Growing-up With A-Musing

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Five years back when I left my job as a high school teacher, my friends thought I was mad. A part of me believed they were right. I had no idea what I’d do next, just an overwhelming desire to live life on my own terms. I’d be lying if I said it was I who took the decision. But when your work starts making you bitter and not better, it’s your nearest and dearest ones who intervene and force you to take a long hard look at yourself. In my case it was my husband.

At 40, I joined a dance class and learnt to pirouette, plié, jump and leap with girls younger than my daughter. I learnt driving yet again only to not drive, yet again. I reconnected with my school friends and finally got down to doing what I wanted to all my life – write. The first time I took time off work was when our daughter was born. I was naïve enough to believe that between my new found role as Mother Dairy and changing nappies I would find time to pen my thoughts. I did manage some juvenile poetry where I mostly end up wondering if I was wasting my life. I think this is one of the reasons why we are so apprehensive of being alone with our thoughts. Our mind, a repository of our fears, throws back at us some unpleasant questions that we avoid by keeping ourselves busy.

When I finally got solitude and plenty of ‘me time’, I was so ecstatic that instead of fighting my inner demons, I chose to write how it felt unshackled from the monotony of my nine to five life. At this point I had no idea what a blog was. When I finally compiled all my write-ups that I had written for other sites, I ended up creating a separate blog for each of my posts. Yes, that is how naïve I was. All I knew was, I had to write like I was talking to my impatient friends whose attention I had to grab by sounding as funny as possible. I wrote about the much dreaded ‘auntydom’, ‘a mirage called marital bliss’ and my life through the eyes of a much married woman trying make light of her experiences in a jungle called Delhi. To say that I was shocked that scores of men and women, including a group of friends in a college in Lucknow related and avidly discussed my writings, is putting it mildly. It required immense will-power not to do a happy jig when I started getting fan mails.

I didn’t start writing to prove a point, to earn accolades. I write because it makes me and hopefully others happy. It helps me connect with so many talented people who I would not have met otherwise.

Behind a Monkey Cap is a Shivering Bengali

                                             Also published on Huffington Post, India. 
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A Bengali’s love for phish, phootball, adda and gluttony can only be rivalled by his fear of ‘thanda lege jaabe’ (catching a cold). Researchers in Malda University have come out with findings that suggest that six out of ten Bengalis keep themselves warm by chanting ‘kee sheeth kee sheeth’ (how cold!). The more the number of times they repeat it, the warmer they feel. This is exactly why the Monkey Cap, a Bengali’s armour against winter, covers the entire face and the scalp but keeps the mouth and eyes free from any encumbrances. Of what use are your eyes and mouth if they cannot derive the sensory pleasure of simultaneously seeing fellow sufferers shiver while conveying your own agony!

Bengalis, especially in Kolkata, have a special relationship with winter. The moment the temperature drops down to 25 C, doting moms mummify the apples of their eyes under layers of sweaters and bandor toopis, lest they catch a cold. Which is why Bengali siblings can never get lost at the Kumbh Mela because they are the only ones dressed like eskimos in thermals, sweaters and head gear.

The ‘beta sweater pehno’ mom in the Polo ad was most definitely a Bengali, even if somewhat nasal.

Maybe this explains a Bong’s fascination for the monkey cap that travels with him anywhere he goes, even if it’s a vacation on the seaside! The cap reminds the bhadrolok of his mom! Every time he yearns for his Maa’s warmth, he slips his head inside its womb. Not just the bandor toopi, but also Boroline and Gelusil that symbolise tender motherly love squeezed in a tube or a bottle protecting Bengalis from all ills and germs.

But does a Bong’s morbid fear of the catching the cold hamper him from having phun? No siree! Your childhood isn’t Bengali enough if you don’t have memories of being huddled up in a bus eating cold boiled eggs, with bread butter and a banana, singing Robindro Shongeet only to have mangsho bhaath (mutton curry with rice) at some far off picnic spot. But not before a few rounds of badminton, cricket and some more Robindro Shongeet while the cauldron of freshly made mutton curry bubbles away merrily. By the time the lunch finishes, it’s time for evening tea with some light snacks like shingara (samosa) and a couple of mishtees.

