La Dolce Vita – The magical Amalfi Coast!

Two summers back, I had spent a memorable  time in Italy, Europe. While the rest of Italy remains well charted out in the Indian travel scene (that includes the bus full of people doing Europe darshan), Amalfi and the beautiful coastline of Southern Italy was quite a chance discovery for me.

We were staying in Germany and I used to switch on to German television channels to learn Deutsch. It was a trick that my “lehrerin” (teacher in Deutsch) from language school had suggested. Germans are known for their wanderlust and it is during one of those binge watching of travel shows on television, that I discovered the dreamily romantic and the holiday hot spot for the rich and famous – Amalfi Coast.

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#HomeKahon – The story of my Indian Home

The story of designing my first home from scratch.

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They always talk about first love, but rarely in our documented history do we prefer talking about our other firsts?

The first job, the first salary, first car, first home….

You may call me severely materialistic, but all these hold a very special place in my heart, just like my first “Aam Panna” I shared with my husband, the first story that got published or the first ‘Phuchka’ that I had in Calcutta after returning from Europe after a year and a half.

Designing and making a ‘home’ out of a ‘house’ is always a challenge, especially if it is your ‘first’ one. You want it to be special and unique. My wishes were no different. I was a never a big ‘home decor’ enthusiast.

In fact, I often scorned at my mother who would scold me or my sister at the very sight of us sluggisly sitting on the sofa and squishing away her cushions. I was always the lethargic kid (“lyadhkhor”) as they call in colloquial Bengali), who loved her sleep.

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Making memories together….

I am writing for the #ShareTheLoad activity at BlogAdda.com in association with Ariel.

Household work in India is often undermined as ‘no work’. I remember having a conversation with a friend where we were discussing how being a ‘housewife’ in India meant that you are completely unproductive and have nothing to do in life. Even a few years back, people rarely understood the value of wholesome support that our mothers’ and probably their mothers’ generation have put into our upbringing and running an entire household. The house continued to run like well oiled machinery, with everything in place – well dusted living rooms, book shelves, warm home cooked food and ironed clothes in the morning, and yet our mothers never got paid anything for all that. I realised the true value of that wonderful support system when I ventured out to make a home of my own.

It is often told that when you educate a woman, you educate a generation and with our generation, women became aware that it was important for every human being to have world of their own. And so today we are taking flights in every sphere of life. Needless to say, all that would not have been possible without the strong support that we get from our better halves – our beloved husbands!

I got married 3 years back and I wanted to be a strong home maker just like my mother. But I had other ambitions too. I have a day job as a lawyer and I follow my creative pursuits in the form of writing. I love doing things for my home to make it a cocoon of peace and love, but sometimes I am short on time or patience. It is probably the story of every young family today.

My husband has been my strongest pillar of support since our marriage. He has always encouraged me and supported me in all my ventures. Apart from the moral support, he has shared the load of household chores with me. I remember I was the hesitant one to ask him to do some housework just after our marriage since we have traditionally seen female members of our family doing everything related to the household. But it was he who insisted that we sit down and sort out all our ‘to do’s and responsibilities’ for the week.

So while I was good at cooking, I hated doing the laundry and he took up the job. He appreciated that I had a career of my own and when we both returned dog tired from office after work, it was not only my responsibility to make the evening tea or cook the dinner. We both took turns and as a result, we enjoyed the best of both of our culinary talents. I am the more traditional cook while he remains the experimental one.

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Of cities, short stories and memories of a lifetime – Paris

Prologue:

Every city has a tale to tell of her own. Some are rather bland, some colloquial enough to hold your attention, some refuse to leave your mind long after its all over and some are just timeless…just like Waheeda Rehman. I cannot imagine any city to be a man. In my mind every city is distinctly a woman – with a scent of her own.

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The DDLJ trail – In search of the Bollywood fairy tale in Switzerland

Every year thousands of people from all over the world visit Switzerland and a vast majority of those tourists are people from the Indian subcontinent. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most beautiful countries of the world. But apart from that there is one very important thing that has influenced every one of us – the ones who grew up on the staple diet of Bollywood, SRK and the nostalgia of the 90’s, to visit the nation. No prizes for guessing the answer – Yashraj Films.

