The desi lingering sweetness of Gur

While appreciating everything and  everybody in his poem Bhalo Re Bhalo (loosely translated ‘All is Good’), Sukumar Ray, one of the greatest poets and humour writers of our time concludes: “Kintu shobar chaite bhalo, pauruti aar jhola gur” (But the best bet/ Is runny jaggery and bread).

Jhola Gur
Image courtesy Pinterest

The pleasure of dipping bread or roti in jhola gur (runny jaggery or jaggery syrup) and enjoying the sweet, sticky flavour on a winter morning. And once the bread gets over, dipping the finger in jhola gur and licking it, relishing it to the last dribble. As a child jhola gur was one of my most sought-after desserts or sweet sauce. As the days would get colder, we would wait for dad to get a tin (container) of jhola gur from one of the near by farms. We would sit on the dining table expectantly with a bowl waiting for mom to serve a spoonful of jhola gur. It would be followed by hours of licking the bowl clean, with eyes often shut and a satisfied chuckle. The happiness and satisfaction that simple jhola gur brought into our little lives!

Khejur gur or nolen gur

Then there is round kejhur gur or nolen gur and chunks of aakher gur. We would wait for Masi to visit from Kolkata with patali gur, very popular in West Bengal. In Agartala, dominated by East Bengalis, jhola gur and khejur gur were more popular. While jhola gur and khejur gur are from made date palm (khejur) sap, tal patali is made from palm (tal) sap and aakher gur comes from sugarcane (aakh) juice. As kids we would love to suck little cubes of tal patali and khejur gur. The heavenly taste and the heady flavour of this crude desi sweetener can’t be matched by candies that kids crave for nowadays.

Nolen gurer patishapta
Image courtesy YouTube

Khejur gur or nolen gurer payesh (kheer made with nalen gur), nolen gurer pathishapta, nariyel naru made of gur are the sweet delicacies mom makes every winter. I still wait in the kitchen to taste the sweet, warm patishapta as my mom takes it off the tawa. Unfortunately, not many people make patishapta at home anymore and those available in sweet shops just don’t taste the same. But I do love nolen gurer sandesh and roshogolla and other sweets made of nolen gur that sweet shops across Bengal are flooded with. In Delhi you can visit the Bengali sweet shops in CR Park for nolen gur delicacies.

Nolen gurer sandesh
Image courtersy A Homemaker’s Diary

When I visited my Uncle in Chandigarh as a child, my aunt gave me small piece of gur after lunch. Gur helps with digestion so Punjabis have gur after meal, I was told. Later I sampled delicious gur ke parantha. Not just in Bengal and Punjab, gur is popular across India. Maharashtra is the largest producer and consumer of gur, I recently read in Wiki. In Maharashtra, during Makar Sankranti, a dessert called tilgul (sesame seed candy) is prepared with gur. In Gujarat, gur is known as gôḷ and is used during Makar Sankranti for similar preparation called tal na ladu or tal sankli. In rural Maharashtra and Karnataka, water and a piece of gur are given to a person coming home after working under hot sun. Gujratis also make laddus with wheat flour and gur and famous Marathi Puran Poli uses gur. Of course, we are all familiar with gur ki patti, gur ke gajak, moya made with gur and other desi healthy and tasty sweet snacks.

And gur is not just tasty, it has many health benefits. It prevents constipation, boosts immunity, detoxes liver, purifies blood, helps in digestion to list a few. However, like most desi delicacies, gur is not glamourous enough to appeal to the younger lot. A kid today will probably not even look at gur, let alone relish it. We Indians somehow pick western dessert and dishes over traditional Indian cuisine. Perhaps, gur is waiting to be discovered by a western chef to make it a happening sweetener.

Bidding adieu to little Miss Hankie: whiff of an era gone by

Once upon a time she was my constant companion. I wouldn’t leave home without her.   Whether going to school in the morning or visiting neighbours in the evening, she would be neatly folded and pinned to my dress or tugged in my skirt. We loved playing Rumal Choras kids. When I started carrying fancy bags to college, she found a special place in that bag. Life was unimaginable without her.

Sparking white, or in soothing pale shades of pink or blue, with pretty flowers or little birds embroidered, honeycombed edges, Miss Hankie and her friends were such a delight. I remember making my first little hankie when I was in 4th standard. SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) was a compulsory subject in school then. With such excitement and love I hemmed the edges of a small square pale blue cloth and embroidered a pink lotus in one corner. After that I went on to make so many hankies, in different colours and embroideries, some with my name stylishly embroidered. I was so proud of carrying my own little hankies, sometimes perfumed, gently dabbing away sweat or dust from the face and neck.  

Miss Hankie was ever so romantic and enigmatic. Lovelorn youth would often find solace in the sweet-smelling handkerchief of their lady love. Boys would use hanky as ploy to strike a conversation with the person of their interest. “Excuse me Miss, I think you dropped your hanky,” was corniest pick up line ever. Miss Hankie found a special place in romantic Bollywood movies as well – Reshmi Rumal, Kaali Topi Lal Rumal, where handkerchief played such an important role. There are so many romantic movie scenes where the male protagonist is seen languishing over a delicate little hanky of his beloved.

For the male counterpart of Miss. Hankie, it was all about chivalry. We have so often seen the protagonist offer his handkerchief with aplomb to a damsel in distress. The ‘resham ki rumal’ has always added to the appeal of the swashbuckling Hindi film hero. Remember Shammi Kapoor in “Sar par topi lal, haath me reshmi rumal hai tera kya kehena

Sadly however, little Miss Hankie is now on the brink of extinction, nudged away by the convenient tissues. Like most people of my generation, I am guilty of making the switch to tissues. I have lost all my little hankies; I just carry a pack of face tissue in my purse. There are hand tissues and paper towels that have made hankies completely redundant. My mom, however, still sticks to her hankies, finding them more reliable than the array of tissues. Fortunately, male handkerchiefs have survived, they still find place in most men’s pocket, though the charisma once associated with them is lost.

Tissues may have brought in convenience, but unlike hankies there’s nothing romantic about them. There was something personal about hankies, reflecting so strongly the personality of their owner – the touch, the smell. Tissues on the other hand don’t have a distinct character, they are just use and throw. And the idea of picking up a used tissue is quite repulsive, no matter how beautiful or charming the user may be!  

 “Resham ka rumaal gale pe dalke”.

Understand a sari, own a sari, fall in love with it – says Joy Mitra

Joy Mitra, a leading designer and a dear friend, weaves magic with his anarkalis, lehangas, kurtas, dupattas and Indo-western wear. Most of all I love the saris that he designs. He takes the traditional Indian weaves like ajrakh, kalamkari or handprinted cotton and silk and turns them into masterpieces. Being a sari lover myself I decided to talk sari with Joy

What do you think about saris? Why do your work with saris?

When I say sari, I mean drapes – the basic attire of the subcontinent that probably evolved 5000 years ago. We all know that very state has its own drape, its own way of wearing sari. The modern way of draping sari evolved 100 years ago, made popular by the women of the Tagore family. It’s a beautiful attire that complements the Indian body type.

Sharmila Tagore in a Joy Mitra

However, over the years we have seen a dip in the popularity of sari. There was a time when Indian women flaunted sari. Even girls of senior schools and colleges would wear sari, were encouraged to wear sari. This changed 80s onwards with sari becoming just another outfit. And now I hardly see modern city women wearing sari, it has been reduced to a costume for special occasions. There are various reasons for this change. Modern city life doesn’t encourage sari. Many women don’t know how to drape a sari anymore, western outfits are much easier to wear. Therefore, it is important to first understand a sari, own a sari, fall in love with it. Give sari a chance and you will see how much it can change you, add to you.

But coming back to saris, they will always be there. The number of people wearing sari may vary, the number of sari lovers may rise or fall, but sari will never die.

We have seen 100-day sari challenge bringing back some excitement around draping a sari

There’s always excitement around any movement, be it bringing back the handloom, or planting more trees or saying no to plastic. We create excitement around things or issues that we as a society want to push, to make them for relevant for the time. Of course, there is a group of people who love sari, swear by sari and want to wear a sari. They want to bring back excitement around saris, not only because it’s a beautiful outfit but also to encourage our weavers. Our banarasi, kanjivaram, ikat and tangail weavers. That is also our job as a society.

When you started, and I have seen you right from your first show, you used to make those beautiful cotton saris in ajrakh and kalamkari. I absolutely loved then, but then you stopped. So, it’s good to see you bring them back again. Can you tell me about your kind of saris, what makes them different?

I like working with traditional saris, I have a very earthy taste. I love these rustic Indian colours, natural dyes, Indian prints, block prints, kalamkaris and ajrakhs, these have always been my first love. Of course, I am also in the trade, in the business of selling garments so I keep changing and evolving and coming back. It’s a cycle. It’s not that I stopped, it’s just that I was not doing that many ajrakhs and kalamkaris for a while. I am back to ajrakhs, kalamkaris, sanganeri and bagh prints again because I genuinely love them.

Is there a taker, especially in a place like Delhi where we see more georgettes and chiffons?

That can be a challenge. I invest a lot of money in some cotton saris, I find them so beautiful. But most of my clients would say ‘that but that’s a cotton, why will I wear a cotton sari for a wedding or a festival?’ And the funny part is if I don’t tell them and a show a picture after I have done a shoot, they immediately want that sari. This psychology that cotton can’t be expensive, cotton can’t be worn to weddings annoys me. I work with chanderis, silks and georgettes as well. Each has its own appeal. But as a designer, I am more inclined towards silks and cottons.

Anything different about the kind of work that you do with your saris, and the kind of blouses you team up your saris with?

I need to do something different, something that inspires me. However, I should be able to sell my pieces as well, it’s a process. For me it’s not about being different, it’s about making something truly beautiful, that’s all that matters.

I am often asked ‘Is this in?’, ‘Is that out?’ ‘Should I buy that?’, again these questions upset me. For me, a garment is either beautiful or not. If I like something, I will like it even after 10 years unless my taste has changed completely. What is beautiful is always beautiful. You don’t go to Taj Mahal and say ‘Oh, Taj Mahal was so beautiful 10 years back now I have outgrown it.’ It will always remain beautiful. Especially the Indian weaves and textiles, they are timeless.

Another worry, a lot of these prints are replicated by digital printing, which of course is faster and cheaper, and more people can wear them. But the essence is dying. The whole process to make ajrakh sari takes 40 to 60 days – so many kinds of layering and dying. Digital machine replicates it in a day and that hurts me. That’s the reason why so many of these weavers are leaving their jobs, looking for other work. I feel it is our responsibility to promote these traditional textiles and prints. Sustainable fashion it’s not just about promoting cotton or certain fabrics or a craft. It’s more challenging, it’s about sustaining the society, this whole ecosystem of weavers and dyers, all of us have to work towards it.

Aparna Badlani donning a Joy Mitra sari in Bengali style

Bengal has a very strong tradition of saris from tant to baluchari. But you don’t work with those saris?

I do, I work with these saris from time to time. Maybe if you come next month you will see many tangails and balucharis. I love these saris.

Most people feel balucharis are not in vogue, and I feel sad about it. Any particular reason for that?

We don’t see the real balucharis anymore. The whole palla and border of a real baluchari would tell a story from Ramayana, Mahabharata or Panchatantra. It was not a repeat border, the whole sari had different patterns depicting a story. Thus, weaving a baluchari took a long time and making it a very expensive affair.

Secondly, baluchari looks almost like a banarasi, just that banarasi uses more zari while baluchari is more resham. Both these saris come from the Indo Gangetic plane. Banarasi is woven near Banaras, then comes the famous bhagalpuri silks and cottons from Bhagalpur. Further down in Bishnupur where balucharis are woven and then you have the dhakais and jamdanis of Bangladesh. The whole belt is rich with variety of weaves and textiles that vary with changing atmosphere and culture.

