Sunday, October 26, 2008
The red ghagra-choli that Ma bought for me from 'Gariahat'
Baba and me with firecrackers
Ma lighting diyas in the balcony
Didi laughing with her friends in her room…
Relatives at home
Laddus from Haldiram’s
The small yellow lights on the ‘krishnachura’ tree…
‘Para’ friends calling out my name
‘Tubri’ show in the playground opposite our house
Friendly neighbors bringing in sweets and cheer…
Pouring ghee in the diyas in the middle of the night...
Sitting in office in my grey blazer…
Maybe Baba is watching from somewhere…
Is Ma lighting a diya today? Does she remember it’s Diwali?
Didi in office too…probably in her grey blazer
Relatives far away and distant…some dead
Boiled veggies for lunch…some packaged food for dinner
Some strange trees…the names unknown
Few friends…some acquaintances…many strangers around
I will light a lavender-scented candle tonight…
And wait for some magic….
Perhaps a whiff of ghee…from somewhere…
Thursday, October 23, 2008
- Be the subject matter of a contemporary movie making a ‘statement’
- Interest NGO workers
- Promote the use of rubber
- Make people talk
- Give my husband a shock
Sorry to disappoint you all….I caught hay fever.
(Allergic rhinitis, known as hay fever, is caused by pollens of specific seasonal plants, airborne chemicals and dust particles in people who are allergic to these substances.)
It renewed my interest in pollination, something that I last thought of in my Biology class in school. Well…not really. I had also given it a thought when I took to gardening one summer vacation. There was this horrible looking rose plant that refused to flower. I had given two suggestions to my mother, who, on hearing them, gave up her deepest wish of seeing me become a doctor someday. I had asked her if we could buy some butterflies and leave them on the plant…or better still, train my pet parrot to fly out of the cage, get some damn pollen from somewhere…and make the damn plant flower!
So that’s how close I got to pollination in my life…and that’s how close my mother got to being called the mother of a doctor. My mother had given up on my sister long before this incident, when she opted out of Biology as her sixth subject and took up Home Science instead. Later my sister complained that there was a lot of Biology in Home Science as well, as she had to remember the names of indoor and outdoor plants.
(I sometimes fear that if life comes full circle, I will be punished with two equally hopeless daughters…That reminds me, I need to ask how my husband was in Biology.)
Anyway, hay fever has made a Niagara out of my nose. I shed more water than I drank in my life (or hope to drink in the remaining days of my life). I walk around with a natural clown-nose, a box of tissues, and a nasal spray. I have lost three of my fully working senses…taste, hearing and smell (my vision having deserted me long back, when I turned myopic). Of the only remaining sense,’ touch’…well, with all the other senses gone or diminished, I don’t see much use of it. (Moreover, most people are avoiding any kind of ‘touch’ with me, thinking I am contagious, though I am not. Even if I was, trust me dear reader, you won’t catch it from my blog. I have a firewall installed!)
This poor-sensory existence wasn’t all that bad if my friends hadn’t decided to cook biriyani, eat out at KFC, go perfume shopping and visit the tulip garden all while I was unwell. Tulip garden! For god’s sake…that would be a pretty polinical party where I would probably hear one pollen grain saying to another “Let’s check out the new chicks that landed on the yellow tulips today.” OR “Hey, nice powder you are wearing!”
Friends are for tough times…yeah sure, to make it tougher!! Urrrggghhh!!
Hay fever taught me more than just the most decent way of blowing my nose in public. It opened my eyes to the five friends I have in this country…and the five senses I never stopped to think about.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
After quite a bit of contemplation, I decided that the T-zone is the most important part of my body.
If you haven’ t wasted enough time reading the Beauty Sections of Women’s Magazines, which 'zonify' the body as if you were a corpse in an anatomy class, you may not be familiar with the term T-zone.
For the convenience of such mortals, here is the meaning of T-zone:
‘If you were to draw a line through your forehead, nose, and chin, it would look like the letter "T" — hence, the commonly used beauty term, the T-Zone’.
