Sunday, September 27, 2009


Living away from your hometown makes you nostalgic. You yearn for those old familiar favourites – the places you used to hang out (never mind the cribbing about the traffic and the toilets), the home-cooked food that you dissed but slurped over, the bookshops and the boutiques that came alive because of the shopowner you could chat so long with, the movie-watching and eating-out experiences which were always more about the adda, really. And, of course, the language – the familiar cadences and rhythms and syllables you had grown up with.

And so, in Mumbai, when I hear a snatch of Bengali on the streets, in the malls, inside some office, spoken by somebody on a cellphone calling up home a hundred miles away, a mother scolding a child, a wife lilting to her husband, two friends chatting about something…my heart gives an involuntary leap and my head turns to see who and my ears strain to catch a little bit of the conversation.

I love Mumbai – no two ways about that – but my soul still jumps up with a maybe-silly-kind-of-joy when I hear a bit of Bengali. And for a moment, I feel a strange-but-strong bond with some stranger-who-is-somehow-familiar.

Now it is Durga Pujo time, a time for food and festivity, and yes, a time when the stray bits of Bengali I sometimes catch in the breeze will merge and mingle in the Durga Pujo pandals dotting Mumbai. Bengalis praying at anjali, Bengalis greeting and goodbye-ing frenetically while pandal-hopping, Bengalis boasting self-importantly, Bengalis bickering good-naturedly, Bengalis bargaining at the food stalls, Bengalis laughing and bonding at Pujo-special addas.

Have a happy and sonorous Pujo.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


But only five of us turned up for this time’s Bloggers’ meet. At the sylvan settings of IIT, Mumbai. We welcomed our newest entrant who has expanded the Famous Five: Manju. And we missed the amiable and gentle Harekrishnaji, who, however, remembered and called us on the phone during our anecdote-swapping. catching-up-with-what-we-have-been-up-to, dissecting-common-blogfriends talkathon.

And then it was, as one of my daughters’ storybooks puts it, “talk, talk, talk, talk”. With some serious munching and lake-viewing and thoughful-and-interesting gift-giving and not-so-serious banyan-root-swinging in between.

The Internet, as we know, is all about links. Interestingly, at this meet, three of the bloggers (with a shared geography and culture) re-enacted this virtual phenomenon of linking by digging deep into their histories and came up with so many amazing links – people who they all know, common friends and acquaintances. The other two were fascinated witnesses to this linking phenomenon. And we realized that it really is a small world.

Would you not love to link up in reality with your blog-friends, too?

Friday, September 18, 2009


Things have been rather downbeat lately.

The teachers’ strike has been called off, and we have resumed our classes, but bureaucracy has tied a thick red tape around our salaries and is refusing to release it anytime soon.

The forty days’ strike meant an enormous amount of backlog of syllabus-to-be-completed and tutorial-projects-to-be-corrected which now has to be taken up through hectic lung-busting lectures and tedious hours of red-pen-wielding.

And to top it all, all holidays have been cancelled as we have to ‘compensate’ for the strike period absenteeism. That is fair enough, but it does mean getting up early on holidays, which I absolutely abhor.

So, I definitely need a balm for my overworked brain and going-around-in-circles mind.

And for me, the best balm has always been BOOKS.

Books keep my head out of the water.
Books help me float in the mess of this world.
Books are a place I can go when everything else stresses me out

Fo a change, this time, I put away my Crime Fiction and my Chick Lit (both are my fave escape-routes), and picked up some serious LITERATURE.

William Golding’s THE SPIRE. Toni Morrison’s TAR BABY.

Both Nobel Prize Winners. But so very different from each other. Golding, a white Brit male, very much in the centre of the world. Morrison, a black American woman, very much a marginalized entity. And they write about diverse worlds and different eras in these books.

But in their insight into and compassion about the human condition, in their moulding of language into a thing of beauty and awe, they are somehow similar.

Nothing uplifts me like good literature. Nothing makes me feel so wide-eyed and thankful and amazed. And I keep on adding to my list of great books.


