Monday, December 14, 2009

Reality Bites

K was upset last night when I observed that he seemed to be having fun watching films like 'Mumbai Meri Jaan'. It wasn't meant to be taken personally, of course (although my bluntness always does end up making things sound offensive). What I was trying to understand was why we think we're doing something commendable by watching these serious 'arty' films when we end up miserable and disillusioned at the state of things in our country.

K, after calming down, considered. He was of the opinion that he personally felt the need to know what was actually going on around him currently. The point then is that are these films are realistic as they seek to be or is reality cinema a carefully packaged product to assuage our aesthetically sensitive yet coercively conscientious minds ? Are we not perhaps unwitting voyeurs of the filmi version of someone else's actual grief ? Would we actually be able to digest the raw uncensored truth underlying incidents and issues that make headlines every often ? Or is watching such films just a consolation to our nuclear-family oriented, flat-residing, basically narcissistic selves : aiding our attempts to go to sleep each night knowing that all we are doing each day is mostly catering to our personal needs, our carefully cordoned-off solipsistic planes of existence ?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Carbon-ing down

For the last few days, the newspapers have been full of ' The Copenhagen Summit', 'greenhouse gases', 'carbon footprints' and 'emission standards'. Not that the issues have sprung up overnight. They are long standing concerns, most of which we think about happening to the rest of the world and affecting them rather than us. Until we find food prices rising at an alarming rate, without any dearness allowance to compensate them. Until the monsoons appear unexpectedly late and even then, rains take place sporadically in the city and the state. Until one whole year passes without there being any signs of the onset of winter and we are unable to flaunt our expensive woollens. Until the news of an Aila, a Tsunami and flash floods all over the country are discussed so much in intellectual quarters and the newspaper editorials that we cannot shut them out of our lives any longer. Until Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' wins him the Nobel. Until one apocalyptic morning when we wake up to find everyone conscientious talking/blogging green.

This morning I sat still with the newspaper for several minutes, trying to recall what I do in my everyday life to minimise my carbon footprints. I was able to take pride in remembering :

1) To switch off the lights and fans in all rooms whenever I leave the room, besides unplugging chargers and switching off the laptop instead of putting it in stand-by mode.

2) To minimise AC usage in my apt in Somerville, NJ,USA and at my parents' in Salt Lake. (Since we don't have an AC in Kalikapur yet, it doesn't figure).

3) To use buckets of water while bathing most of the time, limiting my shower use to shampoo sessions.

4) To use herbal products, be it my toiletries or my domestic cleaners.

5) To buy and grow potted plants so as to keep my own microcosm as green as possible.

6) To avoid polythenes when doing my groceries (the fact that 'Stop N Shop' gave us a 5 cents discount on every one we re-used was just an added motivation).

7) To avoid throwing polythenes here and there, which the Marwari family next door in Salt Lake seem to have made a record of, taking great delight in clogging our gutters during the monsoons (once even forcing Baba to don surgical gloves and Wellingtons and stand knee deep in polluted water to clean them out).

8) To use CFLs in all the light fittings at home, even the bedside lamps, although they cost quite a bit more initially.

9) To avail of public transport whenever and wherever possible, for instance buses, autos and the humble, eco-friendly rickshaw, and walking short distances rather than taking an auto or the car.

10) To turn off the tap when not in immediate use, for instance when brushing.

11) To keep used utensils wet and soapy to loosen the grime and grease on them, before rinsing them out.

Maybe I could do lots more. But it gladdens my heart to think I've made some smart choices and I did them of my own volition. There is much among these that my family members don't bother about and might even interpret as interference or an invasion of their respective private spaces, should I dare to shortlist their questionable daily habits. Well, at least I'm clear to my own conscience. What about you ?

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Everyone seems to be getting hitched of late. I wouldn't mind that, except that we get invited to celebrate all the occasions.Yeah right, I know you're saying. How can one rant about dressing up and indulging one's taste buds at all ? Well, if you were in my position, you'd know. I've been attending invitations from the 21st of Nov and there are several more queued up right till mid-Dec. Of late, I seem to be seeing too colourful versions of myself in the mirror each evening and ransacking my wardrobe for the most elegant saree to wear next day. Even K (who can't be too bothered about dressing up and is usually glad to leave all clothing options to my prudent self) got worked up enough to turn out and address the stock of ethnic clothes he possessed and even perturbed enough to accompany me to buy a new kurta from Prapti (which I'm sure, Abir and he have been enriching financially for the last couple of years). My stock of sarees, I'm happy to let you know, is still good and I do have alternatives enough to confound me most of the time from making a rapid choice. The miracle of course is due to my absence in India for over a year succeeding my marriage, which means that most of the sarees that were part of my wedding trousseau or gifts from generous well-wishers at our biye/reception are still new and compliment-worthy (well, that might be a hint, I suppose !).

Not so with my jewellery which K has been scandalised to find that I'm quite content with and not at all in any hurry of replenishing or adding to. I love pearls and got several sets of them as wedding gifts and a few invitees were decent, daring and darling enough to give me cosmetic jewellery, which are very tasteful and trendy. Oh well, at least in sync with my taste. K however insisted that I had nothing to match my zardosis and dragged me along to Chique in Metropolis Mall, Hiland Park, to buy me a beautiful set of silver pendant and earrings to compensate. I'm grateful he did but not overtly exuberant. Jewellery never did figure in my list of flauntable assets. What I am increasingly enthusiastic about is footwear and my last minute purchases for my wedding featured two expensive silver and gold slip-ons from Kamal & Kamal near Gariahat More. Otherwise though, I'm sorry to say that my taste in shoes is quite conservative and the most adventurous I've been in terms of colour is buying a pair of slip-ons in plum and a couple in cream. Sneakers in all colours keep on tempting me though and I somehow fear that I shall eventually succumb and buy a pair in green or blue or even purple. Sneakers shall be my doom, methinks ;-)

As for hair, I have finally returned to layers from the much-overdone steps and can safely say that I find this easier to manage, versatile enough to address or vary the look of and yet, simple enough to handle on an everyday basis without tooking too plain-Jane (or in my case, plain clueless). Formerly, if I went to a biyebari , I never know what to do with my hair. Usually, I hated long hair because when I kept it open, I looked good but sweated like a pig. If I tie it back, I feel good but look chubby cheeked and rotund in all the photos. Now, I just keep it tied in a top-knot or blow-dry the roots before I venture out and I'm done for the day (or to be more precise, the occasion).

As for make up, I have finally learned to be on time and almost as swift as the boys by totally dispensing with the pathetic goo that is foundation. The amount of effort that went into applying and then later in the night, removing the mess, was enough to make me hot and bothered, which must, after all, have visibly impaired my cheerfulness at parties. Now I religiously follow the cleansing-toning-moisturising routine and devote a little more time to eye shadow. All that goes to highlight my face is compact and blush. The first evens out the skin tone (and I've heard, makes for better photos) while the latter contours the face, enhances my so-so cheekbones and gives my nose the merit it duly deserves ( I really can't be bothered to be modest about my nose, it's the best part of my physiognomy after all). So, spared of all the foundation and concealer nonsense, I'm on time, look presentable and feel festive. That keeps everyone happy. And saves my energy for channelising into more worthwile things like photography, observing human failings and dessert.

