Culture · India · Kolkata · Letters · Nostalgia

Dear Kolkata,

MA Durga in Kolkata
The Forgiven Form

There are times when you go though few million phases and you pick that one thing which has remained constant. When we were young, travelling by plane was a luxury and the best means to travel to you was the almost 48 hours train ride. The best thing about the gruelling travel was that the first thing that you see when you get out of station was the magnificent Howrah bridge on the Ganga. The city has not moved with time and somehow I love it! The old world’s charms still make me come back to you.
This year was the year of Pujo for me. Durga Puja is not an event or a festival. It is a legacy left by the rich long forgotten and carried on by traditions of future.

I went to Kolkata after a long time to see the Pujo. After I reached the airport and took a cab, I saw the city burning with happiness. The whole city was adorned by lights. The kaccha roads, the wide roads, the dirty roads and even the road which led to the brothel had garland of beautiful lights of joy. I couldn’t wait. It was 1 am in the night and somewhere I could still smell the fragrance of dhuno. With great delight I entered my aunt’s place. This story starts from a family which still believes in being true and simple.

The Neverland
My uncle and Aunt had lived all their life in Kolkata. I went to see a pujo mandap with my aunt. We both sat on the chair. She showed me all the places where she used to play and where she saw my uncle for the first time. Theirs was a love marriage unlike my parents which was an arranged one. I asked her why she never felt trapped being not only in the same city but also in the same area for more than 50 years. The Dhak had started. This goddess had the form of a fairy and she was mounted on a blue sky. Her children were also mounted up. The whole set up was extremely surreal with fairies floating around us. She told me ‘It’s a myth that one place can trap you. I have travelled in all the parts of the country and yes I have not lived anywhere except here. But the only person who can trap me is me. This place defines me’. My aunt and uncle like me have been travel freaks and have travelled around India, but they have lived all their life in Kolkata. I always thought they did not know what it is like being free.  In front of me, the 4 men were dancing with dunochi with dhak beats in the background. The lord in front of me started glowing and the whole cave was under the spell.

Indian Cinema
It was 3am in the morning and I had gone out with my dad and my aunt and uncle to see the Durga in her various forms. We sat in the palatial mandap of 100 years of Indian cinema. Here Durga is not killing the asur who is the villain. The asur is looking at her with folded hands and she is looking at him as if she will forgive him which is not like the real story. I sat with my father and he gobbled mishti doi. He was like, ‘I miss this. You have no idea how glad I am that I left this city when I was young and still how I yearn for this city. I think I feel I am back home, more because you are here with me. But I can’t have too much of this city. I feel something is holding me back.’

The sureal form
The sureal form

The Prayer
I was walking back to my aunt’s home with my fiancé. I saw a small mandap which was very quiet. Hardly anyone was there inside the tent. We both went inside. I looked at the Devi. My fiancé whispered , ‘There is no way you will be at peace, will you? You are still searching something. You are trapped, aren’t you? I was still looking at the most simplest form of Durga. I finally looked at him, ‘Yeah maybe I will find what I seek someday. But right now. I feel like this is a place to be.’

Agra · Culture · India · Letters · Travel · World

Dear Taj Mahal

You are one of the most romantic sites in the world with thousands of stories have been woven around you. I too have a tale to share.

It was a cold December when I had decided to visit Taj Mahal. Obviously not the best of times to go and visit the place. I had booked a bus in Delhi through Delhi Tourism board. The temperature that day was 5 degrees. I was freezing to death since I came from Mumbai and people in Mumbai don’t realize that a season such as winter actually exists. The bus had a bunch of affable passengers. I got into the bus at 6 in the morning and dozed off. I woke up with a start realizing that we were nearing Taj Mahal. I couldn’t see anything beautiful. All I could see was a huge crowd ahead of the bus. We got down and realized that the queue was 2 km long. Our tour guide arranged something and got us in 10 minutes.

When I saw inside, I finally saw you. Hypnotized by your beauty, I kept going ahead and was about to enter when I was grabbed by my collar. Two healthy women yelled in Hindi. I looked at them blankly. “Madam, are you VIP?” I nodded my head. “Then stop being smart and stand in the line”, saying this one the woman threw me towards the long snake-like line. Embarrassed, I stood in the line. The tour guide said we have only one hour to see the place. I saw my other co –passengers had given up already and were roaming around in the garden. Determined I took another route where two male guards were standing. I walked towards them.

“Bhaiya, Please janne do”, I told them with my damsel distress look. The guard said, “No Madam, rule is rule”. I knew thousand bucks wouldn’t be enough to get me inside. He looked gruff and stern. So I told him, “Sirji, I am from Mumbai. I am getting married and I will not be allowed to do much post marriage. I have come here with my Bhaiya” I lied straight on his face pointing to a fellow co-passenger. I was nowhere close to getting married. He looked at me and asked, “You are from Mumbai. My sister is living there, is married there.” I knew then that I had him in my hook. I sat beside him and asked, “Where does she stay?”

“She stays in Dombivili”, he said proudly. “She got her married 2 years ago. She has an LLB degree and used to work here. Now she gets beaten in her house. She is so bright. Now I miss her. I haven’t seen her over a year.”

I thought, ‘Really?’ A person from Delhi complaining about his sister getting beaten up in Mumbai? I thought these things happened more in the North of India. Obviously I had stereotyped a region and made an ignorant assumption. Things like this happen everywhere in India.

Taj Mahal
Beauty Divine

After seven months when I was cleaning my bag, I found a parchment with an address. I had conveniently forgotten about that guard.  I smiled and booked flowers online and wrote ‘To Chotti, From Bhaiya’. I don’t even know if she still lives there. I hoped that she did.

 When I remember you today, I remember purity. I remember a love in the most innocent form- white marbles, Yamuna river and a guard standing every day, praying for a smile.

Culture · Gujarat · India · Letters · Travel · World

Dear Bhuj,

Gujarat
Bhuj Port

On 26th January we were marching in front of our principal when the ground shook and we stood still. We knew that there was an earthquake but not in our city. Somewhere else in this country the earth must have fallen. My father got transferred to Bhuj to take care of the redevelopment. Exactly two months later I came to your city.

The city was still in rubble, cracks could be seen not only in the houses but also inside the household. This was the first time I visited Gujarat. Kutch women in beautiful skirts and blouses, colourful turbans, women in saris were still alive in God’s debris.

I sat on the stairs of one of the broken temple near a rehabilitation camp. For the first time, I knew that Bollywood has a real heart. A man came out of the car and I saw him asking frantically about a girl called Panchi. The sky was crimson yellow. The man sat beside me. He had ruthless eyes like anything in front him will melt. And then his friend narrated a story. A story very simple.

The girl named Panchi had stood in her verandah since 11 years old and looked at a 14 year old boy named Mihir going to school. She had day school and the boy had evening school. They used to smile at each other. On the dusty roads, he saw her everyday wearing bright earrings and at times with open hair. When he came back from school he sat behind the tea stall and under the endless sky, they simply looked. They both knew each other’s name. Through friends they knew what they liked and disliked. For 12 years they have been communicating through just one smile a day. They fought with each other through a blink of their eye when one of them failed to come and see their better half. For 12 years unprecedented friendship and extraordinary love and unbound promise was kept silently in each other’s prayers. Not one day had passed when they did not think of each other.

Gujarat
Color your life with Bandhni

They knew they couldn’t get married because the boy was ‘ Shudra’, a cast lower than the Brahmin. But they were stung and they couldn’t help. Then the boy learnt about the girl’s engagement. Heart-broken he decided to go the US to study. Before he left he saw Panchi for one last time. She knew he was going. Silent and poised, she was standing and all she uttered was ‘Take care’; the first two words which were spoken between them. The boy had come back after 6 years to search for the girl in the hope that she is fine.

‘Where do you stay?’ I asked. ‘San Jose’, he said in his gruff tone. I did not want to search for the girl. Maybe I had a crush on him. The stars were out. The candles burned inside the windows. I flirted with the friend with my eyes on Mihir. His eyes were still, fixed without a doubt that she was alive. Finally, a girl came in a wheel chair. “Are you fine?” he asked. The girl smiled. I assumed that she lost her legs due to the earthquake. Two years after marriage her family was going to Mount Abu. There was an accident and her baby and her husband died. By this time I was pretty tired with moroseness around, so I went back home.

I came to the temple near the camp the next day. I saw the friend. “So they are together now?” He said, “No’

“What! No?”

“She does not love him. They love each other but there has been too much silence between them. He is leaving tomorrow. She is teaching children here. Will they get married? Yeah probably to someone else some other day. Sometimes kiddo you just need to hold on to someone”.

“But… but… What does it mean?” “I don’t know. Maybe peace, maybe friendship, maybe love and maybe sometimes it means nothing.” I smiled. I saw Mihir walking towards us. “Time to leave”. I hugged the friend good bye. Mihir asked me, “What is your name?” “Tinni”, I answered meekly. He smiled at me and I smiled back. A smile warmer than the winter sunlight and as light as a spirit.

Badrinath · Culture · India · Letters · Travel · World

Dear Badrinath,

Himalayas
The Climb

I was lying down on my back and my window curtains were open. It was one of the rare moments when I could see the sky and I could look at the moon. I could see the city lights even around 3am in the morning. I wondered when was the last time I saw the moon so big and clear in my mind. I remembered the night when we hiked to Badrinath; an avalanche, painful climb and then the arrival.

We were on our way to come to you when we saw a huge land slide and saw vehicles lined up. On enquiry we found out that it will take a day to clear up the land slide. We had two options: either to stay or turn our backs. I was lucky enough to have a family which never faced intransigence when it came to taking risks. We took our bag packs and headed up. We were a small group – the noisy family which was us, the sophisticated Tamil family, a monk with sunglasses and a small group of foreigners. We were not a mixture but a compound which kept us alive.

So as we walked up, we realized that we had to cross over a snow avalanche. The downside was if we slipped, we would fall into the cliff and then it would be goodbye forever. We had a choice and giving choice democratically to a group meant unavoidable rift. There was huge row where my father put his foot down and refused to cross over. The Tamil Family passively supported my father. The foreigners supported my uncle and my mother. Finally my father took a leap of faith and caught my hands closing my eyes. For the first time I was not scared of death because if I died, it would mean my father died with me. I would never be alone then which seemed quite blissful. But I was more scared of only my father falling. I looked down for a moment and it seemed like the river calling me. I leaned and the monk called me “Seems very easy and quick. Go ahead if you want to”. Stunned I took few steps back and held my father’s hand tightly.  Slowly each of us crossed the valley of snow.

It was 7pm by the time we reached your top. We had walked for over 5 hours. And there you were, a city lit in lanterns, hot water spring by our side and soft flakes of snow. Somehow, the moon shimmered bright with every beam touching the peaks of Himalayas. The whole city echoed with hymns of prayer.  All of us dropped out bags and dipped in the warm water and stayed quiet. The monk took off his shades. He had the gravest eyes I have ever seen, as if it could sink the ocean itself. He did not speak and just gave me the weirdest object- a sea shell. He gave me sea shell at 3133 meters above the sea level! The Tamil family prayed to the lord and my family for once did not talk much. My father whispered on my mother’s ears ‘Thank You’. We had our meal together at the ashram while looking at the sky. Clear endless sky and moon as big as the sun.

After spending a lot of time travelling around the world, I still search for a day where I will see civilization lit in lanterns blessed by moon and stars. I guess I need to make the climb again. That is the only way to find paradise lost.