“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen
I had wished my ex colleague and friend Sandip, on his birthday via two of our old working photos and a small writeup, on a Facebook post tagged to his timeline.
“A very happy birthday Sandip! Congratulations and all the best on your new assignment in Dubai. Vividly and fondly remember all the early experiences, till you became a hot shot apt manager of so many airports serially…though I never ceased to be exasperated with your constant pranks and to curse you royally for a long time… And Peter Hooper, beside you…well only he could beat you to crazy pranks! One I can never forget, is your lighting a matchstick to burn my hair when it caught in the car’s fan…early morning on the way to work at 5am. Also, telling new APM Lobo I take everyone who visits Calcutta on city tours 🙄😈…till Shane intervened and saved me! By the way, bumped into Shuddho a few weeks back…he actually pulled his cap down to dodge me…but I got him…reminded me of the QC days when most dodged me this way!😄”
While I wrote this after Facebook’s birthday reminder, along with the photo suggestions (shared below); several experiences came to mind and as a writer I obviously thrive on them. But this time the thoughts drifted into the writing of my book ‘Existences’ which is actually my first and favourite – in which I lined up so many of such work life experiences. When I was looking out for a publisher, after the one reputed one who I quit my job and wrote it on their beckoning backed out at the last minute, citing the excuse of – it did not fit their lists, I approached all the reputed publishers in India. Thankfully most replied, unlike the silence, that debut writers’ manuscripts are usually met with – which encouraged me to keep waiting for my train to authorhood to arrive; as with the discussions I had with so many editors I’d gained confidence on my own work rather than the contrary and give up. One of the many comments I received from the very young editor of one of the top publishing houses was: “I read your collection of stories over my vacation. I really loved some of them. However, on the whole the collection to me felt uneven as all the stories are not equally strong…” I found this usage of “not equally strong”…the most weak of all the comments I’d ever received with rejection notes. I did some research on the editor and realised he was barely about 23-25years, was a year or so old in the company, and this was obviously his first formal assignment after an English literature degree. He was like several youth I’d trained in a series of companies, and had little exposure to the working world to understand the dynamics – so how was he going to begin to understand the gravitas of my stories? I could not ask him to send my manuscript to a senior editor, as I had sent it to the senior most – who as per their protocol had courteously replied and sent it to the junior most one to screen. So anyways, I understood the dynamics of the publishing industry well enough by now, to know I was on my own on this writing venture and as they insisted short story collections don’t sell – as apparently it doesn’t have one USP (unique selling proposition) like a novel. This also made me realise that I would essentially have to ‘dumb-down’ my stories to make it commercially viable. Yet I didn’t want to change any of my stories as they were more than profound – even if a tad bold. So I wrote another lot of very short 11 stories to use as fillers between each of my original 15 stories to convey my ideas of the attitudes I’d inculcated and coached – at my 8/9 jobs with top corporates that I finally ended with – as a senior executive search consultant (head hunter). To sum up the learnings from my decade of interactions with the formal publishing industry, let me now explain my previous post for the understanding of those who thought I shared the previous experiences to highlight my colleague’s lack of intelligence or misogyny or even show him down. It was not that at all and as with all stories I narrate, even casually, I had a meaningful purpose. As even jokes and ragging are meant to teach you valuable life and work lessons. You just have to have the exposure, depth and maturity that comes from experiences – to understand such teachings. As a corporate coach I would tell a story only to depict a positive outcome. Even the negative experiences I depict for a positive outcome. By lighting a matchstick to my hair in my previous post, after it caught in the moving car’s fan, even though he was not going to set fire on me, Sandip had demonstrated that at this job I could not let my femininity and callousness come in the way of discipline, to get to the job on time if I wanted to do well. Also driving home the point that I could have died from the fan and my hair strangling me, so I had to keep it well tied up. That there was no place for such laxity let alone any difference between a man or a woman with long hair. So though I called it a prank, it was an invaluable lesson he taught me – no callousness allowed in this airport job. I had to be serious about what I was doing. Then when he suggested to the new airport manager that I take everyone who came to Calcutta around to see the city, I was in charge of 24hours reservations and ticketing, and also the VIP/CIP handling cell at the Calcutta airport, which had a separate 5 member team. Who else was supposed to know the city better than me! Just that I had to break out of the – I’m a coy and reserved woman who cannot do this or that… if I wanted to go far in my career. Then, I was the only woman who went with Sandip to the morgue and then the crematorium when our dear colleague Anita Bhatia in uniform in the picture with us died in a car crash on her way to work one morning. When suggested by the GM, Sandip did not cringe from taking me along with him, just as if I were another man. Now with all these experiences of equality I have encountered at work places, with obviously a few errant characters who are drenched in misogyny, am I expected to write books on the defamation of women! In fact all the interactions I’ve had with several editors of reputed publishing houses also taught me valuable lessons for my writing – I have learned to drive home my point with more clarity for all kinds of readers. Feminism, in the absence of its indeterminant borderless actuality – is the supreme attempt to understand the divide – even if it’s through the mesh of prejudices. If you attempt to look through the mesh of differences, feminism can exist.
