August 27, 2019

Nalin Sarkar Street

This year has been the year of losses and they seem to keep piling up with heart wrenching regularity. Around a month back Choddidima, my grandmom’s younger sister passed away. I was in office when the news came and it just did not make sense. Slowly ties to my past were weakening and growing up was seeming a lot tougher than I had assumed it would be.

Choddidima was an outstanding lady. I still remember I was in college and I had called up. After enquiring after my health, her first question was had I heard of this young writer called Chetan Bhagat. I hadn’t. She had. And within a few years all of India had heard about him. She lived to learn. There was not a single news item in our daily newspaper that missed her hawk eyes. And she loved to get to the bottom of things. Like most people in my grandma’s generation, she could quote Tagore at will and there would be always the right song that she would burst out singing and it was difficult to keep up with her.

She was one of those who supported wholeheartedly my decision to head out of Calcutta for college. She was way ahead of her times and yet when it came down to checking the right ways to conduct a religious function at anyone’s house, she was the ultimate authority. I have heard so many of my uncles and aunts just pick up the phone and call choddidima before they performed any form of worship, lest they offend the Gods. It was always safer to call her and be sure.

My favourite memories of her however were through the movies. We discussed movies over the phone and when I used to come home for vacations, we would go together and watch movies of Shah Rukh Khan, her favourite young actor. I remember watching Swades with her, skipping a college reunion. It just seemed the more fun thing to do.

As I grew up and started working outside Calcutta, our meetings became infrequent. Telephone calls would have to do. However, I did try to meet her every time I landed in Calcutta at her house in Nalin Sarkar Street because of her stories. Her stories were a connection to our family’s past. India has a long tradition of oral history. She was my historian.

Like all good Bengali boys, I have numerous nicknames given to me at various stages of life by the large joint family I come from. She called me Ganguram. And after today, no one will. I guess that’s how life is. One less person to pamper you when you head home.

Will miss you loads

Yours Ganguram

August 26, 2019

Finding your song

There are few areas in life where raw talent can burst forth suddenly and mesmerize everyone around. Intellect is not one of them. Rarely do you dazzle someone with your brilliance. Impressing the world through your capability in Sports is possible but then you need a stage. But Music…. Music is something that can break out from the crowd, a voice rises above the din of the millions and transcends you to a world beyond the ordinary. You don’t require a stage, you don’t require an audience, all you need is your voice.

Perhaps that explains the never-ending popularity of American Idol or its Indian counterpart – the Indian Idol. And while every reality show has its share of dreamy eyed contestants perhaps none is more universal than a Singing Reality Show. Today was the Mumbai audition of Indian Idol at a school near my apartment. And since morning the hopefuls had gathered around, waiting for their chance at glory. At the end of the day, there would be only one idol. But today everyone believed in the dream, believed that they could be the idol.

The lines were long and serpentine. It drizzled a bit, long enough to make the umbrellas come out, the sun kept playing hide and seek. But every now and then, there would be a group that would suddenly burst into a song. The world suddenly felt a bit more bearable.

In every field in this world, there comes a point of time when you hit the outer limits of your talent. You suddenly realize that there are others far more talented than you, others who are not as talented but way more hardworking than you and finally others who are just luckier than you. In showbiz this happens in far scarier proportions than any other. Even the best fade away after winning the show. Bands become one hit wonders. A Music Director never manages to get the accolades of her debut album.

But when you stand in the line for a chance at becoming an idol, you know that your grades don’t matter, your status, your background does not matter, you still believe in your own talent and you wait for your moment of glory.

As I saw the young aspirants line up outside the gates, full of hope and trepidation, I knew that in their love for life, music would play on.

February 01, 2019

The Life Well Lived

Today morning Didi called up at around 6 am. She’s the elder and the more mature one in the family. And the favourite. So she was told first. Dadu, my grandpa was no more. 3 days of illness and he was gone. Poof. Never to be seen, never to be heard.

