Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Growing up -- in Pattaya.

If there is one person in this world, who according to me has the best job, it is Mr. Sanghvi. I have been reading him since forever and after reading every piece of his, I long a little more to be in his shoes. He travels the world, lives in the best hotels, eats the best food and writes well too.

I distinctly remember some of his early write ups in the Brunch -- the supplement to the Sunday edition of The HT. Post reading them, I really wanted to write to him and tell him how much I envied him. Some procrastination and a lot of hesitation ensured it never got done. Then Bangalore happened, there was no HT and hence no Brunch. Mr Sanghvi soon became history and my Sundays boring. Magically, life got us back to Delhi and he came back into my life -- by the way of his writings.

Tonight, I happened to watch half an episode of his latest show -- Vir Sanghvi's Thailand. I must admit that I am not a fan of his presentation skills -- he sounds mechanical and seems vain at times, but I can not help watching him either. In tonight's episode, as always, he visited the best places, stayed in the best hotels, ate the best food and met the most successful people. And he also took me down the memory lane -- eight and a half years to be precise.

Thailand was the first foreign land that I visited, if you exclude Nepal that is. It was an impromptu trip made possible by the help of my then boss. He helped us plan the trip, granted me a long leave and even lent his digital camera.

I clearly remember driving twenty kilometers to meet our travel agent. While waiting for him, we ate at Domino's, in the sweltering heat of June, standing outside the store -- those days Domino's did not have seating. In less than a week, the tickets were bought, visa was arranged and reservations were made.

We had a late night, Thai Airways flight from Delhi to Bangkok, the details of which I can not recall anymore. What I do remember is that I was super excited to be going on my first ever international holiday and it was on this flight that I tried alcohol for the first time. While I could manage white wine, I could barely gulp the red down, since it was far too embarrassing to send the drink back, I eventually added seven-up to it and finished it. D almost disowned me that day.

Arriving in Bangkok early morning was an experience in itself, while my nature loving husband went on about the beauty of the place and the sunrise etc, I was more interested in the airport. The Delhi airport was not renovated until then and was just a cleaner version of the railway station, the Bangkok airport, on the other hand, was swank -- to say the least, loaded with the brands that I had just heard about until then and food chains I had only dreamt of eating in.

I could have spent the entire day there but with D by my side, I had to stick to the schedule. I reluctantly stepped out, only to step into a Volvo coach, waiting exclusively for the two of us. Volvo was was yet to make its Indian debut and though it was just another car for them, it was nothing less than a limousine for the humble Maruti Zen drivers. The next two hours were spent cruising through the highway, overlooking the farms and vast green lands and occasionally, overtaking open Jeeps full of young boys and girls. In less than two hours we were entering our home for the next two days -- the infamous Pattaya.

When you have not been to a place, you have a certain picture of it in your head; then you see it and realise how different it is from what you had imagined. After seeing the real thing, you can hardly recall the original picture in your head. I too had a picture of Pattaya in my mind -- which I no longer can recall, but I had never imagined it to be what it was. Honestly, had I known, I would have made sure we never went there. 

To me, it seemed like some European town with a few South Asians thrown in to service the locals. The number of Europeans -- mostly men, seemed to have outnumbered the Thais. They were everywhere -- along the boulevard, in the cafes, on the road, in rented cars and on noisy bikes. This was surely not my idea of a holiday. Thankfully, our resort was at the quiet end of the promenade and I was spared the sight of half - naked, gigantic white men. 

Like good Indian tourists, we had most of the two days planned -- a customary visit to one of the museums, a trip to a nearby island, a concert in the evening -- the works, but there were still pockets of free time or as they call leisure time. 

So, in the leisure time, we walked -- along the promenade, to discover an unknown world -- a world we might never step into again. 

I am not sure if D was prepared for what he saw, for, he did seem a little stifled in the beginning but he was soon was cool with it. I on the other hand could barely handle most of what I saw.

We walked the streets where young men sold graphic trinkets - the details of which I shall spare you. We walked the lanes dotted with open air bars and pubs, bathed in red light -- literally, where women -- rather young girls, danced in tiny skirts. We were coerced by agents to get into adult shows at a measly price and we encountered blatant and open display of affection in public. My prudent husband was propositioned several times while I became non existent.