Balucharis were too expensive and the dazzle of benarasi was much more making them a popular choice. Baluchari was made popular by the rulers of Bengal, but this beautiful sari somehow got lost and is still dwindling. Also, baluchari appeals to a certain taste and that’s another problem, you have to understand a Baluchari. It’s like a paithani, a very expensive and a beautiful weave that not everybody would like to own. Or a real kanjivaram with gold work. Sadly, there are not many takers for these saris. People are going for digital, from pure to artificial, so these real saris and the real crafts are dying

I remember our mothers had 4 to 5 expensive saris that they would wear for all occasions. Now you need a different outfit for every function.

That culture has died, and that’s not just for sari, that’s for all outfits. Our life is like Facebook, we constantly need to put something new. We can’t tell the world we have the same sari. We are fishing for something new to post every day. And that’s why we opt for those easy, faster and cheaper variants. It’s like a fast-food culture, it’s a fast-food lifestyle

But we still have sari lovers

There will always be, though the number may have reduced over the years. Maybe lesser women are wearing saris now due to financial or cultural reasons, or just practicality. But sari will never die

Women who inspired you to do sari, or you love to see in sari.

I am from Bengal; I have seen my grandmothers and mother wear the best of saris and that’s how I developed a taste for sari. The range and the variety of saris that we have are just fabulous. Even today when a client comes to me with an old traditional sari and asks me to highlight it or do some work on it, I shy away. They are so beautiful. I ask them to keep them as they are and pass them to the next generation. I want more people to love sari.

I hope with your saris will revive that love

I hope I do more saris, all kinds of saris not just handloom. Every sari looks different on different body types. I want people to experiment more with sari and drapes. It could be a cotton sari, silk or georgette, start wearing saris, start developing a taste for this beautiful drape

Your favourite drape

The modern drape is beautiful. And of course, being a bong, I like the Bengali way of wearing a sari. I have used this drape in many of my shows. I find it very beautiful and elegant, effortlessly sexy.

Thank you Joy, I hope more women start wearing saris after reading this interview.

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!

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!

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…

Beat the heat with vintage drinks!

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

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

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

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

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

The tender bond of friendship

A story of friendship that began decades ago, in a small town and blossomed over the years.

When my parents moved back to Agartala I was just 5. As my parents wanted to educate me in English medium I was admitted to Holy Cross, a Catholic school and the best-known English medium school in Agartala in then. New town, new school far away from home can be a little disconcerting for a little girl. I remember the uncomfortable first few days when I would be headed to the bus stop holding my mother’s hand, reluctance to let her go when the school bus arrived. Of course, like other little girls, I made friends in no time both at the bus stop and class and school seemed fun.

Our school buses had had fancy names, mine was Flavia. As I boarded the bus and sat quietly on the first day, I noticed a girl with curly hair and a friendly smile board a few stops later. She had an unusual name, Swadhinata. She was in the 1st standard like me but in a different section. Though I made her acquaintance, I was more friendly with kids of my section and was quite happy hanging around with them. Things were going great till 3rd standard when they decided to split up out section. My friends and I were in different sections now. I was in the same section as the curly haired girl. After the first few days on discomfort in a new section, I remember making friends with her. I don’t remember all the details now but very soon we were best of friends. Be it in the class or in the recess we were always together. We made other friends as well, especially two other girls from the class Jayeeta and Nilanjana. Four of us would hang out together all the time, playing Hide & Seek, Colour – Colour or having lunch under a tree. With our long plaits dangling we would huddle together and whisper little secrets. Holy Cross of our times had a huge campus with many trees. We would sit under a different tree every afternoon and have lunch. I remember one afternoon it suddenly started raining and by the time we ran back to the classroom we were all drenched. Be it our lunch, discomfort of our first periods, our first crush, our first love letter, we shared everything.

Though the four of us were usually together and we had many more friends, there was a special bond between Swadhinata and me. We shared everything, was privy to each other’s every little secret, hopes, dreams and fears. Silly as it may seem now, a boy staring at you or your favourite teacher not paying enough attention were matters of grave concern then. There were other important things like occupying our favourite seat on the bus, having lunch under our chosen tree, being selected to the school choir. In senior classes we would go for tuitions together, save on rickshaw fare to have mutton chops on our way back. Roadside mutton chops or chanachur (Bengali mixture) sold for five bucks were the only things we indulged in then.  I remember we vouched to stay in the same city, close to each other once we grew up. Promises that little girls make to each other!