Wishing you all a very Happy Republic Day(26th Jan), with a Short Story – that’s representative of my personal tableau as a writer and poet – to uphold the views of women’s empowerment vis-à-vis the position of women in our country till today. If as a writer I do not speak up – what’s the point of what I’m doing!
“So What?” – A Short Story.
“Offence is the best form of defense” I wrote, and he replied, “Goodbye 👍”
Then I blocked his profile on Facebook, one I had barely known – that too only online, for just three weeks and yet had become so appalled with.
It started out benignly as most acquaintances tend to…with a wave emoji in my messenger inbox “👋” followed in the next message with more emojis and – “Hello Shuva. How’re you? 🌹😊”
I clicked on his profile and found it to be of a senior gentleman in army fatigues – common to many of the photographs that were displayed on his timeline. Most were in small or big groups, other than the profile photo which was such a close up of his side face that I could not identify him to be the same as the ones in the other photos. I’m not very familiar with the uniforms or batches, though I would definitely recognise those of any of the armed forces. So, I looked at this profile closer up and found it belonging to a retired Lt. General.
Now what could possibly be erroneous with having such a respected person in your social network? Even if I did wonder how he had found my profile and why would he want to be friends with me – I did confirm his friendship request.
“I’m very well, thank you 💐” I replied and courteously added, “Hope you’re well too!”
“Yes Shuva. Am fine. Wonderful hearing from you 🌹😊” he wrote and then added in the next message “Please take care and keep in touch 😊”
In the course of the next weeks, he posted one longish poem after another as comments on several of my photo posts. I politely liked them, as I do all comments to acknowledge reading them. Then on second thought, on one of his comment-poems, even though I personally did not find any great poetic merit, or be impressed by its intellectualism, I went back and changed the like emoji to the love one, more to acknowledge the effort in writing such comments.
Then after a few days, in my Facebook messenger inbox this gentleman shared a link – which when I clicked led me to a poem of his he had posted on his timeline. I read it dispassionately. I tend to read much poetry by the international masters, so I’m not easy to please with poetry, leave alone impress. That too, when a poet, whatever his social or political standing might be, does not consider the mastery of the language of the medium of his art – in this case English, important to the elevated art form of poetry as much as the inherent concepts or ideas that his hobby may carry. The perfected brushstrokes of language and imagery in poetry impress me, just as much as rhythm and flow. But in all courtesy, I acknowledged his poem by liking it. After all he was a veteran soldier.
A few days later, I received another link in my inbox, which led me to another of his poems just posted on his timeline. To my utter surprise, followed by distaste, not because he had written this rather sensuous, bordering on erotic poem, and posted it on social media – but because he had slid its link to me in my inbox – thus insinuating closeness and encroaching on my personal space. A woman who doesn’t like you, does not like your encroachment into her private space, whether it be her physical space, her room, or her mental space that you’re trying to barge into. It shocks me that men find this so difficult to understand or is it their egos that prevent them from pre-empting rejection that then makes them force themselves on you.
This second time, I did not like or acknowledge his poem. Though he would know that I had read his message link in my inbox. I abhor the idea of keeping my Email, WhatsApp or Messenger ‘Read’ option off as some people, even some friends are in the habit of doing for all messages. They might think it protects their privacy, but it is disrespectful in my view. If any message you send me remains – not ‘Read’ – in every probability it has not been read yet. As Facebook messenger is a very public forum for me to make time to read all the messages people chuck your way – especially those who do not acknowledge you on your timeline, and on your posts.