Turns out, I'm not too disgruntled after all. Whassay ? ;-)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams. ~Elias Canetti

Some days are just not made for waking up.

Open your eyes and the whole of life seems a lesson in disappointment. There is no sepia-tinted crumbling fort to spend a heady afternoon in. There are no forbidden rooftops where you can take in the whole countryside at a glimpse and weave enchanted dreams in a shady corner of. There are no passionate encounters where the hero is neither black nor white but a delicious grey, tempting you to succumb and yet himself resisting your desires. There is no mesmerising moment in a dangerous alley when your cherished ideals are dramatically deconstructed. There is no friend whom you can adore and give up your life for at a moment's notice, with the sweet certainty of its being a cause worthy of such a sacrifice.

Instead, there are umpteen shopping malls where you can go and squander all your hard-earned money on silly trinkets and superfluous garments. There is a flat which is located in a dusty neighbourhood still under construction, with rickshaws, handcarts and lorries competing to blow dust into your weak respiratory system. There is a husband who loves you, but is unable to empathise with the tragic poet in you. There are friends but none who merit such utter devotion.

In short, there is no drama in your moribund stream-of-consciousness. The last time you thought you had somewhat approached it, you were languishing in a 12 hour long flight, watching Jodhaa-Akbar and your psychedelic euphoria was exhaustion-induced and alas, too short-lived. You woke up to realise that you were a bored and unwilling participant in the rat race that is the professional arena. Where socialising mainly involved bitching about one friend or neighbour to another, success was measured in terms of your take-home pay, your financial stability was reflected in the size of your car and the tip you paid at each restaurant you ate out in, your personal worth depended on your eloquence in self-appraisal and the depth of the romantic in you was revealed in the expense of your honeymoon destination.

What shall we do then ? Where shall we find a more glorious retreat ?

Sleep on, I say. And dare to dream. Or maybe pen another post or poem. The virtual world is still virtual enough to tantalise !

Dare to Dream

Dare to dream of far off lands,
Dream of deserts, covered in sand.
Dream of rainforests, trees high above
Dream of finding your one true love.

Dare to dream of lies or the truth,
Dream of never losing your youth.
Dream of battles, dream of a spark.
Dream of light, a light in the dark.

Dare to dream of fighting and sadness,
Dream of men, succumbed to madness.
Dream of warmth and heat and flame,
Dream that your life is just a game.

Dare to dream of hate and mistrust,
Dream of all that’s true and just.
Dream of drowning, drowning in the sea,
Dare to dream of dreaming, yes dare to dream with me.

Lexi Smith

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Marriage does strange things to you. It not only takes you out out of your familiar surroundings and circle of acquaintances, it also gives you a new home and if lucky, a whole new family. But it is not to talk of the happier side of marriage that I sit today, but of its sad, sombre, sobering aspects.

I’ve just come from my former home to my present one. This is the nth time I’ve done the same and yet, I don’t know why, I feel like I’m doing something wrong. There’s this overwhelming sense of wistfulness and aching sorrow welling up within me every time I cross the same threshold to head for another one, 20 mins’ away by road. I don’t have a brother. I only have my younger sister, Moitreyee (aka Mitu), who wanted me to stop till later in the day and go watch ‘Wake Up Sid’ with her. I turned her down and her expectant smile changed into one of confused hurt. She asked me why I couldn’t return to my shoshurbari (in-laws’ place) later in the day. I’m not employed right now after all. I channelised the conversation into a different direction. There really was no reason why I couldn’t have gone back much later in the day. I could. Except maybe, the more I stay, the more difficult it is to persuade myself to go away. The more I feel I have to go, the more I feel like putting it off for the morrow. The more I know this was once my only home, the more I cry inside, knowing that this is no longer my only home. That I am emotionally committed to going back home. To what I need to fashion into a home. To what shall some day, when I have my own children and no living parents, be my only home.

I comprehend Mitu’s perplexity. Maybe she was thinking of what fun we had had the night before when the three of us (K, herself, I) had sit in what was once my bedroom, playing ‘Calling Bray’ late into the night, me laughing my guts out each time Mitu lost a card and looked absurdly crestfallen or won a card and looked gleefully exultant. Or how we traced our collective way back through the memories of our childhood as we helped K through our old and dusty photo albums. Or how Mitu and I had sauntered through our neighbourhhod park as we returned from the confectionary shop with 500 gm of lal doi (sweet curd) which I had had the audacity to question the increased price of, quoting in the process an ancient rate of Rs 70 for a kg of the same, causing the shopkeeper to sarcastically ask me how long ago I’d made such a curious purchase. Or how we made our slow way through the park, checking every sandy corner for the newborn puppies we’d spotted a few days ago, which we finally distinguished in the darkness and Mitu meowed to, causing me much hilarity. And well, so much and so many more things that recalling would only cause more hurt, more sorrow, lay many more crosses on my already scarred soul.

And let me not even begin to enumerate how I feel when I leave my mother and father behind, lest I cannot sleep for many nights and days, relentlessly wondering why society is so obstinately patriarchal and why girls need at all leave their parents and siblings to adopt another family when there was no lack in the older one. Yes, in my case, there have been and are differences galore with my parents and sometimes, they almost seem ridiculous to me for their want of actual substance. There have been days before my marriage when I went to office hungry but unable to eat at home because of the grim hush that hovered over the household after a quarrel with my parents over the issue of my marriage which, as the day neared, became a foreboding reality to them, not because of any financial troubles but due to its emotional implications. That their gaining a son by marriage was more a cliché than an event since the son would not live with them but rather take their daughter away from them. My parents have become teenagers once again since then, behaving illogically when it comes to awkwardly trying to show that they are still my parents and that although they try, they really can’t help not feeling possessive about me, when it comes to their reaction to my divided loyalties to both households. Even this morning, Ma shoved 4 apples and a packet of biscuits into my bag at the last moment and unlike previous occasions, I didn’t resist, knowing she would be content thinking she'd contributed her bit to my evening snacks. I understand now, after a year of living alone in the USA and singlehandedly donning the mantle of mother, wife and daughter to K, the true implication of her gestures, the material manifestation of a self-effacing love that only a mother can bestow.

Dimma (my maternal grandmother) is a few days or maybe weeks from death, in her 80s, having suffered several consecutive falls, the last probably having led to a clot in her brain. She doesn’t open her eyes, cannot sleep on a proper bed any longer, has bed sores all over from the floor bed she lies in, cannot brush or sanitise herself any longer without total dependence on my mejomashi (middle aunt), whose residence she has been living in, for a long time now. Her own sons, my two mamas (maternal uncles), are a worthless duo, too occupied with their own petty regards and resentments to pay their maybe very last respects to Dimma. I went and managed the household at Salt Lake a couple of weeks ago while Ma went to visit her. Dimma couldn’t even recognize Ma and kept mixing up her grandchildren with her own children. Ma came back in tears. I kept telling Ma that she needed to strengthen herself mentally, prepare herself for the departure that was bound to take place, sooner or later. But this morning, as I was returning home, I wondered whether I myself could ever practice what I had been preaching. One’s family is a habit one may never get over, after all.

