As we ushered in the New Year 2023, it was evident that I am no longer going to be young but soon a Senior Citizen. My wife, Deepika and son, Ayush wanted to celebrate my Sixtieth with pomp and show but I resisted fiercely. I wanted to remain young (at least in my heart) forever and moreover who on earth would like to tell the world that one has gone 60-IYA??? On the surface, they seem to accede to my views and did not press the matter further but asked for the contact details of 2 of my buddies which I reluctantly gave away but warned those two anyways.
Both, Deepika and Ayush kept things under wrap for quite a while but women can’t keep secret for long as was evident in case of Deepika. One day while we were sitting and fiddling with our phones, suddenly a voice, quite familiar, boomed from her phone and I could hear someone calling out my nickname. I asked her what that was. Her reply was cryptic nonchalant, “Nothing” as she switched on some music on her phone. The second episode was quite revealing and she had no way out when her niece (the Chef) Vidhu called her to discuss the menu for the evening. She then revealed that she had reached out to my buddies and requested for contact details of my close friends and invited them at home. She said as a compromise, the affair would be small gathering of close friends (individual and family). Since the invitation has already gone out, I had to accept it. I asked her for the invitee list and added one missing name to it.
Meanwhile, my friend Indrajit, the expat in Baghdad was due for his Iraqi visa renewal for which he was supposed to leave the country for few days and collect his visa to re-enter the country and continue with his banking job as if he wasn’t absent even for a day. As the B-day dawned closer, I casually asked him the status of his visa renewal and whether he’s coming home for few days… he replied with one word, “Both”. He deftly evaded my further pressing of the subject but I had a strong intuition that he would be there for the party…he simply can’t miss to see how much 60-iya I have gone!!
I appreciated how much my friends wanted to surprise me… even though 4 of them knew individually of his presence on that day, none spoke or discuss it amongst each other, keeping it tightly closed in the box. Only the day before the event, at around 9 pm I casually remarked on our whatsapp group that Indrajit seems to off radar for quite some time maintain a complete radio silence. There was an immediate comment from Topshe who said,”He’s probably on way to see you on your 60-eth”… he was told to shut up!! But it was too late for I knew the truth. I would have loved to have one of my outstation friends to join us but he wasn’t physically well and also had some domestic issues that did not allow him to come to Delhi.
On the B-Day which happens to be Deepika’s birthday as well, both our phones kept ringing since morning… the most common frequently asked question was “How I am feeling being 60 and Senior Citizen”? Frankly, I had no good answer… as far as I am concerned it was just another day like the previous day, there’s no paradigm change overnight.
The day started with a homemade south Indian breakfast of Masala Dosa with coconut chutney. This was followed by shared pizza in the afternoon lunch leaving room for the sumptuous spread from Cosmo Palate…
The first ones to arrive were Gutloo, Pelu and Babua expectantly looking at me to see the “surprise look”, I did my best to not disappoint them but then I am a poor actor. Anyways, all those who were invited by Deepika came to see how much 60-iya (Satiya or senile) I have gone in one day!! Two of them needs special mention, Santanu Basu and Indrajit who deferred their respective journeys by a day to join me on that evening… have no word to express my gratitude.
The food from Cosmo Palate was amazingly yummy… 3 Starters each of vegetarian and non-vegetarian, followed by Asian Main Course and finishing with Tiramisu and Gulab Jamun. Unfortunately, it did not cross anyone’s mind, including the Chefs Vidhu & Rajesh to take the pictures of the dishes. Ayush, my son had sponsored the Single Malt Whiskeys which were welcomed by the guests.
It was also the birthday of my brother-in-law, Abhay who graciously joined the merriment and cut the cake along with Deepika and myself. My sister regaled the audience with tales of my childhood much of which I have conveniently forgotten. But I still remember my three imaginary friends Olik, Onness and Ashok Gupta who were my constant companions in my daily adventures in our tiny premises.
