Saturday, September 11, 2010

Friendship: Then and Now

I am a self-confessed Facebook addict. If I’m not doing anything better, I’m surfing around through Facebook-scape. It’s like my Ethernet access has shrunk down to accommodate only this one particular website, like a house cut down by a cruel bulldozer to just a room. While I pace up and down this rather cluttered room of mine, I bump into many vestigial relationships. I’m talking about my friends who used to mean a lot at certain points of time, but have dissolved somewhere along the way. Many of them unsubscribed from my life when school was over, and there were many that I couldn’t keep track off. I must admit that I made little or no effort to do that, because migrations are necessary for many.

When I look at them today, I find it hard to reconcile their present with the memories of my past. I find it hard to figure out when I spoke to them last, and if I can somehow remember that, I cannot save my life to tell you what we talked about. It’s like we lived in a village that has been ravaged by the keepers of time. And then we settled elsewhere only to meet at a village fair many years later. By then we have transformed into self-sufficient units and can feed ourselves. We no longer need to join hands for a cause; we no longer need to come together again.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that I do not like connecting with old friends. But there’s so much that has happened over the years that the person I work with knows more about me than the friend who was in the school Literary Club with me. It seems like a gigantic task to fill them up with updates, force the drab details down unwilling throats. I feel that friendship, like all other relationships, has a shelf life. Once you drag them beyond their span, you feel the burden and the weight crushes the fond memories you have. I’d pick my memories any day over reconciling myself with a stranger who looks like my long lost friend.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ode to an Office

An incomplete poem I started writing long time back. It's about an office I worked in...

It was not a long time ago,
That I got an opportunity
To add my spirit of usefulness
And contribute toward an exercise in quality.
There exists a Gothic building,
That stands like a figure imposing;
To know more about this den,
Let's start meeting its merry men.
Guarding the door is a sentry gentle,
He neither smokes, nor chews beetle.
But he has got quite a curiosity,
And asks questions with feverish tenacity.
If you want to get through the gate,
Better come early, or you'll surely be late.
After climbing up the stairs few,
You are greeted with a solemn view.
With computers black, people sit in rows,
They work with perpetually quizzed eyebrows.
Work is not the reason for this gloom,
It's just that on the right is the boss' room!
It would not be safe to talk about
Some of these merry men,
Should they come to know of this,
They'll surely knock out my brain!
So let's go only to the harmless men,
They are nice, they are timid, they are sane.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Napping Away

This is another post triggered by the bus rides that take me to work and back. It’s not that I observed it off late, but I never thought of writing about this earlier. Check the snap. I took it on my cell phone when I was comfortably perched at the last seat of the bus. The gentleman (X) was almost resting his head on the shoulder of the man (Y) beside him. Y was sleeping too, but he could keep his head firmly straight, except for a slight droop. Each time X’s head touches his shoulder, Y gives his shoulders a violent shrug. This alerts X and he sits up bolt upright. Before long he gives up his resolve as the cool breeze wafting in from the Hooghly river sooths his alert nerves. His head starts the sideways slump again. This continued repeatedly till X’s journey came to an end and he somehow pushed himself out of the packed bus.

It’s not a wonder for me anymore. Over the years I have seen passengers on the bus take power naps on their way. Many wake up from the bounce on the roads. Many naps are cut short by an elbow of the passenger standing beside him. Some have a lot of peace stenciled on their faces. It seems like this is the only time which they have to themselves. They can sleep peacefully without a wife yelling in the other room or without a teenage child hankering for extra pocket money. They don’t really feel guilty about taking it for granted that even if their heads end up on the adjacent person’s shoulder, there won’t be much harm done! Some don’t even apologize. Some get angry when they find a head on their shoulder. Sometimes quarrels are triggered. I have seen considerate conductors leave the sleeping passengers alone when he goes along collecting fares. The ones standing and swaying to the movement of the bus look at the sleepers jealously. What would they not give to swap places? Some people have all the luck, they seem to grumble. And why not? While they sweat it out in the humid interiors of the bus, with only very short intermittent gusts of wind striking their grimy faces, the better-off mortals are replenishing their energy reserves.