I never felt I’d say this, but now I must be true to myself and confess. I sometimes feel I’d have liked to have a brother to bring back his wife to my mother to take my place when I married and left the fold. But on second thoughts, if my brother was like any one of my mamas, I’d rather we sisters took over their roles. But would we be able to do as much as a son would ? I wonder. The phantom of patriarchy remains to haunt my dreams.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Well, here I am, at last with enough time and honesty at my disposal to accept with great humility and happiness the first badge that I’ve been awarded, and that too, by one of my favourite blogolleagues : Discovering M.

Yay !!!!!!!!!!

Dear DM, here’s a big THANKS for the honour and a bigger SMILE for cheering me up with your flowers (for the confused majority, I suggest checking out his comment on my last post) !

I live upto the legacy of my illustrious predecessors by naming 7 honest blogs and revealing 10 honest things about myself :-)

The honest blogs I can personally vouch for are as follows :

Barnali's World

Sunny Days

Crumbs of Life

Buckets of Rain

Just Like a Watermelon

The City in July

And well, here's a random 10 honest things about me :

1) I’ve a thing for colours. Almost an obsession. I can't function in a room where the colour of the wall jars on my senses.

2) I believe in the supernatural. But I’m not scared of it. Death has always fascinated me. I don’t think I’ll be afraid to die.

3) I can’t be bothered to small talk or go out of my way to try and impress my intelligence on others. You have to draw me out. Lots of people consider me aloof. I think I’m just reserved.

4) I often hate my closest ones as much as I love them. There. I said it.

5) I detest alcohol. In all forms. Even if I happen to say it’s ok to drink socially.

6) My first ever crush was Ajay Jadeja. I even wrote a 37 page romantic novelette starring him and me. Man.

7) I can’t write happy poems. Sadness inspires me.

8) To me, plagiarism, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, war-mongering and snobbery are crimes. When caught, the guilty should be hanged. Well, at least boycotted.

9) I need to learn diplomacy. But using tact somehow makes me feel like I’ve been lying.

10) I’m afraid the Kolkata Metro automatic ticket checking gates won’t let me past some day. No particular reason. I might have an ‘I, Robot’ or ‘Eagle Eye’ hangover, perhaps.

For more on this note, you're welcome to check out a former post that was actually a response to a Facebook Tag.

tada, guys. I'm off to arrange a belated badge-day celebration !

Friday, October 23, 2009


When you have tried your 100 per cent to be your best self and no one acknowledges it.

When your family shows that they really don’t care about you as an individual.

When you have to justify yourself to people who you thought had at last learned to believe in your integrity and worth.

When you realize that however much you try to improve yourself, others will never let you forget your past.

When you realize raising your voice in protest against wrongs can be read simplistically and crudely as bad-tempered behaviour.

When you realize that love is futile, because blood always turns out to be thicker than even the most self-effacing affection.

When you have to struggle to survive, to establish your self on sterile grounds.

When you realize you are considered a burden, rather than an asset in what you had almost accepted as home.

When you realize that you have given up much of what really mattered for people to whom you don’t really matter.

When there are thoughts, wounds, tears you cannot share with anyone except your own little blog.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


During our stay in New Jersey for a period of 13 months, we happened to visit the pujos at Ananda Mandir and Bharat Shevasram Sangha, the closest we could hope to approximate in terms of pujo porikroma in 2008.On the evening of Shashthi, after a sumptuous lunch at our friends’ place, a film at Regal Cinemas and a bit of grocery shopping at Patel's Cash & Carry in Somerset, we finally sauntered into the pujo at Ananda Mandir. The milieu was entirely akin to that of 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 time. It 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 Sangha was a pleasant surprise for the senses. It had already distinguished itself from the other pujos by its determination to rigidly adhere to the Indian time of worship. That was a feat, taking into account the fact that US pujo takes place only on weekends, auspicious time or not. But now, apart from that, there were other novelties. I wondered at the presence of so many Bangalis when I had already reconciled myself with the significant absence of the commmunity from the locality where we lived, 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, chholar daal, papad, chaatni ) 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. Tomosho ma jyotirgomoyoh.

What struck me most about Durga Pujo 2009 was the fact that it was the presence of our friends and family in Kolkata and the re-igniting of familiar sensations that made our homecoming so special for us. There was nothing very radical we did this year as a matter of fact. We did the routine rounds of Maddox Square, Dumdum Park, Labony Estate, Ekdalia Evergreen, Ballygunge Cultural, Paddapukur, FD Block, Bosepukur, Bagbazar etc amidst the usual maddening crowds and uneasy humidity. We did not cook at home, eating out instead at a couple of new restaurants and a few old favourites (by default, mindlessly opting for the standard Chinese and Bengali fare), totally oblivious to the mounting calories. We wore what the media impressed upon us as very unique and trendy attire this year and muddled up our aantel intellects by trying to make mental notes of the latest fashion dos and don’ts. We devoured the latest sharodiyo shonkhya of the traditional pujo magazines. We kept aside our most expensive and arresting attire for the Ashtami-r anjali and waited irritably for the pongkti-bhoj to start so that we could soothe our growling stomachs and disappear soon after for some wholesome adda and the indispensable diba-nidra. We sat fidgeting, only half-attentive to the nrityogeeti and natok at our respective para functions, wondering where the lady in the next row had bought that awesome dhakai jamdaani (damn it, she was looking so irresistibly glam) and who the neighbourhood heart-throb was spending the time of day with on such intimate terms !

What then was unique about this pujo ? Maybe it was the sheer creative spectrum embodied in each pujo mondop, big or small, defiantly countering in art the lurid political panorama looming over our deceptively stable social microcosms ? Maybe it was the relief at being able to sense anew what every Bengali feels during this festive season : that these sacred five days will pass by all too soon and then there shall be the entire one year (of endless bandhs, bypass surgeries and bland jhol-bhaat) to endure before we are all together in spirit once more, celebrating our culture and our lifestyle. Maybe it was the realization that this one time of the year, we manage to forget our mundane existences and live on in a trance of dhaaker badyi induced psychedelia, certain that we can garner from the auspicious montro and the blessed bhog the shokti to metamorphose the humdrum into the hallowed, the chaotic into the cosmic.

Otherwise why was it that after a whole year of absence in my motherland, my pujo reconciled me to all that I had missed in a whole year and made me feel that it did not matter after all : I was home at last ? Ma Herself had accompanied me here and although she returned to her husband’s abode all too soon, she did leave me a happy human being : Madly Bengalee !

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ad-ing to our Woes !

