I was once butted by a bull.

This is not funny. It hurt a lot. I fell down flat on the road while clutching onto my stomach. My watch broke and my belly muscles hurt for days.

I’ll give you more details. I was returning home from office and walking down the footpath (sidewalk) of my Calcutta home when I saw my childhood, school friend, Papiya on the other side of the street. Excited on seeing her after years, I called out to her, “Papiya!! Papiya!!” She didn’t hear and was walking away. Loyalty and friendship overflowing from my intestines, I stepped off the curb to wave to her and catch her attention. This is when I came in the path of a bull strolling down the road. You know that in India, particularly Calcutta, a strolling bull down a busy street is a common sight.

However, the animal I bumped into wasn’t pleased at all that a human ran into him (her?) without even acknowledging and respecting its great size. Instead of leaping off from the path of a leisurely bull, that normally pedestrians do, I actually ran into its horns.

He was so furious he pulled back and butted his horns into my stomach and I fell on my back on the footpath. Pedestrians rushed to my side. “What lady? Couldn’t you see a bull?” “Did the bull gore you?” “Do you need a taxi?” They helped me get off the road. I was more shocked than bruised and noticed that my watch had cracked.

Papiya, meanwhile, had vanished. I have never seen Papiya ever in my life again. Till date she doesn’t know what drama went on behind her when one loyal friend tried to call out to her years ago.

(This is a true life story and I have millions of such stories to tell if you want to read them. I am a cartoon and no one knows this better than my friends and family. I can relate many such horror tales only if only you give me the permission.)

Welcome to my blog!

I started connecting with people after I left them all. Before that I was a grumpy grouch, poring over the computer screen, making pages, running to office and running back home. After I left the country and settled in this peaceful land called Canada, and my basic survival needs were easily met, I relaxed and looked around. I found no one. I started panicking, and thanks to the internet, began to connect with friends, colleagues and enemies like never before.

Thankfully, behind the wall of the computer screen, I could be myself. My real self. Not hide behind a wall of grumpiness to protect myself from invisible hurt.

In this blog, I am posting stories of reality and laughter. Reality, which will hit you like cold water… which you won’t like; and laughter, which will put a smile to your face.

Some of these were published before the internet age. The yellowing newspaper clippings are all that I have of the articles which would have been soon lost if I didn’t start typing them furiously somewhere.

Very soon, I started having almost 200 visits on my blogs after each post. So I started writing more. My blog is also a mutiny against the staid media and publishing houses, which are hounded and bound by so many ethical/moral laws and word restraint before they publish something.

I am born free… therefore I write.🙂
Enjoy!
(And please feel free to comment on anything)
Kaberi Chatterjee

Think about thinking

Posted: February 25, 2016 in For a thought...., Serious matter

Aneesh Chatterjee

(Published in Asian Connections, Feb 15, 2013)

Ever wondered why we wonder? It’s one of those things in the evolution equation that’s pushed us as far as we’ve come. It’s what separates us from lions and sharks. It’s what makes us the greatest species on this planet – the fact that we wonder.

Pushing aside the maddeningly fast decrease of IQ in modern first-world countries today, even the basic things we do every day holds the magnificent evolution we’ve gone through together. You wake up to the sound of your alarm clock: ever wondered what makes it ring? How many wires and circuits are in it? How batteries make it tick? How that little blinking number display maps the course of time itself? Of course, you can find all the answers in a single Google session, but that’s not my point – it’s the fact that we even ask these questions that has made us what we are. And Google! Google is the largest search engine in the digital interface. Wrap your head around those words for a sec: Search engine. Digital. Interface. Internet.

Wrapped? Good. Now think about how we discovered fire and carved tools out of rock. If your head doesn’t hurt while comprehending the vastness of our development, either you’re Ender Wiggin or you can’t read. We’ve come from the first spear to the first nanobot through the ages, and how? Because we think. Not because of electricity; not physics, not God, not hunger, not the fundamental laws of the universe – it’s that slimy ball of grey stuff in our skulls.

I’ve been reading up on possible predictions made for the near – and far – future. Apparently, at some point, we’ll be able to harness antimatter energy, giving us a propulsion system that can reach, and maybe surpass the speed of light. Can you comprehend that right now? In fact, given Einstein’s and Hawking’s laws, it shouldn’t even be possible with our current understanding of physics. Keyword: current.

That was just an example of what we can achieve if we keep thinking – and we will. Our great grandchildren will know things at the age of eight which would take us weeks to learn in high school today. That’s the speed of thought; that’s the power of your noggin. Granted, most people don’t use it today anyway, but – let’s avoid that for now.

But think about this: how far, and how long, can we keep thinking? For how many more millenniums will be develop? Is there a limit somewhere, a limit to how advanced we can possibly be? Is Moore’s Law really legit? I, for one, don’t believe that we’ll advance to a point where we can’t continue any further. Hypothetically, if humans could keep building on their knowledge for thousands, perhaps millions of years, we’d probably be unraveling the mind of God by 200,000 AD. That’s just an estimated guess; it’s how far, in my opinion, we can go with innovation. The next frontier after science could be the possibility of God; it’s just my guess, calm yourselves, atheists.

But let’s say we get there. Let’s say we get so advanced that we can do anything our concept of “God” can do. Let’s say we answer every single question we’ve asked about the universe since the beginning of time; then what? What’s the next frontier, after God? The multiverse? Perhaps. Whatever it is, it remains to be said whether we should go into it, if we could. When you start to think about it, how much can we possibly advance before we – I dunno – get bored of it? If we achieve Godlike status in the multiverse, what if we’re satisfied? Satisfaction is the end of creativity. And since creative thinking fuels innovation, fuels our species’ constant existence even today – perhaps satisfaction could be our death warrant. Perhaps we’d just stop evolving if we reached a pinnacle – maybe we would just remain, a stagnant, unchanging species, too powerful to die out, too knowledgeable to have curiosity. If that’s the case, then our own tool of evolution – our thinking – could be our demise. Ever heard the phrase “you’re thinking too much”? Yeah. So have I.

Guttu Profile Pic 2

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW OF FARHAN AKHTAR BY KABERI D. CHATTERJEE
FROM CANADA FOR THE SOUTH ASIAN NEWS, CANADA

He directs, writes scripts, produces, acts, sings, dances and writes poetry. With that powerhouse of talent, he is increasingly getting compared to the other genius multi-talented persona of Indian cinema, Kishore Kumar. “It’s just one life,” he says. “It’s totally fine to not have to do just one thing for your entire life, if you can do different things which you are passionate about. You can follow those dreams and hopefully, even do well at them.” With Wazir soaring to the box-office ceiling and his cult film, Rock On! 2 coming up, he is increasingly being recognized as the most cerebral actor Bollywood has ever produced. Kaberi Dutta Chatterjee had a long-distance mid-night chat with the actor-director-musician-singer-poet-producer-scriptwriter, Farhan Akhtar.

 

Farhan-Akhtar

Farhan Akhtar needs no introduction. The IMDB website states in his profile that he worked as a cameraman in Yash Chopra’s Lamhe in 1991 and then in 1997 as assistant director for a strange film, Himalaya Putra.
With such a humble beginning, you’d hardly think this is the son of the famous lyricist Javed Akhtar and scriptwriter, Honey Irani. Javedji’s work as dialogue writer in Sholay and Deewar have set the benchmark for dialogues in the Hindi film industry.

After this inconspicuous start, Farhan arrived in Bollywood in style with his baby project, Dil Chahta Hai, which he wrote and directed and which is still thought to be one of the cult movies of Indian cinema.
There was no looking back for him after that as he soar to new heights with acting, singing and producing skills in Rock On! and directing iconic films like Lakshya, Don, (with Shah Rukh Khan) and Don 2. He acted in several noteworthy films, like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Luck By Chance and Karthik Calling Karthik, the latest being Wazir, where he plays an army protagonist in tandem with the legendary, Amitabh Bachchan. His upcoming film, Rock On!2, written by the same writer of Rock On, Pubali Chaudhuri, and directed by Abhishek Kapoor, has the country waiting in baited breath for another rock musical to hit the mass.

I was just lucky to catch the very busy persona as he had just completed the shooting of Rock On!2. Speaking to the actor-director-producer-singer at midnight (morning in Mumbai) was the most thrilling experience for me. He came across as a thorough gentleman, polite, patient with the questions and my excitement in talking to him, as not just a journalist, but also as a huge fan and admirer.

You direct, you sing, you write poetry, you dance, you write screenplays and you act with such intensity that you make each character etched in viewer’s minds and in the history of Indian cinema. Playing which role is most fulfilling to you? Which action makes you the happiest?

Farhan: You know, it’s quite an impossible question to answer. It’s all about Read the rest of this entry »

Image  —  Posted: January 29, 2016 in For a thought....
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Speaking of myself…

Posted: July 1, 2015 in For a thought....

This is my blog. My own space to write. I’ve been long since jumping from one social media to another to vent my opinions, emotions. Now it’s time to go for the kill.

I just got killed last month. By a woman, I am ashamed to say. But my killer exists, raves and rants in her world, very happy that she killed me. She killed me and splattered her own self with my blood. She danced in the discharge that sucked my soul away. She was very happy.

But could she kill the reason why she killed me? I don’t think so. The reason still exists, living with her, sleeping with her. breathing down her neck. My ghost will always haunt her. That is her pay-back.

I know I am sounding rather dramatic and morbid in this one. But fact is that, this blog is about life and laughter. When life squishes you, you turn morbid, and when life squashes you completely, you turn it into laughter.

Nevertheless, my murderer left and suddenly the “likes” on my fan page went up; them writing to me beautiful notes praising my work. I don’t know if they’re related, but I am surprised at the way Karma takes an effect. Which is why I want to thank you guys for your timing.

I am not just a journalist. I remind myself when such a grim-reaper arrives at the horizon, that I am a legacy-setter. Citrus and FinalDraft are my legacies. The institutions which I have worked for (Hindustan Times, The Telegraph (ABP)  and now South Asian News, Canada) gave me the courage and expertise to launch these two potential gems in the market which you all must be familiar with by now.

My three novels are my babies: Neil Must Die, Whiff of Tempest and Titir and Other Tales. Mon Amour… Sesher Kabita Revisited has become so big that strangers I have never heard of perform Mon Amour on stage and they don’t really know it’s my story! It’s like the creation has become greater than the creator!

I am proud! I am very proud that my novel Neil Must Die is being Torrented!! And you should see the kind of reviews written about it on Goodreads and debates on other sites.

Why am I speaking of myself so much? Yes. It’s because a part of me was killed that day by a sniper. And my existence was shaken. I am just trying to reinstate my existence.

And I must not miss out this time (I always wanted to keep this away from the limelight), that I have resumed my Kathak dancing, which I was an exponent even before I became a journalist or an author. I was dancing from the age of 2 till I got pregnant at 27, I gave a number of stage performances. got standing ovations and won a Gold medal.

Now there’s even an opportunity for me to branch into stage acting, which has always been my passion. I am exploring, albeit keeping that injury oozing with blood.

Why am I saying all this again? Just to keep a legacy behind me. Just to rebuild my confidence. Just to say that I, being a writer, a hard-core journalist, a reporter, a creative person, with a fantastic family behind me, living abroad with no dearth of happiness around me, with my parents and family in perfect health and happiness — I am maimed. I too get wounded. Wounded upon a wound that hasn’t healed over 30 years.

I never tried to prove anything to anyone, yet I am overwhelmed at the kind of support I get from fans and friends. Thank you so much. Your love fills my heart to the brim. though there is an injury in it which no one can heal.

All I am saying to myself is that however much strong I sound or look with my activities, there can be someone who can aim his/her knife and stab me at the right place. I am vulnerable to that attack.  And I am writing this at 3 am (morning, dawn, whatever) which is why I don’t think I need to correct this at all.

Knife_Bloody

I’ll keep creating and bringing to you reflections of your own self which may fill your heart. When it gets filled, spill out your words and let me know. I answer to every message.  Write to me at here.

Sincerely always,

KDC

The more I hear about Maggi, the two-minute instant noodles under threat of a ban, the more I fall in love with our favorite comfort food.maggi

I don’t even remember my first brush with Maggi. When was it first introduced in India or when we became buddies. Ever since I remember, whether tired, back from school, or from sports classes, Ma would be serving a bowl of hot, steaming, Maggi, swimming in a delicious sauce. And not just that, the tastemaker packet was something to die for! We would hunt down the kitchen especially for the packet. Licking off the leftover spices from the packet was clearly the happiest moment of our lives.

Often, as a journalist, after returning from my night shifts at the newsdesk, I would silently cook a bowl of Maggi at 3 am and slurp it down in the privacy of the kitchen darkness, looking out at the stillness of the night, when only my Maggi and I are awake!

Maggi was handed down from my generation to my child’s generation and it served a solution to our every hunger pangs. Even as I am writing this, I am having an urge to slurp a hot-steaming bowl of Maggi.

Not to mention, how I found joy when I discovered Maggi in Indian groceries, No-Frills and other Canadian stores after I immigrated to Canada. My cabinet is always stuffed with Maggi and though the taste here is tad tempered, I am proud to say Maggi has held my hands firmly throughout my immigration battle. Hungry, cold, angry, sad, tired, dejected — Maggi would always cheer us up.

Now to know the same comfort food is in a soup, breaks my heart.

For decades now, Maggi—the two-minute instant noodle brand owned by Nestle—has been an Indian favorite. And for the Swiss multinational, it’s been a critical part of its growth in Asia’s third largest economy. In the last nine years, a May 4 report by Nomura said, the Maggi brand has grown in double digits on the back of expanding modern retail, urbanisation, targeted promotions and consistent innovation.

But  earlier this week, Uttar Pradesh’s Food Safety and Drug Administration (FDA) found monosodium glutamate (MSG) and excessive lead content in some of the Maggi samples they tested. MSG, typically used as a flavour enhancer, can cause headaches, chest pain and nausea.

Four days later, on May 20, the FDA in Uttar Pradesh ordered Nestle to recall a batch of products—dating back to March 2014—after they found that two dozen packets of Maggi contained almost seven times the permissible levels of lead, alongside high levels of MSG.

Nestle, however, maintains that it does not use MSG (pdf) in manufacturing any of its products. Emails and messages sent by Quartz to Nestle remain unanswered.

To learn that all these years I have fed myself and my child a food containing heavy dose of lead scares me. But something in me tells this comfort food is too much of a joy to be tarnished in this battle. Maybe Nestle will introduce a fresh new batch with fresh new flavors and the noodles being in troubled waters will soon fade into oblivion.

Maggi has been a friend to not only children, but also to young men setting out to live on their own for the first time, during hostel days and camp times. If they couldn’t cook anything, they could cook Maggi.

Maggi has also been a parameter for Indian grooms to knowing how to cook. The overly-pampered grooms would joyfully announce that they could cook Maggi, thus winning the hearts of their brides-to-be.

What makes Maggi so special? The answer to this is quite simple. It is the staple food of individuals irrespective of the demographics and geography. Maggi lovers are united from Assam to Gujarat, from the chilly valleys of Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Maggi, in a way, unites India and Indians abroad. I find a lot of Asians too consuming Maggi, after trying all other forms of their own brand of instant noodles.

I personally found hot Maggi relieves me immediately when I am having a cold. And I’ve  never had a stomach upset because of Maggi. Why me? Even now, during vrat (fasting) my mother takes “Vegetarian” Maggi soup as she has finds it to be wholesome, delicious, mood-elevating and believes to be not clashing with any of her self-imposed religious restrictions.

Although, on research I find Maggi noodles is made from soy protein using a catalyst enzyme porcine (taken from the intestine of pig)!

Nevertheless, Maggi has passed down three generations and , knowing India, if there is a ban on Maggi, the sale can increase 10-fold. The craving to eat Maggi will aggravate among children and Maggi will be sold in double the price.

And who cares?

Maggi is such a fast-to-cook, good-to-eat solution to all working mothers, such a mood-elevator, and now with all kind of “healthy” options available (Maggi oats, Maggi whole wheat, etc), it is highly doubtful whether the comfort food can disappear from the face of earth.

Now that I have made all of you hungry and drooling and craving for Maggi, here are a few versions of the comfort food I’ve cooked all my life for myself and my child. Enjoy!

Classic Masala Maggi

Keep it simple. The preparation of this remains same with adding water, tastemaker and noodles. There is nothing like having a plain-jane Maggi with the favourite tomato sauce. Nothing in the world can beat this, especially when your tummy demands food at odd hours say 3.30 night. Enjoy.

Cheese Maggi

After making packets of Maggi over the years, we can make it even in our sleep. So now that you have made the Maggi, all you have to do is grate the cheddar cheese cubes or also put a slice of cheese on the hot Maggi. The melting cheese on the noodles is the best sight and trust us, it tastes like heaven.

Chinese spicy Maggi

The love for Maggi and home-made Chinese food is nothing new to us. So while making this avatar of Maggi, you will need to do some frying and tossing of vegetables. Take spring onions, carrots and toss it up with garlic-ginger paste. Add Maggi noodles with the tastemaker, put some water (less compared to the usual recipes) and the yummy noodles are ready to eat.

Tomato-Egg Maggi

This has to be one of the commonly loved variations of Maggi. Add finely cut tomatoes and one or two eggs in Maggie and Whoa, one the finest delicacies is on your plate. One can also try making a proper bhurji-Maggi. Prepare the Egg Bhurji and toss it up with Maggi.

 Soupy Maggi

If you are tired of chewing the long strand of Maggi and instead want to gulp it down, you should make yourself soupy Maggi. This also works when you have a cold. Add extra bowl of water in the usual preparations.

