Saturday, April 02, 2016

Bare Walls

The bare walls in my home are a testimony to how my life has changed over the past decade with these cross-continental moves. The homes where I grew up never had bare walls. They had framed and garlanded pictures of the Gods and Goddess, and the deceased people in the family. The walls had calendars too. Every year, the new ones would replace old ones, just like life. Other than the few smaller ones, there was one single-paged, huge Dey's Medical calendar we hung every year, just like every average Bengali family did. Holiday dates were marked in red and bold, a huge red cross in the middle of the page. Then, during the Bengali new years in April, every local Mishtanno Bhandar (sweet shop) gifted us smaller calendars rolled with blue/black rubber bands along with a box of sweets. These calendars were smaller, less overbearing, and had Bangla font (and Bangla months) with pictures of Ma Kali or Ma Tara. The design and the fonts changed every year, but the subjects remained the same- Ma Kali, Ramkrishna Paramhansa (Swami Vivekananda’s guru), or Baba Loknath sitting on a lotus.

Eventually, as we grew older and Archies inundated the markets, calendars stopped being free and Ma Kali was substituted by other forms of Mother Nature. Scenic waterfalls and snow-capped mountains from unknown lands. Birds, flowers, and bees. As the science of photography improved, every hue of the sunset, the ripples of water, and the yellow and black stripes on the bee's abdomen became even more distinct. We saw lands and flowers and insects that were not familiar, not local to us, and reveled in it. By the end of the year (and with parental permission, which was very important), I would remove those calendars, taking a pair of scissors and go snip snip, making wall hangings, collages, book covers, and bookmarks out of them. Calendars made excellent book covers, although the laborious act of covering every book I read died with me finishing school.

I wonder how many of us use wall calendars these days. Technology has shrunk our entire worlds (including people) inside our smartphones, computers, and online Google calendars, taking away with it the excitement of flipping through and changing the pages of the calendar every month.

Even after all these years, my heart somersaults in joy whenever I see a stack of calendars. I sometimes pick them up although they no longer make it to the walls (hammering nails in the wall takes effort). The calendars just get lost somewhere amid piles of textbooks and research papers. As for the walls, they continue to remain bare for me. Unlike my friends, I do not hang pictures of anything anymore, even my family or my photography. After moving to seven different homes in four cities across two countries and two continents over the last ten years, I have decided to go minimalist. I no longer accumulate stuff that I will not be able to carry to my next home. Not only is accruing stuff laborious, the act of getting rid of stuff is emotionally painful. So my walls continue to remain bare, with only a tiny, rectangular Seattle magnet on one of the iron rails of the heater. The Ma Kali calendars are a relic from the past, something I only get to see and relish when I visit the local dry cleaners in Calcutta.


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