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.

Midnight Drama

Awakened from deep sleep, I lay on bed for a couple of seconds trying to figure out what the commotion was all about. The rest of the family was already up, and their buzzing voices came floating into my room. Everyone seemed to be talking together and I could not make out a word. Stumbling out of bed with half open eyes, I stepped out. The noise was coming from my parents’ room, where everyone seemed to have gathered. Had mom fallen ill? The thought was immediately put to rest as I saw everyone perched on her bed, looking out of the window that is situated just adjacent to the bed. The window curtains were drawn open.

I looked at the watch and was surprised to see it was just 12.30 AM. Oh! Not all that late. On second thoughts, it is quite late for Shillong. The sun sets earlier in the hills and consequently the evenings are longer, unlike Bangalore.

“What’s going on?”, I asked. No response. People were engrossed peering out of the window. I joined them. All the drama was happening in our neighbouring house. Several people had collected in their open garage that had three cars parked. As the scene unfolded before my sleepy eyes, I was finally able to make sense of the confusion.

A petty thief had broken into their compound, smashed the window of a van, and had tried getting his hands onto the car stereo. The thief had also filled a sack with things like toffees, chips, and biscuits. Those were things stacked in the car to be taken to the grocery shop owned by one of the tenants living in that house.

The thief wasn’t smart enough and was nabbed by the people in the neighbourhood, while he tried to flee. We could clearly see the thief through the window. He was petite and frail. His demeanor quite effectively drew our collective sympathies towards him. A lot of people from the neighbourhood had collected around the thief, who in turn was held tight by two other people. We wished they would let him go with a warning. Our neighbours, however, called the police and the thief was handcuffed away in a matter of time.

The commotion died down and we went back to bed. My sleep had disappeared by now and I continued to feel sorry for the thief. My thoughts drifted towards my home in Bangalore. There I live in a flat in an apartment, which is very different from my parents’ home in Shillong. They live in an independent house surrounded by other independent houses in the neighbourhood. There are striking differences between the two set ups. The petty thief drama is a case in point. A petty thief may never be able to break into an apartment with all the security paraphernalia – security guards, CCTV cameras etc. Robberies or other complicated crimes do happen but not petty thefts. At least, I haven’t heard of any.

My thoughts took off into comparing life in big cities with that of small towns. What one has, the other lacks and vice versa. I dozed off speculating the hits and misses while trying to decide which one is more preferable than the other. I think I know my preference though.

He’ll Live On For Me – Forever

At the back of my mind, I always feared this day. I knew I would have to face it someday. Yet, I didn’t see it coming. I wasn’t prepared, I guess one can never be prepared for this day.

It was the fateful evening of August 15, when my father suddenly left us forever. It’s exactly a month today. Still to conquer the shock and disbelief completely, it feels like he has just stepped out and will be back soon.

He was hale and hearty even two days back. He wasn’t ailing. The heart and BP related problems were under control and none of these had ever stopped him from leading a perfectly normal life. Physically, he was frail, which can also be attributed to his lean frame. Mentally, his strength was beyond compare.

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Pic 1: He loved traveling. This one’s at Agra.

He had just turned 80 and was anything but an 80-year old. His extraordinarily active nature had earned him the nickname of Dennis the Menace in the family. He would spend most part of his day in the garden, which he painstakingly created over several years. On a typical day, he could be seen tending to his plants in the garden, pruning the hedges, climbing ladders to fix the bamboo support for creepers, mounting the compound wall to tie up the wayward branches of a tree, and so on. His hyperactive nature would worry my mother and she would chide him like a little boy.

We would often discuss that his plants know his touch, they know his presence, and they bloom with happiness for him. His flowers, fruits, and vegetables must be missing his presence in the same way, if not more. His precious little manicured garden will never be the same anymore.

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Pic 2: His precious garden where he spent most of his time.
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Pic 3: Another section of the garden.
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Pic 4: The more I talk about his garden, the less it is. I will share more in future.

My father was a typical Bengali Babumoshai in his love for fish. His passion was not so much in eating as it was in going to the market to examine the fresh catches of the day, and also in scouting for the exotic varieties of freshwater fishes. The latter would reach exponential proportions whenever we would come home for holidays.

Another passion of his was politics and current affairs. He was extremely opinionated in matters of governance of the country. His antipathy towards a certain political party and a few selective political figures would find unique ways of expression. His introvert nature notwithstanding, he wouldn’t shy away from swearing and using cuss words, which was most of the times amusing but at times irritating too.

The year 2020 is bizarre for humankind. I had never thought this year would also bring about the biggest personal loss for me. My father’s case is a collateral damage of this pandemic year. A fatal fall leading to a cerebral hemorrhage sealed our fates forever. The limited medical facilities in Shillong, where they stay, left us helpless. Bangalore, with its advanced medical facilities would have been ideal. But we could do nothing. The pandemic made immediate interstate movement nearly impossible.

