The Place I Belong to, Yet I Don’t

Shillong is my home. No other place, I can ever call home. Though I live in Bangalore now and have been here for the past 10 years, after having spent a couple of years in Kolkata and Hyderabad. Bangalore can be my second home and for two reasons at that – first, this is the longest I have stayed at any place outside Shillong; second, this place has given me a job and I have invested in buying a house here. My heart however beats only for Shillong – the place of my birth and the place where I grew up. My parents still live there.

But every so often, in different ways, I am told that Shillong is not my home. The reason being I am a non-tribal. More importantly, I am a Bengali – a Sylheti Bengali. Why? Because certain thoughtless leaders had decided my fate by signing some papers, years before I was born. They had conveniently divided the country into two nations, which later became three (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). Everyone knows about the great partition of India that had happened through the two provinces of Bengal and Punjab. Hardly anybody knows about the third province, which was also affected by partition. The province of Assam. In this case the wrath of partition fell upon the Hindu Sylheti Bengalis. A lot has been talked about the sufferings of the people from Punjab. Not many are aware of the sufferings of the Bengalis from Sylhet.

Who are Sylheti Bengalis: The Sylheti people are a Sylheti-speaking Bengali sub-group which originated from the Sylhet region of the Indian subcontinent. Current population is divided between the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh, three districts of the Barak Valley and in the Hojai district of Assam in India. There are sizeable populations in the Indian states of Meghalaya, Tripura in North Tripura district and Manipur. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The merciless act of drawing a line across the map of East India affected the sub-community of Sylheti Bengali like no other. That the line was drawn by cheating the community at large, based on what suited the vested interests at that time, is a different piece of history altogether. While the country jubilantly celebrated its independence from 200 years of British Rule, this small community had lost everything. Hindu Sylheti Bengalis, belonging to Sylhet district of Bangladesh, were displaced from their homes and became refugees in their own country. Not only did they lose their assets like property, homes, and other material wealth, they had lost their identity. Their sufferings had just begun. Many of them had moved to the state of Meghalaya (part of Assam at that time), as that was logistically the easiest. Moreover, in many cases, friends and relatives were already living there. Meghalaya became a separate state in 1972. Just a few years later, trouble started with the indigenous tribes wanting the non-tribal Bengalis out of their state. The Bengalis suffered atrocities and alienation in many overt and covert ways.

The community, docile and meek by nature, silently accepted all the atrocities and humiliations hurled upon them. They never protested about being made to feel like encroachers in their own country. Instead, they chose to focus on the upbringing of their children, provide them with good education, and equip them with all they could for a better and brighter future. Fighting the stigma of being refugees and facing hardships with their limited resources, they were putting back pieces of their lives together as they tried to settle down. Starting life from scratch, some managed to buy land and built their own homes before the Land Act was passed (according to The Meghalaya Transfer of Land Act, 1971, only tribals are allowed to buy land in Meghalaya).

Their choice of selecting meekness to aggression did not quite work in their favour and the ghosts of partition continued to haunt them. Over a period, in the hope of finding peace and to protect themselves, many left to other parts of the country. Those that had to leave their own houses and property lament that they lost everything for a second time just in two generations. Many preferred to stay on, still facing alienation and humiliation, as that is home to them.

It’s been a little over seven decades now. The ghost of partition still rears its ugly head every now and then. The Hindu Sylheti Bengali remains displaced forever. They are Indians that are strangers in their own country and have no place to call their own. The community continues to struggle in their 3rd and 4th generations down the line.

Recently, I came across a couple of blog posts that are individual stories of this marginalized community of people. I will share a couple of them in the hope that some of you will care to read even though you might not completely relate. They’re written by other bloggers, but they are my stories – stories that I would have told.

Click the links below to read the stories:

Curiosity Kills Cats, Not Squirrels

It was morning, not very early though. I was still in bed, neither fully asleep nor fully awake. I could sense my sister was up and was at my bedside jabbering something rather frantically. My half-asleep state didn’t register a word but gathered that something needed my immediate attention. While it appeared urgent, it didn’t seem serious. I turned over and decided to sleep for a little while longer.

