Bonding

The rains this year have been quite heavy.
The clouds came in droves.
An army
In relentless pursuit
To seek out the culprit
Who had mercilessly decimated their friends,
the tall green trees.
They were their playmates-the trees!
Nestled in their leafy boughs
They would rest their weary body,
Before moving on.
The trees would shake in silent laughter
As the clouds brushed against them,
Wetting them in the process.
Amidst the harsh stony concrete
That rises high and
has replaced the trees,
The clouds can no longer feel at home.
The bond has snapped.
Liveliness has been replaced.
Sensitivity is lost.
The rain falls heavily.
The clouds grieve
The death of their friendship- the absence of the trees!

Passing on..

Suspended in air
In a haze
that the night was in the process of slowly assimilating,
He looked out on the river,
And saw life floating by.
Life-
that was memory now,
That which had ditched him
hours ago,
That which he could only long for now.
Life-with its omnipresent nuances.
It’s cravings and desperation.
It’s pain inducing demands.
It’s relentless cyclicality.
He saw life for one last time,
From close quarters.
Then the wind picked up speed
And tore into the haze.
He was now a million fragments,
Which assimilated into
Nature’s elements. IMG_20170210_092624

Pujo Rap

Pujo, for the Bengali, has probably changed significance over the years. The urban population has become nuclear resulting in having more on their plate in dealing with their own demons day in and day out.  Festivals have therefore become more of an excuse to relax and spend some time with loved ones. Relaxation brings about craving for food, adda, fun and frolic.

Here’s my Pujo rap…. If only I had an ear for music, I would have probably put this to music.

জামা আছে, জুতো আছে
আর আছে কাশ,
অ্যাডভার্টাইসিং বিলবোর্ডে
ভরা চারপাশ।
দোকান প্রচুর খাবারের
প্যান্ডেলকে করে গ্রাস
বেঁটে-লম্বা-রোগা-মোটা
খেয়ে হাঁশফাঁস।
ছুটি আছে, ল্যাদ আছে
এই চারটে দিন
মা দুর্গা বলে বলে
আড়মোড়া ভেঙে নিন।
নতুন নতুন প্রেম আছে
opportunity খোঁজে মন
সরস্বতী আর লক্ষ্মীকে
টেক্কা দেয় তিন্নির বোন!
তালে তালে ঢাক বাজে
মাতল ভুবন,
পুজো শেষে ভেবে মরো
বাড়ল কত ওজন?
বলো দুর্গা মাঈ কি….

Here’s hoping that everyone has a rocking Pujo.

Amader Pujo

Piku and Tuni were in a dilemma. Melancholy rested, with it’s monumental like heaviness, on the shoulders of these two puny, lithe girls! It was that time of the year when the river bank was a spread of white-the kaash phul was especially dense that year; it had been nurtured well by the heavy monsoon a month back and now stood tall and strong swaying in the autumn breeze. Reaching up to their height, the swaying kaash tickled their ears and caressed their face. In normal times they would have probably laughed and plucking a few Kaash might have proceeded to indulge in this game themselves. However, these were not exactly times to be merry! So the swaying, playful kaash, the azure sky, the bright sun, nothing seemed capable of lifting the heavy load of sorrow from the shoulders of these little girls! They sat still, staring at the flowing rivulet, their chin resting on their knees.

There would be no Pujo in the village this year! Their village was, in all probability,  the last habitable plot of land before the Sundarbans and the associated delta erected a natural barrier to the marauding mankind from further ingress. A small village, with barely 30-40 huts, seemed to have been pushed to the extreme corner of every politicians’ mind when it came to planning for improvement. The poor villagers, most of them farm labourers who worked on the field of the richest landlord in that area, toiled hard when nature was in a benevolent mood to lend a helpful hand to them. The crop that they produced went to fill the coffers of the landlord, Shri Durgacharan Dutta. For the uneducated poor villagers, the landlord was their sole guardian angel. He protected the villagers, guided and advised them in matters of everyday living. The villagers respected him; rather they were in awe of him. Such was his influence on the villagers that he even dictated and controlled the sole Durga Puja that was celebrated in the village. His palatial house had a courtyard, one end of which had a raised stage. Every year, during the month of Ashwin, when the sky turned a shade of Azure from one end of the horizon to the other, the village folks descended on this courtyard to celebrate Durga Pujo and welcome the Mother Goddess Durga into their village. Durgacharan performed the Puja with a fervour that also bordered somewhat on narcissism. It was a matter of pride, a matter of earning fame for him. Over the years he had spent lavishly on the festivities with the sole purpose to ensure that people did not even think of celebrating another Puja in the near vicinity of the village. Not that anyone else in the village had the financial means or the zeal to even think of one, so immersed they were in the struggles of daily existence.

