Friday, October 31, 2008

Dhoom 3 spells Doom. Almost.

We were watching ' Papa Kehte Hei' on YouTube last night. Correction. I was watching. K was tryng hard to resist the seduction of an early retirement to the comfort of bed, fearing that he might trigger off my classic all-you-care-about-is-office monologues which start as a random comment and then go on like forever. Well, while I was searching for the elusive next part of the numerous episodic format YouTube forces you to plod through, I chanced upon a video claiming to be the 'Dhoom 3 : official trailer' . Intrigued, I ventured into it. It was a big drag. Scenes from 'Dhoom' (2004) and 'Dhoom 2'(2006), interspersed with shots from 'Don': The Chase Begins '(2006). Disgusted but not frustrated, I searched for 'Dhoom 3 ' in Google (where else?!) and was simultaneously amused and annoyed to find a whole bunch of irrelevant results...this, however, was the most intriguing video I came across among all of them :

Without being very explicit, it strongly hints that SRK and Aamir Khan will be pitted opposite each other. Surprisingly, there is no media report to back up this audacious hypothesis.
But this was nothing compared to the following, which sent me into a speechless stupor at the thought of the things people will waste time on, particularly when they must know they are contemplating near-impossibilities ! Have a look for yourself, if you are suficiently hooked by the description of my extreme responses to all this :

On a totally different note, I recommend all you Bollywood addicts to have a look at the 'Hello'(2008) website. For those of you who are not book-savvy enough in these days of netomania, let me inform you that it's based on Chetan Bhagat's bestseller novel, One Night at The Call Center (2005). The film itself wasn't too bad actually, thanks to Chetan having worked on the screenplay himself, with Atul Agnihotri of 'Sir' fame having just been content with overlooking the whole process and having no issues on the lines of ego-tussles, sharing credits and such routine affairs. Chetan produced some very interesting posts on the making of the film and audience responses to it on his blog, but unfortunately he seems to have recently retired to ruminate on his forthcoming novel, as of date just an idea. But the website of the film had a fresh look to it and wouldn't be not worth wasting a few minutes on. Incidentally, the songs were mostly irrelevant and Salman managed to sabotage even the cameo he had proudly been presented with by the gullible author-director duo. Watch the last scene of the film to find out just what I mean.
P.S. I found a video capture of 'Hello: On Location'.

Cosmetics confusion !

I thought I'd go for a walk about noon today, since sitting in a warm and cosy room, however comfortable it is in terms of sensation, also breeds discontent and monotony. Well, honestly speaking, I also had a specific goal in mind. They've been planting slim red-leaved plants along the kerb. (Trying to make it look picturesque I suppose, at a time when halloween might mean festivity to people here but bodes ill to most of us, as the spectre of a long and dreary winter looms large on the mental horizons of us aliens here, born to appreciate lush evergreen tropical foliage.) And naturally, they immediately came up with a makeshift 'No Parking: Somerville Police' signs here and there along the entire stretch of the East Cliff Street Brookside Gardens complex. Poor K had a tough time this morning, having overlooked those signs and therefore, startled and perplexed to see a mini-crane in gardening mode bang in front of our car just as he was about to get into Ajay's car (Ajay, FYI, is a generous colleague who patiently awaits his gobbling-breakfast-and-grabbing-bag routine every morning en route office). He immediately deposited his bags and rushed back home, where I was already at the windows, armed with the necessary, I mean the car keys. The dearth of parking slots nearby caused him to park our new car a long way off, near Gaston Bakery.
Naturally, he called me up later in the morning and wanted me to 'go have a look' to check whether it was still there or not. I forgot to ask him the natural question. What on earth did he suppose might occur to it within such a short interval? I don't suppose a car can be abducted or robbed in stark daylight, could it? Anyway, one can't expect the possessor-of-a-new-car to patiently provide rational responses to all these highly impertinent enquiries. One just accepts them and moves on. To humor his nightmares and reassure him that they are unwarranted. In any case, I needed some sunlight to resolve my dandruff problems and this was a highly agreeable opportunity for me to go air myself (and my hair).

I set off after a shampoo, appropriately attired in turtleneck top, jeans, sneakers and of course, a woollen jacket with a hood that comes in extremely handy on such days like today, when the wind can wreak havoc on your hair and treat it as rudely and roughly as if it were hay.

Well, the car was fine, though a trifle dusty, it occurred to me, from some distance. I was actually more interested in my environs where various fall colours jostled for attention and impressed me with a favourable view of my impromptu outing on the whole. I considered walking on a little bit further to RiteAid Pharmacy to check out the latest seasonal discounts. No sooner thought than done.

