Tuesday Tales

                                                               Memories -Jamshedpur

    I have been thinking about writing this particular post for some time now but it has been a bit difficult to gather my thoughts. It should not be difficult, right? We all have memories that are dear to our hearts and memories that we wish we could forget but we can’t. That’s what makes memories omnipotent…they are always there with the good, bad and the ugly. I guess I have reached that age where I look back at my childhood days with fondness, but they also come with a strange anguish, something that tugs at the strings of the heart in a manner that is not always joyful in its entirety. The joy is always accompanied by the longing- the agony of wanting to go back in time and relive moments and days that are so deeply embedded in our conscience that it toys with the current nature of reality.

   I am not very good with change…I have come to realize this. I accept change when the need arises and shape things accordingly but it takes time and while that can be good thing, it can also occasionally present itself as disconcerting. While I continue to adapt to life in this country, still learning the ropes after ten years, a part of me- the deepest part- lives thousands of miles away. The city of Kolkata and the small town of Jamshedpur are the two places that have seen me through the simple rites of childhood and through the defiance of teenage life and till today hold me in warm embrace of memories I made decades ago. And so naturally, they find prominence in any memory that I conjure up of the past to the point that the pining for the place and time gone by, hurts.

    I grew up as part of a large extended family-my father has 12 siblings- and I have always been super proud to be part of this crazy clan. I have had some of the best moments of growing up with these folks during our yearly trip to our family home in Jamshedpur and I have been fiercely protective of all that it has entailed.

   Times change. The house, a bungalow is no longer there. In its place stands a tall building that houses offices and a couple of floors have been turned into a ‘guest house’. The other bungalows in the neighborhood have all met the same fate. Families have left or have become just one more nameplate in the middle of the ten other that share the previous address of the ‘owner’, whose front yard had bougainvillea and the “champa” (Plumeria) welcoming anyone who walked through the small black gates. The big field that was the center around which the houses were lined, no longer draws children who used to be out every evening with cricket bats and balls and teams lined up for matches with rules that were tailored to suit the needs of the players. It has been fashioned into a parking lot of sorts for the cars and small trucks that the new residents and shop keepers own and small roadside stalls have opened up to cater to their chai-pani (snacks).

   I no longer can go there. My people have moved too and are now in Kolkata. Having spent 70 years of their lives in that once beautiful neighborhood, their lives have been uprooted and are now defined by and confined to a three bedroom apartment. I no longer can run up the stairs and go to the roof to smell the bel phool (a type of Jasmine) or watch the clouds float across the mountain range that could be seen at a distance. I will no longer be able to see the golden moon rise from behind the school building that stood at one end of the big field, its walls bearing the signs of the city’s political story.

   Landscape changes with time and I sometimes wonder if all of it is for the better. In the age of no cable, no colored television, no video games, no internet were we, and as an extension, life, more genuine, more palpable? Happiness comes at steeper prices now and yet, fails to satisfy at times. I also sometimes wonder if I have become too sophisticated for rustic pleasures and if my kids are ever going to know that kind of simplicity and joy.

   I long for that place, a place that no longer exists the way my heart remembers. And it aches  a bit thinking about that. But it also brings me immense joy reminiscing about that place and time and the people that made everything so unforgettable. I never somehow had a favorite uncle or aunt, but I have favorite memories with all of them and they have all nurtured, in their own ways, my growing up. I wish we all took more pictures at that time capturing moments that had us burst with laughter or cuddle under a big blanket in the front yard at night where we once had a ‘camping’ of sorts! It was honest and simple. My yearning for going back to India has not stopped and while I know that it is no longer possible, a tiny part of my heart still clings on to that hope. In this faraway land, where seasons dictate coffee flavors I reminisce and laugh on my own. I revisit the house and its rooms and think about the people that made the mundane, riveting.  I share stories with Neel who tries his best to be enthusiastic at most times! I am waiting for my kids to grow up so that I can share stories with them and through those tales, bring that place and people a little close to them.

   My memories inspire me and keep me connected to people I am many miles away from. They are part of my identity and they help me navigate where I am headed to. Memories make me who I am ( at least I would like to believe so), as they teach and guide; they let me fall back on them when need be and they also sneak up from nowhere to surprise me! They are my pathway to the future that may not have the exact idyllic scenarios from the past, but will hopefully help me shape ones that my kids will, one day, remember fondly.