As if this was not enough to jolt me, there was the world famous Alcazar show -- a beautiful concert of sorts put together by transsexuals. The show in itself was amazing and I am yet to come across something as grand but what I saw after the show left me red faced -- as red as brown can get. The artists had stepped out of the theatre, some mingling with the guests, some getting pictures taken -- obviously for a price, and some just hanging around. They were dressed in costumes so elaborate that could put Brazilian carnivals to shame but these elaborate costumes hardly covered the bare minimum.

Now, I am not a voyeur and nudity always makes me uncomfortable but I could not take my eyes off them. They had perfect bodies, flawless skin and curves that would put women to shame -- yet they were men. I was embarrassed and awed at the same time.

To my relief, Pattaya was not just about the noise and the sex, it was also about tranquility and beauty. The town looked splendid early morning -- when the wild parties were over and the tired tourists were still asleep. The noise of the night was replaced by peace and quiet. The silence was interrupted only by the chirping of birds and occasional banter of the locals heading for work. The sea glistened in the early morning sunlight and the gentle breeze played with my hair. It was beautiful, all right.

Since then, Pattaya became a classic case of juxtaposition for me. On one hand is the beauty of the nature -- the beach, the islands, the water and on the other is the blatant display of lust and desire -- the dark world of sex and sleaze.
I am yet to figure out why, while watching the programme tonight, I was reminded of Pattaya and not Bangkok, where the episode was shot and which was the other city we went to. It could be because I learnt some valuable lessons in life there, it could also be because it was there that I finally grew up, at the ripe age of twenty six.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Marriage and a Fast

I have talked about broken marriages, unfulfilled love, sex and even justified adultery. In a nutshell I have sinned. So even as my stomach growls and my wrists are ready to disintegrate any minute - thanks to the non stop typing, here I am talking about the sanctity of marriage on a day that celebrates Marriage. God might just forgive me.

I married when I was barely twenty three. In the beginning the entire thing was quite overwhelming to say the least - work, home, husband - I had to suddenly grow up. However the freedom, the companionship, the love and the happiness that it brought along was amazing. The entire process of setting up your life as you like it, with the person you like - was liberating. More so because I had not been on my own until then.

Like all relationships, a marriage also grows and changes, while in the first few years it is more about love, romance and getting used to each other, as we grow up marriage is more about togetherness, acceptance and space. 

After eleven years of being with my husband, I rest assured that he will not judge me for what I think or what I write. Maybe that is why I am able to write uninhibitedly today. Maybe that is why today, after eleven years of being married I also realise that one day of fasting will not bring good luck, good health and long life to him. 

For the last ten years, I have diligently fasted for him, today however, I see no point in the whole exercises. I mean, If you are a good wife all year long, why would you need to prove it by fasting on one random day? If you are not, fasting for a day will not make you one. Most of us however fall somewhere in between and know it too well that some fast, some ritual and some obsolete custom can not ensure a life long bond.

Having said that, I must admit that I am fasting today, hopefully for the last time. It has perhaps become a part of me for the last ten years and letting go of something all of a sudden is often as unrealistic as it is difficult. This reminds me that today, as I decide to let go of the dependency on the Moon or the Sun or the God to take care of my husband, a whole new generation is being inducted into it. My sister and sister in law, cousin and cousin in law observe their first fasts today, hopefully like mine, their husbands stayed hungry too.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thank God for Avi!

Just finished reading a post where the writer talks about creating a legacy - something that will remind the world of you long after you are gone. In the real world though, not everyone can create a legacy - not everyone can write books, make movies or build business empires, but almost everyone leaves some part of themselves behind - in the form of their children.

One of the greatest joy of being a mother is being told that the child is a reflection of her - the face, the mannerism, the voice and even the quirks. I know, I am not among the most doting mothers but I do love my children and the fact that they are a reflection of me - somehow it makes me feel good about myself. There however is a flip side to this - isn't there one for everything? - that often your child will also have to go through some of the difficulties that you did, by the virtue of her being like you.

Mishti, my elder one, is a lot like me and therefore I feel responsible for the problems I see her facing - now and in the future. At thirty four, after working for ten years, being married for eleven and being a mother for almost six - I have learnt to make peace with some of my demons and learnt to live with the rest. At just five, she is yet to figure herself out. That, the world, the parents and the peers expect her to fall in line adds to her woes.

