The coconut oil froze. It is mid-January and the temperature is around 20°C. At six in the evening, I look for warm water in the flask, the tap and the pantry. Find none. So I head down to my first floor kitchen. Take some tap water in a vessel and heat it on the four burner cooking stove. My cook Yadavji is preparing a South Indian platter for dinner.
While cooking he generally listens to either old Hindi songs or news on his smart phone. Our choice of music as well as news do not match. So, I’m usually not interested in whatever he is listening to. A trip to the first floor kitchen is just ‘a greeting to Yadavji, perform the required job and return to your floor’ kind of thing for me. Today while I placed the vessel on the fire, I heard the news anchor shout ‘Pakistan and vaccines’. So I stopped and asked Yadavji, “What do you and your family members discuss at your place?” He looked confused so I explained, “In your household, when you have normal discussions, who are they about? Your family and your problems or my family and our problems.” He thought for a minute and answered, “We talk about ourselves. Why should we discuss you?” “That’s exactly my point. Each one of us have our own troubles to worry about. Why are the Indian news channels so interested in Pakistan?” “Oh! They are just saying that Pakistan still hasn’t ordered vaccines. No one is ready to sell them any. They got the information from Pakistan itself.” “How does that matter to us?”
This is controlled news. Bigotry states if you can’t look good, derive sadistic pleasures by making others look worse. We ourselves have 1.35 billion to vaccinate. Inspite of a colossal amount in the PM Cares fund all may not get free vaccination. The key to success is minding our own business. Only when we are focussed on ourselves and concerned about our own problems, we come up with effective solutions and prosper. Here we are in 2021, a country with an extremely large skilled and unskilled work force, capable enough to make our mark, yet failing to make ends meet as we defy the norms of self love.
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I very clearly remember, as if it were yesterday, hiding behind the pale yellow striped wooden door of my aunt’s balcony, holding a small silver scissor (that is still there at my mum’s place) trying to snip my own fringes.
Being a hairdresser was a secret childhood obsession. I was always caught. Well mostly! Seems mum was always on a look out. She would forbid me from cutting the doll’s hair as it would never grow back. Never grow back! To me they were living. Also I could hurt myself or someone else. The adventurous I would sneak into the loneliest corners of our house and trim anyone’s hair I could lay my hands on… my doll’s, baby sister’s, cousin’s .. anyone.. just anyone whom I could convince. Perhaps that marked the beginning of developing the remarkable marketing skills that I now possess.
My luckiest day was when my little cousin asked me to style and blow dry her hair for a family wedding. Yes! I have witnessed a day like that. A flamingo feather in my early teenage cap. That day I would have even shared my top secret lock diaries and musical instruments only if she had asked. Like a perfect vanity princess I was forever ready to advice on hair and skin care to anyone who would want to listen.
While the world craved a son, having a daughter appeared a miraculous boon to me. Secret wishes do come true because Santa does exist. I’ve been rather nice I guess. While in quarantine my daughter’s doll like hair grew longer and longer. She would have happily turned into Rapunzel. But the bundles of strands curled on the sides. That was the exactly the time I clicked a back picture and persuaded my seven year old to get a nice hair cut from mommy.
The seven year olds now a days are a different breed. Difficult to deceive and unequivocally outstanding at bargaining. She pressed at bartering her hair for mine. But there was no way I could have agreed to that. So the next method I opted for was instilling fear. The fear of split ends and rough edges to a vanity princess is like a tyrannosaurus on a chase for human kid meat. The deal was sealed with her oldest barbie doll Nina getting a new hair style thus completing the circle of life.
This entire January I had been rigorously reading about COVID-19 on Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia. At first, it seemed like a new epidemic that was identified in Wuhan, China, a far off place, that even a travel freak like myself would not ever be interested in visiting. A city locked down, thousands quarantined, a deadly outbreak with no antidote – didn’t effect my life. It was like the news on T.V., that we listen to every day, browsing through the different news channels. Ponder over, on the toilet seat, forming an opinion. Discussing with peers, as if it were the most important thing on earth. And finally, do nothing about it.
