The year was 2011. I turned thirty on 29th May and was about to get married in three weeks. I had taken a week off in April for the engagement (ashirwaad, as we call in Bengali), and had applied for 2 weeks’ leave in June for the wedding. So, the birthday celebration was restricted to office colleagues and a couple of friends in Mysore. When I spoke to Ma that afternoon, she insisted that I buy a new set of clothes for my birthday. I laughed it off, saying that I was already getting an ensemble of clothes for my wedding. That was the end of the conversation, or so I thought.
On the day my husband and I left our hometown to begin a new chapter as husband and wife, Ma handed me a new salwar kameez set. During the peak rush of wedding preparations, Ma and Baba hadn’t forgotten my birthday gift. Little did I know that it was going to be my last birthday gift from her. In five months, her love and gifts became a memory for my survival.
In the last decade, I’ve restricted my birthday gifts to usually books, journals, pens, cakes, or items related to my writing journey. I never accepted a dress for my birthday. But this year, I made an exception. When Baba asked me to purchase something of my choice, I asked him to buy me a new dress. It took me a decade to get over the fact that Ma would never coax me to get a new dress for my birthday again. Besides, 1.5 years of the pandemic taught me that it is essential to savor every moment with those who mean the world and hold on to them as tightly as possible.
Amidst all the gifts, the kid gave me the most thoughtful one. While drafting the second novel, I wrote the plot, updates, and scenes in a journal simultaneously. By the time I sent the story to my literary agent, I reached the last page of the journal. While I got a few amazing notebooks/diaries as gifts, the child made his father search for an identical journal and pilot pen sets so that I feel happy and write a story for him next.
Tender moments and thoughtful gestures like these make me believe that we still have hope left in the world.
In the last three posts, I wrote about my experience of celebrating Durga Puja in Mysore, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Berhampore. For the last post in this series, I wish to speak about the way life and the idea of celebrating a festival changed for us this year.
Life during the pandemic taught me perseverance and resilience. My son and I hadn’t taken a trip outside Kolkata since March. It was more out of compulsion than by choice that we decided to return to Berhampore after more than a year this October. Leaves were canceled at my husband’s workplace during the festival. Both my father and in-laws weren’t in a position to travel back to Kolkata at such short notice.
After the mandatory isolation period, the only distance that I traveled in Berhampore was from my in-law’s house to Baba’s home for a couple of days. I consciously decided not to step out of home for pushpanjali or pandal hopping. We offered our prayers at home. The bhog preparation for our para pandal happens on the ground floor of my home. Thus, we weren’t deprived of the delicious food options during the festival.
While I have a couple of pictures of Tuneer celebrating with my father and in-laws, I could only click a single picture of Ma Durga in the pandal near my home. I took the snap standing 10 meters away from the pandal while I was leaving for my in-law’s place. My husband clicked the other picture of their UCC Durga puja, which has entered its third year since inception.
We missed out on meeting friends, enjoying the endless adda sessions, visiting multiple pandals, and eating out at restaurants. But it was a conscious decision to stay indoors, not just for our safety but also for the ones who are most vulnerable to this deadly virus. I wish to remember 2020 as a year that showed us the importance of minimalism and sensible choices.
I hope you had a grand Durga Puja, celebrating in your way but without compromising on precautions. Here’s wishing you and your family a Shubo Bijoya Dashami/ Vijaya Dashami and Happy Dusshera. May we overcome the hurdles to go back to the old normal very soon.
For the past four years, I have spent every Durga Puja in Berhampore, a place where I grew up and also happens to be my husband’s home town. Last year, we decided to explore puja in Kolkata for a couple of days before heading to Berhampore on the sixth day of the puja.
In Berhampore, the puja near my house smells of childhood nostalgia. It was a delight to see my son soaking in the festivity and ambience, just like I would relish these four days in my childhood. My husband and his school friends started a new Durga Puja in 2018. The experience of watching grandeur unfold in front of my eyes, and showing my son the strength of sustainable friendship was mesmerizing.
This post will take you on a tour of my puja experience in 2018. Happy Maha Ashtami to you and your family.