She is headstrong, dominating, emotional, independent and rebellious, and like me, she takes very long to make friends. However, once she does, she is totally devoted, often the other child does not reciprocate with the same intensity and then the drama unfolds - the tantrums, temper and sulking. At such times, I am reminded of myself and realise how much pain I must have caused to my mother.

In a way, therefore, it was normal for her to be indifferent to children in her new school. She would not talk to anyone, stayed aloof and complained that other children do not talk in or follow English - the only language she was comfortable in until then. I completely understood her situation and was worried about her loneliness.

It was a great relief, therefore, when she met her match in a boy called Harshveer. After many months, she started coming home happy and talked about him all day. That he could talk in English and had as much interest in cars, animals, maps, sports etc was an added benefit. They became inseparable.

As luck would have it, he had to go away. She was heartbroken - another long period of sulking, tantrums and loneliness followed. While I encouraged her to make new friends and she did talk to other kids in school, I knew how difficult it is going to be for her, I after all have faced this many times.

After months, one day, she came home talking about Mummies and Egypt, quite natural for her since she keeps reading and exploring. Soon the topics became varied and she seemed happy. Sensing her growing excitement, I finally asked who was talking to her about all these things. I came to know that there was a new boy in the class who tells her about the Planets and the Solar System and talks in English too. His name is Avi.

I thank God for Avi everyday and pray that he doesn't have to go away.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Right or Wrong

Ten celebrity home breakers - who dated or married committed men - screamed the headline. I could not help but open the news piece - if I can call it that. It had names of ten successful and famous women, who had been in a relationship with married men. Here, their success did not matter, that they allegedly broke homes did. I wondered if the men were really committed, for, if they were, there wouldn't have been even one broken home.

The woman is made differently from the man, she matures sooner - in body and in mind and usually a man her age does not match up to her emotional maturity; she also instinctively looks for a provider and a protector. She finds all this in an older man, who, by virtue of his age, could be attached or married. As for the men getting attracted to younger women - I'd let a man answer that.

In my experience, if a relationship is strong, no one can seep in. If, however, emotional differences have already damaged the foundation, no one can save it. In such a situation, the third person is either just a catalyst or - more often than not - comes into the picture after the damage has already been done.
But why get drawn to some other person when you already have a partner? Well, I do not have the answer - nobody does; but we all know that it happens. Maybe because despite having a partner one is lonely, maybe because the love is lost or maybe because they are genuinely in love.

Since we live in a civil society and propriety demands us to live by some rules, some such couples chose to move on, some stick around - in whatever way they can and the more daring ones get married or live in. Mostly these relationships are termed illegitimate and immoral but often these relationships are the purest - because the two individuals are in it for no selfish reason but for the fondness of each other, if not love.

In such circumstances, the woman becomes the home breaker - the home could be hers or his. The man, almost always gets away scot- free, he's a man after all - footloose and fancy free - it is the woman's duty to be cautious. The saddest part is that such allegations are almost always made by other women. Men, from what I know, could not care less.

Now, I am not a feminist, neither do I think that a woman needs any privilege only because she is a woman. I have always believed that both men and women are equal, though, they may have to, or chose to, play different roles. In fact, I think at times it is the man who has a disadvantage, he is the one who has to earn the bread and butter no matter what - the woman can still choose to take it easy.

But such a bias against women leaves me bitter and angry; being a woman myself, I know the insecurities a woman faces, the fears she lives with and the hardships she undergoes - all for love, and yet she is the one to be called names. 
While I am the biggest advocate of marriage, I also realise that some marriages don't work. And since its India we are talking about, walking out of it might not be easy. In such a scenario, if two people chose to stay together by means of friendship, love, sex or anything else, who are we to term it as wrong? Maybe they are right, after all.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Of Gloom and Mr. Bond

The last few days were tough, there were thick clouds of uncertainty, darkness of despair and gloom of loneliness. The feeling enveloped me soon after a fairly good Pooja, I hope it was not what I suspect it to be -- post pooja depression, for it will prove I that I have finally turned into a true blue Bengali, not that I mind it anymore. If anything, I would love to be born as one next time, in the land of love, art, culture and beauty. As a beautiful, intelligent, nonchalant Bengali woman. In this lifetime though, I find consolation in being married to one and being mistaken for one -- more often than not.

