Chorus

The “Me too” waves were reaching the shore,
Hush, they said, make noise no more.
The child is sleeping , don’t wake her up,
For she doesn’t know that she can join the hub.

Two frail hands raised, as she cried “Me too”,
I looked around and saw a face of sixty-two.
Oh quiet lady your story has passed expiry date,
She would not know the beginning itself was late.

That girl sleeping on the streets every night,
She did not know “Me too” was a fight.
The village homes, the urban flats,
Who is counting the the “Me too” stats.

They sat huddled under the red light,
Their glittering dresses telling of their plight.
Their chorus whisper was turning pretty loud,
Were they entitled to join the “Me too” crowd.

We are sorry, we took time to speak,
We are sorry, our strength was bleak.
In collective voice we gather strength,
We forgot to measure time’s wave length.

We will not justify reasons for the delay,
For it is not a game of sprint or relay.
Look into our eyes and own up guilt,
Let us see your manhood wilt.

Me too is not a voice or a body shamed,
Me too is in our mind of a face unnamed.
Me too is a call to twist the hand that caused us pain,
Me too is a mission to obliterate our mental stain.
Me too is not a fashionable trend setter,
Me too is not to make the women feel better.
Me too is a story to be told.
By the most powerful and the bold.

Advertisements

I want to go but can not go

I want to go but can not go

The escape route is narrow

There is but just one hurdle

The one they all call sorrow

My shackles are not longings or desire
My wings are trimmed but not on fire.
I want to go but can not go
I am not waiting for any tomorrow.
The sun comes nonetheless
To lighten up the darkness
But the tease of the abysmal fear
Is fathomless and beyond repair.
I want to go but can not go
The captive lives within my self
The guiding torch is not of help
Was it your shadow on the floor
Was it a knock on the door
Dreams and illusions are on repeat
Like the cacophony of a silent drum beat.
I want to go but can not go
Like water that runs with the flow
For the coming was not of my choice
My screams can die within my voice
When the exit doors are closing on me
I know someday I will be eternally free.

“Not to admire, is all the Art I know”

BeFunky-collage.jpg

The city of Kolkata was getting dressed with lights, bamboo pandal structures, hoardings, happy faces and all the other ingredients of festivity. And amidst this fervor of preparations to welcome Ma Durga, I was packing my bags to leave Kolkata. This feeling was somewhat like getting a ticket for the show, entering the theater, seeing the stage, and then having to come out before the show began. So what do I do, I plan to visit the green room itself. The green room of Bengal’s biggest religious show is called Kumortuli. In Bangla, Kumor is the person who gives shape to clay and Tuli is where people live as a small community. In the by lanes of north Kolkata there live the Kumors, the skillful artisans of Bengal and the place is known as Kumortuli. Long before the shiuli blooms or the kash turns marshy lands into golden yellow the Kumors of Kumortuli start kneading clay. BeFunky-collage_2Their hands give shape to Durga Protima ( the idol) and soon mere clay becomes Goddess. In the green rooms of the theater the make up artists dress up men and women to play their part of make belief on stage. And in this green room of Kumortuli the Kumors were making the Gods ready to play their part on the stage called Pujo Mandap. The audience in both the theaters perhaps want the same, the escape from reality for a few hours or days, to look in amazement at the stage and believe in the unbelievable. I stood transfixed in front of the men at work. Hours of bending painfully to give the Gods a human form, to get the perfect stroke of brush on each protima, to bring that hint of a smile on the Goddesses’ face, to fill with light and depth those soul searching eyes, it is a craft indeed and something more surreal. Who is the creator after all was a silent question that kept enveloping my mind as I walked through those lanes of Kumortuli. The artisans of Kumortuli are simple, poor, seasonal wage earners. Their homes and studios (quite a fancy word for such work place) reflect the simplicity and poverty of its dwellers. The houses had not been painted in years, the electrical wires overhead were all tangled up but surprisingly did supply electricity. I thought to myself that true genius thus resides in this maze of lanes and by lanes, hiding their poverty in the sheer brilliance of creativity. They are not celebrated everyday, but the yearly recognition of their craft, the coverage by news channels and print media gives them some borrowed time of celebrity status . Their hand to mouth existence does bring to mind some pertinent questions but nothing so strong that cannot get blinded by the dazzle of the flashbulbs! The constant stream of visitors, tourists and locals alike, capturing the images, colors, and work-in-progress moments brings a smile on their faces. Ask them once, and they willingly allow you to take pictures. After posing for the camera they get back to their work with undivided attention. I come back home filled with images both in my mind and in my camera. This year when I will stand in front of Ma Durga with folded hands and chant ” Rupam Dehi, Jasho Dehi ” my mind will certainly pause and think of the Kumors of Kumortuli.

BeFunky-collage_3

The French Leave

The memories of my ‘French leave’ need to be penned down before I accidentally delete them like I recently deleted many precious photographs from my phone. It has been almost a year and some names and sights have already started fading . Moreover,a few of my good meaning friends and my all time guardian, my son, have started teasing me for this French leave I have taken of my blog. So without further procrastination let the recall begin.

The first thing I remember is that my brain had started making some serious noise about Nice. It was in love with the ‘ thought of this place’ as seen in the picture postcards , but the pronunciation was baffling my wits to no end. Before I started confusing my niece as nice or Nice as Niece (which is the correct pronunciation) I did some nice retrospection on my obsession with the word. Nice, Nice, Nice, three little words, spells the same, and then the story begins ! ‘Nice an over used adjective, and a lazy adjective’ ( quoting an Irish nun from a prehistoric year and age of my school days, somehow the quote has stayed on). ‘Nice’ is also my all time favorite biscuit, those thin crispy rectangles with sugar sprinkled on top and a steaming cup of coffee , simply irresistible but not a subject to write about . And then this invitation from a place called Nice. A city by the Mediterranean in the south of France with its pebbled beaches kept calling out to me-a home bird living by the Arabian Sea. When a place calls out to you so ardently  and you want to make it your next holiday destination I indeed take it as a sign and as an ‘invitation’ from the place itself !

Planning for a family holiday takes days of research about the place and things to see and do. The family’s  holiday dates need to be coordinated, the best deal in flight tickets and hotel reservations to be zeroed in, and only then the final itinerary of a travel plan takes shape. In my family we are four people staying in different cities most of the time, therefore any holiday planning involves a number of Skype calls, conference calls, arguments, angry words, tears, smiles, giving up on the whole plan, and making it all over again. The whole drama has to be enacted scene by scene before we reach a conclusive agreement of sorts. On such occasions one can easily rename my family as ‘The Drama Company’. This time around,even after all the meticulous planning, my husband had to back out from the trip due to unavailability of leave. For getting a French Leave is not in his job description. Chalk and Cheese ( that is him and me) had never been separated on a foreign holiday before, but the children had already got their leaves sanctioned thus Cheese packed her bags and smiled in anticipation for a week in the French Riviera ,one of the best holiday destinations on the globe.

December 23. Day 1.
The pilot husband drove his son and wife to the airport, walked with us up to the security check in gate and waved a cheerful bye and turned around to go back home. No emotions wasted in goodbyes on his side but with my cheese like character my heart melted to say this goodbye. In an uneventful flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt my son and I caught up on some sleep time. Our plane landed at Frankfurt airport at 8.30am on 23 rd December. Our connecting flight to Nice had taken off from Frankfurt airport at 8.25am without a mother-son duo. My initial reaction was of  helpless panic and exclaims. But to my surprise my son looked pretty calm ( a little amused too) and in control of the situation.  After  some anxious moments ( only on my mind) we decided to approach those good-looking , smartly dressed boys and girls behind the counters to give us what we needed next,some information, a fresh boarding pass for another flight and food coupons to calm our frayed nerves. The next connecting flight was after twelve hours by the clock. “The Terminal ” experience, though not quite in  the Tom Hanks way, taught us a lot about airports,how chaos and efficiency run side by side, how passengers from everywhere have the same anxious expressions, how waiting is a fun game for the children in their play zones, how the luxurious stores tempts you to become a shopaholic, in short no experience goes wasted if the story-teller in you is awake. We waited for twelve hours and then flew for an hour and half to reach Nice. Meanwhile my daughter had flown in from New York to Nice , she had done her bit of sightseeing over the day and  had come to the airport to welcome us to France. Our  delay had not only taken away a whole day of our itinerary but had also made us miss our dinner reservations at the Negresco. Even though I know little about international cuisine, but missing a dinner date has never been my style. Planning is imperative in every sphere of life, and to keep the date the flight always has to be on time !

December 24. Day 2.

Nice

I opened my eyes to a gorgeous morning by the Mediterranean, the French Riviera experience was about to begin. From every turn of the road it seemed as though the picture postcard of my dreams had come to life, the skies so blue and the ocean sparkling in its reflecting glory, and the white pebbled beaches , all so perfect and pristine. Nice was beautifully dressed up for Christmas. In the center of the old city there was a big Christmas market , this was like our desi mela but with a different flavor.  I loved seeing all the colorful flowers, the food stalls selling food which I had neither seen or tasted before, there were other shops selling so many attractive items of which some things we bought and some things we just admired.  Christmas trees adorned gardens and parks, every home’s windows and doors  were decorated with mistletoes. Small green hills more like plateaus with steps leading up to them, sea gulls perched on street lamps, winding roads, cafes to sit by the lanes,  all this and more made me fall in love with Nice forever.  I made a mental note to come back to this magic once more with my pilot. The children had planned to sit and eat lunch by the sea. Looking into the ocean just a few feet away, sipping wine, biting into the best served sea food and the pebbled beach beneath our feet, was an experience that would stay on for years. There were no chartered buses to take us to places,  no tourist guide to guide us, we chose to walk the streets of the city, take turns, enter lanes, stop by coffee shops, and make our own map of Nice.  We sat on a hill-top and saw the stars filling up the night sky as evening set in Nice. My children planned to catch the ” Star Wars” movie at a local theater, and I chose to linger a little longer on the streets of Nice, waiting for the night, waiting to see the city twinkle with both the stars in the skies and the ones down below. The stars perhaps are never at war, it is for us to change perspective and to see them in a different light at every turn of destiny.

December 25. Day 3.

Antibes.PNGAntibes, was our next planned destination . It is an old-fashioned small town of the Riviera, situated between Nice and Monaco. From Nice station we booked train tickets with validity for the entire day. It was Christmas Day, the sun was out and shining when we reached Antibes. As we walked out of the rail station, into the streets of Antibes what seemed very unusual was the quiet all around. It seemed as though some dream fairy had put the whole town to sleep with her magic wand. There were very few people on the streets, the shop windows were down, the doors of houses were shut, the parks had fairy lights and Christmas trees, but not a soul around. The emptiness added to the charm of this old medieval port city. It seemed we had entered a story book of beautiful places and could walk and run and play every where with no one to see us. We went to see the famous Picasso museum but  Mr. Picasso’s doors were closed as well, but I was happy just to see his home from outside . This beautiful sea-side town had inspired the artist to make so many priceless paintings. And today as though by some magic we were the only people in this sleeping town to absorb all the beauty with our thirsty eyes . Not a tourist or any local people were in sight as we walked through the ports, we saw many a hundred yachts  parked and there were no gates to keep people away. With child like glee we planned  about owning some of the best ones and sailing deep into the sea. The lanes of Antibes were completely ours for that one winter morning, we walked, we paused, we saw, we admired, and we loved every bit of it. We loved this medieval small town so much in such a short time, that it made us sad to say goodbye to it so soon. We could not wait for the town to wake up for we had to be on our way to Cannes. Cannes -the style destination of the filmy divas – was just a five minutes train ride away from Antibes. In Cannes we found what we missed in Antibes, people ! Local people and tourists were all around on the streets of Cannes. Like every other tourist we too indulged ourselves by standing on the red carpet and posing for photos. We climbed  a hill-top to find some quiet and to take in the view of the whole city from a bird’s eye view. The sun was setting somewhere far and a train was waiting for us to take us back to Nice for another night in the dream city. I knew that the beauty of closed doors and empty alleys of a sleeping sea side town would stay with me much more than the red carpet glitterati from the city of international film festivals. We all get to choose in life what makes us rich and how we value that wealth ; our memories are made up of our best loved moments no matter how short-lived they had been.

December 26. Day 4.
Monaco.PNGMonaco is the second smallest country in the world, and Monte Carlo is its capital, our fourth day itinerary was to spend a day in Monte Carlo. The weather meanwhile had changed to dark and gloomy. The bright sun of the previous day had hidden behind dark threatening clouds. Monte Carlo ‘is a small and rich city’, that was my first impression of the city. The people, their style, the stores, the palace, every step in that little place spelt ‘plenty’. On such moments the poverty of my own country stands out in stark contrast, but we are a vast country, and in every sphere of life, size does matter ! We saw the casino where James Bond had gambled with swag, but we neither had time, money or the swag for indulgence. Though there was a palace in Monte Carlo, the doors were not open to the tourists. The thundering clouds of the morning had turned into a thunderstorm, and to stay dry from the rains we entered the world beneath the waters, that is the famous Oceanography museum of Monte Carlo.  An hour or more blissfully passed with the underwater friends keeping us dry. Monaco’s biggest Cathedral is the church of the Grimaldi dynasty. All cathedrals over the world have a distinguishing character, some in its art form, some in its architectural magnificence. I walk through the cathedral gazing at the marvel of art and architecture , a humbling silence envelopes the atmosphere all around. This humbling silence I suppose is common for all cathedrals, the presence of that power where we must bow at least once in a life time. We often get blinded in life either by dazzle or by absolute darkness. But when the mist clears we get to see the drift of things. As though symbolically after a whole day of clouds and rain the sky cleared up when we stepped out of the Grimaldi Cathedral and sighted the most spectacular double rainbow, a full rainbow had encompassed the sky and the shadow of the rainbow in the oceans below made it look like a full circle. Some views leave you spell-bound for days and you know that you are willing  to come back to this very same place again and again just to witness the magic once more. It is always worth the wait for the silver lining from behind the cloud to appear and fill us with light, or else we may never know what colors awaits us in that rainbow of life !