On Saturday 8th Feb, I traveled with my debut book ‘Deal of Death’ to The Saturday Club, Kolkata for an insightful discussion about women writing thrillers. The panel was moderated by Baishali Chatterjee Dutt and had prolific authors like Kiran Manral, Sharmistha Gooptu, and Damyanti Biswas along with me speaking on how ‘thriller’ was an umbrella genre comprising of various sub-categories. We focussed on the stereotyping that women writers face while writing books in a genre predominantly occupied by writers of the opposite gender. In an engaging and thought-provoking session, we shared our experiences of becoming writers in this genre and the way forward.
Sharing a couple of pictures and bits of my opinion recorded live.
The media coverage in the form of an article on the event is available here.
The full recording of the event is available on the FB page of Shethepeople.tv here.
Do let me know what you think about the session.
Novels in the series –
Originally written in Bengali, the stories/novels of Byomkesh were published in the form of a collection titled ‘Byomkesh Samagra’ in 1995. Most of these stories have been translated into English recently. The author’s sudden demise left the last story ‘Bishupal Badh’ in the Byomkesh series incomplete.
About the detective –
Byomkesh was introduced to the literary world as a private investigator on a mission to bust a drug racquet in colonial India. He appeared in disguise under the pseudo-name of Atul Chandra Sen in the novel ‘Satyaneshwi’. The plot was set in 1924-25. This is where he is shown to meet his future housemate, friend, and novelist, Ajit who eventually decides to pen down Byomkesh’s cases in the form of stories. This dhoti-kurta clad resident of Harrison road in Kolkata has his man Friday named Putiram and abhors the term private investigator or detective. Instead, he prefers to call himself as Satyanweshi (the one in search of the truth). Byomkesh belongs to that rare breed of detectives in literature who gets married and starts a family. He meets his future wife Satyaboti during one of the investigations where her brother is considered a suspect. Eventually, they get married and have a kid who’s known to the world as Khokha.
As we race towards the finishing line of the A2Z challenge now, I thought of touching upon a different topic related to the admission frenzy. I have often spoken about my anxiety and stress related to the process in the initial days, especially when Tuneer faced a problem of the language or before his first interview. While Sr. T seemed unfazed on the surface, I am quite sure that I had successfully managed to pass on a bundle of my worries to him. Tuneer was trying to balance his preschool life while riding on the roller coaster wave of admissions. Just before the winter break arrived, all three of us were physically and mentally exhausted beyond the limit (kind of what most of the A2Z participants feel now).
By the time the holidays started, the kid had already faced two interviews and one rejection. We were sure that the only thing that could lift our spirits up was a family holiday. In the X post of my last year’s A2Z challenge, I had written about the way all of Kolkata comes together to celebrate Christmas in a grand way. X’mas, as the city still prefers to call Christmas is about midnight mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral, eating cake from Nahoum’s, trying out street food delicacies on Park Street and visiting Bow Barracks on December 25th. We have done all of these for the past two years and it wasn’t meant to be any different this time as well. But a desperate need for a mini break landed us at my in-laws’ house in Berhampore this December end.
During one of our classes in B-school, I was introduced to the concept of 5Ws and 1H. While creating a blue draft of an entrepreneurial idea, we had to come up with a solution to the questions related to why, when, where, who, what and how. I was so fascinated by this streamlined process of questioning that any conversation related to the most inane of things had me asking queries in the format of 5W and 1H.
For instance, when the college canteen had managed to churn out yet another bland meal on yet another regular day, I walked up to the canteen manager and thought of bringing a direction to my pattern of questioning. So I asked,
“Who prepared this food?”
“Why is the canteen food always tasteless?”
“When was the last time that you served a meal that didn’t deserve to be trashed?”
“What will make you feel that it is essential to serve an edible meal?”
“Where do you see yourself next year, if the quality doesn’t improve and we refuse to let the management renew your contract?”
“How many more complaints do you need to take an action?”
The man was too stunned to even consider a reply. Before I could unleash another layer of 5W and 1H on him, my friends had dragged me away from the canteen. Needless to say, the canteen served an equally bland meal the next day. Just that the man at the counter went missing after spotting me entering the canteen.
