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.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sonar Tori (The Golden Boat)

By Prodipto Roy
Kolkata, India

Clouds rumbling in the sky; teeming rain.
I sit on the river bank, sad and alone.
The sheaves lie gathered, harvest has ended,
The river is swollen and fierce in its flow.
As we cut the paddy it started to rain.
One small paddy-field, no one but me -
Flood-waters twisting and swirling everywhere.
Trees on the far bank; smear shadows like ink
On a village painted on deep morning grey.
On this side a paddy-field, no one but me.
Who is this, steering close to the shore
Singing? I feel that she is someone I know.
The sails are filled wide, she gazes ahead,
Waves break helplessly against the boat each side.
I watch and feel I have seen her face before.
Oh to what foreign land do you sail?
Come to the bank and moor your boat for a while.
Go where you want to, give where you care to,
But come to the bank a moment, show your smile -
Take away my golden paddy when you sail.
Take it, take as much as you can load.
Is there more? No, none, I have put it aboard.
My intense labour here by the river -
I have parted with it all, layer upon layer;
Now take me as well, be kind, take me aboard.
No room, no room, the boat is too small.
Loaded with my gold paddy, the boat is full.
Across the rain-sky clouds heave to and fro,
On the bare river-bank, I remain alone -
What had has gone: the golden boat took all.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1894. Translated by Bhabani Bhattacharya. 

The Red Lantern

By Amitava Nag
Kolkata, India
The red lantern is fighting its last breath. No, its not windy. Its just that its life is no more. Its well past 1 at night. The lust of the night is lull now. He waits in the lawn, hundred meters away. The sky above is studded with jewels. He can still find the ones he wanted as a child – wanted and forgot. Many of his friends could reach up and get them – not him. Alas, he sighed heavily.
Somewhere near the old church clock shuddered the time as he turns – the lantern is dead.
Peeing in public toilets is so intimidating for him. Almost always he feels someone might be looking over from the next slot. He is rather unsure. Is he ok? Or is he small? There are no friends to consult. When he grew up in school everyone jeered at him. ‘Shorty’ was the name he got. What else can he do? He used to hang from trees – an advice someone gave him or his mother. Nothing happened. He only fell and broke his hand. His mom cursed herself – ‘You didn’t get my milk. That’s why you are like this’. He knew that his mother had an infection when he was inside her. Is it the reason? May be. Maybe not. His mother is happy atleast to assign it to some reason. That keeps her satisfied, he thinks.
She is taut. He had desired her so many times. He almost felt her round breasts whenever he thought of her. She was a hit. She never had to be on the street. He was one of them who used to find a client for her. There were two more. He didn’t like the job. Not for her atleast. The other two used to be with some other girls of the area. And he knows they also yearned for her. But he couldn’t be with anyone. How can he do so? ‘You Shorty. No girl will ever take you’ they rebuked. He knew at heart that it was true. But money can buy almost everything. He knew that as well. But he doesn’t have money to waste on useless girls. Can love be bought with money? Novels say you cannot. He is not sure.

He loved talking to her. She was good to him. At times she would give him good cigarettes, left by her clients. He was shy. The other guys would laugh at her. ‘You are harmless Shorty. That’s why she talks to you so much.’ Whatever it is, he was happy. The shanty where he was staying with his mother is a little walking distance. When he returns almost at dawn he would see his mother sleeping while sitting. ‘Don’t wait for me, ma’ he told many times. The old woman won’t listen. She knows his son is too soft to survive this cruel world.

‘Drink milk’ said the sadhu, ‘and you will grow. Every human drinks milk to grow up.’ He was confused. He loves drinking milk. ‘You have to drink milk from a woman who is having milk. This is what you lacked. Cow milk will not help.’ The idea seemed absurd. Where will he get such a woman? And why will she agree? ‘Any other alternative? Which is easier?’ he asked. ‘Easy alternatives don’t help if the problem is difficult, beta. But still you can hold this stone for a month and see if it helps. There may be a chance. Check, if you wish’, the sadhu had told. He is wearing the ring since then. He is certain there are no improvements. On the contrary he is having stomac problems since then. He doesn’t understand planets but his mother was certain ‘This new ring is causing all the problems. See, you haven’t earned much as well in the last few months. Throw it away’. He couldn’t throw away the ring. Its not his type to be so assertive. But its true that for the last few months his earning is low.

