Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Visit To The Haunted Ground.

The man on the street was playing a heart-wrenchingly sad music on the flute. It was a cold chilly night and the dry wind blew wisps of hair all over my face. It was one of those cold nights that made you cling tightly to whatever dear you have, which wasn’t a lot more than a few winter clothes that didn’t really help much. I didn’t know if the misty eyes were due to the harsh chilly winds or a response to the sad flute music playing beyond. The music reminded you of pain, of loss, of letting go of everything you have dear.

There was quite a crowd of tourists like me all over the place. It was my first visit to New York City, and all day, I had been excitedly taking pictures. These were the places I had seen in movies, on television, in albums of other people, and now I was seeing everything anew. Even after a hundred pics or so, I thought that I could not have enough of the mightiness of the Empire State Building, the majesty of the Statue of Liberty, the liveliness of the Times Square, the serenity of the Staten Island. If there was a model city I wanted to live in, this was probably it. I walked on the streets and thought-“Wow, is this the Wall Street, the hub of so much going on in the world?” I was like a kid finding my way through wonderland, never knowing what fascinated me more.

NYC gave me neck aches in no time. I was craning my neck every time I wanted to see the sky above the buildings. There was very little sky to see anyway. The place wasn’t called one of the most happening places for nothing. The Manhattan skyline was a complex mesh of the tall sky scrapers straight out of a Matrix movie, and one just had to see them to gape in astonishment. The buildings were so tall and there was so little sky to see beyond them that I was actually beginning to wonder if people didn’t feel claustrophobic walking down the streets.

On one hand there were these tall buildings that made viewing the sky almost impossible. And then there was the broad, clear sky dotted with stars. Though one would expect such a thing, it was a different thing altogether to see it. I am talking about the ground zero- the remnants of the place after the 9/11 tragedy. All these years I saw the videos of people jumping out of the WTC in desperation. I read stuff and saw pictures. I watched documentaries and movies. I replayed and watched them again. But nothing, I repeat, nothing compares to what I saw standing right on ground zero. The place was almost fenced with thick material and there were people at a distance who peeped through a tiny orifice in the fencing material. When I crouched to take a look myself, I could not believe that I was witnessing from that 4” by 4” window one of the worst acts of nefariousness mankind has witnessed in recent times. It was different to read about world wars and disasters and movements in history books and to watch movies and documentaries about them. But here I was peeping out of a window in the NY cold watching the area that had witnessed the loss of everything one could value, and withstood it. There were no signs of wreckage, no mangled metal and trapped bodies, no blood or stench of death. The area looked akin to a large construction site with neat cement and concrete and construction workers wearing helmets and safety gear. I tried to imagine what the site must have looked like 6 years back, but my imagination failed me. 

The man was still playing his flute and there were people walking past the spot to catch the train. There were visitors like me, tourists who were taking pictures and were reading the stuff there. There was a list of the people who had lost their lives and given the amount of space the list took, I estimated it to be around 3,000. There were about 3,000 names in front of me, names who meant nothing to me, but names who were people once, who had lives and families, and who had lost their lives on the very spot that I was standing. There was nothing placed deliberately there to attract your sympathy, in fact it was mentioned clearly that no materials were supposed to be distributed or no public speeches were to be made around 25 feet near the place. Yet I saw the names and wondered who they were and what fate had caused them to be there at that particular point that day. My friend later debated that more people died elsewhere, in wars and suffering, and we pay no heed. That is not the point. Here I was standing in that spot, and that is all that mattered to me. I did not care about quantifying how big or how small the loss was. I was standing there like a visitor, like people visit museums and Disneyland, yet it was none. I looked up and saw the biggest stretch of skyline I had seen in New York. They claimed that in the next few years they are going to erect structures and buildings, but that was not the point. I wondered staring at the mangled pieces of construction if the memories of the dead were to reside there forever and to come back and haunt whoever cared to think of them. Life went on, people were busy catching trains and celebrating the holiday and getting on with their life and work. It was good in a way, since life is all about moving on, no matter what. Yet I stood there speechless, transfixed, my vision crystal clear after the tears had wiped the debris off my eyes. I wasn’t really crying, I found out much later on my way back to the train station that my eyes had gone misty. And in that strange moment of realization, I discovered that after spending a holiday taking hundreds of pictures, not once did I remember to take out my camera standing at ground zero. And why would I? It wasn’t a memory I would have loved to take back with me. I could have sent the pictures home, but did it really matter? If you felt the pain and the sadness as much as I did, you would not even remember walking away from there, let alone taking pictures of the place. There were ample pictures on the internet anyway if you googled "Ground Zero" for images. The least you could do was to let the dead rest in peace.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why Blogging Is Like Dealing With A Relationship?

It is because no matter how much you guys need each other, you always reach a point where you need to get away for a while. No misunderstandings, no lovers tiff, not even an argument, but you realize that the relationship consumes so much of your time and energy, it consumes so much of you that you need to get away for a while. You need your own space. You need to do other things. You get into a mode where you no longer want to answer phone calls or reply to love messages. You realize that you are capable of being nouns other than a WRITER and a BLOGGER, a LOVER and a SIGNIFICANT ONE. You need to let go of the obsession. You need to be on your own and not talk, not share, not even look at each other. You just want to live in a home not acknowledging the presence of the other person. You come home, you cook, you eat, you crash, you wake up, and you leave home.

There is nothing to feel guilty about it. I guess it happens to all of us at some point of time. We give so much into something, we are so consumed with each other that sometime we have to just leave things the way they are and let go. Not apologize. Not feel guilty about. As they say, don’t see something so closely that you lose focus.

I thought writing was as much a part of me as I was of writing. I was wrong. It has been a record 10 days that I have not blogged. I HAVE NOT blogged and not I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE to blog. The reason? Work is partly responsible. The intense pressure of getting through the semester and meeting deadlines consumed me. It took away my creativity, my thinking, and my ability to do anything not related to complex equations and data interpretation and assessments. I have been writing tons of academic papers of late, and I realized that it is not possible to write a paper with the “blog mode” of thinking. For days, I saw my creativity seep out of me, coming home hallucinated in the wee hours and wanting to do nothing but slump and sleep. But all this is a part of the reason.

I have wanted to do things other than writing. I have danced for four hours non-stop on the dance floor. I have almost spit out my lungs in the process of blowing balloons at a party. I have put myself through the torture of watching Om Shanti Om. I have read 2 books and watched 3 movies. I have visited friends. The only thing I did not feel like doing was blog. And it suits me fine. For I realized that a relationship, a bonding can survive as long as we are able to give space to each other, and be able to let go. The moment you know that you HAVE TO be in something, the moment the dimension of compulsion sets in, it is no longer a relationship, a bonding. It becomes an obligation. It becomes slavery. You are there in it because you are obliged to be in it, because you had made promises at some point of time and you are stuck. That gets you claustrophobic, makes you want to run away and start afresh. That isn’t a bonding no more. It becomes a chore. I have done good by not writing these last few days. I did not want to ruin my creativity and frustrate myself in the process.

I hope I’ll get back to the writing mode soon.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Made/Maid To Steal.

Someone from here was visiting India, and asked me if I wanted to send something home. After much thought and deliberation, I finally bought an mp3 player online to be sent home. It looked cool, all white, with better features than the one I have. I beamed at it with pride, not concerned about the price. It was a gift I was sending home. It had better be a nice one. My mom had insisted that I keep the new one and send them the one I use. I refused. Gifts are supposed to be new, unused, and not second hand. The day I went to hand it over to the person who was going home, I lightly touched the player once. I touched it because I knew that very soon the people dear to me were going to touch it. I could imagine sis jumping in excitement while dad tried to read through the instructions provided with the product and mom holding it in her hand, beaming with pride. I finally handed it over to the person.

On reaching India, the person sent me an apologetic email, saying that the mp3 player had been stolen by their maid. I was shocked. I asked if he was sure that the maid had done so. I mean I couldn’t imagine a maid listening to songs from an mp3 player, especially because one had to install stuff on the computer first. I was told that they suspected the maid had done it. 

Needless to say, I was upset. Here I had imagined my family rejoicing while they uploaded songs and listened to them using it. The next moment, I was imagining a maid selling the stuff to some guy and getting money out of it. The maid probably did not even know how much it was worth, not just in terms of money, but in terms of sentiments too. It was the first gift I was sending home. I wondered if the maid had ever touched the player the way I did, trying to realize that there was love and sentiment associated with the stuff she was holding, and certain people in the world were waiting eagerly for it. She must have probably thought that these stinking rich people who come from the US eat, sleep, and bathe in money. She had probably sold it to someone at a price much lower than what it was worth. But I wondered if she ever felt a pang of guilt, especially at taking possession of something which was not hers, and was sent with a lot of love. I was imagining my parents using it while in reality the player was destined to go to someone else’s hands. So much for all the money and the sentiments attached and the numerous attempts to create an account from the website it was bought from.

I wonder where my player is now. I wonder if the money (as they say) wasn’t hard earned because then, it would not have gone into unworthy hands. I wonder if the maid had the same sentiments attached to the player that I had while sending it back home. For all I care, the maid’s kid might be using the player as a prop vehicle and driving it noisily across the floor. I wonder why we develop an attachment for something, and then it breaks your heart to let go of it. Most importantly, I wonder if the maid even realized that it was not about money, but about the feelings attached, and the fact that someone is waiting for the gift. All of you must have had your prized possessions stolen some time, maybe the sari your mom gave you, the expensive pen your best friend gave you on your graduation, the watch your husband gave you for your anniversary. How did you cope, knowing that the thing of such immense value to you is in someone else's hands?

I wonder. This is because that is all that I can do right now. But then again, I wonder if it is better to move on and accept the situation, and go get something new. Is it wise to forget about the old player, since it was not meant to be with me from the very beginning?

It seems I am wondering about a lot about things these days.


Sunday, November 04, 2007


Two Decembers ago:

I see sister hanging her socks on the Christmas eve, and suddenly have this irresistible urge to mock her.

I: Some people don’t grow up even when they are grown up.
Sister ignores me and continues to decorate the room.

I: Some people do not believe in science, rationale, and logic.
Sister ignores me further and continues to make her bed.

I: (YAWNS !!!) Some people still believe in Santa Claus at 18.
Sister ignores me.
I: Muhahahaha.
We drift off to sleep. And there in my sleep, I sense a scuffling of feet early morning. Must be dad watering the plants. I grab my blanket tighter and drift off to a deeper sleep. Suddenly, I am woken up by a shaking and deafening laughter.

Sister: Muhahahahahahaha………..
And there she takes out a 100 rupee bill from her socks.

Confused I: But !!!! (Scratching my head).

Sister: Some people believe in rationale and logic. They know that even when there is no Santa Claus, there are parents.

The expression on my face:


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Missing Link.

Remembering a few random things about birthday celebrations:

1. We grew up seeing dad travel all over the country. There were times when he was gone for 2-3 weeks in a row. When my sis was little, she would sometimes not even recognize my dad and would scream her lungs out every time he came home. I myself have been so used to mom going solely to my parent teacher meets, the annual functions, and taking me anywhere my heart desired. In fact, I never cry when someone leaves. I didn’t even cry when I left home. Yet no matter where dad was or how busy he was, he always made it a point to come home on our birthdays. I don’t remember a single birthday of ours he has missed. On the day I turned 9, it had been impossible for dad to get the train tickets back home, and I had prepared myself for a birthday without him. Yet the calling bell rang at 11 pm, still an hour before my birthday ended, and there he was. He had miraculously managed to get the tickets paying a few times more. I was soon woken up from my sleepy self, was dressed up again and made to cut the cake that dad had brought for me. The pics of that particular birthday shows me all sleepy eyed and grumpy.

