Old Photo Studios, Dark Rooms & more…

Studio photographs of my parents

Browsing through the old albums I suddenly remembered those photo studios that were in every nook and corner when I was a kid. People used to go to the studios regularly to get their photographs taken – solos, couple photos, family photographs etc. The photographer used to usher them inside, make them stand against a backdrop – mostly black or navy-blue heavy curtain, and take the photograph. These studios had face powder, comb and a few make up items lying around in case a customer needed to touch up before the click.

Studio visits were an event often marked by important occasions like anniversaries, birthdays etc. People would usually put on their best clothes, jewelleries and make-up before each visit. My parents got their pictures clicked pretty frequently when they were newly-wed. After I was born a photographer used to come home every month to take my photographs, privileges of the first-born! Those were the days of black & white photographs, the studious were much simpler. The photographer who used to take my pictures had a studio in the neighbourhood that has gone out of business long ago!

Very few people had cameras then, it was considered to be an expensive hobby. Luckily two of my uncles (my mom’s brother-in laws) were into photography. They owned those manual cameras with flash. Thanks to them we have a huge collection of childhood photographs taken during summer vacations.

When I was 16 my father got me an automatic Yaschika Camera.The gift came with riders – to be used judiciously under adult supervision. I was thrilled nonetheless. I would coax and cajole my parents to buy me film rolls.Yes, cameras’ then needed to be loaded with rolls first – Kodak, Fuji etc. Once loaded we could take about 34 to 36 photographs. Each photograph was carefully framed because we tried our best not to waste films. The film rolls were then developed in the dark rooms of the studios. Once done bundle of photographs with negatives were handed over to us. I still remember holding the negatives against the light trying to decide which ones to be sent for reprint.

Dark rooms always had a certain mystery and allure for me. I would try to peek into the dark room whenever I was sent to collect photographs. Writers and filmmakers did use the concept of dark room very deftly.The iconic movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro revolves around two friends (Nasiruddin Shah & Ravi Baswani) trying to catch a killer who was accidentally captured in an image that was being developed by Nasiruddin (a photographer) in the darkroom. Not sure if such scenes will lend meaning to our generation next for whom dark room is only a photography app or a game!

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!

 

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…