Year-End Nostalgia

Coffee

*picture from footage.shutterstock.com

The boulevard outside the house is lined with billboards announcing New Year Eve parties. Every club promises the grooviest music, the ‘sexiest’ crowd and the coolest DJ. The markets overflow with people utilizing festive season discounts and work leaves that will otherwise lapse. Quite remarkable how they beat the Delhi chill to party, observes my Granddad. On his part, he sits wrapped up in his several layers of woolens, looking very much like an Indian-ized Santa Claus. When I ask him how he plans to spend the New Year eve, he points to the stairs leading to the terrace. Much like last year, he will walk up there and sit in the sun, munching on a few roasted groundnuts.

What is it about nostalgia that brings along sadness? Is it the pang of loss, of moments that will never again be? Several New Years ago, Granddad would be planning to take a train to Delhi. He would spend the season with his darling granddaughter, firmly postponing all work in his Kolkata office, much to the despair of a rather conniving boss. His friends would drop by at all odd hours, one of them particularly loud-voiced. It was this friend he requested to soften down when I would wake up early to prepare for Class Tenth exams. Granny would fix me a cup of hot milk and offer me an assortment of biscuits – I always opted for Britannia. When Mom and Dad switched on the Christmas lights, I would leave my books behind and jump in glee.

Granddad misses his friends sometimes. They aren’t around in the colony’s markets or the morning-walk park. Some of them are abroad, staying with sons and visiting daughters. Others, he is afraid, are no more. He looks at me sideways, when he thinks I am not looking, and blinks away a stray tear. His darling Granddaughter mustn’t be gloomy, he seems to say. He strokes my hair and warms my hands by rubbing them against his woolen housecoat.

I have always been fond of winter. Bathing in the December sun, cups of hot coffee, snuggling under the quilt. As a kid, I would handpick my mittens, sweaters and socks for the day. I would please my 4 AM riser of a Granny by showering nice and early. The homework would be done well in advance of the much-anticipated weekly – Mahabharata. Will I grow scared of winter when I grow old? Will the streets I now oversee abound with unfamiliar, unfriendly faces?

This New Year Eve I am staying in. The family will beat the chill with steaming hot food from the neighbourhood diner. I will watch the fairy lights twinkle, competing with the stars overhead. By the window, when the fog grows dense and dark, I will try and come to terms with how time doesn’t hang around and party. Amidst the pomp and show of the gazillions of New Year Eve parties, time will rise and be gone in smoke before dawn.

P&P wishes everyone a Happy New Year 2014!

Ten Things 2013 Taught Me

1.  Uneasy lie the brands that rope in celebrities as endorsers. One moment everything is hunky dory and there are people queuing outside your store. And the next moment, poof! Dope, a rape charge, a dead animal can shoo them all away.

2. There are moments in life when all you can do is sit by the window and watch the stars come out. For all the brouhaha about assertiveness and taking control of your life, these are moments when reflection is the best course of action.

3.  Trains offer the best opportunity to observe people. Flights tend to be sleepy, people absorbed in work, the view outside the window or their thoughts. But there’s no disguising vexation and true colours in a crowded metro where you long for the next person to either get down or offer you a seat.

4. The jhaadu* of modern society continues to sweep out introversion. It’s the age of conversations, or so they say. Of social media, communities and being interested in others around you. It’s increasingly difficult for the loners, especially after they perceive the hollow bottoms of most of these relationships.

5.  Health isn’t something you can ignore. This goes beyond a cup of green tea in the morning and cutting down on fats. It’s important to get sleep, feel de-stressed and take that vacation once in a while. Schedule a break when the rest of the world begins to obnoxiously howl into your ear.

6. Going to the movies can be harsh on the pocket. Especially in Delhi. It might be a good idea to go well fed so you can cost cut on the corn. Beware of compromising on the choice of movie, especially if the music is about Fevicol, Chewing Gum and Sari(s).

7. Time flies. Yes, you might have read this eons ago in school. But the full weight dawns on you when a wintery sun rises to a Christmas you no longer bring in with carols on the school stage. There are suddenly new responsibilities you can’t forget and go out to play. It might be a good idea to seize the day before it joins the league of moments you can only remember, not relive.

8. Do what your heart tells you is right. Notwithstanding the consensus about the brain’s superiority, a half-hearted decision you don’t feel strongly about/made under pressure will never succeed. This is true for all things human – education, relationships and priorities.