A good 30-45 min later as I got out of bed, there were tiny oval grayish pellets strewn all over the floor of the house. It took me no time to recognize these were squirrel droppings. So, this is what my sister was trying to tell me. All the doors and windows remain closed at night. How did they manage to get an entry? And, when did all of this happen? I don’t remember hearing any noise at all. My sister declared that she did hear some mild rattling as dawn was breaking in, but she was too sleepy to bother.

It did not take me long to piece together what could have happened. The chimney in kitchen hadn’t been cleaned for a while. I usually call in for a service expert twice a year. At other times, I do the cleaning myself. So, I had removed the flap that absorbs the fumes, scrubbed, washed, and left it outside to dry. The flap also forms a barrier between the exhaust pipe and the hob.

Tuntuni, the garden squirrel who lives in the tree just outside the kitchen would have once again entered the chimney pipe. Over-inquisitive as she always is, she would have accidentally fallen onto the kitchen counter. I am not sure if she was alone or was goofing around with her siblings. The confusedness that would have followed is only left to my imagination! She would have felt trapped having no idea how to get out. She would have agitatedly gone around the house trying to figure a way out. Droppings all over the floor and the dining table are tell-tale signs of all the commotion that would have happened.

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I cleaned the droppings – dry pellets, nothing messy. Heaving a sigh of relief and not realizing that the mess was yet to begin, I opened the kitchen sink tap. Water gushed right into the kitchen floor and there I was suddenly marooned in a sizeable pool of water. While trying to escape and looking for an outlet, Tuntuni had damaged the sink drainage pipe. That was not the end. Bewildered, she had even managed to extract some kitchen waste from the garbage bin, which is usually kept below the sink. All that foul-smelling unwanted waste material was now floating on the pool of water.

Certainly not the best way to start a day for the cleanliness freak that I am! That aside, the plumber had to be called and dealing with plumbers is something I loathe to the core. With zero knowledge on the subject, I always feel cheated and exploited. It has never been a pleasant experience.

All of this just for some unadulterated and pure squirrel happiness. Phew!

I still have no clue how she might have escaped. The same chimney route is all that I can think of, which would have again been an accidental discovery. And what relief that would have been! It’s all the fault of the Myna, who had built a nest in the chimney. The squirrel until then had no clue about this hideout. In all her innocence, Tuntuni is just a hyperactive and playful little curious squirrel.

[Click here for a previous post on the squirrel.]

 

 

 

International Yoga Day 2020

108 Surya Namaskars sounded enticing, but I wondered if I should go for it. I do practice Yoga regularly – three days a week, to be precise but the last time I participated in such marathon Surya Namaskars was more than two years ago. At that time, I used to practice Yoga under the guidance of trained and professional Yoga teachers. And, it is to them I owe my love and devotion for Yoga. The passion and dedication of my Yoga teachers easily rubbed off on me. That I confidently continue my practice to this day, on my own, is because of them.

Yoga is a holistic life philosophy that unites the body, mind, and spirit through Asanas (physical postures), Pranayamas (breathing exercises), and meditation. Yoga is as much about the mind and the spirit, as it is of the body. It is a powerful way to deal with everyday stress and anxiety. Consequently, Yoga does become a significant tool for the year 2020, where a healthy mind and body is of paramount importance.

Yoga Asanas involve specific breathing techniques and ideally should be practiced under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher, especially at the beginning. Yoga Asanas, if done incorrectly can cause more harm than good. Though Internet provides hordes of articles, guides, and videos that one can learn from, nothing can replace the guidance of a real teacher. There are many subtle specifications that sometimes vary from individual to individual and often depends on one’s flexibility and body type. Such minute observations and corrections come through experience, which is only possible through individualized attention from a trained and qualified teacher.

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Pic Credit: http://www.modernagespirituality.com

When I had started Yoga five years back, I was extremely inflexible. Not that I am great today, but my teachers made sure I understood my body and correctly did the stretching, bending, twisting, and so on. Had it not been for them, I would have long given up. Yoga doesn’t bear fruit overnight. It’s not just a set of exercise. One needs to be patient. Today Yoga is part of my life, I cannot stay without it.

