When love came calling

A lyrical prose

When love came calling the young girl peeped out of her bedroom window and saw the tall high school boy pass by on his bicycle. She didn’t know his name, but she knew she loved him. “One day he will look at me, one day he will know how much I love him, and we will be together forever and forever,” she dreamt.

But one day soon the boy left the little town, never knowing the girl or her love for him. The girl would look out of the window for hours and sigh when her dream lover would never show up. For he may never know, but he was her first love and it saddened her little heart to know not where he was. Then one day the world beckoned, the young girl left her little town for a new city, for new friends, college and lure of unknown.

When love came calling, she looked up from the book she was reading in the college library into the eyes of her class topper. They walked hand in hand in the beautiful rocky campus, spent hours under the quiet stars. He was the first man she kissed on a beautiful moonlit night. “He’s your one and only love,” she heard the stars whisper. College was over soon, they kissed goodbye with a promise to meet again.

They did meet in a new city, with newer dreams. But while she dreamt of love forever, he dreamt of freedom, of love without shackles and soon he tossed her heart away. It hurt, she cried and cried for many nights. “I can never love again,” she thought.

When love came calling, she walked up to a young man outside a movie theatre. They watched a film together, enjoyed a quite meal. She thought this was love, he thought he liked her, but love was too complicated. Though he told her so, she kept hoping and dreaming and loving with all her heart. “We are so good together, what more can he want?”

She gave him love; he didn’t want love. Gentle he was and very charming, one day he gently tossed her heart away. “What did I do wrong? Why do my love stories forever end in tragedies?”, she asked herself while she cried her heart out. “I am done! Love is a mirage; it can’t lure me anymore.”

When love came calling, he smiled upon her outside a coffee shop. They talked, they laughed, they shared so much and this time it did feel different. He would love her like she has never been loved before, he would be engrossed in his own world and block her out like an unwanted call. He would come back each time though stronger than ever. Win her back, calm her down, soothe her with his love.

There was heartache and there was happiness, there was loneliness and there was feeling loved. There was a feeling of isolation in which her heart would get engulfed. There was utter joy when her heart would sing like a little bird. There were butterflies in the stomach, there was music, there was a promise, or so she thought. There was pain, there were tears and there was silence, silence that would make her numb.

The cycle of love and feeling unloved, of uncertainty, of assurance, just going round and round in circles, exhilarating and nauseating, should she take a step back? But love came calling and her hapless heart knew not whether to open the door to poignant love or shut herself out from the music, from the butterflies, the occasional flutter and walk the path alone holding her head high, masking her pain with her pride.

Feeling festive, are we?

While catching up with my friend over Saturday lunch I found her little daughter busy at work. “What are you doing?”, I asked nine-year-old Prapti busy cutting coloured papers in shape of flowers. “I am making rakhi for bhaiya and dadu,” she replied excitedly with a twinkle in her eyes. My friend smiled, “She loves making things, so I thought I would encourage her to make rakhis.” With the help of her mom, Prapti made beautiful rakhis. “This is for dadu and this one for bhaiya,” she said smiling happily. “And Mamma you and Papa have to come to my school on 14th,” she added in the same breath. Independence Day celebrations in the school that she was participating, in I was told.

While catching up with my friend over Saturday lunch

It was my turn to be quizzed then, “Do you know who designed our national flag? What does colour green in our flag stand for?” Of course, I didn’t know. I tried to look at my phone stealthily to google the answers. “No, no you can’t google. Papa did that too and that’s cheating,” came the sweet retort. “Ok Prapti, I don’t remember,” I admitted. “Our national flag was designed by Pingali Venkayya, and green stands for growth, saffron symbolizes strength and white peace,” said Prapti with a proud smile. Immediately after the quiz session she turned to her mom and pleaded with all cuteness she could muster, “Mamma can I please put mehandi for rakhi?”.

