There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Trunk Full of Misery

By Deepak Adhikari
Kathmandu Nepal

BAHUNDANGI, JHAPA: Beneath the idyllic charms of lush paddy fields, looming green hills, rickety buses, and old wooden houses, lies a feeling of fear and trepidation. Here, in this impoverished village on the eastern fringes of Jhapa, night brings a horror that cannot be conquered by the human spirit, nor can it be subdued by wishing it away.
For a decade-and-a-half, residents of this village bordering Darjeeling district in West Bengal have endured the terror and mayhem of wild elephants that venture into their village mostly during the summer. “They come in droves, sometimes numbering 60 to 70,” says Shyam Karki, a school teacher. And leave behind a trail of wanton destruction and chaos.
Ask Gauri Maya Tamang, whose husband Surya Bahadur was killed by a rampaging pachyderm in 2005. Surya heard about the arrival of an elephant near a tea plantation a few metres away from his house. The 38-year-old went with other villagers to drive away the elephant that was dismantling a banana tree. Surya was the first to reach the place. But when the giant turned its head and chased the villagers, Surya was the last person, and the first within the reaches of the tusker’s trunk.
 Gauri replays the story in anger more than in sorrow. The previous night, Surya had hosted a dinner party for his sisters—one of whom had more than an average fear of elephants. Surya went to chase the behemoth to ward off his sister’s fear. But it cost him his life. With her 21-year old son’s support, Gauri now shoulders the responsibility of bringing up three teenage children. “Life is hard without their father,” she says, standing in the doorway of her tin-roofed house built on a small patch of land.
 Wild elephants are infamous along this belt of the subcontinent for their crop-raiding, especially during the harvest season for maize and rice. Elephant herds migrate from the Dooars jungles in northern Bengal to eastern Nepal. There have been border tensions because of the pachyderms’ relentless plundering.
 Bahundangi—a village on the banks of the Mechi with a population of 50,000—has lost at least 24 inhabitants to the unruly giants in the past 15 years. According to Kul Deep Giri, the village secretary, this year alone, nine have been injured, 13 houses demolished, and nearly Rs. 10 million worth of crops have been destroyed by the elephants. “There’s not a single house which has not been damaged (by the elephant) in some way or the other,” says Arjun Karki, a local social worker.
 There are other complaints apart from the loss of life and property. Anup Karki, secretary of the Nepali Congress’ Village Committee, says everyone knows this is an elephant-terrorised village, which makes it difficult for them to “sell their lands”. “Everyone wants to leave; unfortunately, no one wants to buy our land,” he says. In the shop where he is sipping tea; other villagers nod in approval. The presence of the pachyderms has brought on another vexing problem: The eligible bachelors in the village have a tough time finding brides as “no one wants to send their daughters to a village terrorised by elephants”.
 It’s not that efforts haven’t been made to stop the elephants from entering the village. From shouting and screaming at the top of their voices, to beating drums, to even keeping bees as a deterrent (a study in Africa had shown that elephants tended to avoid bees. Unfortunately, African bees are more aggressive than the ones found in Nepal)—everything has been tried. Now, a nine-km long electric fence is being constructed along the Mechi river.
 For those living on the frontier, the 1,600 km long porous open border between India and Nepal is both boon and bane. “Our life depends on the open border,” says Arjun. He points out that the necessities of the villagers’ daily life—from rushing to a hospital in case of emergency to buying daily supplies—depend on the towns across the border. But for those who’ve lost their kin to the marauding elephants which trample everything in their path as they cross the Mechi into Nepal, the open border is a reminder of misery and pain.
 Eighty-year-old Dhan Bahadur Thapa is one of the victims. His wrinkled, sun-bronzed face is a portrait of pain: he lost a newly-wed son and daughter-in-law to the elephants. Nine years ago, his son Shambhu, then 21, fell in love with Durga, a 16-year old from Duwagarh, Darjeeling.
 Shambhu found love across the border, but death too came from across. Two months into the marriage, an elephant trampled upon Durga first, then on Shambhu. “At first, it grabbed Durga and killed her,” recalls Dhan Bahadur. “We thought at least Shambhu survived but he didn’t.” Toothless and wheezing, his wife Jag Maya sobs at each mention of her son. The landless couple’s sole property now is a pair of male-buffaloes that they rent for a living. Their remaining son works in the Gulf. “We don’t know whether we will be alive tomorrow, for elephants can come in any time in this part of the world,” says Dhan Bahadur.

This article was first published in the Kathmandu Post.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars-Revisited

By Shoumik Das
Kolkata, India

Twinkle twinkle little stars,
Out away in the distant far;

There's more to them than meets the eye,
Strewn across, like pearls in the sky;

How often have we tried our fate to read?
How often have we sought a shiny bead?

Do stars traverse the lines on our palm?
Do they really work like a healing balm?

Twinkle twinkle little star,
How I wonder what you are;

A sight to behold and a moment of bliss;
An inevitable omen or destiny's kiss;

Witness to all that has happened till date,
A beautiful angel and custodian of Fate.

Ek Chaadar Barfili Si....

