The Spirit of Durga Pujo: A Year Long Journey from Me to Us

It’s that time of the year again when cotton candy clouds dot the skies, the strong fragrance of Shiuli hangs in the air, the kaash sways gently in the light breeze while the beats of the Dhaak becomes the background score of our existence. Yes Durga Pujo is right round the corner!

Soon the streets will be filled with pandal hopping men and women preening in their brand new clothes, imposing pandals hosting larger than life Durga Protima resplendent in all its fineries, gastronomical delight spread out on the streets, while the streets dress up too in LEDs and ‘alponas’. This festival is no less in size and scale than the well-known crowd pulling carnival of Brazil.


 

Durga Pujo has emerged from the strongholds of the zamindar into the masses and has slowly grown from Baroyari to Sarbojonin Pujo. As the city erupts in celebrations, everyone comes out to mingle and partake in the festivities of ushering in Ma Durga and spending time with her for the next few days.

Though there are voices that say that Pujo is becoming only about competing to be the grandest of pandals and Protima and the spirit of simplicity is getting lost in the wave of flamboyance and grandiosity. While millions go starving in our country, money flows like a stream during Pujo.

Yet isn’t it a fact that the magnificence that is showcased employs thousands of artists and artisans. Their creative genius would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the Durga Pujo. For many artists this is the only livelihood and they prepare for it for the whole year round. Imagine their pride when the artistic wizardry wins not just accolades but also tourist from all over the world.

With the deluge of crowd, the eclectic Bengal Street Food gets a fresh breather and with that the vendors too get a shot of oxygen for an entire year. The income during this season helps him look after his family for the year until the next Durga Pujo.

It’s like Ma is blessing one and all with Plenty – Plenty in mind, body, spirit and wealth. As the mind and body satiates in the sights and sounds the spirit is awakened too. The spirit of community, the spirit of brotherhood, the spirit that keeps the soul from disintegrating. We forget out differences and come together to prepare Bhog for Ma that is distributed amongst all in the community. What better way to foster brotherhood and friendship if not cooking for one another.

The spirit of Durga Pujo is just that, feeding the mind and spirit through brotherhood. This is one festival that is celebrated irrespective of religious beliefs, promoting mutual respect and equal opportunity for all. Durga Pujo was never about the ritual though it is an intrinsic part of it as it fosters coming together. Coming together to offer prayers through anjali, coming together for bodhon, when the ladies prepare Ma as she leaves for her heavenly abode.
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It is not just celebrating homecoming for Ma, but also the homecoming for all those who have lost their way in petty jealousies, religious differences, arrogance and whataboutery. It’s a time when we recognise and celebrate that humanity is all about Kindred Sprits.

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The Forgotten

Heaven's gate

The telephone rang incessantly. Will it make a difference if I picked it up, will the news be any different? Will there be a miracle? I don’t even know if a miracle is needed at all!

I remember, many years ago in Ranchi, I was perhaps 10 or 11 years old, you had come down to visit us. You patiently sat with me and showed me how to answer my English papers. That was one of the turning points in my life. One of the reasons I enjoyed the language… the way you taught me to approach it. It was so simple, yet so powerful. Much later, when I started working you told me time and again, not to spend everything but to save up for a rainy day. I didn’t heed that. Don’t heed it now either, but everytime I am in trouble I remember what you had told me.

The incessant rings brought my reverie to a halt. I looked around me, nothing had changed. Nothing will change. The sun will rise and set at precisely the time its suppose to rise and set. Not even a nano second will it wait and mourn you. The moon will be as radiant as it was yesterday. It will not turn down its brightness to show that you meant something. The flowers will bloom with all its gusto, the clouds will sail and play with the gentle breeze like it was just another morning.

Nothing will stop because you have left. Life will go on like you never existed. Your little possessions will be the only witness to your existence in our lives. Memories of you that we hold dear or will hold dear for a while, will also drown under the everyday rigmarole of our struggles, our joys, our tears, our laughter, our successes, our failures.

Maybe once in a while, perhaps when we are driving back home, or when we are washing the dishes or cooking something that you liked or watching that TV series that we once upon a time enjoyed together; there will be an overwhelming gnawing pain, a sudden feeling of emptiness, a void, a desultory loneliness. You will be remembered like a conversation forgotten mid – sentence suspended in time, waiting for a conclusion.

