Of light, lamps and load shedding

   The other day I was admiring some lampshades at a store and at the same time thinking about how ‘load-shedding’ (electrical outage/power cut) was fairly a regular occurrence during my early childhood and now as I am typing this, I am wondering why did that thought crop up at that moment! Anyways, I have always had a fondness for lampshades, big or small, contemporary or antique and I absolutely love candles, candle stands and good old fashioned candle holders. We currently live in an apartment with two little ones where there is not much scope for pretty lamps and shades but that doesn’t mean that I can’t admire from a distance. Lighting candles is almost out of the question too but once in a while, when I am cooking, I like to keep one lit in a corner.

   The early years of growing up,  memories of which seem to be getting clearer the more my life gets away from the city I grew up in, were part structured and part whimsical- as I suppose everyone else’s was/is. There was a set routine that we all followed from daybreak till when we hit the bed at night and even the unplanned seemed to follow a pattern at times. Unannounced guests who would be staying for days was normal and so was being reprimanded by the friendly neighbor for breaking his glass panes with a cricket ball. Life went on and we rolled with it. And ‘load shedding‘ (power cut/electrical outage) followed us around!

   Ask anyone who grew up in Calcutta during that time and they will all tell you their load-shedding stories. Be it the sweltering heat of the hot summer days or the humid evenings, load shedding was omnipresent. It could show up any time and play with all the plans that you had made- be it a post lunch siesta or watching that movie on the television you had been waiting for a while or getting ready for the wedding you had been invited to. Or finish that dreaded homework that was due the next day.

   On evenings when we would be vigorously studying (every single household with school going children in Calcutta, if not the whole of India had this in common) for the next day at school and scampering to get some homework done, it would suddenly get all dark and a collective murmur would fill the entire neighborhood- “Aabaar load shedding” (aabar means again in Bengali)! Summer evenings and nights, when it mostly struck, would find adults on the streets chatting and complaining,  kids who had finished their homework hanging around and there would be a sort of almost merriment. Mosquitoes buzzing around, a distant bark of the street dogs, the tinkle of some passer by’s bicycle provided the background score to such sultry nights. But for the likes of me and many I knew, it meant finishing that homework in the light of the candles or lanterns and cursing oneself for not having finished it on time. It used to be insanely hot  and humid and while I kept on going grudging, I remember Ma or Baba would patiently sit with me, with a handheld fan and keep me company, trying to make it less uncomfortable as I toiled in the flickering lights. And it often happened that my brother and I would go to bed and it would still be all dark. Twisting and turning from the mugginess,  we would drift in and out of sleep while also trying to be awake to hear the sudden spinning of the ceiling fan. Gradually, the fever and the fret of the world would  dissolve as Ma Baba would be there right by the bed, with those fans, trying to ease our discomfort.

   Those days of load shedding and hand fans are a matter of the distant past and now I am irked by the slightest change in the settings of the thermostat. Time changes a whole lot of things and it changes people and their perspective. As Ma Baba get older, they continue to hide their discomfort from me, lest I get worried. But unlike those nights, when load shedding made it difficult to sleep, I now am very much aware of their plight that has been shaped with old age, ailments and partial blindness. And I can no longer drift away to sleep in peace. Air conditioning fails to comfort me the way those tiring hands did.

   As I was going through my archive looking for ideas, these stared me at the face and tales from summers long gone, came rushing by.

Does this happen to you? What stirs bittersweet memories in you?

 

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Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely rest of the week.

Is it Fall already

   A couple of days ago when I walked into one of my very favorite home decor stores, what seemed like a gazillion pumpkins and Halloween decorations, stared at me from every other rack and I actually heard myself say- “Wait…what?” And I thought to myself how did summer get away from me?  When I walked out at around 8 the setting sun had lent a fiery glow to the sky that had dark grey clouds looming and I realized that the days had indeed gotten shorter and we were not very far from the colder months.

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   Having lived in India for the most part of my life, I am used to the heat and humidity, that is also characteristic of summers here in New Jersey but I cannot say that I like it. I never liked it back in India as well. I find it very difficult to be outside on hot summer days when ideally I should be soaking up as much sun as possible because such days last only for a really short period. It is good for the kids too as they can run around outside as much as they want, splash in the pool and be kids in general! Sunscreens and water bottles are all that you need. This is in stark contrast to the months that follow where they need to be bundled up in 5 layers of clothing and make more- than -desirable visits to the pediatrician’s office, that is sadly almost a routine during those 6-7 cold-ish and cold months of the year! But autumn, I love..who doesn’t! The celestial blue that makes for the perfect backdrop for the vibrant oranges, yellows and reds of the leaves, that crisp autumn breeze which makes you want to sip on a cup of hot chocolate and the  typical autumn smell…are some of the things that fill me with warmth from the inside during these months that portray Nature on the cusp of transition.