“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Today, the 21st of June, is International Yoga Day. The theme for this year is “Yoga for Health – Yoga at Home”. My Yoga Teacher conducted a virtual session of 108 Surya Namaskars along with chanting and meditation. I was delighted to know about it but the number 108 made me hesitate. Will I be able to pull it off? A little deliberation and I just signed up.

The marathon Surya Namaskars turned out to be pretty smooth, and I did all of it with super ease. A confidence booster for sure, if not anything else!

Surya Namaskar also known as Surya Pranam or Sun Salutation is a set of 12 Yoga Asanas that are gracefully sequenced together. Six distinct Asanas are repeated twice during the sequence. The first set of six is dedicated to the right side of the body and the next set to the left side of the body. Surya Namaskar is done to express gratitude to the Sun for sustaining life on earth and has an immensely positive impact on the mind and body. It is a great cardiovascular workout too.

I have another post on 108 Surya Namaskars. You'll find it here.

An AC Hospital Experience

The New Normal…

At the entry, a security guard approached me probing the purpose of my visit. Besides gloves and masks, he sported a special kind of head gear that covered his entire face and neck with a transparent shield. The kind I had seen mechanics sporting in welding workshops. It’s called a face shield, I learn later. White squares were drawn on the ground at appropriate distances, where people waited for their turns.

Just before the entry door were a series of tables, again situated at appropriate gaps, that had forms and pens. There you need to fill in responses to specific questions pertaining to your personal information, like, name, gender, phone number, and generic health related questions. At the entry door, there were people wearing the same kind of welding headgear with a thermometer in their gloved hands. You hand over the slip, your body temperature is recorded, and depending on the reading you can proceed towards your destination.

A little bewildered, I stared at everything in amusement. I had seen such images in the Internet and in television news snippets. So, it wasn’t like I was seeing all of it for the first time. But, like everything else, experiencing something first-hand gives you a whole new perspective.

I was at Fortis Hospital yesterday where I had an appointment with my doctor for a certain health issue. The hospital is just 2 Km. from my home and it’s been my go-to-place for anything and everything for a very long time. This was the first time I was visiting the hospital in AC (After Covid-19) and every single thing was different and weird. Needless to say, it felt like I was in a Sci-Fi movie setting.

As I walked past the doorway, I cast a glance at my right where the reception is located. A transparent plastic sheath acted as a curtain between the ones providing the service and those seeking the service. I went to the basement section where the Out-Patient-Department (OPD) is located. Similar scenes there as well. You wait for your turn at the reception and billing on marked white squares. A transparent plastic sheath forms a barrier between you and the OPD reception. A small opening allows you to make the payment.

Outside the doctor’s chamber, the line of chairs for the patients to sit was no longer there. The alignment of the chairs had changed. There were very few chairs waiting in isolation placed at a distance from one another.

When my turn came, I went in to find my doctor sitting inside a transparent plastic sheath that formed an enclosure around her desk and chair. A small opening allowed my arm through for her to check my blood pressure. She asked me to lay in the examination bed for further investigation. The same transparent plastic sheath enclosed the bed. I accessed it through one end, which remained open. Again, a small opening allowed the doctor’s hands to examine me physically while the plastic sheath formed a barrier between us.

It was a very strange experience. Felt weird, like a dream. But no dream this was!

Rameshwaram – The Temple Town

It was somewhere towards the end of February. Covid-19 had already arrived in India and by then three cases were reported, all of which were from South India. Oblivious about the implications, we set out on a trip to the temple towns of Rameshwaram and Madurai. Dhanushkodi, which automatically is associated with Rameshwaram, was on our list too. This trip was for my parents.

The thought of having gallivanted all those places with my parents as Covid-19 lurked around the region gives me the chills today. Especially so, for my septuagenarian father with ailments like high BP, hypertension, heart disorders, chronic pulmonary disorders, and so on. My parents have always loved to travel. During his heydays, my father had taken us on quite a few family trips. That is highly commendable given his limited means with all the responsibilities he had at that time. All that was hardly enough to satiate his wanderlust. Now, they have the means but not the health – ironies of life. It’s my turn now and I try my best to travel with them at least once a year.

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Pic 1: East-end Gopuram at Ramanathaswamy Temple 

I was eight, when my father had taken us on a South India trip. We visited many places, including Madurai but Rameswaram hadn’t happened. My parents would always rue about it. Hence, taking them to Rameshwaram had been on my mind. The timing of our visit happened to be the weekend of Maha-Shivaratri. This was completely unintentional, something we realized after the flight and hotel reservations were done. Rameshwaram was expected to be overcrowded during that weekend. Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead. Not for once did the thought of Covid-19 bother us even though the existing cases weren’t very far away.

When traveling with parents, everything needs to be planned to a T. At the same time, we need to be flexible as plans may have to be changed on the fly. It’s a lot different than how I otherwise experience a place. Consequently, the trip was more curated than I would have otherwise liked. I sure do have to visit Rameshwaram once again.

Here’s a brief of the places we visited at Rameshwaram.

Ramanathaswamy Temple

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. Mythologically, Rameshwaram and this temple is associated with the epic Ramayana. The sanctum has two Shiva Lingas – Ramalingam is made of sand, believed to have been built by Lord Rama and Vishwalingam, believed to have been brought by Hanuman from Kailash.

Architecturally, the unique aspect of this temple is its three strikingly long corridors. The first and innermost corridor is around the sanctum sanctorum. The second corridor has 108 Shiva Lingas and a statue of Ganapati. The third and outermost corridor is adorned by 1212 brightly coloured pillars set on an elevated platform and is said to be the longest pillared corridor in the world. The temple also has 22 holy tanks. One is supposed to take a ritualistic bath with water from each of the tanks before visiting Ramalingam. We didn’t do that though.

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Pic 2: North gate of the temple. The east-end Gopuram seen in the background.

The temple has four entry ways, in all the four directions – North, South, East, and West. Two Gopurams stand tall at the East and West gate. The North gate of the temple was just a little walk away from our hotel. We visited the temple twice. My mother accompanied us once. My father was content with seeing the temple from the outside afraid of being unable to manage himself in the crowd. Though the crowd was much lesser than we had anticipated.

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Pic 3: The colourful outer corridor with 1212 pillars. Mobile phones are not allowed inside and it’s not possible to click such pictures. However, when we entered for the first time nobody stopped us at the entryway and we had our phones with us. So, just a chance photograph.

Other than the colourful corridors, something else caught my attention inside the temple. It was a powerful message from Swami Vivekananda, who had visited this temple is 1897. The message is prominently displayed at the main entrance of the temple. Below is an excerpt, you can read the entire message here.

"It is in love that religion exists and not in ceremony, in the pure and sincere love in the heart. Unless a man is pure in body and mind, his coming into a temple and worshiping Shiva is useless. The prayers of those that are pure in mind and body will be answered by Shiva, and those that are impure and yet try to teach religion to others will fail in the end. External worship is only a symbol of internal worship; but internal worship and purity are the real things. Without them, external worship would be of no avail." ~ Swami Vivekananda
Agni Tirtham

Agni Tirtham is a beach located on the eastern side of Ramanathaswamy Temple. The norm is to dip in the waters of Agni Tirtham, followed by the ritualistic bath in the 22 holy tanks inside the temple, and then offer prayers to the deity. We did not quite intend to dip in the crowded Agni Tirtham and just paid a visit late in the evening. Consequently, I don’t have any pictures of Agni Tirtham.

Rama Tirtham and Lakshmana Tirtham

Rama Tirtham and Lakshmana Tirtham are water tanks with temples associated to each. These are water tanks where apparently Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana had bathed.

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Pic 4: The water tank at Rama Tirtham
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Pic 5: The water tank at Lakshmana Tirtham
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Pic 6: The vibrant colourful pillars inside Lakshmana Tirtham temple.
Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir & Floating Stones

A huge black stone statue of Lord Hanuman with five faces welcomed us in this temple. Our interest in this temple was because we were told it displays floating rocks. Rocks that are believed to be of the kind that were apparently used to build the Ram Setu towards Lanka. The rocks were quite a letdown as they were way smaller than we had visualized. I didn’t click any pictures here.

