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Category Archives: Tributes

My Captain Haddocks and Obelixes

“Think where man’s glory
Most begins and ends
And say my glory was
That I had such friends.” 
― W.B. Yeats

Dedicated to (yes, I am intentionally cryptic here): the one with a pure smile, the mint, the goddess of speech, the lover, the one as beautiful as the moon, the welcoming one, the abode of god, the flame, the dew, the one who never extinguishes, the silent ascetic, the limitless one, the tradition, the calm beauty, the one who unites with god, the king who reigns as a saint, the one who knows and another one who doesn’t have a fancy name

“All Scorpios are highly selective in friendships. They’ll keep the worthy companions through an entire lifetime, and freeze the shallow, the common or the unworthy.” Linda Goodman

I was interested in zodiac signs only after I found people exclaiming, “Oh! You’re a Scorpio!” as if I am something to be scared of. After I had read all that I could get hold of regarding Scorpios, I conclude that this is a trait that fits me undoubtedly.

One of the few chemistry lessons that I had enjoyed was the structure of an atom. That the nucleus is at the centre and the electrons navigate around the nucleus in their respective orbits or shells: ‘s’ shell being the closest one and ‘f’ farthest. I have seen my friends in the same way.

I have no all-conclusive definition of the word ‘friend’. I am mostly a live-in-my-own-world kind of person and do not have too many ‘friends’ in the sense it is generally used. The ones to whom this post is dedicated is the longest list I could make, and the aspect that is common to all of them is care. Now that I am more than a quarter of a century old, I don’t think the list is going to change much. The ones I mentioned may fall out, but I do not foresee much addition from here. I have been completely honest, I don’t intend to hurt any of you through my assessment for I love you all and I believe that I am fortunate to meet you, fellow-sailors, as I sail my little boat in the ocean of life.

Although all relationships require a degree of friendliness to grow, this post is only for those whose foremost identity to me is ‘my friend’. I have left out all those who would get in touch once in a while (mainly when they need me), only to disappear and emerge months, even years, later. And the ones who wish me on my birthday (after seeing the reminders in Facebook), ask me what I am up to these days and then forget all about me. For these two kinds, I remain indifferent and pay back in the same coin- birthday wishes. I neither bear grudges nor expect more of them. I prefer to be a small atom. Aren’t the bigger ones unstable and radioactive?

Only four (or three? I give the benefit of doubt) neutrons and protons inhabit with me in the nucleus. These are the ones with whom I connect both intellectually and emotionally, with whom-as the fox in The Little Prince says-I have established ties at the highest level. I hardly speak unless it is necessary, but when I find a worthy companion, I never stop. They are the ones with whom I never stop. They have the same interests as I do and we discuss everything, from philosophy and religion to Harry Potter. I share with them all that I read and write (even the ones I do not publish) and they take care to respond and criticise, they can be very harsh critics at times. They never seem to tire of my ramblings and will listen both patiently and impatiently. They listen, that is what matters. They care to know what I think. They will push me to write and think and do. Often, I am astonished to see their faith in what I can accomplish. They are the ones who take the trouble of calling me up although I don’t. The ones who will share with me every time they get to do something new or good, to see or to eat, even when I can’t keep my promises. They are the ones who give without calculating what they would receive in return. I am always the one sending them return gifts, they begin it. It seems I am quite selfish when it comes to them! I promise to make amends. These are the closest ones whom I allow inside that impenetrable nucleus. I do not need shields or masks before them and I can tell them whatever I feel, I don’t need to pretend and put up the sham. I do not care if they forget my birthday. But they care enough to make sure that they don’t! Birthdays or no birthdays, these are the ones I treasure most. They are the ‘kindred spirits’, as Anne Shirley of Green Gables would say. Yes, they are the Piglets, Diana Barrys and Gilbert Blythes, Huck Finns, Heathcliffs, Rons and Hermiones, the tunes that sing in harmony to my song. As Walt Whitman says, “I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don’t believe I deserved my friends,” I don’t believe that I deserved them. The most these friends can do for me is to be my friend for the rest of our lives, which I believe they will.  The nucleus gives the atom mass, so they are the ones that make me what I am in a big way. Interestingly, the Big Four belong to the four different elements- fire, earth, air and water- according to their zodiac signs. No more hints. 😉

There are some who don’t bother to know what I think or read or write. But that does not mean they do not care. They do that in their own way. They would not think twice before helping me out if I am in a fix. I hardly converse with them, often not because of a need to converse, but to show that I care. And I run out of things to say to them. But I know I can turn to them when I need them, and they will be there. They are the sentinels of electrons that guard my atom-fortress. I don’t think they are any less important, it is these that determine the nature of the element, don’t they?

