Original plan was to use the downtime during year end to get all the handwritten letters that I still have neatly organized by person and in chronological fashion. Of course, Covid took my year end away. However, with the long weekend here, I finally got it done.
Some of the letters are from 1984! The “inland letters” of India are ready to just crumble up. Had to use a lot of caution to restore them. You can see some of the olden days “postcards” too.
The earliest letter is from my dad in 1984 followed by my best friend Avijit Bose’s. The latest one is from Madhuri Agrawal from Singapore from a few weeks back.
Some of the letters from my parents were too difficult for me to hold my tears back.
I told Sharmila about my project.
“I have organized the letters that I still have and some of the ones that I wrote”
“How do you have letters that you wrote?”
“Well, for international letters, I take a photocopy. Just in case they get lost, I email the photocopy to the recipient later.”
“How come you do not write any letters to me anymore?” was her next question.
“You used to write to me before marriage. How come you write to others still but not to me?”
“Why would I write to you? We live under the same roof. Moreover, we are on talking terms.”
Apparently, that did not convince her.
Maybe that Covid-time realization on silence might be not too futile after all.
I can foresee a day when she would ask me “How was dinner?”
Vowed to silence, I would furtively pen a letter and mail it. (BTW, our new house is bang opposite the post office.)
She can open up the wax sealed envelope a few days later and read out loudly “Needed a little more salt!” Or something like that!!!
From an earlier post, you might remember how I had run into an old bartender friend – Tathagata – in Westin hotel in Kolkata last month. If you carefully notice the picture in that post, you will see a small jar of some black stuff on the right bottom corner.
That is one of the tricks I learnt from Tathagata that day. Those are butterfly pea flowers. He infuses them into gins which renders the gin a dark blue color. Here is the cool thing… as you pour tonic water into the gin, it changes its color to pink!!
Instead of getting butterfly pea flowers, I found a gin – Empress 1908 – made in Canada that actually uses these flowers in the latter stages of the distillation process. The result is a dark blue gin. Since gins usually do not have color, you might mistakenly think that the bottle is blue in color.
I was making the usual gin and tonic for Sharmila last evening when I decided to try out the trick. You can see how the bright blue gin slowly becomes lavender in color and then becomes bright pink. Pretty awesome!
Incidentally, it is a great gin too!!
BTW, I should have used white background for these pictures and not black.
After the 1981 Disco Deewane, brought out another vinyl record this evening that was actually released just the next year (1982). I was preparing for my Board exams when this album by Runa Laila (from Bangladesh) hit the streets. I remember finding the tunes very catchy those days.
My favorites were – “Suno suno meri yeh kahani suno” and “De De Pyar De”. The tune of the last one is actually completely taken from a popular folk song in Bengal where the farmer sings to the Rain God for rains to come so he can till the land.
The composer – Bappi Lahiri – had a bit of a reputation for plagiarizing tunes from other places.
Lost 10 pounds quickly during the few days of Covid. Which is fairly exceptional for me. Most of the last 15 years, I have stayed within a narrow band of a few pounds – even that variation coming mostly from water weight (salt consumption the previous day or not drinking enough water after long runs).
On the brighter side, I think I am going to consider myself having overachieved my New Year Resolution! And now that I can check that box off, I am going to totally take it easy for the rest of the year 🙂 In fact my goal now is to put so much weight on that next year it will take me much more than one week to meet my annual goal 🙂
Just came out of Omicron isolation yesterday. Fortunately, it happened after I reached the US and not while in India. Also, isolation was relatively painless since I had the whole new house to isolate from! The only hassle was there was no bed – so it was more of camp night experiences with a couple of camp blankets used as mattress on hardwood floor. But, otherwise, I had the place all to myself.
Because of coughing and the bed situation, I could never sleep more than 15-20 minutes at a stretch the first five or six days. And I could not talk to anybody over the phone because of the coughing.
That actually opened up to me an experience I had never had before. For about 10 days, I was in near 24 hour silence. With no talking whatsoever. Any of you who know me can be excused for not believing it.
I sat endless hours in that picnic chair you see looking outside the door. I could not go out into the patio – it was too cold for me. And that step stool was my handy tea-cup stand and place to keep my phone and ipad.
