Tuesday, August 25

My earliest memory of Poush Mela- Shantiniketan

My grandfather’s house is in Shantiniketan. By the virtue of having a house at Tagore’s ‘abode of peace’, there are a lot of cherished memories surrounding my childhood years spent at “Shantiniketan”, mostly during vacations. We would quite often visit our beloved family house “Rakhi Bandhan” those days especially during "basanta utsav" (spring festival or holi), summer vacations, and the winter vacations. During winters, the famous “Poush Mela” would definitely be an occasion for all of us (extended family) to be together.

People, who wish to visit Shantiniketan during this time, often ask me, “How is ‘Poush Mela’ like?” “What are the things to see?” “Where can we stay?” “Are there good accommodation facilities?” Well, I answer them aptly, providing every minute detail that might benefit them, but one thing that I never get to talk about, (due to its sheer irrelevance), is about my earliest memories of Poush Mela.

Well, my earliest memories are quite queer and bizarre which probably only the ones who have been through the same (while they were kids themselves), can relate to.

So, it would go like this, before every 'mela outing' in the evenings, we as kids would be safely 'packed' inside the heavy woolen clothes covering us from head to toe. Sometimes the count of woollies would go up to 2-3 in apprehension of the temperature dipping further (it would be very chilled during December in West Bengal). I would be huddled into a rickshaw, where I would sit on the lap of one of my parents (cycle rickshaws in Bengal have seats for two adults), always complaining as to why I am never given a separate seat. Once in the rickshaw, throughout the entire journey, my parents would put in all their energies in making me memorize the name of my father!

So, in those days, kids mostly of around 3-6 years often got separated from their parents in the hugely crowded mela ground(it still happens these days), and with no mobile phones, the situation was grave. Me and my cousins were all tutored to by-heart the name of our fathers or mothers so, that we can atleast tell someone, while we are lost, so that he/she  can help us out to reach our parents through the help of Volunteer's Club, very active in the Mela Ground. It was basically a precautionary measure taken by parents with young kids. Kids these days are way more intelligent and knowing how to operate a tab by the time they are just 2 or 3, we weren’t so bright :-) 

Having said this, there was lots of fun for us kids in the mela ground, the massive swings, the huge rides and the just-made, hot jalebis were few amongst a host of other excitements that kept us waiting for the next year’s league of fun.

Well, ‘Poush Mela’ and the loads of memories associated with it, are treasure troves, however, these little flashbacks from the childhood days, like childhood itself are the most endearing and adorable ones. 

Monday, August 24

Woman and Liberation? An oxymoron

I wish I were a dumb woman, who can be tamed and shaped whichever way the society wants, but unfortunately am not.

I can see through the lacunas that “womanhood” is so richly made up of. The ritual, the norms, the customs, the pressures a woman has to live up to everyday, kills me. Since childhood we are taught to behave in a certain way, talk in a certain way, dress in a certain way. Speaking against existing norms is blasphemy, we are told. Even in a family debate, when a woman wins the conversation over a man, she is deemed to be a very over-confident, in-your-face girl, who doesn’t know her limits, and who doesn’t have respect for her elders. (“meye hoye ato kotha?”) Such a big mouth being a girl? She is scoffed at.

Woman following the holy rituals enshrined in our holy tradition (patriarchal, rigid, old and dated) are considered to be holy themselves and woman who don’t, are the ones who are not well brought up by their parents, ultra-modern, western-culture influenced, trying to show off, so on and so forth.
In cities, the scenario is still better but in small towns there has hardly been any change, despite education, awareness, media perpetuation, etc. Her greatest shackle of bondage lies within her own species. It’s a woman who DOESN’T ALLOW another woman to think differently.

Ten people around a woman decide what she should wear, throughout her life, both pre-marriage and post marriage. No, there are no such dress codes or rules for men. Why? Please don’t ask. This is Indian tradition, which dates back to thousands of years; our culture is rich and diverse, blah, blah blah. There are many such “whys” which have no answers or rather which cannot be considered as an ‘answer’ if looked at logically.

Religion, society, education, they have all been used systematically to tame and domesticate women over the years. I look at it like a spectator at times without reacting much, sometimes I blabber about it to a friend in utter frustration, and at times, I wish I didn’t have a mind of my own to understand and see through such blatant hypocrisies embedded so deeply in our society.  I wish I was born a subnormal, who doesn’t have the power to think logically.  

I wish I were a dumb woman, who can be tamed and shaped whichever way the society wants, but unfortunately am not.

