Valentines Day : Of Another Kind !

One of our colleagues was unwell and we took her to a Doctor a bit far away. The appointment with the doctor was at 7 in the evening and by the time we returned home it was already 8 in the evening. Following our taxi was another vehicle and as we got down a loud voice greeted us from the said vehicle “Good evening uncle, …. go ahead, we will just drop in”. I could recognize the thick voice… it was Jojo, my nephew.
Exactly ten minutes later Jojo surfaced at our house with a Cake in hand, along with his wife and son Jijo. “Happy Anniversary Uncle !” It was then I realised it was the D-day for us ! Our marriage anniversary !

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Those days we were in Bangalore, and Sara greeted us “Happy Anniversary” !  We were surprised and amused. “How come you remember the day ? “  I asked Sara. “Simple, the date is 14th of February – the Valentine Day !. And by the way  how did you manage to coincide your marriage with this special date ?” I was a bit confused and flatly asked “Err..what is this Valentine Day “ ? Sara had a real loud laugh and took a class for me on the significance of V Day !. I explained to her that contrary to her belief, we got married in the days of Black & White era and life was not as colourful as it is now !

Pix : Sen Studio, Barasat (Suburb off Kolkata)

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Pix: Subhadip Mukherji

Jojo quickly placed the cake on a small table and after a long time we had the reason to celebrate our Marriage Anniversary !!!  Our little grand daughter Rianna was the chief guest ! Jojo is a singer in Bollywood and during end months of the year he comes regularly to Kolkata ….  that is the season here for musical functions, mostly open air public performances. The season starts with Durgapuja and lingers on till mid February.

Thanks a lot Jojo…… let me play one of your popular numbers. (just Click below)

Click !

 

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Pre-Christmas in Kolkata : Then & Now !

dsc_0022In our teen age days the pre-Christmas outing was a visit to the New Market. We are located at an extreme end locality in South Calcutta and this visit to the central Calcutta was some thing great for us. I always eagerly awaited for the day. My grandpa would come around noon, a few days before Christmas, and we will set out for this journey to the wonder-land ! I always narrated about this dream outing to my grand children – they are 3 in number. The elder one Rijul, who is at his final class of schooling, always had many interesting queries about  this… my olden days New Market trip !

This Christmas I promised Rijul to take him on a similar pre-Christmas trip to New dsc_0016Market. More than him, I was the one who was keen on re-living history !

dsc_0014When we reached near the main entrance the area was too crowded and there was a near stampede situation. Ah.. that was the Light House Cinema…. this is the spot where there were some head-loaders… they will come running with a large bamboo basket…. go along nmwith you to collect whatever you buy from the New Market… carry the load on their head and at the end of your shopping, come to the taxi stand and put all the packets inside the taxi neatly…. and finally be happy with whatever bakhsis (tips) you offer… after all its the festive time ! I was feeling sorry that none of them were found here, they must have found much lucrative alternative vocations !

At the New Market entrance, in olden days, we used to make short stop over at the greetings-card shops…. there were about 10 such shops. dsc_0012Only one we found still surviving, but with no takers. In the internet era none is interested in those greetings cards. Once inside the market, the scenario did not change much. Many of the old charming clothing shops were still there, though they did not have much buyers. Most of the families go for online shopping for their readymade clothes, and, even the sarees are procured by the same method.

The mistletoes and other decorative selling shops are still there. They are doing some what better business than others. The cake shops are doing brisk business. I was indeed upset as dsc_0009I did not find the same old charming New Market hopping experience. But for Rijul, he was enjoying the visit… I was showing him some of the old shops still in the business. I bought him a heart-cake and a hot patties ! I tasted a bit. Ummm…. some what nearer the olden-day –taste, except less buttery ! Well… at least some good things still survived the test of the time.

Those days our return trip was by a tram ride. Then the trams had less riders and it was a pleasant smooth journey. I did not propose the repeat mode for our return journey. It was a very difficult time to get hold of the taxi to take us.

Finally we managed to get one taxi after putting half and hour effort, and, reached home. It was indeed an enjoyable trip…. a good start for Christmas 2016 !