Finally the sun shines. There is nothing that a smile, a little love, a long heart baring conversation and some shopping for your loved one cannot counter. If by chance they fail, try seeking refuge in your favorite music and your favorite author's works. In my case, it happens to be Ruskin Bond.

I love Mr Bond. He is the reason I started to read, he is the reason I started to write. If you know him or about him, good for you - you belong to a minority, a small section of people who take pride in Indian literature. If you don't,  please read him, he is the best storyteller ever - God sent for people who love it short and sweet; who want real stories of real people and real places, of places they belong to, of people they belong with.

Story telling is both an art and a craft. Many people around me are gifted storytellers -- especially my brother and husband -- they can talk about a five minute incident for an hour and keep you engaged and often in splits. It however has always been my waterloo; I have the capability to destroy the best of stories, if I ever decide to narrate one that is. If you notice, none of my writings are done in third person. I usually write in first person only. 

So, to learn the art, I go back to Mr Bond, my absolute favorite and a completely undermined writer. Whenever I talk about him to people, I often hear them say "oh that children's writer !" I immediatly change the topic.

Unlike many other famous authors, he tells real stories of real men and women. In the introduction to one of his masterpiece collections -- Friends In Small Places, he says "Somerset Maugham liked writing about the people he met. So did Maupassant and Chekhov. That is why their stories are never dull. They wrote about real people. I find most people interesting, the dull ones are those whose lives are too orderly or those who are forever boasting of the ease with which they have succeeded in life. True that, what's the fun of a perfectly orderly life? It will be one long boring story.

That, most of his stories are set in and around Dehradun and Mussoorie, perhaps adds to the connect that I have with them. I was born in Dehradun and grew up listening about it from my mother who spent her youth in and around Dehradun and Mussoorie.

It is often difficult to determine if a writer's life is as romantic as the world makes it to be or as difficult as the writers themselves claim it to be. Thanks to the stories they tell, the many affairs they have or the underlying sense of unfulfillment that runs through all their tales, writers often earn a romantic tag. From what I understand though, a writer's life is often more difficult than romantic, what the world sees is the result of years of hard work, patience, loneliness and uncertainty -- the success. What the world fails to see is what goes into making them successful -- the hard work. 

Ruskin Bond writes about his hardships and his struggles too, but hardly romanticises them. They are beautifully entwined in his stories, making an appearance once in while, as a matter of fact and not as something he dwells upon. Almost all his stories are biographical, some are autobiographical too. Until, I started to write, I often wondered how did he manage to fall in love so many times? I soon realised that a writer simply tells a story while the reader often mistakes it to be his story. That also reminds me that most of my stories are in first person. Does that mean they are my stories? Not really, I am incapable of handling so much love.

The reality is, all of us, at various points in our lives, fall in love. Sometimes, over and over again, and when we do, the age does not matter, neither does the social standing or marital status. It just refrains and restrains us from its expression and often even acceptance. But one can fall in love many times over, with the same sincerity and passion. 

So, Mr Bond falls in love too -- when he is a teenager, when he is a young writer in England, when he returns to India and lives in shanty rooms on the roofs and even when he is forty three. Most of the stories are about women older or much younger to him, most of them of unfulfilled love, unending passion and abrupt ends - that's what real life is about.

But while he is love, it is all encompassing, in one he confesses to have ignored his typewriter and writing altogether. In another he travels all the way to Delhi to get a glimpse of the girl he wants to marry, who is less than half his age -- still in school. In the same story he goes on to say "What else can one say, I love you, I love you. There is nothing simpler; nothing that can be made to mean any more than that. And what else did I say, That I would look after you and work for you and make you happy; and that too had been said before, and I was in no way different from anyone. I was a man and yet I was a boy again"  and then later in the story "I may stop loving you, but I will never stop loving the days I loved you."

Then there is The Girl From Copenhagen, where he spends two days and a night with an unknown girl. He says "We made no promises - of writing, or of meeting again. Somehow our relationship seemed complete and whole, as though it had been destined to blossom for those two days. A courting and a marriage and a living together had been compressed, perfectly, into one summer night."  It reminds me of Walking in the rain though I had not read this story when I had written that.

There are many, many more beautiful stories and passages that I can go on sharing, but, for now, I must read and practice. The art and craft of telling stories, after all how can I call myself a writer, if I cannot tell stories.