He was 92. And as the call from Didi slowly sunk in, I realized I was not in pain. I was sad, yes definitely but I was definitely not melancholic. Dadu you see was a superhero in our eyes. He was driving all around Calcutta even when he was well above 80. When he was 70, he took my cousin’s bicycle and went for a trip around our locality while Mom kept pacing up and down, angry with her Dad for behaving like a child. But I know for a fact that secretly she was super proud. I mean who wouldn’t be proud after having a cool dad like that.

He was from a different generation of Bengalis. Probably the last of our Golden Generation. True he was born in a colonized India, yet to gain independence. But he was the generation that saw a new country being born. And probably that made him different from all the rest of people I know.

I surprisingly have none of the qualities that made him an amazing superhero. But from him I have learnt how to live life to the fullest. I have learnt how to be the most devoted husband and a doting father and a loving patriarch to a gaggle of grandkids. Whether I will be one I do not know. I hope I do.

We Bengalis are no longer known to be very entrepreneurial. He was one. Tried, failed, picked himself up, figured out what else he should be doing and did it. He could have tried again and succeeded but he chose family. I remember as we were growing up, on a Sunday morning we would suddenly hear a car honking on the road outside our house and it would be Dadu having driven over because he was missing his daughter. And he got us the potato fritters we so loved. So Didi and I attacked the fritters while mom behaved like a kid seeing her dad.

One of my cousins had married and moved to the US and she had this strange love of Mutton Samosas, (very Calcuttan I know!) So when she came back for the first time Dadu had ensured that the Mutton Samosas were waiting for her when she landed. Every. Single. Time.

My mom was his favourite. She tells me how they would play with their dogs together. How she would wait till Daddy came home so that she would no longer have to study and how on a moment’s notice they would just take the car and head down to the Maidan on an evening trip out with family.  Because for Dadu it was all about living in the moment.

In between he ensured he and his wife (with or without the kids in tow) travelled everywhere. Last few years they have not been able to travel; but in their 70 years of marriage they have travelled all across India. Grandma keeps reciting one of the ancient hymns of the Vedic texts which the ancients believed made the water in their palms represent the holy rivers of India

Gangge Ca Yamune Caiva Godaavari Sarasvati |
Narmade Sindhu Kaaveri Jalesmin Sannidhim Kuru ||

Anyway, her sense of pride was that together they had seen all the sacred rivers of India. They always felt bad about missing out on visiting Indus (now in Pakistan). I hope Dadu wherever you are you can see all the rivers from up above.

He loved Grandma. Actually, I am sure he still loves her from above. Their love is what makes me believe in life, family and love itself. I have seen the silent admiration for her in his eyes so many times. In fact, I think the sense of admiration for his wife never left him. She’s a poetess, can break into a Tagore poem anytime. She’s written so much, it’s probably hard to ever replicate. And he preferred to stay in the shadows. But as we grew up we realized what a powerhouse of talent he was.

Have you ever seen the BBC production of Merchant of Venice? I think Dadu could have done a better Portia or Shylock than any of the accomplished actors. When he recited “Quality of Mercy” we listened, in stunned silence travelling from his house in North Calcutta to the court in Venice.

One of Tagore’s best work is his version of the dialogue between 2 mythical characters Kach and Debjani. And when Dadu and Didima performed it, you could sense the power, passion and love. They completed each other like few I have known.

I met him last in December. His food intake had been controlled and my o my, was he unhappy about that!!! Poor grandma and aunt of mine had to be strict. But he wouldn’t listen. How could he! Like all true Bengalis he ensured that he never scrounged on finding the best quality of food. I sometimes believe if he was born in today’s age, he would have been a food critic, albeit a benevolent one. I blame him a lot for my love of Mishti, he made my taste buds that way.

So I came to office today and am here still reading my research reports, giving my POVs on packaging because I guessed that’s what he would have liked me to do. Live life as if there’s no tomorrow. Do what you love doing. 