Gandhamadhana Parvatham Temple

This is a small temple situated atop a little hillock. We loved the quietude in this temple. The cool breeze and the view from the temple made it even better. It is believed that Lord Hanuman took off from here towards Lanka to fight the demon King Ravana and his army.

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Pic 7: View from the temple.
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Pic 8: At the terrace of the temple.
Pamban Bridge

We traveled to Rameswaram by road from Madurai and hence drove over Pamban Bridge or Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge. This bridge on Palk Strait connecting Rameswaram with mainland, is India’s first sea bridge. A little more than 2 Km., crossing it was a scenic experience. A rail bridge runs parallel to the Pamban Bridge, which has a functional double leaf bascule section midway to allow ships through. We had plans of coming back and spending time on the Pamban Bridge and rail bridge but that didn’t materialize.

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Pic 9: The rail bridge as seen from Pamban Bridge.
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Memorial

This is a museum dedicated to former President of India, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, that showcases his life and work. It is a memorial built at his burial site and displays selected photos, paintings and miniature models of missiles and other artifacts. Dr. Kalam had passed away in Shillong on July 27, 2015. Seeing the name of our hometown didn’t fail to delight us though.

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Pic 10: Outside the Kalam Museum

And Three Years It is…

 

WordPress says I complete three years of blogging. So, I’ve been writing for three long years. Not bad at all. Feels pretty good, I must say! A quick scan and I have written 109 posts so far, boiling down to an average of three posts per month.

My consistency does not surprise me though, being more or less consistent in pretty much everything I do. Routinely, disciplined, persistence are words that resonate with me, earning me nicknames of “Timetable” and “Clock” in the family. Personality aspects that don’t always go well with the family. Things that become even more pronounced when I incorporate an additional something into my daily life, especially related to exercise or meditation. And, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? My family doesn’t always agree. They feel I drive them up the wall.

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Back to blogiversary – if I rewind three years, then I’m at a place where I never ever thought I would write. In fact, I didn’t even know I could write. It all started with my first trek to the Himalayas. Writing and blogging in turn changed how I travel. It made me observant. I am more mindful and present when I travel now. I take notes so that I remember the minute details of the things I experience. Traveling is not something new for me. I have traveled right from my childhood days and have always enjoyed doing so but how I experience travel now has undergone a sea change.

This blog would not have happened had it not been for that friend who recommended I write down all the stories I kept narrating to her. “With time, you will forget much of it”, she had said. I have mentioned this in several posts, but I just feel like saying this again and again. Keeping my consistent nature aside, this blog has managed to survive only because of all the motivation I keep receiving from family and friends, not to forget all my connects here in WordPress.

My sincerest gratitude to all of you.

Some of you have gone a step ahead and pointed out that I should change my Theme and make the blog more reader-friendly. I truly appreciate your candidness and feel embarrassed about not acting upon it. My mind-block with anything technical is the reason behind my procrastination. Well, I will get to it – very soon.

In conclusion, blogging has given me a window to the world of writing, something I didn’t know I had a passion for. More importantly, it has connected me to some of the most wonderful people across the world – All of you out there!

Momentary Meets to Lifetime Memories

The noisy bunch of over-enthusiastic friends from Poland that we kept bumping into at every tea house, quite a botheration they were! The huge group of nearly 50 people we crossed twice on the way and had to step aside to let them pass. The warm smiles of the two Japanese girls we often found sitting around the bends taking a tea break, every time we eyed their beautiful flasks. The two German men we ran into every now and then until they decided to introduce themselves, leading to small conversations each time we met. The petite Chinese girl who was perennially rushing but never missed talking to us – in her own language while we replied in English, we communicated without understanding. The two Korean girls with whom we shared a room at the base camp, who spoke English enabling some interesting conversations.

