Saturday, October 25, 2008


Every little girl has a Cinderella dress. Something which transforms her into the prettiest princess that ever lived, at least in her own mirror.

The other day, the copy-kitten (my younger daughter) went to a Diwali party at her playschool wearing a white satin-and-chiffon full-skirted dress with silver-and-yellow flowers scattered all over the bodice and skirt. She twirled and pirouetted, as enchanting a little Cinderella as her elder sister, the Lil Cat, to whom the dress had originally belonged (It is actually a gift from a favourite cousin, Didia, who picks up the most delicious dresses from Dubai each time she visits us).

I remembered my own infinitely-humbler-but-equally-cherished Cinderella dress. The material was a coarse khadi (handspun) silk from the local Khadi Gramudyog Bhavan, patterned in beige with maroon roses. There were no thorns, as befitted a princess’s party-attire. It was stitched with a plain round neck, a skirt which swirled a little when I spun around, and a sash which needed Ma to tie it behind my back. And when I wore it, I left all the thorns of awkwardness and shyness behind and could hold my head high and match steps confidently with my other friends and cousins, clad as they were in their soft-and-satiny boutique-bought expensive dresses.

I had only one, my precious Cinderella-dress, but that dress transformed me whenever I wore it. That’s the magic of a Cinderella-dress.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


My daughters have grown up with three grandparents. They have their dadu and thamma (my husband’s father and mother) in Kolkata. And then they have their dida (my mother) in Bangalore. If they’ve ever wondered at the lopsidedness of the grand-parental-equation, they’ve never let me know about it. But then, children seem to have their own logic of working out these things.

Some time back, I was cleaning my clothes-cupboard when the two nosey-parkers poked their way in. Fiddling and flopping about on the clothes lying scattered all over the room, the lil cat (my elder daughter) dug out a framed photograph of my father from under a pile of sarees.

It was a twinkly-eyed photo of my father, taken during my uncle’s wedding, a huge happy celebration on a hot and happy day. Somehow, the photo always made me cry in remembrance.

“Who’s this, ma?”

“That’s my father, your chhobi-dadu (picture-grandfather)”.

“Where’s he now?”

“He died long back, long before you were born.”

“Is he a ghost then?” asked my elder one. “Is this a photo of a bhoot (ghost)?” echoed the copy-kitten, my younger daughter.

Bhoot in Bengali means both a ghost and the past. So I explained how my father was an inextricable part of my past, how I had grown up with him, all the little-big things we had done together, and how he was no more a part of our present lives, how he had gone away to a far, far place, away from all of us.

“But, ma, look, he has not gone away,” said my elder daughter, perhaps to console me because the happy-sad tears were flowing unchecked, “he’s there in the picture.”

“Yes, ma,” added the copy-kitten, “he’s the ghost caught in the picture.”

P.S: Thank you Scribbit, for your wonderful write-away contest which unlocked this ghost from the cupboard.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Bijoya Dashami is the tenth day of the auspicious fortnight, the day when the ten-armed Goddess bids goodbye to her earthly paternal home and returns to her husband in the Himalayas.

After spending four mornings and evenings giddy with Pujo-excitement, Bijoya Dashami made us very, very sad. In the mornings we would pretend as if this was just another Puja day, donning yet another new dress and rushing to the parar pandal (festival tent in the neighbourhood). I would spend hours just gazing at the face of the Durga idol in our pandal (Jagruti Sangha), at her divinely angry face as she pierced the demon Mahishasura with the trishul (trident).

Most Durga idols had a calm face full of grace and mercy; our pujo had an angry Durga. My father explained that our neighbourhood Durga was depicted at the moment of killing the demon, full of righteous rage and power, whereas the other Durgas were frozen in time after the demon was slayed, whereupon the goddess calmed down and blessed the rest of the world.

But when we returned to the pandal in the afternoon, the sad fact of Durga’s imminent departure could no longer be avoided. The idols, of Durga and her children, had already been taken down from the dais and were standing on the open ground. They looked so forlorn and powerless, especially because we could go behind them and see the backs of the idols. Whereas the fronts were bedecked in silk costumes and shiny tinsel jewellery, at the back the clay and straw under-structure could be clearly seen.

Then Maa, Barama and all the other married women would arrive with trays full of dhaan (rice-with-the-husk), dubbo (grass tridents), paan-supari (betel-leaf and betelnut), sindur (vermilion – the must-wear-on-the-hair-parting symbol of married women) and mishti (sweets). They would climb on ladders to put sindur on the gods’ and goddesses’ foreheads and feet, and would put some paan and sweet in their mouth - bidding farewell and asking for blessings at the same time. Then there would be the sindurkhela ritual, where the married ladies would put sindur on each other’s foreheads and faces. We would also take some of our books (I always took my Mathematics book – it was the demon I wanted to slay in every examination) and touch the idols’ feet with these, hoping for divine help in studies.

There would be a red haze of sindur blowing about as the idols were lifted and put into two big trucks. Huge yellow lights would fight the gathering darkness, as the crowds thronged for a last look at Maa Durga. Many would follow the trucks in a brightly-lit and noisy procession (my father among them) to the Ganga-ghaat (riverside), where the idols would be immersed in the water to the shouts of Durga Maa Ki Joy (Victory to Mother Durga) and Aschhe Bochhor Aabaar Habey (Come Back Next Year).