Most mentioned above, however, fall somewhere in between. The ‘s’, ‘p’ and ‘d’ shells. There are variations of many kinds in this group. They confide in me with their secrets and can be great confidantes, too. If they ever read what I write, it is not because they are interested in what I am thinking, but that they do not want to hurt me. Some of them however do occasionally enjoy reading what I write. They too would help me in times of need and can often inspire me, show me the right way and give valuable advice at times when I feel lost. I can discuss many things under the sun with them (but not all) and they will be honest with me. We share a beautiful companionship, but our interests differ, and they do not exactly fit into the mould of ‘kindred spirits’. They care about my well-being and I care about them, but the attachment is limited because we are made of different stuff. They are the particles in motion, constantly shifting from one orbit to another, but they can’t break into the nucleus, however close their orbits hover around. One of them has the potential, I believe, but we do not spend much time together. With some of them, I had shared a close camaraderie at some point of time in my life, but not any more. Despite that, we keep in touch, help each other in times of need and recollect old memories.

This reminds me of another tribe whom I have not dedicated the post to. The ones who had been great companions at some time and have moved on. I have tried to reach out to them many times, but they have not cared enough to reciprocate. They are those autumn blossoms that do not bloom again in spring. I cherish my memories with them, but with a dint of sadness. Although I wish I should have better invested the time I spent to reach out to them with my ‘kindred spirits’, I do not bear any ill-will. I shall like to see them do well in their lives. And there are the ones who need me at times and I help them. But I rarely need them. As long as they do not turn into the fiends mentioned later, which hopefully they would not, my best wishes are with them.

I have no siblings but I have huge extended families on both sides. I have witnessed the hypocrisy and betrayal of the ones I had loved dearly. From estranged brothers to slandering aunts, I have seen it all and I think I know better who my real family consists of. Not all my family is as bad as it sounds here, I love them, but yes, some of them have hurt me much more than any friend ever has. So I need to set my priorities right. It was Arjun, a brother, who killed Karna (and that too, treacherously), not Duryodhan, the friend. My friends are the family handpicked by my soul, not arbitrarily determined by my genes. 

Then, there are the fiends. Shallowness and hypocrisy are my two words for them. They are the ones that pretend to be the most caring, do not hesitate to ask for my help when they require it and again, will not hesitate in bad-mouthing me in public or spreading rumours about me. I can go on, but I do not want to spoil my post spewing venom at them. Instead, I would thank them for awaking me from the slumber, for prompting me to take stock and be grateful to my core circle and henceforth, become completely private.

The last one in the dedication list is a childhood playmate who spent time playing the age-old game of ‘rannabati‘ with me. She was the one who shaped the leaves into ‘luchis’ and brought the fine sand to make rice. Her mother was the maid in our house. I had taught her how to read back then and she listened when I read out the poems. But she hated school and soon dropped out to work with her mother. She was married off at an age when I was still playing cricket in the streets and the only problems that haunted me were geometry riders. (She is hardly a year older than me). Now, she is a mother of two school-going children, has separated from her husband and works as a maid. Even today, she cares to find out how I am doing and wishes me well.

The first one is my Helen Burns. I had always wanted to write something on what she means to me but words have failed me. I befriended this vivacious girl with plaits and ribbons when I was eight. Besides those silly games, sillier quarrels, bitter fights, we shared a unique solidarity. She was the one ‘kindred spirit’ since those days, before I knew the term. She was the one who taught me to imagine and invent. To dream. The one with whom I pretended to be an explorer, own islands (we had chosen the Falkland Islands as they are side by side) and go on treasure hunts in secret tunnels and dungeons under huge castles. Now, I realise that she was the Treasure. My memories of school are incomplete without her smiling face. From my first Famous Five book to Little Women, from discussions on Mahabharat to slambooks, she remains. As we grew up, I knew of that aura of melancholy that pervaded her, but I failed to live up to our friendship. I failed to be Jane Eyre. I had been too selfish and mean to reach out to her when she needed me the most, to make her share her grief with me and I can’t forgive myself for that. Perhaps, I did not deserve her. I guard everything that I still have of her: the photo-frame, an inane game in which we pretended to be super-sleuths, the slambook page and the memories. Dear Suchismita, rest in peace. Indeed, there will be a time when we meet again.

And the rest of you, thank you for being there. I will not let go of you. You won’t either, will you?

Time will answer that better. Till then, I choose to trust you.

