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Author Archives: Deboshree

Together on Diwali

Mum and I had first seen the Rangoli design on television. It was a Diwali special of one of those Ekta Kapoor shows still in its prime – the sort you don’t get embarrassed from admitting being a viewer of. Since neither of us had any experience whatsoever with those powder colours we had seen women deftly working with, we made another plan. Armed with water-proof poster paint and mighty paintbrushes, we made the courtyard our canvas. In a couple of hours, the floor was vibrant with a lovely rangoli. More permanent than the rest of the rather alarmed family had accounted for maybe.

That evening from several years ago, we placed the largest deep we had right at the centre of the rangoli. As the sky glimmered with fireworks and the winds grew resplendent with kaju-barfi, our rangoli shone peacefully into the winter night.

“How do I renovate it on my own?” Mum almost cried over the phone. “Don’t suggest ignoring it for I certainly will not.”

Mom and her pressure tactics. The dear was completely capable of err, renovating our rangoli with fresh poster paint, but wanted to leave no stone unturned to bring me home. This was when I was in Pune and they were selling flight tickets at the price of gold. I nibbled at a chocolate bar and switched on the fairy lights in my room, attempting to come to terms with the miserable quiet. I failed. The next day, Mum, Dad and I were away for a morning full of shopping at Lajpat Nagar – a yearly tradition – and stuffing our bags with lamps, cushion covers, dry fruits and umpteen festoons. As for the rangoli, we got her new clothes.

Last Diwali, we had quite a task keeping the cats away from our freshly painted masterpiece. I had tried to stop Mom from having a go with the paintbrush. “You really should rest, Mom. What about your backpain?” “What about it? It disappeared seeing you at the airport.” she said, generously dabbing a brush in green paint. We had later sat together for Lakshmi Pooja, and also ventured out to the Kali Pooja pandals in our essentially Bengali neighbourhood. Delhi shone like a new bride.

Mom put away the deep the next morning. “Next year, we will do up the rangoli afresh. I have thought of a terrific design.”

“Sure. I will get us some new colours too.”

“We will also book tickets well in advance. Or you will again go on about the monstrosities of price rise.” Mom mock sighed, throwing a cushion at me.

I didn’t need to book tickets this year. I am home and its Diwali next week. The city has started sparkling each evening and parcels of sweets and dry fruits are delivered every minute. Lajpat Nagar is probably jam-packed with shoppers. The lanes of yesteryears are brimming with memories of Diwali spent with Mom. I am sure that my enthusiastic best friend and fellow Rangoli artist is preparing her paint-box somewhere. We will stand at the balcony and nibble away at kaju-barfi. As lights come on across the city, we will consider with wonder the glorious world we have together. The world untouched by dust, time and pain.

*Written as a part of PepsiCo’s GharWaliDiwali

Woof, woof

I loved his energy. He would woof each time he laid his eyes on me.

“Don’t you get tired?”

“Woof. Woof!”

Apparently not.

My neighbour had brought him home several years ago. He was the first dog in a neighbourhood of cats. While I feared for the cats initially, it soon turned out that my fears had been baseless. The dog – he was christened Lucky – always kept a safe distance from the cats.  He had barked his head off at them one fine morning. My foolhardy cats didn’t bat an eyelid. Lucky was supremely insulted to say the least and he refrained from interacting with them ever since.

Come December, Lucky would lap up the winter sunshine and woof away merrily at us. When the pigeons settled on our washing line, he would gaze longingly at them. Daydreaming, sleeping and woofing comprised his daily agenda. Occasionally, he would flap at flies and make grunting sounds at any stranger who happened to lurk within miles of our street.

When I stand in my balcony now, I cannot hear Lucky’s woofing. He passed away last month, taken away by a debilitating disease. The pigeons continue to congregate on the washing line. When December arrives, the sun will shine down on the terrace, lighting up the otherwise dull, winter day. The world will continue to hustle and bustle. My neighbour’s balcony, however, will be without its little bundle of energy.

The White Walkers

Did you think the White Walkers existed only in George R Martin’s mystical world, somewhere near Westeros*? Well, let me warn you. A handful of them come visiting my home every day. By sundown, imagine their magic, I am a White Walker too! They keep away friends and relatives – all too petrified to visit. That being said, it’s actually fun watching them transform the walls of my home from weatherworn and weary to fresh and lively. The layers of white (not to forget dust, cobwebs and cockroaches) that settle on the skin are but a side-effect.

These efficient men scrape the walls of my home with all their heart. They murder the roaches with a vengeance; God knows how so many survive despite my best attempts at keeping them at bay! As the contents of one cupboard after another are taken out and piled in one of the remaining corners, I wish I hadn’t been such a hoarder.

Sadly, one of my cupboard walls – centuries old – couldn’t be completely cleaned of the stickers that err, stuck stubbornly on. I can’t believe I had proudly displayed stickers of “Tips Cassettes”, notebooks and “Winnie the Pooh” right on the cupboard door for everyone to see. I had actually been allowed to do that?! “How about you cover it with other, more appropriate stickers?” suggested a White Walker in as many words. “Why don’t I get you some tea?” I scampered.

The weekends are when I feel it most. This lingering sense of being enveloped with dust and oodles of white paint. The weekdays are when the darling grandparents supervise the work with élan. So, my weekends usually end with an elaborate shower, every speckle of white being washed away. What remains, thanks to the persevering men, is another new wall, a revamped room, a sparkling windowpane.

“What’s with all the whitewashing? Are you getting married?” demanded a curious neighbour. Ah, they did teach putting two and two together in school.

*The White Walkers are a mythological race in George R Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, famously adapted in the “Game of Thrones” series on television. 

Time Turner

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Nostalgia

*Picture from kotenko.deviantart.com

“I hate going to the bank.” Dada flopped into a chair and thumped his bag on the bed. He looked beaten, my grandfather did.

“Even though you get to see the stashes of notes you have hidden away in your account?” Dadi laughed from the kitchen. “It’s sad how my pocket money never seems to go up.”

“Oh, take as much as you need. What good will saving eternally be, anyway? I am not here till eternity and neither is any of us.”

My grandfather isn’t given to despondency. He continues to be fairly active, walking to and fro from the bank and the market several times each day. His unusual sulkiness struck me as odd.

“The sun is indeed too hot…” I began, but he shook his head.

“I don’t mind the sun. For all I know, winter is far more unrelenting. I hate going there because it seems like a harsh reminder of the passage of time. I no longer see many of my old friends. Often, I don’t even hear of them from the ones who remain. Last I heard, my colleague from work, the one I used to lunch with all the time, passed away in his sleep. We will never have lunch together again.”

Dadi brought him water. “He was in his nineties. At least he had a peaceful demise.”

“Yeah, better than my Kolkata friend who went to the US to be with his son and daughter-in-law. He never found them, I heard. Neither did I ever find him again.”

The two of them sat there, discussing old friends and acquaintances, several of whom were no longer around. The fish market, the Durga Puja pandaal and the morning-walk parks now abound with unfamiliar faces. Like a puff of smoke, impossible to hold, these lost people lurk only in memories.

I often spot Dada sitting by himself on the swing, staring into the distance. He enjoys feeding the housecats, though I mistrust their loyalty and suspect that it remains only as long as the food lasts. Several years ago, we would go together on leaf-hunting expeditions for school projects. We would play Badminton in the neighbourhood park and sit on the bench, talking about the colour of raindrops. Try as we can, lost time is impossible to bring back.

As more time passes, we will continue to lose people we have held dear, people we have wonderful memories with. While I, forever the child in Dada and Dadi’s eyes, might find it easier to accept loss, they don’t. Indeed, what is life without people you cherish and the enthusiasm that kept you going? In our smug, air-conditioned cabins and glorious years ahead of us, the prospect of a friendless, cold, old age may seem absurd. But this doesn’t negate how the prospect is real and will be our reality one day.

There’s something though that the passage of time hasn’t changed. Dada’s love for sweets. Every other day, we sit together with a bowl of ice-cream or Bengali mithaai. Over delicious, creamy spoonfuls, we turn back time. All the talk about sweets and calories notwithstanding, both of us shed several years from our age.

Too Many Trumpets

*All opinions below are strictly personal.

Trumpet

*Picture from yourstory.com

No, seriously, tell me. Why is everything in the world so commercial? We are hell-bent on obsessing with monetizing everything and then lament about the world losing beauty. Teens (I am being generous here) compete for Facebook likes. Brands fight over putting up their promotional material in the once-friendly street corner. PR agencies compete for media stories about the gung-ho things their clients do (which aren’t always that gung-ho after all). It tires me out.

Lately, all the world’s innovations, awards and rungs-to-the-corporate-ladder seem to centre on marketing. An MBA is better paid than a technical person because he apparently has the strategic foresight to design a breathtaking campaign. Notwithstanding the foresight the technical person needs to create the program that feeds a medical diagnostic device, or lay the foundation for the bridge that will stand across the sea. Well, parents root for the MBA. It is the direct route to the paradise on the 23rd floor of a high-rise.

There was a time when companies used to advertise through the newspaper. They now sell us things through the television, the billboard, the radio, the internet, the flyer tucked in from under the door, the soap case, the roti, and the last I heard, the wrapper of your bhelpuri. It’s so intrusive it’s scary! In a blink, they will be advertising on your bed-sheet and your morning-coffee cup.

Imagine for a moment the world didn’t incur marketing spends. Wouldn’t people discover products and brands on their own? Oh yes, we have far too many brands today for anyone to capture attention without being promoted. It reminds me the various kinds of water they rattle off in high-end places. You know, sparkling water, bubbly water, blah. Do we really need 350 brands of soaps and 567 brands of deodorants? (I know there are probably more.) 

Didn’t economics theorize about everyone investing their energy in what they do best – producing wheat or coffee? Who would have thought there would be dozens and more of people willing to produce fine-wheat, organic wheat, chocolate wheat, and golden-brown, blue and sublime coffee? (Yes, please add to the list.)

Well, I completely appreciate how marketing is essential for a company’s profitability, especially in the big, crowded marketplace we now live in. My contention is around how the marketing circle is constantly turning more vicious. One marketing innovation begets another; one successful product begets a hundred clones. One campaign you have successfully done must be broadcast-ed for the world to understand how you can do several more. You market, and you market, and I still don’t know if I care about my deodorant having too much gas or the dish-washing gel I have always used being suddenly proven by “research” to be ineffective.

Day after day, as I see the world competing on the skill to blow the trumpet, I grow more detached. I feel satisfied enough with a soap that clears dirt, even if it leaves about 0.1 percent of germs untouched. I am happy with water that quenches thirst even if it has only the natural composition of oxygen. What’s more, with all due respect to the marketing fraternity, I feel much more perked up about innovations that cure diseases, help kids learn better or assist us with space travel. Why not focus on marketing these some more?

Of course, it’s all very good to develop marketing skills in general; bloggers like me pitch in to felicitate our favourite brands get “their message across”. Yes, I know. It’s just that I am tired of seeing brands splashed over all the media I use, ALL the time. Companies engage in tussles over product lines that are dissimilar only in their advertising campaigns. Millions of rupees are used to keep innovations going only to ensure the product gets sold.

What’s to stop anyone from using this money and effort to work on a product with a utility no one else has managed to provide? I mean Authentic Utility. Which Benefits the Customer. I don’t mean a vegetarian toothpaste, or a killer of 99.95% germs, or a Eureka-feature chatting application.

Now if someone is willing to offer me a month’s solace, sea and calming sunshine, please market all you like. Let’s get going.

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