I am guilty of the same offense as well! There were quite a few times when I fell asleep on my way. But I don’t use the person beside me as a pillow; that much I can assure you! However, I allow children to use me as a pillow if they fall asleep! I make jerky movements to ward off adults looking for the same privilege. As for me, actually my mind starts to wander about the moment the bus starts moving. When it gets lost in a maze of incomprehensible garbage, I find my eye-lids getting heavy. Before long they meet secretly. Their hug is torn apart when the bus comes to a sudden halt or when the car beside honks unusually loud. I squint out to check where I have reached. If that’s far off from where I have to get off, I allow myself to indulge a little, with a mental note that I have to keep this short. Sometimes when I wake to see my destination just a couple of minutes away and I feel really sleepy, I have this mad urge to sleep on and come back on another bus! But I fight it off because our time is such a slave to others that even if we want, we cannot get it to do something for our own pleasure.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Noboborsho Morning Revisited

My earliest memory of the Bengali New Year was waking up at 4am. My parents had a business of their own. According to the custom of businesspersons, they woke up early on this day to pay a visit to the temple. This was the starting of the business year. Hundreds of small and medium scale businesspersons and their spouses would gather on the temple premises very early. They carried a big wickerwork bowl (called jhuri) filled with flowers, a new copy and assorted items needed for the ceremonies. Tucked away comfortably in the jhuri was an idol each of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and her elder brother Ganesh, the god of prosperity. The bro-sis duo is the deities the businesspersons worship in this part of the world.

My parents would blend in with the crowd. My mom, in a crisp new saree which sometimes retained the glued brand tag because she was always in a hurry and desperately careless, would spend the time at the queue chatting away happily with the other women around. My dad, irritated at having to wake up so early but never complaining in fear of a spat with mom, shifted uncomfortably on his feet. He couldn’t bring himself to talk to the others around him. He was a complete misfit there. He wouldn’t even get inside the cramped temple. He would wait outside as mom got in with the jhuri. When she came out with sweat trickling down her face, she had this look of triumph: finally she had got it done before many others!

The jhuri now contained lesser flowers. Red vermillion was painted across the forehead of Lakhsmi, the mark of a married woman. A red dot was marked on Ganesh’s forehead too. This was one was a tika, different from the one on Lakshmi. The copy’s first page was smeared with the same red and a red swastika shone through. There were flower petals inside the pages as well. Mom would open the lid of the paper box containing the sweets and thrust one in my mouth. Her palm smelled metallic. Dad would take the sweet very gravely, as if it was made of the most brittle material. He would then lop that in his mouth and chew it even more gravely. Mom would call on a thousand gods in an indecipherable mumble and eat her share. The rest would be distributed among close family members and the workers who helped the business. We would then be on our way home.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Twittering Friends!

We are in the internet age, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you are thinking of Twitter as you read this post. But that’s not what I’m about to talk here. I’m talking about what we traditionally associate with the word twitter: the chirping of birds. If you are on my Facebook page, you may know that my room and the adjacent ante-room are infested with sparrows. I say infested because they can be really pesky. They are quarrelsome, they are noisy and they are restless. They can go on for hours, letting out a shrill yelp-like sound at an interval of 5 seconds. They are more tenacious than crows when it comes to making continued noise and chaos. However, they are as silent as the water in a mug when the sun is tired of warming the earth on this side of the hemisphere.

I used to get mad at them initially. I used to ask my mom to keep the windows of my room sealed up to prevent them from getting home. Mom would do that but the sparrows outwitted her badly. They would think of new ways to get in and my mom would be clueless. My sleep was disturbed at dawn, every passing day. I felt a murderous rage against the sparrows for keeping me up all morning. And then, one morning, I heard the faint sound for the first time. It was the sound of the baby sparrows!

