Love in the age of technology


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Zain glanced through the messages of his old school buddies Whatsapp group. Most of his friends had pictures clicked during the ongoing Durga Puja as their Whatsapp status. Some of them had updated Whatsapp status video related to pandal hopping and celebration.

Despite belonging to a different religion, Durga Puja had always held a special place in his life because of his best friends, the twins Samay and Srestha. But the equations changed on a different night of Puja, twelve years back.

The three of them were soon to leave for different cities for higher studies. Zain had been dating Srestha for six months then. Before he got an opportunity to talk to Samay about their relationship, Samay had walked into Srestha hugging Zain on their terrace on that unfortunate night.

Samay had asked Zain to choose between their friendship and his love for Srestha immediately. Zain had picked their friendship at the cost of breaking Srestha’s heart. Zain left his hometown next month with a vow to never return again.

Srestha had been married to Samay’s senior in Engineering college three years back. This year, she had returned back home with a broken spirit and bruised body after months of physical abuse by her husband. Zain had come to know about it through the Whatsapp group.

Even after so many years, he had kept his heart sealed for Srestha. He waited for the day when Samay could display the requisite faith in their friendship to let him take his relationship with Srestha to the next level. Until then, Zain kept the flame of hope alive in his life through his unrequited love for Srestha.

Durga Puja – facilitating social reforms – Berhampore edition #TheBlindList #SayYesToTheWorld


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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.

Bhattacharya Para Puja
Bhattacharya Para Puja that had 25kgs of gold jewelry

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.

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.

Abhyudyay Sangha had an interesting theme on Kedarnath
Abhyudyay Sangha had an interesting theme on Kedarnath

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Passing on the joy of celebration – Mahalaya special


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It’s that time of the year again when the wait for the biggest celebration for a Bengali household comes to an end with the arrival of Mahalaya. For the next ten days, all that one can hear a Bengali talk about is how Durga pujo is nothing short of an emotion. It doesn’t matter in which city you are going to celebrate pujo this year. It could be Berhampore/Murshidabad, Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, New York or London because the level of excitement always stays the same.

A pandal created out of drums -Pujo 2017
A pandal created out of drums -Pujo 2017

Mahalaya in my childhood meant the beginning of school holidays. Preparation began the night before as Ma pestered me to sleep early while ensuring that Baba kept the radio station sorted out for the wee hours of the morning. Sharp at 4 am, she woke up every year to turn on the radio. I would snuggle up to them with sleepy eyes as Mahishashur Mardini was aired on All India Radio. Birendra Krishna Bhadra chanted the verses of Chandi Kavya/Path while devotional songs played during intervals.

Throwback - Pujo 2017
Throwback – Pujo 2017

And then Doordarshan came up with a Mahalaya special episode of Mahishashur Mardini. My parents would watch till the end as I dozed off intermittently. Baba would next go to the local sweet shop Mitali and get us Kachori, Aloo Dum and misthi. I still feel those were the only motivating factors for me to wake up so early.

Open Air Durga Pujo - Pujo 2017
Open Air Durga Pujo – Pujo 2017

I normally spent the day reading books that I would stack up for the last few months. These were called pujabarshikis because these annual magazines were published only during pujo. For me, Anandamela pujabarshiki meant the world though we also got Shukhtara, Desh, Sananda and Anandalok. This hasn’t changed over the years. Last year I had written a post on how this is a gift from my father that I eagerly wait for every year. This year, I am hoping to get it when I travel to Berhampore this 12th.

Anandamela Pujabarshiki last year
Anandamela Pujabarshiki last year

Continue reading “Passing on the joy of celebration – Mahalaya special”

Mesmerized by the beauty of nature

My son has been traveling since he was 1.5 months old. We have taken him to various beach destinations. But I have always loved mountains a little more than the sea. Last October, after he turned two, my husband and I came up with the idea of a vacation to Shillong and Cherrapunji. Our memorable stay at Ri Kynjai resort, opposite Umiam Lake was followed up by the experience of walking among the clouds in Cherrapunji. The boy loved everything about the trip.

Photo prompt – copyright@soniasmusings

This picture was taken on the way during our road trip from Shillong to Cherrapunji. The windswept Kansh grass caught my attention. I stopped the car and walked outside to get soaked in the beauty of nature. A small house surrounded by hills and slopes was a soothing sight. I stood transfixed for a while before capturing this moment through my lens. This picture is no less than frozen memories of witnessing nature’s beauty at its best for me.

(161 words)

This is the sixth post (nonfiction) written as part of the #MyfriendAlexa campaign on the theme ‘Shades of Perception’. You can read the fourth flash fiction around this picture prompt here and the fifth one here. For the first three posts, you can click here.

Linking up with Wordless Wednesday created by Esha and Natasha.