9. Count your blessings. You may not earn a million or own a palatial bungalow in uptown Mumbai. But you possibly have a friend to give a Christmas gift to, a family to hug, a little pet who looks at you fondly. Most importantly, you have the heavens above. While Santa may/not come riding in his sledge, you can go out for some role play and bless others in the world.

10. There are stories lurking in every corner. A story in every success, one in every misgiving. If there’s one foolproof way to bring in laughter and happiness, it’s ferreting out these little tales and realizing the lesson they carry. For ourselves and everyone around.

What have been your lessons in 2013?

*To read about lessons from a previous year, go here.

Two Little Children

*UPDATE: The two twins have now been successfully separated! :)*

Conjoint Twins

It was an average morning in Tanzania. The little village of Kasumulu was slowly awakening from slumber. But for an expecting mother, the day was rife with possibilities. What could be more wondrous than bringing new life into the world? With eyes full of dreams, she went to the dispensary in the village for her delivery.

However, the dispensary directed her to the District Hospital, considering she had previously undergone a caesarean section. Little did she know the tumult that was to unfold. Painting her dreams in a cruel shade of black was life’s crooked prank. She gave birth to two little boys – conjoined at the buttocks. Her pygopagus twins were joined at the spine’s end and had a shared phallus and urinary passage. Frantically seeking help, the distraught mother journeyed for three days with her newborns to reach Mohimbili Hospital in the capital city of Dar es Salaam.

If there’s anything more frightening than seeing your child in pain, it is uncertainty about his life. Her dear boys were a one-in-2,00,000-deliveries phenomenon, among the 40 percent who are not stillborn in such cases. Then again, the two were among the minute 17 percent of conjoined twins joined at the buttocks. In a convoluted play of fate, the boys were only the fifth set of males among the total 30 pygopagus twins reported thus far in medical literature. Statistics were however but numbers to their mother…the one who had woven loving stories to narrate to her children now caught amidst petrifying digits of probability.

Apollo Hospitals

She sits in Apollo Hospitals Chennai today, waiting for the morning of December the 16th. When her boys – Ericana and Eludi – were four and a half months of age, they were shifted to Apollo Children’s Hospital which is closely associated with the Tanzanian government by the Save a Child’s Heart Initiative (SACHI). Doctors from across the specialties of neurosurgery, plastic surgery, paediatric surgery and paediatric urology will attempt the mammoth surgery to separate the twins and lend them a new lease of life. They will be assisted by paediatric surgeons and anaesthesiologists from London. One of the biggest challenges the doctors will face during the 14-16 hours long surgery is the separation of the phallus to ensure both boys have a functional penis.

The past few months have been full with preparations for the big day. Tissue expanders have been placed in the back, buttocks and thighs in order to let skin cover the defects that surgical separation will leave behind. Today, the little children are 9 months of age and weigh 16 kilograms. They are the nurses’ favourite and fondly called ‘Ammukutty’ and ‘Chellakutty’. In response, the darlings mumble ‘Thatha’* and ‘Athai’*. Lying in their beds, they are blissfully unaware of the situation confronting them. Their mother, though, senses every bit of it. Every single day.

The year is drawing to a close. Christmas trees nod cheerfully from store windows; children stare dreamily at glowing streamers of light. This festive season, let’s do our good deed of the day. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the little family and their big ordeal. If – and here’s hoping it will – the surgery is solemnized successfully, not only will it be a huge leap for Indian medicine, but will also bring a wave of optimism for others trapped in similar situations.

Here’s wishing Apollo Hospitals Chennai all the very best for December the 16th. This Christmas, may Santa bring good cheer and drop by an early surprise of a happy mother and a pair of healthy little boys.

 *Thatha – Grandfather, Athai – Aunt (in Tamil)

Four Years of Pune

Today, I complete four years and a month in Pune. Way back in 2009, I was bloated with apprehensions about settling in my phenomenally huge luggage-cartons. Who the hell takes all that? I had bravely ventured to ask as much to Mom, only to be reprimanded for how I clearly had no clue about moving. As I sit tucked in bed this night, the windchimes in my room dancing in the light, late November breeze, I realize how much has changed since then. I have grown into an expert packer, for instance. The only apprehension I now feel while moving is whether or not I clicked enough pictures to protect my best moments against time.