This has gotten me intellectually curious in the topic of Silence itself. What does silence do to us? Is it desired or have we evolved out of it? Does being a social being still jive with silence?
Reached out to my friend Neal Rajdev for some pointers on books that I can read. Have you ever read a good book on Silence or the Practice of Silence? If so, could you share with me?
One of the things I veered into during those long nights of Covid isolation was poetry on silence. Most of them had some kind of an inner self / spiritual kind of bend. The best ones for me were from the Persian poet Rumi. This particular one became my favorite:
“Silence is the language of God
All others are just bad translations”
You probably remember from last week that to celebrate my mom’s life, I went and visited every single house she had ever lived in. Three of them were in Durgapur.
You probably saw them as very big houses with colorful walls. Which is what they are now. When we lived there, they all looked the same. They were the living quarters given by the steel factory that my dad worked in. Eventually, they let the residents buy out their quarters and then add their own improvements.
Growing up, they all looked the same. And the walls would come in only one of two colors – yellow or red. Now, for us, who lived in Durgapur, finding a house was very easy. All we needed was the address. It being a planned town, the roads usually ran in the cardinal directions and intersected in roundabouts.
The very first house we lived in was 6/2 North Avenue. All you needed to figure out was where was North Avenue. Once you found that, it was very systematic. The streets came off the road like a fish bone. Odd streets sequentially from 1 on the left and even streets sequentially from 2 on the right. Once you were in the street, similarly, houses in the left would be odd numbered and on the right, even numbered. So, once you got to North Avenue, the third street on the right would be our street (6th) and the first house on the right would be our house (6/2). In case you had any doubt, there were helpful markers at the beginning of every street and every house.
By the way – and this is relevant for the story – where our road started from, about a hundred yards offset from that were the only two cemeteries in Durgapur. One for the Muslims and one for the Christians.
You would think that would make finding a house to be a breeze, right? Yes, if you were from Durgapur. No, if you were not. Our relatives who would visit us from the big city of Kolkata or the small village of Debipur were more used to instructions like “oi saamner do-tola bareer paas diye je gali taa jachche – oi galitey – laal baaritar porer baaarita”. (“That two story house you see? Take the lane next to it and you are looking for the house next to the red house in that lane”).
This would lead to some hilarious situations. Like the one in 1974 or so. My grandmother and my great aunt were visiting us to attend a wedding (my dad’s mentor’s – Sen jethu – daughter – Kasturidi – was getting married). Both of them wore white sarees like you see in the picture. My grandmother of course wore it due to prevailing social customs (she was a widow). Not sure why but I had never seen my great aunt in any other color but white.
One of those evenings, they had gone out for a walk together and managed to get themselves completely lost. It was getting dark and a sense of helplessness was drawing upon them. It did not help that every house looked exactly like the next one. They were truly lost.
My grandmother apparently asked a couple of passers by if they knew the house of “Damu”. Now Damu is my dad’s pet name at home. Nobody calls him by that name other than in the village. But in that intense moment of being lost, my grandmother completely lost sight of the fact that she had to give his real name.
According to my great aunt, my grandmother was on the verge of crying. Which my grandmother completely denied. My great aunt had a brain wave. The one anchoring point she knew was a the cemetery. From there she knew how to get to our house. Both of them approached a bunch of young kids who were still playing in that last bit of dusk – “Babara, amaader ektu kabarkhanay pnouchhe debey?” They pleaded the kids to accompany them to the cemetery.
You have to imagine the situation. It was getting dark. One small street light thirty yards away was offering some respite from total darkness. And there are these two characters completely dressed in white asking to go to the cemetery…
It took only one kid to ask the question that was at everyone’s tip of the tongue “Bhoot naki re?” (“Are these ghosts?”). And before you could cry Uncle (or great aunt for that matter), each had high tailed like their life depended on breaking the then Olympic sprint records. I understand the kids waited till daybreak to come back and retrieve their danda-guli (play paraphernila) that had been unceremoniously dumped the previous evening.
Eventually, the two old ladies entered a nearby house and asked if they knew the house of a school teacher called Manju. They were escorted dutifully and reached home in a matter of minutes.
That evening, as they narrated the story to us, the peals of laughter that roared from our house could be heard from a long distance. Even from the cemetery, I am sure.