December 31, 2020

The New Stages of Grief


This is the year of strangeness. A year back no one would have imagined the position they find themselves in. But beyond everything else, there is hope that lingers on. Because hope is what makes us human. That and worrying about a future we know nothing about. Amongst our closest ancestors and relatives, we probably are the only species that worry so much about what the future holds for us. The big primates seldom do. And that is an evolutionary marvel that probably allowed the homo sapiens to race through and become masters of the world around. All that we do is with an eye on the future. Even “Carpe Diem” that tells us to seize the day loses its sheen after a few glorious years. Because if something is an absolute in this world, it’s regret.


There are events in world history that change a lot of our daily lives. Let’s take margarine for example – first thought of as a butter substitute for the French Army and the poorer sections of the society it became the saviour as World War II ravaged the world. And then it fell from grace again as the world attained prosperity. Often, it’s all about being at the right place and the right time but more often than not, it is about missed chances.


The strangest things however were playing out in our minds and the phases of grief were playing out in a completely different order. In the beginning of the year there was disorganization and despair all around. Information was scarce, the hubris of the human race was at full display and we were winging it in the true sense of the word. Then came the shock and numbness when we couldn’t meet family, things went from bad to worse and there would be a glimmer of hope which would then die down. But we picked ourselves up and moved on to yearn and search for meaning between never ending calls, the need to head back to work even though things were not quite the same. Some of us were luckier than the rest and this was the year I felt we finally began the see the invisible hands that moved every economy. There were people out there braving the virus while we kept safe at our homes. We are now in the reorganization and recovery phase with the hope of a vaccine helping us go through the process to get back to normalcy.


At your workplace too, you truly realize who you are. This was a year when the usual stressors at work were mostly at bay because something gigantic had usurped their places as our key irritant. This was a year when you needed to find our who you are – at home and at work.


But the truth also is that if you didn’t bother to find that out, it’s all good. By the time the year was halfway through, Linkedin posts almost made you feel that everyone on the world had gotten a minimum of two PhDs with all the time they had in the world. Thankfully for me, I had mentors who told me it’s ok.


So here we are, having survived 2020 with a story we can tell our grandchildren. And probably given the strangeness of it all, instead of ringing in 2021 at the stroke of midnight hour, maybe we should pause and observe a moment of silence for all those who we had to leave behind.


See you in 2021.


PS: Stages of Grief is an amazing concept. If you want to read further, I recommend starting with the book On Death and Dying by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross. It was written in the late sixties so modern scientific understanding has really taken this forward.


March 15, 2020

My Favourite Girl

Didima’s no more. Today morning at around 7:30 am while the world was wondering what to have for breakfast or where to find their next sanitizers, Didima said her au revoir and off she went. And it’s an au revoir and never a goodbye.

vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya
navani grhnati naro 'parani
tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany
anyani samyati navani dehi

Almost every child growing up in an Indian household would have heard these lines somewhere irrespective of his or her religious affiliations. It’s a verse from the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 Verse 22 and one of the most famous.

It says as a person puts on new clothes, discarding the old, the soul too gives up the old and useless body and accepts a new.

The soul in Hindu scripture is indestructible and I would want to believe that the purest soul that I have ever met would come back to this world. For suddenly today the world seems a little more barren and a little more colourless. Little Girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice, so goes the nursery rhyme. Didima was made of Pure Love. I have never found anyone so full of love for everyone. I have never found anyone so forgiving, so selfless and so full of life. I have never seen anyone with such curiosity about everything in life with a true desire to learn. I have never seen anyone so diplomatic and yet stern and I know it was because her love was unconditional. Everyone she met, she made them feel special. She made them feel that they were the most important person in the room and they loved her back. My friends from childhood remember her, my mom’s friends came down to meet her for one last time. The world stopped for her.

Didima was my most favourite person in the whole world and I probably was her fifth (after the 3 children she brought into this world and her amazing husband). And as my Filipino friends had taught me, being in the Top 5 is always a great thing.

She gave me some of my earliest books. She gave me some of my most treasured gifts. But most important of all, she gave me the gift of writing. Anything I have ever written is because of her. My parents believe that I got my writing genes from her. People called her up asking her to write something for their children’s birthdays, weddings and sometimes even funerals and she could break into verse anytime.

During my teenage rebellious years, I had said I perhaps put Sukanta Bhattacharya as a poet higher than Tagore because of his realism. And I, a veteran of many school debates had been brought to my knees, my arguments demolished, without making me feel bad about it.

So here’s Tagore for you – “ami Mrityu cheye boro, ei kotha bole jabo ami chole.”

 “I am larger than death, saying this I will leave”. (From Mrityunjoy – The conqueror of death) 

There are few people in this world who find God. I think she did it. She had such faith in Jesus that she believed in earnest that all that she would ask for will be given. And in her I found the true embodiment of secularism in India – a practising Hindu finding her personal God in Christ. Since childhood I have seen her straddle the boats of Krishna and Christ. My grandfather’s family came from Navadweep, the heart of the Vaishnavite movement in Bengal and her own family Deity as a child was Raghunath – an incarnation of Vishnu while her children went to Catholic Missionary Schools.

Often I have been asked at work why do I rarely say a no to a challenge? I think the answer lies with Didima. I have never seen her say a no to anything that life threw at her. She faced it, found a way to solve it and moved on. With a smile.

Exactly a year back, dadu had passed away. And I always knew that this day would come and she chose a Sunday. The entire world she had touched landed at her house. She caused no disturbance to anybody and off she went on the ides of March. Julius Caesar was her and my Dadu’s favourite Shakespeare.

Can an exit be more poetic?

And can memories be more beautiful?

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.”