While most of my thoughts were occupied with the anti-CAA, NRC protests, revocation of Article 370 & 35(A) and the atrocities of fascism, a part of me wandered around the vigorously spreading Virus. The world now being better connected than ever, both virtually and conventionally, does have exceptional and enormous advantages. Like the omnipresent cosmic duality of masculine and feminine, sweating summers and shivering winters, the north-facing shade and the south-facing brightness, even connectivity has a notorious corrupt edge. While its digital edge kills with fake news, vendetta politics and communal hatred, the conventional one has engulfed more than half the planet with panic and fear of the newly discovered, highly contagious, fatal COVID-19. On 22nd March’20, the country observed a self imposed curfew from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. implored by the Prime Minister of India. The purpose being to break the canny chain of transmission of the pale and crafty COVID-19 virus. With the number of corona infected citizens rapidly increasing to almost 300 and 4 already dead, social distancing remained the only weapon we could win back the planet. The problem with my countrymen, more than poverty, illiteracy and population is an acute lack of understanding and self discipline. In this complementary, interconnected and interdependent community, there wasn’t a soul that wasn’t aware of social distancing, especially after the P.M. spoke about it, in his 8 p.m. announcement. Yes, in India we have these 8 p.m. announcements by Modiji, in which he addresses the nation. Owing to his paramount popularity, every Indian whether living abroad or in the remotest rural village in India, gets glued to the television set. That is why I can assure you that every Tom, Dick and Harry in the country is aware of the pandemic and it’s devastating ways.
On 24th March 2020, at 8 p.m., there was another apt, much required yet sudden announcement of a nationwide lockdown of 21 days to contain the spread of Covid-19. Though the move is much appreciated, I’m fearful, achieving the sort of distancing that countries like Italy and China have maintained will be challenging for India. Many of our citizens live in tightly packed slums in mega cities such as Mumbai and Delhi. Many of the countries poorest earn the money they need to buy food, the day they eat it. Also there are videos floating, of thousands of daily wagers stranded, walking the national highways, trying to reach home as they are out of work. There are kind hearted locals trying to help with fooding, to as many they can reach out. Certain states, like my very own, West Bengal have competent empathetic C.M.s like Mamta Banerjee, who have effectively arranged food and shelter for the poor rural workers stuck in the city. The lady has earned respect for sure. She has also converted a stadium into a quarantine centre preparing for the worst. Honestly, I’m happy to be a Bengali, at least by place of birth, if not by origin.
Amidst all the chaos, like all law abiding citizens, our family is happily quarantined. Family, here includes the legally wedded husband (who like a typical brave and protective Bollywood superhero, boarded the last flight to reach us before the lockdown), our seven year old daughter and my magnetic self. The beloved in-laws are at the farm. Even we had the option to leave the city and stay with them, but then flying there, meant vicariously exposing the mighty Dad-in-law to the virus. Which would have been very unsafe as he had a surgery and the couple is aged, though rainbow hearted.
Like I earlier stated, every positive aspect has a notorious negative node, the vice versa remains as veritable. A nation wide lockdown for 21 days meant
21 days of not stepping out of the house
21 days of household work for the urban middle class women, who are used to part time maids or full time domestic help. Here in India, household work is generally treated as an entirely women zone with few exceptions.
21 days of no partying
21 days of not doing much productive work, money wise
21 days of realising that some of us (excluding me) have no hobbies
21 days of being bored of T.V., discovering that it actually is an idiot-box.
21 days of non stop Netflix, Amazon Prime and ALTBalaji
# 21 days of Ramayana and Mahabharata, both at home and on T.V.
21 days of not shopping online as the deliveries are deferred
And above all,
21 long days of getting tired of staring at screens, looking for something apart from Facebook Twitter, Insta and of course WatsApp statuses of random people.