By Saif Shahid
Albuquerque, New Mexico

This morning when I opened the window curtains, I saw it has been snowing. The first snow of the season. The grounds and trees got quickly covered with snow. What a beautiful sight now!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Retreat

By Deepanjana Sarkar
Kolkata, India

She closed the door of her house may be for the last time. It was 2 PM and Maria, stopped by for a while and gave a last glance at the flower pots in her small portico before she finally turned around towards the lane never to return.  She has lived in this house for more than 40 years, and loved her abode perhaps more than anything else. She never thought she would ever leave her house, where she lived every moment of her past 41 years with her wonderful, jovial family.She turned, around, perhaps not to turn back ever. ‘Taxi’, she called up.
 “Kothaye jaben?(where would you want to go?) – The driver asked. Maria, slowly shut the door of the taxi with tearful eyes. She would never come back here. She did not respond as if she didn’t hear the driver. “Apni kothaye jaben mashima( where would you want to go?)?”- The driver asked again, with a bit raised voice as if Maria was deaf. Suddenly back in her senses, she replied quietly - ‘I have places to go!’ She indeed has several places to visit before she finally reaches her destination, but she doesn’t really know where to start from. The driver, a middle aged man, was somewhat baffled at Maria’s answer, and was saying something on his own with an evident awe in his tone. Manoj, the driver is driving taxi for the past 20 years, and has come across several kinds of people. He has helped many people to reach their destinations. But Maria’s destination(s) was somewhat different. Manoj has never come across anyone who is somewhat directionless, may be lost like Maria.

Manoj comes from a very small village called Balia near Varanasi. He came to Kolkata with his parents when he was only 7 years of age. Manoj takes pride in saying that he has big roof over his head. He means the sky. After coming to Kolkata he has spent more than 10 years at different footpaths for which he has no qualms. He has worked in small tea shops, carried heavy loads on his head, bought and sold newspapers and other petty iron and plastic stuffs before finally taking to driving the taxi. Manoj had forever wanted to drive a taxi because he has always cherished experiencing life, observing various kinds of people and he thinks the only way to do that silently is by driving taxi. He has traveled far and wide, in and out of West Bengal. Maria was quite surprised to know when Manoj told her about his fascination of driving during the night time. He has a different view altogether about life in darkness. According to him “agar life dekhna hain to andhere me nikalna chahiye; ujale mein sab kuch chhup jaata hain.” He has indeed seen various shades of people during the night, which have fascinated him on occasions and also made him shed tears on some other occasions. Many love stories have matured in his taxi, whereas many couples have also parted their ways, may be forever. He has visited places during the last election along with the party cadres and claims to know many unknown things, which are never flashed in public. Manoj’s story is indeed fascinating, which had diverted Maria’s mind for a while.

The traffic was reasonably thin and the Taxi ran down the Lower Circular Road, before it took to Landsdown road. Maria wants to go to Hajra Road. She asked the driver to stop in front of a house, which is at least 100 yrs old if not more. “This is the house where I was born and spent my childhood” – said Maria, looking at the house, somewhat lost in bundle of nostalgia. She has several vivid memories of this house, of her childhood – a colorful childhood which was full of dreams, love and vibrancies. Maria was a very cheerful and adorable child, being the youngest of all siblings.

The house has been taken by the promoters, who would shortly knock it down, and so will be demolished all of Maria’s childhood memories. No one stays in this house anymore; Maria has lost everyone from her maternal and paternal side. The last one to go was her elder brother who never married and was staying alone in this age old building. Maria wanted to take a last walk inside the house, to rejuvenate her memories, but decided not to do so; perhaps she wanted to loosen all bonding for ever.

The driver was still amazed and could not understand what Maria was searching for and where was she destined to go. Maria was still in her thoughts and had leaned her head against the window of the taxi perhaps lost in her life – the life in which she has lost everything. Tears would not stop falling from her eyes. It was until the driver asked her “Ebar kothaye jabo mashima”( where would you want to go now?)? – She was in a different world altogether. Suddenly that reminds her that she has to go to her school, her alma mater.

Maria had studied in Alipur Multipurpose School. She was equally adorable to her teachers and friends. With a wide smile on her face, she would always greet everyone. Her lovely big eyes were full of dreams, yet an unusual spark was there in them. She would speak with her eyes, speak all those untold things, may be about her imaginations, her dreams, her life, in which she wanted to be all free.  Even though she was mischievous on occasions, she was immensely hard working and proactive in everything she did. Maria got down the taxi and preferred to walk down the school ground straight to the verandah. The lawns on the sides, the mango tree, and the ground surrounded her with fresh set of memories all over again. She was visualizing the lunch break, when all of them would skip their food and just run out of the classroom to play. One glance of the mango tree reminded her of climbing the walls of the school for plucking mangoes with Anasua and Sohini. Maria loved the never-ending sky, the sky which has no limits, no boundaries.

 The rainy days would enthrall Maria the most. She loved rains and the occasions of getting drenched would excite her. Her heart would dance out of delight. Maria had always loved the smell of nature, the gentle stroke of rain, the romance of mild monsoon breeze. She felt being touched by someone she craved for. On one such day Maria realized, that she had fallen in love. That night she could not sleep and had thought only about Sharfaraz.

Sharfaraz was a handsome man in his early twenties, while Maria had just completed her higher secondary. Yes, Sharfaraz was a Muslim and Maria a Christian. Though she was scared of her family, she never felt any guilt deep down for being secretly in love with a man who belonged to a different religion. Maria always wanted to fly in her thoughts, she knew no bindings and wanted to lead a life free from any shackles. That night Maria felt a strange restlessness deep inside, something which, she could not define to anybody, not even Aditi, her best friend ever since childhood. With Aditi she has shared almost everything. Maria stepped into womanhood, even before she could realize. The world around her seemed more colourful and vibrant; the breeze carried a mild whiff in it – the fragrance of love.

Maria started going to college and opted for English Literature as her subject. A die hard romantic at heart, she loved to express herself, her feelings and the best way she could do so was in words. She was in love with words, their magic and romance. Her love for literature made her immerse more in her love with Sharfaraz. They would meet almost everyday after college and discuss various things. She was deeply mesmerized by the way Sharfaraz recited poems of Robert Frost, Tennyson, Dickinson and Tagore, Jibanananda Das simultaneously. Deshapriya Park was the place, which reminded her of her romance with Sharfaraz. They would sit for hours under the open blue sky and lost into each other’s eyes. Maria wants to sit there for a moment now. Even before she realized, it was half past eight.
Maria’s life was flowing like a river, which knew no obstacles, no ups and downs, but she was not destined to be like this. She had to face the truth now and divulge her relationship with Sharfaraz to her family. Maria cried for days and spent sleepless nights. One fine morning Maria disclosed the biggest truth of her life to her mother. “Have you gone out of your senses Maria?” – was her spontaneous yet angry response. Maria could feel the pain of her mother, yet she could do nothing. She cried silently deep inside, while her tears flowed down her cheeks, like the river, resembling her life till date.