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Pic 5: He loved the sea. This one’s at Diu Fort when I captured him enjoying the view.

My father seamlessly transitioned into the Afterworld. That remains my greatest solace. He had it easy and did not suffer at all. He was blessed in that sense. Moreover, he passed away indulging in activities he enjoyed the most. He fell on a Tuesday, was fine on Wednesday – did his usual gardening, fish market visits, and swearing at the politicians while watching the evening news. Thursday he was admitted to the hospital, was fully conscious and doing fine. Friday, his condition suddenly deteriorated and he had to be operated. Saturday, he passed away.

I wasn’t there by his side when he breathed his last. Losing a parent is the most difficult thing to come to terms with. I thought I understood when it happened to others, but no I didn’t. Now that it happened to me, I know how it feels.

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Pic 6: Easily and effortlessly, he walked away from this world….

My life feels like it has fallen apart and as though I am caught up in a whirlwind. Everything feels meaningless. Tsunamis of powerful emotions hit me every now and then. Each time, I try to steer my thoughts towards the positive side of how this has happened. And what could have happened but didn’t. 

My father had a good life. I will celebrate his life rather than grieve his death. I owe it to him. I will always remain grateful that he touched my life in such powerful and beautiful ways. I have no regrets and I know that his love and blessings will remain with me for the rest of my life.

It will take me time to adjust to his physical absence. Whenever I’m reminded of him, I will use it as an opportunity to cherish his memories.

An Alert From a Random Stranger

Why is it that we almost always mistrust our fellow human beings? Isn’t trust supposed to be central to human relations of all kinds?

Here’s what happened last week.

I received a random email from an unknown person who claimed that my photographs were being used by others in social media without giving the due credit. The man, as I deciphered his gender based on the thumbnail picture in the email, also advised I start watermarking my photographs. My immediate reaction was suspicion as thoughts of phishing, social engineering, data theft, and the like hovered over my head.

After a while, I decided to write back asking how he knew those photographs were mine. He responded back stating that he had visited my blog and read my posts. Based on that, he saw someone posting photographs clicked by me as their own in Facebook. He also provided the Facebook link. And, yes, the photograph in question was indeed mine. This kind gentleman even went out of his way and confronted the plagiarist by writing a comment. The plagiarist obviously denied the same.

That a random unknown person bothered so much is a great story to tell. More so in today’s world where nobody cares or even has the time. Made me wonder if I would have done the same.

We are almost always suspicious about people’s intentions. We always question the motive of someone doing some random good to us. We find it difficult to accept that someone can do a good just like that. This becomes even more profound with strangers and our immediate reaction is mistrust. Trust is one of the cornerstones of human connections, governing all interactions we have with each other. Yet, mistrust rules the world.

Our basic personalities may also have a role to play in how much we trust or mistrust. Some people can trust others easily while some are more cynical. By and large, I belong to the former category. While that has landed me in many a trouble, I do have several wonderful trust stories to tell. There’s no denying of the terrible things that happen around us, which only breed mistrust. As a result, instinctively we may have become more suspicious than ever. Is that a very good thing to happen to human kind? I can’t tell. Maybe not. Maybe we need to have the right balance. My experience says – when in doubt, trust your gut.

Well, trust needs to be earned and the least we can do is be trustworthy. Afterall, we can control our own selves, our own actions, and our own thoughts. We have no control over what others think, say, or do.

And, follow Shakespeare’s advice – Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

An Identityless Identity

“Going to my native…….,” is a phrase that I often hear in my office. The word “native” is commonly used in Bangalore, which simply refers to one’s home. Sometimes, it is used in the context of one’s ancestral home, usually a village or a town, that maybe located in the same state or another state. The popularity of the word “native” in Bangalore is natural, given that half the city’s population constitute people who have migrated here for jobs from other places of India.

In my understanding, the place you’re born and brought up in is home to you, you may or may not be a native inhabitant of that place. Hence, Shillong is home to me. But I often find myself in a dilemma when asked questions like, “Where is your native?”; “When are you visiting your native?”. Shillong is my home but is it my native? No, I don’t think so. I am not an indigenous tribe of Meghalaya. I am a Bengali. So, is Kolkata my home? Or maybe some other place in West Bengal? No, certainly not! So where do I belong?

Often times, my Kannadiga, Malayalee, and friends from other parts of South India are unable to comprehend the fact that I am Bengali, yet West Bengal is not my home. I have had to get into elaborate explanations to drive home the correlation of being a Bengali whose home is Shillong and not Kolkata. I once told a Kannadiga friend, “If you were born and raised in Bihar, would you call yourself a Bihari or would you be still be a Kannadiga?” He remained confused. While we are all Indians and such discussions may seem petty, we cannot ignore the wide diversity of our country.

