reserved.” Then after giving me an account of his job and family and asking me what I do he suddenly popped the question, “And marriage?” “I am not married,” I said. “Oh! Nahi hua,” he exclaimed or replied. Though irritated, I just smiled at him and walked in, muttering to myself now you know why I “stay reserved.”

That’s usually how people react when they learn I am not married. It used to irritate the hell out of me earlier, I try not to react anymore. Somehow, there’s something sad about an unmarried girl. No matter how well you’re doing if you are not married there must be something wrong. While an unmarried man or a bachelor is sought after, footloose and fancy-free, the same is not true of his female counterpart. We often hear the term ‘eligible bachelor’. Our own Rahul Gandhi and Salman Khan, well in their 50s, are still ‘eligible bachelors.’

Unmarried women or spinsters on the other hand are pictured as ‘old maids’, sad, lonely women. There’s nothing attractive or desirable about a spinster. While a ‘confirmed bachelor’ is not married by choice and therefore elusive and attractive, a spinster is pictured as a plain woman who couldn’t find herself a husband and therefore to be pitied. Though the likes of Sushmita Sen and Tabu and so many other women we know have defied the perception, most people still find it difficult to believe that women could be unmarried by choice. 

I somehow can’t get this incident that took place quite a few years back out of my head. One of our distant aunts’ visiting handed over a big packet gift-wrapped packet to my married cousin saying, “This is for your home.” Handing over a small packet to me she said, “This is for your half home.” “Why half home?” I protested, “My house is bigger than his.” “But since you are not married it’s half home,” she replied. I was stunned. Sitting before was a woman who works in a good position, has travelled all over and has chosen not to get married, quite a bold decision in those times. Yet she considers my home incomplete because I am not married. “You are not married either,” I finally said. “So, mine is half home as well,” she replied with a smile.

To counter the negative connotations of spinster the term bachelorette was coined to describe women who are single by choice. Later “Bachelorette” was famously or infamously the term used to refer to female contestants on the old The Dating Game TV show and, more recently, The Bachelorette. The term thus became associated with young ‘eligible’ bachelor girls.

While a bachelor continues to be eligible well into their 40s, for bachelorettes or bachelor girls it’s a different story. If you haven’t found your mate by the time you are 30, your ‘eligibility’ seems to wane. I can’t think of a female counterpart for Rhett Butler or Mr Rochester, the rakish middle-aged bachelors who won over the young female protagonists (Scarlett O Hara and Jane Eyre). 

Thankfully, there’s a growing number of people who have started thinking differently. There are so many women now, not just celebrities, who are happily unmarried. 

Fub with friends

One evening as I walked in a little late to meet my girlfriends for a drink, ‘There was so much to do today,’ I complained. ‘I have to do everything on my own (unlike you girls who have husbands),’ “What’s your problem?” came the prompt reply. “You are financially independent. You can do whatever you want without having to bother about a husband or kids,” said my girls looking at me enviously. “Grass is always greener on the other side,” I said smiling back at them happily. 

Being on your own can be challenging at times but it’s certainly very satisfying and liberating. It also doesn’t mean that you have never been in love or will not be in love. It only means you are confident enough to go on with your life the way you please, without bothering about any tag or perception.

‘There should be a culture and story behind the weaving and dyeing of sarees,” Seema Shah

Seema in a beautiful Jamdani

I have known Seema for years now. When I first met her, I noticed the beautiful Katha Silk Saree that she was wearing. “Wow, such unique work. Where wear did you pick this saree from?” Seema loves wearing traditional sarees and whenever I meet her, I admire the saree she’s wearing – the colour, the weave, the texture. Being a saree lover myself, I decided to talk to Seema about her saree collection and more.

Tell us about your love affair with saree?

I would say that it started with wearing sarees occasionally during my college days. Those were of course borrowed from mom. Got married soon after college and simultaneously started working for Fab India. This series of events and gradual transformation from wearing sarees occasionally to regularly at work started my love affair with sarees. As a manager with Fabindia, I would wear a different saree every day.  There was a time when customers and other people would visit Fabindia store just to check out the saree I was wearing. My colleagues and other people would do the same whenever I visited head office.