Maria could not imagine living without Sharfaraz. He was her life. It was a cold December morning, when Maria had silently walked out of her father’s house. Her father had abandoned her for marrying a Muslim. Sharfaraz had always empathized with Maria’s grief. He had rubbed her tears whenever they discussed about her parents. Life has to go on in its own pace. 3 years had passed after they had married and meanwhile Shahid was born. Maria was happy in her small little household, with a caring and loving husband and the new bundle of joy in their life. She would remain busy throughout the day taking care of Shahid, feeding him, and playing with him, while Sharfaraz was busy settling down his auction house. His shop in Park Street had furniture, some of which were more than hundred years old. The one quality of Sharfaraz, which has always attracted Maria towards him more and more is his refined taste, whether in books or in household stuffs. Even though a businessman by profession, he is a well read person. When it came to choose his line of business, he preferred to choose something, which was unique. Hence he chose old furniture. Before starting his business, Sharfaraz has traveled and read extensively. He has read enough history to know about the whereabouts of old furniture and the history and techniques of auction.

Sharfaraz never imposed his religious beliefs on Maria and has always appreciated the idea of Maria practicing her religion and he his own. For all these reasons Sharfaraz has earned countless respects from Maria. He has showered endless love on her, which perhaps had even been successful to a considerable extent to forget her grief of loosing her family forever.

Maria was lost in her own world of imaginations and dreams. She wanted everyone around her to be free from any bias. She was thinking all these sitting in the graveyard where her husband and son were sleeping the longest sleep of their life. Yes, she had lost both in an accident, and that day she became alone all over again and alone forever. Shahid had passed away a few days before his marriage. “Mom, I don’t want to die, I want to live my life”, was his last request to Maria, while in hospital. But, she could do nothing to keep the last appeal of her son other than feeling the most helpless person in this big world. Shahid had severe internal bleeding due to the accident. Suddenly she could feel that someone was standing behind her. She turned around to see that the taxi driver stood silently behind her, from when she does not know. He was speechless and did not know what to say. Maria turned around slowly with a quiet smile on her face and asked “what are you thinking?” Perhaps he does not really know what he is thinking. He was calm and sat beside Maria and asked “aapni ekhon kothaye jaben? (where will you go now?)” It was 10:30 PM. Maria hardly has any strength to get up and get inside the taxi. The driver lends her a helping hand to get up and she sits inside the taxi with a sense of deep emptiness. Maria is tired! She closes her eyes and faintly tells the driver “My ultimate destination is Binapani Old Age Home at Garia”. The driver turned back once just to see tears flowing down her eyes incessantly.

Yes, Maria would spend the rest of her life in this Old Age home. As the taxi was running down the Eastern Bypass speedily, he turned on the radio, which incidentally played Tagore’s “Shesh Kothaye, Shesh Kothaye, Ki ache sheshe pother….” No one knew what was there at the end of Maria’s road of life. Maria stepped out of the taxi and asked the fare before she took her luggage to enter her final destination of her life. The driver can’t think of asking for money from Maria as he thought that Maria had given more than enough he can live the rest of his life with. The clock struck 12 AM. A new day has started along with it perhaps also a new journey…. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dress Circle- All the Best!

By Abhishek Chatterjee

Puerile at its worst and mildly chuckle-inducing at its best, Rohit Shetty's 'All the best', starts where his earlier films, 'Golmal' and 'Golmal Returns' left off. A mad cap tale of mistaken identities, this juvenile piece of cinema deserves a watch only by the particularly optimistic, for whom the realization of three unsalvagable hours will not seem criminal. 

The story involves Veer (Fardeen Khan), a struggling musician, who needs extra pocket money from his stepbrother, Dharam (Sanjay Dutt), who lives abroad. Prem Chopra (Ajay 'I've changed my surname' Devgn), his best friend, married to Jhanvi (Bipasha Basu), schemes to inform Dharam that Veer is married, thereby making a case for an increased allowance. The incredibly wooden Mugdha Godse plays Veer's girlfriend, Vidya. Things meander along aimlessly for this motley crew until big brother Dharam decides to drop in and mistakes Jhanvi for Veer's wife. Much confusion ensues and the friends swap partners to keep the bluff going for as long as they can. In the mix is a mute don, played by a returning-to-form Johnny Lever, and a Pran-impersonating vagabond, played by Sanjay Mishra and a Malayali maid, Mary, played by the wonderfully talented Ashwini Kalsekar and a bizarre car race, something the director feels obliged to include in all his films. It is actually this support cast that keeps the film from being a complete wash out and more screen time  for these competent comic talents would have made for more pleasant viewing. The film's 'falling down/getting slapped' brand of slapstick comedy is repetitive and some times achingly unpleasant. Shetty tries hard, but fails to create a good comic experience for the viewer, even after ripping off an American play. His only redeeming effort comes in the form of the cinematic references to the classic 'mistaken identity' films of the 70s and 80s like 'Golmal' and 'Chupke Chupke'. Pity he doesn't learn from them. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Taste Buds: A Little Bit of Malaysia on My Plate!