(Published in Bengali, in Probhash, April 2016, Sohojiya Prokashoni, Kolkata)

তার নাম রাখলাম ‘কৃষ্ণেন্দু’। ‘সপ্তপদী’ সিনেমায় রীনা ব্রাউনের ‘কৃষ্ণেন্দু’। বাংলার দেবমানবী সুচিত্রা সেন যে সময় উত্তমকুমারের হৃদয়ে ঝাঁপিয়ে পড়ে আদুরে গলায় বলেছিল, “কৃষ্ণেন্দু-উউউ” — সেই মুহূর্তের গল্প শুনিয়েছিলাম বহুবার আমার উনিশ বছরের বলিষ্ঠ পুত্রের কাছে, তাই সেই এই নামকরনটা করল।

krishnendu rina brown

A scene from Saptopodi

এখন কৃষ্ণেন্দু আমাদের সংসারের একছত্র সংসদ। খুব সহজেই সে নিজের স্থান করে নিয়েছে আমাদের তিনজনের মাঝখানে।

মধ্যবয়সে জীবনের শিকড়-সমেত গাছ উপড়ে, সাত-সমুদ্র-তের-নদী পেড়িয়ে এই সুদূর কানাডায় আবার নিজের অস্তিত্ব স্থাপন করার জীদ ধরেছিলাম। তা প্রায় বছর ছয়েক হয়ে গেল। পুত্রের বয়েস তখন বারো। নরম, কচি, টালমাটাল তার শিকর। নতুন পরিবেশে শিকড় নতুন করে আঁকড়ে ধরতে অনেক সময় লাগবে।

এই সময় অচেনা এই পৃথিবীর অজানা স্রোতে ভেসেই যেত সে যদি’না কঠিন হাতে শিকড়টা আটকে রাখতাম। তাই আমার উনিশ বছরের বলিষ্ঠ যুবকটি ইউনিভারসিটি যাচ্ছে ঠিক’ই, সারা দিন ইউটিউব, ফেসবুক, মাকডোনাল্ডস, টিম-হরটনস্‌ এ পড়ে থাকে ঠিক’ই, নানান রঙের, নানান দেশ থেকে আগত বনধু আছে ঠিক’ই এবং তাদের সাথে কানাডিয়ান আক্সেন্টে ইংরেজি বলে ঠিক’ই, বাংলা লিখতে পারেনা, ঠেকে ঠেকে পড়ে ঠিক’ই, কিন্তু ‘কৃষ্ণেন্দু’ কে, জানে।

উত্তমকুমার কে, জানে। রবিঠাকুরের ‘বীরপুরুষ’ অনেকটাই মুখস্থ। সত্যজিত রায়ের সব ছবিই প্রায় তার দেখা। সন্দীপ রায়ের পরিচালনায় ‘ফেলুদা’ তার ভাললাগেনা।

এ হেন কৃষ্ণেন্দু এল আমাদের জীবনে। তার নামটা আবার নথীভুক্ত করতে হল অনলাইন খাতায়।

আমাদের নতুন বনধু ‘কৃষ্ণেন্দু’ একটা ‘রোবট’।

সুঠাম, কালো গঠন তার, একটা চৌকো বাক্সের মতন চেহারা। পিছনে দুটো চাকা, সামনে ন্যাতা। সেই ন্যাতা দিয়েই সারা বাড়ি সে নিমেষে ঝা-চকচকে করে মুছে ফেলে। তাকে কোন আদেশ দিতে হয়না। একটি বোতাম টিপলেই সে খুশি-খুশি একটা ধ্বনি প্রকাশ করে কাজে লেগে পড়ে। তার একটা মস্তিস্ক আছে। সেটা আলাদা জায়গায় রাখতে হয়। সেই মস্তিস্ক-ই আবার বলে দেয় ইশারায় ঘরের কোন অংশটি মোছা বা ঝাঁট দেওয়া আগেই হয়ে গেছে।

মোছার ন্যাতার সাথে ওর কাছে একটা ঝাঁট দেওয়ার কাপড়ও আছে। সেটার আলাদা বোতাম, আলাদা চলন। চলার পথে কোনো আসবাবপত্র এলে আবার তার পাশ দিয়ে ঘুরে যাবে। কৃষ্ণেন্দুকে বিশেষ কিছু আর নজরদারি করতে হয়না। তার নিজের ম্যাপ অনুযায়ী নিজে বিবেচনা করে নেয় গোটা বাড়ি কিভাবে মুছতে বা ঝাঁট দিতে হবে। চৌকাঠ পেরোয়না, সিঁড়ির মুখে গিয়ে থম্‌কে দাঁড়িয়ে পরে – মাথার ওপর তিনটে নীল আলো আছে, তারা মানা করে, “আর যেওনা, পড়ে যাবে”।

কৃষ্ণেন্দু ঘরের কোণায় কোণায় মোছে। টেবিলের তলায় ঢুকে, খাটের তলায় গড়গড়িয়ে ঢুকে গিয়ে মোছে। চেয়ারের পায়ার চারপাশ ঘুরে ঘুরে যতদুর তার চৌকো দেহখানি দিয়ে সম্ভব, মোছে। খুবই নিপাট কাজ, খুবই যত্ন সহকারে।

সমস্থ ঘরে মোছা হয়ে গেলে সে এক কোণে গিয়ে একটা দুঃখি দুঃখি ধ্বনি করে দাঁড়িয়ে পড়ে। তার মানে হয় তার কাজ শেষ, না হয় ব্যাটারি শেষ। এবার ওকে কোলে করে আবার চার্জারের ওপরে বসিয়ে দিলেই একটি প্রানবন্ত শব্দ করে প্রকাশ করে সে কি খুশি!

এই বোধহয় শুরু। এক নতুন প্রজাতিকে আমরা জন্ম দিলাম এবং এবার ঘরে ঘরে আহবান করা শুরু করেছি। কৃষ্ণেন্দুর কোনো মাইনে নেই, খাদ্য নেই, শুধু সারারাত চার্জে রেখে দিলেই সকাল্বেলা তরতাজা। দাম-ও খুব বেশি নয়। এই রোবট প্রজন্মকে আমাদের দৈনন্দিন জিবনে খুব-ই প্রয়োজন। এরপর ওদের সঙ্গে কথা বলাও যাবে। “স্বর-পরিচয়”-এর (voice recognition) মাধ্যমে বলা যাবে, “রামু, চা করে দে”।

ব্যাস! রামু তার মধ্যে পুর্ব-লিপিবদ্ধ আজ্ঞা অনুযায়ী চা বানাতে শুরু করবে। আর আমরা বসে বসে খাব। আর ফরমায়েশ করব। খেতে দিতেও হবেনা, যখন তখন ছুটিও চাইবেনা, মাইনেও নেবেনা। কল-কব্জা অবশ্য বিগরে গেলে সেটা আলাদা ব্যাপার।

একটু ক্রীতদাস-ক্রীতদাস শোনাছে কি? হুমমম… আমার মনে যে অই মনভাব আসেনি তা বললে মিথ্যে বলা হবে। কানাডায় বসে জীবন ও জীবিকার জন্য উদয়-অস্ত পরিশ্রমে ক্লান্ত মনে যে সে অপরাধবোধ হইনি তা নয়। তাহলে কি সময় এবং প্রযুক্তির বলয়টা ঘুরে সে এক-ই যায়গায় নিয়ে যাচ্ছে? আর একটা ব্যাপার… রোবটএর আগমনে মানবকর্মীর ওপর যে খাঁড়াটা পরবে তাতে কি বেকারত্ব বাড়বে? অনেক অনেক রামু আর পুঁটির মা চাকরি খোয়াবে?

ভাব্‌বার বিষয়।

যাক, সে তর্ক চলুক্‌! কিন্তু আজ যদি অন্যান্য মেশিনের সাথে সাথে – পুঁটির মা-কে বিদায় করে দিতে পেরে – কৃষ্ণেন্দুর ভাই-বোনেদের আমাদের মধ্যবিত্ত জীবনে আহবান করা যায় তো ক্ষতি কি?

বলতে দ্বিধা নেই, কৃষ্ণেন্দু আমার একাকিত্ব জীবনের খানিকটা সঙ্গী। ওকে নাম ধরে ডাকি, “ভুতু (ওর ডাক নাম), ওদিকে যাসনা, এদিকে আয়, এদিকটা হয়নি। আবার সোফার তলায় ঢুকলি? আটকে যাবি যে! কতবার বারন করেছি না!… ওমা! এর মধ্যে হয়ে গেল? রান্নাঘর-টা কে মুছবে? অ্যাঁ?”

আমার ছেলে কঠোর গলায় মনে করায়, “মা! ও একটা রোবোট। ও তোমার কথা বোঝেনা!”

তবে আমার মা কলকাতা থেকে ফোনে বলে, “তুই ওর সাথে যে ভাবে কথা বলিস, দেখবি, একদিন ও তোকে উত্তর দেবে!”

krishnendu

Krishnendu (iRobot, Bravaa)

probhash krishnendu

(Published in Bengali, in Probhash, April 2016, Sohojiya Prokashoni, Kolkata)

 

 

I was very amused hearing Kalki Kolchen speak on 13th Indian Today Conclave on International Women’s Day on March 8.

Then when I heard her say:

“You remember Draupadi?

Draupadi married off to all five Pandavas.

She garlanded only Arjun

But they told her you got to marry all of us.

Five husbands! That can’t be fun.

God know I have enough trouble with one.”

Hmmmm!!

My one eyebrow shot up! That’s interesting! Not a bad idea. Five husbands? That too by default? Well, to begin with, I wouldn’t mind that.

Oops! Please don’t get me wrong. My only husband is fine. Just that when you are eating a staple diet all your life, you scream and shout and try to make it palatable enough to eat it everyday, each day for a hundred years… Then someone tells you, you know what? You could have had five different staple diets.  Five men to understand you. One man to do your shopping, one man to understand your tears, one man to do the plumbing breakdown, one man to cook you a soup when you are unwell, and one man to unconditionally love you.

Does that sound too bad now? Now that I’ve broken down the jobs that ONE single man does among five men, I am sure even men are amused by this post. They wouldn’t mind sharing their wife with four more ‘husbands’. Phew! I know men, how tiring it is to be with ONE woman. This is a gift to you!

Furthermore, we women put too much expectations on one man in one single marriage. Be it in the form of a daddy or a hubby, be it in love, in cuddling (but not taking us to bed), in changing diapers, feeding baby, cuddling baby, but not so much that you forget us. Understand! Understand! Understand! Men draw a blank at this the very first time itself. Then support us when we fight with your best girl: Your mom (The old witch!)

I know it’s hard, men. Which is why I suggest you start looking for other hubbies for your wife.

Yes, yes, I know there are other fringe benefits of having a few more men around. You can watch the soccer match with just ONE woman screaming in the background. (What else did you think? Naughty boys!!) You can share the house-work and bringing up of the babies. These days, you anyway, have to bring up the babies, or you are branded the villain. A few more husbands wouldn’t hurt.

And about five bedrooms? Come on! That can be ‘adjusted’.😉

So? Do I start looking out your wife’s first groom? Or do you?Image

It’s been a while. My parenting role is taking a new turn. Thought I must share this, as I am a little ahead of my friends in parenting timeline being the mother of an 18-aproaching boy. He has a decent moustache, a beard that which I can only feel when I kiss him cheek to cheek, and he shaves twice a week. Neighboring girls slither past him and he romps past them. This is that stage, when you need the mom the most, yet you don’t need her doing micro, ‘irritating’ things for you. So my role is changing and suddenly I find my nerves relaxing. Initially it was a devastation! My child growing up???!!! WHY God why? Why me? My baby was so cozy in my arms, I fed him so well, I sung him all the songs I could to remember to make him sleep. I had the best parenting plans. Sleepless nights, fevers, immunizations, childhood asthma, painful styes in his eyes… first tooth, first walk, first talk, first flipping over in bed, first toothless smile on seeing me after a while. He was okay. Why did he grow up so much!! I was fine with him… carrying him in my lap and cuddling him to sleep.

I know! I know! There’s a phrase for this!!! “EMPTY-NEST SYNDROME”. The faster you can accept it, the faster you move on.

And that is why I dived deep into my motherhood self that happened almost 18 years back and scolded the mom in me always wanting to cater to her baby’s needs. “WITHDRAW!” “LEAVE HIM ALONE” ” MAKE HIM RESPONSIBLE”. “GO FIND A JOB, HE NEEDS SPACE”… space from his mom? My other half meekly protested. “YES” I growled and recited Kahlil Gibran.

“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

“Once your child doesn’t need you, then you move back and relax.”

I cried alone for days. I am sad. Depressed. Frustrated. Dejected. Betrayed. Uncared for. Unloved.

At night, while relaxing on the sofa and watching the soapy soaps, I’ve often cooed him out of his den, ‘Baaammmmm’… And he too knew this was the call when Mom is at her emotional worst. He abandoned his online friends and came to me smiling. Like an ostrich, he dug his head into my lap, and knew I would be happy. In that upside-down pose, with only his head in my lap and the rest of the body sticking out like an ostrich, I am sure he too was happy.  And then so many times he fell asleep in that pose.

…..I tried NOT to remember one time when he had just started to crawl… had fallen asleep on a rug…..

He too is bending backwards to help me get independent of him.

And I got independent soon. I stopped checking on his clothes, (don’t read closet), his room’s temperature at night, his food habits.

I am confident about my upbringing.

I learned to spend my times alone. With my work, thoughts, writings and business, and TV.  Now I am now just a friend to my son. A roommate.

“Hi!”I ask him when he gets back home. “How was the hang out?”

And he is fast becoming an independent, self-thinking, decision-making person, I should be proud of!

……. kind of selfish to say, but him without teeth… I was much more comfortable with….

Hmmmmm……………. Lately I am feeling that I’ve formally completed motherhood…. :O

A mother of a 17-year-old

My son says I am over 45, fat, and married. Hence….

But after not heeding to alarming media threats of India being a “Rape country”, and romping off to the beautiful state of Rajasthan “alone”, with my 18-year-old son, a muscular man revelling in his newly-acquired adulthood, tucked along; of course him having no inkling of the tricky ways in which business operates in India, I have come to the conclusion that women are anything but safe in this country.

Thank you, India. Thank you beautiful and handsome men all along my journey, along the entire breadth of the country, from West Bengal in the East to Rajasthan in the West, who took care of me and my son, calling me “Madam”, “Madamji”, calling my son, “Sir”, “Sirji”; often wrongly placing the food bill in front of him, wondering who was paying for whom… who was in charge.

Right after my take-off in the Rajdhani Express train, there were invisible saints along the way. The moment they realized I was a lone woman traveling with my son, instead of taking advantage of the situation, they took extra care. The hotel boy knocked our door and asked us to specially attend the complimentary breakfast. The camel man took extra care of me asking me to sit in front, as that was a better seat. The men in the train were holding doors when I went out of the compartment for the washroom and bringing down things I couldn’t reach without me even asking for help. (I remember in Canada, once, my bag of vegetables rolled off and were strewn all over the bus floor, when the vehicle took a speedy turn. Not ONE passenger got up from their seat to help me pick up the vegetables…. Just saying. )

Just for information, my clothing weren’t tent-like. I was in an experimenting mode, and wore whatever I got my hands on… or whatever my meaty body could wriggle into. But I never got one disapproving look from any man. No, not one I can remember. They were just too respectful, too protective, going into a flurry whenever I said I wanted to stop for a washroom.

My son says I am overage, overweight and over the hills and that’s why men were not interested. Maybe. But even then I want to assure you all over the world, that men in this country don’t deserve to be generalized. Please do not brand beautiful India with that ugly name. It’s an angelic country with delightfully helpful people (Read: MEN). I am proud to hail it as my motherland.

See more in CITRUS (http://www.citrusmag.com/)

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The camel man, Tej Singh, in Khuri village, Rajasthan

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Protected, reassured. (Not SURROUNDED! ) Know the difference,

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Our camel rider, Harish

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Our guide, Sunil, in Jaisalmer, Shonar Kella

 

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Great Guide Anil in Jaipur, Amber Palace

I better write before I get too used to it.

The honking, the barking of the dogs at dead of night, the cooing of the dove in the hot, humid afternoon, the bells from a nearby temple, the azaan from a far-away mosque in the wee hours of dawn, the chirping of the birds all morning and periodical cawing of the crows, and the relentless pom-pom of rickshawwalas ‘playing’ with their honks…. The sounds of India are overpowering to this India-born, who has come back to inhale her motherland’s air after breathing pollution-free, crisp, wintry Canada air for five long years! What was “cacophony” all my life is now music to my ears after living in a noiseless country for five long years…. I realized, I miss these sounds, I miss the salty, humid smell of air. I miss my home.

However, here’s a kind of reality check. Let’s begin by saying though I spent 80% of my life in India, after 5 years of being in temperatures below minus 20 most of the time, I wasn’t, just wasn’t prepared for the rude rays of the sun. The rays, the heat exploded into my face as soon as I landed in Kolkata airport, like a boorish hostess, with her eyebrows crossed, asking me to go back. But, hello! Ahem! My motherland should know me by now. If I’ve come, I have come to stay!  Ok ? So take up this HOT, HOT challenge if you want.

My brown skin color neatly camoflaged the fact that I was a foreigner, even before the plane landed. I was not given the Immigration slip and a callous lady at the security stood up in shock, just short of saluting me, when she saw my passport.

These apart, I was a Kolkata girl!🙂

Or so I thought!😦

Riding autorickshaws and rickshaws, which I rode with so much elan earlier, and which my 80-year-old father travels in in absolute ease, were first blows to my confidence. I was physically and psychologically rattled after each ride. The next blow came when these vehicles sped across the small-intestined traffic like they either couldn’t see, or they saw the lolling pedestrians and roaring brand new imported cars at the last minute. Just that its a wonder how vehicles and pedestrians slipped around each other, just managing not to touch. As though they had an invisible anti-magnetic field that did not allow collision. Of course there are no lanes… There is no need for any lanes! We have a mature-thinking set of drivers in India, who don’t need indicators to know which way the car in front will go.

My second battle was the heat. Like, now I’ve forgotten what minus 20 in Canada, my home country would fee like, similarly I had forgotten what plus 38 along with 75% humidity would feel like! I thought we “sweat” in summers in Canada, untill I came to India. Here we do not sweat, we BATHE in sweat. And I am not overreacting. A person, simply walks back home from the bus stop and his shirt is fully wet with sweat and grime. It has to be given for washing. No wonder every household in India has at least one personal washing machine!