Today I bring to you Shatavisha’s story in connection with my earlier post on my hometown. The experiences she’s had throws a glimpse into the identity struggle of the Sylheti Bengali. Some of the things Shatavisha experienced is exactly what I have experienced. Hence, this is my story too.

Shatavisha’s story was originally published in an online magazine, Ishan Kotha. The editors of the magazine have been kind enough to let me use the story in my blog.

Read on…

Shatavisha Chakravorty’s Story

“Where are you from?” asked my mentor. The year was 2013 and the question was asked to an eighteen-year-old me.

“Shillong”, I answered.

“Ceylon?”

“No Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. A state in the North-Eastern part of India”,  I tried to explain.

“Ah, I see. But your admission slip says that your mother tongue is Bengali.”

“It is, Sir”

“But, if you are a Bengali are you really from Shillong?”

I didn’t know what to say to this. For as long as I remember, Shillong was the only place I would associate with the word ‘home’. It felt like it is here that I belonged; and yet deep down the teenager, I knew that the place did not consider me it’s own.

To be honest, the first realization of this happened somewhere in my early teens. My parents were looking to get a place of residence. We have always lived in a rented place. As the housing search began (as an 8-year-old I got comprehend only bits and pieces of whatever was going on), everything seemed to center around Kolkata.

“Ma, why are you looking for a place in Kolkata? Why not here?”, I asked.

“Because we cannot buy houses here. Meghalaya is a sixth schedule state, my dear. Only tribals can buy land in most parts of the state. Yes, there are some European Wards like Jail Road or Oakland. But property prices there are just too high.  And moreover, if we take a flat in Kolkata, we will be more easily accessible to you when you grow up and work.”

Things the 8-year-old me comprehended out of this conversation .

Shillong is not my home as I had thought it to be. It is not providing my parents with a conducive environment to set up a place of permanent residence despite having spent almost all their career here.

I had to go out of Shillong to make my career.

Fast forward to a couple of years from the day of this conversation, I became active in various co-curricular activities. I would ace the debates, science seminars, essay writing competitions, and others at the school level. This would make me qualify for the district level events. And that’s when the divide started to show up. I would not go past the district level events. Even if I did manage to make it to the state level, never would I be selected for national-level events.

I started to lose hope, believing that something was lacking in me. That’s when elders (parents, teachers, and others) reached out to me and pointed it out that this has nothing to do with my talent and the people qualifying are all tribal residents of the state. The state does not consider us, the non-tribal Bengali as its residents and hence the step-motherly treatment .

Once it was pointed out to me, I started noticing the pattern. It was everywhere. Meghalaya did not consider me its daughter. I had no option but to accept this. This made me firmer in my resolve to study out-of-state and with that, a few years later, I found myself in the conversation we started this article with .

Today, its been 7 years since that conversation. Let’s talk about 2017. Some 4 years since that conversation, I find myself with an engineering degree and two job offers. I join my present organization as a bubbly 22-year-old girl. And that’s when I have my first encounter with non-North East Bengalis.

At first, it was a matter of great excitement for them to have spotted a fellow Bengali. Having been brought up in a cosmopolitan setup, the last name of my friends did not mean much to me. But to them finding a ‘Chakravorty’, ‘Bhattacharya’, ‘Ghosh’ or ‘Sen’ in a land that’s 1000 km away from their home meant finding gold.

Again, the same set of questions. “If you are a Bengali, how are you ‘really’ from Shillong?’. By now I had grown used to this question and knew how to dodge it. But what followed in the next few months is something I was not ready for.

It started with making fun of my Bangla. Everything from the use of an English word in a Bangla sentence to being completely unaware of the technical terminologies in my mother tongue came under the scanner. I was a subject of ridicule among the ‘Bengali group’.

In the initial days, I would be upset about it. Befriending other people at work (a cosmopolitan group consisting of people from all over the country) made me realize that nothing was wrong with me. Yes, I did not fit in the ‘Bengali group’, but that does not hamper my confidence.

Yes, I am a Bangal. My place of birth is Shillong. My father’s was Silchar. My mother’s is Imphal. This is a fact. All three of our passports say the same. If my maternal or paternal grandfathers were to be alive, theirs would say ‘Part of undivided India’. So would that of my great grandfathers’. This is my lineage. And , I am proud of it.

If the fact that visiting one’s ancestral village every Dol, Nababarsha, or Bijoya is what it takes to give him or her an identity, then I do not need such an identity. My identity is that of an Indian. An Indian Bengali.

My place of birth is Shillong and the place has given me 18 years of beautiful childhood memories. These , I will cherish for a lifetime. My place of residence is Bangalore today. It can be Kolkata, Delhi, Chicago, or New York tomorrow. For me, home is where I live, where my family lives. So is Shillong was my home yesterday but is not so tomorrow, I have no regrets. I have my priorities sorted and more than 2/3 rd of my life in front of me (hopefully!) to carve a name for myself on the foundation of Indian Bengali – an identity passed on to me by my parents and ancestors.