K is always it seems, in a hurry, whenever we have to buy a few things at any store. There is so much in these American stores that is new and enchanting to me, but I hardly ever have the luxury of indulging my interest in the same. Today, I was a happy person as I walked the length and breadth of the store, strolling in a leisurely fashion through the aisles and pausing, whenever something caught my fancy, to examine it more closely.

There was enough to keep me engaged and engrossed for the better part of an hour. There seem to be numerous cosmetics products here, ready to make you gasp with wonder if you are a perceptive writer and groan with exasperation if you actually intend to buy something as simple as a lip balm or a face cream. For the variety and range and categories are, to put it bluntly yet politely, chaotic. Quite literally.

For starters, I spotted a huge aisle that provided only hair products. Well, I suppose most of us would comprehend hair oil, shampoo, conditioner and the daring amongst us would perhaps be familiar with terminology like hair gel and hair serum. I was born under a lucky star, I guess. I have seen hair salads, hair creams, hair root tonics, curl holding fluids, straightening washes, mousse, volumisers, solutions for damaged hair, hydrating lotions for dry hair, countless varieties of hair machinery (sorry, couldn't resist using the term) ranging from hair brushes of a plethora of shapes and sizes, straighteners, curlers, tongs etc etc. Pheeeeeeeeew.

Let's move on to lip care products. There is the quintessential vaseline lip guard, neighboured by lip balms (cherry tinted, extra-moisturising, rejuvenating), chapsticks, moisturising lipsticks, medicated lip creams, lip balms with sunscreen, lip gliders etc etc. Wow, I actually remember all those names. Now that's an accomplishment for sure.

And don't even mention creams, bodywashes, deodorants, moisturisers and sunscreens. I've had quite a lot of them for a month or so, thank you. And to think that I've just explored the cosmetics section today. That too, in one of the smaller ones among the entire RiteAid chain of stores !

I have a gut feeling that K knew the feelings of revolt that such miscellaneous and myriad products might engender within me. No wonder he's always in a hurry to head home.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

For his sake, if not ours !

Baby Siddhant

Sushmit and Namita became parents early this morning and so, K and I officially become Kaku and Kakima now, terms which I have always contemplated with extreme intimidation, as they symbolised discipline, strictness, authority, spectacles and greying hair for me. Funny thus, to find myself becoming part of this stentorian league. Sush's phone call this morning was anticipated but also exhilarating when it finally catapulted us into a world where we, the previously naive and not-to-be-taken-seriously generation, were playing host to another new generation. It was scary in a way. For sooner or later, we two, too shall become parents and have to try to behave maturely and become role models for those others to whom we should be the principal guiding lights. That's a challenge indeed. Time to reduce the rate of mistakes we've been making intermittently till now and dismissively passing them off as lack of experience.Time to measure all our knowledge, discover where we are wanting and fill up that void before our little nephew realizes that there ever were any lacunae. Time to stop airing attitude and affectations and reinvent our monotonous selves, so that we may possibly be considered entertaining babysitters to the new-kids-on-the-block. It's a new start that this baby has heralded in our lives. I hope for our little Siddhant's sake that we may magnificently live upto our own expectations tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sunshine on my shoulders...

"My heart is a garden tired with autumn,
Heaped with bending asters and dahlias heavy and dark,
In the hazy sunshine, the garden remembers April,
The drench of rains and a snow-drop quick and clear as a spark;

Daffodils blowing in the cold wind of morning,

And golden tulips, goblets holding the rain --
The garden will be hushed with snow, forgotten soon, forgotten --
After the stillness, will spring come again?"

- Sara Teasdale, The Garden

You know, Mamoni (my mother-in-law) still hasn't recovered from her daily surprise of discovering me hidden behind the long green silky curtains of our huge window seat in the living room, brushing my teeth, eyes closed and a blissful look on my face, thanks to the sunshine streaming down on me through the glass. Even on the hottest summer morning Because I seem to share a beautiful bond with the sun that has always made me responsive to the way the sun does or does not appear on every single day of the year. Most of my poetry has been composed while I was lazing in the sun in our verandah, hemmed in by the sight of greenery on all sides, my wet hair soaking in the warmth of the tropical sun, my arms and legs basking in the sunshine and my sun-kissed face glowing with a feeling of well-being and exhilaration. Yes, the sun affects me that much and that positively. And, of course, I cannot refrain from bursting into song when I recall certain sunny days that form parts of a Kolkata winter. When you are picnicking at Falta on the suburbs of the city or repeating for the umpteenth time that visit to the Alipore Zoo that is so ritualistic a part of our childhood lore. Chomping away on hot sweet jilipis with a bunch of friends at the Bidhannnagar Mela, late in the afternoon or exchanging notes on a fashion faux pas at the annual college fest, when being spotted playing truant from the morning classes itself was something hot and happening. And of course, the number of times I've fallen asleep, relaxed and unresisting, a book in my lap and head in the clouds, in an armchair on the roof or on the parapet in the JUDE corridor, is too many to enumerate. Let it suffice that sunshine gives me a heady sense of hope and harmony, release and rejuvenation. Makes me want to do things. Sing songs. Write poetry. Grow plants. Germinate a novel. Dream of a utopia. Venture into new territories. Conquer the world.
So though I went all hyper at the sight of snow and the sense of an awe-inspiring silence, it won't last, I fear. I have a sinking feeling that my creativity and happiness will hibernate soon, horrified at the thought of a winter that throws leaves and life into disarray and toys with the idea of destroying the permanence that the sun embodies in my life.