We have to accept it that when Sridevi romanced a ‘starting to be potbellied’ and sweater clad Rishi Kapoor, while wearing impeccable Chiffon sarees and pearls and singing – “Tere mere hoton pe meethein, meethein geet Mitwa” in Chandni in the lush green Swiss valleys – we all wanted to be there and do a role play!

And then came the game changer called “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (DDLJ) which has probably defined romance for everyone who belongs to my generation. When a young SRK flashes his dimpled smile and looks at his best onscreen partner Kajol to mouth the golden words – “Koi baat nahi Senorita, bade bade deshon mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain“, we have no other alternative left other than going weak on our knees.

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Date a girl who loves her ‘Phuchka’!

I am catching up on lots of things these days. And one of them was a fad about dating a girl who apparently read, travelled and what not…there was one on Biriyani also. Needless to say, the foodie in me said the most thumping ‘aye’ to that one! But I was surprised to find that nobody had written about dating a girl who knew her ‘phuchka’ well, very well. And so, I decided to write one. My ode to the girl who knows her ‘phuchka’ too well.

Ask any ‘phuchka’ lover and the person, if he or she is as crazily moonstruck like me, will answer by saying that the flour balls laced with tamarind water are sheer poetry making their way through your lustful hunger. Ok! jokes apart, there is no doubt that knowing one’s ‘phuchka’ is an art. You either know it or you do not.
Date a girl who can tell you the difference between her ‘phuchka’ from the close counterparts called ‘golguppas’ or ‘panipuris’. If she swears by her ‘phuchka’, know it for sure that she is loyal (at least to her city), headstrong and has a great taste to match.
Date a girl who can tell you the exact places where to find the best ‘phuchka’ in any geographical location she is. Be it Dakshinapon’s Rajender’s Phuchka or Vivekananda Park’s Dahi Phuchka, the amazing phuchkawallah outside CR Park Market Numbe 1 in Delhi or the one in Sindhi Colony in Hyderabad- a girl who knows her phuchka well, is a connoisseur of the best tastes in the town. No less! 😛
Date a girl who asks you to accompany her for random ‘phuchka’ eating sessions. It is not only romantic if it drizzles a bit but more importantly, it is extremely easy on your pockets. You can have a date by spending only around Rs 20 to 50 (depending on the place) on the food. Mind you! I am not a big fan of McBabbar. One thing that you can be assured of that if the place is of her choice and she enjoys the ‘Phuchka” she is in one of her happy frames of mind and it is a cakewalk from their on.
P.S. Date a girl who fights for her right over ‘phau phuchka’ (free one). If she does, she is going to save you a whole lot of money while arm twisting her way through bargaining for Diwali or pujo shopping 🙂

To say or not to say is the question!

“Have you seen the Taj before?” Amit asked Deboshree while staring at the white monument termed as the symbol of eternal love by everyone alike.
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Amit could never recall being in love. He was not flamboyant, rather shy by nature. His small town upbringing did not give him a chance to be suitably equipped for a lengthy conversation with a lady. Probably this was the first time in 26 years since his birth when he was alone for so long with a lady, the daintily made Deboshree, his newly married wife of 14 days.

Amit’s father worked in Jamshedpur. Throughout his childhood days, he was always taught to study hard and be suitable enough to fetch a job in the company which defined the future of iron and steel industry in India and needless to say, Amit was very successful in his endeavour.  He bagged a job in the company as Graduate Trainee after completing his engineering from IIT Kharagpur.

On the other hand Deboshree hailed from the big city that troubled Amit all the time- Calcutta. He visited the city during every school holidays since his grandparents still stayed over there, but the sight of the the monstrous Howrah Bridge made him feel uneasy. The crowds on the streets, the ‘phuchka’ vendor who served his mother’s favourite flour balls with tamarind laced water, the tram ride from his Kalighat home to Dalhousie- every thing reminded him of how his world had the peace and vanity of silence where nobody intruded. He sometimes wondered whether he was a loner…whether he disliked Calcutta. He durely did not because he loved his breakfasts at Flurys and the pending birthday treats from his grandfather at Mocambo. But his heart was set out in the peaceful haven of his Bistupur home.

