Posted in English

Taare zameen par….. (When no other title seems appropriate)

When I woke up today to a gloomy, damp day, little did I expect the day would light up in such an unexpected way. No! The weather had nothing to do with this…it was a bunch of twenty odd kids, chirpy, naughty and full of life. These underprivileged kids, either orphans or from families who are not capable of taking care of them, have found a home in this two storied orphanage in Salt Lake, Kolkata. As I walked through the large black gates with a childhood friend who loves teaching and spending time with them, I noticed a pair of curious eyes scrutinising me in details. Upon realising that I had noticed her, she ran upstairs.

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Immensely unpopular among kids, I am kind of used to scaring kids away for some unknown reason! What I however did not realise was that she was just the messenger! Within minutes, a battalion of tiny tots stormed down the stairway, as little hands held on to my arms and pulled me upstairs to their dormitories. They didn’t need pleasantries, they didn’t need introductions…..they knew how to make friends without caring for social norms. In the huge room with blue walls, a small TV airing their favourite cartoon and a number of mattress-less beds, the little butterflies fluttered around in full glory. They flocked around us, showing us their drawings, their badminton rackets, their tiny new dresses, as if I was an old acquaintance, their very own ‘Didi’! They staged Dance performances for us, posed for selfies and even discussed fashion with us (Little women, we might call them)! Eventually, it was time for their lunch and for us to return to the posh world of air-conditioned restaurants and malls. I had come to visit them empty handed, I returned with a handful of chocolates and candies.

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What intrigued me was that these kids didn’t think twice before giving me their precious chocolates or before accepting me as one of their own. Their invitations to visit them again was filled with anticipation and hope. I was forced to question myself, what values are we imparting to kids from our so-called “class”? Clearly, these are values which cannot be imparted by elite schooling! But on second thoughts, children learn from elders! How many children grow up seeing their parents share their earnings and savings with those who lack the means for a healthy, stable life? God knows how many such angels are out there, who do not even have a shelter over their heads or two square meals a day. Atleast these kids have found a home; have found friends and teachers like my childhood friend! I know that my words will barely reach a few through common social networking sites. Neither do I want to be preachy. But can we not, each year, put aside a part of our savings for these little ones? Can we not skip that one lunch at a posh restaurant or that one unwanted dress we desire but do not need? Maybe next time we buy that costly gift for our kids and fill their already overstuffed rooms with fancy toys, which will remain untouched by the next year, can we not take a lesson from these kids and gift our children the undiluted joy that sharing brings, by doing so ourselves? Not out of pity, not for philanthropic fame, but simply for the bliss that this small little gesture brings!

 

Posted in English

For the confused, modern women…take a chill pill !!!!!

On the outset… let me start with a disclaimer-

“This article is not directed to any particular person. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”

However, this article is not a work of fiction. Rather its my dedication to that confused, modern woman who seems to have lost herself in an effort to keep up with the so called notion of “an ideal women”.

Somehow I believe life was a lot easier for women belonging to the previous generations. They seemed more comfortable in their own skin, satisfied with who they were. I do not remember my Grandma constantly trying to portray herself as a “know-it-all”, as an epitome of grace, beauty and success or as a flag bearer of  feminism. She was feminist in her own subtle way, graceful and beautiful without overstating it and a strong backbone for the future generations in an offhand, easy manner without going over the top with any of her responsibilities.

But with time, women appear to be losing the fine balance. It’s almost like we are in a constant race to fit into a mould that has been created for us…a much larger than life mould ! We take offence at every criticism and try to add colours of feminism to it. We scream for rights to make our own choices and then we ourselves put other women down for their choices.  In our fight for feminism, we have forgotten the true meaning of the word. Why try to prove we are superior to men or, for that matter, other women? Lets just all try to be humans first !!!

So my lovelies, do not, at any cost, let others dictate your life choices. Its your life and you have the right to live it the way you want to. Unfortunately, for a modern woman, even before a man, comes the threat of being judged by another woman.  So what if she decided to get married early in her life…..if her dream is to become a mum rather than a successful CEO….if she doesn’t want to get married or have kids…. if she decided to quit her job at the peak of her career…..if she rides a bike or is too scared to drive….if she doesn’t like to read at all or reads too much….if she has put on a bit of weight but is beautiful none-the less or if she wears salwars, cooks well and is religious but not a “behenji”….. Let’s just understand that at the end of the day all that matters is being happy.

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I see women around me struggling with the two masks : who they really are and who they want to portray themselves as! It is okay when you go weak in your knees for a man and it is okay if you decide to accept a gift or let your man pay when you are on a date for a change! Everyone knows you can open your own car door or walk without taking someone’s arm, but it is okay to sometimes enjoy the chivalry of a man. He is not trying to put you beneath him but this is just his way of showing how much he values you!

So in an effort to fit into the mould, don’t lose sight of the finer things in life, genuine emotions and important people. While I myself believe that every woman should be independent, I must learn to respect the choices of a woman whose ideas and priorities differ from mine! A strong feminist as I am, it saddens me when I see women with contorted notions about feminism, viewing the world with glasses tinted with their misguided ideologies. Being strong, beautiful and independent  doesn’t mean putting others down but being able to look at the world without being judgmental or blinded by misconceptions. A true feminist understands that every women has the right to make her own choices and live life on her own terms. 

So to all my lovely ladies, take a chill pill. Sit back and relax a bit. Take a break, enjoy life and widen your vision. You just have one life and you are allowed to live it the way you want to. Let us put an end to judging others and strangulating their free will in the name of progressiveness and modernization. Let us learn to respect each other as equals first and for once, just leave it at that  !!!

Posted in English, Ph. D. series

Piled higher and Deeper…an average day of a Ph.D student in lab…

The chirping of the birds was gradually replacing the silence of the night. I had been fast asleep in my one bedroom apartment when I suddenly woke up with a start; “Oh God, I think I forgot to add Enzyme to my reaction mixture last night !!!!” (Mind you, it has taken me 2 long weeks of extensive planning and reading and hard work to get to the the last step of my reaction….which I now believe I have ruined). I look at the clock, it is 5.30 am. My bed looks like a scientific battle ground with research papers, text books and notes strewn about while the laptop is still switched on. It appears I have long replaced pillows and soft toys with thick fat books which I now hug while I am sleeping. As a Ph. D student I obviously cannot afford an AC, so I open the windows to allow nature to take care of my palpitation and profuse sweating. Gradually, as I begin to recover from my near heart attack, I feel, maybe I did add all the reagents as per protocol !

 

“Wait a second, Did I ?”….”Noooo I didn’t”…..”I should have written it all down”….”On second thoughts I am convinced I did everything properly”…..” Hold on! I don’t even remember taking that reagent out of  the lab refrigerator…shit, I think I just ruined it”….”Oh God, I am getting a headache” 

 

And hence begins my day…. like every other day !!!

 

When you wake up with a sour mood and a terrible headache, and you are living miles away from you parents, breakfast and exercise always take a backseat. I groggily make myself a cup of tea, rummage through my fridge for anything edible only to realize I haven’t had time to go grocery shopping for two weeks, and finally decide to eat a few biscuits and head off to lab. In spite of waking up at 5.30 am, I still manage to get late for lab, so I decide to sneak up the back stairs to avoid my mentor. But as fate would have it, he had decided to take a stroll down the dingy backstairs today of all days and my headache increased at par with the crescendo of his voice when we met in the dark alleys !!! So after a good 10 mins lecture on punctuality, I reach my lab and get to work, only to realize that the PCR machine that I had booked, is already in use. As I am gearing up for a showdown with my annoying lab mate, my boss calls me to his chamber to give me an amazing news : my paper has again been rejected by what seems like the hundredth journal !!! 

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So I already have a ruined experiment (which will now take several weeks to repeat, and even longer to explain to my boss), two rounds of condescending lectures, a showdown with a lab mate and a rejected paper in hand….and its just 10.00 am ! But the good thing about working in labs is having seniors who have somehow survived through it all. So after a good motivational speech from a senior and a cup of strong coffee, I decide to face the struggles of life, come what may !!!

 
I manage to find another PCR machine in a neighboring lab and decide to continue with my ruined experiment rather than giving up. I do not know how long I had been working but a very hungry and angry stomach lets me know that it has had it all !!! I coax my growling stomach not to revolt for another half an hour so that I have just enough time to finish off the work at hand. When an elated me finally reaches the canteen after half an hour, I realize I am well past lunch time and the canteen is nearly empty. So I head out of my Institution in search of some street food and I return back to my lab with a severe acidity which has now replaced the headache !!! 
 

A pleasant surprise however greets me in lab. One of our seniors who had been persuing post-doctoral research abroad has come to visit us after nearly 4 years. We gather around her to hear her experience as we devour the Swiss chocolates she has got for us. While the first few years abroad had been fun, she has now completed her work there with a handful of publications but still has no job or work at hand. I soon realized the conversation along with the idea of a bleak future was inviting back my headache and the chocolates weren’t helping my digestive system either. I needed a distraction ! 

 

I texted my best friend, who of course works at the IT sector, to plan out a meeting post work, sometime around 6 pm. A “girlie” get together is just what I need to lift up my spirits. Life suddenly found a purpose as I felt I had something to look forward to and pull me through the rest of the day! It was only around 5.30 pm that I found out  through our network of secret spies that my boss was planning to stay back in lab till 8 pm. Devastated, I called up my bestie to inform her that I couldn’t meet her, which of course ended up in me being face to face with the telephonic wrath of the girl whom I have stood up for the seventh time in  the past one month, thanks to my “research”. I myself  judge her for still thinking of me as her friend ! But then social life is, of course, a luxury for a Ph. D. student.

 

My ruined experiment in the meantime yielded a result which I couldn’t really decipher. It was neither what it should have been had it worked or had it failed and appeared to be somewhere in the middle. It was 6 pm and by that time I had reached a point where I had become stoic. Nothing really mattered to me… nothing really bothered me ! I realized I had to cook up some explanation before my boss asked me about the experiment or about what to do about my paper, but I really didn’t have the energy to think anymore. After another round of tea, I sat down at the computer in search of the only joy in a research student’s life….Conferences !!!!

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After waiting for eternity trying to appear to be working while I waited for my boss to leave, I finally manage to get out of lab around 8.45 pm. I buy a family packet of chocolate, gorge on some fast food to satiate the ever hungry stomach, pop-up an antacid and head home. I look at the giggling young girls on the metro, all dolled up laughing or joking with boyfriends or a group of friends and felt jealousy swell up inside me. I reach home to the empty flat, gorge on the entire bar of chocolate and collapse on couch nauseated and tired.  

 

After managing to put together something for dinner, my first proper meal of the day, I finally go to bed. Tonight I can sleep well. My experiment has already been ruined, my paper has been rejected and my future is bleak….so overall, nothing worse can happen ! I can sleep tonight without the fear of waking up in the wee of the morning, all sweaty and petrified. I  fall asleep while watching my daily dose of “F.R.I.E.N.D.S”, a sitcom I owe my sanity to…………….ZZZzzzzzzzzz !!!

It’s 5.30 am. I am dreaming that I forgot to switch off the heater in our lab and our entire lab is on fire !!! My notes and results have all turned into ash and I am being literally kicked out of my institution for ruining everything. I wake up with a start again, all sweaty with a searing headache !!!

Ahhh !!! Hence starts another brand new day !!!

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Posted in English, Nostalgia

Over a cup of tea….

As I sat watching TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon, sipping Darjeeling tea with my husband, we got into one of our favourite debates….. “Tea versus Coffee”.  Born and brought up in a tiny picturesque town at the foothills of Darjeeling, I have basically grown up amidst lush green tea gardens! Living in Canada for the last few months, I sometimes feel that caffeine is the fuel on which North America runs! For me an occasional cup of coffee is good but if there is any addiction that I have apart from chocolates, it is a smoking cup of Makaibari first flush!

