The New Normal

It was Day-1 of my new job.

The year 2020 was just ending and we were exactly in the middle of December. People all over the world were eagerly waiting for the ominous year to end. The general feeling was that something magical would happen on January 1st, 2021 and everything would become just like it how was before the pandemic. Around the same time, I stepped into my new job.

The last time I had changed my job was in 2012. I clearly remember that day, just as I clearly remember the first day of all the other jobs before that one. By and large, they have had a similar pattern. You dress up well, arrive at a particular time in the office lobby, exchange greetings with other new joiners, sign a pile of documents, get your laptop and other office accessories, have an induction/orientation session, meet your manager and your team, get to know the office campus, and things like that.

But today everything was different. A lot of it felt strange and weird. To start with I wasn’t dressed in my best clothes. I did shower, combed my hair, and wore something decent but I surely could have dressed better. Certainly, my attire wasn’t one that I would have worn on a Day-1 to any office. Since about a fortnight ago a ton of emails had been steadily arriving in my mailbox with a lot of paperwork and with directions about how to get going on Day-1. Even then, naively enough, I was under the impression that I would have to be physically present at the office for Day-1. Two days before Day-1, the recruiter called up to inform she was available over phone, if I needed something. It was only then I got to know that I don’t need to go to office at all.

The day started with a meeting with my manager who tried his best to make me feel comfortable and took me through a ton of slides that talked about the Business Unit I was joining. My mind couldn’t register most of it at that time. And, the fact that I was using my precarious 12-year-old personal laptop didn’t help much.  A 2-hour long orientation session followed a little while later. Once again, my aged laptop and I struggled to keep each other afloat. Here I saw other new joiners of the day. I read some of the names, not even one I recall today. A few, like me, were on camera but I don’t recall a single face. In all my previous jobs, I distinctly remember the meaningful connections I would make on Day-1. None of that happened today.

In the afternoon a chauffeur-driven car arrived at my apartment gate to hand-over the company laptop and the Company Identity Card. He even clicked a picture of me holding the laptop – proof that the laptop was delivered. The laptop didn’t work and had to be returned and reissued – not getting into the details. I also heard that a bag of Day-1 goodies is on the way and I should receive them soon.

I am more than 3 months old in the company now and quite settled in but I haven’t met any of the people I work with. Well, that’s only partially correct as I keep meeting my immediate team through our regular video calls. They are all in the US and I am the only one who connects from India, so that isn’t odd. That’s how it would anyway be. Working virtually isn’t something new to me. The rest of the larger team are in India, and in Bangalore for that matter. Of course, we haven’t met and don’t know when/if we ever will.

But I must admit that I haven’t felt alone or left out even once. Grateful to have joined a team of some of the most genuinely authentic and immensely helpful people. Perhaps, the virtual connections are working afterall!

Will I have workplace friends like I did in my previous company? Will have to wait and watch!

When Sickness Comes Unannounced

I opened my eyes, stared at the ceiling, and wondered what I was doing there. Wasn’t I supposed to be laying on bed? Why am I laying on the bathroom floor? It took me less than a minute to understand that I would have had a blackout and fallen down. I can’t remember how I was feeling at that moment, but I did get up, finished my business in the bathroom, and stepped out. Before I knew, I found myself laying on the floor once again. This time right beside my bed. So, I had a blackout once again! As I tried to get up, I could feel a small hard piece inside my mouth. I spit it out on my hand. It was the broken piece of a tooth. I would have fallen with my face hitting the hard-tiled floor that caused my front tooth to break off. Later, I discovered bruises all over my left arm, which was a consequence of the fall in the bathroom.

It was an early Wednesday morning when all of this was happening, and I was all alone at home.

I placed the broken tooth on my bedside table and somehow climbed onto the bed. After about 10-15 minutes, my mind started connecting the dots and drawing conclusions on what was happening. The day before, I had very high fever with temperatures ranging from 103°F to 105°F, sometimes almost 106°F. No paracetamol, no cold-water therapy was helping and the fever that started off in the afternoon, continued late into the evening. The fever came down only middle of the night accompanied by heavy sweating. As a result, my body would have lost salt and electrolyte and my BP would have fallen. Also, I couldn’t drink or eat anything the day before, except a few sips of ORS.

