Category: Reminiscing

Light and Darkness

We celebrate the Festival of Light on a new moon autumn night that falls on the Hindu month of Kartik to drive the darkness away. Anything that is dark is somehow associated with evil in our culture. We light lamps or diyas on Deepavali to celebrate the victory of good over evil. According to Hindu mythology, Deepavali marks the day when Lord Rama returned home after vanquishing Ravana, the asura king. The golden Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped across North India to usher wealth and prosperity on that night. Homecoming of Lord Rama did mark the beginning to happy days for his subject in Ayodhya. In Bengal and east, however, we worship Goddess Kali on Deepavali night. Fearsome Kali with open hair, bloodshot eyes, garlanded with skulls is considered to be the vanquisher of evil – the dark Kali violently and uprooting the dark evil. 

The image of Kali has always evoked a mixed response in me. The bloodthirsty semi-naked dark blue Goddess adorned with a garland of skulls of the demons she has crushed, holding a severed head dripping blood, wearing a skirt of severed limbs, her bloody tongue jutting out as she steps on to her consort, Lord Shiva. Yes, Shiva needed to fall on her feet to calm her down. I have sometimes wondered how or why our patriarchal society conceived of female power so ferocious so, so untamed? On the night of Deepavali, Kali bhakts in Bengal stay up the whole night and worships Goddess Kali who used her darkness to annihilate darkness. Though, having grown up as a Bengali, with images and pictures of Kali all around, one can sometimes take this enigmatic Goddess for granted. I have always felt there is more to her than meets the eye. And the more I read about her, the more questions she evokes.

Kali’s blackness is associated with the eternal darkness that can destroy and create. As Shamsana Kali she presides over the crematorium, the land between the living and the dead. She is associated with death and dark magic or Tantra. Kali is central to Tantra Sadhna in Bengal, a spiritual practice that involves the dead. Though she is much revered, this dark blue Goddess is never worshipped at home. Her wildness and untamed spirit inspire awe, her raw feminine energy refuses to be domesticated. She effortlessly dwells in the realms of life and death. Kali has always reminded me of the darkness that lurks under the flickering flame, the opposites that embrace each other to create harmony. She lends deeper appeal to celebrations of light.

Not many of us are aware that this wild Goddess manifests herself in 10 different forms. In one such forms, Kamala Kali, she is a tantric form of the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi. This form of Goddess Kali is worshipped as ‘Gaja Lakshmi’, as she has two elephants by her side, the southern states.

 Interestingly, Kali Pujo is preceded by Bhoot Chaturdashi or Bengal’s own Halloween. On Bhoot Chaturdashi our 14 forefathers are called upon and warded off on the same day. Choddo Prodip or 14 candles are lit in 14 corners of the house, a practice that I follow even in Gurgaon. According to folklore, the spirits of ancestors come back to us on this night and these diyas help them find their homes. It is believed that our Choddo Purush or fourteen ancestors descend to bless us and ward off evil spirits and ghosts. But they are spirits too, so we need to ward them off after being blessed. What a strange practise that challenges the opposites and the barriers that we carefully construct.

Kali, also known as Adishakti or Kundalini Shakti, is the divine feminine energy or the light that makes the Universe live, but she can also burn it. Therefore, when we worship Kali, we celebrate these very opposites, revere her, fear her. The darkness that our society looks down upon is adulated. The dark blue Goddess who effortlessly embodies the contradictions is probably mocking at the futility of all boundaries – the good and the bad, the black and the white, of the different compartments that we have carefully built over the years. For, Kali’s darkness brings light and under the flames of every lamp plays the dark shadow!

Romancing with the mountains

Summer has been tough this year. Cooped up at home, with temperature soaring above 45 degrees, overworked. And to make matters worse, a very delayed monsoon. I have been dying to get out for a while, get away from things that have been pulling me down. A solo trip was all my heart desired!

The Celestial Mountains: Photo courtesy Sanjay Roy

Finally, I managed to steal a few days and plan a trip, or rather the trip was planned for me. It wasn’t solo after all, but I am not complaining. It turned out to be one of the best breaks ever on the mesmerizing hills of Ranichauri. This lesser-known hill station was suggested to me by my friend Sanjay. He was planning a trip there with his business partner Nupur and said that I could come along if I was not too hell-bent on a ‘solo trip’. I decided to tag along as Sanjay and Nupur took care of the hotel booking and everything else. And all the beautiful pictures that you see have been taken by Sanjay.

