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Archive for the ‘memoir’ Category

I have been told that Baba consented to marry Ma without ever looking at her photo. Inconceivable for youth of today’s generation… But this was the early 1960s and couples entering a conjugal life being almost strangers were not totally unheard off.

Baba worked in an Insurance company. I am not sure of the number of lives of people he insured, but he did think of making a few, within his limited means, for his family. Often, on a Sunday morning, a few people laden with gifts would come to meet him. Much as I wanted to see what lay behind those wrappers, Baba used to disappoint me. He would return the gifts politely. A pre-teen lad was unable to comprehend the distinction between gifts, bribes and a principled view of leading an honest existence. On the other hand, on several occasions, I would see Baba return from office with packets of sweets. This was offered to him during office parties, and under pretext of having it later, he would bring them home for me.

Fond memories abound of childhood days. Studying in a missionary school in a hill station, I didn’t have a chance of picking up my mother tongue quickly.  Baba bridged this deficit and every night used to read out story books in Bengali to me. However rudimentary, this cemented a love for literature in one’s own language. When I see my son now grappling with foreign and other languages, I wish I could have replicated similar efforts to instill in him a love for his own culture. Increasingly, in modern society, the youths are becoming rootless …

Continuing with childhood recollections, I remember accompanying Baba on many an occasion to Burra Bazar, popular as Iewduh in the local language. We would wander the labyrintine lanes of Iewduh (Khasi for big market, or Burra Bazar) for our daily requirements. I remember the kindly Kong (Kong is a Khasi lady) selling fish rewarding me with 10-20 paisa regularly, a great incentive for me in those days to go with Baba whenever he went to Iewduh.

Baba led a disciplined life. He woke up early and made tea and bread for the family. I am yet to come across anyone on this planet who could match my baba’s skill at toasting bread over slow coal-based fire with such perfection. The crispness that came with it was simply unbeatable. Thereafter, he went to Polo Ground, a ground of four furlongs, for his morning walk. At 9:30 sharp, he would hit the road for his office.

Later in the evenings, when he returned from office, he would spend his time with the children of our joint family. He was always fond and affectionate towards the younger generation. His grand-son would vouch any day for his selfless love towards him, and keeps him on a much higher pedestal than his own parents. Baba was fond of singing, particularly Rabindrasangeet and songs by Hemant Kumar – his favourite singer. He used to sing Rabindrasangeet numbers in office functions, without Harmonium accompaniment which he couldn’t play unlike his brothers. He shared a commonality with Rabindranath Tagore – both shared the same date of birth and both died when they touched just eighty…

Exuding optimism was like second nature for Baba. On my wedding day, owing to the intense heat of Kolkata in the month of June, he fainted but he regained his composure and characteristic spirits after a score of minutes.

He was a foodie and never thought twice of buying groceries at a premiun for household consumption. On a rainy day, he would request his favourite ‘Kichuri’ (a dal and rice preparation) to be made in the house. In Shillong, the hill station where I lived, it rained throughout the year and Baba could sample his fave dish quite regularly. We always celebrated his birthday in a quiet way as he disliked ostentation – Ma made payesh (sweet preparation of Milk and Rice popular among Bengalis) and sweets were distributed among family members in the house.

“Who do you love the most in this world?” my wife had once asked. I replied – Baba. He taught me the basic lessons in life – to be honest, to live within one’s means, to not always covet things that others possess or be jealous about them.

Towards the end of his career, Baba started writing with left hand because his right hand had startedc shaking. He picked up left-handed writing ability with a resolute determination as he knew he had to provide for his family. During the last few years of his life in Faridabad when he was unable to walk properly he never gave up hope- when physiotherapist came to treat him for a month he was up to the strict regime of the instructor. Among his last wishes was a trip he wanted to make to go to his home in Shillong. Alas, that dream never got realised.

