October 2022 (Part-2)

While chatting with Hans on WhatsApp, we shortlisted 3 places for a gate-away from Delhi…Varanasi, Amritsar and Agra, all being drivable from Delhi, the first one was a bit far taking almost 10 hours followed by 8 hours and 3 hours respectively. However, because of Didi’s reservations about sitting through such long hours, we decided on the Agra-Fatehpur Sikri circuit and accordingly bought the tickets to the Tajmahal and Fatehpur Sikri from the online portal.   

We have taken a conscious decision of not leaving Rolf alone overnight because of his advanced age and resultant rheumatism and other age related issues, he needs care that the housekeeper or Guddu can’t provide. So, one of us is always with/around him, therefore for the Agra trip it was decided that Deepika will stay back while Didi, Hans, Ayush & I will drive down for the 1.5 day trip. 

AGRA-FATEHPUR SIKRI

We had planned to start around 5:30 AM but managed to leave home 20 minutes late. We decided to go to Fatehpur Sikri first and Google Map suggested we take the NH-19 via Faridabad, Vrindavan, Mathura and take the Agra bypass to reach our destination… 206 km in approx. 4 hours.

NH-19 has been completely revamped and now offers a smooth ride which became apparent as Didi commented that she can’t recognize the route that she had taken to go to Mathura. Even Hans was pleasantly surprised not just of the road but seamless crossing of the Toll Plaza courtesy the FasTag.

We stopped for breakfast at newly opened restaurant near Mathura (Akbarpur) called NH-19 Dhaba and had tasty n filling stuffed parantha and masala tea without milk & sugar. Nice clean place with courteous staff. We were the first customers of the day so were given special attention.

Till now, I was driving but post breakfast Ayush decided to drive. His confidence level has gone up tremendously having driven through NH-44 only a few months ago. I was glad because, I needed to take a power nap to add up to my 4 hours only REM sleep. Ayush drove very smoothly allowing me to doze off most of the distance. He woke me up as we were approaching Dholpur and Google Map was suggesting multiple alternate routes from thereon. I told him to keep to the original route as that seemed less complicated using the Agra-Jaipur highway.

As we entered the road towards Fatehpur Sikri, 2 guys on a motorcycle approached us with offer to get our vehicle parked free of cost and take us to the shrine on a local registered car (no other vehicles are allowed to the complex) and also provide guided tour at a nominal charge of INR 700 only. We agreed and they guided us to a hotel where we parked our jeep. We walked about 100 meters and got into a Bolero which took us the gate of the Fatehpur Sikri Complex.

We were asked to deposit our shoes and provided with a pair of cotton shoes @10 INR per pair. The Guide Shoaib Ali narrated the history in a mix of English-Hindi-Urdu which Ayush and I could understand but had to translate for Hans in English and Bengali for Didi. This was the mosque, Jama Masjid, used by Akbar for praying and the Buland Darwaza is supposed to be the tallest gate as per the guide. I have no reason to argue with him so accepted it on face value. The place like most other has become too commercialized, we were told that if we visit the shrine of Salim Chisti, we need to offer a “Chadar” on the grave and took us to a place where a dozen such sellers had displayed their chadars. These were quite steeply priced starting at INR 2100 onwards going upto INR 7500. The guide very skillfully took Ayush & Hans to a different guy while Didi & I were stationed with another. The con became clear when the seller said we have to buy chadars individually i.e. one chadar per person. Understandably, Didi wanted to offer a chadar, so I bought one for her and politely refused to buy for myself saying that for me the god in whatever name you call, resides within me and I don’t have to do any ritual. The seller and the guide, both were disappointed for loss of revenue. But they managed to con Ayush and Hans by selling them a higher priced chadar each.

I followed them to the shrine but kept my distance from the theatrics and refused to put money on the chadar. There was no way to confirm their claim that the chadars are used to make wedding dresses for young girls of poor family and the money goes to some orphanage. I would rather give the money to charitable organization that has proven records for doing good work for the underprivileged.

We finished the tour in about 1.5 hours and headed for Agra; decided to check-in at the hotel Double Tree by Hilton… rest a while and proceed to Taj Mahal around 4-ish so that we could capture the sunset at the background.

Double Tree by Hilton is a 5 star hotel very close (1.2 km) to the Taj Mahal… having very courteous staff. The rooms are quite spacious (unlike the Hyatt) and we settled into our rooms within 20 minutes of reporting to the front desk. While checking in, we were told that there will be a buffet dinner at the coffee shop priced at INR 1500 but if we book before 6:30 pm, it will be INR 1000 plus taxes… we booked for 4 persons. We were all feeling hungry so ordered sandwiches through room service hoping that will be served fastest. We were quite disappointed both on account service which took close to 45 minutes as well as the food quality… especially the non-veg Club Sandwich… the bread wasn’t fresh and there was hardly any meat in it… just a paste of chicken and a thin fried egg with lots of veggies.

We had booked a cab and guide service from the hotel travel desk for 4 pm. The guide introduced himself and we set forth for the Taj Mahal. We purposely decided to skip other monuments of Agra to concentrate on Taj Mahal, a place where we have been many times but knew very little about which the guide narrated. The crowd management has improved in leaps and bound…last time in 2011 when we visited, we could not enter the monument because of unprecedented unruly rush. Now, one has to buy tickets online clearly indicating their nationality. There are only 2 gates to enter – East and West… completely barricaded allowing only pedestrian traffic on tiled road followed by security check with body scanner… only medicine and water bottle is allowed inside.

The hotel Toyota Innova dropped us at the parking area from where we got into a golf-cart that took us close to the monument (within 1.5 km) from where we had to walk. A few guys with wheelchairs approached us looking at Didi’s age but she’s made of different mettle and decided to walk the distance… later we realized that the wheelchair thing is a sham as it goes only up to the main gate and not till the actual monument.  Hans with the help of the guide had roped in a photographer to take pictures of us as we moved and provide both soft and hard copies (selected images) when we come out at a negotiated fee of INR 5600. Before I could intervene, the deal was struck, a foreigner was conned a second time on the same day.

The photographer took his job very seriously and started taking pictures immediately right from the entrance gate while the Guide narrated the story of Taj Mahal, most of which we already knew. The popular story that makes round that the all the workers, architects and others involved in the construction of the monument were maimed or killed by Shahjahan is nothing but myth. The guide told us that they were all made to sign an oath that they will not replicate the monument anywhere else and offered alternate occupation. Many of the descendents of such workers are still living in and around Agra and making decorative art pieces of marble including miniature replicas of Taj Mahal.

The Emperor Consort Mumtaz Mahal was initially buried at Burhanpur where she died and was exhumed and brought to Agra for burial at her final resting place at Taj Mahal. The tomb is exactly at the centre of the monument which is quite astonishing as in the absence of modern instruments how they figured out the exact centre point!! When Shahjahan died, he was buried next to her. The British looted all the jewels that adorned the monument but the beauty still persists. The guide told us that the Britishers actually wanted to take the entire Taj Mahal to their native land not because they were enamored by its beauty but to use the marbles for their homes… only the logistics prevented such criminal act.

The on-line ticketing has the advantage of limiting the number of persons that can enter the monument. It ensured that at any point of the day, only a limited manageable crowd is present inside the compound. Further on, there is an extra payment for those who desired to visit the main structure of the monument which effectively reduced the crowd influx that used to be the bane earlier.

Meanwhile, Hans had been busy getting himself framed in Bollywood style… as he said earlier to me that he wanted collect as many memories as he can… and what better than to get the best moments captured in photographs. Halfway to the mausoleum, the guide said the professional photographers are not allowed beyond that point… another first and for better…also the fact that photography is not permitted as soon as you enter the mausoleum. Using a powerful torch, the guide showed us how the Taj Mahal looks under the full moon. The real stones, rubies and emeralds shine in the moonlight giving a surreal effect to the monument.  Incidentally, the visitors are allowed in batches of 50 pax per half hour inside the complex near the main gate till about midnight but are prohibited to venture into the lawns or any further than the porch of the main gate. Another thing that we never realized in our previous visits is the fact that the corner pillars of the hexagonal points are flat if you touch and feel but viewed from a distance of six feet gives a visual effect of curved surface… amazing architecture.

When we came out of the mausoleum, the sun was setting and provided some awesome images. Collectively we, including Didi in her iPhone, took over fifty pictures till the daylight started fading completely. We walked back to the point where the golf-carts were waiting for passengers heading to the parking. The photographer came with an album as well as images in a memory stick which he transferred to Hans’s phone. He also gave a 8”x10” print of Hans with his mother which I am sure will be nicely framed and adorn the walls of their home in Russelsheim, Germany.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at leather store from where Ayush picked up a nice leather laptop bag at 1/3 the price of regular retail shops and Hans picked up a pair of dress shoes at a reasonable price. On hindsight, we should have picked up the leather suitcase which was on offer at a very reasonable price… it could be a reason to visit again in the near future!!

Ayush & I went to the market across the hotel and picked up a bottle of Dewar’s 12 years along with some soft drinks and soda water besides some chakhna. He had a call with his counterparts in USA till 10 PM, so we told Didi and Hans to go ahead for the dinner if they feel hungry and we will join them momentarily.

We should have booked the dinner after having the room service order… the buffet service was subpar considering the hotel is a 5 star property. Didi & Hans had finished their dinner when we reached the restaurant and waiting for us. As we approached them, she got up excitedly and introduced me and Ayush to the occupants of the table just behind ours… they were the same people whom she and Hans had met the Safdarjung Tomb and at the Isha Foundation at their invitation. It was a sheer coincidence that they not just had come to Agra too but staying in the same hotel as well.

The following morning after breakfast which happened to be the best meal we had in the hotel, left for Delhi aiming to reach by 12:30-1:00 pm as Ayush had to log-in by 1:30 PM for his meetings. The return journey was very smooth with one toilet stopover at the Toll Plaza of Mathura Exit. Good thing that both Taj Expressway(Agra Ring Road) as well as Yamuna Expressway have installed FasTag so one doesn’t have to dig into the purse for cash at the Toll Plazas. The change of driver happened at the Jewar Toll Plaza because Ayush was averse to driving on empty stretch of the road as that would make him sleepy… I did not tell him that with how much will power I had stayed awake while driving on the near empty roads… Anyways, we reached home well before the targeted time to allow Ayush to log-in for his meetings.