Before signing off, one last passage from his latest collection. Something strikingly similar to what I wrote in my last post. "Falling in love is probably the best thing that can happen to a writer; it gives a certain spontaneity and intensity to his writing" and " My life has been one long love story, and I have loved people, I have loved flowers, the sun, the moon and stars, old roads, old trees, children, grannies, butterflies, seashells, fairies... And of course I keep falling in love, for where love begins, there is the border of heaven." 

No, I had not read this when I wrote That heady feeling called love.

Friday, October 11, 2013

But You Had Other Women To Woo

It finally went down the drain,
leaving me wreathing in pain;

The fruit of the pill was finally borne,
the only part of you within me was now gone;

I would have lived with it all my life,
but alas! you already had a wife.

Wonder why is it always the woman to bear,
the pain, the hurt, the despair;

A man can decide to stay or move on,
the woman however must bravely carry on;

I would have happily carried on too,
but then you had other women to woo.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

That heady feeling called love.

Pardon me if the subject of the post sounds cliched but I am a die hard romantic and this is the season of love.

The air is fragrant, mornings chilly, days bright and evenings sensual. Just the right time to fall in love and make love. It is the time for Garba, Navaratri, Durga Pooja and according to statistics, also the time when most number of abortions are undertaken, which are but a result of overflowing love. Pun, totally intended.

The dictionary gives me five meanings of love. It talks about endearment, affection, tenderness, passion and desire. Love has always fascinated me, in its various forms - agony, envy, obsession, betrayal, possessiveness, lust, and longing - all negative, all dark - all pervasive. I once believed that love brings with it more negatives than positives, but if it does, can it be love?

Some months ago, I chanced upon an interview on TV, one of the many brilliant Brahma Kumaris was talking about love. It changed my perception forever. She talked about how love is giving and not seeking. It is not about you but the person you love. Love means surrendering yourself and not vanquishing the other. If you really love someone, you will not want him to give in to your desires instead you will offer all that you have. So simple, so true, yet so few of us understand it.
As far as I recall, I have always been in love, with someone or something. I have always had some intense passion in life, in phases that I did not, life was hard. It was not romantic love but love none the less - with my friends, with my kinetic, with a new dress, some song, a new pen, a pair of shoes... all random things but worthy of love.

Then, I grew up and like all girls, my idea of love changed. Love now meant boys and romance. To my disappointment, I never had any romantic alliance, not once. I had a couple of crushes though, so huge that I drove my friends up the wall talking about them, but nothing more than that.

Eventually, the idea of falling in love became all consuming. That is when I fell in love for the first time, or so I thought. Although I truly believed I was in love yet it was the darkest phase of my life. I waited to be acknowledged, to be talked to, to be loved. It made me feel small, insignificant, unhappy and uncared for. I soon realised that such a feeling can not be love.

If anything, love gives you wings. It makes you sing, dance, smile, blush, talk -- it makes you happy and I totally believe in it. Yet, somehow, the recurring theme in my blog seems to be unfulfilled love, whenever I finish writing something very passionately, it turns out to be about unfulfilled love. It is interesting to see that such posts get maximum reactions too. I guess it is close to every one's heart.

As human beings, we do not love anything more than ourselves. Saying that I love so and so is just a way of saying that I want to be with so and so - to feel good - about myself. Unfortunately, the so and so has some other so and so and the cycle continues. Therefore, the one who we eventually end up with is usually not the one we love, but the one who helps us love ourselves. Out goes the happily ever after and in comes the compromise.

Of course there is fulfilled love too, I will be sent to hell if I ignore the many lovers who have found a way to be together - hopefully forever. Most of the people around me are happily living with the person they fell in love with, me too. 

But there are those who find love many times over yet choose to live with someone they never loved. Whatever happened to love? or was there love at all? To be honest, I am quite old fashioned and my small town, middle class upbringing often makes me wonder why do people get into a relationship at all if there is no love.

I borrow the answer from The Ganga Mail. Mr Ghosh, hope you don't mind.

Mistaken Identity
A piece of paper
torn into two
One carried away by the gust of wind
the other is you.
And thus: the lifelong search
for the other half.
The search fails, but you pretend:
"Wow, I found my other half!"
What a lie!
Your other half is
stuck in the branches of a mango tree
so who is this man
you are flaunting?

and also a fitting response to this - wish I knew who wrote this one

And she asked God
"Whom shall I blame?
Father..Thou? the wind?
or the paper that was too fragile
to be torn?
God smiled at her
"Stop the search, my child.
Some come for a season
And some for a reason
But trust me, my child
He's the one I've chosen."  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Love, life etc.