It’s not you, we are all heading for that same fate, some rushing to it and others traipsing along. But YOU mattered, in your own small way, you meant a world to some people around you. And what is worth Stephen Hawkins will be waiting right there opening up doors to several universes only for you.

Encounter with a tusker

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As the SUV chugged slowly through the meandering paths of the forest, I craned my head out to catch a glimpse of any wild animal. The wildest animal so far was my fifteen-year-old. The first rays of the soft corpuscular rays streamed in through the heavy canopies, the light and shade gave an eerie feeling. The wild fifteen-year-old too looked tamed atleast for now. His hands were busy adjusting the settings of the camera while he squinted his eyes to sight a wild beast.

Suddenly we heard a rustle somewhere close to us and a loud trumpet. The first thing that crossed my mind was you asking me if I knew what to do if I were faced with wild elephants! My answer was an expected infuriating one. And now I understand why it was infuriating.

A huge tusker stomped his way right in front of our vehicle. The guide gently whispered to us that there could be more coming and we need to sit still. The driver of course was scared out of his wits.

I was scared too. I hadn’t envisaged death under the feet of an elephant. But right now, I could only think of Josh. If anything, he should escape. The wild fifteen-year-old sat like a calm sage and took my hands into his.

The tusker raised its trunk and with another loud trumpet turned to the side and trampled its way into the wilderness. The entire incident lasted not more than five minutes but it was one of the most petrifying five minutes of our lives. Both Josh and I heaved a sigh of relief as we hugged each other and I promised to myself that I will never yell at my smallie little baby ever in life.

The guide too heaved a sigh of relief while the driver sat frozen to his seat. We could see sweat trickling from his forehead. What if it wasn’t just a lone tusker, what if it were a troop of elephants? I held Josh’s hand again, before he took it off to go back to his camera.

The driver, regaining his composure started the vehicle. I couldn’t thank you enough for insisting that we take a guide to lead us into the forest and not try this on our own.

In the next hour or two we saw innumerable birds, names I had never heard of. I know you did tell me that Malabar Hills was famous for a multitude of different birds. We also sighted cheetah paws by the river. Had the tusker not stopped us we could probably have sighted the cheetah too.

As we got busy taking in the different sights and sounds of the jungle we soon forgot our little encounter and me my promise not to shout at my son. Well what’s worth he can do stuff that needs hollering.

In our innumerable conversations about your experiences in the forest I could never fathom what pulled you so into these lanes. But now I understand. The deep dark recesses of the wilderness harbours a mystery… a mystery that is life itself.  The thick tapestry of green and violet have witnessed the annals of time and guards its secret like a gatekeeper maybe searching for a timekeeper who would understand the true meaning of the enigma that’s nature.

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Was it a dream? Perhaps a waking dream! Walking in the crowded by-lanes of the busy city. Lanes I have walked a million times before in some other lifetime. Today they seemed new. Like I was there for the first time. The shops, the Taj, the sea, the breeze, the yachts, the eateries, the sun beating down; I have seen them before from  a time I cannot  remember. It’s there in some remote corner of my mind. Why then did they feel so new?  Or was it just me, unchained, uncontaminated, youthful again! The fog lifting, the dust clearing and I felt new again. Or is it a   memory I have lived many times before. A memory trapped in amber, struggling to burst out!  An old, discoloured photograph forgotten in time trying to desperately remind me of days submerged somewhere in my subconscious. Maybe I will never know.  But for those few minutes time had stopped. It keeps playing over and over again like a pin stuck on the vinyl tracks.  The walk, my very own Grecian Urn. My very own little joy forever. As my heart leapt, my surrounding emanating with a presence that felt comforting, very known, my own twin soul.

Have I walked these streets before with you? Have I walked maybe a street similar to this a million times with you, in some other time. Or maybe times. Everytime we have met, have we walked down nursing the same thoughts. And did we part to meet again or do we always meet to part again and again.

 

 

Ululation in Collective Unconsciousness

As a Bengali I have heard ‘ulu’ and even tried to join in to emit this high pitched, almost howl, vibrato along with my mother and aunts during auspicious occasions and community rituals. One of the most auspicious occasions and a community event for a Bengali is the Durga Pujo. The fun, frolic and festivities have started already amongst the Bengali Diaspora all across the globe, and we will be ushering Ma Durga into her earthly abode with a long drawn and deep bellow of Shankh (conch) and a million women’s ulu in different sharps and flats.

