The Happy Balcony

My dad’s apartment balcony appeals to me immensely. It makes me feel alive…

My dad has recently bought an apartment at the same town where I have been living with my in laws after marriage. The apartment is one of 40 other apartments in the same building which are gradually being occupied by families who, like my dad, had booked them during their construction. Dad’s apartment is unlike all the 39 other apartments in the eight-storey building. It has a large magnificent balcony that resembles a terrace in many ways. Overlooking the balcony is a splendid view of the mighty river Brahmaputra though it is pretty distant from where the building stands.

A panoramic view of the river, a distinct white patch of water, with the spectacular Patkai hills serving as a backdrop, is a breathtaking experience. The living room opens out to the balcony and through the tall sliding glass doors (I prefer calling them French windows except that they are sliding), you can enjoy the view of the majestic dark grey hills and the river softly flowing by. We, in the remotest corner of upper Assam are blessed with frequent showers of rain that pour down in myriad forms – sometimes a slanting torrential shower hitting at the ‘French window’ panes, while at other times, a drizzle enveloping the scenery with white.

At times, rain clouds drifting by, give wings to your thoughts and make your heart flutter. Chunks of them that bear a striking resemblance to gigantic cotton balls gradually take on a greyish hue as more droplets of water accumulate for a brief spell. And sitting by the ‘French windows’, all a writer would need is a pen and a diary or a laptop in these times while a canvas and some colours suffice for an artist. A singer would easily do with a Tambura and soon you would hear them croon some melodious tunes while the supporting chords produced by plucking the strings of the accompanying Tambura would gently mingle with the breeze and be carried aloft afar. A leisurely walk along the balcony offers an amazing experience. I adore this apartment for its unusually large balcony. It seems to set the mood for any occasion and give food for thought. Being a writer, I enjoy every waking moment in this house.

And now, while I am struggling to quicken the keystrokes on my laptop writing pad, I can already hear a subdued thunder signaling the arrival of forthcoming rain. It will shower in a little while as the clouds hovering above beckon me to hasten. I shall run out to the balcony and let the rain drops drench me completely. I call this love…

The 10-rupee Note!

Ordinary life is a life barely lived. Because, a life without unexpected turns and twists and the subsequent ability to maneuver through, is not worthwhile. Most people simply accept the way things are and move on, not bothering to ponder awhile about these seemingly ‘ordinary’ things that come their way. They simply ignore them, thus failing in the potentiality to transform the ‘ordinary’ into an extraordinary something.

One such ‘ordinary’ thing that came our way, was a simple 10-rupee note. Read on if you are an animal lover.

One summer evening, while having tea, my father was counting some smaller denomination notes, precisely; 10-rupee notes and keeping them separately as change for emergencies, since in our present times, change-notes are hard to produce. I was reading a book and occasionally throwing cursory glances at the soiled notes father was so busily arranging, when all of a sudden, my eyes fell upon one particular 10-rupee note which seemed to have something written on it. Father also noticed it. The writing on the note seemed curiously small.  Father singled out the note and started to read it. Quite surprisingly, this was written on it:

I am totally heartbroken as my sweet cat Poali died in a road accident on February 23, 2016 between 11:25-11:40 pm.  My life is in serious jeopardy. I don’t know how I shall live without Poali since she was very close to my heart. Life is difficult without my cat, Poali.

We were dumbfounded and sat staring at it while the note fluttered in the wind. Father couldn’t seem to recall where and when he had received the note.  I read and re-read the note, flipped it over to check if the writer had jotted down anything else, but couldn’t find any. We assumed that it must have been a girl who was devastated by the sudden death of her beloved pet cat. Continue reading “The 10-rupee Note!”

A Birthday Shock!

A few years back, while on a visit to Kolkata at my uncle’s place in Tollygunge, my cousin Smita and I had planned a surprise birthday party for our respective mothers. Both the ladies had their birthday dates close to each other and so, we had planned to choose a date (July 5, 2014) in between and surprise our mothers with a beautiful cake from Kolkata’s popular sweet shop, Mio Amore.
On the evening of July 5, Smita and I visited a Mio Amore outlet nearby. On entering the shop, we found a number of delicious cakes. We went for a Chocolate Truffle Cake that looked pretty yummy and tempting. One of the salesmen, an oldie, asked me,”And would you like to get something written on the cake?”