Friday, August 7

An unnamed short story:

She raised her eyes to answer the routine question he threw at her at the interview. He saw the zealous flapping of her eyelids, the vehement waving of her hands and an uninhibited spirit that wouldn’t rest a bit. He watched her while she spoke and heard nothing.

That’s how they met for the first time.

Restless days and sleepless nights followed. What magnet drew the two towards each other, they knew not. He thought, “Why should future bother me? Life is here and now!” She thought, “I do not wish to have anything else, this all-devouring love is my greatest wealth.”

1 year later:

She had planned a vacation together; this was the fifth and the last one before their wedding. After two and a half months of excited planning, baited breaths and sweet nothings, while she waited at the railway station with her bags packed, he never arrived.  Seconds, minutes and hours passed, but there was no sight of him. That night, the train had left at its scheduled time; 11.45 PM.

Was the soreness more in her eyes or in her heart? Only she knew.    

Phone calls were never answered, texts weren’t replied.

Pain is a big relief in the face of endless anxiety, she had realized. Pain strikes you like an expert shooter, right there, without a miss. Anxiety like a confused hunter, not knowing where to strike hard, butchers you bit by bit.

7 years later

It was the morning of a relaxed Sunday. The day shone bright with the light of unbridled joy. There was hope; there was bliss, as if nothing can go wrong. She watched her kids making sand castles at the beachside, their father, her husband, was completely engrossed in the sand building activity with them. She looked on as their collected laughter reverberated all around. The sight melted something deep inside her and brought in a warm smile all across her face.

She looked aside, at a little distance, the sea roared in its rhythmic ebb and flow. Does it remind her of the terrible tide that she had once faced? Or has time wiped away every bit of it, like those emerging tides, in its own mysterious ways? Only she knew.

Sunday, December 28

Ajanta & Ellora caves- Remnants of enigmatic bygones

Ruins for me are the beginning. With the debris, you can construct new ideas. They are symbols of a beginning.”
Anselm Kiefer

A visit to the world heritage site “Ajanta and Ellora caves” at Aurangabad, Maharashtra was truly a beginning for me. A beginning to a search that led to a lot of other interesting findings/thought processes, leaving me more inquisitive than ever. 

Consisting of 30 rock cut caves, Ajanta was built over a period of 900 years (2 B.C to 6 A.D). Mammoth excavations were turned to fine carvings of exceptional Buddhist sculptures and what the Archaeological Survey of India states “the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting”. It is believed that Buddhism flourished at the time Ajanta caves were built and hence the caves built during the reign of different Buddhist rulers showcase various stories of the ‘enlightened one’ and selected portions of Jataka tales. The unique paintings on the cave walls, some of which has the modern day “3D” effect, makes one ponder in utter amazement at the vast knowledge of craftsmanship and artistry that their creators possessed thousands of years ago.   
Dazzling in its glory on having depicted marvelous sculptures from three different religions viz. the Buddhism, the Hinduism and the Jainism, the Ellora caves too is a spectacular piece of art. 

These sculptures also bring forth a lot of facets of the bygone era that they portray. For instance, a sculpture of Ravana, the king of Srilanka whisking away Sita in the so called "Puskpak Vimana" which looks exactly like the present day 'jet pack'. Did Ravana have a jet pack in those times as well? (See video)

Did the artists of these caves know the real stories behind several myths, worn out versions of which are left for us today?  

With so many small little pathways within the caves having dead ends and spots of ventilation (big holes on the ground) all across, could there have been an underground habitation also? (See Video)

It’s said that many Muslim rulers including Aurangzeb had sent huge number of soldiers to destroy the sculptures of Ellora caves, trying as hard as they could, they could do little harm to certain structures, unable to make a dent on the rest. 

If humans couldn't destroy even half of what was built, were these structures created by humans at all?

For so many years, Indians as well as foreigners have been flocking the caves in search of answers. Many of them keep coming to these caves repeatedly, each time discovering something new. 

For me, I took leave from the city with the desire to visit these exceptional creations again for unravelling more truth.  

Under the clear blue sky of Aurangabad, too many questions remain unanswered as one stands in awe at one of the ancient hallmarks of artistic excellence.


Tuesday, January 28

Price rise was an issue then, its an issue today and continues to be a killing issue in our everyday lives- my small write up on HT

Another article of mine on the issue of price rise as published on Hindustan Times .

P.S- the Sunday edition of HT has an entire page (page 4 if I am not wrong) dedicated for its readers, wherein readers are asked to send small write ups on topics that does the round every day till Saturday on certain pages of the daily. The best amongst them eventually get published..