The hilly town: Photo courtesy Sanjay Roy

So, we took off at 4 a.m. from Gurgaon and after a few stops on reaching Uttarakhand for RTPCR checks, we reached our hotel at Ranichauri before 11 a.m., all thanks to Sanjay’s expert driving! About 74 km from Rishikesh, Ranichauri is a secluded hill station in the Chamba district above Tehri. It lies at a height of above 5500 feet.

If mountains are often described as celestial, the mountains of Ranichauri definitely are. As our car entered the hilly village the cool mountain breeze soothed me, the lush green hills and the clouds floating on the hills, sometimes covering them, sometimes revealing them, transported me to a different world. I sat on the verandah for hours watching the sun and the clouds romancing with the mountains. The clouds floating over the hills, or sunlight falling on the green mountains would change them, give them a different character, lend them an enigma. It was fascinating to watch the clouds flirt with hills, kiss them and glide away, sometimes wrap them and engulf them in their mysterious grey. The weak sun would fall on hills and give them a different colour once the clouds decided to move away. The beauty of the mountains in the monsoon is so heavenly. No wonder Gods dwell in Kailasha Parvat and float around in clouds!

Next day we decided to drive around and explore the mountains. The drive up to the Horticulture University at Dhandachauli, with green hills on both sides, was beautiful indeed. Better still, drive through the unknown mountain roads, with rainwater springs singing their way downhill, mist floating down and kissing us as we got off the car to take a fill of the relatively untouched natural splendour. It was an experience I will never forget!

Colours of sunset: Photo courtesy Sanjay Roy

We trekked around, delighted by the chirruping of different species of birds, looking at the hills from different points, different angles. The green foothills covered by the forest of pine and deodar trees, beautiful flowers blooming everywhere, was a welcome change after hot and dry NCR. There were monkeys abundant. Leopards stole dogs and cattle at night, we were told.

Of course, we went down to the Tehri and hired a speedboat for a ride in the dam. While the dam is huge and beautiful, it’s no match for the enigma of the mountains.

If you are a mountain lover like me, yearning to get away from the routine city life, Ranichauri is the place to be! 

Of writing and being read

For long I imagined that the job of writers or poets was only to write. Once they created something beautiful the world would discover them, hail them and celebrate their greatness. Being a student of literature, I have read various anecdotes of great writers immersed in their work, completely unaware of the world around them. And once the masterpiece was created, they would be discovered, somehow. But the catch was many of these greats were recognized much later in life and often died poor. The great romantic poets Shelley and Keats lived and died in abject poverty. But the fact that they were only concerned about their work and didn’t care for money or fame lends a certain aura to their image, makes us respect them even more.

So, with the image of a writer who is only concerned about writing firmly etched in my mind, I started my journey as a writer. It started with this blog, writing nostalgically about the charm of yesteryears or anything that I hold dear. I found some readers along the way, mostly my classmates, friends, family and acquaintances who would take time to read my blog and comment. I was thrilled when my cousin told me she enjoys going back to my old posts and re-reading them. Once, when a friend me pinged to check why I hadn’t posted my blog that week, I felt I had achieved something as a writer. “I wait for your posts,” she added to my delight.

I didn’t give up my job though, don’t intend to. Writing is my passion, something that I do in late hours after work. I enjoy writing, I want more people to read my posts and share their feedback. My job pays the bills.

Encouraged by the response, I started writing short stories. One day, to my surprise, I wrote a poem. Maybe I was falling in love, or falling out of love,  and my emotions found expression in poems. When I visited Agartala this year I was torn to see unplanned development all around ruining my once serene hometown. The nostalgia for the Agartala lost was a trigger for me to write poems. And suddenly I felt the urge to publish my collection of poems.

Poetry as a genre doesn’t interest publishers I was told, definitely not from a new writer. My friend, who’s a writer and a translator herself, advised me to go with a self-publishing house Notion Press. I burnt midnight oils, put my manuscript together and came out with my first collection – Love & Longings. I am quite happy with the end result I must say. When I called up another friend of mine who’s in the publishing industry and told her about the book, I was asked what I plan to do about promotion. “I have written a book. Isn’t that enough?” I asked. “No, you have to promote it,” she said. Though I am a PR practitioner self-promotion doesn’t come easily to me. I suck at selling myself I have been told. Authors now focus on building their profiles. It’s not just about being read, it’s about the image, I learnt.