She was in love with one of her clients – the school teacher from the city. The man is perfect, good match – he always thought looking at them together. Problem started few months ago. There were rumours even before but he never knew what it was all about. He was shy to ask as well. She was pregnant. He knew it was that man only. One day she called him and handed over a letter ‘Give it to the schoolteacher. He will be in the ferry-ghat’. So he acted as the messenger. One day when he came to work she had left. She eloped pregnant. No one had a trace. He knew she had fled with the schoolteacher. They all pounced on him for information, they all knew he might know something. But he didn’t tell a thing – not even that the schoolteacher plans to marry her and settle in the big city. No one can find her ever he thought. He was pensive that he couldn’t see her again but she was secretly happy. This is a hell. He will be happy if she can raise her child away from here.
Nature has its own way of judging things. Time changes colours to everything, to minds of people as well. He got accustomed to working for newer girls. When suddenly one day he finds she is back. She is pale and anemic with a son. The owner was good-hearted to take her back though she may take a while to be back on trade. ‘But you need to be taken to doctor for checkup’, he advised. ‘I know but I don’t have any money. That bugger took everything from me’ she started crying. He didn’t want to hear the story. Its an old story. It repeats with perfection. He somehow felt annoyed.

As the night grew old and the clouds moved faster across the ceiling of his thoughts he felt a desire to be at her side. She is a friend to me, he thought. He knew she is very helpless now, more than before and he is her only friend as well. ‘I will take you to the doctor’ he announced the next day. ‘But why? Why will you spend your money? I will be on trade from next month and will go myself’ she reasoned. She couldn’t keep up to it. Two days later she fainted. He took her to the doctor. ‘Nourishment is missing. She has to eat well’ the doctor prescribed along with few medicines. ‘Thank you. You are a friend. I always knew you are. But what can I do in return?’ she was coy. ‘Nothing. That you acknowledge me as a friend is more than what I want. I always secretly admired you. But couldn’t tell you’ he gasped. That he could tell all these he never could believe. ‘ I like you too. You were different from most. You were so natural. So obvious’ she burst into words that flowed over the both of them as they swayed in momentary happiness. The black clouds move away from the face of the moon and in his exuberance he says ‘The sadhu baba told me to drink milk from a woman. I will be a normal man then. Not a shorty any more. Will you let me? When I become normal then we can have a future’. There are words which remain best never uttered. She was frozen. He overlooked in his new found energy and prospect. ‘Okay, come to my room when you are done with your work. I will wait’, she could utter hiding her tears.

Suddenly the lights get dim and in silhouette we find the seven of them – hand in hand gliding over the land. The music is sombre, from a harp supported with violin. He enters her room – its lighted beyond imagination. She lies there – calm and still. There is nothing on her. He could see her naked body for the first time. So silken and white. So full and curvy. He could almost touch her from trance. There was only a piece of cloth round her neck – like the royal scarf she is wearing. Transcendence from the trivial, he felt perplexed and overawed. He never believed that his destiny would come to here. He walks to the lawn. Lies down as if the sky is so near. The atmosphere is still, yet the red lantern dies its death. He looks at it – ‘Poor soul’, he pities it. There was a bird in him which fluttered very recently. He then lets her fly away.

As the screen gets opaque we can hear in voice-over a chanting that fades with the opening lights of the dawn -

“Emperor, your sword won’t help you out
Sceptre and crown are worthless here
I’ve taken you by the hand
For you must come to my dance”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Outsider

By Ishan Banerjee
Siliguri, India

She is the one you see
Staring back at you,
A crowd mills around, all
Faces engrossed in their own being.

