Monday, June 29, 2009


Although I have always felt that ‘scratch’ sounds rather offensive, I have felt that winning something for free was a splendidly fun thing to happen – a pure slice of luck, based not on any achievement of the receiver, but solely and wholly on the munificence of the giver.

When we were children, it was customary for us to visit our mamabari (mother’s brother’s house) once a week. Usually it would be a Friday or Saturday afternoon, and we would return home in the evening. Walking towards the bus-stop from mamabari, we would inevitably stop at a shop selling soft-drinks and cigarettes. Baba would buy his usual packet, and light up one cigarette from the smouldering coil of coconut-rope hanging beside the shop precisely for this purpose. And we would clamour for our weekly quota of empty calories – I would have my Goldspot which left my tongue all orange and my insides all bubbly and happy, Bhai (brother) would have a bottle of the more substantial Milkose (chilled milky drink) or some mango-flavoured syrup.

Once, the manufacturers of Goldspot announced that under every cap (of the bottles), there would be a picture of some character from Jungle Book (of the Rudyard Kipling-transformed-by-Walt-Disney-variety). If we managed to collect the requisite unhealthily-high number of such caps, we could exchange them for posters and caps and other unnecessary but tempting things.

It seemed a perfect case of scratch-and-win, or rather, poke-and-win. I would grab my Goldspot, ask the shop-keeper to hand over the cap, poke out the rubber lining from under it, and…become the proud possessor of a tiny, crinkly-edged picture of Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Ra and their other jungle-pals.

But my once-weekly quota made for a very slowly growing collection. To add to my impatience, my brother flatly refused to switch over to Goldspot to aid the growth of my cap-collection. Finally, after quite a few weeks of solitary cap-collecting, the shop-keeper came to my rescue. On hearing about my plight, he reached down, and from the debris at his feet handed me a whole bagful of soft drink bottle caps, which included a very large number of Goldspot caps as well.

I was overjoyed at my sudden bounty and spent a blissful hour or so poking out an entire jungle-full of pictures from under the caps. In fact, so pleased was I with my dozens of Sher Khans and suchlike that I totally refused to part with them for the sake of a piddly poster or two. And so, the means themselves became an end for me, and I kept my plastic menagerie for a long long time, fingering their crinkly circular smoothness and smelling their faint orangey tang.

Alas, Goldspot has long breathed its last (being a victim of global business politics – its owner, Parle Agro, sold the brand to the cola-giant Coca Cola Company, whose orange brand Fanta gradually pushed Goldspot into obscurity and annihilation). But the scratch-and-win freebies are flourishing, the latest, in my case, being a blog-tag awarded to me by Double Dolphin.

I quote: ..."the rules: the person who tagged you.

2.copy the image above, the rules and the questionnaire in this post. this in one or all of your blogs.

4.answer the four questions following these rules.

5.recruit at least seven (7) friends on your blog roll by sharing this with them.

6.come back to BLoGGiSTa iNFo CoRNeR (please do not change this link) and leave the URL of your post in order for you/your blog to be added to the master list.

7.have fun!..."

The person who tagged me is Double-Dolphin (on 22June2009). THANKS! (AND I did not have to scratch, either!)

I BLOG, therefore I HAVE WON! And the seven people who get the award are:

Zillionbig, Aparna, Sujata, Jyothi, SGD, Swaram, Nona.


Monday, June 22, 2009


The first ‘prize’ I won was actually a ‘Second Prize’ (prize given to somebody who stands second in the annual class examination).

I was in Class IV (fourth standard), and it was 1984. Nowadays, many schools do not award prizes because, apparently, such practices foster unhealthy competition, but back in the cheerfully elitist 1980s, nobody bothered about psychobabble.

At the end of every year, sometime after the annual exam (which ruthlessly tested our knowledge of whatever we had learnt during the entire year – which meant several whole books to mug/memorise/remember and a whole lot of trauma), we would all stand expectantly in the assembly (morning prayer time) and our Head Mistress, the redoubtable Mrs Enid Isaacs (called ‘Izac aunty’ by all Modern School-ers), would be present to hand over the prizes when the names of the students who had ranked Third, Second and First in the exams for each class would be called out. Third, Second and First – in that order.

