Category: Childhood

When common cold lost its banality and sneeze lost its blessings

Sneeze Bless You Clip Art

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.

To all ye fools

Fooled ya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rediscovering the allures of Tripura

Tripura, the place that I have grown up in, spent the first 20 years of my life there. Tripura is familiar, will always be my home state. But when you go home after a while and look around you realize there’s so much more to it, so much that you have taken for granted when you lived here. You realize how beautiful your home is. The once familiar paths throw up new wonders as you look at them with new eyes.


True Agartala has become a little crowded now, progress you may call it, and I like the Agartala that lives in my memories better. But the moment you step out of Agartala a rustic green Tripura greets you. So, off we drove on a Saturday to visit some places in the vicinity. After driving through the roads bordered by trees or green rice fields and small towns and villages with pretty little mud houses set in huge courtyards, our first stop was Kasba Kali Bari or Kamalasagar Kali Mandir. About 45 minutes’ drive from Agartala, this small and beautiful Kali Mandir is built on a hill on the banks of a clear blue lake Kamalasagar. The temple gets its name from the small village Kasba and the beautiful artificial lake that now lies on the Indo-Bangladesh border. Although Maharaja Kaliyan Manikya started building the temple, Maharaja Dhanya Manikya ultimately completed it in the late 15th century. The shrine in the temple is that of Goddess Durga believed to be very old dating back to the 12th century. The ten handed Durga fighting the buffalo demon Mahisasur is worshiped as Goddess Kali.

Legend has it that that the then monarch of Tripura Maharaja Dhanya Manikya, ordered the lake to be dug at the foothills on the temple in the 15th century. The lake has been named after his wife Kamala Devi. According to local lore, Tripura was battling a severe drought when Kamala Devi was visited by the Goddess in her dreams. The Goddess asked her to dig a lake before the temple to end the drought. It is said when the dry earth was dug for the lake it yielded water. Maybe there’s some truth to it, maybe it’s just a folklore, but it definitely adds to the allure of this beautiful place. My cousin Sudip who organized this trip narrated the tale to me.

My cousin Sudip posimg with murals on the hill leading to the temple

We then stopped at a tea garden in the village, called Kamalasundari Tea Garden, named after the lake. Walking on the dusty path bordering the green tea shrubs, labourers sprinkling water on the plants, felt like a different world. Of late tea cultivation has become big in Tripura. Beautiful tea gardens are strewn all over the state that now has 58 operational tea garden and has registered 3.58 crore kg green tea leaf production annually. Tripura even exports tea now, an Agri venture that has enhanced the green charm.

Melaghar was the place we visited next. About half an hour drive from Kasba we first stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised by an elaborate Bengali platter that was served – masoor dal, aloo baigan sabzi, aloo bhate (mashed potato with mustard oil & onion), aloo gobi dalna (bong cauliflower curry), jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry) and hisla fish, papad and salad, served with rice of course. We bong and our fondness for aloo!

Pagli Masi

After lunch we set out to catch a glimpse of Pagli Masi, an old or rather an ageless woman who lies in her little room and is believed to have survived without food or water for over 50 years. There’s temple dedicated to her and people worship her as an incarnation of Goddess Kali. She lies in her room covered by a blanket, her face often covered by a piece of jute. People wait for hours for her to peep out of her cover and show her face – a strangely beautiful shrivelled old woman who dwell in the realm between faith and logic.

Melaghar also houses the famous lake palace – Neer Mahal. Once the summer palace of Tripura it was commissioned by Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya and completed in 1938. It served as the summer residence of the king and approximately Rs. 10 lakhs were spent on those days to build the palace. A British company Martin and Burns was commissioned by the king to construct the palace. We took a speed boat to the palace, walked through its many rooms, trying to imagine the royal luxury and excesses and the many stories whispering from the nooks and corners. Despite so many people around you can hear the murmurs of the past if you listen carefully.

On the banks of Neer Mahal

After a fulfilling day we drove back. I was trying to seep in the old and the new of my familiar state, my home. Or maybe it was the same old that I gazed at with new eyes. Or maybe with time they have gathered more tales, their cracks and crevices, though plastered and painted, have so much more to say. Tripura was the same, yet seemed so different, so much more beautiful.  