After a while when I felt a little better, I climbed out of bed and made myself a cup of black tea. I had that with two biscuits, only to throw up within moments of swallowing the same. Immediately, I typed a message to M, my ex-colleague, friend, and neighbour. M stays in the flat just below mine and was the only person who was aware about the severity of my sickness. I hadn’t told my family much as they are far away and cannot do much other than just worry for me. My sister isn’t in town too. She is visiting our home, Shillong. I have no idea what I would have done without M.

A simple Tonsil infection went awry, just because of a Doctor who refused to prescribe any medicines till I got tested for Covid. Did people never suffer from any fever-related ailments prior to Covid! Well, I got myself tested and the results were negative, as I had anticipated. Along with the tonsil infection, I had a molar tooth fracture too. The two were unrelated but managed to confuse me and my body sufficiently. To add to all the misery, the dentist I visited goofed up. As a result, I was suffering from acute toothache along with fever and other associated symptoms of an untreated Tonsil infection. Reeling under the pain of a fractured tooth and an overall unwellness due to the Tonsil infection, I surely have taken some wrong decisions.

Well, a lot of water flowed under the bridge for the past two weeks and I am doing much better now. The tooth problem remains, which is now multiplied with the addition of one broken front tooth and another sensitive to touch. I don’t remember being this seriously ill anytime in the recent past. Not at least in the Bangalore chapter of my life, which is 11 years now.

If the first doctor would have cared to give me some antibiotics, none of this would have happened. And, she happens to be the General Physician of one most reputed hospital in Bangalore.

I routinely visit this hospital, however, this time I felt very negative after going there and this was even before I saw the doctor. There were no distinctions whatsoever for patients who were coming in with fever and flu symptoms. There was zero social distancing and many people didn’t have their masks on.

In all the things that went wrong in the past few days, I can only express my gratitude to the Almighty, who certainly made sure I wasn’t broken beyond repair. Whenever I look back at my blackouts, a shiver runs down my spine thinking about the things that could have happened but didn’t. I just need a good dentist to fix my broken tooth. M was there all through, taking care of me like a God-send angel. I can never repay all the things she did for me. A few other friends helped too in various ways, but M was closest to me. So what she did, others couldn’t. Last but not the least, I must mention my housemaid. She went above and beyond her duty to make sure my recovery is quick. She had never seen me this sick in the past 6 years that she’s been working for me and that had her totally freaked out.

The last time I had fallen severely ill was when I had an Anaphylactic Shock. However, I feel this time was it was more critical. Last time I had received prompt medical attention, which didn’t happen this time.

You’re Always On My Mind

WHATEVER I AM TODAY IS BECAUSE OF YOU.
THEN THAT TIME ARRIVED, AND YOU HAD TO GO.
NOW, I MUST LIVE WITH THAT GAPING HOLE IN MY HEART FOREVER.

Six months have passed since that fateful day, when my father suddenly left us for his heavenly abode. Since then my life has changed forever. There were so many things that I used to take for granted, so many things that he would handle, things that never percolated down to us.

Even at the ripe age of 80, he was fully active and fully functional. He never depended on me or anybody for anything. His incredibly strong mind was a complete mismatch to his short height, small frame, and lean structure. He had boundless compassion for every living being – children, people (especially those that society decides to place on the lower rung), birds, caterpillars, worms, bees, butterflies, dogs, flowers, plants, fruits, etc., etc. An introvert, his ways were unusual and sometimes quite hilarious, especially when he tried to mask his compassionate self. A man of less words (except while criticizing politicians), his actions always spoke louder than words. He was headstrong too, both in a negative and positive way. It was difficult to dissuade him once he made up his mind about something, though in family matters he made sure to consult with all concerned stakeholders.  

My favourite picture of my parents, clicked at Agra Fort. History fascinated him and visits to forts and palaces would be associated with a lot of narration to my mother.

Losing a parent is one of the most difficult things to come to terms with, it’s like losing a part of yourself. It feels like you have lost your anchor in the rough sea. Someone had once told me that you feel like the roof over your head is gone and that’s exactly how I have been feeling. In his absence, I feel completely exposed and vulnerable. And on days like today, when I am unwell, such feelings start sky rocketing.