I started my career promoting books for an NGO and a niche publishing house Katha, but things have changed drastically since then. In those days, I am talking about early 2000, it was about sharing the book with newspapers and magazines for a review . The reviewers would then judge the book on its merit and write a review. We couldn’t do much besides sending the book out and checking with the editors if they would be considering it for a review.

Since I wanted people to know about my book, I posted on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the response and the congratulatory messages. I also received many messages and proposals from people offering to promote my book.

Despite so many encouraging messages, according to Notion Press, only 15 copies of my book have been sold so far. Now that I have started writing, I also realize, I do want people to read my work. And herein comes the dilemma…should I promote my work or not? Do I have to pay people to say good things about my book?

Being in Public Relations I know that visibility is important, but it is more important to have a good product. I do hope people read my poems; I do hope they share honest feedback. Probably this post is my attempt at self-promotion.

Maggi and Me

I was in two minds. Should I write a post on Maggi? Is it too much brand promotion, writing about an instant noodle that has no health benefit whatsoever? But what the heck, who eats Maggi for health reasons anyway? We indulge in Maggi because it’s fun, it’s quick, it’s versatile. And of course, it’s readily available. Any kirana shop anywhere in the country will have Maggi. Those who go for treks would know the joy of having hot Maggi served by a small food stall up in the hills.

Prapti with a commercial pack of Maggi, for one can never have enough!

I can’t think of any other brand that has been running strong for decades. Since walking into our classrooms sometimes in the 80s to now, the 2-minutes noodles continue to be hugely popular with kids. My friends with children tell me that they have Maggi for breakfast or dinner at least once a week because the kids insist.

I remember getting the pack of Maggi from school, my mom reading the instructions carefully while my grandmother suspiciously looked on. We gorged on Maggi that mom served for an evening snack. Wrapping the noodles around our fork and savouring them before swallowing, sometimes slurping noisily. My grandmother shook her head and strongly disapproved. She thought Maggi smelt like soap and should not be served to little children. She was also upset that we chose the instant noodles over her homemade moya and nadu

Thus started my love affair with Maggi. Every now then and then I would urge mom to pack Maggi for lunch. It wouldn’t taste good cold; she would say but eventually give in. She would add vegetables like beans, peas also and egg to Maggi. And the cold Maggi tasted better than anything in the world. I still remember sitting under a tree during our break and proudly sharing my lunch with friends. Those Maggi lunch days were special!

All the kids I know are as excited about Maggi as I was at their age. ‘I can cook Maggi,’ chirps 11-year-old Prapti. ‘I boil it with masala on the induction cooktop,’ she adds. 

In the hostel, we would make Maggi in our room whenever we were sick of hostel food. Since I started working and staying on my own Maggi has been my go-to meal whenever I was too busy or too lazy to cook. I always add loads of veggies to my Maggi – onion/spring onion/green peas/capsicum/beans/carrot, top it with egg and sometimes cheese. I also add sausages to Maggi. Once I added red pasta sauce to Maggi and it tasted amazing.

Mera wala Maggi

On these stay-at-home days, my Friday dinner is often Maggi and a drink – gin & tonic or vodka with fruit juice. I get into my comfortable pyjamas, put on a good show and sit before the TV with my favourite dinner. Maggi never fails to cheer me up and has kept me going in these gloomy days!

Simple things, so complex

An image of my Dadu and Didun (maternal grandparents) engraved in my memory – Didun in the kitchen cooking a special meal for us while Dadu is looking over. When the dish is almost done, she takes out a spoonful from the pot and gives it to Dadu to taste. “A little salt and a dash of sugar maybe,” would be Dadu’s response after savouring the gravy, sometimes rolling it in his tongue like a wine taster. Didun was a great cook. She would delight us every day with some delicacy and she trusted Dadu’s palate who would always get the balance of salt and sugar right, so her grandkids could have the perfect meal. Good food was a big part of all the fun we had at Dadur bari (maternal grandparents’ place). 