DIWALI & BHAIDUJ

Diwali is not complete without a visit to the Blind School Diwali Mela especially because their candles are far superior to the ones that are available in the market and burns for the whole night. The other attractions being the handicrafts and paintings by the differently abled students, Hans picked up few of them. On our way back we decided to stop at an Italian Restaurant called EVO, very close to our home but unfortunately that evening they had waiting period of more than an hour, so we came home and ordered PIZZA from another restaurant . We went to Evo on another day with prior reservations and thoroughly enjoyed the Pepperoni Pizza which turned out be juicy and flavorful compared to the other joint.

The following Sunday, we went out for lunch at a CP restaurant and then first to famous Hanuman Mandir where Didi used frequent when living in Delhi and desired to visit the place along with Hans. We then went Central Cottage Industries Emporium on Janpath. Many years ago, before marriage, she used to work there and in her previous visits made it a point to visit to meet up with friends. Now, almost all her friends have retired and moved to other parts of the country, some had taken abode with Madhav. The place has changed significantly, the main attractions are on the ground floor having brass, papier-mâché and ceramic art pieces besides giftables. We noticed some nice furniture as well and made a mental note to visit again when we plan to change ours. Hans picked up few brass figurines of which the Saraswati was quite attractive. I added one more Ganesha to my collection. When I reached the cash counter, I found my childhood friend Alok aka Gutloo with his wife Arpita paying for his purchases. Arpita has an enviable collection of Ganesha(s) which she had proudly displayed in a glass showcase.  

In an around Diwali, playing Teen Patti (3 card flash) had become a ritual but for last 4 years or so, it had taken a back seat due to pandemic related restrictions. Then the passing away of the biggest organizer my Chhordi (sister) due to covid related complication in early 2021 has been a big dampener to the spirits of Diwali. This year we did not organize any card party nor were invited to any such party. On the Diwali evening, after the usual puja, Deepika, Ayush, Hans and I sat down to play the Flash but without involving money. We first had to explain Hans the rules of the game, he being a quick learner, picked up the nuances of the game and soon was on winning way.

My insisting and persuading Didi and Hans to visit us during the time of festivities had an ulterior motive as well… there was some kind of undercurrent in the relations between my elder siblings due to variety of reasons and misunderstandings. No amount of counseling from my end had had any positive effect as being the youngest (but wisest), I could not influence them. So, I thought, Didi being the eldest, almost a mother figure, can perhaps put some sense in warring individuals.

It took some cajoling, admonishing and pushing by her but at the end, I am very happy to say that all the misunderstandings were set aside and we had an enjoyable sibling’s get-together on Bhaiduj. And needless to say, my culinary skills won the day with Hing Diye Aloor Dom and Kosha Maangsho. Deepika completed the menu with her famous Punjabi Chhole and Tomato Paneer. And of course there were an array of sweets for dessert.

Bhaiduj happens on the second day after Diwali but this year because of the Solar Eclipse, Bhaiduj (officially) happened on the third day after Diwali. However, we are in the age of convenience, so Deepika’s brothers came over on the second day to celebrate as both had preoccupation the following day. In a way, it was better; they got full attention as was my siblings the following day.

All times, good or bad, comes to an end… Didi & Hans flew back to Germany on 1 November early morning and Ayush to Bengaluru the following evening… Deepika & I are back to daily grinding… hoping for an eventful, happy beginning to the New Year about a month ahead from now…

October 2022 (Part One)

Extraordinary October…

After a gap of 2 years of ‘pandemic forced restricted celebrations’ it was open house this year for Durga Puja, Dusshera and Diwali, and all of them happened in just one month – October. It was special because my eldest sister, Didi was coming from Germany to join the festivities after almost 20 years along with my nephew for whom this was a FIRST in over 40 years.

DURGA PUJA

Originally, Durga Puja celebrations starts from the 6th day of the Navratri but for last few years, the pandals are thrown open to public as early as on the 4th day itself. In the pre-covid years, we used tie-up with our friends Basus and go pandal hopping with them. We renewed the arrangement and went to see the idols of Chittaranjan Park on the 5th Day or Panchami Night. Contrary to our expectations, not just the pandals but the roads leading there were quite crowded but we did managed to find parking spots within the proximity of the pandals and covered the main ones like K-Block, B-Block and Mela Ground and then hunger took us to Chungwa Restaurant at M-Block Market GK-2. The following evening, as planned we joined the Basus at DLF Club-5 at Gurugram. This was our first visit to a Durga Puja in Gurugram and we thoroughly enjoyed. Unlike the unruly crowds in most pandals in Delhi and resultant spillage of trash, this was very clean with manageable crowd. The Durga idol was much smaller compared to her Delhi counterparts but beautiful. Then of course, there was a full makeshift food court where we had the FUCHKA (Bong version of Golgappa or Paanipuri), it was so good that Sangeeta & I had two portions each. From there we moved on to Shushant Lok pandal which was what one expects from a typical suburban puja pandal, it was dusty and loud Hindi Bollywood musical program being performed on the stage in front of motley crowd. Our last stop before heading home was DLF Phase 2 Puja where I had Mughlai Porota, it was less oily than what you get in Chittopark but the filling of mutton was below expectations.

The following morning, Maha Saptami day, Deepika wanted to give Pushpanjali so we went to Durgabari in Kailash Colony where I unexpectedly bumped into my Childhood friend Supriyo. We chatted while both our better halves were busy offering the flowers and praying to the deity. Thereafter, Deepika & I went to New Delhi Kali Bari, a must visit during Durga Puja for all Bongs residing or visiting Delhi. The Basus also joined us there. In the pre-covid years, one could enter the NDKB Pandal wearing their shoes/sandals but this time (or perhaps during covid years) the rules had changed and one had to take off their shoes at the entrance gate and deposit with the shoekeeper.  Our next stops were Minto Road pandal followed by Kashmere Gate Puja Pandal. The last one is the oldest continuous Durga Puja of Delhi and once upon a time famous for the delectable Biriyani served at the food court, however, the quality over time has deteriorated and no longer an USP.

By the time we finished our pandal hopping, we were hungry and decided to explore the Pandara Road restaurants which we haven’t tried for many years now. Moreover, one could get a vegetarian thaali which will be good for Deepika as she was fasting since morning. We were surprised to find that all the restaurants (5-6 of them) had a waiting time of 30-45 minutes even at the late afternoon. And except Pindi Restaurant, all of them had turned vegetarian for the period of Navratri. Deepika got her “Vrat ka Thaali” packed from Gulati Restaurant while we waited for a table at Pindi Restaurant. The food, in any of the restaurants here is typical north Indian or more precisely DELHI CUISINE. We eventually, after half hour waiting got a table and without wasting any more time ordered for Laal Maans (Mutton Curry), Lamb Brain Curry and Daal Makhni with a selection of Naan & Tandoori Roti. The restaurant allowed Deepika to have her special thaali since they were not serving the same. By the time we finished our meal, it was almost 4:30 pm and rushed back home saying our goodbyes to Basus. We had seen all the Pujas that we intended to see having missed them since 2018 due to varied reasons, all unintended.

DIDI

On the morning of 3rd October, I started tracking the Qatar Airways flight path, it was supposed to land at IGIA T-3 around 8:40 AM… calculating the time for walk through corridor to immigration, customs etc, I guessed Didi & my nephew Hans aka Ajay will emerge not before 9:40 AM (an hour from landing) and accordingly left home exactly at 9:10 for the half hour journey to the airport from our home. To my utter surprise I got a call from Hans at 9:20 AM just as I was reaching the end of IIT Flyover… he confirmed that they were out of the terminal and waiting at the level-2 of the parking… I told him I will reach within 20 minutes. Faithful Guddu Kumar pressed on the gas and accelerated without my prompting. Thankfully, there was no traffic jams on the way and we made it well within time.

For the last over 6 months, all vehicles are directed to the parking where they have marked the spaces for Domestic Traveler (Leve-1), International Traveler (Level-2) and All Taxis (Level-3). The waiting upto 25 minutes is free and thereafter charges are applicable per hour basis. On paper this should have eased the pick-up process easy but because of the “idiots at the wheel” chaos still prevails. I told Guddu to park the car and went to look for them. Didi was standing with the luggage but Hans was nowhere to be seen. I walked up to her and hugged. We were physically meeting after February 2019 though we regularly video chat. She told me that Hans had gone to pick up some beverage at the corner kiosk. He had no Indian currency with him and was vainly trying to with his card, I paid for his 2 cans of MAZAA (his favourite Indian beverage since childhood). Guddu had meanwhile followed me and found Didi with the baggage which he swiftly transferred in the car trunk.

It was Maha Ashtami Day and my (second) brother aka Chhorda who is actively involved in the GK-2 M-Block Market also known as Dakshinayan Puja, had invited us to have Bhog at their pandal. So, after resting and freshening up we went there in the afternoon. We are adept at the slightly spicy food that are made for the public but Hans and Didi found it just too overbearing and had only the kheer and chutney with the khichuri leaving aside the labda or the mixed sabji.

Following day, Maha Navami, I took Hans to my brother’s home to try out a designer Kurta that he had bought for him and then took him to Chittopark to check out pandals of K-Block & B-Block. Later in the evening, we went to Paschim Vihar Puja Pandal to meet my second sister, Mezdi who turned 76 years young that day. We visited 2 of the puja pandals in Paschim Vihar and also had first time experience of riding on the e-Rickshaw while traveling between the 2 pandals. Frankly, it was nerve wracking the way it was driven, the foreigners – Didi & Hans stopped short of screaming while I kept a stoic silence.  

On Dashami/ Dusshera we relaxed at home during the day. In the evening Guddu provided a direct videocast of Dusshera celebrations through his mobile phone. He had taken his family out to the Ramlila celebrations somewhere nearby. Later, we went to my other sister’s home for dinner. My nephew, Saurabh made a cocktail called Earlgrey Gintonic… quite simple but very refreshing… made with a teabag of Earlgrey tea + 60ml Gin + 60ml tonic water + lime and filled with ice cubes. He served this amazing drink with some succulent Chicken Malai Tikka and Mutton Sheekh Kebab. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

One of the evenings, Deepika took Didi and Hans for a Heritage Walk at Safdarjung Tomb where they met a family who had similarly come with their overseas relatives and invited them to Isha Foundation Ashram at Chhattarpur, New Delhi.

On Saturday, the morning began with rains and continued throughout the day, I vainly waited for the rain to cease but in the evening had to rush to Chittopark to buy the Puja Samagri for the Kojagori Lakshmi Puja at home… Hans came along with his GoPro video cam to record the market activity but the intermittent rains and premature darkness did not allow him to capture good footage.

This year, for the Kojagori Lakshmi Puja, a new Panditji came over, the younger brother of our original Panditji who could not come to Delhi due to health issues. The new PanditJi who came had retired from NDKB few months ago and was much involved in the rituals than his brother and took almost 3 hours to complete the process. But Deepika as well as the participants of the Puja rituals were extremely satisfied. And rewarded him generously… while I found him to be quite chatty… in the five minutes post puja interaction he told me all about his family!!

Later, that evening Deepika went to Kualalampur for a 5-day trip to attend a 3-day conference. Ayush gave her a very expensive list of whiskeys to be bought from the Duty Free shop at the airport.

In the days that followed, one day I took Didi & Hans to the Dakshin Delhi Kali Bari which has changed drastically for better and expanded as well. After the rituals we went to Delhi Haat which was like a Pandora’s Box for Hans…he wanted to buy everything being enchanted with the ethnic tag. He picked up half a dozen paintings of varying sizes and few brass statues. Another day, we went to the Saket Malls just for a stroll but Hans ended up buying quite a few stuff and was particularly interested in a brass Ganesha idol but it’s heavy weight stopped him from buying. The next few days, Delhi experienced its wettest days of October; it rained incessantly throughout the rest of the week forcing us to be indoors.

A Grave Story

A decade ago I was doing a lecture tour on marketing and market research for the employees of a company that was trying to foray into e-commerce when the segment was in its nascent stage. Sometimes, the schedule used to be too hectic, completing a lecture in one city and moving on to another by overnight trains. The following story was told to me on one such evening when I was waiting at a station to catch a late night train to reach my next destination.

I was in the first class waiting room reading a book after having my dinner and coffee at the cafeteria of the station. I was engrossed in the book when I heard someone cough to get my attention. I looked up and saw a middle-aged person in priest’s attire with a large cross hanging from his neck. He smiled and introduced himself, “I am Father Xavier. Can I sit here?” I introduced myself and affirmed him to sit across on the sofa. It was a welcome break from my solitary situation. I was afraid I might doze off reading the book and miss the train although I had asked the stationmaster to inform me when the train approaches.

After few pleasantries, Father Xavier asked me what book I was reading. It was Jeffrey Archer’s Kane & Abel. He took the book and turned a few pages and was thoughtful for few moments before saying, “Let me tell you a true story from my own experience that is if you are inclined.” I was all ears to listen to someone’s life experience, so nodded in affirmation.

Father Xavier began after some thought, probably composing the words in his mind…

Besides being a priest, I am also a Clinical Psychologist with practice in the city. One evening as I was wrapping for the day, Lobo Fernandez stormed into my chamber panting and sweating. I offered him a glass of water and asked him to calm down.

“You know Father that I take private tuition, every evening after the school finishes I take that narrow road right next to the newly built graveyard. It is a shortcut to the house I go every evening to take tuition classes.” Lobo stopped momentarily.

“So, what happened?” Father probed.

“You also know, two months ago my uncle Francis was buried there… out of courtesy, when I cross the graveyard I raise my voice and say GOOD EVENING UNCLE FRANCIS. This has been going on for over a month now but today…” Lobo’s voice trailed off and he shivered as if remembering some horrible thing.

“But” interjected Father but waited for Lobo to continue…   

“Four days ago something strange is happening, someone from the grave is returning my salutation. Initially I thought the local boys, the ones that go there for substance abuse is making fun of me but day before yesterday I searched the area with my torch but couldn’t see a soul around. I dismissed it thinking maybe that mind was playing games with me. Then the very next day same thing happened, this time I could hear the voice clearly and it was of my uncle Francis’s. I went to the gate of the graveyard and searched with the help of the torch… I could see all the graves except that of my uncle. It was in complete darkness as if someone has painted it black with tar. I got scared and ran off to the tuition. While coming back, I took an autorickshaw to reach home.”

Father Xavier waited for Lobo to continue… He was visibly shaken by the events.

“The following day I didn’t venture out from home… kept thinking about it… couldn’t share my experience anyone lest they think I am a coward or have gone insane. Then, yesterday, I gathered courage and went for the tuition… thought of taking an autorickshaw but as it was getting late, decided to walk… the alternate route is closed due to repair work so I had to take the graveyard road. I decided, today I won’t wish uncle and simply walk past the graveyard.” Lobo paused to take a sip of water.

“As I reached near the gate of the graveyard, I realized I can’t move… all my body has become heavy like a stone… in the middle of the road I was standing like a statue unable to move an inch even. I was horribly scared… I thought I will lose my senses…”

Father Xavier did not interrupt but waited for Lobo to continue.

“Just as I was about to faint, I turned the light of my torch towards the graves… like earlier I could see all the graves clearly except that of my uncle… it was in pitch darkness, in fact it seemed that the blackness was growing in size and rushing towards me. With all the strength I shouted GOOD EVENING UNCLE FRANCIS. This time the reply came from very close… the voice said WHY DID YOU TURN BACK? GO AWAY, QUICKLY. Suddenly, that blackness from my uncle’s grave rushed and wrapped my leg in tight embrace.”

Lobo drank up the water from the glass… his face was ashen gray… eyes popping out in fear.

Father Xavier got up and filled up Lobo’s empty glass. He put his hand gently on Lobo’s shoulder and said, “Sometimes hallucination can play…”

“Father, if it was hallucination, then how will you explain these marks?” Lobo had lifted his trouser upto the knee… there were clear marks of tightly wrapped ropes on his legs. The marks are so strong that in some places the skin has opened up to rawness of the bone.

Father Xavier looked at the wound with concern and asked, “What happened next? What did you do?”

“I don’t remember anything. I probably lost consciousness due to the fear that was gripping me at that moment. When I came to my senses, I found myself lying at the tea stall bench… couple of passerby’s found me unconscious near the graveyard gate and had brought me there.”

Father Xavier was thoughtful for few minutes then asked, “Your uncle Francis, how did he die? I mean was it natural or accidental?”

“Uncle Francis was old nearing 80 and not keeping a good health. Two months ago, one night after dinner he complained of pain in the stomach and chest. We thought it was a gastric pain and wanted to take him to the hospital but he refused. Instead, he went and lied down on his bed took some antacid as well. Next morning when he did not get up we called the doctor who said that uncle probably had a heart attack and died in the sleep. He was then buried at the new graveyard on the same evening.”

“You lived with your uncle Francis, who else is there in the family?” Father Xavier probed.

“Well, my father and another uncle had died when I was very young. Uncle Francis brought me up as his own kid along with his only son Robin. Now, I live with Robin and his wife.”

“Who referred you to me?” Father Xavier probed further.

Lobo seemed a bit surprised but said, “My cousin Robin, of course… he said you have a good reputation in solving paranormal activities and that you can probably help solving mine as well.”

“You do one thing Lobo, take leave from your tuition for week and rest at home. Your brain needs to relax and calm down. And forget the incidents as a nightmare. Also show your injury to a physician and apply medicine. I am sure in a week’s time you will feel good.”

Lobo did not seem to be to be wholly satisfied with Father Xavier’s advise but agreed to follow the instructions.

Father Xavier thought about those marks on Lobo’s leg and decided some miscreant may have used nylon cord to tie his leg tightly probably to rob him but seeing those passersby may have run away. Anyway, he decided to check out the graveyard area in the morning.

Next morning Father Xavier visited the graveyard and thoroughly inspected the place, everything seemed absolutely normal including the grave of Francis. He called up Lobo from there only and tried to explain that the so-called events are nothing but hallucination caused by the tiredness of overworked brain and probably because of his love and affection towards his uncle has been playing games on his mind. He should relax and let his mind calm down.

That night around 11/ 11:30, there was a loud banging on Father Xavier’s door. Thinking who could it be he opened the door to find a disheveled and scared to death Lobo standing.

“What happened? Everything is alright?”Father asked with concern.

“Nothing is right… nothing is right Father.” Blabbered Lobo and pushed Father to a side to enter the room. He picked up the water bottle and gulped down the water in a single action.

Father took him to his chamber asked again to explain what has happened. What Lobo said in a haphazard manner is …

Earlier in the evening, he was getting ready for the bed when he saw a blackened face staring at him from the window. It’s mouth was open and from it some snake like creatures were trying to come into the room through the grill. Lobo was shit scared and tried to away from the window when he realized someone was sitting on his bed smelling of burning flesh and like a stuck record kept on saying, “Why didn’t you come to wish me today? … Why didn’t you come to wish me today?” Lobo scared to the bone had ran out of the room and came straight to Father Xavier.    

“What about your cousin and his wife?”

“They had gone out for the evening. I was alone at home. Do you think I should see a tantric or peerbaba to find solution to these paranormal things?” Cried Lobo.

“Look Lobo, I feel you are hiding something. If you don’t come out with truth then no tantric, peerbaba or fakir can help you. I think it’s time you come clean with whatever you have suppressed so far.”

Lobo was looking at the floor and shivering at the thoughts that crossed his mind. He looked up and narrated…

“I may have done a grievous crime, yes definitely a crime. You know Father, my uncle never treated me with amount of love or affection. I was treated like a slave, had to slog like a labourer at home. I always tried to please him but failed every time. He would at the slightest chance hit me, abuse me. He often used to call me a bastard and son of a whore. For twenty years I suffered a lot and couldn’t take it anymore. In fact, I thought uncle was behind the death of my parents to usurp the property. I thought getting rid of him will bring back my lost self esteem besides I will get the rightful share of the property as well. The thought of revenge was playing on my mind so, that night when I got the opportunity, I put poison in his food and by morning he was dead. But the rascal is still after me, he won’t leave me alive… What do I do Father?” Lobo confessed.

There was a thin smile on Father Xavier’s face. When Robin, son of Francis first suspected Lobo’s involvement in his father’s death he had met with Father Xavier and together they had planned to expose Lobo and his misdeeds. It was easy to trap a weak hearted Lobo with hallucination and graveyard tricks and he fell for it.

Father Xavier’s phone started ringing… it was Robin calling. He had already recorded the confession of Lobo in his recorder. He picked up the call…

“Hello Robin, the job is done, Lobo has confessed to his crime. He poisoned your father on that fateful night. He is with me right now and I will keep him here only. You call the police to take him away.”