She is a part of them,
There, but just on the fringes ---
The one everyone accepts but
Still, happily, cannot yet absorb;
Not quite one of them,
Yet filling the photo frame;

She is detached, and lonely inside,
Secret longings and hidden passions
Make her body of torment.

She wants to express it all but
Finds a mute and silent outlet,
Her lips.

And the crowd washes away,
Like the rustlings of leaves, dead
On the class room floor,
And she still sits there.
Smiling back at you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Intense, Sizzling & Timeless...

By Ananya Mukherjee
After a decade of decadence at Broadway and London’s West End, Chicago, the tale of debauchery woven in a high-intensity musical, was staged at Singapore’s Esplanade Theatre last week.
The overture begins with the words, "Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery, all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts." Set in the gangster world of Chicago in 1920s, where the city is fuelled by jazz, liquor and murder, Chicago The Musical tells the story of Roxie Hart, a nightclub dancer who dreams of heading a Vaudeville, kills her lover, and then convinces her husband to fund $5000 to hire Chicago’s shrewdest lawyer, the smooth talker Billy Flynn. It is an amazing tale of an ambitious woman facing a death penalty, who awestruck by the glitz and glamour of the showbiz world soon discovers that with a little bending of the truth and media manipulation, one could get away with anything in Chicago—including murder! The message comes clearer with Billy Flynn’s sarcasm as he openly states, “If Jesus was alive today, living in Chicago and had $5000, things would have turned out a bit differently.”
In prison Roxie meets Velma Kelly, a vaudeville star who shot her husband and sister after catching them in bed together. Intense rivalry between Roxie and Velma begins as they each battle for their place in the spotlight, even with a death penalty looming over their heads.

Chicago was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb (the same people who brought you Cabaret) in the 1970s. It has played over 15,000 performances worldwide and has captivated an estimated audience of 17 million across the globe. Honoured with 6 Tony Awards, 2 Olivier Award, a Grammy Award and thousands of standing ovations, Chicago is a musical experience of a lifetime. Though the stage is not exactly as impressive as other Broadway or West End shows, this one concentrates on a high powered, high skilled drama that is accentuated by the jazz, the dancers and the orchestra that forms the centre stage. If you have watched it on silver screen with Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta Jones, it’s time to take in the intensely sizzling theatre version.

And remember with the right songs and dances, you can get away with anything...including murder!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Imperial Love

By Tuhin A Sinha
Mumbai, India
If you took the Jodhabai-Akbar romance, as depicted in the movie at face value, you might be in for some re-thinking, post reading this article. For the romance, if it may be called so, wasn’t half as utopian. Neither was Jodhabai during her lifetime known as Jodha. Post her marriage to Akbar, she was Mariam uz- Zamani.