Looking at Prapti, brimming with excitement for Rakhi and Independence Day, (both on the same day this year so double whammy for her), I tried to remember the days when I was as excited about festivals. Nowadays, festivals mean a few extra hours of precious morning slumber on a weekday., “Mid-week holiday, yay!!”, everything else can follow. On Rakhi I would get up early enough though to cook lunch for my cousins like I do every year. It’s always a fun, relaxed family lunch, something that we look forward to. An occasion to meet in our otherwise busy life and that does make Rakhi special. There would be tying rakhi, exchanging gifts etc. Though it comes nowhere close to the exuberance of Prapti, preparing for Rakhi days ahead, the love and the effort that goes behind each rakhi she makes.

For all my patriotism and love for my country, I don’t remember when I last attended a flag hoisting ceremony on Independence Day. I don’t even bother to switch on the TV now, just happily sleep through it. Yet there was a time when out of excitement I would hardly get any sleep on the night before Aug 15th. For we would join our father to his office for the Independence celebrations. My father would hoist the national flag, give a brief speech to his staff and we would salute the national flag and stand in attention to sing the national anthem. What a proud moment that was! After that, we were given snacks and sweets as refreshments. Those simple snacks tasted so delicious. As I grew up, moved out of home, I somehow left behind that excitement that comes with Independence Day or any festival for that matter!

Little Prapti, dancing around in excitement, reminded me of what I have forgotten, how much I have left behind!

Good old Tom and Jerry!

Tom & Jerry! To me they are ageless. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry and their antics, the clever little mouse Jerry almost always scoring over Tom, the hapless cat. Their endless, meaningless squabbles made the Sunday mornings so much fun. Though they fought endlessly, devising innovative ways of torturing each other, they had each other’s back against Spike the bulldog. Their never-ending bickering has been often been equated with sibling rivalry, brothers who are forever getting at each other without intending real harm.

Tom & Jerry shows have also been criticised for excessive violence – Tom running after Jerry with a hammer or an axe, while Jerry would device diabolic plans of setting his tail on fire, might make the wrong impression on the children, feel many. For me, Tom & Jerry is just fun. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry, spent many weekends binge watching the cat & mouse chase each other even after I started working. They always gave me a good laugh and made feel so light & happy. Violence is not an emotion that I ever associated with Tom Jerry. 

My journey of cartoons started with Barbapapa, Barbamama and their family. Those adorable shapeless creatures I faintly recall, who never made an appearance in Indian television since the eighties. Then came Mickey & Donald with their entire entourage who entertained us for years. Tom & Jerry added a new dimension to the cat and mouse chase.  Each episode was so much fun, there wasn’t one boring moment with Tom & Jerry.

But then one day Tom & Jerry were gone. There was Looney Tunes, Power Rangers, Power Puff Girls and what not. Somehow, I lost interest in cartoons after stopped playing. I didn’t enjoy the newer shows as much.

Tom & Jerry did make a come back again, though they didn’t get the prime-time slots. I was excited, nonetheless. “So are you watching Tom & Jerry,” I asked my 9-year-old niece. “Oh, they are for old people,” she said wrinkling her nose. Really, have I grown so old!!

Colours and flavours of the black & white days

Excerpts from WhatsApp post

Black & White Westin or EC TV, chilled lemonade with ice cubes from 165 litre Kelvinator refrigerator & a loud telephone that brought the house running towards it the moment it rang. Yes, there was a time when these were the only household gadgets (if I may term them so), that came with a huge aspirational value. If you had all these three items at home, you could consider yourself to have arrived in life. There wasn’t much to aspire for, except maybe a scooter. Owning a car – an Ambassador or a Fiat was not very common in those days. Only very few affluent people had a car and the rest didn’t even complain about not owning one. That was the world I grew up in!

I remember smiling proudly after my father brought home black & white EC TV just before the Asian Games, Asiad 86 was it? I was very little then, had no understanding of sport but would watch the games with the whole neighbourhood anyway. As ours was one of the few houses in the neighbourhood with a television, next-door neighbours would drop in everyday to watch the games. My parents put extra chairs in the drawing-room, spread a chatai on the floor to accommodate as many people as possible. Neighbours and friends were more than welcome to come over watch the Asian Games, or Chitrahaar or weekend movies later. Television was not 24X7 then. We would switch on the TV and wait for the legendary Doordarshan opening tunes and for the programmes to follow. Our TV watching hours were rationed of course. We were only allowed to watch cartoons and a few shows that our mother thought apt. I would strain my ears from the study table, sometimes peek through the curtains, trying to catch a glimpse of Chitrahaar or weekend movies that mother would watch with neighbourhood aunties.