December 27. Day 5.
WhatsApp Image 2018-09-15 at 19.25.55On day five it was our time to say bye to Nice and take a train ride to Avignon. We changed trains once at Marseille and reached Avignon by noon.Tugging and heaving with two heavy suitcases and two smaller bags ( mostly carried by the children) we reached a city which is part of the famous Provence region of France. During the period from 1309 to 1376 seven successive popes had resided in Avignon ,all under the influence of the French Crown. To know about the history of a place and to see the place with your present day sensibilities are two different things. I had seen Vatican before, and now standing in Avignon I thought how the popes too had to abandon their place of residence due to politics of the rulers, or it would not be incorrect to say that the popes too were part of the politics. Politics ,power and religion have surely been the strangest bed fellows for centuries.  We had chosen a hotel in the old city of Avignon, with the palace of the popes, the church all within walking distance. I could almost imagine history walking on those cobbled stoned roads on which we are treading even today.  Close to our hotel was a beautiful broken bridge which was either left unfinished, or broken by the raging waters of the river. Standing on that bridge that evening we saw another sun set, the moon rising slowly and an evening melting into night. I wondered of the popes who would have seen this beauteous sun set from this very town, miles away from home ( Vatican), just like me. Centuries stand between history and us, but the past is kept alive through the centuries by our desire to know and understand the pages of history !

December 28. Day 6.
20171229_123459.jpgThe next day in Avignon was spent discovering the city of lavender ( not in season though). Like a huge pandora ‘s box the city shops had opened their doors to the tourists. And we felt as though we were playing around in a maze. We walked through lanes and saw shops selling chocolates, candy, candles, soaps, wooden toys, postcards, books, linen, dainty aprons, so much more and the theme that ruled in all the merchandise was lavender, either in fragrance or in embroidery or colors or pictures. Wonderful French wine and bread kept our spirits going all through the day. There was much more to be seen of the Provence panorama, but we did not have the luxury of time. And when the time comes we all must exit, walking on bridges not knowing where the road will take us, yet the journey continues !

December 29. Day 7.

whatsapp-image-2018-09-15-at-19-26-37.jpeg

The year was coming to an end and so was our week long vacation by the French Riviera. The weather was challenging our tropical bones every day. Cold winds, occasional drizzles and the sun often hiding behind dark clouds made me shiver each time I had to step foot out doors. Like an old grandmother I looked for the warmth of fire places every time we entered any place to have a meal. The children on the other hand were brimming with energy and warmth. The train to Marseille traversed through some very scenic countrysides.  Keeping the weather and time constraints in mind we had booked tickets for the hop-on and hop-off city tour buses for day sight seeing at Marseille.  It was a double decker bus and the children went up the stairs to get the best view possible, whereas I settled in the lower deck with my scarf around my neck and trying to keep myself warm. The view of the city from the Notredame church was like looking down at all things beautiful all at once. On one side was the vast ocean with big and small boats sailing, the city looked perfect with the old and new world charm interwoven in complete harmony.  At that height the wind was blowing harshly trying to throw us off balance but we stood transfixed taking in the beauty all around. Marseille, a very popular tourist destination, was one of the last places we saw before winding  up our journey from the French Reviera . In our bags we had collected gifts from Provence for our friends back home. And in our hearts we had collected memories to keep reminding us of a holiday so special. The wind, the chill, the rains, none could break our spirit, for we were resilient travelers, determined to complete the journey we had begun.

December 30. Day 8.

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-15 at 20.01.57
From the French country the mother-daughter duo flew together to New York. And the son returned back home to India , to his father, just in time to bring in the new year together. I entered a snow covered New York City, my daughter’s  home away from home, and mine too for the days to come. The next day was 31st December, the time to change the calendar once more. It is not the dates, or geographical boundaries that make any day special, it is that little light of hope within us that awaits for new beginnings at every turn .Holidays are like living a life of fairytale, almost on borrowed time and borrowed places. Fortunate are those who can travel, and blessed are those who can unravel the  travel, making the journey a way of life !

Tenancy Laws

Tenancy Laws.jpg

“Don’t push you chair back, it will spoil the wall ” said a house owner of a Versova flat we had gone to see. I was caught in a haIf sitting position and almost winced an ‘ouch’ before smiling back politely. No, the wall did not have fresh paint on it. Some people like their four walls spotless and I do not judge them. But for me to live in a house with two teenagers and spotless walls was a definite no. Though the house offered a glimpse of the sea from it’s kitchen window, we chose to choose a house which we could make a home. My sea-view apartment dream has still not seen the dawn, but in it’s quest I have managed to learn quite a few by laws of the tenancy laws and some life lessons too.