If you ask me, I do not support such ‘zonification’. If I drew a T-shaped line through any other part of my body (for example, a line from one shoulder to the other, and a middle line stretching to the belly), even that would look like a ‘T’, wouldn’t it? So why follow such logic? Moreover, this whole concept of likening body parts to the characters in the alphabet system is quite obscene (characters like V and O are not things we want to talk about much).
Anyway, such ancient concepts cannot be changed by ludicrous bloggers. So I will not challenge it. Now that we are all in the same boat (sorry, zone), let me explain why I glorify my T-zone.
Well, firstly, I believe in glorifying the enemy. My migraines are my greatest enemies. They originate in my forehead and spread through the other zones of my head, my neck, my shoulder, my mood and consequently my husband’s head and mood.
The T-zone provides support to my spectacles. Now, my spectacles are the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me. Best because, I could still see if my sister was keeping the bigger piece of chocolate for herself. Worst because I could also see what the mad Physics teacher wrote on the blackboard, which I was supposed to copy on my notebook. So I give credit to my T-zone for turning me to a visionary (Oh! Can’t I use the word ‘visionary’ for one who has vision? Can’t I? Who says so?).
My T-zone is also a very seasonal in nature. It oils in summer and flakes in winter. Isn’t that helpful? I have never watched the weather forecast since I discovered this.
The T-zone also hosts the nose. My nose isn’t quite pretty. But I don’t mind it. It bears the scar of a wound that I picked up when I fell down on a terrace in Puri, while trying to chase a cousin who stole my chewing gum (un-chewed one). I still hate that cousin and the scar reminds me of my heroic chase… my ONLY attempt at heroism.
My mouth also falls in the T-zone. Needless to say, my mouth helps me a lot. It talks, tastes and breathes for me when my nose is blocked. In short, it does all that I need to survive…talk, taste and breathe.
As for my chin, people say, my granny gave it to me. That’s a feature I inherited from her (I wouldn’t have, if I had a choice). It’s longer than necessary, making me a victim of chin-pulling aunts and uncles all my childhood. Nevertheless, it reminds me of my granny, who was the last sane person in my family.
So there you go…my T-zone reigns as the undisputed monarch of a very large kingdom (yes, I am quite a fat woman). Till I find anything against it, I have decided to give it the respect it deserves. So here’s a blog post dedicated to my T-zone (and the T-zones of all others who agree with me on this).
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
October 2008: If there was a traffic police in the land of clocks and watches, ‘time’ would have had to pay a huge fine for speeding last weekend.
Back in the hall, I felt strangely secure. Amit wanted another ‘jilipi’, so he trotted to the food queue again. Sanjana, Sonali’s 5 yr old daughter, was most helpful. She got us chairs to sit on, which is a luxury in the crowd. But the problem was, we couldn’t stop her till she got all the chairs she could lay her hands on. So there we were…four-and-a-half people and 14 chairs, smiling embarrassed at those who wondered at our compulsive-chair-collection syndrome.
With a belly full of ‘khichudi’ and eyes full of ‘bheto-bangalir-dupurer-ghum’ (the afternoon naps that Bengalis are particularly fond of), we decided to head home, only to come back a few hours later.
In the evening, it was time for some serious ‘bhakti’ with ‘dhunurchi naach’ (a particular kind of dance in front of the deity in which it is assumed that the deity isn’t watching…as most of those dance steps these days are neither pious nor decent…at least most of the times). So we watched people dance to the beat of the ‘dhaak’. The smoke-filled hall reminded me of my ‘para pujo’, where year after year, Nitai da won the first prize for ‘dhunurchi naach’, as he could balance three dhunurchis at once: two in his hands and one on his chin. I missed my friends back home and all the fun we had on Dashami…the truck full of enthusiastic people dancing their way for the ‘bhashan’ (immersion of the goddess).
But I couldn’t complain. I had already made some cool new friends. Sonali, Anirban and their daughter Sanjana were a great company to have (especially when I found out that Anirban makes amazing kebabs and Sonali cooks awesome fish curry). As the evening ended with the community dinner consisting of ‘luchi’, ‘begun bhaja’, ‘alu dum’, ‘pulao’, ‘chatni’, ‘mishti’, we planned to meet for breakfast the next morning at our place.