Later when I started cooking, I realized that the right balance of salt and sugar was what mattered the most, the other spices just added to it! Like the right amount of water sunlight that a plant needs, something I realized when I started gardening.

Posing with flowers, not mine though

In my early days with plants, I was obsessed with fertilizers. A mali, who taking advantage of my naivety convinced me fertilizers would make my plants lush green and bloom, would come every fortnight to fertilize them. I would overwater the plants as well at times. It’s no surprise most of those plants succumbed to over-fertilization, suffocated by too much attention. But thankfully I didn’t give up gardening. I fired the mali and started reading and talking to people who are into gardening. I am more hands-on now, planting and pruning plants on my own. And I soon realized all that matters is the right amount of water and sunlight.

Periwinkles are thirsty plants that bloom in the sun. Same with the pretty nine o’ clocks, though they don’t care that much for water. But keep these plants in the shade they will droop and stop flowering. Peace lily on the other hand needs light but not sun, needs water but just the right amount, not too much, not too less. And the worst part is that it droops if the water is too much or too little, the edges of the leaves turn brown. So, it takes a while figure whether you are watering in right. I love the more generous jades and the money plants that can survive with or without water for days. Getting the water right is most important, sunlight you figure soon enough and place your plants accordingly – indoor, outdoor, the balcony that gets more sun or the balcony that gets less.

Periwinkles & the surprise lily

Another thing about gardening is the surprise element. Sometimes a bloom delights you when you are least expecting and sometimes like my peace lily, no matter what you do flowers don’t appear. The plant is too young, I was told by a friend. It should bloom next year. I do hope so. 

Often, I feel cooking a great meal or making the garden bloom is like our life. It takes us a while to figure that it’s the simple things that matter the most. We keep attending to the futile excesses, shower our love and attention on the wrong people, focus too much on the frills. Last year I have realized that the wardrobe which I have built so painstakingly is of little use. My shoes are lying listlessly in the closet, and I wish I never spent money on jewellery. My favourite attire is comfortable pyjama, tea shirts and a chappal. All I care about is getting up healthy every morning and knowing that my loved ones are doing well. Well, I do wish I was wiser, but wisdom comes at a price!

Stallion Tales

I have a penchant for betting on the wrong horse. Each time I place a bet, it feels so right. ‘Yes, this is the one for me, he will ride with me to the land of dreams. Together we will build a world so enchanted that all woes will melt away. With the magic of our love, we will face all adversities no matter how tough. We will be there for each other and nothing will matter,’ so I thought when I encountered the young & sprightly horse on my way to the college.

The horse ambled on eagerly for a while. There was so much happiness in his gaze and energy in his gait, quite a stallion he was. I was sure that we were moving towards the happy land, where we would love each other forever. But one day the horse stopped. I pulled his main, but he shook his head and refused to budge. ‘Oh come, the land of happiness is not too far,’ I pleaded with all my love. He looked into my eyes, ‘Oh girl I don’t want to go to the magical realm of happiness with you. I was just enjoying the walk.’ ‘But you seemed so happy, and looked so eager,’ I asked puzzled. ‘I do enjoy your company, but did I ever tell you that I would walk with you to the happy land of ever after?’ asked my dear horse, sounding all confused. ‘I am sorry if I hurt your feelings,’ he said calmly and walked away.

With a heavy heart, I sat on the rampart that defined the path leading to the land of happily ever after, or so I thought. My legs felt like lead, I couldn’t walk for a while. I cried like a little girl who craved for the moon and was denied. ‘But I only wanted to make him so happy, the happiest horse that lived on this planet. Why couldn’t he see that, was my love not good enough?’ I wailed. Finally, I wiped my eyes dry, urged my heavy legs to walk along. ‘We will find the right horse,’ I told my wretched heart.

And sure enough, in the corner of the lane stood a horse nice and strong. He looked at me and smiled happily as if he was waiting for me eagerly. My heart jumped in joy; my feet felt light as a feather as I ran to him. The miseries of lost love were soon forgotten. We walked happily for a while; he would walk away now then but come back to me again. ‘Oh, he’s a free spirit, but he’s my horse nonetheless,’ I nodded happily, turning a deaf ear to all apprehensions.

