A Little Girl & Her Mom At The Anondo Mela

Somewhere, in a parallel world, a little girl dressed in Durga Pujo finery is walking hand-in-hand with her mom. The two are going to the Anondo Mela in the Mela Ground Pandal, one of the biggest puja pandals in C.R. Park, Delhi.

“What all will we eat there, Mummum?” The little girl jangles her purse. It is full of new notes and coins that her family has given her to spend at the Anondo Mela.

“I am thinking we can start off with Ghughni, move on to Mangsho-Luchi, and end with Kulfi?”

“That sounds perfect! But first we will look at all the stalls, okay?”

“Absolutely.”

The Anondo Mela is on in full fervour. Aunties from the neighbourhood have put up stalls that sell all kinds of Bengali delicacies, handiwork, desserts. Some stalls that are manned by young college-going children sell fancier items like ‘Virgin Mohito’ and ‘Chomchom Cupcakes’. On the stage, a band is tuning their instruments, standing against a big banner that lists all the sponsors of the year. Uncles sit in the reception, handing out pamphlets of the cultural programme and collecting donations from visitors. Overseeing all this stands Durga Ma with her children, her eyes bright, thoughts and plans for the next three days filling her heart with joy.

Durga Puja C.R. Park

Several aunties call out to the little girl and her mom. Her music teacher from school. The lady of that grocery shop they always buy monthly supplies from. Their neighbour from three houses away who is renowned in all of C.R. Park for her paathi-shaapta.

They can’t decide where to go first. So, they glide through the stalls, not stopping to chat for too long anywhere, and telling everyone they had just eaten this and that. And eat they do! A bite of sandesh. A plate of amazing Chicken Hakka noodles. Some ghughni which they also get packed for Papa. Fuchkas. Golas.  Piping hot luchis!

A few hours later, the duo emerge from the pandal, their stomachs full. Their hands too are full with packed food. In the street outside, the hawkers have all collected at various corners. They are selling balloons, masks, whistles, dry papads in plastic packaging, pseudo-radium ornaments, and devil horns. It is still twilight outside. The street-lights haven’t yet come on but the market is full of glimmering fairy-lights. Business would be brisk for a few days, and everyone was all set to make the most of it.

The little girl has a spring in her step as she walks back home with her mom. It is only Shashti, the first day of Durga Puja, and she is already having so much fun. Tomorrow, there is the drawing competition in the morning. There is a new dress waiting to be worn. There will also be prasad (with the special big boondi that she loves) and khichudi-bhog in the afternoon. And in the evening, they would all go pandal-hopping, her grandfather complaining about the traffic, her grandmother inspecting her sari every now and then (which would still, inevitably, get soiled with ice-cream), and her dad trying to find auto-rickshaws to go from pandal to pandal.

She looks up at her mom; her mom smiles back at her. It is a warmth that travels all the way from that parallel world to this, lighting up my heart with joys from erstwhile times.

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The One Threat That Lurks Unnoticed Inside Our Homes

“Oh, you’re from Delhi! How on earth do you manage to BREATHE in that city?!”

This was an acquaintance, sipping coffee while sitting in the chair opposite me, airing her views on everything about the world around her. She had lived all her life as “an international citizen of India” and really wanted nothing to do with the “filth that lurked everywhere” back in the country where she was born.

She displeased me – oh, a lot – but somehow, I couldn’t think of an appropriate response. What she said wasn’t untrue. Over time, Delhi had become this potboiler of dust, chemicals and grime; it had achieved notoriety as the home of all things evil – from air pollution to crime. And yet, it didn’t seem all that long ago when the air in Delhi had been fragrant with shiuli flowers on Durga Puja, chicken cooking deliciously in the neighbourhood, fresh leaves sprouting in spring.

I came back home that evening and looked around my home. My conversation with that irritating acquaintance had made me feel unsettled. But now I was home. And home is where nothing can get at you, right? Not the monsters who lurked in drains, not the smoke that lurked in Delhi’s air and triggered hateful diseases. Home is safe…

And yet, every other day, I hear of someone suffering from a disease triggered by pollution, when many of these people spend most of their time in the safety of their homes. Women, little children, senior citizens. Scores of people coming down with an eye irritation or a nose congestion every now and then. Nursing an allergy or a flu. Getting hospitalised for bronchitis, pneumonia and even heart problems. People who don’t walk around in traffic and on crowded streets, or inhale the smoke from factories. Continue reading

This Is Why I’m Giving Up Scrolling

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Tap, tap, tap.