At last, we’ve managed to sell off all our living room furniture. The latter included a sofa set, a coffee/centre table, a TV with wooden stand, a floor lamp and a small storage unit, popularly known as a microwave table. With the disposal of these items, it feels like a huge load of responsibility has been taken off our minds. Another actual proof, I suppose, of how material issues engage our lives to an idiotic extent. Among the residual and mostly minor items left is a metal strolley, a bucket, a pedestal fan, an iron and ironing board, a toaster and a couple of chairs. The car has verbally been booked, a monetary advance due over the weekend and a deal worked out that’ll keep both parties happy, that is, the buyer pays a certain amount less and we keep the car till the last possible day. Now all we have to bother ourselves with, one would presume, are the cleaning and packing. But well, the amount of trouble I had to go through to sell off the furniture was enough to make me feel like I should purge myself of pent-up stress by penning the whole saga.

First, let’s talk of the ads. Nothing in the ads, be it the tagline (enticing words like ‘great price’ or ‘’real deal’ or really cheap’) or the content (where my favourite pastime, photography came into play) or the actual low prices quoted seemed to be of much help in drawing customers in person. I first advertised on a Thursday afternoon and hardly anyone responded till the weekend except one lady named Virginia, who wished to buy the 5-bulb floor lamp with colourful shades and recently purchased CFL bulbs. She was the only person who was prompt in replying to the ad by mail, following it up with another mail (once we gave her our contact details and fixed up an appointment), then a phone call, and finally her august person on Sunday morning. She didn’t even require any assistance, although K did offer to dismantle the lamp for her, in case that made things easier to handle. Politely turning down the offers to help, she paid the amount quoted in cash without the embarrassment of bargaining and ended up carrying the unwieldy Hydra of a lamp back to her SUV on her back herself. We couldn’t but help be impressed !

But then she was an exception. Even the car ads on the weekend triggered off several phone calls but produced no one actual customer, who was resolved to come over in person to show proof of his interest in the item on sale. I tried refreshing the furniture ads on sulekha and craigslist, which was executed without much of a problem on the former, but met with an unexpected obstacle in the latter. I was warned that if removing the ad only to repost it for the sake of top-posting took place within a specified time and date, my ad was in danger of being considered spam, or worse, deleted. Now that was a setback of sorts. And yet, top-posting was a compulsion, since hundreds of ads were posted in a particular category per day and it was practically impossible to expect potential buyers to spend hours poring over the list for that day with endless energy. Finally, after racking my brains for several mins, I came up with a solution. Of course ! I could re-post it as a fresh ad from K’s a/c in that particular site. No sooner said than done. I made some other changes as well. I converted the keywords’ font to bold and upper case with a bit of lower case thrown in between to provide relief to one’s eyes. Other baits were thrown in, in the form of free bonuses like vases and soft toys (which we’d have given away in any case). I also reduced the asking price of the sofa set by about $20.
I wondered what would happen next.

A lot, it seems. I was flooded with phone queries regarding the availability of the sofa set that afternoon. The queries incorporated some odd questions like whether we had pets and whether the fabric of the sofa was cotton or not. The latter was tough on me, I being so ignorant about fabrics in general. The only thing I was able to confirm with reasonable confidence was that the material was definitely some sort of natural fabric. Another caller wanted to know how long we’d had the sofa or been using it. The next few phone calls were more forthright and mostly from Indians responding to the sulekha ads, The callers were men and asked more relevant questions relating to when they could actually come down and have a look at the articles on sale. One of them, a stammering South Indian, called from his office in Princeton in the evening and wanted to know if he could come over within an hour. I was in a bit of a fix, as I'd already assigned the respective times of 6.30 pm and 8 pm to 2 other parties who’d expressed interest in coming over to inspect the furniture that evening. I didn’t want to put Murali (the aforementioned S Indian with a nervous stammer) in an embarrassing situation, where multiple parties were bidding for the same object of contention. Fortunately, K entered at that moment and told me to go ahead and ask him to come over straightaway as it's a quite common experience to find most of the expected parties not turning up after all. In fact, the 6.30 pm party belonged to that species of traitors. But Murali did keep his word and was impressed enough to buy the coffee table and microwave unit and carry it off straightaway. K helped him with the latter, pleased to finally be able to dispose of these major furniture items, now that we were actually heading home. They took such a while to get the coffee table into the back of the car that I called up K on his cell to ask if there was a problem. He said no, Murali had just been taking his time to adjust the car-seat (for infants) at the back to make way for the microwave table. I was glad to hear that, for the next thing I did was to put a couple of soft toys we had in the inner panel of the microwave table and ask Murali to consider them a gift from us to his little son. He looked really pleased and touched at that and thanked us in his own special stammering manner.

A couple of hours later, the 8.30 pm party, two brothers named Vishal and Vikas arrived to take a look at the sofa. It was sweet the way the two interacted, the former so evidently protective of his younger sibling and eager to see him settled in a reasonably comfortable surroundings, which occasioned their interest in our sofa set. I was discussing the merits and demerits of the sofa but was interrupted midway by Vishal, who announced in a hearty booming voice that the only criteria that the sofa needed to meet for them to approve of it were his brother’s taste and the said furniture’s ability to withstand his own weight without totally giving way under it. That was plausible, considering that Vishal was a 6 foot tall strapping hulk of a fellow, as broad as he was tall, with a considerable paunch and a lot of excess fat at his disposal (besides the extreme patience he sported in answering umpteen phone calls within the short span of time he spent at our place that evening). I laughed, saying I wouldn’t want to comment on that anyhow. Vikas looked quite comfortable, once he'd made himself comfortable on the three-seater. They were, a s a matter of fact, unexpectedly polite, not even venturing to touch the sofa unless I gave them a go-ahead of some sort. That was a novelty in my experience and indeed that of many others, as far as I’m aware of. Well, to cut a long story short, they decided to buy the sofa set and carried it out to their cars with K’s help. Here, we were in for a pleasant surprise. K came back after his second exit (with the loveseat) beaming. On being asked about the source of such glee, he announced that the brothers Sharma had decided that the deal we were offering on our TV and its stand (which I'd casually mentioned to them, wondering if they knew any interested parties) was too good to be passed over and so they were going to take immediate advantage of it. Now that was good news indeed ! It only meant that there was going to be no TV for us for the next week or so, which caused K more sorrow than it did me, since I only watch a couple of cooking and travel shows at lunch and a sitcom in the evening or night. K however looked and indeed confessed to feeling quite unhappy at this sudden turn of events, used as he was to his daily dose of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, ‘Friends’, ‘Seinfield’ and ‘George Lopez’. But of course, at that particular point of time, selling off all the furniture seemed overwhelmingly more of a priority than getting our usual fare of TV programmes. So we reconciled ourselves to the unhappy truth that ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ was the last film we’d watched on our beloved piece of electronics. So Sharma and Co departed soon after, with a bonus in the form of a couple of glass vases in excellent condition, one of which I was particularly sorry to part with, as it had been a gift from a dear friend on our 1st marriage anniversary, which we’d spent here. But it was impractical to carry back home and I had long since hardened my mind to the anticipated inevitability of its sale.

The house looked strange indeed after the sale of the major items of furniture ; and that is something I find very unnerving, the anguish that attaches to a house that is no longer home. I couldn’t help feeling that there’s nothing half as upsetting as the look and feel of a house that is soon to be vacated and all I could think of was my relief that our days in that apartment, and indeed, this country, are numbered, and that there is a permanent home that we are soon to return to after all.

