Monday, September 04, 2017

Salon 4: This I believe.... why, how, whats missing and does it fit my purpose of life?

Becoming vulnerable yourself allows you to connect better. Upon thinking more about it, I realized I am indeed at my most vulnerable when I connect, to people and ideas, novel and familiar alike. These aha moments are syncs between my outer and inner worlds and constitutes the everything-makes-sense, feeling-alive parts of my life. I am therefore also happiest in these same moments, feeling the most empowered and transformed by the experience. Not unlike others, I have evolved to guard against this, fearing hurt, ridicule and lack of acceptance when I am vulnerable. This barrier is eased, proportionally, by an unconscious evaluation of personal integrity in those I meet. I suffer the uncomfortable cost of being disproportionately tolerant of those that I give my trust. However, I feel this is somewhat redeemed because while right and wrong has evolved through history, the desirability of a lack of pretensions perhaps has not, across all civilization.

This practice and belief has served me well in most situations, barring the context of leadership, where, while it has been important to foster trust and openness within the team using these same strategies, it has also been important to be more cautious about the extent to which I allow myself to become vulnerable (modulated by who is the team of course, which you often cannot choose.)

An uncomfortable point in my belief system is around equality. I aspire to find closure for myself in this and I haven't yet... As I said, while I strive to connect with diverse perspectives, I cannot conceive of a world where everything is on equal footing. I fear that the desire to protect the faintest voice is a tyranny in itself. In this context, I sometime think of genetics. It is believed that if we only allow the strongest traits to propagate, we will destroy our race, because ultimately a diverse gene pool is our best chance for survival against unknown odds. Then again, we dont want traits A, B and C because it falls short on our current best metric for evaluation. What do we do? In other words, should you have a voice simply because you are? How can we fight with laziness, deception, treachery, inadequate preparation and still be inclusive and diverse? How can we not drag the best of us back, and still bring the last of us along? I struggle with it. At this point, I dont know what tools can help me understand the nature of this aspect of human inequality and how to deal with it without feeling I am being narrow minded.

The purpose of life is to procreate. No kidding. You are but a vehicle for your genes to keep going. Outside of that I dont think there is a purpose of life. I am a local being changing constantly in my mind. The purpose of my life also changes with my changing worldview. Right now, I live for the aha moments connecting with people, ideas, nature. I live for stories and constructs that help me understand, that help me process, that help me connect to the eternal truths. Our existence is a cosmic fallout that could be over just as easily, just as purposelessly. While I am here, I want a good story, brimming with vivid drama, electrifying speed, breathtaking beauty and soul-warming authenticity.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Reading the braille of life

It is indeed like a braille where you feel your way around, smothered in fogs of confusion, bias and the limits of your own experience. So, how can one ever presume to know what to believe!? How does one even attempt to evaluate their own value system? I concede this attitude is not helpful. What I have found helpful instead is to define a system by which I discard beliefs thrust upon me by life, one onerous item at a time. Over the years, I decided I do not believe in god, I do not believe in social stature, I have little faith in the social frameworks in which I struggle for my survival. Why? Because they turned out to be phony, inconsistent, imperfect and unfair. And I realized a lot of these evolved in primitive times and societies and bears all the hallmarks of backward thinking. While man has reached for the moon, they somehow forgot to look closer to home and find it very hard to update the basic tenets that govern our lives.

I found it worked for me to instead believe in people. People with one infallible quality: integrity. I dont need to know the last details about them, but I recognize it when I see it. People with integrity have my implicit trust, my affection, my devotion. What is this thing I call Integrity? It is a basic honesty in their eyes and their soul. A complete lack of pretension. Every other good quality can and does stem from this. I believe everyone has this quality to begin with. But we do not allow it to blossom. Indeed we have forgotten how to nurture it in the social structure in which we live. We need tools to teach people to seek their own fulfillment, define the achievements that resonate with their soul. We dont have those tools. So people pretend. People pursue what they do not want, or just think they want, and in this endless loop of deception, self-delusion, self-blaming spend unhappy lives. It makes me sad. I really value honesty. And an honest conversation with yourself is the first step in leading an honest life.

Sometimes if you take honesty too far, you might be inclined to something deemed inappropriate. And that is indeed a danger with responding to things with too much spontaneity. But in this imperfect unfair life we are given on this earth, I feel being completely natural has an irresistible appeal to me. I like those people that can listen and honestly respond to their hearts. There is a certain purity about responding to the innermost calls of your nature. It sets the stage for works of great beauty, power and lasting legacy. A bad apple or two will always emerge. And their conscience will not reign them in. Our laws may or may not reign them in either. But it is not my task to come up with a solution on how to deal with those aberrations. I am just saying I like aware people that think about things, come up with their own rules and listen to their heart instead of going through life like a zombie pursuing an agenda that is not truly meaningful to them.

I question, I absorb, I analyze and I also listen to my gut. I really do trust my instinct. It has not failed me often. Do you think I stray from the path of reason and rational by allowing my subconscious to guide me? I think that is an unreasonable assertion. After all, we have millions of years of evolution at play that has tuned our subconscious. I like to use that power. It knows. It senses. It can read what I cannot with all the tools of reasoning at my disposal. I find that fascinating. I am always ready to learn something new. I am always open to surprises, to the breaking down of my existing frameworks to incorporate new truths and unexpected epiphanies. This is why I forgive easily and profusely, which is almost an amoral proposition, because sometimes forgiveness may be deemed undeserved. But I remind myself. What is morally acceptable today may not have been so in another day and time. As long as it was done in good faith and without spite, I try to empathize, even when I am on the wrong foot in today's socio-political context.

Where does science fit in this picture? I think that to wonder about nature, to probe, to study, to build, to wield its awesome powers is to experience the true aha of life. Certainly, science is our salvation. It is the voice of sanity in an otherwise insane world. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Kishore stood on the banks of the river Ganga, the longest and strongest of the Indian rivers. The Ganga crosses over to the neighboring state of Bihar completing its passage through the West Bengal at this point. The weather is unlike Kishore’s warm, humid hometown of Kolkata. While the sun is harsher, it does not seem to ever completely dispel the chill in the air. The grounds are not flat as he is used to see; they are rolling with hills made of rocky soil, dense with many unidentifiable greens, fennel, chief among them. The fennel blooms have thickened the air with something sweet, something intoxicating. Recent unseasonal rains have coated the landscape with fresh foliage, softening its raw appeal. Kishore stood smoking his habitual cigarette, enjoying the late afternoon warmth. A kingfisher swooped into the waters right before him and then veered back to the sky. Kishore looked hard at it, straining to spot a catch in its powerful beak.

Kishore reflected on the isolation of his current location with mixed emotions. A motorboat could ferry him to the nearest village, 15 km away across the river. To go by land, he would have to access the Bandh Bridge and that was more than a 100 kilometers away. There was no other human habitation nearby except for a row of hastily constructed shacks that now lined the open area not far from where he stood. 

Today was unusually quiet, a pleasant respite from the roar of heavy machinery that has been disturbing the solitude here lately. This is because it was Sunday and Kishore and his men had the day off. They had all arrived a few weeks back, and set up camp at this spot, tasked to build a bridge over this segment of the Ganga. They had debated setting up camp on this side of the river long and hard. Finally, engineering considerations forced their hand. The two Bridge & Columns Inc. engineers have spent last several days pouring over their large draft sheets and calculations. Last week, the ground was broken and the digging started at full speed. In the coming week, they planned to begin pouring concrete.

When first offered, Kishore had not wanted to accept this assignment. He had recently gotten married. He did not want to leave Anita behind, and neither did he want her to live on construction sites with him. However this was too big an opportunity to pass up. Anita has come to visit Kishore over this weekend. They had rooms at a hotel on the other side of the river uptown. Just then though, she was, setting up the room Kishore had on the construction site. She seemed conflicted in her reaction to this place, alternately admiring of the natural beauty and dismayed at the pared down living conditions. The bare windows, the rough-hewn floors, the poorly lit bathroom had overwhelmed Anita at first. But she was adjusting, working their domestic help hard to set up a semblance of a home. The help, Buddhu, was a local man in his late fifties. He had no wife but a lovely daughter, Roopa that lived with him on the campsite and also worked as labor with the construction workers.