Thursday, September 10, 2009


I am in college, supervising an M.Com exam. The head-bent students are writing feverishly. In the pin-drop silence, a cellphone rings. Mine. Flushing with embarrassment, I pick it up.
Hello?” (in a distressed whisper)
HAA –LLO? MAA-A-A?” (high-pitch, full blast, sing song)
It’s the Copy-kitten, my younger daughter, calling to give me the momentous news that she has returned home from school. As I try to cut her off mid-flow because an examinee wants a supplementary sheet, she asks me:
Bolo toh aami ki korchhi (can you tell me what am I doing)?”
What are you doing, sweetheart?” (with gritted teeth, in a hissed-out whisper, and barely concealed impatience).
Tomakey phone korchhi, sillybilly (I am calling you, sillybilly).”

You just can’t win with kids.

Friday, September 4, 2009


This evening we had gone to watch the Ganpati Visarjan at the artificially-created ‘pond’. As scores of Ganpatis, from tiny to tall – but always benign and divine – made their way on the shoulders of devotees down to the final immersion place, as the rotund elephant-god gradually sank into the muddy water, I kept feeling sadder and sadder. I remembered feeling absolutely bereft as a child on Dashami (the day the Durga idol is immersed, after five days of Durga Puja).

I felt sad at the ending of the festivities, at the drowning of the beautiful idols (created with so much passion and patience), at the loss of celebration and beauty. Each Dashami – and today at the Visarjan ground – even as the celebrations reached a crescendo, even as the band/dhaak/drumbeats rose to a manic climax, even as the dancers whirled and twirled in a frenzy, I would cry silently, mourning the passing away of another year, another festival.

I was surprised to see the spouse sharing my tears. He is not the type to be moved my religious emotions (maybe by dogs, Amitabh Bachchan movies and Kolkata memories – not in that order, though). So I whispered to him, “You know why the Visarjan is necessary? Because it teaches us to let go. Because it reminds us that nothing is permanent – not happiness, not beauty. Neither the carefully-crafted idol, nor the week-long joy can be possessed forever. We have to disengage…unclutch our fists and let go.”

And then I looked at my daughters, blissfully unaware of parental philosophizing, happy to be witnessing the noise and colour and dance and statues, happy with their newly-bought balloons and pinwheels. And I felt that the Visarjan also teaches us to have faith – faith that this will all happen again next year – the holiness and the happiness. As the scriptures say, Change is like a cycle: what is, will go, and what will go, will come back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


The Copy Kitten (my younger daughter) desperately wishes to grow up double-quick to catch up with Lil Cat (her elder sister). To hasten this disappointingly slow process (frequent comparisons of height in the mirror reveal very minuscule changes), she tries to use big big words in a grown-up manner. The only snag is that she has not learnt the meanings of all the little little words yet, so the results of her efforts are often quite surprising.

One day, demanding some medicine for a stomach ache (she frequently claims to have this, with accompanying expressive groans and grimaces), she said, “Give me some Harry Potter. It was only after investigating the medicine box that we realized that she meant “Gripe Water” (which, incidentally, I also loved so much that I would feign stomachaches quite often).

Another day, wanting to try on her Dida’s (grandmother’s) deodorant, she kept on asking for ‘aloevera’. To complicate our confusion, she insisted on pronouncing it as aloe-beral’. Since ‘beral’ means CAT in Bengali, we were all very much amused. But the gutsy little kitten stuck to her guns, saying, “Na, aloe-beral boley aekta jinis hoy” (No, there is something called aloeberal).

Last year, an over-excited Copy-kitten, dressed in her chaniya-choli finery, had announced to the family that she was going to dance the ‘gabra. Since then, our Navratri celebrations have centred round the ‘gabra’ rather than the ‘garba’.

Sometimes, she mispronounces P as K. So the song about the POSTMAN becomes:

COASTMAN aaya, COASTMAN aaya/ Kitney letters laya, kitney letters laya?
(The Coastman has come, how many letters has be brought?)

In her defence, it may be said that since Mumbai is a coastal city, the mailman may be regarded as arriving from the coast.

And, of course, the Pussy Cat who went to visit the queen often becomes the KHUSI CAT (‘Khusi’ means ‘joy’ in Bengali). But that is OK with us, because she is after all a Khusi Kitten. And her big sister, the Lil Cat may laugh at her attempts, but it is all in good sport and fun, like the real kittens under the stairs play.