The evening came to an end with a video show of my near and dear ones speaking of my virtues… going through it for the second time somehow felt as if I am a dead person…no one talks ill about the dead. I can understand that being the youngest my siblings as well as my immediate family (wife & son) would speak about the positive aspects only… but my close buddies who are part of my life for over 5 decades could have been more frank and talked about my fallacies. I personally don’t think I am such a virtuous person; in fact, I am quite the other way around. I am not compassionate to everyone but only to those who I have a bond. No one talked about my hot temper which only I know that it can trigger to murderous rage. None reflected on the foul language that I use every day to belittle the others. It is not that they haven’t seen my dark side but they refrained from pointing it out, perhaps because they all are wiser than me and understood that it was my insecurities that bring out the devil in me.
I have come a long way from the near slum living to the decent surroundings of the South Delhi locality. We were a large family with a small income… the priority was food for all, everything else was luxury including clothing…being the youngest I had the privilege of receiving hand-me-down clothes which would only be discarded once they are beyond any repair. I was not a very healthy child and often got afflicted with all possible diseases growing up, be it whooping cough, mumps, chicken pox, malaria… you name it. I was not supposed to live but here I am reaching the milestone year of SIXTY. I am overwhelmed by the affection shown by my friends, brothers and sisters.
I was asked what my vision is going forward… I had a hearty laugh (ROFL)… Frankly, I have no vision, no desire left. I have achieved beyond my capabilities. Going forward I will write down my thoughts, experiment with foods and cook up finger licking dishes and perhaps visit some kennels to cuddle with the fluffy inmates once my sweety-pie Rolf Adenauer Bhattacharya (aged almost 14) attains Moksha.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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) andThe 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…
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…
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.
For 2 years in a row, we have been house arrested, by force as well as voluntarily. Never imagined in my weirdest dream that I will be scared to move out of the house but 2020-21 taught us to be patient with life… not to take it too seriously… live in the present… be thankful… for there can be no tomorrows…
Two years in a row, I did not go out and celebrate the New Year eve but spent the evening with my family… ordered food and ate it solemnly. There was no invitation from friends or family neither we dared to invite anyone, rather we discouraged someone who was keen to join us for the evening. Fear of unknown was at its peak.
On 16th December 2021, we had a get-together of friends at a Farmhouse and my guess is that everyone, who joined accepted the invite as it was in the open under the sunny skies. It may sound funny now but after the event for next few days, we checked on each other to find out if all is okay with them. One case of Covid19 would have sent the entire gang into isolation.
Now, we have almost covered the second month of 2022 and the cases of the Covid along with its variant Omicron is not only in the news but has affected many of us. Thankfully, the variant though virulent, is milder and not fatal. However, no one is willing to take the chances and stubbornly refuses to physically socialize.
My sister(s) and brother along with their family got infected and were quarantined for over a week at their homes. Normally, if one’s close relation is unwell, we visit them to cheer them up but in this case no such visitation only checking their status over phone. And the message is loud and clear that none is welcome to visit vise’ versa.
In my younger days, I could visit anyone be it my friend or relative without prior information (there was no means of doing it either) but then as I grew up and got entangled in the corporate race, the energy, urge and time disappeared and all such visits became an occasion. Even then, one would try and catch up at least once a month or two. The Pandemic killed that too, I haven’t seen my sisters and brothers for many months now.
January 28 happens to be a quirky date for my family… it’s a birthday that is shared by my brother-in-law, my better-half and yours truly… it is also the marriage anniversary of my brother. In better times, we used have a gathering at home to celebrate but this year was different. Fortunately, our son was here with us after a gap of few years (advantage of WFH)… Delhi Government was considerate enough to lift the ban on restaurants dine-in which prompted us to plan to go out. I persuaded my sister & bro-in-law through my nephew to join us and settled for an early dinner so that they could reach home before the night curfew starting at 10pm. It is actually farcical to impose the night curfew to control the pandemic as if the virus is waiting to strike as soon as the clock ticks to 10 O’ Clock!!!