Akbar’s marriage with the daughter of Raja Bharmal, of Amber(modern day Jaipur) was quite unequivocally a device used for political acquisition. Hira Kunwari (Jodha’s maiden name) was married to Akbar on January 20, 1562, at Sambhar near Jaipur. She was Akbar's third wife. It will be interesting to note here that there is little clarity on the total number of wives that Akbar eventually had.
The fact that other Rajput kingdoms, subsequently, also established similar matrimonial alliances with Akbar, cannot be disproved. The law of Hindu succession has always been patrimonial, so the threat to lineage, in marrying their princesses for political gain, was pretty inconsequential.
History does not corroborate any instance of Akbar’s romance with Jodhabai in the real sense. Yet, there seems to be near unanimity over Jodhabai being referred to as Akbar’s favorite queen.
What then could have possibly led to Jodha being given this preference?
Jodha, it is said, was extremely gorgeous and dignified. But apart from her personality attributes, she gave Akbar what his other queens could not-an heir. Akbar's first queen was the childless Ruqaiyya Begum, and his second wife was Salima Sultan, the widow of his most trusted general, Bairam Khan.
A sense of desperation seemed to mark Akbar’s prayers at the dargah of the Shaikh Salim Chishti, which later led to the birth of his first surviving child Jahangir. Was Akbar’s affection for Jodhabai thus familial and borne out of a sense of gratitude?
Subsequently, Jodha is said to have enjoyed increased clout over political matters. She was Akbar’s only queen who could issue farman(official documents), which was normally the exclusive privilege of the emperor. Jodha used her influence to build gardens, wells, and mosques around the country.
It is also accepted that Jodha had the permission to worship in the Hindu way in her palace and continued to remain a devotee of Lord Krishna. Akbar’s fondness for Jodha only made him more accepting of Hindu rituals. That Jahangir, Akbar’s successor, too is appreciated as a liberal leader, perhaps only shows the indirect influence that Jodha might have made politically.
Having dwelt upon Jodha’s preferred status in Akbar’s life, Akbar’s subsequent marriages cannot be wished away. And this is where the soft romance between Akbar and Jodha gets mired in irony.
In all likelihood, Jodha, in the limited way that she could, gave Akbar a sense of belonging that his other women did not. In all probability, she reduced Akbar’s personal detachment and made him discover a side of his that had got dwarfed by his political ambitions.
Jodha’s tomb, which is situated just about a kilometer away from that of Akbar, lies in obscure abandonment, so much so that it is only natural for the less curious to give it a miss. Not unexpectedly, just like her tomb is but a shadow of Akbar’s, so might have been her being when she lived. More tellingly the ASI slab at the entrance of the tomb informs that the tomb is that of Mariam Zamani, a princess of Amber who married Akbar and later gave birth to Jahangir.
So was the Akbar-Jodha hyphenation indeed romance or was it another instance of virtue having been made out of necessity? Well, how one wishes our history was less ambivalent…

Vanity Fair

By Abhishek Chatterjee

Come May this year and China will get ready to play host to the World's largest International
fair / exposition in terms of number of visitors. The event, themed ‘Better City, Better Life’, aims to explore different aspects of urban development, sustainability and harmonious growth. Five separately themed pavilions will aim to explore the various facets of this modern phenomenon and attempt to address issues like urban income inequality, resource limitations, urban migration and sustainable growth. Some 70 million people, 240 delegations, 100 heads of state and more than 50 international organisations are expected to visit the fair this year and China has pulled out all the stops to ensure that the event is mounted on a grand scale. When you consider that only around 5 million visitors turned up for the Expo's previous edition, held in Zaragoza in Spain, you realize the magnitude of the event on hand. And the Chinese are well acquainted with the adage, ‘bigger is better’. The government has till date, spent upwards of 40 billion dollars on upgrading Shanghai’s infrastructure, in addition to the Expo’s budget of 4 billion dollars (which in total makes it more expensive than the Beijing Olympics). Shanghai now has 2 spanking new airport terminals, a competent subway system and a new 700 million dollar riverfront promenade - all aimed at sprucing up the city, which many locals believe is at the cusp of its ‘moment in history’, the Expo being just the trigger needed for the city to announce it’s pre-eminence at the world stage.

Interestingly, the Expo will also be as much about international politics as it will be about urban harmony. The US, unable to use government money to participate in fairs, had initially indicated non participation, but China’s growing clout forced Hillary Clinton to confirm a US pavilion on her last visit. The US government then went on a fund raising spree with the 60 million dollars required coming mainly from donations. Another case in point is American car maker General Motors, which sells more cars in China than it does in its home market. They were one of the first corporates to commit a pavilion at the fair (to showcase their clean technologies). With China’s recent dominance in the world economy, the Expo is as much a show of its current power as it is about making the world’s cities better places to live in. And many countries are happy to play along and cozy upto the Chinese. Japan, eager to mend its historically troubled ties with China, is spending 140 million dollars , a mere 6 million shy of what the Saudis are planning to cough up for their ‘crescent moon’ pavilion. Australia, a country that exports most of its natural resources to China and has generally had amicable relations with the Chinese, is keen to keep things that way and have undertaken to spend 76 million dollars for its participation. India, despite sharing a troubled relationship with the hosts, will spend 50 million dollars and will also fly top film stars and artistes to showcase its soft power. China, once a huge market for the socialist fare churned out by the likes of Raj Kapoor, will get a refresher course in Bollywood (‘Chini Kum’, hopefully not being part of the cinematic offerings) and India will hope for a less rocky road ahead with the Chinese as both powers remain competitors for natural resources to fuel their growing economies.

But there remain concerns though, more for the government than for the participants. China might have to pay a heavy social price for the Expo. In preparation for the games, thousands of city dwellers and business establishments have been shunted out of the city and relocated in remote areas at the peripheries. Many claim little or no compensation for the land lost, which has led to a fair bit of popular discontent among Shanghai’s residents. The Communist Party has paid an even higher price two years ago when it had to suspend its then secretary, Chen Liangyu, on charges of corruption. Chen, who was initially tasked with readying the city for the Expo, went about treating the city as his personal fiefdom, building what many believe to be unnecessary structures like a 290 million dollar tennis complex, an F1 race track and a proposed expensive magnetic levitation rail-line running straight from the Expo to the airport (and eventually linking Shanghai with Hangzhou), which turned out to be the final straw. Public outrage followed as citizens along the intended route were displaced and concerns were raised about magnetic radiation and noise levels. The government eventually had to give into the repeated protests by the activist middle class and investigations were launched into Chen’s dealings, leading to his eventual suspension on charges of fraud. The rail-line was eventually abandoned. Whatever Hu Jintao’s vision of ‘harmonious society’ (which refers to efforts to reduce income inequalities within the country) may be, the arbitrary and sometimes ad hoc cosmetic facelift that the city has received may eventually create more discord than harmony, given that very few of the poor will actually benefit from the Expo. Questions still remain about the gainful use of the some of the structures after the fair has run its course. While the country pavilions will be torn down in six months time, the permanent structures may end up being money down the drain.

It is interesting to note that these are similar dilemmas that the Indian government faces as it readies the capital city for the Commonwealth Games, which is supposed to do for New Delhi what the Expo is doing for Shanghai. Urban regeneration, economic growth and the re-imaging of cities are now central themes for countries bidding for world sports events and world fairs alike, and one hopes that both leaderships will exercise foresight and caution in addressing the many real and human challenges which arise as a consequence, else all the billions of dollars spent will ultimately stand out in sharp contrast against the real requirements of the people and dreams of a ‘Better City, Better Life’ will eventually remain...just those.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Quintessential Woman

By Ramachandran Subramanium

You walk on the streets, or you stay at home

By any name, in any language , she is the epitome.

Look around, your eyes closed or open , anywhere

You will find her with a smile ,all warmth , ready to care.

You cannot miss her for the wood or the oven.

She is your quintessential woman.

They say there is a man in every woman ,

That’s how inclusive she is , my good old man

Most of the time she makes you wonder

How does she remain calm in so much strife and blunder

How can she pack such a punch in a body so frail

So much love in a heart every time without fail

You cannot miss her for the wood or the oven.

She is your quintessential woman.

She makes your morning tea , does your bed at night

She mothers your children and is their guiding light

She is a loving sister and dutiful wife

She makes complete every life

You cannot miss her for the wood or the oven.

She is your quintessential woman.

No ode is sufficient to extol her virtue

No sonnet is good enough to pass on her due

She will brave all odds and smile at every obstacle

She will work tirelessly and never crave to be a spectacle

You cannot miss her for the wood or the oven.

She is your quintessential woman.

A pen is mightier than the sword

A woman is stronger than a man , mark my word

A rose by any other name smells just the same

A woman in any form will always be game

For another challenge, a new responsibility

Without her , LIFE is an impossibility.

You cannot miss her for the wood or the oven.

She is your quintessential woman.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

MOM's the Word!

No Archies card ever wrote a line about the chocolate she loved but didn’t eat because you wanted it, no songs were sung for all those lonely nights you told her “I’ll call” and happily forgot, no words were said in praise of the times she found your changing priorities and altered her own, no laurels, no awards, no special dinners for the things unsaid, the tears held back, the thoughts restrained so that you could be happy and successful in whatever you did....