In fact, Amit was stunned by the opulence and grandeur of Deboshree’s Shyambazar home when he first went to see Deboshree. He wondered how she managed to stay in such a big house alone with her parents, whether she would be able to stay in that 3 bedroom company provided accomodation in Jamshedpur. He truly had the luxury of a small custom made garden, but it was no match for Deboshree’s house which was at a stone’s throw distance from the famous eatery which serve Calcutta’s most favourite mutton curry. However, 15 minutes in the drawing room of the Mukherjee household he understood that Deboshree had company, a rather large one including her cousins, uncle an aunts who were rather excited with the prospect of Deboshree getting married off to an engineer.

He was scared, very very scared to meet the Loreto Convent educated girl shortlisted from the bunch of photos by Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee becuase she was pretty, had a degree from Shantiniketan, was apparently well read, cooked, sewed, had a good family lineage and to say the least- could be the ideal companion for their son.

Amit was not a part of this decision making process. He had left the choice on his parents. But he could not deny that there was something in that one photograph of Deboshree that he had seen, that made him agree to make a very short visit to Calcutta in the scorching April heat. The match was finalised soon enough. The families talked, Deboshree was asked to sing by his mother. The customary questions later Amit’s mother had asked her whether she would be able to adjust in Jamshedpur, since it would not have all the amenities of  a big city.

Deboshree’s ‘jethima’ (aunt) had replied – “Parbe, Parbe! sob parbe- Of Course! she can, girls can adjust to anything didi…..consider me, when I got married I was just 16 and I did not know how to cook dal even…from there on, I have been cooking every day for this entire family of 34 members. You don’t need to worry at all.”

Amit had tried to steal a glance at Deboshree, to understand what she would have told in answer to his mother’s question but the conversation had by then moved to the ideal marriage dates. A monsoon wedding and the customary “Oshtomongola” (visit to the bride’s house after 8 days) later, Amit and Deboshree were off to their honeymoon to Delhi and Agra.

Amit had long planned for this vacation and she had once called up Deboshree on her family’s telephone- the only time before their wedding, to ask for her permission. He could overhear the hushed tones of excitement in the background surrounding his call. Even on the day after Oshtomongola, when they were scheduled to catch their train for Delhi from Calcutta, he could feel the palpable excitement in the Mukherjee household for their daughter travelling on a honeymoon vacation.

“Oh! chordi, you are so lucky….he is a man of exquisite taste” Deboshree’s cousin Nita had commented.
“Aha! how do you know?” Deboshree replied with a flirting gesture.
“Arrey baba! he is taking you to Delhi and Agra…..imagine you are the first girl from our family to go on a honeymoon…..last year my friend Piyul had got married and she was so prouf that she was going on a trip after marriage…..and that too, she was going to Puri…where everybody goes…but you are going to see the Taj Mahal in Agra…please get us replicas Chordi”
“Okay baba! I will” Amit could well sense the hint of pride in Deboshree’s voice when she replied. Amit thought she was happy and that made him happy since he wanted to know about the person that Deboshree was.

“Acha! chordin.” Nita had further enquired, “I heard that Amit da would be traveling to America for a training for 3 months…are you also going with him”

“Let’s see, it’s not decided yet re…but high chances”

Though Amit was eavesdropping into the conversation, he could see Nita’s face turn a shade greener with jealousy. Of course! she was a year younger than Deboshree and was yet to complete her graduation. But she was dark and not as well mannered as Deboshree…rather coquettish to say the least, a fact which made her and her parents aware that she would not be as lucky as Deboshree in her quest for the perfect husband.

Amit and Deboshree had talked during the train journey. They had reached Delhi around the noon and she was excited to see the Red Fort from a passing distance on the very first day of their travel. amit had planned to visit Agra on the very next day and stay there for a night. So the very next morning they were off to Agra. Deboshree was initially not happy and wanted to visit the shopping arcade Karolbagh hat she had researched so much about. Amit had to pacify her that they were staying in Delhi for 2 more days while returning back. The conversation had led to breaking of ice between the two and Amit was happy about it. He wanted their visit to the Taj Mahal to be perfect, just the way he had planned.
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“I haven’t. You?” Deboshree replied ” In fact I have not visited any place other than Puri, Darjeeling and my college in Shantiketan”. She giggled with a flirtatious wink in her eyes. Amit tried to concentrate in her eyes. In stead it was the big red bindi on her forehead, the shankha pola, the never ending vermillion streak and her crisp cotton sari that drew her attraction. She was the perfect bangali bou. The way he saw Ma Durga. The moment they entered the Taj, Deboshree was overwhelmed by the gigantic architechtural wonder….her hand quickly sought refuge in Amit’s hands…and that very moment he felt happy.

