Friday, 6 May 2022

Anniversary with Paris

“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can't. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there's nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe-” said Gill Pender  in Midnight in Paris

On May 6, 2021, I moved to Paris from Bordeaux. The moment I stepped out of the train, a whiff of frigorific air which was in total contrast to the pleasant Bordeaux weather took me by a shock. Visiting or living in Paris is usually a dream for most people. For years, I had been visiting Paris virtually through shows and movies. I was obviously simmering with excitement to be finally able to saunter on those cobbled streets, eat at those fancy restaurants, marvel at the Haussmannian architecture, see the MonaLisa, and spend quiet moments by the Seine. Seeing ‘The Eiffel Tower’ for the first time felt surrealistic. However, the excitement frizzled in a day’s time and all I was left with was antipathy.

I was living away from the city, in a suburb that did not remotely look or feel like Paris. For close to two months, I was under house arrest, researching and working on my thesis. I hardly stepped out, had nobody to talk to and started wondering if it was a good decision after all. Two months later, I moved in with my current flatmates. My life changed drastically, and so did my opinion about Paris. The Paris I was hating a month ago felt magical when I went on an impromptu trip with my roomie to the Eiffel late one night and lost our way back in a desolate street. The pitter-patter that I had been dreading for the last two months started feeling so rejuvenating when I was enjoying it with the right company. I discovered a newfound love for this ‘city of love'. 

When people move to Europe from India, you hear them talk about its unadulterated beauty, serenity, and hygienic quality of life. Not many open up about how badly the silence hits you, unapologetically. Coming from a country of 1.3 billion to one with 75 million (which by the way, happens to be the population of Madhya Pradesh alone), it takes time to get used to the silence. People talk about the colourful spring and pleasant summer but not about the long damp, drab and torturous months of winter. Only rosy pictures of the West have been imprinted on our minds and we have never been able to recover from this colonial hangover. But that is a discussion reserved for another day. Let’s just say I had to deal with my share of homesickness (read India-sickness) to finally fall in love with Paris. 

Coming to think about it, from hating Paris to falling in love with it, nothing much changed in the city per se. The Eiffel still stood tall beside the Seine, brands from across the globe still adorned both sides of the Champs-Élysées and 2.5M tourists still flocked to the Louvre. The only change that happened was me finding the right company. For the last year I have been living in the most incredible company I could think of in an alien nation. Together we have celebrated everything; from birthdays to Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Durga Puja, and New Year to arrivals and farewells.

Far away from our homes, we have found a family in each other here, which also dawned an important realization upon me. It is never the place that is good or bad but the company and the memories we build there that makes us love or hate it. The long rainy days become soothing when you have someone to just sit and enjoy it with a cup of coffee and pakodas. Festival-sickness can be dealt with when you have the right kind of friends to celebrate them 8,000kms away from your country. The inhibitions you have when stepping into the biggest startup incubation centre for a job can be replaced with confidence and aplomb when there are people around who are constantly inspiring and supporting you. You can be at ease after a long tiring day at work knowing somebody at home would have cooked a tasty dinner for you.

Author Yuval Noah Harari says humans have four basic needs- food, clothing, shelter, and storytelling. In the end, all of us need storytellers around us to survive. As I mark my anniversary with Paris, I thank my flatmates and friends here for being my storyteller for the last one year, and for making me fall in love with the city every day. I am one year old in Paris and these lines by Majhrooh Sultanpuri make so much sense:

मैं अकेला ही चला था जानिब-ए-मंज़िल मगर
लोग साथ आते गए और कारवाँ बनता गया

PS- All things said, Dear Bhopal, you will always remain my first love. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Ode to that handsome man

Everything that happened on the morning of May 5, 2004, is so evocative. The early morning call, rushing to the hospital, returning home, and his coming home one last time. It was a sunny day but nothing was bright about it. We lost our patriarch. 

To the world, he was ‘Daktarbabu’ the charismatic man of the lean frame, dressed impeccably in a pair of crisp white dhoti, voile kurta and rimmed glasses, waiting to attend a beeline of patients even on a Sunday morning. To us, he was simply our Dadubhai, the strict disciplinarian who would not let us sleep past 7 am even on vacations and Sunday mornings and who would chide us for watching ‘Hindustani’ movies and shows over Bangla. He is the reason we were forced to eat everything put on the plate (much later in life I realized its importance) and the reason we had a fixed summer vacation to West Bengal in a troop of nothing less than 20 people! My parents say I am brave enough to move to another country all alone to pursue my dreams. When I remember how my grandfather, barely out of his teens, did the same in another century, an era when channels of communication were almost non-existent, I realize how minuscule any of my achievements will ever be. 

I remember him every day, a little more on the 5th of May and I wish he was here; to gift us new clothes on Durga Puja, to return home with ‘pakodas’ in winter, for us, to give me a few pieces of hajmolas from his pharmacy every time we got the opportunity to drop by, to reprimand us for not following a disciplined life, and of course, for inspiring us to be like him, a man so vigorous and passionate about everything he did. 

I do not have many photographs of his. Of the few I do, this remains my favourite. Among the many hats he donned, one of that was of a Jatra artiste and I thought it was befitting the world to see how gracious, poised, and elegant he could look when playing a queen. 

Friday, 20 December 2019


Returning home on a fine spring evening I discovered something very unusual suspended by a rope in the balcony. I wanted to pull down the hideous looking thing but decided to put off until the morning. Next day, I walked towards the balcony armed with a broom and a dustpan to do away with the thing when I saw a purple sunbird approaching it with twigs in its mouth.  It was then that I saw through that my balcony was soon to become home to the little bird and maybe its family.

Thereafter, every morning I’d squeeze a few minutes and stand by the balcony to observe the house under construction. It was a delightful process observing how the little thing would carry small twigs, dried leaves and sometimes even plastic to weave them into a sturdy nest. I’d drop by in the evening only to check how far it had been constructed and if it had found inmates yet. However, before the sunbird could move in, it decided to walk out of its nearly complete home and leave it for good. But I decided to not give up on hope and would wait for it every morning at the balcony.

Standing there and watching the forsaken nest of the sunbird I realized how, similar to the nest, this place I have lovingly called home for more than half a decade will soon be left behind…

…It was a rainy day of August 2011 when I moved into the apartment. As I had spent all my life in a joint family and thereafter in a college hostel crammed with three others in a room, having ‘my space’ was sacrosanct, to say the least. I was bubbling with excitement to find a place I’d finally call MINE. Despite the dampness and fungus-laden walls, I fell in love with the place in a second. In the next few months, my Sid (just in case you want to know about my Sid) helped transform the house into a home. Some days I would return to a new sitting arrangement, on others to some DIY art projects by him. We also painted one of the walls and brought home a Swing Chair during Dhanteras that year. And the process only intensified over the years. 

Most people who drop by my place tend to fall in love with it (despite the fact that I am a terrible host who does not even care to offer tea to her guests :) ) No, it is not polished or posh but some say it is the dreamy mood lighting they like, for others, it is the musty aroma the place exudes, some love the therapeutic look of the forest behind that is replete with peacocks, while for a doctor friend, it is the Bengali ethos the place echoes.

For me, it is the cocoon I sequester into and take refuge in every evening, the driving force behind my postprandial avocations, the blank sheet I scribble my thoughts into and paint my dreams on, the inspiration behind my otiosity every Sunday morning, the silent friend who bears testimony to all thick and thins of my life, the mute audience to my bathroom singing and terrible dancing, the sole witness to my eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, the solace when I am low, and above all the companion I can bare my otherwise insulated emotions to without any iota of inhibition or the fear of being judged.  

Having lived alone for a larger part of the time in the last few years, I realize a house is so much more than a couple of walls and ceilings. It is a tapestry of emotion that you weave over the years you live there and one fine day, akin to the sunbird, you leave it behind in pursuit of a new nest.

Although as a traveller, I am supposed to embosom changes, there are a few I get spoony about and I haven’t been able to find a bandage to such emotional wounds. As I inch towards days of leaving my rental palace behind, my heart feels heavy.

I do not know if it is having my 'own space' I’ll miss more or the warm rooms infused with the aroma of incense sticks (yes, in a world of air diffusers, I still swear by incense sticks) I return to every evening, the walls that get a new design painted in fungus after every monsoon or the balcony that survives my art and craft projects time to time. Maybe it’s the struggle I face in bolting the obstinate door that swells after the first few monsoon showers or the terribly heated walls that make summers unbearable that I’ll miss more. I might also miss the pandemonium of my neighbours that keep me awake all night each time they party or standing on the roof and watching the skyline of Bhopal getting devoured in darkness as the sun calls it a day. And of course, there will be occasional reminders of the countless parties we had over the years, the group studies before taking A2, B1 and B2 exams, leafing through book pages while listening to my thumping heartbeat in the dead of the night, and most of all, coming to the comfort of ‘Home’ after every trip.

Someone asked me today, “How would it feel like to leave a place you have spent so many years in?” All I could answer was, “Empty”. And as it happens in life, tomorrow when I empty my space, someone else will occupy it and the mood lightings will conveniently be replaced with bright white lights. But as they say, ‘c’est la vie!’

I’d like to sign off with a few lines I remember from an old advertisement:

Har ghar chup chaap se yeh kehta hai ki andar usmein kaun rehta hai?
Rang kehte hain kiska yeh jahaan hai. Kamron mein kiski kalpana jhalakti hai? 
Kaun chun chunke ise pyaar se sajaata hai? Kaun is makaan mein apna ghar basaata hai…

Saturday, 12 May 2018

How I made Maa pay the price of my freedom

“Do you think you’ll be able to survive a day without her?” mocked my grandma when she learnt I was planning to move out of Guwahati to take on the challenges of life and make it big. The question was a legitimate one, for I had never lived without Maa. But there I was, standing behind the grills of the hostel; eyes welled up, while Maa looked on, with a dysphoric countenance. In that one impassive moment, I saw my world busticating.

On the first day of college, my HoD assured Maa that in a few months from then I’d get so caught up with ‘Life in Bhopal’, most appropriately ‘Life of adjusting to bad hostel food and conniving people around’ that I’d hardly get a time to miss her or speak with her. He was true, albeit partially. It has been 9 years since and there hasn’t been a day when I haven't spoken to her once, twice, to occasions when I could not even keep a count.

I have graduated from the University of Life and made it so far with much élan. ‘A room on the roof’, few moments of silence when I reach home from work, a cosy corner for sequestering with a book and a space of my own, away from the din is what I pined for always. Malgré not being destiny’s favourite child, I have lived up to most of them. However, with age, I've realized that every freedom comes at a cost. In this avaricious race of independence, I have left Maa far behind.

It is perhaps the price of this sense of liberation that while I was building a career of which she could boast, I ignored her when she needed me the most. I am not there to coerce her to visit a doctor every time she falls sick, or prepare her lemonade when she retires to bed after a day's hard labour like I did as a kid. I am not there to compliment every time she decks up and preens in front of the mirror or teach her to operate a smartphone when she makes an error. It pains me to realize I am not around to share her pain because I am busy chasing things that are hollow and mundane. I am not there to surprise her with a dinner date or take her out for a movie which stars the actor that's her favourite. I am not around to lend a helping hand when the house help has decided to give work a miss, nor am I there when she's fought with bro and needs to be cheered up with a kiss. I am not around to fold her sari into neat pleat or aimlessly lie on her chest feeling her heartbeat. I am not there to wake her up on her birthday with a sumptuous breakfast and bed-tea or keep her out of the kitchen every Sunday and tell her, "Today you are off duty'. Every time she leaves my place, I feel her sweet smell dangling in the thin air and I realize the choices I made in life were unfair. There is so much I want to do for her every time we meet, but all we end up doing is part with memories bittersweet.

I was a fool to search for this Elysium everywhere, not realizing it can only be found in Maa's affection and care. Sometimes, I feel I've traded too much for success, fame and glory and wish I could rewrite this story. For 2200kms away, all I can do every Mother's Day is miss my BAE.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Bhopal, a melting point of emotions


 How I survived it, how I fell in love with it

Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism.

“You should apply for Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism in Bhopal, the oldest university of journalism in Asia,” said a cousin, who was also an alumnus. The seeds of desire for the buzzing ‘life in a metro’, with its glitz and glamour, had already been sown, and Bhopal did not fit into the scheme of things.  Little did I know 7 years down the road I would still be sitting in Bhopal and writing this!

It was evident for the parents of someone who was freshly in her 20s and setting a foot in the ‘big-bad-world’ for the first time, to pack a formidable list of advices along with the luggage. From ‘how to tame the hormones that go bonkers at this age’ to ‘how to not tarnish the family’s reputation’ were the lessons imparted by my grandmother before she deemed me prepared for the battlefield. And thus began the journey…

The army of bicycles parked outside the Bhopal Junction was the first thing to catch my fancy, followed by the chain of lakes. For a girl who had lived in almost a parallel universe and seen the world only through filters of North East and West Bengal, Bhopal came by as a shock; culturally , emotionally as well as intellectually. I could not decipher the meaning of ‘Ama Khan’ or why it was ‘pese’, ‘ese’, ‘aando’, ‘jaando’ in this part of the country. I did not know a state could be vegan (until I was made to spend two painful fish-less years in the college hostel). And it was near hysteria to know there existed a world where my undernourished Hindi would be put to test every day.

The first few months were tormenting; especially a hostel life of inconsiderate restrictions and the challenging mess food made it so. However, things eventually gave way. Homesickness got replaced by impish pranks in the hostel, friendship became filial and Bhopal started making more sense. College days became fun and hostel became a way of life.

A life that had only revolved around Guwahati started seeing skerrick of thrill in the narrow alleys of New Market, the picturesque road of VIP and also in the half-an-hour saunter from MCU to 7No.

VIP Road. PC-Adnan Ali
Two years passed in a jiffy and it was time to leave the city behind. However, before that could happen, destiny was all set with perhaps its ‘best laid plan’. During the last few months in the city an encounter happened; unprecedented and unfathomed. A meet with someone turned to many more and a saga unfolded.

Sunrise at Tekri. PC- Shayali Choudhury

Most of my friends who’ve been a part of the narrative of my life over the past few years have always acknowledged its downright semblance to ‘Wake up Sid’;  à la Ayesha Banerjee, I landed in the City of Lakes with the hope of becoming a journalist and eventually met my ‘Sid’. Barring a few exceptions in the script; my life looked like scenes neatly sliced out of the flick. An exciting new job in one of the biggest newspaper brands, a small flat with big glass windows overlooking a forest full of peacocks, and unbridled independence; life was bliss in all aspects. Only that my ‘Sid’ never moved in with me, and the wait to have his mother at my place with cartons of mangoes have been unmet in the last 5 years!

Every time a friend draws parallel between my life to the avant garde and rebellious Ayesha Banerjee, I am reminded of her ‘new girl in the city’. As a big fan of the movie and having watched it a zillion times, it would otherwise be needless to mention how I absolutely love the way she captivated the feeling of Mumbai in her words. I was greatly inspired by the piece and similarly wanted to pay a similar tribute to the amazing city Bhopal that has changed my life in ways more than one in the last few years.

Of course my ‘Sid’ was a paramount reason for making me fall hopelessly in love with the City of Nawabs, but there are reasons more than one.

Bhopal is special; so much so that I could hardly survive the national capital for even a year. Each week off would bring me back to Bhopal and the first thing I’d do after getting off the train is inhale the air that felt so crisp, sense the sounds that felt so familiar to the ears and admire everything that incited a feeling of belonging. And soon I returned to Bhopal, more appropriately was forced by my heart (that I had been denying for a while) to return to the ‘heart of India’. The last couple of months, i.e. since the time I quit my despicable job, I had every reason to move out and join the metropolitan brigade like my school and college mates. Finding a job outside Bhopal looked convenient, however, something held me back. Thanks to this place I love, it taught me to follow my heart. The compelling desire of staying back in Bhopal made me choose struggle over a life of comfort and ease.
A dazzling Bhopal. Pc- Adnan Ali

I have tried to reason out my love for Bhopal on several occasions, and when I sit to ponder upon it, I get a new ground every time. I don’t know if it’s the small apartment or the independence. May it is the ten-minute vigorous walk to the bus-stop every day to reach the office stuffed like chickens in 11 No., or may be the excitement of visiting the Bittan Market ‘haat’ with a jhola every Saturday, bargaining with fish-mongers and having the last word. Sometime it is the happiness of enjoying a good theatre day at Bharat Bhawan, also once a while it’s singing my heart out sitting pillion while my roomie zooms through the city in her modest purple scooty. That sparkling coffee at Starbucks could never match the taste of the leftover chocolate in the glass of cold coffee at Vishnu Chinese ( I like it more than Sagar Gaire) that has been a bone of contention between ‘him’ and me forever. A shoulder to rest upon and a comforting touch while watching the sun kiss the horizon during sunset at Kalisot or admiring it pop up from the skyline with a cup of steaming coffee at Tekri is an alien feeling elsewhere. Making small purchases at the regular craft fair at Gauhar Mahal is equally special as watching the latest animated movie with buddies at Cinepolis. And then there are midnight revelries; from storming to Nadra bus-stand for poha to put midnight hunger pangs to rest, to satiating the cardinal glutton in me by savouring the world’s most delicious tikkas and kebabs outside Moti Masjid.  Bhopal is as much as wandering without purpose on VIP road at the wee hours, as it is shopping at Chowk Bazaar for an extra saving. It is as much the ecstasy of window shopping at DB Mall as much as it is getting drenched in nostalgia while passing by the girls hostel of MCU each time. The sight of Bhopal Junction after a long trip is as welcoming as that of dropping by the friend’s music studio at MP Nagar in the dark and getting a song recorded without any rhyme or reason. Bhopal is watching with amusement the aesthete bongs at TT Nagar Kali Bari getting possessed by the soul of ‘Kobi Guru’ or ‘Bidrohi Kobi’ when ‘Poila Boishak’ or ‘Durga Pujo’ is around as much as it is travelling all the way to Piplani from Shahpura to enjoy ‘Roshogolla’ and ‘cham-cham’ at Gaurav Sweets and the unhygienic Bangali rolls at Babai Roll Centre. Bhopal is special because of the sudden getaway plans to Udaygiri or Raisen Fort, as much as it is being at my ‘Sid’s’ house to devour the extra helping of delicious Bangali meal his mom cooks. It is appreciating folk artistes at Lok Rang every January, as much as it is having the heart in the mouth sitting in a giant's wheel at Bhopal Utsav Mela every year or sitting alone and watching the lamest movie under the sun at Rangmahal, a friend's cinema hall that has also been a lynchpin of elation each time.
Deepotsav at Gauhar Mahal. PC- Shayali Choudhury

Raisen Fort.

A cave at Udaygiri. PC- Shayali Choudhury

Lokrang. PC-Gagan Nayar

Durga Pujo at TT Nagar Kali Bari. PC- Samyamoy Debnath

Tribal Museum. Pc- Suyash Dwivedi
Manav Sangrahalaya. PC-

Still from a play at Bharat Bhawan. This photograph is a special one too. PC- Partha Dutta

Bhopal is special because of visiting friends during Eid as much as it is watching the night-sky getting painted during Diwali. Bhopal is the feeling of happiness seeing a temple and a mosque standing tall next to each other as much as it is the feeling of adrenaline rush spotting youngsters perform wheelies and stoppies or meddling with the mud on their assembled jeeps and Thars. The majestic view of the city with its cascading lakes from Birla Mandir makes Bhopal as much distinctive as being awe-struck by the opulence of Tribal Museum, Manav Sangrahalaya and the illuminated minars of Taj-ul-masajid. It is the excitement of capturing a ‘wild cat’ with mobile camera at Van Vihar, as much as it is enjoying a quiet dinner at the Kerwa Resort or flocking to Bhadbada every time the dam gate opensBhopal is the essence of purchasing an intrinsically designed ‘batua’ in Zari Zardozi as much as it is admiring people sitting and enjoying each other’s baloney at Kamla Park. It is equally special because of the ‘limited-yet-organic’ friends I’ve made over the years. Above all, Bhopal is special for its people, the most humble and hospitable lot in the world, especially the one who’s held my hand firm in all these years, making it a chimerical voyage so far.

Patiabazi near Kamla Park. PC-

The majestic Taj ul Masajid. PC-T.Khan Fotography

Adrenaline Rush. PC- Team Bhopal Stunt Riders

When I think of it, Bhopal for me is more than a city; it is an everlasting emotion, a volley of feelings that I’ve ensnared over the last seven years. Bhopal is a conscious choice, not a compulsion. It is the urge of unconditionally loving the city I adopted; the city that adopted me.

PS- This is a post-dated piece as technically I completed 7 years in the state capital of the ‘heart of India’ on July 15.