Saturday, April 8, 2017

A story for my sons

I'm so happy that I took that ride!
Normally I don't like to travel by bus. I prefer a train. But in a city like Mumbai, I guess it is inevitable. And sometimes you get to see or meet something or somebody so special on Mumbai streets that it makes the whole experience worthwhile.
Going to my sons' school always makes me apprehensive. Not that they are bad in studies; both of them are doing really well. But they are doing equally well when it comes to mischief. So, invariably I land up listening to all the complaints the class teacher piles up to pour on me the moment she sees me on that special day. How I dread those moments!
It was a regular weekday during a hot Mumbai summer. I started at the Malad West bus stop. Was it near the fire station or was it at the Malwani stop? Well, I don't remember exactly; but what I do remember distinctly is that there were many of them. Wearing sky blue half-sleeved shirts and dark blue pants. Most of them were wearing hawai chappals or faded floaters.
“Tere paas kitna hai?” The whisper was loud enough for my ears.
“Ek rupaiya. Dekh to woh sahi me chad nahin paya kya?”
The two little boys, just about the same age as my sons, were nervous that their friend, who had the money for the bus fare, couldn't board it. It's natural. I can't even imagine my sons travelling in a bus all alone like this.
“Main madad kar sakti hu?” the mother in me prompted me to ask them.
“Nahin, nahin auntie. Thik hai.”
“Mere paas kafi change hai, de du?” I offered again.
“Nahin.” This time the reply was firm. “Jyada se jyada hum dono ko ek stop paidal jana parega, bas.”
My instinct told me that I shouldn't hurt their feelings. I didn't want to assault their pride. Their self-respect. But just the thought of two little boys walking about a mile under the hot summer sun brought a lump to my throat. Seeing them getting down after a few stops made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because they are the next generation--with the right amount of pride and self-respect. Sad because my sons are not like them.

I had written this piece more than ten years back. If you scroll down this page, you will find that it was my first ever attempt to become a blogger!! It was November, 2006. Just a few days back, I was introduced to the amazing world of blogs by my niece, who had come to Mumbai to join a wire service. I was really excited about this whole new concept and my long cherished dream of becoming a  writer seemed almost real. Even though I intended to write at least five articles a fortnight, the hectic life I had led those days didn’t allow me to sit in a quiet corner and write my heart out. But that’s not the issue I want to talk about. Nor do I want to write about my blog. In fact, there is nothing much to write about: Ten long years and not even ten articles! Must admit it’s a pathetic show. Moreover, since it’s not in my own name, I have very limited visitors. Only a few of my relatives and close friends read my blog. Amongst them were my sons. After reading this particular piece, I could see from their faces that they were hurt.  They didn’t like my last line. Naturally...   
--You’ve broken my heart, maa! My younger son said. He is the more vocal one.
---I had written whatever I felt at that moment, beta. You are probably not like them. But that doesn’t mean you are not a good boy. You may have some different good qualities, too!
--Like? can’t even name one good quality I possess. I AM a bad boy.
It was a difficult moment for a mother. I was desperate to mend the damage I had caused.
---No, you are NOT. You may not be like those boys, but you are very compassionate.
---What’s that?
---Compassionate means kind or concerned. You do share your lunch with Param every day because he can’t afford to bring his own lunch box, don’t you?
---I do. But Param doesn’t want to have it, maa. I have to force him every day unless he is really hungry.
---That you don’t want him to stay hungry is called compassion. I am proud of you. That Param doesn’t want to share your lunch every day is called self-respect. And I am proud of him, too.
My little son seemed to understand something but wasn’t ready to settle the score. Not yet.
---Maa, are you compassionate?
---I don’t know. May be I was not as compassionate as you when I was your age. I did many unkind things as a big girl, too.
---See... you are again fumbling for words. You are just trying to make me feel better. That’s all.
Looking at his eyes, I did fumble for words at that moment. I wanted to tell him a story.  But sharing your guilt with your ten-year-old son is not easy.
He got a little restless, looking at my confused face. Their playtime in the park was about to start in ten minutes. So my son forgave me for that last line and went out to play. But by then I decided to tell both my boys the truth behind my kind exterior. I decided to write it down with the hope that one day when they grow up, they read this and forgive their mother for her unkindness.
To understand better, I must start at the beginning: from my childhood. We moved from place to place across Assam along with our civil servant father. His last but one posting before Guwahati was in Silghat, a small but very beautiful place with abundant nature. Silghat was situated on the banks of the Brahmaputra and our official quarter was on a hillock from where you could see the river flowing with its might. At the backside of our house was a hill with a famous temple on top of it. Although we longed to go to the riverside, we were not allowed to, for obvious reasons. One domestic help was not enough to control the awesome foursome. We were an energetic bunch. Maa couldn’t trust us with our helper who was an equally energetic young man.
A few months into this boring ‘Don’t go near that, don’t climb that mountain’ life, we had good news coming. Father said that Bortta (that’s a shortened version of ‘Bordeuta’ which means father’s elder brother. In Assamese, we call our father ‘Deuta’) and Bormaa (Bordeuta’s wife) were coming to stay with us. We were ecstatic. Bortta was fun personified. He played the violin; loved going for fishing and, most importantly, he was a great storyteller. Till then the childless couple stayed at our ancestral home in upper Assam. Our grandmother, who was in her early 80s then, moved in with us at our parents’ insistence. She didn’t want to leave Bortta and Bormaa alone back in the village. But my parents said that instead of staying in the village home, she should realise the practicality of staying with us in the official quarter. Grandma, on the other hand, wanted Bortta and Bormaa, too, to come and join us at Silghat. She wanted her eldest son to establish a small business while staying with us so that when my father gets his next posting, Bortta and Bormaa could manage on their own.
They came. And our fun began. We would go fishing with Bortta. He wouldn’t take all of us together and we would wait impatiently for our turn to come. We had all the fun. Eventually Bortta and Bormaa settled in a place about 30 kilometres away with a small business. I still remember their home. It was a beautiful mud house with three rooms and a huge backyard for farming. Across that backyard was a tributary of the Brahmaputra. Rangagarah was a perfect place for them to settle in.
We grew up. My father got his last posting in Guwahati, where he decided to settle after retirement. My father didn’t want Bortta and Bormaa to stay so far away from us and Bortta probably was desperate to come and stay with us, too; especially after the nephew, who had stayed with them, decided to go back to his own village. They felt lonely. They sold everything in Rangagarah and came and started a diary business along with my brother. We were a big happy family.       
A few years later, we, the three sisters, moved to Delhi. Once Bortta and Bormaa came to visit us in Delhi, too. They were so happy to stay in small our one-room apartment! I still remember Bortta lying on our uncomfortable camp bed and saying—“I feel like staying here one more day.”  For some stupid mistake of mine, no photograph of their visit was there. They left Delhi without a single trace of proof of their visit. Though I vividly remember some of those Taj Mahal moments with them, we had nothing to show to them or anybody.
About a year later, a phone call brought us the news. Bortta passed away. He had fever for just three days and left us without giving us the slightest warning. Though my parents and my brother did everything to make Bormaa happy, she was probably feeling absolutely lost and lonely after Bortta’s demise.
Just two more years and Maa informed us that Bormaa had been diagnosed with throat cancer. Somehow I was not surprised. It didn’t hit me the way Bortta’s demise did. As if deep down I always knew that Bortta will not be able to stay alone for a long time. They were too attached to live without each other. Bormaa’s treatment started and by the time my marriage was fixed, she was doing really well. I got married and shifted to Jammu with my husband. She gifted me a beautiful bell metal Assamese bowl from her collection. Two more years passed…and I got to know that Bormaa was not well…her tumour has resurfaced.
My mother was adamant about my coming to Guwahati for the delivery of my first baby.  We were a little apprehensive because Bormaa’s condition was deteriorating by every single day. Maa said they couldn’t come to Jammu leaving Bormaa alone with my brother and my young sister-in-law.
---But how would you manage both of us? You said Bormaa is in extreme pain.
---We will do something.
---Like what?
---We’ll shift her to a nursing home
I should have said a firm No at that moment. But I didn’t. Bormaa was shifted to a nearby nursing home two days after I reached home. It was a very cold January morning and I was sitting in the veranda enjoying sun after a near death experience on the train. I was really sick.
The last few minutes I spent with Bormaa as she was going out to get into the car will haunt me for the rest of my life. I could see nothing of my old Bormaa in her. The petite figure had swollen badly. She had a muffler wrapped around her neck to hide her tumor. She paused as I stood up from my chair to greet her.
---You didn’t come to meet me even once, Rinku!
---I was not well, Bormaa. In fact, I was very unwell...
---But you have come out to the veranda... you could have come to the next room at least once to see me...
I stood there with a terrible guilt. We both knew that Bormaa was not going to come back home. She’s going to die in an alien nursing home. On an unfamiliar bed. Alone. I knew I had failed Bortta. I also failed my grandmother who had made my father promise that he would look after Bortta and Bormaa. I failed them because only I could have let Bormaa die peacefully on her own bed had I been a little more assertive. To bring a life into this world, I made a lonely woman leave her home to die somewhere else. If there’s something beyond death, I just hope that they have forgiven me.
 kironprobha? What an old-fashioned name!
Most of my friends were astonished to see this name after my first post. But I could think of no other name for my blog. Kironprobha was just perfect. 
Kiron was the name of my Bortta. Probha was my Bormaa…

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mamata's Kolkata---viewfinder of an outsider

Mamata’s Kolkata---
The viewfinder of an outsider

The city to be dressed up in blue…the newspaper headline screamed. The fact was cemented with the new look of Writers’ Building. That’s Didi’s favourite colour, we’re told. Did we really need this change?