"So dull and dark are the November days
The lazy mist high up the evening curled,
And now the morn quite hides in smoke and haze;

The place we occupy seems all the world."

- John Clare

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Very first snowfall of the year...

I was a bit tired and grumpy this morning, having not slept very well last night. So I had gone back to bed immediately after K had left for office today, around 9 am. Moumita's call woke me up about 11.15 am. She was breathless with excitement and said she knew how mesmerised she'd felt the first time she'd witnessed it and couldn't afford to have me miss that thrill today. I pulled up the blinds and watched magic unfold. But I've saved a bit of that for all of you and here it is !

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two Libran Birthdays

Traditional Libra Traits:

Diplomatic and urbane
Romantic and charming
Easygoing and sociable
Idealistic and peaceable
Indecisive and changeable

Gullible and easily influenced

We celebrated two Libran birthdays very recently...that of K and Sabya Da, K's colleague and our mutual friend was funny, the fact that we celebrated them in a somewhat similar manner, having dinner together, but then, there were marked differences too. A bit about those in detail, if you please.

K's birthday was ushered in by scraps on orkut greeting him before midnight of the Birth Day here, since it was already the 11th of Oct as per Indian time and Indians were busy celebrating it everywhere across the country, possibly with huge fanfare. Why is it 'Birth Day' and not birthday, do you dare to ask? Because K means the world to me, for starters. And then, yes, if that doesn't count as a valid reason, he does share his birthday with the Big B. Now if that doesn't make a mark, you couldn't really be bothered. To continue.

We had been cooking late in the evening when Baba called from Ahmadpur, so that K had the good fortune to be blessed by my aging paternal grandparents. I don't mean to be fatalistic but they have both been ailing recently and I don't know whether he would have the same good fortune in future.Baba was impressed by the menu I told him we had all lined up for tomorrow and actually requested me to try out some of the recipes when I came back to India. I was moved, which wasn't strange, considering that it has hardly been within my scope or capability to give my father anything worthwhile, since till my marriage, he was always the 'giver in general', being the head of the family. Next, it was Sushmit and Namita's turn to greet K and us to wish them shubho bijoya in turn, along with Kakima (Sush's mother) and Aunty (Namita's mother).

Anyway, after that, K called home and gave his parents his pronam on this auspicious day. Basically, for the non-ritualistic, that can be summed up as paying obeisance to his parents for having the brilliant presence of mind to create him !:-))) Mamoni requested him to wear something new and Bapi just blessed him, having earlier already transferred enough money to his account to buy himself a few decent clothes, which K interpreted as 'sweaters and jackets', now that winter is making its icy presence felt at abrupt turns and awkward times. While he did that, I was writing in the card I had secretly bought for him at the main street dollar store, since it was the only place (apart from the Somerville library) , where I was allowed to go unchaperoned and that too, because I had groceries to do. I sliped it under his pillow and made no mention of it until it was past midnight and he was getting ready to go to bed. I asked him to go look under his pillow and then smartly shut the bathroom door on myself. I went directly to the kitchen after that to get some water to drink. He was so silent for a while that I thought he hadn't taken to the card. The thought scared me. But then he just came out of the bedroom into the kitchen and held me close for a minute as if he would never let me go. So I guess he liked it after all.

The next morning, we woke comparatively early for us (on a weekend) at 9 am. I wished him, woke up (yes, in that order )and went to make tea. He completed his usual round of bathroom activities and then called up Titai in Vizag, where Abir, her in laws etc and she were holidaying, post-Pujo. Bapi had called while K was still asleep and informed him that his sister had been unable to get through to him to covey her birthday wishes. I guess it is kind of odd calling up folks at home so that they can wish you and not the other way around. But of course, staying abroad does have its limitations too. Anyway, their birthday and our bijoya wishes coincided, so it was a meaningful phone coversation after all. After that, Ma and Mitu called and wished.

