The Suitcase

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The grey VIP suitcase had been a prized possession of the Sarkar household.

Mohan Sarkar for the first time in his twenty two years he left the place where he grew up, studied. The company was a private consulting firm of engineers. Mohan’s first project was in the mining town of Khetri in Rajasthan. His father had just turned sixty and had retired after serving as an officer in the Eastern Railways for twenty five years.

When Mohan was selected as a member of the team being sent to Germany for a workshop on iron welding, his old man received the news with a toothless smile and had proudly presented him with a grey VIP suitcase.

He was going to be the first member in the Sarkar family who would fly in an airplane to a foreign land. A land where no one spoke Bengali. The entire para had come to see him off. As he sat in the rickshaw, holding onto the suitcase, he turned back and looked at the stream of anxious faces. Pain surged through his heart as he fought the tears clouding his eyes. A new future awaited him.

As the bright eyed lad scaled the heights of corporate world, he attended seminars, conferences and workshops around the world accompanied by his trusty VIP suitcase.

Marriage was always on the cards. A foreign returned boy earning a thousand rupees a month – Mohan’s parents were beset with wedding proposals. After careful analysis of horoscopes and consultations with the purohit moshai, they settled on Maya, the younger daughter of Ghoshal Babu. Being the youngest in a household of ten, came with its own perks. Her father was the chief officer at the post office in Katni and she was the apple of her father’s eye. Every week she received one ruppee as allowance. A generous amount for girl whose only business at that age was to attend classes and buy books. But Maya was a born rebel. With the money she bought eclair chocolates, colorful French ribbons and at times the occasional movie ticket. When presented with the news of her wedding to Mohan, she had expressed disbelief and then unhappiness. She shed tears infront of her father pleading to cancel the wedding but in those times a man’s word meant honor. Maya’s charms and pleas had no takers. She felt abandoned.

The first time Mohan looked at his bride was during the jaimala. She had dark, limpid eyes. They darted a quick look at him but before he could smile back, they looked away. Nervous but happy inwardly, he liked her there and then.

Maya turned out to be quite an expert at managing household affairs. She maintained expense sheets and drew budget records. She drove the grey Fiat to the weekly haat and shopped for fresh fruits and vegetables. Before her marriage to Mohan, her life was micromanaged and plabned to the end detail and she used to take pleasure in the small acts of defiance now and then. But life had somsthing else in store. With Mohan at the helm of important meetings and client affairs, he spent more time at the airports and hotels than at home. Everytime Mohan came back from a trio abroad, there was a pearl or diamond in a neat box wrapped for Maya.

On a rare November sunday afternoon Mohan was home. After enjoying a homecooked meal, he sat down to pack his suitcase for the oncoming trip to Chennai. It was then he saw the thin line of crack on the grey surface. His heart thudded against his chest and sank. His mind became numb and all was quiet. He could not hear Maya asking him to help change the bulb. It felt urgent but her voice sounded faint, weak, coming from a very far distance.

Gradually the voice grew loud and there was more talk. Mohan was having trouble processing the words. She looked angry; she was crying.

“What happened?”

Maya shot an angry look at the suitcase. She shut the suitcase dragging it out to the front door. Hot tears streaming down the face she lifted it up and threw it down the white marble stairs.

The loud thud announced the first crack in their relationship.

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Happy 378th Birthday!

My favorite city turns 378! The city I had the privilege to call Home for eight years introduced me to a new language, culture and gave me a lifetime of memories – happy birthday to you Madras!

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Often I find myself vacillating between Madras and Chennai. But the sweet spot is right in the middle where the perfect balance of old and new world exists. Somehow it this balanced outlook towards life and culture, that helped me fall in love with the city even more. The city transformed a timid small town girl into the confident, independent woman who is writing this blog today.

The year was 2006 when I first arrived in Chennai. I was awestruck by the simplest things – the tall multi-storied buildings, winding flyovers, wide four lane roads – an entire new world for someone from a small town in Jharkhand.