After a week, this man who is used to having every command and every whim of his catered to lifelong, in this case the acknowledgement of his erotic poem by a woman whose unsuspecting personal space he has shoved it into – akin to putting his arm around her with a caress, is obviously feeling spurned by her coldness and lack of response. How dare she not accept his overtures, that too in abject poetic form!
So, he waits to put her in her place of denigration. And now she isn’t his subordinate, nor his junior officer’s wife – so how can he bring her to her knees? However, the opportunity presents itself to him, when I change my profile photo and post it on my timeline along with two quotes of master writers and end it with a few words of my own.
“There is a life and there is a death, and there are beauty and melancholy between” — Albert Camus: I posted as a Story, with my profile photo, with migratory birds in Banaras.
“So what?? He replies to this in my messenger inbox, tagging the photo and the above quote.
“The rest is on my timeline…” I crisply write back, referring to the rest.
“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
— Langston Hughes.
“Boats don’t sink because of the water around them; they sink because of the water that gets in them. So don’t let what’s happening around you get inside of you and weigh you down.” I had added in summing up my post.
He took a few minutes to revert with these comments; “More of self-imaging and showing off than any tangible substance! 😳😂”
“Utter trivia 🙄”
I had just about read his comments, when the revulsion of his sending me his erotic poems earlier gushing out of my verbal gun, I shot back, “And you really think your poems have all the substance in the world…” then add, “you asked for this! 🙄”
“Hahaha. You’re mildly amusing 😳😂😅” he writes back.
But I’m far from amused at this misogyny and chauvinism, that I obviously recognise from two decades in the corporate world with several companies, in a fiercely patriarchal Indian society. So, I now bring out my verbal machine gun to tackle this giant. After all fighting my own battles, defines feminism, for me.
“You take yourself and your poems too seriously. People are liking them only for your army clout or don’t you get that!”
Then before he has a chance to recover from the unsuspecting blow, I shoot again at closer range with a fire wrapped bullet this time, “Why don’t you copy/paste this and put it under your latest poem…see the hypocrisy!”
“Ooooooh. You’re hilarious 😂😂” is his spontaneous reply.
I’ve always imagined, possibly from films watched as a child, giants lunging and laughing when darts are thrown at them by a midget. His online laughter now, reminded me of it. This superficial mirth was actually his camouflaged attempt to absorb his shock, brace the situation, then mentally brace himself, to diffuse his opponent’s potency. Afterall, he doesn’t know this form of a bullet he’s encountering, nor ever imagined that the unintelligent woman he has perceived, can also fire with such powerful caustic venom – so different from those ones he’s encountered lifelong.
But my bullet of insult is now gut deep inside him. I can gauge its wreckage. And in spite of his attempt to cough it out with laughter, it only gets further gorged into his loins – enflaming his punctured male ego. Also, fear must creep in – what if this woman actually goes and pastes this conversation on his timeline, below any one of his erotic poems. His inspirations and his imaginations – would no longer be left to anyone’s imagination. And I had a good mind to do just this – paste this exchange as a comment below his poem, as not only had he encroached my personal space, he had made the bigger gaffe of attacking my pride of work – the writing that I made my life, over the past decade. How else was I going to uphold the confidence in myself – to march ahead as a writer with my head held high?
“Definitely brings out your pedestrian standards. Personal too 😀😂” he wrote , in punching back hard, after picking himself up from the mental wrestling ring he was viewing me in.
“Offence is the best form of defence” I countered his attack, with all my inflamed senses on high alert.
My mother passing away abruptly just nine months back, and what had led to my comments and quotes on life and death – had handed me the baton of all her moral strength to add to mine. She is surely with me in spirit.
“Goodbye 👍” he wrote, in concluding abruptly.
In walking out of the boxing ring in sportsmanlike fashion, he conceded he had struck the first, also subsequent blows. I really hope he had received the answer to his question – “So what – You’re only a woman!”
I left the court promptly, after receiving the messages:
You’ve blocked messages and calls from …’s Facebook account.
You can’t message or call them in this chat, and won’t receive their messages or calls.