By Bidisha Bagchi
St Joseph, Michigan, USA

Even though Malaysia has such a variety in food, every time I visited my great aunt — my father's mami — in Kuala Lumpur, I ended up eating mouth-watering Bengali delicacies dished out every day by her trusted Bangladeshi cook, along with permutations and combinations of Indonesian, Singaporean, Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes. Alas, never “authentic”, true Malay food.
That’s a tall order as, like all other Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia's culinary tradition has also been influenced by her neighbours near and far from Indonesia and Thailand to India, China and the Middle East. Herbs play a very important role in the Malay cuisine, making it sometimes spicy, sometimes aromatic. Use of lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, basil, nutmeg, turmeric and wild ginger are prominent in almost all Malay food along with traditional spices such as cumin and coriander, pepper, cardamom and fenugreek.

Seasonings are important, and are freshly ground like turmeric, chilli paste, onions and garlic. Fresh coconut milk is often added and is considered the most important ingredient in quite a few dishes. Like its neighbours, rice dominates Malay meals and is eaten in all the courses. Depending on the basic flavouring ingredient, Malay dishes can be divided into genres like Masak Lemak or coconut based, Masak Pedas or hot chilli based and Masak Assam or tamarind base, to name a few.
Armed with this knowledge and determined to taste “Truly Malaysia” instead of “Truly Asia”, I demanded “authentic” food on my next visit to Kuala Lumpur. On the same day ‘Chingri machher malai curry’ an exotic concoction of prawn and coconut milk was laid on the dining table. As that much-loved Bengali dish’s Malay origins are now fairly well known, I could not even protest.
But that was naturally not Malay enough for yours truly so from the very next day my search for the “authentic” began. My first discovery was a unusual one. Even though it belonged to the rice family, it had a special look. Nasi Kerabu is a regional specialty from the state of Kelantan on the east coast of Malaysia. Traditionally, the rice is tinted bright blue from the petals of a flower called bunga telang, better known as butterfly pea flower in English. This rice was cooked in a very special way: hundreds of petals of the flower are initially sun-dried and boiled in water. The rice is then cooked in this dyed water along with other seasonings. Not that this tinge adds any special zing to the taste but the entire appearance makes it one of its kind. This is served with Ulam, a combination of fresh mint, basil, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric leaves in raw vegetables such as bean sprouts, long green beans, shallots and cucumber. To this are added strongly flavored ingredients such as salted fish, dried prawns and fish crackers.
 This wasn’t the only traditional Malay dish I found, but in all the other ones there was a discernible touch of some ‘neighbours’ and so it wasn’t “authentic” enough for me! The other dish that I enjoyed, though, was a  kind of crepe (which looked somewhat like our ‘dosa’), popularly called the Roti Jala, or bread that looked like a net. Made out of crepe like batter of plain flour, eggs, butter and coconut milk with a dash of turmeric for yellow colour, the preparation was very interesting. A special mould or cup with small holes was used to make a lace like crepe and cooked briefly over a hot greased griddle. The net bread (my moniker for it) is an ideal accompaniment to dishes with lots of rich curry sauces and is usually served on special occasions.

This article was first published in the ET-Travel, Economic Times

Story Telling: The Date

By Chhandak Pradhan
Kolkata, India

On a night like this, she would not have been out. But tonight, it was different. It was August 6- their anniversary. The drizzle resumed as they rushed to stop a speeding taxi. Slanting silver ropes slammed into the puddles around them disturbing the reflected temptations of Park Street.

He looked into her eyes and resisted the impulse to joke. She was lost! Whatever had distracted her still disturbed her. She was looking at him, but looking beyond.  In the speeding Ambi he watched the cinema of neon-lit city dreams stream across her face, seductively playing with her lips before tumbling down the d├ęcolletage of her little black dress. But the coloured affection failed to reach her eyes. She seemed resigned to her fate.

The opiate of love deprives the soul off desires. Floating in the Dead Sea of the ultimate aphrodisiac, there’s no pain and no feeling of grief.… Remorse drifts like ocean weeds and vanishes into the grey stillness.... Body succumbs to a cryogenic slumber, the listless heart beats faintly and breath mellows to random whispers as one slides towards oblivion…..

He was still shuffling through his thoughts when he realised that it was their street. They walked back from the cab and as they went through the wide French door of their ground-floor apartment, a desultory breeze riffled the white curtains. The rain grew heavier. He tried to switch on the lights but realised that the ubiquitous Calcutta power cut had kicked in. She went in and soon a soft yellow light filled their inner sanctum…..

She had changed into something informal that seemed to hug her snugly like a protective lover on a winter evening. He stupidly envied her dress. Their eyes met and held. Thunder shook the streets and lightning filled their eyes as they stood beside the poster of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ that she had managed after bribing a cleaner of an Esplanade cinema hall.

Their flight was late and by the time Nahiya and her husband reached the South Kolkata address, they were greeted by the sharp glittery sunshine that follows a heavy shower. He entered the cobwebbed interiors through the wide French door and saw Nahiya staring at a poster. “That’s my aunt’s. Beautiful isn’t it?” she said. The alley cat mewed and Audrey Hepburn looked on as he gazed at the calendar beside the poster. It still read August 6, 1962.

Image: Courtesy of Chhandak Pradhan

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bangkok Bongs, Beer, Bingo & a Black Eye

By Joyeeta Dutta Ray
Bangkok, Thailand

What happens when you throw together a bunch of Bongs, pack them off to a godforsaken place in the guise of a picnic and make sure there is no place for them to hide from each other for long? I can see most of you conjuring up pictures of endless adda leading to mindless arguments, a constant flow of hot tea giving way to beer, ‘rabindra sangeet’ when they run out of words, bhangra dancing when they run out of songs and of course, ‘mangsho bhaat’ to inspire it all.

