My Other Half: A Mesmerizing Trip Down the Memory Lane

A small parcel was delivered to me a few weeks back by the apartment guard. When I finally opened it after keeping it aside for 12 hours and sanitizing it (to ensure there was no virus) a book came out of the envelope that took me back to a different era – My Other Half: Krishna Paul in Conversation with Chandana Dutta.  Just one look at the cover and you get a whiff of the time gone by – an inland letter with the handwritten address of noted Urdu writer Joginder Paul and black & white photograph of Krishna Paul, his better half. The back cover carries a picture of Krishna Paul now, smiling at us affectionately. As I opened the book, the handwritten inside cover greeted me, reminding me of letters and journals that are now long forgotten. I smiled happily browsing through the pages, admiring the old back and white photographs of Joginder Paul and his family. Kindle can never give that feel!

Available on Amazon

I called up Chandana, a close friend who strung together this book, to thank her before putting it on my bedside table. That night as I started reading, I was immediately transported to pre-independence India when a young girl and her family came down from Kenya in search of a suitable groom. A beautiful love story made more intriguing by the quirks of Joginder Paul and the determination of Krishna Paul. Sixteen year old Krishna had cleared her Matric exam with six distinctions and was entitled to scholarships from several colleges in London. Her only condition was she would marry a man who would allow her to continue her studies, to which Joginder Paul agreed. He had no problem with her studying or doing something else with her life. To him these were trivialities before other questions of life, poverty and hunger, that he wanted to address. 

Joginder Paul kept his promise. Though Krishna couldn’t pursue higher studies in London, she completed her post-graduation in 1955-56 and joined SB College in Aurangabad as lecturer. She joined the department of English in Jamia as lecturer in 1976. Proficient in several languages like Hindi, Punjabi English, Urdu and Swahili Krishna has translated widely, primarily works of Joginder Paul from Urdu into Hindi and English.

Being married to a brilliant mind, being a match both emotionally and intellectually to a man like Joginder Paul, was a challenge that Krishna faced with grit, love, and affection. As the narration progressed, I was more intrigued by Krishna Paul, her intellect, her wit, her literary acumen, and the active role that she played in shaping the great writer’s masterpieces. “Maybe she could have been a brilliant storyteller herself,” I wondered.

Their first train ride as a couple, Paul leading Krishna to a vacant coach to chat with his new bride, reading one of his published stories to her for the first time, are unconventionally romantic. Krishna realized immediately that her husband was special and so started their journey together.

Chandana chose to narrate her interactions with Krishna Paul, rather than follow the interview format and that adds to the magic, brings to life this amazing woman who let her husband’s brilliance overshadow her. Life with Joginder Paul was not easy for Krishna who had grown up in the lap of luxury in Kenya. Not just material discomfort, Joginder Paul’s ideals, his whims, his refusal to settle down could make things difficult. Yet what surprises me the most is that Krishna Paul never complains, never glorifies her sacrifices. She doesn’t exalt her husband either, while she recognizes his brilliance, she’s also critical of his shortcomings as a man of this world. Her depiction of the creative process of Joginder Paul, her love for her husband, her sense of humour and the ease with which she narrates their life together gives the reader an insight into two brilliant minds – Joginder Paul and the woman behind his success.

What makes the book more endearing is the love and the warmth with which Chandana presents the journey of this incredible woman. From the ‘the writer’s wife’, who she started meeting frequently to understand Joginder Paul, Krishna Paul became her own person “as much in command of herself and her universe, as was Joginder Paul, in command of his words,” Chandana writes in her introduction. She realized that Krishna Paul was telling a captivating story and decided to pen it by keeping the essence of the story intact, as a narrative. For Chandana, it was a humbling experience “to meet two of the most fantastic storytellers of our times, one through the other.” Thus, we have a beautiful story of Krishna Paul, her insights that help us comprehend the man, Joginder Paul!  

My Story of beating the Pandemic by Titas Mazumdar

The world is, without question, being tested and so are its residents. I am a Mom- Manager- Maker (Home) being challenged every single day and is juggling between the priorities and making the best use of this never dreamt situation, I am in. I often ask this question to myself ‘Do I have a choice’? Probably not

If I am not positive, If I am not happy , If I am not myself then my family won’t be happy, my team won’t be productive and energetic and my house will be on fire and this is the wrong time to be on the negative side of anything with limited choices around.

So yes, I am making the best use of this time to stay positive and keep myself happy and enjoy every ounce of this new NORMAL. In my 17 years of career, I never got the flavour of WFH and somewhere in my heart I yearned for it.  I always had this longing desire for WFH and then all of a sudden someone with a Magic (Curse) wand just granted me one, that too without an expiry date.