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Picture courtesy: Indranil Sarkar

My relationship with tea gardens began even before I was born. My grandfather was one of the “Babus” living in and managing tea estates in Doars. My father grew up amidst the lush greenery that Doars had to offer. As for me, the most vivid memory I have of tea gardens is staring out of the window of my school building at the massive tea gardens that surrounded it at that time, mesmerized by the sprinklers spraying water on neatly cropped tea plants. I still remember how my mother used to describe tea gardens along the slopes of Himalayas as green carpets nature has spread out for us. My childish curiosity used to wonder about the “amazing” life of the tea pluckers with massive baskets strung on their heads. I used to spend the long evenings sitting on the balcony of our house against the backdrop of twinkling lights of Tindharia up in the hills, listening to stories from my father about life in tea estates. I remember envying the job of tea tasters, even though my mother had almost turned herself into one, blending different kinds of tea to create her very own flavor.  It’s almost like I can still smell the raw freshness from the other side of the planet.  I guess some feelings just get enmeshed in your entire being and you spend the rest of your life reliving those memories!

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Picture source: Internet

Urbanization soon struck my small town, with sprawling shopping malls and townships cropping up all over the city. And the first blow landed on our tea estates. With one tea estate after the other being sold to giant real estate companies, who burnt down tea trees to erect Malls and multiplexes, I was suddenly face to face with reality.  I felt that my town was transforming into a blooming city, albeit one without a spirit! The protests of tea pluckers whose sources of income were now dwindling and the raring competition from neighbouring countries made me realize that perhaps it was time to grow out of my fantasy. Tea gardens didn’t just represent foggy, carpeted hills and giant sprinklers now; they represented struggles of thousands of daily wage workers and of Darjeeling Tea as a whole, to retain its fame all over the world.

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Picture source : Internet

But no matter how my conscious, educated mind looks at the scenario, whenever I sit in a charming tea shop in Dakshinapan, Kolkata, sipping a cup of Oolong, or when I am at home brewing my Lopchu orange pekoe,  or even when I am in Canada taking in the freshness of a steaming cup of Jasmine green tea from Gopaldhara, my mind always rushes back to my hometown. A tiny, beautiful town, with the gigantic Himalayas looking down upon it … with the mighty Teesta flowing through it…… and with lush green tea estates surrounding it. In retrospect I realize that Darjeeling tea for me is not just a drink, it is a sentiment running deep down, it is a steaming, rich, aromatic cup of my childhood.

Posted in English, short shory

The “Ray” of hope…..

The TV fitted on the wall of the 3 BHK apartment, on the 11th floor of a Mumbai high rise, boomed in its full glory. A film critic was reviewing his first movie venture, two days after its release. “Abhiroop Bhattacharya proves his mettle in his very first directorial venture. He has already established himself as an author. His versatility and eye for details reminded a lot of viewers of Satyajit Ray, who Bhattacharya himself admits, has always been an inspiration for him. However his style and technique appear to be heavily borrowed from Ray. He needs to invent his own style to carve a niche for himself in this cut-throat world of movie making. “

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Abhi smiled to himself. Now that his movie was out and was receiving rave reviews, he felt the emptiness sting again. The same emptiness that always came back to him every night since he had been ten. He had been born in an affluent Bengali family. His father had been a doctor, mother a professor at a top Kolkata college. He and his twin brother, Anurag, had studied in one the best schools of Kolkata. His father had a huge library at home and had gifted each brother a set “detective novels” which he had said would soon become their favorite companion. Life, however, hadn’t been as smooth as it should have been for the brothers. Their parents had been separated when they were ten. On one of those lonely disturbed nights, while their home was being ripped down and they had been torn between their parents, they suddenly discovered their savior “Feluda”. He soon became the elder brother, the mentor and the friend they never had. The long dark nights didn’t seem that long when they had mysteries to solve, adventures to go on and countries to visit with their enigmatic brother. How true their father’s words had been !!!

