A Circle of Friends

How do you define a friend? Someone you grew up with? Someone you got to know over the years? Maybe someone who shares a passion but not your everyday life? How about someone you’ve never met, but whose life became a part of your every day, every week, thanks to social media.


I don’t know who introduced me to Farmville…………. Jyoti or Lalitha. I took to it with gusto. And thus grew a Circle of Friends from all over the country, and even other parts of the world. There were entire families…..Kalapas,Anands , the Sandhya Sunderrajs. They added relations, friends, friends of friends. Anuradha, Ganapathiraju Sumitra , Meera, Kavita, Hitesh,Mallika, Meenakshi……………. someone coined the name The FV Mafia. We kind of revelled in it!


Over the years, the children took back their IDs, the parents played on. Several stopped playing but the FV Mafia continued to share…………….. thoughts, happy moments, sad times, their writings, their achievements. Generations were born. You learnt about their hard times, what songs they liked, how the South met the East and fell in love………how a friend re-defined his/her challenges and met them head on. My list of festivals to celebrate grew many times, every week there was someone drawing Alpona/rangoli/kolam.


Food made up a large part of the sharing. Not just recipes but tweaking of traditional ones to suit modern palates & to meet diet restrictions. I discovered how spices from another region changed the flavour of my everyday fish. How a friend from the South craved posto baata that he had had in his younger days in Haldia. If there was not buttermilk, what could I substitute for that dosa like snack? And so much more.

And children and parents! It seems I’ve been on a roller-coaster of highs and lows celebrating graduating children & worrying about ageing parents……….. but I haven’t been riding it alone! Every high, every low has been buzzing with the goodwill, the kudos, the hand-holding, the lean-on-my-shoulders that this Circle is brimming with!

Yesterday a friend slipped away. I never met Dheepa but we spoke once, a few weeks back. I only know her as a smiling face every time I logged into my Circle of Friends. I hope she knows up there how often she made me smile. I hope you all know how much you bring to my every day, my every week, my every breath.

I Remember the Walls

On a recent trip to Delhi, I saw the stone walls.

I remember them well from decades back. They encircled homes, schools, office complexes, club periphery, market areas and many more. Large stones of indeterminate origin, colour, and shape were cobbled together with a binding agent till they formed a jigsaw-like low wall where every piece told a tale….perhaps of the place it had been quarried from, stories of sunburnt skies & dazzling flora, barren landscapes or verdant fields. Sometimes a man-made element was embedded into the stone, pieces of glittering glass, unevenly shaped bits of colourful marble, granite, slate; the odd wash of paint; but the stone remained the constant.

The walls were low enough to sit on and swing your feet jauntily; broad enough to have picnics on at tiffin time or for the young to play a game of hopscotch even; and sometimes a platform for cart-wheeling dare-devils trying to show off to the giggling girls!

Often a trailing vine added a sense of privacy, where budding romances could grow behind the leafy curtain or desi-Tarzans could Yeaaaaahhhh their way from the ‘sky’ to earth! In places, soft, green moss added to the sense that fairies may flit about there!

The elderly gathered there in the early morn or at dusk, dissecting the world, maids-with-prams sat for a gossip as the sun set, dogs and cats lazed in the winter sun, and every kind of bird that inhabits a bustling city, would perch for a while, look around curiously, then fly off into the blue.

Then the world changed as the children grew up and the new order decided the walls were too low. Unbending iron rods were planted on some walls and barbed wire was strung pole to pole. On some, ugly rows of bricks were added in stark contrast to the ageless stone below. Others tried to be aesthetic and painted the added fences green, and let trailing vines cover the metal that menaced. And hurtful bits of broken glasses turned away those who thought the wall was a friend.

I don’t remember these new walls from my childhood.

A Bit of this, a Pinch of that

My Mom has a formidable reputation as a cook; and as many a friend and relation will testify, she cooks by instinct rather than by any recipe taken from a book. And these natural cooks are hard acts to follow! “A bit of this, a pinch of that”. How much is ‘a bit’? How big is ‘a pinch’?

Her skills were honed as a young bride who had to face the dual challenges, nay triple ones of balti chulas, sometimes leaking-roof kitchens and American bosses dropping in for dinner without notice!! Many burnt chutneys later and many experiments done, ‘Jolly’s cooking’ grew into an urban legend over the years! 

Over the last few years, illness has curtailed long periods in the kitchen but the canny cook has devised new methods to literally keep her finger in every pot! She occupies an armchair facing the kitchen and like a conductor, directs one of us. As each spice is tempered and each gravy grows its own aromas, the kadhai of the moment goes back and forth between the fire and the chair to be waved away for “fry a little more” till the right texture is achieved. Often times it’s by sound alone that she knows the progress of the dish………”the oil wasn’t hot enough when you added the fish”. How does she know? “I can make out from the sound of the sizzle”!! Oops! Or “you shouldn’t have added hot water”. Again I ask huh? She says, “Colour. The colour isn’t right!”! Oops again :) 

As I’ve already said, she is a hard act to follow. I’ve stayed away from her forte which seems to cover half the world’s cuisines and decided to bake! And my sister went a step further and opened a restaurant! My daughter shows signs of following in ‘Mummy’s’ path and is her true disciple. So grandmother provides recipes and tips and tricks and granddaughter shares her successes with the same and sources masalas for Mummy. 

Sometimes Mummy says, “Now  you can cook this fish and that chutney all by yourself the next time”. And I mumble under my breath, “But I still don’t know how much a pinch is”!!!!

A Bangaali Bengawli!

Growing up in multi-cultural, multi-regional Jamshedpur made cosmopolitan Indians out of us. Till Poila Boishakh rolled around and the probashi, convent educated kid in me couldn’t figure out whether I was Bangaali or Bengawli!!!
 
The day began innocuously enough. Wake up, do ‘pronam’ to the elders, be blessed with limitless joy and wait for the phone to ring as friends and relatives started exchanging greetings. That is when I realized that there were more nuances in trying to correctly pronounce “Shubho Nabo Borsho” than my language teachers were sharing in school!!!
 
Was it “Shubho”? “Shubo”? Or “Suvo”….since the “sh” in certain Bengawli words translates into a ‘S’ in English! And that is only 1/3 of the greeting!!! And to top it all, many complicated sounding words were showered on you once you had offered these 3 little ones!! So you smiled beatifically and moved on to the next ‘pronam’. And tripped all over yourself by wishing the elder “Shubho Bijoya”!! A greeting reserved for post-Durga Pujo celebrations!!! Much hilarity, a few sheepish grins, some silent grinding of teeth on your part and fervently whispering to oneself, “Move on, move on”!!
 
The day had stellar moments though. You got new clothes, you got to wear them to school sometimes even thoguh it wasn’t your birthday or Christ’s! And you got some seriously fabulous food through the day. And with a mother with Bangladesh roots and a father with West Bengal ones, our childhood days were filled with the best of both worlds. Bangaali worlds of course!!
 
Today, much older, a little wiser, I am still excited at the prospect of a special New Year’s Day for the ‘Bangaali’ in me. We still start the day with pronams to the elders, Mom still cooks up a mean malai curry or a mutton ala Mom, and I’m still defeated by the rounded nuances of Shubho Nabo Borsho!!

A Sound of Summer

I have heard the koyal calling every evening the last few days. And when you are stuck in traffic at the end of a long fraught day, the sound is evocative of summers of long ago.I sit back in the car seat and close my eyes and allow flashes of years past to dredge up forgotten memories.Playing on the pavements when grass not concrete covered them. The ice-cream man’s tinkling bell causing every child and adult to give in to the forbidden frozen treats! Huddles of ayahs chatting, keeping an eye on their charge…knowing the only danger they were in was an ownership fight over a new toy. And the koyal calling out serenely.

Swimming in the late afternoon hours in the club pool accompanied by floating gulmohur blossoms from the over-laden tree leaning over the pool. The suddenly darkening sky, the grumbling gathering of storm clouds, a rush of big fat drops plopping into the water against the chorus of panic-stricken mothers intent on getting every reluctant child out of the water. And through it all the koyal blithely warbling away!

Come April and the daily onslaught of the norwester, the ‘kaal-baishakhi’, when the wind huffed and puffed and brought down trees and the rain lashed everything clean. Till there would be a sudden calm and magically the koyal would sing!!

Right now I’m still stuck in traffic, the memories are clichéd as memories tend to become. But the koyal’s warble is as blithe and serene as I remember! 
 

A Woman of Substance

I thought I’d write  about the strong women who have played a huge role in influencing my life…. Mummy, Shalini, Avantika. And then I thought of all the other women……grandmothers, aunts, cousins, nieces, mother-in-law, sisters-in-laws….and my dear girl-friends. And Mummy’s friends. And Avantika’s peers. 

The list is not only long, its a formidable one. Of super achievers, women of strong thoughts and clear beliefs. Women who persevere(d) in spite or because of the odds. Women who did not wait for ‘International Women’s Day’ to prove that they do not need a day to laugh, cry, yearn, suffer, exult and just carry on with life while doing so.

And then I thought of the men who gave these women and me the freedom to be women of substance. Daddy, uncles, brothers, cousins, nephews, father-in-law, friends, brothers-in-law. There are a few negatives too…..they just make us more determined; more able to be the Super Women we are!

So here’s my toast………….to all of you……………I am because of you!

Of Christmas Trees & Carol Singing!

I grew up in a cosmopolitan town. Hindu by faith, a Bengali by race and an Indian by birth, my childhood and most of my adult life have been spent in Jamshedpur……………a town representative of every state in India and all her religions too. And to top it all, I went to a Convent School! 

We lead a charmed life……..we spent the winter season between the clubs and house parties and picnics by the riverside.  So when December rolls in, and the stores are sparkling with glitter and snow even in balmy Jharkhand, I get all nostalgic for ‘the old days’!

I remember the days when come December, the piano would  play non-stop in the school hall while we gustily belted out ‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly’, whispered ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ and then rousingly cheered ‘Rudolf the red-nosed Reindeer’!!!

I remember being Joseph in the Nativity play, dressed in a long robe, leading a virtuous Mary, perched on a wooden donkey.

I remember the days when every home irrespective of faith put up a Christmas tree, decorated it with ‘snow’ and waited for 25th morning to see what ‘Santa’ had brought. IMG-20131223-00924

I remember the days, as I grew older, when the Christmas parties gently segued from boisterous ones replete with pastries and cake to those with mulled wine and a more adult fare.

I remember my parents coming home from New Year’s Eve parties with their pockets full of whistles and chocolates 

And I remember the days when I believed in Santa Claus. 

You know what? I still do!!  :) 

So here’s wishing every one of you Season’s Greetings, Joy to the World, Feliz Navidad!