Discovering Chobimura

Coming home can be a somewhat divided experience. While the comfort of home envelops you, there’s a sense of familiarity that can lead to boredom. Having grown up here you feel there’s nothing new to discover. But when you look closely, you will find that a lot has changed. While the wheels of progress may have marred the tranquil childhood memories, new wonders have added to the allure of homecoming. Chobimura tucked on the western banks of Gomati river in South Tripura is one such wild and rocky abode that I will visit whenever I come to Agartala, my hometown. 

I first saw photographs of this unspoilt place in my cousin Sudip’s social media post who had visited Chobimura in December 2020. Looking at the pictures of him gliding through the deep and dark river flowing between the hills covered with lush green forest, beautiful sculptures carved on the rock, I thought he was out on a river safari somewhere. Though I grew up in Agartala and travelled across Tripura I have never heard of Chobimura before. These hills and sculptures of Goddess and Gods carved on the stone were hidden by the sharp curve of the Gomati river and was discovered only in early 2000. When I decided to come home, Chobimura was on the top of my to-visit list. 

On learning about my eagerness to go to Chobimura my brother-in-law Partho promptly organized the trip. We set out early morning (around 9 a.m.) from Agartala on an SUV, 6 of us with gas oven and some utensils in the dicky. Yes, for Partho insisted on a picnic or Choruibhati. We would cook our lunch on the banks of Gomti. My former classmate Biswabasu, who happens to be my brother-in-law’s friend, joined us with his family and took charge of the entire cooking.

After driving through Bisalgarh and Udaipur we went up the roads curving through green hills to Amarpur. Chobimura is another half an hour drive through the hills from Amarpur. The road up the hills, bordered by trees sometimes forest, with small cottages and mud houses scattered, is one of the most picturesque routes that I have driven through. My heart so yearned to knock on the door of one of the cottages and spend a few days with them in the peace and quiet of their little green village. 

Ten-handed Chakrakma

The roads are good, there wasn’t much traffic, and we reached the banks of Gomati in Chobimura in two and a half hours. As Biswabasu and his wife Moon started preparing lunch we hired a speed boat for Gomati ride and to get a closer view of the stone carvings. Owing to the various deities carved in the stone these hills are also called Devatamura, the hillock of Gods. The ten handed tribal Goddess Chakrakma is the main deity here. A huge idol of Devi carved 20 ft high, with snakes for her hair and Rudra Bahirabhi at her feet is awe-inspiring indeed. We stopped the speed boat and climbed up the stone stairs to the feet of the Goddess. It is a wonder to see Tulsi plants and red hibiscus (jaba) flowers growing on stones below the ten-handed Chakrakma, another form of Goddess Durga.

The hills also have images of other Hindu Gods like Shiva, Vishnu and Kartika. The carvings on the rock walls date back to the reign of King Chichingfa’s grandfather in the 15th century during, according to local lore. It is still a mystery how such exquisite carvings were carried out in such a remote location on straight rocky hills with hardly much foothold.

After a close view of these carving and leisurely enjoying the boat ride, surrounded by luxurious green forest on both sides, we turned back. The boatman stopped at the other bank so that we could visit a cave in the hills. Legend has it that King Chichingfa stashed all his wealth in this cave in a large wooden chest that was guarded by cobras. According to another lore, it was actually the cobras that scared away the Jamatias (indigenous tribal people) and the wilderness took over. The stone carvings, the unblemished natural beauty and the local lore’s made the ride absolutely memorable.

Freshly fried fish

While we were enjoying the boat ride Biswabasu and Moon were busy cooking – dal, fish fry, dry fish chutney, mutton curry and rice. We sat on the banks, relished the freshly cooked food, strolled around to take in every bit of the beautiful Gomati. On the way back, we stopped by the Amar dighi (lake) at Amarpur. On the banks of this huge lake temple of Goddess Mangal Chandi (another form of Durga) was built centuries back. The temple has stone images of the Goddess and her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati. There’s a small temple for her consort Lord Shiva right at the entrance. After paying our respect to the Goddess we headed back to Agartala. We were back home by 7 p.m. after a wonderful day out!

