I have often written about how my mothers demise changed my approach towards Durga Puja – the biggest festival for any Bengali. But things changed last year after I realized that I need my toddler to enjoy moments of celebration so that he grows up creating memories. This year, our return trip to my home town and also my husband’s native Berhampore was decided months ago because we wanted the toddler to enjoy puja with his grandparents.
When I decided to go pandal hopping last year, the venue and pandals were predecided evety single day because of my meticulous planning. It wasn’t meant to be any different this year. But like the saying goes, man proposes and God disposes. The toddler who had been unwell for the last one week fell critically ill after reaching Berhampore on Friday. His respiratory infection aggravated so badly that we had to nebulize him. The families were of the opinion that he needed to take rest and might be able to visit pandals only after getting fit which probably meant on the last couple of days of Puja.
Haridasmati impressed me with the Kerala style temple
It was really difficult to see the disappointment on my son’s face. With new clothes meant to be worn on days designated to be enjoyed, it was so painful to see him sit at home. Day before yesterday when his condition improved slightly, I decided to take him on an impromptu visit to few pandals. Some were the famous ones like the Puja at Bhattacharya Para which came into limelight for the 25kgs gold jewelry gifted by Senco Jewellrs but some took my heart away through the minimalist approach and some impressed my toddler with innovative Asuras (he calls Asura his friend even today) . We ended up covering six pujas before heading back home.
I grew up as a single child in a small town in Bengal called Berhampore. Every year my Professor father ensured that we had two vacations. The first one was always planned and it took us to Kolkata, then Calcutta. My mother had her parents staying in that city and I was amazed how different a metro city was from my town. But what I would look forward to was the unplanned vacation to a new destination during summer holidays. My parents would keep me guessing until we reached the spot. As I grew up, I would try to open the bags to see if winter clothes were packed because that would mean a vacation in the hills. Every year that I went back home, I took back fond memories of places I have visited and left a part of me in those places.
Much later, when I asked them about this game of suspense, my Dad had disclosed that he wanted me to feel the thrill of exploring the world without any preset ideas. He believed in striking a balance between bucket list, which helped tick off items after fulfilling of wishes and #TheBlindList which taught me to keep my heart and mind open to experiencing new things. This is how began my journey of travel to explore new destinations. Darjeeling, which was one of the first ever vacation spot for me is a personal favorite even today.
As I grew up, I moved to Kolkata for higher studies. This was my first date with the world. An eighteen-year-old was trusted by her parents and Permitted to stay on her own so that she could pursue her dreams. There were deterrents in the form of discriminatory behavior in college, heart breaks in the form of relationships gone wrong, harassment by random men that led to cringeworthy moments but I didn’t let the negativity ruin my journey.
I grew up in a household where speaking the truth was not just encouraged but diligently practiced. Baba always believed that when one speaks the truth, one always stays true to their conscience. Besides the stated facts always stay the same. Ma had the same version personalized when she had asked me to always be the first one to let them know the truth, even if it was something that might leave them appalled. Such principles shaped my nature and character in such a way that I grew extremely close and comfortable with my parents. I knew that I was believed in my house and was one of the strongest factors that built my confidence. The only not so likable attribute that I developed because of speaking the truth was my inability to sugar-coat my words or be diplomatic in my approach.
#MeToo was a movement started last year by Tarana Burke that exposed monsters like Harvey Weinstein. Since then, there have been skeletons tumbling out of closets everywhere. However, it is only recently that this movement gained mass momentum in India after Tanushree Dutta called out Nana Patekar in a decade-old case of harassment. And for the past few days, there have been stories about media personalities, journalists, writers and stand up comics. People like Utsav Chakraborty, Gautam Adhikari, Kiran Nagarkar, Kailash Kher and many others have been called out by women who have faced harassment in their hands. India has finally woken up to #MeTooIndia and #TimeUp movement.
Amidst all this, I realize how pathetic the state of affairs is in our country. Is there any girl who has not faced harassment at any level ever? Right from being groped in crowded buses, receiving unsolicited pictures of private parts, getting masturbated at and being felt up, the list seems to be endless. Beyond a point, every girl has learned to keep her sixth sense in the maximum alert mode and be armed with a device for protection like a pepper spray. Even I have had the most horrible experiences. Most of these abusers were random people whose perverted minds derived pleasure from such sickening acts. But what does one do when this kind of sexual predator lurks in their closest circle!
S has been a family friend for ages. His father had been my Baba’s friend and mentor. Despite the huge age difference, I grew up calling S as Dada (elder brother in Bengali). I had met him many times as a child and always found him to be affectionate and caring towards me. So, I was taken aback when I felt his hands brush my chest area on the pretext of picking up a paper from the table. I was barely thirteen then. But I was so sure that it had happened by mistake that I forgot about it soon. Unfortunately, this started becoming a pattern very soon. I met him during family functions and festivals and each time he made me so uncomfortable that I started avoiding him. The mere sight of him would make me run indoors. Sadly, my parents loved him like their own son and they could never understand my sudden disappearances. The hide and seek game went on for another two years till it was my board exams and I was excused from attending all events until I completed my exams.
I stood near the door of the ICU gathering my thoughts. I knew that I would be bombarded by questions the moment I walked out. I understood how anxious they had been for the last one week. It was not easy for any family to see their child in a state of coma with little hope for revival immediately after giving birth to a baby.
They had been hesitant to consult me until it became evident that the pregnant girls’ condition was worsening. Her blood pressure refused to come down even as the due date drew nearer. Her body had started swelling up because of fluid accumulation leading to edema. I wonder why her gynecologist didn’t realize the criticality of the situation and insist on a premature delivery!