My dear friend Gora (with whom I had many memorable escapades), officially turned SIXTY this January (actually he still has a year to achieve the feet) and as per terms of employment, retired from the CGS on 31st January. I had a long chat with him and suggested we should have a Retirement Binge Party. But he cut me short saying, ‘No party till we return to complete normalcy’ in other words, “Thanks, but you are not welcome in the foreseeable future”…
Thanks to my other dear friend Indro, we could break the jinx and meet up over drinks n dinner at the Air Force Golf Club courtesy yet another dear friend Gr. Captain (Retd) Suranjan Choudhary aka SuroKhuro. Indro, after 10 months 10 days of enjoying the pleasure of living with family was going back to Baghdad to join work. It also meant beginning of his bachelor days, and as had been the practice for last few years, he stops over in Delhi at least once in his to-and-fro journey to meet up with friends. This year, though, we could not arrange for a larger space to have big gathering and had to accept the constraint of club restrictions to limit the numbers. The joy of meeting friends after a long time was visible through the vibrant vibes we exuded.
Every morning, the brain wakes up but the body refuses to budge…it creeks and ouches at every possible point… needs lot of cajoling and petting to stand up and get going through the motion called life. Though I would have liked to withdraw myself completely…kind of Vanprastha perhaps, but Madhav has cast his Mayajaal so elaborately that I have to wait awhile before I can start walking towards Dikshunyapur…
My friends are also into that sphere where they ought to feel really tired and retire… however, I am amazed to find the jest in them to continue their march on the streets of every day (mundane?) chores… I guess it is the desire for more and more and more…some intrinsic, some materialistic… it is like glued to the Keshav App created by Madhav Inc. I have more or less everything that I may need, in fact more than I need but the Keshav App says yeh dil maange more!!!
Couple of months back, we were considering in investing in a larger accommodation and had almost fallen for a 4-bedroom ultra modern apartment of around 4000sqft… then I, first reasoned with myself and then with my better half, “Do we really need that big a place to live”? The current place is a 3-bedroom 2000sqft apartment in a very central location and in a peaceful colony. Yes, it needs some amount of renovation or makeover… and then in few years time in the near future, it will be just two of living here…the son is itching to go to the greener pastures of a place called “abroad” and it may happen sooner than we can anticipate… Thankfully, she understood and let it go but also reminded me that in the absence of any Govt. Pension (being in private service), we would need a steady income every month and a rental income will be welcome in days to come when we will be completely obsolete both physically and technologically and shall be unemployable/ unbusinessable. I agreed to that…
Two years back I sold off my Duster as it was standing in the garage and literally rusting as we were away in Hyderabad and there was no certainty when we will be back. It was a diesel vehicle and usurped 60% of its life (10 years being the limit). Things looked up in the last quarter of 2020 and we took the decision to come back. Initially, it was okay with one car as movement was restricted due to covid restrictions but as the guards were lowered, we realized three people wanted to go to three different directions and one car cannot cater to all… in the month of June we bought the second vehicle… And now I am realizing owing to personal reasons, I cannot go for a spin as I would have liked to… most days both vehicle don’t move an inch from their spot. Hindsight is always wiser!!
In this current environment of covid scare still looming over our heads, the movement is restricted; we go out when it is absolutely necessary. Visiting relations and friends (vice versa) is practically nonexistent and I am afraid, it shall remain so in the foreseeable future. In such a scenario, one neither needs a big house throw parties nor an exhaustive wardrobe to change into every few hours. When we came back to Delhi after closing down Hyderabad chapter, I cleared up my wardrobe by almost 50%…logic being that if I haven’t missed those clothes for 3 years, they are redundant to me…donating them to the charities was the only good thing to do…
Going forward, I expect our basic expenses will be on everyday subsistence viz. electricity, water and food with occasional refurbishment of wardrobes and travels (till the body supports) and most importantly MEDICAL EXPENSES. Therefore, how much is sufficient or say a bit more than sufficient to carry on with the charade. I am not good at maths so I left that decision to my better half which I believe she’s good at… I am more philosophical and believe that if Madhav wants me wait a while, He will ensure the charade continues uninterrupted.
A few of my friends, in the very near future are destined to be told by their employer, “Enough is enough you have slogged too hard for too many years go and rest a while”… What will they do with the sudden but inevitable interruption and change of course… I don’t know for each has to cope with their unique situation. I have chosen to be the Bawarchi of my home and a writer of irrelevant stories to keep me going bonkers. I am a recluse, a loner and introvert…I prefer the back office rather than the limelight of the reception desk.