The first two weeks of the lockdown – Dreadful is a lesser word to describe it. Country, state, society, office, house all going haywire to cope with this new setting. We were logged in to our office network literally for 16 hours to ensure zero downtime to production & business, ensuring the entire team was well equipped with all setup to work remotely, juggling between tens of excels, hundreds of stats and thousands of numbers, sending back and forth the same data again and again…wondering what’s happening all around. That was the time I felt I don’t have control on anything.

The websites flashing the corona numbers and us checking it like a cricket score, the Whatsapp University flooding with advices and threats, pressure cooker whistling amidst conference calls, kids spilling juice right next to the work station, spouse entering into meeting in the same time in the same room, and you don’t know where to run and hide. Yes, we all went through this and can relate easily.

 And when you are a mom at home, doesn’t matter how many people are there, you will be the one called first for any tiniest help required, how many time you might have asked your little one if she is hungry before your meeting starts, answer will always be “NO.” But the moment you enter into the call you will see the tiny soul coming with tears in the eyes out of hunger, and you don’t know where are you going wrong. You want to bang your laptop or phone, but patiently you go around with your laptop attending the call to search some munchies.

Now next nightmare these new online classes – Zoom, MS Team, hangout –teacher screaming, parents juggling between links, microphone turning on and off, video standing still – Super CRAZY morning for a Super MOM. Then comes your house, you cannot neglect either where you are arrested for 24×7, 30 days a month. Yes, it is equally demanding as your family and team, it needs washing, mopping, dusting.

Making time for creativity

But now after 4 months of working from home, happily I can say all these are HISTORY. Yes, we have won over our initial struggles to set our priorities correctly be it work, parenthood or housekeeping.  Slowly things settled down in course of time. We all started breathing in fresh air. Gurgaon surprised me with air quality of 40-50 AQI.  No travelling to office during rush hours, no traffic congestions, no unnecessary running to Shopping centers and movie halls during weekend. Someone far in the universe played the game of “STATUE’ with our planet earth….everything stopped with a jolt… and with this STOP, the earth started healing.

A paradise flycatcher – a rarely seen bird  visited my society one fine morning to say ‘hello’, dark nights gifted us with twinkling stars, I sit now hours with my daughter showing her the ‘milky way , the seven sisters, the Orion’ like my dad used to show during my childhood. I was able to see those tall buildings by the side of Dwarka expressway, Manesar and bit of Delhi from my 15th floor terrace which were until 2 months back covered with dark clouds and smog. My garden started blooming with rainbow colors by the touch of nurturing hands twice a day which was next to impossible in my pre-lockdown days. I sit at ease and have morning tea and breakfast with my family on a weekday – did I ever think of this before?

It’s amazing to see my child learning in front of me. I used to return home at 9pm dead tired after work and hardly had any time other than weekend for my daughter. Now we spend hours together before and after work talking and reading books. I am teaching her to read and write Bengali, our mother tongue. Yes the universe has given time to mankind to slow down and heal …..And as we heal, we are letting nature heal too. Good quality time with Family is not locked down, Creativity is not locked down, Reading is not locked down, Sunshine and hope is not locked down.

I am hopeful this time good or bad will pass slowly like a mixture of nightmare and sweet dreams. One day we will join again, cry for our losses, laugh on the moments which we spend together with family which was a rarity otherwise, we will talk about the new ways of life which we created post pandemic, we will once again sing and dance together holding hands but never to forget what this PANDEMIC taught us…The biggest lesson of our lives till date- To take a Pause and count our blessings ….if we wake up to the dawn of 2021!!

Food, memories & more…

Masoor dal and jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry) that Didun (maternal grandmother) used to make, yummy veg curry with sheem bichi, aloo, begun or kathal bichi bhaja that Dida (paternal grandmother) would cook so often. Mom does make these occasionally, but they just don’t taste the same. She’s a great cook otherwise but no matter how hard she tries she can’t replicate those recipes. Something is lost. The signature dishes that Didun and Dida would make don’t taste the same, as I remember them. Those were pre mobile days, I don’t even have pictures of those dishes .

For food is so much more than ingredients and spices. Our memories of a certain dish, the love and the affection that enveloped them add to the flavour.  That could be the reason why some recipes are lost with a generation or with a person.