Goddess Mangal Chandi

Packing our world in a suitcase

We bongs’ love to travel. At least a couple of times a year we pack our things and get out to explore the unknown – to the mountains, to the sea, or sometimes to just spend few days with grandparents or extended family. And travelling involves elaborate packing. When we were kids’ mom used to pack our things in two huge suitcases, one that was given to my parents when they got married and the other one, they bought later. She would pack our clothes, shoes, woollens if we were headed to the hills, toys, books snacks and what not. Covered in thick canvas cases those suitcases lasted for years. I think one of the suitcases is still lying somewhere in our loft with unwanted things packed in.

Once yellow now rusted trunk lying on our terrace

Travelling was always so much fun. Mom would pack till late ensuring she didn’t forget anything. My sisters and I, perched on the bed, would look at her with glee and excitedly discuss the forthcoming trip. In the morning we would set out, fly to Kolkata and then take a train from there. While waiting at the station we would comfortably sit on the suitcases, munching biscuits while our parents would have hot khullad chai.

There were no fancy travel bags and cases in those days. There were sturdy suitcases, there were trunks and simple canvas holdalls that would wrap in small mattresses and pillows. We would carry these holdalls with us for long train journeys. Railways didn’t provide beddings then. We would spread bed sheets on first-class compartment berth, lean on pillows and make ourselves comfortable, staring out of the window of the moving train, sometimes singing aloud.

Carrying past into present, beautifully done by Titas

Trunks mostly came handy when we were moving from one city to another. Those huge metal boxes safely housed all our belongings. Be it utensils, furnishings, books or toys, we could carefully pack our world in those trunks. Back home, a big black trunk and a smaller yellow one are still carefully kept, filled with memories and whiff of the past. Those travel cases didn’t particularly look good, but they served the purpose. No one ever imagined that look even mattered as long as they safely carried our stuff from one place to another.

But then came VIP followed by so many other local and international players luring us with trendy travel cases and bags. Somehow look became more as important as functionality. I remember when I went to the hostel, I demanded a new VIP suitcase. Travel cases and travel accessories are so trendy now, they come in so many different colours, shapes and sizes, with smart compartments and pockets. Unlike our no-frill all-purpose suitcases, we have overnight travel bags, suitcases for business trips and leisure trips and then there are trekking cases, beach bags etc. But we dare not sit on them coz, unlike those sturdy old suitcases these stylish cases can’t bear the burden of our weight. They don’t last forever, but who cares, we get tired of them anyway. For, travelling is not just about gathering experiences anymore, it’s also about showing off our stylish travel cases and accessories. We like to make an impression you see.

Stepping out in style

So, as I embarked on my first trip in 2021, I decided to pick up a new travel case and step out in style. After being indoors for a while, I intend to explore the world as much as possible this year and I do hope that my travel cases and suitcases will match my step!

The earthy sweetness of Poush Sankranti

Malpoa & dudh puli from Swadhinata’a kitchen

There’s a price that we pay for city living, losing out on our traditional festivals being one. I remember Poush Sankranti as an important occasion growing up. Mom and my grandmother would get up early, take bath and pay homage to the sun. We were pulled out of bed asked to bathe and wear fresh clothes before eating anything. The temptation of yummy khichuri, labra (mixed veggie) and bhaja would make us hurry.

Sankrati or Makar Sankranti is one of the few Hindu festivals that is observed according to the solar cycles, thus falling on the same date as per the English calendar every year (it’s usually on Jan 14th except in some years it shifts by a day to Jan 15th). It is said that the Sun enters the Capricorn (Makar) zodiac on that day, marking the end of the winter solstice as per the Hindu calendar. While most Hindu festivals are set by lunar cycle, Sankranti celebrates Sun and the solar cycle.