Life had different plans for us though. After school, we went to different colleges, then left Agartala and went to different cities for higher studies. There were no mobile phones then, no Facebook, not even email, but we stayed in touch, our friendship only grew stronger with years. We took up jobs in different cities, she was in Kolkata while I was in Delhi. We would meet only a couple of times a year, but nothing changed between us. We would talk and laugh like two schoolgirls, pick up pieces from where we left as if distance and time were no factors at all. Then one day she told me that she was started seeing one of our former classmates Saptarishi. The news took me by complete surprise, in all these years I had never imagined her to be even remotely interested in him. But things happen when they happen, and they happen for the best. They got married soon after and her husband, who I didn’t particularly care for in the school, became a great friend as well. We are in different corners of the world now, hoping to meet sometime this year, but distance only seems to make our bonds stronger. They say friends are the family you choose, but I would say friendship chooses you stays with you for the rest of you

Riverdale Lost: When Archie’s World Turned Dark & Gloomy

Archie FB

The other day I stumbled upon the super cool freckled teenager, Archie. Yes, the whole goofy gang – the lovable glutton Jughead, self-obsessed Reggie, magical Sabrina, musical Josie and the Pussycats, dumb Moose, talented Chuck, and of course, blonde Betty and brunette Veronica vying for Archie’s attention. They seemed slightly jaded at first, but one close look and I could feel the excitement and the fun, their eyes gleaming with silly mischiefs and their bright faces bristling with friendly rivalry. While Archie was showing off, Reggie was being a narcissist, snoring Jughead’s stomach was making funny sounds. Veronica was obsessing with her looks and a new boy in town, Betty on the other hand couldn’t keep her eyes off Archie and Josie was working on her next song for the party. Archie’s eyes moved from Betty to Veronica, to every pretty girl in town. Sleepy little town Riverdale with the school Riverdale High, abuzz with pranks of Archie Andrews and his pals! They were silly, goofy, stupid and self-obsessed. They were also caring and harmless. They were teenagers, high school kids, that’s how they are meant to be!

I fell in love with the gang all over again, when I chanced upon them at Pinto’s Café  over Sunday Brunch. There they were, sitting on a small book shelf next to my table. As I jumped up from my chair to grab a copy of Archie’s Comics, the Café owner, Sonal gave me a knowing smile, “Kids don’t care about these comics anymore, adults go for them”. Archie’s Comics came into being in 1940s. One of the most popular and loved comics for over decades, Archie became the epitome of cool high school kids. I read every issue of Archie’s, collected them and am still a huge fan of Archie Andrews and his pals!

Archie 1

Curtain rises on 2017, Archie and his friends walk into a world that has lost its innocent charm. Riverdale is now a dark creepy town ridden with murder, drugs, mafia wars, illicit affairs, it reeks evil. The once cool and carefree teenagers are now burdened with the grave task of setting things right in this crazy town. The adults seem to be not so responsible parents who couldn’t care less, costing Archie and his teenage friends their goofiness and happy-go-lucky attitude. It breaks my heart to see Archie, Ronnie, Betty, Jug and the gang behave all mature, step in where their parents failed. They drink openly, their relationships are complicated and very physical, rivalry is not innocent anymore. Teenage pranks have given way to the dangerous game of Griffins & Gargoyles. The gang is divided between the do-gooders and the not so good. They lie, cheat, betray and plot. Light-hearted fun that we associate with high school years is completely lost!

I am talking about the TV series Riverdale, a modern take on Archie’s comics. It’s been over 75 years since Archie and his friends saw the light of the day and times have changed. Teenagers love the new Riverdale, I am told. Have times changed so much that our teenagers are forgetting the simple pleasures of carefree high school years, I sometimes wonder! While looking up Archie I did come across reprints of yesteryear’s Archie’s Comics, maybe there still are a few takers for goofy fun!