The lonely summer vacations didn’t seem that long, now that they had collections of Professor Shonku to finish, short stories of Ray to read and a plethora of movies by Ray to watch, all the while their parents were busy fighting as to who should get to spend time with the kids. Their tender hearts never realized when they had found solace in a cocoon of fictitious characters woven by a master-storyteller who had helped them tide over one of the most difficult times in their lives. At 32, Abhi now realizes that in-spite of all the chaos going on around him, three people kept him grounded, his brother, his best friend Riya and of course his elder brother “Feluda”.

By the time he moved to college in Delhi, things had begun to fall in place. His parents had finally reconciled, his brother was a promising medical student and he himself was studying in one of the best colleges of Delhi. Riya studied in a premier girls’ college in the same city. As he moved out of his mischievous teens, he realized his friendship with her was moving in a new direction. Life always seems like a fairy tale when you fall in love with your closest friend. However, tranquility in his life has always been short lived and one day he realized that the emptiness was back in his life. When he broke up with her, he lost not just his partner for life but also the closest childhood friend he had ever had. His brother was busy with his own life, his parents were away in a different city and suddenly he found himself all alone again!

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When he was in University for his Masters, his roommates made fun of him because he slept each night hugging a “Feluda Samagra”. Of course it was a joke for them. While they were busy discussing Rushdie and Márquez, he was still clinging on to his teenage fantasies. Little did they realize that Ray to him was the anchor that helped him tide over the occasional floods that threatened his entire existence, his escapades to his fantasy cocoon was the only way for him to stay connected to reality. He rarely traveled in a train without imagining Apu and Durga running after it through the lush green fields, he rarely read a movie star’s interview without imagining him in a crisp suit on a 1st class compartment of a train, he rarely hung out with his friends without wondering what it would feel like to break free from the shackles of civilization and run to Daltongunj.  

Moving abroad for higher studies was perhaps the worst decision of his life. He had thought that a new country will help him build his life from the scratch, but the work pressure, the lack of  genuine friends, foreign streets and the deafening silence of his apartment seemed to take a toll on his sanity yet again. He always marveled at how his brother, who had a good career, a lovely fiancee and a stable life, had managed to stay so grounded in spite of all the turmoil around him. Abhi had always been more immature than him. Or maybe he just felt everything more deeply. He tried to meet women, but no one could even match up to the image that Riya had imprinted on his mind. He tried to get involved in Indian students’ unions, he started blogging, he started writing novels and movie scripts, just to keep himself going. But at the end of every day, when the deafening silence of his apartment welcomed him, he rushed back to Ray for solace. Movies, interviews, documentaries, books written on him, books written by him, he left nothing out ! He watched movies that had inspired Ray, he read books that were liked by Ray. Again he felt, his fictitious cocoon saved him. On the day he flew back to the country upon receiving the news of his father’s death, he carried his “Feluda Somogroho”, not reading but holding it close, just for comfort.

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His film, whose script he had written on one such lonely night in a foreign land, in honour of his favourite writer/filmmaker, was now out for the world to see. And they say his style should be different if he has to survive? He smiled ruefully, “No one survives this world, so why even try?”He switched off the TV, dimmed the lights and was planning to crash into bed  with a memoir on Ray by his photographer, when the phone beeped. Reluctantly he picked up the phone.  “Hi, chinte parchis? Saw your movie, it was beautiful.” Even after twelve years, the voice on the other end send a shiver down his spine. He spoke to Riya for ten minutes. She was now a journalist working for one of India’s top newspapers. Ten minutes later when he kept the phone, he had a new interview to add to his planner.

“The reviews say you should move out of Ray’s shadows. I say that the touch of Ray in every frame of the movie is what made it so complete, so unique. It touched a chord so deep that it compelled me to call you after so many years. One day when they will be able to see what I see, they wont ask you to move out of his shadows. ” She had told him on the phone.

He didn’t open his book that night. He put it down on the night stand and closed his eyes. He would sleep tonight, a sound sleep after ages. After all, today, after a long time, he had once again been able to see “A ray of hope” !