   Every year I plan to take photos to celebrate this beauty that is fiery and transcendental and I am never sure if I captured the moments I wanted to. This year I have a different plan. I have made a sort of ‘list of photographs’ I would ideally like to take to capture Fall in all its resplendence and festivities and am keeping my fingers crossed! Here is my list…would you like to add something to this? What do you think of this idea? Does it look too structured? It does to me and is quite opposite to the spontaneous nature of the way I take photos.  That’s why I am a bit curious too to see if I am able to follow this plan through and at the same time maintain a bit of spontaneity. Only time will tell!

Here it goes-

  • A pile of leaves
  • A tree in full bloom (with colored leaves)
  • Three trees with orange, red and yellow leaves (separately)
  • That brilliant blue sky
  • Bare branches
  • Pumpkin/Jack-o-Lantern
  • Halloween Decorations
  • A beautiful sunset or sunrise
  • A solitary leaf
  • Fall decor
  • Halloween celebration at my son’s school
  • Trick or treat
  • Thanksgiving
  • A favorite family dessert or meal (with recipe)
  • Indian celebrations of Durga Puja, Diwali and Bhai-Phonta (more on this in a separate post) that take place during the fall months
  • My family

   All this thinking about fall made me bake a chocolate cake last night and it was from here…a very easy and super moist cake (I used cake flour and not all purpose flour). And my son decorated it! The apartment smelled really nice and for a moment I could not help but think about that first feel of a crisp autumn day. Not that I am waiting for the cold months to come because when the snowy days seem to have no end in sight, I get jittery then and eagerly wait for spring to come! My son however is excited for his Halloween costume and this year he gets to dress his little sister too and there are many options apparently that he has been exploring for her:) He is waiting for Durga Pujo too when he will get to dress up in his Punjabi/Kurta (the traditional Indian attire for boys/men). And as I tucked him into bed last night, we talked about going apple picking and taking a hayride and he wondered if his Baba would have to get on top of an apple tree to get the juiciest apples like Peppa Pig’s daddy had to!

 

 

Thanks for stopping by!

 

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge: Sunrise

I have been missing this awesome weekly affair for the past few weeks because, sadly. I just did not have the time to go out for fresh photos and neither did  I have any to fall back on from my not so big an archive. But ‘Sunrise’ is something I have a few photos of and though they can all be found here and there in my other posts, this provides a good opportunity to bring them under one roof!

I am not a morning person and have never been. I can stay awake till the wee hours and go through the next day without a nap too and I will still greet you with a smile but ask me to get up really early and there is a slight chance that you may not see the nice me!! Growing up, I remember vividly, a chaos was inevitable when during family vacations, my brother and I had to  get up early to catch the beautiful sunrise from across the vast expanse of the big blue sea. Our parents would be up all chirpy and fresh by what we used to think was simply unacceptable when on vacations. We, on the other hand, could barely drag ourselves out of the beds and find enough energy to walk across the road to the beach to catch the sunrise. At that time, it was not a whole lot of fun. But, I am glad our parents made us do that since amidst all that chaos and unpleasantness of having to get up early, we have made wonderful memories that I fondly look back to now. One that stands out at the moment because of its uniqueness is that of a short trip to a coastal town/city of New Digha in my home state of West Bengal when I was around ten. After the sun had risen and we had managed to get our grumpiness out of the way, we saw fishermen, who had gone out to the sea in the really early hours, come back with their daily haul. It was a sight I had never seen before and it was powerful. The smiles on their faces  and the gaiety in their tone, while calling out to each other and going over their morning routine made it clear that it was a successful trip. And I assume they had more than what they needed because soon after all the boats had reached the shore, they set up an impromptu display of their catch, with the purpose of sale and the over inquisitive tourists on the beach had a blast! It was a sight worth seeing and we came home with a couple of freshly caught fish (I sadly do not remember what they were) that we later fried and had a meal of. We also took a couple of pictures holding ‘our catch’ and  while both remain dear to my heart, one is a little extra special. That one was taken by my brother who was around five at the time and  was going through a phase where he would get really upset if he wasn’t allowed to take photos. So, he took a photo of the three of us holding fish and his tiny hands could not hold the ‘Hot Shot’ well and the result was while Ma and I were okay, my dad’s head did not make it in that shot! This was during the time when digital cameras weren’t there to make photography easier and there were no retakes since those were the days of the good old film cameras and 36 was the number, if I remember correctly, of shots that could be captured in one film roll. And so, when the picture was taken we had no idea it would come out that way and when the photos came back in print form, we had  a blast looking at that particular one. I still sometimes make fun of my brother and we reminiscence the good old days of growing up.