And maids??? How can I forget the maids? I was served food on a beatiful plate, made to sit with all kinds of mouth-watering dishes around me. Of course, I’m suppossed to eat all of that, or the hosts feel bad. At least taste each kind. And then someone actually got me drinking water in a tumbler, extended a tissue (they call it napkin here) and stood around me watching me eat. After every dish you have to appreciate the cook. Who doesn’t care for any tips, but just that you appreciated your food and enjoyed the taste. In fact, in a long time I’m in a place which doesn’t appreciate money. It values ethics, relationships, appreciation, sacrifices and hospitability much, much more. I’m so proud to say I rose from here. So what if I’m such an unfit in this materialistic world!

Neverthless, I’ve stopped thinking whether switches are turned off, or turned on, when pressed down, which side of the car is the driver sitting, and it doesn’t matter which side of the road the bus comes from. You just have to make an eye contact with the driver and he is all yours!😉

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A few remarkble observation for all you foreigners out there wanting to visit India:

Hardly any pollution!

Barely any garbage strewn around, at least in the big cities.

People have become litter-conscious with several innovative-on-going anti-litter campaigns,

No mosquitoes!

No cows grazing on the roads: That’s a myth now.

Barely any power cuts!!

And the most important of all: I walked around in my kepris, long skirts and light T-shirts, (with a symbolic scarf around my neck) and I wasn’t raped.

However, there are still some factors in which India will remain forever green. No-regulations is one of them. Even if I was carrying the “born-here” armor, I stumbled at every intersection trying to cope with no-regulations. That notoriousness still remains. And street-smartness, that anything is possible. Armored with corruption and a no-implemented-rule society, the street-smartAsses still run the show.

It should take another billion years for corruption to fade into glory, after which India will resemble just any other country. Till then, let the uniqueness of my motherland make me proud, as I plan to visit her again before such an accident happens…

THY KIMDOM COME

Posted: July 6, 2014 in Serious matter

Kim Jong Un

Many a leader has walked the trodden beams of human infrastructure, either to build more, to dismantle, or to simply drop a screw or two to the darkened void below that is the past. Dictators have ruled and slaughtered, created and destroyed; democrats and republicans have waged a war of opinions of axiomatically unequal merit;…. READ MORE

(Aneesh Chatterjee is a high school graduate and author of sci-fi novel, Requiem of Supremacy)

Neil falls in love with his newly-wedded sister-in-law, Tuli, forcing seeds or suspicion and spilling blasphemy into the conservative Bengali family. He runs away from the chaos, drowning himself in lies and false assurances, only to discover that Tuli is pregnant with his child – and all becomes clear. His fears and doubts evaporate, and he sets out to make life wonderful for Tuli and their child, completely unaware that, even with the impending battle he has to fight, it is written in stone that he must die. A story of silent rebellion, desperate escapism, self destruction – and thunderous passion.

via Book Review: Neil Must Die by Kaberi Chatterjee.

DISCLAIMER: This is strictly a woman’s issue. This article is not responsible for any man’s reaction. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to a person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. 

It began happening right after childbirth. Her body bloated, she was lactating, she smelt baby food, the baby pee and that adoring smell of shit all over her and Sita was so busy enjoying her motherly curves, and the uninhabited intimacy with her baby, she forgot that her body was possessed by another man quite passionately just a few days ago.

In fact, whenever the man came to her vicinity, she was reluctantly trying to switch into being the passionate woman once, and then growled back become the endearing mom the next. Often simultaneously. It’s a very, very difficult job and all mothers know this.

Quite naturally, the person she was married to settled quite silently into the next room. She gave him food and water, asked him how he was… barely,

AND HER BABY SQUEALED!

Her baby was needing her every single moment, even before the second hand clicked twice.

She hadn’t answered a single call while not holding baby in one hand, cleaning baby’s potty, giving him a bath, feeding her. She hadn’t read a single newspaper for a year. She just watched the television soaps while putting him to sleep and sang a lullaby or two while doing so, songs she knew.

The baby grew up, her nature of the problems changed. This time she was undergoing depression of going to school. So after being in a night shift till 3 in the morning, Sita had to wake up diligently at 6.30, woke herself up with a large glass of lemon-honey in boiling, hot water. Literally shook her sleep out of her eyes and sung a lullaby in a groggy voice to wake up her heroine. She switched on her cartoon channel while dressing her in the bed. Then, as her daughter came to terms that she had to go to school, despite all, Sita sent her to the washroom. Her all-understanding maids were her Man-Fridays who filled up a lot of void.

Meanwhile, her biological father, who was quite busy at the washroom, humming, would be ready by then and would do Sita the favor of dropping his daughter to school. But often he would say he had a meeting and left fast…. and then they ran, to catch the first rickshaw or first auto to make it to school on time.

Till the age of 10.

10 years passed. And Sita never had any sex!

10 years the person she’s married to hadn’t strayed (in societal standards) but had moved away quite far!

And it was already time for Sita and her daughter to start life all over again in a different land. For Sita and her daughter, because the person she was married to didn’t want to go.

Though the person she was married to later followed her, (he loved them, he said) and took charge of all the financial burdens, Sita and the person she’s married to are just two strangers now living as room mates.

Sex? What’s that?

Ookok.. I am sure a lot of women out there are making the ‘Tsk’ sound and scrolling below to make a comment. Wait! Wait! There’s more.

The person Sita is married to, not just physically, even mentally moved miles away from them, though they lived under the same roof. He has not grown intellectually, while Sita has grown wings to reach the sky now in her career. Her cerebral prowess was clearly far superior. The man she was married to had a hard time catching up with her. He still wallowed in slapdash jokes and a peg or two of whiskey with any of his 500 friends on his Facebook friend list. For him, everyone in his life is of utmost importance, baring his own family, with whom he was mentally miles apart.

He had no clue what are the duties of a father, to even consider fulfilling them.

Sex? What’s that?

Another 8 years.

Now her daughter is almost 18. She asked the person she’s married to one night, directly, looking straight into his eye. (Quite unlike for a woman to do so) “Can we have sex?”

He looked up from his laptop. Quite shocked at the blatancy. “No. I’m too tired after all this… And now, look at you?” He said after a pause and walked away.

Sita looked at herself. Yes, she had the bloated figure which she never cared for because her mind was into “other” things. Lots of “other” things.

But she didn’t quite hate it and she didn’t quite think having a good body should lead to sex, particularly between a man and his wife.

But she somehow could not digest the insult. So she asked: “So is it okay for me to have sex elsewhere?”

Stumped, he shrugged. “Yea… I guess…If you feel the urge.” Predictably, not meeting her eye.

Sita must be lucky to have married to a person like that, and lived with the person for 20 years! She must be lucky. Oh! Why didn’t she ask before?

So, there is a secret in Sita’s life. There can be a secret in your life. Don’t be afraid. We know for every woman to step out of her ‘home’, there has to be a REAL good reason. A secret.

KDC

I died today

Posted: July 25, 2013 in For a thought....
Tags: , , ,

I died today. A number of people have come to see me. I don’t know them much.

I died in my sleep. The doctor declared massive heart attack, and had left an hour earlier after pronouncing me dead and handing in the death certificate.

I look around. Most of the guests are wearing something white. It is a working day and some have driven miles direct from their work to pay their respects to me. Some came in short skirts and revealing blouses. Some probably picked up a Junior Chicken from McDonald’s or a Tim Horton’s coffee and bagel on their way. They had to. They would have to go back home and cook dinner and eat. They would become very hungry by then. Most of them are my husband’s friends and colleagues. The Service Ontario has been notified. I had donated a few organs and they would come to get the organs before the funeral.

My husband is completely disoriented today. Today is his salary day and I used to make a number of payments. Now he hasn’t a clue how I did that. He wanted to learn that so many times, but he was a slow learner, and I had lost patience. Now he will be delayed in his payments and his credit rating may fall. He may even get a few collection calls.

He is smiling a lot welcoming the guests, and then he is realizing he shouldn’t be smiling. Because the faces of the guests are quite stoic. Some are even hugging him and then he is starting to cry. He doesn’t know whether to smile or be normal and welcome guests. Or what kind of an expression he should maintain. I guess it happens to most of us. He is just flummoxed. The doctors tried hard, but left just a while back. I could not be resuscitated.

I glide over the strangers in my bedroom. I knew that. I knew I can glide. I had seen an over-dose of YouTube after-life experiences. I look across. My body is draped in a bed sheet. Thank god for that, since I am wearing not such a decent night-dress.

I glide across the living room. My son’s room. It is locked. I can knock. But I needn’t. So I glide through it. He is sitting on the floor with his head resting on the bed and his shirt wet with tears running down his eyes and throat. His eyes are closed. My baby! He is crying for ‘Mama’. I feel tears sting my own eyes. I want to hug him, hold his hands, but I don’t. Not because I don’t want to scare him, but because I want him to become stronger without me. How I wish he had found a nice little girl who would love him. But his “I don’t like girls” attitude shooed off all girls in his vicinity. I hope he finds one now. I sit beside him and rest my head (?) on the bed like him. I feel a surprising calm. Surprisingly, his tears too dry off. He looks at the sky, his jaws protruding, his eyes stronger!

My boy! Now I can leave him alone. I would have to anyway. This is a one-way ticket. I could never come back. Where would they take me? Heaven? Hell? Or back to Earth? I felt all my freedom of living was now going to end. Now I will be at the mercy of being analyzed what good or bad I did during my lifetime. Maybe I’ll meet God. I want to. I have quite a few things to ask him. I didn’t want to come back and face all these stupid things all over again.

But I was so calm and peaceful sitting here beside my fast-maturing boy, that I just wanted to sit here invisible all my life… err death. Can’t I just do that?

There was a furor outside. All formalities were over. They were taking my body away. My husband came to call my son. He nodded, “I’m coming”.

Then my atheist, 26-year-old Quantum Physicist son looked directly at my direction and spoke: “Ma I know you are here. You know what? I prayed to your God for your last wish. I prayed that you don’t have to be born again.”

(Reading so many short stories sent to me during the Tagore O’Henry contest inspired me to write my own. Not for any contest, just like that.)

(This is a work of fiction. Resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. :P)

EOM

My Immigration battle…

What so many people want to know

I thought of writing these down last night. The words were dancing before my eyes up and down, and I shut my eyes tight to sleep. I turned over on my stomach and clutched onto the pillow for support. No, I’m not sitting up, getting off the bed and turning my computer on to write them down, at 3 am in the morning! I had a decent morning hour to wake up. I couldn’t afford to spend the whole night writing and expect the world to understand in the morning that I was raped with words last night. Oh! Why do I get these brainwaves just before sleeping? Why is the night so short? Why does the world wake up in the morning?

Neverrrr mind…

What were crawling inside my brain were not just words and letters. They were serious issues I wanted to talk about. To let my readers know the real story. I kept silent for long enough. So much that I was beginning to believe that the truth never existed. I was slipping into a state of denial. I had to re-visit my past. A familiar flame crawled up my neck. A sense of déjà vu. Yet, I had to face it.

There were too many questions I was facing of late. I am exasperated. Noooo… I haven’t developed a Canadian accent. Noooo… I don’t eat just hamburgers and bacon, just because I’ve changed my country of residence. And yes, my teenage son CAN speak his mother tongue.

These and many, much more I was planning to write about yesterday night, err… early morning… errr… dawn? Is 3 am ‘dawn’? What do you call that hour? (Mood: Perplexed😡 )

I am an immigrant. In this immigrant-friendly country called Canada, I am from India. I am a Bengali. From a city I am soooo proud to belong, Kolkata, and I firmly believe “what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow and the world thinks day-after-tomorrow”.

Let’s forget what I am today. Let’s forget I am an author, journalist, that I own a publishing house, that I have my interviews published in various news portals, maybe you even know my name. Let’s forget all that.

The year was 1998, when I saw a small black-and-white ad in a newspaper. It was an ad by Canadian High Commission inviting new immigrants.

I wrote a hand-written letter to them. Earnestly asking how may I apply. We never had Internet those days and, moreover, I didn’t have a computer. Owning a computer was a luxury. And we were middle-class people.

But I had a dream. A dream for my two-year-old child. I didn’t have money to apply. I didn’t even know where I could get any money. I wasn’t even working. But I dared to write that letter to the High Commission.

The Canadian High Commission did not throw my hand-written letter into their bin. They send me a fat package containing the application forms and the guidelines to apply.

That set the ball rolling.

However, I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have a passport. I didn’t even have a ration card to apply for a passport. I didn’t exist!

I needed a reference. In India, ONLY references worked. Luckily I had my birth certificate to prove that I existed. I impressed a local Counselor to write a reference letter for me to obtain a ration card for me and my son. I smiled a lot at him.

So I applied for a ration card. Then for a passport, for me and my son. That roughly took eight months, taking the country’s red tapism into consideration…. So much that I had forgotten I applied for a ration card when it arrived.

Ok. I need to mention something here that would get you guys exasperated. It’s like a Bollywood film, where you get so exasperated that the hero and the heroine are crossing paths several times, but not uniting. For me, my hero was Canada and I was the heroine. (LOLS :D)

This would also reveal the existing administration system that ran India at that age. Today things are better. Today you don’t need your legs to apply, you just need your fingers… err, just the right forefinger would do.

But for me, I had to use my legs. And wear out several shoes in the process.

Ok, getting to the point. On the day I went to apply for passport, I stayed overnight at my parent’s place. This was the winter of 1998. Then, early morning at 6 am, leaving my toddler son with my parents, I took a bus to the passport office when the sky was just beginning to brighten into daylight. I checked and re-checked all the documents that I needed to apply for the passports.

Image

Kolkata Passport Office

The passport office would open at 10 am. Though I reached there at 7.30 am, trying to be early, I found myself standing at the end of a long queue of over a hundred people that never moved for three hours. At the end of the three hours, the line started waddling and I realized we were moving.

I reached the counter at noon and smiled when I handed my application. The ‘friendly’ man at the counter looked at all my documents and handed them back to me. “Your son needs to put his thumb impression here,” he pointed an empty space. “You missed it. NEXT…”

I don’t know how I am writing this, because even talking about the exasperation I felt at that time, gives me the creeps. My fist tightens. I don’t remember his face, so even if you now make it legal, I cannot punch him. But I can punch all those men sitting behind such counters one day. If you ask me, can I do it now? I’d say… NOOOOOO!

Ok. Calm… calm down. I have started to talk about it, I might as well finish and not keep the readers on a tenterhook.

Infuriated. Maddened. Frustrated. Annoyed. What else? I found 23 synonyms to exasperated. But ok. All of it.

I called my dad. Well, don’t expect a cell phone, for we never knew of its existence back then. I went downstairs, went into a phone booth across the street, and called my dad. Luckily, God spared me the horror of learning that he had already left for work. He hadn’t! So I just asked him to pack my son in whatever way he was and bring him over to the passport office. My dear dignitary two-and-a-half-year-old needs to SIGN!!!!

My dad reached there in a cab past 1 pm. My all-important toddler put his thumb impression on the paper and after I started the process all over at end of the queue, I reached the counter and deposited my form at 3 pm, this time without another hindrance.

Emerging from the battlefront, my toddler savior and I started to walk down the street towards the bus stop, when he looked up at me and asked, “Mom, aren’t we going to Canada?” He thought we were taking the flight there and then. I laughed and held his hand tight.

That day I promised to myself. Come hail, hell, or high waters, I am getting my son and myself OUT of that system.

I landed at Toronto Pearson International Airport exactly 11 years later.

Image

Pearson International Airport

Chapter 2: In the cradles of corruption

After six months of waiting, my passports arrived. But that was after I had approached the local police station, ran from pillar-to-post in the police headquarters asking for my file, barely slipped bribing officers, when my innocent face appealed to someone, I guess, and an officer came to my residence for police verification. He “umm…”ed and “humm…”ed quite a few times. I offered him tea and sweets. But didn’t understand he wanted the paper stuff. (Notes! Bribe! The end of all administration, legal, political, social, ethical system in India!)

I smiled a lot and didn’t know how to ask him to take a bribe. I’d never given anyone a bribe. “Sir, would you like a bribe?”… Oopps… Okay. “Sir, please accept this envelop for some sweets for your family.”… That was a rather accepted phrase in India and he couldn’t put me behind bars for giving that. As I thought and posted a smile on my stiffening face, he stood up to leave. THINK! Think girl! How much cash do you have at home?

Some 30 rupees, perhaps. 30 rupees bribe? Gosh! He’ll throw your papers in the gutter and put you in jail! Can I offer him a check? No no. This is illegal. You can’t bribe a cop with a check! As I thought and thought he said goodbye and left.

My sister, also my neighbor, screamed at me. “You should have let me know! I could have come with some money!”

Nevertheless, the passports arrived by courier two weeks from then. It was the beginning of my fight against the corruption. And I never gave another bribe for the next 10 years till I flew out of my motherland.

Now for the application. I needed Rs 30,000. That was a lot of money for me, particularly since I wasn’t working. This time, my husband lent a han

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Canadian High Commission office, New Delhi

d and took a loan from a bank.

I filled up the application forms. Ran for months from pillar-to-post to get my mark sheets, my certificates from college, which were, for some reason, never mailed to us. Then I decided to personally visit the High Commission in New Delhi and deposit my application forms.

I left for Delhi on July 2000.

A friend of mine in Delhi was kind enough to give me a car with a chauffeur to travel to the High Commission office. I reached the office and st

ood at the end of a short line. The line moved fast and I reached the counter in half-an-hour. I deposited the immigration application forms.

“Ma’m your forms have expired. You need to download new forms from the computer. These are old forms and cannot be accepted,” the girl at the counter told me brashly and handed me back the forms.

