Shambala – in search of happiness

shangrila

When a friend told me about Gyanganj, it felt like I had heard about it before. Something told me it was probably in Parul’s diary. And lo behold when I browsed through her diary, there it was – “Shambala”

Nestled, somewhere deep within the snow-clad mountains there is a place that the Indian sages refer to as Gyanganj or the Shangri La as named by the Tibetans. A mysterious place never visited by any man. A place incomprehensible to the human mind; abode for the immortals.

Shambala, or the source of happiness, is hidden somewhere in the remote valleys of Himalayas. One can only fly on to it by spiritual powers. Remember the James Hilton novel The Lost Horizon; it is about the lost Kingdome of Shangri La.

It is definitely intriguing to know that there lies a secret land amidst us and no amount of hi tech satellite mapping or GPS could actually make it visible to the human eyes. So then the question is does it exist or is it in a different plane and cannot be explained by modern science. What we cant feel or see doesn’t exist is the mantra yet there is a group of people who are search of this hallowed land which apparently has been around from time immemorial.

As I was going through the diary, I wondered how Parul got to know about Shambala. She was just seventeen and her diary seemed like a treasure trove of knowledge. She herself was ‘Gyanganj’ to me.

In my darkest hour, Parul had sat me beside her and had told me, ‘be the Shambala that you seek. Don’t you see that you yourself are the source of light and happiness and yet you waste time and lose sleep searching for it in the wrong places.’ Parul in her little life and even lesser education was more erudite and insightful than most. She was the sunshine for so many, a balm to the healing soul and never for a moment did she not have that radiant smile despite the excruciating pain she was in. Parul, she was just like her name, that rare flower that blooms once in several years and surrounds the hill with her sweet fragrance.

Had she been around she would have probably laughed to see the world so split in differences. Our folly at running after and seeking for the elusive bliss, hunting for that paradise where all wrongs are overlooked, interpreting and misinterpreting scriptures to be transported to Shangri La. Whereas all this while, its been here within us gathering dust.

 

 

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Kulti Times – The picnic

stream

“Where are you going Salil?” asked Banu

“Picnic.”

“Picnic!” Exclaimed Tapa, his large round eyes becoming larger and rounder.

“Hmmm, ok bye, see you all tomorrow then we can climb that Ashok tree together”. Salil waved at his two friends and promptly sat in his old Austin, where his younger brother was waiting for him impatiently.

Banu and Tapa, gaped as the Austin fast receded round the bend of the graveled pathway on to GT road.

“Do you know what a picnic is?” asked Tapa in wonderment.

His question was interrupted by the loud crackling noise from the red brick single storey house. A male voice cackled out and the two boys strained their ears to hear what it said but the pops and the scratches made it difficult for them to fully comprehend what was being said.

“Oh! Sushil’s parents have bought a radio. It must be some important news about M.K. Gandhi, wonder what it says.” Tapa frowned with curiosity.

“Tapa, radio always has news about Mr. M.K. Gandhi. And about picnics, I have seen a few families go on picnics in the weekends,” answered Banu.

“Can the two of us go on a picnic?” enquired Tapa still bewildered.

“Tapa, that’s such a brilliant idea, lets go on a picnic together,” Banu could hardly conceal his excitement.

“What do we do on a picnic?” asked Tapa.

“Oh we just have loads of fun. We take food from home and go to a nice scenic spot, explore the place and when its near evening we come back home,” replied Banu.

“Is that so, sounds good to me. I will ask ma to make kossa mangsho.”

“And I will get bread and pastry from the club’s confectionary shop and tomorrow we can go to the little stream near Kalyaneshwari.”

“That sounds like a plan,” yelled Tapa excitedly.

The next day Tapa and Banu met up at the bus stand each carrying the promised eatables. Banu was wearing blue shorts and a red and black stripped cotton shirt and Tapa was in a beige shorts that went a little below his knees and a white cotton shirt. Both had slippers on. Their hair was properly oiled and neatly parted at the side making them look almost like twins.

A paint peeling off, battered bus with a crowd oozing out of its doors came at full speed and braked before the bus stand. A few men in dhotis and turbans and some saree clad women got off. Tapa and Banu elbowed their way into the throng. They were too excited and happy to notice the jostling crowd. After around ten stops that took them almost an hour the bus came to Kalyaneshwari. The two friends jumped off with a gleeful grin on their faces. They trudged from the Kalyaneshwari bus stand to their picnic spot for nearly half an hour.