It could be because Sun or the right amount of sunlight is so important for a good harvest. Hailed as the harvest festival Sankranti is celebrated across India in different names – Magh Bihu in Assam; Maghi (preceded by Lohri) in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, popular amongst both the Hindus and Sikhs. It’s Sukarat in central India; Pongal in Tamil Nadu; Uttarayan in Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh; Ghughuti in Uttarakhand; Makara Sankranti in Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and West Bengal; or as Sankranthi in Andhra and Telangana. Irrespective of the many names feasting is an integral part of this festival, preparing a lavish meal with fresh yields from the field. We urban souls off course depend on the yield transported to our markets and mandis.

Makar Sankranti or Poush Sankranti is also called Pithe Porbon in Bengal as we prepare a range of Pithe (sweet savouries made out of rice flour, gur, coconut or khoya) on that day. However, in my family there would be no Pithe made on Sankranti as a little child once (generations back) accidentally choked on rice flour while his mother was making Pithe. Since then, the family decided not to make Pithe on Sankranti day. We would stick to khichuri and its accompaniments. My mother would make Pithe and payesh a day prior to Sankranti so we could have Pithe on that day, yet the tradition would not be broken.

Chitoi Pithe with jhola gur (liquid jaggery), pathishapta, dudh puli, malpoa and off course nolen gurer payesh (kheer made with rice and date jaggery) are made in most household. Sharing an image from my friend Swadhinata’a Instagram account who keeps the tradition alive even in Grenoble. “My childhood used to be closely associated with this day when my mother used to make varieties of pithe, and we all used to have fun eating them. To commemorate this festival, I made 3 varieties of pithe namely dudh puli pithe with narkel and nolen gurer pur (semolina/rice dumplings with coconut and jaggery filling), narkeler gujiya/bhaja puli (fried rice flour/wheat flour dumplings with coconut and sugar filling); and shukno sujir malpoa/poa pithe (fried semolina pancakes). It was awesome to see them come out so well and I got nostalgic,” says Swadhinata. (Swadhinata delights us with her culinary posts on her Instagram page bobbysaha).

Back home my sister Miki too made a range of pithes. The pictures that she shared on WhatsApp did make me very nostalgic. And thank God for Roy Meshomoshai and Mashima who live in my society I could savour the flavours of Poush Sankranti. I just hopped over to their place and had my fill of khichuri, labra, pathishapta and payesh. Their children who happen to be my very close friends were also there. Good food, great company and Old Monk was the flavour of Poush Sankranti this year.

Winter afternoons and China (Cheena) Badam…AKA Peanuts

Winter and peanuts share a strong bond, or at least they used to once upon a time. As a girl I remember sitting on our terrace in Agartala with my sisters or in the courtyard at my grandparents’ place in Lucknow with my cousins, the winter sun on our back, shelling peanuts over idle chit chats. The warmth of the winter and freshly roasted peanuts, what an intoxicating combination it was!

Cheers to Peanuts

Peanuts, commonly known as china badam in Bengali, is a popular winter snack. In the winter we would find vendors in every corner roasting whole peanuts in a huge iron kadai placed on the warm sand. Wrapped in old newspapers in small conical packs we would buy those peanuts for a few pennies, shelling them and popping the nuts in our mouth of lazy winter afternoons. Though I can’t figure why peanuts are china badam, there seems to be no connection with China and peanuts in Bengal.    

Also known as the groundnut, goober (US), pindar (US) or monkey nut (UK), peanuts are one of the world’s oldest crops. The only nut that grows underground, peanuts were first cultivated in Brazil-Bolivia-Peru region about 5000 years ago. In the 15th century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers shipped peanuts from South America to Asia, Europe and Africa. An American named George Washington Carver is considered to be the ‘Father of peanut industry’ as he researched and developed more than 300 other uses for peanuts and improved peanut cultivation. It is believed that Jesuit Fathers introduced peanuts to India in the first half of the 16th century. Portuguese got peanuts to Goa around the same time, their colony then. From Goa peanut travelled to China. Peanut cultivation is big in China and India today.  