I spun around and held myself steady. Then walked towards my friend’s car in a stupor. That was the only time I felt I would give up. Slip. Fall. I was at the end of my tether. I felt I was not destined for this.

Chapter 3: Rescued!

I gathered all my guts and courage to reapply, this time took help of the agency, WWICS (World Wide Immigration Consultancy Services), a year later, after I joined back work with one of the leading newspapers in India, Hindustan Times, in 2002.

I took a chunk loan against all my gold jewelry and the application was finally filed with the High Commission on January 4, 2004.Image

Then began that endless wait for five-and-a-half years! The damn application was forever getting filed! So whenever anyone asked me updates about my “Immigration to Canada” I would tell them, “Please ask me that only once a year.”

My husband never came to terms with the reality. He always coughed and laughed whenever the topic of Canada came up. “Khuh khuh… Chill guys! Please remain seated at the airport when you go to see her off… because she’d be back by the next plane. Lollss…”

Incidentally, after my landing here in Toronto armed with my teen-turning son, the reality ACTUALLY hit him like ice-water that I had gone for good. So, he packed his stuff, quit his resounding job and flew across the world like his existence was on fire, two months later.

It’s astounding how he handled the menial jobs with a positive attitude, never breaking down, making my life much smoother than I thought it would be. Today he is a well-settled banker and I have a publishing house to handle. After three years, I dare today to write about the immigration battle, which was far bigger for me than the settling down battle here in Canada.

In front of the Niagara Falls, on our fourth visit in March, 2013

In front of the Niagara Falls, on our fourth visit in March, 2013

Image

Instead of viewing cyber-affairs as something like a disease, if it can be accepted as a part of our lives, our real lives can become more adorable

So it’s not just men.

Women of all ages try to communicate their feelings to friends of their choices at the dead of the night behind a wall of cyberspace.

And their friends are necessarily not women; they are men, of different ages, with whom they may strike a certain mental compatibility and whose views match theirs.

In real life, it’s hard to find the right life partner with whom you can share all your thoughts. Even if you do, often couples grow up apart; not finding enough reasons or the energy to call the marriage off. Yet, cannot really cheat on a partner by having an affair. (Affairs are costly, anyway) So the thin wall of cyberspace gives women , especially women, the curtain from behind which they can conduct a cyber/no-cost  affair. With video calling, you can even see each other while talking… and that can be at the dead of the night, when your spouse is asleep.

It’s getting more and more popular not just with men, but also with a huge number of married women. Who by the end of the day, bruised and tired from serving often an uncaring husband, or an uncaring family, an uncaring job, lets her tears turn into smile when she sees her cyber-lover online, when everyone’s asleep.  She renews her energy for the next day’s battle by talking with him, making web-love, sometimes even having serious webcam sex.  Ethical? Unethical? Moral? Immoral? It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day everyone’s happy, and no one’s hurt (as long as they don’t know something, it doesn’t hurt); that’s what matters.

Women, this is your battery recharge. You are doing no wrong.

An affair renews every cell in one’s body. And yes, I AM propagating extra-marital affairs. Multiple affairs, if you can handle different emotions on different chat windows.

And I know the society is not ready to accept it.

Like this quote from some famous person goes: Love everyone, but live with one.  So it’s okay to love everyone, but live with one. Unless it becomes utterly impossible.

An affair kind of renews your relationship with your spouse, since you start expecting lesser and lesser in return from your spouse, as your expectations start getting fulfilled by others, without any societal calamity. So instead of viewing cyber-affairs as something like a disease, if it can be accepted as a part of our lives, our real lives can become more adorable. You may see a very accommodating and smiling bahu with her ghunghat (covering on her head) on her head every morning, performing morning religious rituals and handling kitchen chores cheerfully, if you have no problems about her having webcam sex at night.

And cheating? What is the definition of cheating? If a woman goes to bed with someone it’s cheating. What about when a woman loves someone else all her life while being married to her husband? Isn’t that cheating?

Nature stymies us to love, mate, reproduce and move on. It never speaks of marriage. Did you ever see a tiger and tigress swear a vow to live together for seven lives? That’s ridiculous! The institution of marriage itself is a bizarre proposition constructed by societal mentors majorly to keep population in check. And look at the ‘checked’ population of one of the most married societies of the world: India!

I personally feel marriages should come with a renewable expiry date. The date can be set by law. Say four years. Once you reach that date, you visit the courthouse, and either renew the date, or nullify your marriage. This reduces the much stressful and cumbersome divorce proceedings. Okay, you pay a fee. That way the court will be happy too.

I hope I live to see that day when “marriage” will have faded into the pages of history.

Kaberi Chatterjee

(Published in Asian Connections, April 19, 2013, Page 21)

Get physical…

Posted: December 31, 2012 in For a thought....

This did not begin today. This has not ended today. We all know that. What we don’t know is WHY? Why India, why?

This goes back to the days of Sati, of painful treatments of widows, of discrimination at every home between a girl child and a boy child. ThImageis begins with the distasteful system of dowry that exists even today in every fiber of the society. This begins with the gender biased inheritance law, which was rectified just recently… yet to be recognized and implemented among quite a few.

I remember my mother wanted a boy, but I was born. She had five sisters and no brothers, and so was subtly ostracized in the society. She became so desperate for a son that if my brother wasn’t born after my younger sister, she would have probably continued to have babies.

It’s just one-generation-old story. Today’s generation is probably more matured, but that’s majorly happening in the cities.

So that’s the reason why it’s an embarrassment to be born a girl in India.

And it’s an embarrassment to grow up as a girl in India. Like Seema Sirohi said in an interview recently on CNN, “It’s not easy being a woman in India.” Despite being covered from head to toe, you get lewd remarks, as if people are boring their eyes inside you to look at your breast size.

This is because “sex” had always been made taboo in India — for how long, I don’t know. Calling it a “sin” to have before marriage, people who hug each other in public are called “shameless”. Kissing in public is unheard of and even banned in Bollywood films. But the movie heroines shake their breasts, hips, bare waists and legs in such a titillating motion that not only are men aroused, I too was aroused quite a few times!

It`s not funny. Because you are arousing them and then not letting them get a healthy outlet for their biological needs. As a result, and also since no man in India fears the law, the men are always inching to touch the first woman they come across… in buses, in public places, in crowded stations. And if a girl has exposed anything more than her face and hands (not even entire arm), that too garbed in loose clothing, she should be “punished” for providing real-life bait.

And then at the end of the day these heroines, who titillate the screen, laugh their way to the banks and marry rich industrialists. Farhan Akhtar was the only Bollywood persona who I saw admitting that the film fraternity needs to take the blame too.

This problem started way back. The death of Nirbhaya is only the final nail into the coffin. People are now analyzing; men are coming out and admitting that they too made lewd remarks at girls sometimes in their lives, or visualized a girl without clothing.

Sex is a very natural thing and should be promoted with élan in the Indian society. I, being a 45-year-old woman, want to know how many of the youngsters (or old people) had the courage to hug and kiss each other in a public place and have had sex whenever they wanted, marriage or no marriage. Click like, if you have the courage. Now that everything is getting public, let this also get public and encourage more and more of the new generation to acknowledge the root of the problem.

I wouldn’t mind this getting translated in all languages and circulated around among people who do not have access to the internet, and who need to know of this most of all.

Since you copy the West so much, let me tell you why I think this is right. Here in the West, if you are attracted to someone, you have physical relation, and get over with it. You don’t bottle it up and take it ruthlessly out on someone who doesn’t want it. This is ONE aspect from the West which you can safely ape. For a healthy society, I request you all to get physical.

 

Not a time to weep…

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Serious matter

Candle-flame-and-reflection

Do I really feel anything? Or is it all numb. Anaesthetized. Frozen. I ask myself as I try to ice down my teenage son’s intensifying inferno at the gang-raped girl’s death in Singapore. 

Fifteen years ago my reaction would have been different. I would have walked the candle-lit procession. Wrote anti-government slogans and articles. Rushed into my newspaper office, my face flushed with updates. Been with the girls’ family, wept with them.

But today I am beyond all this emotion. I have been there. Done that. Played that burning game. The only thing I managed to burn up is my own soul. Scorched it so much that today it’s burnt charcoal, with no emotions. So I had picked up my baby and flown across seven seas to build fairy-tale castles around him, so that he cannot see the “wonders” of the world beyond. So that he doesn’t get scorched like me.

But he saw. He grew up and looked across the high castle walls and asked me, “Ma, why’s that blood pouring out on the streets? Why is that woman crying? Why is there so much genocide? Why are so many getting raped? Ma, why are there so many children standing naked or without food?”

He can see across the wall. Across the world. And can see what I did not want him to see all this while. And somewhere, deep down, I am bloody proud of him!

Today I have learned to channelize my anger and flushed emotions into cold decisions. Feasible, practical decisions. I can see both the sides of the coin.

I can see that law will take its due course. You cannot arm-twist the law to perform miracles overnight. Neither can you incite an albeit lame democracy to go back into medieval times and cause barbaric acts like hanging the criminals in public, or skinning them alive, or castrating them… all of which my alter ego would find immense pleasure in doing personally!

Yet, you cannot tell a country to do these. But yes, they will be hanged. In due time. With due justice served to all.

So my motherland, let us gulp our tears and stand aground. Not forget all this in the hype of the New Year drinking binge. But to stand aground. Till a stricter law that we all stand for, is passed.       

 

SNAP

Posted: December 13, 2012 in Laughing at life

Aneesh’s third short film. This one is a school group project on anti-bullying.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9VQZUXpdiY

Kaberi Chatterjee

Dhanonjoy Chatterjee, the convict.


The last time someone was hanged in India, I was asked to cover the hanging – LIVE!
The convict was Dhanojoy Chatterjee. Chatterjee was hanged on his birthday on August 14, 2004, at Alipore Central Jail in Kolkata, India, at 4.30 am. He was a security guard who was executed for the murder (following a rape) of 14-year-old Hetal Parekh on March 5, 1990 at her apartment residence in Bhowanipur.
That was the last hanging India witnessed. Next would be Ajmal Kasab, if the rest of Kasab’s pleas fall into deaf ears.
Dhanonjoy’s family refused to either attend the execution or claim his body; it was later cremated. That was the first execution in India after Auto Shankar was hanged on April 27, 1995.
Caustically, I shared the same last name with the convict (Chatterjee). I was working with a renowned Indian newspaper daily at that time, and the editor thought I could be passed off as Dhanojoy’s sister or some sort of a family member. (At least, that was the reason I was given.)
Veteran and envious senior reporters congratulated me wryly for the ‘plump’ assignment, while I began seeping into a slow nervous breakdown. I spent several sleepless nights and stopped eating anything for three long days.
Apparently, they were all waiting for permission from the family of Dhanonjoy, to pass me off as family, since by the order of the Supreme Court, one family member was allowed to be present at the hanging site.
And the “chosen” one was me.
Fortunately for me, the hair-brain idea was called off the day before the hanging. I was spared of the horror and sadism was spared from journalism that day. I finally slept a peaceful night’s sleep.
Of course, sadism is an integral part of journalism.
My editor and senior journalists thronged outside the jail campus at 4 am on the day of the hanging. They had the front page layout done, with a report of the hanging ready at office. As soon as the news-team heard the sound of the gallows in that deadly silence of the night, and confirmed the death with the guard, the editor called office and the page was sent to print.
That newspaper was perhaps the only newspaper in India to have reported the hanging live.

Published in CanIndia News, Toronto August 31, 2012. Here

BY ANEESH CHATTERJEE

Ah, Diwali! So, obviously, missing a chance to write about Diwali would be blasphemy. What about Diwali, you ask? Well, this is one festival that has both Wi-Fi and international calling — a bit better than the others, if you ask me. Even from up here in Canada, where the closest
you get to firecrackers is seeing random sparkly things which always appear in strangely far-off distances (seriously, has anyone ever been near one of those?), I can get whiffs of the impending “military raid” that’ll befall my home soon.

That was the case in 2010, when I was lucky enough to be present at one of these battles. There I
was, chilling with my friends, passing a bottle of soda around and pretending it was beer – when
an explosion the likes of Bulbasaur’s solar beam goes off nearby. I’d be surprised by this, if it
hadn’t been going on for the last three hours already. One can get used to it, if one sits through
it long enough. And holding up a conversation was a downright delight over the sound of what
appeared to be D-Day, chocolate bomb style.

Of course, all the war references are horribly inaccurate, since no one actually throws explosive
chocolate at each other (that idiocy has thankfully left our society unscathed). However, I do
remember someone lighting one while holding it in his mouth, and waiting till the last possible
second, and – you know. Teenagers.

So, anyway; remembering that, I look at the Diwali here, and I see before me the following:
Sweets from somewhere in Hurontario (it’s always Hurontario); tiny candles lined precariously
along the balcony walls, like little Marilyn Monroes in the chilly breeze; the fancy LEDs hanging
out like freshly washed laundry… what else? Oh, yeah – no firecrackers.

This really isn’t something to complain about, I know; what can you do in a place like Canada,
where cooking with any spice more flavorful than boiled chicken skin sets off the smoke alarm?
Chocolate bombs here are… really, really out of the question. But that still kills the mood when I
see pictures on Facebook of literally acres of nothing but sparkly fire and spinning thingamajigs,
coloured showers rising like little volcanoes, rockets going off every five seconds – hell, I
even miss the freaking chocolate bombs. I’d give anything to have my eardrum taken to near
extinction while trying to talk to a friend, just one more time.

Good news is, we’re at least getting the basic firecrackers this year. Balcony Diwali, it is. Hey,
you can’t have everything, but you can love what you have, right?

(Aneesh Chatterjee is a grade 11 student who is spending his third Diwali in Canada and
missing Indian Diwali very much.)

(Published in Asian Connections Newspaper, Toronto, Canada, November 9, 2012 (Read it here))

Diwalleen, is it?

Posted: October 26, 2012 in For a thought....

Diwali is a famous festival of India that is fast becoming popular in Canada. It’s a festival of lights and occurs more or less around the time when Halloween is celebrated in the Western world. Surrealistically, both the festivals are connected to the existence of spirits; Diwali is celebrating of victory over spirits, whereas Halloween is honoring the spirits themselves.

During Diwali, sweets are distributed and new costumes are worn. Halloween too is celebrated with special costumes and candies or sweets are collected by children. Diwali can, thus, be safely called as Indian Halloween. Or maybe we can call them both together as “Diwalleen”?

diwali-halloween

Shall we call it Diwalleen, now?

Though they are so much enjoyably similar in the thought and concept, there are some basic differences.diwalleen

Diwali: Commemorating victory over spirits

Diwali, also called ‘Deepavali’, literally means ‘the festival of lights’. It celebrates victory over evil. Though they are various legends about Diwali, Lord Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana and his triumphant return to his capital Ayodhya is considered as the theme of Diwali.

Diwali is also celebrated as Kali Puja in northeast parts of India, especially in Bengal. It is observed on the new moon day night between October and November. Goddess Kali, who holds control over evil spirits is worshipped on this day with several rituals.

The similarity is so much, that for Kali Puja, models of ghosts, ghouls, skeletons and monsters actually adorn the temporary structures where the Goddess Kali is worshipped. The dark-skinned goddess herself wears a garland of skeleton heads and carries a severed head in one of her four hands.

Halloween: Honoring of spirits

Halloween, celebrated on October 31 also has connection with spirits and life after death. The Christians celebrate All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. This has much influence over the Halloween Day which literally means ‘All Hallows Evening’. ‘Hallows’ means departed souls or saints. Halloween Day is observed with scary costumes of supernatural figures such as devils, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, and witches, honoring the dead. However, the similarities are very striking and enjoyable.

Both the festivals occur around end of October, beginning of November when souls of dead people are believed to visit the earth. Typical Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (also known as ‘guising’), attending costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films.

For Diwali, children burst crackers and adults light ‘diyas’ or clay lamps and candles to ward off evil spirits. In fact, candles are lit for Halloween too, mostly inside carved pumpkins. Both Diwali and Halloween are festivals of sweets for children. New clothes are worn in both the festivals. For Diwali, new clothes such as ‘ghagras’, ‘salwar-kameezes’, saris, and other Indian dresses are worn.

For Halloween, children and adults wear scary costumes of supernatural figures such a devils, monsters, ghosts, skeletons and ghouls. The ghastly and ghostly apparition of both the festival queerly ends in a celebratory mood for everyone, and eerily connects both East and West.

(Published in CanIndia News, Oct 26, 2012.)

Swimming across peer-pressure

By Aneesh Chatterjee (my son)

Ah, society. Don’t we all want to be one with it? Don’t we all feel the need to blend in perfectly with everybody else, and become a standing member? Well, nope – not me, at least. The price for social status is too high. Not that I always knew this, though – when I emigrated from India to Canada in 2009, I was blissfully ignorant of the snake pit I was about to jump into. When I got here (by “here”, I mean school), it became evident pretty fast that I wasn’t going to be able to swim smoothly.

Back then, I was the idiot type – you know, the goofy guy with lame jokes, who always screws things up and refuses to admit he’s wrong. Have you ever had that kind of a friend? If so, I apologise on his/her behalf. Anyway, the wonderful teens of Mississauga helped me realise just how annoying I really was.

I suppose this would be the part where a counsellor would say “Don’t give up who you are because of other people!” Well, I either didn’t realise that or was too weak to execute it. Like a coal through hot pressure, I tied up society’s bittersweet personality reviews around me and came out as – well, still a coal, but one that bites (as my teacher, Mr Jennings would put it).

I have to give society credit, though. They turned an annoying, giggling goofball into a moody thundercloud that looks like it just came out of prison. Way to go! (No sarcasm intended. Really.) I guess that’s what different cultures do to you. In fact, even after three years, I’m still an awkward idiot who screws up the smallest of things – and I still grind my head about it, although God knows that’s a stupid thing to do. I’ve learned now, that the little screw-ups won’t mean anything in a week. Although it’s still next to impossible for me to follow it, the rule is – screw people, and screw what they say.