With Dida when I was little

The image of Dida sitting before the cooking stove in a white sari in the vegetarian kitchen, chopping veggies and cooking. She would remember what each one of us liked. She usually garnished dal and vegetables with coriander leaves, a flavour that she loved. Since I didn’t like coriander leaves as a girl, a bowl without garnishing would be kept aside for me (much to my dad’s annoyance). We would sit outside the kitchen and watch her as she peeled kathal bichi (jackfruit seeds) or chopped saag. She would dip slices of pumpkin or yam in besan and make them into yummy fries, to be served with dal. If we happened to be around, we would get to sample these fries or daler bora fresh out of the kadai. Often, she would make a fine paste of certain veggies or seeds in the stone mortar (pata pota) – kachu bata, kathal bichi bata, kacha kolar khosha bata. Just kachu bata with hot steamed rice was such a treat. We could finish our meal with her lau moong or sheem bichi sabzi and yummy fries, but she would have none of that. As far as Dida was concerned a meal wasn’t complete without fish. Though I was’t fond of fish them, especially the regular macher jhol, she would sulk if I didn’t have fish.

Dida once loved fish; she couldn’t have a single meal without fish. She was windowed even before my parents got married and as was the practice in those days’ she never touched fish since. Though she would never enter the non-veg kitchen or the dining area she would often stand outside to see if her grandchildren were eating properly. Once while we were being served fish, I asked her how she could watch us eat and not touch something she once loved. “We get used to it didibhai,” she said with a sigh.   

Dadu & Didun

Sundays were meant for weekly visit to Dadur bari (my maternal grandparents place). On our request Didun would make masoor dal and crispy aloo fry. She would often make dhokar dalna or kachur saag. Aloor khosha bhaja and a simple cabbage curry were some of her other signature dishes.  Of course, she would make fish too for her damad that we would rarely eat. The meal would end with amshir chatni (dry mango chutney) that we so relished. Desserts were always homemade – payesh, patishapta or ras bara. When we were little, she even made fuchka (bong gol gappa) and chop for us at home. Her grandkids should not be given unhygienically prepared food from the shops, she would say. She would stuff containers with moorir moya, chirer moya and mishti & nonta nimki for us to snack in the evening.

These are all simple things made from easily available ingredients that somehow don’t taste the same anymore. What mom makes is quite close, but something’s missing, maybe it’s Dida and Didun or my memory of their signature dishes!!

Hope in the time of pandemic by Poonam Tibrewal

These are truly strange and unique times. The ongoing global pandemic is not just affecting one country, one continent or one society, it is affecting the whole world equally! COVID-19 has removed barriers of ‘we and they’, ‘here and there’, and has stirred up the value of belongingness among us. It has demonstrated that our globe is one single interdependent community. Though the crisis has brought the world to a halt today and sadly, the health and economic impact will be disastrous, I feel that from an emotional angle, the pros will outweigh the cons making us a global community with more empathy.

Despite the lingering uncertainty, COVID-19 silently offers us an opportunity to reflect on our spiritual side. In taking a moment to pause it helps us to be a little less reactive, to find some clarity that can help us be more responsible in the face of strong emotions. For instance, in many countries we saw societies pulling themselves together with the national anthem, or just singing together out of our balconies/windows, united to face this common threat.

Yes, these are scary, difficult times, and they are likely to get worse before they get better. But as we shake our heads at the reckless behavior featured on the news, or we throw up our hands in despair wondering how we can make a difference,we can introspect and look for ways to do something to make things a little better. I saw many such small acts of kindness around me. Whether it was friends who cooked meals over several days to be distributed to the migrant workers, my daughters who created beautiful things out of waste and generated funds to buy food for birds and street dogs, neighbors who helped senior citizens with essentials since they couldn’t step out. In every moment of darkness, it seems, there are countless moments of light — small gestures of compassion and connection that allow people to show who they are, how they want to live, and what matters to them.

For me personally, I’ve found myself reconnecting with family and friends on the other side of the world, and it eases my mind a little bit knowing we’re doing similar things. We find ourselves joined together across the world, waiting for Covid-19 to reveal our future. I’ve also found that this is a really good time to reflect on my routines. The constant protests about the lack of time…not enough with family, not enough to pursue my hobbies. Now with this sudden gift of time, did I do everything that mattered to me? Or has the very definition of what matters to me changed in the face of this adversity? Being constrained for months many of us wonder if there will ever be a real life outside our homes. Our tasks are now more about subsistence, not profit. We cook and we clean. We ask for help as help and don’t disguise it with marketing jargon like “collaboration” or “partnership”. In this new normal I find myself pondering, even looking forward to an imagined future…a future full of hope, dreams and a world which is worth saving!

This crisis has given us all a much-needed pause to reflect on the things that need to be protected and conserved. Maybe this is what will see us through over the next millennium and even after!

Communication consultant Poonam Tibrewal enjoys reading and writing in her free time. During the lockdown, she discovered her passion for cooking. Poonam is a mother of two adorable girls, Aliya and Amira. She engages with her daughters in various handicraft projects like painting bottles, making things out of waste to keep them meaningfully engaged while they are at home.

Shringara with a modern twist!