And, invariably, the prize would be some storybook tied up in red satin ribbon with a label pasted inside stating that so-and-so had won the ---- prize in the Annual Examination for the year ----.

The storybooks themselves were not the attraction (in our school, nobody ever got an Enid Blyton, who was about the only author whose books we eagerly read at that age). It was the slow, careful untying of the satin ribbon, and the gleeful pleasure-pride of looking at your own name written in curly letters on the label pasted bang on the first page, signed and sealed by the school authority.

In my Fourth Standard Annual exams, I ranked second (the First Prize going to a girl called Nandini, who obligingly left school next year, so that I managed to win my first ever First Prize in the Fifth Standard – so my second prize was actually a First Prize, just to confuse things a bit more.). And so, in front of the whole crowd of politely-clapping students, I - flushed, proud, thrilled-to-the-core and expectant - walked up to receive a be-ribboned edition of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, ‘original and unabridged’.

Now, I had never before heard about the author (a famous-if-feckless eighteenth century dabbler in various literary forms, he was well before my time), I did not even know the meaning of the word ‘vicar (and when I did look it up in the dictionary, neither the concept of ‘priest’ nor ‘village’ interested me), the old-fashioned language and slow pace of action defeated my enthusiasm after the first few pages, and the lack of pictures did not help.

So, after a lot of smiling and sighing and smoothing my hands over the label and displaying the prize to all and sundry, my prize book gathered dust in it pride of place on my bookshelf, while I went back to my Enid Blytons.

P.S: Much later, as a college student, I have atoned somewhat for my early neglect of the affable Goldsmith (who lived imprudently and died in debt), by reading and enjoying his lively rom-com play She Stoops to Conquer. But I never did manage to make full acquaintance of the simple and pleasant Vicar of Wakefield.

P.P.S : Nowadays, winning virtual prizes do not need all-year studying, serious mugging ('by-hearting', as my students say). Only the graciousness of fellow-bloggers suffice, as proved recently by the mysteriously named Miss_Nobody, who has generously given this blog OneLovely Blog Award, prompting me to write this post. Thank you.


Saturday, June 13, 2009


No, the reference here is not to Chetan Bhagat’s IIT-reminiscing bestseller FIVE POINT SOMEONE. Peter Rozovsky, who writes a full-of-twist-and-turns crime-fiction blog, has forwarded an interesting four-cornered meme. Digging into multi-cornered memories and fancies, I came up with:

Four Places I’d Like to Go, or Things I’d Like to Do:

1. The British Isles. Of course, in the 1990s, most students of English Literature in India were fed on an almost-exclusive diet of British fiction (as opposed to writing in the other Englishes), and so I have grown up visualizing (and being forced to write long answers about) Shakespeare’s London (and Stratford-on-Avon), Wordsworth’s Lake District and James Joyce’s Dublin and the place near Westminster Abbey where all the famous poets are buried (to name just a few of the Eng Lit hotspots). Besides, when I was in school, my Pishi (father’s sister) got herself photographed standing beside the wax statue of Indira Gandhi at Madame Tussaud’s, and I’ve always had a yen for doing such deliciously desi touristy things myself.

2. Switzerland. The Hindi movies of our childhood might be set in Mumbai or Delhi or anywhere else in sweltering India, but most of them would zoom straight to the snowy Alpine slopes for a song. And the unskilled-in-skiing heroine would tumble straight into the hero’s arms, and the cold weather would be a nice excuse for a cuddle. So environment-friendly, na?

3. The United States. Which we called “Aay-mey-rica” in unsophisticated Bengali. Associated in my childish mind with Walt Disney and Disneyland. And a Bengali translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin which wrung out a flood of my tears. And HOLLYWOOD highlighted against the hills. And then, in university, with the Great Gatsby and the “green light at the end of the dock”.