That was the universal agreement when a brilliant Bangkok Bong came up with the original idea of celebrating this year’s ‘Bijoya Sammeleni’ in the quaint resort of Chaam, Thailand, just two hours drive from Bangkok. It turned out to be memorable in more ways than one. Here’s a bulleted version of the trip for all those who missed it, would not like to miss it in the future, love reading blogs or have nothing much to do hence they have logged in to this blog!

  • A day before the trip, maps of the route are emailed out, assisted by detailed road directions. All well, till we open the attachment and realize all instructions are in Thai. All of us are illiterate expatriates, so we print out the paper carefully, fold it meticulously and keep it in a crevice in the car…to wipe the windshields later!
  • The time to meet is fixed for 10 am sharp, or else we will be left behind, we are warned! My family and I jolt up to an angry alarm clock before the sun can yawn, fire the maid for waking up ten minutes late, rush to finish the last minute packing, shower, get dressed, stuff in mundane cheese sandwiches for the journey (much as we would have liked ‘luchi- alu dom,’ meet our friends, and jointly zoom off at well over 100 mph, trying desperately to not fall behind. A little faster and I’m sure we would have taken off into the skies, Jet Airways style!
  • We reach at two minutes past 10, catch our breath and call the organizers with shaky fingers. We are told that one is shaving and the other, showering. “Please wait in the Big C Mall…we will be there soon’. Soon turns out to be two hours later. We twiddle our fingers, buy sun-glasses and nibble on everything KFC has to offer desperately trying not to nod off to sleep.
  • At 12, the whole bunch of 18 Bong families have arrived panting and puffing, along with an enthusiast carrying marinated mutton, mustard oil, spices and everything else needed to make the staple Bengali delicacy ‘Mangsho bhaat’, far in the interiors of Thailand.
  • We count the 12 cars, decide who will follow whom and set off for destination Chaam. Half an hour later, we see five cars behind us missing. One had taken a wrong turn…the others had followed suit, and ended up in another corner of Thailand. Frantic calls and rapid instructions later we are bonded once again and reach Chaam without losing one another.
  • We are allotted rooms randomly. Most of us are delighted with the scenic beauty. Others are delighted with what will follow soon – the mangsho bhaat.
  • The day begins with cricket, football, badminton, dodge ball and ‘dog and the bone’ happening all at once in different corners of the open green field before us. In the race to win, a lady ends up with a black eye. All vigorous sports are called off at once and indoor activities take center stage.
  • While beer and adda follow, the president of the Bengali organization hastens off to supervise the high point of the trip – the manghso. A sumptuous lunch and Bengali style siesta later, we gather in the evening to play Antakshari and a rather noisy Dumb Charades, ending the night with Bhangra under flashing 70s style disco lights.
  • Dinner follows…there is a lot of Thai food and a bit of the leftover mangsho bhaat.
  • We retire late night to our rooms. The rain beats down on us fiercely, prompting some to stay on for ghastly ghost stories that could scare away the most ferocious ghosts lurking in there.
  • Next morning we meet up for breakfast and Tambola (bingo). Some fill up their wallets, others wish they had never played. Lunch is served soon after before we set off home. The table has an array of delicacies and a small tray of stale, leftover ‘mangsho bhaat’ from the previous night. There are broken pieces of potato and bones floating in there now. That does not stop the culture conscious Bongs. The delicacies stay intact. They dive for mangsho that is finger licked off till the last drop.
  • We click snaps to show off our togetherness to the world. In one day we had done it all – drinking, dining, wining, whining, shining, pining, black eye, stiff shoulders, hoarse voices, backaches, empty wallets and filled our bellies with mangsho bhaat.
 Mission accomplished. We pat ourselves on our backs. We had gloriously passed on a whole lot of important Bengali culture to the next generation. Indeed, Rabi Thakur and Vidyasagar would have been proud of such valiant attempts. The convoy of cars proceeds to set off home singing ‘Ashchey bochor abaar hobey’! 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Notes from Nepal

By Deepak Adhikari
Kathmandu, Nepal

On a recent sun-soaked Saturday afternoon, I found myself dragging my motorcycle on an almost empty road in Thamel, a tourist bazaar in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Unlike Friday nights, when Thamel bustles with pulsating discotheques and dance bars, Saturday afternoon was utterly desolate. Even the roads of Durbarmarg and Kantipath, in downtown Kathmandu, were nearly empty with only a handful of vehicles plying. I arrived at the parking lot, my eyes automatically searching for the black and vermilion colored-bike. It was there, lonely among a few cars that had been parked overnight. I was glad that the bike was there, alright. I paid the parking boy Rs. 50 and headed to Chhetrapati via erstwhile Freak Street, the hippie haven of 1970s and 80s. I was told I will find a repair shop there.

I must interject here to talk about the nature of my predicament: All hell had broken loose the previous evening when the 10-month-old motor-cycle, for the first time, suffered a puncture. I was there to cover a lounge and spa whose slogan read, ‘An oasis in the heart of Thamel’, and I couldn’t help but notice the irony. By the time we were done with the interview, it was already nine in the night. The boy at the parking lot said there was no way I would find a mechanic. I was left with only one option: leave the bike at the parking lot overnight.

I shuddered. I thought about the several cases of motorcycle thefts in the capital, where ever-vigilant thieves didn’t choose between the brands or the colors and stole whatever two-wheelers they could find. I recalled some of my colleagues recounting their experience of losing their vehicles, a must for anyone these days in
Kathmandu’s trafficked jammed road.

As I was locking my motorcycle, I realized the investments a biker must make for the safety of his vehicle: Helmet locks, wheel locks, handle locks. The list is endless.

But back to my current status; back to wheeling the bike along a lonely stretch of road. While I was doing so, I thought of what had been missing in the city lately: helping hands. I had convinced myself that the flip side of the ever-growing metropolis was indifference.