It’s only when everyone complains of acidity is the picnic declared a resounding success. With Gelusil handed around in silent comradeship.

Urmila’s Resolve: a review of Sita’s Sister

This book was reviewed by Trisha Ray.

The Ramayana is one of the oldest and oft reinterpreted stories in the world. Author Kavita Kane shifts the focus to Sita’s sister, King Janak’s firstborn Urmila. Urmila is feisty, fights for what she wants and fiercely protective of her elder sister. She is a complete contrast to the demure Sita. Sita’s Sister is a glimpse into her struggles to keep her family together circumstances split them apart and their loyalties are tested.

Urmila (or Mila as the sexy serious Lakshman calls her) has long been deemed the forgotten heroine of the Ramayana. She stayed behind as the man she loved left to protect his brother in exile. In some versions, the Goddess Nidra grants her wish and put her into a deep slumber in Lakshman’s stead. I, however, prefer Kane’s interpretation. Rather than simply falling asleep for 14 years (which honestly sound like the best thing in the world), Urmila helps Shatrugana with affairs of the state and prevents Ayodhya from falling into anarchy.

One of the biggest issues I have had with Ramayana is the uni-dimensional portrayal of the women- they are either pure and virtuous or evil and scheming. Sita’s Sister doesn’t abide by these character tropes. Instead the reader gets a nuanced and complex reading, especially of the often ignored women. We see Kaikeyi, Sumitra, Urmila and Mandavi in a new light. These are all women trying to be good, dutiful wives but they are betrayed repeatedly by those they love. Kane also doesn’t fail to emphasise that they were all accomplished individuals in their own right, learned and brave.

“Does the man have no duty toward his wife and mother? You may be the best of princes, the perfect sons, the ideal brothers, probably the ideal king too, but never the good husband!”

The structuring of the story is a bit uneven, where the two month courtship covers half the book but the 14 year exile is covered in a few chapters, but I can’t really blame the author for that since complete accounts of Urmila’s life would’ve been hard to come by. I am also not overly fond of the lengthy descriptions of Urmila’s curvaceous body and Lakshman’s dark brooding looks (and the slightly clichéd descriptions of love-making) but again, Sita’s Sister isn’t meant to be a romance.

How To Identify A Terrorist

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We live in troubled times where dustbins have bombs and not rubbish. CCTV’s are mere props that turn a blind eye to all that’s suspicious. Intelligence agencies have little intelligence, the Police clueless and religion is an excuse to spray bullets on unsuspecting innocents. Leaders issue robotic condemnations. Public outrage comes with an expiry date and awaits renewal when terror raises its bloodied head, yet again.

But do we let fear stalk our minds and deprive ourselves the pleasure of getting pushed and shoved in busy markets and public spaces just because there might be a time bomb ticking away in one of the garbage dumps? Of course not!

Trust RSS to come to our rescue and come out with a helpful advisory on ‘How to recognise a terrorist’, so that you can nab one before you end up as a garlanded photo on your wall.

According to RSS, terrorists wear warm clothes even in hot weather.

Since winter is a state of mind especially in Mumbai which is mostly imaginary according to Delhiites, who decides how hot is really hot? Do we declare Mumbaikar belles slipping into boots with jackets and Bengalis shivering in monkey caps when the mercury plunges to a low of 28 C, as a threat to the country’s security because it’s not winter till it’s a freezing 0.4 C? Going by the same analogy, shouldn’t Delhi girls, pretending not to die of hypothermia in their itsy bitsies in order to keep their hottie label intact, be deported to Pakistan for specialized training?

For some strange reason, airport security in Brisbane (my last country of residence) was convinced of my bombshell-ness. Despite my season appropriate wardrobe, I was unfailingly stopped for ‘random security checks’ and frisked for explosives.

Terrorists approach people with casual talk and there are certain changes in their behaviour – if they are standing, they will start running.

This is bound to have serious consequences for all men who will have to ditch small talk as the sure fire way of approaching a woman. Imagine men having to talk about the purpose of life, Stephen Hawking’s theories on the Universe and the cosmos just to make sure they are not mistaken for a terrorist!


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