Happier times :

(more updates later...)

Sunday, August 23, 2009


We're finally going home, early in September. No, the date hasn't been finalised yet, although it'll probably be on a weekend so that K can get some rest before he joins the TCS Kolkata office on Monday. We're in a mad, chaotic situation now, selling off furniture items and the car. My last few days have been and the coming few are likely to be occupied mostly with frenetic scrubbing and dusting and packing and planning. You'll find me on my knees, armed with latex gloves most of the time now, trying to get the apartment back to its former pristine condition, which is proving to be a feat of sorts as we've been here for a year now and have definitely 'used' it. My principal areas of jurisdiction include the gas range, the refrigerator, the kitchen floors, the kitchen walls that loom above the gas range (spotted with yellow from our turmeric-heavy Indian cooking), the window frames, the bathtub, basin, commode and floors and the display rack in the living room. Yesterday, I spent the entire morning trying out numerous solvents and cleaners on my turmeric-stained kitchen walls without any success whatsoever, until I returned to my faithful original, the Vim Dishwash liquid. It lived upto its record of conquests, once again, although a whole year of stains meant I had to strain my back and waist muscles for over half-an-hour, eliminating the incriminating marks. But at the end, the result was marked. The impression from half a feet away was that of a white and not yellow-splotched wall. Vim Dishwash liquid ke jai ho !

Besides this, of course, I'm checking the email every half-an-hour, replying to responses - of ads put up on and - from prospective buyers of our furniture etc, half of whom are not even remotely serious about the entire deal, and mostly just end up wasting our time and wearing out our patience. There's this one guy, an Arun from Woodbridge, who called up thrice about the sofa set and center table and car, but hasn't been able to make it yet thanks to the lack of availability of his friend, whose car was supposed to convey him here. The very first day he called, he sneezed thrice on the phone, straight into K's ear, much to the former's discomfiture and the latter's disgust and even dismay, who was seriously convinced that the said Arun might have swine flu. It was too much for me when he even suggested calling off the deal because the guy might infect us. I couldn't but rubbish that and told him firmly that he was to ask the guy to come over at his convenient earliest, although I did commiserate with K on the affront to one's hearing if one was sneezed upon so loudly and so many times in one phone call. That certainly would have been a novelty for most and not in a happy sense at all !

This afternoon saw us embark on a shopping spree for the folks back home, that ran its course right through the evening, interrupted once in the middle only for a small evening snack and marinating the chicken that is to be our dinner tonight. The weather has been dismal today, raining non-stop since 1 am early this morning, when the thunder and lightning was as bad as it could possibly get, the entire sky a grim yellow and the extreme flashes of light & sound not in the least conducive to a peaceful weekend sleep. That continued into this morning, after stopping in the afternoon for a couple of happy hours. Having checked before we left home in the afternoon, I was to discover to my chagrin that the forces of nature are after all as unpredictable as they're reputed to be. We made a trip to Bridgewater Commons Mall to check out the formalities of disconnecting our T-mobile connection but were re-directed to a direct sales outlet of the company concerned, a few miles in a totally different direction. Rather annoyed at this unexpected disruption of our list of things to do that day, we pondered for a few mins, before cheering up and deciding to go ahead with at least our shopping plans for that day.

K waits for the rain to subside :

Poor visibility :

However, as I hinted at, the weather gods played havoc with our intentions and we actually had to pull up along the wayside, for the rain became so torrential that visibility at a distance of more than half a foot was nil. After 15 mins in the car, K rebelled and announced his determination to drive on, braving the odds. I gave in, also annoyed. So we drove on to 'Marshall's' and 'Bed, Bath & Beyond' at Bridgewater Promenade and later to Walmart, to indulge in some hardcore shopping till my feet went to sleep and we had to give up and go home. The shopping saga continued late into the afternoon on the next day, mercifully a Sunday and what's more, one boasting better weather. In between, K's college batchmate Jhuma called to enquire if we could possibly return via Heathrow, since I've become really pally with her via orkut, but am yet to meet her in person. So now, we have a total of 3 invitations from friends to make a stopover at their places via home. The others are from Shobhana, my happily married and dearest school friend in Singapore and another dear friend of K and mine, Ayan, who's based in Bangalore. Now that I think about the invitations, it strikes me that we've actually gone global !

Btw, I almost forgot : we spent a most unpleasant 15 mins - hot and bothered, with menacing drops of rain leaking onto us from a grim black-grey sky - in one of the several parking lots of the Bridgewater Commons, hunting for our car. After we had almost given up, K noticed that there were two entrances to Bloomingdale and we had parked our car near the other one. I was too disgusted at my poor observation skills to experience even a passing sense of relief.

More updates soon...

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I've never come across so many breeds of cats and dogs back home, compared to my experience in the last one year here. By now, one would presume I must have got over my fear of the species, considering I've been under involuntary contact with an incredibly huge number of them in this residential complex.

Heading the list is a tiny brown-white dog that inhabits an apartment parallel to ours. Its family seems to consist of a large, plump lady and her equally stout husband, who only seem to venture out of their otherwise stagnant domestic existence to walk the former. The latter is the biggest bully I've ever come across. It scares the children playing nearby, the mailman doing his duty, the maintenance personnel on their way to and from work, any and every random passer-by, whether the latter have provoked it into any such retort or not. Most people aware of its existence usually check whether it's outdoors or not before they take the path leading to/from/beside the apartment. Which is often inconvenient, since it's a shortcut of sorts at certain times. At first, I couldn't believe it really possessed a voice loud enough to scare everyone in the way it seemed to, but my complacence was short-lived. We were on our way to the Shindes' place (our neighbours) and had stepped onto the path it usually haunted, without noticing the puny canine. The next moment, before I knew it, a series of high pitched barks had caused my heart to leap into my mouth while I ran for my life in the other direction. I never stopped to find out whether its bark was worse than its bite or not. I still want to live for a few more years !

K, of course, is daring in all the areas I'd rather he wouldn't and hopeless at the points I'd prefer him to be assertive. He keeps on taunting the dog (from a safe distance, of course) and hopes some miserable fate might befall the former some time soon, the choicest option being the loss of his barking powers. In which case I'm sure the children in the neighbourhood might be as relieved as we'd be, if not ten times more. They're always scared to death that their balls or frisbees or other sports paraphernalia might land near it, which would obviously occasion a sorry premature termination of their summer activities, at least until night, at which merciful hour it's usually ushered indoors by its owners. There are rules here to ensure that the pet is always kept on a leash so that it doesn't disrupt the normal routine of others, but I suppose you can't really complain to the rental office about a dog which deserves to be kept indoors because its bark is so awfully intimidating. In any case, children and pets here command as much attention as adult human beings, and even more, if I may say so. I mean, I've heard that even your neighbour can lodge a complaint with the local pet protection society or prevention of cruelty to animals committee or some such organisation if he/she notices you doing anything you shouln't be or not doing anything you should to your pets. It sounded scary to me, almost as if you're constantly under surveillance in your own home and not doing something because you feel it's the righ thing to do, but because society can impose penalties on you for not doing so. Whatever happened to the good old concept of conscience ?