A Bengal Christmas @ Christian Para Kolkata

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24th December, 2016 the day before Christmas Day started early for the young ones. They got themselves engrossed in making a Manger and placing images of the Nativity. Some of them were running around with a huge wooden ladder and climbing to tie out the colourful paper strips in the locality. Soon the area, our small Christian Para (Christian Dwelling) wore a real festive look ! Their hectic work schedule were often punctuated by the shoutings from grandpas and grandmas “time for lunch… please come home….” But their routine answers were “just  ten minutes more, and we would be through !” My daughter- in- law made a huge Snow Man which was placed next to a Santa outside our home. It was very nicely made . By the time we could gather for the lunch it was already well paste noon !

 

dsc_0151After the Lunch, it was the continuation of the same routine for the boys, and, this time the girls took the charge of decora-ting the church… with lots of mistletoes and flowers of varied colours.

25th December, 2016

We woke up with the boom of the sound box playing “jingle bells”. Around 7.30 in the morning we all gathered at our church of the locality. Ours is a small

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Church being decorated with flowers and leaves

church with a sitting capacity of about 40 . On occasion like this we arrange for close-circuit-television transmission on the first floor room of the church so that those who could not make it inside the church can still go upstairs and join the worship. It was an hour-long service. Less of sermon and more of carols ! Along with traditional English tune carols, we also sing a few Bengali Christian songs set on old folk tunes. After the service we gathered outside the church for cake and coffee. There after we had Christmas Tree and all at the congregation got some useful prizes by picking up lucky numbers. The  prizes were house hold items like comb, tea-stainer, mug, soap case, small kitchen cans and so on ! There after we gathered to pose for a family

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Tea after the church service

photograph…… a very old tradition very religiously followed every year…. of course the photographer changes with changing times. In olden days it was one of my uncles who was a passionate photographer who did the job. Thereafter my elder brother-in-law, followed by me for some years. Presently my son is doing the photography for the past several Christmas !

Thereafter, there was the gathering of friends and  relatives inside and outside our house…. with hot coffee,  home made cakes and my daughter made a lot of chocolates to share for this occasion.

dsc_0064dsc_0068Around noon relatives from far flung places started arriving for the Christmas Lunch. This is a participatory event where every one shares the expenses for the food. I have some long tables which  are taken out of our store-room for this occasion ! The lunch menu was very much a Bengali fare… Rice, Dal, mixed vegetable curry, chicken curry, sweet chutney, papad and sandesh (milk sweets). There were about 50 persons joining the meal.dsc_0009

In the evening I was sitting on a chair in front of the decorated Manger… playing Santa, by presenting each visiting child a small Santa replica and a toffee ! Till late evening there
were a good number of children who visited this festive arena. dsc_0025Around  9.45  in the night we had our night meal …. the loud speaker outside still playing  “Man will live for ever more because of Christmas Day”!

A Friend In Need (4): “Sil-Katau” Man

There was a commotion outside and Deep’s mother had to come out of the kitchen. She found that Deep is on a heated argument with some one, at the entrance door ! The Sil-Katau man was telling “Look boy, I told you I can give you Tajmahal for Rs. 4/- and not less than that”. At this juncture, Deep’s mother laughed out  loud .. “ Tajmahal going at a such cheap price ….what is this all about !!” The man then explained “Look  Maijee (Madam),  as you know, the prices of everything has gone up, and, now my rate is Tajmahal  Rs.4/-,  Fish Rs. 3/- and  Plain Lines Rs. 2/-. “  At this point Deep’s mother told  that man,  “Look, he is only a small boy, and he really wants the Tajmahal …. you can do one thing … take Rs. 3/-, you may give a little smaller Tajmahal” . The man smiled and said “Okay, I will take Rs. 3/- from you, and,  I will not reduce the size.. be assured.”

Soon the man took out his small bag , took out different sizes of chisels and the two hammers and concentrated on  his job…. tuk, tuk, tuk, tuk. Deep  sat beside him on the ground and started watching his hand movement. He was now visibly wearing an amused and  mesmerized look.

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img960 It was noon time, I was waiting for the school bus which will bring my grand-daughter home from the school. And then heard  “Sil-Katau…. Sil-Katau”. The sound was emerging from among some building premise nearby, and soon the man surfaced. I called him and showed him my house, and asked him to wait for me till I come. I returned home soon with my grand-daughter and asked her to inform her grandma about us. The child surely got confused about the whole thing, but informed her grandma, who came running. Once she saw the Sil-Katau man, she knew what is it, and, soon came out with the Sil and the Nora. These are two important kitchen tools, still found in many old-tradition families. Sil is a 14” long, 10” wide and  2” thick stone tablet. Nora is cylinder type black stone hammer about 10” long.  Fresh spices are ground on this Sil (stone tablet) with the help of the

img965Nora (black stone  hand grinder). With constant use, the surface of the sil and nora becomes smooth. Hence the surface need to chipped with chisel periodically. The Sil-Katau Man is a chipping craftsman who can make various designs…. “Criss-crossing lines”, “Fish” and of course “Tajmahal”! I could not hide my childhood nostalgia and asked “Can you chisel out a Tajmahal ?”. The man apologised and said he can only make lines and that he has only one kind of chisel and a lone hammer !

He finished his job within about 10 minutes, and the lone enthused witness to the act… my grand daughter did not get any thrill nor awestruck by the craftsman ship. I handed over Rs. 15/- for the act to the sil-katau man, and, told him to come again about a couple of months later –  lest we lose a dying tradition !

Photo Courtesy: Srichandra

Bhaiya Duj : Brothers Day

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Today is the Brother’s Day – in Bengal it is called Bahi Phota.(tilak for the brother) Ruhani (11 yrs) and Rianna (6yrs) ,my two grand daughters are busy since morning, getting ready for the event. This day sisters put tilak, of sandal wood photo2562paste on the forehead of their brothers. Three times they would put this tilak, while chanting a small wish “I put this tilak on the forehead of my brother, let this tilak work as the thorn on the path of the evil”. Thereafter the sisters would offer sweets, always odd in number… three or five or seven . After this, brothers will offer a small gift to the sisters… in our house it is usually a small chocolate !

A round stone, normally used to make sandal paste, and the small sandal-wood stick were taken out from tphoto2564he family box, . Ruhani kept on rubbing this stick on the stone, after sprinkling a bit water on the stone. This is indeed a laborious process to attain a little  paste.

Then Ruhani collected some more items to complete the rituals. Collecting a bit of tender green grass, paddy, a diya. Then on a plate the sandal paste, grass, paddy were placed. The diya was lit.

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The Big Brother Rijul  was seated on a mat. A cousin brother Jijo also joined. Then Ruhani photo2586and Rianna completed the rituals. The grass and the paddy were placed on the head of the younger ones, as a mark of blessings.Then the sweets were offered to the brothers. Brothers picked up one or two, and, the rest of the sweets were distributed among all present to witness the event.

A little later Subhadip- the brother of Srichandra took photo2587the tilak, and, he was blessed with grass and paddy on the head by his sister.photo2582
Finally it was my turn, I too was given a tilak by Smriti….. and of course I ate a lot of sweets !

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Journey Recharged !

The seat looked dusty. I looked around myself. There were hardly any co-passengers around. The train had arrived at the platform an hour earlier than scheduled and I guess people were yet to find their respective coaches. There was only a young girl in the opposite seat – a young woman rather. With jeans and a loose T-shirt and a silver colored nose-ring she looked weird. Her eyes were glued to her mobile phone.

Huh! Another of those gadget geeks!

I put my hands in my pocket searching for a piece of paper or even my handkerchief. No way would I sit on the dusty train seat.

“Tissues?”

The voice startled me. I looked up. A smiling face looked at me in return. Her left hand held out a muddled bundle of fresh tissues. That same weird girl!

How on earth did she know that I was actually looking for a piece of paper?

“Take some. I cleaned mine with these”, she laughed. As she laughed I noticed the twinkle in her eyes.

scf1224Normally I refuse help from strangers – that too such a strange looking stranger – but right then I had no option.

But before I could even give her a formal thanks, she got up from her seat with a spring and began cleaning my dusty seat.

“Aha..ha…why….”