How wrong I was! As I negotiated the narrow, grimy streets towards Chhetrapati with honking rickshaws, bikes and cabs, people voluntarily directed me to a repair shop. I shouted to a man resting on his rickshaw. He instructed me to take a right turn. I approached
Juddhodaya Public School, one of the oldest schools in Nepal, and also once my exam centre. But it wasn’t the right time to bask on bygone days. Here I was, the man with a mission and a destination.

I’d forgotten to take into account one thing, however: it was Saturday,
Nepal’s weekend holiday when big cities like Kathmandu turns into a ghost town with eerie silence. Hauling the awkwardly oblong motorcycle on an abandoned street, I must have cut a forlorn figure. But to my delight and surprise, there were folks to guide me. One after another, they came to my help and led me through Kathmandu’s labyrinth. A man pointed out a row of closed shutters where, according to him, there was a repair shop. The owner must have been enjoying his hard-earned weekly off, I supposed. Another local man assured me there were some shops on the way ahead. Finally, after encountering three closed mechanics, I ran into a shoemaker at Paknajol who pointed out a ‘bicycle on hire’ signboard. Some events take you to unusual places.

I felt exhilarated when the slim young man at the bicycle shop told me he’ll try his best. I watched him work as he executed his deft skills to repairing the punctured tyre. Half an hour and Rs. 35 later, I thanked him profusely and left, thrilled at getting to ride my prized possession at last.

But the helping hands didn’t just stop at that. Another night after the afternoon, while I was returning home on the outskirts of Kathmandu, my bike skidded on the slippery Koteshwar road. As I was picking it up and strengthening myself, I heard a voice: Be careful fella! I turned towards the source of the voice. Under the dim street lights, I found that it was a fellow biker. His was less a scolding and more a caveat. Take that for brotherly love!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Death of the King

By Prodipto Roy
Kolkata, India

    Size: 30"X22"                              Medium: Photoshop

Words Worth: The Hidden Truth

By Dr Siladitya Ray
Consultant Psychiatrist
Kolkata, India

In spite of being a psychiatrist and one with strong rational leanings, I seem to be undergoing an internal change which has made me increasingly inclined towards the mystical and the intangibles. Not only me, a growing number of people, mostly, with a scientific bent of mind are gradually getting their ‘existential equations’ correct with their new-found incorporeal connect. Over the years, I have consciously managed to develop a useful balance between the material and the non-material worlds. To my mind, that is the ideal amalgam you can have in your life. No one is saying that you give up on the pleasures of life entirely, but then what is prudent is that you tread the middle path.     
Over the years, I seem to have become more of a Determinist than a believer of Free-Will. Several experiences have compelled me to believe that everything in this world is destined and that everything is written for us above, to our last breath. My argument for that is very simple. Take a casual glance at the world around you and  you will see a Flawless Order and then again, think about each passing day and there again what you see is a regular rhythm without any hitches, as though  a preconceived drama is unfolding in the broad ‘Universal Canvas’ !
Then the question is, as many people have asked me – ‘If everything is already written, then why work or live at all?’ That is the whole paradox! Well, do we have any other choice? It may sound strange but, that is also a part of destiny.
Destiny is the ultimate truth in this Universe, and the rest is only what it ‘appears’ to our senses! According to Plato, in his final work, ‘The Laws’ – God is the measure of all things. For many, God is a human-like being with supernormal abilities, whereas, to others, it is nothing but a faultless powerhouse of seething energy. Well, it is also said that you come with your breath counted. There is no way of knowing it, but then, everyone’s days seem to be numbered. It as though, predetermined as to who will live how long and who will become what.
At a time, when frivolity is the order of the day, such esoteric subjects may appear as shockers! Many of us detest such discourses and see them as too ‘grandiose’ or pretentious. But, if you care to take a little bit of interest in it, you will see that it is very easy to understand. What is simply required of you is faith. Mind you, not Blind Faith.
It may be argued that we give too much importance to ourselves, talking about things like – there must be a purpose to each of our lives, there is life after death, so on so forth.  They may be true. It may also be true that we are just a happenstance. In the absence of proof, we can keep debating though. Interestingly, I find this debate healthy and I can tell you that it is taking a persuasive shape and this entire subject do not look contrived at all, anymore.
It is not entirely true that we are excessively preoccupied with spiritual (read inconsequential) issues. On the contrary, most of us are far too obsessed with fatuous things. Being a psychiatrist, I can strongly testify to that. Recent studies have shown that while 8 out of 10 urban dwellers are ‘infatuated’ with earthly pursuits, only 1 is ‘inclined’ to non-material preferences. As long as Occultism remain unverifiable (by the conventional scientific paradigms), we will have to make do with personal belief and faith. And, in many instances, faith can work wonders. Take the case of many of my terminally-ill patients who sprang back to life, simply because I taught them to have faith in ‘mental resilience and self-healing’!  
And mind you, everything is not amenable to scientific scrutiny. Had it been so, then scientists would have already proclaimed – Soul is the 13th State of Matter and that God is made up of ‘buffoons’ and ‘morons’! I tell you, these days anything is possible!
The fact is that over the years, I have found that most scientific paradigms are flawed and that there is definitely ‘something’ beyond what our sense perceptions allow us to comprehend about this world. Scientific approach has been successful not because the system is ingenious, but because, the ‘cosmic reality’ is ‘multi-truthful’, meaning that there are various truths which can be apparently explained by different avenues of reasoning. And, science is one of them. This is precisely where the ‘conundrum’ steps in. How can a single, self-contained and homogenous system (read Universe) have a ‘multi-layered reality’ and simultaneously, have a ‘core truth’, which can be arrived at, from different start-up points!  This in itself defies scientific logic!
Several physicists have already begun to draw parallel between the sub-atomic world and Eastern Mysticism. And the news is that there is indeed a similarity and it is pretty striking!
That’s a long, but nonetheless, very interesting story. In essence, the cosmic order that we get to see around us, may appear very complex and abstruse, but if you go below the ‘surface of things’, what you see is a single entity with a very simple structure. And that is an Apocalypse! Anyone reaching that point will have a profound revelation of the ‘Final Reality’, beyond which lies the endless domain of ‘Nothingness’!
It is hardly important whether you believe in Determinism or not, but then what matters is the fact that you are ‘determined’ by a ‘force’ which cannot be seen but ‘felt’!                 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Showtime: When Dreams Come True, or Even If They Don't...