After a continental breakfast of cheese burger, bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages, tomatoes and mushrooms, we headed for the pujo hall again. On our way, we stopped at Anirban’s place, wondered at his beautiful house, rejected his offer of beer, and took a ride on Sanjana’s swing in the lawn.
Back in the hall…more people…and more colours, as it was time for sindoor-khela (a tradition in which married women spill sindoor on other people’s wives…including Lord Shiva’s wife, Durga). Obviously, this tradition makes a good photo-session event…as husbands click pictures of their wives…and other people’s wives as well!
Anyway, for me, the sindoor khela reminded me of the Holi excitement (except that there were no water-filled balloons, which I generally love shooting at others). I screamed at Amit for not carrying his handkerchief with which I could wipe my red face (I need to admit that generally there is no space in his pockets to carry even a toothpick, as I usually use his pockets as my handbag…and stuff it up with stuff you would typically find in a lady’s handbag (well…not all of it, of course).
A kind lady took pity and offered me some tissues. And that was the start of yet another great friendship! Enter Priyanka, Suprotim, and their 8-month old daughter Rheanna. It seemed as if we were long lost sisters…sharing common surnames, ancestral roots, house locations in Kolkata, dislike for cooking, love for watching movies ‘back-to-back’ all night, among many other things!
So our new gang…Sonali & family, Priyanka & family and Amit & wife …enjoyed the rest of the pujo. We watched Antakshari in the evening and danced to popular Bollywood music. Amit even did the unthinkable…served food at the community dinner! What a performance that was!
Back home, today (October 9, 2008) is Dashami. But we were in a time machine last weekend and have already been there…done that. In fact, we did a lot more since then. Our gang met each day this week at Priyanka’s house after work…and celebrated pujo and our new found friendship….with booze, ‘adda’, KFC, ‘luchi’ and ‘pathar mangsho’ (not all on the same day, of course).
We still haven’t overcome our pujo hangover…and I doze in front of my computer at work these days…waiting for it to be 5 pm, when I can rush for Priyanka’s house for yet another great evening. Anyway, another weekend is almost here…and this Saturday, it’s time for the official Bijoya Sanmelani organized by BAWA (Bengali Association of Western Australia). Bijoya or no bijoya…we are sure to have many more ‘sanmelanis’. So we have slightly modified the popular ‘asche bochor abar hobe’ to ‘asche weekend abar hobe’…as that’s what life is all about away from our homelands…living our weekends as if there is no Monday!
Monday, October 6, 2008
Her friends had been pestering her since last week to treat them to some authentic Bengali food. Away from home they sometimes feel homesick…but they never miss their mother tongue…they sing, fight, chat, conspire and plan in that language. They sing “Bhalobasha” and “Sujon”, they plan their little trips to the “Land of chikis”, they conspire against the weird neighbours, and they chat about everything under the sun…from “ear rings to Abol Tabol”.
Basuri has gone out with Broto on a date….so they decided to have the “puris” for dinner. Rajasri has been trying to be helpful…but she has already burned 2 puris. So Shila takes control of the kitchen as the main assistant to Mita. Rajasri is great with salads not with puris….but atleast she tries, unlike Leena who never budges from the couch. There is still some egg curry left in the refrigerator….Ditya had cooked it with such great care…and her culinary skills had been much appreciated. Shekhar had missed out on the curry…so he would have it with the puris today.
Shekhar being the best judge of food, his opinion really makes a difference. He is the one who organises trips. They still remember how they landed up in a temple which seemed to be situated on the other side of the globe. But the drive had been fun…especially when they came up with strange dance movements. Vir is there as usual…playing the fool. Today he told them about the bees that entered his room when the bee hive hanging from his window had been broken. He gave a performance that will be difficult for them to forget….he played both roles…that of the bee and his harassed roommate.