4. And Enid Blyton’s books (like The Caravan Family and Five Go Off in a Caravan) have made me yearn to have a holiday meandering through the countryside in a horse-drawn caravan (with bunk-beds and neat shelves and a cooking stove).

Four Places I Have Lived:

4. -----
(my imagination may fly, but the body had been fairly rooted)

Four Places I Have Been on Vacation:

1. Digha. My first visit to the sea. Digha was empty and unspoiled then. And I collected so many tiny colourful shells.
2. Darjeeling. My first visit to the Himalayas. The sharp frosty cold. The warm delicious momos. The white-crowned majesty of the Kanchenjanga peak.
3. Benares. Crowded with people making a living out of religion. Not really my cup of tea.
4. Goa. Blue sea. White sands. Quaint churches. Lovely people. Heaven!

Four Food or Drinks I Have Liked:

1. Fish. Especially freshwater fish. Especially silvery Ilish bought during a boat-ride with our entire family (father, mother, grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousins) on the Ganga on a long-ago New Year’s morn.
2. Rezala (a yogurt-based mutton preparation perfected by the Muslim Nawabs) and Roomali rotis (handkerchief thin wheat flatbread) at Shabbir’s in Kolkata, a Durga Pujo treat given annually by Baba (father).
3. The kuler-aachar (sweet-sour berry pickle) and aamsi (sweet-sour dry mango pickle) bought from the vendor with the little wooden pushcart on the long walk back from school.
4. Natural’s Ice-cream. The sweetest, creamiest, fruitiest, yummiest thing in Mumbai.

Four Books or Movies I could Read or Watch Again:

1. All my dog-eared, much-thumbed, yellow-pages-falling-apart Agatha Christies.
2. The Harry Potter series for their intricate simplicity.
3. Sholay. The drama, the comedy, the romance, the banquet of emotions. And every time I do, I never fail to cry at Jai’s (played by Amitabh Bachchan) sacrifice and death.
4. Dr Spock’s book on Baby and Child Care. Endlessly fascinating for the last eight and half years. (Just kidding).

Four Works of Art Before Which I’ve Stood (or Sat):

Since I’ve never seen any really famous work of art up-close, I thought I’d mention four works which I’d love to stare at.
1. Michelangelo’s Pieta. How can marble express such pity and tenderness?
2. John Everett Millais’ Ophelia. How can such overloading of earthy details be so ethereal?
3. Claude Monet’s Waterlilies series. How can one subject produce so many variations?
4. Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. A perspective-puzzle or a new truth?

Four Figures From the Past Whom I’d Like to Watch at Work or Meet for Dinner:

1. Shakespeare at work on King Lear.
2. Cleopatra arming herself in glamour and guile.
3. Charles M Schulz at his studio, discussing the daily Peanuts-dose of innocent wisdom.
4. Rabindranath Tagore sitting under trees with his students at Shantiniketan.

Four People I Think Might Take it Upon Themselves to Take Up This Meme:

(Feel free to alter/add/adjust at will. Anybody else can also join in).




Tuesday, June 9, 2009


The multi-functional mobile phone has almost usurped the role of many a household gadget – like the alarm clock and the radio. And the torch (we never called it ‘flashlight).

When we were children, the sturdy steel torch was inevitably present on every bedside table or drawing room cabinet. There was a fixed place for the torch in every household and it was VERY IMPORTANT always to keep it in THAT PLACE ONLY.

The torch was our first line of defence against the near-daily power-cuts (or load-shedding, as we call them here). Whenever the power went off, somebody would move stealthily but sure-footedly in the dark to the place where the torch would usually be. By the saviour-light of the torch the matchbox would be found and lanterns would be lit to keep the darkness at bay and allow normal evening activities (cooking/eating/homework-ing) to be resumed.