I really thought it was going to be non-stop phone calls and sms-s that day, until I woke up to the fact that we were not in India. Most of the wishes from back home came over the net and some took the opportunity to conveniently overlook the birthday thing, which I found quite obnoxious.Anyway, we partook of a spartan but healthy breakfast of garlic bread and pasta in vegetables soup and got down to business. Well, for me , that meant successively getting all the recipes and ingredients ready for chilli paneer, chicken chettinaad, ghee bhaat and shimayer payesh, though it was K who ultimately took over the ghee bhaat or polau from me. I'm glad he did, because it was 4.30 pm when I was finally done with the payesh. He had earlier spent the entire morning working on office projects and talking to colleagues on the phone regarding them non-stop and quite enthusiastically until I was ready to scream with frustration. I mean, one's birthday comes only once a year and how can you possibly want to work on that day, of all days.? Sometimes, honestly, from that point of view, I think K becomes a total stranger for me.

To return to the point. K left at 5.30 pm to have a look at a car that he had shortlisted over the net and thought might turn out to be a good deal. The next thing I knew, ( I had been taking a short nap to look fresh before our dinner guest were to arrive), he was calling me to inform me that he was at the ATM, extracting money to book the car and asked me for my feedback. Turns out he had flipped over it the moment he had had a close look at it. It's a 2000 Hyundai Elantra GLS Sedan, bottle green in colour, has had only one owner, is in top condition and boasts the usual features.... a 4 cylinder gasoline run engine, tan interiors, AM/FM stereo, AC, driver and passenger air bags, rear window defroster, power windows, power door locks, power steering, power mirrors, tinted glass, matching set of Toyo tires in prime condition with a mileage of about just over a lakh miles. Everything, including the price, added up to a good deal and one that K promptly sealed, as soon as I gave the go-ahead. Not that I could have done otherwise, seeing that we had been ransacking the net for a decent car for over a month now without having clinched a bargain till then. All the cars that we had been shortlisting were either 'sold' when we called to enquire or else located too great a distance away to go over and have a look or generating weird car fax reports. A certain Lakshmi Narayanan must have become rich, if we calculate the number of times we paid him the recurring amount of $2 to get us our car fax reports. A few days later, he emailed us one night to say that he wouldn't be able to provide us with any more reports as his account was nearing its expiry. It sounded as if he had been offering us honorary services so long. Hummmmmmmmph. Anyway, K assured him not to worry about us or our car-related fates any longer as we had already booked a car. What the *#@^#!

Anyway, I suppose the car could be considered K's bithday present to himself, which is why I am happy that the day of its booking coincided with K-Day ! After all, all I could come up with for him this time were a card and a decent dinner. I had planned so much last year, hypothesising the day being celebrated with friends and family in India. The entire flat would have been tastefully decorated, Mamoni and I would have jointly hosted a lavish dinner party with cakes and candles and the works. He would be surprised to find all his close friends reunited at his place on this day to tearfully thank him for his existence in their lives etc. Well. It might not have turned out quite as melodramatic perhaps in actuality but the bare outline would probably have been the same. Alas, the gulf between the ideal and the actual. It always remains, do what you will.

The actuality turned out to be not quite as dreary as it could have been. Moumita and Sabya Da were unexpectedly punctual and surprised K with a thoughtfully purchased gift of a full-sleeved baseball t-shirt (see adjoining photos). Moumita even remembered to get me an entire packet of colourful rubberbands, erstwhile non-entities which had gained considerable value in my eyes ever since I found that they were not so common after all, in this country. All the stores here seem to use a length of fine metal wire encased in a bright green or white plastic sheath which they twist around plastic carry bags in lieu of a rubberband. After the Maitis' arrival, I ordered K to change into a white pyjama -punjabi, more suited for the occasion than the regulation jeans and T-shirt that he seemed to be more keen on being attired in, immune to my neo-cultural aesthetic fervour. To inspire him, I myself gave up my blue skirt, black T-shirt for a black salwar kameez and thus decked up, we all left for a visit to the Bridgewater Temple, where it proved more than usually difficult to find a parking spot. Everyone seemed to have procrastinated their religious fervour so long, timing it to climax on this particular day, when it meant so much for us to receive the blessings of our deities and let them know that on this one day, we do know that we owe more to them than just our habitual prayer in times of adversity and distress.

When we did finally locate a slot to park, the interiors of the temple suitably rewarded our perseverance. It was squeaky clean, enough to immediately prompt reverence from the most atheistic amongst our community. Apart from that, I was extremely impressed by their shoe-deposit room, where there are numerous wooden shelves to safely stow away your shoes and not have to worry about washing your hands after that dirty bit of work, since you even have a convenient low basin to wash your hands after that. To the left of the entrance, by the way, was a large souvenir/worship shop, where you can buy keepsakes etc to satisfy the religious side of your personality and to the right is a deck for the deposit of shoes by the physically challenged. An elegantly carved flight of stairs led to the first floor, which housed all the deities. Almost all the significant Indian deities were enshrined here in separate mini-temples, distinguished by their respective 'donate money' dropboxes and 'apna tika aapne aap lagao' powdered kumkum/ash circular containers. What intrigued me and K were the peaceful co-existence of fair and dark complexioned idols,which would have, back home, sharply demarcated the north and the south indian gods and goddesses. Here, they seemed to provoke equal devotion and perhaps (of course, I may be imagining it all), a sense of religio-cultural harmony.A huge queue patiently awaited the completion of the daily evening round of worship, so that they could partake of a bit of the sanctified water and the sacred flame and somewhat redeem the guilt of their absence from their native lands. We were particularly taken by a cordoned off area to the immediate left of the main entrance to the hall of worship, which for some obscure reason discouraged you for standing there purposelessly for too long by a warning sign. The unique feature of this spot was its arrangement of miniscule statuettes of all the major Indian deities in neat rows along a pyramidal set of shelves. Children, by the way, seemed to be having a field day, decked in their native dresses, which looked more like costumes on their settled-here parents. They ran about, laughing and shouting, from one corner of the huge hall to another, participating in improvised games and gimmicks. A wide variety of sacred Indian plants were on display along the landing just across from the staircase along with posters enumerating special rates for customised puja services and advertisements announcing the availablity of 'pure ghee laddoos' for prasad on the other side, where there seemed quite a crowd at a longish counter. The other thing that tickled me was K's elation at finding a goddess named 'Sridevi' to be the immediate neighbour of a goddess named 'Bhudevi'. He said that he had finally solved the mystery of the origin of the name Sridevi, which inspired immense mirth in my mind as it immediately reminded me of the actress who happens to be her namesake and her brilliant role in the classic film 'Mr India'. So much for religious ardour.

Back home at Somerville, Moumita was delighted to discover a huge and grotesque (if you ask me) Halloween showpiece across the road from our complex. It eerily resembled a few dead white men simultaneously and painfully trying to pirouette on a neon-orange basketball. I was glad she finally decided that it was more important to come indoors than stand in the bitter cold outside and admire that bizarre tableau. A Mexican family occupying one of the ground floor flats of our apartment seemed to have not quite ended an outdoor barbecue session and in fact, still toying around with the idea of spending the night outdoors planning the next day's menu, armed with beer bottles. We politely sidestepped them and ventured indoors to K's delicious ginger tea, Patel's namak paras (our kucho nimkis) and Stop N Shop oatmeal and raisin cookies. Moumita and I as usual, initiated our rounds of talking to the dozen and endless snacking in between (me leading the way), although K repeatedly reminded me of my hostly duties. Sabya Da was contented with his great find, a repetitive replay of 'Spiderman 2' while K was disgracefully rude and insisted on mixing business with pleasure by alternating rounds of abrupt car chatter with Sabya Da with office-related phone calls to a colleague and glimpses of spiderman mythology. We did not delay dinner too much as Moumita, Sabya Da and a could-do-without-it-candid K insisted on alleviating their hunger pangs with more food and less silly girly banter. So, Moumita and I and a very reluctant K got up to initiate the much awaited meal of the day.

Dinner turned oiut to be a wondrously successful affair. K's ghee bhaat/polau was much eulogised, especially since it had been his first attempt at the same as well as the fact that the birthday boy had been noble enough to volunteer to churn out a part of the grand feast himself. I personally think his voluntary participation in the process owed much to his secret terror of there being no main course at all, considering the average rate at which my culinary efforts had been progressing that day. Anyway, let's not be mean on this great day. My paneer and chicken also seemed to have elated the taste buds of our guests, who I strongly coerced into having second and even third helpings of, declaring that deeds spoke more than actions and hence, the proof of the pudding lay in the eating or something to that effect. The bithday boy was persuaded to initiate the desert round by savouring the shimayer payesh I had made a mess of, by using 2 cups of vermicelli for 4 cups of milk instead of 2 fistfuls. K however doggedly declared that he preferred the dense texture and was in seventh heaven owing to the generous quantities of almonds and raisins that I had scattered in the dish. Our guests naturally could either offer polite praise or even more polite silence. I really and conveniently can't recall which route they ultimately took. Photographs acccompanied the payesh-eating and after that, it was more gaiety and gossip until Moumita was horrified by the clock, which showed that it was past 11 pm. After that, it was the usual quick flurry of goodnights and takecares and time for bed.