 

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     “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it”- Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge-Feelings of Spring!

   It is almost spring here in New Jersey…almost. It’s somewhat the ‘feeling of spring’ as this week’s theme from Friendly Friday Photo Challenge hosted by Something to Ponder About (https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/) and The Snow Melts Somewhere (https://thesnowmeltssomewhere.wordpress.com/) suggests. Winter-y weather seems to be dragging on forever  here on the East Coast and even though temperatures have started rising to the ‘comfortable’ 40s and 50s, there is still quite a nip in the air that sadly keeps us from keeping our winter jackets away.

   For me, here,  birds are the heralds of spring; their much awaited chirp breaks the monotony of the wintry silence that keeps us engulfed, what feels like at times to be, for ever. Kids playing outside and neighbors chatting for more than the perfunctory greetings are all signs of warmer weather and cheery hearts! And then come the sprouting of tiny greens on the bare branches, little pink flowers  with a smell that is almost intoxicating and that urge to breathe in lungs full of fresh air. I grew up in Kolkata where spring is much warmer and while the pink of cherry blossoms is surely missing,  the  red ‘polash’, a fiery orange-ish red flower also commonly known as the flame-of-the forest and colorful bougainvilleas add that rejuvenating splash of color,  signalling the advent of spring.

    The look that my four year old gets when I say ‘it seems to be a good day to go to the park’ has added to the wonder of spring for the past couple of years. The joy and exuberance that a child feels from being able to run around in the open, after remaining cooped up indoors during the dreadful winter months is hard to parallel! We still need to wear fleece jackets and hats but we go out and run around to our hearts’ content and the little guy exclaims, almost every step of the way to the park, at all the things he had missed during winter and the spark in his eyes warms up my heart, as I try to keep up with his bouncy steps.

   These pictures of spring were taken a few years back:

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These sunflowers added to the  bright Florida sun, on our way back from camping at the Everglades back in 2012.

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We spent last spring in Kolkata and these bougainvilleas adorned the rooftop of my in-laws’ house.

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And these are from a couple of days back, in our neighborhood….most tree branches are still bare but some have started to spring back and I hope to take better pictures once the pink and the white of the cherry blossoms take over.

 

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And this was on the first warm-ish day at the park!

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Happy Spring folks!

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge- Story

I decided to participate in Friendly Friday Photo Challenge hosted by:

The Snow Melts Somehwere ( https://thesnowmeltssomewhere.wordpress.com/) and Something to Ponder About (https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/). There is a new prompt every Friday and this week’s prompt is “Story”.

 

It is my first time doing this and here’s my take on that:

7195d1a4-3c6d-4e48-ba32-5e09b93a2896                                                             GROWING UP TALES

 

I have been noticing for quite some time how my four year old has been gradually turning into a little more matured tiny human, with a developing set of likes and dislikes- and this shelf in our small bookcase tells that story the best. ‘Baby’ books (as he calls them) have been getting replaced by these ‘big boy’ books and we are enjoying growing up ‘seeing and reading’ these. The saying ‘ Kids grow up too fast’ is so true!

The Big Blue Sky

   I grew up in the city of Calcutta in the 90s and have spun many wonderful memories of that time. In our little neighborhood, everyone was part of a great big family who laughed out loud, celebrated the ups and faced the downs of life together. I loved that feeling of closeness and imagined life everywhere to be like that. And since I came from a big family, we had relatives spread all over the city and visited each other all the time. These visits were surprise visits as most of us did not have the telephone in our homes and that doubled the fun!

   While I really loved growing up in a city where life was easy and fun, I missed the vast expanse of the sky that fascinated me when I would visit the country side or go to our ancestral house in  Jamshedpur, a beautiful town about 170 miles from Calcutta. Going up to the terrace in our house in Calcutta did not allow for a lot of the big blue sky to be seen as skyscrapers, the heralds of development, seemed to be always under construction all around. Neighborhoods like ours with small houses were getting squished amidst the glitz that had slowly started engulfing the unembellished.

   And so on visits to the vast open country side or during our train rides to Jamshedpur, I remember just gazing at the sky, mesmerized. For a child my age, the sky held endless possibilities and dreams and I would sometimes imagine how it would be to live in a place which had unobstructed views of the big blue blanket above us. Life in my adopted country for the past ten years has allowed for that to happen and I am still as fascinated  today as I used to be when I was just a kid.  I take endless pictures of the sky whenever I can and looking at the big blue expanse, that at times lights up in dazzling colors, fills my heart with happiness and calms my distraught soul.