Black & White TV with its entire paraphernalia
Image courtesy India Uncomplicated

Any talk about TV is incomplete without the antennae, fixed on a tall pole on the rooftop. It was a common sight to see somebody perched on a tree moving around the antennae while somebody would be screaming out of the window, “It’s clear now. No, no, turn it left, little to the right.” That was us trying to catch a better signal for the television! The TV did not come with a remote then, but with a stand or a trolley and a bulky wooden TV cabinet with shutter. Once turned off the shutter would be closed and sometimes covered with an embroidered cloth.

In those days, people would often borrow a bottle of chilled water or ice cubes from our good old Kelvinator, placed on a stand with a fridge top, and the handle of the refrigerator wrapped in a towel. Neighbours sometimes left a bottle of water in the fridge to chill. They would drop in often to make or receive calls. The telephone was generally kept in the corner of the living room, carefully covered with a crocheted or embroidered piece of cloth. My mom would entertain neighbours with tea and snacks whenever they dropped in to watch TV or make a call. Our next-door neighbours would drop in after dinner and stay back till late waiting for their daughter, studying medicine in Delhi, to call. The concept of privacy was somewhat different then; nobody would bother to leave the room when someone was making or receiving a phone call. Maybe in that world we were warmer, generous and more open. We had fewer qualms about reaching out to people.

I grew in that world, cherishing the orange Parle G lozenge or Poppins, happily blowing the bubble gum and occasionally indulging in Five Star or Double Decker or Amul Milk Chocolate.  Maggi was the most sought-after fast food and evening snacks were muri makha or chire bhaja or some such home-made stuff. Pocket money was always restricted to five or ten bucks and always accounted for. We devoured on Phantom, Mandrake, Archie’s, Tin Tin and Chacha Chaudhary. We also read Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and later Sydney Sheldon. I remember when I was in school, Ananda Bazaar Patrika carried a comic strip of Phantom (in Bangla of course) that I would religiously read every day. The amazing world of Phantom and his beautiful wife Diana!

Seems like yesterday. I can still hear the phone ring and the faint melodies of Chitrahaar. I can visualize my sisters and me rustling around in our velvet maxi skirts. But then when I came across a WhatsApp message ‘on some things our generation can identify with’, I realized it’s been so long, and we have left so much behind!!

Of Home and Many Homes: A Soliloquy

The house with the thatched roof, with the old bakul tree by the gate is my home. I would pick up fragrant bakul flowers carpeting the ground below the tree and string them into garlands. Those garlands would adorn me and my little dolls on lazy summer afternoons.

In the fading light of the dusk I would run around the huge courtyard and play hide & seek with my siblings or just skip around happily. Many a night, I would sit quietly in the courtyard enjoying the calming silence. Many a rainy afternoon, pitter pater rain on the thatched roof would pour music in my ears. The cooing cuckoos in the morning, the buzzing bees, the humming cicadas at night filled my days and night with joyful tunes.

The thatched roof and the bakul tree gave way to a beautiful concrete house. With brand-new rooms in soothing hues the concrete house is my home. I would sit on my table by the window and gaze at the world outside with dreamy eyes. Lose myself in my very own world of stories and tales and poetry. Stubborn dream of conquering the world would keep me up at nights. I would spend many a quiet nocturnal hour on the terrace trying to catch a falling star or just gaze in wonder at the infinite sparkling jewels of the night.

The happy cocoon of my home that gave wings to many dreams. Ambition fired me, the world beckoned me, off I flew to explore the unknown. With fluttering wings and dancing heart, scared and excited all at once, I buzzed into the bold new world.

It was exhilarating, it was new, it was freedom, it was fun! It was long hard nights, it was me taking care of me, it was responsibilities, it was challenge!