Years ago, when I had not become the cranky atheist, I had consulted the astrologers and numerologists to know what the future holds for me… More often I was told that I would be successful as a businessman… taking their cue, I plunged into it only to realize that to be successful in business, one has to take all kinds of crap from the customer and vendor with a smiling face… one can’t tell them that they are simply morons. The worst comment I received was ‘Aranjit isme mazaa nahi aya’ and that after spending two sleepless nights to create an advertising communication because that’s what the timeframe demanded by the client… I went back created half a dozen more layouts and copy and returned after one week… then, the client goes back to the first and approves it. I decided next time I hear such a phrase, I will tell them to go someplace else to get their Mazaa. I did tell one of them but I was called back once they realized the mazaa is a relatively elusive phenomenon in communication.
I failed to keep up the momentum due to factors within my control and beyond my control; I was/am stubborn and carry my ego on the tip of my nose and therefore refused to take anymore bull crap from anyone howsoever high and mighty they maybe…externally, the good fellas with whom I had established a rapport through diligent service decided to look for greener pastures elsewhere and their replacements had their own agenda which I refused to accept. Also, 15 years of anarchy with my body had taken a toll on the health and frankly the years were catching up fast and furiously so I called it quits. Now, I am told to open up a restaurant or at least a ‘takeaway’ outlet and I am scared of yet another failure… I know, I am a reasonably good cook… I have inherited the ‘taste factor’ from my mother and refined the presentation by keenly watching numerous culinary shows. But home cooking is different from professional cooking. I don’t know if I should or shouldn’t… I leave it to the future…
We have a WhatsApp Group called Mastans of RBHS80 comprising of Class of 1980 of Raisina Bengali School, Mandir Marg (the original one). We discuss everything from sports to politics to religion to philosophy to x-rated subjects… we consider ourselves as Utracrepidarian (is someone who is in the habit of giving advice or have an opinion on matters of which he has no knowledge…like a politician)!!
Today, we were discussing some funny and naughty incidences during our school days and I thought why don’t I pen down the some of the memories before it fades away with age?
I joined the school in Class 4 as my parents wanted the child to learn mother-tongue Bengali and the best (at that time) was Raisina Bengali Higher Secondary School. My brothers had gone to Union Academy School but it was no longer in demand by the time it was my turn to join the high school. Anyways, the first friend that I can remember befriended me was Manojit Dasgupta aka Gora…
One evening when I had gone out play with my colony friends, he came searching for me in a full size cycle, and pedaling it in scissors style (I never could do it)… I got the details from my sister who couldn’t remember his name but knew his sisters (being in the same school, Vidya Bhawan). Next day, she found out where they lived and took me to meet him. That day we formed a friendship that is now more than 5 decades young and continuing. Together, we have done few adventurous trips, which I have written elsewhere (Summer of ’83 at aranyascope.com) and have shared our joys and sorrows and fought for each other as well as with each other.
The next one is Manas Kanti Chowdhury who joined in my class (and section) after the summer break. I used to take the School Bus from a stand across our residential block, there were many other students but mostly seniors of Middle School (class 6 to 8) and as that age group does, they royally ignored us, the juniors of Primary School (class 1 to 5). In such a scenario, one day, a gentleman with two kids holding his either hands joined our bus stop… the gentleman looked around and fixed his gaze on me for few moments and then approached me and asked my name and introduced me to his son Manas (my classmate) and daughter Mitali (probably one or two class junior). The friendship continues till date despite losing touch post school and reviving it some two decades ago through the initiative of my enterprising friends of RBHS80…
When I joined the school, Raisina used to be co-ed till class 6 and thereafter only for boys, however, this was to change later… by the time we completed the middle classes, the school decided to become coeducational institute. We welcomed the change as some of the heartthrobs of primary school rejoined us in class 9… one such sweetheart was Kanika Chatterjee…
It used to be ritualistic (even now, I believe) to distribute candies to classmates on one’s birthday… Kanika on her birthday gave away 2 candies to everyone barring me… she gave me a handful and thus the rumor spread like wildfire that she had a crush on me… while the truth is that neither of us had any inkling about it… I was ‘informed’ of the ‘status’ by one of my class as well as bus mate Nobin Ghosh… While returning home in the school bus, he asked me in a conspiratorial tone, “Do you know the meaning of mohabbat?” I truthfully told him that I had absolutely no clue about it. So, he continued and explained not only the meaning of mohabbat but the significance of those extra candies as well.