Signing off, with love, the one born at the end of the evening

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Life and Times, The Age of Innocence, Tributes

 

Of Afghanistan and Hosseini’s novels

Afghanistan was simply a rugged terrain shrouded by mists hovering over the Hindukush mountains, tucked away in the north-west corner of India to me before I read Hosseini. When it came to the people, all that I could imagine were Kalashnikov-wielding fundamentalists and faceless, veiled women. When I was in my early teens, Afghanistan often made to the news headlines, thanks to 9/11, Osama bin Laden and George Bush’s ‘War on Terror’.  I had even collaborated with my dear friend Suchismita to write a poem called The Afghan Child for our school souvenir. I have lost both the poem and Suchismita, all that I remember was that it described a child in the war-ravaged country and how we had struggled to find the words to fit the rhyme and metre. Like Hosseini’s novels, the pain of losing Suchismita still haunts me whenever I think of Afghanistan.

However, my interest in Afghanistan was triggered long ago, ever since I read Kabuliwala by Rabindranath Tagore. I had always known that loving fathers like Rahmat existed among those Kalashnikov-wielding fundamentalists. Tagore too, deals with loss of innocence but Tagore never gave a first-hand account of Afghanistan.  Later, it was Polo who urged me to read The Kite Runner in the first year of college. The shrouds of mists vanished and I could see the mighty Hindukush mountains, ravaged by years of pain. They housed tales of tarnished innocence and eventual redemption, although smeared by that tragic sense of loss, that yearning for times that were never to come again. The times when Amir and Hassan proclaimed themselves the sultans of Kabul or that pomegranate tree, under the shade of which they recited verses from Rustam and Sohrab. Hosseini’s use of short, staccato sentences makes the pain all the more poignant, makes the reader ask for answers about the brutality of circumstances or fate. I was impressed with the little touches he puts in at the most unexpected of places. Like the serendipitous meeting of Amir and a former professor of Kabul University, who was begging in the streets, who told him much more about his mother than his Baba had ever done. Besides the main plot, Hosseini subtly adds the condition of Afghanistan under the Talibans, where professors have to go begging in the streets. (The film version conveniently dropped this scene, so don’t go by the film only and read the book!) This was the book that gave life to the rugged terrain. Kabul became a bustling city with children flying kites, streets smelling of kebabs, women teaching in universities, Rumi and Hafez being recited often.

After this book, I collected enough facts about this country, the Soviet invasion and the creation of Taliban, the reign of the kings and further back in history, the Anglo-Afghan wars, of how this country has always been a part of the Great Game. And after all the war against Taliban, they speak of reconciling with the ‘good’ Taliban! But, Afghanistan was no longer foreign to me. When I went to the trade fair in Delhi, I enthusiastically purchased walnuts from an Afghan trader. I came to know that a person I have known had been to Afghanistan during King Zahir Shah’s reign, and he fondly described the country and the people.

Reading The Thousand Splendid Suns was a different experience. I have read the book twice and both the time, the description of the pain and suffering numbed me. This book was fraught not just with pain, but the agony which we often fail to imagine and perceive. The misery of existence is beyond the comprehension for us, we who live smugly inside cocoons of comfort, and take it for granted, even when many of our brethren continue to be deprived of the basic necessities, such as anaesthesia.  That subtle touch of Hosseini that I loved the most in this book is Laila’s father taking Laila and Tariq to see the Bamiyan Buddhas. Ancient Afghanistan, or rather Gandhar, a land which had once been swept away by Buddha’s message of peace, has turned into a battlefield where the dogs of war have been unleashed.

Now, we have And the Mountains Echoed. I found a lot of hue and cry over this book. Unlike the other two books, this one deals with multiple narratives, of Pari and Abdullah and the different people who touch their lives at some point of time. The canvas is a much wider one as the novel takes us to different parts of the world. My only complaint regarding this book was that the episode in Tinos, Greece was a bit long drawn and that the characters of the protagonists- Pari and Abdullah should have been developed more. Especially Abdullah, we hardly know about the adult Abdullah except for Pari’s (his daughter) account. I also wanted to know about Roshi, Parwana and wished for a reconciliation of the next-generation people with Iqbal’s children. As some of my friends, I too wonder why the author left all these as loose ends. But again, I argued that life is more about such loose ends which are left untied and novels always reflect life. Instead of the stark daylight showing us all facets of a character, Hosseini chooses to give us a glimpse of each of them, as the moonbeams would of a person, and leaving the rest for the reader to imagine. Apart from that, I loved the beginning of the novel, a folktale which alludes to the rest of the story.  And the sublime note of tragedy that pervades the mind when I feel that Pari should have known what the box of feathers really meant. But if she had known, it wouldn’t have had that touch of transcendence. The transcendence that the author speaks of when he quotes Rumi in the beginning.