2. This is the second year that I have missed the birthday of everyone in the family. Everyone in the family celebrates their birthday in a span of 10 days. Isn’t it amazing that everyone except me should have birthdays a few days away from each other? We call it the birthday fortnight. One after the other, there is never a time during this fortnight when there isn’t cake or sweets or good food at home.

3. I have always managed to drag my sister out of sleep sharp at 12. Apart from the big general cake, I would always buy cake for the two of us, and she would groggily blow off the candles, give a big yawn with her eyes drooping, and mutter, “My gift?”. She would take the gift and go back to sleep without even having opened it. It had always been that way between us.

4. Mom always got gifts from us that we could use. A pair of fancy earrings that would totally be a mismatch with her face structure, some makeup things mom would never use, her gifts were always customized to be used by us.

5. I have always stayed awake on the birthday eves, too excited to sleep. Now I feel sad about having turned a year older. Seriously.

6. And yeah, I miss the birthdays of my family terribly. I miss the bonding we had, the link and the whole feeling of being there. I imagine them celebrating like it used to be when I was home, and take vicarious pleasure by getting updates from them over the phone. But it is not the same thing. I miss the link. The post had nothing to do with missing links.

Happy birth day. Whoever’s it is today.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Phuchka Waala.

Thought For The Day- Money can buy you everything. Dollars cannot.

I imagined this scene between me and my sis in the process of convincing her to shift to the US (an imaginary one of course).

I: Aaj mere paas Chipotle ka Mexican burrito hai. I have Alladin’s gyro. I have the Vietnamese pho. I have the Pad Thai noodles with the Thai red curry. I have the best of shrimps and scallops and salmon. Tumhare paas kya hai?

Sis: Mere paas phuchka waala hai.

Believe what you want to, but I have often woken up in the middle of the night craving for phuchkas. I have often fantasized about the large, round, crispy phuchkas in my biochemistry class, drawing patterns of them on my lecture slides. Naah, I have never had an affair with any of the phuchka waalas. Tell me, do you even need a condition to love phuchka?

Phuchka. Paani puri. Gol gappa. They are all the same things I am talking about. A very familiar scene outside most colleges (especially if they are girls’ colleges) would be hordes of girls and boys flocking near the phuchka waala. Koto korey? (how much?) Asking this is just a formality, for you know that you’ll have them in dozens no matter what the price is. Bhalo kore baniyo (make it tasty)…. Another unnecessary thing to say, as if he will put a little more filling of the potato, or give you a few extra helpings.

A lungi-clad man, the lungi itself dating back to the times of Akbar, and looked as if the last time it was washed was after Taj Mahal was built. You will often see him scratching his lungi (you know where) or scratching his unshaven cheeks when there are no customers around. Dad has told me many such stories to deter me from having roadside phuchkas due to hygiene issues. Hygiene be darned, it is funny how you know the basic tenets and commandments of hygiene, but the moment you see a phuchka waala, even the deadliest of diseases cannot deter you. He puts his hand inside the mountain of phuchkas covered with a plastic wrapper with a candle burning inside in the middle, stuffs some potato filling from God knows when, dips the phuchka into a pot filled with tamarind water with millions of germs of jaundice, cholera, and typhoid swimming in backstrokes and free style, and man, what I feel is best described as having a visual orgasm. Eating phuchkas is like…. err…. you know what. Once it starts, you just don’t want to stop.

