For ESL (English as a Second Language) learners

Tips to improve your listening skills:-

  • Watch the BBC news channel as often as possible
  • Listen to podcasts by Native English speakers who have a lot of interesting topics for their listeners
  • Watch YouTube videos on Spoken English skills, created by Native English speakers
  • Develop a sound ear for listening and focus on how every word is pronounced
  • Watch some amazing English movies aired on TV. These movies always have subtitles for our better understanding
  • LOVE THE LANGUAGE. It’s easy and flexible 🥰

A Suicide Note…




Dear parents,

Nobody can comprehend the abominable pain of a girl who sits alone, crying to herself after having strangled a dream with her hands. When a dream shatters, the world outside becomes too much of a burden to bear. It is very difficult to build a dream brick by brick. It’s equally easy to bulldoze the dream and squash it and pretend that it didn’t exist at all.

Ah! Yes! You have guessed it right! I am what you would call “a suicide note”, ain’t I? A note like me would leave you in a state of shock, a note that would send a chill down your spine, a note that my writer left behind as a mark of her grief and excruciating pain.

I silently watched my writer take her last painful breaths. It was quite a heart-rending sight. Read me thoroughly and you will realize the pain behind every word she wrote. I am not just any other “suicide note”. I come from the hands of a writer, a poetess, an artist, a singer, an orator, a dreamer – A brave girl who fought a lost battle! My body is a tear-soaked-and-dried piece of paper, the ink of whose letters would have smudged into black patches, had my writer cried a wee bit more. She didn’t live long enough to drench me with her precious pearly teardrops!

As I watched her cry into me, her fingers trembling at every second word she wrote, I was filled with regret, I wish I could speak!

But I was mute and silently watched her struggle for the last few breaths of air and finally give in.

It’s impossible that a girl like her couldn’t have been determined enough to fulfil her dreams. But hang on, whose dreams are we talking about, hers or yours? For once, stop, rewind and recall that it was your dream she had set herself out to conquer, not hers. I beg to state that her dreams were different from yours. She just simply couldn’t take it any more – struggle to fulfil your dreams that, for you, were seemingly hers too.

Aren’t you convinced yet? Hold it right there! If you couldn’t shed a drop of tear to see her dreams die, how come you now make a sea of tears, weeping your heart out for a corpse devoid of any feelings, let alone a dream?

I am probably yet another ‘suicide note’ trying my best to explain to all unyielding parents, where they usually go wrong! Don’t you now regret that had she been alive, you would let her pursue her dreams? Is a career choice a subject to fight over? Who knows where this poor girl would have landed, had you let her dreams take wings?

I wouldn’t say that my writer was brave enough to cut short her life! But she had been a fighter once. The question of losing or winning the battle would come much later. I feel sorry for her for committing the mistake of choosing the wrong option – death over her dreams…

So, here I am a reminder on her behalf, to all those parents to loosen the noose around your child’s dreams and let them breathe.

Ah! The pain of being branded ‘a suicide note’! I am much more than just a ‘suicide note’. I am a silent representative of a rebel, of a squashed dream, of a frustrated soul without which the mortal body is nothing but a stone-cold model of clay subject to cremation or burial…

The soul in its quest for freedom and fulfillment of a cherished dream wanders from one corner of the universe to another till it finds what it has been looking for. I am an unfulfilled wish, a message the soul leaves behind each time the body it resides in, fails to accomplish its wishes.

I am the last vestige of a soul trembling inside a mortal body. I am, and will continue to be a painful reminder of how once upon a time a dream shattered into pieces, the remains of which will always bring back the memories of all those happy times you were beside her and all those sad moments she had been left alone to cry herself to sleep every night…

I am a part of her… treasure me if you will, or crumple me, that again is your wish………..