When Ma left for Kolkata for a few days for an important work during his eightieth birthday, Dad had asked her “So, you’re not going to be around for my birthday?” Ma tried to reason saying that it was necessary to go and that she would go to the Bipodtarini Mandir (a temple dedicated to a form of Goddess Kali for warding off evil) and would pray for him. I didn’t ask Ma what she had asked in her prayers on that day … Did Baba have a premonition that he was going to leave us. I can’t tell you assuredly, but the void lingers on four years after the exit from the mortal existence …

A moment, a minute, a breath can deform,

And the shape of the world assumes a new form.

   (Src:   Khushwant Singh’s DELHI A Novel, Pg 162)    

 

Of late my son has been taking a tuition on Mathematics from Jain Sir in our neighborhood. One fine day, my wife and I decided to meet the gentleman to inquire about our son’s progress …
Mr. Jain is wheel-chair bound. He is popular among the kids who take tuition from him. He loves kids immensely and advised us from rebuking and being too critical of our child. He recommended a monthly meeting with us for updates …
He has a doting wife who efficiently runs the household with a smile on her face. In his younger days, Mr. Jain grew up like a normal child doing all activities that a child is usually associated with without any difficulty. However, when he was in his twenties, doctor informed him about a rare medical condition that he was afflicted with and predicted that he would be wheel-chair bound in a couple of years. It happened exactly the way the physician had forecasted.
Since then more than two decades have elapsed. Mr. Jain didn’t let adversity pull him down. He started tutoring kids and have built a formidable reputation for himself. I didn’t detect any streak of negativity in him. Not once did he complain about how hard life must have been for him all these years. His close knit extended family of brothers and sisters visit him regularly.
I was reminded of the Tapan Sinha directed Bengali film WHEEL CHAIR based on a true story about a wheel chair bound doctor (played by veteran actor Soumitro Chattopadhyay) who fought relentlessly to bring joy in the lives of his poor patients and building and maintaining a nursing home for their recovery.
Kudos to such brave-hearts of setting inspiring examples of how to take life’s challenges unwaveringly …

 

 

 

 

 

It has been a year since you left us. As I wade through memories and try to think of your many attributes that has shaped my being as well, I am flooded with recollections of trivia and enduring etchings.
One of the most remarkable traits in you (and indeed in all my uncles on the paternal side) is adherence to maintain punctuality. On a working day, if I would see you walking out of the gate headed towards your workplace, the clock must unfailingly be reading 9:30 am. I also recall that many years ago when I was in my III or IV standard, on a particular night I was keeping unwell. You kept awake the whole night monitoring my conditions when the following day you had to attend office.
I remember lovingly those days when there was a load-shedding in the house, primarily because you used to belt out some really mellifluous numbers in the dark. I particularly enjoyed the songs of your favorite singer Hemant Kumar like “Runner”, “Jane Woh Kaise Log they jinko…” besides several others. How I regret not having recorded any of those songs in your voice…
You were a member of the film society of Shillong, and generally watched the World Classics mostly on Sunday morning shows. It was when I heard of Godard, Jiri Menzel, Kurasawa & Polanski for the first time. Knife in the Water, Wild Strawberries, Breathless, Rashoman – these names stayed with me since childhood. You enjoyed Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Gautam Ghose as well and raved about Sanjeev Kumar’s acting prowess, some of Pramathesh Barua(Devdas), Uttam Kumar (Tasher Desh) & Amitabh Bachchan(Namak Haram). In your later days, you had developed a liking for Ajay Devgan and praised his acting ability.
Besides family, music and cinema, sports and food were your other loves in life – you relished and appreciated the quality fare in them. I could go on endlessly, but for now I would pause. Your grandson Bonbon misses you much – I caught him unaware on a moment where he was holding your photo in an embrace the day all alone in a room when we were performing the rituals for the first anniversary of your departure. Ma, I, Raj and other members of the family also remembers you with fondness.