Yet, you are you because she was her. To all of us, the mother and the child in us,
Happy Mothers’ Day!

My Little Magazine

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Minz Chaachaa

By Anindita Baidya
Anand, Gujarat, India
He was a little more than 5 feet 3 inches or so, dark, with radiant oily complexion, hair generously oiled too. In the scorching heat, in withering cold and during the torrential rain, Minz Chaachaa, in his Khakhi uniform, would un-failingly arrive, walk few stairs up and few stairs down and on his big black Hercules, move from lane to lane, street to street......Minz Chaachaa. That’s how we children knew him. He was our postman.
As very young children, we watched him delivering yellow postcards from beneath our closed apartment door. At times we would duck at this side of the closed door, watching the letters being slowly pushed in by Minz Chaachaa. At times we would politely pick up the letters and at other times, we would pull a letter so as to let him know of our presence. Minz Chaachaa, in turn, would playfully pull back the letter and this fun would continue for a few moments.
At times, when he had something important to deliver, like a registered post or parcel, he would bang the door loudly. Worthwhile to mention here is that though we had a door-bell, Minz Chaachaa never could use it since at that part of India where my father was posted, there was no electricity for a brief duration during the day, say, for about 20 hours!
The other neighbours called him with a ‘generic’ name, ‘Aye..postman..!” That’s how Minz Chaachaa was addressed most of the time. My mother said that no one addresses my father as ‘Aye....Supervisor’ or for that instance my mother did not have to hear ‘Aye..housewife!’ why call anyone by his/ her occupation! And that’s how we knew him as Minz Chaachaa; Albert Minz, being his name.
We saw him delivering the acknowledgement of the money-orders, which our father would regularly send to our grandparents and at times, during the Christmas season, he would bring a lot of Christmas joy and money orders from our uncles. He would meticulously count the notes and ask my mother to repeat it before accepting her signature. My mother would always shy away from checking the notes and the amount in his presence. She said that would mean she did not trust him!

I would often wander how on earth Minz Chaachaa could travel to all the faraway places where our grandparents and uncles lived to bring us those letters and money orders!
During those days, most of the letters arriving were in yellow postcards. Mother and father would go through them, turn by turn and the important ones would find a place on the wall, get pinned to a hook, along with other paper bills, grocery bills, wedding invitations, etc. etc.
Sometimes we would receive inland letters. The more sophisticated relatives would always send inland letters, my mother explained. It was Minz Chaachaa from whom we learnt the art of folding an inland letter.
During the school days, we received our annual report cards via post. And thus, once a year, for ten long years, I would have to bear the tearing anxiety when from my balcony, I could see Minz Chaachaa, carrying along with other letters, my yellow report card! He sure did not have a clue as to how my heart beat increased at that sight! He would wait till the result was opened and each time my father wished to gift him some money on the occasion, Minz Chaachaa denied, saying , “Uss paise se baby ke liye kitaab khariid leejiye, dada!”
He accepted gift only on one occasion, Christmas! Each year, the gift he would receive from the neighbourhood would go to the orphanage.
Times changed, days gave way to months and months to years...but I saw the same Minz Chaachaa, walking up and down the apartments, across the lanes and streets, tirelessly and never missing a smile.
By the time I was 20, the postcards and inland letters had given way to more numbers of yellow envelops with stamps on them. Those were from Nike.

I was studying in the neighbouring city during those years and as my holidays would begin, a permanent seat by the window of our apartment would be booked for me for the lazy afternoons. With voluminous books on my lap, I would have my eyes across the window, waiting for Minz Chaachaa.
His arrival would mean a gush of expectation for Nike’s letters. Never in my life was the ring of the bi-cycle bell so melodious and never before in life the loud thump on the door during the sleepy afternoons, was so very welcome. Days would pass like this, waiting for Nike’s letters; some days would bring in disappointment while there were days when my heart fell out to Nike’s letter, lying beneath the door where Minz Chaachaa would have pushed it through.
Years of courtship passed with Minz Chaachaa playing the messenger for our love, fights, tears, complains and forgiveness... only that Minz Chaachaa had no idea of what he had been delivering....!