I worked with Ritukumar and Good Earth as well and the love for continued as all these brands support craft.  My journey to different brands brought more knowledge and the passion continues. 

I love traditional sarees with different weaves and different dyes. There should be a cultural story behind the weaving and dyeing of sarees. As these sarees are completely handwoven you may find the weave or the dye uneven at times. But that’s the beauty of these sarees. That’s what makes them unique!

What are the different types of traditional sarees you have?

In a Sharnachari

You name a saree, and I would not disappoint you. I have sarees from all regions and some of them were specially woven for me by weavers which came in the market later after weavers were satisfied that I loved those sarees. In fact, I also keep distributing sarees to my friends and loved ones. So, my collection keeps depleting and replenishing.

 Being a Bengali, I have a good collection of Jamdani and Katha sarees. In addition, I have banarasi, kalamkari, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Ajrakh, Bandini, Bhagalpuri, Tussar and others which I have picked from weavers. Also Banarsi is one weave I love,. 

Being connected to Gujarat through marriage I also have some sarees, Patola, which I inherited from my mother-in-law and they are very close to my heart. My mother has passed on her beautiful Baluchari to me. 

Tell us more about beautiful Ajrakh sarees

Ajrakh is a treasure. It is rich, it is old. Historians have associated it with Harappan civilization which means over 3000 years old treasure. The art of Ajrakh is till today practiced in the areas of Kutch and Sindh. It is double sided block printing. Ajrakh fabric or sarees are made in traditional ways using natural dyes. Artisans use natural dyes to obtain various colours like iron for black, pomegranate for red while making Ajrakh. Indigo is a primary and a conspicuous colour in Ajrakh sarees and fabric.

It takes days to make an Ajrakh saree. It is said that after one layer of printing is done the saree is kept aside for that day to dry – ‘aj rakh’ or keep it today. Next day a fresh set of blocks are printed on the dried blocks and this continues for 17 days. Polishing the saree and finishing it takes a few more days. When you think about the time and effort an artisan puts in making one saree you know they are priceless. Yet what annoys me is people complaining about the price of these beautiful sarees and opting for machine printed fabrics.

 Experiences that you have encountered while buying sarees

Once I went to a weaver in a village close to Jodhpur to buy block printed sarees. It was his workshop, and the blocks were lying around. I asked him if he had metal blocks. His eyes lit up in joy, “Madam aap ko pata hai,” he said smiling. He then took me to a room which was full of metal blocks of different shapes and sizes. ‘Nobody makes these blocks now’ he said, ‘most people don’t even know that originally metal blocks were used for block printing.’

The block prints that we see now are usually done using wooden blocks and they are not as fine and sharp as those printed with metal blocks.

What about chiffon and georgette saree? What do you think about cocktail sarees?

I am more a traditional saree person, though I feel great that women have started wearing sarees for cocktails and dinners. But why can’t we wear a chanderi instead of chiffon? Chanderi or organza sarees are light and transparent and come in lovely shades. Just team them up with a sexy blouse and wear a long earing.

What about maintaining sarees?

To increase the longevity of sarees you need to take them out of the wardrobe occasionally and leave them in the sun for a while. Change the folds of the saree and put them back in the wardrobe after they have cooled. Put neem leaves between the folds, that will keep the pests at bay.

Ladies in saree. Seema in a Kalamkari

Any last word for saree lovers

To all women, whenever you wear a saree, you become one of the most beautiful women in the world. That’s the magic of saree. Sarees can be worn on all occasions.  It is one of the most graceful attire that accentuates the beauty of Indian women. Try wearing sarees more often to work, believe me, it doesn’t take long to drape it. It is just a matter of getting used to wearing it. Once you get you used to wearing sarees you can be comfortable in them for the entire day. And remember, when you buy and wear traditional sarees you are supporting a poor weaver in some remote village. 

The October Feel

October always feels special. It’s not just the cool autumn breeze and the ushering festivities, October is much more than that to me. October is my birth month. I moved into my own house and started my blog in this very month. I didn’t plan for any these to happen in October, they just happened. Of course, our birth is something we don’t or can’t plan. I did plan to buy a house though and worked hard for it. I contemplated starting a blog and finally went live with The Retro Feeling. Though I didn’t consciously coincide building a physical home and the house of my memories and imagination with my birth month, it seems October’s kind to me, allowing some of my pieces to fall in the right place.