The weird thing is that I never needed my father as much. As a child, I grew up in a joint family and hence had many adults to go to. As an adult, I have always been very independent. I come from one of those relatively rare Indian families where there patriarchy is almost non-existent and no restrictions are placed on you because you are woman. There are family rules but those are equally applicable to all, irrespective of their gender. Hence, I have always taken my own decisions and did what I wanted to do. It was rare, if ever, I asked his advice for something. And, if I ever did his response was the usual – “Do what you think is best.” Having said that, there have been multiple occasions when he jumped in just at the right moment to protect me from a fall. And if I did fall, he was right there to lift me up.

My parents were tired of the hot and humid weather but this one’s for keeps, obviously so.

Two days back, I had to visit the hospital for an appointment with the doctor, the sights of old and frail people in wheelchairs made me extremely negative and upset. I could only express my gratitude to the Almighty that I didn’t have to see my strong father become weak, bedridden, and dependent. He would have reaped the benefit of some good karma that enabled him to transition so smoothly and painlessly.

The one good feeling that I continue to carry is the feeling of no regrets. I have no regrets whatsoever about how I conducted myself while my father was alive or what I could have done for him. Though I live alone in Bangalore, I made sure to visit home at least once a year. Again, my parents made sure they visited me once a year. The best part is that we spent time traveling together, especially in the last 4 years. The travel bit makes me the happiest as my father loved traveling and in the last decade, he couldn’t do much because of age-related health issues.  

The last holiday we did together at Rameshwaram just 5 months before he left us.

I can only hope that he will be with me and guide me to walk the right path always. He will guide me to manage the things that he managed so well – things that I never had to put my mind on to. He will enable me to be as strong as he was in discharging my duties towards the rest of my family.

I sum up with a quote from C.S. Lewis that I can so relate to – “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

Christmas 2020

Pristine Beach by a Quaint Village

The evening sky broke into an intense assortment of red, pink, orange, and yellow as we watched the mellowed sun gradually recede into the glittering waters below. Standing on that elevated sandy ground, we silently observed the vermilion tinted waves compete with each other as they playfully rushed towards the shore. It was an incredible sight and we wanted to take it all in, keenly aware that it wasn’t going to last very long. 

Just behind us, on that sand dune, stood a beautiful Church, the white colour of which glowed with the setting sun. A few meters from the Church was a wooden Holy Cross standing tall on an elevated platform.

Pic 1: The sky was an assortment of colours – yellows, oranges, reds, pinks

We were at Manapad Beach. It was Christmas Day and I couldn’t have thought of being at a better place! And, this beautiful experience happened only because someone made it possible for us. I have always considered myself immensely fortunate when it comes to people I get connected with in my life. Some of these wonderful people are fellow bloggers I have met through WordPress and I have mentioned this umpteen times.

This post is dedicated to Sugan, who blogs at The Buffalo Rider. Do visit his blog and I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.  

On Christmas Day of 2020, I landed at Kanyakumari. Quite an impromptu trip and I hadn’t had the time to plan it well. I had visited Kanyakumari twice before, once many years ago as a little child with my father and another time a few years back with friends. However, the only thing that I recall about Kanyakumari is Vivekananda Rock and that’s not surprising at all.

It was during a random conversation on Instagram that Sugan had mentioned that he belonged to Kanyakumari offering to make recommendations if I ever decided to visit again. As promised, Sugan created an itinerary for me when I informed him about my plans. Usually that’s what people do. That’s what I would have done if someone was visiting Shillong or Bangalore. However, Sugan went a step ahead. He gave his precious time to us spending an entire afternoon and evening with us taking us around in his SUV, which he fondly calls ‘Buffalo’.

Pic 2: The Holy Cross Church and the wooden Holy Cross atop the sand dune

Just a few hours after we reached, Sugan picked us up from our hotel. After a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant, he took us to Vattakotai Fort. I will write in detail about this place in a separate post. Thereafter, we started for Manapad Village. Manapad is a coastal village with a dominant fisherman population and is located in Tuticorin, about 75 Km. away from Kanyakumari . The drive from Kanyakumari to Manapad is exquisitely beautiful, which was a compelling reason for Sugan to recommend this place to us.

Little Details from the Village

As we arrived at the village, the first thing we noticed was the steeples and spires of various churches nestled between the brick-red roofs of the whitewashed houses. The Gothic-styled churches stood out, intriguing us sufficiently. I got to know later that these were St. James Church and Holy Spirit Church – two of the three churches in Manapad. Thinking that we would visit them later, we headed towards the beach. The Holy Cross Church is located on an elaborate sand dune on the beach. It being Christmas there were a lot of people at the Church. We climbed the sand dune and spent the entire evening watching the sunset. Consequently, time ran out and we missed visiting the two Gothic styled churches we had seen earlier.

An interesting aspect of this beach is that water is separated by stretches of sand in some places creating clear blue lagoons. Another thing that drew our attention was a well in the beach which provides fresh water to the villagers who fetch drinking water from this well.

Pic 3: Climbing up a sand hill is not all that easy. Sugan on the left and my sisters on the right.
Pic 4: Clear blue lagoons separated from the sea by chunks of sand. Notice the village on the left, the spires of the Gothic-styled churches can be seen.

I wish I could spend at least a day in the tempting clean sand and blue waters of Manapad. I had no idea that such a quaint little village with a mesmerizing beach existed in Tuticorin and one that is easily accessible from so many places in South India. The fact that Manapad is relatively unknown to the usual touristy crowd only adds to its charm. Such offbeat places can only be experienced when you are lucky enough to have a local connection.

I definitely owe my Christmas, 2020 to Sugan. Your hospitality inspired me. You taught me how giving your valuable time to people visiting your hometown can completely elevate their experience of that place. I ought to do more when people I know visit my hometown.

Pic 5: Sugan spends a quiet moment lost with the waves.

An Addendum

Here’s an interesting story I read about the Holy Cross at the beach.

In 1540 a Portuguese ship was caught in a dreadful storm. It was at the risk of sinking with its sails splitting and mast snapping. The captain entrusted the safety of the vessel to Christ and vowed to construct a Cross from the splintered mast if they escaped alive and have it installed wherever they land safely. After drifting for several days, the ship washed up on the shores of Manapad. The captain kept his vow and planted a Cross atop the sand dune.

Furthermore, when the cross was in the form of a log, cut off from the broken mast, a villager had cleaned his foot removing filth by rubbing on the log. Soon, his foot swelled up and he felt immense pain. That night the villager had a vision that the ailment was due to his defiling the log. In order to get cured he was asked to wipe the muck off the log, smear the log with oil, and then apply the same oil to his foot. The villager did as he was told and was cured.

Reminiscing 2020

The Year That Was

It’s that time of the year – time to write my usual year end post. As I sit here reflecting on the year that’s gone by, I am finding it difficult to fathom all the things that have happened. It feels like I’ve been engulfed in a hurricane that hasn’t died down yet. Overwhelmed is maybe how I feel right now. It’s not just me, everyone is probably feeling the same way. I am also finding it difficult to demarcate the good and the bad. It’s like salt and sugar mingled in equal proportions. I cannot pick one from the other. Every good had its associated bad and vice versa. There was no gray. Everything was in sharp contrast. Yet, it’s hard to pick one without the other. That’s how life happened to me personally in 2020.

Here’s a summary of the year as it was for me – the weird and one-of-a-kind year.

  1. 2020 has to be an unforgettable year for me. The reason is my father, who suddenly left for his heavenly abode. He was blessed and fortunate to have been able to leave this world as easily as he did. However, not a single day goes by when I don’t remember him. Getting used to his absence is something I am trying hard to learn.
  2. 2020 has been the year of pandemic lockdowns. We’ve been confined to our homes for a significant part of the year. It provided an opportunity to discover and appreciate joy derived from the small things of life – things that we otherwise overlooked. It was also an opportunity to contemplate and be cognizant of all those things that we had taken for granted in life.
  3. 2020 was supposed to be a no-travel-year for everyone. I have been privileged to have traveled quite a bit throughout the year, including an international travel too.
    • Bhadrika Ashram, Himachal Pradesh, to start the year.
    • Miami, USA on an official visit.
    • Madurai, Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi with my parents – turned out to be the last trip with my father.
    • Number of places in Meghalaya – Shillong, Nartiang, and Cherrapunjee.
    • Number of places in the outskirts of Bangalore, including Mysore, BR Hills, and more.
    • Some beaches and temples in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
  4. 2020 was supposed to be a year of no treks but two treks happened to me, both in the outskirts of Bangalore. No Himalayas this year.
  5. Circumstances led to spending a lot of family time together in our Shillong home. Not just the immediate family but extended family too. Also, this was the first time in many years that I got to spend quality time in my father’s garden that he had painstakingly built over several years.
  6. Again, it was circumstances that led me to participate in our family Durga Puja after a gap of 20 years.
  7. The pandemic led me to revisit my hobby of stitching as I hand-stitched masks for myself and also for family and friends.
  8. Hit by a pandemic related downsizing at work, I had to leave the job that had me engaged for 8 years. However, destiny presented me with another job offer and I was employed in less than a month’s time. (My father’s blessings I’d like to believe.)
  9. It will be unfair if I miss mentioning those few people who went out of their ways to do things for me. People, who are not friends, people who I just causally met or interacted with. These people left me speechless and made me wonder if at all I deserved all of those acts of kindness!  Sometimes I feel inspired to be the same, sometimes I feel indebted not knowing what I could do in return.
  10. The year ended with my cousin visiting me and working from my home in Bangalore for the whole of December. It did leave me very busy as I struggled to manage home and the expectations of a new job. But the joyful moments I have been having at home is priceless and inestimably precious.

2020 – the year like no other – has been as tumultuous as it can be. However, there is no room to complain. My year has been like a garden of roses when compared to the untold sufferings people world over have had. I can only express my gratitude and pray to the Almighty to keep me grounded, judicious, and steady in 2021 and beyond.

Privileged

“The word, Privilege, has to be the most over-used word of 2020,” a friend remarked the other day. And I quite agreed with her. We were in the middle of a routine ranting session. Such grief outpouring sessions happen once in a while when we feel all the wrong in the world is happening to us. Almost always such sessions find no merit and either of us is quick to point out how grateful we ought to be for all the privileges we enjoy.

‘Privilege’ may have been an over-used word in 2020 but it is not for nothing. In many ways the pandemic has opened our eyes and almost everything that life has given to the likes of us feels like a privilege.

This thought was further emphasized when another friend shared his blog post with me. An avid traveller and trekker, who happens to be a scientist too writes about certain lessons he learnt this year. The one that struck me most was – Travel is a Privilege. It wasn’t something new to me. I have always been cognizant about this fact and never shied away from thinking or talking about how fortunate I have been. However, I think I hadn’t internalized it enough. As I read this point in his post, it felt like someone was showing me the mirror. (Here’s his post: 2020 – A year without Travels)

Again, a fellow blogger sent me an email the other day where he spelt out that he felt rather embarrassed to state that everything was going good in his life. His thought did make me ponder. Given the current circumstances, we almost feel apologetic if everything is working fine in our lives. We have never felt this way at any other time. I sincerely hope we never ever take anything for granted again in our lives.

I am reminded of a manager that I used to report to two years back in my ex-office. He would always keep reiterating that the benefits we receive from office are privileges given to us, we should never think of those as our entitlements. He would mean that we should respect certain things given to us, like flexible timing, birthday time off, and so on. I always appreciated his way of keeping us grounded and this thought is something I will always carry with me.

Being alive is a privilege by itself. Living well and being who you are, doing what you wish, in sound physical and mental health – if this is not privilege, then what is! Is there even room to complain?

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Ritika. She hasn’t blogged in a while though but her writing is worth a read copyandcoffee.

I’ll miss you Room ‘M…’

You’ve wanted to be out of this place for a while now. There’s nothing to hold you here anymore. You’ve been longing for someplace else. The time has arrived and you are on your way out. You should be happy but you aren’t. You turn around and look back one last time. The name that has given you an identification of sorts over the last eight years stands out. You think about it for a moment. Is this what’s making you sad? Are you attached to it so much that parting hurts? No, it actually doesn’t. What is it then? It doesn’t take you long to identify what’s pricking you at this moment. It’s the memories associated with this place. Eight years isn’t a very short time.

The memories are associated with the people. Yes, there you are. It’s all those people you leave behind. That’s affecting you.

These are the people you have bonded with over the years. This is your comfort group. These people you trust. They have supported you, loved you, been with you all through. They understand you, they accept you as you are, they care for you. Due to the pandemic, you haven’t been physically together for months now but they’ve always been a part and parcel of your life. It’s a virtually connected world now. Feels like ages since you’ve been together in that ground floor room of Building 13. You miss the incessant chatter, the chai breaks, the lunch times, the small celebrations, and all those fun and laughter.

These are thoughts that play in my mind as I walk out of the gate after having submitted my laptop and taking care of the last of the formalities. I had resigned from my job a few weeks before this day. This was not a voluntary resignation. It was another one of those collateral damages of the pandemic that I had to deal with. The company had decided to do away with some roles and I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are probably going to outsource the job I did – I guess. There’s work to do and someone has to do it.