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The forced inhabitants of a hilly terrain

The girl looked out of the one-roomed house at the dark clouds. The breeze sweeping through the Kans grass smelt of Durga Puja. A year back, she had celebrated their biggest festival with her parents in Bengal. Now she didn’t even know which part of the country they had kept her hidden.

Shades of perception
Photo prompt – copyright@soniasmusings

She had been kidnapped on the way to school. The kidnapper had gagged, blindfolded and sexually abused her. He had sold her at a brothel in a faraway hill station. She had been shocked to see his familiar face by chance.

Night after night, she bared her body to strangers as they raided it to satisfy their lust. She cried for the first few weeks and then converted her soul to stone. Last night she had spotted her kidnapper. She had covered her face and lured him into the room for the final act.

She turned to look at the brothel women watching the TV. The inspector spoke, “The man, stabbed to death has been identified as the maternal uncle of the girl who had sold the teenager for money. She lost her life due to strangulation during the struggle.”

But she had succeeded in seeking her revenge.

(200 words)

This is the 4th post written as part of the #MyfriendAlexa campaign as per my theme ‘Shades of Perception’. You can read the first three here.

For this challenge, I am using four photos as prompts to weave two flash fiction stories and one real story behind the picture. This is my second picture prompt. Stay tuned to read the second flash fiction that I will write around the same picture in my next post. You could also consider subscribing to my blog if you like reading my stories.

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And she bloomed at the red horizon of life

Om Sarva Mangala Mangalye Shive Sarvartha Sadhike
Sharanye Tryambake Gauri Narayani Namostu Te

Srishti Sthiti Vinashanam, Shaktibhute, Sanatani
Gunashraye, Gunamaye, Narayani, Namostu Te

Sharanagata Dinarta Paritrana Parayane
Sarvasyartihare Devi! Narayani! Namostu Te

Close to fifty pairs of hands folded in unison seeking the blessings of Ma Durga standing on the floor of the man-made puja mandap of the Chowdhury household.

Maha Ashtami was the most important day of Durga Puja for the Chowdhurys . Just like every other year, Uma and Pushpak had the program for these five days of Durga Puja planned well in advance. This affluent and aristocratic family in Murshidabad was known for the conducting the puja for seventy-four long years. This year relatives from different corners of the world were expected to make a visit to partake in the grandeur of diamond jubilee celebrations.  Uma had been supervising the arrangements and decor of all the fourteen rooms in the house for the past one month. Close to sixty people were expected and ten rooms were already occupied by this day.

This year had an extra significance in the family as it marked as the first puja of their newly wed daughter-in-law Srishti. Three months ago, their Chartered Accountant son Ronit was married to Srishti who worked as a Sociology Professor in the city University. Despite staying out of the country for one and half decades, the childhood family friends had decided to return back to their roots to settle down. Uma never got along very well with her radical thinking daughter-in-law. Uma believed in traditions and rituals while Srishti chose the path to question them. Their relation had been on a downhill slope last month when the philanthropic Srishti decided to sell some of her wedding jewelry  gifts to fund the school building for underprivileged girls. Despite her well-meaning intention, the conservative Uma could never forgive her.

Uma had firmly conveyed to Ronit that Srishti needed to abide by the family customs for the five days of Durga Puja. Any deviation would unnecessarily set the wagging tongues of relatives talking. Ronit had assured her of taking care of the proceedings during this period. After Vijaya Dashami that marked the end of puja, Srishti could go back to her way of living and thinking post departure of the relatives. In return Uma had decided not to get involved in their decisions unless it affected her or the family. Last two days had gone unexpectedly well. Srishti had not only taken care of all the guests but also chose to keep her outlandish ideas supporting feminism and criticizing patriarchy in check. With half day of Ashtami over, Uma only prayed that the remaining two days were equally uneventful.

After savoring the delicious bhog (prasad) of khichdi, khyaat (mixed veg), payesh (rice kheer) and rosogolla(a variety of sweet) in the afternoon, Uma went to her room to take an hours rest before starting the preparation for Sandhi puja* to be held around midnight this year. Srishti was expected to sit for the puja this evening since it marked her significance as the chosen one to bear the future heir to this family. Close to thirty years back, her mother in law Sarojbala had prepared the newly wed Uma for this role. Uma’s husband Pushpak hardly took ant interest in family functions and gatherings. Ever since he had retired, the majority of his day was spent in the sitting room playing chess with his childhood friend Paran Ghosh, She had hoped for a friend in her future daughter-in-law but Ronit’s marriage had only aggravated her existing loneliness.

Uma had come out of the room dressed in a white tasar silk sari with vermilion red borders. Her jewelry adorned frame looked elegant. Spotting her son and daughter-in-law in deep conversation on the sofa, she felt annoyed. Srishti had still not dressed up for the puja due to begin in about an hour.