One day as we walked along, my handsome horse after talking about this and that, told me that he didn’t believe in the realm happiness or happily ever after. I looked at him in daze, as if my worst fears were coming true. ‘But I can walk along with you, but no promises of ever after. Let’s enjoy the walk and leave things uncomplicated,’ he said as he fondly grazed my arm. ‘So be it, being happy in the moment is all that mattered,’ or I told myself. Happy we were for a while. My horse would wander away for days and come back whenever it pleased him, my questions irked him, he would just brush them off.

Distraught by his frequent vanishing act, one day I decided to venture into a different terrain and walk away from him. He was upset, ‘we were doing just fine.’ ‘No, you were doing fine, while I was only pretending to be fine. Too scared of losing you, of being alone, I was clinging on to the shreds of love and affection that you would carelessly toss my way whenever it pleased you. I can’t fool myself any longer, I will take a different path from here on.’

My heart bled, my legs were heavy, but this time I wiped away my tears, held my head high and walked away. ‘I will find my own happy land, I don’t need another horse,’ I told myself. I walked for miles and entered the happy land. The chirping birds and the blooming flower healed my heart. My happy feet pranced again like a little girl. ‘Ah, here I am, and I don’t need a stallion,’ sang my heart as I walked to the coffee shop.

There, at the door of the coffee shop stood a horse, a handsome stallion. He looked at me with eager eyes. ‘Care for a coffee,’ he asked. It’s just a cup of coffee I thought and walked with him to the coffee ship. Soon I was enamoured by his charm and decided to walk along with this fine horse to the land unknown. The horse was hesitant initially, but his gait gained confidence with time. There were hurdles on the way, but together we walked on. ‘I love you so much, like I have never loved anyone before,’ said my horse making my heart flutter with joy. Dizzy with love I rode along, ‘Finally, I find my horse,’ I cried out in joy.

But one day, my handsome stallion shook me off his back and rode away. The sudden fall stunned me, broke my heart into million pieces. Numbed, I sat by the road and stared blankly at my many shattered dreams and promises, and pieces of my once so happy heart. As I pulled myself up and started picking up the fragments, the horse walked back and stood next to me wearing a brooding melancholic look. Angrily I looked at him, picked up the biggest piece of my disappointment and flung it at him. He shuddered and then held my hand gently and said in a sad soft voice, “It’s not just you, I broke my heart too. Amongst these pieces scattered are my dreams, my hopes, my despair, my love for you, and the dark pieces of my fears and uncertainties. Let’s pick up the pieces together and string a tale of love and its many woes. We know not where the road leads us, let’s figure as we walk along!”

Bachelor Girl

Conversation with my neighbour on a lockdown morning:

“Hello, ma’am, ma’am.” I was watering the plants. As I turned, I saw my neighbour from the balcony downstairs waving at me. I don’t really know him though I occasionally see him in the common area.

“I just heard one family on your floor has tested COVID positive. What are you doing?” he asked looking very concerned. “What can I do? I am just staying indoors,” I replied.

“Myself Amit Kumar (name changed). I work for an IT Company. I have tried talking to you earlier also but you stay reserved.” Then after giving me an account of his job and family and asking me what I do he suddenly popped the question, “And marriage?” “I am not married,” I said. “Oh! Nahi hua,” he exclaimed or replied. Though irritated, I just smiled at him and walked in, muttering to myself now you know why I “stay reserved.”

That’s usually how people react when they learn I am not married. It used to irritate the hell out of me earlier, I try not to react anymore. Somehow, there’s something sad about an unmarried girl. No matter how well you’re doing if you are not married there must be something wrong. While an unmarried man or a bachelor is sought after, footloose and fancy-free, the same is not true of his female counterpart. We often hear the term ‘eligible bachelor’. Our own Rahul Gandhi and Salman Khan, well in their 50s, are still ‘eligible bachelors.’

Unmarried women or spinsters on the other hand are pictured as ‘old maids’, sad, lonely women. There’s nothing attractive or desirable about a spinster. While a ‘confirmed bachelor’ is not married by choice and therefore elusive and attractive, a spinster is pictured as a plain woman who couldn’t find herself a husband and therefore to be pitied. Though the likes of Sushmita Sen and Tabu and so many other women we know have defied the perception, most people still find it difficult to believe that women could be unmarried by choice. 

I somehow can’t get this incident that took place quite a few years back out of my head. One of our distant aunts’ visiting handed over a big packet gift-wrapped packet to my married cousin saying, “This is for your home.” Handing over a small packet to me she said, “This is for your half home.” “Why half home?” I protested, “My house is bigger than his.” “But since you are not married it’s half home,” she replied. I was stunned. Sitting before was a woman who works in a good position, has travelled all over and has chosen not to get married, quite a bold decision in those times. Yet she considers my home incomplete because I am not married. “You are not married either,” I finally said. “So, mine is half home as well,” she replied with a smile.

To counter the negative connotations of spinster the term bachelorette was coined to describe women who are single by choice. Later “Bachelorette” was famously or infamously the term used to refer to female contestants on the old The Dating Game TV show and, more recently, The Bachelorette. The term thus became associated with young ‘eligible’ bachelor girls.

While a bachelor continues to be eligible well into their 40s, for bachelorettes or bachelor girls it’s a different story. If you haven’t found your mate by the time you are 30, your ‘eligibility’ seems to wane. I can’t think of a female counterpart for Rhett Butler or Mr Rochester, the rakish middle-aged bachelors who won over the young female protagonists (Scarlett O Hara and Jane Eyre). 

Thankfully, there’s a growing number of people who have started thinking differently. There are so many women now, not just celebrities, who are happily unmarried. 

Fub with friends

One evening as I walked in a little late to meet my girlfriends for a drink, ‘There was so much to do today,’ I complained. ‘I have to do everything on my own (unlike you girls who have husbands),’ “What’s your problem?” came the prompt reply. “You are financially independent. You can do whatever you want without having to bother about a husband or kids,” said my girls looking at me enviously. “Grass is always greener on the other side,” I said smiling back at them happily. 

Being on your own can be challenging at times but it’s certainly very satisfying and liberating. It also doesn’t mean that you have never been in love or will not be in love. It only means you are confident enough to go on with your life the way you please, without bothering about any tag or perception.

Nature, Nurture, Plant Mommy

As I walk in

Plant mommy! Yeah, that’s me. Every morning the lure of these little greens drag me out of the bed. My plants need to be watered before the summer sun scorches them, so even if my bed pulls me back, my feet feel heavy as lead, I get up and pick up the water can. The moment I step out on the balcony and look at the greens, lethargy is forgotten, I feel rejuvenated.

Leaving the bed has been a challenge in the past few months, the second wave of the pandemic has been draining. Constantly struggling with lethargy and lack of inspiration, my plant babies have certainly helped with that. While COVID has struck us hard, nature has been bountiful. My plants look lush green, the colourful blooms of nine o’ clocks and periwinkle (or Nayantara in Bangla sounds more poetic) give me hope amidst all the negativity around. These plants don’t ask for much besides little water and sunlight, and fertilizers occasionally. They propagate easily making me feel like a proud mom who happily watches over her babies growing.

Also, I am lucky to have friends who are plant lovers and happily share their green bounties with me. Whenever I feel low, I visit my friend and neighbour Titas’s garden to pick up a few saplings and cuttings. Jade, periwinkles, different kinds of succulents, I have picked up so many plants from her garden. Sanjay, Sanchita and little Prapti always visit me with a plant – different varieties of money plants, crotons, oregano and what not.

I find the lure of the green irresistible. I have picked quite a few plants from the nursery next to my society as well. Each time I go there to pick up pots or moss sticks, the fellow easily sells a few plants to me. “Yeh dekhiye madam kitna sundar paudha hai. Aap ko theek rate laga denge,” he says with a smile. Unlike many nursery owners, he knows his plants well. This is an indoor plant, this needs sunlight to flower, water this one only once a week, his tips certainly help. Palms, ferns, snake plants, peace lilies, I have picked up many plants from him and most of them worked out well.

My green balcony

These days I am at my happiest when I see these plants grow, flowers bloom. The ample rain that showered over NCR owing to cyclone Tauktae certainly helped. I had just got a few plants from Titas’s garden then and the rain helped them thrive. And what more, my plants have started propagating well. I have started multiplying my ferns and snake plants and sharing these oxygen bombs or happiness bombs with my friends and neighbours.

