Goddess Durga ponders upon her earthly sojourn: the changing flavours of Sharod Utsav

Goddess Durga is getting ready for her annual earthly visit to grace the Sharod Utsav or Durga Puja that is celebrated with much gusto in West Bengal, Tripura, Orissa, in C R Park in Delhi, and in smaller scales across India. According to mythology, Durga was first worshipped in spring (Basanti Puja) by King Surath.  Advised by Sage Medha, the exiled King Surath invoked the Goddess to win back his lost kingdom. Though Basanti Puja is still celebrated, Sharod Utsav has assumed far grander proportions. Goddess Durga was first worshipped in autumn by Lord Rama who sought her blessings to defeat the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama’s ‘Akalbodhan’ (untimely awakening of the Goddess) is what has captured the popular imagination. Durga Puja or Sharod Utsav is the biggest festival in Bengal and the East.

This year, however, the Goddess seems to have lost her usual enthusiasm for her annual earthly sojourn.  As she packs her bags with her best saris and jewellery listlessly her husband Lord Shiva enters the bedroom.

Shiva: Is everything all right with you Devi? You are usually so excited about these annual trips?

Durga: My Lord I do enjoy my earthly sojourns, but of late I have started feeling its more pomp and show and the real spirit is missing. So much money is spent on huge pandals built on innovative themes, elaborate light work, decorations and loud music. But not enough attention is paid to the pujo, following the rituals and the traditions. I miss those simple ek chalar pujo (the idols of Durga and her children in one simple frame). People would make idols with clay and natural colours and adorn with shola (milky-white sponge-wood). I yearn for the beats of dhak and kashor, the deep blow of the conch. This loud music played on the music system is deafening. I can’t even smell shiuli phul (night flowering jasmine) in most places.

Earlier, before my arrival, the ground used to be strewn with shiuli phul. I hardly see those plants anymore. My pujo was mostly performed in households and women of those houses would get up very early to make all the preparations and to cook an elaborate bhog. There would be lotus, shiuli and so many other flowers. Dhakis would compete with each other, everyone would participate in dhunochi dance in those simply decorated pandals. The whole community would get together for my pujo.

Now women have no time to get into all these. They just get dressed and come to the pandal. Everything else is outsourced. People are more interested in eating rolls, chops and biriyani than bhog.

Durga sighed and sat on her bed.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Shiva: My dear I agree a lot has changed. Not many people have the time to perform elaborate pujo or even offer Anjali to you. They are too busy with their day-to-day lives, their jobs. Life is more complicated now than it used to be a few decades ago. But no matter what, your pujo infuses a spirit of festivity and celebration. Regardless of how busy these people are, they take time to visit you in new clothes, forget their worries and look forward to the future with optimism and hope.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

And if you look closely you will observe a lot of positive changes, especially in women. Most women today are well educated, have a good job. They are conquering outer space, running companies, performing lifesaving surgeries. They are the very manifestation of your shakti. They may not have time to perform all the rituals of the pujo but they worship you with their spirits. Be it a pandal in Kolkata or Agartala or Gurgaon, women still gather to dance to the tune of dhak or perform dhunochi dance in a traditional manner.

The potters of Kumartuli and light artisans of Chandannagar wait eagerly for your arrival every year. Their bread and butter depend on you. With so much buying, selling and festivities you infuse positivity, you symbolize hope.

Durga: What you are saying is true. Not that I mind all the glitz and the glamour that is associated with pujo now. But with so much technology I sometimes miss the real connection. Even after coming to my Pandal people are glued to their phones. They are more interested in taking their selfies and videos with me and posting them on Facebook or Instagram. They are so governed by social media likes.

Look at our children, these trips to the earth have got them addicted to social media. Ganesha is forever showing off his wisdom on Twitter and Karthik can’t stop posting pictures on Instagram. I am told he’s trying Tik Tok now, our Karthik wants to be a Tik Tok celebrity. Lakshmi is hooked to online shopping and Saraswathi is doling out knowledge capsules on Facebook. They are preoccupied with their phones and ipads; they don’t even have time to talk to me anymore.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Shiva: My dear social media is a form of communication now; it is a good way to connect with the youth. But I do agree this generations’ focus on social media is excessive and they need to strike a balance. Maybe our children, through their posts, is trying to help them achieve this balance.

Durga: Also look at all the artificial, colours, chemicals and POPs used for my idols. Look at the pollution they are causing. My heart bleeds to see what’s happening to Ganga, Yamuna and the other water bodies. They are choking, they are dying.

Shiva: On that, I entirely agree with you. But I am also hopeful they will change their ways before it’s too late. They have already started talking about environment-friendly idols and natural colours.

Durga: They better change soon, or they will witness your thandav, maha pralay.

Shiva: Go give them the strength and the wisdom to change for the better.

Durga: Yes dear, you are right. Mankind has indeed achieved a lot. Instead of focusing on their mistakes might as well inspire them to build a better future.

Durga gets up and starts packing eagerly. Mahadev smiles, bows at her and leaves the room.

Interesting titbits

How Ganesha outwits Karthik – shared by Puja

Narada delivers a mango from Lord Brahma to Lord Shiva for his son – it’s no ordinary mango, one who eats it would gain knowledge and wisdom. Lord Shiva is faced with a dilemma as both his sons want the mango. To solve this Shiva, after consulting Durga, decides to hold a competition between his two sons – whoever finishes circling the world thrice first will win the mango. Go getting Karthik immediately sets out on his peacock. Plump Ganesha on his rat stands no chance.

Witty Ganesha requests his parents to sit together and circles them thrice with folded hands and then demands the mango. “My parents’ are my world,” says Ganesha. Touched, Shiva hands him the mango.

Tridevi

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Durga Puja marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting buffalo asura, Mahishasura, epitomising the victory of good over evil. As per Bengali traditions, Durga visits her natal home with her children – daughters Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth, prosperity) and Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music) and Ganesha (the god of wisdom and good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war).

In Shaktism, Durga or Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati are the manifestations of goddess Yogmaya also known as Adi Parashakti. Durga represents the transformational power of divinity, the power that dissolves the multiplicity of the Hindu gods into their unity. She is the direct incarnation of Adi Parashakti.

According to Vishnu Purana, Lakshmi is the daughter of Sage Bhrigu and Khyaati and consort of Lord Vishnu. In Rigveda, Saraswati a river also personifies the Goddess, she is the consort of Lord Bhrahma. Goddess Durga is Goddess Laxmi and Goddess Saraswati in her mild form – the Tridevi.

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!

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!