These are some of the people from different parts of the world we met during our ABC Trek, last year in October. I clearly remember so many of those faces, some leaving impressions deeper than the others. I wonder how all those people may be coping with the Covid-19 situation. I wonder if everything is fine with them. There is no way I will ever know.

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Pic 1: When we arrived at our destination.

A big aspect of travel for me has always been the people I get to meet and connect with. Of the several people I met during the ABC Trek, the following need special mention.

Trekker Daddy

“Does that look like a baby carrier basket?”, I asked my sister. Curiosity had me striding a little faster. The basket looked fancy and the man carrying it, dressed in typical trekker attire. So, wouldn’t be a local. It was the second day of our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek and we were climbing through one of the steeper sections of the trail when I saw this man several feet ahead of us. As I drew closer, my doubts gave way to confirmation. It was indeed a baby carrier! The man was carrying his 3-year old daughter as he trudged towards the mighty eight-thousander. He was with his wife and three children aged, 12, 7, and 3. The family had traveled all the way from Shanghai.

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Pic 2: Trekker Daddy with his little girl. I clicked this picture with his due permission.

Trekking with a 3-year old in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Things like Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), sudden weather changes, are for real. Well, I am sure they would have thought through all of that and were well prepared. They did, however, gather quite a bit of attention all the way. Every other trekker seemed to be talking about them and as one would expect everyone had some opinion or the other. While some hailed them for being brave others thought they were being irresponsible. I was too stunned to have any opinion. We met the family at several junctions during the trek and each time I envied the fun they were having and all the memories they were creating together.

Septuagenarian Trekkers

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” The septuagenarian trekkers reiterated Mark Twain. Janette and Joe caught our attention on the trail one day. The cute couple was sitting on a rock and taking a break while munching on chocolates. Later, we caught up with them at the two tea houses where we stayed together. They were well into their 70s, had come all the way from the USA, and were trekking in the high altitude of the Himalayas for the very first time. Their agility, enthusiasm, and zest for life was infectious. They could easily give all youngsters a run for their money.

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Pic 3: With Janette and Joe at the ABC Base Camp Tea House

Then we met John, who was also from the USA and was traveling with his wife (a septuagenarian too) along with a group of family and friends. John proudly announced that he was “Seventy plus Four years old”. People like John, Janette, and Joe are astoundingly inspirational. They go on to prove that trekking and hiking has a lot to do with mental strength, which is just as important as physical strength.

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Pic 4: With John, somewhere on the trail. (Note: Do not judge the bag in my hand, it is a disposable garbage bag and not plastic.)

When I interacted with these elderly people, I couldn’t help but think about my parents, especially my father who belongs to the same age group. I am certain they would have loved to do something like this, but it’s simply inconceivable for them. In fact, I haven’t seen many Indians in that age group trekking or hiking.

However, one thing I know for sure – if I am to live up to a 70 and beyond, I’d better be someone like Janette!

Hand-Stitched Masks

Make Your Own Masks

Needle work and embroidery, stitching and knitting, tatting and crochet, fabric painting and spray painting are some things that grip me in nostalgia. There was a time when I was crazy about patterns and colours and fabrics. I could spend hours with needles and threads. The atrocious amount of patience I had in such things makes me wonder in disbelieve today.

We used to have a needle work class while at school and at that time I wasn’t very good at it, though every year I secretly wished to be selected for the best needle-work award.

During my college days, I developed a sudden fascination with everything that could be hand-crafted. Not only did I embroider and knit, I would also make things like floor mats, table mats, coasters, woolen shoes, tote bags, and what not. Anything hand-crafted that caught my fancy, I just had to learn. Back then there was no Internet, no YouTube. I would get my way by pleading people who knew the art to teach me.

I even went to Usha Sewing School and got a diploma in tailoring, which turned out to be a useless certificate as I never bothered to cultivate my skill. At that time, I didn’t even realise that my hobby was a skill that I could use to my advantage.

All those hobbies and skills got left behind when I left my hometown, Shillong. Life in a big city was too glamourous to knit and sew!