The original name of this blog was Love, life etc. When I revived it two months ago, I found it a little cheesy, so I changed it. I wanted to give it a more soulful name than New Beginnings, but I was in too much of a rush to share it and had no patience to think. In any case, it was a fresh start for me as a blogger so I settled for this one. It seems to have worked, for, not only the blog but my life also seems to have started afresh - at least so it seems.

Intrinsically, I am a distracted person. I cannot do one thing for too long, I cannot be at one place for too long and I cannot follow a fixed routine. The only exception to this used to be my relationships, I like to be with the same people - forever. The other exception lately has been writing.

The thing about writing is, that you once begin, you can't stop. You constantly are thinking about what to write next. Then, to seek inspiration, clarity or just to rest your fingers - you read, the more you read, the more you think, the more you think, the more you write, phew! That sounds exhausting, well actually, it is very relaxing.

Two months ago, when I wrote my first post after a gap of four years, I had two reasons: One - I was lonely, I had a lot to talk about but no one to talk to. Two - I needed to tell myself that I can still think, beyond home, girls, husband and family. It began with reading a few posts, of an author whose book I had just finished. In a matter of hours I was hooked. The subjects were simple and articulation exceptional. I was inspired - inspired enough to write twenty posts in two months.

I write because it helps me let go, it helps me to talk to myself more clearly. It helps me to connect with the real me - the wanderer, the seeker, the thinker, the independent, the carefree and the wild, the Anubhuti that has been locked inside for years. All these years it has been the practical, the social, the obedient and the compliant Anubhuti that the world has seen, they like her more. I like the real one more.

Writing has also helped me go back to reading, I could never read long, boring books, I still cannot. I have, nonetheless, read close to seven books in two months. Each one has added to my thought process, clarity, articulation and in short - my writing. In fact, one of those even inspired me to go on a solo trip - my first but surely not the last. God bless the writer!

This blog has hardly fifteen readers, all of them close friends and all of them candid in their opinion and feedback. So when one of them suggested to look back at my old posts and see how much I have evolved, I did. There are a few things that I noticed, apart from the evolution.

 1. I suck at telling stories, I abandoned two midway.
 2. I cannot seem to describe anything.
 3. I can talk about longing very convincingly.
 4. I cannot use big words and flowery verse. If it is not simple, it is not me.
 5. I am not afraid to put my thoughts on paper, well figuratively.
Like all passions, this too comes with its share of troubles. For days, I have skipped lunch because that's the only time Pakhi sleeps and I can write. I have burnt food, kids have gone hungry, the chores have suffered and the sleep compromised, but, I have gained more. I got back the real Anubhuti, her confidence, her thoughts, her happiness and her fulfilment and I have learnt to keep her to myself. The world can have the one they prefer but here the real one rules. That can't be a bad deal!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

When brown is beautiful

I am brown and I quite like it, it makes me, me. But it was not always so, there was a time, not long ago, I hated it. Just a wee bit clearer, just a little fairer would have helped, I thought. Being dark, in a country like ours and that too in the north is not a great feeling -- especially if you are a girl. People find ways to tell you that you would have been better off a few shades lighter and give you all possible tips to lighten your skin. Well wishers get worried about your matrimonial prospects and tell your mother to apply ubtan and haldi to ensure there are takers for her daughter.

Not so, if you grow up in a family like mine. I belong to a Kayastha family in UP where most of the people are on the darker side of the spectrum, none of them sees it as a challenge or a handicap and if someone tells their daughters otherwise, he/she is in for trouble. 

So, for me, it was more of a self inflicted wound (like many others), when I started to see my darkness as ugliness. In school, all my friends were fair, I on the other hand was not only dark but also tanned by the virtue of cycling to school. All I thought of all day was how dark my hands and legs look and how ugly was my face. By college, I was totally into all possible natural methods to lighten my arms and face. I wore only certain shades of clothes and hated looking at the mirror. All this, despite no pressure of being fair by my family or friends.

Finally, I am happy with how I am. Honestly, it could also be because I actually am now a few shades lighter than I was as a teen, but I think even if that was not the case I would have been cool -- at least that is what I would like to believe.