As I walked out my mind kept returning back to the close circuit of people, the people I care about.

I know these people are not out of my life. Over time, they have become friends from colleagues. At the same time, I am practical enough to know that the connection henceforth will not remain the same. I can no longer contribute to the office-related conversations. And, I will certainly miss all of that. All of this reiterates the fact that a place is made by the people and not the other way round. It’s the people who make a place dear to you. It’s only the people that matter. The place you work at may or may not be a reputed one, your paycheck may or may not be a great one, your job role may or may not be an enjoyable one. But if you have a gang of people that you click with, you may just be okay to make those compromises.

I will miss you Room ‘M…’, Ground Floor, Building-13.

A fun picture from last year Christmas, though not everyone from Room ‘M…’ is in this picture.

‘Kola-bou’ – The Banana Bride

The red benarasi sari was quite heavy because of the zari embellishments and I had to wrap my arms around it to make sure I had a tight grip. Kola-bou was just dismantled and someone had handed over the sari to me. I stood there with a heavy heart watching our Durga idol being immersed into the stream, a portion of which was temporarily stagnated for the purpose. The intoxicating divine fragrance emanating from the sari was impossible to ignore. Not surprising, this sari was draped around Kola-bou who was worshipped for the past four days. I thought I could quite literally smell the Goddess.

This Durga Puja I was home after 15 long years. Quite surprising, given that this is the most important festival for Bengalis. A few of these years I spent in Kolkata, a few in Bangalore, and the rest I traveled and trekked. I hadn’t realized that so many years passed by and I did not visit our Shillong home during this time of the year. This wasn’t by chance, though. Rather a choice attributed to certain personal reasons. This year circumstances forced me to be here, and I attended our family puja after a very long time. As a result, my Durga Puja celebration turned out to be quite good, while most people had no celebrations at all. Thanks to the pandemic.

Pic 1: Ma Durga with her children. Sons – Ganesha and Kartikeya; Daughters – Laxmi and Saraswati.

Durga Puja is a 5-day event entailing a host of rituals and celebrations. Ma Durga is the most powerful and fearless Goddess, who slays the buffalo demon Mahishasura to protect the earth. She is the supreme power created by combining the powers of all other Gods. The Mother of the Universe, she ensures creation and preservation. The Destroyer of Evil, Ma Durga’s mythology revolves around victory of good over evil. The word ‘Durga’ literally means impassable and inaccessible. It is believed that earth is the maternal home of the Goddess and she comes here every year with her children – Ganesha, Kartikeya, Laxmi, and Saraswati. People celebrate the Mother Goddess, characterized by her ten arms carrying various lethal weapons with the lion as her vehicle.

There are many fascinating aspects of Durga Puja. One of these is the Kola-bou, which is a young banana tree dressed like a Bengali bride. Kola-bou is also known as Nabapatrika – ‘Naba’ meaning nine and ‘Patrika’ meaning plant. It consists of nine plants that are symbolic representations of the nine forms of Ma Durga.

  • Banana plant – represents Goddess Brahmani
  • Colocasia plant– represents Goddess Kalika
  • Turmeric plant – represents Goddess Durga
  • Jayanti (Jubilee) plant – represents Goddess Kartiki
  • Wood apple leaves – represents Lord Shiva
  • Pomegranate leaves – represents Goddess Raktadantika
  • Asoka (Saraca) leaves – represents Goddess Shokarahita
  • Arum plant – represents Goddess Chamunda
  • Rice paddy – represents Goddess Lakshmi

In olden times, Kola-bou was a symbol of Mother Nature herself and worshipped by farmers for a good harvest. As Durga Puja gained popularity, Kola-bou or Nabapatrika got inducted into the ceremony.

Pic 2: Kola-bou or Nabapatrika is always placed on the right side of Lord Ganesha and worshipped as Ma Durga.

The ritual of Kola-bou in our family puja constitutes the sanctification of all nine plants on Mahasashti, which are then carefully kept aside. The next day, on Mahasaptami, these plants are tied together using yellow threads and twigs of Aparajita (Clitoria) plant. Kola-bou is then draped in a benarasi sari and orna, (dupatta) and dressed like a bride. There is another ritual of ceremonial bathing of Kola-bou in River Ganges, which is not followed in our family puja.