“Oh yes, Of course”, came my instant response.
There wasn’t much space left on the cake for writing, so we decided to write the shortest and cutest wish that could be accommodated on the cake surface.

It was a birthday cake obviously, so we chose to exclude the ‘Happy Birthday’ wish and instead write something more interesting.

“Umm”, I thought and an idea struck me. “Write down, ‘Two Super MOMS’, I told the man as he waited open mouthed and impatient, with the icing cone in his hand.

“Ok, what’s that again?”

“Two Super Moms”, I repeated and looked at my sister with raised eyebrows for her approval. She smiled and nodded.

We waited drumming our fingers on the massive glass cabinet inside which were kept five other flavoured cakes on display while the old man went to work on our cake.

“There, done!”, exclaimed the old man and packing the cake neatly into a giant box, handed it over to us.

Handing the oldie, Rs. 650, we left the shop gleefully. On the way home, we bought a packet of scented candles, colourful streamers and balloons. We had to sneak in the cake home since it was meant to be a surprise.

At home, we chose a secluded room and started decorating it with the streamers and the balloons we had bought. Mother and aunt were both unaware of our intentions but were curious as to what the two of us were up to. Soon, we had decorated the room and locked it from outside. We told them that there was something we wanted to show them. My father and uncle had just returned home from a brief evening walk and were having tea when we decided to get the celebrations started.

Smita and I returned to our room to have one last look at anything that might appear out of place. Everything seemed perfect and so we decided to open the box that contained the cake. We placed the box on the centre table in the room and asked everyone to come in. Switching off the lights, we lit the candles that we had already placed around the box in a circular pattern. With the candles ready by our side, we knelt down and opened the box finally.

On opening the cover, we gaped open mouthed, not at the cake, but at the writing on the surface. On it was written:

Two Super MOMOS….!!!!

 

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?

Continue reading

One last goodbye…is all I need

copy-of-picture-0335A song I had written for him,

Put a slice of my heart within

A song of a love that ended so soon,

A love that ended one fine afternoon

 

Pain flowed through my veins as I

ran through the streets some flowers to buy

Fleeting moments rushed by,

As I was wishing my love one last goodbye

 

The promise of a lifetime love,

the promise to be a shelter above,

was breaking like a house of glass,

was breaking my heart forever…alas!!

 

With nimble fingers I wrapped the thing

As sorrow flooded my heart to the brim….

Sorrow ripped through my veins as I

Was bidding my love one last goodbye….

 

I waited for him by the riverside,

Waited as I silently cried,

Morning went by and came afternoon

Afternoon too flew by so soon

 

Came evening and he still didn’t come,

The pain in me was starting to numb

As time flew by, I realized that I

Would have to say a quiet goodbye…

 

He never really came to see

A girl lost in the world of insanity.

My song would never be sung again

As I clung to it, writhing in pain…

 

Those letters dripping blood in vain

Were the last traces of a heart in pain.

A heart that would forever try

To wish its love one last goodbye……….

Web of Terror

I saw him the other day, majestic, enormous, a colossal structure hanging upside down on the huge circular web he had so intricately constructed for himself. The ambiance seemed to exude his pride and power as he softly budged on his web. He appeared to be quite pleased with himself as he had found a safe haven to build his web in a secure corner of the kitchen garden at the backside of my house. He must have observed the absence of human interference and chose the safe spot for himself. But gigantic that he was, I easily spotted him on my way down the stairs that day. His diabolic eight arms were sinisterly large for his body. His web which resembled a prison in more ways than one, held captive numerous smaller and feebler insects who found themselves stuck there for eternity. Some of them had apparently put up a brave fight to break free, ending up doubly entangled while Mr. Spider smirked as he hung upside down.

I observed him for a few minutes and made a decision.

On my way to work that day, I had informed our gardener about the spider and asked him to pull down the web. It was as creepy as it was threatening. When I returned from work, I went to check behind the house to see if the gardener had remembered the extra work I had entrusted upon him. However, I hadn’t said anything to him about killing the arachnid.  I have never been in favour of killing any creature however tiny they might be.

As I climbed down the staircase, I found the web as well as the spider missing. On walking a little farther, I beheld the big black monster lying on its back on the small cemented path in the garden. He looked dead, his eight arms, lifeless and stricken and battered. He reminded me in some inexplicable way of the great fall of the Bastille on the eve of the French Revolution, the Bastille, a symbol of power and authority in the centre of Paris. As with all tyrannical monarchs of the ancient and the present time, downfall has been a constant outcome.