The next incident that I recall is of Ashish Banerjee aka Hathi… The incident was while we were in class 7, Ashish used to be FAT and I was close to be called anorexic but so were many others. Ashish was nicknamed Hathi (and till this day he is instantly recognized by that)… in one of our class (verbal) fights I said to him, “You’re Hathi’r Baccha” meaning son of Hathi. He complained to the class teacher Reena Didimoni. She asked me if it was true and I confirmed… She was perhaps impressed with my truthfulness and instead of reprimanding, she humored both of us and said, “Instead of calling him Hathi’r Baccha, you should call him Baccha Hathi”… and to break the ice, she arranged for ICE CREAM for the whole class. Ashish remains a Buddy till date.
The Class 8 brought with it our first share of ‘Group Punishment’ and helped develop a deep rooted bond that got rekindled about 15-16 years ago through Facebook and flourished through the years. The incident happened in class 8, one day, after the first period we had 2 periods off due to non-availability of teacher and the replacement teacher happened to be the PT teacher who sent us away to ground (Pahariwala ground) to play football. Let me tell you a bit about our school geography… the entry to the school is from the point where Peshwa Road connects to Mandir Marg… there are three schools, on the extreme left was DTEA, then in the middle NP Boys (now renamed Atal Adarsh Bal Vidyalaya) and extreme right is Raisina Bengali School (erstwhile Raisina Bengali Higher Secondary School). As you climb up the stairs from Mandir Marg, there are two lawns on either side then further up you reach the schools…the ground where we went to play is right behind the NP Boys on top of the hillock and it belongs to our school.
We went to play in the second period and should have come back by the end of third period (70 minutes) to attend the fourth period of Maths just before the recess. However, as with the boys of that age, we got so much involved in the game that we forgot the time (and I don’t recall anybody in the class having a wrist watch those days). One of our classmate Amit Mukherjee came down to the main building to drink water (we had no concept of carrying water bottles, packaged or otherwise) and was caught by the Maths Teacher Shri. Shyamal Roy Chowdhury. He asked Amit to get us all back immediately. We were all lined up outside the class and each one was given lash of cane on each palm and a hard slap on the left cheek… no discrimination about first bencher and last bencher. The recess for us was cancelled and we had to continue with the math class.
In the next class (Class 9), the girls returned to the school, few old ones including Kanika and few new entrants. The initial euphoria of having her back in school and that too in the same class was quickly evaporated when it was established that the class Hulk Biswanath Ghosh aka Bishu and Kanika had become (unofficial) couple. I was in touch with them till college days and knew about their flowering romance but lost touch thereafter. So, it was a shocker when I met the school buddies after some 20 years, to know that Bishu and Kanika had a breakup and she had moved to Canada where she tragically died of cardiac failure…the imaginative grapevine in a hushed tone suggested suicide!! Whatever may be the cause, it was tragic and I pray that her loving soul have attained Moksha. Om Shanti.
Another important thing happened while we were in class 9, we had a new Principal Shri Amarnath Banerjee who joined us from Sainik School, Purulia, West Bengal. He was a strict disciplinarian and extremely good administrator. During his tenure, Raisina flourished under his able guidance.
If the class 8 incident bonded the friendship of the classmates, the incident that happened in class 10, helped (some of) our bonding with the dreaded English Teacher, Shri Bablu Sanyal, affectionately nicknamed Jagga (as in Jagga Daku). He had a very short fuse and not just the students but the whole school including some teachers used to dread him and avoided crossing his path. Our friendship with him ensured immunity in the school from seniors as well as the teachers. Moreover, being in his good book automatically put us in the good books of maths, commerce/accountancy and biology teachers as they were close pals.
