Tuesday, March 19, 2024

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

― Omar Khayyám.



Last year, for whatever reason, I cut my hair really short, shorter than it’s been for a very long time. Obviously, I wanted to show it off, in fact, I thought I looked… different and (of course) brilliant! Everyone complimented me about how gorgeous and different I looked, but one man came to me and told me, “don't do this, don’t leave your hair open, it doesn't look professional, it’s not you.” The only person on earth who could get away with a comment like that, without me retaliating, is Mr. Surendra Kumar Kapur, Barrister etc, etc etc…. a doyen of the legal profession in the High Court at Calcutta and elsewhere. 


Mr Kapoor, or ‘SK’ as  we knew or referred to him was one of the most genuine, kind, large-hearted persons I have ever met (second to my fathers, of course, and I think he’d agree), famous for his large parties, Singapore Slings, prawn cutlets and his jovial, happy nature. He did not distinguish between us who were junior (much junior to him) and those who were much senior to us,  he was equally loving, equally forgiving and equally demanding when it came to matters of law. I remember my first conference with him I was shoo-ed out after the important bits were done because thereafter he served whiskey to the other juniors who were obviously male. The next day, I dared  to ask him “Sir, how could you do this to me?” He lovingly paused and said “Okay beta, chalo next time you’re included” and I was.  

Much to my delight, SK was one of the first persons who invited me for a party at his garden at lunch. I was an unknown someone, a non-legal heir and I was struggling. To me, it meant a lot to be acknowledged by someone as senior as SK to be called for a party. I will never forget him because he was one of the most amiable and jovial men I have ever known, in the face of any adversity.  There was nothing you could not set right to him, there was nothing you could not tell him, he was the life and soul of every party (he still is, I don't know why I said “was”). I like to think we will listen in every party and miss his smiling face forever more. I remember his son’s wedding and the Champagne he just poured down our throats (Whiskey for the men, of course) and his consternation when, while he was dancing with the baraat, his son (from the top end of a horse, that too!) said “just chill”! 

That’s a man. That’s the man who can be everywhere and anywhere because we cannot forget him. There was this time when he told me he loved my writing and he told me to send him all of them and I was humbled because it was inconceivable that someone as erudite as SK could find any harmony in my work. He loved poetry, we often had long discussions about poetry and he would tell me that these days no one reads and I had to agree with him because it is true that no one reads, especially poetry which was his forte and Shakespeare, of course, at the drop of a hat, even in a court where the judge (with all humble respect), could not understand. That never deterred him, he went on to all his adventures (as I would like to call them that, because for him, life was an adventure) with no regard for the people who did not follow through and nothing but joviality and love for those who did. He was whimsically careless about those he disliked and open and heartfelt to those he was. (Thankfully, I was in the latter group!)

I will miss him, I will miss seeing him coming to our table and saying “beta,” (no one else ever called me that!) and chatting with me about things that matter or do not matter and I would listen because he was larger than life.  Because he was there when no one else was, because he was one of the most wonderful people that I have known. I feel blessed that I got to know SK, even more so because he was fond of me, and of course I have kept my hair tied ever since!

Do I dare argue?

SK left us on the Ides of March, 2024. The word “Ides” is derived from Latin, meaning “to divide,” forever dividing his world from ours. If SK saw tears for him, I am certain he would laugh and tell us "...what fools these mortals be!" 

So I will not cry and I will always remember SK, smiling, his happy laughter,  strong and resounding, for even when he was unwell, he would come to us with a smiling face and say, “no one can beat me!”. Indeed.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mesho. The forever gentleman.

Dying is a wild night and a new road.” – Emily Dickinson

It's funny how words fail you when you need them most. So forgive me if I sound disjointed.  My Mashi, (mother’s sister) was one of the most important persons in my life. She breathed love into a teenage tormented soul and made me believe that anything was possible, anything could be. I exchanged long letters with Mashi and she always replied with affection.  When she was struck down by Alzheimer’s, my Mesho (her husband) moved to India to give her the care she deserved. And she got it. In Jamshedpur with his mother and sister. We used to visit. Some connections are not forged by blood but by relationship and empathy. This was one of those. I remember while in college I would carefully articulate letters in the Bengali script for Mesho’s mother and sister, taking care my words were right... It is not that they did not understand English, it was me who needed the Bengali. Mashi languished. I hate to say it, she never got better but the connection stayed. After I was married, I made it a point to take my husband to meet Bamma and Pishimoni and Mashi, it mattered to me. After the girls were born too, I took them to Jamshedpur to meet the mother I never had, they were scared, by then Mashi was totally taken over by the illness. I remember telling them, it was nothing to be scared of, she was one of the gentlest persons on earth. Luckily, they accepted that. 