The same goes for children, except that you dial 911 or the police for complaining about any injustice or cruelty towards them. One couple we were well acquainted with told us about a dreadful incident when a policeman suddenly turned up in their house one day and demanded to inspect the premises. All this was simply because the mother had been working in the garden at the back, the father was at office and the child, waking up from a nap and unable to locate his mother indoors, had gone down the back stairs and wandered into the front-yard of the house, unattended and crying. This policeman, who had unfortunately been strolling past at that very moment, accompanied the child indoors. The mother had returned by this time and been about to search for the child herself. Instead, she was faced with a volley of candid questions regarding where they slept, where the child slept, whether the child had a room to himself (which is apparently his legal right if he's over 2 years of age), whether the child had enough toys to play with, whether he went to school etc etc. The child himself, a sweet and intelligent if slightly precocious 4 year old, was even questioned as to whether he was physically abused or mistreated or forced to do anything he didn't want to do and other such stuff. After they finished relating the incident, we were as traumatised as the couple in question had then been. For heaven's sake, do they think we'd do unmentionable things to our own children ? Granted that there are a few cases (back home, there are quite a few) where children have been scarred for life by domestic abuse, pressures and mishaps, I'd still like to believe that that's not the case in general. By far, these are all exceptions and rare instances and however corrupt the world may seem to be nowadays, the bond between parents and their offspring still holds as sacred as it has been down the ages. And in any case, I always feel that it's better to have the proper laws in place to discourage exceptional cases of misdoing rather than bodily and universally impose them on people, which leaves them feeling that they should love and treat their children well because the law enforces them to rather than their own parental and societal instincts. Too much advancement can cause our undoing, as the incident narrated above may well illustrate.

These are sad times indeed, when you have to live in fear of your own pets and offspring, alive to the dangers of treading on their carefully cordoned-off territory and not being able to make use of the best arbiter of ethics and principles in our everyday words and actions : our conscience.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Avocado

My latest crush is on the avocado. Sorry folks, I'm too old to go ga-ga over Bollywood any more, although I must admit to drooling over Imraan Khan once in a while (I even dreamed that I came across him in a library the other day !) but mostly I've got over the oh-I-shall-die-if-I-don't meet/get-this-person phase. My obsessions have been considerably diet-related, more healthy and less sinful of late.

As I was saying, I'm in love with the fruit that is called the avocado. I watched Rachel Ray, Ina Garten and Sandra Lee use it in their cooking, especially the salads, quite frequently. Well, I thought, why not try it myself ? After all, we'll be returning home sooner or later and it's not really a native to that part of the world, so let's capitalise on its easy availability here pronto. Hence, the next time we were at the Hillsborough Farmer's Market, I spent quite some time at one particular corner of the fruit section, eyeing the heap of freshly stocked avocados. Here I came up against a curious obstacle. Most of the fruits were dark green and one-fourth of the stock a grim purplish-black. I wasn't sure which one I should be opting for and what the difference between them might be. After much brainstorming, I decided the green ones looked more palatable and selected two of the same.

The Hillsborough Farmer's Market :

I was to discover to my misery that the green ones were green in all senses of the word. It was the unimpressive looking (and ripe) blackish ones that I should have shortlisted. Not having watched the cooking shows that closely, I now became a victim of my culinary ignorance. Especially since I had pounced on the first one immediately after my return from the market and been preparing to add it to a fruit salad for lunch where the sweeter fruit flavours might serve to conceal the taste of the avocado to K, in case he took a dislike to it (I'm never sure about him when it comes to a new food item). The moment I found it too hard to cut with a sharp knife, I knew something was wrong (with the fruit, silly, not me). After a lot of manual effort (with a variety of kitchen tools), I managed to dissect it, only to find the interior quite leathery and orange-green, which gave away the fact that it was yet to ripen. Disappointed, I wrapped it in a plastic bag and kept it on top of the fridge, so that it could make its slow way to maturity.

And then, as usual, I forgot all about it. Until a day when we had disposed of our trash sooner than we would, suspecting the recent stink in the kitchen to be coming from some fish we'd cooked the last night and whose bones now lay sulking in the bin. However, even after the apparently malodorous trash had been disposed of, the smell persisted and even grew worse. Finally, after considerable perplexity, the source was traced. The culprit was the cut avocado which I'd stored on top of the fridge and then forgotten all about. Naturally, I couldn't blame K for glaring at me after all the resultant chaos.

Well, at least there was a second one to look out for. This one ripened quite uneventfully and I was able to do it justice. Extracting the fruit actually requires some skill. First, slide the knife deep into the peel and then allow the knife to make its way all around the fruit, lengthwise. Notice that you'll meet with some resistance when you come to the centre, which is where the seed resides. Keep the knife aside. Gripping the would-be two haves of the fruit, apply a little force to twist them around and hence apart. Then with a large rounded spoon which you slide under the seed, lift the latter out of its cavity. The result should somewhat resemble this :

Now, all you have to do is use the same spoon to ease the fruit in small scoops out of its peel, which is like a hard cup with distinctly soft content, texturewise. The fruit of your toil is quite literally, at this stage, ready to eat.

By itself, the fruit tastes uncannily similar to the juicy, velvety soft 'taal-shnaash' , the fruit of the palmyra palm, very popular in Indian village festivals and now a delicacy that the urbane have mostly heard about from their parents without ever really getting to taste the actual thing (photo below) except perhaps at occasional regional festivals :

(Photo : courtesy Wikipedia )

It's only that the avocado is a trifle more buttery and less jellyish in its consistency to the 'taal-shnaash'. It tastes even better with a sprinkle of salt, a dash of pepper and a hint of lime juice. And as for its nutritional value, let's not even begin enumerating that for then we shan't know simply where to stop. Just look up the wikipedia entry yourself for the info. And after that, if you have access to the fruit and yet haven't capitalised on the fact, don't bang your head against the wall out of regret. I did warn you !

Last words : Despite all my eulogising, I must confess that I haven't managed to convert K to eat the fruit under consideration. He took a small bite, grimaced, described the taste as ok and insisted he could do without it. So much for trying to make one's own husband follow a healthy diet !

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Game in progress :

We accompanied the Shindes on Saturday, 25th July, to Woodbridge, near Edison, where the NY-NJ League Cricket Finals (J & J, TCS and AIG, TCS) were taking place on a school playground. Other apparently choice locales had been rejected since they refused to allow any sort of activity on the grounds without having each and every player insured. No one was keen on taking such trouble, so the school, which did not create any such fuss, was accorded the due respect. We set out at about 11 am, armed with newspapers, sunscreen, granola bars, water, caps and hats and all the other paraphernalia necessary to sitting on a carpet of grass in summer for the sake of boosting the morale of the players (K's colleagues and our friends). We were specially prepared to cheer Madhav, whose wife was in India at that moment and who was also nursing an injured back, owing to a muscle he had pulled in an earlier match leading upto the finals and who wasn't therefore in a very happy frame of mind. We were also looking forward to watching Ankesh, who had done us all proud by notching up numerous runs to our credit in former matches and had thereby gained the reputation of a bankable player. Besides, there were Ajoy, Rensil, Tridib Da, Sumitro etc who we were all quite pally with and eager therefore to watch in action.