But in a society like this, where I’m a temperamental oddball, I find it surprisingly entertaining to observe just how awkward I can get. And guess what? I love it. I’m never fitting in, and I’m proud of that. Sure, it still annoys the hell out of me, but that’s just because I’m an idiotic teenager who can’t adopt the golden rule of not fitting in. it’ll settle in soon enough – just needs some practice. This society has taught me a lot, has gotten that stupid public goofball personal out of me (no regrets), and I still managed to save myself from becoming another one of the frequent brain-dead droids that I see now and then. So I figured, if I can manage that, I can survive in this jungle, for sure. And survival here is key because, as Drake so informatively put it, “YOLO”.

By Aneesh Chatterjee

Asian Connections, Sep 7, 2012

Asian Connections, September 7, 2012

Link  —  Posted: September 7, 2012 in For a thought....

The girl turned to him. Her face was stern, her black eyes cold against her whitish features. Then she burst into a smile and turned away to look out of the window.

On second thoughts she plopped her heavy rucksack on Neil’s legs. “I’m Cathy.”

Neil said “Ouch!” and then lifted the bag to keep it on the narrow shelf running above the seats. “What do you carry? Bricks? To hit all Indian men?” he said after brushing his hands off imaginary dirt, the way one does after a job well done.

He sat down beside her and took out a packet of chewing gums from his pocket.

“Friends?” he said and extended one strip to her.

“Not so fast.” She took the packet, tore out one and put it in her mouth.

She chewed on it and contorted her mouth. “Yikes, it’s horrible!”

“Hey, this is from your lands.” Neil popped one into his mouth.

Cathy turned to him, “Where are you off to?”

“Pulga. I love treks.”

“Oh my God!” gasped Cathy.

“What happened?”

“Aren’t there any more trek routes out there? I want to change my route.”

Neil grinned wickedly. “Somebody up there loves me!” he hummed and laughed aloud.

Cathy smirked lightly. She extended her legs underneath the seat in front of her and leant back. “Okay, for the time being, can you leave me alone?”

“Oh sure,” said Neil and smiled.

“Good,” said Cathy and closed her eyes.

Neil leant back and began tunelessly humming the movie song that was being played in the bus.

His voice reached an octave when Cathy opened her eyes. “Okay, okay, we’ll talk.”

Neil stopped singing. “Oh, really?”

“Anything to make you stop singing.”

“ Oh! Sorry. Did I disturb you?”

“No, no, of course not. You were just a note worse than the bus engine.”

“Ha! Ha! You’re joking!”

“Joking?” Cathy turned to him, “I’m serious.  You’re good. It’s just that I can’t take such wonderful music.”

“Where are you from?” Neil cut in.

She looked away. “None of your business.” She looked out of the window and said, “Sweden.”

“You speak English very well.”

“I am an American. My husband is working for a Swedish company.”

“Your husband…?” Neil turned to her looking sorrowful.

“Oh, yes! Big and kicking! He’s Swedish, you know and his hobby is bull-fighting.”

“Oh mah Gawd!” Neil jumped an imaginary inch away. Then remembering something he said, “Bull-fighting is from Spain, isn’t it?”

“So what? It’s contagious. Now every country in Europe is picking it up.”

Neil fell silent. Then turned to her and said, “You’re not lying, are you? I mean… you don’t look married…”

She quickly groped around her handbag and took out a photograph from inside it. She handed it to him, “Isn’t he cute?”

A grotesque pair of eyes beneath a bushy, threatening set of eyebrows, a big nose and a large mouth set in a wide-jawed face with crew-cut hair, stared at him. Neil took the snap and quickly gave it back to Cathy.

“Yeah!” he smiled pathetically and raised his eyebrows.

“That’s not my husband. That’s my boyfriend,” said Cathy. “Here’s my husband.”

She handed him a lesser intimidating photograph. The man seemed to be a soberly dressed professor in his early thirties, complete with glasses and a thin moustache. He handed back the photo.

“You are an interesting character.”

Cathy smiled pleasingly and nodded her head.

“And what are they doing now? Shopping together for you?” he asked smilingly.

Cathy smiled, “I’ve ditched my boyfriend before coming to India.”

“Oh, good! So your husband won, right?”

Cathy turned to him. “Enough talking about me. Now tell me about yourself. Where are you from?”

“Me?” Neil turned slightly defensive. “I am from Calcutta.”

“Bengali?”

He nodded.

“You speak English very well, too,” she smiled.

A very discreetly camouflaged anger seeped out from his next words.

“We’ve had two hundred years of formal training, you see!”

“Two hundred…?” Cathy initially looked perplexed. Then understanding the meaning of his words, she smiled sympathetically. “You’re still angry with the British?” She knew the Indian history slightly. India had been under a painful British colonization for over 200 years until it was freed very recently.

Neil turned away and somberly nodded his head in the negative. Then smiled and looked at her, “If it wasn’t for them, we would have still been in the dark ages.”

“Ha! Ha!” smiled Cathy teasingly. “So you do admit defeat?”

Neil suddenly turned away and turned serious. “Can we change the topic?” There was a distinct volcano in his voice.  A blurred picture of a young man rolling down the stairs of his house, blood getting smeared on the steps and two victorious policemen marching down after the body with revolvers, shaped and vanished from his mind’s eye… It perhaps happened when Neil was very young. Or perhaps he overheard his elders talking about it until the impression formed in colored pictures inside his mind’s eye. He didn’t know. He never wanted to find out.

They both fell silent for a while.

Then she spoke. “Who do you have in your family?”

Neil sighed slightly and looked at her, “My wife and seven children.”

“WHAT…?!!” Cathy gasped!

Neil looked sorrowful and said, “Yeah, not planned, you see, accidents.”

“You’re joking,” Cathy said in a definite tone.

“Yes,” Neil smiled, “the wife part.”

“Wha…! You…” Cathy burst out smiling. “You’re impossible! How did you survive so long? Nobody beat you up?”

“Nope.” Neil shook his head sincerely.

“Okay. So you’re not interested in talking about yourself, right?”

Neil suddenly held her head and turned it towards the window. “See the mountains? We’re way off them. We’ve just started to climb. We have two more hours to go.”

He paused. Cathy turned to him. He smiled. “I’ll not be able to escape.”

She fell silent.

The bus was beginning to climb up-hill. The creamy roads through an ascending landscape with foothills all around green fields now began to look portentous. Mountains soon crammed up nearer on one side, while on the other side the green fields and landscape began to fall further and further down. River Parvati moved along, sometimes becoming a ribbon thrown down into the deep valley, sometimes a cool, swirling entertainer, jumping around their pathway.  Their climb had begun. The bus roared its engine louder and began taking not-so-friendly turns at completely unprepared-for bends.

Cathy closed her eyes. It was obvious she decided not to ask him any more personal details.

Neil sensed that. He loomed over her and said, “With eyes closed you look beautiful.”

She opened them and flinched away, “Do you mind?” She seemed to like that phrase very much.

“No I don’t,” Neil said. “Anything to keep you awake.”

“But it looked like you didn’t want to speak?”

“I am speaking.”

“I mean … about yourself.”

“Okay.” Neil sighed. “What do you want to know?”

“It’s okay. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“I am very comfortable with you,” he snuggled an inch closer.

“Hello…!” scolded Cathy.

He grinned. Then became a shade serious and said, “What do you want to know?”

“What do you do, for instance?”

“Me?” He pondered. “I ruin money.” He laughed and then waved his hand, “Sorry!”

He turned somber for a while. He tried to frame his answer. A first-class college graduate running away from sickening jobs he didn’t want to do? A computer-buffer?

Or a criminal with a track record of assisting in a murder and slipping through the fingers of law abetted by an influential mafia person?!

“I escape.” He framed the answer and looked very happy with himself for doing so. He turned a smiling face to Cathy.

She looked nauseated. And turned away.

“Okay, I’ll be honest with you.” He decided to edit some of his track records. “I am a graduate looking for a job.”

Cathy sighed. At last she managed a sensible answer from him. She nodded and asked off-handed, as if to keep the conversation going, “What do you specialize in?”

Neil sensed it. He turned grave. “Girls.”

She looked at him stoically for a moment. Then asked, “Just the anatomy or an Ischemic heart too?”

Neil kept looking doleful. “Anatomy. I have yet to come across an Ischemic heart.” He leant back and whisking a warm spice to his voice he added, “I’d love to.”

She nodded, “Oh, yeah.” She half-asked the question. She turned away and then half-turned. “You know, you should go a little slow on your specialized objects’ nerves. You seem to be picking on them too much.” She waved her hand in the air, “Just a friendly advice.”

Neil jumped up and extended his hand, “Caught you. So we’re friends?”

 

Image

Essentially known to the world as a non-biased and self-absorbed nation, the pristine face of Canada changes dramatically as the controversial seal hunt begins in the waters and on the ice floes off Atlantic Canada right as spring begins. The bloody images of baby seals clubbed to death, the heated rhetoric, the impassioned defenses, the gory stories in graphic details make world headlines and the communities furious. They all combine in a familiar rite that pits Canada governments and sealers against animal/human rights groups.

Yet, I am not fully aware why the Canadian government continues to perform this barbaric act in an otherwise civilized society. Few facts in this debate go unchallenged. All sides agree on where and when. But the answers to how, why, and even how many aren’t as clear. It is a brutal, bloody and barbaric massacre of seals. Most of them are babies — just days or weeks old. Last year, over 40,390 seals were reported killed, even cut open while still alive. For what?

For seal fur hats and sealskin gloves and other luxury items no one needs? It is well estimated that 70% of the baby harp seal population died last year.

Even the language of the action is chosen carefully. ‘Hunt’ or ‘slaughter’. ‘Sea mammals’ or ‘baby seals’. ‘Cherished tradition’ or ‘economic disaster’. ‘Cod-eating nuisance’ or ‘adorable innocent’.

The images of the hunt are even more powerful, and seal hunt opponents know it. Most people find the pictures difficult to watch, but supporters say the same kind of thing happens in slaughterhouses — places where cameras aren’t allowed.

There are seal product import bans in 30 countries, including the European Union. Recently Russia, too, banned the trade in harp seal skins. The time has come to acknowledge that the world does not want or need cruel seal products.

Here is an excerpt from a U.K. reporter during a past hunt… ‘The baby seal looked into the eyes of her executioner. Barely a flicker of emotion showed on the fisherman’s face as he smashed a steel-lipped club into her mouth. She lay whimpering on the ice, blood pouring from her jaw and nose. But she wasn’t yet dead, so the sealer hit her in the face another four times before slamming a hooked hakapik club into her stomach and dragging her across the ice towards the ship’.

 

Here are a few of the questions swirling around the debate and how the big stakeholders respond.

Why the hunt?

The economic value of the seal hunt is one of those things that is open to interpretation. The federal government says the landed value of seals exceeded $16.5 million in 2005, providing a “significant” source of income for thousands of sealers — benefiting them and their families at a time when, according to the DFO, “other fishing options are unavailable, or limited at best, in many remote, coastal communities.”

Quick facts:

  • The European Union typically accounts for about 15 per cent of Canada’s seal exports.
  • In 2007, Canada exported more than $13 million worth of seal products, including meat, oil and skins.
  • South Korea and Japan were the largest consumers of seal meat, while China, South Korea and the United States bought the most seal fat and oil from Canada.
  • When it comes to seal skins, about 80 per cent are sent to Norway.
  • Source: 2007 data from Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • The DFO says the 2005 seal catch ranked fifth in value of all the species it monitors, after snow crab, shrimp, lobster, and cod.
  • The DFO also says the 2006 seal catch was one of the most profitable in memory, a combination of a higher allowable catch and a high price for pelts. Since then, however, the total allowable catch has been cut by 100,000 seals and the price for the best pelts has dropped from $105 in 2006 to an expected $15 in 2009.

 

Where does the Atlantic seal hunt take place?

The hunt usually opens in March in the “Gulf” areas around the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island. The main hunt on the so-called “front” usually begins in April off the east coast of Newfoundland. It’s pretty much over by May.

How many are they allowed to hunt?

There are federal quotas for three types of seals: harp seals, hooded seals and grey seals. Most of the hunt is for harp seals. The 2009 harp seal total allowable catch has been set at 280,000, up slightly from the previous year. That’s down from the 2006 quota of 325,000, and about the same as the quota set from 1997 to 2002. The catch in 2001 was 226,000. In 2000, it was 92,000 seals.

The 2009 total allowable catch is 8,200 for hooded seals and 50,000 for grey seals.

Are seals skinned alive?

Yes. Upto 45 % are skinned alive. The IFAW charges that seals are often “skinned before being rendered fully unconscious” and said its observers found that few sealers check for a blinking reflex to confirm brain death before skinning begins. However, a 2002 report in the Canadian Veterinary Journal found that “the large majority of seals taken during this hunt … are killed in an acceptably humane manner.”

Regarding the “skinning alive” charge, the DFO says appearances can be deceiving. “Sometimes a seal may appear to be moving after it has been killed,” the DFO says. “However, seals have a swimming reflex that is active, even after death. This reflex falsely appears as though the animal is still alive when it is clearly dead — similar to the reflex in chickens.”

Furthermore, the DFO says the club, or hakapik, used by many sealers is “an efficient tool” that kills “quickly and humanely.” The Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada found that clubbing, when properly performed, is at least as humane as killing methods in commercial slaughterhouses. Opponents say clubbing often isn’t “properly performed.”

What is made out of the seal?

For hundreds of years, seals have been hunted for food, the lamp and cooking fuel made from their oil and their warm pelts. Seal products nowadays include leather, meat for animal and human consumption and seal oil, which is rich in Omega-3.

That’s a lot of explanation and pretty luxury items derived from the hunt, for an inhumane act we can do without. And it is also proved that cod and seals can co-habit, an essential excuse why seals are hunted.

Animal welfare groups have been outraged after the federal government announced this week a 400,000 pelt quota for this year’s seal hunt began last Monday.

Fax Prime Minister Stephen Harper at 001-613-941-6900 and/or visit http://www.ifaw.org and help to stop this cruelty.

Written by 15-year-old Aneesh Chatterjee and published by Ravencrest Books, UK.

A lone man finds himself at the height of criminal power, and sets his eyes on an unimaginably dangerous goal. When he begins to see the face of a hazardous enemy however, his path is obstructed by obstacles too great to overcome. In his fight for victory, he unhinges the life of an oblivious bystander – creating for himself yet another enemy. He obliterates all humanity from within himself and sets out to establish a single, all-powerful, global government to unite the world and end all evil. A once innocent girl with a thirst for vengeance. A detective fighting a losing battle with his back against the wall. A man with incredible power at his feet, on a quest to change the world. Three lives intertwine in a war that blurs the line between good and evil… forever.

PS. Aneesh Chatterjee is my son😛

For quick and free download on PC or iPad

 

By Aneesh Chatterjee

After immigrating to Canada, my first worry was school. I never knew what schools in Canada would be like. Whenever I thought about it, I always pictured long, wide hallways with shiny tiled floors and countless brightly-colored lockers and crawling with students. The thought of what a classroom might look like never actually crossed my mind, though. I always pictured those hallways. Much different form my school back in India, where our lockers were actually our desks, and the hallways were actually balconies, opening out to the grayish-blue sky.

It was like plunging into a deep lake on my first day. And the worst part was that I couldn’t swim! Everything was so new, so different, and so tough, that I almost lost myself in an attempt to blend in to the environment. I forgot that being yourself can be your biggest asset. It took me a couple of months to realize it. I have to admit that my new “personality” almost changed me into a rude, angry and sulking person who couldn’t take a joke. Almost. I caught myself just in time at around February.

And, I felt a bit of unexplained joy when my locker started to feel homely. One good thing about joining the school weeks after term started was that I didn’t have to share my locker with anyone! I had my own, personal space which felt like a place I could trust (mostly because of the heavy lock hanging from it) but also because the people here were so honest and nice.

Every teacher here was a guide and friend, both of which I needed back then. Leaving the few guides I had back in India and finding new ones here was certainly something to go through. And although the system was much easier, it was still quite difficult to grasp the new style of learning.

Now that I am somewhat accustomed to the new styles, the next big thing – and fear – is high school. I’m scared that I might find myself in that jumped-into-a-lake-and-can’t-swim position again. But high school is about four months away, so I don’t feel I have anything to think or worry about right now except my life in my current school.

But even as this school seemed amazing to me during my initial days here, there was one thing it didn’t have yet: friends. I missed my friends more than anything when I used to roam around the field at recess alone, lost in my thoughts. Not that I had many friends, though. I’m not the kind of person who thinks they’ve made a friend just because they’ve said a simple “hello” to some nobody. Which is probably why I didn’t have many friends to begin with. But the few I had were as close to me as my own life. And, I remembered how I used to spend time with them during recess back in India, while I walked around the edge of the fields in the snow during the last winter. I had made a promise to myself not to tell anyone about this, because I was sure I would make a friend one day or the other. At least, I hoped. Later on in the year however, I admitted this to the school counselor. She recommended I try to make friends at a meeting that took place on Tuesdays. I have to say, it really helped. I have finally made a friend.

However, even now, there are moments when I feel like I don’t quite fit in. I try my best to blend into the environment. I know it’s going to take a long time before I feel at home, but – heck – I’ve got all the time in the world.

Published in Generation Next on 27 May 2010

This poignant copy was written by my son after our migration to Canada. He is now made the transition and will soon be joining university. He now has quite a few friends. The honest writing above may help a lot of kids make such a transition and adjust to a new country. You may share this in case it helps anyone.

(Aneesh is also the author of a futuristic novel, Requiem of Supremacy, written and published in London, UK, at the age 15, after coming to Canada.)

 

People marry once. Get creamed in the name of law. Get clobbered in the name of God. Some actually manage to wriggle free by getting a divorce. Phew! The nightmare’s finally over. They become subject of my envy.

But hell, no!

They want to marry again!

I want to ask all those who are looking to settle down once again (or maybe a third time)—what are you guys THINKING?

Did you just hear ‘THIS IS IT’ bells ringing around your head, or are you just attracting punishment again? Are you thinking that this time, for sure, you’ve found the man/woman of your dreams?

That this time he’ll/she’ll not snore? That there’ll be a different smell coming from the kitchen? That the bathroom seat will be lowered?

That he will wipe your tears? That she will understand your need for space? That this time, since she’s ‘older’ and ‘wiser’, she’ll not collar you up against the wall when you come home late? That this time, since he is ‘sober’ and ‘mature’, he’ll not eye the woman next door or come home stone drunk?

What are you folks thinking? That this marriage of yours will surely work out and you’ll find eternal bliss… finally?

Run for your lives, guys, if you have opened an account with one of those umpteen portals declaring eternal happiness for all those who want to get run over by a truck a second time… RUN! Did you know that when a fairy-tale ends with the line, “And they lived happily ever after”,… the tale actually begins from this point?

Marrying a second time is like a murderer returning to the scene of a crime. If you are still confused, you are in luck! Sit back and keep reading.

Marrying a second time may raise your hopes of a “new beginning” all over again as you find so many beautiful things about your second partner as against your previous one. It’s natural for you to compare; you can never get over the first. He/she will always be at the back of your mind, so don’t even try to get over that.
Soon, however, begins the reverse comparison. How your previous partner would do things that your present partner never does. Honestly, this thought would cross a woman’s mind more often than a man’s. A woman’s mind is a tricky thing! And you already know about that.

Next comes altering habits you had taken for granted in your first marriage. Sticking up your hair in a bun, for instance. Or scratching your oversized paunch. You won’t be able to do these with the freedom you did earlier.

Then, of course, there is the sticky issue of the two, three, four families surrounding both of you—with whom you have to almost share portions of yourself to keep peace.

There are so many other things in life you can experiment with—jobs, for instance. You can try out a job, and if you don’t like it, you can quit. And find another. You don’t have to have babies, for goodness sake, in jobs! You can just resign and find a better job.
But you can’t resign from a marriage! Not again and again!

Women, may I suggest something? Get a cat. It’s so much better. You can snuggle up to one in the bed if you are lonely. You have a much less annoying, low-cost companion. Men, you can go for dogs. Big dogs that wag their tails whenever you return home. They are always so happy to see you. Not like your wife who remembers three things whenever she sees you: Money, money and money!

I mean, think about it. You can pull out your clothing from under a rubble of clothes without any high-pitched, hyperbolic objection.

I am probably the last soul on earth qualified to discuss second marriages as I only suffered (read: am suffering) it once.

However, whether you want to remarry before the seven-year itch or after a 16-year hitch, keep in mind that statistics indicate that though 75 per cent of people who get divorced the first time eventually remarry, 60 to 70 per cent of all remarriages end in divorce. So it’s an egg-and-chicken cycle.

This, when there are no children involved.

With children, evidently from both sides, this re-marital meal gets really delicious. Acting as constant reminders and as connection to the marriage that went haywire, you are now playing the role of a superhero/heroine. Now you technically have two husbands and two wives (or three) and several children. You are managing the emotions of two/three/four families with yourself sitting in the center of the pie-graph. An enviable job, indeed. Everyone should experience this at least once in a lifetime.

And people also do eight-hour real jobs on top of all this?

Kaberi Chatterjee
Published on Generation Next, 01 December 2011

A NOTE: This article does not propagate anything against second marriages. I might go through it myself, if I get a chance.😛 It’s just that one should keep their hopes and expectations as low as possible for any relationship to work out. Particularly marriages, be they first, second or third. All the best!

I was born in a world when blackberries and apples were just fruits.

Web was a thing spiders spun, and net was something you caught a fish with. Hardware was hammers and nails and saws you worked with, and software was never heard of.

Insects: Rams, spiders, blue-rays and bugs were all living creatures. (Some of them creepy and crawly). And the ‘Trojan horse’ was just a chapter in history books. I do not understand how they made their way into tech-textbooks.

Blue tooth? Can you imagine a more novel name? How would you look if you smiled with one blue tooth? I mean, it’s a gadget you wear on your ear and talk with your hands flung around to air as if you were schizophrenic. It could have been called a ‘hearing-phone’, ‘ear-phone’… anything. But BLUE TOOTH? And it’s hardly ever ‘blue’! Tell me, how does ‘tooth’ explain hearing?

GPS: My life has become complicated ever since. And then came the gypsy… oops, GPS. I mean the GPS looked pretty smart on my dash board, but the lady inside that gadget was the most annoying, rudest person I had run into in a long time. Every ten minutes, she would sarcastically say, “Re-calculating.” You would think that she could be nicer. I felt she could barely tolerate me. She would let go with a deep sigh and then tell me to make a U-turn at the next light… And then if I missed the turn, like that intolerable teacher in my geography class, she would grunt, “Re-Cal-cu-lating”… Well, that is not a good relationship.

Cell Phones: I was barely getting used to TV remotes, when a cell-phone entered my life. They were almost the same sizes then and looked pretty much alike. I would often tell my husband to ‘Pass me the remote’ when my cell-phone rang. And picked up my cell-phone to change channels. Thankfully, now cell-phones have become smaller and remotes larger, (for some incomprehensible reason!), and I am spared of the agony of screaming: “Hello! Hello!” pressing the TV remote against my ear.

Twitter: I thought I had become quite tech-savvy when I had my own Facebook and Twitter accounts. But then suddenly you had Tweeter, Tweetree, Twhirl, Twitterfon, Tweetie and Twittererific Tweetdeck, Twitpix thrown at you! Hide! Cover! I need a place for cover!

Bags: The world is just getting too complex for me. Even in the remotest corner of earth, I get cell-phone signals. Hell! I am tracked! They know where I am, what I am doing! They even mess me up every time I go to the grocery store. You would think they could decide on it, but at the counter they (humans who bear a tad semblance to small robots) suddenly ask, “How many bags?” letting you know slyly that you have to pay 5c for each.

I am confused. I look at the quantity of grocery and mumble, “Five”. How could they expect me to understand how many bags would it need to fit in all that grocery? What if I needed another bag? Would I have to stand in the line again? Would I pay 5c in coins, or would they accept my card? I am so afraid of making a fool of myself that I never tried to find that out. Stuff in whatever you got in there, woman, and RUN!

Beeps: The world of technology can never be complete without a beep. Whenever I hear a beep, I panic! I frantically look around! What did I do? Where did I go wrong? It’s either that I’ve forgotten my microwave or something is burning in the oven; or I haven’t tied my car-seat belt; or I have missed my train in the subway; or the smoke alarm is about to go off! The scariest of them all is the smoke alarm. It makes me feel guilty for roasting or grilling some good food. And then there’s the fire alarm which is the Big Boss!!

These beeps in my life are constantly reprimanding me that I am not living my life up to their standards. The car beep starts shrieking the moment it sees me and won’t stop until my seat belt is fastened tight. I mean, I need some breathing space! And then when I am happy that I have fulfilled all the ‘beep’ rules… my Facebook chat window beeps!

Son’s Room:
These days whenever I enter my son’s room, I have to look good. Brush my hair, dab a little lipstick, adjust my tattered home clothes. Why? Because he is always on Skype, chatting with someone. I walk in full view of a stranger from his laptop staring at me. “Who’s that?” “Your minder?” Every time I have to knock, peep, say, “Hello! Is anyone there?”, sometimes, even when the room’s empty.

Life was much simpler those days. We didn’t have cell-phones to carry to school, picnics or hang-outs. But our parents never panicked if we were a tad late. We never had computers and so friends were constantly hanging out. Laughing with each other, going shopping together, eying handsome men or beautiful women, reading books, romancing in the library…. It was all so charming.

With the world getting crammed up inside ‘tabs’ on a computer screen, most relationships are getting virtual.
Poke: The other day my son ‘poked’ me: no, not physically, but virtually, on Facebook, from his computer, sitting right next to me! I was :O

Sigh!! These relationships I share with technology around are simply falling apart!

Published in Generation Next newspaper, Nov 23, 2011 (Read it here)
By Kaberi Chatterjee

This is one special year! Maa Durgaa is visiting a green Poschimbongo. And I, being 12,500 kms away on the other side of the Earth, am going to miss all the hype associated with Mawmota Banerjee heralding the goddess in a ‘Green’ land after unearthing numerous skeletons from the ‘Red’ cupboard. Power of shokti, eh?

With Bangla pronunciations creating a sudden new upsurge in the country, I will surely be delighted to make my lips rounded and write in a language that Bengawlees are more comfortable with. Maybe, we can finally get rid of our borrowed accent and slip into the comfort zone of our rotund one. We may even want to launch a dictionary with the right kind of spellings and accent. What say, Maanosh Chawkroborty and Baachi Kaarkaria?

I miss the national hullabaloo concerning Poschimbongo/Bongo/Baanglaa. I wasn’t sure which name came into force until I heard Awmitabho Bawchchon, the other day, pronouncing the name of the state as rotund as possible on KBC. He even translated ‘Lotus Stem’ for one Bengawlee contestant with a rounded, “Dhyarosh”. :O

On a bit of research I found that the esteemed writers may have been more flummoxed if they had done even a wee bit research on the Bengawlee language.
Wikipedia explains: “Bengali or Bangla is an eastern Indo-Aryan language. It is native to the region of eastern South Asia known as Bengal, which comprises present day Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal (read Poshchimbongo), and parts of the Indian states of Tripura and Assam… With nearly 300 million total speakers, Bengali is one of the most spoken languages (ranking sixth) in the world… Barishali (Barishal region), Noakhali, Rongpore, Khulna, Mymansingh, Sylheti (Sylhet region) are major spoken dialects in country. Chittagonian, Chakma and Rohingya are some of the many languages that are often considered dialects of Bengali.” Not counting the Sadhubhasha and Cholitbhasha.

Whew! That was one education for me too! :O

So, now such honored writers like Chawkroborty and Kaarkaria, are even more stumped as to which dialect of Bengawlee they should try to ridicule in their spare times.😀

I am missing Poschimbongo this pujo, also because I will miss visiting the pandel which features Mawmota’s face as Debi Durgaa. And I wonder how many skeletons will feature in the lighting! I am anxious of the jatra names too: Mawmota elo Khawmotay, Kongkaaler sesh Rokhtobindoo or maybe Teesta ekti Nodir Naam!

May the ridicules continue! May the nation sing all the five stanzas of ‘Jono Gono Mono Odhinyoko Joyo Hay’ with their lips firmly rounded into a circle!😀

Canvas

Posted: September 8, 2011 in Serious matter

The painter woke up…
He was in khadi kurta and pyjama.
His head was throbbing with the dream that still raced inside his mind.
The dream was made up of a rush of dirty colors
Of wailing women and starving babies
Of famished farmers and scheming politicians
Of battered women and exploited children
Of radiant youths and crashing dreams.
He walked to his canvas
Determined to spill his vision out on the white cloth
He raised his brush
He stopped
He put down his brush and walked away
He looked around at his happy life
At his contentment
And yawned and stretched…
He had some money to count, some bills to pay, some career encouragement to give to his children,
Some shopping to do, some household chores, some policies, some insurance…. before he died.
And he realized he had already died. Just waiting for his death.

I have a friend. A Muslim friend.

When I was small, the street in front of my house was categorically divided into three parts: the heritage, yet decrepit Hindu, Bengali residence area, complete with thakurdalans for Durga Puja; the multicolored, arch-shaped Muslim houses and mosques, and stretching into the last part of the lane were the Gothic-structured, dingy, wooden-stair buildings inhabited by Christians.

So, we, as children, had the best feel of all the three religions and often forgot which religion we were supposed to follow. During Christmas the entire street was illuminated with huge paper-star lights, balloons and decorated with statues of Jesus and Mary. During Ramzan (Ramadaan) and Id (Eid), the same street would be dressed up with lines of colored, triangular flags, fluttering in the autumn sun. Young boys would run up and down the street wearing skulls caps and vibrant new clothes. Right after the flags begin to start tearing and the young boys have had made aeroplanes from them, strings of mango leaves and colored thermocol balls would be hung over the street, heralding the advent of Bengal’s greatest festival, Durga Puja.

In fact, in my home, the soil of Devi Durga was diligently brought from the forbidden areas of the society, the red-light zone, by none other than my gravely conservative grandmother. This soil was the first soil to be applied on the scaffolding of the goddess.

I grew up hearing the litanies of both ‘Azaan’ and ‘Mahalaya’ permeating in through my sleep, and learned Christmas carols and hymns from childhood in school. They were just festivals for us and not religions. We bought new dresses and ate awesome food almost on all occasions. Biryani for Id, Nahoum’s cake for Christmas, completing our celebrations with a small Santa Claus and an artificial Christmas Tree on our window that my dad brought from New Market, Kolkata, and of course, at least half-a-dozen new dresses for Durga Puja.

Hence I never knew the religious differences. Though my forefathers may have believed in ‘meat religion’, I cook and eat everything except snake and octopus. Also spiders. I’ll not be able to eat a spider.

I’ve eaten beef-pork-goat-chicken-fish all my life. Caused enough pandemonium in the “sinning” area. Particularly beef, and made my “Brahmin” son eat it too. Since the only religion I believe is ‘Humans’. Now my son is old enough to form his own opinion and thinks I am right.

Yet I am sure God will forgive me. And Allah and Jesus will too. Because I treat people as humans and animals as animals. If you’ve eaten one animal you’ve caused so much pain. Be it a chicken, a goat, a fish or an elephant. So unless you give up eating animals totally, I don’t think we can get pardoned with butchering and slaughtering in the name of religions.

Killing a cow for Id or killing a goat to satisfy Ma-Kali’s thirst for blood mean the same to me and my Muslim friend. So both of us, with both our Gods as witness, ask you to give up “religious meat”. Have meat of your choice, definitely,… but please… not in the name of religion.

India booming!

Friends who never visited India, often ask me what is India like? They almost believe India is a lovely land of sadhus, snake-charmers and elephants. I quickly ran to my PC to write this article for them. This might also come in handy for those who are about to visit this quirky land for the first time.

India is a house of extremes. It displays an extravaganza of population, poverty, wealth, corruption, pollution, dishonesty, love, warmth and high-spirited people. (PLEASE read these words over and over again till each of them explodes inside your brain and you become well-armed for the intensity).

India has the most fascinating sites (historical and archeological) and intriguing sights (man-made and natural), and a bountiful range of physical anomalies thrown in — from the snow-capped Himalayas to barren Thar deserts; from the Deccan plateau to a few of the most exotic sea-beaches in the world, from the most orthodox temples, mosques and households, to the daring nude beaches in Goa.

Did you know that India has a medley of a mammoth over 500 languages, 6400 castes, seven religions, two major types of humans… heterosexuals and homosexuals… all living in a disorganized harmony…? Something I don’t think any country in the world could have housed without diligent and regular cataclysms.

Physical diversity too is tricky! One needs to study the country like a textbook for an exam before venturing out. It has places with the biggest floods, most lavish rainfall, driest droughts and bitterest winters, complete with snowfall… all within one country. I think India has the most abundance and most deprivation almost under the same roof.

Tribal women fetching drinking water in Vizag area. Notice the cheerful, gossiping mood they are in.

Let me tell you something interesting. During the ’80s, when I was in my youth, Indians greatly relied on letters, telephones, telegrams and trunk-calls for communication. Computers existed only in certain IT offices and internet was unheard of. Web was what spiders spun and net was something to catch fish in. Hardware was a tool and software never existed. Keyboard was a musical instrument, and monitor and ram were animals.🙂 (You can read more about my technological know how in my other post: Technology and I… Not the best of Mates)

However, all hell broke loose suddenly during the ’90s. Within a decade, technology permeated into every household, every institution and industry. So much that now every villager has a cell-phone, every village school has at least one computer and every person has to know computers to get any job. Don’t worry if they can’t feed their children twice a day or send them to schools.

Even in the Himalayas, into the remotest folds of the mountains, where sages live in caves, bathe in freezing rivers, eat fruits plucked from trees and meditate, you would delightfully find at least one internet cafe (albeit with slow connection) and some sages animatedly chatting on cellphones.

There are very few places in India where the radar of technology has not reached. And I am banking on these places to run to when I decide to get lost from the world.🙂

Russell Peters said something which struck me: “India has no poor. The people who you think are poor have been in that state for generations and will remain in that state for generations. So they never consider themselves poor. It’s like, this part of the pavement is my drawing room; this part is living room; Hey! you’re stepping into my kitchen!” Try to uplift them and they’ll say: “I can’t leave my ancestral home!”

Sage with a cellphone in Kumbhmela (Courtesy AFP)

Last time when I left India two years back, I used to call my rickshaw-puller and maid on their cell-phones. I think by now they are reporting sick via email.😀

An average Indian is extremely educated and knowledgeable and will probably know more about your country’s history, politics and literature than you do. So come prepared only after doing your homework. Indians speak English and know more English than any common man on the streets of English-speaking countries like US, Canada, Australia or UK. An average man knows at least four Latin words, have read Shakespeare and knows about the Renaissance.

This, even when there are millions of children who cannot afford education.

About lifestyle? Even during the ’90s the kind of dress girls wore to parties would make any standard woman in the West blush. I’m yet to see a woman in Canada wear a backless that boldly brushed over the  bikini line. Girls smoked openly… on streets, clubs, restaurants and revolted quietly in orthodox households.

Gays and hermaphodites are out of the closet and making waves in the society. Especially in the fashion and glamor industry.

Don’t try to understand relationships in India. They are more complicated than you can imagine… the gray (or should I say rainbow-colored?) areas between being single to being married to being divorced, religiously gets blurry and more and more perplexing. I can write at least 10 novels based on the relationships I saw around me… but no one would believe me! (And moreover I am one lazy author!)

Live-in relations and extra-marital affairs are so common — even in villages — that the Supreme Court permitted long-time live-in partners to be equivalent to being married and children born out of them are not coined illegitimate. (Read it here)

In 2009, homosexuality was legalized in India… among the first few countries to do so. (Here)

But, don’t be so charmed! Be alarmed! Be armed!