Ever since I can remember, birthdays have always been a big deal to me. I excitedly look forward to my birthday. I dream, I meticulously plan the year ahead (or I used to till a few years back), I hope that all the pieces will fall in place eventually. Some pieces do fall in place, some don’t, causing a lot of pain and heartache – a job interview that I was confident I cracked, a boy who I thought was the love of my life, destinations that lured me but shied away. There have been many sparkling pieces that teased me but refused to give in. They hurt me, frustrated me, angered me, and sometimes made me behave most embarrassingly, memories that I would like to erase if I could. The mis fallen pieces of the heart are the most painful ones always.

Celebrating with friends

Almost a decade back, when one such piece fell out of place, I decided I should at least buy a house, work on something that I could possibly control. By then I had changed many accommodations – from a PG to a one-room set to rented apartments. I still remember moving into the one-room set vacated by a friend, pulling the luggage up the stairs on my own as the cabbie refused to help, spending the next couple of days cleaning the apartment as the last occupant left it in such a mess. Moving from one rented apartment to another, facing annoying questions from prospective landlords about my supposed ‘boyfriends’ and marriage plans. Shifting houses is always a pain, involves a lot of hard work especially if you are doing it on your own. And for someone like me who likes the house spic and span it can be even tougher. Whenever I would move into a new place, I wouldn’t rest till everything was the way it was meant to be, much to the annoyance of my sister who lived with me for a few years. It would be tiring and backbreaking but immensely satisfying by the end of it.

Sanjay who organized my b’day bash

Sitting in one such rented apartment, thinking about all the hassle of moving to a new placed every couple of years I decided to buy a house. ‘Enough with all the shifting and the supposed landlords scrutinizing my life,’ I told myself. As luck would have it, I mentioned about my resolve to close friend of mine, Sanjay, who happened to know about a new residential development in Gurgaon that would fit my budget. I visited the place and decided to book an apartment. My dad supported me with the initial deposit. Then followed the home loans, chasing the developer and finally after 6 years (instead of 3) I became the happy owner of my apartment. It took me two more years to finally move into my own house. The uncertainties of moving to a newly developed locality, the fear of not being able to do it right held me back.

My friends came to my rescue again. Right from accompanying me several times (as I have a terrible sense of direction and it took a few trips for me to figure out the way to my own house) to shortlisting the carpenter for woodwork, Sanchita was a huge help. I probably couldn’t have done it without her. Again, my obsession with getting everything perfectly done made things harder. Coordinating with the carpenter, the online furniture stores, buying the right curtains and the cushion kept me on my toes.

And finally, I moved into my apartment on October 28th four years back, after a sleepless night of arguing and fighting with movers & packers who demanded the entire payment before putting the furniture in place. My sister caught hold of a Panditji for Griha Prabesh (as my mom insisted on it) while I kept chasing the movers & packers, the electrician and the plumber to ensure that the house was up and running. The kitchen was fixed, thanks to Poonam who came all the way from Noida to help me set the kitchen. Believe it or not, by evening my house was almost all set, the washing machine was running, Tata Sky was playing and sitting on my own bed was all the solace I needed after months of hard work.

Moving into my own house did give me a sense of security. Some pieces are still out of place, causing a lot of heartaches, but at least I am home. Maybe The Retro Feeling stems from these many pieces, ones that fell into place and the ones that didn’t.

As this post goes live on an October evening just the day after my birthday, it’s not just about looking ahead and planning meticulously anymore. It’s as much about pausing, looking back, savouring the memories, for somehow time takes the pain and the ugliness away. It’s also about tossing all the plans to air and letting life happen, for sometimes the best plans’ are ones that we don’t make!                      

Letter to my Smartphone

My dearest Smartphone,

Hope this letter finds you in the pink of health!