Freshly roasted peanuts

A popular on the go snack, especially in winters, roasted peanuts are enjoyed in parks, in a stadium during a cricket match or any other sporting event or during any outdoor activity. Called ‘time pass’ in Mumbai people munch peanuts or moongphalis in local trains. We Bongs also enjoy fried peanuts with our muri makha or chire bhajaChirer pulau (bong poha) is made with peanuts and boiled potatoes. Our delicious samosas have peanuts in them with aloo. In small restaurants or food joints, they put peanuts in biriyani as well. And of course, badam bhaja or fried peanuts with a cup of tea and beer!

Peanuts are very popular in Gujarati and Marathi cuisines as well. Guajarati’s use peanut in roadside snack Dabeli to Gujarati Dal. In Maharashtra, it goes hand-in-hand with another favourite sabudana. We also enjoy peanut chutney or salad tossed with roasted and crushed peanuts. And nothing can beat the sweetness of badam patti or chikki after a winter meal. I am a big fan of American peanut butter and Thai cuisines in peanut sauce as well.

We grew up munching peanuts, celebrated with them, gossiped other hot freshly roasted peanuts or china badam. These nuts bring so much to table, add to the flavour and the mood. And to forget the immense health benefits of peanuts. I sometimes wonder why Peanuts are considered humble at all!

Choruibhati – pure Bong Picnic

Picnic or Choruibhati is something that we Bongs indulge in, especially in the month of December. Many of us usher the New Year by heading out for a Picnic, Boro diner (New Year’s) Picnic as it’s popularly called. When we were growing up, Choruibhati or Picnic meant a big group of friends and family heading out in a minibus to the outskirts of the city early morning, to a riverbank or forest land, making a makeshift clay-oven, gathering woods and then cooking and eating a meal out in the open. We carried the ingredients and the utensils with us. Of course, there would be a lot of fun and games, singing, dancing etc. in between cooking and the meals. Late afternoon lunch would usually be hot dalbhaja, mutton and rice served on disposable plates. There was something special about those freshly prepared Choruibhati meals that we would sit on the grass and eat!

When we go the wild for Bonbhojon

Since we went for Picnics to idyllic locations away from the city, Bonbhojon (feast in the forest) is another apt Bong term for Picnic. Bengali zamindars or aristocracy added flavours of hunting and boat riding as well to Bonbhojon. Often, they would shoot a duck or a bird to be cooked in the open and stroll the river in their boats. But for a long time, I couldn’t fathom why we Bongs loved to call Picnic Choruibhati, that literally translates to Sparrows Feast. What does a cute little sparrow have to do with Picnic? Only recently I learnt that Chorui also means open space while bhati means feast, and Choruibhati thus translates to a grand feast in the open.

Interestingly, in its early days, Picnic was an indoor affair that originated from France. It is speculated that French Pique-Nique may have been derived from verb piquer (‘to peck’ or ‘to pick’) and the noun nique (‘a small amount’ or ‘nothing whatsoever’ in the mid-18th century. By late 18th century Picnic or Pique-Nique was a fashionable affair – a dinner to which each guest would contribute, very similar to potluck lunches. It was a favourite pastime of genteel, sometimes involved singing and dancing but was always indoors. 

Picnic travelled to England after the French Revolution, where many from French aristocracy fled fearing for their lives. It soon gained popularity amongst the English upper class. A Pic Nic society was founded in 1801 by a group of 200 wealthy young Francophiles.

Image courtesy The Gurdian

Sometime in 20th-century Picnic travelled outdoor. It was supposed to be an outdoor meal in idyllic locations, an innocent pleasure that aristocracy indulged in.  Picnic basket for packing in cold lunch came into being. Soon wine found place in the Picnic basket. Eventually, it also became more mass, with the working class enjoying their own Picnics. 

From England, Picnic travelled to America. I assume Britishers’ brought Picnic to India and genteel Bongs embraced it. Kolkata being the British capital then, Bongs did enjoy certain proximity with the British Colonial rulers. Though we adopted the concept, we packed more punch to it. Rather than carrying packed food, we decided to cook out in the open. Bong food tastes best when freshly cooked.

We modern Bongs sometimes become lazy though and, we just drive to a Picnic spot that serves cooked meals. Though it is fun, it can’t match Choruibhati – the excitement of gathering woods and a cooking meal in the open!

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!