I climbed atop a stool to take a closer look. There were four of them, beaks open in eager hunger. They thought I had come with food. The guardian sparrows were not there. I went down and asked mom what I can feed them. She suggested milk. I climbed back again and this time I was armed with powdered milk stirred in water and a dropper. The dropper was mom’s idea, of course! I did that for a couple of days, and they made more noise as they grew up. But I was not so upset anymore. Neither did I feel the urge to keep the guardian sparrows out. I understood that keeping them out would be to cut off the food supply of the young ones. As for waking up, I was content with the idea that it was better to wake up to twittering birds than honking vehicles.

But, like many of my other relationships, they disappointed me badly. When the babies grew up, they left my room and never came back. My room was silent again, I could sleep peacefully again. But I missed my friends for days. Then I forgot all about them till life turned full circle. Their breeding season is back. The sparrows have started coming in again, with twigs and grass held possessively between their beaks. This time I’m not willing to be cooperative. I just let them be. They build their nest. I guess the eggs are laid as well because I found one of the eggs displaced from the high rack and squashed over my table. The baby sparrows may come any day now. But I won’t be friends with them again. I don’t like seasonal friends, even if they are twittering friends.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cricket: The Why and The Why Not!

My creative energy is scattered. I have a simmering anger against something that I have to cope with on a daily basis: collective indifference where action is much needed. My muse is holidaying in Puri with her parents. With no one to talk to largely, I took to the IPL like a free-falling person takes to the cold, cruel ground. I always liked watching cricket but after the match-fixing scandals broke out, I stopped altogether. For years I didn’t watch a single match on TV. With my faith betrayed by some money-hungry scumbags, it was not easy to love the sport again with unadulterated enthusiasm. I remember I used to switch off the TV when Sachin took the field with the bat! I couldn’t bear to see him get out. When he played one of his many legendary innings, I watched the highlights. Even now I pray when he’s at the crease. It’s involuntary. It is part of my system, as it is for millions of Indians.

The IPL has blurred the colors of loyalty. Suddenly you have to choose between the city you live and love and your demigod of a cricketing icon. I live in Kolkata and root for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) by default. A very interesting situation is when KKR plays against teams that have Sachin, Yuvraj and Dhoni on their team lists. I find myself hoping that these players score tons of runs but the sum total falls just short of the KKR total! I want them to go hammer and tongs and yet I want them to somehow stop short of batting KKR out of the game. I tried to train myself to will the KKR bowlers dismiss one of the names I mentioned, but I failed to do so hopelessly. The same goes for Shane Warne. I want him to win. Always. No matter which team he’s leading against. Except for KKR, of course!

In all this positive hullaballoo, I noted a rather disturbing trend. Sledging has been part of cricket folklore. The cricketing gods were not innocent of sledging. In the good old days, an aggressive bowler would stare and glare at the batsmen, making them cringe. The clever, witty batsman would reply with a snide remark or allow his bat to do the talking. However, in the recent times, I see players openly mouthing the f-word and even vernacular cuss words. The idea of cricket as a gentleman’s sport is slowly crumbly with the young guns making it top-heavy. Kids watching the match would love to catch what their icons are doing on the field. They are more likely to grab the idea that the best way to tide over your opposition was to get into verbal duels with them. That is not conducive to the nature and future of the game. I just desperately hope that we don’t come to times when sports telecasts will contain a P/G rating! Till then, enjoy the IPL!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dear Dad

I’m sure you remember that it’s mom’s birthday today! I know you do. You have never yelled “Happy Birthday!” on any 16th January, but since childhood I have noted that a gift would invariably be there on your hand when you came home from work on the 15th. For as long as I can remember it would be a cardigan because she loved collecting them, discarding many before winter visited us again. You never questioned their utility, like you never questioned any other aspect which received her stamp of approval. I noticed how you would pass on the TV remote to her even as you were on the edge of your seat, watching an intense cricket match. I didn’t forget how you would eat anything that was put on your table, knowing that she is not a good cook. How you could do it unfailingly over the ages, I don’t know. But I learnt lessons by observing these little gestures which kept petty quarrels at bay.