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Praying for your happiness wherever you’re now…
Batul

We had decided on the visit a few days back. The recent passage of my father into the unknown had left a tremendous void in our lives. We decided to strike off a few things this year. Like we didn’t celebrate our child’s birthday – though still quite a child, he showed remarkable maturity and didn’t exhibit any displeasure at the cancellation. I can feel that he had received one of the biggest blows of his life when he saw his beloved Grandpa pass off before his own eyes. They shared such a deep bonding…

My wife and I decided that, in the memory of my departed father and her parents, we would visit an old-age Home, and contribute in a small way within our means. We found out about one such place, a cosy nook carefully tucked away in the villages, not too far off from our Faridabad home. In fact, a colleague of my wife, Mr. Sandeep, often visits the place with his family, and he offered to take us there. We made the visit recently on a National holiday which also coincided with the Pujas, a time when the world was in a celebratory mood.  We were in mourning for a year and could have nothing to do with the Pujas, so to say. And yet there was this yearning to make it more meaningful without treading on customs and traditions…..There was after all no embargo on prayers, and we thought, here was our chance to reach out to those for whom not too many people cared.

We—and by that I mean—the two families reached Anadi Seva Prakalp, a nondescript building hidden among bricks and construction material. There was some renovation work going on.  The Manager was out of town, and one Mr. Naresh was filling in for him. He was friendly and warm, suggesting we take a tour of the goushala that houses a dozen cows. It supplies milk to the various sectors and probably generates some income. The Home had a rustic charm what with a large courtyard at the entrance and some creepers and plants at the fringes. The elderly were happy to see us, though there was a sense of resignation in their eyes. They were living on other’s largess, a fact which made them grateful for they had, after all, a shelter to call their own —or at least a home away from home. But it had also dealt a blow to their dignity, as they talked, at first hesitantly, and later with emotion, about neglect—of their families and kins who had chosen to look the other way– of a world that was uncaring and unkind.

Mr. Sandeep started chatting with one of the inmates. He was a man who had moved in just 4-5 days back, and was clearly the most sensitive of the lot, the emotions still raw. He had lost his wife and children in incidents untold; he was now alone—literally so, forced to fend for himself, as his surviving brothers and kin made him feel like an outsider in their midst. They were all doing well for themselves and many lived in our colony, but the man unfortunately had nowhere to go. He lamented about the erosion of human values, and that he was unwilling to lower his dignity for the sake of ‘two rotis,’ which is all that he needed to sustain himself.

I was thinking of taking some pictures, but my wife shot down the idea. She said that it would be an intrusion into their privacy. Besides, they were not exhibits to be displayed to the rest of the world.  And I agreed…

The Anadi Vridh Seva Sadan is a CSR initiative of Engineers India Ltd., a well known Engineering consultancy firm operating out of New Delhi. My mother got chatty with an elderly Bengali lady, who had been living there for the past year and a half, along with her dependent daughter. She informed us that a few of her relatives, like her brother and his family, were living in Faridabad. She told us that living in the Seva Sadan was free for the inmates – she was otherwise very happy except that she missed the Bengali meals at times.

Though we met just three or four of the inmates this time around, there were around 20 -25 who lived there. There were suggestions of going upstairs and looking at the room of the inmates, but we felt that too would be crossing the lines of decency on our first visit out there.

We also met a lady of Burmese origin who was living there with her husband. She told us the family moved to India during World War II.  She was engaged in cleaning and sweeping the place. She has a brother who lived in Shillong and we struck an instant chord when we told her that Shillong was also the place where we belong.

Then there was Mr. Shamlal, who has been living there for the past four years. He had been working for many years in a factory in Faridabad, and when his work life ended, he moved in at the Home. He has been a bachelor all his life with no ‘baggage’ of the past, not even surviving relations. When asked, he said that he watched TV programs in the evenings – mostly spiritual stuff, like the serials of ‘Mahadev’ etc., but once in a while, he also took in a movie and quite enjoyed watching Amitabh Bachchan on the screen…a fact he divulged with school boyish charm.

Soon, it was time to go, and we said our goodbyes, not sure if we could commit a date when we would be back.  BY the time we boarded our cars, we saw they had come out and were standing at the gates….They were not our friends or even our family, and yet, within a span of a couple of hours or not even that—our lives had become intertwined, like as though they were close, a bond that had developed, because we seemed to be their link–to the world outside, a world they had lost and left behind….We made up our minds to visit them all over again, and make up in some small measure, for the apathy that had become symptomatic of the world at large.

I was running late for office this morning. Yesterday, after the nightmarish incident of Baba’s worsening condition, I was in two minds of whether to go to office, or take the day off.  It was raining incessantly, not unusual in August experiencing a late monsoon, but Tahir came to pick me up from my residence on time.

The auto gave trouble and for a while, it was refusing to start. However, soon we were heading towards Badarpur on our onward journey. We reached Asian Institute of Medical Sciences without much of a hiccup. The rain continued unabated, but office goers thronged the roads in good number creating jams. It started from Badkal over bridge, and soon traffic came to a crawl.

We reached the toll bridge near Badarpur with great difficulty, about 15-20 minutes late than usual. On any other day, Balwinder, the very punctual driver cum owner of the cab in which I have been going to my institution in Greater Noida since last one year would have castigated me no end for this act of procrastination. But today, surprise of surprises, he wasn’t even able to reach Badarpur. He was caught in a massive jam en route to my pick up stand.

For the next hour and a half, I was talking to Balwinder intermittently over phone chalking out strategies. Balwinder was stuck at the same point for the entire duration. He informed me that all the faculties who availed his cab service have returned to their homes, and that big jams have hit the city everywhere, and Kalindi Kunj and even Greater Noida expressway on our route is witnessing traffic logjam.

Finally, I decided to retrace my steps when the jam at Badarpur was not showing any signs of clearing for hours.  Phone calls from colleagues also provided information of jam and water accumulation at various stretches and absentee seem from work. It seemed there was no way I could have reached Greater Noida before another 5-6 hours, almost towards the end of the day.

While returning, our vehicle navigated through muddy tracts alongside the roads.  I kept ruminating how the capital of the Nation could be thrown out of gears with a sudden downpour. The ability to reach office on time is getting tougher with every passing day. Citizens of Delhi are experiencing long traffic jams at every nook and corner of the city. What fate awaits us a decade or two hence?

Badarpur connects several satellite towns with South Delhi. A jam at this stretch affects millions, who regularly commute to the capital and its adjoining ‘job hubs’ from Faridabad & Palwal and such adjoining places. The recently built over bridge in Badarpur hasn’t eased problems, as it covers only a small stretch along the Mathura Road, and major congestion occur ahead. Also the Metro from Badarpur doesn’t help commuters on several routes. I feel urban planners ought to ponder seriously and take steps to ameliorate the situation.

I looked at the occupants insides the vehicles on the road. Most of the cars were massive in size, but had a sole occupant. In some others, there was additionally another occupant. In general, more than half of the vehicles appeared rather empty. One is convinced that our countrymen considers cars as a kind of ‘status symbol’ & doesn’t believe in car pooling (I would loosely called them belonging to Rich India).  On the other hand, I could see people huddled together in very large numbers in the autos (poor India). When the number of cars in the capital outnumber the cumulative figure of the cars in the other three metros (Kolkata, Chennai & Mumbai), can jams be far away on such a rainy day?

I wonder what awaits us in store in the near future. With the automobile industry doing brisk business and swanky, International cars increasingly making its way onto the streets, it is woe time for the average citizen. Even reaching one’s workplace seems such a Herculean task on a regular day, and not only during festivals such as Chath & Dusshera, which witnesses gridlock on unprecedented scales.  I pray the common office goers’ tale of woe from the capital doesn’t mount in the days to come.

The bus was caught in a jam. I would be delayed again in returning home. Getting stranded is becoming a regular affair at Badarpur crossing these days.

I sat at a window seat. As I looked around, my eyes fell on a small boy. His age didn’t seem to have reached the double figure mark. He was seated on the ground, and before him was a wooden box on which were placed a few jars containing toffees, biscuits and other items. Cigarettes, packets of chips and a few more items were also available with him.

The boy was engrossed in reading. It appeared like a school text book. I was about 100 meters or so away from him. A quarter of an hour passed in this state of immobility. There weren’t too many customers, except the occasional one or two. After selling the item the customer had requested, the boy again went back to his book and read with great concentration.

Soon, the jam cleared and our bus inched forward. I lost sight of the boy.

Since that day, I kept on observing the boy as I regularly passed by this route while returning home. Most of the day I found the boy engaged in the same activity.

One day, I had to return early from work. It was around 2pm, and the boy wasn’t around. I am hopeful the boy is attending some Govt. aided school and receiving his education. The single minded focus and determination of such boys is truly deserving of admiration.

When we read in the newspaper about the children of the poorer section excelling in highly competitive examinations like the IITs & such others, their tale of arduous struggle is really inspiring for one and all, especially for teachers like us, which provide us with motivation to keep doing our job earnestly, when the general standards of education in the country is far from satisfactory.

eom

Purano sei diner katha, bhulbi ki re hai                                                                                               O sei choker dekha praner katha sei ki bhola jai           (Rabindranath Tagore)

                                                                                                                     

I currently live in a place in the National Capital Region – Faridabad. It has been five years since I migrated to this place from Durgapur. I don’t hail from Durgapur. My childhood was spent in the Scotland of the East – Shillong. Memories abound of the joyful times one had spent in childhood and during Durga Puja in particular, in Shillong.

Celebration is a part of our cultural compass, to demonstrate how we feel about an occasion. How does the spirit of celebration of Durga Puja compare between these two dissimilar places, one a bustling city cheek by jowl with the National Capital in North India that I currently live in, and the other where my childhood was spent, in the largest hill station of the nation, in the north-eastern part of the country? The piece attempts to underline how the writer spent his days during the festival in these two disparate cities.

We resided in a locality in Shillong that comprised a large group of Bengalis, Assamese & Nepalese, and the spirit of festivity pervaded the air during those four days. Actually, it was much longer.  I remember with excitement the badminton competition that was organized each year by Jail Road Puja Committee. I loved watching a good match of this sport in the evenings, cheering the contestants though a selfish part of me longed that my brother pick up the coveted trophy. He was a regular participant in the tournament, and did manage to bag a few prizes, earning the reputation of being a good player. I loved the accompanying musical programs that followed in the evenings each day of the festival and this continued the following week. We had a difficult time deciding whether to opt for the programme at Matri Mandir Kali Bari in Polo, or the one in Jail Road. In recent years, Jail Road had managed to attract quite a few big musical talents from the Bengali music industry. Personally, I remember watching the programmes of Srikanta Acharya and Lopamudra Das in recent years, and these talented artistes enthralled the large audience with their varied songs.

During our childhood, we would eagerly await the arrival of Goddess Durga each year. The onset of Mahalaya, the invocation of Goddess Durga, which we enjoyed either listening to the radio and its modern day avatar as a TV program, was a significant occasion that heralded the celebrated festival. I had a group of friends with whom I generally used to hang out throughout the day and often till the wee hours of the night.  During the three days of Saptami, Asthami & Navami, we used to hop from Pandal to Pandal, moving around the city to view the artistic Durga idols across the town, targeting all Pandals in a particular area and its vicinity. So one day it would have been Laitumkhrah with Motinagar, Dhankheti & Barik roped in alongside, while on the next day it might have been Laban & Rilbong with Police Bazar, while on the third day it could have been Garikhana & Hindu Mission with Jalupura and Nepali Mandir.