“Life loses half its interest if there is no struggle-if there are no risks to be taken.” — Netaji The painting…My humble tribute to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose – devout patriot, brave son of mother India who relentlessly fought for our country’s independence – on his 125th birth anniversary. I chose to get to work and make my own image of Netaji, rather than spend my energy praising or criticising – the WB or Central government’s initiative on the tabloid on him which was rejected or the proposed granite statue of him in Delhi. Before the painting all day – As we tend to celebrate everything with food, I had a very typical Bengali breakfast menu and personally made peas kochuri, with sautéed alu and spring onion, and carrot kheer.
Exercising my personal Independence — I had announced in the morning that I would be making Gajar Halwa, but in keeping with exercising my creative instincts and also deciding on making a Bengali dish instead, I made special carrot kheer. BG (husband) who is more non Bengali in his tastes, was extremely annoyed as he was expecting halwa when I excitedly showed him the kheer and then he even threatened to order halwa on the Swiggy App. I was obviously upset, as so much effort had gone into the kheer, but asked him to go ahead and get halwa if he wished.
But I don’t give up easily…so I sent our cook to BG with the kheer along with tea and it was returned untouched. I sent it across again with another cup of tea. Again untouched. Then I served the kheer, with breakfast. When he finally consented to taste it and then asked for a second helping. So, independence and persistence if you’re confident on your work, pays off! 🤓Now please read Netaji’s words on my painting over again, along with his quote I started with.
On an early January morning, at the peak of the little of winter that this city gets, I’m sitting out in the sun on the balcony, at home in Calcutta. I’m cosily dressed in my nightdress, over which I’m wearing a cots wool housecoat, a woollen muffler and there’s also a woollen pair of socks my feet feel smug in. Not that it’s that cold really, but I like the physical and emotional security these warm clothing provides as I tuck into several books stacked beside me – a chapter or two at a time – ranging from Tagore’s ‘my Life’ from his letters; Albert Camus’s ‘The Fall’; to Javier Marias “When I was Mortal’; also Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Whereabouts’ – over a series of cups of ginger tea, our cook comes up with every now and then, quietly removing the used cup.
The two, year-old cats, Milky and Pizza who have adopted us rather than the other way round, are prancing all around the balcony – stretching, trying to play, after being cooped up in their terrace room, over a blanket, over the night. These brats are always floating on the brink of my attention, whether it’s subconsciously when engrossed in the pages of a book, or tugging at it consciously while shaking and biting up the rug of pink, green and yellow patches at my feet, or the straw mora in front, both of which are placed here for their seating comfort, so as to avoid the chilling marble floor.
Pizza’s making chortling sounds near my feet, while sticking his head and front paws out of the iron grill – grows in intensity. It drives me to get up and curiously peep down over three storeys to the main gate. The Persian Tomcat Dude, who is now four years, often sits at the gate basking in the sun. Pizza is in awe of him, especially of his fluffy large tail that’s always brandished upward behind him. I think it is Pizza’s excitement to go down to join his now independent feline male idol, as my husband is the human one, that is increasing the ferocity of his gut-deep chortles, with the meeker and sly also now wounded brother Milky, quietly chasing his tail, adding to the excited flurry of activity around me. I’ve named them, for their respective penchant for Pizza or anything crusty, and for anything milky or creamy. Their personalities are as distinct as their tastes.
There is however no upraised tail I can see, or one tucked between feline legs for that matter, even as I try to get a glimpse of Dude, who must surely be there. Instead, I catch sight of the back of a partially greyed, women’s head wearing an informal bun. I look closely, at the tall and lean frame standing with her back to our main gate, staring in the direction of the sun. She’s standing there basking in the sun, I surmise, and is rather lapping up the now warm sunshine we are wrapped in, wearing a shawl, with her ankle length night dress visible below it.
I recognise to my sheer surprise, also an inexplicable sentiment as yet – the aged woman as Mrs Bhagat, who lives across my house. I watch for a while, allowing the irony of the situation to sink in, to figure out what she’s doing standing there at this time. Perhaps waiting for her car to turn around at the end of the lane where its much wider, and then pick her up. There’s even an Uber taxi that is turning around right in front of our house now. But she doesn’t get into it, before it revved up and left her standing right in front of our gate. Beside the pillar against which I’ve recently put up a granite slab that names our house after my mother, who left us just eight months back.