The four days of festivities included preparations that begun almost a month ago with the idol maker being brought in from Kumartuli in Kolkata. He would come and take possession of one corner of the stage, spreading out his bed and other essentials, for this corner would be his home for the next one month! The four days of Puja was something that the entire village looked forward to in eager anticipation. The festivities of four days were sponsored fully by Durgacharan. A huge shamiana would be erected in the adjacent vacant land from which fragrance of the popular Bengali food wafted in the air all day long. The villagers came in droves to the shamiana to eat, twice a day, during these four days. Then there was the mela with stalls selling ornamental knick-knacks, colourful bangles and items of daily use for the household. A large circular wagon wheel, still smelling of the fresh coat of paint hastily applied, before the start of the Pujo, to hide its cracks and scars would be erected in one corner of the field. It’s flickering garlands of mini lights and bright tube lights kept luring the playful children, the giggling teenaged girls and their transient romeos to come and take a joy-ride. Ashtami was a special day when every villagers’ heart would be uplifted an extra notch in anticipation of the laathi khela exhibition, performed by the lathiaal army of the landlord. Although the army had been long disbanded and were no longer officially employed as laathials by the landlord, yet he encouraged a chosen few to keep this art alive.

Piku and Tuni simultaneously let out a deep mournful sigh at the thought of what they would be missing if the Pujo was not held that year. The landlord’s son had been afflicted with some mysterious illness and had to be admitted in a hospital in Kolkata. The Dutta household was engulfed in a cloak of sorrow. Durgacharan Babu had already gone to Kolkata with the intention being near to his ailing son.

While the entire village shared the sorrow felt by Durgacharan’s family and empathized with them, the two girls in particular were heartbroken. While expressing sorrow for the landlord’s ill health was ok, was it right to deprive everyone else of the four days of joy that every Bengali desired so desperately , the girls argued amongst themselves.

“Why couldn’t the village elders have joined hands to organize a Pujo in the village,” they thought aloud.

Agreed that such a Pujo would have been devoid of all the pomp and glitz of the Pujo that they had been accustomed to all these years but was it right to stop worshipping the Goddess altogether, their little conscience questioned!

The rumble of thunder broke their train of thoughts. Two large voluminous lumps of brilliant white cauliflower shaped clouds had come floating in from the horizon across the other bank of the river. They clashed over their head with the sound of their rumble, as if to express their agreement with the girls’ thoughts.

Then suddenly Piku had a brainwave. With an upward jerk of her head and downward thrust of her palms Piku stood up, extending her hand to pull up Tuni as well simultaneously. Her eyes twinkled as the idea begun to take shape inside her little head.

“Listen Tuni, Maa Durga is a woman. We are also women”, she spoke excitedly.

“Why can’t we celebrate by becoming Goddess ourselves during the four days of Pujo?”

Realizing that Tuni’s face still had a blank expression, she proceeded to explain further.

“We will make a coloured paper mask. Then we will take turns to wear it and stand by the riverbank like a statue all day long! It will be just like the way the idol of the Goddess stands inside the Pandal!  While one becomes Maa Durga, the other one will chant the mantras and worship the Goddess like purutmoshai does! We can even try to coax Bhombol to join in and do the Pujo. Haven’t you seen how sincerely he offers pushpanjali every year on the day of Ashtami?

Tuni didn’t seem exactly convinced but she was always the willing soldier-” hers not to question why, hers but to do and die!”

“We will meet again tomorrow early morning at this place. Plead with your mother to  give you some money. We will need to buy the necessary items and start preparing the mask of Devi. “

“This will be our Pujo. A Pujo that will be more joyous because we will organise it ourselves! Lets get down to work right from tomorrow because there is not much time. I think I still have a part of the trishul that I managed to grab before the idol was immersed in the river last year. We will need that”, she said excitedly.

The clouds overhead clashed once more and then begun to move apart, it’s reverberating rumble sounding as if a few dhaakis had suddenly decided to strike a few notes on their dhaak.

IMG-20170921-WA0000

A piece of England

On my way back from London in 2007, I brought back a piece of England with me!

 

No, it is not the jewels that adorns the crown and the sceptre of the Queen, neither is it a piece of Chicken curry that has become the national dish of England. It is associated with a beverage that is just opposite to beer, in terms of its beneficial value and the style of its usage. Yes, It is a tea strainer that I bought from Greenwich and carried it back with me as a proud possession and as a reminder of one of the many good things that England stand for!

 

Tea, or the English cuppa, made its way into England rather late and it was not until the Dutch and the Portugese traders had started trading in this commodity than the English East India Company decided to get into this trade.