My in-laws were the only ‘laws’ I had known in my life till we reached Mumbai some fourteen years back. The only similarity between the in-laws and the tenancy laws being that I get to enter a new house (where terms and conditions apply) courtesy those ‘laws’. But tenancy laws (especially the ones which are not written on those fine lines of agreement papers) are the most difficult set of rules to adhere, understand and deal with.

I learnt the difference between landowner and licensor, and of the tenant and the licensee. Our new identity was of a licensee who lives in the house of the licensor. Just when I start to understand the simple equation of a family needing a house to live and another family wanting to put their property on rent, a third and most vital character enters the story, he/ she is called a broker. The director and producer, that’s the owner and I have to take back seat for the broker. He is the legitimate script writer of my story ‘hunted-house’. He is the bridge between the director and producer. One has to give credit where it is due, the broker does a lot of house hunting before he is ready to show you some half a dozen empty flats. Mr. Broker has the keys to multiple flats, the doors to which open like Khul ja sim sim, and you get a peekaboo into these houses. They are mostly empty, dusty rooms, which makes me feel very lost and confused. The idea of making these houses my ‘home’ seems very remote on these visits. I want to be in anyplace but this, but this is a transitory feeling in fear of displacement. After the first few times I pretend to have gotten used to the idea of displacement. Once we had walked into a flat where a window had been kept open and some two dozen pigeons had already made it home much before us. Another house we saw was totally furnished, even with crockery, utensils, and furnishings. The owner insisted that we bring in only our suitcases with us and live in like you do in a service apartment. But alas, my attachments to all my earthly possessions, (aka linen, glasses, pans-pots, books, boxes, wall pieces,etc) stopped me from entering a house without them. One owner refused to take away his name plate from the entrance, and we insisted on having ours put up, both forgetting the famous bard’s line “What’s in a name? ”

After seeing several houses one realization dawned is that the trick is in letting the mind win over the heart. You have to learn to look hard with a trained eye to see damp walls covered with fresh coat of distemper, sliding windows that don’t always slide, termites hiding behind bathroom mirrors and pelmets that may fall off at the sight of curtains. The list is long but not listed in any contract paper.  I have acquired all this experience over a decade of being a licensee in this mega city of dreams. My husband had done the ground work of renting our first flat in Mumbai all by himself, while the rest of the family were sitting like nawabs in our nawabo ki nagri, Lucknow. Therefore, moving into our first flat in Mumbai had left us without any experience of house-hunt.

Monsoon was drowning the city the year we landed in Mumbai. Like an eager gypsy I had looked down at the city from the plane window with dreams in my eyes to see the place where I could make my own ‘ashiyaan’.  The blue plastic sheets over the roofs of Mumbai slums (the first glimpse of Mumbai from air) did not look anything like a dream. My Urdu sensibilities of ‘ashiyaan‘ jerked aside sighting ‘jhopar patti’ nestling comfortably all around Chatrapati Shivaji Airport.   “Life in this city would not be cake walk” my pounding heart told me as our taxi drove through crawling, rain-soaked traffic towards our new address. My still young children were trying to explain to me the meaning of BHK, a term they had just been introduced to. A definition of BHK, bedroom, hall and kitchen, marked your space in this apartment city. A four BHK would mean super luxury, a three BHK spelled very spacious, a two BHK meant comfort and one BHK was economy. I already knew that in the days to come I would be getting sad and miss my last house with a lawn, backyard, kitchen garden, and the big rooms for my children to run around and play hide and seek. But for now, I had to learn to play hide and seek with my emotions and practicality.

Our first rented house was a comfortable three BHK, but my nine-year-old son had exclaimed the cliche that first day, ” Ma why does the house end here? ” on entering the third room! Growing up in spacious government quarters till then, his understanding of four walls was much more expansive than what he was seeing in the ten feet by twelve feet master bedroom.  And why blame the child alone, we all missed our old home very dearly, but it was time for fresh perspective. The sliding windows of the flat kept injuring my fingers for some time, and then I learnt to slide the windows without hurting inside-out. The house owners of our first house in Mumbai were an elderly couple and in the years that we lived in their house bonded us like family and changed our relationship from licensor/ licensee to uncle-aunty / beta-beti. There are laws above tenancy laws, the laws of human bonding, of love and compassion.

From one lease period to the other we will keep finding a new home for ourselves. Maybe the larger picture is for me to understand that nothing that you own or assume to be your own is yours in reality. The bundle which I can hold within my heart and hand is perhaps all I need for a fulfilling life. Could not end this note without quoting these favorite lines which so beautifully sum up the story of our existence.

Time you old gypsy man , 
Will you not stay, 
Put up your caravan 
Just for one day. 

Last week in Babylon,
Last night in Rome, 
Morning, and in the crush
Under Paul’ s dome;
Under Paul’s dial 
You tighten your rein-
Only a moment,
And off once again;
Off to some city
Now blind in the womb, 
Off to another 
Ere that’s in the tomb.