Mr and Mrs Bhagat were good friends of my parents right since constructing their house here. And either of them, sometimes both – would visit our home every other day, on a visit to their own construction site to take stock of the progress. On such visits to our house, they sought advice and discussed various building related issues that they faced or might encounter. Then after their house was ready, they often came over to discuss matters of renting a floor or more of their three-story house, which was completed over a period – though they moved in on completion of just the ground floor.
Mr Bhagat had been a chartered accountant and financial consultant while his wife a teacher in a school. Both were always smartly and impeccably turned out. The wife in a sari crisply pleated, giving an indication of her dynamic personality as she was in addition to being very active, efficient and agile, also one of the few ladies of her time who drove, that too by herself. The husband, I remember well, was always in formal clothes – whether it be a suit and tie in winter, or a crisp formal shirt and tie in summer. And always brought his brief case with him on every visit to our place. They had exposure to all sorts of professional experiences, I’m sure, but what defined their visits to our house was their immense caution on financial matters, from the impending costs of building a large house.
This defining factor of their personality, being exceptionally financially astute, stands them apart from many their age in the neighbourhood, and has driven up with them right to the current old age. This cautious streak, even with all their three children married and well settled now – in the US and in India. Their anxiety over money just doesn’t dissipate or so it would seem. The couple, but more often the husband, is heard haggling with vendors – be they plumbers, carpenters, painters or masons. It could be for nominal amounts to large sums. Everyone at my place knows the man’s voice and bargaining tone rather well by now. Also, he tends to stop or call over any vendor who he sees working at my place. My painting contractor struck a deal with him and also worked with him – to reiterate my opinion on his stinginess.
The wife, is often seen and heard bargaining with the vegetable or fruit vendors for piddly amounts. She even has her personal weighing scales she will bring out to make and then prove her point, whether on the weight of the carrots, beans or apples, oranges and bananas. Then she will offer the vendor an astounding amount of sometimes one-fourth or at times even one-tenth of the price quoted. Then vociferously hold her ground in bargaining with the exasperated vendors.
Just yesterday, I watched with much interest, without her noticing she had an audience – the persistent bargaining of Mrs Bhagat, on her day’s need of vegetables. Which comprised mostly of red carrots in season and so already at the lowest possible prices than year-round. The lengthy bargain ended with a smug, satisfied holding up of the vegetables in a transparent polythene packet on her part. With the exasperated vendor holding up his patience, but not able to hold up the facial expression which was a giveaway. He is one of the few who doesn’t walk past pretending not to hear Mrs Bhagat’s calls from inside the house, as many of them tend to do. Their precious time wasted in arguing over just one sale can be better utilised calling out loud for new and easier customers.
Most of these updates I receive from my cook. As I often get impatient just watching these petty exchanges, but cannot avoid the voice of the man coming right into my house, while I’m reading in the balcony, especially so if I’m on the ground floor. The woman’s voice is more muted, unless I choose to really look upon her exchanges and thereby somewhat gauge the ensuing conversation. The Bhagat’s persistent arguing over anything and everything has become more passionate with their accentuating age, while other neighbours around their age are seen and heard less and less, even if they might not be bed ridden as some are. The aged, I suppose, have evolved into allowing their attention spans taking up spiritually liberating pursuits, handing over properties and money via Wills precisely made, in readiness for their disengagement from worldly ties. While their children or care givers deal with money and all that it can provide them.
Two weeks ago, I had overheard Mr Bhagat loudly bargaining with the coconut tree climber. The conversation, after much running on parallel tracks without the ability to meet anywhere, anytime soon, was lulling out. The vendor quoted Rs. 300, for bringing down the coconuts of one tree, while his prospective client was stuck on Rs. 150. So taking on this opportunity as it seemed godsent, as my two coconut trees that were full of fruit had not been plucked for a while, I asked my cook to promptly engage the man for Rs. 300 before he walked away in exasperation. Though he later charged me Rs 500 on completion. It is increasingly difficult to find, unlike in my mother’s times of needing one, a man in the city – willing or rather having the skills to climb a tall coconut tree and pluck it off the heavy kernels which are difficult to bring down even if descended on ropes.