Well, to me it was
§ just 21 days to ponder what life is all about
§ just 21 days to my family with no intruders
§ just 21 days to write my heart out
§ just 21 days to slowly read a Murakami that I borrowed from my younger brother just a week ago
§ just 21 days to do the MOOCs
§ just 21 days to to decode the diet chart that Priya Agarwal had given me
§ just 21 days to sing all my favourite songs
§ just 21 days to teach myself how to design an online course
§ just 21 days to set goals and plan life for reaching the stars
§ just 21 days to wonder which instrument to learn next
§ just 21 days to treat my daughter’s tanned Indian skin and doll like hair with all kinds of kitchen remedies.
§ just 21 days to to be myself in my titter-tattered clothes, without being fashionably judged
§ just 21 days of self assessment and self procured philosophies flowing meticulously and almost uninterruptedly
Just 21 days that would vanish, gone with the whistling wind and I shall be, perhaps reluctantly or may be happily back to my normal super busy lifestyle. Acknowledging the blissful side of the lockdown, I decided to circumvent lethargy and jot down a lockdown routine for the daughter and myself.
There are a handful, who would be with you for whoever you are, not for where you come from, nor what work you do, not for you achievements or the favours you could bestow upon them. These are the souls we seek, ironically these are the ones we fail to recognise. It’s like finding an irreplaceable pearl on the seabed and still focusing on collecting colourful clams. The descend from the crescendo is sometimes quintessential to acknowledge the unspoken accord.
# Focus on work # Read every day # Ride a Unicorn (been looking for one) # Do not fall for idiots # Increase classroom hours # Play with fairies # Do not miss Workout # Grow Angel wings # Walk on the terrace # Let the imagination roam # Water the plants yourself # Braid the hair of a mermaid # Keep loving yourself # Eat less cookies and chips # Save cocoa for the Oompa Loompas # Follow the diet plan # Help Santa find Rudolph
# Not wake up before 5 a.m. # Expand your comfort zones # Live in the farm # Travel to the moon
Not standing up against an unfair wrongdoing, is synonymous to silently supporting it. And just the reverse, is letting go, a good turn unappreciated. In the month of May 2014, I’m not too sure of the month, I invested around 34,000 INR, in Indian actress Shilpa Shetty’s ‘Satyug Gold’ Purchase Plan. According to their scheme, I paid up 63% of the then gold price and taxes, (which was around 25,650 INR) in advance, and desperately waited for 5 long years, for my 20 grams 24k gold coin.
Shilpa Shetty, the brand ambassador of Satyug Gold then, also held 99% of the company that time. It had a co-branding tie-up and trademark license agreement with the Indian Bullion and Jewellers Association. In their web advertisement, the promoters, Shilpa Shetty and her husband Raj Kundra guaranteed every customer purchase.
At first, I reluctantly invested 34K in it for 20 grams. A week later I decided to invest more. I remember they had a purchase limit for individuals under the discount scheme. I think it was 50 grams, though not very sure. The second investment couldn’t be, as the discount offer was already over. Oops!! However little, it is always good to make careful investments. Also I wish to mention, I was reluctant in the beginning, as the scheme was introduced to me, by my legally wedded husband. I believe I work better, with my money, and his money, and anyone else’s money, when it comes to investments. Also earlier that very year, I had made a few financial blunders (recommended by the legally wedded husband). So, it was something like once bitten and twice shy.
Since April 2019, I started nagging my husband, to enquire about the investment. Satyug was probably not be in conformity with the securities law and the Forward Contracts Regulation Act, according to regulatory officials. The legally wedded husband called the company helpline a couple of times without any successful response. Pretentiously , I consoled him, a written off investment of 34K would not matter. The amount is not very huge. Also I’m more of an artist than a business person. I don’t play to win always, sometimes it’s just the nerve-racking adrenaline rush and a racing heart, that makes the game worth playing. I would be happier writing poetry or singing on a small stage than selling food, clothing or land and making a bigger buck. It’s ok, if the 34 thousand is gone with the wind. Also, being a no regrets person, I wouldn’t have cried over it. I wouldn’t have written about it, as it would not affect my mind. I would have simply slept over it, like the Modi government over the economic slow down data.