 

The English society has always placed great importance to tea as a beverage. The English gentleman’s game of cricket has kept an allowance for a special break in the afternoon when the tired players can rejuvenate their spirits and their sportsman spirits with a cup of tea. One also fins mention in many stories about how the English women of the upper echelons of the society in colonial India used to spend much of their afternoon playing host to tea parties on the lawns of their sprawling bungalows. Indeed tea parties have probably been made most famous by Lewis Carol in the book Alice in Wonderland.

 

I read with interest an article on the website of British UK Tea Council that proclaims tea as the cause for spurring of nationalistic feelings in America and ultimately leading to the start of the American war of Independence. The article was certainly referring to the Boston Tea party, an important event in the history of USA and which helped place tea in the books of history.

 

It was therefore with great interest that I visited the museum named after the famous tea clipper Cutty Sark. Prior to the visit I was not aware of this vessel that had been anchored in the dry docks of Greenwich and which is the only clipper to have weathered all storms since 1800. Greenwich, for a common visitor like me, meant the royal observatory and the prime meridian and I had no inkling to the fact that it was home to a part of history associated with the popular beverage in Britain. Having seen the Royal observatory and getting ourselves photographed as standing on the prime meridian of the world, we roamed through the streets of this heritage village and reached the river front. Immediately our sight was attracted by a large area that had been fenced and covered with posters all around proclaiming that restoration work was in progress. It was then that we chanced upon a door that led the way inside, to the make-shift museum that opened our eyes to the history of Cutty Sark and the importance that Britain is placing on restoring this piece of history.

 

Cutty Sark is a tea Clipper and the only such vessel to survive even today. The vessel is a proof of the importance of tea in the cultural life of Great Britain. Cutty Sark was designed and built for John “Jock” Willis who came to be known as “White hat” Willis because he always wore a white top hat. He nurtured an ambition that Cutty Sark should become the fastest ship to be the first to bring home the bounty of tea chests from China to England. In those days the race top bring in the season’s first tea from China to Britain was taken up by the clipper vessels as they were built to be the fastest vessels to sail on the seas. It is believed that White hat Willis named the ship after a Scottish legend that was later turned into a story by Robert Burns. The clippers eventually lost out when the steam ships were built and Cutty Sark was brought back to its present resting place in 1954.

 

While we couldn’t see the ship itself, as the same had been badly damaged in a fire in May 2007, the tour of the museum provided me with a great deal of knowledge about Cutty Sark. The museum has lots of items on display that is related to either the clipper or to tea. It was while looking among the objects of display that I noticed this lovely little piece that was for sale!

 

The object was a simple tea strainer but one that was so wonderfully designed that it immediately evoked my interest. Straining the tea leaves is an important task and the success of a strainer can make or mar the cheerful spirit that is associated with the cup of tea. If one carefully observes the different kinds of strainers that one gets to see in India, it also tells a story of its own, about the taste of the person who would ultimately drink the tea and about the type of tea leaves that the person prefers. The many roadside tea shops that one comes across all over India use a piece of cloth as a strainer. These road-side tea shops cater to the common ‘junta’ on the streets of India; people who do not time to mull over their cup of tea. Tea, for them, is often a form of “pick-me-up” a sort of brew that is meant to rejuvenate them after a hard day’s activity or to make the ‘babu’ keep from falling asleep over the files in the office, after his lunch. Therefore the tea vendor usually uses the tea dust or crushed tea leaves that is meant to provide a strong liquor and not so much of aroma or taste. To strain such a kind of tea, one has to use a cloth filter because the holes need to be miniscule in order to prevent the dust from passing into the cup along with the liquor. At the other end of the spectrum is the silver tea strainer which has a beautifully designed border and a short handle that one uses to hold it while the tea is poured on it from a pot. These strainers have bigger holes because their job is to arrest the tea leaves, known as pekoe in commercial world of tea. The pekoe variety has full tea leaves that are curled and twisted while processing but also ensuring that the leaves do not break during processing. Thus the strainer’s job is easier as it does not have to stop the small tea dust from flowing into the cup and therefore the holes can be bigger and the strainer designed in an ornate fashion. The strainer has lost much of its significance today ever since tea bags were invented and the task of dipping to the desired level of strength and colour was left to the consumer rather than the maker of tea.

 

This strainer that I picked up from the Cutty Sark museum is shaped like a globe split in two halves and made with fine wire gauze, the kind that is used to make tea strainers. Around the equator of this globe is the rim which holds the gauze in its place. The two parts of the globe are joined at the rim with a hinge that facilitates the two parts to be opened in order to fill it up with tea leaves. Having filled the globe with tea leaves, it can snapped shut and then dipped inside a cup or a pot of boiling water. To hold the globe suspended into the pot/cup of water there is long chain attached to end of the globe. The other end of the chain has a cute little piece of tea cup, made of china clay and decorated with brightly painted designs.