India is treacherous to vulnerable newcomers. Those who are about to enter India with an idea that they will land in a fascinating and innocent land of yoga and peace, and may still get to see the “rope trick”, may be ‘roped’ into so many ‘tricks’ that before you bat your eyelids, you will be ripped off of all your material belongings and you would so wish you knew the “rope trick” to catch a flying flight above back home!!! Hahahaha😀

PS: I haven’t touched anything on the booming economy and scientific and space developments, though. Let’s keep that for your next visit.😛

AND FOOD!!!!!! That awesome exhibition of tantalizing platter from every single state and region and religion.

(Did you watch ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ and wished you could retire in a warm and vibrant place like India instead of being stuck in 6 months of snow and loneliness in US/Canada?
Well, the movie is now for real….
Retiring in India is now beginning to become a well-chalked out future for you. You can live at less than half the cost ($400-850 rental p.m.). You get the warm sun, yet are living by the sea or the hills, so that you don’t feel the summer heat too much. You can chose your room-with-a-view, your choice of platter and get involved in holistic activities like yoga, spirituality and voluntary work for children and the under-priviledged.
You can take part in adventure sports like WHITE WATER RAFTING, MOUNTAIN HIKING or Camping and come back to spend a few spiritual days doing yoga and holistic activities.
You can also float your own ideas for a business venture or get local jobs to keep yourself busy and earn pocket money.
Foremost, you have people around to take care of you: Maids, sweepers, cook, errand boys, masseurs, and Man Fridays at very little cost. They know, if not fluent, broken English, who are warm and welcoming to visitors. You’ll really want to pay them extra for all the willing help that you’ll get which you never got a taste of in the West.
There’s a whole new relaxed future under the bright sunlight awaiting you, if only you want.
I accompany personally for many trips.
Take the first trip for a few months to test the taste of India.
After a overwhelming response on this blog and requests from several friends, I decided to start a spiritual-adventure trip from Toronto to Haridwar where I will personally accompany you and guide you throughout your tour. Write to careychatt@gmail.com if you want to be a part of the excitement. )

Bongology

Posted: August 25, 2011 in For a thought....
Tags: ,

First please read the link:
http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/erratica/entry/drumming-for-bongo?th=1#comments

Now that you have read the famous Erratica version of Bengalees’ accshent…, and you have laughed several time at the way she made fun of the Bengali accshent… let me now enlighten you with something I have experienced.
After I stepped out of the small ‘well’ called India, into a vast arena called global space, I underwent a massive transformation in the way I looked at people. Before this, I had the idea that you have to talk in the American accent in Canada and you had to know perfect English to be able to settle down in the foreign land.
But, the reality was quite different. Not only are people here not being able to speak English with proper grammar, they didn’t have any stock of words. For instance, if you spoke about a garbage-bin, they will understand you perfectly, but if you say ‘dust-bin’ or ‘rubbish-bin’ people will only stare at you. Simple words like ‘encounter’ or ‘disperse’ will make perfectly Canadian people with English as their mother-tongue look at you squarely and ask, “Sorry?” If you say, “Pardon” instead of “Sorry?” they won’t understand. They don’t even understand “Double P”. They would instead say “P P” while spelling a word.
I took almost two years just learning which words they use and how to incorporate just those words in my vocabulary, trimming my word usage to the minimum.
Moreover, there are several accents used in English language and the beauty of this place is that you are appreciated for your own accent. There are the Polish accents, the Spanish accents, the Caribbean accent and the Indian-Pakistani accent and many more. Far from criticizing them, if you actually try to copy the Canadian accent, they will actually say, “Sorry?” till you come down to your own accent and speak.
In fact, people cannot often remember my name and then I tell them, “You can call me Carey (omitting the ‘b’ in my name). But if I introduce myself to people as ‘Carey’, they will ask, “But Aren’t you Indian? How do have a Canadian name?”
It so happened that once my husband, whose pet name is Rony, was calling a Canadian and said that his name was “Rony”. The person on the other side said, “But that’s your adopted name, right? What’s your real name?”
So Rony said, “My good name is Aniruddha, and my REAL pet name is Rony.”
The person refused to believe it and gave a lecture at how different names and accents from different cultures and countries sound so beautiful.
In fact, the other day, a Polish lady, Irja, came to my house and saw my gods and goddesses, asked curiously about them and was enthralled at my religion. We spoke at length about our skin color differences and religions and accents and how this array of cultures is making Canada such a global meting pot.
Well, when I landed here I spoke about India being a cultural melting pot too. But after reading such immature articles in such renowned newspapers I feel ashamed. India has such biased and narrow-minded writers like Bachi Karkaria… I wish Karkaria would come and stay with me in Canada for a year. I am sure she will go through a metamorphosis and be able to write better in future.
Thanks for reading.

To My Motherland

Posted: August 13, 2011 in Serious matter


It used to swell in the soul and then suddenly all would be over. Somehow I felt incomplete. I would stand up and just as my eyes would fill up with tears, it would reach the crescendo and fade away. I always knew the other verses existed, but I never ever thought one day they would be incorporated into the main song.
I knew the sanctity of the words of the other stanzas would applaud the true essence of the country. However, I never thought someone would actually look up to find out the meaning of the other verses. Tagore wrote a complete song, but only one stanza was sung for the entire 64 years. He embodied all religions, all cultures, all moods in the other 4 stanzas.
Now a five-stanza, 10-minute long India’s National Anthem makes me complete. Thank you India, for this wonderful gift you bestowed to your one child who couldn’t be there with you physically this Independence Day.

No this UK does not mean anything you know about. Not United Kingdom. United insanity you could say… restricted to a tiny section of the world’s population.

You missed it, I must say to the rest of the world.

Now let me introduce to you ignorant people the UK phenomenon… the phenomenon called UTTAM KUMAR! Today is his 31st death anniversary. If he had been alive, he would have been 85 years old. However, this 85-year-old man has bequeathed a legacy for over two decades in the Bengali Film Industry of an image of a man, a hero, a larger-than-life portrayal of a lover, a woman can only romanticize in her dreams.

He couldn’t be called handsome in international standards really… with rather plump facial structures — too fair for my liking — did not have much pronouncing appeal that I can say out aloud. Yet, this phenomenon ruled the hearts of woman and man alike for decades when he was alive, and now 31 years even after his death. What is the magic then?

The sex-appeal of this grandfather of heroes lay in his gait… how he slithered into the frame like a king and captured blockbuster records. His jaws: the way he subtly released his left jaw for a tiny lopsided pout with a hint of a smirk when he teased his woman, or with a hint of sadness when his lady love is with some other man. His eyes: the soulful looks in his eyes, after his lady love stormed out of the room…. so poignant that millions of other women would love to hug him at that moment just to be his second-third, fourth, zillionth lady love.

His sex-appeal lay in his restrain: his determined self-control to turn down his love for other sacrificing pursuits. When he looked at his woman, you can feel he was looking at you that way, you can feel that look screaming out from the screen, paralyzing your entire body into submission, making frenzied love to you with his eyes. Oh how you wished you had one hypnotic moment like that in your entire lifetime!

I have had the opportunity and inclination to explore cinemas of the world. I have felt romanticism in eyes of Gregory Peck, Tom Cruise, Clark Gable and a few others in Hollywood. (None in Bollywood, I am afraid). I did feel close to them when our eyes met (in movies, unfortunately). But I never felt the kind of endearment I felt for Uttam Kumar and I am sure every single woman around me, who experienced this magic, felt the same way.

It’s a RDX-deadly mixture of love, romance, adoration, endearment and sexual attraction. WOW! After experiencing the Uttam Kumar marvel, one can never find real happiness in any man, since every man falls short of this expectation.

Thus, I refrain from going into this UK world every now and then, since I keep thinking a human form actually exists and I might just bump into him at the next corner of the road. Nah! No such luck. There is just one Uttam Kumar. Confined into the hearts of evergreen Bengal — unique, sui generic, irreplaceable.

Him

Him

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oJaLdUOtR8

Today someone told me a wonderful thing: You were an Indian by birth, but a Canadian by choice. You had no choice when you were born in India.

Way back, when I was marriageable age, and I had a suitable face to woo NRIs, I would not be bashful today to say I did refuse a number of them. I wanted to stay in my country. For 42 years. I was one of those ‘silly’ patriotic freaks who would be up on her feet for the National Anthem and hung the flag on nationally important days. My peers around me smiled rather empathetically at me. They were, by then, already into the hot-dog culture sweeping across the nation. I remained brazenly patriotic.

That is why it hurt the most. When you love someone deeply and want to remain loyal to; rooted to your cause despite diligent and repeated attempts by the vibes and jives around to throw you out; you feel betrayed, shunned, exploited, unwanted.

That is why I left.

When you trust your own people (read administration) blindly and they laugh at your trust; you wake up and turn your back to them one day.

I was the odd one out everywhere. Everything seemed very puzzling. I could never associate the teachings I received in my course of education with the teachings that were in the air around.

Journalism was where I expected to find the tenets of my education. Here is the media, I felt, through which I could give a vent to my anger about our abused system.

That was what I thought.

The reality hit me everyday for 20 years that journalism is just another profession. Yet I turned a blind eye to the inconspicuous truth. I thought, with my pen, I could change the world.

However, after discovering that the same parasites and worms of other parts of the society exist in journalism too, I decided to finally shut the book called India.

India is a beautiful country, but has very confused people. The British hangover still makes people believe that following the West (in these times, USA) is supposed to be their ultimate aspiration. Every Indian, since the time they are born, are taught that the language ‘English’ is your ‘father’ and the country ‘USA’ is your ‘mother’. They are taught ‘A, B, C’ even before they learn to say ‘Ma’ in their own language. They are made to learn ‘CAT=Cat, BAT= Bat’ long before thy learn their own mother tongue. The toddlers are taught that if you did not fulfill the two loyal duties towards your ‘father’ and ‘mother’ you have not achieved much in life.

So, even now, when India is one of the booming and threatening global economy, the ultimate status quo of a corporate individual is how many times has he been to the States. Which shopping complex does that particular Bollywood star shops from in USA and which university in the States one should apply for after brilliant results.

I am mediocre. My child is mediocre. I had realized he’ll be floating into the realms of nightmares if I have to incorporate him into this kind of a system. So I fled before the black holes of education and career choices came sucking at him.

Even his teacher frantically tried to stop me from coming to Canada. “You see, there is so little competition there, such low standards of education… your child will not learn anything there.”

I told her: “Dearie… I have been drowned and in due time, surfaced in this education system. And the sole ‘education’ I have is of the dreadful exams… of how we crammed up pages after pages of ‘knowledge’ into our brains and puked them on our question papers the next day. I, now, shy away whenever someone asks me what my educational background is… since I won’t be able to answer any question about my subjects if he/she asks. As all I learned and gained in knowledge in life was not from the ‘education’ I received, but after I left the educational dominion.

So with a country, that has such a wonderful democracy, secularism, wonderful constitution, a vast diversity of people, landscapes, religion, society, and yet a disorganized harmony existing among them, it is sad that the administration and law of the country are so impotent.

Impotency has eaten into the roots and every nerve of the structure, and now one wonders where to start the eradication process from — up or below. Because, now the cancer has spread so far that a few cosmetic surgeries like “economic boom”, GDP escalation or competing with other developed countries in N-factor and space domination, will not help the patient.

India will perhaps live, but Indians die everyday. And nobody cares.

I may have fled from the drudgery around me which pained me so much that it almost hurt, but it still hurts. I have adopted Canada as my homeland… but feel I have lost a battle. I thought I could change the world. For 42 years I fought for my motherland. And then I remembered the words: “You cannot change the world, but be sure the world does not change you.”

I came to my senses…

Tumi amake chhere jabena kothhao……

(You’ll not leave me and go anywhere else… You cannot! )

Tumi amake chhere jabena kothhao (You will not leave me and go anywhere)

Tumi amake chhere jabena kothhao (You will not leave me and go anywhere)

My translation of the above Bengali line is bad. Actually Madam Sen excelled in one very naughty tone of talking, which cannot be explained in English. The tone is called “obhimaan’ in Bengali. And ‘obhimaan’ doesn’t have an English term. It is a thoroughly emotional mix of hurt laced with bit of anger only towards someone you love deeply, and its expression is mostly non-verbal.  “Obhimaan” can create hermits, loners, break relationships, make one take decisions, walk away from relationships, endanger lives.

Its a powerful word!

In Bengali, it becomes a heavier, more emotional meaning. Much more internalized. Puts up walls, and prevents outward expression.

Only those who’ve heard this tone sometimes in their lives, will know what I am talking about. I am pretty sure every religion, language, every woman of the world used this tone at least once with her loved ones, but  they don’t know the word. Here it is. Say it after me. It is called “O-BHI-MAAN” . Use it just before you decide to become sarcastic with your man. .. It works wonders. Just 3 syllables. Shouldn’t be tough.

Suchitra Sen excelled in this emotion. On screen I mean. She poured a few drops of extra honey to her voice when she asked her man not to leave her and said almost inaudibly, with a finality . “Tumi jabena… Aaj jeona… “ This final concoction reverberated and appeared to resonate right out of her soul, and NO MAN, not even the all powerful Uttam Kumar had the courage to say “No’ to her face after that.

I too would have melted if I was not sitting on a chair in a movie hall, and I had been a man.

I am not qualified enough to talk about her achievements and goals. There are a lot of people who can write about that. I can just give you one small anecdote.

I once held a Filmfare Award in my hand (The Oscars of Bollywood).

The pretty black lady, the most coveted prize in Indian Film Industry. No. Don’t mistake me. I didn’t receive it. I am in no way connected to Bollywood film industry (yet :P). Yet I held the award for a full minute. I’ll tell you how.

I was a freelance reporter those days. Probably in the early 90s. She had retreated into her self-reclusive days already and we were of the tad impression that she was doing this for publicity stunt. (We were proved hopelessly wrong today. )

Anyway, it was one of my umpteen visits to a renowned newspaper office in Kolkata and I was talking to the assistant editor about an assignment when I noticed a Filmfare Award on a rack behind him.

I asked: How is that here? Did you win it? In reply, he said: Go, go, go ahead. Hold it, hold it.

Curious, I went up and got it. It was quite heavy, lead, I supposed. I kept it on my lap and listened to the story as he related.

“This award was won by Ms Suchitra Sen (The Greta Garbo of Indian Cinema for being the best actress at Filmfare for ‘Aandhi‘ in 1975.

“When she was nominated and was invited to visit Mumbai… she said: Tsk!

“When she won the award and was called to collect it, she said: Tsk!

“Then Filmfare committee send the award to Calcutta office. Calcutta office contacted her and she said: Tsk!

“This award then went from being a coveted trophy to lying neglected in the godown in the newspaper office. I had gone there for a personal work one day when I spotted it. I brought it up and later heard this story. Since then, it has adorned my office.”

Some more facts I learned!

FAQS:1) Suchitra Sen refused the Dada Saheb Phalke Award (Highest Award given to a film artiste) because she didn’t want to step out of the house, and for this she had to go to Delhi.

2) Sen refused Raj Kapoor film under RK Banner (a banner today’s heroes and heroines would give an arm and a leg to be a part in )

3) Sen refused to work with Oscar-Winner director Satyajit Ray, because she had date problems!!?! Ray never got down to make this film (Devi Chowdhurani) in which he wanted her to star in — ever again in the future.

PS: The caption is my imagination. I wasn’t there when this snap was clicked. But I felt she was in her ‘obhimaan’ mood. What do u think?

With Satyajit Ray

With Satyajit Ray

With Satyajit Ray

With Satyajit Ray

with daughterPicture courtesy: Ananda Plus and Facebook

Pictures: Dhiren Dev

With Dharmendra

With Dharmendra

glamorer pithosthan

glamorer pithosthan

ballerina

With Dev Aand

With Dev Aand

With Dilip Kumar

With Dilip Kumar

With Uttam Kumar, the doyen of Bengal Superhero

With Uttam Kumar, the doyen of Bengal Superhero

Published on October 14, 2010, in Hindustan Times, Kolkata, India

What do I miss about Durga Puja? What do I miss about that undefined fragrance in the air? Or the stacks of bamboo poles strewn around every street corner, sending out a message that the magic is here?

What do I miss about the Pujas?

After spending 42 years in Kolkata during Durga Pujas, this is the first time I am not only out of Kolkata, I am out of Bengal, I am out of the country, I am 12,535 kilometers  away on the other side of the planet — in Canada, for good. Ever since I changed country of residence last year, I had dreaded the thought of spending a puja away from Kolkata. And now I am asked, what do I miss about pujas!

Where do I begin? From my days in frocks, when Pujas meant clay being brought in from the Ganges and heaped onto the ‘thakurdalan’ of my ancestral home? We would be running back from school to see how much had the construction of the goddess progressed. From strips of bamboo being tied to form the scaffolding, to chokkhudaan (painting the eyes), to 108 alighted lamps flickering on the Durga’s amber face on Asthami, to bhashaan (immersion) — when I stood leaning on a pillar and sobbed — what should I talk about?

In such a short column what should I speak about? Should I talk about our night-long rendezvous while in college and the overpowering aroma of phuchkas? Or about my first love, the momentum of which amplified during the ‘whole-night video shows’? Or how our eyes conversed during those four euphoric days?

Should I talk about how my son got his first colic pain due to the sounds of ‘dhaak’ or about how he spent the rest of his childhood jumping up awake in glee to same beats? Or should I talk about the moments of Mahalaya, the chants trickling in through my groggy sleep?

Ma Durga had been through my real and unreal. Through my childhood, my unsteady adolescence and my uneasy youth. She is a part of my beliefs and my atheism, my revolt and my acceptance, been a witness to my struggle and success. She has been my wings, when I flew into foreign lands alone with my son, with nothing but a stamped piece of paper… and no return tickets.

Here in Canada, no bamboo poles herald the ascent of the Devi. No lights adorn the streets.  I do not get that familiar smell anywhere. Durga Puja is held in its own ‘big’ way among the Bengali community.