“Father Xavier but there’s slight problem. And frankly I don’t understand what you are saying” Robin said hesitantly.

“What? What is the problem?” Father asked anxiously.

“As planned I was sitting on his bed in disguise with a piece of burnt meat. Lobo got so scared that he ran for the door and probably had a heart attack and fell on the floor hitting on the glass table. A piece of the glass gorged his left eye. I am sitting here with his corps.” Robin blurted out in a huff.

Father Xavier slowly put down the phone and looked up at the figure of Lobo. He was staring at Father Xavier in a cold stern look and a stream of blood was flowing out from his left eye.

Daring Drive 2300km+

On that fateful rain soaked evening of April, Ayush was totally frustrated… he has been trying book a cab to go home for over 30 minutes… 4 cabs cancelled the booking at the last minute… finally he got a cab after harrowing 45+ minutes. Then and there, he decided to buy his own car at the first opportunity.

After a thorough research in terms of safety issues and performance, he shortlisted 3 cars – VW Taigun, Skoda Kushaq and MG Astor which were all within his budget. He checked out the respective dealers in Bengaluru and booked his test drive for the following weekend. Astor was not available for test driving at that point of time. After testing both Taigun and Kushaq, he favoured the latter but the Skoda dealership wasn’t very enthusiastic about delivery confirmation. VW dealer on the other hand was quite optimistic of immediate delivery. Next, the issue was about registration… he was averse to getting the car registered in Bengaluru not knowing how long he will be stationed there, on the other hand, he can’t keep driving a non-Karnataka registered car for long without getting harassed by the cops.

The solution was to get the newly launched BH registration… the GoI had recently started a new registration BH series which is valid pan India. This has been done for the people with transferable jobs in govt and private sector with offices in multiple cities (minimum 4 locations in 4 states). However, barring Delhi, none of the other states are issuing this BH series to non-govt employees. So, Ayush came down to Delhi in mid-May to book and buy the car.

We visited both Skoda and VW dealerships in Safdarjung Enclave and did a test drive of both cars. There was not much difference between Kushaq and Taigun but I liked the looks of Taigun better… also it was costing less with all the discounts thrown in by the VW dealer. Ayush preferred the Yellow color but was told that there is long waiting for that particular color. He was offered a choice of White, Silver, Dark Grey and Cherry Red which were more likely to be available within a month’s time. Ayush booked the car and was assured delivery latest by June end. He flew back to Bengaluru at the end of May as his office was opening up again on 1st June.

As the days went by, we got a bit itchy because the dealer was not confirming the delivery schedule and Ayush had to book his flight tickets only on confirmation from them. So, on the third weekend of June, Deepika and I went to the dealership to find out the status. I lost my cool when the GM of the dealership kept saying he can’t confirm as the number & color of the vehicles being allocated by the company is not consistent with the bookings. I threatened them to cancel the booking if they can’t deliver by the month end. Although knew there’s not much options available as practically all vehicles have a minimum 4-6 weeks waiting with few of them as long as 1 year+.

We saw one Yellow Taigun that had come for some repair (dent) and realized the color is very different from the print and video representation. It had a greenish tint that made it look dull and dirty. I told Ayush to reconsider his options and go for Red or Dark Grey.

Probably, my threatening helped as within two days, the dealer confirmed that Yellow is not going to be available any time soon but we can have our second option of Cherry Red by month end. Ayush reached Delhi on 25th June morning on a month long WFH arrangement. The dealer asked us to visit them on Monday or Tuesday to do the paperwork formalities as they were all occupied with launch of VW Virtus during the weekend.

On Tuesday we went to the dealership and completed the formalities and also checked out the car allotted to him. We were promised delivery latest by Friday evening and it was delivered as said. Ayush drove the car to Durgabari Kali Mandir for puja of the car as wished by his mother. Incidentally, his maternal uncle also took delivery of same model car in dark grey that very day.

We decided to get the first servicing of the car at 1000km mark done here in Delhi before embarking our journey to Bengaluru (2300km approx.). In the intervening period, the car was driven as much as possible to reach near about 1000km mark. We had decided to start our journey on 29th July to reach Bengaluru on 31st July.

I told Ayush to tank up the car a day before our journey but forgot to mention that he should get the tyre pressures checked as well. It was a big lapse on my part and we had to pay for it…

THE JOURNEY: FLYING WITH THE TAIGUN

We had planned to start early around 5 am on Friday 29th July but poor Ayush, in the excitement of the adventure he forgot to put wake-up alarm and got up only at 4:45 am. We started at 5:55 am from Delhi with a almost clear sky. Google suggested we take the DND followed by Agra Expressway but I decided to take the NH19 (Faridabad-Mathura-Agra) and take the Agra Bypass to Dholpur and beyond.

As soon as we hit the highways of Faridabad, rain started and continued for about 10km… with some part of the road submerged… it was the precursor to what was in store ahead. I drove sedately never going above 100 but keeping it above 70kmph till we cross the populated areas. We were not in a hurry and decided to be safer than being faster. We reached Chambal around 10:15 am decided to stop at the newly opened restaurant called CHAMBAL SPICE for breakfast. We were the only customers at that time but their service is admirable, we were served with hot Aloo-Paratha with Curd and Pickle. It started raining again as we devoured the tasty non-spicy parathas and hot Masala Chai.

I asked Ayush to take the wheels when we started again after half hour break. Initially, I was guiding him but soon realized he is driving almost like a pro… and this was his first time driving on the highways. If you are a driver yourself but seating on the passenger seat, it becomes monotonous and boring, you feel sleepy. That’s exactly what happened to me, I fell asleep right after crossing Gwalior and only woke up after we had crossed Jhansi. It was over 100 km stretch that Ayush drove on his own without any assistance including maneuvering through the Jhansi Bypass which is a bit tricky and the roads are not very friendly. I felt proud of him. He insisted on carrying on till evening…

During my previous trips to & fro Delhi-Hyderabad, I used to fill-up the gas when meter indicated 25% remaining, we applied the same strategy and when the last 2 bars remained we searched for a gas station near Sagar (MP). It was 5:15pm and changeover time… I didn’t want him to drive as the lights started fading, on a stretch that has a sizeable bovine population scattered on the road. The situation was further aggravated with innumerable potholes throughout the route. Some were sporadically filled up making them speed bumps. Till there was daylight one could see the potholes and maneuver around it but as the lights faded and with the downpour, it was impossible to see the potholes or the improvised speed bumps… in quick succession we hit two very bad (deep) potholes but Taigun remained stable and we continued on our journey. As we neared Deori, it started drizzling which soon became downpour and continued till about Narsinghpur. Thankfully, it was dry as we approached Seoni where our destination Pench Jungle Camp was situated.

We were originally booked at Rukhad Jungle Camp on the NH44 itself but the persistent heavy downpour in the region had made the resort inoperable. Therefore, we were advised to reach PJC a further 30 km down the highway followed by 10 km through the jungle roads. Google estimated our arrival at the destination at 11 pm but we beat the estimate by 40 minutes and reached PJC at 10:20 pm.

We have stayed at Pench Jungle Camp on another occasion along with our friends, the Basu’s. It is a decent place but doesn’t warrant a second visit. In the name of being eco-friendly, the place has become very Spartan with minimum luxuries that one expects in a Resort accommodation. Anyways, we were there just for the night stay so it did not mattered much. Since, we were not sure about our ETA, had informed the resort to keep our food cooked and ready, hot or cold, were acceptable to us. Surprisingly, the food was still hot which we enjoyed with the Elixir of Life that I carried with me.

In the morning, we were ready to go around 7:30 am and went to look for the restaurant for breakfast. The place was getting cleaned when we reached and was told the breakfast would be ready in about 15-20 minutes. After some time we were served with a bowl of fruits consisting of Watermelon & Papaya along with a small glass of watermelon juice. This was followed by hot idlis with sambar (Deepika makes much better sambar) and coconut chutney, also Poha with green chutney. The food was good but not exceptional. The steward came to check if we needed anything more… I asked for a masala omlette while Ayush settled for a pancake which turned out to be “set dosa”!!

We put our overnight bags in the car and I went to the reception to settle our account. There was nobody at the counter… the guard came and called up someone who asked him to guide me to some inner office. I had paid an advance of INR 1800 and the final settlement came to INR 2461.40… I was carrying cash knowing well the poor network connections inside the jungle area making card/ UPI payment difficult. I offered 5 currency notes of 500 denominations… the person asked for change… I could find 450 in currency notes but he insisted on the balance as well… the coin section of my purse provided 2 five rupees coin which he accepted reluctantly and returned one of the 500 notes. I thought from my experience, in the northern part of the country, the hotel would have given a 100 note letting go of the change part in such a scenario.

When I reached, the parking lot, I saw Ayush standing by the car and looking intently at the front right tyre. My heart sank thinking we have a flat tyre which would mean driving slowly on the smaller spare tyre and getting in Nagpur City to get the puncture repaired. Ayush said, “Dad, look at this tyre, it has deformed at this point”. Initially I couldn’t see anything but closer inspection revealed a small inflation or bubble on the side of the tyre. I checked the spot but it as hard as the rest of the tyre. I told Ayush that we can’t do much at that point of time drive with caution and get it checked when we reach Hyderabad. On hindsight, we could have got it checked in Nagpur as well.

I asked Ayush to drive till we crossover into Telengana from where I will take it up. When we had entered the Jungle Road, there was Toll Booth some 50 meters ahead of us but courtesy Google Map guidance we came out on the highway bypassing that Toll Booth and saved some money and some kilometers as well!!

The newly constructed highway on Pench-Nagpur sector is a dream run with wide roads and no potholes. We zipped through the section with ease driving at a sedate 95-110 kmph and soon reached the Nagpur Bypass. There was a posse of Police some 100 meters away and we were flagged down. We thought it might be for over speeding but the signage had clearly indicated max speed 100kmph. The policeman came to the driver side window and asked for the license, RC and PUC. I told him PUC is not applicable as the car is brand new only a month old. Then we realized it was a ploy of MAHARASHTRA POLICE to do HAFTA WASULI. The policeman without a shame asked for money which we had give to avoid further harassment.

The rest of the journey till Hyderabad was uneventful barring the maneuvering of the potholes which remained in large numbers till Adilabad (Telengana) and sporadic downpours which slowed us down a bit. When we crossed Penganga River, a tributary of Godavari River, I knew we have entered Telengana… it was time for me to take the wheel and also fill up gas. I knew there was a HP Petrol pump in Dollara (Sri Ambica Filling Station) and told Ayush to keep an eye for it to stop.