Regards,

‘A suicide note’

Empowering our women

On 31st May, 2017, the results of the Civil Services Examination were declared and not surprisingly, the topper was yet again a woman. Nandini K.R of Karnataka, who topped the list of all the 180 candidates who made it to the prestigious and coveted Indian Administrative Services (out of a total of 1099 candidates who cleared the Civil Services examination this year), is just one among thousands of women whose success stories in diverse fields have inspired countless others, men and women. And yet the patriarchal mindset of the Indian Society has still to comprehend the power of its women. This narrow outlook of a greater section of the Indian social structure looks down upon women who are willing to break the stereotypes and march ahead.  While a majority of such groups can be found in the remote locations of this country where illiteracy still abounds, many urban localities are also in a perpetual state of confusion of whether or not a woman should be allowed to dress according to her choice, return home late from work and even continue to work after marriage. This is a sorry state of affairs because education has not been able to alter people’s way of thinking.  While there can be no restrictions on the thought processes of such groups, a woman should also be at liberty to decide what is best for her.

While it is easy to write about or even deliver a lecture on Women Empowerment, the loquaciousness of it all is a farce. Empowering a woman in reality is easier said than done. While I enjoy the privilege of making choices for myself, does every woman enjoy even half of what I do? This realization is both blissful and terrible. I feel blessed to be among the chosen ones to avail of all the good things in life even as the awareness that thousands of women aren’t as fortunate as I am, shocks me.  If this is what is meant by 70 years of Indian Independence, I beg to state that our people still haven’t known the basic essence of freedom – the liberty of women. It is only when a woman has the right educate herself and break the shackles of unjust curbs on her self-determination, can a society expect to call itself free.

Even as I am writing this article, I know that some girl in some corner of the country is facing unspeakable atrocities. She must be faced with an adverse circumstance from which there is no escape. I am compelled to wonder what help my article is rendering to her. Am I empowered enough to reach out to her and shield her from unwarranted troubles?

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Of dreams unfulfilled…

A seemingly melodramatic ending of a life ushered in a variety of opinions and interpretations as to what might have led to a girl’s unexpected suicide. The industrial but sleepy town of Digboi had suddenly jerked awake, opening its eyes wide to witness the death of a seventeen year old girl in some remote corner of the town in a gloomy morose by-lane which displayed a crowd of dilapidated, ramshackle houses, each frail one held painstakingly together with bits and pieces of rotten bamboo sticks. Every shower left behind a mark in the disguise of dirt and mud sticking to your shoes if you ever visited the lane.

The evening of 14th January, 2012 set off a babble of tongues once the neighbours got to know about the suicide and embarked upon the idea of spreading the news far and wide, thus fuelling creative minds to fire their imagination further and spin yarns of numerous colours.

“Oh! Didn’t you know, the girl always disliked her father!” said one while someone else opined, “Probably she was mentally ill. Like I care, you know!! But I knew this would happen someday.”

My dear, this is the contrast between things – one, when death comes on its own and two, when you call death to yourself. A natural death turns into a cause for sorrow and mourning and a death as hers invites suspicions and stories. Little do the onlookers care that death in any form is simply death, a stage which every mortal has to embrace one day, death, which is inevitable, death, which wipes you off the face of the earth as though you were no more significant than rats burrowing in the floor!

The eerie stench coming from the dark room that housed the stupendous feat slowly mingled with the foul air outside in a sombre harmony with the dark ambient night and cast a gloom over the dirt-filled lane.

Around fifty people had gathered just outside the house of Soumen Roy, the unfortunate father of seventeen-year old Mouli. As if the news of Mouli’s death was not enough for them to brood over, most of the people tried a sneak peek through the bamboo hut to catch a fleeting glimpse of the salwar-clad body of the girl hanging by her dupatta from the ceiling. It was a gruesome sight for the soft-hearted. But for the rest, yet another tale was taking shape.

Of all the people who had heard or witnessed yet another unnatural death, there was not one who could feel or even so much as understand the pangs of a father whose tears washed away the silent hopes and dreams he had harboured for his only daughter.

Day in and day out he had vendored in the fierce rays of the burning sun, selling articles of daily use, with a bicycle to give him silent company. But it was always so heavily loaded with the stuff that he could hardly ever ride it. Slogging alongside the two-wheeler, he was no better than the beast of burden, clothed in a pair of dusty, worn-out pants, a shirt that showed signs of ageing and shoes that needed some immediate mending.