Making my way through the opportunities and obstacles I made my home in a cute little one room set. With a mattress for bed and no air conditioning, it gave me cool comfort on hot summer nights. The lone blanket would keep me warm on long winter nights. I cooked my first delicious meal in the kitchen with sparse utensils. I dreamt of love, I fell in love, I broke my heart, I healed with love. Girly chats and sleepovers, late night movies or talking about dream lovers…

Fire in the belly, aspirations, desire to excel kept me flying. At times my wings were clipped by aching heart, snarky colleagues, meanness, rudeness and pettiness all around. But there was no keeping down the happy and wild dreams. The harder it got the higher they soared. They pushed me ahead on days I wanted to turn back or stop and take a break from the mad bad world.

The many hues of the mad mad world took my breath away. The bright colours of love, life and laughter; the darker shades of melancholy and failure; the perplexing greys that defied all definition. I faltered, I stumbled, I fell. I was confused, I was upset, I was depressed. But most of all I was challenged. I picked my hues cautiously; I painted my rainbow with many shades of life.

I made a new home with a comfortable bed and brand-new furniture. Paintings and masks adorn my walls. Tick Tock clocks tell me the story of fleeting time. Sitting snugly on my new bed I miss my old homes. The starry nights, the rainy afternoons, the singing cuckoos, the buzzing bees. The hot summer nights that fired my dreams. The anguish, the impediments that kept me going.

Maybe one day I will leave my new home for another home, far away in a softer world where I can sit and reminiscence my many homes. Ponder upon what I have won and what I have lost, do they really matter at all? The many stories that I scripted, the lives that I have lived, because at the end living is all that matters…

If I had a Time Machine

HG Well’s The Time Machine! I am completely obsessed with that book and the whole concept of travelling back and forth in time. I have watched American sci fi film Back to the Future and its sequels over and over. Be it the extra-terrestrial Dr. Who, Stephen King’s 11-22-63 where the protagonist time travels to prevent JFK’s assassination or Stephen Fry’s Making History – somewhat hilarious account of time travel to prevent Hitler from coming into being, the concept has always deeply intrigued me.

What was so far figment of wild imagination might very well become a reality. For physicists believe time travel maybe a possibility by 2028. That would be exhilarating isn’t it? Fascinating, exciting, scary and spooky all at once.

What if the rickshaw turned into a Time Machine!!

I have often wondered what I would do if I had a time machine. No matter what the odds are against time travel I would definitely like to undertake that adventure, especially travelling back in time. But unlike most people I wouldn’t be bothered about fixing my past mistakes. For my mistakes and misadventures don’t define, they have helped me become the person that I am today. Rather, I would ponder upon the moments that I so miss – the starry nights, the rainy afternoons, those summer vacations when I would plunge into the world of literature and poetry, the girly gossips, the first crush – time travel to relive those moments once again.

And better still, what if my time machine came with a feature that could take me the world of my favourite novels. Imagine walking into Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and encountering the proud Mr. Darcy. Or the tumultuous world of Anna Karenina or Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind. How about walking the lanes of James Joyce’s Dubliners or getting lost in the multitude of realism of Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.  If that is too much to ask, I could at least go sit next to Keats while he would be penning his Ode to the Nightingale or witness intoxicated Coleridge dream up The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. No, I wouldn’t change a thing, I wouldn’t touch a thing, I would just be an onlooker trying to soak up the past.

Travel to future I would never. For what would the present hold if the future was all revealed!!

On a rainy morning in Gurgaon

Woke up to rain drenched morning. One of those rare Gurgaon mornings when it was drizzling outside, rain-soaked breeze kissed my face as I opened the window. For a moment I forgot all about office and deadlines and meetings, just wanted to enjoy the perfect rainy morning with a hot cup of coffee. The calling bell broke my trance. The girl who helps me with housework was standing at door, “Didi late ho gayi, barish ho rahi hai.” I looked at the wall clock, it’s 7:30 already! I rushed to the bathroom, image of traffic jam and waterlogging somewhat marring the charm of the wet morning.

My mind kept going back to the chai, pakoda and the monsoon melodies, those lazy rainy days when we could just sit back and do nothing. Get wet in the rain, make paper boats or just look at the rain falling through the window. Listened to Shubha Mudgal’s ‘Ab ke sawan aise barse’ over and over on my way to work. Thankfully the traffic wasn’t so bad, and I could actually enjoy the drive.

