Archive for the ‘Laughing at life’ Category

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. )

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Red Marriage

Posted: October 1, 2016 in Laughing at life
Tags: , ,

It was the marriage season. Everyone was either getting married or getting an invitation card that carried an invisible demand draft of at least Rs 200. There was, of course, this new concept of “not accepting gifts”. Though taken with a pinch of salt, this was a sure hit with those who preferred to remain perpetually “out-of-station” during marriage season.

Even I was getting married. That was my first marriage and, despite repeated attempts, remained my only one.

I always wanted to marry a tall, dark and handsome prince on a white horse. The reality was a lot different, though. And despite several feeble attempts by me to sabotage a gala ceremony and go in for a quiet signing of papers, my marriage was gleefully red and traditional. I was guilty of being the first born of my parents and my husband-to-be, the only offspring. And hence we were sentenced to suffer 10-long-agony-hours of a red, red, red marriage.

Everything was so surprisingly red about the marriage that I even wore a red bindi to match with a blue sari, during one of my umpteen catwalks that I had to do throughout the auspicious day. I was smiling so much that I felt stifled with the sweetness of the occasion. Everyone was smiling more than I did. My relatives, who last saw me when I was a baby, repeatedly said: Look at you! You have grown up so much!!!

Of course I had grown up! That’s why I am marrying! However, they were too sunk in their self-created affection for me to realize that. Someone brushed a little hair off from my forehead while someone wiped a little extra kajal from my eyes.

The deadline arrived. I was wrapped in a 10-kilo heavy sari, bedecked with every kind of gold jewelery and finally, topped with a flower crown. I looked at the mirror and shrieked! “I LOOK LIKE A CHRISTMAS TREE!!”

Everyone laughed. They were all so happy!

The bor finally arrived and everyone shouted! “Bor eshe geche! Bor eshe geche!“ (The groom has arrived! The groom has arrived!) As if he wasn’t supposed to. They ran toward the entrance. I was tempted to run too, only I weighed too much. Apparently my husband-to-be was looking like a prince!

Was it someone else? The last time I saw him he looked grumpy as usual. Did they make a last-minute switch? I was tempted to look.

Then they placed me on a very feeble square piece of terracotta called ‘pinre’ and lifted me in air. Some of my feminist, still-single friends clapped and joined in the fun. Not to mention, that was the last time I saw them feminist, single or having so much fun.

Even I was laughing. The bor was very glum.  (He later told me that he did not recognize me suspended in mid-air tinkling with so much jewelry and was tempted to change his mind). We exchanged garlands and ended our day of gold and red.Feb61995c

By Kaberi Chatterjee (Right after marriage in 1995. Originally appeared in The Telegraph October 10, 1995. A little edited.)

The Copybook Technique

Posted: October 1, 2016 in Laughing at life

RC looked at me across the table and laughed soundlessly. (His name is Ranojoy Chowdhury, but initials were in). “Three answers on ‘e rocks!” his eyes beamed!

This meant, that out of four hand-picked answers written in neatly folded previous day’s answer-sheets inside his socks, three had clicked! All he needed to do now was answer two more, if he was in the mood, or none at all, in the next three hours of the Part I selection examinations. I clicked my tongue in envy. I wasn’t into socks and trousers those days.

RC was realistic and loved humor. Some weren’t. As far as I remember, I had answered seven out of 10 short questions and Kaushik, seated in between me and the examiner, was planning to abandon all. “I’ve answered three long ones anyway, I’ll pass,” he grumbled when I offered  him my unrequited help. “Nope.” He stuck to his laziness. I couldn’t bear to see him leave the hall just because he was too lazy to write an exam. So I coaxed him. I pleaded with him to cheat. I placed my answer-sheet in such a way that he could either make a copy of it in flat 5 minutes or the examiner could throw us both out in flat 5 seconds. The examiner looked at the set-up and yawned!

Kaushik copied four answers reluctantly and rebelled! “F*** I don’t feel like!” gave up his paper and went home.

I was a fresh graduate from a Protestant Christian school when I got the shock. It was a four-hour first-year examination in a reputed college and I had gulped down the entire syllabus as usual, to throw it all up on the answer sheet. Bracing myself for the final moment, I got everything ready — pens, pencils, rubber, ruler, clipboard, guts. But when the question papers were finally distributed, something alien came out from inside the desks of my fellow-mates — BOOKS!