Shringara Rasa is supposedly the crown emotion associated with love and beauty. The other Rasas or emotions are Hasya (laughter/happiness)Karuna (compassion), Roudra (anger), Veera (valour), Bhayanaka (fear), Bibhatsa (disgust), Adbhuta (wonder)and Shantha (peace/tranquillity)Rasa, as per Indian aesthetics, means essence or emotions and these nine emotions or Navarasas are fundamental to Indian arts be it dance, music, painting literature or poetry. Coming back to the crown Rasa Shringara, it is the essence of Indian romantic literature. Be it Parvati wooing the hermit Shiva or the eager wait of Radha to surreptitiously meet Krishna, Shringara or the art of a woman dressing up by adorning herself with jewellery and flowers to entice her beloved, was considered to be an important ritual. There are numerous verses or images that show an angry Radha tossing of her jewellery, flowers, and embellishments when her lover boy Krishna fails to show up, for she had dressed up for his eyes only. 

Modern bride Dr. Sushmita Bhattacharya

Solah Shringar is the art of a woman adorning herself from head to toe with sixteen embellishments to look beautiful and desirable for her lover or her man. Hindu brides on their wedding day are supposed to perform Solah Shringar comprising bindi, necklaces, earrings, flowers in the hair, finger rings, bangles, armlets, waistbands, ankle-bells, kajal, toe-rings, henna, perfume, sandalwood paste, the upper garment and lower garment. A modern Indian bride though tweaks this ritual as per her taste and convenience. And how beautiful a bride looks. As a little girl, I wanted to be a bride just so I could dress up like that and wear all those ornaments. The groom was of no consequence.

Dressed for the evening

Surprisingly, while a woman takes so much trouble to adorn herself, there’s hardly any reference of men performing Shringara for their lady love. Though elaborate rituals of Krishna’s Shringara are performed in temples, we rarely come across any anecdote of this dark and mischievous God taking pains to dress up for Radha. Shiva or Mahadev is supposed to be dishevelled, he’s an ascetic after all. Even in modern times, there’s so much talk about bridal make-up, one hardly gets to hear about the groom. So, don’t men care about looks. The growing number of men frequenting beauty parlours would suggest otherwise. It’s just that we rarely come across any image or reference of a man dressing up to present himself to a woman. A man is supposed to win a woman with his valour and wisdom, while the damsel can lure him with her beauty and looks. An allusion that any woman today will find ridiculous and disturbing.

Editor & transalator Dr. Chandana Dutta loves wearing traditional outfits

And the funny thing is, most ‘modern’ men still seem to think that we women adorn ourselves for their sake, an assumption that can be both hilarious and annoying. This has become quite a nuisance for a friend mine, who’s separated but happens to share the same house with her husband, “The other day I felt like dressing up, so I wore a nice dress and put on some make-up. When I entered the kitchen, my husband followed me there and started looking at me curiously. I was shocked when he flirtatiously suggested that I dressed up for him.” One predicament of having to share a house with her separated husband is that my friend just can’t dress up without him boasting about it. “I keep telling him we are over, and it has nothing to him, but he refuses to get it. It’s annoying,” she says exasperated. “And now that we are locked in, I can dress up the way I please, I can experiment with my hairstyle and makeup without having to deal with people’s opinion,” she adds with a smile.

Feeling festive. Communication consultant Poonam Tibrewal

Yes, we women love to dress up, we enjoy indulging in Shringara immensely, because it pleases us. We occasionally dress up to indulge someone special when we are in the mood. We dress up for work, we dress up for meetings, we dress up for our evening outings. For dressing up is so much more than Solah Shringar, there’s power dressing, broad room dressing, leisure dressing and more, and we like to dress appropriately for every occasion, with the right makeup and jewellery. We may dress to impress, we may dress to make a statement, but most importantly we dress up because we love to look good, that feels so great!

Ready to take wings. Fashion designer Sanchita Singh Roy

If the skirt is too short, the dress is too tight, or the neckline too revealing that’s because we have the confidence to carry an outfit like that, we are comfortable with our body. We dress as per our mood, as per the weather, as per the occasion, as per our comfort and convenience. The colour of our lipstick reflects our personality. If it pleases men to see us so well dressed that’s a bonus. We appreciate gentlemanly compliments but do remember we took all the trouble to suit our whims and fancies. And if you decide to approach us you better be well groomed, for no matter what they say we don’t like shabby men.

My Bong Cooking: from Compulsion to Passion by Titas Mazumdar

As a girl in Dhanbad and later during my college days in Kolkata I rarely got entry to my Mom’s Kitchen. Mom is very possessive about her kitchen and few are the occasions when I got chance to try my hands in her kitchen. Hence my self-cooking actually started with my first job when I moved to Mumbai and started staying with roommates. We used to take turns cooking dinner and that is the time when I started cooking out of necessity and compulsion.

Traditional Bong meal on banana leaf

My cooking from compulsion slowly turned into passion over the years when I move to US and then got married to a food lover. Indian food in general and Bong food in particular is not widely available – as per our taste in western countries. My husband also enjoys cooking and rarely criticizes what I make which is a blessing and inspires me to experiment with variety of cuisines.

I was picky eater during my childhood days until I started cooking and appreciating various flavors which comes from different spices used in Bengali cooking. The flavour that comes from fried whole red chilies in pure ghee used for Daal is unique, the aroma of Panch Phoran (seeds of Mustard, Fennel, Nigella, Fenugreek, Radhuni) does wonders in most Bong dishes. Another unique spice is mustard paste and poppy seed paste used in typical Bengali dishes. Fishes cooked in Mustard oil and mustard paste and eaten with white rice tickles your taste buds with a pungent aromatic flavour. Vegetables cooked in white poppy seed paste puts you to a lazy, late afternoon nap. And not to forget the mouthwatering flavour of mustard and poppy seeds together used for Shrimp and Hilsa fish curries which will linger with you for several days.

We all love talking about our own regional dishes and most of the times get carried away by it. I think mostly it’s about the acquired taste over time. Food brings back lot of childhood memories too. Food which I hated during my growing years are the ones which I crave for now. I smile when I see my 8 year old pushing away the mouthwatering dishes as she is still in the process of acquiring the taste to appreciate them, so it’s very important to keep on pushing kids to try out tradition food cooked daily at home even though they dislike it. It’s just matter of time you will see how appreciative they become of these traditional meals.

Today I love the aroma of fried Neem leaves mixed with mashed potatoes and yes traditional bong lunch starts with something bitter, be it Neem or Bitter gourd fried/boiled or if it’s any special occasion then Bitter Gourd Sukto– the bitter and sweet white creamy mixed vegetable dish. My passion for Bong food started with those weekend potlucks when I was staying in Philadelphia. We had few Bengali families who used to meet without fail every Saturday for elaborate Bong Adda and potluck dinner. The main attraction of those potlucks were that no dish was repeated. Every single one of us came up with variety bong dishes and that’s how I got to try my hands in various Bong recipes. Sujata’s Kitchen was my favorite website in those days for trying out Bong food as You-tube was not that popular or was not flooded with so many cooking videos. Today trying out various traditional recipes has become simple. I try out different East and West Bengal recipes from You tube channels. It’s not only thrilling and exciting but also takes me back to my roots!

Bengalis are always known for their Fishes and Rosogollas but just to let everyone know we have a variety of vegetarian dishes too which surpass Indian veg dishes from other states in count. Our range of vegetable is very similar to those in Chinese and other South East Asian countries. During my stay in US Bengali vegetables which were never available in “Patel Brothers (the most popular Indian grocery chain there)” were found in those smelly Chinese market –  variety of vegetables like stem of banana tree and flower of banana, different leafy vegetables (Saag) and roots of plants (Yam). I am sure most Indians don’t know that we make excellent dishes with banana stem (Thor in Bengali) and banana flowers (Mocha). Do you know we eat peels (Khosa Bhaja) of most of the vegetables like bottle guard (Lauki), potatoes, pointed gourd (Parwal) and raw banana peel. I can see you raising your eye brows. Just get hold of a Bong friend and bribe her for these delicacies which you will rarely get in any Bong restaurants. These are only ‘made in home’ grandmother dishes.

Entire India eats unripen jackfruit curry, we too love jackfruit curry and also the ripe jackfruit and the big white seeds inside ripe jackfruit which is again a specialty in Bengal. We take the seeds from the jackfruit juicy pulp, sun dry it, remove the external skin and cut into pieces and use it as fries, put it in Daal and mixed vegetable curry. Needless to say it enhances the flavor.

Let me share a quick mouthwatering banana stem recipe with you all – Banana Stem Fried rice (Thor Pulao/ Chal Thor)

  1. Get hold of Banana stem (yes that’s a challenge based on your geographic location, I leave it up to you).
  2. Keep removing the external hard skin till you can’t remove anything. Once you have reached the soft white portion, slice it, remove the fibers with finger and then cut into small pieces. Soak it in salt turmeric water.
  3. Soak flavored rice for 30 mins, we prefer Govindo Bhog, you can use Basmati also preferable broken. Drain out rice water keep it aside to dry.
  4. Heat  pan/ kadai, put ghee( yes only ghee)- bay leaves, sahi Jira, and cinnamon stick and crushed Cardamom (Black), once the flavor comes put the drained rice and mixing it slowly.
  5. After 10 mins when the rice is completely dry and is coated with ghee, add the cut Thor pieces. Remember to hand press it and take away all the water.
  6. Keep frying for another 5 to 10 mins, when its dry add water in same proportion as rice quantity, cover it.
  7. Periodically keep a watch till the rice is cooked and add water if required, put soaked raisins (optional). Add salt and definitely sugar as Bengali Pulao has a Bengali sweetness in it too.
  8. Before removing from heat add chopped green chilies and Bong Garam Masala powder (it’s always homemade- powder of Cinnamon, Clove and Cardamom- NO Jira or pepper powder).
  9. Last but never the least- Serve it with LOVE.

I am sure you all will enjoy it……Unlimited Love is the best Spice to make your food tasty and flavorful.

To the change all so sudden!

The new masked normal

Change of the old world order, leaving behind the good old things, a strong feeling of nostalgia for the days gone by, had prompted me to start this blog. In The Retro FeelingI had mourned that change, tried in my small way to build conversations around certain things or traditions that we have left behind – be it letters, radio, AIR or the old ways of love and romance. I have always felt that in our mad rush to embrace the future we may have let the past slip away and with that a bit of us. It is important to look back from time to time and reclaim those little things or ideas that were once part of us, that we miss dearly in our fast-paced life. I have always believed, as far as possible we should carry forward bits and pieces that once mattered to us, that could add value or a different dimension to our modern world.

But then, as I was looking back and moving forward, the year 2020 stunned me. Brought life to a standstill before changing it completely, don’t know for how long. The unprecedented crisis in form COVID 19 (COVID 20 would sound more apt) that the year brought forth has disrupted every bit of our lives. First, we stopped shaking hands. Warm hugs or jadu ki jhappi were abandoned for the love and the warmth could be loaded with virus. People won’t bless you anymore if you sneeze in public, rather they would call authorities on you. And of course, we have stopped picking our nose or licking our fingers because of the complicated process of sanitization involved. No matter what we do, the virus might be lurking in some corner of our nails.

We may not blow the candles on our birthday cakes ever again. Social kissing or air-kissing is an absolute no-no. We startle if someone rings the doorbell, welcome our guests with sanitizers, soaps and masked smile. We don’t know when we will use lipstick again, or it may just go out of fashion. It’s now trendy to carry extra masks and sanitizers, nobody bothers about anything else. I am quite sure designer lines of face masks, veils and sanitizer pouches would be hitting the market soon. When I watch a show on Netflix or any other platform, feels like I have been transported to a different time. It would feel much more real if the characters had mask on and frequently sanitized their hands. People hanging in the bars or coffee shops, hugging and kissing, maintaining no social distancing seem so bizarre. 

The amazing spatter man Satish Shah, cast as the Professor in the Hindi blockbuster Main Hoon Na, who talked less and sprayed his spit more, will not evoke laughter anymore. Not just his students, even the audience might leave the theatre, such is the fear of Corona. But then who knows when the students will go back to their classrooms, or when we will be able to enjoy a movie in theatres. Currently, films are being released on OTT platforms. 

The deadly COVID that crippled our lives and economies has done some good. Nature is cheering, our cities are cleaner, and spitting has finally become an offence in India. For many Indians who loved to mark their territory by spitting all around that must be quite upsetting. 

But what we have lost is so much more. The simple pleasures of walking into a coffee shop or dropping in for a beer. Singing aloud happy birthday, blowing candles, and passing the cake around. The impromptu parties, the dinner dates, the weekend getaways…Seems so far away now, god knows when we can reclaim a little bit of those good old days!

Life will change- Life will change forever by Titas Mazumdar

Katha as a baby

The phone is ringing

The doorbell is chiming

The dryer is busy

The microwave is dinging

Toys on the floor

Chocos on the bed  

both of you all over the place

Welcome to parenthood and nothing can be more thrilling than this roller coaster ride!

The day this friend cum sister of mine announced her good news to me with sparkle and excitement in her eyes, I wanted to hold her hand tightly and tell her so many things. I wanted to let her know that life will never be like before again. It will change forever.

– No more sleeping till 11’o clock on Saturdays and Sundays

– No more spontaneous vacations, night outs and bag pack trips

I wanted my friend to know that her physical wounds of childbearing will heal soon but that becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound that she will be vulnerable forever. I wanted to warn her that she will never read a newspaper again without asking,” what if that had been my child?”

That plane crash, that fire, road accident, that rape, that gunshot at any corner of the world will haunt her more than before. Yes, she will change forever – her life will change forever. The well-dressed corporate friend of mine didn’t know that the day her child will be sick she will forget to brush her hair while rushing off to work for an important business meeting which she cannot avoid.

I wanted to scream loud and tell her that it will take years to balance between her career and her newborn. She will juggle with her life between work and home. But eventually, she will know the real meaning and art of multitasking.

Her carefully manicured nails will break, her beautiful party wear will be peed upon, and there will be days she will forget to put her night cream, she will go days without a pedicure and a nail paint. But she will never ever regret.

She will be gaining PhD on the colour, density, consistency and smell of your baby’s poop and what health indication does it bring.  She will eventually shed all her extra baby pounds and her stretch marks will be gone but she will never be the same carefree girl again. She will wear with pride her dark circles, her tired eyes, her C-section cuts because her life so important to her now will be less worth to her once she holds that tiny soul in her arms.

I wanted to tell her that even her relationship with her husband will change forever. He will not remain the boy whom she loved and married once upon a time. He will now be a father to her child. She will now love him more for reasons unknown. She will fall for him once again seeing him feeding her baby, changing a diaper and cleaning the tiny one. The bond which they share now will strengthen even more.

Their reasons of fight will all change, they will no longer fight over the number of cigarettes he smoked or shots he took in a party, or fight over a choice of restaurant, or selection of food or movie. They will fight over which brand of Cerelac to give to the baby, the diaper which got the rashes, or which sports to enroll in the school. Yes, now everything will revolve around the baby

Both of them will not remain the same person, they will now be a mom and a dad. Eventually they will forget that they actually had a life which they enjoyed together before the baby was born. Having said all these, it’s a  wonderful journey which no parent regrets, it called the  journey of  parenthood…And once you step in there is just no U-turn , no turning back , no shortcuts ,no absconding , you walk your path till you die. It’s definitely worth a try.

Life will change…Life will change forever!

Love Potion

A magical concoction that is meticulously brewed with rare ingredients to make your cherished one fall hopelessly in love with you. I once read so many stories and fairy tales where a fairy or a witch or some other magical creature would grant that love potion, after much persuasion, to the desperate lover boy or the lovelorn lass, so they can win over the one that they so desire.

Image courtesy vectorstock.com

The idea of love potion has always intrigued me. Fictional it may be, stuff that fairy tales are made off, but is it possible to make someone fall love with you – just a spoon of love potion to be mixed in the drink and the one you love will be yours forever. And if magical potions make love possible, it that ‘love’ really worth the effort? These questions bothered me even as a girl. ‘Mythological bullshit it is,’ I told myself dismissively, but the idea stayed with me and the many questions.

One reason could be my love for fairy tales – fairy godmothers, magic wands, fairy dust, one swish of wand making everything possible. Cinderella turns into a princess and finds her prince charming, the magic fades though and the prince knows her no more. It takes determination of the prince who had fallen in love with Cinderella and a little bit of magic, the magical slipper, to bring them together. I could live with a little magic when heart is in the right place. Often wished for a fairy godmother, or a Gennie to take me to a wonderland or even help me with daily chores. I know that’s not possible, but no harm dreaming. A few strokes of fantasy to add intriguing hues to otherwise humdrum life!

But love potions? Doesn’t that go against the rules of magic – for magic cannot make anyone fall in love with you, it says. Magic also cannot bring back the dead or change the past. Thank god love potions are just fantastical, or who knows in one of those weak moments when I was helplessly in love, I may have been tempted to try some such magical potion on the person I so desired then. For love does make you do crazy things at times!

But then, imagine my surprise, when I learnt that for many love potions are for real. There are even recipes available online that are supposedly ‘safe, simple and powerful.’ Do people really try those recipes? I hope not. I can live with food or fruits that are aphrodisiacs, but love potion goes against the very idea of love. After having loved and lost and loved again, the only thing I know for sure is that no magic or miracle or love potion will work when it comes to making someone fall in love with you or making love work. The very idea that I would need love potion to win someone’s love is kind of humiliating.  Love is magical only when it’s voluntary, for it takes a lot of effort to keep that magic alive!

The only love potion that works is the one that’s brewed within, the nervousness that we feel in the pit of our stomach in those early days of love, or the calm contentment of mature love, that can turn even a cup of coffee into love potion. Sometimes magic fades, the potion loses its power, it’s best to let go then, rather than desperately concoct some magical tonic to hold on to love that may have run its course!

My Kitchen Garden with the help of those tiny hands by Titas Mazumdar

Working Mom – isn’t it always a big challenge? The guilt of not able to give enough time to your little ones, and the fear of not creating enough childhood memories. I am no different and not free from those guilts. I keep on brainstorming and engaging my little time after work and weekend with my daughter with a lot of creative stuff like DIY projects, best out of waste, bottle painting, soap making and the list goes on and on. The best one which is also a stress buster for me is gardening with the help of those tiny hands.