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My Recent Reads

    I have always loved reading books. Growing up, I would look forward to ‘library time’ at school, a designated 40 minutes in a week when we could go to the library and spend time there and at the end could also bring one (or may be two…my memory betrays me) home for about 15 days. I remember exchanging books with a couple of my really close friends after we had finished reading ours. During senior years, when there was no more library ‘class’ or even the time to read much outside what was in the syllabus, I would still sometimes go to the library and pick up books other than ‘study stuff’, that I would later sneak in to the bed at night, even when I could barely keep my eyes open.  Books have always been my go-to when it comes to reading material of my choice. Our four year old too loves reading and story reading at bedtime is one of our favorite things to do as family! At times, the little guy takes over and reads his Ma-Baba his favorite story.

    It has been a very long time since, and while a lot has changed in terms of reading material and medium, my love for books remains unchanged. As a student of English Literature many moons ago, I came across the works of Camus, Kafka, Beckett, Naipaul, Virginia Woolf to name a few, that cast a spell on me. While the cacophony of every day life does not let me spend a sunday morning lazying in bed, sipping on copious cups of coffee and some chocolate chip muffins and read as much as I would like to, I still try to catch up on some reading at any chance I get. Bookstores are my favorite store to visit and the sight and smell of books enthralls me today just as much as it did when I had first walked into a library at my school decades ago. Nothing probably beats experience of physical browsing at a real store and it saddens me to see local book stores and even big ones close due to the craze of on-line buying.

    An absolute necessity is our pursuit of happiness and in helping us dream, the pivotal role of books in undeniable. Today, I am sharing with you books that I read and re-read over the period of last two years (a couple from here I am yet to finish) and can read over and over again!

  1. The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)
  2. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  3. Snow (Orhan Pamuk)
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  5. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  6. Sea of Poppies (Amitava Ghosh)
  7. Clear Light of Day (Anita Desai)
  8. Selected Stories by O. Henry
  9. Train To Pakistan (Khushwant Singh)
  10. The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri)
  11. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Arundhati Roy)
  12. Dreams from My Father (Barack Obama)

 

What are some of your favorite reads?

Date

   Neel and I have never been on a date…a real date, since during the ‘dating’ period, we were living in separate countries, pursuing career goals. We had known each other for a long time before that (since we went to the same high school) and though we had gone our separate ways for a brief period in time after that, reconnecting was simple and felt like the most natural thing in the whole world. Also, neither of us is a very ‘date’ kind of a person! So, to sum it up…we have never been on a real date.

   We recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and reflecting back, it has surely been an interesting journey so far, albeit with the usual bumps and bruises. Life has been hectic and at the same time a wonderful adventure as we learn and re -learn things in the process of raising our son and now that we have added another bundle to the family, life continues to unfold its glory in its craziness and beauty!

   A few days ago, when Neel and I were ‘sleep talking’ (talking while having fallen half asleep!), we wondered how it would be to go on a date. While life has been much easier with our daughter than it was when our son was an infant, it still does get overwhelming at times. And so, we wanted to get some alone time and have an adult conversation without gasping at an overactive four year old making french fries out of play dough and in the process, cutting up the dough into a zillion pieces most of which would end up getting stuck on the carpet or drooling over the babbles of a two month old and getting swept away by all the baby love.

   And we acted on our sleep talk idea! A date and time was decided for a ‘coffee date’ as that was the most that our schedules would permit and on the day, I even put on a bit of make up (for those who know me, can figure out how serious and excited I must have been about this date, given my dislike for make up!) but right before leaving, the four year old decided to do something quite uncharacteristic…he went all emotional and pleaded with me to not go. Even the lure of getting his favorite brownie seemed to not work as he made clear that he did not want any of that. And as much as I was looking forward to spending some alone time with Neel, the big watery eyes tugged at my heartstrings with the strongest of pulls and I melted. I scooped up my boy in my arms and smothered his face with the squishiest kisses and dropped the idea of going out in an instant. But as I was about to change back into my sweat pants, he broke into the biggest smile, hugged me and said it was okay to go as long as he could watch a bit of iPad. Now, normally I do not succumb to such things but I guess I really needed to get that coffee and so 10 minutes later Neel and I were at the coffee place for that date! Though I checked my phone at least a dozen times to see if it was on in case I got a call from home about the kids, it was a 30 minutes well spent…refreshing and relaxing! Pumped up from the success of this we decided to watch a movie in bed once the kids had settled in for the night. We chose The Incredibles2 on Netflix, watched it on the iPad with earphones on (one earplug in each of our ears!) and 20 minutes into the movie, I slid down on the bed, tucked myself into the blanket and shut my eyes, happy and content! So much for our movie night!