Smarthphone & I

I have so much to thank you for that I don’t know where to begin. You are much more than mobile doorbhash that allows us to talk to people in far off places or even see them now through various video calling apps. Your sassy chats that graduated from simple SMSs to WhatsApp to Snap Chat to what not add spice to our lives. The abbreviations, the emojis and the GIFs (that I often don’t understand) say so much yet say nothing. You give me weather updates, you send me news alerts, you give me directions. I shop with you, I bank with you, I romance with you, I socialize with you, I read with you. Now I have even started keeping notes with you. You are my dictionary, you are my Pictionary, your browser throws up information on anything and everything. You have captured the whole universe in your slim and petite frame (or the universe that matters to you). Life is unimaginable without you!

I look at you as soon as I wake up, I check you out before going to bed. At night you are the closest thing to me, lying at an arm’s length on my bedside table. I pick you up if I hear you ping even at midnight, lest I miss out anything. I am glued to you, I am addicted to you, yet I wish I could go back to the days before you.

You have brought the world to my feet dear Smartphone, but not without a price. You have brushed aside anything that came in your way, everything that your smartness made irrelevant. The sonorous telephones that used to be the centrepieces of our drawing rooms are gone. We don’t need to bother about the neighbours who would drop by to make or receive a call. The letters, that we once wrote fondly to each other and so looked forward to, were your casualties too (and yet I choose to write a letter to you). Your older cousin Hotmail (though not so hot anymore) probably led them to their demise by taking them to the digital realm, and you with your sassy apps just swept them away like dry leaves. Who needs so many words and sentences and pages after pages when you can smartly say so much or so less with emojis and images and videos? Alas, my letters writing pads are gathering dust, my fountain pens long forgotten. Verbose me chockes with words, as I dabble with your chats.   

You kicked out the albums next and the prints of photographs – black & white and then coloured, that would get botchy with times yet smell of the moments gone by. The Sony Coolpix that I bought with my salary is lying in some drawer forgotten. Who needs a Coolpix when your camera is so much cooler? Thousands of photographs are stored on your cloud that I rarely revisit. We get clicked to get likes on social media it seems.

The torch under my pillow, the table clock with an alarm are gone too. For you have a torch, an alarm and you set all kinds of reminders for me. I video chat, I audio chat, I talk to my friends in different corners of the world for hours. That little radio, I don’t need it anymore for you are loaded with music apps. You are with me all the time. I am drawn to you like a moth to the flame. Oh, I so wish I could fly away before your flames devour me or be reborn like a Phoenix.

I have gained so much with you; I have lost so much for you. I have so much to tell that you that your chats will not suffice. I had to resort to the long-forgotten letter that you will probably open with a sneer.

You’re becoming smarter by the day no doubt and I admire you for that. We wait for your latest models to add to our smartness. But dear Smartphone you’ll never know the whiff of the old letters, the smell of the old photographs, the sonorous ring of the telephones. We marvel at your smartness but never get attached to you. You are nothing like old letters or greeting cards or journals that we cherished for years. You’re changed without a second thought the moment your smarter variant is launched.

No matter what Smartphone, I can’t think of a day without you. So, take care and write back, or send me some witty messages.

Sincerely yours,

———————

Shringara with a modern twist!

Shringara Rasa is supposedly the crown emotion associated with love and beauty. The other Rasas or emotions are Hasya (laughter/happiness)Karuna (compassion), Roudra (anger), Veera (valour), Bhayanaka (fear), Bibhatsa (disgust), Adbhuta (wonder)and Shantha (peace/tranquillity)Rasa, as per Indian aesthetics, means essence or emotions and these nine emotions or Navarasas are fundamental to Indian arts be it dance, music, painting literature or poetry. Coming back to the crown Rasa Shringara, it is the essence of Indian romantic literature. Be it Parvati wooing the hermit Shiva or the eager wait of Radha to surreptitiously meet Krishna, Shringara or the art of a woman dressing up by adorning herself with jewellery and flowers to entice her beloved, was considered to be an important ritual. There are numerous verses or images that show an angry Radha tossing of her jewellery, flowers, and embellishments when her lover boy Krishna fails to show up, for she had dressed up for his eyes only. 