I have always regarded ulu in its present form as a Bengali customary ritual during festivals and for worshipping the myriad Gods and Goddesses that we believe in. So when I stumbled upon where ululation came from it fascinated me to learn that the word originated in Latin and was practiced in Africa, Asia and some parts of Europe.

The origin of ulu and how it diffused into other cultures is still unknown and there is not much written about the practice of ulu anywhere. Nevertheless ulu is popularly known to have originated in Sumer. The ancient Egyptians ululated as did the ancient Greeks and the Hebrews. Zaghareet, ululation again, is well known in Levantine society and it focuses on the sound as an exotic terrain and is often associated with ferocious war cry, unlike in other cultures where ulu is more of a celebratory sound produced in unison by the women.

Its interesting to note that despite seeming differences in culture, religion, way of life and the conflict thereof that plagues the world today, we have unconsciously adopted and perform similar rituals and partake in festivities and community ceremonies much the same way. And it makes me wonder, are we that different?

Carl Jung’s collective unconscious increasingly sounds true to me and its not just limited to universal symbols like the ‘great man’ or the ‘tree of life’. The unconscious mind has transcended race, colour, religion, miles and miles of distance and has formed a bond where we share and celebrate differences in our sameness. The Gods must be having a laugh then, to see us divide ourselves in orientals and occidentals, black, yellows, coloureds and whites, white collar and blue collar, slaves and masters, pretty and seemingly ugly (thats the worst differentiation), smart and the clever and the list is never ending.

This Pujo I can only hope that Ma Durga grants us the wisdom to bridge the ever widening chasm of vacuous and mindless intolerance and bless us with the ability to honour and rejoice in each others uniqueness. Because there is no escaping that bound by our collective unconsciousness and at the heart of it all, we are kindred spirits.

Half Pants Full Pants – A Review

Half Pants Full Pants is an assortment of childhood memories that will take you back to the TV series classic Malgudi Days. The story is set in Shimoga, a small town in Karnataka where the Author, Anand Suspi, hails from. The little snippets of memories stitched together make a tale of innocence and the shedding of it as we grow up.

Everything from the title of the book to cover design of coins will take you back to the 70s & the 80s. The flair with which he has penned the tales is at once heady and simplistic, again taking us back to the childhood days when everything was uncomplicated and simplistic yet marvelously exciting. The narrative is laced with the Author’s native language, which makes the book believable and lovable.

The book reiterates and cements our belief (our generation growing up in the 70s and 80s) that we had the most magical childhood. Away from all the gadgets that hold kids captive between four walls, in these modern days, into the lap of nature, with friends, exploring around, building stories, making memories.

Reading the book took me back to my days when we did similar things if not the same. When we cycled around with friends, created our own little games up, when owning a TV was a luxury, having a phone was almost unheard of and once we hit our teens, we wanted to be as cool as our cousins in the city.

The last chapter emphatically brings out the message of ‘Cool Vs Fool’. How we outgrow our little towns, go to big cities and end up showing off a little bit, albeit with good intentions, only to be proven that our ways could be cool but definitely not wise. I hope that the book is read by many, its not just reliving childhood it also points out about how smart and worldly wise our parents really were.

The book is divided into two parts, Half Pants is about when the Author was a child and Full Pants is stories from his teens until his first job days. Interestingly the child part of the book is written in short chapters, short sentences, almost like he was reliving his days again. While Full Pants stories are more defined, bigger chapters, more flourish in writing and language.

It was a pleasure to read this piece of ‘back to the 70s’ era. It has an aura of the ‘Wonder Years’ with a very R.K. Narayanesque style.  Guys just go grab your copy of Half Pants Full Pants, you wont be disappointed.

Blurb:

Half Pants Full Pants is a sort of childhood autobiography set in Shimoga of the 70s and 80s. Given the era and milieu that he grew up in, it carries a flavor similar to that of Malgudi Days. All the characters in the book are real and most of them are still in Shimoga, of course now in their mid-40s. Quite a few are from prominent families and are now active and important members of Shimoga. The book vividly captures the real childhood adventures of this generation of people in Shimoga. It’s a glorious reminiscence as well as a tribute to this wonderful town.