Power in its extremity is an ominous precursor to death and annihilation. The big black arachnid might have been one of the minutest examples of a foreboding end to supremacy in a miniature form. But every big and small must come to an end. Power is but a momentary flexing of muscles, a transient phase, the stage before obliteration of the great and the tiny, the supreme and the minuscule.

The Bastille might have been a symbol of French supremacy, but the throne came down, and so did the vast empire. Similarly, instances of violent activities in today’s world are but a simple repetition of History. The perpetrators of crimes everywhere have one universal purpose – an insufferable thirst for absolute power. And they make religion a scapegoat, concealing their ugly faces under its garb. They take refuge in the vulnerability of their beliefs and invent new ways to construe their religious conviction, thus deriving dreadfully erroneous interpretations of their religion.

They are like insects multiplying in thousands, the squashing of which only further aggravates the state of affairs. They are like the spider whose sadism is but a game of power and a fake sense of triumph over innocents that one day causes its death and destruction. The web of terrorism will ensnare the webmasters themselves someday and strangle them in their self-built internets of brutality and genocide. Their end will be celebrated by the world while History will blame them for their atrocities.

And here in this corner of the garden, all that remained of the spider was a battered body, the web ruined and its prisoners set free, some dead, some rejoicing at the emancipation.

The spider had lost no time in manufacturing the web as big as he could; he made use of the opportunity to construct the hideous death-trap. It kept capturing the delicate butterflies, moths and flies while the spider relished every bit of it, devouring them at his will. And finally with one blow, he and his web came down like a dethroned dictator, lifeless and still, all his pride having melted into the air that once reeked of his shocking authority.

A day will come when all acts of terror will be rewarded in a manner unimaginable and most gruesome. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with the bones…”

However mighty, they will be crushed like paper crumpled and thrown into the litter bin.  One day this will all end in a dreadful climax that might also see many innocents sacrificed for the greater good. And that day is not far because the world is almost satiated with terrorist activities. The end cannot be seen but can undoubtedly be predicted. We shall eagerly wait for that day and we shall rejoice if we live to see the day.

Desert Rain

“I wish it were a dream, doctor!” said a nervous father to Dr. Jagdish Kapoor, the famous neurologist. “And then I would wake up to find him sleeping beside me”.

Dr. Jagdish Kapoor silently studied the blank stare of the man sitting opposite to him in his chamber. The man was lost in thought. He thought of his only son Anuj who would undergo a critical operation the next day which would either give him a new life or surrender him to the evil clutches of death…..

Removal of two brain cysts involved incredible risks!

Six years after Abhay Agarwal’s wife, Sunita had passed away; the poor man was yet again caught in the cruel web of fate. How was he to know that 13-year old Anuj had been living with the two cysts in his brain for almost ten months now?

On Thursday night, while packing his schoolbag, Anuj felt a sudden sharp pain on the right hand side of his head. The piercing pain made him collapse on the floor of his bedroom and objects started getting blurred before his eyes, and then it was all dark.…

He woke up to find to find himself on the hospital bed while his tearful father sat next to him. A doctor was checking Anuj’s pulse.

Anuj’s neuro-diagnosis revealed that the cysts had developed in the temporal lobe of his brain. Furthermore, Dr. Kapoor had said that more than ninety-five percent of the brain cysts turned out to be malignant if not detected in proper time and chances of the patient falling into a coma were highly probable, and here was Anuj, surviving blissfully with the two cysts in his brain for the last nine months and 21 days!

The report also revealed that Anuj’s intra-cranial pressure was pretty high and according to Dr. Kapoor, this could cause further damage to the brain.

While signing the bond, Mr. Agarwal, feeling a lump in his throat, asked the doctor, “Will he have to undergo the operation tomorrow itself, doctor? Tomorrow is Anuj’s birthday.”

Dr. Kapoor reached out across the table to firmly hold the man’s trembling hands. He replied, “Look Mr. Agarwal, this is a serious case and Anuj’s condition is getting worse every single day. This sounds harsh but I can’t help it. We can’t let the cysts cause further damage to the brain. On our part, we’ll try our best, I promise. Let God decide the rest. Have faith in His wonders and He will not let you down. I have faith in Him”.