Each year the festival brought with it the joy and thrill of receiving new clothes in good numbers from parents, uncles and aunts. Draped in these new garments, we went out and enjoyed ourselves. I also distinctly remember that many of my uncles and aunts besides parents used to give us some pocket money to spend during puja days, something which didn’t happen on other days of the year.  The ‘earnings’ enabled us to try out various delicacies from the stalls that were set up near the Puja Pandals selling chatpata stuff.  In the evenings or late at night, it paid for our entry into the theatre screening the latest blockbuster film, most of which used to be released during the festive period. On which other day of the year can one think of not having to study at all and be able to return at midnight to the house, with no questions asked about our whereabouts?

Since we were in our teens, appreciating girls decked in all their finery constituted a core activity.  When I reflect upon it now, I feel that romance & romantic aspirations of the younger generation hung heavy in the air in what was ironically a spiritual setting. Many first timers, the budding Romeos in quest of their Juliet’s, picked up this occasion as a good time to propose to their object of affection.  The spiritual fervor found a deep resonance with the beat of the drums that the dhakis doled out at dusk.

Cut to the present, Durga Puja in Faridabad certainly lacks the charm of my bygone years.  The offices remain open on all the three days of the festival.  Dussehra, the only day of respite one gets from the workplace, often falls on a Sunday blanking out any further scope of joy and celebration. One therefore has to take French leave on these days, or if leave is unavailable, opt for the ‘without pay’ option.

In Faridabad, community Puja Pandals are visible in different sectors. Most of these have the pomp and feel of a normal Puja. Even though Bengalis comprises the majority, people from other communities are also involved among the organizers. Else if one is away from the vicinity of such pandals, one can hardly smell the fragrance of the festival. If one is close to some organizers of some of these pujas, one can easily have delicious  Kichuri with Labra & Beguni for free. Another aspect that I thoroughly miss is walking great distances by foot during the festival, the way we did in Shillong.  In Faridabad, like most so-called modern cities, the distances are large and the concept of walking substantial distances for visiting the next puja pandal is non-existent. A good number of people visit New Delhi from Faridabad, especially the Chittaranjan Park locality, where most of the pujas are concentrated. This is also the locality dominated by Bengalis, and the culture of the community hangs heavy in this prosperous area of Delhi. However, in some cases which happened even to us, the queue is so long that one has to spend a minimum of a couple of hours to gain entry into some of the well-known pandals of the Chittaranjan Park area. Now that is a big dampener!

Personally, I love the festival and do try and enjoy as much as I can, especially during the three days immediately preceding Dussehra.  However, I feel that our festive fervor should be tempered with a degree of responsibility. During immersion of the Goddess, the toxic element that is released which contaminates the water of the river is a cause of great alarm, and steps ought to be taken to use more eco-friendly materials in the making of the idols. The festival also brings out the tremendous skills of our artisans who wait for a full year to make these awe-inspiring goddesses and gods. A second point which I feel the organizers of these pujas ought to do, as part of our social responsibility, is to feed greater number of poor people so that we learn to share our joy with the less privileged. What is the point of the rich and the middle class feeding itself with so much misery and penury around?  Durga Puja is a reiteration of the good over evil. Let the joy of the season manifest the divine spirit in us, so that we can do our bit to make the world a better place.

Subhajit Ghosh,   September 2010

Memories of Durga Puja

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  • Subhajit Ghosh: Have been reading that he had 'left' leanings in some articles recently..
  • mystic wanderer: Well put. It's difficult to imagine the sacrifices of our freedom fighters. But can Netaji Subhash Ch. Bose be called a leftist? Nationalist perhaps
  • Subhajit Ghosh: Your wish has been granted, and look how! Even NDA possibly didn't dream of this huge victory. Let's hope they deliver, and take the nation forward.

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