   However, I will gladly take such dates till my kids are older and I am probably no longer allowed to smother their faces with my sloppy kisses and hug them in front of their friends (though it does not mean I won’t do that!)

Happy Dating Folks!

A Winter Here, A Winter There…

   Growing up in Calcutta (now Kolkata), winter used to be my favorite season. The hot and humid summers that become unbearable at times last for a long time in the city followed by the rains that while being quite welcome also add to the humidity and mood swings of the Calcuttan-s! And so, come November when the mercury dips a point, there is an excitement in the air and everyone looks forward to an inviting winter. Since the temperature does not drop as low as in northern parts of India, winter in Calcutta is truly enjoyable, giving people some respite from the scorching sun and the incessant rains. The glowing winter sun and the chill in the air makes one want to stay for a tad bit longer under the ‘lep’(the traditional Bengali quilt) and sip on copious cups of tea, make plans for picnics and indulge in the quintessential Bangali adda (long chat sessions) for extra long hours with mufflers dutifully wrapped around the heads.

   For me, it was about the ‘lep’, about extra cups of steaming tea made with milk and a generous serving of sugar, about the Calcutta Book Fair which occupies a special place in the heart of all Calcuttan-s and is a matter of utmost pride, about all the scrumptious winter food Ma made, about attending family weddings if there happened to be one, about getting into a never ending argument with Ma about wearing a scarf or muffler around the head when going out in the evening that often ended in tears or at times canceling plans as I refused to be seen in public with the embarrassment called muffler! It was also a lot about Christmas and my hidden desire to get presents from Santa (this was of course when I was much younger and ended when I was around 7-8 years old). For the non Christian, Christmas at that time meant having a cake, wishing each other Merry Christmas and for the over enthusiastic bunch, a trip to the zoo or museum or some overly crowded park for the customary picnic. A trip to Park Street, that used to get all glittery and sparkly with light, was also on the list for many.

   One year when I was around 5 or 6, I don’t remember correctly, Baba had bought a plastic Santa Claus about 6inches tall with a very pink face. I used to take it out from its hiding every Christmas Eve and put it on the window sill, next to a very shiny and tiny ‘Christmas Tree’ and that was all the Christmas I needed. The almost 40 year old me is finding it difficult to recollect what Christmas that tiny six inch plastic Santa and tree could have brought to the six year old me but I guess that is the joy of innocence. I was happy and content with that. And once the day was over, I would again dutifully keep those two back in some plastic bag, to be taken out the following year. Oh and on Christmas Eve, I had once hung two school socks (one each of different pairs)- one for me and one for my younger brother- hoping Santa would bring us some candies. I guess that had put my parents in a spot since hanging of the socks was a last minute idea, right before going to bed, and I am not sure they were expecting to have candies ready for my very fake stockings! But we did find some ‘5 star’ chocolate bars in each sock and spent Christmas morning as happy as clams. That feeling of happiness has stayed with me till date and when I look back on that day, I long for that rustic joy, for the simplicity that has long gone.

   So much has changed…it is a different time. Christmas was a couple of days ago and we took out our smaller (the bigger one had to stay put this year because of lack of space) fake tree and decorated it with trinkets, with our elder one having a ball the whole time. He believes in Santa and kept some Oreo cookies, a glass of milk and a couple of carrots for the tired Man and his reindeer. I kept wrapped up presents under the tree once the little guy went to bed and as I hung proper Christmas stockings, I thought about my white school socks that I had hung outside the ‘moshari’ (mosquito net) many moons ago.

   We no longer look forward to winter here in the east coast because of the bitter cold, there is no book fair to go to nor are steaming cups of tea a staple of the household . Instead, we look forward to the first snow of the season and make snow footprints; we take pictures with Santa at the mall and when venturing outdoors we bundle up in as many layers as possible, where the good old muffler is no longer considered an embarrassment.