One effect about the pandemic is that we have decided not to increase our exposure outside of the immediate family. So, we have stayed in the hotel the whole time and neither taking visitors nor visiting anybody. Which means, the nephews and niece are spending most of their time either in the pool or eating all those great food lined up.
It was certainly very relaxing to just laze around in and out of the pool. It was a hot and humid day and the pool water felt perfect. Of course, it did not hurt that the service was top notch – including getting us tea and cookies (“cha-biscuit”) at regular intervals.
One of these days, I am going to figure out how to get all these salwar kameez wielding womenfolk in my family in India to change into swimming gear and get into the pool too.
Even for a very un-Bengali Bengali, not eating sweets takes the level of blasphemy against everything Bengali to a whole new level. At home in US it is easy. In India, I had to come up with all sorts of tricks – the common one being “Sugar aachhey” (meaning I have diabetes). The identity of Bengalis is so intimately intertwined with eating sweets (and trust me on this one, they are nothing short of heavenly) that sometimes even after forwarding an argument that is designed to shut down all debate “daktarer maana” (meaning the doctor has proscribed it), I have had a few hosts saying “Kichhu hobey na. Ekta osudh kheye nebey”. (meaning – don’t you worry, take a pill after the sweets).
Today, in a bit of misguided adventure, I ventured into where I have not ventured in a long time. I decided to dig in to the sweets section in the lunch buffet arranged at the JW Marriott in Kolkata. And when I say “dig in”, I went all in. Rosogolla (there is no such thing as a Bengali plate without Rosogolla), Pantooa, Mihidana, Sitabhog, Gajorer Halwa. Name it and I had it. Admittedly, I put about one fourth the portion of what others were putting in their plates.
These things usually soak in sugar syrup and are often fried (some of them in clarified butter called ghee). Certainly not for the weak of the heart – at least not the ones insisting on keeping their heart valves and pipes clean. Or for those not wanting their sugar levels to scale nearby highrises.
But, I swear, they are the most delicious tasting stuff one can have in God’s green earth!!
Again, why are great tasting things so bad for you?
In a rare trip outside hotel/home, went to Free School Street in Kolkata to pick up some vinyl (LP) records. This street used to have at least a hundred record shops. There are only three surviving.
I went to only one this time. Picked up about a dozen. All are Bengali records that has at least one song that was a favorite of either parent or I had heard them singing.
The one exception – Mukesh and Lata in Albert hall – has a story behind it. Back in June 1984, three of us had pooled all our pocket money to buy this record for the fourth one on her birthday!!! (the four of us were fairly tight friends those days)
The mercury is flirting with three digits
All of us have now checked into a hotel in Kolkata to spend some time together as a big family. Against the backdrop of solemnness in Kalyani, here our mood has a lot more levity. We are remembering some of the most fun moments with our parents. And some of them were outright hilarious.
As we were going thru my blog where I had documented some of those funny incidents, I almost felt a great justification for writing down the small moments in the History of my Future.
Sitting by the open pool at the hotel, some of us were laughing hard enough that we could have rolled off into the pool.
It was a lasting sense of satisfaction and joy to see my family in India this happy. I think I am going to keep coming back to India!!
While going thru all the stuff that mom had refused to throw away ever, I suddenly ran into a bunch of knitting needles. That immediately flashed me back to a few decades back.
My mom, like most moms in the neighborhood, used to knit sweaters for us. Especially, during the winter time. I remember she even carrying the needles and those balls of wool in her school bag – so that she could get ahead during the “free periods”.
I can remember three different sweaters she had made for me over the years: there was a yellow and black one… there was a red and black one (you will find a reference to this in a post from five years back) and then there was a “bottle green” colored one with light pink design. I think that one was a sleeveless one.
I remember I had learnt also how to knit – “soja bona” and “ulto bona” !!! I can’t remember the details now but I think it was which needle went over which one (between left and right) – or was it how you wrapped the string of wool when the needles crossed? In any case, my level of patience those days never went beyond a couple of centimeters of a sweater. But it was awesome fun to take the needle out and pull one end of the wool to see the whole thing unravel!!!
The one part I never figured out is the complex issue of putting together the neck – which had to be a circular structure. Those needles you see that are pointed on both sides were used for that. And I think there were three (or maybe four?) that had to be used simultaneously.
I went thru all her belongings to see if I could find any of my old sweaters. I did not. But what I did find is the last sweater she had ever knitted – the one in the picture, for my dad. And that goes back about thirty years!!
I picked up the needles in the picture to take to the USA as memories of my mom.
From the crematorium, my brother and I walked to the river (Ganges) where their ashes were consecrated.
As the waters of the river – as the final witness of my parents returning to nature – gently flowed by, an old Bengali song kept playing in a never ending loop in my head…
মুছে যাওয়া দিনগুলি আমায় যে পিছু ডাকে
স্মৃতি যেন আমার এ হৃদয়ে বেদনার
রঙে রঙে ছবি আঁকে
Roughly translated… (improvements welcome)
Those faded days of the past,
They longingly beckon me back
As the memories paint in deep hues
The intense aches of the heart.
As a final act before leaving Kalyani, visited the crematorium where my parents’ physical remains were reduced to ashes. Unfortunately, I was not there – thanks to the pandemic – for that last journey of their mortal remains. My younger brother carried the mantle for me.
My mother’s mortal remains went the traditional way – on a wooden pyre and my dad’s remains went the modern way – in an electric furnace..
It was really tough not to be overwhelmed by emotions amidst a deep sense of no looking back…
The exact year escapes me – but it was around 3rd to 5th grade. My dad, who used to buy me books (outside of school curriculum) for me to study during my vacations had once gotten me a book on elementary science. In that, I had found a picture of a magnifying glass and read that it could magnify stuff. Of course, me being a young kid had my own imagination running wild. I was thinking I might even discover some stars with a magnifying glass. Did I mention that the previous book he had bought me was about astronomy?
Anyways, I had mentioned about it and a few days later, he got me a magnifying glass. I was thrilled to bits. I agree I did not discover any stars… but I could kill ants!! And killing ants trumps finding new stars any day. First my dad taught me how a convex lens works. And then he demonstrated it to me by using the magnifying glass to catch fire to a bit of a paper.
Totally equipped with the scientific knowledge – I immediately put it to practical use – like a good 10 year old engineer – kill those pesky ants. My doting sister thought I was a hero for it. The ants? No so much!!
I found that magnifying glass while rifling thru all the old stuff. Had to clean it up good with water and soap. And then take a Sherlock Holmes selfie – sans the pipe of course!
Ah! those memories!! What would I not give to live in a make believe world of those days just for a day…