As a result, today I have forgotten most of it. I forgot the process of knitting a sweater, I forgot how to maneuver a tatting shuttle, I forgot how to hold a crochet hook, I forgot how to blend two colours while painting a fabric, the list is endless. Only in very recent times, I have started missing those days of knitting and stitching.

In the initial days of Covid-19 in India, people had gone berserk buying and hoarding sanitizers and masks. My parents were with me in Bangalore then and were leaving in the second week of March. With great difficulty I managed two N-95 masks for them at a marked-up price. Thereafter lockdown happened and the rest is history. I never had a mask and would wrap a scarf around my nose and mouth when stepping out. Wrapping a scarf each time felt cumbersome and I decided to stitch my own mask. I do not have a sewing machine and so I hand-stitched one. Thereafter I have hand-stitched more than a dozen masks and given them to my friends in Bangalore.

Many people have reached out wanting to know how I made them. So, here is a step-by-step process for hand-stitching your own masks.

Hand Stitched Masks

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Some Mornings are Magical

The morning sun mildly breaks through the cracks and lights up the dirt path. Dry Pine needles scattered on the ground crackle under our feet. We don’t feel any wind but the tall Pines swish-swash compelling us to stop intermittently to gaze up and look at their canopies. A distinctive aroma fills in the air – the sweet organic fragrance of Pine forests. Colourful butterflies hang around our way as well-orchestrated bird songs flow in from every direction.

Even today I can clearly feel the unparalleled soul soothing peace of those mornings in the Pine forest.

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Pic 1: As we enter the forest.

Morning walks and Pine trees are things that I associate with my Shillong home. Shillong mornings are synonymous with morning walks. I had written about that before. (here)

Last year, this time I was at my Shillong home. I was there for the whole of May and a part of June. Every day would inadvertently begin with those ritualistic morning walks. Most of the days those walks would happen in the Pine forest, just about 1-2 Km. away from my home. The forest has always been there, and I have passed by its periphery countless times but had never ventured into it. Back in the years Shillong was consumed by ethnic violence and such kind of adventures were unthinkable. My cousin, who introduced me to this enchanting place, had discovered it quite recently.

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Pic 2: Somewhere on the trail, we would cross a fallen tree trunk.

There was a simple routine to our Pine forest ritual – I would walk to a certain point where my cousin would join me. We would then walk into the forest, spend about an hour or so and then go back to our respective homes.

In the forest, we would leisurely walk through the undulating trail for about 3 Km. upto a certain point. Thereafter, we would retrace our path and walk down through a narrow passage to a bowl-shaped glade that was cordoned off in one part of the forest. There the forest floor would be blanketed by a thick carpet of crisp brown Pine needles. Could we resist laying down in a place like that! Time stood still as we would gaze into the deep blue sky that was visible in patches through the oscillating canopies of the lofty Pines. The forest felt mystical and spellbinding as the swishing canopies rustled gently, nudging, and coaxing each other. Breathing in the sweet aromatic fragrance of Pines needles, we often felt a sense of kinship with the elegant Pines. We and the Pines and everything else seemed to be in a perfect harmonious blend.

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Pic 3: As we watched the swishing canopies laying on the forest floor.

Sometimes we would play some light music on our phones while watching the trees rhythmically dance away to our music. My cousin would often come up with her own theories of how the trees might be gossiping about us – humans, maybe they are chit-chatting about their families, or maybe discussing the well-being of their kids – the Pine cones, maybe they’re just chilling with our music. Those were freeze frame moments when life felt flawless, moments where we could remain forever and ever.

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Pic 4: At the bowl-shaped glade with cousin and a friend from Bangalore, who had visited Shillong during that time.

Some days, we would climb up a steep slope in the forest. It wasn’t an easy climb by any means as we would keep slipping through the dry Pine needles strewn all over. However, all the trouble was worth it for our sweet spot on top, which was a huge rock shaped in a way that gave the feel of a couch or a bean bag with the perfect backrest. We would sit there listening to the birds as the trees would dance away in a world of their own. Down below through the thick foliage of greens and browns, we could spot tiny roads and tiny houses. The forest felt like where we belonged, it comforted our hearts, and it would take quite an effort to get up and leave. This we usually did on weekends as it would take up more time.