Modern bride Dr. Sushmita Bhattacharya

Solah Shringar is the art of a woman adorning herself from head to toe with sixteen embellishments to look beautiful and desirable for her lover or her man. Hindu brides on their wedding day are supposed to perform Solah Shringar comprising bindi, necklaces, earrings, flowers in the hair, finger rings, bangles, armlets, waistbands, ankle-bells, kajal, toe-rings, henna, perfume, sandalwood paste, the upper garment and lower garment. A modern Indian bride though tweaks this ritual as per her taste and convenience. And how beautiful a bride looks. As a little girl, I wanted to be a bride just so I could dress up like that and wear all those ornaments. The groom was of no consequence.

Dressed for the evening

Surprisingly, while a woman takes so much trouble to adorn herself, there’s hardly any reference of men performing Shringara for their lady love. Though elaborate rituals of Krishna’s Shringara are performed in temples, we rarely come across any anecdote of this dark and mischievous God taking pains to dress up for Radha. Shiva or Mahadev is supposed to be dishevelled, he’s an ascetic after all. Even in modern times, there’s so much talk about bridal make-up, one hardly gets to hear about the groom. So, don’t men care about looks. The growing number of men frequenting beauty parlours would suggest otherwise. It’s just that we rarely come across any image or reference of a man dressing up to present himself to a woman. A man is supposed to win a woman with his valour and wisdom, while the damsel can lure him with her beauty and looks. An allusion that any woman today will find ridiculous and disturbing.

Editor & transalator Dr. Chandana Dutta loves wearing traditional outfits

And the funny thing is, most ‘modern’ men still seem to think that we women adorn ourselves for their sake, an assumption that can be both hilarious and annoying. This has become quite a nuisance for a friend mine, who’s separated but happens to share the same house with her husband, “The other day I felt like dressing up, so I wore a nice dress and put on some make-up. When I entered the kitchen, my husband followed me there and started looking at me curiously. I was shocked when he flirtatiously suggested that I dressed up for him.” One predicament of having to share a house with her separated husband is that my friend just can’t dress up without him boasting about it. “I keep telling him we are over, and it has nothing to him, but he refuses to get it. It’s annoying,” she says exasperated. “And now that we are locked in, I can dress up the way I please, I can experiment with my hairstyle and makeup without having to deal with people’s opinion,” she adds with a smile.

Feeling festive. Communication consultant Poonam Tibrewal

Yes, we women love to dress up, we enjoy indulging in Shringara immensely, because it pleases us. We occasionally dress up to indulge someone special when we are in the mood. We dress up for work, we dress up for meetings, we dress up for our evening outings. For dressing up is so much more than Solah Shringar, there’s power dressing, board room dressing, leisure dressing and more, and we like to dress appropriately for every occasion, with the right makeup and jewellery. We may dress to impress, we may dress to make a statement, but most importantly we dress up because we love to look good, that feels so great!

Ready to take wings. Fashion designer Sanchita Singh Roy

If the skirt is too short, the dress is too tight, or the neckline too revealing that’s because we have the confidence to carry an outfit like that, we are comfortable with our body. We dress as per our mood, as per the weather, as per the occasion, as per our comfort and convenience. The colour of our lipstick reflects our personality. If it pleases men to see us so well dressed that’s a bonus. We appreciate gentlemanly compliments but do remember we took all the trouble to suit our whims and fancies. And if you decide to approach us you better be well groomed, for no matter what they say we don’t like shabby men.

Savouring Vintage Wine

The price that we are willing to pay for a bottle of old wine! Connoisseurs and collectors outbid each other in Sotheby’s or Christie’s to possess a bottle of fine vintage wine. They are preserved and stored with the utmost care and savoured only on Very special occasions. For a wine that has reached its plateau of maturity can be magical — offering nuances and textures unimaginable in a young wine.

Image courtesy winecottage.co.uk

Apparently, in 2015, Russian President, Vladamir Putin, and former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi drank from a bottle of Jeres de la Frontera worth $90,000. Chateau Margaux 1787 is valued at $500,000 as it may have once belonged to the declaration of Independence writer, Thomas Jefferson. A bottle of the Massandra Sherry de la Frontera 1775 was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $43,500 in London in 2001, making it the most expensive bottle of Sherry in the world.

While the above wines are beyond ordinary mortals like us, we do occasionally enjoy a mature wine – 20-year-old Port or Madeira maybe. Those occasions are special. The bottle is uncorked and wine poured with much ado. We slowly sip in the valuable liquid, role it in our tongue before taking it in. Savouring the mature flavours of old wine! 

Image courtesy Royist

However, many don’t know that not all wines age well. Only fine wines with a high level of flavour compounds, such as phenolics (most notably tannins), are likely to age well. White wines with the longest ageing potential are those with a high amount of extract and acidity. The acidity in white wines acts as a preservative like tannins in red wines. So only the likes of Pinot Noir, Port, Madeira, Claret, Bordeaux and Sherries are likely to become more valuable and flavourful with age.

Then again, it is not easy to age wine or handle vintage wine. A lot depends on the bottle, the cork and the storage. Most wood-aged ports and sherries are bottled after they have aged sufficiently in the winery, sometimes for decades. For the wine to age perfectly it needs to be stored in a cool, dark place, till all its flavours and nuances are released, and then, it can be enjoyed by someone who truly enjoys wine. Even after a bottle of vintage wine is delivered to a customer it needs to be handled with patience. Some wines need to sediment, while some need to breathe. Even decanting wine is an art to be perfected with experience. And a wine lover will always have a cool cellar for storing wines. For fine wines need to be stored in right temperature, even the angle must be right – 45 degrees.

We can fuss endlessly over old wines, and yet we go to ridiculous extent to look younger, even deny our age. Wouldn’t it be more fun to age like fine wine, becoming wiser, mature, and more enigmatic with age!  For with passing years and experience we do acquire those magical nuances to be savoured like vintage wine.

Time: Old & New, Flying & Pausing

Time gone by & what lies ahead

Old year departs gently, ushering in the New

So lured are we by the glamour & glitter of the New, that we forget the Old, its goodness, its warmth, as we fly with the time

New hopes, new dreams, new aspirations, desires & ambitions lead us on to fascinating avenues & lanes

A journey so challenging & exhilarating that leaves us with little time to pause & ponder

Then, one day, when we stop to catch a breath and absentmindedly look back, the spectacle of our yesteryear’s memoirs, diaries & recollections spring back at us

The lazy days when we would listen to a play on AIR, or the exciting days when TV invaded our drawing rooms with Asiad, to be later taken over by crazy online streaming

Taking eager steps to school in Bata shoes, weighed down by Duckback school bag heavy with books, dreams and ambitions

Travelling in 2nd class, a coach full of students, heart full of aspirations, to the realm that takes us a step closer to so many dreams that whisper in our ears

Some dreams are fulfilled, some forgotten, some broken, some carelessly tossed away, adorn our path as we move along

The pride and joy of owning the first Nokia mobile phone, making the first brief call, packing in as many words in as little time, for rates were high

The arriving in life moment with the first Blackberry, replacing it with little thought with iPhone, Samsung Note and what not, for choices are many

Switching happily from DTC buses, to auto, to the proud ride in first Maruti 800

Moving on from a generation that held on to dreams, clung on romantically to a few material possessions, to a generation that’s spoilt for choice, often confused, bemused or bewildered, easily disillusioned

As we look back, time pauses for a while, to string together our forgotten or lost dreams chipped and dulled with years, new wishes and resolutions glowing with hope and yearnings, into a glittering, uneven multi-coloured necklace.

Of birthdays, growing up, adding years, feeling younger & more…

Birthday girl 2019

Birthdays are always so special to me. Many a ‘mature’ people have often told me, “What’s the big deal about birthday? It’s just another day.”  For me they are a BIG deal, I wait for my birthday every year, for the wishes to pour in, the cakes, the gifts, even the FB wishes and videos. I subtly (and sometimes shamelessly) remind people about my upcoming birthday, lest they forget to wish. Passing years haven’t taken the sheen off birthday celebrations, I feel as excited as I did as a little girl. It’s not so much about a huge party or expensive presents, it’s more about being remembered by people you love, celebrating the day I came to this world, surely there’s something special about that day!

When I was a little girl, birthdays were about mom making kheer in the morning. I would be greeted with a spoonful of sweet kheer, new dress and maybe a toy. I grew up in a joint family, dida (dadi), kaku (uncles), pishi (bua) and cousins, besides my parents and sisters, would lovingly wish me happy birthday. There were no 12 a.m. celebrations then, birthday celebrations started in the morning. While my parents would get me a dress for my birthdays’, Namentu (my dad’s younger brother who was very popular with the children of the family) would indulge me with toys and books. Ranga pishi (my favourite bua) would ensure I got all my favourite sweets. Unfortunately, both Namentu and Ranga Pishi left us early and birthday’s or any other celebration has not been the same since.

Birthday 2018 in Agartala when my college friends surprised me

The highpoint of the day was about wearing a new dress and happily heading to the school bus stop holding Ranga Pishi’s hand with a bag full of toffees (Parle G or Eclairs). Birthday girls or boys would get special treatment in the school and that would start from the bus stop. Kids would wish me, give me flowers, I would handout a toffee to each child. On reaching school the class teacher would announce my birthday and the whole class would sing for me. After that I would hand out a toffee to each kid, close friends would get more than one (the birthday girl’s discretion made her so important that day). To think just one toffee could be so sought after!

Celebrations at office. I share my birthday with my colleague Abhishek

There would be small party at home in the evening. Mom would bake a cake, cook my favourite food. My best friend, few of my close friends and the whole family would gather for the cake cutting and the dinner thereafter. It was a simple homely affair but there was so much love and affection. I got cute little gifts like pens and pencil boxes which I cherished. Throwing a birthday party in a hotel or a restaurant, spending money on expensive gifts didn’t even cross our minds in those days. We were so happy blowing balloons, decorating the drawing room with coloured papers, being hugged and kissed and wished by everyone around. Those were the perfect birthdays!

After leaving home, midnight birthday celebrations in the hostel had its own share of fun and excitement. Friends and hostel mates would organize a cake, admirers would cue up with lovey dovey cards and sometimes flowers. Made me feel so grown up, years ahead seemed so exciting.  When I started working, I started paying for my own birthday dinners and throwing birthday parties, that was a different feeling all together.

Of course, birthdays’ away from home haven’t always been easy.  There were moments when I pined for more attention from someone special, felt people didn’t care enough for me and my birthday. But those are far and few, buried in the happy memories and excitement that birthday brings along with it each year. I have been blessed with friends who always take time out to make my birthday special, buy me gifts that I cherish!

And the best part is, even after celebrating so many birthdays I don’t feel any older. I don’t attempt to light up the cake with 40 something candles though. The glow of my happiness, youth, maturity and wisdom (that I have accumulated over the years hopefully) is enough for that!!

Bidding adieu to little Miss Hankie: whiff of an era gone by

Once upon a time she was my constant companion. I wouldn’t leave home without her.   Whether going to school in the morning or visiting neighbours in the evening, she would be neatly folded and pinned to my dress or tugged in my skirt. We loved playing Rumal Choras kids. When I started carrying fancy bags to college, she found a special place in that bag. Life was unimaginable without her.

Sparking white, or in soothing pale shades of pink or blue, with pretty flowers or little birds embroidered, honeycombed edges, Miss Hankie and her friends were such a delight. I remember making my first little hankie when I was in 4th standard. SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) was a compulsory subject in school then. With such excitement and love I hemmed the edges of a small square pale blue cloth and embroidered a pink lotus in one corner. After that I went on to make so many hankies, in different colours and embroideries, some with my name stylishly embroidered. I was so proud of carrying my own little hankies, sometimes perfumed, gently dabbing away sweat or dust from the face and neck.  

Miss Hankie was ever so romantic and enigmatic. Lovelorn youth would often find solace in the sweet-smelling handkerchief of their lady love. Boys would use hanky as ploy to strike a conversation with the person of their interest. “Excuse me Miss, I think you dropped your hanky,” was corniest pick up line ever. Miss Hankie found a special place in romantic Bollywood movies as well – Reshmi Rumal, Kaali Topi Lal Rumal, where handkerchief played such an important role. There are so many romantic movie scenes where the male protagonist is seen languishing over a delicate little hanky of his beloved.