Kishore looked back to the waters. The aquamarine stretched endlessly before him in the bright afternoon light. Tiny waves broke into soft foam on the colorful rocks ashore. That idyllic picture did not fool Kishore. Some years ago he had been to a picnic spot by another segment of this same river. He was a final year engineering student at Shibpore at the time. His college crush, Tara, was with him that afternoon. She had worn her hair in two braids with red ribbons; braids, that he hated. He preferred her to wear her hair loose. It was a show of defiance, he knew.  Tara hated Kishore’s friends. A shadow fell across his face as he recalled his days at his undergraduate college. He was constantly teased about Tara by his classmates in pretty unpalatable language. It was mostly harmless braggadocio; but it wasn't at some level. The friendly abuse used to get on his nerves. Especially when the boys made off-color remarks about Tara. He never could stand up to his friends; couldn’t defend his friends to Tara either.

The waters that afternoon had been as lovely and the breeze as gentle. Kishore could see Tara down at the river, playing with the water at her feet. He had asked her not to go into the waters, but again, she had chosen to ignore him. She and her friend were posing for photographs. From his vantage up on the high bank, Kishore watched her with that abandon you feel when you have an off chance to closely look at something you love, without needing to be self-conscious doing it. And then the other boys found him rudely interrupting his pleasant reverie. After tormenting Kishore for a while, they decided to head down to the riverbed as well to join the girls. Kishore stayed put as they went sniggering at their own sick jokes. And then... Then, came divine retribution.

At first it sounded like the temple bells. He looked around trying to locate the source. And then, it begun to sound more like alarm bells. Soon it was smothered by a much louder whooshing sound. Then he saw it. And instantly, he knew it was too late.

Huge waves of water came rushing down the riverbed. He began screaming for his classmates to get out. The water level rose by over five feet within seconds. His friends struggled for foothold in the fast rising water, shocked, confused and rapidly losing the battle. Before Kishore could absorb what really was happening, they were washed away, out of sight.

Not one of the seven had survived, including Tara. They had somehow missed the announcement around the opening of the dam gates scheduled for that afternoon. There was no notice at the site, no warning. Kishore staggered physically as that horrific memory washed over him with sickening force of immediacy.


"Are you alright?” There was Anita approaching him with a little basket in her hands, as Kishore returned to present day and time. She looked pretty in her printed blouse and jeans. Her freshly washed wet hair was hanging loose, left to air-dry. After their picnic, Kishore fell asleep on the grass. Anita sat watching him with quiet content. But as they lay on the banks, Anita became conscious that this was not her tame, green, constantly cured lawn from back home. The green here looked as alive as it looked luscious. What unfriendly creatures lurked in its diaphanous expanses? She tried to shake off her pessimism and give herself up to the present.

As they were walking back afterward, they noticed several holes in the ground, strewn here and there covering a largish area. The grass was less dense here, but enough to have camouflaged the existence of the holes from a distance. Both wondered at what they could be. Snakes, hedgehogs, wolves and wild cats – these were some of the unruly locals they had received warnings about. The holes looked like some kind of a burrowing animal’s handiwork. They could very well be snake pits realized Kishore.  He did not say anything to avoid unnecessary alarm. The remainder of their silent walk wasn’t as comfortable as each tried to stem a flow of uncertain worries cropping up at the back of their minds.

Things begun to settle down at this little hamlet. Kishore’s quarters flourished with little curtains, printed bed-sheets and the smell of good food as Anita kept up her visits and added a bit of color every time she came. She even started a makeshift garden growing chilies and tomatoes. The couple and Dixit (one of the other engineers on site) spent many happy evenings here in each other's company. Kishore’s days were busy with backbreaking work, but things were moving forward as well as can be expected.

Some time into their second month, something interesting happened generating considerable excitement among the crew. Dixit was getting out of his shack. Just as he was stepping out, something fell on the area right in front of him at his door. It was a tiny snake, hissing vigorously, not more than six inches.  Turned out that it was a harmless grass snake. Raju, a local little boy that hung about the site often, had come to Dixit's rescue, skillfully getting rid of the unwelcome visitor on a stick end.

Anita wasn’t happy that the snake wasn’t killed. However, the locals regarded snakes with some reverence and considered it ill advised to tempt the gods with an unnecessary act of aggression. For Kishore, the removal seemed sufficient, as it was after all just a harmless neighbor doing its morning rounds. In any case, it was unnerving to the urban tenants unaccustomed to life in the wild. They spent countless hours discussing and retelling the incident. One particular issue seemed beyond resolution. Was it the jaggery that drew the snake?

Upon inquiry, Kishore learnt the area did have poisonous snakes. This is why this bank of the river had remained uninhabited until they had come and set up camp. At the moment though, their only recourse was caution. They reacted by fortifying the camp with a generous spray of carbolic acid around the boundaries. And over the next few days, they remained on high alert; shining bright torches everywhere they went and thumping around excessively with sticks. Over time, the panic subsided bit by bit.

Dixit though, continued musing long after others were willing to forget the snake incident. His theory was, this was not an accident at all. He suspected the Jhara people of planting the animal to intimidate them. And why should the Jhara target them? Well, there was some slight context to that suspicion.

Dixit had started out extra friendly toward the tribal workmen. His lack of reserve had lowered the typical respect the lower class laborers will show gentlemen. But Dixit hadn’t been able to handle that as time progressed. Matters had come to a head over one evening’s excess consumption of cheap local liquor that had made Dixit sick. He had become the subject of some ridicule amongst the locals. The borderline-friendly audacious banter of the workmen begun to wear his patience thin.

Another bone of contention between Dixit and the workmen was brewing around Buddhu’s daughter. Dixit was strongly attracted to her. Soon though, he realized two things. First, that despite their own promiscuous habits, the Jhara was very protective of their girls as far as outsiders were concerned. His dalliance with Roopa had not gone unnoticed and it was unwelcome. Second, Roopa was generous with her affections with more than one man amongst the locals and although willing and flirtatious, didn’t hold him in any particular esteem. The feeling of being slighted by those he felt were inferior to him made him bitter and belligerent. And the loneliness of this place aggravated the problem, lacking any legitimate distractions.

Baidu Dnari came to see Kishore this afternoon at their construction site. Baidu was tolerated as the medical man of this community. The man was well into his late fifties, wore dirty western clothes and alluded to having lived in Kolkata in a prior life. He seemed to have considerable influence over the locals. He disbursed his own concoctions of medicinal potions and other assuredly illicit drugs. Kishore had a gut feeling that Baidu was a trained doctor whose license had been revoked due to some malpractice. He couldn’t quite put his finger on why that notion was born to him. Why else would a doctor seek life of abject anonymity in this nondescript corner of the earth? Clearly, Baidu had become integrated with the Jhara. His life was now with these people in the quagmire of voodoo, cheap magic, drugs and liquor. Baidu had tried to be friendly to the visiting engineers attempting to ingratiate himself as a gentleman. But they had not welcomed his advances. Kishore sensed something sinister in this man and had not wanted to do anything with him. At the moment, it seemed like the rooster had come home to roost.

Baidu was recounting that Dixit had been caught flirting with one of the tribal girls. The Jhara were not happy with Dixit’s behavior. In particular, Dixit had been observed drinking tnari, a kind of cheap liquor the other night with Roopa. Baidu’s eyes shone with lecherous insinuation. He continued to speak in serious tones though, of the threat from the locals if things were to go out of hand. Kishore pretended to disbelieve the allegations. He made a mental note to warn Dixit. He silently recalled having seen the dark and voluptuous Roopa hanging around Dixit on one too many occasions.

And so it went. The men worked at bridge building furiously. And although each maintained their distance, a sense of kinship seemed to engulf all living at such close quarters at the construction site, the team of engineers and their support staff alike. Anita learnt to make panta rice like the tribal women from leftover rice. She also learnt the special lopsided bun that was such a popular hairstyle with the Jhara women. Roopa sported borrowed nail polish and learnt to make french toast. Dixit continued in his fascination of the lovely Roopa, both attracted and repelled in equal parts by the animalism and insincerity so central to this woman. The summer passed quickly and the bridge neared completion in record time.  Shortly before the finish line though the predictable rhythm of their lives was rudely interrupted one last fatal time.

It had been a warm day. An impromptu party at Dixit's house had buoyed up the mood for all. Kishore and Anita returned to their shack late, 8:30 almost. It was unusual to be out that late because of the lack of good lighting. This night however had the advantage of a full, luminous moon. They had not hurried. The couple stood knocking for a while waiting for Budhhu to open up. It had gotten cold. Both stood shivering and irritated at the delay. They had been noticing with annoyance that both Budhhu’s hearing and eyesight left much to be desired.