“Ma, we have been waiting for you. Srishti wanted to talk to you about a complicated issue” Ronit sounded a little uneasy.

Deep within, Uma was getting mentally prepared for another confrontation. She had half expected Srishti to create a ruckus at the end moment.

“Aunty, I have just started my period. I don’t know how to handle the situation right now.” Mother in-laws were never referred to as aunty, but Ma in her family but the U.S. returned Srishti had made it clear on the first day of meeting her that she and her husband would always be aunty and uncle to her. She couldn’t imagine calling anyone else Ma – Baba other than her own parents. However much it hurt, Uma had decided not to force her against her will.

“Srishti, in that case you can’t attend the puja.”

“But Ma, how will you manage? Everyone is expecting Srishti to start the puja. If you sit instead of her, it will raise a lot of unwarranted questions now. If you tell the truth, it will only mean putting Srishti in the spotlight for reasons beyond her control. If you don’t, the obvious assumption will be an over bearing mother-in-law taking away the limelight from her daughter-in-law. I don’t want either of you to go through this.” Ronit had sounded disturbed.

“I fail to understand why you even need to be a part of this female oriented conversation. Your darling wife could have spoken to me in private instead. I would have still advised her to refrain from attending the puja. I am going to justify her absence on a sudden migraine attack since most of them are aware of Srishti suffering from it. As far as being labelled as a manipulative mother-in-law is concerned,  couldn’t care any less. Now if you two are done with such trivialities, I would want to leave and start arranging for the puja.”

“But aunty, I know this day is very important for you. In fact I was hoping to make you proud.” her voice choked with emotions as Uma was surprised by this sudden outburst.

Uma rushed towards the puja mandap. Almost everyone was curious about Srishti’s sudden disappearance. Uma politely informed everyone about the migraine attack rendering it impossible for Srishti to get out of the bed. However the incessant whispering about the assumed bitter relation between her and Srishti didn’t fail to reach Uma’s ears.

The arrangements were completed in time. Uma decided to pay a visit to the restroom upstairs before sitting for the puja. It was going to be one long night. She was surprised to see the door of her son’s room half-open. At a glance, she could figure out the tall frame of her son sleeping on the left corner of the bed just like most of the other male members in her family while the women slogged it out. Srishti sat at one corner of the bed holding her white muslin silk saree with red and orange border. Uma had gifted her this saree to be worn on the auspicious occasion of puja tonight. Srishti was weeping silently. Uma’s heart skipped a beat as she felt familiarity with the same scenario many years back.

The past –

Jaya Jaya Devi

Chara Chara Share

Kucho Jogo Shobhito

Mukta Hare

Beena Ranjita

Pustaka Haste

Bhagwati Bharati

Devi Namastute

 

The loudspeakers from the neighboring puja pandals had been playing the Saraswati puja hymns since morning. Little Ronit had just turned two and half years old and was the center of attraction today. He was to be introduced to the art of reading, writing and alphabets through the ritual of hathekhori. Uma had been running around in her crease free, new white silk saree with golden red border getting all the puja items in place before the priest arrived. The ritual demanded that Ronit sat on her lap during the puja. The mother was the one responsible for helping him transition into this new phase of learning. As she stood up to light the lamp, she felt the unexpected flow of blood just like it came every month at the beginning of her menstruation cycle. Today wasn’t even her due date. Uma rushed upstairs. Her mother-in-law Sarojbala had been observing her keenly. She went behind her silently. As Uma hurried to take out the sanitary napkin from the almirah, all hell broke loose.

That Saraswati puja was etched in the memory of every single person in the Chowdhury household. The entire household had been witness to Uma getting abused and shamed for something as normal as her monthly cycle. Sarojbala ensured that every single item that Uma had touched in her house temple was replaced by a fresh one immediately.  She was not ready to take any chance with her deity. Every visitor was made aware of her inability to be a responsible daughter-in-law that day. Little Ronit was snatched away from Uma’s embrace to be plonked on the floor during the ritual. The chanting of mantras was submerged by the crying of a toddler craving for the security of his mother’s lap and love.

Uma had been too scared to even question the ritual or stand her ground that day. Till the time her mother-in-law was alive, she had carried out her duties with diligence. But she had promised to be a better mother-in-law for her future daughter-in-law. But Srishti was so difficult to handle. She had never let Uma bridge the gap in their relationship. but looking at her tearful silhouette now, Uma felt a tug in her heart.

She walked inside silently. “Why are you still awake?”

Srishti was taken aback at the sudden entry of Uma,”I was just about to go to bed.” her eyes were a shade of red from continuous sobbing.

“Do you want to go downstairs Srishti?” Uma asked her gently.

“How can I go near the mandap? I am impure as you say.”