What worries me today is that Mishti, my five year old, has taken after me in every aspect - colour included. The colour of her skin has no significance for us and it never did for her, not until we moved to Delhi from Bangalore. In Bangalore, everyone looked like her while in Delhi, she realised that most people are a few shades lighter than her. 

All of four then, she walked up to me and asked me why was she brown when her best friend was pink. That day, I realised what my mother must have gone through every time I asked her this question. I used all my tact to explain the concept of skin color and that God makes everyone different but the damage was done. She would come back from school daily and tell me that she wants brown hair and pink skin. 

That her younger sister too was pale and all visitors commented on how fair Pakhi was, must have added to her woes. I told her everyday that she was beautiful and that since her parents were brown she couldn't be pink. Well, the smart kid that she is, her next question was, how could Pakhi be pink then, after all, we were her parents too. I wanted to kill myself that day.

She is a little more settled with her colour now, I am not sure for how long though. Given the number of advertisements on whitening, brightening and lightening that appear on TV and magazines, I don't know when and how her little mind will be affected and if I will be able to undo the damage.

Meanwhile, in Chennai and Pondicherry, where I recently went, I saw some very beautiful dark women and strikingly handsome dark men. None of them seemed to be bothered by the colour of their skin. After all, if anything, brown adds so much character to a face.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Durga and Puja

If signs are to be believed, I am sure I have pichle janam ka rishta with the bong land. No, I have not realised it in the thirty fifth year of my life, I realised it much earlier, when the first sign appeared but now I am totally certain about it.

It started fifteen years ago, when my father was posted to Calcutta. I had not only refused to move but had also influenced my brother and family not to, poor father had to live there all by himself for two years. At nineteen I was least interested in Calcutta. I detested the chaos, people, traffic, noise and the weather. Then came Durga Puja. I clearly remember arriving at the Howrah station after a very long and tiring journey that had lasted almost twenty four hours. My father had wanted us to see the  Puja. 

I can never forget how overwhelming it was to arrive in a city full of chaos. People and buses all over the place and buildings ready to collapse. The serpentine queues outside the pandals that went on for miles and the traffic that never moved. No space to walk and no place to stand. I struggled to breathe through those six days and promptly announced my hatred for the city and its people (I found them abnormally excitable and annoying).

My mother, amused by my strong dislike for the city, had commented that I sure will come back and might even have a life long connection with Calcutta. In the arrogance of my youth, I told her that could never happen and vowed never to return. As luck would have it, in just a few years, I was married to a certain Mr Kar and in another few years owned a house there -- my mother had the last laugh.

At thirty four, I wait for the Pujas. Durga has become as much a part of my life as any other Bengalis. Year after year, I diligently perform all pre Pooja rituals: buying tickets in time, shopping for family and extended family and waiting for those four days. Given my love for the festival, the first few Pujas as a new bengali bahu, were hard. I could not appreciate all the hype and humdrum around the festival that, unlike Holi or Diwali, is not even celebrated at home. Then there was the noise and the crowd, it made me sick. The most difficult part however was the food: I could eat all the sweets and savouries but dreaded the meals. The elaborate preparations with unknown flavours, the huge mounds of rice, and the smell of fish wafting through every corner of the neighbourhood. Having been a staunch vegetarian all my life, adjusting to all the meat on the table was tough business (I am still not adjusted to that part, by the way).

Then one Pooja afternoon, I found myself in a relatives house without husband. They happened to be cooking husband's favorite -- the Hilsa and I spent the whole afternoon standing by the window, trying to breathe in fresh air but on the shashti afternoon, the whole world seemed to be frying Hilsa. That is the one time I thought I will die but I lived -- maybe to tell the tale.

The Pooja starts in a week and it is the third year I am going to miss going home. Chance or goddess' will I do not know, but I do know that this Puja surely has discovered her connection with Durga.

Oh, by the way, should you be interested in the signs:
1. I look like a Bengali or so they say. All introductions in my life have either begun or ended with a question about my non existent Bengali roots. 
2. Two out of three men I ever fancied have been Bengalis.
3. I am married to one of those two. 
4. My closest friends are either Bengalis or married to one.
5. The only piece of land I own is in Calcutta.
6. My mother is alive, thanks to a Bengali donor and to Calcutta.
7. I am Puja for my family and friends, a name surely connected to the festival I once dreaded.