Ralph Hodgson

What Does A Calendar Say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lone calendar on the wall fluttered with the fan’s breeze with February (page) flying and March (page) peeping from beneath. I looked at the calendar, almost willing it to stop that rhythmic, irritating flutter. The search for a clip to hold the pages together seemed like too much task, and to let the mind fly away without any clipping, an all time favorite indulgence! I kept staring at the fluttering pages of the calendar and could see the months flying by year after year, till on every 31st December a new calendar replaced the old. Wall Calendars are no more a common feature to see. Perhaps it will only be a matter of time for this time keeper of days and dates to vanish completely from our walls.The walls crumble around me taking with it’s crumbling plaster so many things from the yesteryear. From marking days on the cave walls to hand held phones marking our every step we have come a long long way indeed. The digital calendar on our mobile phones has smartly replaced the wall calendar, it manages all the tasks from showing dates to setting reminders and is available at a finger’s tap ,anytime, anywhere. The generation next don’t much care for the calendar on the wall or table, like many things lost and forgotten the wall calendar will also be gone sooner than later. But from the time I belong the wall calendars in each home had a story to tell.

What does a calendar say about us ? A lot indeed, for it hangs on our walls for three hundred and sixty five days. It has seen us talk, sleep, wake,laugh, quarrel, cry. It has seen us in our most intimate moments, it has been the testimony of our days and weeks, and at times lived on beyond the year end . Calendars with their photos, the holidays and festivals, speak of our religious identity, our national identity, our social identity. Calendars were reminders of important dates and activities, calendars were planners for vacations, calendars were dead line setters for exam preparation; the calendar used to be all this and also a piece to adorn our walls with lovely photographs.

The lone calendar on my wall ( behind the bedroom door) of 2017 has this beautiful picture of Lord Ganesha. Does this speak about my love and devotion to Ganpati Bappa ? Both yes and no, it could as well be a picture of Jesus or Buddha. The calendar came to my house not for it’s religious significance . But this calendar, on further observation can divulge many other personal facts about me. Number one being my desperate need to have a one page calendar at home. I am one of those few people who still love marking dates on the calendar, making plans seeing those dates, and referring to a calendar for many small and big purposes. The second thing this calendar reveals is that it is from a medical store in Kolkata. Therefore I must have bought medicines from there at some point to have been gifted this calendar. The second calendar in picture shows a helicopter. It is an absolute favorite of mine. To me it represents my husband’s profession and the pride I take for his military services. This calendar is to be earned, not bought, adding a timeless value to it. And yes, this calendar speaks to me in many languages through many memories. The military core, the banks, post offices, railways, airlines,some education institutions, still come out with yearly calendars for their employees. All the calendars have not yet gone missing with digitization.Some calendars stay with us beyond date ,month and year, such is the power of the mind, and my fascination for calendars.

I have this vivid memory of my grand parents bedroom wall where hanged an one page wall calendar with the photo of Ramkrishna Paramhansa. It stayed there for years, never giving away space to a new calendar, or did they get an identical calendar every year ?The half shut eyes of Ramkrishna with a gentle smile on his lips (was the smile only in my imagination, I forget), was the first sight to greet on entering their room. I think this calendar had moved on from being a calendar to an image of the God man they worshiped. It spoke about their faith, their need to look at this image in particular every day of their lives. I have seen similar Ramkrishna photo calendars in many Bengali homes later on in life and came to realize that it is a quintessentially Bengali thing to have at home. A few volumes of Tagore’s work, a Ramkrishna calendar, Horlicks bottle, Jabakusum hair oil all mingled together to create an identity of a Bengali home. I am sure a Tirupati photo, a Christ photo, a photo of the Haji Ali darga , all have been the face of calendars at some point or the other, giving an individualistic identity to every home where they marked time.

In those days calendars were a big thing to look forward to every new year. There was something called the ‘ prestige calendar ‘. The obvious translation of word ‘prestige’ made the possession of such calendars a matter of pride amongst house holds. These would have glossy papers with beautiful photos of sceneries, children, men and women, flowers, homes. My father was a medical practitioner and we would get many such calendars as gifts, from the various pharmaceutical companies. These calendars were always displayed on the sitting room wall, it was almost like an object of decor.Then came the one page utility calendars, meant for the living area or bedroom walls strictly. The one page calendars had all the holidays, religious festivals, days of the moon cycle very clearly marked, it used to be the most commonly referred page in the house for all sorts of planning and reminders.

Calendars may or may not linger on our walls for very long, but it surely will in the memories of my kinds. And if tomorrow someone by chance misses a calendar then probably you can blame the Kingfisher for having flown away with the calendar and those drop dead gorgeous calendar girls and locales. Lastly,what does the calendar say after all ? That nothing lasts forever, so let’s keep turning the pages and move on.