Raj will return from office quite late …as usual. He will be having his dinner in office but he wants his share of the puris as well. Ranjan and Tan have gone out to get the beer…
Meals were matter-of-fact....mere consumption of food....for survival. The refrigerator lay loaded...but no one served my favourite "kasundi" as i reluctantly swallowed the boiled bitter gourd .One day I ran out of drinking water......carelessly forgetting to fill the water filter! What a night that was....thirst...and some salty tears of self pity!
Power cuts were so alarming....the empty candle stands with traces of molten wax....smiled at me mockingly.....as if to say....."learn to be independent". It was a dark, warm, evening....with mosquitoes to play with.....and no phone call...not a single one.
Almost forgot the taste of fish....."do not buy fish all by yourself.....they'll give you the rotten ones...and you'll fall ill"....ma said over the phone one day. So when friends talked about hilsa cooked with mustard...i could only smell it with my imagination!
The flower pots did not cooperate...."we don't need you" they said vainly when i watered them sometimes. They never greeted me with a blossom as they did when ma was around. I sometimes brought home some roses......not because I am particularly fond of roses but because i wanted to win the battle over ma's little garden. But i never found a flower vase....and the roses looked miserable in the Horlicks glass jars....the only replacement for flower vases i could lay my hands on.
Then in a dream one night.....i felt a beautifully scented room....the scent of incense sticks glowing in front of the idols that ma worships. Waking up in the middle of the night....i missed something terribly ...that smell of "chandan". The gods must have been angry with me.....for not lighting a single "diya" or an incence stick. Ma does that every day...the first thing after her bath...as the bathroom smells of a hair oil i never use....and the bedroom smells of chandan and flowers piously laid in front of the gods....with the largest red hibiscus at Ma Kali's feet.
Ma is in all that surrounds me.....in the glass of water that is carefully placed on the table everyday when i return from office....in the lunchbox lovingly packed......in the songs that make me happy. She's in the Holi i celebrated away from home for the first time this year...in the lonely nights when even the third capsule could not relieve me of the headache that torments me sometimes...
When I met her after 5 months and 10 days....she was all the same....reminding me of the protective curtains, the hilsa i craved for, the candle i could not find, the incense sticks i never bothered to light, the fluffy pillow i missed so much and.... the flower that never blossomed without her care.....
- The bag that baba used to carry to the fish market still stinks…..of fish and dust.
- Didi’s school diary is filled with complaints from teachers to parents…."talkative"….."did not do her homework"……"was not well prepared for the oral test".
- The tiny spoon that ma used to force down unwanted morsels of food down didi’s throat has lost its shape and colour.
- The hairpin that ma used as a new bride is dangerous enough to prick one to a wound.
- The red gloves that I wore, when I dressed up as Santa Claus in a school function
...have survived in spite of the rat bites and naphthalene balls. Yet we could not throw these dusty, tattered, smelly bundles of memory away…..
Moments become memories…..and objects become tokens…..of love, innocence, pride, sorrow and toil. I had probably realized this years back when I became a collector. Every greeting card I ever received in life (from the time I learnt the value of a greeting) is carefully preserved in a cardboard box that lies on the topmost rack of my bookshelf. The childish writings of friends I have vague memory of, force me to recollect. The little, funny poems added to the cards by those who are now settled on the other side of the globe and have become fathers/mothers of children who are as old as they were when they wrote those poems…..evoke a strange feeling…almost of another life.
The wrap of the candy I won in a lucky dip in a school fete, the pen that my sister bought for me with the money in her piggy bank, the ticket to the first movie I saw with my friends in the theatre with no adult escort, the ‘Leadership Training Service’ (LTS) badge, the flower picked up from a garden in Chandigarh, the ICSE timetable, the newspaper cutting declaring that Aamir Khan is married (Ma said I skipped lunch after that...which is 'something' as I ate 7-8 times a day those days), the earring whose pair I lost, the autograph of a favourite class teacher, the passes to the fest I saw my first crush in, the cartoon of me that my best friend drew on my mathematics notebook, the stamp I pulled out of the envelope that carried the letter from my pen friend from Austria, the envelope in which I got my first fees as an English tutor…..are all pieces of my past…the past that makes me what I am.