Class 10 meant we were to appear for term end Board Exams and the new Principal wanted good results for the school. He called for Tutorial Classes for the Board appearing students to be held every day after the regular school time. This was told to us in the morning (first class) by our Class Teacher Shri Bablu Sanyal aka Jagga and he advised that we all have “a tutorial note book for each subject”…we assumed the classes would start from the following day. However, it was a shocker when he landed up in our class as soon as the final bell rang. He asked us to open our “Tutorial Notebook” which none of us had barring few good boys who had un-used notebooks and took them out, but that number was significantly miniscule. It was a Monday and Jagga used to be in terrible mood on Mondays due to hangover from previous evening merriment. Realizing that most us do not have the Tutorial notebooks and have quietly taken out our “Rough copy”, he flared up and demanded to know why we have disobeyed him. The clever ones, including this one kept quiet but there are idiots and one such guy blurted out, “But Sir, you asked us in the morning only, how could…” the poor fellow couldn’t finish the sentence as a solid slap landed on his cheek… a few more were planted on some others who were in the vicinity of that idiot. He then, very quietly asked us to explain the meaning of “Gunny Bag” picking it up from one of the chapters from the text book. We surely knew the meaning of Gunny Bag but in Bengali, he wanted us to tell him in English!! Some of us probably knew the answer but in the tense situation we were all dumb-stuck. This time his fury fell on the well built hulks of the class including Bishu and they were welcomed to the class 10 with few blows that are etched in their body and mind till date. However, the very next day, he called some of us and told us to be successful, we must be prepared for the unexpected…it was, I guess (now), perhaps a way to apologize for his unwarranted behavior. He remained our Class Teacher through the rest of the years and “the gang” as he used refer to some of us became his protégés, for him we were beyond any mischief. What happened in the following year, made him proud of the class that was under his tutelage.
We were in Class XI and just before the HOLI, the colourful festival, the Principal Shri Amarnath Banerjee who by now had been affectionately nicknamed “Ganderi”…I will come to the reason a little later as to how the name evolved, announced in the Assembly that no students shall bring Gulal (Aabir) or any colour to play Holi in the school premises. If he hadn’t announced, nobody would have thought about it but since he said, it was decided to defy the order. On the Chhoti Holi day (the day before Holi), Bishu was all smiles as he showed us the Gulal packets in his bag. It was decided that the “Play” would take place in the recess. Jagga Sir could sense our planned mischief and jokingly warned us, “Remember, you can’t hide the color.”
As planned, we all splashed the Gulal on each other including the girls…we had 2 girls in our Commerce section but the Humanities students also shared the same class room which had around 6 girls out of their total strength of 11 students. As soon as the recess finished, we were hauled up at the Principal’s office in our colorful Avatars. Shri Amarnath Banerjee aka Ganderi wanted to know who had brought the colors so he could punish that fellow only for defying his dictate. But to his surprise, none of us opened our mouths including the girls and were ready to face the repercussions together. He kept on asking “Who brought the colours?” and Bishu, like a broken record kept repeating “I had the colours, Sir”. Though he was speaking the truth and perhaps trying to save the rest of us but it was not the answer that Gander Sir was looking for… in the process each of us got 3 or 4 lashes of cane on our palms and bums… one of the guy Utpal Das Sharma used to wear loose trousers the lash only fell on the trouser missing his flesh and he exclaimed (quite vocally), “Dhur Shala!!” meaning WTF. The Principal couldn’t figure out who said it and lashed out at the nearest student, a guy called Debashish Chatterjee or Chatu, a smart aleck who cried out, “more gelam” meaning “I am dying”. We were further detained for one hour once the school got over.
Looking back, I feel bad about some of my fellow classmates who were really innocent but stood by us with full solidarity…some of them were good friends of mine as well viz. Probal Ghosh (since kindergarten school), Taposh Dey, Niladri Mallick and few more…
Shortly thereafter, we all sailed into our final year of school, we were ‘The Seniors” and notorious as well but loved by our teachers and students. The Principal, Ganderi Sir had also accepted the fact that we were beyond redemption and thought once we leave school, peace would prevail.
Let me come back to the naming of Shri Amarnath Banerjee, in fact most of the teachers have had student given nicknames…some of them not so alluring… so I am refraining in spelling out those.
Well, when Shri Amarnath Banerjee joined our school, he immediately realized that the senior students, though are quite vocal amongst their fellow mates, they lacked the confidence of public speaking; of course there were exceptions. So, he initiated a process where the senior students from each class/section will give speak for few minutes on whatever subject of their choice, each day at the assembly. To break the ice, he recited a very famous patriotic poem in Bengali titled “Kandari Hushiar” by Kazi Nazrul Islam. So he instantly became Kandari (meaning the Helmsman or Steersman) of the School and later mutated to Ganderi (I will not tread the path to explain further… Samajhdaro ke liye ishara kaafi hai)…
We were in the final year of school and most of the students had by then decided their future course of life and accordingly they started preparing. But then, guys like us who neither had the vision nor had any counseling to tell us what we should aim for in the future. Our aim was therefore to clear the Board with best results and get into a college for graduation and job thereafter. In short, we were bindaas about our future. I had a longing to join the Defence Services (NDA) but my physic would not allow (I was thin like a stick with a potato head).
Anyways, like what the Principal said before Holi, he dictated that no one should burst crackers in the school premises before the Diwali. He shouldn’t have said that… it simply rekindled the thought of revenge in us… we planned well, both in terms of weapon of choice (the gola and sutli bombs), waited for the opportune moment and timed our moves perfectly. The result was a series of cracker burst at different locations near the Principal’s office when no one was around the places. The masterpiece was the one that blew out the nameplate of the Principal, we were with Jagga Sir discussing the game of cricket (his favourite sports), very far away from the hotspot but could hear the Bang. He looked at us and we acknowledged our handiwork in the ongoing ruckus thereby making him a partner of our crime. We also knew that he will now save us with all his might. The Principal also knew that it was all our doing but we had perfect alibi and witnesses, he couldn’t do anything. Revenge was served cold but boldly and the class of 1980 became Legend for years to come…
We passed out and went ahead in our lives but the bond that was formed in those days have only strengthened over the years and we hope it shall remain in the future as well.
I have huge Type 2 OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), honestly, I don’t know if it is good or bad or ugly. I like to keep things in their proper places. I have often straighten up the framed pictures/paintings at places like doctor’s clinic, in client’s office, at friends or relatives home, and not just wall hangings but arranged furniture as well; always switch off the lights/ fan/ AC while going out from hotel room. I am told that my OCD has increased during the lockdown and WFH in the past one year. I don’t deny that because earlier, I was spending less time at home and even the other members too would leave for work early in the morning returning late evening. The entire house was at my command and I would ensure it is in proper shape without any external influence. However, with WFH, both my wife and son being at home, it is democracy now and I am no longer in control of things. This would cause stress and friction and I would often get irritated and at times show my angst.
The show of angst apparently has a negative effect on my son and he would shut himself in his room. Then my wife would vent her emotions and the cycle would go on…
Recently, I was reflecting my relationship with my father in my twenties. There is no shame in admitting that though it was friendly but never intimate with him. I never shared my work life trials and tribulations with him though he would routinely enquire about my job and general well being. Frankly, I was busy building up my career, preferring company of friends rather than spending time with my aging parents. Now, if my son in his mid-twenties does the same thing I have no reasons to complain but it feels sad to drink alone while he’s around.
I am often told that with my temperament, I should have been in the armed forces… in fact, in initial days in Hyderabad while walking Rolf in the neighborhood, many thought I am a retired army colonel, especially as I carried a baton to ward off the stray dogs!!
Coming back to the OCD, I am sure it is not genetically passed on to me because none of my parents had it, they were most liberal and accommodating and socially amiable. So, why I am like this?
Well, one of my sisters is a cleanliness freak: I remember, she had put up a signage at her home in Kashmere Gate that actually said, “NO SHOES/ CHAPPAL BEYOND THIS POINT”. In her home, the hair cutting of all the male members are a ceremony itself and had to be done on the same day…once back from the salon, each one should enter at a time and go straight to the bathroom to take bath, while the other(s) should stand outside. She had many such weird ideas and would force them on her husband and two sons. However, over the years, she had mellowed down or perhaps the guys have become rebels…
I am not that crazy!!!
I am a perfectionist or try to be one. Back in Dabur days, every year there used to be bunch of Management Trainees joining and they would routinely be sent to me for orientation. My word of advice to them, at the end of the session, would always be, “Try to be a perfectionist now because you will have to make lots of compromises as you climb up the corporate ladder.” I do not know if any of them had taken me seriously and had followed the advice.