The husband politely tweeted Shilpa Shetty over Helpline numbers not working. Within a couple of days, the web site was updated with new contacts. Mr. Prasad Agaru took care of the follow up. It did take a few months, and we had to collect the coin from their Bombay office, costing us another 7 grands, at least the famous Kundra couple kept their promise. If they hadn’t I would not have sued or abused them. By honouring their word they earned my respect. Though music turns me on, happy with the glittering gold for the time being.
It is 11th October 2019. Amitabh Bachchan’s birthday, that he gladly shares with my father, ahem, “happy birthday Papa.” I am returning from my husband’s farmhouse in Jharsuguda, Odisha with a part of the immediate family. The part of the immediate family travelling comprises of the legally wedded husband, the six year old vibrantly inquisitive daughter and my magnetic self. The other part is Mom and Dad-in-law, they hate the city life. Especially the well-garnished , gaudy, ostentatious high life in Kolkata. Mom-in-law hails from Raipur, she is a free bird, very unlikely the showy materialistic Marwaris of Kolkata. Also, she is the one who taught me self love, independence and the importance of substantial accomplishments to indulgence. She fought and won a fierce battle for me against the influential and mighty Dad-in-law for letting me work. I’m grateful. Already missing her I guess. Oh yes! We are a small family. Reason: I’m patriotic. The Nation Needs To Know : controlling population is important.
Right now, here I’m on flight SG3282 SpiceJet Bombardier. It is an eighty seater small plane, with fans in its wings. The red service trolleys are way too petite and small edged. The head luggage space is also minuscule with lesser space than normal air buses. I try keenly researching on air planes, but my weak understanding of aeronautics tirelessly restricts me. There are twenty rows of four seats each with the narrow aisle running in the middle.
This time instead of my happily ever after companion, that I fondly call my adorable iPad, I carried a Murakami book in my cabin bag. It’s lighter, limits my screen time and it is PEACEFUL reading. I can thoughtfully state many more reasons. It’s a win-win affair. That’s what it looked like in the first appearance.
As I have already mentioned, on this flight we are seated in twos. The daughter’s obvious preference was my legally wedded husband, her father. Who likes a nagging mum always giving gyaan (lectures in Hindi) and pestering to read as much as possible. I’m seated next to the uncle in the green T-shirt in the snap. This Fidgety Uncle looks a lot like my birth father, who also has his birthday today. Oh you must be thinking, I’m way too good looking (modestly) to be my father’s daughter. Once in your life, you got to trust me, no DNA test required here. Alright.
In barely an hour’s flight, he has managed to move his hands, legs, neck, torso, arms and elbows umpteen times. Let me be very clear, Fidgety Uncle isn’t the lecherous, libidinous kinds, he is simply senile and declining decrepit. Not that I have never come across a lewd one. In fact I have befriended, unfriended and blocked one quite recently, as I wanted to stay close to one of his younger acquaintances. Coming back to Fidgety uncle. When I first headed towards sitting next to him, the husband warned me. He was ready to swap. But my six year old has a sixty odd queries per hour, going by the count of the minute. I’m used to her jabbering jabberoni. It is stifling when she is quiet. As if she is up to something unexpectedly notorious. Today I wanted to read. I had planned to read Murakami, so I opted for the quiet. At least I thought I did, when I did. Quite in sync with my daughter’s feelings, even I needed peace, so I happily sat next to this peculiar looking, intricately pecked nosed, family oriented uncle. In fact, his family was on the other side of the narrow aisle. He also had a spouse and only one daughter. I guess he is also patriotic.