But Mashi passed away. The mother (Bamma) and sister (Pishimoni) too. (I would have to write a whole book if I even attempted to describe those lovely ladies.) Mesho lived alone. Over the years, we developed a deep bonding. As I said, some relationships have nothing to do with blood. In fact, I think blood is futile, it’s emotions that matter, how the person has treated you in their lifetime and how you have treated them. Mesho treated me with love. And for that I shall be ever grateful. 

So, what can I say about Provat Mitra, that you have not heard before? He was a true gentleman. He stood by me like the father I lost many years ago, doing everything that needs be done, when my mother-in-law died and my mother was jazzing about in Kerala on a vacation, he is the person who stepped up and ensured I did not lose face in my in-laws’ extended family. We took vacations together. He stood by us when my father-in-law died. I shall never forget his soft smiling face as he lit another cigarette or took that last drink to the room, ‘Cocoa’, he called it. If I have to pin-point a memory, it will be impossible. How can one encapsulate years of association? Shall I talk about the holiday in Bandhavgarh or the time we walked miles in Sikkim to buy horrid whisky, or the fort we climbed in Ranthambore chased by monkeys or the lazy days spent in Kolkata? There is no end to the stories I could say, and that is the consolation I have. 

In the December of 2018, Mesho was with us in Kolkata, it was a fantastic time. We even went to an unimaginably loud open-air concert with friends and somehow survived. Mesho was gung-ho about things like that, whether it was a long drive into the boondocks or a visit to the mall, Mesho never stepped back. He left for Jamshedpur, after a rip-roaring new year’s party. Unfortunately, by the end of January, Mesho suffered a stroke that would ultimately lead to his death.  Of course, I went, as soon as I heard. His son, daughter and I rallied around. 

Mesho’s spirit was astounding. Despite having lost use of the left side of his physique, he was mentally completely alert and tried his utmost with physiotherapy to move those limbs. I often wondered at his grit and determination. Speaking for myself, I would have given up long ago. But time passed, there was some improvement but not much. The COVID situation and the subsequent lockdown ensured we could not visit him for a while in 2020. When the trains started running again, I went back in February this year. Something had changed. I could not get Mesho to eat, he had lost his appetite, I tried making him the things he loved, but even Shepherd’s Pie or caramel custard would not tempt him. He spoke to me about his younger brother who had died years ago and told me he was calling him, to green open spaces and a golf course… Mesho was an avid golfer and lived those last years hoping to return to the green. 

But. COVID got him in the end. Despite all the caution and isolation, COVID won. From the time we heard he was unwell, I was antsy, wanting to go, but helpless. When we heard of his passing, the spouse and I rushed down, hoping to provide some succor to his son who flew in from Delhi. I have never seen such an undignified send-off for anyone, particularly such a dignified man. But COVID wins. When I feel sad, I console myself that millions are going through this every day. It hurts, but as my father would say, it’s not the end of the world. 

Yet, a world has ended, as far as I am concerned. My quiet sojourns to Jamshedpur are over, I shall not be returning to that house any time soon, if ever. A whole chapter in my life is closed. 

I like to think of a world, far removed from ours where the skies are blue and the golf course stretches beyond imagination, where Mesho is right now accompanied by Mashi and Bamma and Proshanto kaka and Pishimoni and other loved ones. And my father will join him in a toast and they will sit and chatter liked they did on earth and sit back and wait for when we will join them. And the circle will be complete, for now. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

To Amisha (someday, Rapunzel)

Someday Rapunzel will chop off her hair
And leap into the forest, undeterred by thorns
That lay waste the garden outdoors
The garden she never knew up close
The garden just beyond her reach. And 
She will taste the wild berries and learn not to gag
She will explore under shrubs and trees and hide
Among the branches when the prince goes by 
And she will know that all witches 
Are not evil and princes are merely men. 

Someday,  I always knew, someday, you
Would leap from my arms, undaunted by storms
That have ravaged the path of your dreams
The path you resolutely follow
The path that leads you away from me. And 
You will taste the raindrops on your tongue
And fly on the wings of every breeze and still abide
In my heart which is forever hovering
Tip-toeing into your deepest nights
Specially when you think I’m not.

Rapunzel has finally found her match
The child and princess now have grown
The forests falls away to show the paths
That lead to lives you are yet to live
Lives without borders: fly true, fly free
Lives where you follow only your dreams
As you leap from tower to tower
And as you flirt with the breeze
You will sling the sun under your shoulder, 
The world is yours to seize. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Z: Zoo #AtoZChallenge

Z was so predictable, Alipore Zoo of course. The famous landmark in Calcutta built in 1876 or thereabouts is the oldest demarcated zoological park in Calcutta. It is visited by hordes of people coming to see the tigers and the monkeys, the elephants and the crocodiles.... specially in December and January. (The highest attendance being 110,000 visitors on 1 January 2018 alone!) It was also well known as the home of the Aldabra Giant Tortoise named Adwaita who was said to have been over 250 years old when he died in 2006.

