Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pujoy chai notun juto *

"Sasthi te ekta notun jama porish ontoto"**, my Mom tells me over the phone. And like always I assure her that I will. And even though I do not have the five days of Pujo to adorn myself in new sarees and jewellery, I will still wear a new t-shirt over my old and faded jeans when I go to work tomorrow. After all it is Sasthi. The first day of Pujo.

And much has been said about Pujo. The concept of Pujo, Pujo in Calcutta, Pujo overseas (probasi Pujo), missing Pujo, adapting to Pujo abroad, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And this year I wanted to make it a point not to lament about not being able to be in Calcutta during Pujo. Because over the years it is a fact that I have accepted. And honestly, I am in much better shape now than I was, when I first came to the US and had my first ever Pujo away from Kolkata. Back then one had to scour the internet for one brief image of Pujo back home. And now you do a search on google for Durga pujo and you can come up with a zillion links complete with images of pandals and Thakur and the latest information from Calcutta. If the internet has made the world smaller, then it has brought Pujo right to my doorstep.

So what do I miss so much about Pujo? The much anticipated dressing up in new clothes bit. The pre-Pujo excitement of shopping for clothes, for shoes that match the clothes, for jewellery that accessorize the outfit, hours of beating the crowds, braving the heat and the humidity, in the endless search for that elusive unique dress. When I was a kid we used to have our clothes tailored a month in advance. I remember those days when we would pour over catalogs picking out a style, a particular dress that caught our fancy and get the tailor to whip up something similar. Then there would be a day set out for fitting and trial, to have last minute adjustments, a nip here and a tuck there. And every year there would be a new fashion. If this year dhoti salwars were the rage, then the following year drain pipe churidars would reign. It was a constant dilemma trying to decide whether the dupatta would hang down the side over one shoulder or whether to have it draped across the nape of the neck. Whether the length of the kameez should come down to below the knees or stay halfway across the thigh. If ankle boots were cool or slingbacks were cooler. Whether we should get jewellery that was terracotta or ones that were oxidized metal. So much to choose from. And such important life decisions. Because there lay a thin line between being cool and being an outcast. And nobody wanted to tread the path of the uncool.

So we fretted and fumed and spent hours deciding, laying out outfits, planning out each day to the last detail. I would pick clothes based on what I had planned for the day. A day spent with friends walking from one pandal to the next across a few hundred miles meant comfortable shoes. So high heels have to wait for the day I spend sitting it out in Maddox square checking out other people. But then again, cannot get my heels all messed up in the mud that will be there in the park after a thunderstorm that almost washes out plans for the Pujo. Okay so the heels have to wait for the day when I go out for dinner with the folks. And then of course there is always the last minute change in plans. When your friend tells you that she will be wearing a saree for Ashtami's anjali, you have to cajole Mom into letting you wear her laal paar tangail so that you can be all grown up too.

Yeah, I miss all that action. The ladies fighting each other at Manohar trying to get their saree blouses ready before Pujo, people stomping over each other as they try to grab the tangail from Basak, the Puja sales and the mad shopping. I miss having ten different outfits to choose from. I miss having to decide between shoes and accessories. I miss having a hundred different things to do and a million places to go to during Pujo. I miss being in Calcutta during Pujo.

So now I make my own Pujo. There's no mad scramble for the perfect outfit, no crazy shopping, no interest in keeping up with the fashion. And I don't need a Hum Aapke Hain Kaun blouse to make it big on Ashtami evening. And I don't need to worry about my hemline. I can get by with what I have. But I still fret over what to wear on the two days that we celebrate Pujo in the US. I still lay out all the sarees that I have as I try to decide between the blue Baluchari, the red Bomkai and the golden Kanjivaram. And I love spending hours trying to accessorize with the right jewellery. Because dressing up and feeling good is such an integral part of Pujo. And I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Sharad Shubhechha to everyone out there!

* Want new shoes for Pujo
** Atleast wear a new dress for Sasthi

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Fears revisited

What does one think of in the minutes precceding a near death experience? When you suddenly see it all coming to an end. In a second. Do you see your life flash before your eyes? Remember your loved ones and what you are leaving behind and how much you wish you could have one last day to spend with them? Do you have regrets? Do you forgive and forget? Or do you go out at peace with love in your heart and a song on your lips?

I have wondered about this before and what people might be thinking of right before their car crashed into something.

Well.... now I actually know.

Update: Nobody was hurt and I'm doing fine. Just shaken up.


Monday, September 18, 2006


Mrs. Banerjee has recently returned to Calcutta after having spent a few months visiting her kids and grandkids who live in America. Her son who is an engineer is married with two kids and live in San Francisco. Her daughter who's been married a little over an year lives in New Jersey. On returning home Mrs Banerjee was asked by her friend and next door neighbor,

"So Didi, how did you like it there? How is Tukun? Is she liking her new life in the US? How is your new jamai*?"

"Oh Tukun is doing very well. Her husband Jayanto is such a nice boy. He does everything he can to help around the house . From groceries to cooking to doing the dishes and cleaning the house. He is so good with his hands. And he also takes her out every evening. Either to the Mall or for ice cream or a movie. Tukun just loves it over there. She lives like a queen. And why not? She deserves every bit of it. She is such a sweet kid. I couldn't be happier for her. Although her in laws are not very nice people. They are always asking Jayanto to send them money. And Jayanto's mother tries to make Tukun's life miserable. But Jayanto is an absolute gentleman and takes such good care of my daughter. "

"And what about your son? How is he doing? The kids must be growing up real fast!"

"Yeah, the kids are growing up and I miss them already. But my stay with them was such a miserable one I don't think I will go visit them the next time I go to America."

"Why is that Didi? What happened?"

"Oh don't even get me started on that. My daughter-in-law Rima is such a nasty person. She did not like my staying with them. She makes my Bubai work like a horse. She makes him do all the housework. As if Bubai didn't have enough things to take care of. He works so hard in his office all day. Then she makes him cook and clean and take care of the kids in the evening while she sits and watches TV. Such an irresponsible and scheming girl. Had I known I wouldn't have appoved the alliance in the first place. She will talk to her mother on the phone everyday and plot new ways to make Bubai miserable. She cannot cook at all. My son has lost so much weight. How can he stay well and work so hard if he doesn't get a nice homecooked meal? She comes home from work and orders take out. If you ask me she should stay at home and learn how to cook some rice and daal! And then she is so strict with the kids. I cannot even give them chocolate and sweets without her jumping down my throat and saying nasty things about making her children "hyper". I am sure she even takes them behind closed doors and hits them. Bubai is so scared of her that he cannot say anything. Who would have known that such a quiet and shy girl would transform into a shrew in seven years! I feel so sorry for Bubai who has to put up with her. And also with her mother. Did you know her mother is going to visit them end of this year? And that too for 4 whole months! Some people are so insensitive!"

* jamai: son-in-law


Friday, September 15, 2006

No more tags please

Lately too many people have asked me to reveal myself. You know the name thing, who you are, what you do and things to that effect. I even got tagged for that picture tag that is going around (which I politely refused of course). Isn't it quite obvious that had I been remotely interested in going public I would have blogged under my real name? The mere fact that I don't have my name out there suggests that I am quite happy at maintaining my anonymity. Although with all the information I have poured into my blog over the past year or so, it might not be an impossibility to piece together my identity. But still I try my hardest to remain faceless. And so, let's just give it a rest, shall we?
Now I got this tag a while back from Brown Magic which I've been putting off for too long. So let's say we didn't have this issue of anonymity here. Here's my list of six bloggers that I have come to know through blogging that I would really be interested in meeting someday.

Priya: The one blogger I can relate to completely and feel like I can talk to forever. Where would we meet? Calcutta of course. In some place where we could talk for ages. Like the old Flury's they had on Park Street. Now most of my memories of Cal are old and faded and I know nothing of all the trendy new places and hangouts they have these days. But Flury's had such an old world charm about it, with the servers in starched white uniforms who seemed like they had stepped out of some colonial play. And who would let you sit and chat for hours over a glass of cold coffee (no lattes and capuccinos then) without once telling you to pay the bill and leave. Yes, that would be just perfect.

Rimi: One of the earliest blogs I started reading. Her zest for life, youth and wonderful style of writing kept me going back for more. Yes, I would definitely want to meet her. And most definitely over some wonderful hot chocolate fudge vanilla and raspberry torte icecream in a waffle cone with a cherry on top. Most definitely a cherry on top. And we'll throw in some brownies too. Or may be some of that delicious mishti that she seems to have mastered the art of.

J.A.P: Because I am curious. And I owe him one. So may be we could go to the coffee house for some infusion?

Rohan: One of my earliest inspirations for blogging. Sensitive, sensible, Mr Nice Guy. We'd meet in Calcutta again and go all over town. Just so I can prove to him how much nicer it is than Delhi :)

DD: Just 'cause I really like his honest blog. He reminds me so much of my brother. And he's into classical music which I am in awe of. So we'd meet at one of his concerts after he has wowed the audience with a rendition of Yaman Kalyan.

Sagnik: Yet again one of the first blogs I read and absolutely loved. Funny, witty Sagnik. To see if he is for real. Where? I have no idea. He can choose as long as he shows me how he comes up with the funniest things to write about. Oh, and may be after he gives me a ride in his shiny new car.

Yay, I'm done with the tag. No more tagging. I just refuse to do any more tags. Because tags are somewhat like those silly chain mails that we get that either promise you a million dollars or your wish come true if you can forward it to ten people, or threaten to maim, harm or kill you or your loved one unless it gets passed on. And I refuse to comply with either.

And just for the record I don't enjoy doing tags.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Madonna

Hugs and kisses. And best wishes.
Notun gurer paayesh *.
Hallmark cards.
Raspberry truffle cake.
Gifts galore and blessings abound.
Bitter-sweet memories. Soppy emails. Long distance phone calls.
Friends and family.
Loving and being loved. Across the miles.
Happy tears.
Feeling sad.
And incomplete.
Without you in it.
The one person without whom this day would not exist.
I miss you. More and more with every passing minute. And I know you are thinking of me. Right now.
Will you call me? Please?

* rice pudding laced with date palm molasses

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Oh, the things that we do

Men will always be men. And men will always turn and look at an attractive female. Call it nature, call it hormones. It happens. And I have resigned myself to the fact that I live with a man, and that my man will follow his instincts and never disappoint a female if she happens to be attractive. He will always turn and look when one is in the vicinity. It's like this little radar that men have that starts beeping like crazy everytime a potential victim steps within range.

"Sexy, tall, gorgeous female in the short skirt straight ahead"
"Little to the left bombshell in tight pants"
"On the right the blonde with terrific legs"

He seeks them out. Without fail everytime. And I'm walking right next to him and he may be talking to me about mundane things like bills and buying detergent. But all I'm hearing is the "beep" "beep" from his radar and I'm too busy trying to see who he is checking out. No wonder I miss half of what he is saying. I'm too preoccupied trying to intercept the signals that are being transmitted.

Okay, now that I have mentally accepted the fact that I cannot stop the radar from latching on to signals that are being generated all around me, I have decided that the least I can do is to set up a filter of some kind and have a say in the ones that catch his fancy. So everytime I hear the beeper going:

"To the left, straight ahead sexy dropdead gorgeous"

I turn to see who the signal's coming from and see a woman in a skimpy top and mini skirt. And I turn to him aghast and say, "Sweetheart you can't be serious. That woman's a bitch and she's dressed like a tramp. You cannot possibly be checking her out!"

B looks at me and smiles, "But I like women who dress like tramps."

"But she's old. And she has a kid with her!"

"I've always liked older women."

Now I'm positively shattered. Not only is my husband checking out other females while he is with me. But he's checking out middle aged, trashy females. With kids! That has to be quite the limit. I mean, the least he can do is to look at nice young attractive females. Let me be proud of the ones that are catching his fancy. But not someone who looks like my middle-aged next door neighbor in hot pants. That actually goes ouch! Like a slap in the face. And that is simply unacceptable.

So now when we go out I have my own radar up and running and I take the utmost pains in picking out the very best and drawing his attention to them.

"Honey to your left... over there..... the one in the black skirt.....the one in the tank top.....over there in red".

Of course my radar language is way tamed down compared to the one his radar speaks, but we both understand what we are talking about here. And for the most part I can get him to see what I want him to see. But occasionally signals from his radar can get in the way and cause some interference.

And he goes, "No that one is too skinny. I don't like skinny girls. But on the other hand you see the woman in the tight skirt....she's hot."

And I immediately say, "But you're saying that because her neckline's almost down to her navel. She's old enough to be my mother. Showing some cleavage doesn't make her hot. And just so you know, she's got implants."

I give him a triumphant look.

He looks at me with eyes as wide as saucers and goes, "No way! How the hell do you know that?"

One knowing look later I say, "Sweetheart check out that girl to your left. The one in the spaghetti straps."

And he turns immediately.
I smile.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

How green was my valley....

I was looking at some photos my cousin sent me from his recent trip to Calcutta. Photos of the city, of the people I love and grew up with, of places and times that I left behind when I came to the US. And as I went through photo after photo of known places and loved ones I was gripped with pain and sadness. It appeared to me that every little thing I knew and remembered was changed and different now. The city looked old and dirty, the people looked tired and aged. And nothing seemed to be the same anymore. And suddenly I realized as a sharp pang of regret shot through me that the only thing that was probably changed and different was me and how I viewed things now. And I wept. For times that were gone and lost. For family that I had moved away from. For days that I had spent growing up loving a place, missing it every single day, only to realize how distant I had become and how things were not the same anymore.

I left Calcutta with happy memories of my childhood. Of growing up basking in the love and affection of an extended family. Of sunny days and warm memories. Wild adolescence and much awaited adulthood. The joy of being able to do everything I wanted to, of being anyone I wanted to be. Of learning, maturing and being who I am. That is what I hold in my heart. That is what makes me smile everytime I remember home. When I think of Pujo. Poila Baisakh, Christmas, Bhai phonta.

And then yesterday happened. I saw the photos my cousin sent me. Photos that he had taken from the balcony of our house. Photos he had taken of familiar places. Of that shop down the road where we would buy stationery from. Or the library where we would get books from. The dhobi who ironed our clothes. The bus stop where we would wait endlessly in the scorching sun. The uthon-bari where we would play kumir-danga all afternoon. And they all looked so different. Everything looked old and moss-covered and like they had been picked out of some ancient bangla movie (see below views from the balcony and a house down the street). Like it was some suburban township in the middle of nowhere. Yet this was very much Calcutta. In the heart of the metropolis. There was a picture of a waterlogged street (see below). Something I had never bothered much when I was there. But now it bothers me. Why, oh why?

I looked into the faces of my uncles, my aunts, my grandparents, family friends. And everyone looked so much older than I remembered them. It was such a rude awakening. It felt like I was stuck in time and everything else had moved on without me, aging and withering away. It made me cry.

My Dad tells me that Calcutta has improved over the last few years. There are flyovers and less traffic jams, spanking new shopping malls and multiplex theatres. The city is cleaner and better. And I am sure it is all true. But why do I not see it in the places I love and want to remember that way? Why is the street still waterlogged after a shower? Why is the uthon bari not painted or the dhobi shop not fixed up? Why does looking at the photos after all these years make me want to cry? For myself. For having changed. And for finding everything else changed. I wish I had an answer.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Teacher's Day

The date on my computer tells me that today is September 5.

Many, many years back September 5 used to have this entirely different meaning for me. Me and countless other kids who went to school in India. It was Teacher's Day. A day set aside every year to celebrate the people who taught us everyday, who tolerated our silly antics, who led us down paths of discipline, quenched the thirst for knowledge and brought order into our lives. Yet the most enjoyable part of the entire Teacher's day routine was the fact that there were no classes that day. It was a break for the teachers. And it was a break for us. And that meant we would have a day filled with fun activities. Well we'd be allowed to go to school in our "party clothes". And we would have all these song-dance-drama routines for entertaining the teachers. And we'd have misty eyed teachers. Even the strictest and grimmest of all the teachers (Mrs A and Ms S) would smile and forget to punish us for talking during assembly.

And today I cannot help but smile when I remember those days back in school. And I'd like to thank all my teachers who've helped me become the person I am today.

SC for teaching me to love the language, embrace and truly understand Shakespeare, for coming back unharmed after the car accident and loving me like no other.
RDG for being one of the nicest teachers ever and for making me want to be more like you. A person that everyone loved.
SB for some of the funniest moments that still provide so much amusement when we talk about you and Bangla class.
MB for making me fall in love with painting. All over again.
V for making me think that Life Science was the most fascinating subject on earth. I wouldn't have gone that path if weren't for you and the way you taught the subject.
Sr. J I may have been a completely different person had you not instilled all those moral science lessons in us.
R for teaching me Math and getting me to love it.
M I have always given you the most credit for my getting through JEE and into Medicine. And you are the only teacher from my plus two years I care to remember and thank.
PKS for making Anatomy classes the most enjoyable ever. For mneumonics and snippets that made the hardest things come alive for us.
AKS for making me want to go into ENT. Almost.
DKB I wouldn't have learnt Surgery if it weren't for you and your early morning class at 7.
PGO for being my guide and advisor and seeing me through unchartered waters.

And there are countless others. People who have held my hand, people who have taught, trained and guided me. To everyone who has held a light for me and helped me find my way,

Happy Teachers Day!

May you continue to teach, guide and change lives.
Shape lives.
As you have shaped mine.