P.S. Moumita later called me to announce that they had overeaten the delicious food and were glad that they had the entire next day, a Sunday, to digest all of it. I think we may safely say that it was a gay birthday party after all.

Now, about Sabya da's birthday. For starters, I was excited about two things - buying a gift and eating out at a proper Indian Chinese joint. K is never too enthusiastic about buying things for other people, since it involves the typical Libran problem of having to make a decision, which basically boils down to the uncertainty of whether 1) our liking would match the birthday victim's preference and 2) one would find something unique among the monotonous variety list that immediately jumps to one's mind after being invited to a close friend's birthday celebration. Basically, you know, I think K suffers from the thought of the perpetual horror of not being able to bypass the usual pen/ perfume/ paperback and zero in on something drastically original ( but never radical when it comes to K, unlike I, who prefer everything out of the way and three cheers for all things utilitarian).

After over 7 months of marriage, I know when to take things firmly into my control. I make the decisions and K makes the payment (that isn't a generalisation, by the's only now that I'm not working !). That way, both of us are happy. So, we walked into Rite Aid Pharmacy on the eve of Sabya Da's birthday to get him a gift. Yes, that's the best part. Pharmacies like Walgreens and RiteAid stock almost everything that you could possibly want in most daily life and yet, insist on being labelled a 'pharmacy'. The gift part wasn't too hard since I went for a multiple faceted Axe deospray,deostick and deo-bodywash combo that looked great and smelled even greater. The challenge was finding a card that would fit Sabya Da's personality, our aesthetic sensibilities and our budget, too. Some cards here are massively overpriced ( and I had once upon a time thought Archies' overpriced !). That too was overcome. The last obstacle involved finding a gift bag (it's easy when you want one for a girl/woman) that didn't look very feminine and yet looked festive enough to suit the occasion. Surprise surprise. We nailed that one down too. A beautifully simple royal blue marble paper cut into a bag shape. It was a totally different story that on reaching home I thought it didn't look grand enough after all and replaced it with a much more classy yellow wrapping paper gift bag I had bought a couple of glass decorations in at a yard sale on our Labour Day trip to New Hampshire. But after the whole affair, K seemed very relieved that we had found a good gift after all, which always seems the tough part to him (unlike the budget part, which is always a problem for me when it comes to buying a gift for others since I almost always end up exceeding the targeted amount).

The best part of Sabya Da's birthday was that Sabya Da could pick up both K and I me together that afternoon on his way to Moumita's office at New Brunswick en route Somerset Mews. K had showed signs of bowel irritability that day and I had promptly discouraged him from going to office that day AND attending a grand feast at night without my soothing domestic administrations in the form of a light breakfast, sweet nothings and a punctual lunch. The result was that he worked from home and enjoyed a sumptous dinner as well that night. I'm afraid I really spoil him with all this affection.

Moumita had had a hectic day at office, but that didn't deter her in the least from playing the perfect hostess that day and feeding us non-stop and consecutively with home-made lobongolotika, chaaler payesh and chicken strips accompanied by Ranch salad dressing and garlic pepper sauce. The payesh made me very happy as K had missed out on that on his own birthday, Mamoni telling me that it was the family tradition that that type of payesh be cooked only by someone motherly. Our snacking accompanied the watching of a particularly hilarious episode of 'Friends', which meant that we were having a great time.

Thanks to Moumita's force-feeding, we actually had to take a walk around the huge complex of Somerset Mews so that we could re-create some space in our quite-full stomachs to show respect to the much awaited dinner. ( Incidentally, that reminds me of an ironic point in Strindberg's 'Dream Play' where a rich man tells his wife that they should go out for a walk to work up an appetite while some starving coal miners are awed by the fact that while they have nothing to eat, other people need to exercise in order to eat more than they are capable of.) Turns out, we were rather hungry by the time we reached 'Chopsticks' in Edison. Which was the consequence of driving 15 mins to another 'Chopsticks', owned by the same people and finding, to our immense astonishment and annoyance, that it was closed and dark. Too late, we began to regret that we had not just taken the straight route (quite literally speaking) and had a Thai meal at 'Me Thai' just across the road from Somerset Mews ! Arriving at one restaurant that was open after all, so late at night (just 9.30 pm and we previously assumed that places closed early only in Kolkata) was rather cheering a chapter after a bad scare (not not having any dinner after all ) along our drive when a particularly ill-lit area had caused Sabya Da to miss a turn and swerve sharply.For a brief and bizarre moment, I thought I might be sharing a table with God after all. Our own version of One Night @ the Call Centre, perhaps. Sorry for underestimating your driving capabilities, Sabya Da. He managed to not lose his nerves and just make a rather abrupt U-turn to bring us (and the car) all back on track. The anticlimactic statement came from Moumita who declared that the tension of the situation had made her feel rather hungry.