Wiping a stream of uncontrollable tears with his handkerchief, Mr. Agarwal shifted his gaze and stared at the small heart-shaped table clock on the doctor’s table that had just struck six in the evening. “Fourteen more hours to go and Anuj would be in the operation theatre, fighting for dear life”, he thought.

The nearby Shiv temple, visible from the doctor’s window, shone with lights decorating it. The resounding bells and conch shells from the temple indicated the evening prayer. Scores of people entered and came out of the age old temple. Anuj loved the big olive tree that stood beside the temple entrance. Every Sunday, Mr. Agarwal would drive to the temple with Anuj. During winters, Anuj would bring a small bag and fill it up with olives. He loved olives. He used to prepare bowlfuls of lip-smacking chutney out of them.

After the sudden and unexpected death of Sunita, a grief-stricken Mr. Agarwal had sought refuge in his son’s happiness. Taking up a mother’s place, was a mammoth task. But the man had been successful in being both a father and a mother to the child. And now that he and Anuj had built a strong cocoon of love, understanding and empathy, fate took a violent turn.

Standing up to leave the doctor’s chamber, Mr. Agarwal asked in a broken voice, “Will my son live, doctor?” Dr. Kapoor simply nodded with a forced smile, trying to look confident. Looking older than forty-five, Mr. Agarwal went out of the doctor’s chamber and closed the door behind him.

Strangely enough, he did not go to see his son who was already hospitalized and waiting to be held in his father’s embrace perhaps for the last time. He simply directed his footsteps out of the hospital gate. Brushing away leaves that had fallen on the roof of the Ford Ikon, he entered into the car and drove away. While driving, he kept mumbling to himself. Having reached home, he parked his car and without halting to answer a volley of questions thrown by the maid, straightaway rushed to his room and locked himself up. He pulled the curtains and switched on the light. Mr. Agarwal wanted to think, recollect old memories of Anuj’s childhood. He brought out some photographs of Anuj from the cupboard and flipped through them, occasionally caressing little Anuj in his individual photos. “My son!” he sighed. Sadly, he put away the photographs and prayed silently.

Somewhere in the corner of his aching heart, he had suppressed a million tears, emotional outbursts, misgivings and fears that predominate over other feelings when circumstances as such are forced upon the normal human being. Dr. Kapoor’s words kept ringing in his ears, “Anuj’s condition is getting worse every single day.”

Every word was like a thousand daggers stabbing at his heart, making it bleed incessantly. He wanted to scream his lungs out; he wanted to sob in agony but thought better of it. He refused to touch a morsel of food. Locked up in his room, all he could gather in his disturbed mind was memories of happy times…..

As the clock struck midnight, he silently wished, “Happy Birthday, my son. This is the first time you aren’t beside me on your birthday.” He prayed again, but this time, with renewed energy and a flicker of hope amidst the clouds of despair, uncertainty and sorrow.

He lay down but sleep was miles away from him. Throughout the night, he kept tossing and turning on his bed, counting every minute that was slipping away………..

The next morning, he drove to the hospital at around eight. Nimble and trembling footsteps were directed towards the operation theatre. The operation was about to begin at eight sharp and he knew that he was late. The doors of the operation theatre were closing like a story coming to its end. He screamed, “Wait! I want to see Anuj, please wait! Please……!”

His screams became fainter and fainter till they died away like a sforzandie. Gradually, it turned dark. Someone was shaking him vigorously. “Dad! Wake up, there you are! Dreaming again!” were perhaps the sweetest words he had ever heard. They were like a drizzle on a desert that had forgotten the taste of water for years……….

‘Whom dost thou worship…?’

Durga, the invincible, the embodiment of power and prowess, the very mention of whose name generates fear in the eyes of the demon, the symbol of an enlightened woman who has form and is yet formless, is the most revered Goddess in Hinduism. She creates, preserves and annihilates. She is the enchantress, the symbol of the combined all-encompassing strength of heaven and earth. She is the storm that lashes against evil, nipping it in the bud. Durga, the protector of her children, Durga, the destroyer of evil on earth!

But Durga is not just a vision of the tall, towering clay idol that we worship with deepest regards, she is the mother we despise and disrespect every day, the illiterate sister in an almost semi-urban household, whose brother boasts of his educational qualifications, the well-educated wife whose chauvinist husband is averse to the idea of her going out to work in case she outshines him. She is the sorrow in the form of a baby girl whose parents had prayed for a son. She is the stranger on the streets, in the bus or the train, whose vulnerability we so readily take for granted and commit all sorts of atrocities on her and almost rip her pounding heart apart! She is the daughter whose parents are sceptical of sending her out to study or work for fear of prowling ogres waiting just outside to pounce on her.