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A friend checking into a shopping mall. A marriage. Baby’s first birthday. An advertisement for an Indian restaurant in Vienna. Random philosophical quote with a spelling error. New brand campaign, meme or GIF on the latest trending subject. Some food that’s bright red. A shocking video or two. A dozen pictures clicked with the same background and people starting petitions (oh, not for the dozen pictures). Continue reading

Mom, The Birthday Girl

Today is my mom’s birthday. I went to wish her in the morning and she wasn’t in her room. I wondered where she had gone. Usually, she’d be fussing about, dusting this, arranging that, making me some coffee. Mornings were supremely busy for her – not that the rest of the day wasn’t. She has never enjoyed napping in the afternoon and usually undertakes massive projects like turning out old cupboards, finishing an entire novel, cleaning my bookshelves, making me a new dress, or sorting out Papa’s documents. And these projects tend to continue all through the afternoon, often alongside me, both of us working steadily on something or the other. Continue reading

Poison Pen Writing

“We call this kind of thing ‘poison pen’ writing, when the writers are grown up, and they are held in universal loathing and hatred, considered the lowest of the low.” – Miss Potts

I grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton books – a new title purchased every week of my summer vacation – and this was among the little lessons I picked up from there. Anonymous letters were just not done. They were, I always thought, sent by people who hadn’t the courage to say what they wanted to your face. And courage was important.

Turns out, things have changed and how. Anonymous writing is now not only acceptable but even favourable. Recipients of such letters don’t burn the notes or throw them in the bin but publicise them on their ‘wall’ for everyone to see. Many do this even when the contents of the note are not complimentary – and this, it seems, is the new definition of courage.

In the past weeks or so, the Sarahah app has befuddled, puzzled and upset me. In case you have been fortunate enough to miss out on these notifications on your Facebook or Twitter timeline, Sarahah is an anonymous messaging service that lets people leave you ‘constructive feedback’. The recipient can then showcase these golden nuggets of feedback on their social media profiles.

Sarahah

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Top 3 Tips to Survive an Awkward Phone Conversation

First, some creds. What makes me an authority on phone conversation tips? Just this – I am the queen of awkward. Many conversations with me are awkward, but phone conversations top the lot.

There’s something about not looking someone in the eye, not catching their facial expressions, and the very theme of talking on the phone (small talk) that just lends itself to awkwardness. Strange silences. Throat clearing. Repeating questions about the weather and “what did you cook for lunch/dinner?”. Asking whether “you can hear me?” a few times. Trying to sound chirpy and charged because hey, look who called. So, I have several years of experience in trying to evade, whine over, and eventually endure phone calls.

Awkward Phone Conversations

Here are the three valuable tips that have held me in good stead. Sharing this at the risk of personal offence to people I have tried these on – but hey, those times were genuine, I swear. Continue reading

In My Brown Skin

When I was in school, we didn’t have modern ideas about equality across communities, race and colour. (It is another story that equality was there anyway, without any of us talking about it much). So, it used to be fine and non-offensive to make personal remarks about someone’s hair-tie or school-bag or curly hair. It was all in good fun and nobody held it against anyone.

One afternoon, in the school bus, a classmate started a discussion about skin-colour. I think we were in class VIII or IX – that time when you start lingering in front of the mirror for longer moments than usual. She was a rather chubby, loud girl who loved airing her opinions about everything from the food at the canteen to the school song. Continue reading

No, Depression Does Not Just Mean Sadness

“I am depressed.”

It seems like such a simple thing to say, really. We are human beings, capable of feeling a vast range of emotions. So, when it starts raining just on a morning you had wanted to picnic, you can say it’s depressing. As is the taste of the food, the colour of the walls, your mood after watching a TV series. We are all ‘depressed’ about something or the other, almost every day. Continue reading