There’s a quote by Pope Paul VI (I guess) Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.

I think Dadu could have very well written it. Love you Maharaj!

December 31, 2018

The Dad-aroo

So I am reading Sapiens and getting really sad about how my ancestors destroyed the Australian Megafauna and how we are probably the worst species in the world and then suddenly I realized I love marsupials. Effectively that means I love the Kangaroo because it carries the baby in a pouch. When I was a kid, I thought being a Kangaroo kid was quite cool. Imagine living in a pouch, being carried around by mom everywhere. Jumping around peacefully was all that I dreamt off.

So the last one year, where despite many promises of being regular on this blog, I have been absconding, there has been a real reason. I was undergoing a major transformation. Not satisfied with just being a Sapien, I decide to become part of a new species – the Dad-aroos.

The Dad-aroos are marsupial Sapiens, tracing their psychological makeup to sea horses. They are found typically in parks and malls, strangely attired very similarly in T shirt and shorts. The sometimes carry an additional pouch on their backs full of cotton harvested around the year. They carry the young in a pouch in front of them. The young, known to be completely disrespectful to authority, listens only to one voice – that of the Mama-roo. Hence it is lucky, that when the Dad-aroo walks, he is able to initiate a motion that resembles the young one’s time in the womb and if the young one allows, he can perfect the art of constantly moving up and down the clothes aisles in a crowded departmental store.

The Dad-aroos are quite harmless. They nod to each other, only pausing to eye the make of the pouches. There exists a pouch snobbery inherent in the species. Sometimes they also pause to gauge future parents in laws of their peacefully sleeping infants. But mostly they keep on looking for the Mama-roo to have her at arm’s length even if there is the slightest chance of the kid waking up.

So I spent the last year being a Dad-aroo and I was quite good at it. Unfortunately, the young grows up, outgrows the pouch and I already have a feeling how it feels when the bird will finally leave the nest.

So that was that. 2018. The year I turned into a full fledged Dad-aroo.

December 31, 2017

The Long and Short of It

More than 18 months back, in a quiet seaside beach on the Western fringes of India, I had sat down and wished hard for miracles to happen. But first I needed to know that there exists magic in this world. Because sometimes for miracles, you first need to believe in magic. Magic demands pain, Magic needs patience but more than anything else Magic requires sacrifice.

This Blog stopped after talking about the western sentinel. The pain started. The harsh sun beat down on everything beneath it. Mirages sprung up and vanished into thin air and yet there was the belief in Magic.

Sometimes Magic can work in wonderful ways. We do not comprehend fully how it works. At times it has form, at other times it is just a thought. Sometimes it comes from the North East and is called Ishaan.

Sometimes Magic makes a person disappear. The third leg of a tripod gets broken. The other two wait for its return. And in a world of 24X7 social media a person just vanishes. Miss you Bro. Find your peace.

The Magic from North East is all powerful. It drains away sorrow, bitterness and pain with toothless babbles. And yet it can give me the most excruciating pain, never experienced before. It demands attention, more importantly it demands what’s most precious – Time.

2017 was the year when Time became the most valued commodity. Time even for ‘us’ was hard to come by. But then when the tired traveller finds his pillar of strength, he knows that Magic continues to weave its wonders.

When pressed into a corner, the mind works in wonderous ways. For a brief period it went back years, nay decades when sarcasm was considered the high priestess of wit. But then sense and sensibility took over. But the joy, oh the joy of sarcastic wit!

Magic also makes you strong, showing you what you are capable of, making you push your boundaries. Sometimes there’s a battle for your soul and then you win. It’s majestic. It’s grand.

As the year passes on to the next, John Updike tell me, “Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.”