Ayush meanwhile had done his research about the “bubble” on the tyre and became a bit paranoid and asked me to slow down from 100+ to about 80kmph because the bubble might cause tyre burst according to the SM posts. I assured him that if it was to happen, it would have happened by then… we had covered over 1500km by then. I asked him to find out Tyre Shops selling similar size tyres in and around Gachibowli, Hyderabad where we were going.

Fortunately, as we moved closer to Hyderabad, potholes on the road became less evident and most were re-laid with patchwork. After Medchal (one of the entry point to Hyderabad) we took the ORR which I maintain is the biggest boon to all Hyderabadis. Initially, Google suggested we exit the ORR from Exit #18 to Gachibowli but due to congestion at the Gachibowli Circle and at the Toll Gate before that, it altered the route through Exit #1 at ISB Road, Financial District. However, it was equally choked with evening traffic and became worse with sudden downpour. It took us almost an hour to reach the tyre shop opposite SLN Terminus Mall (Whitefield) on Old Mumbai Highway. The technician there reconfirmed the tyre burst theory and suggested we take it to the VW Dealer to claim warranty. We told him that would mean going back 1600km from where we started!! He checked his stock register and informed that their other shop at Madhapur may have the required size of the tyre.

Though, from the direction he provided, I could figure out where the shop was but Hyderabad roads especially in the Cyberabad area has changed much since I left the city 1.5 years ago. So we asked Google Map to assist us which it did through long winding roads much of which I could recognize.

The Madhapur shop did not have exact brand in the required size but suggested a wider tyre (new) or a slightly used same spec tyre (for which it stood guarantee)… buying the first means a set of 2 tyres plus a question of alignment. We negotiated for the used one and got it changed. We also requested them to check the tyre pressure of all the tyres. All of them barring the new one were over inflated and it became clear the bubble was caused when we the pothole because of extra air in the tyre. It was a costly lesson to learn which we will remember forever.

We had planned to visit IKEA to pick up some small items but postponed it to the following morning. Around 9 pm we checked in at Hyatt Hyderabad, Financial District Gachibowli just across the Amazon campus. We had thought of going to Fisherman’s Wharf, a Seafood Restaurant close to the hotel but driving through the city in such thick (and unruly) traffic had taken a toll on our enthusiasm so we ordered food (Oriental) in the room and poured ourselves SM to wash away our fatigue.

Following morning after a sumptuous buffet breakfast we went to IKEA on Hitech City Road. I wanted to checkout our erstwhile residential complex NCC Urban which is right behind the IKEA on NASR Boys School Road. But the road was under construction and the detour was a bit complex so abandoned the idea and proceeded to IKEA on Hightech City Road.

We left for Bengaluru around 12 noon and I handed over the wheels to Ayush as we entered the ORR. The ORR Stretch from Financial District to Shamshabad has been constructed under the supervision of my childhood friend, a civil engineer by profession. I have extensively used this part of the ORR during my 3 years in Hyderabad. Ayush drove with ease and soon we were on the Bengaluru road. There was quite a heavy traffic considering it was Sunday but then the same road also goes to Tirupathi besides Kurnool, Anantpur being the major towns on the route.

Somewhere in between Kurnool & Anantpur, we stopped at a KFC outlet (actually a food court in the making) and ordered for our respective dishes. The service is hopelessly bad… we waited for over 20 minutes before I had to give my piece of mind to the counter guys and only then our tray was made. They would call token no.45 and then the next call is for token no.49… what happened to 46, 47 and 48??? No answer!!

The sun was setting on the western skies giving a nice hue of colors (took few pics) and sky ahead of us was getting covered in dark clouds. I took the wheel from Ayush and proceeded at a good speed hoping that we might cross the cloudy stretch before it starts pouring but it wasn’t to be and the drizzle soon became a downpour and then a deluge. The visibility reduced to 10 metres and speed reduced to 30kmph besides becoming pitch dark at 6pm. Thankfully there were no potholes to negotiate but one couldn’t avoid the water logging at the low lying spots. I checked with Ayush if should stop like other vehicles had done but he said, “If you can drive slowly and follow the truck with reflectors then let’s move on because we don’t know how long this downpour will last”. It was a good suggestion as pretty soon we were out of the deluge and again speeding away on dry stretch.

We crossed Anantpur and saw the KIA Motors factory which I had last seen as a under construction unit nearing completion. On my last journey I had seen one or two Korean food joints around this factory but this time in the darkness couldn’t locate them. In any case, we were filled up with KFC Chicken and Fries.

We reached the outskirts of Bengaluru (Yelahanka) around 9pm and then followed the traffic on NH44 followed by Old Madras Road and finally 80’ Road to reach our destination at Defence Colony, Indira Nagar, Bengaluru. It was a total driving time of 36 hours… same as what Google Maps had predicted. I told Ayush that at any other time of the year I would have beaten the prediction by at least a couple of hours which I had done in all my travels to and fro Delhi-Hyderabad-Delhi.

Ayush has a nice 3BHK house which he shares with two of his friend and I was mighty impressed at the way they have kept the house clean and orderly. Even though I wanted to stay a bit longer but couldn’t do so because of my aging Rolfie and flew out to Delhi on a Vistara Airlines flight a day after. But before that on Monday evening, we went to The TOIT Brewpub and the famed NAGARJUNA Restaurant. The beers at the Toit was amazing however I didn’t find Nagarjuna food to be exclusive as some friends had said.

I hope the journey and the driving on the highway has given a life lesson to my son who drove throughout with great composure and like a pro. It was a daring drive of 2300km plus in the monsoon time and all those who were privy to our journey were a bit apprehensive. It was not just the highways but unpaved roads through the jungle in the darkness that kept us on the edge throughout.  

I plan to take to the road again in about a year’s time to Goa when the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway will be operational. Surely, I will cover the distance in less than the estimated 12 hours…

By the grace of my dear friend Madhav…   

The One

Saw this excellent piece from facebook post some 5 years ago…

Eu. – So, Erode, we were discussing about your name before you came.

Me. – What about it?

Eu. – Is Erode your first name? Is it your given name?

Me. – (laughing) Erode is not my given name. Prabhakaran is. Erode is the name of the city that my ancestors apparently came from. It is like Faro, or Lisbon or Bologna.

Eu. – Then how come it is your first name?

Me. – See, when I was filling my passport details during my graduation, I had to fill something into the First name and last name column. I had no idea what these meant then. This is how my name appears in my school registers and this is how I filled it in my passport.

Eu. – Ok. We were wondering, because, who would name their child Erode?!

Me. – Why?

Eu. – You know that Erode was one of the bad kings in Bible right?! We won’t name our kids Erode!!

Me. – I know the king Nero. But not Erode.
Anyway, I don’t know how many people read the Bible here in Italy. But in India, in general, we hardly sit and read these books. We respect those who follow religion, just like we love and respect all. But the stories that are prevalent in India about anything – not just religions – are those that talk about their positives! Like the Loving nature of Jesus. His teachings, etc.

I can assure you, almost no one in our who society would have known about the biblical connection to Erode when they included it in my name!!!! (laughter)!

Eu. – So what percentage of Indians are Hindus? You are a Hindu right?

Me. – All those existing in our country are Hindus.

Eu. – But I have heard that lot of muslims and Christians are there too!?

Me. – You are confusing religion with Geography. Hindu is not a religion. It was a name given by Aristotle / Plato while referring to the geographic peninsula that was East of the Indus river. Megasthanis and Selucus who accompanied Alexander also mention it for the first time in their description of this land, which is called as Bharath.

So, everything here is Hindu.

Eu. – But I am talking about the Hinduism. The religion.

Me. – There is nothing called as the Hinduism or the Hindu religion. We never had religion in Bharath. Religion was introduced in our land through incursions and invasions by the Arabian slave dynasties in the 12th century. After that people like Marco Polo and Vasco da Gama and later the Brits brought the religion of Christianity to our land.

(There was a discussion on Jesus coming to India – which I will mention in another write up).

What you “mean” as Hindus are those who follow “Dharma” – which is righteousness.

Eu. – Let me put it this way. What is your holy book?

Me. – Ha Ha Ha!!!! What is Not Holy? Especially in our land of Bharath?!
We see divinity in All existence. We believe that everything is an expression of the same One Divinity. We see Divinity in a mouse, a mountain, a snake, a bull or a human! Perhaps you can call that as Hinduism! Seeing Divinity in All!
So, we don’t have any book that is holier than the other.

Eu. – What about the Taanthra, Kamasutra?

Me. – Ha Ha Ha!! Nice that you have been introduced to these! These are a part of a large body under the Sanskrit Literature. Sanskrit literature is vast and is broadly divided under the categories. Sruti, Smriti, samhita, Itihasa, purana, kaavya, shastras. These Taantra and Kamasutra are a miniscule part of Shastras.

Each of these categories is rich in anecdotes, prescription if you may, of Life and Living.

Shastras, for example, are the compilation of the research findings of our ancestors. Yoga shastra is one of them, for example. Artha Shatra (Economics and accounting), Ayurveda (medicine), Vaana Shastra (Astronomy, Panchaanga Shastra (Astrology), etc. are all part of it.

They are not by one single person. Nor are they from one single time domain. They are collective literature of verifiable experimental findings on existence, transactions of existence and their well-being.

Eu. – So you don’t have a particular revelation? The holy book like the Bible?

Me. – No. We don’t have any book of commandments. There is nothing that says, you follow this or you are doomed.

Eu. – Wow!!! “You” are just a book of revelations now! This a absolutely mind-boggling! You people don’t have a religion!! This is just Huge! So, is morality important in your … in you?!

Me. – Do you realize that you don’t have to have a religion to exist?!
Vyasa, who compiled a lot of the Shrutis and Smrutis of the Sanskrit literature several thousands of years ago, was asked to condense the essence of all of the Upanishads and the Vedas into a couplet.

He said – the essence of all Puranas, Itihasas, Srutis, etc. is

“Love All, Serve All.
Help Ever, Hurt Never.”

That is all.
Perhaps this is our only commandment – or prescription.
As long as you follow these, you can improvise in life.

Eu. – But what about when you need guidance? Like situations in life?!

Me. – What guidance do you need in life other than “Love all, Serve all”? These define both the Goals and the Methods.

If your child falls into a pond, which holy book will you first consult before jumping to rescue it?!