All the three novels are united in that they describe the agony of life and end with a glimmer of hope. Amir’s redemption as he runs the kite for Sohrab, Laila expecting the birth of another Maryam and with Abdullah’s daughter finally reconciling with Pari’s children. Although I like The Kite Runner best, I love these two books as well. And I am certainly not disappointed with the third one.

If you call me a Khaled Hosseini fan; yes, I am. Proudly so.

P.S. Thanks to Sir’s blogpost. It inspired me to write this post.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2013 in Life and Times, Tributes, Uncategorized

 

To Teachers, With Love

I removed the post on teachers as I felt much has been left unsaid about many teachers. I have missed mentioning  many teachers. May be I will write one about teachers properly after sometime.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2010 in The Age of Innocence, Tributes

 

Dida

It’s been a year. Dida passed away exactly on 6th January, 2009. Yes, she was too old to take care of herself and suffering a lot. May be God took her away to relieve her from greater pains. But with dida’s death, I lost the last and the most loving grandparent.

Now, dida was neither my maternal nor my paternal grandmother. She was my father’s masi, my thakuma’s elder sister. She was the person who had raised thakuma’s children in the village when both dadu and thakuma lived in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal where dadu worked in the military. Even to this day, I can proudly say that it was dida who bestowed her love to me and not thakuma.

Dida’s story is one of the many stories of Bengali village women born during the pre-independence days. But what marks my dida out was her love for freedom and a strong sense of individuality. Married at an early age, and widowed early, she returned back to her mother’s house rather than staying under the tyrannical rules of her in-laws. She happily accepted the responsibility of taking care of thakuma’s children in the village while thakuma was away. But the most daring of her ventures was when she went to Lansdowne (where dadu was posted) from Bardhaman, all by herself only accompanied by my boropisi, a 8-year old girl then, being completely illiterate and not knowing a syllable of Hindi in an age when letters were the only source of communication between far-flung areas. Yes, she even had to change the train on the way. This incident has been a source of inspiration for all in our family. When I went to study in Kolkata, dad used to say, “Never be afraid that you will get lost. Remember you are literate and have a mobile unlike dida who had neither yet managed to reach such a far-away place.” My boropisi still narrates how she refused to get off the train even when the station had come and finally she did get off on the other side of the platform with a huge sack filled with muri on one hand and a big papaya from the village on the other.

Dida loved good food. I still remember the days of pous-parbon when she would zealously give her afternoon nap a miss to make pithes with different fillings, coconut or gur or til or milk cream. She used to love fish. Whenever mom brought fish in home, she used to take them out and clean them and ate each and every part of the fish, however small it be. She made muri a delicacy by blending it with burnt tomato, peas, achar, etc. and fed it to me in round little balls. In winter afternoons, the sunny backyard was her home; she ate her meals there and had her daily afternoon nap there itself. As the sun moved towards the west, she came inside.

She had always refused to go back to her in-laws. She relished her freedom in the village. At her in-laws she had to give in her own freedom and adjust with their laws, but in her own village, she was the head of the family which consisted of thakuma’s children, her mother and she. Everyone knew her by her name in the village. She relished this individuality.

She was a storehouse of information regarding the village and its history. These stories used to fascinate me. She had witnessed my maternal grandparents’ marriage; my mom’s grandfather had been the zamindar of the same village, she narrated the entire story of how grand the ceremony was, with the music of the band-party and sumptuous food. She knew the entire village, all its people and its atmosphere, the trees, the paths, the ponds. She also had in her stock a number of fairy tales, riddles and proverbs. I especially remember one of her proverbs: “ Penyaz bole rosun ke, tor bhari gondho.” (The onion tells the garlic, you are so smelly.)

When I was a kid and fell ill, she took care of me while mom was away at work. Once, I had vomited all over the bed, and it was she who cleaned it. Once, I was stung by a bee and was howling, it was she who applied some homemade magic remedy on my hand and the pain subsided. It was she who urged me to eat and sleep when I threw all sorts of tantrums.

I still remember an incident when dida fractured her leg while going down the stairs. She had an empty glass bottle of Horlicks in her hand. Dad had been away; mom came back from work, called an orthopaedic and got dida’s leg plastered. Amid all this hullabaloo, dida chipped in, “Bouma, horlicks er sisi ta kintu bhangeni.” ( Don’t worry bouma, the bottle of horlicks hasn’t broken.)

Dida was like Pather Panchali’s Indir thakrun. Both had their own faults, yet both were unique on their own. With dida’s death, as with Indir thakrun’s death, an episode in the history of the village had ended. And after dida’s death whenever I go to the village, I feel it’s no more the fairytale utopic land which I had known through dida’s eyes. Yet in the shadows of the palm trees on the ponds and the cackling of the ducks, I can still feel her spirit still hovering over her very own village.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2010 in Tributes