“Yes, I have been here..with a few of my college friends”.
“You are so well travelled na Am…err”
“You can call me Amit, I won’t mind”
“But I am not supposed to na…after marriage you are not supposed to take you husband’s name…..your mother can mind”
“As you wish…but in my college many of my friends had girlfriends and they used to call them by their first names”
“Pagol! they had a a love marriage na!”
Amit laughed. He was scared to tell that his college was reputed to have one of the scariest gender ratios in India…and besides the one or two love stories that he knew never ever matured till the wedding platform. He just wanted to be friendly with Deboshree. Besides he would be travelling to America with her in a few days time…he had read that there even the wives addressed their husbands by their first names.

“You didn’t sya where else have you traveled” Deboshree interrupted his chain of thoughts”
“Me? well some parts of Bengal, Darjeeling, Delhi, Agra, Varanasi and Palamau in Bihar…you know Palamau?”
“Palamau’s jungle? where Aranyer Dinratri* was shot?”
“Yes! have you seen the movie?”
“Of Course! it released 2 years back na?”
“Yes! a few of my friends…we were all very influenced an wanted to make a trip to Palamau”
“So very exciting…..even I want to go there”
“We may…”

The conversation was interrupted by a photographer who wanted to convince the honeymoon couple to take a picture in front of the Taj Mahal. Deboshree was eager and Amit had to relent. He was keen…he has been advised to tell the three golden words to Deboshree in front of the Taj Mahal..the perfect romantic setting by his friend Shyamal. His trip to Taj Mahal was planned accordingly.

“Ei…come here…let’s go in….acha! can we see the original sones that were fitted inside or have they already been lotted away by the English before leaving the country.” Deboshree asked. She talked a lot. Amit was not used to the sounds of lady’s constant giggle and chatter. But here he was admiring a girl who had the child like char intact inside her crisp red cotton sari. And the bindi which made him fall in love with her again. Deboshree stole shy glances the very first time they had met in the drawing room of her Shyambazar home. She was too scared to look at Amit during their “Shubho drishti”, a ritual were the bride and groom were supposed to look in to each other eyes’s before being tied up within the knots of holy matrimony…but here she was free, thousands of kilometres away from the prying eyes of her cousins, her parents, her newly found strict mother in law….she was herself, the Deboshree Amit wanted to know. But Amit wanted to tell her that she looked extremely beautiful that day.

He could not. He was tongue tied.

The guide was explaining the history of Taj Mahal while they stood with the Yamuna river at their back. A few minutes later they were instructed to be back in the tourist bus after 20 minutes.

Image Courtesy:  http://rajivawijesinha.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/taj-mahal.jpg

Amit was busy wondering at what must have struck Shahjahan to build a mausoleum so huge, only to commemorate some body’s death. and the poetic injustice that surrounded the walls of the Taj….a symbol of love built over the agony of so many..their pain and humiliation. He was lost for aminute when his blood rushed up to his cheek turning it a few shades red. Deboshree had just done the unthinkable. In the few moments that he had been lost, Deboshree had managed to whisper “Aami tomake bhalobash” (I love you) in his ears.

                                                                               III

Today is the 41st wedding anniversary of Amit and Deboshree and she still maintains that the moment which defined a lifetime of their relationship was absolutely spontaneous. Amit had tried to extract the secret about how many times had she carefully planned to say the golden words in front of the world’s most romantic monument, but the answer had always remained the same.

*Aranyer Dinratri ( Days and Nights in the forest) is a Bengali film released in 1970 and directed by Satyajit Ray.

[This story is set in the mid 1970’s when the world was a far more romantic place to live in, far removed from the cacophony of cell phones and social media websites (well! a necessary evil)]