Even after Nike left for his further studies and I returned to my home town for my career pursuit, Minz Chaachaa continued to be the harbinger of my blooms and glooms...
Suddenly Nike’s letters stopped arriving! Day after day Minz Chaachaa arrived and returned without slipping in from beneath my door, any letter from my Nike. With his arrival, my expectation would soar high and with his return, would start another day of wait, hoping that next day, Nike’s letter would arrive! And months passed by...
And one day, finally, Minz Chaachaa, as usual, pushed in a pink envelop, this time an Archie’s Greeting Card. This one was from Nike! Months of anguish broke into a dam of tears as I picked up the card.

Nike had proposed. And not only was that, inside that cover, there a letter from Nike’s father, proposing a visit to our town soon, for engagement. He did not want to wait, he said.
I wanted to run across the lanes, fly across to Minz Chaachaa and tell him that for me, he was the messenger from Paradise!
While I walked down the aisle on my special day, I looked at Minz Chaachaa sitting among the guests. He raised his hands in blessing.
Today, when I am at the other corner of the world, I have no clue of my Minz Chaachaa. I wander how he must have been during the past few years, I wander about his health and I often picture a frail Minz Chaachaa, hoping his sons are taking good care of him.
My messenger from Paradise, the harbinger of my happiness; May God bless Minz Chaachaa with great health and abundant happiness!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Be Happy...emni emni

By Ananya Mukherjee

The optimist and the pessimist both have to die in the end, but what matters is how they have lived their lives, my favourite author wrote in one of his books. With my own life, I have discovered that there cannot be a greater, more absolute truth than this one.
Some years back, somebody I knew asked me a rather strange question one day. Well, it wasn’t just the oddity of the query, but the queer manner in which it was both fashioned and presented.
My curious friend took the pains of coming up to me, fixing an appointment to ask me the strangest secret of my life. And he asked rather seriously and critically, “I have seen very few people who remain as cheerful at the end of the day as you do. How do you manage to do that?”
For a while, I felt both funny and important. Was it so? Did I really do that? Thank God, people hadn’t seen me cribbing and cursing at the car park, packing off from office and calling names. Thank heavens, I didn’t yell aloud at the coffee boy for that syrupy mug; thank God, I said “XXXXX” in an undertone when I walked out of a not-so-favourite colleague’s work station. And not to forget the unpardonable forbidden word that sometimes suffices for punctuations marks in my conversations with myself!!
Anyway, my interviewer was adamant. He categorically listed the events and days on which, if I were “any other person” I would have blown my top, and insisted that I had managed to be as chirpy and cheerful as ever, even in times of stress!
Now, it was my turn to indulge myself in another bout of self actualisation. Before Piyush, my inquisitive friend asked me, I had never really given it a serious thought. Was I generally a happy person? Did I do it involuntarily or did I have to put an effort to remain happy? Well, that particular friend Piyush, also ran a stress-management consultancy and for him, more than a friendly colleague, I was an interesting case-study!
Chewing on a thought, I told him, smiling again, “I think, I do it with a little effort. Every morning, when I wake up, I give myself two choices—either to be happy or be sad. And deliberately each morning, I opt to be happy.”
My one-man audience was positively impressed! He even made vague references to the possibility of "Annie" being a reincarnated Zen monk (without having to sell her Ferrari, of course!) and noted down my words on his scribble pad!
When I walked out of his office, I left him with a smile and a thought for myself.
Let me share it with you. All these years, I had believed people only noticed tear-stained faces. Never did I once imagine that one day the world would be so stressed and so bogged down playing catch up, waging an endless war against cut-throat competition and running blind on the fast track that a humble cheerful smile could make them sit up and take note!!
I am an emotional fool, they sometimes tell me. Tears are a part of my very own existence. I cry when I am happy and still smiling; weep when I am upset and still ‘trying to smile’, and howl in grief, hoping to smile again. A miserably confused description, which does not agree with my happy disposition! However, fighting it all, I always consider myself to be a very positive person, the kind who chooses to close her eyes to the dirty dark black world and tries to hunt for the moon even in an eclipse!!! Escapist, one might say. My other word for it? Brave!
I strongly emote to the fact that before and after everything, Noah's Ark or Doomsday, life is worth its smiles. And how do I live on that conviction? Let me share my secret with you today.
Think with me. You must have often heard people using words such as pure happiness. What exactly does one mean? Unadulterated, pure, doubly refined (doesn't that sound more like sunflower oil????) pleasure??? Is that how one defines happiness? Or does one put himself on a self assumed measuring scale, weigh it and conclude, “okay I am happy...One TON!”!
Just like pain, I think pleasure is very personal and has its own undefined measuring tool. Each one of us has a separate and distinctly designed beam balance for weighing our pains and pleasures. Clearly, one set of Vernier Callipers may not be applicable for another! Pain and pleasure have varied standards, depending on individual scales.
No common rules can accommodate personal emotions and sense of judgment!
With time, I have understood that everything in life is momentary and ephemeral! All our lives we speculate and chase the most unidentifiable visage of life called "Future", never realizing for a while, that life spans between two fleeting moments, living only between an inspiration and expiration!
I also think life’s charm lies in the fact that happiness is such a transient phase and the comfort of pain lives in the truth that it does not last forever!
hank God, nobody ever heard me cursing and cribbing aloud about life and its idiosyncrasies!! Did you? Shhhhhhhh!!!
Just happy, without a rhyme or a reason, as we say in Bangla...Mon khushi emni emni...