“Ha, it’s all right uncle. I would have done the same for my Dad”, she smiled the same way, having cleaned the seat in a jiffy.

“Tadaaa…here you are”, she pointed to my nearly clean seat.

“Thanks”, I thanked her softly.

A few of the co-passengers had begun arriving. Porters, noisy children, worried mothers, see-off relatives….

I looked outside. There was no one for me. Geeta had to pick up her son from school, Sekhar had his office to attend. It was more than enough that they had bothered to drop me at the station atleast.

“Sorry Appa. Please….I have to pick up Rohan in another hour, the school is pretty far away from here, if I don’t leave now I would never reach and you know how Rohan is….he would just keep crying!”, she had sounded apologetic.

“No problem.  Anyway, I just have to carry a single bag. It’s no big deal”, I had tried to comfort her in my own way. Afterall  she was my daughter. And it wasn’t wrong either. How much would the bag of a sixty five year old weigh anyway? The heart weighed heavier!

I adjusted my sole bag near my feet. The other passengers had mostly arrived.

Someone somewhere had perhaps opened a tiffin can of freshly fried Vade. The smell of crisply fried fritters wafted through the air. If Sudha had been around she would have certainly packed in a dozen….idlis…puliyothare….she always ensured she carried meals during her journey….she hated meals from pantry.

I closed my eyes, trying not to think about the past or even food for that matter. Without Sudha, life had become a burden. Staying with married daughter is not an easy option but with a son in the IT sector in Kolkata, with an erratic work schedule, staying with him wasn’t an option either. Thought of Ravi gave me a sudden jerk – a jolt rather. That conversation two weeks back had knocked off my sleep. Geeta hasn’t stopped crying since then.

It was just a three line monologue from Ravi.

“Ummm….Appa, I have found a girl for myself….Bengali, Christian…RebecaaBiswas. I know you will never agree to the match. But please, please, please come and meet her. She would be coming from Bangalore after her training in another two weeks.”

No way would I agree to the match! A vegetarian, Tamil boy from a Brahmin family marrying a non-vegetarian, Bengali, Christian girl!  I would go and try to reason with him. If he doesn’t agree I will sever all my ties with him –forever! I shook my head unknowingly! I opened my eyes.

The train had begun with a jerk. Loud good-byes,sobs , laughter filled the coach! A few of them began to call their relatives informing them of the train’s departure.

I too took out my mobile phone from my pocket. I know it wouldn’t really matter but as a courtesy I wanted to call Geeta.  Just as I began to press the numbers I suddenly realised there wasn’t a single rupee balance left in my mobile. I had been asking Geeta, requesting Sekhar but they had either forgotten or not bothered. I had even gone out to recharge the phone myself but the nearest shop was closed for over a week.

I stared helplessly at the screen.

“Here, use mine!”, a hand with pink nail colour held out a mobile phone.

That weird girl again! Her face was still smiley with that strange twinkle.

“I…I..no..thanks”

“It’s alright. Use mine.”

“Okay then…no need to call. Just send an sms to my daughter: Train started-Appa”, I felt weird and ashamed at the same time.

img913With deft fingers she typed out the message and the number as I dictated.

Beep!

“Here, it’s done!”, she smiled.

“I..I..actually I forgot to recharge my phone…and I can’t blame my daughter either…she has her hands full”, I sounded apologetic yet again.

“ It happens….with most of us. Why don’t you try one of  those re-charge systems ? They are quite useful.  It is actually  easy and user-friendly.”

“Ha ha ha….those are for young people like you! Not for oldies like us!”, for a change I tried to sound informal.

“But online dealings are never safe. Frankly, I don’t trust these online facilities. Every other day you hear of an online scam. But in any case it sounds interesting….actually I keep forgetting about these things like recharge and bill payment. And when I remember it is either too late or too difficult. And by then I am already into trouble…like I was, just a few minutes ago.”, I laughed.

I was really impressed with this girl. Not like the usual ones, and what I liked about her is that she was very sincere in her approach. Who on earth would waste time on explaining all those things.

“Would you care for some Vade?”

I saw the girl holding out a tiffin box of freshly Vade and Chutney.