The man promptly agreed to take on my job, rather than wait for Mr Bhagat to come around and engage him. He was no fool to let pass a sure business while one engaged him in talk only, to finally let the deal pass. Also, several of these service providers, just like this one as I was soon to find out, were at first engaged by my mother in the well over three decades that we lived here. The Bhagats had, as I have mentioned, taken her aide in so many of these household matters including sharing the man who still comes to clean the water filter at both our houses. Just when this coconut man was well into our premises, all set to begin his job giving Mr Bhagat time to decide, he called out to him.
“You come here later, we will finalise this…” he announced almost with an air of scornful finality, “Anyways now you cannot do our house today…”
The man didn’t quite care to understand the meaning of this statement. He already had a business in hand. My cook had politely called the man over to our gate before offering him the task, expecting to have him complete the Bhagat’s job and then come over. So, he attributed Mr Bhagat’s declaration to his own indecision, from an inability to score a good enough deal as yet. But this callous and abrupt statement, came flying into my consciousness like a javelin thrown right into my house, as if to crack the very soil, uproot the two coconut trees about to be fruited. The connection to his declaration that was to my acute revulsion yet again after fifteen years, lay in Death having recently visited my house, barely six months back; taking in its cruel grip my mother.
How could Mr Bhagat allow a whiff of Death that would come from my house to his through the coconut man, to directly or circuitously interface with his house! So what if the woman who it dragged away in moments, as Mother had gone down the whirlpool and was lost from her dynamic life in less than an hour of a heart attack; had advised, guided, offered a variety of help, opening up her home, heart and companionship – when few others in the neighbourhood had – to the minority non-Bengali house owners in a predominantly Bengali locality till two decades ago. She had moreover, rented out one and half floors of our house only to several non-Bengalis in the past three to four decades even though we are rooted in Bengal. As she had worked in Delhi and Gwalior long and concluded that north Indians are much more respectful of elders – in this case her their landlady.
I’m not normally prone to cynicism or undue sensitive insecurity on what the neighbours or the world thinks and would not have come to the conclusion that Mr Bhagat had attributed his not allowing a man to bring in the essence of Death from my home to his if it was not his own emphatic submission sixteen years ago. This was at the death of my father. When almost everyone who knew him had come over to visit us right over his lifeless body, till weeks after, except the Bhagats who lived just across our house.
Even at the personal invitation, via an invitation card offered to them for the thirteenth day Shradh ceremony for dinner, the couple or their three grown children older than us, had not turned up or even offered a telephonic condolence to my mother – not even did they send a stalk of flower – leave alone a wreath or bouquet. They never visited or spoke to us since my father’s passing, though we easily see each other from our respective houses all the time. And in solidarity with Death, and my father who it snatched from us, we made a conscious effort to ensure our shadows did not cross their paths ever since.
“We couldn’t come to the Shraddha” Mr Bhagat had announced, with a smirk, from his balcony, met with a cold silence by my mother, “As we do not go to any house where death has visited recently.”
Then what is Mrs Bhagat doing at our south facing gate today, I have a good mind to demand of her! But I don’t – as I would rather put this question up to the world at large! As most people still view death with revulsion – like it were never to come upon them or it’s contagious. Only recently, one of our long time tenants of three decades back, who have practically lived and eaten meals with us for three months then, and brought their four daughters into this world at our house later – as when they first moved in the portion they were to rent was not yet ready but they were in a great hurry to come, proved this so shamelessly.
A few weeks back this lady Meena Sharma, called me to ask me for the name and phone number of a Bengali caterer who we used a few times. After I had visited her a year ago, with the gift of a perfume, when I learned from her husband I ran into on the street, that she had a Cancer surgery – she had lost the attractive face she always had to. Needing the mask not only for covid protection as we all did.
I asked Meena when she called, “why do you need a Bengali caterer?”
She chose not to divulge that her daughter was getting married to a Bengali man in a couple of weeks. I was aware of this from the daughter’s photos on social media, but I chose not to embarrass Meena in reminding her that the death of the woman that prevented her from inviting me, had given her shelter as a daughter – when she had been forced to leave her house with her husband on her mother-in-law’s bidding, and Mother had been more than a mother figure to her whole family for years after.