But ..(there's always a but), I don't like zoos. I know, we must have gone there as children and I am certain I can find some happy memories of the place but I don't like zoos.
Yes, I said it again.
I hate the smell near the tiger cages, I dislike watching the poor animal stuck in there and I especially hate it when the curious onlookers try to attract the attention of the animals.
Some years ago there was this incident when one of the tigers killed one man and mauled the other when those drunken idiots decided to garland the tiger or something like that. Good for him, (the tiger, not the men!) I thought when I read the article. The last time I visited the zoo I was sad to see the gorgeous animals kept in cages. A part of me somewhat understand the need for a zoo, but most of me thinks animals should be left in the wild, doing whatever it is that wild animals do.
So the zoo is a place I avoid. earlier, when you drove past, you could see the elephants but I understand they have been relocated or a wall has been built so that too is denied from the road. For the same reason, I stay away from circuses although we went for many as children. We were not so aware then, I guess. But I have never taken my girls to the circus. Or the Alipore zoo. Sometimes there are rumours that the animals will be relocated to some place in Baruipur in the suburbs. Then the rumours die... The Alipore zoo is in what is now a very busy part of the city, the birds do not drop by as much as they did earlier and I shudder to think of the pollution and all.
No, I refuse to write about the Calcutta zoo!

And the picture is not of a caged animal but of a tiger in the wild. Where they belong! 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Y : Yuva Bharati Krirangan #AtoZChallenge

Yuva Bharati what, you ask? 
Okay. I know. This is cheating. But yes, the Yuva Bharati Krirangan does exist. It’s commonly known as the Salt lake Stadium. And this post is not about the Salt Lake Stadium per se but also about other playing fields in Calcutta, specially the Eden Gardens. 
When we were children, cricket was a game played in winter by men in whites. Dad was a member of something or the other and we used to get tickets to see the match. Yes, ODIs were unheard of,  we used to turn up with cousins and all to watch the test cricket and spend a few blissful days having a picnic under the winter sun. There were no restrictions, we carried our water and food and cold drinks and enjoyed ourselves while watching the India versus England (or whatever) match! 
How carefree and innocent those days were. 
Now we sometimes go to the Eden Gardens, usually to watch an IPL. Don't even ask! Nowadays they play cricket all year found and wear anything but white. Not only do you have one day internationals (ODI), the popular format is T20 where the game is played for only 20 overs. In the days when everyone is a hurry, the pace is fast and furious! there's music and much entertainment, even cheer-leaders who do a gyrating dance whenever a four or six is scored. 
We sit in an air conditioned box and enjoy the food and beverages in the club house. 
But every now and then you will find me escaping to the stands in the sweat and grim to enjoy the real atmosphere and energy of the stadium. 
It is indeed amazing! 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

X: X-mas in Calcutta #AtoZChallenge

As I said, Calcutta is a cosmopolitan city. Here Eid is celebrated with as much zest as Diwali or Christmas. Whether you are Hindu or Muslim or whatever, no one fails to head out for biriyanis on Eid. In my family I believe it is a sin to not have biriyani during a Muslim festival! (Yes, I had warned you much earlier that Calcutta also revolves around food!) just as it is criminal not to enjoy the sweets served during the pujas. 
Christmas, however, is a whole new ball game altogether. It is surprising how the city comes together to celebrate Chistmas. Park Street is lit up like a fairy land. There are stalls selling everything from momos to cupcakes, live music is playing in Bow Barracks and in Allen park and there is a sense of festivity in the air. It’s also the best time of year to be out in Calcutta. There is a nip in the air and the sluggish heat and humidity of the summer is a distant memory. Everyone is out to have fun. The line at Nahoum’s for the plum cakes stretch as far back as you can see and everyone wants some roast and cake and gifts from Santa Claus! 
Christmas has always been special for us. My mum was a Christian and my dad only needed half an excuse to celebrate anything. Also, thanks to that good weather I mentioned, this was also the time of year when most relatives would visit Calcutta. Schools would be over and the new year would be beginning only in January. No one asked us to study, we were allowed to enjoy our winter vacations basking in the sun and jaunting around town. Add to that the cakes and chocolates from Flury’s. 
When my girls were small I had taken great pains to ensure that they had a Christmas tree with all the trimmings. Gifts in stockings, roast dinners, etc, the works. As they grew older I kept threatening that I would cancel Christmas but each year I find myself dragging out the tree…promising myself that this one will be the last! My daughters only laugh in response! Yes, my childhood memories of the Calcutta winters are the best ones ever, be it with family or friends. And if winter is here, Christmas, surely, cannot be far behind!