The gathering :

The game had already begun by the time we arrived. There was quite a gathering, mostly the family of the players and others like us, who evidently considered it their prime moral duty to utilise their Sat morning by cheering their own team and booing the other. The best example of this was one worthy spouse of a player in the other team who kept on crying out at suitably spaced intervals " We want wicket !", initially with considerable enthusiasm and later it seemed, out of sheer inertia of vociferation. Poor thing, she had evidently had no breakfast and was evidently keen on having some wickets instead.

Mid-day scene :

There were several chairs, mostly occupied by spouses of the other team members and we weren't sure whether we should be impudent enough to go grab the former. After considering the matter for several awkward moments, we opted out and settled down instead on a large mattress spread out for the occasion. Most of the boys prefered to remain standing (Abhishek and K obviously feeling that their providing company to their team would somehow compensate adequately for not playing in the actual match themselves).

The boys look on :

The HR proved themselves quite well equipped for the situation, handing out packets of Lays chips and bottles of water and soda at frequent intervals and even providing mini packages of Papa John's pizza for lunch (veg and non-veg ones stacked respectively in the dicky of a car and its front seat).

Alas. Our team, which was batting, outdid themselves. I think the fact that their last practice match had taken place the very day before this one must have messed up their muscles and morale. They looked quite tired and behaved quite spent. The extreme heat and scorching sun did nothing to make things better. Wickets fell, thick and fast. Despite some ear-splitting whistles from Abhishek and hoarse cheering from another team member I was unacquainted with (to the effect of pointing out that there were too many wides and no-balls and too much 'chucking'), things didn't go well. Sumitro later said that the pitch had seemed scarily long to him while Ankesh looked quite baffled, having been bowled out from behind (he was to remain mystified for the rest of the day). Madhav looked worse than before, having strained his already injured back muscle and not being able to make too many runs in such a sorry situation, although he did hit an overboundary and I clapped enthusiastically till my hands were sore. Ajoy, Rensil, Tridib Da were back by the time we were just warming up to watch them. In short, things were pretty grim by the end of the first session.

Post-lunch, our team seemed to be picking up. The fielding was consistent and the bowling edgy. But the other team proved too well-organised and strategically sound to outdo. It was evident that the game would soon be over and we soon diverted our energies to watching the children in their activities than the game itself.

Children play their own games :

It was. The prize distribution ceremony took place almost immediately. Mr Suri, president of TCS, North America, did the honours. No mean feat that, considering he had flown in from India that very morning and must have been quite exhausted after a 20 hours' journey. He also cheered up everyone by stressing that the game had been played in the right spirit and that was what mattered at the end of the day.

Mr Suri :

The trophy, close up :

The runners up were all given mini-trophies and their captain, the legendary BRM(owing to his talent for procrastination) Ravi Rout, regaled all present with a short speech in which he hinted at another form of spirit being anticipated later, win or no win. The winning team took centrestage after that, one team member mysteriously nicknamed 'Funny' (Phani ?!) being cheered so noisily that it almost verged on booing. So much for etiquette. Finally, there was a photo session, where everyone from the respective teams, players or no, posed to oblige us.

The score-board :

The runners-up, TCS_ J & J :

The winners, TCS_ AIG :

I was secretly glad that the awards ceremony didn't last too long, because I'd left my cap on the grass under the shade of the tree where we'd been sitting and felt like my scalp was on fire, the sun was so offensively hot at that point of time (about 2.30 pm). To top it all, Sumitro announced that we had proved quite inauspicious after all. Talk of ingratitude ! We left soon after, although our departure was somewhat unexpectedly delayed by the heating up of the leather seats in Abhishek Shinde's car, which meant we had to wait haplessly in the fierce sunshine with the car doors wide open, while the car AC cooled down the seats enough for us to rest our sensitive behinds on it !

Monday, August 03, 2009


This poem was influenced by the film 'The Seventh Sign'. It's sombre and stark, something in the line of Eliot's 'The Wasteland' (dare I be so presumptious ?!) and my own nightmarish take on the world as it is now. I'd like to preface it with the following words by my favourite writer :

"But one is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing ; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one ! War, I think, has had its time and place; when, unless you were warlike, you would not live to perpetuate your species - you would die out. To be meek, to be gentle, to give in easily, would spell disaster ; war was a necessity then, because either you or the others would perish. Like a bird or animal, you had to fight for your territory.War brought you slaves, land, food ,women -the things you needed to survive. But now we have got to learn to avoid war, not because of our nicer natures or our dislike of hurting others, but because war is not profitable, we shall not survive war, but shall, as well as our adversaries, be destroyed by war. The time of the tigers is over ; now, no doubt, we shall have the time of the rogues and the charlatans, of the thieves, the robbers and pickpockets ; but that is better - it is a stage on the upward way."

(Agatha Christie, An Autobiography)


You know it’s judgement day
When sober clouds slip-sweep away,
Sweet passion holds lusty sway,
And conscience calmly gives way.

It’s time I rose to power :
Subjected fate to yield or die ;
Hammered people into puppets
To accept what truth I lie.

Many shall not simply survive ;
Evolution dreads a sharp nosedive ;
It’s not about staying alive :
I need to conquer to thrill, to thrive.

We all cannot be right,
To be right, you must fight ;
The loser’s soon out of sight…
Co-existence is God’s great blight.

Emerge then, armed with life,
Let us play the game of strife,
Throw dices for the knife,
Smoke out the Queen in the hive.

Pairs always wreak havoc,
Marriage puts love on the block ;
Friends stay alive and mock,
I’d best sail single to dock.

Peace would make the world run amok,
And yes,
Truce is simply deadlock.


Photograph/poster : courtesy Carlos Latuff

Sunday, August 02, 2009


From : THE TIMES OF INDIA, 31-07-2009


Vision of pollution -free Kolkata
Subhro Niyogi TNN

What will happen if the high court order is followed in letter and spirit and all polluting vehicles are booted out. You will live four years longer. Babies will be born healthier. And Kolkata will no longer be the asthma and lung cancer capital. Automobile engineers and experts are confident that air toxicity, which is at alarming levels in Kolkata, will dip sharply once the old smoke belchers are gone. There can be only one outcome the city's air will become cleaner. There will be a perceivable drop in carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and other toxic elements , state pollution control board chief scientist Dipak Chakraborty said on Thursday , just two days before the blanket ban on pre- 93 commercial vehicles, including twostroke non-LPG autorickshaws.