 

It is a very handy piece of tea-strainer and it has set me free in a certain way. I dont have to depend on anyone now to get me a cup of tea. Anytime, I feel like, I can always fill the strainer with tea-leaves of my favourite flavour and then dip-dip-dip; into the mug of warm water (the micro-wave has made the life so much easier by boiling water instantly)! Also there’s no hassle of having to stock expensive, branded tea bags. The strainer allows me to taste the various inexpensive-yet-traditional flavours of Darjeeling tea that my local grocery store stocks. I have fallen in love with this piece of purchase from the land that loves its cup of tea. It will, am sure, keep the memories of Greenwich and London fresh in my mind, for a long time.

Friendship

Outside the train’s window,
The world moves away in a blur-
The trees,
the patch of green fields,
The cauliflower shaped cloud,
The huts-
Everything slips away,
Like the grains of sand passing
Through the pores in the fingers.
Inside the train they sit.
Face to face and
try to recapture
and bring back time,
That had run away from them.
They bind the time in chains
of their words,
Lest it slips away again.IMG_20170902_125708.jpg

Just Asian…A Dining experience

Visited.. 19th August 2017

OK, so this is the new kid off the block! The kid is new, fresh, full of energy and raring to go. The owners do a round of the tables, speaking to the diners, trying to connect, suggest courses, extract feedback after a course is done and generally make an attempt to make the dining experience a pleasurable one!
Well, I did like what the new kid had to offer during our first visit. The place used to be rented earlier by another restaurant and I couldn’t but help make a mental comparison of the inside decor of the current with the old. The owners of the previous restaurant had done up the place in bright shades of red and yellow with the walls being adorned with colourful posters and a clarinet style decorative lamp shade. Shorn of these posters and the clarinet lamp shade, the decor now appeared a little minimalistic and bare though by no means unattractive or un-appealing.
We had gone to the place with a specific aim of trying out the Japanese cuisine. The Miso soup that we ordered initially turned out to be a drab affair with the endearing seafood taste, so characteristic of a typical Miso soup, missing completely. Then we ordered some salmon sashimi, which however seemed to have retained all its freshness and hence was delicious in taste. The Thai red curry was next and though I thought the chef could have added a little more spice to the red curry and thickened the gravy a little bit more, the aroma emanating from the steaming white rice and the flavour of coconut milk of the gravy made up for any misgivings that I may have initially harboured.
In summary, if I had to describe the dining experience at Just Asian it would probably suffice if I mentioned the fact that I look forward to explore this place more in the coming months. There’s certainly the convenience bit for us because it’s distance from our house can be covered in 10 minutes even if we walked at a pace at which the tortoise had started the race with the hare. The brother – sister owner duo have already talked us into getting the discount card made and we certainly intend to make use of it in the coming days. There’s also something more than the convenience bit and the discount bit that would make me go back. It’s that honest eager to please attitude of the owners that has endeared me. I would therefore go back, on another day, to have a hearty conversation with them on matters relating to charity, something that they mentioned was their passion, over some good assorted sashimi platter.

 

Pic– Salmon sashimi platter. Would have been a better visual delight had it been paired with serving  chopsticks, instead of the fork & spoon combo!IMG_20170819_203936.jpg

Miss you Simba

You sit on the mantelpiece all day, tongue lolling and watch the world go by. We go on, running around, our daily schedule keeping us busy and forcing our thoughts and attention away, away from you. How do you keep so still, I sometimes wonder! You, who used to show your irritation by constant barking and jumping at not being given scraps of our food, you who used to bring the house down by your barks at the slightest sound of a gas cylinder being rolled or pulled against the floor, you who used to jump all over us when we returned back home, you, who never wanted to be left out of any activity that took place in the house! Today, you have become so quiet! I don’t like this silence. I had got so used to your interference in my life. Ever since I bought you home, as a little pup who fitted in the crook of my arm, you have always made your presence felt in this house!
This silence of yours, this sitting on the mantelpiece, framed in a picture frame, is so stifling. It makes me want to cry out in frustration sometimes. Makes me want to beg you to – bark at me, jump on me at least one more time!
Pleeaassseee….

Simba 1

Our Simba

Simba 2.jpgPhotographs remain,

Reminding of times gone past.

They stab at the mind with insensitive abandon,

And incite pain, eliciting tears.

When the clock struck eight.

You chose to move on the sly.

With a final shake of your head,

You, the fighter, bade the final goodbye!

Its been now a year past.

Of mortal bonds you are long freed.

In the elements of nature now,

You, we continue to search and seek.

In the lap of nature you lie

Shroud of wet earth as your cover.

Rest in peace in nature’s company

And dwell in our minds forever!