Phuchkas are an essential ingredient for courtship. Like Rani Mukhherjee in Hum Tum, I am sure every woman dreams of a husband, chote chote bachche (little kids), Tommy (the dog), and all of them making a happy family sight eating roadside phuchka. “Phuchka khete jabe?” (Wanna go out and have some?)- a proposal like this would be enough to make anyone turn into Pavlov’s dogs. Even the sight, thought, or the smell of the phuchkas is enough to get you drooling. Ma had often tried to dissuade us, by buying the ready made mix and trying to make it at home. But there is something about standing by the roadside holding a dozen books, your legs being subject to constant mosquito bites, with not a drop of water to drink while your tongue hangs out due to the excess green chilly added (no matter how much you insist, jhaal kom deben- less spice please) and gulping puchkas one after another. 

I used to especially cherish the last phuchka (called the phau), given for free, which would have extra lemon juice squeezed into it and without the khatta paani (tamarind water). If your taste buds have ever experienced heaven, this would be it. No matter how appealing home cooked food is, home made phuchka is nowhere close to the roadside phuchka from the lungi-baniyaan clad man. There is something amiss in the Haldiram’s paani puris. The moment you know that it is made under hygienic conditions with mineral water and people wearing hand gloves, the whole thing loses its taste. Who wants to sit properly and eat phuchka in a civil way when you are used to standing by the roadside, dropping half the tamarind water on your dress in the process of holding your books, your mouth stuffed with the phuchkas while you pop out your eyes when he asks you, “Aaro debo?” (You want more?). The worst wait is when friends stand in a huge circle around him, and he takes indefinite time to get back to you again. But then, most quit after some 8-10, and it is then that the excitement of eating uncountable phuchka starts. These days, we Bengalis have taken a leaf out of the north Indian books and have started to introduce phuchka stalls at the weddings as well. A clever strategy I think, ‘coz once you are stuffed with phucka, you can’t really gorge on the bhetki maach fries and the chicken biryani later. 

Often there are rags-to-riches stories about some phuchka waala going to London or Paris and making it big. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case, for the prospects of the Indian fast food segment in foreign countries is vastly underutilized. Look at Seattle. The only place I have seen them serving phuchka is at the Indian stores. But then again, they serve you 5 tiny phuchkas the size of goat testicles with a little stale potato filling for $4 that tastes a week old. There, you have killed your desire to eat even before you had your chance. For me, I’d rather wait till I go back to India than have it here. You don’t want to have them in single digits. You want to have them as many as you want.

I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t like to eat, or even talk about phuchka. We Bengalis are famous in discussing food even more than we eat (which is also quite a lot). We often have this phuchka discussion of how many varieties of phuchka we have had. There are these huge cricket ball sized ones in Esplanade that would eventually cut your lips at the sides and your upper palate when you try to stuff them in your mouth. There was this place where they mashed small pieces of coconut, which in itself was a master stroke. At places, they gave you the option of having both tangy water and sweet water depending on what you liked. There was this place where they smashed alur chop (potato bonda) and used it as a filling. Personally, I am not in favor of huge phuchkas. They only kill the taste in this whole complexity of gulping them down your throat. Small, crispy, tangy, less jhaal, that is the way I like it. And man, I can gorge on them forever.

Phuchka is an element of bonding. It makes friendship strong. Like the tuition friends and the school friends and the college friends, I used to have this bunch of phuchka friends who would be available anytime I craved for some. You would see these couples bunking class and meeting surreptitiously, having phuchka near Science City or Victoria Memorial. Little joys of life, I would smile to myself. I am sure you have been gulping all this while because I myself have been salivating like one of those crazy Pavlovian dogs. So stop reading, go out, and gulp in a few dozen phuchkas. Forget about dirty hands and dirty water and typhoid and jaundice. Like my sister said when she was 3, “They are poor people, if all of us worried about hygiene, how would the poor man earn?” Valid point. Eat a few on behalf of me too. I shall derive the vicarious pleasure of having phuchkas from you. Trust me, every moan you make while you close your eyes and gorge on them is worth every rupee you spend.