I must have been a peacock in my last birth. Rain does something to me. The overcast sky with clouds in various shapes take me to a land of fantasy, to unicorns and mermaids and fairies. I stepped out of the car and looked up for while to feel the drizzle on my face before stepping into the lift. Gazed at the rain-washed lawns and windowpanes from my 10th floor office. Took a few minutes to leisurely sip coffee before I opened the laptop.

Trying to steal a few moments that would help me relive those lazy rainy days…

The Photo Album Story: from bulky Family Albums to Going Digital to Digital Hoarding

There was a time, little over a decade ago when family photo albums used to be such prized possessions. Old albums with black & white photographs, butter paper separating each sheet, gave way to the newer plastic album with coloured photographs. I still remember the feel of browsing through those old family albums, fingering the photographs, some of them faded, lovingly. My grandparents posing stiffly with their children, my mom in her school dress or the wedding pictures of parents. Those albums had an intimate appeal, there was something strangely warm about their mothy smell. Then came the bright and happy plastic albums with coloured photographs, mostly pictures of us growing up, cousins getting married.

The charm of black & white

Wedding albums were another story altogether. They were great fun when from a wedding of someone close in the family. I loved flipping through them with my cousins, re-living the moments, sometimes admiring ourselves, sometimes laughing at our silly make-up and hairdo. However, I would dread visiting a neighbour or a distant relative who just had a wedding in the family. For that visit would invariably involve having to go through the bulky wedding album and pretending to admire the bride, the groom and the family who I hardly knew or cared about, accompanied by the constant commentary of an enthusiastic aunt, most often the mother of the bride. Wedding albums were proudly displayed and presented with gusto to indifferent visitors who had to then put up a zealous show of browsing through them.

Then came the digital age. Photography went digital and so did the storage. We were not limited by film rolls or albums anymore. Photographs that were once taken only on special occasions, for film rolls were numbered and getting them developed was expensive, and you could only have that many albums, became an everyday affair. Armed with digital cameras we can take any number of photographs, mobile cameras allow us to take our own pictures, the famous or infamous selfies. And it gets better, we can share your photographs and albums with the entire world, we are not limited to your reluctant friends and relatives. Facebooks and Insta are flooded with photographs and selfies of morning moods, evening moods, happy poses, sad pictures, holiday albums, wedding albums, feeling good albums, just random clicks and not to miss the airport check-ins, especially from those travelling international. Like it or not, we get a peek into our distant relatives’, neighbours’, colleagues’ or acquaintances’ lives the moment we log into any social media platform. We are expected to participate by giving them a thumbs up for we are now ‘digital animals,’ netizens who connect and correspond online.   

Posing for FB

Like most people of my generations, I enthusiastically embraced various inventions of the digital age. My Yashica camera gave way to Sony Coolpix. Soon high megapixel mobile camera made Coolpix redundant. My laptop, mobile phone, google drive & Picasa web album are flooded with photographs. Like most netizens of my generation, I started posting photographs on FB and counting likes, as if the number of likes was all that mattered.  After the initial excitement and being bombarded by all kinds of photographs on social media, I became more a restrained and less enthusiastic netizen. I keep photographs in my mobile and my google drives for my own personal viewing, to be shared with close friends and family on request only.

My problem is quite peculiar. Once I click a photograph or get a photograph via WhatsApp, I somehow can’t delete it. Even after the pictures of my phone are saved to a drive for some strange reason, I can’t empty my phone gallery. As a result, I am flooded with thousands of photos, sometimes similar, flooding my phone and drives. Recent pictures, old B&W photos that I may have clicked or received, similar pictures of me looking out of the window or posing in a sari, my nieces and nephews smiling, birds over flying over a lake, a fort. One side of my brain knows my mobile gallery needs to be emptied, similar shots deleted, the other vehemently argues what if I lose something valuable by deleting those pictures. Maybe it’s the hoarding mentality being carried forward to the digital age, making me a digital hoarder!

Tug of War: Dream vs Reality

Caught between dreams & reality
 Little Rhea had many dreams
To go off to a far of land, surrounded by mountains with singing rivers and streams
To sit on the mountain top and ponder on the many marvels of the world
To sit by river and write beautiful poems to touch beautiful souls
To teach little children to read, write and dream of a life beautiful and full of wonder
 
Little Rhea had many dreams
To leave her small town for a big city
To travel to the far-off lands, to visit many countries and cities across the world
To sit on a tall tower in a position of power
With her power she would create a better world, she dreamt
 
“Oh, you must be someone of position and power”, she was told
She studied hard, worked harder, and slowly inched her way up the tower
Reaching the top is all that matters, it will give a new meaning to her life, she thought
Once on the top she was precariously perched, caged in lonely rods of futile power
She tried very hard to make a difference, but was torn between position and power
The material life and its glamour and glitter, kept her away from the dreamy mountains and singing rivers, from the little children who were waiting for her to teach them to dream
 
Many a night she would lay awake for hours, trying to figure what Rhea really wants
She has achieved so much – power, position, wealth, can she give up all up for a childhood dream
A gentle sigh would come out of her lips, “Someday I will. I will go to the quite mountains and singing rivers and write the unwritten poems and sing the unsung songs… Someday I will…”

Beat the heat with vintage drinks!

Temperatures are soaring, and the soft drinks and cold drinks makers are making mullah, wooing millennial with fancy ad campaigns. Be it Coke, Pepsi, Limca, Fanta, Thumbs Up, Tang or Paper Boat they come with the promise to quench your thirst, beat the heat, add style to your swag and so much more. Some of them can even transform us into superheroes by helping us achieve the impossible. And then there are fruit juices from Tropicana and Real which are supposed to be healthy as well, if the ads are to be believed. Kids crave for Cola’s and Tang and synthetic juices. Teenagers hang out with cans of aerated drinks; these are in vogue you see!

Whatever happened to good old nimbu paani or lemonade. When we were young that was our only treat on hot summer afternoons, sweet and slightly tangy nimbu paani or lebur shorbot (as we Bengalis’ like to call it). In Bengal, we get a different variety of nimbu (lemon), mildly fragrant gandharaj lebu that add aromatic flavour to the nimbu paani. We had gandharaj lebu plant in our courtyard then and nimbus were in abundance. In summer, mom used to keep sugar syrup in a glass bottle in the fridge. As soon as we were back from school, we were given a cool glass of lebur shorbot with a spoon of sugar syrup and a pinch of black salt. Sometimes she added roasted jeera powder for variety. It was both refreshing and healthy. But there was something amazing about the lebur shorbot that Didun (my naani) used to make, I am yet to taste a drink so delicious!

We were occasionally allowed to have orange squash, orange concentrate that used to come in a 1-litre glass bottle. One-tenth orange squash mixed in cold water was a real treat for us. A few cubes of ice would make it even better. You would find a bottle of Kisan orange squash in every house in summers. Roof Afza was available too, but we Bengalis are not very fond of that drink.

Bel Pana – a drink from of the pulp of Bel or wood apple, is yet another summer drink I so crave for. It involves straining the pulp of Bel mixing it with curd or cold milk. My mother would also add jaggery to it. The process is slightly complicated, but Bel Pana is delicious and one of the most nutritious drinks that you can team with your breakfast on a hot day. When I was a little girl, fruit sellers from nearby villages would sometimes get Palm juice or Tal Ras in an earthen pot early morning. The giddy sweetness of the palm juice was a rare treat that we would look forward to on Sunday mornings. There was always homemade aam panna and lassi and cold coffee and fresh coconut water. We had a coconut tree in our courtyard with the sweetest tender coconut water. 

No matter how much Paper Boat tries, their aam panna or thandai will never match the homemade flavours of my mom and Didun! Nimbus is nowhere close to lebur shorbot and Homemade’s aam panna couldn’t be further away from it. The aerated soft drinks don’t even quench my thirst, forget about adding to my style quotient. Instead, I use my superpowers to recreate the magic of Didun’s lebur shorbot and mom’s aam panna. Couldn’t find Bel in Gurgaon or would love trying Bel Pana.