I relived five years of my adolescent life in fifty minutes as I read the letters from a dear brother .The praise when I got admission in one of the better colleges in the country, the advice when I thought that everyone could be trusted, the consolation when I didn’t know how to handle my first crush….were like my past speaking to me….summing up my whole adolescent existence.
Hindsight is as important as foresight… as it is the filter that traps our past follies. In fact foresight is often built on hindsight. I am glad that I kept collecting the fragments of my past…..they are the only things that I can call entirely my own. One day when I will be a bundle of trembling hands, shrunken eyes and wrinkled cheeks…. I will open my bagful of goodies… that will be like the zephyr from the past…and then with a scalp full of grey hairs, I will relive those days…and my toothless grins will amuse anyone who would care to notice.
January 2006: It was more than a perfect holiday. It was the best 6 weeks of my life of 24 years…with the people I loved most…and a brand new continent to explore.
I boarded MH182 at 12:00am on the 25th of Jan 2006. The thrill of my first overseas flight…that would take me to a little wonder named Rai. Even with a not-so-friendly Japanese man as my companion in the first flight, the four hours did not seem quite a waste. I let my eyes feast on the land below…the land of a thousand glow worms. The lights on the unknown lands I crossed…and the darkness of the seas! It seemed as if the window was a painter’s dynamic canvas…where the paintings kept changing every minute. I could feel my eyes shut with happiness…and they woke up to Kuala Lumpur at dawn.
It was not going to be as dreamy as I thought it would. What with the entry of a new character…a mustache less, bearded man from Bangladesh, who seemed to be the brand ambassador of some god-forsaken toothpick company? Well this character had a major role to play during my journey from KL to Sydney. He was one of a kind…kept cleaning his teeth with the toothpicks he carried. He was quite passionate about it I thought….for to do it for 8 hours at a stretch needs passion if not patience. At one point of time I wondered if his passion would force him to volunteer to clean my teeth as well. Thankfully he didn’t. But he did me a great favor. He shattered all my school girls’ dreams of romance on a flight…and reinforced my disrespect for illusive Hindi movies.
Then my eyes got its greatest gift. I saw Rai…in Didi’s arms. It was the best picture I ever saw…because it made me happy like nothing else ever did. I took that bundle of joy in my arms…and knew immediately… it was going to be the best 6 weeks of my life of 24 years.
And the next 6 weeks! All I can do now is to think of those days and smile…and perhaps raise a toast. So here’s raising a toast!
Here’s raising a toast to the raisin toasts in breakfast…and the sausages and the bacon. Here’s to the big house packed with the people I love most. Here’s to the trips to the city on the train, and the amazing conversations we had. Here’s to the food courts…and my exploratory appetite that was keen to try anything from octopus to kangaroo. Here’s to the bags full of goodies that I held after each shopping expedition… clothes that could dress up an entire nation, chocolates that could feed a generation, bags that could carry anything from a coin to a cauldron ...show-pieces that could fill up a museum.
Here’s to the amazing places that Partha da took us…
Melbourne: The city of gardens and trams. It made me realize why poets chose to write about gardens of all things. The Federation Square, the open theatre, the little stalls decorated for Chinese new year, the walk along the Yara river…and the glitz and glamour of Crown Casino.
Puffing Billy: Catching the train was quite an experience. As in Hindi movies, we chased the train and managed to board it at day end. The journey down the green mountains, when the sun and the air played strange games with us has been one of the most refreshing train rides of my life. If the Bombay local trains made you feel like life was a constant struggle against being pick-pocketed...this made you feel like life was an eternal jackpot...that you always won.
Philip Islands: The gallery full of tourists from all corners of the world….waiting in silence as the moon shone down. The chill of the air and the sound of the distant waves proclaimed that we were one with nature. And then they arrived…tiny creatures emerging from the vast ocean. They glistened on the sand as they made their way to the shrubs. The penguins were a sight I’ll never forget in my life.
Ballaret: It took us back in time to the 1850s. This gold mining town has preserved history in the best way possible. Men in garters and women in gowns …horse carriages…the sight of raw gold being solidified into a bar ….the colonial marching soldiers….the candy and candle shops at every bend of the road. This journey back in time filled me up with the strangest of emotions.