Though its been close to three years now that I have moved out of the city, it remains very close to my being. Here’s my ode to the city by listing down some of my favorite experiences.

Budget sandwich

Bread-omelette slathered with the spicy green chutney was my lifeline during college days. Over the years I remember the price rising up from Rs 5 to Rs 15 but it has always remained a favorite with everyone.


Connemara Public Library and Museum Theater

Being a literature student meant frequent trip to libraries across the city. Connemara Public Library is one of the oldest libraries in our country and has a wide collection of book, journals and magazines. I have spent countless afternoons in the library looking for reference books, making notes and sometimes just sitting down and savoring the moment. There is a section of the library which still retains the old structure of library and has ladders to access books.


Ten Rupee Tickets at Sathyam Cinemas

AC hall tickets to the latest movie all for Rs 10 – a dream for a college student as one can always enjoy Sathyam’s special butter flavored popcorn and a movie without putting a dent in the weekly budget.


Besantnagar Beach

This was my getaway place. A tough week at work or tiff with my BFF, I took the MTC bus to the beach. Sand scrunched between toes, sea breeze in hair, one can almost taste the salt in the air during evenings. It offered me solitude and reassurance in troubled times, almost like a true friend.


Kailash Kitchen and Naga Reju

I would not have discovered Tibetan and Naga cuisine if not for these restaurants. Both are hole in the wall eateries with a dedicated patrons who keep coming back for their lip smacking thukpas and momos.


That unspoken street food scene

It is disheartening how the street food scene does not get the focus it deserves. Kothu parottajigarthandaonion samosa, kuzhi paniyaram – these are few delightful snacks which I never knew existed. Also there is a very active Arabian and Burmese food scene in various pockets of the city.


Temple getaways 

I identify myself as a spiritual person who enjoys visiting temples. The charm of the city lay in the many temples located in the city who can trace back their origin back to hundred of years. Kapaleeswara Temple and Parthasarathy Temple were some of the few famous temples that I have visited while staying here. The elaborate rituals, offerings to the various deities, intricate designs on the temple walls and architecture are fine work and speak volumes about the beliefs of the people who have resided here and worshiped in these temples since long. Also the evening aarthi sessions at Ramakrishna Mission in Mylapore are nothing short of magical.


Ease of commute

With the existence of MTC buses, local train, MRTC and now, metro rail – the city is very well connected to its sub-urban and central areas. This is not taking into account the presence of  autos and various app based cab services like Uber and Ola. MTC has a neat website which lists the bus numbers, their location of origin, destination and bus stops in between. Also the origin and terminating bus stops and bus numbers are written out in English which enabled a novice like me to move around the city without any issues.

After I moved out of the city, I grieved for a good part in the following months. I had never felt like an outsider in those eight years. The city had accepted and embraced me as one of her own and it was difficult to let go. But then as I boarded the train, I realized I didn’t have to let go for it would always remain a part of me. I owe it to her and likewise no other city would be able to replace Namma Chennai for me.

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Twilight

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Aroma of fresh air, shiny glass windows of LIC building, autos, bikes moving with purpose on that busy Mount Road, washed clean by the late monsoon rain and us, waiting in that nondescript bus stop for 23C.

Romanticizing about a life which could-have-been was easy. But it was a heavy burden to bear. After the initial feeling of guilt, the darkness of a future without him loomed large, leaving Meera miserable and bruised. A year had gone by since that New Year’s morning of 2015 when she woke up to a coherent confession left by Sushant on Messenger. The person on whom she nursed a massive crush back in school was saying the same words to her after all these years. Her immediate reaction was denial and then she read the message again. And again. He say the words “admire” and “let go”, so had he let go?

She had been quick in typing out a smart, clean reply.  Forgetting to share the thoughts which had crossed her mind a hundred times in these years. It was a painful recollection for Meera.

“Foolish girl!”. If only she had bared her heart then, she thought with a deep sigh nursing that regret which had lived with her since that day,

With a partner who was always on the move she longed for company, few reassuring words and comfort of a familiar love. Was it loneliness? Was it the absence of a loving partner? Or was it her own past pushing her to confess? The battle raging within her heart had finally overpowered her mind.

Sushant had not promised her anything. But the questions kept haunting her.

Why did he say he liked her after all these years? Why now? Why after she had got married?

The mouse arrow hovered over Message button for a few seconds before she clicked it. Her eyes scanned the words for the hundredth time. Panic was rising in her chest. Heart beating too fast, her fingers nervously typed,

“Hi Sushant…how are you doing?”

Sometimes it is never too late to reply.

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This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

 

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Kitchen Duties

Married for two and half years, I have got a fair chance of learning and flaunting my cooking skills. Little did I know that I was entering a world where anyone and everyone sampling my prepared meals views it as an opportunity to give their two cents or as we Indians call it muft-ka-gyaan.

Last month we were hosting a relative from India who were visiting us for ten days. The relative, who shall remain unnamed for very obvious reasons, made it very clear on the very first day of arrival that I should keep an open mind while they dish out gyaan, identify the areas of improvement and list out the solution. Stumped beyond my wits I surprisingly was left dumbfounded. It was the very moment when my mind decided to play aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai while trying to numb out the pain and awkwardness inflicted by the guest. Mind drew blank while I fumbled for the right words but failed gloriously and remained quiet. To be honest, I was not even trying to be polite. Score for my seventh grade moral science teacher.

Two weeks later on recalling this educative moment of my life, I could come up with not less than seven smart retorts perfect as a response to the eager critic’s statements. So the new knowledge is tucked away in memory for future use. My wit chose the most oppurtune moments to jump to jukebox mode. It’s difficult for me.

Long story short, the episode played out everyday for the next ten days while the husband was conveniently left out of the conversation. So zero gyaan for him while I got the royal treatment. This was grossly unfair considering it was assumed and expected that the lady of the house should be in possession of all culinary related knowledge.

My cooking skills are work in progress. Only in the months after we moved to the States I had the opportunity and leisure to learn and practice the art of cooking. Internet and Skype were the medium in those initial days when I struggled with making chai. I know this is an unpardonable act. India is a tea loving, tea consuming nation. My ignorance stems from those years spent at Manu’s chai tapri outside DLF Infocity. That’s my defense.

I have always been very vocal about the double-standards that exist with regard to cooking and men. As someone famous had remarked:

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At a time when the lady of the house is constantly fending off criticisms (veiled as feedback) on the spicy tear inducing chicken curry or extra salty dal, I feel the urge to stand up and voice this out.

Cooking is a life skill; as necessary as education.

It is about self-reliance. Anyone who consumes who food, must possess the knowledge to its preparation. So encourage your son to enroll for that home science class and applaud his effort when he bakes his first cake. The kitchen realm is the abode of the hungry, gender unbarred.

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Graceful

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It was a warm sunny afternoon in May when I visited this temple as part of our one-day tour of the popular spots in Bhubaneshwar. We had to remove our footwear before entering the temple premises. I limped around with my soles silently screaming in pain from stepping on the scalding hot stones while my eyes were glued to this majestic sight.

This arch is constructed on the porch of Mukteshvara Temple in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. The temple made of red sandstone was built back in the 10th century dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

What immediately drew me to this part of the temple was the presence of Buddhist monks gracefully seated cross-legged in a meditation pose. The image left a deep impression on my mind.

A Buddhist influence on a Hindu temple!