She is a small town girl whose battle for survival forces her to manage an entire shop selling articles of daily use, the sole bread winner of her poor family, and we, the society are critical of a young girl sitting at a shop, we who have nothing to provide except criticism and disapproval, we who would refuse to inspire her to dream and yet drag her as a topic into our fruitless gossip and share a smirk among ourselves.

She is the young bride who is incinerated by her greedy in-laws for her inability to furnish the colossal dowry amount demanded by them.

She is the young widow who is forced to accept white as the only colour of her life because her husband is dead. We choose what she should eat to stay alive and deprive her of all the comforts that we think only we deserve.

Why change the established norms of social behaviour even at the cost of a woman’s right to happiness? Why tolerate a woman’s ‘audacity’ to break the barriers of superstitions and rules that make her life miserable? Why let her rise above the petty human beliefs into a higher realm of power, wisdom and greatness?

Why worship Durga? Why place flowers of numerous colours and fragrances at her feet, why offer her the chosen fruits and vegetables, sing in her glory, bow down before her in an act of reverence, chant unintelligible incantations before a fire in praise of her heroism? Unintelligible they are, since most of them are beyond our levels of comprehension, and because they are only meant for those four days of devoted worship, post which the books are pushed aside, the reverence forgotten and we are back to the dirt, to the real monsters we are, to a reality where Durga is only an immersed idol whose glory dissolves with the dissolving clay model in the blackened waters of human pomp and show.

And still every year our hearts are filled with joy at the prospect of Durga’s arrival. Who are we? Hypocrites who put up a fake show of our devotion before the Goddess and stab her from behind? Devils in sheep’s clothing making a mockery of our own set of rituals and ceremonial offerings?

A restless society devoid of the fundamentals of humanity does not deserve to celebrate and spend lavishly for empty reasons. How do we call ourselves a civilized nation when we cannot ensure the safety and freedom of the women of our land?

I would rather think of us as embodiments of the legendary ‘Mahishasura’ underneath the lotus feet of the Goddess begging for mercy, for one last chance to reform ourselves.

Durga puja should be celebrated only when we learn to give a woman her rightful place in our society. Only when we learn to sympathize with the mother, the sister, the baby girl, the daughter, the stranger, the bride and the widow, should we get the right to celebrate Durga puja.

We are to reform, to re-establish, to restructure and to reawaken the society which is slumbering presently, and give our women the happiness they deserve and only then can we worship Durga in all her magnificence.

 

Where the clear stream of glory has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.

(Rabindranath Tagore)

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…

Autumnal feelings galore…

 

The fragrance of the newly blossomed seuli flowers reaches me on a mid-October morning and makes my head spin. The sound of the distant dholkis playing to their heart’s content, fills my ears and makes my heart flutter with the prospect of joy tip-toeing into my mind…

It’s Durga puja!! The much awaited Goddess of immeasurable strength, the resplendent Durga is back! Eyes glistening, her ten armoured-hands radiating energy, indicative of glory and indomitable, unsurpassable power – she is the creator, destroyer and saviour. She is the mother, the enchantress, the symbol of the combined all-encompassing strength of heaven and earth. She is the storm that lashes against evil, nipping it in the bud. Almost squashing the ripped open chest of the demon beneath with a monstrous grimace on its face reflecting the excruciating agony within, Durga proclaims victory, her eyes resembling two purest forms of diamonds declaring the taste of sweet conquest! All hail the demon-slayer!

The rustic dholkis imported from Kolkata, are playing non-stop to please Her Majesty, with their amazing energy-filled and refilled muscles, despite the frail, lean and lanky bodies carrying the huge and overweight drums on their half-bent backs!

For me, this is my 28th Durga puja! Its feels wonderful to realize that 26 autumns of my life have passed by in my hometown Digboi and yet every year, the autumn season holds a different meaning for me. Reiterating an anonymous line that keeps me energized, “I am not afraid of growing old; I am excited about growing as I get older”. But of course, I would prefer to stay young as long as possible.

I look back to as far as my memory remains vivid and find almost cinematically black and white pictures of my childhood race back to my mind, just like the movies of the 1940s’. I see myself wearing a white laced frock with a bowl in my hand, bending over in our garden to pick up the fallen seuli flowers, carefully avoiding the soiled ones. I make sure the bowl is full.