Finally, running out of patience, Kishore pulled hard on the door. The hoop that latched the door to the hook on the ceiling was jolted out and the door released. Kishore and Anita entered their room. As Anita switched the light on, Kishore proceeded to check on Budhhu who kept mostly to the adjoining kitchen area where he also slept. Budhhu was lying in the corner of his slender bed rolled out on the ground, crouched in an unusual fashion. As the light shone on his face, his eyes opened briefly. They were not focused and his mouth was foaming slightly. Kishore asked if he was sick. He did not get a response. Was this a case of tnari or marijuana? Or was it snakebite, which was a thought never far from the mind in these parts. His quick inspection of Budhhu’s legs and arms did not yield any telltale signs. He returned to find Anita in the main room.

Something had to be done. Kishore went back out to inform Dixit. To fetch a doctor, one would have to take the boat out across the river. And it was already pretty late. So they stood debating if that was really necessary or could it wait till the morning? Kishore, Anita, and Dixit were talking in low voices trying to come to a decision. 

“Who’s there?” called out Dixit noticing a shadow near the door.

Raju, the little local boy, poked his head and declared, “Dnari Baba is waiting outside. They are here for Budhhu”.

Kishore stepped out. Baidu Dnari stood with a wicked half smile, visibly drunk. A crowd of over 50 people with a dirty looking sadhu at the helm, stood beside him. The sadhu was naked except an orange loincloth, unkempt hair, beard, and several rows of beads covering his chest-full of matted hair. He held a broom in one hand and a pitcher in the other.  His eyes glittered with a mad gleam in the light from the flaming torch in the hands of one of their gang.

“What do you want?” asked Dixit.

“We have come for Budhhu. “, said one of the tribal women in the entourage. “An evil spirit has taken possession of Budhhu. He is very lucky that Doga baba is here. Doga baba will exorcise the evil from Budhhu’s body.” As she said the name of the sadhu, she joined her hands in respect and touched them to her forehead in prayer. The excess of vermillion on her burnished dark skin reminded Kishore of the goddess Kali.

“Budhhu is sick and we are going to take the boat out to get a doctor. You clear out, so we can get on with it,” said Dixit testily. Wham! Came a blow to his head. Dixit fell on his face and looked around in amazement as he held his reeling head now bleeding from a cut.

“You stay out of it, city boy.” Came a deep voice, as an unfamiliar face brandished a knife gleaming wickedly in his grip. These were not the laborers from their camp.  Where had the additional people come from? Clearly, there were many here over whom the engineering team’s authority was non-existent.

The three people that were educated, that came from civil society, suddenly felt a shiver down their spine. They became acutely aware of the contrast and their vulnerability amongst these people. The decision making suddenly seemed very much taken out of their hands.

Kishore tried to intervene as calmly as he could. But the tribal men were adamant. Kishore appealed to Baidu to reason with the people. “He needs a doctor. You know that! Help me.” Baidu remained stone faced and unresponsive.

“What do you think is wrong with him? Will he survive the night?” implored Kishore with increasing panic. But Baidu’s drunk, blank mutiny was a denial of everything civilized, or rational. They hadn’t accepted him. He was one of these illiterate. He was not going to do anything to drive the course of tonight’s events how the engineers wanted it.

Kishore made a last ditch attempt to muscle in, but was soon crouching near the ground next to Dixit from blows delivered to his head. Budhhu’s fate seemed sealed. He was at the mercy of the hoodlums. The engineers and their family stood huddled in one corner, incapable of preventing the barbaric proceedings.

A bonfire had been lit. Budhhu lay listless, white as a sheet. And the sadhu was chanting unintelligible mantras as he circled Budhhu. Occasionally he would hit Budhhu with the broom. Bloody welts began appearing on Budhhu’s body. The crowd stood mesmerized and alternately rising to throes of frenzy responding to the sadhu’s ministrations. The exorcism proceeded with growing fervor. The smell of marijuana was strong in the air.

Kishore stood paralyzed with the group. Roopa sobbed hard as she stood with them. Roopa had tried to pull her father free, but been dragged out by the tribal women by her hair. She bled from kicks that had been aimed at her in the dark. She sought refuge from Anita, who held Roopa in tight embrace most of the remainder of that painful night. She was not only trying to console, but also fought to find some semblance of sanity for herself from that act, as they drowned in the madness of those unreal moments. In plain view of that group that evening, Budhhu Paswan was repeatedly beaten and beaten unto his death.

Next morning rose unforgivingly. Each of the helpless witnesses of the event struggled with the shock and the unavoidable guilt of the cruel death. An unshakable sense of impotence seemed to have sucked out the life from them. All wondered silently at what they could have done and didn’t do. Roopa left the settlement. Doga baba was banished from the camp premises. Kishore had wanted to turn him over to the police, but they were all accomplices to this murder. In the end, it did not happen. Anita left for Kolkata in shock and dismay.

Kishore couldn’t find any rest in his mind. What really had happened that night? Surely he was witness to the barbaric murder of the man, but what had gotten Budhhu sick in the first place? The engineers razed more of the shrubbery and fortified the area with more carbolic acid, suspecting snakebite. But they weren’t really sure. There was no sign of snakebite on Budhhu. All this activity was more to silence their own raging conscience than anything else. Kishore was also keenly conscious of his being the helpless witness to an act of what seemed like preventable tragedy, a second time in his life. Only as before, he had no idea how he could have intervened to change the course of events.

So what did kill Budhhu Paswan?

It was indeed snake venom, but not administrated by an accidental snakebite, discovered Kishore some days afterward.

Apparently, there is a type of snake whose venom has hallucinogenic properties in limited dosage. Someone had supplied this concoction to Budhhu, possibly for easing the back pain Budhhu kept complaining about. The dosage had been fatal. Kishore discovered the unfinished bottle amongst Budhhu’s belongings. He had its contents analyzed at a laboratory in Kolkata. He strongly suspected Baidu for having been the supplier.  On inquiring at lal bazaar police station he learnt that a man matching Baidu’s description was indeed an anesthesiologist that had a warrant out in his name. It would explain the man’s inexplicable reticence that night when Kishore was pleading him to step in so that they could get some real help for Budhhu. And Baidu had gone missing ever since. Even as Kishore struggled meticulously to piece the story together, he knew there was no way to have justice served to the victim.

Today, five years since the completion of the bridge, the solitary bank has been completely transformed into a lively hub with new constructions, hotels, shops and residences. Anita and Kishore are sitting on the balcony of their hotel room sipping tea. The serenity of the place they had known from those years ago is a thing of the past. Most Jhara no longer live around here. They have receded further into the jungles downstream. Some Jhara women make long daily treks to come work as maidservants to the new settlers in the area. A dark girl comes to clear away their cups. Anita sighs, reminded of Roopa.

Kishore puts out a little wrapped packet in front of Anita. Somewhat surprised, Anita leans forward to take the box in her hand to check its contents. It is a pair of silver anklets, popular among the tribal women. He must have picked it up this morning when he was out by himself. Anita smiled remembering her fascination with these when she had first arrived after her marriage. She had asked Kishore to buy her a pair back then. But it had never happened. The heaviness they had been feeling ever since having gotten here, suddenly begun to lift. Anita gently tapped the anklets to make them jingle with their characteristic sweet melody. And then proceeded to wear them.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Son of the soil

"একদিন ফিরে যাব চলে... এ ঘর শূন্য করে, বাঁধন ছিন্ন করে, যদি চাহ যেও ভুলে!"  - Salil Chowdhury

In the month of July several years ago now, Swapno lost his father. I am thinking of him not just because we passed his death anniversary a few days ago. What happened was, I found myself watching Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri and then reading his Bombaier Bombete, both for the umpteenth times and loving every minute of it. And it suddenly dawned upon me. The men and women Ray wrote about, men like my father-in-law are simply no more. They are no more in our music or stories or movies. That which was quintessentially Bengali has been replaced by brand Indian. Whether losing the regional character in the national colors is a good thing or not is a debate for another day. I simply realized how deeply I missed the person he was, including his essential Bengali-ness.

I met my father-in-law for the first time in the 3rd year of my undergraduate engineering days. I had just started going out with Swapno. His family was curious about this new character that monopolized so much of his time, especially because I was female. On the first day I visited, I stayed for an hour or so chatting with his parents, eating up some scrumptious mangoes. Mangoes were one of the loves of my father-in-law’s life. He bought the first mangoes that hit the markets and continued buying mangoes till the very last of them disappeared from the grocers', price no object. He took great pleasure in the taste and smell of each distinct variety. It struck a chord with me like few other things could perhaps! I recall his love of good quality tea. He would specially select, lovingly package and send across to us in the US in the later years, again price no object. It wasn’t that either Swapno or my family rolled in money. He was passionate about few simple things. But it was a deep attachment that he indulged in unconditionally when the opportunity presented itself. He was a connoisseur of many such delicacies that make up the Bengali palate. In my weekly visits to their house for about two years, I had consumed more variety of fish than ever before up to that point in life. He favored fish prepared with mustard paste (sorse bata). I remember the date palm jaggery (patali gurs) he procured from the deep interiors of Bengal with a gorgeous scent and taste I have yet to encounter again. And I reciprocated his enthusiasm with all the enthusiasm of my soul. We definitely had each other at hello.