He worked harder than can be imagined for the love of his daughter around whom revolved his lonely world. He strove to bring a smile to her pale lips, if only she would for once flash a smile that reached her eyes! The poor girl’s fate was skillfully shaped during her childhood by her mother when the wretched woman performed an unmotherly act by stealing her daughter’s pair of gold earrings and slipping away before dawn broke. The next morning the father and the daughter woke up to find the woman gone. A frantic but futile search followed. At last the poor child was rendered motherless with only a shattered father nursing her and concealing his own tears so as not to let his daughter break down further.

Through her growing years, her father provided her all that she had desired for or at least wished for. It was painfully difficult for the part of a vendor as such to fulfil every wish of his beloved daughter, but everyday he struggled for that extra little which could help him save enough by the time Dusshera arrived, to buy a dress for the girl and do a little further than making ends meet. His profound love for the apple of his eyes was further manifested in his tremendous desire to get her to study in a school.

But now, sitting beside the lifeless remains, he felt all his dreams leave him like a garment stripped off a body. The girl had proved him wrong in his calculations. Years of toil and wishful hard work had resulted in the sudden collapse of faith, trust and dream that was ostensibly reachable. Battered and shamed by the clattering of curious tongues and harrowed by rumours popping up their ugly heads, the poor man strove to get an autopsy done. Cradling his child, he led her to the crematorium, helped by four other men, unwilling and yet showing signs of apathetic sympathy towards the duo.

Silently, the father watched the cruel flames gobble up his daughter’s body, which had already started to decompose because of the delay in the autopsy. The fire gulped down with it, not just the corpse but the father’s aching heart which had once been home to a small dream in some corner of it…

The Sunlit Stairway

 

Climbing up the long flight of stairs leading to the Matri Mandir, I now pause awhile to recall the days of yore. These were the same steps that I used to run up instead of simply walking, as a child. I could hear my father holler from behind, warning that if I tripped, I would break a bone or two. But I never heeded them. Now, I think twice before attempting the feat, after all, I am all grown up.

Meditation begins at 6:15 sharp in the evening, and the soft music issuing from the music player inside the Mandir, slowly percolates into the air outside through the half open door, mingling with the soft breeze. A loyal companion is the delicate scent of the burning incense sticks inside, that courses its way outside, through the door. Music and fragrance flow through the cool air surrounding the Mandir, and slowly engulf the latter in its entirety.

Stepping inside the Mandir, you get a whiff of the same aroma that almost instantaneously lulls your senses, inviting you to unite with the ambient mysticism and divinity. As you sit and meditate before the life-size portraits of the great saint Shri Aurobindo and the sweet Mother, you are gradually transported to someplace else. As you open up your heart to them in the pervading silence, all your anxiety has been taken care of, and your worries gently removed.

Situated comfortably in the lap of nature, surrounded by the lush greenery of Digboi, the Mandir enjoys the undivided attention of Almighty God.

The serenity of Matri Mandir has always spoken to me in unvoiced words. Even as a child, I have heard amidst the quiet, the soft voice of Nature. Somewhere crickets chirp merrily, while a frog croaks with joy. Moths are in love with the Mandir lights while fireflies light up the adjacent thick forest in the evening. If you are in luck, you might just behold a deer spring up playfully from behind the thick foliage and pass you by.

I have grown up with the firm conviction that Matri Mandir has been my personal source of happiness and inspiration. My childhood flourished underneath the feet of the loving Mother. I have sung countless devotional songs on numerous occasions and my 1st real performance was staged here inside the Mandir.

I might have been nervous and shaky while my fingers numbly traced the keys of the old harmonium, my voice might have quivered at the thought of the huge throng of devotees expecting a melodious Bhajan from a budding singer on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but now when I look back, I simply chuckle over my ludicrous apprehensions.