The trudge was worth their while. Their jaws dropped when they arrived at their destination. It was the most beautiful place that they had ever seen. A small little spotlessly clear stream was gurgling down the rocks and a little frothing cascade was bouncing down the hillock right into the stream replenishing it with water just a like a mother quenching the thirst of her baby.

The sky was a perfect blue and the bright yellow sun doused and bathed each blade of grass until they gleamed.

The two boys jumped and clapped their hands in glee.

“Banu, this is the perfect place for a perfect picnic,” exclaimed Tapa, visibly happy.

The two boys threw off their shirts and dived into the stream. They swam and splashed around in the cold waters. Lay down in the lush green grass and dried themselves in the sun that was streaming down on them. Later they hungrily gorged on the food they brought and guzzled the fresh water from the cascade to quench their thirsty spirits.

But like all good things in life this day too was at its end. In the afternoon around four the boys cleared up their spot and were ready to leave though each sulked a little because they wanted to stay on a bit longer. But, alas, they had promised their mothers that they would be home before sundown.

Tapa hugged Banu just before turning towards the path leading to his home.

“Banu, this day will always be etched in my mind, maybe someday I will tell my grandchildren about today.”

“Me too Tapa.”

The two boys waved their goodbyes with the promise to meet up the next day to create some more extraordinary memories.

Pishima

chutkiskipping

Last night a friend of mine and I were talking about Kolkata and the fond memories we had of it and I was soon enough taken back in time to those long summer holidays that I would spend at my grandparents’ house.

All my aunts and uncles and cousins would descend onto the two-storied house at Salt Lake. At that time Salt Lake was not as crowded as it is today and we would play cricket on the streets and take long walks towards Nicco Park. Unthinkable, I know!

During those days along with my grandparents lived another very petite old lady, almost doubled up by age, she was Pishima, my grandfather’s widowed sister.

Kolkata was always fun, I could be upto all the mischief, that I wouldn’t normally do, and they would all go unnoticed, rather everyone turned a blind eye to it. Yes everyone except Pishima. And that’s where all the problems stemmed from.

We were always at loggerheads with each other. I could, according to her, never get anything right, the epitome of imperfection. Moreover, she had announced, my activities were all around ways and means to trouble her and make her anxious.

Though initially that was not the intention, later I would deliberately defy her and do exactly the opposite of what I was asked to do by her. My mother was at her wits end. She would tell me a million times to behave myself, and that Pishima had had a very hard life and I shouldn’t be adding on to her troubles. I would promise to her that I wouldn’t but somehow the very next instant I would forget about it and go about bothering the poor old lady.

When Pishima yelled at me, my grandmother would always come to my rescue. She would chide her for being so impatient with a child.

“Didi, come on, you are behaving like you and Jhumjhumi are of the same age. Why is it so difficult for you to indulge her sometimes.” And she would scold me too, “Is this what you are learning at school, don’t they teach you to obey and respect your elders. Off you go to play and don’t do anything for which I get complains about you.” I would mutter a soft, “sorry” and run away, only to be back with a few more tricks to drive someone crazy.

Sometimes I would call ceasefire and play ‘ludo’ with her yet the moment I won, she would scream that I had cheated, which I actually did, and turn the ‘ludo’ board upside down on the bed and the ceasefire would go for a toss.

“No, I didn’t cheat, but next time I will.” The only revenge I could think of was to steal food from the kitchen and wipe my hands on her ‘gamcha’ (a thin stripped cloth to wipe off water). In those days the elderly would generally use a ‘gamcha’ instead of a towel.

Pishima’s ‘gamcha’ was the most sacred piece of cloth in the house and she would go raving mad to hear that I had touched it, let alone wiped my dirty hands in it.

“You little dirtbag, you never wash your mouth and hands after having food. You are supposed to wash your mouth even after drinking water.”

“Here I am drinking water, let me now wipe my mouth on your saree,” I would scream with an evil grin.

One day my cousins decided to stay up quite late and try smoking in a secluded room. Pishima got the wind of it and barged into the room at that opportune moment when I had the ciggy in my fingers, trying to make circles with smoke I was puffing out.

She was aghast to see me like that. She howled and woke the household up. By that time of course, we threw the pack of cigarettes out of the window. My mother and my aunts came in with worried look on their faces.  “What are you, people doing?”

“Nothing,” I piped in, “ She is blind as a bat, cant differentiate between paper and cigarette.”

Had I said I was smoking I wouldn’t have been beaten up black and blue but calling Pishima “Blind as a Bat” had a greater effect. Though my grandmother tried to stop my mother from spanking me, she was unstoppable. Calling names was not acceptable.

