Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Mahalaya 2021

 Losing a mother is like losing a part of you. For you were once a part of her, you see. It’s looking at the veins at the back of your hands and realising how similar they are to hers. It’s unconsciously humming a song you don’t even like, and remembering that she did the same when she came out of the shower and went straight to the thakur ashon to offer nokul dana, jol and dhoop (with a towel still wrapped around her hair). It’s picking up a brown nail polish at the shops, and keeping it back…because brown was her favourite colour (and nail polish her favourite indulgence).

It’s also losing a part of your identity, because nobody knows those minute details from your childhood like she did. One may know how you got that scar on your forehead, but only she can tell you how tight you held her hand at the doctor’s during the stitches (and begged for an ice-cream, specifically in a cone, later). An aunt or a neighbour may tell you how unique your dresses were, but only she can tell you how she bought the fabric and lace from that corner shop in New Market, and had it made as per her specific design at the Ladies Fancy tailoring shop.

It’s been four months and six days since I lost Ma. Well-wishers have suggested that I take the time to grieve. Friends have advised that I should write about my thoughts. But I didn’t know how to. What words could capture something that was so intense, and yet hidden in the most mundane things? How do I explain the sudden anxiety in the middle of the night, when I realise I haven’t called her that day? Or when I ask my eight-year-old to pose in her new dress, so that I can send the photo to Dida? Grief, you regular yet random, fleeting yet constant thing…how will I ever capture you in words?

Grief is like a filter. It casts a different layer to every occasion – happy or sombre. It changes the colour of memories. It makes the happiest of them slightly damp. It leaves every present moment only a tad bit incomplete. The little achievements….the proud milestones…the joyful moments…almost perfect, but never quite. It’s not a moment in time. It’s a way of life. The life before a loss….and the life after.

And this was my first Mahalaya in my life after. Mahalaya – the day, the feeling, the smell, the sounds! All changed forever…yet again after 20yrs (since Baba breathed his last). The first time when the significance of the day was more in the Tarpan than in the Chandipath. The first time when the feeling of “Ma aar nei” was stronger than “Ma asche…”.


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Bela Bose Flipped

 Anjan Dutta (and Bela Bose) fans (and I am a fan too of the song, btw), pardon the silliness...but I wonder if "Bela Bose - Flipped" would sound something like this... ;)

P.S. Written in a silly mood (so not meant to be taken seriously).


"Bela Bose - Flipped"

Chakri ta ebar cherey debo, ogo shuncho

Eto khatakhati ar je poshachchey na

Dhaar dena gulo ebar tumi ekai dekhe nio

Nota pachtar chakri ar korbona.

Chakri ta ebar cherey debo, ogo shuncho

Ekhon ar keu atkate parbe na

Ghoreybaairey dudik shamliye, chollam to koto

Baki jibon ta ebhabe katabo na.

Eta ki 2441139?

Ogo koi tumi...parcho ki shunte?

Lunchbreak jachchey furiye

Oi boss elo bujhi firey.

Debo na kichutei ar chechatey.

Shopno ebar hoye jabe ogo shotti

Etodin dhorey eto opekhkha

Nota pachtar ei rat race e

Bodhdho jiboney bondi dujoney

Hapiye gechi roj ditey e porikhkha

Ar kichu din tarpor amar mukti

Grihokormey nipuna hobo shotti...

Shada kalo ei jonjale bhora miththey kothar shohorey

Tomar amar single-income sonsar.

Hello 2441139?

Ogo koi tumi...parcho ki shunte?

Lunchbreak jachchey furiye

Oi boss elo bujhi firey.

Debo na kichutei ar chechatey.

Chup kore keno eki ogo tumi kandcho

Chakri ta ami cherey debo shotti

Career and promotion er, ichchey geche furiye

New mantra "Netflix and parenting".

Hello 2441139?

Dhur chai...2441139?






 And when the lights are off...

And curtains pulled 

When the sky is dark

And the neighbourhood quiet...

The memories march in

The wounds refresh.

The storm inside


The deep, dark, bottomless pain

Stirs every ounce of my being.

Scenes I wish I could forget

Pictures I wish I could unsee

Parade before my eyes.

So when they say you're "resting in peace" now.

I hope you are. At least one of us must.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Partner in Crime


Most corporates turn their philanthropic activities into marketing campaigns. I have no issues with that, as long as the philanthropy continues…

When I was in Year 5 or 6 in school, Maggi had sponsored some such initiative. Something to do with educating underprivileged children (I can’t quite remember). But what I do remember is that they gave all the students a packet of Maggi each, as a token.

For those who know my love for Maggi, this may not come as a surprise. But I went home that day only with half a packet of Maggi. The other half? Well, I ate it of course. Uncooked. In class. Sneakily, without the teacher’s knowledge. How easily the Horlicks tag line  - “ami to emni emnii khai”, could be applied to this product too, I thought!

The other half, Ma cooked (in 2 minutes, as they claim). But I ate it in less than a minute, am sure.

 So, it pleases me to see that I have given birth to (or raised) another fan of the noodles. She happily eats the Masala variety (my favourite), and does not find it spicy (which is strange for someone who plays the “too spicy, mummy” card, way too often).

So yesterday, back home from school on a raining afternoon, we slurped our bowlful of steaming, hot Maggi. As I let her eat some uncooked strands of noodles (much to her amazement and joy), I smiled at my new-found partner in crime! 

Dear Maggi

From a chunk of cold noodles that would take the shape of my lunchbox in school...

To a bowl of freshly-made steaming noodles when bedridden with flu...

From a quick meal on a winter afternoon, when hands and mind were too frozen to cook or clean...

To a wholesome midnight snack when the book just couldn't be put down...

Dear, Maggi...what would I have done without you!

(Originally written in 2011, as a FB post)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Our self-isolation days

 Dear Shanaya,

You are 7 now. Taller, Talkative, Terrific! And to add another feather to your cap, you have dealt with the crisis around COVID-19 incredibly well. We have stayed home (or consciously adhered to the isolation guidelines, to do the responsible thing) for weeks/months - over March to June 2020. We are lucky here in Perth to be able to ease the social restrictions sooner than most other countries/cities in the world who are still battling the rising curve. But it must have been difficult for you, given the social butterfly you are! You took it really well, and never complained. I am proud of how positive, energetic and cheerful you have been through this all. Not a single meltdown (although, I myself had a few)!

We took to art (painted, made COVID-themed posters and family hand-print collages, wind chimes out of bangles, a peacock out of leaves, and even a picture of the night sky for Daddy's desk on his birthday)....

music and dancing (there was a party in our living room almost every day, as you asked Google to play your favourite songs)....

role-plays (we set up pop-up restaurants in the backyard and served pancakes and ice-cream for brunch!)...

DIY toys (Daddy made you a kitchen out of cardboard boxes, and a cool little camera...Mummy sewed a dress for your Barbie and made Easter Bunnies out of socks...and you made Play Doh animals and birds)...

Google 3D animals, ranging from tigers to giant pandas (who looked quite comfortable in our living room)...

star gazing with our new telescope (bought at the Perth Astronomy Fest 2020)...

video/Zoom chats with family and friends (and even virtual birthday party and cake cutting for Daddy's birthday)...

reading and story-telling (and making video clips of jokes you read out from your new-favourite "The Treehouse Joke Book")...

walks around the neighbourhood (spotting the teddy bears and rainbows people left at their windows to lift up the spirits...and the most gorgeous pink skies at sunset)...

cooking and experimenting in the kitchen (especially the Dalgona Coffee that became "viral", and Daddy's signature goat curry and pulao)...

science experiments (of invisible drawings that reveal themselves in water, and shape shadow on walls)...

Lego competitions (where Daddy built a bridge he named "Poku"and you built a whole city, with a school, playground, hospital and even a church!)...

gardening and home-decorating (we planted a new yellow-flowering plant that we can see from the kitchen window, while Daddy took to grafting roses)...

homeschooling (which was bitter sweet - some days were fun, and some were stressful, as Mummy was still working full time, and had deadlines to meet!)

backyard cricket (where money was always involved!)...

writing letters to our friends in the neighbourhood (and receiving replies in our letter boxes, because we couldn't meet them in person)...

makeup and manicures (our nails have never looked so good before!)...

TV and movie nights with pop corn (Nadiya Hussain's cook shows were our favourite, and we even tried a few recipes like beetroot pasta, orange baklava, soda bread, peanut butter chicken casserole)

candle-lit dinners (because, well...one day, there was a power cut around dinner time.. and one day, because we just felt like it!)...

radio shows (yes, Mummy even did a quick interview with a radio station in Kolkata, to share what the COVID situation was in Australia!)

and a pet (we brought home Shelly, the snail).

Turns out, the best thing we got out of this crisis was memorable time with the family. I hope when this is all over, and the world has found a way to defeat this virus, we can look back on these days, and remember how we survived a pandemic, together as a family. Most of all, I hope we continue to be grateful for our blessings, big and small...and never take anything or anyone for granted.



Thursday, June 11, 2020


"Mummy, I'd like to have a pet snail", she said one day during the lockdown period.
Surprised (but relieved) that she had lowered her demand from a dog to a snail, I play along. "That's a lovely idea for a pet", I say. "If you can find one in the garden, you can keep it. We'll feed it leaves and scraps."
Excited at the prospect, she starts to spend considerably more time in the garden, looking for a snail. Better than being in front of the TV, I think.

The search continues for a few days, but no sign of a snail. She comes back with an ant instead. "Look who I found, Mummy! She's so pretty. I'll name her Curly!" (because the poor ant had curled up in fear by then).

So Curly finds a home in a plastic takeaway box, and is placed centre-stage on our dining table. It was almost lunch time by then, and her Dad had made his signature Biriyani (her favourite too). When we weren't watching,  little fingers placed a fat grain of saffron coloured rice in the box. "There you go, Curly. Eat some biriyani."
Now, we had always joked to first-time visitors that we weren't great cooks, but nobody who ate the food we cooked, had died. We will never be able to say that again.

Because Curly died.
Whether it was from pure joy (from the best meal of its life) or from the constant talking or frequent touching...we will never know.
But tears were shed. Prayers were said. And a burial in the backyard followed.
Pet-less again, the search for a snail started anew. Days later, hopelessness sets in. "There are just no snails in our garden, Mummy". But she remembered seeing snails in one of our friend's gardens. "Can you ask them to catch one for me?"
"Of course not!", I say, imagining how that conversation would pan out. "Hello, how are you? Calling for a small favour. Could you please catch a snail for my daughter? We promise it will get a loving home at ours".

I cut that imaginary conversation short in my head. Especially after Curly's demise, I wasn't sure if I could promise anyone a good home anymore!

But I did have that conversation in reality. And the friend did not hang up on me. In fact, she called back a few days later with news. She had managed to catch a snail during one of her evening walks!
So we rushed to her house (like rushing to the hospital at the news of the arrival of a new baby!). And what do we find there?
A snail with a birth card and gender announcement! It was a girl! Miss S was finally a big sister!
I had happened to mention to my friend that Miss S had planned to call her snail (if she found one), Shelley (obvious reference to its shell, duh!). My friend remembered!

And so, with a heart full of gratitude, and  hands holding a box with her "little sister" inside, she comes back home.
Days pass. We make Shelley a home...with soil, a rock to climb on (for the view of the garden), a leaf to sit on, and a food dish where we leave fruit and veggie scraps. We read her stories (preferably one with snails in it) after school.
Shelley soon earns an adjective. "Shy Shelley", we start to call her, as she never comes out of her shell to show us her face (or any other body part).
Until today.
Looks like she has finally warmed up to us. She lets us watch her, while she eats an apple!
And while tomorrow marks one month since we got her home, we celebrate today, when Shy Shelley isn't so shy anymore...

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A day off

Truth be told...I am not coping with the anxiety and stress around the current COVID-19 crisis too well. Working from home for the last one week, while having Miss 6 at home too, the lines between work and home have become blurry. I have deadlines to meet...and a child to home-school. I want to do both well. The dishes and laundry, the cleaning and cooking, the work video calls and family WhatsApp groups...I want to ignore none. I am worried sick about Ma at home (who is practically disabled, and dependent on others for the simplest of things). The sleepless nights have given me a stiff neck. I need to switch off, but I can't. I need a break from looking at the screen (of all sizes). I need sleep. So, today, I took the "day off".

I woke up earlier that usual. In fact, I hadn't really slept at all, with late-night phone calls from Ma. I must make most of my day off, I thought. I made breakfast for the family, instead.
Simple, easy breakfast. Not good enough, I guess. Perhaps I should have made something special. After all, it's my day off. But I'll make up for that later. For now, let me get a few loads of washing done.

Meanwhile, the little person was up. I better spend the whole day with her, doing fun stuff, and catching up on school stuff. After all, it's my day off.
So after breakfast, we spend an hour or more making a wind-chime with materials we had at home, then writing about it, and photographing it with my little artist.  That reminds me! Her school has been sending us online materials to do at home. So next, it was school work...spelling, writing, reading, maths. Let's make it extra fun, shall we? After all, it's my day off.

The neighbourhood mums group has started a "teddy bear on the window" initiative. So that when kids walk past houses, they see these teddy bears and smile. With little or no interaction with the outside world, it's a great idea to keep their spirits up. So, we went about finding a teddy to put at our window. But wait, the window has cobwebs, and dust. So I clean it first. As I already have the duster in hand, might as well dust the house. After all, it's my day off. All the dusting has made the floors too dirty now. How about a quick clean with a mop? Of course! After all, it's my day off.
Finally, the bear gets put on the window sill. "But we must take a photo of it, Mummy." Sure. So we step outside and click a few pictures. There are too many dry leaves all over our front lawn. Let me just quickly pick some up. After all, it's my day off.

Back inside, I remember that the carrots were going soggy...and I had a whole unused packet of ham, which would expire tomorrow. Can't throw things in the bin, particularly in such times of crisis. So made some ham and cheese scrolls for the little person's snack. And a carrot cake. The latter was to save two carrots, and make a little girl happy. But the mess it made... the washing and cleaning before and after... cost me more than an hour. But what kind of a mum would I be if I didn't even do these messy, fun things? After all, it was my day off.

A quick lunch followed. It is 2 pm now. I sit down for the first time, on my own. My headache feels worse. My shoulder and neck so stiff that I can't turn my head. I am welling up inside. I run to the toilet for a quick, quiet, weep. The little person follows. And asks a question about stars. It could wait. But what kind of a mother snaps back at a child's question? That too on a day off? But I do snap back. And I sob, silently, lest she hears me.
The phone rings. It's Ma, calling me for the third time today. I am tired, I am hurting. But what kind of a daughter doesn't pick up her mum's call? That too on her day off? So I pick it up. It's a question that I have answered before. Two times already today. I let out a scream, on the phone. Because I can't take it anymore. The cake, the wind-chime, the teddy bear...fade to a distant memory. Right this moment, I am a bad mum...and a bad daughter.

I scream, I am impatient, I haven't cooked (because baking isn't "cooking"), I haven't actually done any office work today...and I haven't smiled enough lately, although I have so much to be grateful for. I feel guilty for being ungrateful. And then I feel guilty for feeling guilty. I must make the evening better. Perhaps I'll paint something with Miss 6. Or go for a walk round the neighbourhood to spot more teddies at the windows. How about I do both? And I'll definitely call back Ma and talk for at least an hour. To console, pacify, reassure. After all, it's my day off.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trick or Treat? Chill or Thrill?

I was fortunate enough to grow up on a healthy dose of Thakumar Jhuli (a collection of Bengali folk and fairy tales for kids, whose title translates to “Grandma’s Bag of Stories”). But my favourite happened to be Jethimar Jhuli (“Aunt’s Bag of Stories”). The latter was by no means a published book. Its fascination lay in the fact that only we, the kids of the Sengupta family, had access to this collection of stories. The Jethima (aunt) in question is whom we call Soma.

It took strangers by surprise that we called our aunt, who was so much older than we were, by her first name. But “Soma”, despite being a popular Bengali name, wasn’t our Jethima’s name at all. “Soma” was a contraction for “Shejo Ma” (coined by my sister, who couldn’t really pronounce “Shejo Ma” when young). So that’s how our Jethima came to be known as Soma.

Soma was the kids’ favourite, not just because she was well-read and charming, but because she actually took the time to know each one of us individually. She even made us feel that she really did enjoy our company. Most of her generation dismissed us as a “collective noun” – “the kids are up to mischief again”, “the kids need to be fed”, “the kids need to be in bed now” etc. Soma made everything fun – right from pujo rituals to current affairs. But she was the best at storytelling. In fact, I haven’t met anyone who can make the ordinary sound so extraordinary, purely by the power of narration.

One of my favourite childhood memories (and I am sure many of my cousins will agree) is huddling up under a blanket, on a crisp, winter afternoon in Soma’s bedroom, while she told us ghost stories. I never questioned (and still not sure) whether these were stories she had read somewhere, or whether they were products of her own imagination. But the goose bumps were real, as we held hands and squealed in the kind of thrill only the horror genre is known to bring. The pleasurable fear going down our spine… that bone-chilling sensation of a hand reaching out to grab us from the back…that eerie feeling of someone watching us from outside the window… that constant anticipation that the person sitting next to us may suddenly turn into that we most fear…the cold hands and feet that gave us no respite, despite being under the thickest blanket….

Soma’s stories evoked all of that. It transported us to a place we all feared but loved at the same time. One such story was about a girl called Ila, who rose from her coffin. “Coffin thekey uthey elo…..Ilaaaaaaa”, Soma would say, dragging out the name in her spookiest voice. And we would scream and beg her to stop….and the very next moment, we would ask her to say that line again (as if she was a rock star performing her greatest hits). I am sure we all had our own mental picture of Ila. Mine was that of a face-less girl with the darkest of hair, white as a sheet of paper.

Another favourite story was the one in which a mother ate the flesh of her own child! Gory, I know (and in today’s context, possibly very inappropriate for being a kids’ story). But we turned out fine (mostly). The saving grace was that (as was later revealed in the story) she bit off the flesh because that was the only way to save her child, who was poisoned. But she stuck in our heads as a monster, who liked human flesh over ordinary food.

When Miss 6 came back from school chatting about her Halloween plans for tomorrow, strangely, these childhood memories came flooding back. I have never really cared much that Halloween is an “American thing” and the theories around why it “should not be celebrated”. All I know is that Miss 6 looks forward to it for most of the year. And although she may not have a cool Jethima as Soma who can take her on a thrill ride, I have decided to start our own Halloween tradition of spooky stories to celebrate the day. And while I’m no expert myself, I am going to trust these guys, and these, (and read a few more) who say that “scary stories are good for kids”. If you have any recommendations, please do share, as Soma’s Ila will have to wait a few more years.