I distinctly remember, it was a cold winter evening and despite having rehearsed the Bhajan a million times and gurgled with warm saline water for what might have been a zillionth time, I seemed to be losing my voice as I sat down with the harmonium before me. The old musical instrument had served a good job by concealing my trembling fingers in the soft lights of the Mandir.

And there I had sung my 1st ever song before an audience and felt the thrill of being extolled and praised by one and all. I had just started my journey as a singer. And the sweet Mother smiled upon me, wordlessly urging me to make my songs a source of joy for all those who heard me sing.

 Today when in solitude, I look to those days for some solace and peace. Those were cellphone-free, Whatsapp-free, Facebook-free days, a time that gifted us the golden opportunities to assemble on a divine platform, the Matri Mandir, and share wonderful thoughts from ‘The Sunlit Path’.

Once back home, and back to our mundane life, our mind constantly remained illumined by the sweet messages registered in our sub-conscious selves. We had known the value of being united by the bond of togetherness and love. The beauty lay in the tranquillity of it all. We spoke in hushed tones, we listened more, we meditated while the Mother’s music flowed into our hearts and brought peace to our disturbed minds.

matri-mandir

The customs and traditions of meeting in this common platform have pretty much remained unchanged. And this is perhaps the only place that has remained impervious to the changes around the world. People, who come to visit the Matri Mandir, switch off their cell phones, they revere the sanctity of this divine place, and they respect the institution’s firm belief in the power of meditation.

Matri Mandir is God’s own temple, where calmness and spirituality prevail, a stark contrast to the frenzied world outside.

Now as I quietly sit in a corner of my room, penning down my thoughts, I am transported back to the Mandir stairway on which are scattered dried yellow leaves of an old tree standing proudly beside the steps. It’s autumn and the previous shower has left behind traces of water droplets on the leaves and the flowers. I hear frogs croak cheerfully that God has answered their prayers. I see myself hurrying up the Mandir steps as soft mystifying music slowly glides out through the half open door, a subtle reminder that I am late for the meditation session.

 

“Midnight…..
Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan
Memory….

All alone in the moonlight

I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.”

To India – My motherland

69 years of Independence that now tastes bitter and sweet have made us what we are today, citizens of a nation whose long tryst with destiny has taken her on a roller coaster ride. Thousands, young and old have laid their lives willingly for the cause of our motherland, so that generations to come would live and breathe in a free India. The nation’s eventful yet troubled history is a combination of unfathomable struggles and sacrifices, gut wrenching stories of rebellions that were dealt with so ruthlessly by the British that a visit to one of those fabled places of struggle like the Cellular Jail or the Jalianwalla Bagh would make our skin crawl. Those were real accounts of the stiff resistance put up by the Indians, which now seem plucked out of a big fat fairytale book.

They fought, they died and the nation survived while their glory gradually faded away in the forgotten pages of old history books. Most of us don’t even know their names except for a handful of leaders who received adulation and a huge fan following. Their birth anniversaries have been converted into national holidays. But this is another story of the land of paradoxes – India.

Freedom was the common goal of the people of British India. But these 69 years of Independence now seem to prick like thorns at every step. What has freedom given us? The right to give ourselves the opportunity to rebuild a nation, or to divide it further in the lines of religious and caste differences? The duty to collect the broken pieces and stick them together with the virtues of love, brotherhood, kindness and sympathy, or the audacity to isolate ourselves further in the name of castes and communities and start a brawl at the drop of a hat? The responsibility of teaching our kids the values of discipline, cleanliness and orderliness or letting them follow our dirty habits of littering the streets with empty coke cans, chocolate wrappers and crisp packets, spitting uncontrollably and making it worse for those who are engaged in the cleaning process?

And then we call ourselves civilized with an empty knowledge of what civilization means. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated clarion calls to us to endeavour for a ‘Swachh Bharat’ seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

It must not be forgotten that patriotism isn’t only about laying down one’s life fighting at the border or singing melodious songs on the occasion of the Independence Day, patriotism is also about being a responsible citizen by shunning the acts of littering and spitting on the streets, avoiding unnecessary scuffles with our neighbours, helping our fellowmen in distress and making each day count by contributing something towards the betterment of the society.