Kola-bou is then placed on the right side of Lord Ganesha and worshipped as Ma Durga. The position of Kola-bou could be associated with Lord Ganesh being considered as the creator of the eighteen medicinal plants, for which he is also known as Astadasausadhisrsti. Maybe, that’s why some people consider Kola-bou as Lord Ganesha’s wife.

On the last day of Puja, Dashami, Kola-bou is dismantled and immersed through chanting of mantras. The dismantling of Kola-bou needs to be done in seclusion. The Immersion Ghat remains crowded with people. Hence, a large cloth is used to form a barrier that covers Kola-bou from all sides while the priest and head of the family perform the ritual of dismantling. This is interesting as Kola-bou is Ma Durga herself and her untying and uncovering needs to be done respectfully. The idol is immersed in the water only after Kola-bou immersion is completed.

Nartiang’s Intriguing Heritage

I had heard about this place a million times but never had the opportunity to be here. While my cousin parked the car, I walked ahead and found myself standing right before the red-white unassuming structure. So, this was that temple! The corrugated tin-roofed temple looked extraordinarily simple and plain. No ornate carvings, no elaborate dome, no decorative entrance. If not for the brass bells, I would have thought it was somebody’s house. While I admired the unusual simplicity of the temple, my cousin walked up nonchalantly, and we went inside. She’s been here several times.

Pic 1: The Nartiang Durga Temple

It was a late but comfortably warm autumn morning. We had driven 65 Km. from Shillong and arrived at Nartiang Village. The village is located in West Jaintia Hills. (Meghalaya comprises of Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, and Garo Hills). Rich in coal reserves, Jaintia Hills is exquisitely beautiful and scenic. Our destination on this day was the 600-year old temple, located at Nartiang Village that was part of the Jaintia Kingdom. Dedicated to Jainteswari or Jayanti Devi, an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga, the temple has interesting legends associated with it.

Jaintias or Pnars are the indigenous tribes of Jaintia Hills and their traditional tribal religion, known as Niamtre, is largely influenced by Hinduism. Nartiang Village is dominated by the Niamtres. In this village, the traditional Niamtre religion blends with Hinduism and the Hindu deities of Durga and Shiva are worshipped in tandem with tribal deities.

Pic 2: The temple deity – Jainteswari Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Durga.

Inside the temple, we sat on the clean marble floor as the priest conducted a puja for us. The marble floor did appear a little out of place though and was clearly done only recently. Originally the temple was constructed like a typical local house of those days having a central wooden pillar (locally known as dieng Blai) and a thatched roof. It was reconstructed by Ramakrishna Mission in 1987. The shrine inside the temple was again simple and unexceptional. The priest informed it was made of Ashtadhatu (also known as octo-alloy, it is a combination of gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, tin, iron, and mercury).

My cousin pointed out to a pit in the floor that leads to an underground tunnel, which in turn is connected to Myntang River down below. During the time of the Jaintia Kings, human sacrifices were conducted in this temple to appease the goddess. Through this pit, the severed head would roll down to the swift flowing waters of the river. An open window lay just above the pit. I looked out at the lush green hills dazzling in the bright sun, the air was crisp, and the sky clear. I could feel strong positive vibes all around. It was difficult to comprehend the rituals that would have transpired within the walls of this temple centuries ago.

Pic 5: Mynteng River flows silently through the village.

We walked through the village towards the Shiva temple, which is located in another hillock not very far from the Devi Temple. The houses in the village wore a pretty look and we were told that most of them were painted anew due to Durga Puja, which is just two weeks from now.

Pic 6: A pretty little village home. Grains of paddy rice spread out to dry in the sun.

The Shiva temple was nondescript but had a mysterious charm of its own. There were several small Ashtadhatu idols placed in a single row inside. Only one was that of Lord Shiva. The rest were that of Devi in various forms. Interestingly just behind the idols, lay a row of ancient cannons that belonged to the Jaintia Kings. The right place of which should have been a museum.

Pic 7: The nondescript Shiva Temple

There is a prominent pillar in both the temples. These pillars are supposed to be energy centers that are consecrated once in a few years. The pillar in the Devi temple had some inscriptions, not all of it is legible but it did have a date mentioned.

Interesting Stories Associated with the Temple

  • This temple is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas of Hindu mythology, Devi’s left thigh had supposedly fallen here.
  • King Dhan Manik of the Jaintia Kingdom had built this temple. It is said that the goddess had appeared in his dream informing him about the significance of this place and instructing him to build the temple. Nartiang used to be the summer capital of the Jaintia Kingdom.
  • The royal priests of the temple were brought by the Jaintia chieftains all the way from Maharashtra centuries ago. Apparently, priests in and around the region were not ready to conduct the ritual of human sacrifice. Three brahmins from the Deshmukh clan agreed to the ritual, probably because of their upbringing in kshatriya tradition. The temple is still run by the direct descendants of the Maharashtrian Deshmukh Brahmins.
  • Symbolic human sacrifice (locally known as blang synniaw) continues to this day in the form of a strange custom. At midnight of the second day of Durga Puja or Asthami, a spotless black goat is dressed as a human with a dhoti, turban, and earrings. A white mask with a human face is placed on the goat’s head and it is then beheaded. (See the mask in Pic-2 above). The head of the goat rolls down the old tunnel into Myntang River.
Pic 10: Nartiang Village as seen from the Shiva temple

The Good Old Pumpkin

Remember the pumpkin coach built by Cinderella’s fairy godmother so that she could attend the ball? And, which had turned back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, to be trampled by the palace horses?

Like many little girls of my time, Cinderella used to be my favourite childhood fairy tale. It was her glass shoes and the pumpkin coach that fascinated me. There was another favourite too, Rapunzel. Her long tresses allured me, and I would dream of having the same long golden plait. That was probably because my thick glossy jet-black hair was trimmed to the shortest, so that it could be easily managed. I can clearly remember the glossy feel of the pages of those childhood books. I have no idea if children today are still fascinated by these fairy tales. I only hear of Doraemon, Shizuka, Nobita, Elsa, Barbie, and so on. These characters never existed during our childhood.

My childhood memories of Cindrella’s carriage was rekindled by a pumpkin – a very special pumpkin. Not the orange-red Cinderella pumpkin but the green one with scattered spots of yellow.

We have a small little kitchen garden in our Shillong home. It’s an extended part of my father’s garden that he tended with a lot of love and care. The kitchen garden boasts of a variety of produce. Some of these are chayotes, beans, colocasia, chilies, lemons, tree tomatoes, corns, and the good old pumpkin. The pumpkin vine happened to be his eternal favourite and he nurtured a special attachment to it. His bias towards the vine and the pumpkins would sometimes reach unreasonable heights. The full-grown pumpkins would never be allowed an immediate entry into the kitchen. They would be safely kept, carefully guarded and shielded on the terrace. They would often be smeared with a dash of lime. Probably to ward off insect attacks – I really don’t know. Never asked him. The pumpkins would grace the kitchen only on special occasions.

When I came home in August, I did notice the yellow flowers of the pumpkin vine. It’s quite a common site during this time of the year and I didn’t pay much attention. One day I spotted a tiny little round ball popping out of a flower. It was way too adorable and impossible to ignore. There on, I would take stock of it every single day and watching it grow was sheer delight. In the meanwhile, several other tiny green rounded baby pumpkins made their appearance, but my eyes remain glued to the first one. I was partial in my love and adulation. And, I think I now understand my father’s over-protective attitude towards his pumpkins.

It does surprise me significantly to think that the pumpkin vine was always there, but I never ever bothered to take a close look. The garden was my father’s arena. I loved the greenery all around and admired his passion but never really participated alongside him. My father is surely smiling watching his pumpkins grow.

Now for some Google-gyan, attributed to my new-found pumpkin interest. Pumpkins or Cucurbita, as they are known scientifically, have originated from Central America over 7,500 years ago. Archaeologists have discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico. Green pumpkins come in two varieties – Japanese pumpkin or ‘Kabocha’ and Italian pumpkin or ‘Marina di Chioggia’. It’s the sweet-tasting Asian pumpkin that grows in our kitchen garden. The Italian counterpart is small, dark green with a very warty outer rind. There’s also a pear-shaped variety, known as Lakota squash. Pumpkins possess abundant vitamins and nutrients besides being anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antifungal. Pumpkins are high in protein and fiber. They are an excellent source of iron and vitamin A.

Pumpkins are extraordinarily versatile when it comes to cooking. They can be cooked in a variety of ways on their own and also in combination with other vegetables. Pumpkins make great combination with fresh-water fish and dry fish too. Pumpkins make for great desserts too!

Here are two simple pumpkin recipes from my mother’s kitchen.