Wednesday, August 24, 2005


They say about 7 million women in the US are suffering from depression and that one out of every five women can expect to develop depression at some point in her life. They also say depression most frequently affects women between the ages of 25 and 44. Does that put me at a greater risk of being depressed? It sure does. Does that mean I am depressed? Probably not. But the statistics are scary enough and they scare me.

Do I have any reason to be depressed? Of course not. I’ve been loved and nurtured all my life, I live and love and enjoy life, I have a husband who loves me, parents who are proud of me, friends who care for me, a past that I cherish, a present that is worth every moment and a future that holds promise. Yet, somewhere in between the narrow crevices of my life are failures and disappointments that remind me of things that I wanted and did not get, of dreams that I had and could not realize, of hopes and aspirations that I tried to live up to and could not reach high enough. Does that make me a success or a failure?

There’s a saying that goes "Reach for the moon, even if you miss you will land among the stars". But what if you wanted a piece of the moon and nothing else would fit the bill? Worse still, what if you wanted to give someone you love a piece of the moon and only ended up getting a star. Would that be alright? You could say, that’s not bad, you did get a star, and it’s bright and shiny and looks kind of like a diamond. But it still isn’t the moon, is it? And you could try and try and try to reach for the moon, but what if you cannot reach high enough? What if no matter how hard you tried, the moon was still out of reach and you could never reach it? You could say, well you tried hard and that’s good enough. But it isn’t. You still could not give the person you love the one thing that would have made a difference. Does that qualify you as a failure? Or would you still claim that it was a success since you ended up getting the star?

We all grow up with dreams, with hopes and aspirations. We want, we demand so much out of life. We have big dreams, major goals. Kind of like big rocks that we put into a glass jar and fill up to the brim. And then we have these other aspirations, kind of like sand that we can pour into the glass jar even when it has been filled up with rocks and still find room for so much sand. It’s those space filling sandy dreams that fill our life and make it whole. And when they start running out there is very little that is left holding your life together. When we look at someone’s life from outside we only tend to see the jar with the big rocks. We never realize how much sand they are holding in between the rocks and how much the sand means to making life hold together. That is the essence of life. And that is what makes life worth living.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Early mornings and rowing

In the summer following my higher secondary exam and prior to starting classes in college I had a sudden desire to spruce up my sporty side and joined the rowing team at CRC. Now for those of you who are not aware of this, Calcutta has three real good rowing clubs near the Lake that were established in the late 1800's. My Dad was a member of the Calcutta Rowing Club (CRC) since I was a kid and I have the most fondest memories of beautiful evenings and Sunday lunches on the lush lawns. CRC was established in 1858 by the British and still maintains its original clubhouse and boathouse, and carries on the tradition of hosting regattas all year round. Right down the road are the two other rowing clubs, Lake Club and Bengal Rowing Club. A stiff competition exists between the rowing teams of all three rowing clubs.

When I joined the rowing team at CRC there were a handful of women who used to row. Most of the rowers were men. Now for those of you who are picturing me as one of those huge athletic rowers that you see in the Olympics let me clarify that I was one of the tiniest rowers on the Lake. At 5' 2" and 100lbs I did make a sorry picture with my oar in one hand and making my way down the ramp to the boat. The captain was a really nice man who believed that you required a complete workout before you could be let out on the boat. We would have to report at six in the morning and then go for a sprint around the Lake. Now one side of the Lake (the one next to Southern Avenue) is populated in the morning and makes for an interesting journey. However the other half is the not so desirable area and none of us were comfortable on that end. So what we used to do was instead of circling the Lake, we'd run up to the "Top" which was supposedly the half way mark and retrace our path back to the club. On our return we would have to do a series of free hand exercise before we earned the right to lay hands on the oar. Soon after I joined I discovered a friend in P. She was the same size as me and had just finished her class 12 boards and we became fast friends. We decided that the run up and down the Lake was time consuming and an exhausting affair. So we found a way of getting around it by taking a brief stroll by the Lake, then splashing ourselves with water so that it would look like we were all sweaty and tired from the running and rush off to the boathouse. I don't think the Captain ever found out!

We would always go out on the Junior fours with me sitting up in the Stroke position and P in the Bow with two other females which would depend on whoever was available. The most popular cox was Billu. Billu had a name which no one knew; everyone called him Billu. Billu was fun and would constantly chat and joke around with us. He would take us to the "Top" this time by water and then we'd go all the way down the Lake. It was invigorating and we'd come back tired but happy. The rule was once you returned to the ramp each team would have to lift the boat out of the water, flip it over so that the water would drip off, and lift it over their heads and carry it into the boat house. Considering my size I found that a real challenge and most of the time we would have to request the guys to lend us muscle power and get our boat back where it belonged. The person in charge of the boathouse would be most displeased and constantly told P and me that we would require more strength if we were to do this. But we got through the entire season by taking advantage of the guys.

The most exciting part were the few weeks before the regattas (which are these rowing championships held every year). We'd practice like crazy and fight over who gets on whose team and who gets Billu to cox the boat. We'd argue over who caught a "crab" and who could not set the rhythm. The main competition was between the teams of CRC, Lake and BRC. And since there were such few women rowers, we usually ended up winning a trophy. There would be a real official awards ceremony where the President of the Club would hand out the trophies and there would be a sumptous dinner and music later that night. It was fun, it was exhilarating, it was refreshing.

I stopped rowing soon after I started my first year classes. I still would go to CRC everytime there would be a regatta, if only to cheer the rowers from CRC. In fact there was this one time when the womens team could not participate because they were missing one member and I volunteered and we ended up winning the race! I haven't been to any of the regattas in many years now and I have totally lost touch with all my friends from the rowing days. But I hope that rowing remains in Calcutta and that every morning the lake still remains the battle ground of eager enthusiastic rowers who dream of winning the next trophy for their club.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

A rainy afternoon

There is something about the rain that casts a magical spell on me. I think there is something profoundly romantic about the grey overcast sky through which the sun is trying to break through, creating a strange kind of light that plays on the grass, the trees, everything around.....the showers that drench the leaves on the trees and magically turn everything a bright green....the sound of the wind through the trees, the rain splashing on my door, my windows, the pitter patter on the roof.....the smell of the earth, fresh and's nature's way of washing and making everything fresh and whole again.

It has rained intermittently almost the entire day and I know for a fact it is going to make the evening rush hour traffic even worse. The rain always slows things up on the freeway. And people returning home from work will be cross and irritable, poked by umbrellas, sloshed in puddles, hungry and late. But I have the priviledge of sitting at home this afternoon and not have to worry about getting home in the traffic or the rain and therefore can indulge myself a little to admire the rain for what it is doing to the greenery that stares at me through the window. The sky is still overcast, the shower has ceased for a bit, there are birds on the trees that are shaking the water out of their wings and trying to get dry and everything looks so green and beautiful.

I have a million Rabindrasangeets racing through my mind and I find myself humming the tune of one. I have a whole lot of work to do, yet, there is something in the air that makes me want to sing or paint or simply sit near the window and take time to actually see how wonderful things are. I've missed the rain the last six years living in the midwest. It never rained like it used to rain in Calcutta. But Virginia is different. It rains. Just like the way it used to in Calcutta. I love it when it rains here.


Friday, August 05, 2005


My first crush was when I was 12 years old. It was not the love at first sight kind, but something that crept up behind me and hit me hard one day. And it was the unrequitted, unattainable kind. The guy was tall and handsome and didn't know I existed. He was Imran Khan, the captain of the Pakistan cricket team! During his heyday in the late 80s Imran was the heartthrob of many a girl. I knew I "loved" him and I knew everything there was to know about him. I knew his birthday, where he lived in Lahore, what his likes and dislikes were, who his favorite actress was, who he was sleeping around with....I lived, ate, slept Imran Khan. I would make my dad take us to dinner at the Oberoi Grand when the Pakistan team was in Calcutta playing a one day match, with the hope of catching a glimpse of my hero in the lobby. I even went to watch a highly charged one-day match between India and Pakistan at the Eden gardens a day before my Final exams in school, just to watch Imran play and made myself hoarse screaming with glee every sixer that he dealt out, much to the irk of all the other Indian supporters around me. I had Imran posters all over my bedroom, not on the walls because that was a strict no-no in my house, but all over my cupboards and doors. The crush lasted for a few years. I think it started tapering off right when Imran married Jemima. I haven't had a crush on any other cricket player since.

But having crushes on celebrities is a normal part of growing up. I've been through the Maradona phase, the John Mc Enroe phase, the Tom Cruise phase and the Agassi phase. The Agassi phase I think, lasted the longest. I think I still had some of my Agassi posters clinging onto my door half torn and faded with time, when I started seeing B, who I ended up marrying! It makes me laugh to think about the crazy things I did or thought of doing each time I had these crushes and right now I don't even know what I saw in any of those guys. Tom Cruise makes me want to puke right now. But (sigh) I guess it was one of those crazy teenage things, something to do with surges of hormones I believe. You fall in love with anything because you are more in love with the concept of being in love. I even had a crush on a guy because he was wearing a T-shirt that was a color which happened to be my favorite at that particular time. Or may be it became my favorite color because he was wearing it and I had the crush first....wait, now I am confused....I don't remember which happened first. It was so long back. And it doesn't matter because it was just that, a crush, that lasted may be a milli-second in the span of my life. But these moments live on in your heart as sweet memories which can make you smile even on an otherwise ordinary, dismal morning.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

From the snuff-box

My Dad has sixty four first cousins! Can you believe that? Well if you consider his grandfather (my great grandfather) had two wives and bore him six sons and a daughter, and each of the children produced a football team to say the least, and then to that add on the cousins that came from my grandmother's side of the family...well, it really does add up to sixty four. Needless to say my dad has never met some of his cousins and probably never will. I, on the other hand have only five (whew) .

Some of my fondest memories are at my maternal grandparents house in Ballygunj spent with my Mama's daughter R and my Mashi's sons B and T. We were all kind of in the same age group with 4 years of difference between the four of us. It was always referred to as "Didu'r bari" and never "Mama bari" as my uncle used to live in Jamshedpur and for some strange reason "Dadu'r bari" did not sound right either. We've spent many a day pretending to be detectives and solving mysteries. Of course this was when we were severely influenced by Secret Seven, Famous Five and Five Find-outers. We even went to the extent of calling up a certain Mr. Goon who happened to be listed in the Calcutta telephone directory and pretended to the Five Findouters. For those of you who are familiar with the series will recall that Mr. Goon was the local police officer who was not so fond of the children and would always end up looking kind of silly when the Five Findouters ended up solving the mystery before him. Our Mr. Goon was not very happy about our phone call probably because he was clueless about the books and had no idea what mystery we were talking about.

The other really funny incident that comes to mind is the time when we decided to try out some of Dadu's "noshyi" (snuff). We stole some out of a snuff box stuffed our noses and inhaled......the rest is a confused series of memories where all of us are rolling around screaming with tears rolling down our cheeks and the parents rushing in and trying to figure out what had happened, scolding, shaking and a great deal of noise.

I cannot remember the last time we all got together. Probably before my Mashi moved to Australia in the mid 80's. I've met all my cousins a number of time since but we've never been able to meet up together. Now all of us are married, R has a daughter, B has a son and a daughter, and we are all scattered across the globe. Dadu and Didu are no more, Didu'r bari is now Mama bari. Things are not the same anymore. But it would still be awesome if we could actually meet up somewhere and remember our childhood days. And even if we cannot be Fatty, Pip, Bets, Larry or Daisy anymore, may be we can give the next generation the same thrill of living and being the Five Find Outers.

(This post is getting long. More on other cousins will follow)

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

tu tu main main

What is it about women and their mother-in laws, and their innate inability of getting along with each other that creates such tension and rifts in a previously happy family? Is it jealousy, competition, discontentment, psychosexual aberrations? What is it that transforms and modifies inter-personal relations starting the time the bride steps into her new home? Almost all my friends have loads and loads of complaints about how unfair her mother-in law is, how dominating and protective she is of her son and how she hates the new influence in her son's life and takes every opportunity to demean her daughter-in-law and put her down in front of others. And every woman I know who has a son that got married can go on and on forever about her daughter-in-law who is the tricky, manipulative witch, that has taken control over her darling son and has transformed him into a lamb who has no regard or feelings for his parents anymore. Not to say that I haven't met the exceptions, but this seems to be the general pattern. And yes, this is something that was a problem a century back and remains a problem even to this day.

You'd think it was something to do with Mama not liking the li'l gal as a person. Umm...nope. I know this family who picked a girl for their son, someone they had watched growing up as the families were close friends. Yet, soon after the wedding the Mama started detesting the amount of time her son was spending with his new wife and started finding fault with her. Which of course put the guy in a real tricky situation because although he was fascinated by his wife, he loved his mom and did not want to take sides. A wise decision and few months later the guy takes a job far far away and moves out with his wife. So now, the only time Mama and wifey get to meet is like once an year and from what I hear, things are still sour.

I guess most guys grow up idolizing their mother. You often hear guys say things like "no one can cook as well as my mom" and things to that effect. By the way, this is something that is coming out of an unmarried bachelor (just in case you thought otherwise; the married ones wouldn't dare say something to that effect for obvious reasons). Boys share a special bond with their mothers. Something similar to what li'l gal share with their dad. And all guys hope to end up marrying someone just like their mom: someone who will love them, pamper them, spoil them and take care of them. Much has been said about the Oedipus complex without me trying to analyze it and letting students of psychology have a field day ripping me apart. And then they do get married. And inspite of the wonderful relation that the girl shared with his mom before the wedding, things start to take a different turn. Mom hates wife. Wife hates mom. What the hell is a guy supposed to do? Take sides? These are the two women in his life who make his world meaningful and now he is supposed to blot one out and snuggle up to the other. What ends up happening is a sticky situation that no one is happy with: the mom spends all her time blaming the girl for bringing a rift in the family, for changing the personality of the guy, for making him do things he does not like doing and not being the "lokhi bou" that she should have been; while the daughter-in-law is forever complaining to her husband at the end of the day how much abuse she has to bear and no matter what she does is not good enough and that they need to move out because she cannot live with her in laws anymore.

Seems to me like everybody is to blame and we need to take a good look at ourselves and the people around us before being selfish and self centered. The wife needs to realize that the mom has had her son all to herself until the new female figure in the family came in and claimed the number one position on this guy's list. It is but natural that Mama would feel a little insecure and threatened. But she also needs to realize that this is one very important person in this guy's life and if she loves and respects him, she will learn to love and respect the people that matter to him. It is basically that simple. As far as Mama goes, she will soon realize that although there is someone new and important in her son's life who takes up most of his time, she will still be his mother, the person he has loved for all his life and will still be the yardstick by which he measures his wife (including her culinary skills).

And as for you guys out there, learn how to walk the tight-rope, because there is a very fine balance that you need to master to survive this 'war of the roses'.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Of sleepy afternoons

Sunwashed mornings, rainy afternoons, magical evenings.....there's something about the place you grow up in, something warm and comforting that transcends all boundaries of geography and time, that makes you remember with fondness and longing.

For me Calcutta stopped in time 6 years back which is when I left the city. And with time I have learnt to selectively block all memories of the dirt, the pollution, the bandhs, the political bureaucracy. All I retain are the fond and warm memories of days I spent growing up there. For the most part of my childhood my idea of Calcutta centered around our house in Kalighat. So my world only stretched as far as Ballygunj (which is where my maternal grandparents lived), Jodhpur Park and Dhakuria (which is where my school was), and the Park Street-New Market area (which is where my Dad would take us shopping- this of course was in the pre AC market and other newer mall days). After I started going to college and learned to explore beyond the boundaries of home I got introduced to college street, park circus and moulali. I discovered the joy of watching back to back shows at Globe and New Empire while grabbing a chicken roll from Badshah. I learnt that you could go to Flury's and order a cold coffee and sit and read a book or talk to your friend for hours without anyone coming and asking you to leave. My orientation of Calcutta started to include places like Kasba, Behala, New Alipore, Kudghat, Ranikuthi, Golfgreen, Salt lake, Rajabajaar. I knew the place to have the first cup of morning tea was Maharani's on Lansdowne Road with accompanying jilipi and shingara; the phuchka would have to be from Vivekanada Park; I could compare between egg-chicken rolls from Campari- Bedouin- Hot Kathi.

For me Calcutta is all about the people: people who will give unsolicited attention and advise to you (the all familiar "ki holo dada, byapar ki?" which translated would be roughly a "what's up, dude?") and places: the early morning smog near the Dhakuria Lake, sweltering afternoons shopping at Gariahat, getting stuck inside an auto-rickshaw during a thunderstorm, going to the Boi mela (book fair) every single day, staying up 4 nights in a row at the Dover Lane Music conference, taking a boat ride from Outram Ghat, eating freshly roasted peanuts at Victoria Memorial, meeting a friend outside Symphony, drinking lassi at Rallis, staying up all night pandal hopping during Durga Pujo, watching the cricket match between India and Pakistan at the Eden Gardens, bunking class to catch a matinee at Nandan.....that is where Calcutta stopped for me and that is the flavor I carry in my heart when I leaf through the pages of my memory. That's what makes Calcutta special to me.

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Monday, August 01, 2005


RS is tying the knot in less than two weeks now. I couldn't be happier for her. My only regret is that I will not be able to attend the actual wedding ceremony which will be in Kolkata. RS is one of the few friends I have from my school days who has clung onto her single bachelorette status for this long. Most of my friends succumbed to the love bug and settled into marital bliss over the last decade. Some of them got married right after they got through high school, some while they were in college and some waited till they graduated.
RS is one of few people from my school days who have kept in touch with each other over the years. We kind of lost touch for a few years in between but in the age of the internet and e-mails we rediscovered our old friendship and got back in touch and keep each other posted on our activities almost on a daily basis. Every scandal, every memory, every little incident is relived, discussed and probed through e-mails that can mount upto a 100 new mails in your inbox on a particularly active day. We've shared each other's joys and held together in pain: we've supported friends in love; we've been there for weddings and graduations; we were there when they were having babies, getting new jobs, when they moved; we've rejoiced when they bought a car, a house. We've held together for support when they fell sick, when things were down and they were depressed. We've stuck together as a group for a good many years and we've derived happiness and comfort from each other.
Now RS is getting married and is ready to move half way across the globe to start her new life, I wish her the very best from the bottom of my heart. And although I will not be at her wedding physically, someone else will be there and will give the rest of the unfortunate ones (who cannot make it there) all the details of the wedding. And from across the miles I will hear the conch shells when the groom arrives, smell the rajanigandha when they exchange garlands, revel in the smell of jasmine, incense and laughter when RS weds SB.


Inner strife

Expectations....we're in a constant struggle to meet expectations. Expectations of our family, expectations of our friends, expectations of our ownself. Does this constant battle within one's self for better and more, make us happier or more endowed in any respect? Or does it leave us drained, tired and frustrated?

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