This went on for a few more days before I found my next subject of interest in the form of SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis. Life eventually moved on from those classrooms to office boardrooms. The questions turned more relevant and job oriented.
It was only after Tuneer started talking that I was reminded of 5W and 1H once again. From blabbering gibberish to uttering first monosyllables and then broken sentences, the boy picked up communication very fast. Like I have mentioned in one of my previous posts, this verbose nature was reserved only for the house. For the world outside these four walls, he was a very shy and quiet child.
After a thought-provoking post yesterday, I thought of getting back to recollecting a few more hilariously unavoidable misadventures in the admission season. As we draw near to the finishing line in this challenge. I am often left baffled at the thought of the next topic in this series. Today I was wondering if there was anything more I could write about that has already not been mentioned in any of my earlier posts. I suddenly remembered those scary sleepless nights that became a part of my life for the first quarter of this year and brought my writing to a standstill.
The admission season, as mentioned in my first post started in September 2018 and was officially declared closed only in March 2019. The first three months of this season were all about standing in queues to pick up forms, submit them and then attend the interviews held in this duration at a couple of schools. I would say that we managed to sail through this period despite the turbulence the boy managed to create through his resistance towards the process initially. His preschool had declared winter break from December 25th until January 4th.
In the second week of January, Tuneer returned from his preschool with a sore throat. Ever since he had started preschool, it had become a routine for the boy to fall sick at least twice every alternate month. If I ever brought up my concern of his poor immunity (I was of the opinion that his resistance towards diseases was getting lower because of falling sick so frequently), both the medico husband and the kid’s pediatrician enlightened me with their knowledge about the boy’s developing immune system. I had somehow managed to keep the boy fit and fine enough to glide through the months of November and December but all my efforts went in vain as he developed his first viral infection of this year in January.
From a sore throat, he went on to develop pharyngitis, cold and cough and high fever. This was his usual pattern of falling sick, step by step. Before I went back to calling the pediatrician seeking his appointment yet again, my heart skipped a beat as I thought of the interview scheduled the next week. The following week passed by in taking care of the sick child, giving in to all his demands as I struggled to feed him a single bite of food. We survived the week and went on to face the interview next week.
I grew up in the eighties when life was much simpler. The options for entertainment had more to do with people communicating with each other in person than staying hooked on to their mobiles. All the nine houses on the street (para in Bengali) that we stayed at had neighbors who knew each other well, visited each other’s houses frequently and celebrated festivals together. My closest friend in the neighborhood came from a family where both her parents were working. Her father, Uncle K was also my father’s close friend and colleague. Despite the fact that they had full-time help to take care of her and her elder brother. I don’t remember an afternoon where she wasn’t having lunch or taking a nap at my place.
I studied in a primary school for four months before my parents applied for admission to the only Convent school in my home town. Unlike Tuneer, I loved going to school. In the first primary school, a few of the teachers happened to be the wives of my father’s colleagues. Because of their occasional visits to our house and vice versa, I was already familiar with the aunties that school never felt any different after I saw them in the classrooms.
My life at the Convent school started amidst turbulence. On the night before the scheduled date of interaction, my paternal grandfather passed away. As per his last wish, his dead body was taken to his native village for cremation and my father had to go for the last rites. The rules of the admission process had clearly mentioned that both the parents had to attend the interaction session along with the kid. Ma had lost all hopes of getting permission for attending the interview alone with me. But Uncle K took it upon himself to go to the school and explain the situation to the authorities. My friend and I both had our separate interaction sessions after Uncle K convinced the authorities that I deserved a chance. For him, I could never be his daughter’s competitor but her best friend.
Both of us studied in the same school but in different sections until she moved on to a different institution for high school. While we went ahead and made many more friends in school, I don’t remember any of us crying beyond the first day because we had each other. While there was competition in academics and extracurriculars, it was never reason enough to cut ties or devise strategies to beat so-called ‘friends turned into opponents’. My interaction with my core circle of friends went beyond the school boundary walls because their parents always made me feel welcome at home. A couple of months back, when I went to the birthday celebration of the daughter of one of my best friends from school, it never felt like we were meeting after two decades.