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA

The joy is just as intense, just as pure. I had a dream for the last 5 years to see Tim Rice and Elton John's Broadway production of AIDA and yet my annual visits to NYC somehow didn't provide this opportunity, though I did have the pleasure of the Phantom, the frolic of Mamma Mia, the romance of Beauty and the Beast, the mystery of Wicked, the simplicity of Oklahoma, the feline physicality of Cats, the innocence of Annie, the colours of Joseph and several other plays and off Broadway stuff both in and outside the Big Apple. And yet, just like the craving for that which cannot be, my desire to see AIDA continued to haunt me. I had heard the sound track a long time ago when a friend played it on a midnight drive along the barren landscape of Southern Utah and the music and the lyrics remained etched in my soul.

Last night amidst the red cliffs of St George's Tuacahn Amphi-theatre and under the midnight blue sky that was riddled with stars, the stage no longer felt like a prop, as the waters of the Nile seemed to engulf the tears and tribulations of the Nubian princess AIDA in her choice between the love she finds in Radames and her calling towards her people.

While "enchantment passes through" and they are given "paradise but just for a day", yet the fact that love can flourish for a lifetime between the two most unlikely people with the most different of circumstances is what makes one smile. It is not improbable to guess the finality of this story which is based on Verdi's Opera, but the beauty of this masterpiece lies in the romanticism of love that is sought and the strength of character with which it is returned.

Yes just like this fictional tale may or may not have come alive under an Egyptian sky aeons ago, last night the dream of seeing this play out in front of my eyes, led my soul to a higher plane and yet again, I was left spellbound by this simple four letter word.. called LOVE.

The lyrics below say it all...

"Never wonder what I'll feel as living shuffles by
You don't have to ask me and I need not reply
Every moment of my life from now until I die

I will think or dream of you and fail to understand
How a perfect love can be confounded out of hand

Is it written in the stars
Are we paying for some crime
Is that all that we are good for
Just a stretch of mortal time

For some God's experiment
In which we have no say

In which we're given paradise
But only for a day."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Story Telling: And then, it rained

By Malini Banerjee
Bombay, India

30th May, 1992
The tattered, old pair of Bata tennis shoes, that had been kept out to dry in the south-eastern corner of the terrace, wore a shriveled look. They'd been left there for more than a day now.

It had been pouring incessantly for over a week. The rain God had unfurled his fury on the quaint little town of
Suri. Suri is an erstwhile zamindari estate, which was ruled by the Maharaja of Hetampur. It's located in the district of Birbhum, known for its burnt, red earth, and Rabindranath Tagore.

Harinath Mukherjee was a former principal of the Suri Polytechnic College. An amiable man, he was extremely popular among his students and colleagues alike. Admired and revered by one and all, he had retired from work few years back; four years, to be precise. They say, behind every successful man is a woman. Mr. Mukherjee would agree to this adage, wholeheartedly. Malati devi, his wife of 30 years, had been the crucial anchor of his ship called life. Kind, soft spoken, most women looked up to her. She was a mother to their only son Arkoprobho, as she was to Dulal, their cook, Abedin, Harinath's peon, or Bidur, a rickshaw puller.

Arko was an exceptionally bright boy. Even as a child, he could memorise lines from Tagore's poetry after reading them just once. When he reached fifth grade, his parents decided that he must be sent to the Ramakrishna Mission in Narendrapur for further studies. And so, one June morning, when the sun was beating down on the parched earth, and every living creature was desperately seeking some respite from it, Arko's bags were packed and he was bundled off to Narendrapur, which was closer to Kolkata than to Suri.

Days turned in to months, and months in to years. Arko passed out of school with flying colours. After topping the state board, across all streams, Higher Secondary Examinations, Arko decided to go abroad to pursue a degree in engineering. His mother, Malati Devi, though distraught at the very thought of not having her son around, was proud of the fact that he had made it to the MIT. How many people from moffusil towns like Suri can even dream of such a thing? Arko, barely 18, was already a legend. Almost the whole of West Lalkuthi Para congregated at the
DumDum Airport to bid Arko farewell. Garlanded, and lugging a VIP suitcase which had been a wedding gift to his parents from his maternal grandparents, Arko looked back one last time at his lonely parents. His father, chest swollen with pride, couldn't wipe the smile off his face. His mother, on the other hand, was inconsolable.
As Arko boarded the aircraft, and found his way to his seat, he was glad it was all over. That he was away from it all. Poor things, his parents. They were already preparing for his arrival, back from the U.S!

Back in Suri, life continued as usual for the Mukherjee couple. Every year, they would wait eagerly for the winter. December heralded Arko's arrival. It marked the start of a flurry of activities in the Mukherjee household. The walls of Arko's room would be whitewashed, new bedspreads would be bought, his favourite fish, vegetables, and sweets would be brought home. And before they would know it, Arko would be home, and gone, in a whoosh.

After graduating, Arko decided to work in the
US for some time. Malati devi resented this decision, but her husband thought it was the right thing to do. Never one to raise her voice against her husband, Malati devi suppressed her thoughts and emotions deep inside her bosom, till they were lost in the unknown and forgotten.

