When I Walked with a cool Man

I am the dude super cool, I walk around the campus humming tunes in the ears of cool guys & gals. Be it soft romantic melodies, rap or hip-hop, I play you songs that make your hearts flutter, your feet tap joyfully, and your lips whistle. Be it walking around the campus, hanging out in the canteen, sitting under a tree, studying in the library or just sitting quietly in your hostel room, I am your hip companion who sings you your favourite song. From my huge collection of music cassettes, I choose one that suits your mood.IMG-20190222-WA0000.jpgWalkman, the dude super cool I am, the most aspired gadget of all the cool guys & gals. No matter what, they never part with me, they are unwilling to share me with their friends and peers. I am forever stuck to their belts or waistband, with my stylish friend Headphone stuck to their ears or hanging around their neck. Together, we make a deadly pair!  The cassettes change hands, they are passed around, but Walkman & Headphone, no way, get your own pair!

Then one day I wasn’t so cool anymore. I lay ignored on the study table or bookshelves while cool gals & guys rushed in and out of their rooms. “Didn’t you hear the rumour,” whispered a hip-hop cassette in my ear, “kids are moving to CDs now and the much cooler Disc-man.” I raised my eyebrows in disbelief, “Don’t pay too much heed to such rumours.” But soon the shelves were flooded with CDs and the haughty Disc-man adorned the waistbands of my cool friends.  I sat there sulking with my friend cassettes, to be drowned under the jazzy CDs.

IMG-20190222-WA0002.jpgTo my surprise, the haughty Disc-man came and sat next to me one fine afternoon. I turned my face in disdain, “Oh chill! I am just taking a break. I will be soon gone.” “Haven’t you heard,” said a CD sounding alarmed, “the cool kids are moving to iPods now, CDs and Disc-mans will be soon forgotten.” “Stop spreading such malicious gossips,” snapped the Disc-man angrily, “Kids are busy with their mid-term exams, they will come back to us soon.” Exams got over, kids went home, leaving the sulking Disc-man and the CDs behind and came back with smart and digital iPods!

“What’s happening?”, the Disc-man yelled, “Who’s that? Why aren’t they looking at us?” “Oh, stop whining,” chided a CD, “Music has gone digital, can’t you see? We are too bulky and outdated, they don’t want us anymore.” The Disc-man looked around in disbelief, as he sat listlessly next to me.

Yes, music has gone digital indeed! There was a whole line of cool iPods that the boys & gals proudly owned. Then one day they dumped the iPods for even cooler iPads and mobile phones! Chic kids today download music & music apps, create their albums and listen to music on their super cool and hi-tech mobile phones, paired with sleek and stylish ear plugs. Walkman, Disc-man, cassettes and CDs are relics of a time gone by!

Childhood memories of invoking Goddess Saraswati

ma saraswati

Of all the Pujos that used to be celebrated at home during my childhood, Saraswati Pujo was perhaps the most awaited. Children of the family would collect donations from elders’ a week or so before the Pujo. We would then sit with our grandmother and mother to make a list of things required for the Pujo, right from rice, dal, fruits, gur, muri, chire (chirva), flowers, etc. Then started the shopping, every day after school, supervised and accompanied by elders of course. Usually our youngest uncle would guide the gang of cousins to the right shops. Advantages of growing up in a joint family, company of cousins made every occasion so much more fun, and indulgent uncles & aunts forever shielded us and gave in to our demands!

idols of SaraswatiOn the evening before the Saraswati Pujo, we would make a small pandal in our courtyard with my mother’s and aunts’ yellow saris and strings of yellow marigold flowers. Saraswati Pujo, also known as Basanti Pujo, falls on the day of Basant Panchami that marks the arrival of spring. Bright yellow happens to be the Goddess’s favourite colour. Going to the market to pick up an idol used to be another important task of that evening. I still remember walking through the lanes with so many magnificent idols of Vac Devi displayed by the potters, in different sizes and styles. The clam expression and the benevolent smile was however the hallmark of every idol of the fair goddess. After much deliberation, we would pick up an idol that would appear to smile benignly upon us. It was perhaps our childish fantasy, or perhaps a sense of connect with the divine that we felt then!

kashorOn reaching home with the Goddess we would proudly announce our arrival. Goddess Saraswati would be ushered in with the blow konch and the beat of kashor and placed respectfully on the vedi made for her worship. As the ladies of the house would busy themselves in the kitchen preparing naru (nariyel laddu), moa (laddu made of murmura and jaggery), khoier upra (sweetened parched paddy) etc., we would gather around the pandal finishing the decorations and placing our books & pens at the Goddess’s feet. Saraswati Pujo day was one of those rare days when we were forbidden to open our books (that made the day very special for us). On that day, we would invoke the Goddess of knowledge to grant us eternal wisdom.

On the morning of the Pujo, we girls would line up before pandal in yellow saris (borrowed from mom and aunts, tied over tops & t shirts). An elaborate bhog would be laid out before the Goddess – kichdi, labra (mixed vegetable), fried vegetables, puri, sabzi, kheer, moa, naru, fruits, sweets etc. Ber, khoi (parched paddy) & curd, a few items without which the Pujo is considered incomplete, would be placed before the Goddess. In fact, as kids we were not allowed to eat ber before Saraswati Pujo. We were told that we would do miserably in our exams if we didn’t listen.  A thakur moshai or Panditji would come to perform the Pujo. On Pujo days Panditjis’ were in high demand and needed to be pre-booked.

After the Pujo we would all sit down to have the prasad, starting with khoi & curd and ending with tomato chutney, kheer and other sweets, what a feast that was. Somehow the same items cooked on regular days never tasted as delicious.

Having been away from home for a while, the fervent excitement that I once felt during Saraswati Pujo is just a fond memory. Since all the children are away, my mother now does a very small Pujo at home. An elaborate Saraswati Pujo is performed at my sister’s place for the sake of my nephew. A single child, with cousins in other cities, my nephew will never know the fun and the excitement of participating whole-heartedly in Saraswati Pujo with siblings and gang of cousins!

 

 

 

The train ride to Lucknow

The train ride to Lucknow every summer! That was our annual ritual. Our dadur bari (maternal grandfather’s house) was in Lucknow. During the summer breaks, my mom would head there with her three little girls in tow (my twin sisters and me) – two identical 2-year olds and one 5-year old. Those times are etched in my memory, travelling to Lucknow in the first-class coach of a coal engine train, a journey that I used to so enjoy!

train

Train ride was a ritual then. We would first fly to Kolkata from Agartala, stay with our boro pishi (bari bua) for a couple of days before boarding the train to Lucknow from Howrah station. I remember my mom and boro pishi staying up late the night before, preparing food for the long train ride – tiffin carriers full of puri, sukha aloo sabzi & achaar and home-made sweets. And of course, there would be bread, cakes, biscuits, toffees, powder milk and what not. Our older cousins, who would come to see us off, would buy a ghara from the station that would be washed and filled with drinking water and placed in our first-class compartment. Clamouring with excitement we would board the train with mom, all set for the journey that used to take two days and one night then.

I remember waving happily at our cousins as the train would start moving. “The station is moving back,” my sisters would excitedly yell. I would wait for the train to move out of the city to the country side – trees, mud houses, acres and acres of rice or some other crop growing in the fields, cattle’s grazing. I remember trying to imagine the lives of the people living in those villages and small towns that the train would pass through. I remember imagining, even wishing, I could live in small hut in one of those villages. Viewed through the window of the train, those green villages looked so beautiful and perfect. Sometimes I would crane my neck out of the window, lost in those sceneries, to be chided by my mom. Sometimes, flying fragments of coal from the engine would get stuck in my eyes, much to my mom’s annoyance. I didn’t mind the discomfort though.

We would go to bed after a delicious puri sabzi dinner in the moving training. Somehow nothing can match the taste of that cold puri sabzi & achaar. Mom would make beds, railways didn’t provide beddings then, so she used to carry bed sheets and air pillows. After a dreamy night in the moving and whistling train we would be woken up in the morning by tea vendors and various other hawkers. Queuing up before the washroom in the morning, brushing our teeth in the steel wash basin before a breakfast of bread butter, there’s something unforgettable about those train rides. Something unforgettable about those villages and towns that I will probably never get to visit, those small stations, strangers waiting for their trains at those station looking at us or maybe through us.

tangaFinally, our destination would arrive. We would jump at joy as dadu (nanaji) would approach our coach, get us off the train and take us home in a horse drawn tanga.

Melodies in Vinyl

If somebody in your family has been a music lover, a connoisseur of music, chances are you may have been handed down a collection of vinyl records. You may have wondered for a while what to do with the huge collection – they are heavy, they take up space, and gramophones and record players have long ceased to exist. You can’t junk them because there’s huge sentimental value attached. But, thank god some good old things do come back! Yes, I am talking about the Vinyl Turntables with USB Digital Conversion audio that are now available both offline and online, making it possible to enjoy the retro melodies with a modern twist.IMG-20190125-WA0011-1.jpg

When I went home last year, I was bequeathed with a huge collection of vinyl records – a rare collection put together by my late uncle to which my mother later added, now lying locked in an almirah. “Your father wants to throw these records away, such great music,” my mother complained. “They are just taking up space, your gramophone doesn’t work, and you don’t even play them anymore,” retorted by father. “I will take them,” said I, to my mother’s great relief.

The sight of those records brought back memories of my late uncle, a music lover, an amateur poet and an actor by passion. Though he had a regular job, he was fairly well-known in the literary and theater circuits. The ‘Radior Ghar’ or the Radio Room in our ancestral home, the cultural and entertainment hub for the entire extended family, was carefully put together by him. The long table along the wall had a Murphy radio and an HMV record player lying next to each other. In a shelf the vinyl records, both the smaller and the bigger ones, were carefully arranged. The room also had a book shelf with volumes of poetry, English and Bengali classics. That book shelf was my first window to the world of literature.

My mother often talked about the ‘Radior Ghar’ and the lively gatherings in that room every evening. My uncle and his friends, many of whom were connected to the world of literature and music, would get together in that room after office. The HMV player would play yesteryear greats like S D Burman, Bhupen Hazarika, Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, and the list went on. There would be music, poetry, laughter and discussions over numerous cups of tea. A newly wed bride from Lucknow, a brilliant singer and a music lover herself, my mother was warmly welcomed into that circle.

After my uncle’s untimely demise, the ‘Radior Ghar’ and its collections fell into disarray. Some of his vinyl records and books were borrowed never to be returned, some were broken, and many got damaged. The shock of his sudden demise was too much to bear and for a while nobody cared for his vinyl record collection. Finally, my mother took over what was left behind and added to it. Growing up I remember listening to the yesteryear greats playing on the HMV record player. My taste for music, that developed in those days, is still tilted towards the melodies of the yore.

The HMV record player one day gave away. By then there were tape recorders and cassettes, and vinyl records seemed old fashioned. Soon there were two-in-ones, the much-coveted Sony Walkman, fancy music systems, CDs and CD players. When I started working, I bought myself an expensive music system that played cassettes, CDs and FM channels, with fancy speakers and all. It was my prized possession for a while. Then suddenly one day music went online, and nobody cared for music systems or cassettes or CDs anymore. When my music system started giving trouble, I didn’t even bother to get it repaired, just gave it away to the society care taker (maybe I will regret this one day).

IMG_20190126_123329.jpgAs a music lover, I am glad for the range of music that is now available online, but listening to ageless strains of  yesteryear’s masters’  on vinyl LPs was a different experience all together, something that I had long forgotten. The very mention of vinyl records during my home trip, brought back those memories. Thanks to my new vinyl turntable and those magical vinyl records which my mother carefully kept all these years, I can now recreate the immortal melodies of my childhood!

Savouring the flavours of childhood

Tiya bit into the murir moa (laddu made out of murmura and jaggery) with delight! She was visiting home for Pujo and her college friend had called her over for Lakkhi Pujo (Laksmi Puja). Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped in every Bengali household on the first full moon night after Bijoya Dhashami. As her mom didn’t do much at home anymore, she decided to go to her friends’ place in the evening. To her surprise, her friend Piyu had followed all the traditions in her adulation of the Goddess, right from the clay idol of Lakshmi to the rangoli to making naru (nariyal laddu made out of jaggery), moa, sandesh and all the other delicacies offered to the goddess at home.

Tiya hasn’t eaten a homemade moa or naru in ages. There was a time when they were served murir or chirer (chirva) moa as evening snacks, with a glass of milk of course. She particularly liked khoi er moa or khoir er upra (sweetened parched paddy) which was no less than caramel popcorn, and far healthier. And sometimes there would be muri makha or tel muri, narkel muri (murmura served with freshly scraped coconut) or chire bhaja (roasted chirva with onion and peanuts).

There was a time when her mom and grandmon would make moa and naru in the afternoon. She remembered the whole process of melting the jaggary to the right consistency, putting muri or chirva in the hot jaggary and mixing it well. She remembered them shaping the hot mixture into round laddus, their palms would at times go red. Her mom continued to do these alone for a while after her grandmother passed away. She probably she stopped after Tiya and sisters left home.

