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

Revisiting Agartala

Agartala palace by the lake

 Agartala Palace by the Lake

Agartala will always have a special place in my heart. A small relatively quieter town that I grew up in, with friendly bunch of people. A town that I was eager to leave behind during my teens when my ambitions knew no bounds. A town that I crave to revisit now from time to time but feel mildly disappointed during each visit.

I guess hometown does that to us all. Somewhere in our imagination we crave for a place that has remained unchanged, that will take us back to those carefree childhood days whenever we go back. Change however is inevitable!

A lot about Agartala has changed as well. The quiet town that I once grew up in has become noisier and is bustling with activity. There are malls in Agartala now and fast food chains. As a kid samosa, kachoris and chops were the only fast food we knew. The quiet lane by our house is now a busy road. We can hear vehicles passing by and honking, voices of people on the pavement talking even from the bedrooms. When I go back now, it takes me a few nights to get used to the noise and get some good sleep.

Tatched roof tin house bordered by beetle nut treesI remember my childhood home with a huge courtyard, with jackfruit trees, mango trees and coconut trees. There were beetle nut trees along the boundary. Our house was defined by a big bakul (creamy white fragrant flowers) tree by the gate – the house with the bakul gaach (tree). There were many flower plants and crotons in the front yard, dad liked gardening. Agartala is a rainy place, tress grow easily there.

When I think of Agartala I miss those rainy days the most. Pittar patter rain falling through the day on tin roofs, our courtyard and roads getting water logged, wading through the water to the bus stop, floating paper boats in the rain, I yearn for those days.

The courtyard of my childhood home is not as big anymore. The bakul tree is long gone along with many other trees. Unlike earlier we now buy coconuts and jackfruits from the market. The thatched tin roofed house has given way to modern concrete buildings – economic prosperity and modernization taking away a bit of my childhood!

In fact, some time back not so long ago, most houses in Agartala had huge courtyards with all kinds of fruit and flower trees. Some houses even had a small pond, like my maternal grandfather’s place.  We would sometimes fish in that pond and occasionally manage a decent catch. The excitement of pulling that fish out of the pond is something I will never forgot.

Some things however haven’t changed, the excitement I feel each time the wheel of the plane touches Agartala, the lake before our house (though the banks have been concretised), the homemade food – the variety of fish preparations, posto, shukto and sweets.

Agartala remains dear to me for the things that have not changed and for the things that remain unchanged in my memories!

Pujo in Gurgaon

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If you are a non-resident Bengali (a Bengali residing anywhere but the East – Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Tripura or Assam) you definitely crave for Pujo back home!

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It is true that Durga Puja has become a universal festival celebrated all over India and across the world, but we don’t breathe, live and talk Pujo in other places. In Gurgaon for instance there are quite a few Pandals where Durga Puja is celebrated Bengali style with dhak, dhunichi dance etc. Pandals in Gurgaon however are much simpler than the ones in Agartala or Kolkata and off course far apart. We do come across women in saree and men in kurta pajama but the younger lot is generally in ‘fashionable’ western attire.

 

Food is quintessential to the Bengali culture and there is always a wide variety of food stalls outside the pandal. Be it Egg devil, mutton chop, fish fry or rolls you have it all served with kashundi (Bengali mustard sauce). There is Mughlai parantha and kosha mangsho, rosogolla and much more.

This time I also came across stalls offering Lucknowi and north Indian cuisines, I even came across a Waffle stall at DLF Phase 1. Times are changing so are the taste buds!

The spirit however remains the same. Those few hours that I spent in the pandal made me feel like I was back home. Though outside the Pandal it is life as usual, social media platforms carry forward the celebratory mood. Facebook and Instagram are splurged with images of Pandals and Durga idols from all over the world. Photos and videos of Pujo in Agartala and Kolkata are being posted regularly on WhatsApp Group, making it impossible not to miss home!

 

It’s Pujo time

Like most Bengalis Durga Puja is the festival I look forward to, or at least I did then as a girl in Agartala. Puja vacations were the most awaited vacations, four days sans studies, only pandal hopping and showing off our new clothes. Yes, we were given at least one new dress for each day, in fact that was the only time in the year when we were given new clothes (except may be birthdays). Mostly our moms stitched our clothes, we knew nothing about brands, couldn’t dare ask our parents for branded clothes even when awareness grew.

Shiuli_phool_-_panoramio

Back then the anticipation and the excitement of Durga Puja was built days in advance, with the first bloom of shiuli phool (night jasmine/coral jasmine) or the first site of a puja pandal being constructed. We would happily watch white autumn clouds float in clear blue sky and eagerly wait for the festivities to begin. Every house had a shiuli plant then and the ground below the plant would be strewn with sweet smelling flowers in the morning. As a girl I would pick up those flowers and string them into a garland, my most coveted morning task as long as the flowers bloomed.

There would be a puja pandal coming up in every corner, special sale and discounts were announced in every shop. That was the time when we would start bargaining with our parents for new clothes, shoes, pocket money during puja days etc. As kids it was a matter of great pride to have earned more newbies than your friends and peers during puja.