Clean Technology

Kolkata's air quality is among the worst in the country, which gets even more dangerous in winter. If the government cracks down on 15-year-old vehicles, there will be a remarkable change from day 1 itself , said automobile engineer Prabir Kumar Bose, director of the National Institutes of Technology in Silchar and Agartala. New vehicles have more fuel-efficient engines. Not only do they use less fuel for combustion , the process is more complete. Hence, there are less pollutants in the emission, he explained. The vehicles that face the phase-out axe were built at a time when engines in India did not incorporate lean burn technology . They emit a lot of particulate matter because of incomplete combustion of fuel. Technology has since advanced manifold. Now, the amount of fuel to be fed into the combustion system is electronically controlled . It is much more efficient, Bose said.

City Livable Once More

The epidemic-type situation, specially with regard to child asthma and lung cancer , will change. Kolkata will become a livable city once again with a better quality of life, said Centre for Environment director A K Ghosh, pointing to a National Cancer Research Institute-Calcutta University research that showed how lung cancer among non-smokers was at an alarming level in Kolkata due to vehicular pollution. The study had conclusively shown that the so-called lifestyle diseases heart attack , kidney failure, lung disorder, impotence and memory loss could also be triggered by air pollution. Researchers found evidence that foul air is responsible for rise in morbidity and mortality. Pollution is the catalyst that triggers cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in Indian cities. Urban stress, sedentary lifestyle and genetic disorder compound the risk, acting as a fatal cocktail, says Twisha Lahiri who was the lead author of the study. The team had initially focused on high incidence of lung cancer in Kolkata (a shocking 18.4 per 100,000 against 11 per 100,000 in other metros). But it soon discovered that while lungs took the first hit (45% people in Kolkata have reduced lung function), nearly all vital organs were subsequently affected by pollutants.

Now Or Never

Ultra-fine particles (0.1 micron) slip into the bloodstream, and invade the heart, kidney , liver and brain. During autopsy in unnatural deaths, we have found that pollution affects the brain. It causes transient loss of memory, an Alzheimers-like disease. Continuous exposure to high levels of pollution, as we have in Kolkata, could even effect the gene pool. Already, a lot of congenital problems are being detected among children in this city. Since it takes 15-20 years for a disease to manifest , it will take a while to know how bad weve been hit, said Lahiris co-researcher Manas Ranjan Roy. Alarmingly, nearly 50% of children in Kolkata suffer from respiratory diseases like asthma among the highest in the country.

Live Longer

But doctors are confident that if the polluting vehicles stop plying, average life expectancy can go up by at least four years. If we dont act today, life expectancy will dip further. Pollution is gnawing at life, corroding organs and even affecting babies in the womb. It is responsible for rise in pre-natal diseases, said Institute of Child Health professor and National Neonatal Forum of India secretary Joydeb Roy. An hours stroll in Kolkata is equivalent to inhaling particulate matter and toxic gases in 20 cigarettes. If the foul air is cleaned up, healthier babies will be born and they will grow up as healthy children, said Roy. Neurologist Sandip Chatterjee is confident that the increasing incidence of Alzheimers and brain stroke will be checked once pollution subsides. Pointing to a Dutch experiment on the effect of diesel emission that was nearly 70% less polluting than the fuel in use in Kolkata, he said a half hour exposure had led to significant changes in the brain. A series of experiments in Mexico City showed that pollution led to collection of peptide AB42 that causes Alzheimers . In Taiwans Kaohsiung, a study of 20,000 hospital admissions showed incidence of brain stroke was higher when the city recorded higher levels of pollution. In California, there were several cases of firefighters suffering from brain cancer due to inhaling diesel fumes. Since all these cities are less polluted than Kolkata, that is what is happening to our brains too. Hopefully, everyone will understand the need to cut down on pollution and act responsibly, Chatterjee said.

How Pollution Is Affecting You

Macrophages a vital defense mechanism against bacteria and virus get so busy fighting the pollution that they forget the real function, leaving the lungs vulnerable to bacteria and virus attacks. During this, an enzyme called elastase is released which degrades the lungs elastic tissues.
Ultra-fine particles (0.1 micron) break down low density lipoprotein measure, forming a plaque on the arterial wall and reducing the space for blood flow. This triggers heart attacks.

They stimulate blood clotting mechanism, causing thrombosis or cardiac arrhythmia.

Gene pool could be affected. Congenital problems are being detected among kids. It will take 15-20 years to know how badly we are hit Lung cancer is highest among metros at 18.4 per 100,000 ( national average 11 per 100,000 ). 45 people have reduced lung function. 50 % children have respiratory problems .
(* National Cancer Research Institute-Calcutta University research)

From : THE TIMES OF INDIA, 01-08-2008


City Breathes Easy As Pre- 93 Vehicles Comply With Order
Team TOI

Kolkata: A new Kolkata was born on August 1. Or should we say the city of joy went back to the golden days of the early 1980s ? It certainly felt that way. Minus the toxic fumes, minus the smoke-belching buses and autos, Kolkata was sheer delight on Saturday.
A survey done by Saviour and Friend of Environment (SAFE) and commissioned by The Times of India confirmed that the air the city breathed on Saturday was never this clean in the last two decades, thanks to the enforcement of the high court order to ban pre- 93 commercial vehicles.
It was as if Kolkata had travelled back in time, to the days when cars didnt jostle for every inch of road space, buses were fewer and autos were yet to arrive. Commuters, even though inconvenienced by the withdrawal of autos and older buses and taxis, loved the transformation. At Shyambazar crossing, where the hydrocarbon count plummeted to just 1 ppm from 19 ppm, people stood on the road in disbelief. Many got down from cars for a breath of fresh air.
Readings taken by SAFE at Dunlop crossing, Shyambazar five-point crossing , Park Circus and the Rashbehari Avenue-SP Mukherjee Road crossing revealed that hydrocarbon levels (which cause liver, kidney and brain damage, and even cancer) dropped by more than 50%. Oxygen count shot up by around 15%, leading to a drop in the percentages of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Suspended particulate matter which causes bronchial diseases and is chiefly responsible for making Kolkata the asthma capital of the country nosedived by 50%. The findings vindicated the green activists stand against older vehicles.
"This was bound to happen. The sharp drop in the hydrocarbon level proves that older vehicles are the major culprits. They emit unburnt fuel into the air that pushes up the hydrocarbon level to dangerous levels. Let us hope that Kolkata will breathe freely like it did on Saturday ", said green activist Subhas Datta, who had filed the petition seeking the withdrawal of 15-year-old vehicles.
After a decade's struggle against pollution , it was a green letter day. As many as 32,000 non-LPG autos, 3,000 buses/ minibuses and 6,000 taxis of pre-1993 make as well as 22,000 trucks stayed off the road. Chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti confirmed that there had been near total compliance by transport operators in Kolkata and there were no major flare-ups . Transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury admitted to some violations on the outskirts but assured that the drive against polluting vehicles would continue unabated.
The 3,000-odd green autos usually crowded out by the black & yellow cousins that use adulterated fuel and spew toxic fumes ruled the roads on Saturday . Though there were no autos on some routes, commuters didnt seem to mind.

Brand new LPG autos cross the second Hooghly bridge while entering Kolkata on Saturday

I can't help saying it now : " Jai ho !"


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