I see myself rushing indoors, rummaging through my mother’s belongings and her precious decorative elements to find the needle case in which there are at least twenty-five differently sized needles. I choose the thinnest and after battling for around fifteen minutes, finally manage to thread its eye and race back to the garden. I pick up the flowers one by one, neatly threading them, and make a beautiful garland…

And then my memory fades into blackness and I am back to my present self again.

A visit to the nearest pandal is all that we look forward to – early morning baths, the undecidedness of what to wear for the first day, Saptami. What could be the perfect dress for Saptami? Something that is not overtly gorgeous and yet beautiful and of course eye-catching!

Dresses almost galore, pouring in from all sides – pishis and mashis pampering you to the extreme unless they are married!! What do you think they are for?

Entering the pandal premises, girls nervously look around, not for the Goddess but for other girls who, they fear, may turn out to be more beautiful and of course, ‘eye-catching’! “Ah! I should have worn the blue liner I bought recently, I would have looked better than that girl over there, huh!” says the envious look on a girl’s face.

Scattered all over and running helter-skelter, pushing and punching around occasionally creating shockwaves are little children shooting away with their irritating little toy-guns, causing a huge disturbance and annoyance to the Brahmins with flaring nostrils chanting away slokas, engaged in the puja proceedings.

In some corner, a group of old, weathered and wrinkled women squat on the matted floor, staring blankly at the Goddess. Their fallen hopes and failing energies find mention in their liquid eyes and nearly-diluted eyeballs within.  The thin lines and dark circles coupled with crow’s feet beneath their eyes, their hair all awry give them a somewhat grotesque look. The smoke bellowing from the burning coir offered to the deity, waters the eyes even more.

There is another group that comprises a heterogeneous mixture of the newly married women teamed up with the middle-aged women, decked up from head to toe, nose rings flashing, and mascara-painted eyelashes heavy under the sheer weight of the dried vicious black liquid!

A group of youth smoke away, maintaining a safe distance from the more devoted lot and busily chit-chat about something more interesting than the puja, occasionally commenting on female passers-by who look at them with a glare in the eye and joy in the heart – yes! I know I look awesome but who cares about you fellows, you good-for-nothing wimps!

In yet another corner is a group of men – another heterogeneous pack that stick together as if frightened of getting lost in the crowd! This group, despite its glamour-less, lacklustre properties, is the one that steals the show. They are a group consisting of young men (the decent ones) wearing kurta-punjabis with neatly combed hair that smells of some retch-inducing sickening oil.

Also in the group are thin and fragile-looking old men wearing dhotis that look new and yet fail to give them the desired lustre. The signs of age overlapping their efforts to stay youthful, are already vivid and prominent with patches of white hair all over their heads that present a pretty dismal picture altogether. It is as if a desperate attempt to hold together bits and pieces that are falling apart is quite an upheaval task for them!

However, the last ones in the group to find mention are the most interesting of them all! They are the middle-aged men that almost pass muster.

Despite themselves, there is a certain shadow of gloom on their faces marring their well-dressed babu-moshai image! With their wallets almost emptied of their rightful occupant (money), and their bonuses gone into buying expensive sarees and jewels for their ever-demanding wives, what do you expect them to celebrate about?

While on the row to their left, sit their chirpy wives in lurid green and yellow and pink sarees, busily chatting, complaining, complimenting, commenting, and laughing sadistically. The Goddess of Shakti finds her inimical representation in these elegantly dressed ladies.

Their husbands, miserable fellows, in stark contrast, quietly stare at the colossal deity and silently mourn over their losses. Bitter icing on bitter cake!

These men are hen-pecked, weather-beaten, flying saucers-hit husbands! They are inarguably the show-stoppers – the earning and suffering lot and not surprisingly, the most heart-rending of them all.

The Goddess on her part, looks down upon them and marvels at Her creation… what a versatile little world it is, She must be thinking. But Durga knows better than that, She stands there with the ‘ashura’, the demon beneath her, while She smiles at the joys, the tears, the complaints and the compliments, the fashion and the foibles, the stupidity of man in stark contrast to Her wisdom. She witnesses it all, silent yet magnanimous!

All I do is pay my regards to Her magnificence and return home – Om Shanti! Om Shanti! Om Shanti!