After the meeting with his parents the first evening, Swapno and I left their house but did not leave station. We hung about Barrackpore, relishing our alone time, which was not so easily available in those days. We were ambushed by the Kalboshekhi, a storm of notorious fury that rages over Bengal at the tail end of summer. I reappeared at their house the same evening, soaking wet, dripping from head to toe, terribly embarrassed. After I changed into a sari borrowed from my mother-in-law, my father-in-law accompanied me home. On our train ride back, he immediately put me at ease with his endless stories. It was the first of many such occasions where I was the enthralled listener of his incredible tales. They had open drains in Barrackpore when he was a boy; my father-in-law chatted about how during the monsoon rains, fishes would rush up the drains. Sometimes they caught those and lunched on the fried catch. He talked about his time with some Saontali people in his teenage who instilled in him his love of nature. I had not met a naturalist ever to that point. I think my father-in-law was my first one. He would go on unbelievable long walks into the un-manicured, un-maintained wildernesses of Bengal and emerge completely unscathed and at ease. I loved hearing him talk, and smile with his eyes shining with unabashed pleasure, during any storytelling of his time in the open spaces.

He was affable always. I have never seen him losing his temper. But this could be irksome. He could be quite stubborn if he wished to be. With subjects that he was not interested in, it was difficult to get him to respond. Once I found him running a parallel conversation with two people on the train, only vaguely interested in the activity. He seemed to be answering alternate questions from each! He loved to talk with strangers and familiar faces alike, but with only those he actually liked. His irreverence for what did not meet his standards (often at odds with the accepted set of standards) was always amusing to me. He hated being hurried. Once we were headed to a dentist and I was worried we will be late. After a lengthy train ride, I pointedly asked him what the time was. No response. Afterward he told me, just you see, the doctor will be late also!! One day he discovered I could not get my luchi or parota or rooti to be regular shaped circles. He told me “Really, you can’t!? Gopal’s daughter can!!” This daughter of Gopal was about 8-year-old at the time.  To this day, I remember his mock knitted brows asking me why I couldn’t make those perfect shapes, every time I make them, still imperfectly!

I remember making firecrackers for one Kali puja with my father-in-law leading the project. He bought the casings, all the ingredients and rigged up a make-shift balance in the veranda to measure out the contents. It was an amazingly fun experience. On the day that Swapno and I married and returned to their house, I found a little garland made by stringing up the left-over casings hanging near the doorway. He pointed them to me quietly. What a sweet personal welcome amidst all the commotion of strange faces in what was to be my new household!  

He was a tall man, taller than my husband and quite handsome! I remember him on his bicycle bringing home fresh groceries every morning for the few days that I lived under the same roof as him. He loved to whistle some of the tunes from Shyamol Mitra, Pintu Bhattacharya songs in moments of relaxation, particularly as it cooled down slightly in the evenings of summer and he could be found taking a bath in his gamcha (thin cotton towels) by the water drum. The romanticism of his nature was plain to see. He was a bit unworldly wise, and I can see where Swapno gets this particular trait! But it did not matter then. It never mattered to me really. I could always love a man that saw through the trappings of life and got to the heart of it. To enjoy the soft breeze, to relish your food and to love. I remember the day I was leaving for the US for the very first time. He had come down to our house to say goodbye. He bought some gaja, a type of fried sweet that I loved. He gave those to me and then looked at me for a few minutes. Just looked without any words. And I always tear up to this day when I think of those moments. It is a gift to know how to touch another person’s heart. I am grateful to have met this wonderful, dear man that had depth, wisdom, humor, compassion, simplicity and an incredible integrity!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bar-এ menu!

কিছুদিন আগে এক আড্ডায় শুনলুম পিনো সহযোগে পাতুরির প্রস্তাব। Concept টার চটক আছে । মনে মনে ভাবলুম এ কেমন pairing? বাংলার রান্নায় wine বা অন্য কোনো liquor এর জায়গা আছে না নেই আমি জানিনা। Experiments বহু হচ্ছে, এবং সেটা ভালোই হচ্ছে বলে আমি মনে করি। যা হোক, এই প্রসঙ্গের দোটানায় যারা ভুগছে, তাদের জন্য এই কবিতা।
Bar-এ menu
সুক্তের পাশে বসে Soda Italiano,
বলে তুমি আমাদের Bitters দের চেন?
Chardonay আর শাগ-এ তে মোলায়েম Hi-Hello!
দুজনেই ভাবে মনে, পারি না! কি দিন এলো!
এর পর বড়া এল, Beer-এর হাত ধরে,
Lentils -Riesling, দূর থেকে  হাত নাড়ে।

পোস্ত Sauvignon বসে foi gras র পাশে,
বাটা মাখা সবখানে লোকে দেখি ভালোবাসে।

মুড়ি ঘন্ট Madeira, পটল আর port-এ 
ষোলোআনা baby-আনা জমে খটখটে
Pinot দিয়ে পাতুরি, ইলিশ কে চাতুরী!
সবঘটে বিরিয়ানি-Bourbon-এ তে ইয়ারী।
পাকা রুই-এ কালিয়া,  চেয়ে আছে Kahlua,
শেষ পাতে Moscato, মন্ডা ও হালুয়া!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

ICCHE (ইচ্ছে)

একুশ বাইশ ফুটছে জীবন
সব অনিশ্চিত, তবুও মন
বাঁচার মজায় দিব্যি মেতে
সময়ের-ই আলেয়ায়ে
ঝাপসা ওই দিন গুলোয়ে   
ইচ্ছে করে ফিরে যেতে

নন্দন, রবীন্দ্রসদন
ভিক্টোরিয়া উড়ছে মন
যেন টাইম ক্যাপসুলে
ট্রেনের পর ট্রেন যাচ্ছে ফিরে
তবু কথা বাকি পরে
শেষ কথা চোখের আদরে

ইচ্ছে কাঁপে বুকের তারে
যাওয়া তো যায়না ফিরে 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

the murals of my city

গন্ধ কফির ছড়ায় ধোঁয়ায়
দুঃখ শুকোয়ে পাখির ডানায়
স্যাক্সের সুরে চিন্তার বুনন !
সন্ধ্যের রঙ মাখে অবচেতন

ভয়ে মানুষ, টালমাটাল, সবই গেল মাড়িয়ে!
কাঁধে চড়ে, ওরা কারা, দেখে শুধু দাঁড়িয়ে ?
দোটানায় দুরকম ইশারা দুচোখে  
কঠিন সওয়াল ওরা দেয়ালে এঁকেছে    
স্যাক্সের সুরে চিন্তার বুনন !
সন্ধ্যের রঙ মাখে অবচেতন

[মেডুসা চিন্তায়ে চিন্তায়ে অন্ধ
ওর যেন সব রাস্তা গুল বন্ধ
এই ফাঁকি, আর সহ্য হয়না নাকি?
অন্য পৃথিবীর আকাশ ডাকছে তাইকি?

ছবির ইঙ্গিত মন ছুঁয়ে যায় 
রং ঝলসানো চোখ ছল ছল এ পাড়ায়ে]
স্যাক্সের সুরে চিন্তার বুনন !
সন্ধ্যের রঙ মাখে অবচেতন

অনেকদিন পর অনুরণনে নতুন গান| এবারের বিষয় San Francisco শহরের Urban Art.
একদিন হাঠৎ-ই রাস্তায় চোখে পরে যায় muralist মোনা ক্যারোনের এক সৃষ্টি, এবং আমাদের দুজনকেই আকৃষ্ট করে | বছর শেষের ছুটির দিনগুলি কাটাই শহরের mural district গুলো ঘুরে ঘুরে| নজর কাড়া বিশেষ কয়েকটা art work নিয়ে ব্যস্ত আলোচনায়| এই গানের কথা সেই কথোপকথন থেকে এবং সুর আমাদের দুজনের একসঙ্গে করা|
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Friday, December 16, 2016

The Tarpon on Mahalaya

You taught me how to love, how to dream, years ago
And years later, you told me of your disillusionment
With life
I was reading some letters from your final days
Full of sadness and resignation
How could you take pleasure in all that pain
I guess its like I push my loose tooth further
Is that how you felt?
I wont say RIP, because you are dead and done
Whats it to you? You are not around
This auspicious morn
I sing a tarpon in your memory
As your father sang for our ancestors, for many years.
Does your son do that now?
I wish I knew your son better
I wish I was friends with your loving wife
In all the connectedness of this world
I am losing touch with the connections that mattered
How do they remember you?
I remembered you out of the blue.
I dug up your letters
And all the sadness you had poured out to me
Such a contrast to the magic I've known in your company
Reading Tintins and Indrojwal comics together
Or eating egg roll or chowmin from Jadob-da's kitchen
Sharing a cigarette, which you hated to do with me
But it was after midnight and you were out, so it had to be
Prepping me for the engineering entrance exams
Giving me sums to do
Four integrations, each worth 25 points, you write
Hit or miss, I must, I must, get them right
On it, depended my entire happiness
I had to had to impress
Upon you, that I was so very special
The rain checks on some bhai phonta days
The mum bouquet I got you on one birthday
They come back to me,
And your incredulous expression
At my ever so outlandish, action
What we mean to someone is so often at odds with what they mean to us
You have gone. Even this will go, this remembrance
Until then, bon nuit, mon chere ami
I can hear you inquire whatever that means
Thursday, September 29, 2016

Saturday, November 12, 2016


Its okay, really, dont you dare, upset her apple cart
Let her be. let her be to do whats in her heart
You couldn't agree on how she read
The braille of life from Ae to Zed
But hopes and fears, marked her years
It wasn't too bad, she said

Incandescent with clarity
She dwells on her reality
Flashback to twists and turns she chose
For this eventuality
We'll never know
If things weren't so
If her sense of loss wouldn't still prevail
The clock is ticking for us all
From this ennui, there's no bail!

Sunday, January 03, 2016

How to Rescue Bengali?

I try my hand on occasion to write in my mother tongue. It is becoming an increasingly tedious exercise. And the lack of a readily available tool for spell check is the least of my problems!

So what is it? Just the lack of practice? No, not at all. My blog will testify to my persistence over the years to keep writing in Bengali. I certainly speak the language at home. And will even admit to feeling a wee bit uncomfortable when forced to keep up in English for really long.

The truth is, we dont really use pure Bengali anymore! Most of our talking in the language is interspersed with English words. I struggle to find Bengali words for commonly used English ones.

My hunch is that, the western sensibilities to which we are all becoming more and more accustomed, require an evolution of our vocabulary to include words that we just did not need before! For example, I wanted to say, a person is very predictable, or he is very image conscious, or, I'd like some privacy. Check out the google translator. The corresponding Bengali words were archaic, outdated, and often missing the point! We dont have words for these concepts in Bengali, but these are very much a reality of our 21st century lives.

So I worry. How is a people defined, if not by their language? Language is the true soul of a culture. How else do you capture the diversity and expanses of a people's thoughts and emotions!

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Sukumar Ray as a writer of dark comedy

সুকুমার রায়ের লেখা পড়েনি এমন বাঙালী বিরল! বিশেষ করে পুজোর সময়ে, প্রতিটি পাড়ার সংস্কৃতিক অনুষ্ঠানে, কোনো না কোনো ছোটো বাচ্ছা "বাবুরাম শাপু" আবৃত্তি করেই থাকে! এটা বোধায়ে আজকাল একটা ট্রাডিশনের পর্যায়ে পড়ে। হঠাত আমার মনে হল কান্ডটি কিন্তু নেহাত বেমানান!  

ভেবে দেখুন: "সেই শাপ" কে "তেড়ে মেরে" ঠান্ডা করাটা কি ভালো কাজ? ওরকম কূট বুদ্ধি কটা ছোটো ছেলে ভেবে বার করবে? বেশ একটা ব্যঙ্গের আভাস পাওয়া যায়েনা কি এই কবিতার মধ্যে? পরিষ্কার এটা সেই সব অকর্মন্য বড়দের কবিতা, যারা কিনা দুর্বলের দুর্বলতার সুযোগ হামেশাই নিয়ে থাকে! 

আরো আছে.. "গোঁফ চুরি" র কথা ভাবুন। ডিলবার্টের কমিক্স যারা পড়ে থাকেন, তারা সেই গল্পে হেড অফিসের বড়বাবুকে কখনো দেখতে পান কি? গোঁফ জোড়া অক্ষত থাকা সত্তেও গোঁফের অভাব ভদ্রলোককে পাগল করে ফেলেছে! এ দুঃক্ষ তো বালসুলভ নয়! আমাদের মধ্যে আমরা যা দেখতে পাই, অনেক সময়ই অন্যে তা দেখতে পায় না! আবার অন্যে যা দেখতে পায়ে, আমরা তা নাও দেখতে পেতে পারি! এই দুই ভাবমূর্তিকে মিলিত করার চেষ্টা নেহাতই পরিনত মস্তিস্কের যুদ্ধ! ছোটো বয়েসে এরকম চিন্তা আমার কাছে অবিশ্বাস্য।

হ জ ব র ল র কথা ভাবা যাক। "পণ্ডিত কাক, বি-এ পাশ ছাগল, উকিল কুমির, আর হাকিম হুতোম প্যাঁচা"। এই সংযোগ আন্তাব্রি হতে পারে কখনো? গোবেচারা বি-এ পাশ সরল, শান্ত ছাগলের মতন| ধূর্ত উকিল কুটিলচিন্তাশীল কুমিরের মতন। আমার কাছে মনে হয়েছে লেখক তার একরকম মানসিক বিতৃষ্ণা এখানে প্রকাশ করে ফেলেছেন। তার কাছে বোধায়ে মানুষের মধ্যে বৈচিত্রের একটু অভাব চোখে পড়েছে| এই যে স্বপ্নে কঠিন দুর্বোধ্য অঙ্ক কষে যাচ্ছে সকলে। আর তার থেকে বেরোচ্ছে অদ্ভত নির্দেশ! মানুষের অন্ধভাবে কিছু একটা মেনে চলাকে অবজ্ঞা করছেন কি সুকুমার?

অবাক লাগছে! এই মর্মে সুকুমার রায়ের সৃষ্টির আলোচনা কোথাও দেখতে পেলাম না ইন্টারনেট ঘেঁটে! অথচ একটু মনোযোগ খরচ করলেই, মানুষের মনের অন্ধকার দিকের কথা, তার নীরব সংগ্রামের কথা, তার  দুর্বলতার কথা, অনেক লেখাতেই স্পষ্ট পাওয়া যাচ্ছে! 

Friday, January 01, 2016

বাঙালি হিয়ার অমিয় মথিয়া

যত্ন করে বেছে দিতে ইলিশ মাছের কাঁটা
মুড়ি ঘণ্টে পড়ে যেন পাকা রুই-এর মাথা
চিংড়ি মাছের মালাই যখন পড়ত আমার পাতে,
এক দুটো মাছ রসিয়ে খাব, কাটত বেলা তাতে!
শুক্ত, চাটনি, চচ্চড়ির স্বাদে মাখা জীবন
পোস্তে, সর্ষে, পায়েস পুলিতে তৃপ্ত বাঙালি মন!

চায়ের গন্ধে সকাল হত, তেল গামছায়ে চান
কাজ বলতে রোদ মেখে চারাগাছে জলদান।
গোলাপের আদফোঁটা কুঁড়ি আদর চোখে দেখা
ছুটি কেটে যেত গল্পে লেখায়ে, আরামের বসে থাকা।
প্রিয় চাদর গায়ে জড়িয়ে চায়ের কাপ-এ চুমুখ
তর্কে, গল্পে, গানের আসরে অকৃত্তিম সুখ!

বৃষ্টির রাতে ঝুম ঝুম আর ব্যাঙের ঘত্ঘতানি
কালবোশেখীর তান্ডব শেষে খিচুড়ির বাটি টানি।
ভিড় বাস-এ ট্রাম-এ সিট পেয়ে খুসি, স্ট্যান্ড-এর শেষ রিকশা
নাইট শো তে দেখা হিন্দি ছবির নিদারুন সব কিসসা!
তেরো পার্বনে পুজোর বাদ্যি, মিষ্টি লৌকিকতা,
বাঙালিত্বের পরিভাষা যেন এসব অভিজ্ঞতা!

Sunday, December 13, 2015


A mad sparkle in your eyes for some unknown reason,
Lights up the cockles of my heart, with the spirit of the season.
You are a stranger; And yet, this moment is like a reunion..
When friends that parted long ago, suddenly meet,
And realize that something precious has remained!
I savor my mouthful of wine, relishing the taste of it
I draw a deep breath to catch the scent of spice in the air
The buzz in my ears grows sweeter
Children laugh, bells jingle away
I can smell a rum fruitcake from a long lost winter holiday
You make me me mad and mushy, glad and gushy!
Outside, the cold rains and furious winds continue to howl
And a roaring fire begins to crackle in my soul
One fueled by the love in my life, and my capacity for imagination
I am overcome with emotion
With gratitude, for this place to stand.
This holiday season, I wish you a moment of introspection
A quiet moment, away from the noise and distraction
To find in your heart, that, which makes it worth continuing.

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Durga Pujo memoirs

Azure blue skies. White fluffy clouds afloat. A handful of fragrant white Siuli blossoms on the nightstand. These are things sure to stir the Bengali heart. For they are linked to something every Bengali holds dear: Durga pujo! We had a Siuli tree in our backyard where I grew up. It was a nuisance for most of the year with its infestation of centipedes. But during this time of fall, the tree floor would be strewn with fresh batches of blooms every morning. They were gorgeous!

PC: Antara Mukherjee

Durga pujo is to honor Durga, a gold bedecked, heavily armed female goddess, with no less than ten hands. Clearly we were into heavy duty multitasking! Durga is always depicted like this, victorious, in the moment of her conquest of the evil Asura. But I am not quite sure why she is accompanied by her four children at the same time. A second storyline has that Durga is visiting her family, (us, mortals) sans husband, accompanied by her four kids. The bahon (animal rides for the deities) posed an interesting situation. I understand Durga, symbolizing valor, rides the Lion and daughter Saraswati symbolizing wisdom, the white Swan. But why should daughter Lakhsmi, symbolizing prosperity favor the owl? Or, the son Kartik, symbolizing strength, a Peacock? Certainly, most confusing was the choice of the elephant god, Ganesh, who favored the rat!

PC: Rupam Sen
The build up to the pujo was dramatic. Ever since Mohaloya (day 1 of 10), I couldn't concentrate on anything much. We had to go to school till the 5th day as it were, and it was a torture! I'd keep a close watch on the progress of the pandal construction in our community. Thousands of these pandals mushroom all over my home state this time of the year. Shown to the left is one such construction in progress, built with enormous care, just to house the deities during the few days of the festival. A world of local art, craftsmanship, and story-telling is showcased in these temporary monuments. Groups compete for recognition for being the grandest or the most thought-provoking in their conception of the pandal and the deities, all of it providing opportunity for artistic expression and interpretation.

PC: One of the Mukherjee clan
Doing the rounds of the pandals is a must do as people pick their own favorites. A bunch of us used to rent a bus and do this activity into the wee hours of the night on Shasti, with not a wink of sleep to distract us. Shasti is the 6th day, but in reality, it is the day the festivities really begin. And of course we wanted to be all caught up already. Stalls of delicious street food did booming business all night as the crowds flowed in and out of the pandals endlessly. We would always stop at Deshopriyo Park for a snack and I would invariably pick Chole Bhature, fish fry and hot fuluri.

My mother would put red color on her feet (alta) and wear red bordered white garod sarees during the actual puja. I wanted to as well. I was grudgingly permitted to do this, only some of the times. Later, I learnt this is reserved for married women which made no sense to me, even then. Why should a specific dress or color symbolize a married status? She would make a plate of naibidya with softened rice and lentils, fruits and sweets to be offered to the goddess. I was encouraged to help prepare this plate. But I would typically have only half a heart on the task. I would hear mantras being chanted into the microphone as the puja progressed outside. It made me want to run out and actually be there, instead of missing out on the action, in our puja room, cooped up with my mum. It was always anticlimactic to finally arrive at the mandap (same as pandal), suddenly self-conscious. Then, we had anjali, which is an offering of flowers you make to the god after repeating yet another set of mantras. We were supposed to not eat prior to doing this. I cant remember a single time I have been able to engage in this guilt free. I always slipped-up, one way or another, which I would simply ignore with a fast beating heart, tightly shut eyes and determined hands clasped in prayer position. I was not going to miss anjali over some silly detail such as a careless bite of a biscuit!

PC: Soumen Saha
Another memorable part of the pujas used to be the dhunochi nach, which is a special dance for the gods. The dancer carried a smoking earthen pot and did amazing tricks with it, keeping rhythm to the ferocious beat of special drums (dhak). A shrill kashor ghanta also set the hearts racing with the beats of the drums. The air would thicken with smoke and the fragrance of burning incense and menthol. My eyes would burn but I could not tear myself away from the pure spectacle of those moments. Kalidada, an old man that had been in the service of our family forever, was a pretty good drummer himself. I would watch him bedazzled as he made magic with the drums.

Our community organized a feast of khichuri bhog for one of the afternoons. I remember the long tables lined with rickety chairs. The tables would have green banana leaves cut up and laid out to be used as plates, paired with earthen containers for water. I participated in the serving of the food, typically the eggplant fry or lemon pieces. The adults would serve the real food, out of steel buckets purchased for the occasion. It was nice to be part of that gathering set to the backdrop of everyone looking happy and relaxed. Everyone wore new clothes, felt renewed in Durga puja spirit and gave themselves up to enjoying the occasion wholeheartedly.

Bodhon and sindur khala (play with vermillion) marked the last day of the puja (Dashami). The play with the vermillion is strictly for the married females. Even at that age, I never liked it that a widowed aunt, some unmarried aunts and kids would be asked to stay away. Interestingly, I haven't attended a sindur khala ever since I became eligible, years ago. Anyways, that minor irritation was soon gone in the pleasant activity of gorging oneself on LOTS of home-made and store brought sweet stuff as we celebrated Bijoya (when everyone exchanged good wishes and sweets). I can still taste the hot pantua and jeebe gaja sticky from the syrup in which it had just been dipped! My aunt would be making them and I would be her devoted helper consuming as much of the kheer and malformed units as I could!

1999 was my last Durga Puja in Kolkata. It was an amazing one, having just recently fallen in love with my current husband. I remember snuggling to the gorgeous (if inappropriate) tunes of George Michael's Last Christmas in a darkened room with multi-colored light bulbs streaming outside our verandah (this is credit to the puja lighting efforts by our community puja team that would steal electricity from home owners shamelessly). Everyone pitches in for the pujas, willing or not!! I have faltered into some community pujas abroad since, but it has never been the same. Certainly my religious engagement has severely dwindled. Here I am then, thinking back, to re-live some of the excitement from those many years ago.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

I cry, often, very much, helplessly, but I wont let it define who I am

A few days ago, I read about depression on a friend's blog and wondered at the courage it took her to write about it. I did not think that my personal struggle with depression can interest anyone. But reading about her changed my mind. If you wish to know more, read on.

A lump in your throat is not just a figure of speech. Emotional pain is real. Hopefully it does not happen to you too often. And hopefully, when it happens, the causes are well understood.

Depression is different. For me, it is a sad side of me that manifests from time to time. I do not understand the reasons for the onset of my depression. Ever so often, there are days when I feel uncontrollably, unreasonably down, weepy, dejected. It comes and goes. The only certainty is that it will come again. At one point I thought if problems A, B and C were solved in my life, I'd be cured. But that did not happen. I now have accepted that no turn of circumstance can really change it. It is not externally instigated. I have lived with it for over 20 years of my life, without major intervention. Perhaps because, I never lost control. I was somehow able to maintain my tenuous grip on sanity even at these times when I was feeling really insane. Perhaps also because where I am from, there is a huge lack of awareness of emotional excesses as being of clinical consequence.

So exactly how does it feel? When its here, it eclipses all good feelings and leaves me wondering listlessly about where I am headed. I have no will to fight. I have impotent suicidal thoughts. There's no where in particular that I want to go and no action I can get myself up to take. I just want to cease to exist. Dark and vile thoughts about myself flood my mind. The pain it evokes is soothing in the same way we feel comforted by pushing against a tooth that is already loose and aching. After a while I go numb, watching myself from some distant corner. The love that surrounds me recedes to a distance I cannot bridge. I watch it helplessly from a desolate corner of my mind. It is like light at the end of a deep well I've fallen into, with no clear path or will to return.

I have struggled hard to make my loved ones understand, they are not to blame in any way. I am beyond their help when I am suspended into this state of mind. The good thing is, of late, I am increasingly secure in the realization that this is just a phase of being, like being hungry, that happens to me. It will pass. It always passes.

And did I try meditation? Practitioners say if you can make yourself consistently watch your thoughts as they arise in your consciousness, then ugly thoughts can be chased away. I have indeed tried it and I think there is something to this idea. It could work better for me if I was more disciplined. But I am not. Often I wont have the patience and I will allow myself to be seduced into tears. And then, I just have to wait my monster out.

As I write this, the one thing I also know about my depression is that I will not let it define who I am. I will not let it kill my hope, my love of beauty, my energy and appreciation for life. Because despite this aspect of me, I also have an irrepressible enthusiasm for life. And I am aways resurrected from the ashes of my despair with renewed hope, like the freshened earth after the rains. I hope to spend the most real, intense lifetime possible, thoroughly engaged and passionately loving!

If you can relate to these feelings because of personal experience or your relationship with someone that has depression, I hope it makes a little more sense now with one more testimonial to the very real existence of depression, even in people that seem otherwise perfectly normal, successful, healthy, loving, and happy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Translating possibly my favorite rabindra sangeet তুমি সন্ধ্যার মেঘ মালা

তুমি সন্ধ্যার মেঘ মালা, তুমি আমার সাধের সাধনা মম শুন্য গগন বিহারী 
আমি আপন মনের মাধুরী মিশায়ে তোমারে করেছি রচনা 
তুমি আমারি, তুমি আমারি, মম অসীম গগন বিহারী
You are the many hued clouds from my sunset skies
Borne of my precious yearnings and sighs
You are the constant companion to my emptiness
You were conceived with loving tenderness
Spiced with the sweetest of my imagination
You are mine, yes mine
You pervade all corners of my mind
মম হৃদয় রক্ত রাগে তব চরণ দিয়েছি রাঙিয়া ওই সন্ধ্যা স্বপন বিহারী 
তব অধর এঁকেছি সুধা বিশে মিশে মম সুখ দুখ ভাঙ্গিয়া 
তুমি আমারি, তুমি আমারি, মম বিজন জীবন বিহারী 
As I adorn you, o beloved darling
With infinite warmth and inconsolable longing
You who are part of every dream
The bitter sweet taste of your lips seem
My very agony and ecstasy of being
You are mine, yes mine
My only lifelong friend divine
মম মোহের স্বপন অঞ্জন তব নয়ানে দিয়েছি পরায়ে ওই মুগ্ধ নয়ন বিহারী 
মম সঙ্গীত তব অঙ্গে অঙ্গে দিয়েছি জড়ায়ে জড়ায়ে 
তুমি আমারি, তুমি আমারি, মম জীবন মরণ বিহারী 
I've bewitched you with magic kohl
You are hitched forever to my soul
You hold me captive with your gaze
You are the poetry of my days
You're weaved of the music of my heart
You are mine, yes mine
In all realms for all time

Saturday, August 15, 2015

My 15th August musings...

On this Independence Day, I want to think about those examples that I have seen in my own life that have taught me to celebrate independent behaviors and independent thinking. Remember those people I have known that went out of their ways to act on something they believed in. I think, all too often, we celebrate 15th August by what is taught by an obviously biased discourse of history and forget to look closer to home.

My first example is of my history teacher who would take us out to the garden and give us history lessons under a tree (a totally uncharacteristic practice in our school). She would bring reference material and read them to us to add color to the one or two lines of details that was included in our actual history text. You may say this is insignificant, but then, it is not. I have cherished that memory and that spirit of owning a task and doing things in a manner that feels right to me, infinitely! Mrs Neogi, if this reaches you, please accept my greetings of this happy occasion. I am thinking of you!

My next example is from my family. Despite open disapproval from some, my father insisted I go to a bank, pick up my money and pay the fees at my school by myself from since when I was in the 5th grade. To ready my school bag, clothes and do my homework was my exclusive responsibility as far back as I can remember. My aunt did not let me take our car to a summer job I had taken up (which I was very mad about at the time), insisting that I use public transport by myself. This is when I was no more than fourteen or fifteen and was going everyday to places I hadn’t been to before (it was a sales job). Figure it out, she said. Taking my own responsibility was never an option. It was the only way to live. I am grateful thats who they taught me to be.

Recently, I saw a short film doing the rounds on fb, about how the British mistreated us and that we should be celebrating the freedom fighters for having rescued us from such fates. I saw Shashi Tharur’s British bashing lapped up with great enthusiasm. I am not denying there’s some truth in that. But why can’t we move on? Perhaps this 15th we should instead focus on what has been India’s accomplishments in the last 70 years of freedom compared to how far we came in the 200 years of British rule. Have we collectively achieved the promise of the 15th of August, personally and as a nation?

Sunday, August 09, 2015


Her golden, sleepy head on my arms makes me sore
But I bear it happily and I would for ever more
Lush furls of willow-o-wisps dance over our head
I watch it contentedly from our grass bed
Thankful for the quiet moments
After seemingly relentless run of games
The dog curled in the shade has dozed off too
Neither are mine
I'm sitting my friend's charges for a while
Just the afternoon
Their mother will be back soon.
I sit up to spread a light blanket over us..
Lest she catch a chill from the breeze
Then answer an anxious text
No, no bother, don't worry
We had some rice with chicken curry
(From the same plate)
I wish this last bit would be our secret
But it wont be
Quite the chatterbox, is she
An emptiness brews idly in my heart
Clouding the uncomplicated mojo
That had me high just a bit ago
Her father's lips pucker familiarly on her dear face
Reminders of what I must not chase

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Translating কতবার ভেবেছিনু

     Often I've wanted to drown my doubts, my foolish pride and fear
     And pour out my heart at your feet in sweet surrender dear
     And when with you, worthy friend, I'd tell you plain and clear
     I've loved you so, secretly, year after year!
     And then, I get cold feet, feeling hopelessly out of depth
     How could I profess my love! Am woefully inept.
     So I'd stay away; just be with you in my heart.
     And continue to worship you in my lonely life apart.
     No one need ever know, how deeply I adore you dear.
     No one need ever see, my lovelorn tears.
     And when today, you ask me for my heart to reveal!
     How hard it is to find my love, the words for what I feel!

"কতবার ভেবেছিনু আপনা ভুলিয়া
তোমারি চরণে দেব হৃদয় খুলিয়া
চরণ ধরিয়া তব কহিব প্রকাশি
গোপনে তোমারে সখা কত ভালবাসি
ভেবেছিনু কোথা তুমি স্বর্গের দেবতা
কেমনে তোমারে কব প্রণয়ের কথা
ভেবেছিনু মনে মনে দুরে দুরে থাকি
চির জন্ম সংগোপনে পুজিব একাকী
কেহ জানিবে না, মোর গভীর প্রণয়
কেহ দেখিবে না, মোর অশ্রু বারিচয়
আপনি আজিকে যবে শুধাইছ আসি
কেমনে তোমারে কব কত ভালবাসি"
- Rabindranath Tagore

Sunday, May 10, 2015

If it wasn't for you

If it wasn't for you, I'd be impervious to joy or sorrow
Impervious to colors, to music, to beauty, to cheer, to the hopes for tomorrow
If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't care if the sun shone or if it rained,
There'd be no warm or cold or wet or pure or stained.
If it wasn't for you, there would be no need for poetry or art
No company, or conversation could ever touch my heart
If it wasn't for you, everything would taste all the same
Wine, coffee, chocolates, flowers, kisses, all terribly lame
If it wasn't for you, my heart wouldn't ever quicken or break
Everyday would be the same, all of it, fake!
And so, I am grateful for the sweet torture of your being
Because of you, I am, and continuing...

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Stay-at-home parenting

I am not a parent, so should I bother to write about this issue? Well, I'd like to, at least in defense of my parents who worked all the while I was doing my growing up.

Dear mothers who choose to stay home with your kids, when I ask if you have started working again, I am neither acting smug, nor belittling the value of your labor. When I say you must be enjoying yourself, I am not saying I don't think this requires any effort at all. Motherhood is one aspect of womanhood, but I fully expect an educated woman to make strides in multiple facets of their lives, so that they may explore the full intellectual and emotional spectrum of their humanity. So this question comes naturally to me. Also, I fully expect people to enjoy what they choose to apply their efforts to. So, please don't jump to those ridiculous conclusions.

And if you cant help yourself, can I ask you to please introspect around why are you so sensitive to this question? If you are truly convinced you have made the right choice for yourself, why bristle, rather than calmly helping me understand your choice? I ask because I am interested in you and you are typically happy to indulge me with your perspective on other things. So, why is this one hard? Unless, you are loathe to admit that you are using your children as an excuse to not take responsibility for yourself or to not push your limits. Unless you are loathe to admit that you are using your children as an excuse to clip the wings of your partner.

In my experience, a lot in life is shaped by circumstances instead of being a conscious choice. And we try to convince ourselves to come to terms with it. If someone prods you occasionally, reminds you to evaluate whether you are doing what you really wanted to do, reminds you to think about whether or not it is time in your life to make a constructive change, why is that unreasonable, insensitive or disrespectful?

My biggest objection is that a mother's labor, however sincere, back-breaking, nerve-wracking it may be, is unpaid. There is something to be said for being paid for your services. Why? Because it buys you independence. It liberates you from the shackles of expectation. I've been told not to denigrate the lofty nature of a mother's work with the banality of a day job. Yes, you are just a paid employee in the case of the later and you may be fired. But you can find another job and continue to live a life of relative freedom. You may not mean the world to your employer as you probably do mean (at least for a while) to your child. But why does that matter? The dependence of your offspring on you is temporary and to wish to either cling to it, or to prolong it, is unhealthy for both the mother and the child, and selfish too, wouldn't you agree? If you care so much about your child, should you be squandering away your means to pursue your convictions regarding your child's future?

Now your high-minded partner supports you and I am told I have no right to question that dynamic. To that, I say, I hope you have the guts to question that dynamic yourself. I hope folks at least recognize that by removing themselves from the work that fully exploits their potential, they do waste the funding that was invested in educating them. It is the parents' job to give society good citizens. But by constraining a mother's exposure to only certain types of experiences in life, we diminish their abilities to provide quality mentor-ship to the next generation.

I also get told, we are a culture where moms stay home. Think about A) the sexism and B) the presumption buried in that statement. Do dads love their kids less? Is it right to assume their parental needs or capabilities are lesser than yours? A self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-supported mother creates a strong example for the child. I pray you find the emotional and intellectual strength to embrace it.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Being a girl

Today is designated as the international women’s day. Just wanted to take a moment to feel in my heart what it has meant to be a woman in this life. Yes, there were downsides. Even though I grew up in a household where I had the same opportunities as my male sibling to prosper. But I’ll focus on the positive. On why it has also been a priviledge. No, it wasn’t motherhood, wifedom or daughtership that made it special for me. Those relationships allow others in your life to relate to you as a woman, and for you to relate to them. They are not about who you are in your own head.

I loved being a woman because of the depth of emotion I was allowed to feel freely and express vociferously. I could cry, laugh, sing as I wanted and no one expected a stiff upper lip out of me. She’s just being a girl, they would say! I loved being a woman because I could celebrate being spontaneous without self-consciousness! Change hairstyles, clothes, make-up, my mind - its called being flighty as a feather, being irresponsible. Its called, not being a man. I’m none the worse for it. I did not have to act tough, unless I wanted to show off. The men in my life were unfailingly chivalrous, opening my doors, carrying my luggages and happy to defend my honor with all the necessary flourish. Now, isn’t that lovely!?

It wasn’t until a bit late in life that I begun to realize, feeling loved and cherished as something delicate wasn’t all I wanted. I am educated, I can support myself, my shoulders are strong enough to support another physically, socio-economically, emotionally. Over the last few years, I have finally realized what a privilege it has been in this life to have earned this independence, particularly as a girl. I hold it quintessential to experience any other emotion with any degree of genuinity. That I can afford to be kind, that I can afford to follow the principles that inspire me, that I can love unconditionally without expectations is something dearer to me than life, because I am a woman and it could just as well have not been.

If you're a girl like me, reading this, I'd like to leave you with this thought: Next time they give up the seat for you, don’t accept it. Think about what you have within your grasp, not as the fairer sex who demand to be treated with honor, but as a towering strength that commands it.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Coconut cooked in condensed milk
Wrapped in rice-y crepes divine
Pati-shapta awakens my bong soul
Sweetened more and more with time
Just warm yumminess on your tongue
As you work your way through creamy kheer
Remembering those gnarled hands, kind eyes,
That served these up with unfailing cheer

Monday, December 08, 2014


Yes of course, I know best. No one feels it in their veins quite like me.
How can you not know, when you look deep into me like that?
Ok, ok maybe you're right. I did not do so well. And time is running out.
Question is, what should I do now? Just muddle along?
Or strive harder to somehow balance the checklist you gave me long ago?
There is so much to fix all around me. Its overwhelming.
Then there's the stars and the frothing seas and my coffee and my cupcake.
Simple, sweet, intimate, rewarding, meaningful.
I'll think about it tomorrow, I'll sort it out.

You're really screwed up, you know that, dont you?
I mean, for goodnesses sake. The writing's been on the wall.
Its been staring you down impatiently to be read and recognized.
I am giving up. I am giving in. I am giving away.
Here is my strategy for my nemesis. Ignore. Shrug off.
Sucker, go away! No more. Thats it. I wont play your games.
New rules, new hair cut, new dress. Its Christmas!
Mmm I can smell the rich, soft, liquored, delicious fruit cake
And the glowing warmth from grandma's ancient fireplace
And our shadows meshing against the silent walls!

Ordering in time is insane, stupid, boring.
The contextual order, thats important.
How my brain stacked you up next to the paisley throw!
How I pick these earrings and know you'd have loved them
If you were alive to see me wear it today!
And my new red shoes hurt my heels, who's it all for, anyway!
I am going on a vacation. no I'm too busy with the busy work.
Miles to go before I sleep, but I'll sneak in a day dream for now.
Gosh, I'll think about it tomorrow, I'll sort it out.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

You never caught up with her secrets, did you?

Kisses you never shared, occupied her mind
And she cried over breaking up with you
You never caught up with her secrets, did you?
Your unborn children filled her house with laughter
And mischief and romping and sweet-smelling sighs
She saw bits of you in them and cried
You never caught up with her secrets, did you?
Years went by, and the highs and lows of life
You walked side by side, old friends
Lonely, out of step, with private needs
That steeled, scarred and charred your souls
Both guarded their wounds with admirable conviction
You never caught up with her secrets, did you?

And at the end, when you saw what it was
You hadn't cared to see before
It was all too late, it was too far left behind
Past conversations resurrected uselessly in your mind
Thoughts and gestures ricocheted around
A kiss, a tear, lost and found
And you try tighten your grip, willing this to stay
But wisp by wisp, it flies away
Away, away, beyond recall.
Wish you'd caught up with her secrets, don't you?

"...what of the song you wrote in love?
Once upon the moon above?
What of that sweetness that still endures
Linking her soul namelessly to yours!
Intertwined you'll remain
The pain will go, went the refrain
If only you could find yourselves again
In those forbidden gardens midst the monsoon rains..."

Monday, September 01, 2014

Why I like Ayn Rand?

In this recent frenzy of listing books that have influenced you deeply, I found several mentions of Ayn Rand. It was certainly on my list. It is a bit unusual though because most of us would generally side with the liberal school of political thought. To me, Ayn Rand will always be special because she made me realize that our notions of good versus bad is not so black and white, early in my life. That is a bit of a strange statement, Rand being such a relentless Puritan. However, truly, processing her re-categorization of every notion of virtue was actually a pretty confusing exercise. One that was thrilling nevertheless, because of the unique perspectives it offered to my mind.

For example, I already knew how the immediate circumstances or the local context could color an act. I have stolen a cookie when my partner wasn't watching and told myself I could live with that deception because I was hungry and that made it alright. But, what I never quite grasped before, was how the distant circumstances or the global context such as the far reaching consequences of an act or the deep rooted philosophies of the doer, could also color an act. Feeding the hungry is always good, isn't it?

Ayn Rand made me realize why not to feel driven to feed the hungry. How pity, is a disgraceful emotion, most disrespectful of the human spirit. I realized how important it is to leave the fed with a sense of renewed purpose in their lives and not just a full stomach. When I see the United States struggle with its image despite the many acts of altruism it constantly engages in, I feel like there is a reason they suffer this fate. They just feed the hungry and they are done with it. Most no-one is better off from it other than the corrupt middle-men perhaps. They expend minimal effort in spreading the philosophy of self-reliance, in teaching people who the US really are, other than big bully with the fat purse - and so that image endures. I have seen so many who live in this country unaware and uncaring of the philosophical principles this country was founded upon. You cant breed loyalty out of thin air.

Rand taught me how the why was as important as the what in whenever you choose to act and just not for you, but for all parties in the equation. I learned it is as important to teach someone integrity as it is to teach them math. No lasting good can be done without initiation into the right philosophy. I think this is the essence of what I took home from Rand's writings.

So tell me, what did you take home from Ayn Rand?