Times are different now and I have been setting alarms to get up in the morning to catch the sunrise when on vacation and this time it is my good man who finds it difficult to get out from under the sheets! I am yet to try this with our son and I am curious to find out how that is going to turn out. I must say the serenity of dawn is probably incomparable. Everything is peaceful and the moment seems just perfect. The few times that I have had the delight of catching the sunrise has been refreshing and they have mostly been during vacations on the beach. I never felt more in tune with my inner self and my mind was not racing. Waves breaking on the shore and the occasional chirping of birds provide the right music to that glow when the sky breaks into shades of pink and orange before that bright yellow ball finally peeks out from the horizon, heralding the beginning of another day full of possibilities and the opportunity to do things right.

The Friendly Friday Photo Challenge is hosted every week, alternately by Amanda and Snow!

Here are some of the photos from my archive:

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Home, New Jersey

 

sunrise ocean cityOcean City, Maryland

 

 

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Manchester, Vermont

 

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Ocean City, Maryland

 

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From the window of an airplane, en route to India.

 

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday Tales-Summertime

Summer is here and it is bright and beautiful all around, even in our neighborhood. Lathered up with sun screen and donning hats and sunglasses, everyone’s ready to tackle the dazzling summer sun. After all, it’s only going to last a couple of months! It indeed calls for celebration. Barbecues, trips to the pool and the beach, running through sprinklers, backyard camping, lovely flowers wherever you look, long queues outside the local ice cream parlor, summer camps are all part of that merriment.

Growing up, summer was somewhat similar but also slightly different. It meant the much awaited summer vacation and a trip to someplace far enough to warrant my favorite mode of travel- the train. It also meant visits from some of our favorite people, extra T.V time, staying out for a little longer than usual. It meant gorging on mangoes, the most juicy and sweet kind one can probably find only in the state of Bengal and it also meant sultry afternoons sipping on the ‘ghol’ (a very light version of its famous cousin-the lassi). It also meant ‘holiday homework’ that only got started usually on the last week of the ‘holiday’ and the scramble to get it all done added to the crabby feeling triggered by the imminent opening of  school.

Back home, the hot and humid summers make the air heavy and drown everyone in sweat. The afternoons are sometimes unbearable and an eerie silence descends on the neighborhoods that is only occasionally broken by the cawing of the crow or the shrill call of the peddler trying to sell his wares. His sticky skin glistens under the glaring sun and the heat from the asphalt probably scorches his feet through the threadbare sandals. We often heard peddlers from inside the comfort of our houses, where the silence was instead broken by the rotating blades of the ceiling fan. Ma sometimes spoke about such courageous people who fought against adversities on a daily basis just to make ends meet. If our doorbell rang, Ma would buy something even if we did not really need it (these were mostly inexpensive goods as well) and would always offer the person water to drink. And there were a couple of occasions when I remember she let them rest indoors for a while till they felt ready to go back out again. Some other families in our neighborhood did the same. Summers were cool for many but scorching for most. But times were simpler back then and people looked out for each other probably more than now. Trust was implicit and that made living easier.

Summer time in Kolkata and in the eastern region of India also brought/brings the much awaited and always welcome ‘Kalbaishakhi’- the Nor’westers. Skies darken and the stillness in the air deepens. Rumbles can be heard far and wide and then the dark grey clouds open their gates to drain the earth with torrential downpour. The heady aroma from the sweltering earth, the bruised leaves dancing in the rain and the crackling thunders make everyone overlook the temporary inconvenience the Kalbaishakhi causes. I remember them with clarity and fondness and I miss them dearly too. While we do get sudden thunderstorms here as well, they fall far behind the almost royal nature of the revered Kalbaishakhis.

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This photo was taken by a pretty mediocre cell phone camera right before one such ‘Kalbaishakhi’ back in Kolkata  a few years back. The sky had turned this deep yellow and there was stillness all around.

The following photos are from neighborhood strolls and from lunch outings over the past couple of weeks- it has been beautiful all around.

 

 

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Thanks for stopping by. What are some of your favorite memories from summer?

 

Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a good thing, they say.

 

That favorite dress you wore to every party

The fight over the TV remote with your sibling

The holiday shopping and gift wrapping

That extra pocket money for all the ice cream.

 

Holding hands to cross the street

Sulking when denied that special treat

Looking out of the window to catch the taxi turning the bend

That had in it, people you loved.

 

Brown covers on school notebooks

White ‘keds’ for PT class

Running around in circles till our heads spun

Are now all things of the past.

 

The big courtyard with the mango tree

And clothes hanging on the lines

Faces I can no longer touch

All remain in my memory, immune to the tricks of time.

 

The sound of the ice cream man on sultry afternoons

The sudden ‘load shedding’

That unexpected guest and unbridled giggles

Are now sacred pages in my memory pocket book.

 

Pretty little smiles fill up the present

Dreams abound

Wheels of time spin faster than before

As I rush to hold on.

 

Scattered across the memory

Are glimmers of a time a gone by

Nostalgia peeks from corners

As my soul dances to the tinkling rhythms of the past.

 

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