Eu. I must say Erode, I am sorry Erode is easier to pronounce for me, I have never heard such broad but crisp revelations before!

Me. – Come to India! Our taxi drivers can give you these!

Eu. – So, where is God in your scheme of things?!

Me. – You tell me? Where is God? There is Divinity in Everything, Everywhere, Every instance. Everything is Just ONE. When Everything is ONE, then God must also be You! and You must also be God.

See, You see the variety in creation. And see that it is changing and infinite.
We see the underlying principle that is connecting ALL this variety. Which is ONE!
You see the Pots and Ceramics. We see the Clay!
You see the stars, We see the sky!
You see the ornaments, We see the Gold!
You see the religions, We see Divinity!

Eu. – This is just mind boggling! Is there a way to convert to Hinduism?!

Me. – You don’t have to leave your religion to be a Hindu!

Eu. – ?! You mean yu can follow Hinduism along with other religions!

Me. – Ha Ha Ha …. See, I told you, it is not a religion! It is a way of life. It is Dharma. It is Clarity of Vision. It is Pure Existence!
The moment you appreciate “Love All, Serve All”, you have realized the so called “Hindu” in you! You can give it any name you want to – if you still have not realized that there is nothing in these names like Hinduism, Christianity, etc.

Eu. – Are you a Guru?

Me. – Well, today, I Am. To those of you who have seeked.

Eu. – Erode, we should do all our lunches together! This is awesome! We are loving it!

Kali

To begin with, I am neither religious nor ritualistic. I consider religion to be a matter of personal choice and should be practiced in the privacy of one’s own home. As a tourist, I have visited temples, stupas, churches, mosques and gurudwara to appreciate the architecture and wonder at the throng of people who seems to be intoxicated in their chosen faith.

However, being born a Hindu, the greatest philosophy that the world has seen, I do feel insulted and outraged if someone talks or shows filthy about the any of the manifestations of the Supreme Almighty. Hinduism is unique because it is not guided by any one single book. It allows you to feel and reach out to the Supreme One in whichever form you want visualize. Hinduism does not shun the non-believer and not only allows them to debate but embraces them as well. Hinduism has survived the onslaught on its existence for centuries and yet not only survived but thriving even today and shall continue to eternity as long as human race exists.

Recently, a member of the parliament (and that too a woman) had said on record to media that for her, the Goddess Kali is meat eating and alcohol consuming god. It is true that in some sect (especially in Bengal), the deity is offered meat/ fish and alcohol but that’s a small community. Two of the biggest and most popular Kali temples are Dakshineshwar built by Rani Rashmoni and presided over by Shri Ramkrishna Paramhans and Kalighat on the banks of Ganges in Kolkata. The Kalighat Temple is regarded as one of the Shakti Peethas (out of 51) of India, where the various body parts of Sati are said to be fallen in the course of Mahadev’s Tandav. Kalighat Temple represents the site where the toes of the right foot of Sati fell.

None of the above two temples offer meat and/or alcohol to the Goddess but interestingly, at the famous Kali Temple of Patiala (Punjab), offering meat and liquor to the deity is a daily ritual.

I am giving below a shloka from the Chandi Path which is narrated and broadcast on the early morning of Mohaloya Day by the All India Radio and now available in various forms on YOUTUBE.

Garja Garja kshanam moorha, Madhu yavat pivamyaham.

Mayaa twayi hatetraiva, garjishyantyashu devatah.

Shloka: Goddess Durga says just before she slays the demon Mahishasura and means….

“Take your time to squall and scream as long as I don’t finish up my (divine) wine, O foolish Mahishasura! I will soon slay you (after I finish my drink) and The gods of heaven will burst in the joy of victory!!”

It would be wrong to interpret the goddesses of Shakti in their many manifestations as only meat eating alcohol drinking divas. On the contrary, in most communities across the country, the gods and goddesses are completely vegetarian and teetotaler. And besides, who can ignore the logic behind the manifestation of the supreme one in a particular form…

Madhav said…

Yada yada hi Dharmasya glaanir bhavati bharata,

Abhyuthanam Adharmasya tadatmanam shrijamyaham,

Paritranaya Sadhunam, Vinashaya ch duskritam,

Dharma-sangsthapanarthay sambhavami yuge yuge…

Therefore, for me, Kali represents the true women empowerment. She emerged at a time when the patriarchy was the way of life in the form of Asurs who believed in anarchy. Kali represents the combined power of all those women who have been abused all their lives for being dark skinned. She emerges once again when girls like Nirbhaya dies a thousand deaths before dying and young girls are saved from being trafficked. A piece of Kali is born inside the acid attack victims, when they will to survive and lead a new life. It is said that both Durga and Kali emerged when the combined forces of the gods were defeated by the Asurs. The goddesses’ then had slayed the Asurs to bring parity and peace on earth.

So, my Kali cannot remain limited to the “meat eating, alcohol drinking deity”… The poster of the film that showed Kali as smoking a cigarette and created the controversy is directed by a lady of Indian origin calling it a piece of art… what a bull crap she’s peddling? But she’s not alone in this game of disruption, there are scores of them who would paint a goddess in nude, ridicule the Sanatan Dharma rituals in cinema and claim to be the Art Form and flag bearer of the progressive thoughts. For these scoundrels, women empowerment simply means nudity, alcoholism and drug abuse.

There is a large section of women in the country who are being denied equality and a chance to live with dignity because of patriarchal biases, but the elite feminists with wine glass in hand and puffing marijuana filled cigarettes, royally ignores them. The scores of disadvantaged women only want a dignified life where their pay is at par with the male colleague, they would like their daughters to have same education as their sons and not get shackled inside their patriarchal homes. For these women Kali and Durga are the inspiration to fight along a biased society and not only continue to live with dignity but create a level playing field for their daughters as well.

So, with folded hands, I would request all the progressive thinkers whether Hindu or Kafir, please spare the Sanatan Dharma Gods & Goddesses from your crude art forms… there are billions of beautiful things in the nature, go recreate them in your own way on the canvas or on the film… why look at imagery that has a revered connotation to the billions of Indians?  

To me religion is not reciting few difficult to pronounce shlokas or hymns but an idealism that gives hope to billion of souls. A correct and just interpretation of the Dharma can take the society to great heights while an incorrect interpretation can destroy the society. Therefore, choose wisely…

Jamai Shoshti

Image courtesy: Indrosphere/ Kinjolkini

The essence of the family bonding is usually expressed through the tradition of festivities. In the north, it is usually Diwali-Bhaiduj when the extended family members gather together to celebrate the occasion.  In Bengal, however, there is a day marked for the Son-in-Laws called JAMAI SHOSHTI, which is perhaps unique not just in India but for the world culture as well. The day usually falls in the last week of May or first week of June, every year (Jaisth maser shukla pokkher shoshti tithi as per the Bengali calendar).

The concept Jamai Shoshti evolved centuries ago to involve the women of the household in the socio-religious affairs of the society at large and specifically the family. It also helps in bonding of the son-in-law with the family of his wife and vis-à-vis… the day marks the gathering of all family members to enjoy the festivities.

On this day, the son-in-law or the Jamai becomes the centre of attraction and the mother-in-law traditionally makes a number of delicacies to feed him. In some traditional Bengali homes it starts with breakfast and ends at dinner. I vaguely remember, my sister coming with their husbands on this day for lunch at our home till my mother was in good health to make the food herself.

The son-in-law requested to be fed on banana leaf…

My dear friend Indro says that after marriage, the first time when he went to his in-laws home for Jamai Shoshti, his mother-in-law had to be hospitalized and he abandoned the idea of going there for Jamai Shoshti. Recently, his son Judha got married and was all excited to attend his first Jamai Shoshti this year… a week ago, his mother-in-law got admitted to hospital for surgery. But our Judha is a smart chap, the surgery was successful and he got her released from hospital just in time for the Jamai Shoshti!!!

A few of my friends have their mother-in-laws living with them and they enjoy the Jamai Shoshti every single day of the year!! Yesterday, a friend suggested the English term for Jamai Shoshti as Dissatisfied Customer Compensation Day

Having married in a non-Bengali (Punjabi) household, I never experienced the occasion called Jamai Shoshti… my mother-in-law was totally unaware of such a tradition and my mother never ever insisted.

Today, the 5th of June 2022 happens to be the Jamai Shoshti and I am going to treat myself… order food for lunch, may be a traditional Bengali cuisine from Oh Calcutta…

The Missed Ranchi Rendezvous

Dear Gora,

You have truly been my Langtoos since we roamed the lanes of Karol Bagh in our langots. By the time you read this, I would have gone far far away never to return. Unlike the popular belief there’s no afterlife… we are just dots of different sizes according to our deeds on the earth… I will be able to communicate with you only for few more hours as I am shrinking every moment and racing towards a big dot, perhaps bigger than the sun that we see from earth. It seems every soul or the dot gets shrunk and is absorbed in that big dot… may be it is the Baikunthadham, the ultimate resting place for the souls.

Goodbye my friend, we won’t meet again.”

The above thought lingered in my mind in the delirium of extreme high fever…

I was all set to take the mid-morning flight to Ranchi on 5th May 2022 to attend the wedding reception of dear Judha & Tania, in fact I convinced my friend Alok to go with me a day earlier than he had planned. However, there is many a slip between the cup and lip… on the morning of 3rd May I woke up with bad throat, even drinking water and tea was hurting. Just a week before Deepika and the housekeeper were down with Omicron variant of Covid-19. Though both recovered within 4-5 days, the doubt that the virus is lingering in the house somewhere to attack the unsuspecting remained. Deepika had a spare test kit of Rapid Antigen Test and used it to check me… immediately I became covid affected!! The good part was that all three of us have been living in isolated condition for the last one week and continued with the same arrangement.

I knew my Ranchi trip stands cancelled but there was a glimmer of hope that the test may not be correct and I am actually covid negative. Deepika suggested that if I have no other symptoms namely, fever, cough or body ache, then I test again on the morning of 5th and take the final call.

We had decided to bless the newlywed couple collectively with cash to be presented in a nice carved wooden box along with a citation. I was entrusted with creating the citation and getting it printed on a good quality paper. My venturing out to the market to get it printed was ruled out. There was also the issue of handing over the contribution money, not just mine but Jallu’s as well. He was not able to join the party as his appointment with the doctor for his wife, Rupa at Vellore hospital happened to be at those very dates… and therefore he had sent his contribution to me.