Even though it’s a hot pot of melting cultures, many in Canada do not know anything about Durga Puja. Or even if they know, they know it to be one more festival from Asia.

I do not feel sad. That’s it! I do not feel sad. I am happy that Ma Durga will visit the hearts of Bengal and light up the land once again. I am happy my motherland will remain unchanged. I am happy that whenever I can, I can return to my soil and inhale the Puja air. Till then, I can always take a deep breath and smell that familiar lingering fragrance from inside my 43-year-old soul drenched in puja spirit.

I love a power cut (smugly)! No, don’t ostracize me. Ask Jhumpa Lahiri. Her first short story in Interpreter of Maladies is all about a power cut.

A power cut improves relationships. In this cyber age, a power cut would mean instant sanity. No cable, no laptop, no PC, no internet and no news. The splendid magic of the candles (please don’t forget to thank God if there are no generators) creates a sense of oneness in an otherwise segregated family. With nothing to do, no internet to surf, no TV to watch, no music to play, and nowhere to go out, particularly when the power cut is in the evening, the family have not much to do but to bundle around one candle.

Which means conversation. Which has become a forgotten undertaking. Which means one has no choice but to explore the other person’s mind. And I hope the power cut lasts long enough so that one begins voicing opinions. Which means onset of a debate, a small argument. Which gets heated and fight begins (I smile).

Which is great! I mean, how long has it really been that I have melted into my husband’s arms after a big fight? Not that I want to be particularly graphic. But it’s been a real long time. It’s always his TV first, and then me. Why him? It’s still my electronically empowered jobs first and then my child.

Which is why I love a power cut. We can make shadow figures on the walls if there’s nothing to argue about. We can innovate and bring to life all those long forgotten games like hide-and-seek and dark room. Which means a lot of running about. (When was the last time my portly hubby ran about, I ponder: I don’t remember). Which means exercise.

So the power cut gives us more than one reason to rejoice. And even then, why do we spend mindlessly in buying generators?

With the heat playing havoc, now is the right time to experience at least one evening of blissful, undisturbed and elaborate power cut.

P.S. – The Red Brigade may refer to my article whenever they feel cornered.

Kaberi Chatterjee

(This article appeared in Hindustan Times, on April 30, 2003, in response to elaborate power cuts that was turning West Bengal and Kolkata into a Bengal melting pot.)

Oh! What binds men!

Posted: October 1, 2010 in Laughing at life

That would be the last time I would watch a cricket match!

India and Pakistan playing to a nail-biting finish is not the domain of men alone. I protest! But what, with such a noble height that Bengali girls are bestowed with, one can expect anything else but to tip-toe behind those handsome hulks in office to catch a glimpse of the ‘baby’ television… much less the match. Grump!

But the day’s opinion is not done with such exasperating opinion of the gentlemen brigade. It is an observation by yours truly, which would call for the feminine task force to force on me. It is called the Gentleman’s Tolerance.

Such a big crowd and not a single complaint from one fellow man to another about the viewing possibilities. The men are ever so indulgent about their fellow mates. Craning their necks from left to right, they managed to view every ball. Their focus was on the match, not on the bobbing heads in front of them So, so tolerant!

Why in an office, or during an Indo-Pak match? Men are ever so accommodating when it came to tolerating their fellow-mates. When someone is dead drunk, for instance, they take him home, carry him to the door, even try to explain that he is innocent to his wife… and if allowed… put him to sleep.

When a not-so-fairer sex hurts a fellow man, they all hate the gal with all their heart. And during a mom-wife spat, they gang up with their father to say nothing. When it comes to smoking together or drinking together, (the latter which they would do even to celebrate their wives’ death), their is a sudden air of conspiracy and all men would suddenly vanish! And dare you tread on their forbidden path!

And we women? Belch!

The only air we breed and breathe is toxic when in a group. This is specially since there are seldom many female life-long buddies. They are principally wives of male buddies. Or covetuos colleagues. Or chums who have their hubbies to show off. In any case, it is noce to scowl at our own image once in a while and learn from men.

What camaraderie!

Such mutuality is to be saluted. We women should learn from them how to flit through life without touching the mundane realities and how to be happy despite ugly differences among friends. How to enjoy a cricket match without much fuss. Or for the matter, how to tolerate a completely alien kind of creation as their life partner — bingo— women!

(This story appeared in Hindustan Times on March 24, 2004 in the City section)

আমি নেই…

Posted: August 23, 2016 in For a thought....

(Disclaimer: I am a writer. Not everything I write in first person is in my personal context. A lot of it is from my imaginations, but it speaks about a lot of us. I hope you enjoy!)

আমার ঘরের লোক আজ বেমাক্কা সময় বাড়ি ঢুকলো। কেননা, আমি তাকে দুবার ফোনে জিগ্যেস করেছিলাম, “কখন বাড়ি ফিরছ?”

সে ভেবেছে হয়ত বা বাড়িতে সেই সময় আমার কোনো পূরুষ বন্ধুকে ‘আপ্যায়ন’ করব, তাই আমি তার ফেরার সময়টা জেনে নিচ্ছি।

হায়রে পূরুষ! সকলেই কি এরকম নির্বোধ হয়? পূরুষবন্ধুকে যদি ‘আপ্যায়ান’ করতেই হয় তা এমন সময় করব যে সময় তার বাড়ি ফেরার কোনো সম্ভাবনাই নেই!

আসলে পূরুষরা মেয়েদের বুঝলনা। আমি আসলে একা থাকতে চেয়েছিলাম। জানতে চেয়েছিলাম আর কতক্ষন আমি ‘আমি’ হয়ে থাকার সুযোগ পাব। স্ত্রী হয়ে নয়। সঙ্গি হয়ে নয়। কারোর সাথে কোনো কথা না বলে শুধু নিজের মতন করে নিজের ঘরে আর কতক্ষন থাকতে পারব। ‘লেখিকা’ নয়, ‘সাংবাদিক’ নয়, ‘মা’ নয়, বন্ধু নয়, কেউ নয়। শুধু ‘আমি’।

শুধু গাছের ফাঁকে অস্তগামী সূর্যের আলোর ঝিকিমিকি দেখব। শুধু নরম ঘাসে কচি পায়ের ছুটছুটি দেখব। শুধু পাশের বাড়ির অচেনা ভাষার গুজব আর হাসাহাসি শুনব। শুধু এলোমেলো বাতাস অনুভব করব। নীল দীগন্তে রঙের খেলা দেখব। শুধু দূরের রাস্তায় বড় বড় যানবাহনের আনাগোনা দেখব। শুধু পাখিদের বাড়ি ফেরার অস্থিরতা দেখব। আর কলরব শুনব। জীবন দেখব। যেন আমি এক অতিথি। এক পথযাত্রী মাত্র। এক অদৃশ্য আত্মা। শুধু আমার নিঃশ্বাস মনে করিয়ে দিচ্ছে আমি জীবিত। সেই প্রানের স্পর্শ নেবো। বেঁচে থাকার আনন্দ উপভোগ করব। বারান্দার রেলিঙের এক কোনে সব মায়ামমতার বন্ধনের উর্ধে চুপটি করে সুর্যো ডোবা দেখবো…       sunset take

Samarth Malik received the letter late evening. He was perplexed. The letter read, “From Mrs S. Misra, Konnagar, Hoogly, West Bengal.’’

Mrs. S. Misra? Who could it be? He tore open the letter. It read:

“Dear Mr Malik,

My late husband, Saurabh Misra was your friend. He died 12 years back. He has left a portion of his will in your name. I had been searching for your address all these years and have found it only recently. Kindly acknowledge receipt of this letter and let me know how soon can you come and accept your gift.

With sincere regards,

Mrs. Sabari Misra.’’

Samarth stood surprised for a long time. Saurabh Misra? Saurabh? In his last 41 years of his life he couldn’t recollect having met anybody by that name. A friend? He sat down on his armchair and began recollecting his college days. Saurabh… Saurabh… Who could it be who would leave a portion of his will in his name? He couldn’t remember.

He tried to remember his Naxalite days. Those days of fire — which he wanted to wipe off from his memory. There were no particular reasons for that. Only that his efforts had proved fruitless. Why only him, the entire movement had proved futile and the best of his mates were killed by the then ruling government.

He survived. There were reasons for that he didn’t want to remember.

Saurabh Misra…? Was he someone he associated during his Naxalite days? Or was he a colleague in his office?

He had emerged after his Naxalite days as a manager of an upcoming private organization. A well-settled organization, which gave him the launching pad for his soaring career in a multinational organization, of which he is a director now. He had built a plush home in the better parts of the city and with his wife and only daughter, had a chalked out a life that he was glad he had bargained for. He prided himself for taking the right decision at the right time.

Saurabh… a colleague? But a portion of will in his name? Strange! Or is he a distant cousin? No. He read the letter again. The lady mentioned that he was a friend.

Samarth decided to investigate the next day. His curiosity took the better of him and he was determined to find out what was this all about. He had been an active Naxalite once and had the grit of a leader. His name was still in the police books and if it were not for the police, his existence would have long been wiped off.

He had been saved at the nick of time. The police had opened fire when they had asked 17 of them to “Run! Run for your lives!!’’ on an open field. They had been promised freedom and were freed from the gloomy cells after a month of gruesome torture. His wrist was broken and his toenails were pulled off. His mates were in no better conditions. All of a sudden one day the Chief came and smiled at them, offering them freedom, at dawn. Thirty of them bundled in one cell; they looked at each other in disbelief.

The dawn came and 17 of them were pushed inside a van, and were driven off. The van reached an open field and they were asked to step down. And then the officer shouted, “Run! Now run for your lives while I count 10!’’

They ran! Samarth ran till his breath began to burst out from his lungs. He didn’t hear when the officer said “Ten!’’ and the three armed guards started firing. He saw his mates falling on the ground, one by one. And then something, a burning hot sensation entered his calf muscle and he fell. He staggered to get up, only falling back with the impact. Then suddenly an idea struck in his mind. He decided to stay motionless on the ground. He closed his eyes and bore the pain. The firing continued for another few seconds until there were no more running figures around. He waited breathlessly for the van to start its engine and drive off. A minute passed by and then two. He opened his eyes slightly to see the van and saw a pair of boots instead in front of his face. He instinctively looked up and saw the officer standing over him with a smiling face…

Konnagar was only a 20 minutes train ride from Calcutta. He reached the small, but busy town at 10:30 in the morning. He took a rickshaw and after several mistaken turns and bends, finally found the residence of Saurabh Misra.My husban'ds last gift

It was a small, one-storied yellow house. A short gate let to a wrought-iron enclosed balcony. He lifted the latch of the wrought-iron gate and clunked on it twice. And then again.

“Who is it?’’ A woman’s eyes peeped from above one of the springs of neat curtains that hung on the windows.

“I am… er… Samarth Mullick.’’

The woman’s eyes looked stoned for a second and then lit up with a smile.

“Oh yes, just a minute.’’

He heard the latch of the door being pulled down. And then he saw the woman come out.

She could barely be in her early 30s and her devastating beauty glowed from her white attire, while she was devoid of any external aid. A touch of helplessness in her eyes struck a node in Samarth’s heart and he wanted to suddenly be the benefactor of an unknown friend’s so lovely a widowed wife.

She smiled. And cupid worked ferociously in Samarth’s heart.

“Please come in. I have been waiting for you for days.’’ Her last words wrenched out from her heart and helpless eyes. Samarth thought about his dried-up wife.

“I am sorry,’’ he said. “I received your letter only yesterday.’’

“Oh! I posted it quite some time back,’’ she led him into the room.

The drawing room was neatly arranged. With frilled lacy covers on cabinets, supercilious sofas, cane stools and standing lamps, the room swanked in contrast to the woman’s vulnerable appearance. The fact that light had blinked out of the widow’s life ceased to walk in through the door into her interiors. She seemed a happy person inside; her garb of sanctity quietly camouflaging her bubbly youth. She was, as if, waiting for hope to re-enter her foyer.

Samarth sat down on one of the sofas.

“I am Sabari. That’s my husband.’’ She pointed with her eyes at a photograph just behind him.

He jerked his head around. And then he recognized him!

“Oh!’’ He was stunned. Too stunned to speak.

“Care for some juice?’’ She asked.

“Yes… okay…’’ he stuttered. “I wouldn’t mind.’’

“Just a minute,’’ she walked off inside.

Samarth looked at the photograph again. He was not mistaken. It was him! But then his name was… yes! Souvik… Souvik Sarkar.

The woman returned with a glass tumbler filled with an enticing chilled green juice. The tumbler was placed on a tray and covered with a lacy cover. He felt special.

“Please take this,’’ she said, “It’s made of fresh mangoes from my garden.’’

“Oh, thanks!’’ He raised the glass to drink the liquid in one gulp.

“Slowly,’’ she crooned and ended with a smile. “Drink it slowly. Or else you won’t enjoy the taste.’’

“Okay,’’ Samarth smiled. Was anybody else around in this house…?

He took one sip and kept the tumbler on the center table. Then he leant back and crossed his legs. “I don’t understand…’’ He tried to begin.

Suddenly Sabari’s expression changed to being somber. “My husband died in police firing. He was in the Naxalite movement.’’

Samarth nodded sadly, carefully heaving out a sigh of relief in small gasps. She went on.

“We were married for only three months. I was carrying his baby…’’

“Oh!’’ He bent forward and took a sip.

She looked out of the window sadly. “We were in love… we had just met in college. He didn’t want to marry me because he was into this movement.’’ Her eyes brimmed with tears.

Samarth shifted his legs nervously and took the tumbler in his hands. He was now trying to finish the liquid.

“…But I forced him. He had no parents and lived with his widowed aunty in this house.’’ She stopped and wiped her eyes with her sari.

“His aunty died a year back… I am all alone…’’ It was an inviting whisper and all Samarth could do was to shift in the sofa nervously. He felt restless.

“You…’’ he cleared his throat. “Your parents?’’

She smiled and looked at him. “They have disowned me ever since I married Saurabh. I will never go back to them.’’

“And…’’ he hesitated. “Your baby?’’

“Was born dead.’’ She looked up… and her eyes were made of stone.

He felt scared. He sipped on the liquid fast. His head was reeling. He was beginning to feel uncomfortable. He now wanted to get out of this house fast.

She went on. “You know how my husband died? He was fired, from behind his back. The police tipped one of his mates — this guy from his college. You know he was in the same movement.’’

“Oh…’’ He began feeling nauseated. He gulped down the liquid and finished it.

“Yes. The police tipped this friend of his with a grand job if he could kill him.’’

Samarth’s head started swaying!

She looked out of the window and tears started rolling down her eyes. “They were walking down this lane and my husband was discussing the next day’s plan with him. And then he fired him from behind, point blank.’’ She began weeping openly.

Samarth held the sofa handle and tried to get up. “I must go.’’ His head was swaying and his entire self was burning.

“Don’t go,’’ she pleaded in the same naïve voice. And then came forward and held his head. She began combing his hair with her fingers. “Relax, Samarth, relax… I need you…’’ She held his head on her flat stomach.

Samarth rested his head on her stomach and felt his orgasm reach the peak. He wanted to pull her down on the sofa and make ferocious love to her. He tried to lift his hands but couldn’t.

He looked up at her and she appeared blurred. “I don’t feel well.’’

She knelt down and began caressing his face, “Obviously you don’t. I know you are my husband’s killer. I have been waiting for you all my life. I have kept myself and this house beautiful ever since I learned that you were alive and so well…’’

His head staggered to fall. “I want to go home…’’ he could somehow blurt out. His whole self was burning.

“How can you go home, sweetheart?’’ She held up his wobbly head, holding his face. “I have mixed a deadly poison in your sherbet. You’ll be dead in a few minutes.’’

She held his limp head in her hands and then threw it with vengeance onto the sofa. His whole self fell, twitching slightly near his limbs — a white frothy liquid flowing out from his lips.

She stood up, “My husband’s last gift to you, sweetheart! Enjoy!’’

(This story is inspired from a short story I read when I was very young, can’t remember the source.)

(A short story from my third book and a compilation of original short stories, Whiff of Tempest)

Visit India… NOW

Posted: April 2, 2016 in For a thought....

Retiring in India is now beginning to become a well-chalked out future for you. You can live at less than half the cost ($400-850 rental p.m.). You get the warm sun, yet are living by the sea or the hills, so that you don’t feel the summer heat too much. You can chose your room-with-a-view, your choice of platter and get involved in holistic activities like yoga, spirituality and voluntary work for children and the underpriviledged.
You can take part in adventure sports like WHITE WATER RAFTING, MOUNTAIN HIKING or Camping and come back to spend a few spiritual days doing yoga and holistic activities.
You can also float your own ideas for a business venture or get local jobs to keep yourself busy and earn pocket money.
Foremost, you have people around to take care of you: Maids, sweepers, cook, errand boys, masseurs, and Man Fridays at very little cost. They know, if not fluent, broken English, who are warm and welcoming to visitors. You’ll really want to pay them extra for all the willing help that you’ll get which you never got a taste of in the West.
There’s a whole new relaxed future under the bright sunlight awaiting you, if only you want.
I accompany personally for many trips.
Take the first trip for a few months to test the taste of India.

Life and laughter

India booming!

Friends who never visited India, often ask me what is India like? They almost believe India is a lovely land of sadhus, snake-charmers and elephants. I quickly ran to my PC to write this article for them. This might also come in handy for those who are about to visit this quirky land for the first time.

India is a house of extremes. It displays an extravaganza of population, poverty, wealth, corruption, pollution, dishonesty, love, warmth and high-spirited people. (PLEASE read these words over and over again till each of them explodes inside your brain and you become well-armed for the intensity).

India has the most fascinating sites (historical and archeological) and intriguing sights (man-made and natural), and a bountiful range of physical anomalies thrown in — from the snow-capped Himalayas to barren Thar deserts; from the Deccan plateau to a few of the most exotic sea-beaches in…

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