Gold Coast: It was beyond my imagination that a tourist spot like this could exist and I could some day make it to that place. We visited the Movie and the Sea Worlds on this land of theme parks. At Movie World we met all the characters that populated Hollywood movies…from Austin Powers to Scooby Doo…from Shrek to Harry Potter…..from Tweety to Batman. I rode roller coasters (on land and in the water) ….caught a 4D animation movie….saw the hilarious Police Academy stunts….and the famous march of the movie characters. We were drenched in rain…and shivered…in cold and in excitement. At the Sea World we touched the star fish, saw the dolphins dance, and watched the sea lions put up a performance and the polar bears having supper!
Brisbane: The walk along Southbank at night. The roads smelled of some exotic flower…and our hearts yearned for the distant boats on the river.
Here’s to the Great Ocean Drive and the Twelve Apostles standing in the sea …watching the tourists for years. They gave me a creepy feeling…as if I had come to the end of the world. The river cruise from Paramatta took us to the city ….where the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge greeted us as they had greeted millions of tourists before us. At the beaches…Palm, Anna, Kiama, Coonjee….I saw all the shades of blue that I thought existed only in paint boxes and imaginations. Here’s to the waves…the shells…the trees…and the sand.
At home we relived old days….our childhood being analyzed in hindsight. That’s what makes siblings so special….they have a repository of memories to talk about for the rest of their lives. Rai was a constant entertainment…gargling away to glory….swinging her million dollar pony tail and smiling to make us all smile.
I discovered that my taste buds danced at the mention of Thai food. The steak at ‘Lonestar’ brought out the carnivore in me. And I never had too much of the good old fish and chips …
Some things change the way you look at life….and some things change your life. I am not sure what this vacation did to me…but it definitely reminded me of my favorite proverb ‘Doing what you like is freedom/Liking what you do is happiness.’ These 6 weeks gave me both freedom and happiness….and here’s raising a toast to it.
June 2005: When I started writing this piece, I wondered what I was aiming at. Was it a book review? A movie review? A journal inspired by a book I loved? Not quite. As my fingers moved frantically on the keyboard, I stopped bothering about the outcome. What I was left with was a narrative of our plight….the plight of numerous Bengalis living outside their homeland.
On an exceptionally warm Saturday afternoon, I started reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. Even though I was in Calcutta then (and had no idea that I would settle abroad myself), I felt a connection with the theme of non-resident Bengalis as I missed my didi who was settled in Australia. In a few minutes that connection grew stronger and the narrative gripped me.
The book spans more than thirty years in the life of the Ganguli family. Ashoke and Ashima, each born in Calcutta, had immigrated to the United States as young adults. Their children, Gogol and Sonia, grow up in the United States.
As I sipped coffee and read along, I grew more concerned about Ashima than anybody else I knew. I became a part of her family… walking in her house, eating dinner with her, crying when she was sad. Alone in her new apartment, when Ashoke is away at work, she is the picture of loneliness. There is only a glass window between the autumn in her heart and the cold breeze outside. As she remembers her parents and relatives back home, her mind becomes a global canvas, reflecting the plight of numerous individuals away from their homeland. Especially during her pregnancy, she misses the company of her loved ones. So she makes a puffed rice concoction that soothes her appetite and her nerves. ‘Puffed rice concoction’ ….the English translation of jhalmuri…almost takes away all the spice, and the dirt from the roadside peddler’s hands that makes it tastier.
As Ashima cries at the news of her father’s death…seated on her couch in Boston…helpless…desperate for a last glimpse of her dear father in Calcutta…..I cursed the world for being so vast. Ashima’s reaction to her father’s death reminded me of didi receiving the same news in a very similar manner. And I cried, more for didi than for baba. I suddenly had a strange realization - that sorrow of a very intense kind is something to be treasured. One does not realize that when one faces it for the first time but with the passage of time, the memory of that sorrow becomes the only true companion during dark, lonely nights.
Gogol’s embarrassment and initial dissatisfaction with his parents….their ways and habits, the parties they hosted, the food they preferred, their over protectiveness about their children, their constant fear of disaster….evokes both slight anger (for not loving his parents unconditionally) and mild sympathy (for being unable to accept his cultural roots). Their visits to Calcutta reminded me of some of my uncles and aunts who paid seasonal visits to India, never forgetting the Ferrero-Rocher…. the soaps, the sweaters and the watches. The cousins, who always looked either lost in or defeated by the mosquito nets and steel utensils, suddenly became more lovable (not the spoilt, snobbish brats, as we often mistook them to be).
Ashoke names his son after his favorite author, Nicolai Gogol**. Gogol’s books had been Ashoke’s truest companion in hard times. In fact, one of his books was a life savior. So when the question of naming his son arose, Ashoke thought it was the best way to pay tribute to the novelist who inspired his very existence.
Just as no employee is ever happy with their salary, no one I know is completely satisfied with their name. My name was a result of a tussle between two kids……my 10-yr old cousin and my 8-yr old didi. Both wanted to name me after their respective best friends in school. My mother solved the problem by deciding to draw lots. My relatives gathered around and picked up chits with the names written on them. My cousin won…..and I got my name.
Gogol's unusual name serves as a symbol of his own identity crisis. His resentment for his namesake is quite understandable. In the midst of the Johns, Jacks and Jennifers, he stands out because of something he had no control over - his name. His name was like the cross he could not bear….and he decided not to. So he changes his name to Nikhil. However, his new name does not give him a new identity.
Gogol grew up with an American way of thinking and living. But when it came to a family crisis (death of his father) he shows the same loyalty to family as is typical of an Indian. As he walks through the bright highways and dark alleys of life, he realizes that his name was much more than just a name. His name was his father’s pride, his mother’s sense of security, and the essence of his childhood. In learning this, he learns more about himself and….life. The name that had taken the family apart also brings the family together.
The Namesake is a story of identities (lost and found), dreams (nurtured and shattered), tears (shed and unshed), and rainbows (created and envisioned). It is about the life led by millions of Bengalis all over the world…. intertwined by their roots, connected by their souls and living by their dreams.
**‘Nicolai Gogol was a Russian-language writer of Ukrainian origin. Although his early works were heavily influenced by his Ukrainian heritage and upbringing, he wrote in Russian and his works belonged to the tradition of Russian literature. The novel Dead Souls (1842), the play Revizor (1836, 1842), and the short story The Overcoat (1842) count among his masterpieces. After the triumph of Dead Souls, Gogol came to be regarded by his contemporaries as a great satirist who lampooned the unseemly sides of Imperial Russia. Gogol's work has also had a large impact on Russia's non-literary culture, and his stories have been adapted numerous times into opera and film.’
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Skipping Ponchomi , pujo started with Shoshti on Saturday. Unfortunately it did not last for a day….as it had to make space for Shaptami…which squeezed in and lived its life through Saturday evening. Sunday was a 3-in-one day. It started as Ashtami….changed its mind by late morning and posed as Nabami…..and then it suddenly changed colors and pretended to be Dashami!
As we made our way into Karidinya Community Centre, Perth, my radar beeped out loud. A techno voice hummed in my ear, saying ‘Bongs detected….bongs detected. Please turn right at the gate, adjust the pallu of your not-so-well-clad saree and put on a 5cm smile’.
Not quite so. Sometimes I smiled 6.5 cm as well. And one time I remember yawning for 10 seconds. Will I be disqualified for that?
Anyway, the goddess was pretty and gorgeous as ever. Resplendent in her golden attire, blessing all those who paused to pray…and even those who didn’t. The lion too seemed to be feeling quite at home in the land of koalas and kangaroos.
No matter what…Bengalis live up to their roots and culture. How you ask? Well, the anjali that was to start at 9:30am, started at 11:00 am. Weren’t we always known for our punctuality?
As I held the red and green kangaroo paw during anjali, I felt funny. No, there are no red and green kangaroos in Australia. It’s the name of a popular flower in Western Australia. I missed the marigolds and ‘bel pata’ back home…the flowers and leaves I used from my first anjali till my 26th (ooops did I just give out my age?) But I told myself, flowers are flowers….just like pujo is pujo.
Back home, my ears had got familiar with certain words that the purohit chanted during anjali. My friends and I played our secret game during anjali…of letting our tongues twist in our mouths as we tried to copy the purohit’s Sanskrit accent. This time the chant was unfamiliar, as the purohit was a South Indian…and no amount of twisting tongues in my mouth could help me get his crisp Sanskrit accent.
So I kept mute and prayed. At the end of it, the red and green kangaroo paws were collected in baskets from Ikea and the ‘shanti-jol’ sprinkled in abundance.
As I let my eyes scan the ‘mandap’, I rejoiced at the sight and smell of chandan flavoured incense sticks, the fruit-filled trays of ‘prasad’, the coconut in one corner adorned with ‘sindoor’, the grains of basmati rice on a plate. In the midst of these familiar things, my eyes stopped at something that I had never seen back home…a Brownes milk packet flaunting the picture of a fat Australian black and white cow.
Shifting my attention from bos taurus to homo sapiens, I looked at the people in the hall. Colourful sarees, bright jewelry, fab-india kurtas, the sound of laughter, the whiff of Cool-Water perfume. My heart heaved a sigh of relief at the sight. How different would these people look on Monday on their way to office? I remembered my first day I went for work in Perth. I looked at the office-goers and had spent a moment or two imagining what the city looked like from a bird’s eye view. A land where black dots moved around in a great rush! Most of them wore black! Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday!
Making my way through the colourful crowd, I found a familiar face. That’s when I smiled that 6.5 cm smile I mentioned earlier. I spoke to Sonali, a friend of a friend, and now my friend. She and her husband Anirban introduced me to many others. I answered the same questions 14.5 times ‘How long have you been in Perth?’ and ‘Are you here on a work visa or a permanent residence?’ (The last .5 time was when someone went away without stopping to hear my answers).
Anyway, not a bad start I thought, thanks to Sonali. At least now I know a few names…and faces (though I struggled to remember the relationship between the names and the faces).
In the food queue, I overheard some people talking of home loans and rising mortgages, investment properties and the mines that they have been to lately for work. I have had to familiarise myself with geology and mines since I moved to Perth. So I quickly remembered something I read a while ago about the relationship between mines and mortgages, which I had interpreted in my amateur mind to be something like ‘More mines, would mean more mortgage rates’. The excerpt from the actual piece I read is: ‘Perth, Darwin and regional Queensland towns are the new boom areas thanks to the resources explosion. The biggest single influence on Australian real estate right now is the resources boom. The only property markets really firing are those affected by overseas demand for commodities. While markets such as Sydney and Melbourne struggle, prices soar in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and regional Queensland.’
With a plate full of ‘khichudi’, ‘labda’, ‘chatni’, ‘papad’ and ‘pantua’ I made my way to the open space outside the hall, where people were fewer, and empty chairs more. As I put a lump of khichudi in my mouth, my ears smoked, my face turned red, and my tongue burnt. It was too hot! I cursed myself for not waiting till it got colder. I made a circle with my mouth to emit the warm air trapped inside. As my eyes followed the faint line of smoke that I emitted, they met another pair of eyes staring down at me. These eyes belonged to, (what I believe) a footy player. There was a footy party at the hall adjacent to ours. There were these young blonde guys in green jerseys sipping cold beer at the entrance of that hall. They looked at me with great amusement and curiosity, taking turns to wonder at my attire, the sindoor on my forehead, the food on my plate, my red face and my smoky mouth. Caught unguarded, I took 20 seconds to decide what my reaction to them should be. I had decided to pretend that I was following a new stylish way of eating hot Indian food, by emitting smoke from my mouth instead of letting the food cool down on the plate itself. I tried to put up that pretence. They smiled at me politely and said ‘Hi’. I managed to gather the remnants of my shattered self-image and greeted them back.
After this mini tragedy, I decided to walk back into the hall where there would be no green jerseys… perhaps a few green kanjivarams.
To be continued…