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Pic 5: Our sweet spot, the huge rock with the perfect backrest.

If things would have been normal and there would be no Covid-19, this is exactly what I would have been doing every morning at this time, this year too.

Moments of Small Little things

There’s immense satisfaction and happiness in small little things of life, and that’s no secret! The small little things that I could have always done but never did.

Evening Cuppa at the Balcony

It’s nearly evening, or should I say late afternoon. At this time the mellowed sun appears perfectly rounded and has moved to the far west. On the way, it has splattered subtle shades of yellows, oranges, and crimsons all over the western sky. Seated in my living room, I can see the familiar warm comfortable glow fill up my kitchen cabinets as some of the light trickles in through the window.

I put my laptop to sleep and walk up to the kitchen. Soon, I have two cups of hot tea. I call out to my sister, who’s working in the guest room. She just happened to be with me during the lockdown. We leave our laptops and phones behind and for the next one hour settle down in the balcony with tea and biscuits.

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My sister’s pencil sketch of us in the balcony.

The softening yellow ball of fire can be seen from one side. And, it’s time for the birds to go home. There’s the bunch of eagles soaring high up in the sky, the flock of tiny birds that glide a few feet below as if competing with the eagles, the squawking parrots that fly in small gangs one after the other, the unseen cuckoo that sings into the evening whose nest must be somewhere nearby, the cute little tiny sunbirds that perch here and there, the odd bulbul and the kingfisher that comes by sometimes, those few noisy mynas, a couple of ravens, and the irritating pigeons.

Amid admiring the birds and enjoying the changing hues of sunset, we talk about a hundred things – family, friends, books, movies, social media, our anxieties and worries, our travels, our jobs, Covid 19, lockdown, and anything and everything under the sun.

Now, we eagerly look forward to the evenings every single day. My home happens to be in a quiet corner of the apartment. The balcony was always there, so were the birds, so was the sunset but never did we spend time in the balcony. We were too busy, you see!

Mornings of Squirrel Cuteness

It’s about 9.00 AM. Breakfast time. Not just for us but for the squirrel family too.

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Peanuts – my favourite breakfast

A squirrel family has been visiting my home for the past 2-3 years. There are 3-4 of them and all of them look alike except for some minor differences mostly in their sizes. For the sake of convenience, all of them have been christened with the same name – TUNTUNI. They live in the tree that spreads across one side of my house through the balcony, the kitchen, and the guest bedroom.

It’s the common Indian Palm Squirrel, grey-brown in colour with a bushy tail, and characterized by three conspicuous white stripes that run from head to tail. Hyperactive and superfast, they had thwarted all my attempts of clicking them. I had since given up and just enjoyed their company. Not just me, they would entertain my guests too.

My sister had never paid attention to them before. Now she can be found chasing the squirrels and filming every act of squirrel cuteness. The renewed focus resulted in new-found adulation. I got a bag of peanuts for them even in the lockdown. Every morning we feed them in return for some unparalleled adorable and magical squirrel moments.

The Myna Nest

Talking about the squirrels, it’ll be gross injustice if I leave out the Myna couple. For the past few weeks, in fact even before the lockdown had started, we had spotted a Myna couple in and around my home.

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The Myna’s untidy nest. Don’t miss the two roses at the top!

It’s the common house Myna, which is sometimes identified as a pest in certain parts of the world. Little did we know that the couple had built a nest in my kitchen chimney exhaust pipe.

We had been noticing some noise in the pipe for a while now but did not pay much heed as this happens sometimes. We always thought the tiny sunbirds made their way into the chimney pipe. Recently, the activities in the chimney was nothing less than a ruckus. The Myna couple were seen busy with various activities through the day. Once they even angrily chased the squirrel and we could never figure out what what had happened. Two days back the babies flew off and the Myna couple have since disappeared – probably enjoying the graduation of their kids.

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My sister sketches Tuntuni, the squirrel and the Myna

And, I can’t help but wonder that these are certain things that I could have always done but I never did. It had to take a Covid-19 lockdown or else I would have missed it all.