My Outer Layer

 

The place where I come from is known for its hot humid climate. Its situated in the south western coast of India. The temperatures reach a high of 42°C during the summers. Cotton – the fabric that allows the skin to breathe even in extreme temperatures is my choice of material. So even when I covered in a layer of perspiration, a warm breeze will cool the sweat, the bus stand will transform into an cool covered shelter for that second. The illusion of pleasure is good while it lasts.

Relaxed. But reserved. That’s how I would describe my personal style. My mind refuses to work in order if I am not dressed comfortably. On a regular day, my uniform is a pair of loose harem pants and a cotton blouse. But there are the special days. As a country which has its roots in the ancient culture and beliefs, we continue to believe in co-existence and celebrate all religious festivities with equal enthusiasm. I also take pride in wearing the saree. It is a seven yard piece of clothing that is draped across the body over a cotton crop top. Young girls are encouraged to wear the saree during religious and cultural festivals. And we have so many of them in India! As a garment the saree appears intimidating, but once draped it is a picture of grace and poise. It is worn by women across the country from all economic sections.

I grew up seeing my mother, grandmother, the next door auntie, teachers at school draped in this wonderful garment. This has been their preferred choice of dress for decades and so it is mine. I have become one of them. I belong.

Outer Layers – Daily Prompt by WordPress

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Disagreeing with Mother

The hotheaded obstinate girl in a peaceful Bengali family – the character is a part of me that is going away soon. My husband found that out after we tied the knot. The image of the docile timid girl is probably being gathering dust in the attics of his memory for about two years now.

Growing up my mother and I never saw eye to eye on a lot of things. Sometimes it was that ghastly yellow dress bought from the store or the unsavory dal for lunch or the matter if I should stay up at Shreya’s place for the night – we disagreed on everything. There were times I fancied that I was a runaway and maybe was found on the streets. When I told this to my father he quietly got up and left the room. He came back carrying the old photo album and showed me a photo where he was carrying me in his arms. Needless to say much to my chagrin this incident continues to be one of the top running jokes in my family till this date.

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Over the years the urge to rebel became stronger. Teenage made it easier for me. It wasn’t me, it was the hormones wreaking havoc on my mind. That is what I told everyone. Soon it became a sort of show for power. Giving up on my opinion meant being the weak one – and for a long time I chose to be blind and deaf to the truth and facts taking solace in my own version of reality. There were the few occasions when I felt that I did like my mother’s choice, but was tempted to be the defiant girl just for the sake of remaining true to my reputation.

Soon it was time to leave the homestead for college. Life in an unknown city located in a state miles away from my home awaited me. Just to give an idea about how different this place was I will say that a whopping majority of the population, the local people spoke a language about which I had no prior knowledge. My parents were a bundle of nerves, I still remember asking my mother who was holding onto my hand to calm down and let me go as I was running late for the first day. Later that day she told me she knew I would fight and survive in this city. I would make it my own. She had expressed her reservations but knew in doing so she had allowed her daughter to emerge as a strong woman.

Sometimes one is obstinate for the sake of self-preservation. Other times when this obstinate behavior cuts down chances of self-development, it becomes an act of foolishness. I was committing this error for a very long time and am now on the road to correct them.

Disagree – Daily Prompt by WordPress

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Revisiting an Old Post

The sight of swaying white kaash flowers, the rhythmic beats of dhak, the voice of Pankaj Mullick chanting Mahishasurmardini, the resplendent face of the Goddess surrounded by her children – though the dates and years on the calendar has changed, these images reminiscent of Durga Puja remain steadfastly constant.

I wrote the following post during the first few years of blogging channeling the sentiment of the recent immigrant. Surprisingly years later, the post struck a familiar chord echoing the same feelings.


You can take the Bangali out of Bengal, but you can’t take Bengal out of the Bangali.

Being a probashi, I find myself in complete agreement to this statement. We may be living miles away from our homeland, but we remain very deeply connected to our bangali culture and traditions.

The Durga Pujo celebrated annually in my para in Jamshedpur stands testimony to this fact. It is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm and ardency. With the beat of the dhakis, and dhunuchi dance, the presence of the goddess fills everyone with the spirit of religious fervour. The dawn of Mahalaya breaks to the tune of Chandi Path playing aloud from every household. Pankaj Mullick’s voice reciting the hymns from the ancient scripture, ushers in a grand home coming celebration of Goddess Durga that lasts ten days. The festivities also mark the death of the mighty Mahishasura, who meets his end at the hands of the powerful goddess.

The preparation start as early as a month before, with every member armed with their shopping list. For the kids, it means new clothes, footwear, and lots of pocket money. The elders are happy enough to let go of us, and have their own adda sessions.

Once the pushpanjoli (flower offerings to the goddess) is over, it is time for lunch. Amongst all the fanfare, food remains the most eagerly awaited part of the event. The bhog served in earthen pots with labra (mixed vegetable), and payesh has a different flavor altogether. Try what you may, this flavor is impossible to replicate in your kitchen at home.

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Now that paying our respect to the goddess, and partaking of the bhog is done, we move to the next activity of pandal hopping. The pujo spirit makes our favorite uncles and aunts become more generous as we get treated to that extra bit of cash, which is to be utilised for this very purpose of pandal hopping. We not only explore the pandals that line the nearby areas, but also the different roadside stalls that sell goodies.

Durga Pujo is indeed a special time for all of us, young and old alike. The goddess’s home coming is a very joyful event, even more tearful is the moment when we have to bid her farewell. Those ten days brings all of us together in a mysterious way, it’s her way of telling us about the importance of family and how they will be there for you even when you are away. My probashi self completely understands this feeling. And I still remain, very much, the bangali at heart.

This post was originally written back in 2013 for my old blog.

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Battling Writer’s Block – The Known and Unknown

I have been facing a severe case of writer’s block. The thorough nervousness of this block has rendered me incapable of handling any idea more than ten minutes. The interest fizzles out sooner than I can further contemplate on the plot. So here I am trying to type down as quickly as my fingers allow me.

The condition struck not long after I moved to my current place of residence, a country seven seas and thousand miles away from home. There was a 11280 degrees of change to my world. The dense mist of loneliness enveloped the mind, heart and eyes. The fingers keep scrolling down the Facebook news feed, looking at the colorful happy lives of friends and family back at home. The bug of non-existent of social life fed hungrily at the memories which seemed like a lifetime ago. All this happens while I am struggling to make new ones. They threaten to unravel and fly away in the storm brought on by the restlessness that wont lie still.

Back in my amateur blogging days, I could write until the clock read 3am and wake up at 7am for work. There was a fierce urge to write down the thoughts fighting for space in the mind. Blogging was the perfect outlet those multitude musings. But now I have about ten posts waiting in queue in the drafts folder for my attention.

In my quest for inspiration I found the tips from John Steinbeck quite useful. In fact I followed his second tip to the T. Linking the article here for anyone who might want to read it. Maybe there is still hope for the writer in me.

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It Is Not Just Another Day

Bindu stood in the T.Nagar bus depot sipping on a glass of sugarcane juice. The cool juice marked with the sharp taste of lemon was a welcome relief in the sweltering heat of Chennai. As every other morning, the depot wore a busy look. Buses honking loudly, buzzing in and out, dropping off passengers and picking up new ones; there was a constant swarm of people moving around the depot. Bindu spotted students in crisp, clean uniforms, college girls with their backpack and bandhini duppatta, the IT or corporate slaves with the company ID hung around the neck peering into their mobile phones – the depot offered an interesting mix of crowd. Bindu remembered Kanamma who boarded the bus at Saidapet with her big round basket of fish. The conductor charged her an extra ticket for the basket, but Bindu had never seen the basket occupying a seat!

Narmada was a mathematics teacher at Holy Angels school in St. Thomas Mount. Ever since Bindu and Narmada had discovered their common desire to occupy the first seat close to the bus door, they had become bus seat partners. The cacophony of the blowing horns and buzzing traffic was a regular scene from a Monday morning. The conductor motioned the driver and M54 sputtered into life. Bindu looked around for Narmada who appeared to be surprisingly late.

Bindu grabbed the City Express from the office lobby and plonked on the bouncy brown sofa. As she turned the page to the local city news section, her attention drew to the small snippet. Her eyes turned round with shock as she read her name. Narmada. She had fallen victim to the wrath of a deranged young man whose advances she had spurned a month ago. He threw acid on her face as she returned home from the temple. Right now she was battling for life at the Surya hospital.

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Shocked as she was, a hundred thoughts raced in her mind. She felt nervous and concerned for herself, her friends, colleagues and the countless other women she saw everyday. The world was unkind to women like Narmada. Would they stand behind her and help her put the guilty behind bars or play the jury and raise questions on her morals? The answer frightened her.

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An Amateur’s Experience in the Kitchen

Bengalis are known for their keen interest for everything gastronomic in nature. From an early childhood we are taught to appreciate food and its finer details. We enjoy our alu posto with biuli dal, khichuri with labra and beguni, kochuri with alur dom. I distinctly remember waiting for Ma to temper the dal. The seeds spluttering in hot oil, the aroma of panch phorong filling the kitchen. Fireworks in the kitchen – that is what I thought as a twelve year old fascinated by the phish-phish sound of the seasoning!

They say that adversity reveals true genius. When I moved to US and faced the responsibility of cooking a meal everyday, it did not sound so daunting. My optimism faded quickly as soon as I found myself in the kitchen worrying about mundane questions like what to cook, what ingredients to use and so on.

With Ma residing in India on the other side of the globe, I became increasingly dependent on Google to teach me the basics. Google taught me how to cook khichuri,, blanch spinach for palak paneer, cook pasta a la dente and what not. In the absence of my mother, it became my culinary teacher.

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A testimony of new skill: Semolina Dhokla

Even though my guru is an online force, the encouragement and support from my Ma and TBH have been my offline forces. These eight months have been a learning experience for a novice cook like me, who has struggled to find her footing in the kitchen all these years.

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Thursday Tiny Tales – 4

The basement stairs creaked noisily as he walked down with the cleaver in hand. Air charged with anticipation. The butcher murmured a prayer and brought down the cleaver on its neck. The hen’s piteous cries and cackles filled the room. The room was silent once again.

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