I always dreamt of having my own vegetable garden but never had the luck of staying on the ground floor to grow my own, but as the saying goes, where there is a will there is a way. Luckily, I am blessed with 4 big terraces that prompted me to take up terrace farming. I realized that’s the best way to keep my little one engaged and create some childhood memories for her.

YouTube is my best teacher; yes there ought to be couple of hits and misses but I never lose hope and faith, and always remember there are no gardening mistakes but only experiments. These video and tips help me a lot in my journey of building my terrace garden. I never buy seeds from market, I use vegetable seeds, shoots, cuttings to grow my veggies. Pumpkin, bitter gourd and watermelon are the easiest to grow, they have never failed me. I let my daughter pick the fat healthy seeds from these fruits and allow her to sprinkle them all around. The excitement in those tiny eyes to see the seeds sprouting is unfathomable. Within few weeks tender leaves comes out and within a month, if the soil is healthy enough, the plants start flowering. 

There is also another very interesting aspect when you are farming at home with your kids. I introduced her to the concept of photosynthesis, pollination, male and female flowers and fertilization. It’s very easy to identify male and female flowers in these melon category plants. Many a times male and female flowers are out of proportion in numbers and hence I use hand pollination (Remember those 80s Hindi movies 🙂 and hand pollination does help too, got quite a good result from it. Trust me growing a kitchen garden with my daughter has been so much fun!

Freshly grown tomatoes

After successful fertilization, the wait time is a little longer as the fruits grow slowly at their own pace. Bitter gourd can be harvested quickly within a couple of weeks but pumpkin and watermelon take more than three months to grow to full size. It’s a different kind of pleasure growing your own fruits and vegetables, though in a small quantity, the satisfaction is immense. Someone rightly said growing your own food is like printing your own Money 🙂

We bongs cook almost every part of the plant, say for example the leaves of bitter gourd are used with lentil paste for fritters, we eat flowers of Pumpkin plant dipped into gram flour paste and deep fried, the leaves and vegetables go with mixed vegetable curry in mustard and poppy seed paste.  I even wrap mustard coated fish in pumpkin leaves and steam it. It’s one of my family delicacies. Serving something on table from your kitchen garden is indeed tastier and healthier.

The most exciting part is when you use your vegetable waste/throw away to grow your garden. This year late winter I planted the throw away stem of a market bought cabbage, and guess what – I was gifted by nature with three medium size cabbages. One point I have noted in my last 2 years of terrace farming, you cannot expect market size from you own kitchen garden. I think one reason might be I grow in pot, ground produces a better size and secondly, I don’t use market fertilizers, it’s completely organic. I use my own fertilizers. I use fish water, egg shell, used tea leaves and coffee powder. I have two compost makers; all my kitchen waste goes there and after couple of months I get home made organic fertilizer. If you have plants you are sure to invite few pest guests too. Easy solution to keep unwanted guests out from your garden is spray diluted Neem oil with water and a spoon of Shampoo.

Pickle with home grown chillies

Garden has a tremendous healing power on a stressful and tiring day, it soothes me and relaxes my nerves. Last year I planted a Mango, Avocado, Guava tree. This year Guava plant blossomed with 25 beautiful hairy white flowers, almost 15 flowers turned into fruits but heavy wind and birds didn’t allow to grow into full size. I am just left with a few now. Lesson learnt for next year, I have to create some shade for my guava plant. I have a 6-year-old a different breed of a lemon plant (We call it Gandhoraj Lemon- King of fragrance in Bengal). This plant is yet to bear fruit but so what, I use its flavorful leaves in my Thai & Malaysian Curries and Bengali daal. It tastes heavenly.

Pasta is my daughter’s favorite and what can be tastier than making your pasta from hand-picked basils from your garden. Two varieties of basil Sweet Basil and Thai basil grows in my pot round the year for all my Southeast Asian and Italian dishes. 

Ajwain plant is another low maintenance herb and easy to grow from stems and has immense health benefit. I use thick green succulent Ajwain leaves for making Chai, Pakora, Paratha and Daal. Tomatoes and chilies will never upset you; these gorgeous sexy reds enhance the beauty of my kitchen garden.

Katha with cabbage 🙂

I also try my hands in microgreens, they are full of nutrition and gives results in just 3 to 4 days. Salad lovers will love microgreens of Moong, Methi (Fenugreek), Mustard and many more. That’s again another kind of gardening, can be very easily grown even in dark corners of your kitchen engaging your little ones. And the best part is, the kids cannot say “No” to what they have grown, even the pickiest eaters fall into the prey of their own kitchen garden and start eating veggies. Isn’t it a win-win situation for the mommies?

Titas is a banker, a mom, passionate about gardening and cooking. Look out for her next post on the many delicacies that she dishes with the yields from her kitchen garden.