 

Jugnu by Ruchi Singh – A Book Review

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Can you love two men at the same time with the same intensity? A question that, is not to be brushed aside with a sneer. It’s a dilemma, which has plagued us from time immemorial and has kept us awake many a nights.
But yes, one of them is the forbidden love. But isn’t the forbidden fruit the more delicious of the lot? Just a thought, not be pondered much about.
In Jugnu (Firefly) too, Ashima is torn between the love of her life, her husband, Rohit and the sudden whiff of fresh air Zayd. What makes it maybe not so forbidden is the fact that she is waiting for someone in the hope that he will return some day, while the beacon of love and happiness is perhaps staring right in her eyes.
What makes her desire a taboo in the eyes of the society is that that she has given her heart away to a man who is younger that her and hails from a different a religion, a religion that is directly responsible for the absence or loss of her husband.
Without giving away the story, Jugnu is not the run of the mill love teenybopper love story. It is more than just a romance, it’s about human lives, the hopelessness of hope itself and how we manoeuvre ourselves in the face of tragedy. Ashima, on the façade is all strength and courage and bravado, who has lost herself in running the everyday affairs of the household and meeting demands of everyone around her. But she is a human being after all, who sparks up with passion and desire much the like the fireflies on a dark night.
The character, who in my opinion, stands out the most is Zayd Abbas Rizvi. Despite a troubled past he has grown as a person and has engaged himself in a more fruitful pursuit. Not many 24 year olds would be capable of what Zayd has managed to inculcate although he has been socially ostracised time and again. No matter how much he pays for his sins, it’s never enough for the society. Yet he is not embittered and is willing to give life a second chance, help people, find love and be happy. He has moments of nightmares and second thoughts, but then in his shoes who wouldn’t?
In many ways Zayd is the Jugnu in Ashima’s life. In the dark depths of misery and despair, Zayd is the firefly that lights up her world, lights up her mind to find the closure she is not ready to accept, lights up her heart with love and passion.
The other characters in the story are as believable as Ashima and Zayd. Though I feel the mothers in law have really earned a bad name in our country and perhaps around the world, hence a spiteful old lady, waiting for her son and blaming her daughter in law makes for a good yarn and more sympathy for the protagonist. But, since Jugnu did take a leap in many ways, this hackneyed mother in law character could have been better etched. .
I would have loved to see an older Ashmia with a slightly bigger son, falling in love with a man considerably younger to her – her dilemma would have been more pronounced.
Ruchi Singh, has very artfully created a setting, a location, which is not just a place but very much an intrinsic character that builds the storyline. The forebodingness, the solitude, the quiet all adds up to Ashmia’s loneliness and pain. The surroundings resonate her mood, her sorrow her entire being.
To add as a parting thought, this story would make a good Bollywood flick. Ruchi Singh start writing the screenplay.

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Z for Zanjeer

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 What better way to end the list if not by our own homegrown superstar Amitabh Bachchan. In fact Zanjeer (The Chains) propelled him to his super stardom and firmly placed him in a position from where he has been reigning as the supreme king of Bollywood ever since.

Before Zanjeer, Amitabh had a series of flops with which his career in the movie world took a nosedive. When director Prakash Mehra cast him, everyone in tinsel town warned that he was making a grave mistake but he took his chances and what followed was record-breaking history. In the era of romantic comedy, here was a movie with a disgruntled and intense hero, who has been dealt a losing hand by life. Bachchan became an overnight star after Zanjeer and with its success a new era ensued.

Vijay Khanna, witnesses the murder of his parents and this traumatic event scars him for life. He keeps to himself, has no friends and is a loner. Fast-forward twenty years, this little boy has joined the police and an honest officer at that, while most of them are corrupt and tainted. Vijay soon befriends Sher Khan (Pran) and learns that all the underhand dealing by the underworld goes on under the king pin Teja, (Ajit).

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After a few twists and turns and of course some song and dance numbers, Vijay is not only framed and imprisoned but also finds a lady love Mala (Jaya Bhaduri). Soon he finds out the truth behind his parents’ murder and that Teja the menacing villain was the perpetrator. Everything ends on a positive note as evil is finally vanquished and good reigns over evil.

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 Zanjeer was released during a time when common man was beleaguered with corruption, theft and injustice. This movie was like a catharsis to their pent up frustrations. Zanjeer led to a spate of such movies that shows the Hero fighting relentlessly for justice. Amitabh too became an icon for the ordinary man depicting their everyday struggles.

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I leave you with a trailer of Zanjeer (The Chains) (the video quality is not too good)

Y for the Yellow Sea

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We are at the fag end of the A to Z listing and the first thought that came to my mind was “You, Me and Dupree” but I have done quite a few Hollywood flicks so refrained from doing the same. I have missed out quite a few movies from quite a few countries and as I kept racking my brain, I was hit with The Yellow Sea, a Korean Movie with a lot of angst, pain and pathos, a reflection of our depressing society that almost drives us off the ledge.

The Yellow Sea is the second chase movie by the director Na Hong Ching. The basic difference between his first and this movie is that this one is a noir shot on large canvas and superbly brings out the violence in humans which, just creates more chaos than solving anything.

Gu Nam is a Chinese taxi driver with Korean descent who is hopelessly in debt because of his gambling addiction. His wife goes to Seoul to provide some monetary relief but unfortunately she just disappears. Lovelorn, lonely, dejected, broke, he is saddled with a daughter who he can’t take care of and sends off to his mother’s place. To add to his troubles are his neighbours and friends who chide him for losing his wife to perhaps another man. Fuelled with a mix of loathing, jealousy and insecurity he takes up a contract for killing a man in Seoul because it promises to pay well and diminish all his troubles. Gu Nam smuggles his way to Seoul and as one day he anxiously waits for his target to arrive, the unexpected happens and he is chased by his own gang and the Korean police. Though Gu Nam is not the most likeable man, the audience starts to sympathize and empathize.

The Yellow Sea starts off slowly and gains pace as the movie moves forward ending in a feverish crescendo. There is a lot of gore and brutal violence and amazingly there are no guns. The movie is laced with whooshing knives, brandishing hatchets and a numbing pain caused by blunt animal bones.

Where the movie makes a mark is it provides characters with more than fifty shades of grey, breaking archetypes and absolutes and almost identifiable (if not the blood and gore) making even the worst of them likeable to us.

Here is the trailer of  the Yellow Sea

X for Xiao Cai Feng

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Movie titles with X are not easy to come by, at least not the ones that I would like to talk about and share. As I was browsing through my collection I chanced upon Xiao Cai Feng, a Chinese movie set during the cultural revolution of 1966-1976. The message that comes out strong and clear  is that no matter what impositions are placed in the name of ideology, religion or politics, human nature will most certainly find a way to get around it.

Today’s movie is called Xiao Cai Feng, which is almost an autobiographical account of the filmmaker-author Dai Sijie. The central characters are two teenage boys, Ma and Lou, scions of urban reactionary intellectuals, who are sentenced to the far reaches of the mountain village for reeducation. Here their books are burnt and they are sent toiling in mines and sometimes climbing thousands of steps along the mountainside with buckets of foul liquid oozing onto their backs.

“To think that this is the dump where we may spend the rest of our lives,” says Ma, when they first arrive at the village where no one has ever seen a book before neither have they ever seen a clock. But the two boys do take advantage of their intellect and knowledge and there are a few humorous incidents, especially when their camp enforcer tries to throw away the violin thinking it’s a toy, Ma plays a sonata and tells him that it was composed in honor of Chairman Mao – therefore the violin becomes an acceptable instrument.

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In the absence of any education the camp heavy starts relying on the two for their smarts. In fact they are allowed to go to the nearby village to catch North Korean and Albanian dramas and report back the story of the same. Since there are no radios, newspapers or books the two boys become the source of entertainment and the eyes for the outside world for the entire camp.

Things change when they meet the grand daughter of an ancient tailor who is much revered in the next town. The two boys are enamored by this feisty beauty who is as illiterate as the rest of the town. To be around the young beauty the two take recourse to educating her. Soon they discover a stash of banned books written by foreign decadent writers such as Dumas, Balzac and Flaubert. In secret they begin reading to her exposing her to a world she never knew existed. She is influenced to such an extent by these books and her impressionable innocent mind is so moved, perhaps by Madam Bovary (me thinks), that she decides to leave the town on her own much to the dismay of the two boys. Their intention was to come close to her through the books but on the contrary the written words and stories were so overwhelming that she decided to explore life on her own leaving everyone behind.

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In many ways Ma is modeled after Dai the author director who amidst hard labor did not lose his sense of humor. In one way the movie is explosive without going over the top, humorous without being absurd and romantic without being melodramatic. It’s all about life wrapped in a story about a country that the West imagines more than ever these days.

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