With Liberty & Freedom

Journey Journal 4

When Chalk & Cheese entered New York City the second time within fifteen days, it almost felt like home-coming. The sight of two bright happy faces eagerly waiting for us at the airport made the picture complete. My son had flown in from India for his sister’s convocation, and here he was greeting us with a smile and already looking quite a Yankee.

My Tom and Jerry, (the children) who had come to receive Chalk and Cheese at the airport wanted to do things their way, and we happily gave in to the plans of the TJ club tour operators. Their arrangements were not lavish but loving, not perfect but exciting, not easy but thoughtful.  Keeping with their plan the airport to hotel ride had to be taken on a bus. To get the local feeling they claimed, to save the dollar – I thought with a smile. So, there I was sitting in bus number M 60 holding on to my suitcase on wheels with one hand and my hand bag with the other, smiling apologetically each time my suitcase rolled forward to hit and nudge the man standing in front of me. Two years back I had send my daughter to this city with a ‘suitcase full of love’ and endless uncertainties of a mother’s heart. Today as I sat balancing my little suitcase and bag my mind went back to those memories. My little girl had become a confident City person, guiding our way; time sure changes the equations of life. Today I need to hold her finger when walking on a busy street, my young boy scolds me more often than I ever scolded him. My children have really grown up, though Chalk doesn’t seem to agree as much, maybe he is not ready yet to give up his throne to his rightful heirs!

Chalk and Cheese soon realized that their children had kept two words, ‘rest and recoup’, out of the to-do list of things. From long walks at Central Park to midnight chilling at Times Square, from meeting old friends over dinner to shopping at Macy, from museums to metro, Chalk and Cheese were kept on constant march under Tom and Jerry ‘s strict regimen. They took us to China Town of NYC to eat at an authentic Chinese restaurant. In fact, it was so authentic that other than us all other guests were Chinese, and the person taking the menu for us looked lost when we spoke in English. What was he expecting? We speak in Cantonese! My taste buds were loyal to the sweet and sour flavours of Mainland China, and any other taste could not match up for me. But of course, experiencing China Town in New York was different. My crazy family planned a late-night Hindi movie in the city, in an empty hall, more for the fun of the experience than ” Meri Pyari Bindu”.

We took a ferry to the Liberty island, to see Lady Liberty up close. The colossal statue does get bigger and bigger as one approaches the island, and then a dwarfing sense of self takes over as you stand near the statue. The Freedom Tower on the other hand stands tall reflecting the endless sky, the very way freedom is supposed to be, endless and shining.  As we stood by the memorial of terror attacks a sense of grief gripped us. We saw how each name was lovingly remembered, how memories were preserved. Terror can wipe away years from our life but the resilient strength of man to fight back terror makes us the survivors, the real heroes. A friend of mine had once said about America “Where liberty is a statue and freedom is a tower”, but it is this liberty and freedom that draws people to this country. This is a country that nurtures dreams, and a land where one can fulfil dreams if you have the potential and strength to achieve those goals.

Traveling in this city most of the time by metro made me come up with a catch line ‘ I do not like going underground ‘, but my protests fell on deaf ears. One-night Chalk and Cheese got lost simply by exiting through the wrong exit of the subway. And then we walked and walked for over an hour to reach our hotel which was ten minutes from the metro station. Chalk thinks, if you have a good pair of shoes, and healthy knees, you can walk for miles without complaining. He forgets that I am Cheese, I was not born and raised into the military. I preferred hailing a yellow taxi to getting on the metro. I preferred walking in the Central Park than making round and round circles of similar looking blocks and streets at midnight.

On the day of the convocation ceremony we woke up early and reached the daughter’s dorm room to get her ready in a saree. It was a joint family effort to drape the nine yards around our small bundle of joy.  I have no skills at this very authentic Indian saree draping art. I manage my own but cannot help others. Thus, the brother, father and I joined together in this complicated art of folding pleats, making the perfect ‘pallu’ and finding the ever-elusive safety pins to keep the saree in place. All through she stood like a scare crow arms outstretched, giving orders.  Today she could get away with anything, and a little indulgence from family was pretty okay.

Once the drama of ” dressing the girl ” was over, we hurriedly got into our ceremonial best and reached the venue within the university campus to occupy our twenty-third row right most corner seats! My brother, his wife and daughter had driven down to cheer their niece, and to make the day very special for all of us. We were in the audience sitting in anticipation to witness that one moment of honour when one’s child walks up on stage to receive her degree. These young people are the trendsetters, shaping our today for a well-meaning tomorrow. It was one of those days when one was allowed to splurge on emotions, to feel blessed with a gift called life. After the presentation was over amidst much hurray and cheering, our daughter gave us a tour of Columbia University campus. She showed us her classrooms, libraries, cafeteria and seminar halls. We walked the corridors our daughter had walked for two years, learning and earning her way to find her path in life. It takes hard work, and perseverance to achieve the dream, the months of burning the mid night oil, the long hours over the laptops, the rigor of academics, all of it is a uphill task, and when they reach the summit of their dreams, the smile on each face speaks of fulfilment.

The evening of the graduation was like a memorable dream in blue. We walked on Brooklyn bridge seeing the city lights in all its splendour, climbed the highest floor of The Empire State Building which was lit with the colours of the Columbia University, blue. A city honouring its graduates in this illuminated manner for one evening was something I had never seen before, this is what makes the difference between ordinary and brilliance. The stars that shined brighter than the one’s in the sky that night were in the eyes of the brilliant young people who had just graduated.

The next morning we took another early morning flight (the woes of this before dawn flights chased me all through my journey) to Orlando. My nephew who lived in Tampa had driven all the way to Orlando to receive us. The children had planned a detailed itinerary for their day at the Universal Studios. Chalk joined the three young people, matching their enthusiasm pace to pace. A day was all we had, though it was not enough to see everything in such short time, but a plan of sorts was made with mutual consent of the three young people.

In the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as we the muggles lined up to board the smoke trailing Hogwarts Express, the feeling was like…” We are off to see the wizard the wonderful wizard of Oz“. The world that JK Rowling has created in our minds has become in many ways a real world where we draw parallels with these characters. My son who wears glasses since childhood has long been called Harry Potter by family and friends. And our Harry Potter was the most excited person in this world of Hogwarts. As we walked down Diagon Alley, leading upto the world of Jurassic Park, reaching Superhero Boulevard, he became a kid once again.  Universal studios recreated a world where grown-ups easily shed off all pretences of adulthood and joined the gang. We felt like we had not had as much fun since we were kids. Chalk and Cheese forgot to agree to disagree. From butter beer to frog shaped candy we shared the fun together in this wonderland.

My nephew’s home in Tampa felt like an extension of my own flat in Mumbai. Chalk and Cheese enjoyed playing house, right from cooking, rearranging shelves, to doing laundry. The young man was more than happy to let us meddle with his house keeping for a day or two while he enjoyed some relaxation time with his brother and sister. Two days of home stay did wonders to my mood, with comfort food of ” sheddo bhaat ” and freshly laundered clothes in the suitcase I was ready to hit the road again.

We drove out of Tampa one early morning (yes once again that before dawn hour), driving through Florida highways to reach the white sands of Miami beach. The white sands immediately calls out to kick off the shoes and walk the sand; the beautiful blue of the ocean calls out to jump into the clear water and play with the waves; the warm sun calls out to give a tan you will regret for weeks. So many invitations cannot be ignored, not when you are in Miami, not when you are Cheese. Chalk knows Cheese is crazily in love with the sea, Chalk knows Cheese will not float away, Chalk knows Cheese always comes back. I wish I could bring back home a fist full of sand so white and water so blue and then colour my oceans in a different hue.

Miami made me want to come back again. It seemed one enters this city only to holiday, to let your hair down, and to feel high on life.  Having dinner late into the evening in one of the many diners on Ocean drive I felt as though the whole world had got here tonight just to make merry, laugh, drink, smoke cigars, drive fancy cars, walk hand in hand in designer clothes, totally oblivious to the world around them.  If there is a place to sing, ” har fikr ko dhunye mein ura ta chala gaya “, this would be the place, by the ocean, with the lined-up yachts of the rich and famous, a life surreal in many ways, but worth seeing indeed. A big hug and thanks to my nephew for making this joyous Florida experience so fantastic in every way.

Saying goodbye is the toughest part when holidays come to an end. The children have grown up and are well settled in their adult life but every time I have to say goodbye the pangs of separation weighs down the heart. There were so many joyous moments and hours packed up in those few days of holiday, that it seemed to burst from the seams. I just had to pick up a few memories very special and put them in this album of Journey Journal, to be cherished when memories fade. Hoping that these musings will someday fill my hours quite in a Wordsworth style ” For oft, when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude. ” My memories are my Daffodils, bringing a smile even as I write this last chapter of the journey.

As Chalk and Cheese settled down in a homeward fight, flying above the continents, above the breathtakingly magnificent snow-capped Alps, I felt my senses numbed as though in opium drunk. I stole a glance at Chalk to see him deep in sleep, perhaps dreaming about the united colours of a nation so different. For the first time in many nights, I remembered my bed. A clear sign that it was time to return to base. This indeed would be a summer to remember forever, Chalk and Cheese will travel together many more times, making their own journey journals, but sharing this one with our friends made it very special. Hasta Maniana till we meet again.