“Do you believe that you are impure? I  have heard you tell so many maids in the house that monthly period is nothing beyond a physiological change in the body. You keep encouraging them to lead a normal life even during those four to five days.  So why are you lying low now? Doesn’t normalizing period instead of making it a social taboo hold good for you? I feel you should preach only what you can practice.” Uma didn’t know from where she mustered the courage to put forth such a strong opinion.

“Of course I don’t belive in such prejudices. Beyond these five days, I wouldn’t even given it a second thought. But, today it would only embarrass you further in front of the family. I know they keep taunting you for my addressing you as aunty instead of Ma. I would rather not add to your woes.” Srishti sounded tired.

“But why would they need to know? It is just a normal body function. Just as there is no need to hide, is there any need to declare it as well? There’s no rule in the vedas that states that a woman can’t be involved  in rituals during her monthly cycle. I am sure you know it better than me. Come on Srishti, if you feel that there’s nothing wrong in being a part of the puja today, why are you letting the society decide your course of action?” Uma meant every single word that she spoke. Probably it was her way of trying to reclaim her own life through empowering Srishti. “Get ready fast. We will go down right away.”

Sristhi stood in awe of  the bold and courageous opinion of her mother-in-law. Suddenly their past differences seemed too insignificant. She got up to drape the saree as Uma went to freshen up.

Dressed in identical sarees, Srishti walked down the stairs with Uma. A bunch of overtly curious relatives couldn’t stop themselves from asking about her sudden reappearance.

Srishti held Uma’s arm firmly – ” I guess Durga Ma has chosen me to perform the puja. That’s why she probably sent Ma upstairs to check on my health. I have slept for two hours after taking the medicine and I feel much better now. When I heard Ma’ s voice, I knew that it was time for me to partake in the puja.”

Uma have a shiver run down her spine on hearing the word Ma from Srishti’s lips. But she couldn’t just be sure yet.

“Oh, we weren’t aware that your mother is here tonight. Where is she?” one of the relatives queried Srishti.

“Not my mother, I am talking about my other Ma – the one who became my mother not just by virtue of my marriage to her son but by her love and support for me.” Srishti walked ahead with her hand refusing to let go of Uma’s arm.

As Uma picked up the conch shell to blow, Srishti sat down in front of Ma Durga.

Uma silently prayed, “Durga Ma, I am sure as a woman you would understand. Forgive me for keeping this a secret from those who would never understand menstruation doesn’t make a woman impure. “

The dhakis (traditional drummers) had arrives to start the playing of drums. It was indeed time for the rituals to begin.

*Sandhi Puja – It is done at the exact time Mahashtami ends and Mahanavami begins, with rituals performed for the last 24 minutes of Mahashtami and for the first 24 minutes of Mahanavami. The legend behind Sandhi Puja comes from when Durga was engaged in a fierce battle with Mahishasura and was attacked by the demons Chanda and Munda. Goddess Chamunda emerged from the third eye of Durga and killed Chanda and Munda at the cusp of Ashtami and Navami. 

A dollop of Bengal – Darjeeling & Durga Puja

Quite a few friends of mine were confident about D for Dacres Lane – another old world food paradise housing Chittoda’s famous Mutton Stew to be the featured header today. Few other options that came up were Dalhousie – the office para in Kolkata, the historic Dakshineswar Ma Kali Temple, Bengalis favorite beach honeymoon destination Digha and wildlife rich tropical forest covered hills Dooars/Duars  in North Bengal. But the two subjects that make it to my coveted list  today are topics extremely close to my heart – Darjeeling and Durga Puja.

Darjeeling –

The queen of Hills has an appeal unmatched to any other hill station. Home to the third largest mountain Kanchenjunga, the city can reached from New Jalpaiguri station/ Siliguri by rented car or the Himalayan range Toy train.While the view of sunrise at Tiger Hills is something beyond the world, the city also has the famous LLyod’s Botanical Garden and Zoo that is home to quite a few endangered species like the Red Panda. The mix of people from Bengali, Chinese, Anglo-Indians, Nepali to Tibetan brings about a unique mix in the cuisine. Noodles, Momos, Thupkas and butter tea are few of the famous dishes here. A speciality of this is place is Alu mimi which is basically Wai wai sprinkled over dum aloo. Darjeeling tea is famous all over the world. The open area mall has a number of shops delighting the tourists. The local market has an amazing collection of woolen clothes which are of great quality yet affordable. The place has the Government tourist lodge along with budget to luxury resorts as stay options. An ideal day at Darjeeling should begin with breakfast at Keventers, lunch at Kunga and dinner at Glenary’s.

Darjeeling city
Darjeeling in the ’90s – from my old album

Durga Puja –

Continue reading “A dollop of Bengal – Darjeeling & Durga Puja”