Later as the years progressed, Pishima became increasingly quiet and ill. When my grandfather passed away, she went off to stay with her daughter and grandsons. Later she moved into the village to stay with a maternal uncle of mine, who was eyeing her small piece of land. My grandmother sorely missed her; they were good friends and would always look out for each other. Since her health was giving way and she was becoming frail with every passing year, Pishima did not want to impose herself on my grandmother anymore. We would only hear about Pishima at times from her daughter and it was always about how unwell she was.

Many years later, when Pishima got my wedding card, she wrote a letter to my mother saying that nothing would stop her from missing her Jhumjhumi’s wedding. She was the sweetest creature she had ever laid eyes on. Despite being weak and in poor health, she came for the ceremony. She sat with me for all the wedding rituals that took place. I saw her feeble, frail frame deeply involved in the little nitty gritties of the ceremony. There was pure joy and happiness written all over her face.

A few months later Pishima succumbed to her illness. Though I was sad to hear about her I still couldn’t make it to her funeral. My work and new life didn’t allow me to go home for her last rites.

Many a times I sit and wonder about our relationship and what she saw in me. Maybe she saw herself and all the missed opportunities, maybe she saw the endless possibilities that couldn’t be hers or maybe she just saw a little girl and doted on her in her own eccentric and quaint way.

Last night as I was reminiscing the days gone by, I prayed silently, asking the Almighty to give me the strength and the power to love; to love unconditionally, just like Pishima.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Istanbul Incident

After spending eleven years of very enjoyable  and fruitful time in Kuala Lumpur, we were leaving the place forever. It was a very emotional moment for both my son and me. All our friends had gathered around us and we were waving our last goodbyes to each other. I stifled my tears as I hugged everyone. My son too was extremely teary to leave his  friends, especially his best friend forever, Parth. Though we felt deep sorrow in leaving such good friends, we were also a tad bit excitied too. We would be going to  Stockholm, a completely new world for us. We were headed straight from the tropics to the north pole. It reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s Bangla classic Gupi Gayen Bagha Bayen, travelling from the deserts to the poles in one clap of their hands.

KL

With all the formalities of check in and immigration done, my son and I sat down at a cafe , the nervousness and anxiety alleviating slowly. We were now looking forward to the new country, new place, snowy winters, long nights, short days and what have you. We like travelling light but this time round we had our laptop bags, hand luggages, and snow jackets that we could not squeeze into our hand carry ons. In short are hands were quite full. Soon the flight going to Stockholm was announced and we made our way to the boarding gate. We were on the Turkish Airlines and hence the flight route was via Istanbul where our wait was for 2 hours. The flight to Istanbul was uneventful. We did all the mundane things like watching movies, reading a book and of course most importantly sleeping as much as we could.

When we landed in Istanbul it was 6 in the morning. We sauntered to the food court for a bite ,then went looking for our departure gate. Istanbul airport was a huge one and it was teeming with passengers, crew members and airport officials. There were people who were scurrying to the departure gates, throngs sitting at cafes sipping on coffee, some others lined up at the serpentine cue before immigration, some checking out the dutyfree shops and of course there was a huge crowd before the monitors that showed the departure gates. Istanbul had one of the busiest airports I had ever laid my eyes on.

Anyway we hastened off to gate 505 for our flight to Stockholm. My son was excited and was dying to meet his father who had gone a few months ahead of us. Half an hour before the flight time it was announced that the flight was delayed by another two hours. Thereafter 2 hours became 3 and then 3 became 4. My husband called me up to say that I should be prepared for flight cancellation because there was a snow blizzard in Stockholm and everything had come to a standstill.

Snow Blizzard

Sure enough, moments after I spoke with him the airlines announced the flight was cancelled and we had to spend a night at Istanbul. My son was extrememly dissappointed that he would meet his dad another day late. I consoled him saying if he could wait for a few months, what was another day. All the passengers in my flight were taken to a counter where a new boarding pass for the next day was handed out and we were told to go to the ‘Turkish Airlines Travel Desk’ for accomodation arrangements. A very kindly soul pointed out to a general direction of where we needed to go.

My son and I went off to that general direction. Since we couldnt locate any of our fellow passengers we asked another airport personnel where to go. He in a very gruff manner said ‘upstairs’. But going upstairs meant, doing the entire rigmarole of putting thorugh x ray all our hand lauggage and laptops and laptop bags and snow jackets, et all. My son scowled saying his neck was hurting as the bags were heavy.

After the luggage X ray we went up and hey presto, landed at the same area where we had seen a sea of people. We stood aghast, all lost, wondering where to go. We found an enquiry counter and asked the pretty lady where the ‘Turkish Airlines Travel Desk’ was. She glared at us for a while, since we broke her conversation on the phone for such a trivial question.  ‘End of the corridor’, came the brusque reply . Now, we were in the middle, so we looked puzzled as to which end we needed to scurry. We did a mental eeny meenie miny mo and decided to go right. And lo behold, there was a Turkish Airlines travellers lounge. We lugged our bags to to the lounge. The sweet lady sitting there had a radiant smile. I asked her if all the passengers of stockholm flight were at the lounge. She frowned and shook her head. She had no clue as to what I was saying. I explained that the flight was cancelled and we were suppose to go to the ‘Turkish Airlines Travel Desk’. The good lady asked us to take an elevator down to an airport hotel right below the lounge.

We lugged our bags again down the elevator to the hotel. There was not a single soul in sight. We walked to the reception, there was a half dozing  young man , who at our query looked a tiny bit annoyed. He asked us to go up again and go right at the ‘end of the corridor’. My son losing his patience wailed, ‘not again’.

We trudged up the elevator with all our bags and baggages, waded through the teeming multitudes of passengers of different nationalities. Though we should have been in awe of the size of the airport and how busy it was, right now our aching bodies and tired minds just wanted to find the ‘Turkish Airlines Travel Desk’.

Istanbul Ataturk Airport

We reached the end of the corridor and found another harrowed Stockholm passenger who was screaming at an Airline Official. We went to him and asked if he was lost as well. He said he was at his wits end trying to find out the travel desk or get any sane information from the airlines authorities. He too was running from one end of the corridor to the other. We went back down in the elevator and we came right before the counter that gave us our new boarding passes. There were a few crew members sitting and having lunch, we scurried to them but of course it was of no use because they seemed to know nothing that would help us.

Thankfully an official hearing all the hullaballoo and commotion created by the other gentleman with us, came towards us and told us that the travel desk was outside and we needed to cross the immigration for it. In the mean time some other beleagured passengers from the same flight joined us from different directions. We all showed our respective passports. The official pointed to the immigration counters for passengers from Europian Union and  America which had serpentine cue before it. He looked at our passports and shook his head saying Indian Passport Holders need valid Turkish visa or an EU card. My son and I were at the end of our tethers. We had been running from pillar to post lugging all our paraphrenalia, was it all for nothing!

We gaped at each other miserably when a sudden thought struck me and I told the official we had US visas. This seemed to please him quite a bit and he muttered that in that case we could be given visa on arrival. Our happiness knew no bounds. In fact we were so delighted to hear it that my son hugged the official in his joy. The icing on the cake was that the immigration counter for South Asian Passengers and the visa on arrival counter had no lines, the officials there were merrily chatting so it took us minutes to be through with all the rituals of visa and immigration.

It was a huge weight lifted off our shoulders. Our fear of getting left behind allayed ,we heaved a sigh of relief and sauntered off at last to the ‘Turkish Airlines Travel Desk’. Istanbul here we come even though only for a few hours. Suleymaniye-mosque

 

 

Cooking Woes

I have been married for quite sometime now yet my kitchen nightmares continue. What is it that totally befuddles me with kitchen and cooking I cant say, but it does, I know. Nothing goes right for me. The kebabs get too well done, the rice gets so over cooked that its either totally dry or sticky, the potatoes get a little too dark brown, the veggies are either raw or have no body, the khus khus or poppy seeds even after many washes still are muddy like hell and the mustard when ground are bitter like gourds. What pray is my problem! I have a long list of ‘Kitchen ki Kahani’ but special mention is the one I would like to share with you all.

When I was expecting my child, I had been very ill in the first trimester. I couldn’t eat anything, the slightest of food smell would make me throw up and I was at a total loss as to what to do. I couldn’t enter the kitchen either because my olfactory nerves had become very sensitive and the moment I stepped into the kitchen I could smell the spices and the garlic and the onions and that would make me rush to the washroom to throw up. I was really tired of  throwing up at all times.

I had just moved into Kuala Lumpur and this is a place of eclectic spread of cuisine. There are restaurants and cafes and food stalls all around the streets and the aroma actually make people hungry. But not me. Walking on the streets had become one painful activity for me. How can one walk holding ones breath and for how long. Because the moment I breathed I would get nauseated.

So I decided not to go out. I could take strolls in my condominium and stay in as much as I could. When my husband came in from work he would go into the kitchen to cook up some concoction that would not make me queasy. Him cooking meant, I would have to close the kitchen door, my bedroom door and lock myself in so that not a whiff of what was cooking could come into my locked cell.

One day my friend Debby decided to visit me. She was horrified to learn that I had locked myself up in the house only because I felt everything around me was so odoriferous. My husband, bless his soul, knew that we would have lunch together so had quickly cooked up something. He instructed me to heat up the veggies, dal and rice and left for work.

Well as I have mentioned, pregnant or not, nauseous or not, I get harebrained in the kitchen and do everything I shouldn’t.

So after a great chat over tea, thankfully that concoction went off well, we decided to have lunch. Debby was quite excited to know that my husband was being so very kind and understanding, cooking for not just me but my friend too. Though I said thank you to her in my mind I mumbled that he didn’t have much of an option here.

So Debby helped me lay the table while I was heating up the food. Though I was heating up the veggies and dal in the microwave, I decided to heat the rice on the gas stove, to speed the process. A big mistake!

I took the food out of the microwave and put it on the very well set up table, thanks to Debby. I was admiring her skill and was just telling her how I would’nt bother to do put the fork and spoon so neatly lined by on the mat by the plate. Debby also gave me some tips on how to set the napkins in a very decorative manner. Thanks to my over sensitive olfactory nerves I smelled something not very comely. I remembered my rice on the gas stove. I dashed for it and as I peeked in I heaved a sigh of relief that I didnt burn it. But my releif was soon over when I started puting it out on a serving bowl. There were little burns at the very bottom, though not much but it had started to char. I scraped those out and kept the fresh looking ones on the serving bowl. But let me tell you with rice even if there is a slight burn the smell emanates throughout. I was so embarassed. I was wondering what to do, when Debby came in and took the serving bowl full of rice and set it up on the table. I just stood there like a dummy not knowing what to do.

I served her and took a spoonful for myself. Debby tasted the food and had the most satisfying of expressions on her face. She was overwhlemed with all the aroma and the taste. According to her she had never had such devine vegetables in her life.

‘Your husband is a fantastic cook she yelped. And how did he get this flavour to the rice. Yumm, its delicious. It tastes like roasted nuts. What secret ingredient did he add to it’

I almost choked on my food, secret ingredient to the Roasted Nuts flavoured rice!! I just smiled and munched on and begged forgiveness from all the Gods above for serving this roasted nuts flavoured  rice to my unsuspecting guest.

But then all’s well that ends well. We did end up having a wonderful lunch with the roasted nuts rice and a great time together.

 

 

Are you a Baracuda enough

I have always held this belief that one can take a break from one’s career and head back to it when one is ready again. Little did I think that the break would be for 11 years. I had my reason though. I had moved to a new country had my child and was deeply involved with raising the new member of the family. In my utter folly I thought I could head back to it when my son is independant enough so when he was 11 years old and I was in the land of opportunity, Singapore, I started hunting for a job to get back to my earlier profession – Public Relations/Corporate Communications.

I knew it would be different but I was not prepared for some rude shocks. Of course I did do a bit of  research if not a whole lot and with that I headed out into the big bad world I had shielded myself for so long. It was the second interview which actually jolted me back to reality.

I was asked a number of questions and I with whatever I read albeit limited knowledge had more to say about the social media. I ardently believe that print media is dwindling whereas social media is booming and this is not the future its the present and we need to look at it with more respect and use it as a tool and medium to put forth any information to the people at large. It will eventually spread through views and shares and plain word of mouth.  Anyway whats my beleif compared to that of someone who has been in the industry for many years. I was anyways extremely dated

So I open my big mouth and spew all my beleifs and soon was put in place. Once your are a mommy and you have left work you are already dated. I was in no uncertain terms reprimanded for even thinking that I could get back into the game please read watlz back. Things here are much more evolved despite it being a small counry than whats it back in my home country and now after so many years its evolved much.

I was with all due respect just like Mark Antony was addressing the Honourable Men, asked to go back to my motherly duties write for on motherly blogs, which are of course most inconsequential compared to all the world saving work going on in that particular organization. Not to mention that I was old and would be eaten up by the so called ‘barracudas’ who have now conquered the work environment. The younger generation were nothing short of being so competitive that they are all willing to eat up anyone who would even dream of encroaching their space. Was it that or have I been told that the younger gen is predatorial and that being fearsome is what we all want now.

Thats when it made me think how we have changed as people. In an industry that we called Public Relations are we not building relations anymore? Is it all about fear and how you project yourself or is it true knowledge. Being competitive is commendable and wonderful but at are we looking back to see who and how many we are treading and trampling on. 

My question therefore is should someone who has taken a break from work  because her maternal instincts told her to do so never get back to work or should she train to be a baracuda first most importantly how do we train to be a baracuda.