After retiring from his job, Mr Mukherjee took up the responsibility of imparting tuition to underprivileged children around his locality. It gave him a kind of pleasure that he had never felt before. But, as the years rolled on, he developed glaucoma, and was forced to discontinue his philanthropic work.

22nd May, 1992
"How I wish we had another child. A daughter, to be honest. Our only child seems to have forgotten us. Just dumped us off his mind, and heart", lamented Mr. Mukherjee. It was an unbearably humid summer morning, and he had just got back from the daily bazaar, fish, and vegetables held in both hands. His wife was busy in the kitchen, fixing them both a simple lunch that usually consisted of bhaat, shukto, daal, bhaja, maacher jhol, and doodh-bhaat, a customary dessert. "It was your idea to have him study at a boarding school. What's the use of complaining now? You got him used to being away from us", was her icy retort. In the same breath she added, "I no longer pine for him the way I used to. I'd rather spend the rest of my days tending my plants, and looking after Madhu".
Madhu was a honeybee. She had been lovingly named so by Harinath. One day, as he sipped on a cup of sweet, fragrant
Darjeeling tea, a little bee hovered above the rim of the cup, her buzz livening up the dead, languorous afternoon. Out of curiosity, he poured out few drops of the tea on a saucer and offered it to her. And soon enough, all of it had been polished off! This became a ritual, of sorts. Every afternoon, Madhu would join the couple , and all three would quietly sip on tea. Unknowingly, and unwittingly, Madhu had become an integral part of the family. Slowly but, surely, she filled the void that had been created by the absence of Arko, who had got married to an American girl, moved to Canada, and become a Permanent Resident there. Letters from him were few and far in between, and calls were made only to make sure his parents were alive.

"It is intolerably hot today. I hope we get some rains soon", prayed Malati devi as her husband nodded his head in concurrence. Theirs, along with many others' prayers were answered as ominous looking grey clouds cast a gloomy look to the afternoon sky. As afternoon gave way to evening, the sky began to pour. A faint drizzle, initially, that soon turned in to a heavy downpour. The dry, cracked earth thirstily drank up the generous dollops of heavenly elixir. And rain it did, for the next seven days... so steady, it seemed unstoppable. Those seven days there was no sign of Madhu. It was assumed that like in the case of most people, she too had been rendered immobile by the onslaught of the rain God. And then, it stopped. The sun was seen after days. Its bright, warm presence was welcomed by one and all. Schools, which had been shut on account of 'rainy day(s)' re-opened, the bazaar was brimming with people, hawkers on the streets did brisk business, rickshaws screeched, cars honked. The sleepy town had woken up from its rain-induced slumber and was back to life.

29th May, 1992
Arko's wife, Mel, was in the final month of her pregnancy. The baby was due any time now. After spending a sleepless night with a cramping wife, Arko decided it was time to take her to the hospital.

The telephone rang. Malati answered. "Hello?". "Ma, I am at the hospital. You'll be a grandmother, soon. I'll call you with the good news". And, click. The line went dead. He had not bothered to ask about their well being. He never did. But Malati did not let that bother her. She was anxious now, like any grandmother-to-be. But unlike other grandparents, they won't be around to hold the newborn in their arms, or feed him/her rice on the Annaprasan. The very thought pained her.
"Buro called. Bouma is going to deliver soon", she informed her husband. Buro was Arko's nickname. His bhalonaam had been decided by Mr Mukherjee's father. Malati devi had wanted to name him Tridib, that literally means heaven. But, she did not wish to upset her father-in-law, and her son was duly named Arkoprobho, on the occasion of his rice-eating ceremony.
Mr. Mukherjee was listening to some old, K L Saigal classics that sunny afternoon when his wife announced that tea had been served.
"Your tea must be growing cold. It's kept on the dining table, by the window. Drink it, taratari", said Malati, and hurried out of the house to chase couple of stray dogs out of her kitchen garden.
But Mr Muhkerjee was traveling back in time, reminiscing about the days when he was young, ambitious, romantic, and had just brought home a lovely wife. Lost in those warm, comforting thoughts, he forgot about the tea. "O go, will you have your tea or not?", yelled Malati from the front courtyard. Rudely jolted out of his trance, he turned the gramophone off, and proceeded towards the hall where stood the dining table. And there, he was greeted by none other than Madhu, who was sitting gingerly on the rim of the cup, and buzzing with glee. Harinath knew the tea was still hot, though he couldn't see very clearly because of his failing eyesight, and the distance. Before he could chase Madhu away, the unthinkable happened. By the time he reached the table, Madhu's limp body was floating in the cup of fragrant tea.
And he cried. All the tears that he had held back till now came flooding out. He kept weeping bitterly, inconsolably, all evening.

That night, Suri saw a storm like never before. Strong winds bent even the strongest of trees, vicious rains lashed against the ground like a whip. Telephone lines were destroyed, hundreds of huts were reduced to bits of wood and hay, countless trees were uprooted. The Mayurakshi gurgled with all her might, almost threatening to overflow and wreak havoc.

The next morning, Suri woke up to a rude shock. The town had been brutally attacked, and left to bleed. But, the sun shone brightly, almost heralding a new beginning.

The Mukherjee household wore a desolate look. The kitchen garden, where Malati Devi grew chllies, coriander, lemon, pumpkin, and her favourite bottle gourd, had been butchered to death. Repeated rings of the doorbell went unanswered. Neighbours assumed, the elderly couple must be asleep.
On the floor of the bedroom lay the lifeless body of Harinath Mukherjee. He had suffered a massive cardiac arrest the previous night. Heaven had poured like never before. Tridib had cried. At his feet sat Malati devi, traces of dried tears on both cheeks, hair disheveled, face devoid of emotion. About his head, hovered a honey bee.

Mel went in to labour the same night. She gave birth to a baby girl. Arko named her Madhumita.