September 26, 2016

The Western Sentinel

Far away from the dusty, tired roads of Mumbai, is the home of the Western Sentinel. The Guardian God of the West sits on his mountainous abode, looking into the west, a fact rarely heard of in Indian Temple Architecture. Our Gods look to the east; to look at the rising sun, to welcome a new day. In Ganpatipule however, he looks to the west, looking intently at the sea, perhaps aware of the dangers that could come our way; once again.

When you land here, you can feel the world slow down around you. Even the train station has none of the urgency one can think of. Straight from an R. K. Narayan novel, the station wakes up to welcome the trains and then go back to sleep again. At Ratnagiri, you can find the last memories of a forgotten Burmese King, held by the British, never to see his homeland again. Bit by bit, over the years in exile, he tried to recreate a piece of his home but it was never the same again.

The sea is treacherous around here; but beautiful. The beaches are quiet; devoid of humans and therefore of filth. It quietly rolls over the sands and within kilometres you can see the colours change from pristine white to jet black. Time moves slowly, allowing you to embrace it and feel every moment caress your cheek as it passes you by. The sea is calm and rolls incessantly into the night, playing music that can only be heard in silence. The stars come out in the night, visible without the incessant cover of smog over Mumbai.

The mangoes are everywhere. You can feel their presence as you drive by and the price does not frighten you off. The food feels distant and different from what you would have expected but then this is how cuisines develop locally and if you can find those small restaurants where the proprietors still make the day’s serving, you know you are in good hands. The most famous place to stay is the MTDC hotel and like most Government hotels the rooms are large and spacious and there ends the story. But the view remains outstanding from every single room.

But everything revolves around him. Everything, even the name itself, reminds one of the existence of the hamlet. He is not one who has the riches of his week-long avatars of Mumbai, neither does he have the imposing architecture of the Northern and the Southern Gods. He sits patiently, listening to the bells and to the sea.

Ganpatipule is not for the movers and shakers, it’s not for the throngs of followers. It’s for those who want to pause, even if for a bit.

August 14, 2016

Punch in the Gut

When we were in school, a lot of lessons were learnt during the lunch break in the large playground of Don Bosco. Fighting for honour was common, so was fighting with honour. You never fought to break anyone’s bones but you fought to prove a point. Today after so many years, what we fought on is lost in the shadows of memory, what remains are the lessons learnt from them. We were an all-boys school so the lessons seem from another day and age where chivalry, honour and loyalty were all that mattered.

There was rarely a hit to face. The marks were the most visible and definitely the ones which would get the opponent at the receiving end into trouble when he goes back home. You also never hit the groins. The pain is unbearable and everyone knew it. That’s the first thing you learn when you play cricket and mistime a shot. The kick to the shin was acceptable and I do not know why because now that I am saner I know how scary that can be. But then now of us had the speed of the Premier League Players. We desperately wanted to play rugby but given that no one knew the rules and there was a lack of equipment, it never really took off. But what we managed was the shoulder shove, a highly effective manoeuvre that can come to use in both football and basketball. In the basketball games, it was brutal because of the hard surface. In the football matches, it was terrifying as the green grass left the signs for all (read moms) to see.

But the favourite by far was the punch in the gut. Never utilized on the games field, it was reserved for the one on ones that rarely happened, but if they did, they were always scheduled after school hours. It was the equivalent of a duel with a loaded pistol. Both shoot, but the one with the more accurate aim is bound to win. The punch in the gut was just that. Everyone knew that the one who could connect first would be the winner. It made one see the stars and the pain was only fractionally lower than a kick in the groins. The one who threw the punch always won, at least that bout. And then he helped the fallen man stand up on his feet. There was honour.

But the man who had fallen also learnt a mighty lesson. He learnt to take on whatever the world threw at him, embrace the pain, maybe double over if required but then find his own feet and get up. The punch in the gut made him stronger, over and over again till one day his own punch would land exactly where it was meant to be.

And as long as he had learnt how to pick himself up and become stronger, there was not a thing in this world that could keep him down.