Lagging behind the times, or not……

It was October 2011; I walked into the Durga pujo mandap on ‘Mahashtami’ draped in an elegant blue sari. It belonged originally to Ma. Grandma had gifted it to her when she’d come to see Ma for the first time before her marriage. I liked the sari so much that I decided to wear it during Pujo! I was on a fast as was customary if one had to offer the goddess, the morning ‘Pushpanjali’.

After the morning rituals ended, I sat on a chair inside the mandap with my ‘prashad.’ I looked at the glorious idol of Goddess Durga symbolising the victory of good over evil. Little children were running around and playing. It instantly reminded me of my childhood days when I would go with my family to the biggest neighbourhood pujo on ‘Mahashtami’, my tiny torso bundled up in six yards of pretty embroidered cloth. The mandap would be so crowded with people, it would almost seem like a stampede. It’s been so long, I thought to myself; I couldn’t recall the last time I attended such a ‘stampede’.

Amidst the cheerful atmosphere around, I know not how, it made me reminiscent of my initial days in Gurgaon. It was a huge culture shock for me, I must admit! A small town girl that I was, I found it quite difficult to adjust to big city ways. The first few days were especially weird due to the absence of bengali-speaking people around. Ma pushed me to go and play with the other children in the society, but my introvert nature hardly permitted that. Though I did try, but my small town image always acted as a hurdle. I always felt somewhat uneasy around the other kids. Maybe, it was all in my head, but I felt it, and that too, quite strongly.

Though, over these years I’ve come to love Gurgaon and Delhi very dearly, indeed, and have made best friends for life, the process had taken some time to initiate. I loved my new school! I soon found some nice friends in my classmates. The teachers extended their support to help the ‘newcomers’ adjust. Slowly and steadily, things started falling in place, when, one big bad habit of mine began ruining the hard earned happiness.

As a child I always thought, trains and buses were very comfortable places to take a nap in. Even 20 hours of sleep in my cosy little bed couldnot challenge an hour of sleep in a jerking bus! I remember, when Ma and I would go to meet my maternal grandparents in Kolkata, I would doze off in the bus with the assurance that Ma would wake me up on time. I had never imagined that this harmless habit would land me in so much trouble.

I soon came to be known as ‘the girl who sleeps in the bus’ among my new friends in Delhi. That habit of mine made everyone think of me as an irritable disposition, I know not why! I started getting bullied by peers, seniors and juniors alike. Though, I laugh over it now, but the highly disturbing epithet made my life pretty miserable for a while.

Those transient phases gradually passed. But, what remained was the difference that I had noticed between me and other children of my age. I noticed it everywhere, all the time. When my new friends asked me “hey! what’s up?”, I didnot know how to reply. I would just pass a smile and nod . It was probably because I wasn’t used to people asking me “hey! how are you?” in different ways.

My friends listened to Beyonce and Shakira and I preferred ‘Rabindrasangeet’ and bollywood classics. They drooled over Tom Cruise, but I enjoyed Satyajit Ray’s ‘Feluda’ series. When we talked about music and movies, I felt very Indian amidst all the Hollywood craze, to which I couldn’t contribute in the least. I started undermining my choices; even felt slightly dumb at times. I thought, maybe I should let go of my old likings and take to new things. Maybe, I wasn’t modern enough. Maybe, I was lagging behind the times!

So, in my distress, I decided to explore all things ‘cool’! I started listening to hard rock and rap; watched high-tech action movies. During our discussions in school, I pitched in occassionally with a ‘oh yeah! That song’s so groovy!’ I sounded quite alien to myself  but was happy about the transition process from ‘boring’ to ‘uber-cool’.

But, after all these years, I realise that the transition never happened. My old choices haven’t altered an inch; only the domain has widened. I haven’t been able to become ‘supercool’ despite my attempts; haven’t been able to let go of my small town mannerisms. Even today, when I wear a sari, some appreciate and some others simply snigger and walk off. Some call me a nerd because I don’t know about the things that are ‘in’. While adjusting the ‘dupatta’ on my way to the market some ‘cool dude’ may pass a “aye, behenji!” comment at me; I simply laugh it off. I still sleep in buses and trains, the latest addition to the list being the metro. I still am a Bollywood fanatic, an ardent Tagore fan, and the popcorn seems much crunchier during a Satyajit Ray film. Maybe, I’m still too Indian. Maybe, I’m still lagging behind the times…..


My Lost World

It was raining heavily. As I sat in my room, looking out of the window, I noticed how the raindrops fell gently on the lush green leaves of the  mango tree as it hung over the huge door to the frontyard, like a festoon.

Our 100 year old ancestral mansion, to me, was and probably still is, the most fascinating place on this planet. It had multiple entrances; the main gate that led to the huge one that further led to the frontyard; with the old mango tree that looked over it as if monitoring every person who passed through them. The frontyard was vast and one of my favourite places in the house. As a little girl, I would often play there with my friends. Sometimes, the whole family would sit there together and have breakfast and tea in the morning. And when Mr. Electricity took leave for a while, we would sit there fanning ourselves with a handfan and gossiping ; I, of course, only had the privilege of listening, as my family talked about everything ranging from how much the neighbours were spending on their daughter’s wedding, to what would be cooked for dinner the next day.

Our house was one that stood out in the neighbourhood. You had to just tell the rickshaw- puller to take you to the ‘aam gaach wala bari’ or ‘the house with mango trees.’ This expression aptly described the house, probably the only one in the neighbourhood with mango, coconut and jackfruit trees. Our huge garden, with its wide variety of fruits and flowers, was a fine specimen of grandpa’s greatest hobby- GARDENING! The terrace, too, was decorated with numerous flower pots ranging from roses to dahlias and many others whose names grandpa would often tell me, but I could never remember. The terrace looked especially beautiful in winters, when huge dahlias of a variety of colours, bloomed, and so did the pretty roses- red, pink and white, though they required a bit of extra attention; their sweet scent mingled with the fresh air and made the terrace one of my favourite hang-out spots in the house. Being a passionate photographer, grandpa would often take me there and make me sit and stand in different poses, sometimes with the flower pots around me and at times keeping them in the backdrop.

The frontyard wasn’t far behind when it came to the flora. It had a few ‘tulshi’ or ‘basil’ plants in one corner which grandma watered every morning as part of her hour long prayer service; and as per traditional Hindu customs, chanting the ‘mantras’ continuously as she poured the holy ‘gangajal’ on them. It also had a hibiscus plant with large blooming blood red hibiscuses. The frontyard had two doors, one that led to the living room and the other led to the kitchen. Though, I was fully aware that it was anything but architectural brilliance, I still found the setup very convenient.

I sat looking at the raindrops as they slid down the mango leaves. As my eyes traced their path as they fell from the edges of the leaves to settle on the ground, a smile drew on my face, when suddenly, Ma’s voice woke me up from my reverie;

“Only dreaming won’t help. One has to work hard. You have to aim big to achieve big, do you understand? If only you aim for topping the University will you be able to do so. Alright, forget the university, but top your college atleast? And you know what I just heard? Mrs. Gupta’s daughter has made it to IIT, electrical engineering. Had to happen, you know how hard she studied? Had you worked as hard, you too could’ve been there. But you weren’t interested! Who on this earth would believe that? Huh! Anyway, let bygones be bygones. Now, you have to make it to ‘Delhi School Of Economics’ and show the world that you’re no less, do you understand?”

All this while I sat gazing at her blankly with a stupid smile on my face that indicated I wasn’t completely out of my daydream yet!

“What are you sitting and looking at?” , snapped Ma, as she put the things in my room in order;

“You’re 18 years old now, do you realise? Learn to keep your things in place. How much work do you expect me to do throughout the day? Then handle your tantrums. And you’ll be happy to know that your sister is also treading in your footsteps. Don’t crib about the food today. It’s saturday, so no non-veg. I’ve made dal and gobi for lunch. You have to manage with whatever is there. Your Baba has said he’ll take us out for dinner tomorrow, so be happy about that”

I kept looking blankly at her when she shook me by my hand and yelled;

“Stop staring like an idiot, will you? Study, study! The last thing I want to know is, my daughter failed her semester exams. Now, get to work, fast!”, and with that she stormed out of my room.

I was surprised at how Ma’s lecture went uninterrupted, as more often than not I preferred interposing with my arguements, vehemently opposing her assumptions about me not being sincere with my studies. But, I was so lost, that I almost laughed at my own stupidity. I did nothing, but blinked once, and looked out of the window again.

But, to my surprise, there was no mango tree. Neither was there any frontyard. Only, huge, skyscraping bulidings. No honking rickshaws or little children sailing paper boats in the flooded streets. All I could see and hear, were, big cars zooming past the buildings with their blazing headlights!

It’s been almost 8 long years since my father along with my mother, sister and I, left our hometown, Shrirampur, in the Hooghly district of  West Bengal; the moffusil region outside ‘The City Of Joy-Kolkata’, to settle in Gurgaon. My life has changed ever since. My house no longer has a garden with mango and coconut trees, nor a terrace with roses and dahlias. I play with my friends in the frontyard no more, but ‘hang-out’ with them at shopping malls. I now pose for pictures with an artificial fountain or a ‘Wills lifestyle’ outlet in the background instead of the beautiful flowers on the terrace.

But, what hasn’t changed in all these years, is, my love for the place where I was born; where I spent 11 happy years of my life. Sometimes, I do feel, that I’ve lost the old little me amidst this big city hustle-bustle. But even now, when I look out of my window on a rainy day, all I see is the vast frontyard with the hibiscus and tulshi plants, and the wise old mango tree still hanging over the huge door!