'Chopsticks' was a decent affair. The interior was promisingly well-lit and cozily small with interesting lamps, Hindi film song videos playing on an overhead TV and small tables with neatly arranged routine jars of tomato ketchup, soya sauce and vinegar. A starter of chicken lollipops (less salt is synonymous with bland to me) worked up everyone for the main course of chicken chowmin, chicken fried rice and plain white rice with chilli fish and sweet-and-sour chicken. I preferred the chicken to the fish in terms of my own peculiar gastronomic sensations and can altogether agree to call it a great meal. Including Moumita and my tendency to devote considerable attention to the huge aquarium by our table, where Moumita was wonder-struck by a yellowish white fish that seemed to be blind and therefore, hitting its nose against the glass walls repeatedly at the same spot. I was more intrigued by a a couple of fish that seemed to have orange-black-white floral outgrowths having their source in their mouths. I have never seen anything quite like it before. Moumita tried to urge the yellow fish to go and jump the queue in the line that the fish seemed to be forming at a certain spot towards the surface, explaining that handicapped creatures always received privileges here (this country, I suppose she meant, which is quite true and noteworthy). Sabya Da was rather tickled by all the attentions she bestowed on the fish and tried to comfort her by saying that it had probably already had its dinner and was in the land of dreams. Moumita retorted that fish always slept with their eyes open, so that one couldn't be quite sure whether this one was doing at any point of time. Sabya Da must have been relieved when the bill was paid and we were ready to depart. Pisciculture doesn't seem to be his forte.

Moumita later called to say that she was sorry, Sabya Da kept on telling her that she should have been a better hostess and urged us to eat more at the restaurant. I noted that it was an invalid request, considering that our stomachs could only be expected to process a certain amount of food per day and her snacks had already filled most of it previously. So there.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Two Pujos at New Jersey, 2008

The pujos at Ananda Mandir and Bharat Shevasram Sangha respectively...
we visited them on the evening of Shashthi, after a sumptous lunch at Sabyasachi and Moumita's place, followed by a film at Regal Cinemas and a bit of grocery shopping at Patel's Cash & Carry in Somerset...the pujo at Ananda Mandir seemed a ghorowa pujo, my perception owing much to the thinner but quite-at-ease crowd and the friendly banter that floated to and fro, across the hall when we ousiders entered it for the first was rather chilly that day and the warmth of the gathering was infectious. We left after paying obeisance to the goddess and the ubiquitous round of photography. A tall gentleman in a rust coloured panjabi politely solicited us to partake of bhog. We said we would come back. We had other plans, none of which included paying $40 per head for a single night's dinner. More so when you still haven't outgrown the habit of calculating the rupee equivalent.
Bharat Shevasram was a pleasant surprise for the senses. I wondered at the presence of so many Bangalis when I had already reconciled myself with the significant absence of the commmunity from the place where we live , that is, Somerville. We were greeted by a crowd that jostled but did not push, where sarees and skirts, dhutis and jeans shared wardrobe space, where the infectious rhythm of dhaaker baajna intersected with the American accents of NRIs and an announcement of the "recitation of a kobita", where patiently queueing up for choronamrito, proshad and vegetarian bhog (jeera rice, alur dom, chhola, papad, chutney) did not deter the public from generous donations in dollar notes and where traditional christmas tree decorations cohered with colourful hand-painted thermocol cut-outs of dhaakis. I was impressed at the disciplined mass that offered pushpanjali to the goddess and stood eating a spartan bhog in open spaces around a makeshift tent, respecting the spirit of the festival and the essence of the gathering. The volunteers were simultaneously friendly and firm, the children playful and difficult, the worshippers devout and doubtful but the atmosphere was indubitably peaceful and pious. My heart went out in reverence for the monks at the ashram who were managing so many and so much with so little help and so much humility. God bless us all.

Vir Sanghvi on the pujos...

This was the first thing my eyes rested on when I checked my email this morning, shrouded in the poignant pathos of Bijoya Dashami...thank you Rahul Da...I can't elaborate enough on the extent to which it moved me, a girl who is away from her parents, parents-in-law and all other friends and relatives on the occasion of her very first pujo after marriage. I myself only know what I have missed this year. Even Maa Durga made it to her baaper baadi. I couldn't. Some day, I hope, K would appreciate how much I value him to reconcile myself with such circumstances at an age and point of time in life when the absence of all these still makes a difference.

What 'Pujo' means to a Bengali

Vir Sanghvi

"Most modern Indian cities strive to rise above ethnicity. Tell anybody who lives in Bombay that he lives in a Maharashtrian city and (unless of course, you are speaking to Bal Thackeray) he will take immediate offence. We are cosmopolitan, he will say indigenously.Tell a Delhiwalla that his is a Punjabi city (which, in many ways, it is) and he will respond with much self-righteous nonsense about being the nation's capital, about the international composition of the city's elite etc. And tell a Bangalorean that he lives in a Kannadiga city and you'll get lots of techno-gaff about the internet revolution and about how Bangalore is even more cosmopolitan than Bombay.But, the only way to understand what Calcutta is about is recognize that the city is essentially Bengali. What's more, no Bengali minds you saying that. Rather, he is proud of the fact. Calcutta's strengths and weaknesses mirror those of the Bengali character. It has the drawbacks: the sudden passions, the cheerful chaos, the utter contempt for mere commerce, the fiery response to the smallest provocation. And it has the strengths (actually, I think ofthe drawbacks as strengths in their own way). Calcutta embodies theBengali love of culture; the triumph of intellectualism over greed;the complete transparency of all emotions, the disdain with which hypocrisy and insincerity are treated; the warmth of genuine humanity; and the supremacy of emotion over all other aspects of human existence.That's why Calcutta is not for everyone.You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal; go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer; Bangalore's your place. But if you want a city with a soul: come to Calcutta.When I look back on the years I've spent in Calcutta - and I come back so many times each year that I often feel I've never been away - I don't remember the things that people remember about cities.When I think of London, I think of the vast open spaces of Hyde Park.When I think of New York, I think of the frenzy of Times Square. When Ithink of Tokyo, I think of the bright lights of Shinjiku. And when I think of Paris, I think of the Champs Elysee. But when I think of Calcutta, I never think of any one place. I don't focus on the greenery of the maidan, the beauty of the Victoria Memorial, the bustle of Burra Bazar or the splendour of the new Howrah Bridge.I think of people. Because, finally, a city is more than bricks and mortars,street lights and tarred roads. A city is the sum of its people. And who can ever forget or replicate - the people of Calcutta? When I first came to live here, I was told that the city would grow on me. What nobody told me was that the city would change my life. It was in Calcutta that I learnt about true warmth; about simple human decency; about love and friendship; about emotions and caring; about truth and honesty. I learnt other things too. Coming from Bombay as Idid, it was a revelation to live in a city where people judged each other on the things that really mattered; where they recognized that being rich did not make you a better person - in fact, it might have the opposite effect. I learnt also that if life is about more than just money, it is about the things that other cities ignore; about culture,about ideas, about art, and about passion.

In Bombay, a man with a relatively low income will salt some of it away for the day when he gets a stock market tip. In Calcutta, a man with exactly the same income will not know the difference between a debenture and a dividend. But he will spend his money on the things that matter. Each morning, he will read at least two newspapers and develop sharply etched views on the state of the world.Each evening, there will be fresh (ideally, fresh-water or river) fish on his table. His children will be encouraged to learn to dance or sing. His family will appreciate the power of poetry. And for him,religion and culture will be in inextricably bound together. Ah religion! Tell outsiders about the importance of Puja in Calcutta and they'll scoff. Don't be silly, they'll say. Puja is a religiousf estival. And Bengal has voted for the CPM since 1977. How can godless Bengal be so hung up on a religions festival? I never know how to explain them that to a Bengali, religion consists of much more than shouting Jai Shri Ram or pulling down somebody's mosque. It has little to do with meaningless ritual or sinister political activity.The essence of Puja is that all the passions of Bengal converge:emotion, culture, the love of life, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic expression and yes, the cult of the goddess. It may be about religion. But is about much more than just worship. In which other part of India would small, notparticularly well-off localities, vie with each other to produce the best pandals? Where else could puja pandals go beyond religion to draw inspiration from everything else? In the years I lived in Calcutta,the pandals featured Amitabh Bachchan, Princess Diana and even Saddam Hussain! Where else would children cry with the sheer emotional powerof Dashami, upset that the Goddess had left their homes? Where else would the whole city gooseflesh when the dhakis first begin to beat their drums? Which other Indian festival - in any part of the country- is so much about food, about going from one roadside stall to another, following your nose as it trails the smells of cooking? To understand Puja, you must understand Calcutta. And to understand Calcutta, you must understand the Bengali. It's not easy. Certainly,you can't do it till you come and live here, till you let Calcutta suffuse your being, invade your bloodstream and steal your soul. But once you have, you'll love Calcutta forever.Wherever you go, a bit of Calcutta will go with you. I know, because it's happened to me. And every Puja, I am overcome by the magic of Bengal.It's a feeling that'll never go away."


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