Mornings in Jenin

By Abdullah Khan

The creation of Israel, for Jews, was the fulfilment of 3000 years of yearnings for a Jewish homeland. For Palestinians, it was El Nakba, the catastrophe, which rendered them homeless and forced them, to live in perpetual misery. The Jewish version of the Israel-Palestine story has found a place in English fiction umpteen times; the most popular being Exodus by Leon Uris, a book that generated a huge wave of sympathy in the U.S. for Israel. But there was no novel of mass appeal originally written in English, from the Palestinian perspective until Susan Abulhawa decided to write one.
The catastrophe
Mornings in Jenin opens in 1941 and centres on a Palestinian family, the Abulhejas, a happy farming family in a picturesque and serene village named Ein Hod near Haifa.
But their happiness comes to an abrupt end with the birth of Israel seven years later, as they are forcibly evicted from the land of their forefathers and made to live in a refugee camp in Jenin.
In Jenin, Amal Abulheja, the chief protagonist, is born. With her, we embark on a journey through the tumultuous history of post-1948 Palestine.
In between, we also witness the personal losses Amal suffers: her father goes away never to return, her mother becomes insane, her husband is killed in a bombing, her sister-in-law and niece are slaughtered during a massacre and much more.
When the journey ends after 325 pages, we are left wondering: How can someone be so brutal to his fellow human beings? How can the victims of a Holocaust metamorphose into the instigators of a catastrophe? How do some people not lose their humanity even in times of extreme adversity?
Of course, the book is a work of fiction but the events, from the forceful dispossession of Palestinians in 1948 to the killings at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982, are facts and many real people inhabit this story of heartbreak, exile, and human tragedy.
What struck me most is the honesty of the author's voice. Despite being born to Palestinian refugees of the Six Day War of 1967, she has tried hard not to let her personal feelings fill the text. All individual Jewish characters are portrayed in sympathetic light. Nowhere in the story has she lost the touch of humanity.
Another bright aspect of Susan's writing is her ornamental use of language in the tradition of contemporary Arabic writing. For instance, here is a taste of the opening paragraph from the chapter, ‘‘The Harvest'':
In a distant time, before history marched over the hills and shattered present and future, before wind grabbed the land at one corner and shook it of its name and character, before Amal was born, a small village east of Haifa lived quietly on figs and olives, open frontiers and sunshine.
In the nutshell, a remarkable novel, which will help us understand the Israel-Palestine conflict better.

The review was first published in The Hindu