This time I didn’t mind. I helped myself to one. I suddenly felt recharged.

“Did you make these?”

“Oh no! Not exactly ! One of my neighbours made all the preparations, I only fried them ……. of course upon strict instructions from that neighbourhood aunty !  I am originally travelling from Bangalore. I didn’t get a direct ticket to Kolkata. So I had to take a stop-over at Chennai.”

She bowed her head a little – perhaps in a short prayer- before she touched her piece. That is when I noticed the little golden cross adorning her neck! Sudha would do just the same. She would close her eyes and mutter “Sarveswara”, before she would touch her food.

Before I could ask further she spoke again – this time with her mouthful, “Mmm…but you know I can almost make these as tasty but that little hole in the middle just wouldn’t come. I have to practice some more. I need to impress my father-in-law …to be that is!”, she giggled.

I loved the innocence in her. Irrespective of what she was, how she was, her dress, her mannerisms and even her religion, I loved her. How I wish I had someone like her as my daughter in law.

“What is your name  Maa ?”, I asked her.

“Rebecca Biswas.  And what’s yours, uncle?”

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Literacy Jatha:March at a Tribal Village for Literacy Promotion

Literacy “Jatha”- a “Jatha” is a March in which certain action is also accomplished along the way. Some times ago we, an NGO group organised a Literacy Jatha in a tribal village

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picture-326called “Majhidih”. The basic objective of the March was to spread awareness on the need to have a minimum literacy for all, and, also to teach women of the village ‘how to sign their names’. Since this was organised by an NGO working for women’s empowerment, the stress was to cover women in the village. Most of the women did know how to sign their names even. We were stressing on this because these days, they need to put their signatures for various reasons i.e. to open a Bank Account, to get govt. benefit schemes to become an effective member of Self Help Group and so on.

picture-319Majhidih literary means a Santhal Village i.e.” Majhi” means Santhal tribe, and, “dih” means a village.  This village is located amidst East Singbhum region of Jharkhand state in India. Jharkhand meaning “The Forest Land”, is a new state. There was a long time demand from the local Tribals – the Adivasis that they be given a separate state.  We are working in villages here on women and children development programmes since inception of this state.

Spending the night before at our camp office at Bondih we set out for the Majhidih village early morning in two bikes and a few bicycles. We also asked our village volunteers from neighbouring villages to assemble at the Majhidih village. It took about half an hour to reach the village for our bikes.  The cyclists also made it within that time limit, since they took short cut passage through forest. It was summer, the area is chronically drought prone, there was scorching heat emanating from the stony road, even though it was still early in the morning.

After reaching the village we made two teams. The men in the team were given the task of writing awareness slogans on the walls. The Santhal houses have mud walls, but, they are kept very clean and neat by pasting coloured mud regularly.There is particiularly a red soil available in the hills here which look very beautiful on walls.

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Writing on Wall: “I Want Education”

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“Must Learn How to Sign My Name”

The women in our team, joined by other village volunteers, took the charge of teaching signature writing to the village women.

Our March or the Jatha began.  While we took charge of the wall writing, the women, in small teams entered a few huts on both sides of the village road. The villagers were too enthusiastic to participate in this learning process. It was nice to see that while the women were busy trying to write their signatures on the paper, the menfolk in the house took care of the children. ( a rare scenario in Indian village context where bringing up a child is solely vested on women)

Once a cluster of 4 to 5 huts covered, the Jatha marched forward. At times we, the graffiti team were lagging behind to complete the our paint-brush task.

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The only reason I was treated differently was my tummy !

Around 3 p.m. we reached at the end of village. Here we had out lunch…. piping hot rice, lentil curry and a potato-brinjal curry…. served on Sal Leaves plates. It was tasty, and, in any case we were really hungry… we did not have a chance to break our fast (skipped the break fast !)

Our end of the Jatha was a cultural show, organised open-air. We have cultural team, which presented  a number of Awareness song and dance, composed by us on various social issues like cutting of trees, need for literacy for all, torture on women and so on.  At the end there was  a Magic Show which was thoroughly enjoyed by all !

( I love playing a Folk Drum, and, whenever there is a chance….. !!!)