I took control of the situation despite knowing that I was mostly fighting a lost battle. Getting a team together in a Government hospital of a Tier-2 city wasn’t an easy job. No gynecologist was ready to take her case initially because of the risks involved. So I had no option but to encash on my personal equations within the fraternity to ensure that she gets the best facilities despite limited means.
A week back, her c-section had led to a successful delivery. The families danced with joy as the bundle of happiness arrived in the form of a baby girl. I left the hospital around 2am knowing that God had helped me win a race against life. Both the mother and baby had been doing fine.
But my happiness was short-lived. At 6am in the morning, when my phone screen buzzed with a call from the hospital’s land-line number, I knew there was bad news. My fears were justified as I was told how the new mother had concussions followed by a heart attack. She had slipped into the comatose state. I rushed to see her in the hospital ICU. Except for her eyelids, no part of her body responded.
For the last one week, she had been on life support system. I saw the families crumbling in front of my eyes, trying to fathom the uncertain future that lay ahead. It pained me the most to think of the plight of the newborn. Every time I saw the baby, I was reminded of my own two-year-old.
The incident dates back to July 2011. I was heading a Bank branch in Mysore at that time. It was the first month after marriage and my husband had just relocated from Kolkata. I had a strange obsession with finding an accommodation near my office. Thus with every transfer or job switch, my address kept changing. The house where we resided as tenants were barely two kms from my Bank. Mysore was a town that thrived on human interactions, so almost everyone in the neighborhood knew about my doctor husband and his banker wife.
As per our daily schedule, my husband had to leave quite early in the morning while 8:45am was when I usually took an auto to the Bank. This made locking the house my responsibility. We occupied the first floor of the house and it had two open balconies. The front one led to the main entrance and the one at the back faced an area designated for a park. It had a large number of trees. My house owner had warned me about rechecking the locked status of both the balcony doors before leaving the house. It was for our own safety, he had wisely said. Unfortunately, I neither had a chance nor considered this piece of advice important enough to pass on to my husband.
It so happened that on a particular morning in July, I had to leave the house much before my usual time to attend a meeting. I had wrongly assumed that he would check and lock both the doors before moving out. The meeting had been a full day event and I returned home directly from the venue quite early in the evening. My house owner, who was generally a pleasant man had a very disapproving look on his face. Without thinking much, I walked up the stairs to open the door.
The word ‘shock’ would be a very mild term to express my reaction next. For every nook and corner of my apartment was occupied by a bunch of monkeys. They seemed to have had a satisfying meal of fruits, chips, biscuits and whatever they could lay their hands on. The flat resembled a house struck by a tornado. I let out a scream while wondering how to get rid of the monkeys. In a while, there were neighbors from the surrounding areas near my apartment churning out ideas about how to chase the monkeys away. Some of these ideas were so bizarre that they could put the word ‘innovation’ to shame. To anyone willing to lend an ear, my owner kept talking about how he had cautioned me about the danger of keeping balcony doors open. I honestly had no clue that when he spoke of how unsafe it was, he had monkeys instead of humans in mind.
Half an hour had passed and the monkeys couldn’t care less. They had comfortably settled in. I was getting worried about the uncertainty of being a resident here anymore. Suddenly I spotted my husband getting out of an auto downstairs. I started rushing down the stairs. Mysore was still considered as a conservative city with a good percentage of my neighbors falling in the category of senior citizens. I knew that at that moment they were looking, but I didn’t care. I ran to him anyway just like Kajol in the climax of the Bollywood movie DDLJ. I couldn’t resist myself from hugging him tight though I knew we were in the streets and all pairs of eyes were on us. My husband was still not sure why there was a crowd in front of our house and my sudden public display of affection but the actions of newly marrieds are rarely justified. He had attributed it to my overflowing love for him while in reality, I was breathing a sigh of relief that I finally had someone who would probably be a little less scared than me.
Finally one of my office boys arrived with a group of people who managed to drive away the monkeys out of the house. They grudgingly left but not before eating away all possibly edible items, throwing away quite a few things including one of my oldest mobile phone sets and creating havoc in the house to such an extent that the effort required in fixing it led to a slipped disc injury in less than two weeks. But that’s a story for another day.
This year, T and I completed two decades of being friends. This is inclusive of the few years of dating and seven years of being married. I had written a post some time back describing how it took us a decade, a broken relationship each and three cities to realize that we were destined to be together. This time, I thought of writing about the fate of romance post marriage.
We were married in June 2011. During that period, my Banking job had me posted in Mysore and T relocated from Kolkata to enroll in an M. D. course there. The initial few months were filled with fun, frolic, and food. We realized that we had so many things in common. We loved movies, experimenting with food and traveling. While I loved the mountains, he preferred the sea but we considered that to be an opportunity to explore different locations together. If there was one area that we never wanted to visit, it had to be the Forests. That is why despite being so near, we never planned a trip to Bandipur or Masinagudi. Truth is that I’m actually scared of any creature bigger than a cockroach. So from lizards to elephants, I would not want any kind of rendezvous with them.
Birthdays and special occasions meant grand celebration with cakes, flowers, balloons, and gifts. Life couldn’t have been more perfect.
Ria had alighted from her school bus when she spotted the familiar oval-shaped mirror. It had the reflection of her neighboring house. Ria wondered how Swara’s shiny mirror reached here while opening her house gate.
Next morning, she stood transfixed as the news anchor on TV announced about her neighbor burnt to death by the fire that broke out last night. This was the third case in less than a week. The only thing that connected these three deaths was the fact that they were suspects in the ongoing case of sexual assault and murder of her best friend Swara.