Whenever we went out after dark, the torch would be our faithful companion. Not only was it helpful in lighting up dark narrow gallis (alleyways), its heavy sturdiness was a reassuring weapon against probable (and imaginary) pesky ever-teasers/pick-pockets/chain-snatchers.

Especially to people like me, who suffered from chronic haywire-imagination-dysfunctionality. My frugal Dadu (grandfather) had instructed us that it was more economical to switch the light of the torch off-and-on (rather than keeping it on constantly), as that would apparently save on batteries. Though I never questioned the logic behind this theory, I was too scared of the darkness outside to obey it fully. Whenever I switched off the light, the darkness (and all its attending monsters) seemed to rush in and swamp my courage. My heart would dislodge from my mouth and return to its rightful place only when I switched the torch back on and the comforting triangle of light would flickeringly light up the path in front of me. So I usually kept the torch switched on when the road was dark and the going was heavy.

With my courage bolstered thus by the torch, it was easier to be disobedient. Sometimes it was fun to raise the torch up to the sky and watch the frailer light from my hand be engulfed by the brighter light of the full moon.

The puny white light from the light-weight mobile phone cannot really, to put it metaphorically, hold a torch to those torches of yore.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009


The recent super-cyclone Aila which devastated large swathes of Kolkata and neighbouring areas (including my hometown Barrackpore) was something I watched on TV and heard on the phone from afar, being in Mumbai and Bangalore when it happened.

But when I was a child, I had a real-time experience of the Great Flood which happened in the Nineteen-seventies (Google says 1978 – I was five years old) in Bengal. A mind-probe brought up a lot of scattered memories.

I remember heavy, seemingly-unending rainfall and perpetually-dark skies.

I remember water collecting and rising above the ground, rising to submerge the streets and the garden, rising to cover the stairs leading to the house, to the exact level of the ground floor balcony. I thought the pond beside our house had overflowed, but somebody told me that it was the river Ganga, about two miles away from our house, which had broken its banks and spread out so far. I thought what it might feel like to live underwater, if our house would be submerged like the lost city of Atlantis (story told to me by my father), and then many many centuries later, people would find us and we would wake up (I think I mixed up the Atlantis story with Sleeping Beauty...I was a confused child living in a secret dreamworld half the time).

I remember the people of the neighbouring slum areas, who lived in small one-storey brick-and-mud houses which were partially submerged, come over for shelter to larger two-storey houses like ours. I was bundled off to the upper floor, so I cannot recollect any specific faces. My Dadu (grandfather) refused to leave his bed (his bedroom was on the ground floor) and I remember him sullenly and defiantly glaring at the rain as if willing it to stop before the water flooded his room. Which it did, actually!

I remember my father and uncle and other grown-ups in the neighbourhood wading through the water with torches at night, patrolling the streets (we called it ‘nightguard duty’) because, apparently, the flood had brought about an influx of thieves braving the rains and water, looking for an opportunity to loot the deserted defenceless houses.

I remember sitting with my father on the staircase which led to the first floor and watching the water rise slowly but surely till it reached the level of the balcony at least three feet above the ground. A small jaldhora snake swam up and took shelter on the slippery-with-rain balcony. I was scared but my father reassured me. Anyway, the snake slithered busily away into the water soon.

I remember the rain lessening and then gradually stopping after what seemed like weeks-without-end. The roads were covered with poli-maati (the typical silt-clay found on the banks of the Ganga), the garden was a mess of dead and rotting plants, and there were some unrecognizable carcasses (cows or goats, or maybe street-dogs) on the streets and playing fields.

Strangely, I do not remember anything about the suffering and shortages of food/electricity/water that we must have undergone. My mother was calm and unruffled (at least in front of us), she gave us meals on time, and despite being school-less and outside-play-less for several days, I do not remember feeling bored or irritable. It was all new and different. I remember feeling rather Noah-like. It must have been frightening, but with all the grown-ups in the house (schools and offices being closed for days), the excitement won over the fear. Maybe children, unless they are directly affected by a calamity, have a different perspective of Nature’s excesses than adults.