The fact that Buddhism and Hinduism coexisted peacefully and its impact was etched on the walls of a prominent religious shrine speaks volumes about the ruler and his politics. Both are powerful and widely practiced religions, with their specific set of customs and codes. This maybe far from the truth but I would like to believe that the people and their ruler accepted both with open arms, embracing the new knowledge and practicing what appealed to the individual. Today in a nation where some are fighting for preserving individual regional traditions I hope we do not cast away love for the country and remember the value of peaceful coexistence. While I respect the decision to fight for what one’s beliefs, I am not sure if it should come at the cost of disdain for one’s own country. Coexistence is the key.

Namastey!

Graceful – Weekly Photo Challenge from WordPress

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Trip to Tonto National Monument, AZ

Tonto National Monument is located in the Superstition mountain in Arizona. It comprises of two well preserved cliff dwellings of the Salado culture who resided here back in the 13th- 15th century. The Salt River was the important and perennial source of water for these people who used it for farming.

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The Lower Cliff Dwelling can be accessed by paying a nominal fee of $5 at the visitor center. The path is paved and it is an easy 15-20 minutes hike upto the dwellings. One can admire the surrounding scenery of towering saguaros growing almost out of the tall brooding mountains. The access to Lower Cliff Dwelling closes by 4PM.

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As were unaware of the guided tour to the Upper Cliff Dwelling, we signed up for it in the visitor center for date later in the month of December. This was a strenuous but rejuvenating hike which lasted for little less than 3 hours. A park ranger from the NPS guided our team of seven people. The path is unpaved, with loose rocks and pebbles on the route.

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We had to step over a small stream which we were told turns into a gushing water source during the rains. The ranger was well informed and stopped to explain about the native plants and how the Salado people utilized them back in their days. Once we reached the top the ranger explained to us how the excavation team worked in the site. There were few broken pots and dried grains to show evidence of the flourishing life of the Salado.

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The hike down was relatively easier. It was almost 1 PM when we reached the visitor center. In total we had spent about 3 hours hiking 4.8 km with an elevation of 600 ft and were ready to head back home for lunch.

Statistics:

Total distance covered: 96.6 miles

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Netflix Diaries: Foyle’s War

History is written by the victorious. It is evident in the numerous movies and documentaries that the Allies gave the Axis powers a tough fight before rubbing their faces into dust. Most often the story on the silver screen is of a nation ravaged by the ambitions of a deranged man.

Foyle’s War is a glimpse into the lives of people in a nation whose young men are away at war defending their borders and country against the Axis powers. It is a British ITV drama set in the period of World War II. The protagonist is Christopher Foyle who is a Detective Chief Superintendent stationed at Hastings. His job requires him to keep a check on local crimes and illegal activities, maintain a state of peace as anything otherwise would adversely affect the army and the security of the British nation. The character of Foyle played by veteran actor Michael Kitchen stands out as a man of principle who often faces a moral dilemma between acting as a human and as a policeman.

The situation in England in the WW2 period was volatile, with frequent news of bombings and air raids. Fear and anxiety tightly gripped the minds those at home. Now since the young men had left their homes and farms to take up arms, women took charge of the house and the business. They were employed in industries like artillery, carpentry or as mechanics in garage, which were always a male profession. They worked alongside the few men who had been found unfit for duty and were left behind. Not only they clocked the same hours working the the same shift, they got paid in half, saving the business a lot money which they considered a fair bargain. Some businessmen even engaged in the black marketing of grains, liquor and tobacco. They catered to the whims of the rich who found it impossible to give up their caviar and champagne because a country is at war. A few of them moved to exotic resorts or country side guest houses which promised “state of tranquility in a war stricken country”.

The starving mouths were of the poor who survived on the limited rations provided by the government. Plenty of houses got bombed during the air raids at night; they attracted scavengers and thieves looking for valuables or anything useful to trade for money or importantly food. Food was scarce and soldiers lost lives guarding the government supplied rations. The need of the hour was to have a strict law and order in place to combat the perils of war which had permeated through the battleground.

Off late I had begun to find the gore depicted in the current crime drama series not only repetitive but also distasteful. For a history buff this British drama was a welcome change.

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