So, before I end this, I go out to the balcony to put my thoughts on Death into perspective and emotionally let this aspect go – when I look down at my gate again. I see Mrs Bhagat is still standing there, holding up her arms to shield her face from the strong sun – or perhaps subconsciously, from my mother’s scorching presence. As she wouldn’t be standing here if she was alive – consistently stealing slices of our lavish sunshine that God doesn’t bestow on her house in the peak of winter, just as he keeps death away. We’re in turn graciously gifted with both Sunshine and Death.
As Sunshine and Death – are two sides of the coin of Life – one is going to be missing in the absence of the other!
Over a last walk in Park Street, last evening, I feel relieved that I have crossed what has easily been the worst year of my life – with my chin up and head held high. It was in desperately rowing, under maximum pressure, through the stormiest stretches starting from last January, that I’ve not despaired even when I have found myself all alone in the battles I waged for life – one that I won and even the one I lost. As in looking back at the loss now – I am relieved, as it was an emotional bridge I would have had to cross sooner than later and it’s well over for me now – the loss of my parents.
What makes me happy is the wisdom I’ve collated from all of the experiences I encountered – that at no stage did I ever feel I would like to go back and do things differently. I feel satisfied with the decisions I have had to take. Even if the world may come and try to put me into any number of guilt traps. So this, really, is the root of my self confidence.
To me, success is the ability to live a life without regrets. With the awareness that at any point in time, you have made the best choices under the given circumstances. And you would gladly repeat those mistakes over again if that is what will get you to come out from darkness to Light and live a purposeful life in eradicating some of the prevailing darkness and negativity in the world. Life, every moment of it – is not a dress rehearsal or a mock drill for the next take or final shoot of your portfolio. It is the ONLY finale you will ever get – so you have to be judiciously discerning. Then it won’t matter what anyone else thinks. Wisdom lies in garnering strength and courage from each moment, whether good or bad, to carry with you to the choices you would make in the future. There is little, that’s more painful than regrets – other than indecision out of fear that bids you to not make a bold choice when you are faced by the devil or the deep sea.
“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” ― Paulo Coelho
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering ‘it will be happier’.” ― Alfred Lord Tennyson
In search of Bishwanath Ghosh’s roots – ancestral home, my marital home: 200 year old house in Murshidabad. Let me start my telling you that this hunt was conducted only by knowing the village’s name – Panchtupi, and the name of the current living member – his cousin who is 75 years and in the photos here with his wife in a mauve sari, whom we luckily discovered. We had no address or phone number, or any description of what to expect.
Bishwanath has always claimed to be a Kanpur born and raised probashi Bangali, and all his narratives make that abundantly clear. But to my utter surprise this house in Bengal is 200 years old and was built by his great grandfather, or perhaps his father. All his uncles(jethas) and aunt(pishi) built their own much larger and lavish houses in New Alipore(2 uncles), Lake Gardens(pishi) in Calcutta and even Chandannagar – and they or their children never looked back to see where they came from. “No one visits here or even calls to find out if it still stands – for decades”, the elderly cousin lamented. My father in law who built his own home in Kanpur did visit this house with his wife once – when his mother passed away decades ago. So anyway, that we were coming to Murshidabad – Bishwanath decided to go hunt for the place – as now it’s a ‘Story’🤓 And who knows he might shortly make the place famous in a fresh narrative. As once upon a time it was a place inhabited by Rajas, as locals told me. And the many large sprawling houses I saw in the vicinity of this house with several ponds and plenty of land owned by the family that is now rented out to collaborators for orchards and fishing. BG is still trying to come to terms with his very authentic Bengali roots, even as he tries to learn Bangla – but skips every class since we returned, as if in sheer rebellion. 🤓His folks are – as we discovered, more Bengali in their dressing and ways including being impeccable hosts and serving us a plate of 6 large mishti each – than most Bengalis I know! 😄