The city has been very kind to me. I have found love, contentment and freedom like never before. I now appreciate sunlight to dry clothes on a monsoonal day, lift spirits when little else does. The city, in its nimble little way, has given me multiple reasons to celebrate life. Tonight, with memories from the years gone by coming to mind in a melange, I feel the urge to document.

P&P, therefore, presents to you some of my best cherished moments in the city, in no order of preference. Here goes:

1. The Homecoming

The New Home

The New Home – Settling In

Shifting into my first paying guest accommodation and discovering a sleeping, messy roommate. Overcome with the desire to paint the room in shades I like and settle into reading by the night-lamp. Introducing myself to the society’s grocer, laundry guy, housemaid and dabba-walah

2. My Fond Food Times

Food

Dessert Spread at Barbecue Nation, Deccan

Gazing thunderstruck at the watery daal in the dabba I had managed to open with difficulty. Ordering in food from the city’s popular coffee places. Gorging on too much paneer during a self-administered vegetarian diet, eventually leading to the inception of dear old P&P. Discovering how food is a whole new art in a diversion from my earlier, utilitarian away of eating.

3. Meeting Mr. R

Yellow blooms

Rain-fed Blooms, Pashan

The months where there was magic in the air and Puck went about with his purple flower on midsummer nights. Watching the rains lash at my window and the afternoon sun make rainbow patterns. Learning to cherish companionship, conversation and care with the one who gives all of that an entirely new definition.

4. The Pantry-Side Cubicle

Cubicle

The Pantry-Side Cubicle, SB Road

Sitting with a notebook for training sessions which spoke more for tic-tac-toe by the end of the day. Coding away to glory in my cubicle which got animated each time the pantry door opened and brought in the whiff of home-made food. Clapping my hands in glee after an appraisal meeting. Overwhelmed with all the good things said at the farewell.

5. The Road Less Trodden

Pune lanes

A quiet lane in Pune, near FC Road

Pursuing nature trails in places without phone network and shopping malls. Strolling on the city’s bustling lanes when evening arrives. Re-learning to dream and following what my heart tells me to. Looking up at the end of the year to behold hundreds of wishing-stars. Gazing at the bejewelled city from a hilltop, planning to stop for panipuri at the very stall from years ago.

I see the night deepen, the stars close and twinkling like glow-worms in the dark. But, in sheer indulgence for the city that has meant and continues to mean so much to me, I find myself wide-eyed. The colours of morning will soon light up the sky and just like four years ago, an entirely new day will be announced.

For more Pune tales, you might like to drop by Pune – Jai Maharashtra.

Glimmering Moments in Kuala Lumpur

*Prize Winning Entry in Air Asia’s Dream Asian Destination Contest*

*picture from mostbeautifulplacesintheworld.org

“The tallest twin towers in the world no less,” my neighbour beamed while distributing chocolates, “and the way they look all lit up is magnificent!” I nodded my head knowledgeably, previously exposed to the Petronas Towers on my little TV set. They were the landmark of Kuala Lumpur, the exquisite Malaysian city. When the neighbour wasn’t looking, I slunk away with the chocolates. They were from Beryl’s Chocolate Kingdom, Kuala Lumpur’s chocolate heaven, and previous experience with the neighbour-who-travelled assured me they’d be good.

Much later, when I sat nibbling at the little delights, I had little idea how Air Asia would equip me with just the right things to tell my snob of a neighbour. “Oh, feel free to grab another box, dear.” I would say as a matter-of-fact. “I had plenty to spend at Beryl’s.” Under my breath, I would shout out in glee for Air Asia.

This apart, I have always harboured a love for the city’s mystic caves, vibrant shopping destinations and absolute melting pot of a cultural richness. And now, with Air Asia kick starting its India journey with fantastic new pricing, there’s every reason to pack my bags, hop on the airplane and drop all my cares from the window before I take off for distant lands.

When the sun is high up in the sky, true to the city’s warm and sunny climate, I will check into a plush hotel in the Bukit Bintang area. I will say “how do you do?” in Bahasa Malaysia, the city’s primary language, and sit by the window to take in Kuala Lumpur’s fantastic skyline. Eventually, I will emerge to dine at Bijan, a charming Malay restaurant in town. “Could you get me some Daging Bungkus Kukus?” I will ask. My table will light up with a plateful of minced meat and herbs, wrapped in a thin layer of pancake. I will let the day pass slowly by and perhaps witness a Chinese wedding at the Thean Hou Temple. I will convey my regards to Tian Hou – the goddess who sits there to protect fishermen and Guan Yin – the Goddess of Mercy. When the nightlights illuminate the city, I will fall asleep listening to independent Malaysian music.

The animated city will wake me up to the promise of an unparalleled shopping experience. I will head to Chinatown – a bargain hunter’s heaven. I will stuff my bags with all that catches the eye, right from clothes to foods to accessories, for once paying no heed to carefully orchestrated monthly budgets. If my feet begin to give up, I will check out one of the umpteen foot reflexology centres and let the sights and sounds of Kuala Lumpur interplay around me.

I will watch Malay colours unfold from the viewing deck of Menara KL– the 421 metre high tower. For the sights and sounds of the aquatic world, by the by, I will go check out Aquaria KLCC. The blue rays and tiger sharks will hobnob as I smile at them from the safety of my confinement.

As I see it, I will require extra baggage allowance to make it on the return flight. I will also have to look for expandable camera space to capture the loveliness – or wait, the multitude of delightful moments will anyhow be etched in memory. My travel savings don’t look too promising at the moment. But, with Air Asia’s thoughtful fares to the city that glimmers, life may just take a new turn. After all, with the airline’s World’s Best Online Travel Fair, now everyone can fly. 

*Written as a part of Air Asia and Women Web’s The Dream Asian Destination Blogger Contest

Pune wears a B-School hat

Life ends the day you decide not to do an MBA. Or at least, life stagnates. Oh, didn’t you know? Without the esteemed MBA degree in your hand and half-a-dozen theories on ‘the marketplace’ in your pocket, there is no way you are ever going to go up the corporate ladder. You will be stuck in a rut, watching with teary eyes as comrades climb up to the roof and you stand below it. And eventually, the roof leaks.

“Your kid sure has grown tall!” said my Mom to someone at a society Diwali event. “Only in height. He is in bad company – with some photographers or the sort. Have been pushing him to do his MBA but the brat doesn’t listen.” We gave polite smiles and exited. I, you see, had a camera in my bag.

Whatever happened to the multitude of professions today’s multiple universities were supposed to create? Writers, painters, archaeologists. Actors, musicians, interior designers. I wonder, what the world will come to if everyone lands up at the gates of a B school and gets trained to “manage”. Who, if you please, will they manage? With due respect to the course – God knows I have err, close associations, with the same – I fail to understand why MBA is the new graduation in the minds of several – excuse my language – disillusioned people.

Anyhow, why do I talk about careers here in “Of Paneer, Pulao and Pune”? Well, Pune you see, is quite the education hub. It boasts of a number of management colleges which, invariably each year, have dreamy aspirants aiming for that corner cubicle in the thirty-seven storey office. A number of these souls are sufficiently, err, brain-washed to believe that consumerism is here to stay and apocalypse is never going to see daylight. They slave away to glory, living many wakeful nights writing assignments and dissertations, spending gloriously sunlit afternoons giving exams on brands and consumer behaviour. Even as the city lies in wait, pining for these youthful bunch of people so busily employed elsewhere, they emerge victorious at the convocation and have jobs that pay neat packets.

What, then, is my concern? I am scared. Immensely so. I have seen umpteen talented souls scrounge up hard cash for something they lack inclination or aptitude for. “Oh the loans will be repaid in the very first year of their job.” proclaim proud parents. And what about their gifts, their prowess, their talent that lay elsewhere? I guess, money manages to compensate for these losses as well. I am scared to imagine the vacuum that life will be years down the line, when they discover that money failed to buy the dream they had once carefully woven.

The reputed B schools of Pune will start admissions soon. Elsewhere, there are aspirants hard at work solving mock papers and rehearsing for GDs and interviews. In a parallel universe, there are universities – excellent in their realm – that offer a course on journalism, a degree in film making, creative writing, anthropology. The very courses some of these ‘aspirants’ always wanted to take and spent a good amount of time and effort preparing and longing for. All I ask of them is – please give things a second thought. Do not jump onto the bandwagon because everyone else is on it or the fragrance of cash draws you in like a magnet. While there’s no denying the value of money, especially in these inflationary times, an MBA is NOT a shortcut to moolah. There are people tailor made to be CXOs. There are some who can be trained for the same. And there are some whose calling lies elsewhere. You will burn out if trapped where neither your competency, nor passion lies.

Trust me, don’t pick a career because everyone tells you to. Or because they say it pays the best. You will only end up losing peace.  And peace, is priceless.

When Safety Gets Evasive

Safety

*picture from http://www.wshc.sg

I distinctly remember the time when I first moved out of home. The suitcases were jam-packed with homemade snacks, the handbags rife with religious symbolism. “The Gods will help ward all danger off, my dear.” drawled my dear Granny. She tucked in a bottle of pepper spray when she thought I wasn’t looking. The Gods too, I nodded mentally, need a weapon of action. My point being, leaving one’s safety to intangible assistance is hardly an option in these – as Lord Krishna points out in Mahabharat – corrupt, self destructing era of kalyug.

Pune conventionally has a ‘safer’ reputation than good old Delhi. All the more reason to take safety in your own hands and let the beautiful city remain thus. Here goes a bunch of safety tips that have always held me in good stead in lands away from the comfort of sweet home:

#1. An Eagle’s Eye is your best accessory

There was a time when stalkers were as loving as Amol Palekar in Choti Si Baat. These days, they more often turn out to be goons, idlers and psychopaths. Keep a lookout for these species and warn the local police station if remotely suspicious. Sporting the muscle-man of your kin or your pet Swiss Knife – just casually, once in a while – could also do the trick.

#2. Chuck that music on late nights out

The fanciest of gadgets are put to dust if they can’t bring you help when it is needed most. Moreover, the gadget isn’t to be blamed if your incessant music drains it of battery. Until you arrive home safe and sound, especially from a low-traffic, late-night ride, it’s best to let your phone rest. You may need it to contact people through a dialler or through a utility app such as Smart Suraksha which connects to five pre-chosen contacts at once and also sends them your location.

Otherwise, you may want to invest in one of those 24-day-battery-life (or is it 30?) monsters.

#3. Bear responsibility for the beer

Whoever defined independence as a chance to make ourselves better, did a neat job of utility moralizing. Indeed, the probability of being safe goes up manifold if you can hold your head high and walk straight. Pune’s vintage breweries and lounges may be too tempting to resist. But if you’re alone and will be late coming home, drink responsibly. The romance of uninhibited and inebriated grandeur is no good in a confrontation with a goon.

#4. Carry a self defence weapon

God alone can keep count of the number of articles that my purse, on an average day, contains. I am told by several that if only Robinson Crusoe had managed to get hold of it, the classic would have had a very different plot. But the bottom-line is that irrespective of all that jazz, there’s nothing to beat Pepper Spray or a Swiss Knife. Easy to use and work wonders, both of them.

#5. Develop a loud, high pitched scream

A shout-out never fails to attract attention, even when you think no one is looking. If suspicious, nervous or plain scared and at your wit’s end, scream. Don’t let an empty lane unnerve you; your shouting may bring forth a couple of ferocious, helpful dogs. Pune has a lot of these.

#6. Choose to trust… and to mistrust

We trust easily, despite voicing bells of warning to others. The prepaid auto-wallah at the airport or railway station still stands superior to the independent seeker you haggle with to save a buck. The housemaid your neighbour recommended to you may be worth her weight in gold but that is no reason to let her miss her police verification. Weigh your object of trust and weigh well.

#7. Consider a lesson in karate

A packed lifestyle may prevent us from devoting time to painting that masterpiece or composing that novel. But picture a dreary lane and a clump of hideous goons at its end and that lesson in karate seems immensely inviting. Give it a thought, perhaps during that new-year-resolution-week, when Pune brims with optimism and wintry sunlight.

#8. Choose your wardrobe ‘safe’-ly

Colour, style, occasion notwithstanding, the times necessitate ‘safe’ clothing. The frills and fancies are sure to be cursed when entangled with barbed wires and street signage. When cognizant of being alone and late, rule out footwear and clothing in which you can’t flee. Pune has several lanes which resist repair and remain, well, unfriendly. And hurling high-heeled footwear to injure an assailant comes only with practice, trust me.

#9. Don’t be untraceable in wanderlust

Our streets don’t really lend themselves to solitary travellers, without a care in the world. Pune does offer a number of delightful destinations, for instance the lovely hills of Matheran. But no matter what your destination be, make the effort to let your immediate family/friends/neighbours/whoever-you-have-in-the-world know. If calamity were to strike, there will at least be someone who can come to your rescue.

#10. Understand the landscape keenly

Nothing like the local map at your fingertips – the road directions, the local businesses, the streets and their traffic conditions, police stations and hospitals. This comes with spending time in a city and brings untold confidence. When alien to such knowledge, tag along a native to act as a substitute.

Better safe than sorry, they say. Granny and I strive to be responsible for our own safety. And then, we leave the rest to God. 

What are your recommendations to be safe in these trying times? 

~

*I am sharing my Smart Suraksha Tips at BlogAdda.com in association with Smart Suraksha App.

Bring in the divine this Diwali

The Sampoorna Lakshmi Pooja Pack: Everyone has a reason to pray

It’s that time of the year again. The roads are blocked, the markets are laced with gold streamers and houses are being spring-cleaned. Every year, when Diwali arrives, I am reminded of a very fond Dadi of mine. She would perform Lakshmi Pooja at home though several Bengalis usually celebrate the day as Kali Pooja. This entailed armfuls of prasad – all of it very tempting. When I came across Cycle Pure Agarbatti’s Sampoorna Lakshmi Pooja Pack, all I could visualize was Dadi and those armfuls of prasad. This neat and very easy-to-use pack is exactly like the magic wand that swings and behold, the stage is set.

Packed inside the orange confines of the box are over 30 elements needed to solemnize Lakshmi Pooja – the goddess of wealth is said to bless households on the moonless yet luminous Diwali night. Right from the twin-idol set of Ganpati and Lakshmi (the brother sister duo who are together worshipped on Diwali), the multitude of lamps, including a pretty floating one, to the paraphernalia needed for the aarti, there isn’t one constituent missed out upon. The surprises never cease – instead, they multiply when the pack, alike a Pandora’s Box, brings up a decorative rangoli, two sets of agarbattis and hold your breath – packaged Ganga Jal. Where and when, if at all, can all those living away from home, manage to put together such an assortment? Cycle Pure just answered that question.

Just when you are super pleased about this one-stop-solution of a pack, you get cold feet about when and how to use what – the pugi phala or the soubhagya alankaara, for instance. Though all the elements are neatly numbered, Cycle Pure has a finer solution to cater to these fears. The pack provides an instructional booklet in several languages coupled with an audio CD with Sanskrit shlokas. During the pooja, the track can be chosen to be a companion to your recitation or, akin a family member reciting the katha, play undisturbed. Needless to say, the sense of the divine that emanates post a successfully completed pooja, is beautiful. And with the Diwali lamps lighting up the night-sky, it is almost unparalleled.

Priced at 700 INR and available cheaper at a festive discount, this Lakshmi Pooja pack can be a terrific gifting idea for most. It will be especially useful for people who may, in vain, rush from pillar to post to collect all the constituents. It will even be wonderful for those of us who deeply miss the presence of someone like Dadi on Diwali.

We celebrated Lakshmi Pooja a couple of days ago – Bengalis have it soon after Durga Pooja. For us, therefore, it’s a double whammy of sorts. No excuse could be feeble enough to seek the blessings of the goddess. This Diwali, the house will glitter more than usual. The air will be rich with the aroma of agarbattis. And then, when the shlokas play, my family of five will fold their hands in prayer.

*You can order a Sampoorna Lakshmi Pooja Pack at PurePrayer.com, with free shipping and a cash-on-delivery option. 

New Beginnings this Mahalaya

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A whole month has gone by and P&P has been deserted. The dust of negligence has settled on the menu; the archives have developed strain with being shifted to the backburner so very often. This morning, however, marks a change. And no wonder, it’s Mahalaya.

In my mind, the last set-of-weeks is clubbed into one big, unpalatable blob. A lot has gone into its making – sleepless nights, piles of work, irritable moods and a constant crunch for time. Not a recipe I would ever like to re-experience. There is something, however, that tells me I will have this dish shoved down my throat again. But until the time comes, I am all set for delicious Durga Puja fare, beginning very soon.

Mahalaya marks the end of Pitripaksha and the beginning of Devipaksha. Simply put, it squeals –“Durga Puja is here in less than a week!” When I was younger, I would wake up at the strike of dawn and tune in to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s awe-inspiring recitation of Mahalaya. I would hum “Bajlo Je Tomar…” when the song came and spend the rest of the day jumping around in glee. Today, back home after that blob of a time, I couldn’t manage the dawn thingy. But, I was delighted to discover that the charm of the day lingers on still…resplendent with the glory of former days and warm with the promise of delight.

Today, the air is fragrant with hope (not to forget, err, the whiff of gastronomic wonders). Understandably so, considering the Goddess is visiting her home, complete with her family. For a few days that pass by quicker than sand off the fingers, we will deck up in our finest finery. We will lick our fingers as we dig into cutlets, momos and biryani. We will click pictures of the fairy lights and tap our feet to the music in the winds. And before we know it, winter will wrap her snow-white hands around Delhi.

Here’s wishing everyone a Shubho Mahalaya. Please lend me a hand in warding the evil of neglect off my darling P&P.

Packed in Fragrance

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By the window

*picture from fensafitters.wordpress.com

It has been a while that I have been staying away from home. Put in Mom’s perspective, a “long” while. And yet, every time I return, my family of four is a fixture at the Delhi airport, complete with grins that go from end to end. We chug along in the now ageing car, letting the sights and sounds of the capital sink in. I discover new roads, a flyover where there used to be a dump and a new brand or two set shop in that corner my golgappa wala used to stand. When the house comes into view, I strain my eyes to see the house-cats – at last count there were four – and breathe in a gust of air that smells deliciously of –  well, home.

The wooden front door is growing old, the polish coming off in multiple places. The chairs however look different. Did they acquire a new seat cover? “We changed the hand-rests.” Granddad puts in enthusiastically. “So you wouldn’t smell the rust.” It seems to be working, I say. He holds my hand and takes me to the lemon tree in the courtyard. “Look, it has grown almost as tall as you!” The lemons have just begun to ripen, their fragrance lending character to the yard. They would double up at the lunch table to give company to Granny’s special chicken recipe. Topped with fresh tomatoes, capsicum and onions. As a school-girl, I would get wind of the recipe right from the front gate. I would climb the stairs leading to the house squealing and clapping my hands in anticipation.

Mom, who has an active reporter-like alter ego, narrates to me what the society has been up to. “They got yet another dog!” she says. “Super-friendly he is. But that man in the house there continues to dump his foul garbage in the back-lane.” She hurries through the laundry-bucket as she talks and the verandah is resplendent with freshly-laundered clothes. Detergent, fabric conditioner and the warm winter sunshine. The man and his garbage notwithstanding, the flowers in the potted plants swing gently in the breeze. A humming-bird, even tinier than usual, trudges along to the mantlepiece inside and settles seriously beside the bed.

We smoothen the pink bedcover, Mom and I. Reminded of the pains of washing a bedcover, I beam. The upholstery smells of brown paper packages and waking-up-late-on-New-Year’s-Day. “Why all the pink though?” “Dad has also got you pink pastries and a new pink skirt.” Mom giggles. I open the refrigerator door to a strong whiff of strawberry, roses and…um, delight.

When stars glitter in the night sky and the wind-chime by my window jingles, I wake up to smell jasmine. Arranging the quilt closer around me, I gaze at the lit-up Christmas tree. I can smell Santa Claus’s white beard – he has been here, no doubt – the chocolates hanging from the top branch, the excited winds howling outside. The next morning, Dad would wake me up excited about a stocking packed-with-gifts. He would kiss his little girl on the forehead and it would smell of all things bright and beautiful, just like the nursery rhyme promised.

The eldest house-cat rubs against my feet and mews unstoppably. He then proceeds to sit crestfallen on the living-room carpet. He hates goodbyes. The air smells of impending rain. The house, however, smells of my world. The kitchen sink remembers leaves I had ‘fried’ for a Science experiment in grade four. The dressing-table smells of the talcum powder I had over-used for my carom-board. And oh, the Puja room? It can never forget the incense sticks that I took around the whole house. It earned me several brownie points from everyone, it did.

Well, as for the hours of camaraderie and laughter, they are packed in fragrance. They linger about endlessly, without a care in the world.

*Written as a part of AmbiPur’s “Smelly to Smiley” contest in association with Indiblogger

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