But we (my mother-brother-aunt-cousins) would always go to Dahlia Aunty’s house to gorge on Dashami delicacies, after a token pranam (touching of all elders’ feet). She would invariably make mutton-ghugni (mutton with chickpeas) and jam-cake (unusual anglicized choice). Then, we would troop over to my Barapishi’s house (my father’s elder sister) to gorge on more traditional Bijoya Dashami fare like narkol-naaru (coconut-jaggery balls) and nimki (savoury made of flour). We would stand on their roof-terrace and watch all the pujo processions on the way to the Ganga (river) – their house was advantageously located along the procession-route – munching on naaru and nimki, thinking ahead of all the other houses (including our own) we would visit in the coming week and all the lovely food waiting for us in return for the customary pranam.

A heavy stomach was the best cure for a heavy heart.


Sunday, October 5, 2008


Mahalaya marks the beginning of the festive-fortnight leading to Durga Puja. If I remember correctly, it is also the day when the Goddess Durga, accompanied by her four children – Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh – leaves her mountain-home (alaya) to begin her journey down to her parents’ place on earth. If the rains have ebbed, she comes by elephant, if the monsoon spills over into autumn, she prefers the boat. Whatever the route, it’s a week-long journey, and she always manages to reach her baaper baari (father’s home) by Shasthi (the sixth day of the new moon). She’s a brave lady, making this long journey unaccompanied by her spouse (Lord Shiva – presumably glad to be rid of his militant wife and squabbling brood of children for a while, and enjoying his annual break spaced out on ganja and bhang, his usual intoxicants). Apart from her children, she is accompanied by her faithful vahana (pet), the lion and by her children’s vahanas, the owl, the swan, the peacock and the mouse. She is pestered by the evil demon Mahishasura (Buffalo-headed-demon), but the ten-armed and ten-weapon-ed Goddess is more than a match for him, and, at Shasthi we always see the demon lying vanquished at her feet.

For us Mahalaya was the official beginning of the festive season. Unofficially speaking, it was the sweet smell of the white-petalled-orange-stemmed shiuli which would remind us every morning that Pujo was round-the-corner and we would drink in the happy fragrance with uplifted noses and hearts.

The night-before-Mahalaya was one of anticipation and preparation. The alarm clocks would be set at four o’ clock or some such unearthly pre-dawn hour, and the radios and transistor sets would be set at the precise stations. Autumn chill made us curl tight under our bedclothes(I somehow remember blankets, but everybody else has laughed at the idea of blankets in September/October).

We would wake up to the sonorous, legendary voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra emanating full blast from the radio, retelling the heard-so-many-times tale of Durga and Mahishasura, dramatically taking us to the eternal battlefield of good-vs-evil. He recited in Sanskrit and in Bengali, and as Baba and Jethun (father and uncle), Maa and Barama (mother and aunt), Dadu and Didu (my grandparents), and my older cousins all sipped tea and listened and commented, Bhai and I drifted in and out of sleep on the rise and fall of the narrator’s voice, munching on Britannia Thin Arrowroot biscuits as the dawn broke over the pond-bank.

As the sun rose, Birendra Krishna Bhadra neared the end of his pre-recorded tale. With Durga slaying the demon, his stormy, martial voice calmed down to offer lyrical prayers to the peace-restoring deity. And as we opened our windows to let the sun in, the voice on our radio would mingle with the echoes of a hundred similar voices from other homes, and we would get up at this unaccustomedly early hour with a sense of newness, enjoying Mahalaya for what it was and what it heralded. Maa Durga was on her way and all was right with the world.

P.S: It is customary for all Bengali families to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra on Mahalaya – then on radio, thereafter on cassette, now on CDs, or is it I-pods?


Wednesday, October 1, 2008


As I said in the previous post, a little money sure went a long way those days.

I remember (and I know my brother does, too) one special occasion, when my magnanimous barama (aunt) had given both of us a princely sum of one rupee each, I forget for what reason. As 1 rupee really equaled 100 paise in those days (unlike nowadays, when it languishes at the bottom of the monetary scale), we were both overjoyed and decided to spend our king’s ransom at the local sweet shop.

There the unanimity and amity ended. My brother, eager and reckless, splurged his sum on a huge sweet, appropriately called Atom-bomb, and gobbled it down, OD-ing on the sugary-syrupy-monstrosity.

I, being way more bearish (in stock-market terms), decided (after a lot of observation and consideration – and to the irritation of the man at the sweet-shop counter) to put my eggs in many baskets. I bought a 1001 thingies – 20 paise worth of angti-sondesh (a ring-shaped milk-made sweet, 5 paise each), a danadar for 20 paise (full of yummy crunchy sugar granules), a soft-milky kalakand (30 paise) and a hard-milky barfi (25 paise). A headcount of 7 sweets, with 5 paise still in my pocket.

Bhai (my beloved and bickering brother), with his tummy full and pocket empty at one go, glared and pleaded alternately as I cruelly sat in front of him, tasting and taking my own sweet time to finish my hoard, refusing to share the tiniest grain of sugar with him. He had had his 1-rupee-worth-of-sweet, so he should not ask for more, that was my unshakeable argument.

Bhai often quotes this incident to rib me about my heartlessness and stinginess and miserliness as a child, I prefer to call myself a thrifty and careful spender, even though I am a little shamefaced about the ‘heartless’ jibe.