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.
Last Sunday, I returned home after completing an epic Euro Trip of sorts. For most of the part of my trip, I was travelling with my best friend, one who is known as ‘the husband’ for the more mundane and prosaic world, to some places which have been on my bucket list for quite long.
To tell the truth, a year and half of my stay in Europe, did change my perspective towards life. I love the utter chaos of Calcutta but somewhere down the line I do miss the quaint little coffee shops and those cobbled streets of European cities. The story with omnipresent ‘honking horns’ of Calcutta is that I abhor when I am here and I miss them when I am outside where driving on a road is actually a civilised affair. Alternatively, I miss the serenity when I am back in my hometown. The traffic itself is a a jarring reminder of the adventure ahead on the road.
There was a glint of “recognition” in his eyes too. Did he smile? Was it that same impish grin.
Piu started hurling out those cardboard compartments from the memory closet really fast.
Somewhere deep down, that smile brought about a lot of happy memories. The smile was almost like the touch of her grandmother’s, her thamma‘s, hands which smelled of Boroline. The touch that she yearned for when that long drawn divorce battle drained her off, emotionally and financially.
And now she was back in the city where her thamma once lived, the city which always made her feel at home and at peace.
This time she had a mission. She wanted to get rid of that very house where she had met Ranjeev. That same very old house on Southern Avenue where Ranjeev asked her out for their first date. She remembers that Ranjeev tried hard to impress his father’s ‘Tolly Club’ membership, while she continued being snooty and explained to him why ‘Calcutta Club’ was a class apart.
Ironically, Ranjeev’s father wanted to bring down her thamma’s house and develop the property. That was a decade ago. They fell in love and the house remained to stay on, as per her wish.
So Maggi has been banned and Nestle India is surely in for long drawn legal battle to get it back on the racks. As a lawyer, I will follow the twists and turns that will make the TRPs soar. In a parallel universe, a reigning God will proclaim victory and declare verdicts on Indian television while shouting his way to glory. But media trials, newshour debates and all other related adult life complications are not the staple of this post, rather its about a life saviour and a friend.
Maggi was not quite a regular part of my life when I was a kid growing up in 90’s India. My mother was very strict and careful about our diet and she did not quite like the idea of instant noodles. That did not stop me from wondering about whether Maggi could actually be made within those 2 minutes. On those rare Sunday mornings, when I had the privilege of having Maggi, I would make sure that my mother saved a little bit of the tastemaker that came alongwith. I liked the tangy taste, the chicken noodles one tasted better. Mind you, this was still 90’s and all those other variants like “Atta noodles” and “oats noodles” were still not in vogue.
And then law school happened. Our campus was strictly residential and we had the privilege of sampling NALSAR mess food. I will rate NALSAR mess food as one of the better hostel food served in the country, but then if there was a true saviour for those innumerable days of hunger pangs and home sickness – it was Maggi. Strangely enough, even when my mother abhorred the fact that I often skipped my meals and substituted them with Maggi as my dinner, she got me an electric kettle so that I could prepare my first ‘self made’ meals at my hostel room.
Last week, a friend of mine who traces his origin to the Indian state of Bihar expressed his desire to exchange places with my husband, for the grand “Jamai shoshti” lunch. The conversation arose when I had shared a hugely popular picture of a Bengali son in law sitting and sampling a wide(st!)variety of dishes cooked and served only for him, on social media.
Truth be told, I do not know about any other culture in this world, which celebrates their son in law(s) or “Jamais” with such fanfare and gluttony. We have an entire day dedicated to them, as if being the cynosure of all eyes for the rest of the 364 days, was not enough. And to follow the ritualistic conclusion of any Bengali festival, “Jamai Shoshti” essentially is all about celebrating our love for food.
All these give rise to a belief that the ‘Bengali Jamai’ is a very pampered lot. Indeed, they are. But then again, it is not a very easy job either!
Barcelona is a city that I immediately felt at home. While the whole of Europe and especially German cities takes pride in being prim, proper and every thing nice, Barcelona is that wild untamed spirit who refuses to follow rules. In my mind, Barcelona is a lot like Calcutta.
The city has a unique feel which is hard to describe and anybody visiting the place can feel the pulse while setting foot on the majestic La Ramblas. Barcelona is often called the party capital of Europe and a pitcher of Sangria while walking across the La Ramblas will make you understand the precise reason why it is called so. But make no mistake, Barcelona is more than just La Ramblas, the beautiful beaches, or for that matter those masterpieces by Gaudi or Camp Nou. The die hard Calcutta girl within me will suggest that you take a walk down the Gothic Quarter ( a part of the erstwhile walled city) or walk past the Barri Gotic and you might just feel that you have just walked past one of those much photographed and iconic North Calcutta lanes- probably of Hedua or Shyambajar. Does that sound lustworthy enough?
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.
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.
Or that is how the society prefers to call it. If you ask me, I am yet to understand the difference between a ‘love marriage’ and an ‘arranged marriage’. Can a marriage survive without love, is a much debated question. The naysayers opine that marriage is the end of all the romance. Well! I married early in life. I was 23. But that does not mean I did not have an informed opinion about everything under the sun. I was always very clear about the kind of life partner I would ideally want. And that somewhere made my friends, family and peers believe that I was the ‘love marriage’ kind of girl. Presumptions! I tell you. They kill many a love story.
In my mind, my ideal man was an obnoxious mix and match of Tagore’s Amit Ray, Vikram Seth’s Kabir Durrani, Will Darcy (this had to be there!), Sourav Ganguly, Shahrukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan and what not! Happens! And after all that I met my husband….one who was self confessed “Bihari bong” at heart. One who knew his gadgets, technology, world war history and trivia and financial equations better than the Tagore’s “Amaro porano jaha chay/ Tumi tai, tumi tai go”. That was one song that I had intended to sing for my dream man after I met him. And I fell in love with this man, head over heels!!!!
Love is a wonderful thing, actually. And one should always be open about it….in my case, yes! it was the parents who talked first…but I would not have married him if I did not find an absolute crazy reflection of myself in him. And the opposites too! Needless to say this works out in a vice versa. We talked and talked….and talked..exchanged old fashioned love letters (emails!) across different time zones and what not. Did some crazy stuff during the short lived courtship period. And we still do.
There comes the second volley of questions. You guys are so mushy and stuff…are you sure it was an arranged marriage? And I have a serious objection to that…in fact calling any marriage by names. Love can happen in your life at any time. In our case, it was the matchmaking….in your case it might be the college sweetheart you later decide to marry. But one thing for sure, no marriage can survive without the ‘love’ factor. And the absolutely madness that two people need to share. After all it is all part of the madness called life!
Two years have gone by since the day I wore that laal benarsai sari, decked up, took the “paan” leaves and exchanged sweet nothings with him under an overtly decorated flowery mandap (stage). There were whistles and catcalls from the friends which we always laugh about…and there was the absolutely delicious food which we could not eat due to all the tiredness. And there were friends and well wishers. Some of who who had travelled all the way from different corners of the country to be with us for our big day. I had to deal with a big make up disaster during the reception in Jamshedpur, but apart from that, everything else was perfect…grand and absolutely the way he had planned for me. There were numerous gifts from both sides but the treasured ones are the family members and well wishers which we both added to our kitty.
The memories of that day and the Reception day are still afresh in our minds. And that makes our parents think “Oh! my god! 2 years have gone?” A similar thought which often strikes us too.
2 years…and all the craziness! And then we think about the cynicism- “Marriage is the end of all romance”. Really? Well! if you ask me, I will recommend marriage to everyone. It is a wonderful thing. How you make it a beautiful one depends on you. This one fairy tale that Grimm brothers assigned you to write. And it is not necessary that you need to have grand wedding, a lavish ‘destination’ one, an expensive make up artist or photographer, a pre wedding shoot, diamond jewellery and all that jazz!
It is perfect when it turns out just the way you want or just the way it is better!
We celebrated this anniversary away from home and loved ones, but with a bunch of new friends. There was a small party afterwards but the day was mostly spent indoors- he cooked dinner for me and uncorked the champagne. We exchanged some gifts (I am very materialistic :P) and that was it. But at the end of the day, we were happy…and that is all that mattered to us and our families and well wishers.
That happiness was all about being with someone who is your guardian angel, best friend, crazy laughter and acts partner, partner in crime, fellow travel enthusiast, an amazing support system…and everything else rolled into one! *Touchwood*
Here’s to many more to come! 🙂
P.S.-I was subjected to much caustic remarks over Facebook recently for something I wrote in my last post. While I am extremely tempted to make a even more caustic reply to all, especially in the wake of the ridiculous Supreme Court judgement in the Naz Foundation case, I decided against it. There are some absolutely brilliant pieces available over the internet and I do not think that apart from making a point, which will again be lost in the question of “what is right’ and ‘what is wrong’ kind of black and white, I can contribute more. Moreover, the brilliant man in my life made me understand a few things. One of them being that criticism- bad and ugly ones are very important for your growth as a writer, more so if you are planning to take it up seriously. Interestingly, this brilliant man and I also celebrated our second wedding anniversary on the day marked by the outrage over the Naz judgement. Irony! To tell you the truth- my absolutely beautiful
anniversary day was somewhat marred by the judgement. But, anyways! this post is not about all that. It is more about the mush, the absolutely Yashraj types that I am so famously fond of. The “tujhe dekha to yeh jana sanam” types.
The very first thing every year I do after I get hold of the calendar (the Roman and the Bengali one, both) is to check the Durga Pujo dates. You may call it a habit, a glimpse of joy or a routine…anything. But I am sure that I am not the only one. Bengalis are by birth emotional and the degree attached to my idiosyncrasies is wee bit more. I am the kind who would cry silently in the bathroom after watching a few pictures of my city getting all decked up for Durga pujo on Facebook and then walk out perfectly happy and sane after thinking about the ‘to do’s in a ‘Probashi pujo’.
Frankly speaking, this is not the first time that I am away from home during Durga pujo, the significance of which in the life of an ordinary Calcuttan (and by that I mean all Calcuttans!) can be only understood by visiting the city during the time of the festival. I have heard many comparisons about Durga pujo being almost like Ganesh Chaturthi in Bombay, Hyderabad or Pune or for that matter internationally the Rio Carnival in Brazil. Amongt these I have experienced only the Hyderabadi celebrations and so I may not be qualified to comment but deep down inside, as girl growing up in a South Calcutta neighbourhood where pujo meant the excitement of discussing plans about decoration of the pandal and collecting funds way before the celebrations started, I know that Durga pujo in a Calcuttan’s life cannnot be substituted.
I have no qualms in admitting that Durga pujo for me and for many like me who grew up in Calcutta had connotations beyond being just a religious festival. And there lies the spirit and warmth which makes pujo so unique. I have seen, in Hyderabad for instance, that only people who follow a particular faith as mine, Hinduism, participating in the celebrations for Ganesh Chaturthi and during the day of Visarjan a curfew is often imposed in the old city area just to avert any chances of communal tension. And to think that we Calcuttans mark the beginning of our Durga pujo itinerary by making a mandatory visit to Arsalan and by devouring the mutton biriyani! It’s a pilgrimage, just like the chelo kabab or the prawn cocktail in Peter Cat or Mocambo. And of course the bhog that is served during the pujo days in the neighbourhood. Perhaps the only vegetarian fare which seems tasty to the tongue to the Calcuttan foodie 🙂 Durga pujo is as important for gastronomical delights to be explored as hopping through the makeshift wonders which dot the cityscape for the 4 days. People visiting the city first time during the pujo often wonder that so much of creativity and thought has gone for the preparation…and that too just for 4 days. I think there are already reams of data available on the internent over how Durga pujo celebrations is almost a cottage industry in Bengal ( I am not making a point for Industrialisation in Bengal).
My friends often wonder how can we Bengalis, and also the Calcutta Marwaris, Gujaratis and Biharis, who have called Calcutta home for a long time now and that includes many of my friends who subscribe to the tought “ghar mein veg bahar non veg” (eating vegetarian fare in the house and non vegetarian outside”), eat non vegetarian food during the time we are celebrating a religious festival. My answer to the often remains that it is the same fervour with which we devour the Biriyani in a neighbour’s house during Eid or eat the plum cake during Christmas. And if I miss out on the Langar food during Guruparab (also Balwant Singh’s dhaba food in Bhawanipore) it will be almost blasphemy and I will not be qualified enough to call myself a Calcuttan. Calcuttans are often called a ‘hujugey’ lot. One who go by the wave. What else will describe the city’s euphoria in descending upon Park Street on the 24th December night every year? There are numerous flipsides in attaching so much importance in celebrating every festival, but somewhere I feel that it attaches a non communal flavour to the city’s diaspora. And the Durga pujo is the biggest among them all. That explains the Councillor of my ward, who practises Islam, taking active interest in making the pujo a success and never missing out on the Ashatmi bhog. That also includes the Sardars who stay near Bhawanipore being an active support in all the pujo planning.
Yes, I pray every year…and piously give my Ashtami anjali, fasting for the first half for the day and planning where to eat in the night. That is in between popping two gelusil tablets (Bengalis and their acidity!) I make wishes before the Goddess and participate in the ‘Sondhi pujo’ where I see thousands gather to pay homage to the mother who saved mankind. The magical moment of celebration all women kind when the 108 lights bloom in full grandeur to express their gratitude to the power of a woman. That is religious for me, extremely religious. That moment often defines the understanding of me being a “Hindu”. A practitioner of the “sanatan dharma”. For me, it is not remotely related to anything including eating non vegetarian food, chowmein, carrying mobile phones, going to pubs and parties, wearing what I feel I look beautiful in, being confident about myself or being friends with people of other faiths or inviting them to share the Bhog.
Calcutta, I have heard and seen, is incrasingly becoming intolerant towards the fairer sex. A year ago also I could take pride in the fact that my city is one of the safest in India, not anymore. But Durga pujo every year gives me hope. A hope that the same people who put up posters about “praying in front of the Goddess” will learn a thing or two about how not to make snide remarks about a woman wearing something you find “sexy” in the crowd. Let her enjoy the pandal hopping or the adda ta Maddox square just like you do. Or to jostle inside the Pujo pandal just to grope her. Interestingly, it is also the time of the year when a significant number of eve teasing cases are registered in Calcutta. I do not claim I have never faced any during Pujo.
This year, I will be celebrating pujo in a faraway land. I will attend Germany’s biggest Durga pujo and one of Europe’s biggest pujo, in Cologne. I am looking forward to the excitement here…very much palpable among the ‘probashis’. The cultural program, the arrangements, the self cooked bhog….but deep down inside I know I will miss the crowds, the lights, the chant from the balcony while welcoming the daughter when she comes home a day before “shoshti”- “Thakur eshe geche” (“Look the deity has arrived”) and the spirit that is called Calcutta.
Pujo, for us Calcuttans, will always remain a celebration of life- food, friends, adda, nostalgia and planning for the next year 🙂