He looked eagerly scanning at me, as if I were from a different planet. The vigour with which he moved his elbow on the arm rest, felt like hustling houseflies. It made me reluctantly squeeze onto the window of my already squashed seat. As soon as I dipped into my Murakami, there would be a snort from his side. The legally wedded husband watched me intently from the corner of his eye. He again offered to switch places. I declined. Reason : No the reason isn’t the dotting daughter. And I still I want to read. Fidgety uncle took a whole of a good seven minutes to fasten his seat belt, with his daughter and the air hostess together assisting him. He didn’t take help. He wanted to do it himself. Though I quite appreciate his willingness to learn, I could visualise myself standing in my place, husband waiting on the aisle, Fidgety Uncle unfastening the belt, getting out of his seat giving me way, errr… and by that time we have already landed. He isn’t very old. He is just too restless, uneasy and a little agitated. Also he power naps for very short intervals, a minute or two, with his head wobbling on his pendulum neck, seemingly falling onto my arms, missing by a whisker. I can sniff through his smelly coconut hair odour. Not that I want to. Nor do I have any greater grudge against coconut oil. Just that it is way too irritating and disgusting, so much so, that I have to put down my book, ask husband for my phone and start writing on the One Note app. Whenever I face an extreme emotion, I need to write. Though Murakami is mesmerising, tugging and trailing, I just can’t read.
It looks like Karma in its most vicious Avatar, I dumped my adorable iPad companion for reading the beautiful black Murakami, which in turn devastated me, completing the circle of life. For the first time, my apple iPad, that under normal circumstances reigns over my Coaches and Kate Spades, unwillingly checked into the twenty four inches luggage suitcase, smirked at by denims and cottons. I was missing my happily ever after companion. Writing is my favourite thing while travelling and otherwise also. I write everywhere. It’s a norm. While in the terminal, on the flight, inside the airport bus, at the luggage belt, in the waiting lounge, I mean everywhere. Being a frequent traveller, half the CCU staff recognises me holding hands with my adorable companion. Oh I’m a good morning, good afternoon and a long Hellooo kinda person. May be, my refined manners make me memorable. I seem engulfed by modesty today. This too is inculcated by Mom-in-law I guess, as it can also be termed as a form of self love.
No matter how exotic and photogenic it looks, sindoor khela is not as beautiful as it appears to be. It is remains of unjust ritualistic laws of a society once dominated by strong patriarchal values. I’m not a feminist but certain experiences have made me stop and think in the last few years.
Stop and think for a moment of those ladies who have suffered a marriage separation or have been recently widowed. Not only they are deprived of the joy of participating in this festival, but they are also reminded of their social position. Imagine this happening to your own mother or sister. Every year on dashami, this celebration of marital bliss brings as much tears as it brings joy.
Why can’t sindur khela be more inclusive? Why can’t sindur expand itself & become an ornament for all irrespective of her marital status on that one particular day?
It is a war that remains to be fought …& to be won.
Only then we can wish each other by saying #subhobijoya.
Every writer has her favourite writing place, where the ideas keep brimming and brewing without interruption inspite of the chaos around. While for most, it is the loo, mine is the Dumdum Airport. It was renamed as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in 1995 after the famous freedom fighter.
In 2017 it has ranked world number 3 in the ASQ Awards (Airport Service Quality) by ACI (Airports Council International). In the very same year, I remember we had just had about eight to ten counters at the airport, selling matrix calling card, sarees, rasgullas (a famous Bengali dessert), perfumes, luggage bags, transport counters for getting taxis and other conveyances, a corporate gift shop, a couple of eateries and a bigger counter selling chocolates, soaps, toys at extremely high prices. Once I needed a sun screen but didn’t buy seeing I was being overcharged. Later, I regretted not buying the sun screen as it was three times the airport price at my destination. There was a lot of empty space to be utilised all around. And yes, there was the ‘Namo’ clothing shop, named after the Indian prime minister. I’m a left winger by the way. We also had a very chic, well decorated, comfortable premium airport lounge that could only be accessed through certain memberships. The airport has its international departures from the first floor and domestic departures from the ground floor. While this data I have derived from my experiences, the scenario might be different for different airlines.