My City Lost

My quiet neighbourhood is drowned in the sound of vehicles, honking as they pass by
My beautiful lake, around which we built our small houses, is now hidden behind the tall ugly buildings that are cropping up
The stars that smiled at me once on balmy nights glitter faintly, dimmed by the million lights
The tall coconut tree, the green guava tree and so many beetle nuts trees that would surround my childhood home have been chopped for modern concrete buildings
My once huge courtyard with so many flowering plants, my lazy green city scattered with little ponds and water bodies, is now a concrete jungle
I do hear the cuckoo sing at the break of dawn, but as the sun goes up her voice is lost in the hustle bustle of progress

I can still find the small unhappening city of my childhood, my hometown, in the silence of the early mornings, when the night meets the day
In the glistening water of the lake as she peeps out of the tall buildings
In the pristine greenery that still surrounds the outskirts of my hometown
As I look at that them in delight, breathe in the cool freshness, a sudden sadness grips me, a fear lurks behind the peace and the tranquil
Little remains of my childhood home, will they be swept away by the march of progress?
Will my beautiful city live only in my memories, the glittering stars, the quiet lake, the serene green scapes, the price that we pay for development?

Hair Saga, Khopa, Khopar Kata

Gift of the lockdown, pandemic, less frequent visits to salon whatever it maybe, I got my tresses back. My hair just grew and grew well. Soon I started trying different styles of khopa or juda at home. I became obsessed with khopa or bun. I was delighted when I could make a haath khopa. If you are a Bengali, you know what a haath khopa is. Every morning my Mom would wrap her long black hair around her palm and make a simple bun. The bun would come off often and her black tresses tumble down to be made into a bun again.  Much that I admired the process and her long black hair, I didn’t really fancy a khopa, let alone a haath khopa then. I thought it was too commonplace, there was nothing fashionable about it!

But I loved long hair, maybe my mom’s and masi’s thick black hair inspired me to grow my hair. When I was in class 7, I refused to cut my hair. Though my dad thought I was wasting too much time on my hair when I should be studying, I was strongly supported by my dadi and nani.  And soon I had luscious black hair tumbling down my waist and falling on my hips. My crown of hair was my pride for years. When in school I would tie them neatly into two braids. In college and later when I started working, I would tie them into a single plait or sometimes leave them open. I was noticed for my hair, received so many compliments. Whenever I walked into a room someone or the other would comment on my hair. I loved my long black hair, but then it got boring.

Steps it is

In my late 20s, I got tired of my hair, of wearing the same look for years, of not being able to do much with my hair save tie them into a braid or leave them open. I would tie my hair into a bun or haath khopa at home but that I didn’t fancy. Short hair would be so much smarter I thought. I went to a parlour to get a haircut only to be turned back. People long for such long black hair I was told. Forgotten pride for my tresses raised its head and I came back feeling elated for the moment at least. But that lasted only for days. I went to a different parlour this time dragging my sister-in-law along for support. I sat on the chair and asked them to cut my hair before they could say anything. I still remember my sister in law shutting her eyes when they chopped off my tresses and took them back inside. ‘Which style do you fancy?’ the stylist then asked me.

I wanted steps and I wore my hair in steps, sometimes a little longer, sometimes a little shorter, for years. Then came COVID and we were locked in. Visit to parlours was not advisable so my hair kept growing, soon they were falling on my back. I realized I had missed my longer hair, though I lost bit of thickness they still look good. Finally, when I could go to the parlour, I asked them to just trim my hair and remove the steps.

Then I started experimenting with khopa, something that I have never done before. It could be because I love wearing saris and khopa looks so classy with a sari. I could see the simplicity and the elegance in mom’s haath khopa. I ordered khopar kata and nets online. Khopar kata, was once a very popular hair accessory that dominated fashion. Brides were given khopar kata in gold and silver when they got married. I urged my mom to check if she had any such traditional kata, but unfortunately, she had none. Her dadi had one I was told, but she doesn’t know where it is anymore.

Fortunately, I could find traditional khopar kata online, though the ones what our dadi and nani had would be far better, I am sure. Finally, I could make a haath khopa that a kata would hold well. It looked good, it was quick and easy.

So, in the lockdown, I rediscovered my love for long hair and found my khopa and khopar kata. Some may find it old fashioned but that’s what I have become over the years – a sari, a bindi and a khopa and I am done, for tradition never goes out of fashion!