An Old Photo
Flipping through an album I found this old photo today. Suddenly all the people in this photo turned into
animated characters in my mind.
This photo was taken when my parents were living in Bombay. Just like 'Indian family gatherings'
in Switzerland, my parents too used to go for 'Bengali family gatherings' when in Mumbai, as Probasi
(expat) Bengalis, living in another part of India.
In extreme left is my Ma, in her late twenties. She is looking slightly lost in this photo, I think around this
time she had been appointed editor of a Bengali magazine called 'Bombai Bichitra', which this core group of
Bengalis used to publish together. I am standing close to her.
The lady in pink sari, standing next to my mum was a prolific writer, she still is.
I used to be terrified of this lady. She would always talk to me very sternly whenever she could lay her hands on me. Either she would make fun of my dress, or my hair, or something, and I would try to avoid her by all means. Once I remember I hid below the bed and refused to come out when she visited our home. I used to be a sensitive child then. Perhaps I still am, a sensitive old woman. Now, I realise, people have different ways of showering attention. By poking me with her stern looks and words perhaps she was trying to make me discover a unique 'sense of humour'!
Standing next to me is Dutu dada, this pink lady's son. He was always nice to me, but was very naughty. He taught me how to catch tadpoles and frogs during rainy seasons from ditches. His elder brother, the one with big glasses standing behind him was just the opposite. He was soft spoken and very quiet. His only obsession was music. Dutu dada (the naughty one) later became a mechanical engineer and lives in Mumbai and Jayanta dada studied music engineering and is somewhere in New Zealand I think.
In extreme right is my father. He used to travel for more than an hour every alternate weekend to Amar Jethu's house (standing behind my father wearing black sunglasses), in Worli, just to play a board of chess. They were tough competitors and would sit with their heads bent on a small square shaped board for hours.
My mum, sis and I would also tag along, and I still remember ....sitting in their living room and watching the beautiful orange red Sun set in the Arabian sea. Those Sunsets etched a beautiful painting in my mind, even before I had learned to paint.
The other thing I remember is Amar Jethu's mother, a plump, elderly lady (typical grandma type) in a white sari, she would sit and breathe heavily and chew sweetened 'Mouri' every now and then. Sometimes she would give me n my sis also some. Amar Jethu had no children, so she loved being a grandma to us.
Just one pic and so many characters suddenly became alive......who needs a fictional plot!Type your paragraph here.
Post 'Paris's Bataclan Concert's' horrific news on Friday, today I made it a point to visit a local theater in Wohlen and celebrate art and the spirit of life over terror and all forces which try to subdue life.
Terrorism and what is happening in Syria, is making me question on a daily basis how can we achieve solidarity across humanity?
I have no answer to that. All I know is: on an individual basis, we can stand up and feel solidarity for those who are suffering and even small acts of kindness can create a ripple effect.
Just yesterday, I was thinking about this folklore, where a monster had a deal with a village, which was: instead of creating havoc everyday, he would visit the village once every month and pick one child from one household and then leave the village in peace, only to return again next month. The village would go back to normalcy, except the family which had to sacrifice its child. Then next month terror would strike again.
When I read in newspapers, reports about Syrian refugees with displaced teenagers, pregnant women and young children trying to stand up to their psychological scars, I am reminded of this monster from the folklore, called terrorism. Today that 'monster' is visiting Syria and France, tomorrow whose house will he visit ? Shall we wait for his next attack and then turn complacent again ?
Today, in the theater, even though the language was Swiss German, it was overall an exhilarating experience. They had special acoustics arrangement on stage (there were no mikes), stage setting was awesome and the story line was interesting: about a church, a priest, and their household helper, who practically ran the kloster with her practical intelligence.
Sitting next to me was an old Swiss lady, laughing to splits every now and then. During the break, maybe because of the drama on stage and her general feeling of bonhomie, she started telling me about her life unhinged, without any hesitation. That itself could be the story for a drama.....! Almost 8 years back, in another life, I remember being part of a German Theater group and our director, a Georgian who had run away from a war torn country to come and live in Basel, had an enormous influence on me, he showed me the beauty of this form of art and how to enjoy it. This year, High Heels Group enacted a drama 'Durga's Home Coming' and it was my first attempt to write and direct it (with my friends), based on stories from our daily lives. While sitting there in the theater today, I triumphed on behalf of High Heels Group and Everyone who believes in challenging tough times with hope and courage. A famous quotation that almost immediately comes into my mind is that from Shakespeare, where he said:
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts......"
We all have a role to play, so play yours well and Live Life Full Time.
Published in February 2018, SWISS MASALA is a compilation of 15 short stories about Indian expats living in Switzerland. Stories are about immigrant families and couples. 216 pages, 12 Euros/12 USD.
CLICK on the image of the book to be directed to Amazon.
Since last three years, I try to post a recent painting on my birthday. This painting's subject is 'Trousseau': a Benarasi sari, which my mother wore at her wedding and gave it to me later and a pearl set from my mother in law, which she received as a bride herself.
Now, this Pearl Bracelet, which is kind of running away from the frame (half hidden), has a very interesting personality. Each time I try to wear it, it eludes me. First time it broke off, and it had to be repaired in Kolkata and this Durga Puja I wore it again and lost it instantaneously. After searching around and announcing to a hall full of people, after one week, Srijit found it behind Jeet's car seat, hidden in a corner (it must have slipped out when I was taking out Jeet from the car). So, this time I thought, how can I tame this 'Runaway Bride'? And also celebrate 'Dhanteras' (today), when you buy a piece of jewellery or an utensil (a custom). Moi, being attached neither to jewellery nor finery or rituals, the only ritual I truly enjoy is dipping my brush into colours and indulging my spirits in warm hues. What better way to start my birthday, but by treasuring my mothers precious gifts in my own way.
Last two weeks, we had a visitor.
A heavy 'fog' which refused to budge from morning to night. A dim yellow light from the street lamp and people disappearing as soon as they appeared in the streets, just like an Agatha Christie plot. We live in a valley surrounded by higher valleys, so when there is a fog, it stays there like a cork in a bottle.
Then we received a tip from a neighbour. Srijit drove us up the hills yesterday, and lo - what a sight!
We drove into the fog (just like in a plane) and then reached above the 'Nebelmeer' (Fog sea). In the pics, note, the white part is not a lake, but a fog sea! And Wohlen lies just below that.
Today, finally Sunlight uncorked the fog, and our valley can see a clear sky. Enjoying the beauty and the tint of mysteriousness. Perhaps life is the same, sometimes we cannot see beyond the fog, but inf act there is great scenic beauty, if we could just take ourselves a bit higher up, up and up!
There was a girl who just couldn’t stop dancing. Last year at a babyshower party, where I was invited along with some common friends, she danced again. We cleared the room, cornered the table and chairs and then she switched on a song in her i-phone, took her dupatta, covered her head like a heroine and did a typical Bollywood dance, with jumping steps, totally without any inhibition. It didn’t matter to her that her dance was going viral via two skype calls, the pregnant friend’s mom in Bangalore and her sis in California, both coming from rather conservative South Indian household, watching her silently.
The first time I met this ‘Dancing doll’ as I am going to call her, was 2.5 years back when I was myself pregnant and she came to a friend’s daughter’s first birthday party along with her husband—a young researcher who had recently started his PhD in Basel University. Initially we all thought she was the kid sister of that researcher, visiting from India. Then we saw her thick red sindoor and prominent red and white bangles which she was wearing with a tight dress and a glittery clutch which could only be a wedding accessory. She was very chirpy and was talking non-stop with everyone and was eager to give an opinion on everything. Some of us, the older girls in the circle, watched her with a bit of curiosity and tight lipped scorn. Who was she? Long shiny hair tied in a tight ponytail, thick caterpillar like eyebrows, big eyes in a fair face and thin lips, a narrow face and a brilliant smile. She was a petite girl and we still had trouble labelling her as a bride rather than a kid sis or a schoolgirl. She was from a small town in UP and told us about her past, present and future all within a couple of minutes. We nodded our heads and excused ourselves out of the table where she was narrating, one by one.
Since then, in the last three years, I didn’t see her much, except for few parties where she too was invited and if there was any opportunity to dance, she inevitably danced—which somehow I always remembered because of the way she no inhibition and how she could let loose her body in front of men and women and yet not look vulgar. More than talent there was innocence in those Bollywood style, breast pouting moves. Last year at a Diwali party, I remember registering her passively sitting with some other people and talking about my son. She was pointing towards him in admiration and saying, “Look how he is walking like a puccka Punjabi, just like his name, did you know he was born the same week that I first arrived in Switzerland”. I felt some pride but took pains to show that I had not registered her remark.
Today, during lunchtime, three months after that Diwali party, when I logged into Facebook, I saw a friend’s post mentioning that she will miss a friend forever…RIP. I followed the link and it landed on this girl’s page. Wasn’t it just last month that I ‘liked’ one of her countless, selfie photos?! She was posing with her husband in a restaurant. Who died? I couldn’t believe it. I called one friend, she didn’t pick up her phone, called another, and she picked up her phone and told me that it was true; our ‘dancing girl’ had indeed passed away.
This is what happened. She went to India a month back to attend a friend’s wedding, who is one of her close friends in Basel. Everyone came back to Switzerland except dancing doll and her husband. She had stomach pain during the wedding ceremony and got hospitalised in her husband’s home town in Uttar Pradesh. She was diagnosed with appendicitis. They performed the operation. But she didn’t recover from the anaesthesia and didn’t regain consciousness. She got infected with pneumonia which started spreading over all her organs one by one. She was shifted to another big hospital in a bigger town, but doctors said, each hour counted and they were too late already. Her BP went normal and then dropped again. Clearly she was struggling in spirit and body and not easily giving up. Then Valentine’s Day came and she breathed her last breathe, unable to buy a present for her husband, her childhood sweetheart.
Dancing doll was just 25 years old.