So how did we find the house: Our penchant for photography led us to it. We arrived in two cars at this Netaji statue with 5 army guys. I was impressed with the patriotism of this small town. And while we were busy doing this photo shoot here, as BG recognised the signboard belonging to the place his father had just mentioned over the telephone, the mishti shop owner in red t shirt and another gentleman watched us in much curiosity. The gentleman was curious as he’s the local photographer and might have been shaken out of his complacency – as to who might have come to usurp his position here! Anyway, he was narrated the purpose of our photo shoot. He then led us to this exact house in the pictures with lovely flowering trees in front, which is actually quite imposing in real as compared to the photos. The cousin on the behest of two army men came out groggy eyed and merely nodded at hearing his name but did not admit it was him. With five army personnel and two officially decorated cars and one assertive journalist (BG) questioning him, at 3.30pm, waking him up from sleep – what was he going to assume, but that they might handcuff him soon. But I recognised his remote resemblance to people in BGs paternal family even though everyone else including my father in law has heads full of hair. So I blurted, “aren’t you …” He promptly nodded and allowed destiny take its course on what would happen to him thereon. So then, while his very warm, friendly and lovable but shy wife peeked out of the inner door – BG introduced us. His wife was thrilled to see us and kept calling us inside without herself stepping out. Shortly a huge number of people collected to watch the show it was, to a quite village. The several portions of land and three pond’s collaborators who all turned out to be muslim, came and verbally embraced us for making the effort to visit this place that no one ever does. In fact they waited long for us to come out just to meet us. Murshibadad has an over 80pct muslim population but are so in tune with the minority – as it’s Bangla that matters here, not religion. Though the cousin’s wife offered our band of soldiers plates of sweets too, I turned it down, as I didn’t want to burden the elderly couple whose son and his wife and son were out of town. And as a true blue Bengali myself – made it a point to stop again at the initial mishti shop, chat up the family that owned it in their home premises and pack a box full of mishti each for the 5 men in uniform and a larger one for our commander friend, who had sent them all on this expedition with us so that we would be safe. The previous post was on the return drive. This write up is an impromptu rough draft after I uploaded these photos – but with the perfect nuances will have to make it to my sequel to “Across Borders” 🤓😁
The lake in front of my Calcutta balcony is a visual treat of nature’s bounty this morning: a fury, if you make the nightlong deluge to be - when rains are late in Purulia for harvesting.
My optimism on the rain and this flooding took an embarrassed beating - in empathising that my cook Nibaran’s family back home was as yet in-waiting for the season's blessings.
Yet I set forth to enjoy these precious moments - sitting out looking at being transported to Venice, sipping my tea to the music of the wind chime that’s my company across changes in times.
The birds chirping, crows leading the chorus, drew my attention to Sun’s rays now warming - to mentally fetch me back on a Gondola to reality: As breakfast is served on,“in Purulia it’s raining!” — Shuvashree Chowdhury
Also sharing below – a fresh review of my book of short stories ‘Existences’ …
It’s so heartening to see that someone, really got the crux of all that you’ve tried to convey – of two decades of working in the corporate world…As a woman, in a patriarchal society, and hold your own!
You may click this post on Instagram below to read the views or I’m copy/pasting it as under …
thebooksocial_ The reputation of an industry is built on the integrity, grit and hard work of its employees. The ones who don’t feature on a magazine cover. They go unnoticed, unapplauded. The female workforce, even more so.
As if dealing with the daily demands of professional life is not enough, as a woman, you have to also put up with prejudices, sexism, pre-conceived notions and unfair expectations. Navigating through it all, keeping intact your own sense of values, judgments, femininity and opinions, is not always easy. It takes strength of mind and character. And this really comes through in this book.
‘Existences’ is a collection of 26 short stories and observations, by @shuvashree_chowdhury , on relationships, perceptions, ethics and such other aspects of human experience that add so much richness and colour to life. Love, friendship, belongingness, ageing, sexual identity, loneliness, grooming, gender equations, she speaks of them as seen and felt as a woman, in a world full of imbalances.
What I liked about the book was the diversity of stories. It was well- written, some of the stories were real page turners. But mostly, it was that strain of optimism that kind of bound all these accounts together, which I really liked. Shuvashree really deserves to be read more. A meaningful book, this one.
PS: these thoughts arose from sharing the post from my Jet Airways stint on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151068899104974&type=3 and in recalling my stints with ITC Sheraton as reservations incharge for the city’s property pre launch and having the SWOT analysis of every other premium hotel on the back of my hand! Also Tanishq at a crucial stage of its change from 2003-2006 …this is after corporate sales stints with SITA travels in 1993 and Bank of America in 1995… and yet I have to validate knowing and being known in my own city! 🤓Chennai never asked me for any such validations to accept me whole heartedly as a poet and literary author!