Mahalaya that announced the advent of Goddess Durga was a very significant occasion. AIR would play Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s “Mahisasura Mardini” or “The Annihilation of the Demon” very early in the morning. In my excitement and eagerness to not miss the Mahalaya recital I would hardly get any sleep the night before. None of the modern editions of Mahalaya that now come in various TV channels match Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s magic.

Barir Pujo

Puja days were spent at my maternal grandparents’ place as they performed Durga Puja every year. I remember waking up as early as my grand mom and other ladies of the house, towing them as they rushed through the elaborate preparations of Devi puja. Children were sometimes allowed to gather flowers, a job that was performed with much pride.

In the evening we would go pandal hopping. As Agartala is a small place we could even walk from one pandal to other, buy mutton chops or rolls from roadside vendors outside the pandal. Visiting the maximum number of pandals was kind of a competition. Pandals even then where very well decorated and lit. Some of the well known pandals got idols from Kumortuli and light decoration from Krishnagar, but they were nothing compared to the fancy hi-tech pandals of today.

dhak image

Smell of shiuli and dhuno (camphor), sound of dhak (type of drum), dhunichi dance are strongly associated with my memories of Durga Puja. We could hear dhak through the day from every nook and corner. Dhakis (dhak players) would go from house to house playing for a small sum. Even in Agartala most houses don’t have shiuli plant anymore, dhakis are making way for more hi-tech music!

Having stayed away from home for years I really miss the flavour and the spirit of Pujo. Durga Puja days are usual working days here, though I make it a point to wear a sari everyday and visit a Pandal in the evening. CR Park in Delhi almost replicates Kolkata during Pujo but somehow falls short of the frenzy and the excitement, or maybe is just me missing my childhood Pujo!

Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse

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It’s Mickey Mouse’s birthday! I didn’t know that till I came across an automobile company’s commercial doling out special offers to customers celebrating Mickey’s birthday (smart strategy to lure our generation). In fact, I had almost forgotten Mickey, his arch rival Donald (duck off course😊) and his love interest Minnie.

The commercial took me back to school days when we were allowed to watch Mickey & Donald every Sunday morning. It was aired in Doordarshan for about an hour. We only had DD then which was not 24X7 and our TV watching was rationed to certain hours and certain shows only. We looked forward to the Sunday ritual of watching antics of Mickey & Donald, the fluttering Minnie mouse and the pranks of Donald’s nephews.

I also remember watching Flintstones & Jetsons and Tom & Jerry. Those were my favourite shows growing up, and we eagerly waited for Sundays to watch these cartoons. Even in the early days of Cartoon Network these shows were frequently aired. I remember watching Tom & Jerry for hours even after I started working. Watching these shows I thought I loved cartoon. Our T shirts and merchandise had these cartoon characters. Mickey was my favourite!

Then one fine day Cartoon Network and whole lot of other kids’ channels stopped airing these cartoons, and I stopped watching cartoons. They are not prime time popular cartoons anymore.

The kids’ channels are flooded with Pokemon, Doremon, Shin Chan, Ben 10 and what not. For me, these shows somehow lack the simple fun of Mickey & Donald and Tom & Jerry. Today’s kids are of course hooked to them. There’s also Chota Bheem and Little Krishna and Motu Patlu which bring in the Indian flavour, I watch these once in a while. Mickey Mouse and his cronies don’t excite kids anymore!

I am glad that the automobile company thought of using Mickey Mouse. Marketing gimmick it may be but at least they are making an effort to revive the character. Disney Channel has also started airing Duck Tales. May be our good old cartoons are making a comeback!

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…

Nostalgia…Of things that have changed…

Is the world changing too fast or is it just me! So much has changed in just over a decade. Remember the cassettes, the tapes getting stuck and how we would pull the tape out and roll them back with a pencil. The VCRs, the video parlours, rushing to the video parlour moment a new movie was released. Alas, online streaming has completely done away with that!

If I go down further, I can visualize the paper boats & planes, kites, marbles that we would so fondly hoard. I can still smell the letters – the postcards, the inland letters and the sometimes the ominous telegram. As a child I used to collect stamps, do kids do that anymore? The lazy vacation afternoons, pickles being cooked in the sun, homemade laddus and namkeens…

Change is inevitable, change (most of the times) is for good, but in the last decade, things have changed at a break-neck speed. Things that were so precious to us growing up have suddenly vanished. If you have grown up in the eighties you will probably know what I mean. We grew up in the pre-internet age, most people didn’t even have a telephone then and yet we were connected. Bonds were probably stronger then…

In our times’ television brought friends and families together (not every family had a TV). We would sit together and watch weekly serials or films on Doordarshan. The anchors and newsreaders of DD were celebs in their own right. Satellite television wiped out DD flooding our imagination with Saas Bahu soaps. TV became more personal and moved to the bedrooms and there was no community TV watching anymore.

Then came the internet and social media and smartphones that completely changed the game. Our smartphones have it all now – be it entertainment or social media or news or shopping or even snooping apps, and we spend hours staring at our phone screens. The world has become smaller now, everybody is connected to everybody through social media platforms or WhatsApp groups, but are we really connected?

While I am excited about the future – the possibility of travelling to Mars someday or having a Robot to do my household chores, I also want to hold on to a bit of my past!

If you feel the same do take some time to browse through this blog. You are also welcome to share your experiences. Leave your comment or share your blog post at sumana.bee@gmail.com