Are we sufficiently morally equipped yet to take the responsibilities of building the lives of not just our children but building the nation as a whole? Perhaps it will take another 50 years or so.

What Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, our loving departed former President and Missile Man of India had dreamt about in his famous book ‘India 2020’ may not be possible if we continue to remain within the realms of our selfish little world.

Today the job of a Social Science teacher is not merely to explain and elaborate on the contents of a Social Science text book. They are expected to motivate children to grow to respect our Mother earth, to help preserve precious water, to keep our environment clean and dirt-free, to develop a sympathetic attitude towards the less fortunate and also to be kind to animals for they are at the mercy of humans, the greatest beings on earth.

Sadly, what is being taught in Social Science does not find its reflection in practical life. A string of home assignments and examinations follow, post which, the values are forgotten.

It is the duty of every parent to make their children realize the importance of being dutiful and dedicated towards their nation. What we parents fail to teach our children is, while we make a huge fuss about how many pairs of trousers or shoes we should buy on a shopping spree, there are others who have to make do with a single piece of tattered cloth to cover themselves through all seasons and a single pair of chappals , repairing and re-repairing them till they are torn to shreds.

While our children push away the assortment of foods offered to them at the dining table, there are kids who go to bed hungry almost every night. Whereas we let the tap water running at full force while carelessly brushing our teeth or washing our clothes, there are others who fight among themselves for a glass of water, to drink or to wash.

While we let our children pester us for more toys and chocolates and subsequently, making them demanding by nature, there are children who gently tug at our sleeves on the streets, begging us to drop a one rupee coin on their extended palms. This is the paradoxical nature of India – our India which has many rooms for one and not a single room for many.

While there are millionaires whose electricity bill for a month exceeds the total amount of savings accumulated by a salaried person during his whole lifetime, there are others whose children study by the light of a dimly lit kerosene lamp inside a thatched house that sways with every gust of wind blowing past.

The question that remains now – what can we do as citizens? We can be more conscious of our rights and duties enshrined in our Constitution, we can make a little progress each day by rejecting old practices and developing clean habits for a clean society, we can teach our children to incorporate in their lives the values they get to read in Social Science textbooks, we can learn to be more considerate and sympathetic towards one and all and educate our children to grow up to be respectable citizens of this country.

I am not here to censure or reprimand our people, and even if I have hurt sentiments, I shall not apologize, for, as a citizen, I am here just as a reminder to all, that life is short, but if we can make ourselves more responsible, in the due course of time we shall certainly see a reformed and happier society, and call ourselves true ‘patriots’ of a civilized nation – India.

Memorabilia

A tribute to an Iron Lady

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Her death came as a shock enough to numb the senses… holding the phone in my trembling hands, I felt a chill down my spine. Almost cinematically, the phone dropped from my clasp. Gripping the lightweight cell phone suddenly seemed too much for my numbed wrist… I wanted to fly away from this world, I wanted to run away from everyone and everything, I wanted to be alone and let the obnoxious feeling sink in that my darling grandma, my most precious possession had suddenly traveled to some place that was beyond my reach… Grandma was the only friend I had when I had been a kid! I was her first grandchild and the first girl in the family because grandma never had a daughter. She would swoop me up in her arms and I would settle comfortably in her lap, safe and happy. We roamed the entire neighbourhood till noon while my mother would wrap up her work at home and join us sometimes.

Grandma’s mouth was always full of tobacco-rich betel leaf and nut…I would watch her intently as she divided the betel leaf into two equal halves, take one half, sprinkle tobacco powder and a few small bits of betel nuts and fold the leaf in a way I could never learn to this day! She would then place the neatly folded leaf inside her mouth in a royal fashion…something that might have been done by the royal begums of the Mughal kingdom! Her paan-eating ritual always fascinated me and as I stared at her in wonder, she would laugh at my innocence and plant a paan-stained kiss on my tender cheeks…

Clad in a white saree, the pallu of which was always knotted at the end with keys jingling and swaying from side to side, soft music emanated from her as she walked through the rooms. I don’t know if these keys ever unlocked anything. One of those keys however, belonged to a lock that grandma used, in order to guard her antique steel trunk. Nobody really knew what unknown treasures lay hidden there and grandma never let anyone touch it. Sometimes driven by curiosity, I would sneak into grandma’s room to try, and find out what she hid so zealously in the trunk. But every time I got caught! I finally gave up!