After what seemed hours of going into a paralyzed numbness, I recovered, a little older. The bespectacled, stern examiner, whom I revered before coming into the hall, frowned when the mumble grew louder among the students. “Softly! You can be heard outside!” It flashed through my mind that in school it was a sin even to raise one’s head during exams.

My friend Prabir allegedly had entered a Part II Maths exam hall grumbling: Boss! I’ll never  get 5 marks today! He reported came out of the hall gleaming: Boss! let me see how they deduct 5 marks!

Rajeev had big hands and hence he could hide his cog-notes well in them (hiding was necessary only from his conscience though). As he wrote he read his notes out loud while five others around him copied.

Twenty-five years passed since then.

All of us are happy, well-established and successful family people today, hence… No regrets! 😛

(Kaberi Dutta (maiden name). This story originally appeared in The Telegraph, June 4, 1994. The names of the characters in this story and the incidents are all real and bear complete resemblance to reality!)

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

I once got butted by a bull

Posted: August 25, 2016 in Laughing at life
Tags: , ,

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.)

No this is not the title of a bizarre movie I watched in Jaipur (of all places!) that was released sometimes in 2014. I don’t know what prompted Shah Rukh Khan and sweet Deepika to exist in that film. I just remember wanting to let the film skim over the top of my skull as the scenes went by, which is why my frail brain doesn’t have any memory of it today.

But I did try to watch ‘Dilwale’, since it featured my favorite actress Kajol in it. Well, she was my favorite… till I saw the film.

Surprisingly, ‘Tamasha’, took me off guard with its incredible storyline and touched the heart at the softest place. No wonder it didn’t make it to the box-office… Audience surely don’t want to feel that vulnerable.
Why am I talking of Bollywood films in this new year column?

Because otherwise the world looks bleak. The sadistic face of Kim Jong-Un laughing as he sets his “thrilling New Year sound” off the Pacific Ocean with a series of N-Tests, hit a pit in my stomach. So did Donald Trump’s recent views on Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein and Gandhiji. I am wondering where the world is headed when I watched a YouTube video about how a man gets bionic penis for the first time and he is set to lose his virginity with a celebrated UK sex-worker. They’ll probably now upload his live intercourse, making it a sensational scientific watch.

Somewhere something is not going right. As I always say, time doesn’t know it has become a New Year, it’s just another day for it. So I cannot stuff this shifting trend in a timeline box. But there has to be a line (‘Lakhsmanrekha’ as they say) somewhere, and the world is crossing that line a hundred times over.

Happy New Year readers!

(Published as Editor’s Column in The South Asian News, Toronto, January 8, 2016)new year

You drive Uber too?
I asked the taxi driver as he pulled up in front of my house when I called for an Uber.
“Yes, both,” smiled the driver cheekily.
“Matured decision,” I said as I sat down heavily with my two bags in the back seat.
No, it did not have the same experience as riding in an Uber. The seats were horribly dirty, much as a taxi is in GTA, smelling of food and the snow mats were all soggy with snow.
Yet, it’s good for everyone. The cab driver doesn’t need to leave his taxi, yet has listed himself with Uber. So he is getting the best of both worlds. Whereas, the passengers get to pay the low Uber fare and enjoy the security of a taxi.
With the advent of technology, and Uber taking the cab market by storm, it was foolishness for taxi drivers to pull the protest for so long. Sooner or later, they were destined to accept the change. And now with more and more experienced taxi drivers joining Uber, it’s almost a win-win situation for all. Mayor Tory has to just stand by and watch the merge happen!
I was informed by the same driver that more taxi companies will soon be joining the cab-wagon in GTA. That’s real good news for people like me who do not like driving and find driving annoying and not their cup of tea. It’s good news also for families who have just one car and have to all leave together in order to accommodate their work/school times.
Intense competition will surely keep the fare rates at bay and the car interiors clean and passenger friendly.
I welcome Uber and all such technologies that make our lives better and gives us an option. In fact, I am waiting for the self-driven cars to hit market soon, which will be the mother of all options and give the scariest competition to all working vehicles.

(Published as Editor’s Column in The South Asian News, Toronto, January 15, 2016)

File illustration picture showing the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign