Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Distant lit up memory

It is amazing how a totally unrelated thread conjures up a trail of memory and thoughts. I was reading Amartya Sen's "An uncertain glory" where he mentions the 2012 power outage in India which is one of the largest blackouts in history. It instantly brought back some memories from my childhood. My ancestral home is a small place called Nanoor which is about 22 kms from Shantiniketan (Rabindranath Tagore's base camp/ coincidentally Amartya Sen's birthplace). I used to spend my vacations here.Though officially electricity had reached these areas decades back but even till about 15 years back long and frequent blackouts were extremely common. When one has blackouts in cities it is in phases and very local to particular areas and one usually sees shimmering lights in the distance, hears a lot of traffic and activities continue over lit up candles after a brief sigh of disappointment from everyone. And the electricity is restored quite quickly which again only briefly blinds the eyes and brings about an orchestrated cry of relief while the television comes to life. The ceiling fan whizzes around clearing up the air of the waxy smell of blown out candle smoke dispersing away after their seductive wavy dance.

A blackout in the village is pitch dark. One hears voices from neighbouring homes while the moon shines on the pond in the backyard with frogs croaking in unison.If one listen's carefully one can hear the occasional prayer song and the tinkering beats of the accompanying khanjani from the vaishnav singers trailing down from the terracotta temples across the pond. The earthen lamp lit up as a daily ritual at the tiny alcove near the tulsi plant, shines brighter in the darkness. While these images are vivid in my mind there are some which are getting washed away by the years. Like the many stories which my uncle narrated from his readings. We kids heard him in rapt attention - stories of heroic pursuits and fairy tales and most fascinating horror and detective stories. He was a seasoned story teller who created an aura of suspense befitting the surrounding darkness and quiet. We bunch of restless children were entranced much to the relief of our mothers. 

I returned to the page I was reading realizing that I was fixated on it for quarter of an hour. I shut down the book and closed my eyes tight shut to remember some of the stories. The trouble is I am not well versed in bengali literature and therefore mapping stories to books/novels is a very difficult for me. But one word suddenly echoed in my mind - "Kalo Bhramar". I googled up the word and it instantly threw me the book of the same name by author Nihar Ranjan Gupta. I looked him up and read that he met Agatha Christie while in England and deeply inspired by her books wrote a four part series creating a detective of his own called "Kiriti Roy". One of the books in the series is called "Kalo Bhramar". 

My uncle passed away a couple of years back leaving behind a legacy of pleasant memories on otherwise dark summer months.


"Khanjani" - A musical instrument made up of metal plates which are struck to create a tinkering beat.
"Kalo Bhramar" - literal translation - Black bumble bee
"tulsi" - basil plant

Monday, May 6, 2013

The city in snapshots

When one pursues photography as a hobby, an unavoidable side effect is one looks at the world in "frames". Wherever you look you end up composing pictures.

As I travel in the city I look at the lady selling flower garlands and think of the vivid colors I could capture with her basket full of flowers keeping her wrinkled face and her guileless smile in the frame. The small grocery store with many many tidbits stacked in the shelves would make a stunning indoor HDR photo. The plump dog lying sleepily on the dusty road basking in the morning sun would make a warm and cozy composition. The small temple at the road side with the stark idol of the goddess and the burning earthen lamps lined up at her feet would help me capture a profound picture of devotion. A picture of the fish mongers sitting with their basket full of catch would make a good story of the city hustle bustle.

But then I wonder may be I should just buy a flower garland from the friendly lady and offer it to the goddess at the temple. I should probably go to the "mudir dokaan" or the grocery shop, get a pack of biscuits and feed it to the dog lazing around on the road. Then may be I could get some fresh fish from the sellers and return home with the delicious prospect of a sumptuous lunch of fish curry and rice.

Hmmm...fish curry and rice with two slit green chilies as a garnishing ...on a white and blue patterned plate. Now that would make a good photograph. Wouldn't it?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Shifting coordinates

Having grown up in military cantonments, shifting houses or relocating to new places was never a sad or an emotional phase for me. It was rather exciting. My sister and I used to treasure hunt through the boxes that my mother packed up. Treasure hunt it truly was. You get back many things that you have lost. They peep at you from corners which have been exposed because of the cleaning and emptying. You get to see many stowed away tidbits which are kept in the boxes for memory sake - the little white and brown striped frock which my sister wore and then I did when we were babies or that faded picture of my father's colleague who gave up his life for the country kept safe in that torn diary  from 1980. Shifting meant a new house, new friends and a new school. In spite of the unhappy grumblings from my mother we kids thoroughly enjoyed the shifting.

After a three year stint, I recently moved back to Kolkata from Santa Ana. A feeling of de ja vu set in as I emptied my house. Once again lost things came back unabashed and not guilty from their inconvenient absence.Once again I was excited to pack up looking forward to the next leg of life.

After the house was emptied it looked like just how it did when I moved in three springs ago. Except that it is not that perfect. There is a scuff mark on the wall where the couch which was a company to my hours of lazing around rested. There is a spot on the carpet where I spilled my tea when I excitedly ran to receive my kindle reader as the postman knocked impatiently. The wall has a clean rectangular spot mocking at the rest of the faded walls of the house - the rectangle created by the Beatles poster my husband put up as one of the first personal addition to the house. And then the excitement was marred by a knot in the throat as I realized how with a stroke of paint and a dab of soap water they would clean away my three years of good times and bad times spent in this little corner.