The idea of perfection makes one an awkward guest in matters of interpersonal skills. You tend to lose the art of diplomacy and are blunt with your observation to the point of being rude. This definitely affects one’s career growth because no senior would like to be corrected at every corner. However, it gives a feeling of uprightness and pride that no one can snatch from you.
Coming back to the point, where it started, I often wonder about why I acted in certain way or why I am obsessed with the balance of things around me. Why it affects me if the ‘forks’ are kept in the same slot as that of ‘spoons’ or if the towels are not folded in a particular way. The answer to these is frightening…
With no occupation, gainful or otherwise, I have developed a feeling of being useless, a handicap to the other members of the family. In short, my existence doesn’t matter. This did not happen overnight but slowly and gradually over the last few years. My actions and language, if I may be blunt, is that of a frustrated loser who is trying hard to remain relevant to his surroundings.
I know that I have to get out of this mindset, but how?
Till few years back I was doing freelance designing and creative writing though it was not a regular affair but I used to be occupied at least 10-15 days a month on such assignments and moreover, since I was selective in accepting the job, it was mostly, intellectually fulfilling if not financially. Then in the end of 2017, I had to relocate to Hyderabad and all such opportunities simply vanished. I did some online content writing just keep myself occupied but they were poor both intellectually and financially and I lost interest in pursuing them. One particular organization still owes me money…
Also, around this time I had serious health issues and was confined to bed for more than 6 weeks… making me lethargic and it also made me question my ability to do anything…the self confidence took a nose dive. I became hesitant to talk to strangers and became a recluse…ready to dive into depression but thankfully I survived.
I started spending time in the kitchen…experimenting with traditional recipes and creating my own concoction. There have been disasters but only in terms of the look or getting overcooked but never on taste. My mother had passed on certain things genetically and I think the culinary skill is the best one…I am not boasting but the people who have tasted my food, do certify that it taste quite similar to what mom used to make. Obviously, I will never be able to reach her level… I tried making Punjabi Kadhi-Pakaudi, though it was edible, it lacked the zing that she could bring out.
Having worked in five star hotel kitchen for nine months, discipline and hygiene in the kitchen is ingrained in me and I generally keep the workstation clean as I work, keep washing the used utensils after use (not leaving it for the maid to wash up later) because, the dirty utensils can pile up and become eyesore (for me). However, my wife is just the opposite… she would work in the kitchen with gay abandon… so much so that once she had left her mobile phone inside the refrigerator and had looked for it not just through the house but the entire housing complex!!!
Anyways, it seems my working style is too dictatorial… it is my way or highway kind.
So, we have come up with a solution, I don’t enter the kitchen while my wife or the maid is working there and I don’t allow anyone to come inside while I am cooking. I don’t mind cutting the raw veggies, meat, fish on my own because based on the dish, these has to be cut in a particular shape…you can’t have one item shredded and the other cut in cube!! I am told it doesn’t matter but it does matter to me not just emotionally but scientifically too… if the veggies are cut in similar size and shape, they will cook uniformly and will look good in the dish as well.
The pandemic and resultant lockdown, restricted movement has had an effect on my culinary journey too. Anyone, who loves cooking, would confirm that if what you are cooking is not shared with others, it is no fun anymore. The whole of 2020 and I suspect 2021 will too see a taboo in get-togethers or very restricted entertainment. The sword of covid contamination is still hanging on our head and frankly, we are scared of meeting friends, relations… especially, because of the rise in cases across the country once again, as I write this…
Therefore, my active participation in the culinary sphere is also getting restricted to cooking up for my son whenever he’s home.
My other passion is reading & writing but that needs a cool, stress free mind… where do I find it?
There are at least 3 books which are in various stages of unread, in last 2 months I have picked them up to complete but haven’t moved beyond couple of pages. My dear friend Indrajit had been coaxing me to pick up the pen or rather open the laptop…I ended up translating a couple of posts that I received in whatsapp message…then my other dear friend, Monojit said, “These are nice but please write something original”.
To write something through imagination needs the mind to be uncluttered and to do that, I thought it is best to write down what’s on my head right now and be done with…
Hopefully, the next one will be a hardcore fiction with lots of action…