Remember Campa Cola. It was such a rage in the 80s. While growing up that’s the only Cola I knew. They also came up with Campa Orange that I really liked as a girl. Then there was zingy Gold Spot.
I first tasted Campa Cola when I was five. We were staying in Kacharapara then, a town in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district. My father was on study leave, pursuing Agri MSC from Kalyani University. My much older cousin Boro Pishi’s (bari bua) son Tapu dada was visiting us from Kolkata. Whenever Tapu dada or his brothers visited it would be party time for me. They would take me around, buy me whatever I wanted, goodies that my parents usually denied. This time I wanted to have Campa Cola.
I still remember sitting in a restaurant with Tapu dada, sipping slowly with a straw into the glass bottle. I was drawn to the drink after seeing colourful ads of Campa Cola in magazines. The fizz however was too much for little me handle and I was struggling to finish the drink. Tapu dada patiently looked on as I sat with the bottle for an hour. I don’t remember if I managed to finish the drink.
Gold Spot was the zing thing. We also had Thumbs Up, the taste of thunder and lime and lemony Limca. I remember Kitu Gidwani’s Gold Spot ad in the late eighties that took Door Darshan by storm! I still enjoy watching the ad on YouTube:
He is crazy about speeding/ I go crazy over his driving/ He is crazy about mobike race and I go crazy just keeping pace/ You bet, he’s crazy about me./As crazy as crazy as we’re about …Gold spot, the zing thing, Gold spot, the zing thing/Gold spot
Those were the days of Desi Colas that came only in refillable glass bottles, slightly inconvenient but more environment friend. Campa Cola, introduced by the Pure Drinks Group in the 70s, ruled for over two decades. Pure Drinks Group, pioneers of the Indian soft drink industry, introduced Coca-Cola into India in 1949. They were the sole manufacturers and distributors of Coca-Cola till the 1970s when Coke was asked to leave the country. The Group launched Campa Cola then with the slogan was “The Great Indian Taste.” Orange flavoured Campa Orange was introduced soon after.
Gold Spot, a very popular desi drink in the 80s and early 90s was introduced by Parle Bisleri. An initiative of the company’s founder Ramesh Chauhan, Glod Spot came along with Thumbs Up and Limca from the house of Parle. The Global soft drink giants Pepsi and Coca Cola had exited India in the 1960s due low sale and other issues. The desi Colas ruled the roost enjoying huge popularity with the youth.
But then the giants returned in the early 90s and the desi Colas lost their fizz. Campa Cola perished, Glod Spot gave in to Coca Cola’s Fanta, Thumbs Up and Limca were taken over. It’s not because the global brands were better, it’s because they had more muscle and money power.
For me Cola is still Campa Cola, Zingy is still Gold Spot. Maybe it’s the aggressive marketing of the global giants or the loss of the desi flavours, Cola has lost its fizz for me since!
The memories of lying on my back under a starlit sky, counting the stars, the magic of the shooting stars. The moonlit nights had a different appeal. There’s something about the moon that has fascinated me as a child, the changing shape, the patterns on the moon or rather the craters. I have always found the moon enigmatic and mysterious. Each star had a different story to tell, I thought. There’s so much secret hidden in the dark blue night sky. But alas, the bright lights of development eventually hid the night sky.
The pleasures of those rainy mornings, with absolutely nothing to do, just watching the rain or floating paper boats in deluged the courtyard. The music of the pitter pater silver rain, the simple pleasures of rainy days. Me sitting by the window, daydreaming, fantasizing about my dream lover who will sweep me off my feet. The grown-up world stole my rainy days. The traffic snarls, the water-logged roads and the miserable drive to work killed the romance.
The fun and joy of festive days – Lokhhi pujo, Saraswati pujo, Diwali at home. With my gang of cousins, we would raise money from the grown-ups, Nomentu (my dad’s younger brother lovingly addressed so) being the most generous donor. We would make a pandal with mom’s old sarees and garlands of marigold and march to the market to buy an idol. Walking in happily with the Goddess, sound of conch, kashor and ghonta. The deadlines, the tight schedules, the obligations of being an adult, stole those days from me, burying them somewhere deep.
The first crush, the first kiss, the excitement, the happy fantasies. Life was like a Mills & Boon romance, the lovers spat, the make-up kisses and the illusions of happily ever after’s. Broken dreams, shattered hearts, promises forgotten or never made. I pick up the pieces and dream again of my prince charming who’s waiting somewhere. Sweet memories of being in love…
That’s the beauty of memories, the lens of nostalgia makes the past look beautiful. The long hours of load shedding or power cuts, having to finish our homework in candlelight, the heat and the mosquitoes stinging me are forgotten. Only the beauty of the starlit night remains. On those long rainy days, the inconvenience of having to walk through the dirty deluged road is forgotten, music of the rain is what still allures me. Despite all the heartbreaks, it’s the memory of the kiss on a beautiful moonlit light that brings a smile to my lips.
Maybe it’s the simplicity of those days, maybe life is all about making beautiful memories and filtering out the inconsequential…
Bongs their daak naam! Daak naam can be loosely translated as pet name or nickname but it’s much more than that. Almost every Bengali has two names – the dressy ‘good’ name for the outside world and a short, sweet, often funny and always meaningless daak naam or pet name that is used at home by family and close friends. For instance, Pinaki Dasgupta could be called Poltu at home or Nibedita Mukherjee’s daak naam could be Babli. Famous bongs have famous pet names, for instance, Rabindranath Tagore was called Robi and Satyajit Ray was fondly addressed as Manik da and R D Burman as Pancham da.
Daak naam or pet names are easy to pronounce, there’s something intimate and personal about them. Maybe that’s why as kids we would fiercely guard our pet names from our friends and classmates. We would resort to all kinds of tricks to learn each other’s pet names. And once someone’s pet name was revealed that would be an event. We would tease the person by calling out his pet name at the most inconvenient times – in the school bus, in the playground, in between classes, so that more kids would know the name and join the fun.
Bongs also have a knack for weird pet names. Boys are often called Jhantu, Hadan, Bhodai or Piklu at home. Girls are named Puchki, Buri, Bula or Mammam. Raja, Tutu, Bappa, Babu or Bapi for boys and Mamuni, Mamon, Bulti etc. for girls are some common pet names. The eldest son is often called Buro and the daughter Buri and the younger ones Kutti or Chutki.
Though pet names are often funny and awkward, they are enveloped in love. Sometimes lovingly a family bestows several pet names on a child. For instance, my nephew is Raghav for my parents, his Bua calls him Jeet, he is Shona for his parents and for the world he is Diptanu.
I was born 4 years after my parent’s got married in a joint family full of unmarried uncles and aunts. I was a pampered child with many names. While Mummun is my official pet name, I was fondly addressed by a different name by each member of my family. And some of these weird names have lovingly stuck to me. My mom used to call me Buggi (thankfully she has now moved to Mona). Ranga Pishi (my favourite Bua who unfortunately left us early) would call me Manku and my cousins had a field day teasing me as Monkey. Mannam, Gudum (because I was a chubby kid) were other names. Luckily Monkey is forgotten but Buggi is not. My cousins call me Buggi or Buggi Didi in public. I used to be annoyed and embarrassed earlier, but now I feel loved.
That’s something about daak naam, they are embarrassingly loving. We are reluctant to reveal them, but we will never let them go!
Remember the nursery rhyme: Rain, rain, go away/ Come again another day/ Little Johnny wants to play – that is never me. I always love rain, almost unconditionally. I want it to rain, drizzle, pour, no matter what. Rain never comes in the way of my plans; it adds to it.
Maybe because I hail from a place where it rains a lot. My hometown Agartala is blessed with rain. We have a bountiful monsoon there and often generous non-seasonal rains. As a little girl, I remember waking up to rainy mornings and eagerly getting ready for school. On those mornings, even if mom would be reluctant to send me off, I would rush to the bus stand in my raincoat, insisting that there was an important class that I couldn’t skip. The joy of walking in the rain, the errant drops kissing my forehead, sometimes in ankle-deep water, was something I wouldn’t miss. Attendance was thin on such days; teachers would go easy on the poor rain-soaked kids. We were allowed to take off our wet shoes and socks and let them dry under the fan. Those rainy days, more fun & play and less studies, are probably my fondest memories of school.
There were days when rain would catch us by surprise. Our school, Holy Cross, was surrounded by huge playgrounds and trees. There were times when we would be playing under a tree far away from the school building and it would suddenly start pouring. We would come back to the class happily drenched to be sent off to the common room to dry ourselves.
On those rainy Agartala days, I felt like a peacock dancing in the rain. I had no other care in the world except soaking in the happy drizzle. Sometimes it would rain so much that the streets would be flooded, and we would be stuck at home. I would sit by the window for hours staring dreamily at the clouded sky, drizzling or pouring rain or the deluged courtyard. Thunder, a flash of lightning or storm that often came along with rain added to the allure of those wet days.
As I grew up and moved to drier climes, rain became rarer and eagerly awaited. While studying in Hyderabad, I would wait for the rain to pour on our rocky campus and wash away the heat. Memories of running back from the class to the hostel in the rain or walking lazily with a boy who wouldn’t leave my side all drenched. The thrill of walking up to a man waiting for me outside a coffee shop in the happy winter drizzle. I often felt like a Jasmine tree washed in the rain, flowers shivering and quivering, waiting to bloom again.
Living in NCR now, the wait for rain is sometimes unending, the long scorching summers and the sparse monsoons. The dry heat sears the dreamy Jasmine, the plant is parched waiting for it to rain. The peacock refuses to dance and the sweet boy has receded to some far-flung corner. On such harsh summer days, I wish it would pour, the streets would flood and the rivers swell, washing away all the dry dead twigs and the broken dreams. Maybe once the despair is swept away the flowers will bloom; I will dream new dreams and dance like a peacock again on the rain rinsed greens.
We celebrate the Festival of Light on a new moon autumn night that falls on the Hindu month of Kartik to drive the darkness away. Anything that is dark is somehow associated with evil in our culture. We light lamps or diyas on Deepavali to celebrate the victory of good over evil. According to Hindu mythology, Deepavali marks the day when Lord Rama returned home after vanquishing Ravana, the asura king. The golden Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped across North India to usher wealth and prosperity on that night. Homecoming of Lord Rama did mark the beginning to happy days for his subject in Ayodhya. In Bengal and east, however, we worship Goddess Kali on Deepavali night. Fearsome Kali with open hair, bloodshot eyes, garlanded with skulls is considered to be the vanquisher of evil – the dark Kali violently and uprooting the dark evil.
The image of Kali has always evoked a mixed response in me. The bloodthirsty semi-naked dark blue Goddess adorned with a garland of skulls of the demons she has crushed, holding a severed head dripping blood, wearing a skirt of severed limbs, her bloody tongue jutting out as she steps on to her consort, Lord Shiva. Yes, Shiva needed to fall on her feet to calm her down. I have sometimes wondered how or why our patriarchal society conceived of female power so ferocious so, so untamed? On the night of Deepavali, Kali bhakts in Bengal stay up the whole night and worships Goddess Kali who used her darkness to annihilate darkness. Though, having grown up as a Bengali, with images and pictures of Kali all around, one can sometimes take this enigmatic Goddess for granted. I have always felt there is more to her than meets the eye. And the more I read about her, the more questions she evokes.
Kali’s blackness is associated with the eternal darkness that can destroy and create. As Shamsana Kali she presides over the crematorium, the land between the living and the dead. She is associated with death and dark magic or Tantra. Kali is central to Tantra Sadhna in Bengal, a spiritual practice that involves the dead. Though she is much revered, this dark blue Goddess is never worshipped at home. Her wildness and untamed spirit inspire awe, her raw feminine energy refuses to be domesticated. She effortlessly dwells in the realms of life and death. Kali has always reminded me of the darkness that lurks under the flickering flame, the opposites that embrace each other to create harmony. She lends deeper appeal to celebrations of light.
Not many of us are aware that this wild Goddess manifests herself in 10 different forms. In one such forms, Kamala Kali, she is a tantric form of the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi. This form of Goddess Kali is worshipped as ‘Gaja Lakshmi’, as she has two elephants by her side, the southern states.
Interestingly, Kali Pujo is preceded by Bhoot Chaturdashi or Bengal’s own Halloween. On Bhoot Chaturdashi our 14 forefathers are called upon and warded off on the same day. Choddo Prodip or 14 candles are lit in 14 corners of the house, a practice that I follow even in Gurgaon. According to folklore, the spirits of ancestors come back to us on this night and these diyas help them find their homes. It is believed that our Choddo Purush or fourteen ancestors descend to bless us and ward off evil spirits and ghosts. But they are spirits too, so we need to ward them off after being blessed. What a strange practise that challenges the opposites and the barriers that we carefully construct.
Kali, also known as Adishakti or Kundalini Shakti, is the divine feminine energy or the light that makes the Universe live, but she can also burn it. Therefore, when we worship Kali, we celebrate these very opposites, revere her, fear her. The darkness that our society looks down upon is adulated. The dark blue Goddess who effortlessly embodies the contradictions is probably mocking at the futility of all boundaries – the good and the bad, the black and the white, of the different compartments that we have carefully built over the years. For, Kali’s darkness brings light and under the flames of every lamp plays the dark shadow!
Snow (vanishing cream), powder and Boroline – that was all a Bengali lady needed to look good about 50 years back or more. Here I am talking about the generation before my mom’s. In the evenings or before stepping out, these ladies would wash their face apply snow (often pronounced as sono) and powder on their face (talcum powder, not compact), tie their well-oiled hair into a bun and put a sindur bindi. They would wear an ironed Bengal cotton sari and step out looking fresh, sometimes powdered.
My mom had a kakima (I called her Choto Didun) who would follow that regime in the evenings. She would always have snow (Charmis or Ponds vanishing cream) and powder on her dressing table. I was a little kid then, not even 10, I would look at her amazed whenever she would apply snow or vanishing cream to her face. In no time her oily face, due to the hot humid weather, would look fresh and bright. That could have been the reason why snow was so popular with ladies in Bengal.
At that time snow seemed like the ultimate makeup item to me. My fashionable mom had various lotions, moisturisers and foundations but not snow. I would sometimes sneak up to Choto Didun’s dressing table, open the box of snow and smell it. I was of course to scared to apply it on my face lest I got a scolding from mom.
And Boroline was something that every Bengali household had, used generously for soft supple skin, or chapped lips and even as an antiseptic for minor injuries. Boroline was versatile. I remember every night before going to bed, mom would spend at least 10 minutes massaging Boroline to her face. She still has a glowing complexion and maybe Boroline is the secret.
Bengali women were proud of their long black and that they would oil ever so often. Jabakusum and Lakhi Bilas were two popular hair oil brands that were available in every household. I even remember my mom using these brands. For, in those days, you wouldn’t be considered fashionable if your hair weren’t oiled. I wonder if these brands exist anymore.
Boroline, of course, has survived the onslaught of time and is popular with Bongs to date. My dad still thinks Boroline is the answer to all skin problems. Whenever they visit, they get a tube of Boroline for me. I think it works well as a bedtime cream on dry winter nights!
I was in two minds. Should I write a post on Maggi? Is it too much brand promotion, writing about an instant noodle that has no health benefit whatsoever? But what the heck, who eats Maggi for health reasons anyway? We indulge in Maggi because it’s fun, it’s quick, it’s versatile. And of course, it’s readily available. Any kirana shop anywhere in the country will have Maggi. Those who go for treks would know the joy of having hot Maggi served by a small food stall up in the hills.
I can’t think of any other brand that has been running strong for decades. Since walking into our classrooms sometimes in the 80s to now, the 2-minutes noodles continue to be hugely popular with kids. My friends with children tell me that they have Maggi for breakfast or dinner at least once a week because the kids insist.
I remember getting the pack of Maggi from school, my mom reading the instructions carefully while my grandmother suspiciously looked on. We gorged on Maggi that mom served for an evening snack. Wrapping the noodles around our fork and savouring them before swallowing, sometimes slurping noisily. My grandmother shook her head and strongly disapproved. She thought Maggi smelt like soap and should not be served to little children. She was also upset that we chose the instant noodles over her homemade moya and nadu.
Thus started my love affair with Maggi. Every now then and then I would urge mom to pack Maggi for lunch. It wouldn’t taste good cold; she would say but eventually give in. She would add vegetables like beans, peas also and egg to Maggi. And the cold Maggi tasted better than anything in the world. I still remember sitting under a tree during our break and proudly sharing my lunch with friends. Those Maggi lunch days were special!
All the kids I know are as excited about Maggi as I was at their age. ‘I can cook Maggi,’ chirps 11-year-old Prapti. ‘I boil it with masala on the induction cooktop,’ she adds.
In the hostel, we would make Maggi in our room whenever we were sick of hostel food. Since I started working and staying on my own Maggi has been my go-to meal whenever I was too busy or too lazy to cook. I always add loads of veggies to my Maggi – onion/spring onion/green peas/capsicum/beans/carrot, top it with egg and sometimes cheese. I also add sausages to Maggi. Once I added red pasta sauce to Maggi and it tasted amazing.
On these stay-at-home days, my Friday dinner is often Maggi and a drink – gin & tonic or vodka with fruit juice. I get into my comfortable pyjamas, put on a good show and sit before the TV with my favourite dinner. Maggi never fails to cheer me up and has kept me going in these gloomy days!
My quiet neighbourhood is drowned in the sound of vehicles, honking as they pass by
My beautiful lake, around which we built our small houses, is now hidden behind the tall ugly buildings that are cropping up
The stars that smiled at me once on balmy nights glitter faintly, dimmed by the million lights
The tall coconut tree, the green guava tree and so many beetle nuts trees that would surround my childhood home have been chopped for modern concrete buildings
My once huge courtyard with so many flowering plants, my lazy green city scattered with little ponds and water bodies, is now a concrete jungle
I do hear the cuckoo sing at the break of dawn, but as the sun goes up her voice is lost in the hustle bustle of progress
I can still find the small unhappening city of my childhood, my hometown, in the silence of the early mornings, when the night meets the day
In the glistening water of the lake as she peeps out of the tall buildings
In the pristine greenery that still surrounds the outskirts of my hometown
As I look at that them in delight, breathe in the cool freshness, a sudden sadness grips me, a fear lurks behind the peace and the tranquil
Little remains of my childhood home, will they be swept away by the march of progress?
Will my beautiful city live only in my memories, the glittering stars, the quiet lake, the serene green scapes, the price that we pay for development?
I used to come down with a cold often as a child, sometimes even fits of sneezing. I would look at the mom with heavy pleading eyes in the morning hoping that she would look at my plight and allow me to skip school. Unless the cold was accompanied by fever I would be dragged out of bed and packed off to school. “It’s just a common cold,” she would tell me. “Don’t have ice cream and cold water and you will be fine.” So, no ice cream and cold drinks for a week at least, school every day and homework, and gargling at night and taking steam to make things worse.
“Common cold,” I found the term so unfair. It would leave me feeling drowsy and drained and no one would care. I could stay home only if I had a fever. Even mild temperature wasn’t taken too seriously, though I would be kept at home and monitored. In fact, fever or seasonal flu had its own charm. I would enjoy those lethargic, lazy, no school days and all attention that the fever brought along. Till about a year back, taking a break from work to recover from a mild fever or flu was kind of relaxing.
Common cold’s cousin sneeze, sometimes caused by cold, sometimes by dust or allergy, was never feared, always blessed. “Bless you” we would say when someone sneezed. There are various sayings behind why a sneeze drew blessings. Apparently, a sneeze is the closest thing to death. It is said that our heart stops for a fraction of a second when we sneeze, don’t know if this is actually the case. It is also believed that Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) suggested saying “God bless you” after a person sneezed as one of the symptoms of the plague was coughing and sneezing. In hopes that this prayer would protect them from otherwise certain death the custom saying “God bless you” or “bless you” came into being. That sneezing causes someone to expel their soul out of their body is another belief, hence “God bless you” to ward off the devil snatching our soul.
Despite these sayings we never associated sneezing with death or evil, it was rather innocuous save for minor irritations. “Bless you” was just a polite thing to say if we heard someone sneeze.
Enter COVID-19 and sneeze turns deadly, for one sneeze could carry the lethal virus that could infect many. Cold and mild temperature are the most feared symptoms, I wonder whether cold will be considered common ever. Gone are days when you could enjoy the lethargy of mild fever. The moment someone sneezes or coughs they are isolated lest they infect the others. Once low-rung ailments, cold and sneeze have really gone up the ladder. Not sure if they are enjoying the rise or cursing the pandemic like all of us.