Quarrels! That’s something that you never picked with anyone. Neighbors, relatives, strangers, all of them either agreed to you or you agreed to them. I have to be honest here that sometimes it got on our nerves. Mom and I used to talk ill about you. We used to laugh at you. We used to mock you for being such a yes-man. But we also held a grudging respect for you because people seemed to love you for being what you are. There were so many mornings when I woke up to find neighbors thronging our house, asking you for help and advice. I was more strongly aware of this when the entire neighborhood was at our door the day you died. I couldn’t look at anyone in the eye. I shrunk away in my cocoon lest they expect I’ll be what you were to them.

You were gone before I could be there. I curse myself every day for being so tired as to oversleep that fateful morning. I don’t presume that you would have said a lot of things before you bid farewell to me. You were never a man of words. My guess is that you would have asked me to take care of mom. So that is my priority now. I’m trying to do what I can to make sure that she doesn’t feel lonely. But I seem to be fighting a losing battle. I don’t know what to do when she smiles to hide her pain only to make me feel that she recognizes my effort. I don’t know what to do when I see her arrange those pens you loved a thousand times, tidy up the room you lived in every other day and move your clothes from one pile to another, not knowing where their final resting place will be- somewhere out of her sight but someplace close to the heart.

Both of us are looking for that balance in our lives after your exit. There are so many things we hide from each other because we don’t want to hurt one another. But we are so dreadfully aware that there is a pall of gloom that won’t be dispelled. We have both failed you somewhere down the line. We have wronged, misunderstood and accused you. We take consolation in the fact that you are not someone who would hold a grudge. And that makes us feel even more concerned that you had to leave this way, away from us, in a desolate, solitary hospital bed, isolated and bereft of what you radiated with effortless ease- love and warmth. You never allowed me to touch your feet, let alone apologize. It was as if you are embarrassed yourself that someone is apologizing to you. So asking for your forgiveness now is not the proper way to express my gratefulness for everything that you have done for me and everything that I could and can do for myself because I had you. I can make that have, can’t I?

I know you love tinkering with the internet! I’m sure you will find a way to read this. I couldn’t bring myself to write this earlier, and now that I have decided to put it down, I can’t bring myself to stop. You see, I had a lot of things to say as well…

Saturday, January 9, 2010


It’s not without a lot of hesitation that I have decided to write this down. By the end of this post you may find yourself cringe, you may feel guilty; you may also find your sensitive side violated. This is the expression of what I have observed over the years on public transports, bus terminals, government offices, and even in educational institutions like schools and colleges. There is a thick fog of apathy hanging determinedly across all these places, enveloping them in a maze of indifference, the walls of which would not thaw or dissolve.

Let me relate an experience that I go through sometimes on my way to work. There is a girl, about twelve years old, who gets on the same bus as me, with her father. She’s dressed in school uniform, wears spectacles, and has a white gauge of bandage firmly taped over her left eye. It’s obvious that she has sustained some sort of injury. The bus is generally crowded then, being peak office hours. I have noted with horror that no one offers this little girl a seat. She sways to the rash driving of the bus, latching on to the edge of the seat to prevent herself from falling over.

The bus is so packed with people at this time that she or her father can’t move beyond a particular point. I generally sit on the last seats. I tried to call her over and offer my seat, but she couldn’t even begin to reach me. Too much of jostling was something that she couldn’t afford with an eye in bandage. And I could sense the others seated near her, shifting uneasily in their cozy seats. They were feeling unsettled that someone far away from her could offer a seat while they couldn’t bring themselves to do that. Some looked out of the window fixedly, pretending they had no clue what was going on.

But I got my reward. The girl smiled sadly at me, as if to thank me for at least trying to help her.

What is it with us? What stops us from carrying out random acts of kindness? The other day when I was having tea at a tea-stall with a colleague, a beggar came with her child. She wanted to buy a cake which cost Rs. 3.50. She had only Rs. 3. The shopkeeper refused to sell it. I took out the cake and gave it to her. The other people at the shop stared at me as if I gave away my purse or cell phone to her. My colleague commented that they earn more than us! I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.