I called up Satyabrata and explained him the situation, told him that I will be sending him the PDF file of the citation for printing at his end. His reaction was and I loved it, “You are absolutely fine… the RAT is not authentic… test it again on 5th morning before getting on the flight”.

My next call was Gora to update him. I told him that I will be transferring the contribution amount of mine as well as Jallu’s. His bank details were registered with my bank as I had transferred some money while we were in Hyderabad. His reaction was more balanced with suggestion to take ample rest and if the health worsens, then go for RTPCR test and consult the doctor. I told him that I had a video consultation with doctor and taking the medicines as prescribed.

Having accomplished both tasks, I decided to take it easy and rest if that would help in quick recovery. But I had already decided to abandon the Ranchi trip knowing well that my conscience wouldn’t allow me even if the fresh test result is negative.

On the insistence of my son, we consulted a doctor on the Practo App over video call. He prescribed medicines and suggested blood and urine test, which we immediately got done on 3rd May itself. The result was available in the evening which showed some anomaly in the urine result but nothing to worry as per the doctor.

On the 4th early hours of the morning, (around 2 am), I suddenly felt extreme shivering with burning body temperature… it felt as if I am at Rohtang Pass and at the same time inside a boiler room. I wore my “down jacket”, doubled up the blanket to stop the shivering. I did not check but it was good 30-40 minutes when the shivering subsided to allow me to search for a paracetamol and take it. Soon I started sweating and the fever subsided and I slept. I thought the fever was a freak case but no, it made a comeback post lunch to put the scare not only to me but Deepika as well. She consulted with her brother who arranged for the home visit of CMO of Sitaram Bhartiya Hospital following day. Meanwhile, I had a chat with Indro and he told me send him the test result and the prescription for Judha (he is a doctor by profession) to check as well.

The doctor from Practo had prescribed some 7-8 medicines but both CMO of SBH and Judha cut them down to just 3 and prescribed one additional medicine after they diagnosed the fever to have caused by urine infection. I was mighty amazed with the fact that both of them removed the exact same medicines from the schedule and prescribed the same medicine for urine infection. Not only that, both doctors said that a single dose of the medicine is good enough to cure the infection.

The fever did not come back and I started feeling better but decided to go for RTPCR test as well, only to reconfirm that I am still covid positive. I received numerous calls from Delhi govt as well as GoI health department advising me to remain in isolation and take medicine as advised by the doctor. I told them in each occasion that I am in isolation for over a week and taking medicines as advised.

I received a long text message from Gora on the intervening night of 3-4 May. It asked about my health situation and advised to consult doctor. And then he also mentioned about the apprehension of some of our childhood friends about my joining them still being infected. Some of them even threatened to cancel their trip if I decide to go. Initially, I was hurt, irritated and angry but then realized in the mass of some 20+ schoolmates, there are only a handful of real friends and only they matter to me… the rest are not friends but just acquaintances with whom you do handshakes and smile at gatherings.

Anyways, I posted my position on the WA group (specially created to communicate between the ones who were attending the wedding reception) with assurance that I am not joining the celebrations because of my sudden illness. My inner self heard lots of “sigh of relief” from my so-called friends!!

There’s a silver lining to all dark clouds… in this case, it opened my eyes to the fact that one doesn’t become friends just by attending school together for few years. It was hurtful that few of them doubted my wisdom and thought I will be irresponsible enough to not just infect them but a wider group at the wedding reception. I am happy to have few lesser number of friends than a large group of acquaintances, for me they have ceased to exist in my world.

Way back in February when Indro finalized the wedding dates, I had told him that in all probability I won’t be able to attend… then the reason was completely different. Our housekeeper was going to her home in WB after a gap of 2 years for about 1.5 months and we were not sure if she would come back on time or at all. In her absence, I had to take care of the needs of our aging pet Rolf including cooking his food, feeding and cleaning him making it impossible for me to leave station. Whatever be the reason, my prophecy came true.

Now, I look forward to attending the Annaprashan ceremony of Indro’s grandchild!!

PS: I heard the stories of Ranchi from my friends, how they enjoyed their tiny vacation as well as all the gossips they shared while drinking the elixir of life… but since I was not at the spot, I decided not to include those snippets even the juicy ones…        

Chhordi

If the year 2020 was ominous, we all shall remember 2021 as the year of catastrophe. The Covid-19 in its original form did not scare us as much as its mutated form Delta did… The continuous blaring sirens of the ambulances day-n-night all through mid-March to end-May of 2021 and to top it all, there were news of a people succumbing to the virus every other day. They were old, young, unwell and completely healthy people who suddenly took ill and never recovered. All of us who experienced the loss of our near and dear ones will never forget the circa 2021.

Amidst these chaotic times, one Saturday (3 April) evening, we got a call from my sister’s daughter-in-law that she is admitted in hospital and in critical condition. Without giving much thought to the environment we immediately left for the hospital situated in Dwarka. We knew she wasn’t keeping too well but never realized that she had reached the point of criticality. I cursed her family for not telling us earlier about her health status as we sped towards the hospital. As we entered the Dwarka, there was another call from her daughter-in-law, Smita, telling us that she was no more… she has left this world and all her pains behind.

She was my third sister, my Chhordi as I used call her… most affectionate and life of the family. A simple soul without an iota of diplomacy which she inherited from our mother; she would speak from her heart at times not realizing that her words may sound rude or hurt the other person even if they were truth. I have so much memory of her that it will take forever to be told, therefore, I decided to put a few that had an impact on me as a person and remained etched in my memory for a long time…

I was probably 9 or 10 years old when she eloped with my Jijaji… I did not understand then but it hurt me a lot then… for me, she went missing and it happened within months of my other sister’s (Mezdi) marriage… Somehow none of the elders at home did nothing to look for her… I asked mother many a times but she always answered in tears… I did not had the courage to ask Dad!

Anyways, after a few days, Mezdi visited us and told me that Chhordi had got married to my Jijaji… again, I did not understand, “Why couldn’t she get married like you?” I asked. It took some time for her to answer, “Once you grow up, you will understand” she told me and promised to take me to meet Chhordi.

I did not have to wait long. It was summer months and the season for kite flying which was my favorite recreation back then and courtesy my brothers had developed certain expertise. Chhordi knew it and one evening when I was playing outside, she simply appeared in front of me holding a bunch of kites with a Charkhari full of Maanja along with couple of Cadbury Chocolates. We hugged each other for long time and cried. I requested her to come home but she refused saying “Some other time” and promised to meet me as often as she could. She informed that she now lived near my school in Gole Market area… She lived up to her promise and would meet me at the school, every time bringing some goodies for me.

It took couple of years and the intervention of my maternal uncle (Badhe Mamaji) to thaw and normalize the relations between the two families. I was happy because we could meet at home instead of on the roads or at school.

Over the years she became my friend, philosopher and guide. She also became very close to my mother… at the time when there was no phones, she would make it a point to visit us practically every week. Later, she would speak to mom every day and keep her cheered through her age related ailments.

When I joined Dabur, I desperately needed a motorcycle to commute from GK-1 to Connaught Place as  the public transport (bus service) used to be pathetic but I was short on funds without any hope of generating the required funds. My brother though worked for bike manufacturing company was dead against my driving a motorcycle, so any funding from him was ruled out. I spoke to her and all she said was, “Come over in the evening and take the money”. She didn’t ask when or how I am going to return the money… she knew that I will repay her. I did repay her with interest though it took me 3 years to do so… Her timely help went a long way to boost my confidence and advance in my career.

When I decided to get married outside my community, I confided in her and she turn told my parents which helped in easing the process. Besides, she got wholly involved in the preparation and ensured the ceremonies are without any hiccups.

One of her great initiatives was to ensure all the siblings meet at our home on the Bhaiduj, after the passing away of our father so that Mom gets to meet them all at least once a year. She would also take the lead and arrange for the Diwali Card Parties irrespective of the fact that she never won handsomely.

With my sisters at happier times…

We relocated to Hyderabad at the end of 2017 and we would meet only when we came to Delhi around Durga Puja for a month. The last I met her was on the Bhaiduj day of 2019… When we decided to move back to Delhi just before Diwali of 2020, she was very excited at the prospect of everyone meeting on the Bhaiduj day. However, I wasn’t very sure of it because the Covid-19 was looming on our heads, besides I was driving back and had an overnight stay at a hotel which was risky at that time. Moreover, with her age and co-morbidity, it was not advisable that she gets exposed to a large enough gathering. She was disappointed, we all were disappointed at missing party but thought we will make up the following year…

However, the Almighty had other plans and took her away from all of us on the evening of 3rd April 2021. I shall always have the regret of not heeding to her request for a family gettogether on the Bhaiduj (2020).

I am sure, she is blessing us all from the lap of the Almighty. May her divine soul attain Moksha…

Om Shanti. Om Shanti.  

Mother

Mothers are the best thing that the Almighty has provided to us. All mothers are best to their kids but my mom is the bestest… yeah, all humans feel that way (must confess that I dunno about the animal’s feelings in this matter).

Today, 22.02.2022, Tuesday, is both a palindrome and an ambigram… also it happens to be my Mom’s 100th birthday. Therefore, the idea of penning down my thoughts living with her is my tribute to her. Being the youngest, I had the privilege of spending maximum time with her… right from my birth till her last breath; she remained with me and even today in my thoughts.

She was born in the muffassil town of Narail in Jessore (now in Bangladesh), the first born child to my grandparents. She did her basic schooling (till class 9 or 10) before being married of to my Dad (resident of Ujirpur village, Jessore) at the age of 17/18 years. My grandparental house was always full of people… besides the immediate family members, there were some distant relatives staying over all the time. It was the job (through unwritten writ) of women of the house to cook up 4 meals a day to satiate the hunger of all present at the premises on that particular day. My grandparents were wealthy with sizeable land holdings that provided most of the food requirement for the whole household and more. I am told that the only item that was bought from the market was Salt. The great Bengal Famine of 1943 did not affect them or the villagers of Ujirpur because the granary had enough to feed them all.

Both, my grandfather and father used to work in Kolkata (then Calcutta) and used go back to the village during the weekends. My grandfather passed away sometime in 1943 and the family decided to move to Kolkata leaving the village affairs to some relations (I am not sure how close or distant). Then in 1944-45, my Dad got transferred to Patna and the family moved along. Meanwhile, my 2 aunts (Bua/Pishi) got married and my youngest uncle (Chacha/ Kaka) went to live with my elder aunt because her husband was in police force with irregular work timings and a male at home was welcome those days. My elder uncle and grandma along with my two eldest siblings formed the family of my parents which in next 10 years saw addition of 3 more souls (my siblings) and departure of two… my elder uncle decided to move back to Kolkata and start his family and grandma attained moksha.