But ‘change’ is the word everybody is looking forward to.

For me the question of change came from an absolutely unexpected quarter. Dibyendu Mukherji came to my place as one of the two contractors who were to repair our newly allotted flat.
---Madam, as an outsider, what do you think about this change? Was it necessary?
---Yes, absolutely!! I think you all should have done it five years back. At least!
His face lit up. I knew instantly. Dibyendu is the new face of young Kolkata. Mamata’s Kolkata. That was about seven months back. A day after Shaheed Diwas and I’d already seen the pictures of the massive crowd in all my newspapers. In-spite of the torrential rain that day, people came in lakhs to listen to their new Chief Minister. Aamake Bhuter moto khatte hochche, she declared. But it was written everywhere. In all the faces. Specially the young brigade. The message was crystal clear. Mamata Banerjee now has to become a superwoman. Wherever I see, whoever I talk to, I see so much of expectations, I get scared. Can these people endure another dheela-dhaala rule in Bengal? Probably I shouldn’t use that word, but this is an absolutely individual outlook; as they say—“As an outsider”.
But I’m not an outsider in that absolute sense. I grew up on a staple diet of Ashutosh Mukherjee, Samaresh Basu, Shankar and many more their contemporaries during my teenage and later age. Being an Assamese helped because we share the same script. I still am a great fan of Bengali literature. So, even though Bengal is not my “Maa”, I can safely say She is my “Maasi” and equally endearing. However, I must confess my knowledge only restricts to Kolkata and that too not very far. Not yet.

When we got this transfer order last year, we were a little apprehensive. Talk about 34 years of pichiye jauya (going backtrack) was everywhere. A friend of my husband’s, who was posted here earlier joked—“ So you are going to the land of ‘ Jaani naa (I don’t know), Hobe naa (Can’t be done) and Ekhon hobe naa (Can’t be done now)!!” We got really scared. ‘It must have changed’…we tried to reason. My experiences say different stories. Whenever I visit a city after three to four years, normally I see pretty much changes. Delhi was pleasantly unrecognizable with many new flyovers and different metro rail routes. Thanks to the Commonwealth Games. In-spite of all those hue and cry Delhi did a commendable job. During our long stint in Mumbai we saw many changes too. And they all made us so proud. I would show off the worli sea link to all my visitors as if I made it myself !

But Kolkata was differently different. We were welcomed by very friendly and helpful people in a stagnant Kolkata. The same old Kolkata I last saw about eight years back. Nothing much has been changed. The tramline in front of our home carried old, colorless trams when I expected them to be bright and colorful with glass doors and windows. They do have a few new and colorful ones, but not the ones I expected. Kolkata is incomplete without this mode of communication. Yes, there are changes in Kolkata. We could see the unending line of private buses racing madly against each other. Do we really need so many buses? Isn’t tram a better mode of communication? Why have they stopped tram lines in many areas? No answer. Why newcomers like me have to ask for directions every time I step out? Why are there no indication boards to help people decide? Why are there no city bus stops with the name of the stoppage written on it so that the new people know where they have landed up? So many ‘whys’. I got my replies only today when Kolkata South MP Subrata Bakshi announced his plans for his city. Only because of the superb functioning of Metro rails, could I survive in Kolkata. I would give the whole credit for this to the old brigade. But it could still be better. May be in a few years.

When I was talking about helpful and friendly people, I was also talking about the changing attitude of Kolkata people. There still are Jaani naas, Hobe naas and Ekhon hobe naas but they are now coming out of those old phrases. Instead, I could see a new and bright side of them; Eager to please and that too with a smile. I am so happy that Mamata Banerjee has the support of a bright new generation to rebuild her Kolkata. A more beautiful and organized Kolkata. A safe Kolkata. We all are waiting for it. Take your time Lady…we know only you can do it and you can do it without changing the old beautiful aesthetic colour of Kolkata buildings!

Monday, July 23, 2007

The day when I disagreed with Shobhaa De!

I’m an ardent fan of Shobhaa De. Not the writer Shobhaa De. I like the columnist better. But I must admit, it’s her persona that makes me her fan. I simply love her way of that no nonsense talking style.

However, I didn’t and couldn’t agree with even Shobhaa, when she said in one of her magazine interviews a few months back, that Bais are the great time managers.

But then I didn’t meet Manisha, my part time helper. I cannot call her Bai because she simply doesn’t fit into that term.

I first met her when I shifted to South Mumbai from Malad about a year back. As my friend introduced Manisha to me, my first thought was ‘could this pretty face with a fragile frame deliver’? Moreover, she was already working with four families.
As I expressed my doubts, my friend assured me ‘She’s the best in this building and she doesn’t even do chuttis. She wants the money also.’ I gave in.

As Manisha started working for me. I gradually came to know her routine. Her day starts at about 5-30 in the morning every day. She finishes all her chores at her own home, including cooking for the day, before starting her work at our building. She’s at my place sharp at 8-15 after finishing her work at my friend’s place.
In between her work, she makes three trips (you got it right…three trips) to her daughters’ school, which is about a kilometer and in the East Grant Road, because both her daughters have different timing in the same school.

As I see a tired but smiling Manisha finish her day at about 10-30 at night, I wonder each & every night--where does she find those stamina?

I’m flabbergasted by her expertise, the flair with which she delivers her duty to the satisfaction of each and every member of five families. It’s awesome—something I never experienced anywhere in India and trust me-- I’ve been going to many parts of this country with my husband’s posting.

There must be many more Manishas in Mumbai---who become like a friend and also a source of encouragement to many like me.

I salute them all for they can actually beat any top management company with their skill.

You were right again Shobhaa!

Thursday, April 5, 2007


The tussle between my head & heart
Is getting more & more intense

I try to go up the ladder
I want to listen to all that my heart says

But suddenly head pulls me back
Scolding gets from bad to worse

As I weep…
Both head & heart stand by me—
Hand in hand

Both embrace me.
Serenity reinstated
As they make truce

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The assault on my honesty

My niece was astonished that I offered to sit on the bench outside her ATM while she withdraws her money.
“Why should you sit there? Come, come. Come inside with me.”
I reluctantly went into that glass cubicle remembering how I enjoyed watching my friends and relatives as they inserted their magic cards and saw the fascinating machine giving out the amount of money they needed. I was truly captivated by the act of that machine. I still am. But I’m equally impressed by all such machines, including the one which give out colorful bubblegum balls. Somehow, whenever I see them, I always remember the story I heard from my nani about that forest which had full of gold trees with diamonds and pearls as their fruits.
It’s been a while since I’m inside this cubicle. For a long time now, I prefer to sit or stand outside ATMs while the card owners go inside and get the money.
It was a rainy day. I accompanied my best friend, who’s new to the city, to help her find an ATM. As our taxi waited outside, I ran behind my friend to the machine to watch her withdraw money.
“You needn’t come. I’ll manage.”
“No, no. I just want to watch you withdraw.” I was too excited to see her disapproving face.
The assault on my honesty and integrity was severe. Unexpected and absolute. The manicured hand that blocked my view from reaching the keyboard was too heavy on my heart. And my decision about not entering an ATM with anybody was instant.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'm so happy that I took that ride
I don't like to travel by bus. I prefer a train. In a city like Mumbai it's inevitable I suppose. But sometimes you get to see or meet something or somebody so special in Mumbai streets that it makes the whole experience worthwhile and it leaves a mark deep inside you.Going to my sons' school makes me sick. Not that they are bad in studies-both of them are doing really well. But they are doing equally well in all the mischief areas. So, invariably I land up listening to all the complaints the class teacher piles up to pour on me the moment she sees me on that special day i.e infront of all other parents. Sometimes I question their ability--and ask myself-' are they actually equipped to teach the next generation?'
It was a regular weekday-in a hot mumbai summer.I started at the Malad West bus stop as that's the only way I could go to my sons' school.
Was it near the fire station or was it the Malwani stop? I don't remember properly; but I remember one thing clearly--there were many of them. Wearing sky blue half shirts and nevy blue pants. Unlike my sons there were hardly any shoe or tie to go with their uniforms. Most of them were wearing hawai chappals or faded flotters.
'Tere paas kitna hai?'The whisper was loud enough for my ear.
'ek rupaiya. dekh to woh sahi me charh nehi paya kya?'
the two little boys-just about the same age as my sons-were nervous that their friend who had the moneyfor the bus fare couldn't board the bus. It's natural. I can't even imagine my sons travelling in a bus all alone like this.
'main madad kar sakti hu?' the mother inside me prompted to utter the words.
'nehin, nehin auntie. thik hai.'
' mere paas kafi change hai, de du?'I offered again.
' nenin.' came the firm reply. 'jyada se jyada hum dono ko ek stop paidal jana parega, bas.'
My instinct said that I shouldn't hurt their feelings. I didn't want to assult their pride.Their self respect. But just the thought of these two small boys walking about a mile under the hot summer sun made me wanted to cry.
I gulped down my tears. Seeing them getting down made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because they are the next generation--with the right amount of pride and self respect. Sad because my sons are not like them.