On 30th January 2018, the daughter used the toilet of the international terminal and the faucets were shockingly out of water. Yes there was liquid soap in the hand, and no water to wash. There was no attendant to complain to, may be because it was midnight. But I told the luggage bag counter salesman, who wasn’t in a position to do anything for me. Though he did make a few calls. Needless to mention, this post is due since then. When we are upset with someone or something, we observe even the most trivial minutest things about them, that we would have happily forgone in a normal precis. That was precisely the day, I realised we needed more counters for non-writers. There was so much space to be rented out for some gorgeous ravishing revenue that could make the port stunningly richer and better maintained. They could buy new faucets and recruit 24×7 plumbing services with the money. Being one of the busiest airports in the country, they should stand competent enough with other international standard airports that have already long adorned their fancy shopping mall couture. If I have a layover, or a delayed flight or hop into the airport early in excitement of the journey or for the fear of missing my flight, I need to window shop or atmost shop. Where is the entertainment? Also, where are my food choices? Questions to be pondered over. Something that never occurred to me, not until there was water in the tap. This has to be written about with photographs.
So last Saturday, I reached the CCU Airport two and a half hours before the flight time. It took me 20 minutes in the queue at the airport entrance reason being special security for ‘Independence Day’. My six year old was patient, cooperative and helpful. She carefully pushed the luggage trolley so that I was free to click pictures. We aren’t allowed to take security pictures.
After checking in when I thought I would be clicking the empty spaces and bringing them to light. To my surprise there weren’t any left. They were all filled. There were counters everywhere, with readily helping sales staff and also consumer traffic. We have numerous food options, and by that I mean covering almost every cuisine from Bengali to South Indian, and coffee to kebabs. Apart from the counters we also have a food court. Flurry’s, Kolkata’s very own breakfast place also has its pastries and donuts selling here. For coffee there is ‘The Coffee Bean &Tea Leaf’ placed under a beautiful dome right at the entrance of the first floor terminal and also ‘Coffee & More’. We have one more coffee shop near the airport entrance, but I’m covering only the terminals here. The prices are affordable. Almost same as outside. We have ‘Wow! Momos’, ‘Tea Junction’, ‘Afraa’, ‘Kusum Pole’s’, ‘idli.com’ (Oh! I love that name), ‘Banchharam’s’ for sandesh, Chaatwala and many more counters. There is ample seating space in the food court.
We also have a quintessential pharmacy, ‘Bipha Ayurveda’, and an eccentric umbrella shop. Coming to the luxury section, to start with there is a Ritu Kumar, pret wear store, that stocks scarves, shirts and casual wear by the famous designing house. By the way, Ritu Kumar house once offered me a design manager position, that I denied. Next to it is ‘The Tea Shop’ by Manjushree for assorted classic Darjeeling teas.
We have ‘Pavers England’, in case broke your sandals while strolling around and ‘Kompanero’ for that extra cabin baggage and jackets in case your destination is cold. There is ‘Tanishq’ the most trusted jewellery brand in India, ‘Skinn’ for a little fragrance, Benetton for a colourful attire, the Sun glass hut, ‘eske’, ‘Shaze’ , ‘go colours’ and the very important coke vending machines. ‘Misti’ – an indian sweet shop has an ongoing inaugural offer, that means, it just opened. ‘Namo’ is still there and I am still a left winger. I didn’t look for a make up shop as I was already loaded on that. There must be one. If not, they are missing on a hot selling product. Also I wish we had a Furla shop at the airport.
How could I forget ‘WHSmith’ the bookshop. Name the author and they have it, but no discounts here. They also have a small chocolate and gift counter with limited options. I needed a nice chocolate box for someone really special. Though the sales girl aptly suggested a Lindt, would have preferred more options like liquor. Daughter was bribed with an Elsa doll for bearing with me while I was on the click-clack spree.
The O2 spa at the first floor terminal, has very relaxing and easy on pocket services making your layover soothing and tranquil. Also there are pay and use travel lounges open to one and all.
The CCU Airport is equipped with trolly pushing cars, senior citizen golf cars (that we also have in railway stations), glass cleaning machines and last but not the least, nice clean toilets.
Like the ones we have in malls abroad. There is an attendant and a cleaner in all the toilets. The faucet has water and there is a special place for washing feet for the tired travellers. The hand dryers are also working effectively.
So, here I am, trying to concentrate on writing substance, getting distracted by the glitz and flamboyance around. It’s time I look for a new favourite writing place not as happening as the CCU Airport.