For the male counterpart of Miss. Hankie, it was all about chivalry. We have so often seen the protagonist offer his handkerchief with aplomb to a damsel in distress. The ‘resham ki rumal’ has always added to the appeal of the swashbuckling Hindi film hero. Remember Shammi Kapoor in “Sar par topi lal, haath me reshmi rumal hai tera kya kehena

Sadly however, little Miss Hankie is now on the brink of extinction, nudged away by the convenient tissues. Like most people of my generation, I am guilty of making the switch to tissues. I have lost all my little hankies; I just carry a pack of face tissue in my purse. There are hand tissues and paper towels that have made hankies completely redundant. My mom, however, still sticks to her hankies, finding them more reliable than the array of tissues. Fortunately, male handkerchiefs have survived, they still find place in most men’s pocket, though the charisma once associated with them is lost.

Tissues may have brought in convenience, but unlike hankies there’s nothing romantic about them. There was something personal about hankies, reflecting so strongly the personality of their owner – the touch, the smell. Tissues on the other hand don’t have a distinct character, they are just use and throw. And the idea of picking up a used tissue is quite repulsive, no matter how beautiful or charming the user may be!  

 “Resham ka rumaal gale pe dalke”.

Flashback: College Days

I was a college girl once, almost two decades back when life was all bright and chirpy, everything seemed possible, the world was buzzing with the promise of a rosy future. After finishing school, I joined the Women’s College in Agartala to study English literature. Not my first choice though. I wanted to become an engineer, leave Agartala for a top-rated Engineering college, but didn’t study hard enough for it. I assumed it would just happen, so naturally, I didn’t make the cut. I was firmly told by my father that he wasn’t going to pay for my studies in any second-grade institution, might as well stay back in Agartala and focus on doing well in graduation.

Snapshot: College Days

I was very upset with the developments, but I also changed gears quickly, decided to study literature instead of science and fortunately got over the setback soon. I had a knack for literature, and I enjoyed reading poetry or discussing postmodern theory better than scientific theorems. I came across a few brilliant teachers or mentors who further honed my appreciation for literature. I also made some excellent friends who have remained good friends over so many years. My disastrous performance in class 12 boards pushed me to make the most of my graduating years and I did manage to do well. I also learnt an important lesson, of never taking anything for granted, things just don’t happen, you must work very hard to make them happen.

College, back then in Agartala, was very different from college now. We would conservatively dress in long skirts or salwar kameez to college. Some girls even wore sari. Short skirts, even jeans were unthinkable in Agartala in those days. In plaited hair and attire approved by moms, we were the cool college girls. Happy, carefree, working hard, with many so dreams and ambitions, I still look back fondly to those days. We were nothing like the kwel college kids of today, with their fashionable skimpy clothes and latest gadgets, but that didn’t seem to matter at all.

I still remember my first day in Women’s College, finding my way to the 1st year English literature classroom with no familiar faces around. I was the only one from my batch who opted for English literature after plus two. I wasn’t feeling great, I was still smarting for not being able to take up engineering, blaming casual attitude for my poor show. But once I sat in the class friendly faces smiled at me. My new friends made every day in college so much fun. We would hang around in the college canteen, go for tuitions together. I grew especially close to Aditi and Piyali, a friendship that we cherish to this day. Walking together in scenic College Tila were we would go for tuitions, dressing up for college festivals and special occasions, picnics, those happy days when life seemed so simple!

A surprise visit from college friends on my birthday at Agartala

During my college days, I actually started taking interest in studies, I enjoyed the lectures as much as the other activities. I was fortunate to have had teachers’ and mentors who have kept my love for literature alive in me to this day. I would particularly look forward to the sessions with Rupak da, who was a PhD scholar then, helping us with a few papers. Those endless discussions and debates, different perspectives to the same poem or literary characters were so stimulating. He encouraged me to read, to be creative. He probably believed in me more than I did and maybe that encouraged me to start writing after so many years. I started writing for myself that shaped into this blog. It may not be literary or intellectual but writing gives me an outlet, helps me look at things from different perspectives.

After post-graduation, I took up PR, a career that has nothing to do with literature. Though at times my job can get quite demanding, leaving me little time to read, I keep turning to literature whenever I can. There’s a part of me that that craves to get back to literary pursuits, another me that so enjoys the challenges of my profession!