Mom would even make samosas at home, phulkobi samosas were her speciality, and green pea kachori (puri stuffed with green peas) served with aloor dum. Tiya remembered as a child her family would rarely eat out. Her mom made delicious food at home, there was always such variety. Even pickles and jams were all homemade. Her nani also made aam padad and chiki at home. The homemade moa and naru served by Piyu brought back the almost forgotten delicious flavours of her childhood.

poppins

Who eats moa and naru now, lost in the world of candies, popcorn and burgers do today’s kid even know what they taste like? When Tiya was a little girl she was so much easier to please, few orange toffees would make her day. Yes, round wrapped orange toffees that you rarely see now. Parle did try their hands on it but it wasn’t the same. And there was Poppins and Gems that came in different colours. Then came five stars and milk chocolates that were more expensive, and Tiya and sisters were allowed to indulge in them only occasionally.

The pink bubble gums came next. Tiya remembers chewing those gums endlessly till her jaws ached and blowing them, most of the times they would blow up on her face. Those chewed gums created lot of mess in the school – she would find them stuck under the desk, in the books, worst was boys sticking those gums in her long hair.

As Tiya grew up and went for tuitions with her friends they would occasionally indulge in chanachur (Bengali mixture with onion, mirchi, nimbu & stuff) or the roadside mutton chops. Tiya and her friends would walk to the tuition classes, saving on the rickshaw fare so they could feast on chanachur and mutton chop on their way back.

Probably Tiya’s generation saw the advent of fast food or junk food with the launch of Maggi, it was such an instant hit. Tiya still remembers looking forward to Maggi as school lunch or Sunday breakfast. When she left home, she was introduced to the world of pizzas, burgers, pastas, wraps, rolls, tacos and what not, and the humble narus, moyas and samosas were soon forgotten.

Once Tiya started working and living on her own she started cooking, in fact started enjoying cooking, but not the typical Bengali stuff. She would dish out international cuisine, sometimes Italian, sometimes Lebanese. She started baking and her cakes became quite a hit with her friends and colleagues. Looking at the array of traditional home-made delicacies laid out by Piyu, Tiya suddenly felt a twinge of guilt mixed with nostalgia. It’s time to dish up the traditional flavours and surprise her friends with naru, moa and jhalmuri and kachori!

Happy Diwali, Mitti Ke Diye Wali!

Remember the days when Diwali was about earthen Diyas, making wicks the night before, pouring oil in the Diyas and getting them ready so that they could lit up the dark Diwali night. And of course, rangolis and home-made sweets and simple pathakas like phool jharis, charkis and anars. We would watch from a distance as mom and grand mom would make the wicks and get the Diyas ready. We were allowed to place the Diyas and light them once the sun went down, under the supervision of adults.

I remember lighting the Diyas and watching our house and the entire neighbourhood lit up beautifully the dark Diwali night. As kids our real challenge was trying to guard the flames from the gentle autumn breeze, stoking the wicks and ensuring the Diyas would stay lit as long as possible. Of course, the flames of Diyas lasted only a few hours. They were not as strong or colourful as the artificial lights decorating the buildings and houses during Diwali and other festivities these days, but their flickering flames had a beauty and simplicity that cannot be matched by these artificial lights!

So, let this Diwali be Mitti ke Diye Wali! These days mitti waale Diyas are available in different designs, wicks are readily available in the market, making it much easier to light a Diya. Let’s bring back the charm of those flickering flames and breathe life into the dying profession of pottery!

Making of Diyas & other decorative items: Project Why

The Address Book

cropped-address-book.jpgWhile cleaning my bookcase I came across my old address book, a farewell gift from my hostel friend in the university. Brought back a flood of memories… the hostel days & nights, going to the Gops (Gopal who ran a small tea shop and grocery store in the campus) at 12 am for the last cup of coffee, girly gossips, staying up all night and so much more…

Ours was a campus beautifully laid out in the rocky green terrain of Hyderabad. Since the hostel was inside the campus there were not too many restrictions. As long as boys didn’t enter the girls’ hostel it was fine. We would often stay out the whole night, dancing away around a campfire or just lying on a rock and counting the stars. Occasionally nights were also spent studying, group studies in the hostel or in the library.

The address book brought back those heady memories, I spent hours browsing through the pages. It felt like yesterday when I passed the book around to all my friends and hostel mates before leaving campus. Their names, addresses and phone numbers were alphabetically listed. We vouched to stay in touch, we sincerely believed we would As I went through the pages their faces flashed before my eyes. There were a few letters and phone calls then we lost touch, got busy with real life, I guess. I reconnected with some of my college friends years later on Facebook, though the warmth fizzled after the initial excitement.

I had a sudden urge of dialling one of those numbers listed in my address book. Maybe, just maybe the number hasn’t changed, or the person hasn’t left…maybe the voice will bring back the warmth and the excitement of the college days…