While, they were in Patna, India became independent but at the cost of breaking the country. The independence was painful for the affected ones… though my parents avoided the genocide in Bengal, being in the relative safety of Patna but lost everything (land holdings) in the partition of the country. The relative who was put in charge to manage the affairs in the village, traded off the huge tract of lands for a considerably small piece of land on this side of the border, in his own name.

My parents moved to Delhi sometime in 1954-55, initially residing in Minto Road (Thomson Road) before moving to Karol Bagh. My youngest sister arrived while my parents were living in Minto Road while I chose to be born in Karol Bagh. We joke that both of us are accidental child but probably had the best childhood amongst the siblings because there were so many hands to take care of us!!

By the time I had some sense of this world, things at our household had changed a lot… dad was no longer in the high income category rather in a significantly less glorious job with much less earnings, the eldest sister and brother were in college while the rest in school, so in the morning hours I had the undivided attention of my mom and she had mine. And that’s how our bond developed.

My mother was a humble uncomplicated and most of the times undiplomatic (I inherited the last trait) person… spoke her mind loud and clear which at times put her in a spot. She had tremendous sweet tooth and refused to cut down her sugar even when the doctors suggested. I remember one incident… I was with her at the clinic of Dr. Ashok K Ghosh (our family physician), he told my mother that unless she cuts down her sugar intake, medicines won’t work… to that she blurted out, “what is the point of taking such expensive medicine if I can’t have my daily Sondesh/Rosogolla?” To the last day of her life she insisted on 2 spoonful of sugar in her morning cup of tea… she was okay with less sugar in the evening cup but the morning must start sweet for her.

There’s a story about it…

When she got married, my maternal grandpa told my other grandpa that she being the first born is spoilt to the extent that she needs some sweet to open her eyes in the morning. My grandpa ensured that till he was alive, my mother got a plateful of Sondesh/ Rossogolla or some sweet early in the morning to start the day. My granny and aunts were distraught but couldn’t disobey grandpa. They started calling her Maharani!!!

My mother was an excellent cook and this is not just my word but there are many who have tasted her food will surely vouch for it. She could cook up a complete meal for half dozen of my friends within the hour when they landed up during meal time without announcement. The most favoured dish was Egg Curry aka Dimer Dalna with my friends which they devoured with gusto.

My mother being a hardcore Bengali, picked up the Bihari Hindi while in Patna and continued to speak the same language even after living in Delhi for 5 decades. However, she was able to communicate quite well with the Punjabi neighbors in Karol Bagh. There was a Sardarji Tandoor wala who used make the traditional Punjabi dishes viz. Daal Makhni and Punjabi Kadhi Pakaudi which we loved and would often buy from him. One day my mother landed up at his humble tandoori shop and demanded the recipes… the poor fellow reluctantly told her hoping that the Bong woman would make a mess of the dishes. He was so wrong… the following day she cooked Kadhi-Pakaudi and it was near perfect. Over the years she mastered the recipe and frankly I have not had a better Kadhi-Pakaudi than what she used to make. I have attempted to cook it but it was miles away from her perfection.

These days, I go to Chittaranjan Park to buy Kasundi and Vadi but during my childhood, she used to make both these items at home in large quantity, some of which used to be lapped up by our neighbors. The same about the pickles too… I particularly loved the sweet mango chutney and the jujube chutney and would be very upset if any neighbor took even a small portion.  

In the growing up years, we only had Coal Angethi & Kerosin Stove, the former was used for cooking meals while the other one for tea and snacks. We neither had a pressure cooker nor any other fancy gadget (available those days), so most of the cooking was based on the principle of Slow Cooking and today this has been proved to be the best option to retain the maximum flavor in any Indian Cuisine. My mother wouldn’t waste even the peels of potato or bottle gourd and cook up a dish that tasted amazing. In later years, she would stand with me in the kitchen and guide me to make mutton/chicken curry like a true teacher. Her knowledge about the proportion of spices was excellent and today I can say with pride that I had absorbed that knowledge like a sponge from her.

As I was growing up, our family of nine started to shrink with my sisters getting married and moving out. When I was in the 10th standard, my eldest brother announced his intention to get married. We were overjoyed with the idea of finally having a bhabi… I must mention here that my parents were most liberal and did neither believe nor practiced the caste system. So, they had no objection to my brother’s choice of girl and warmly accepted her as the eldest bahu of the family. But this joy de vivre was short lived as within two years my brother and his wife moved out after creating lots of drama in the ensuing period… and they did not leave a forwarding address. It happened on a week day when Maa was alone at home; they simply called a Truck, loaded their stuff and went away. My mother pleaded with them to stay on till the rest of us return but they did not heed to her plea. And for next 3-4 years we had no contact with them and the reconciliation happened after my nephew was born. I am still baffled by this incident because she lived with Deepika, my wife for almost 12 years but the two never even had an argument rather they had a relation like mother-daughter.

When my younger sister (Rangadi) introduced her boyfriend (few years younger to her), it was Maa who stood by her and convinced my dad and bro to solemnize the marriage. It was Maa who looked after her and the granddaughter for good 6 months before she could gather up the courage to handle the new life of motherhood on her own. Therefore, it was ironic that she and Maa had some misunderstanding and did not speak to each other for several years, in later life.

Since the time I knew my mother, she was obese with multiple health issues and would need constant medication and visit to the doctor. I remember her blood pressure hovering in the range of 220/140 all through years we were in Karol Bagh and she under the care of Dr. Ashok Ghosh. However, she did not let those deter her from caring for the family. And the way she managed the family budget (and saved few rupees every month) she would have made an excellent finance minister of the country (hahaha)…

My Dad passed away exactly 5 months after my marriage… I am sure it was devastating for my mother to lose her companion of 50+ years but she remained calm, composed and in control of her emotions. A month later when my brother (in whose house we were residing) made it clear that I should move out to my own place, she made it abundantly clear to all that she will move out with us as well knowing well that the comforts of that house won’t be there with us.

With her blessings we found a decent accommodation in the heart of South Delhi, a colony called Soami Nagar (North) within our means and started our journey… She was very supportive of Deepika and encouraged her to continue working while she took over the reign of the house. Life was slowly but surely becoming comfortable with both us in decent gainful employment but then suddenly her Asthma which had been dormant for several years started giving her sleepless night. One late evening, when she had a severe bout of asthma, our landlord suggested a doctor residing few houses from us and we immediately contacted him… Dr. Sandeep Saluja was god send to her rescue; not only she recovered by his medication but survived more than 10 years under his care. And this doctor refused take any money from us… initially we thought may be because we were neighbors but it turned out that he had left his lucrative job with AIIMS to pursue his calling in life of social work. He treated all his patients absolutely free. I have lost touch with him but sincerely wish him a happy peaceful and fulfilled life.

When my son Ayush was born, she got a new lease of life and took care of her grandson right from his bathing to timely feeding and because of that Deepika could continue with her profession. I must confess here that I was envious of Deepika because her relation with my mother was very close like a mother-daughter instead of typical Saas-Bahu that was evident with my bhabies … she relied more on her than on me or any of my siblings. Deepika became her confidante… every evening they would spend time catching up on day’s events.  

Those days it was mighty difficult to get a phone connection (landline), I had many people who took my application (to MTNL) details promised to use their influence to get me a phone connection ASAP… but nothing really happened. One day a chap from the media community came to visit me in the office and both of us recognized each other… he had come to our Karol Bagh house on some errand for my brother. After pleasantries we talked business and as he was taking leave asked for my home telephone number to which I told him that I don’t have one. He immediately asked if I have applied for one and if so, then do I have the relevant document with me. There was no reason to carry the ‘application copy’ around so he said that he will send a guy to collect a copy of that the following day. I had no illusion that it was just another soft talking by one vendor to get a favourable response but on advice of my boss carried the doc with me to office. Surprisingly, a person landed up early in the morning to collect the paper. I handed him the application photocopy and did not think about or spoke to anybody about it. About 10 days later I was shocked to hear my mother’s voice on the phone as she excitedly said that just about that time a phone was installed at our home and she gave me the number. I called up the person (I do wish to name him) to thank, to which he said it’s a temporary connection for 6 months but assured that it will be converted to a permanent one before the expiry which actually happened. For us it was a great relief to be able to contact home to find out well being of both my mother and my son. Did I return the favour to the gentleman? Well, even if I wanted, I could not as he was in a particular media line which did not interest my organization that point of time… few years down the line when things became promising, I could not locate him, his telephone went unanswered and some other entity was occupying the business address given to us. He had simply vanished in thin air!!

We moved to our own apartment in Vasant Kunj on 6th October 1995 when my son was 6 months old and becoming naughty every passing minutes so we looked for a maid who would take of him and help mom in household chores. This arrangement continued for about two years with help of two subsequent young girls (cousins) but both wanted to start their own family and left. Then my sister sent a middle aged lady who could look after both as well as cook. My mother did not like the idea of sitting idle and would invariably walk into the kitchen to cook. She was getting old and her energy levels definitely going south and it took lot persuasion to make her retire from the kitchen.

I left my corporate job at the end of 2002 to start a new chapter on my own to ensure I can be near home in case of any emergency. But soon it became even more hectic than my job with no fixed time but a 24×7 kind of assignments. She realized this and would deliberately not tell me if she wasn’t feeling all okay. Years of taking high sugar content had its effect on her with extreme diabetes which eventually affected her kidneys. She would confide with Deepika about her status and even then she did not tell her till the last day that she was unable to pass urine for almost two days. On the morning of the fateful day, I called up Dr. Saluja who asked me to immediately pick him up from his home. After a thorough check up, he advised that we shift her to a hospital and recommended Batra Hospital on MB Road. He also called up the hospital and arranged for an ambulance confirming that he will also reach the hospital alongside… My mother was insistent on walking to the parking where the ambulance was waiting but the medics insisted on her being on the stretcher. Whatever be the cause, it seems her time was up and she was all set to finally reunite with her mate on the Valentine Day. She had started her journey to Baikunthadham well before the ambulance reached the hospital.

She remains in the heart of all those who came in contact with her. Om Shanti.