As I grew up, grandma taught me how to play chess. Initially, I was very poor at the game, but with time and practice, I was gradually getting better. One day when I defeated grandma at chess for the first time, she was very disappointed and she would not accept that I had so easily played her into a checkmate!

My voice was always a wonder to grandma. In her opinion, very few singers had touched her heart the way I did. I knew that it was her love for me that spoke in favour of all my songs, yet I let her feel that way. She was my greatest fan. I had learnt some very melodious Meera Bhajans just to please her and watch her drift into a trance as I sang them…

Grandma’s uniqueness set her apart from many women of her age. She was an outstanding swimmer. Swimming, not in a swimsuit but wearing a saree might have been unthinkable for many, but not for grandma. She was a mermaid in the waters and she glided in the waters of the Andaman and Nicobar islands with ease. The beautiful beach of Jolly Buoy Island with its crystal clear waters appealed to grandma and she went swimming in the waters dragging me along with her. What’s more, she snorkeled in the waters of the island and marveled at the sea creatures below.

An avid traveler, grandma took frequent trips across the length and breadth of India, sometimes taking long strolls on the Port Blair sea beaches to walking on the sands of beautiful Jaipur city, to tasting her favourite Bengali cuisine of mouth-watering maach paturi and shorshe baata ilish in Kolkata, grandma lived life to the fullest!
After her demise, people, young and old thronged to our place. They did not come to console us; they came to grieve with us…
How many people grandma had helped when in times of need and how many owed her a debt of thankfulness…we do not know. But the number of people, who came to mourn her death, amazed us…

The Digboi Town Committee Women’s wing of which grandma had been a founder-member and president, as well as some local women’s organizations, came to pay their homage to her. They narrated their sweet experiences with grandma and how much they enjoyed in her company. With her sympathetic nature and enchanting words, grandma had touched the lives of whoever came close to her. She was a wonder woman!

Decades back, ours was a poverty-stricken family. My fathers are six brothers. Grandpa was in the Indian Army (under the British Raj) and hence he was always away from home. Grandma, who never went to school, was determined to bring up her sons well and provide them with the best possible environment for their education. There were times when the money sent by grandpa wasn’t enough to run the family. There were times when grandma slept hungry and yet she struggled to pay the school fees as well as buy books for her sons. Grandma finally found success when her six sons established themselves in various fields. Grandpa passed away shortly after retirement, but by then, our family had already turned self-sufficient.

Grandma was adored by one and all. She remained the sole decision-maker in the family and we all turned to her for advice. She was a powerhouse for the family and we called her ‘the iron lady’.

Grandma played a major role in transforming our lives and making them beautiful. Every tiny aspect of the house is filled with her memories, her soothing touch. Whether it is the flowers in the garden that she nurtured with so much care or the perfume collection inside her wardrobe, everything including the upholstery in the living room bears the sweet fragrance of grandma’s touch. It needs mention that grandma was passionate about gardening.

A pious lady, grandma taught us the most precious virtues of love, sympathy, kindness, tolerance, patience and forgiveness. She taught us the values of faith and responsibility, hard work and perseverance.

With her death, life came to a standstill. Initially caught in a time warp, I kept going back to the moment when I was informed that grandma was no more…
It is amazing how time gradually defeats everything. In fact, time is the most powerful element on earth. I passed the first few days post grandma’s death, in utter shock. The next few days were spent in disbelief. But with the quick passage of time, I learnt to live with this truth that I would never hear grandma’s voice again. Life must go on and so must I. But grandma will forever remain in my heart like a never-ending song….

“….And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson