Thursday, May 28, 2009

Divine Confusion

Just as I was about to invite some friends over drinks & dinner, one of them said, “sorry yaar, I don’t drink on Thursdays”. Another reacted, “abe yaar, I don’t drink on Saturdays”. Another said, “my wife is on fasts on Tuesdays & Fridays”. Now the only two days left in the week were Monday & Wednesday. Now, Monday is not the best days for a get together after a long weekend & a longer looking working Monday. So, the only day left was Wednesday. There was no drinking this week too. Huh.

Why & how do we do this? Fasts on Monday is for Lord Shiva, Tuesday for Hanuman, Wednesday for Ganesha, Thursday for Sai Baba, Friday for Lakshmi, Saturday for Shani Dev & Sunday for Lord Ravi or Sun God… and many more Gods have to fight it out among themselves for a slot in these seven days. Am sure some God must have filed a petition on increasing the no. of days in a week to adjust for fasts on their account.

While growing up, the moment fast-food was mentioned, mouth watered thinking of variety of Chinese food; chow-chow, chow-mein & Manchurians of the world. Now there is a range of edibles qualified as “fast-food”!! How can salt-less dal, onion-less vegetable & boiled potato with banana & milk equate to my chilli-chicken? I protest! People fasting have to decide on what to eat, on which days to eat & how to eat and people like me are questioning the concept of “fast-food”.

Aren’t the Gods confused too? I mean, on different days one may be praying to different Gods seeking their blessings. Now hypothetically, there are ten people who start their prayers by 7 in the morning on Monday to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva has Ganga Ma to manage on his head, the Naag to control on his neck & attend his Dance classes too! By the time Lord Shiva can attend to all worshippers, Tuesday arrives & they have rung the temple bell of Hanuman. Hanuman is an active God & has thousands of trees to hop & millions of miles to fly to attend to prayers. By the time Hanuman addresses their query, worshippers have moved to Sai Baba. Baba being a soft hearted, soft spoken & highly attentive person would certainly take time to revert to each & every mortal being. People don’t understand their plight & since their prayers are unheard move onto some other immortal source expecting some help.

All the above being immortal & supposedly Gods, cannot show their go backs to their devotees. They have to attend to all prayers. But how? By the time they move their attention to me, I have shifted my focus from “Om Nama Shivaaya” to “Hanuman Chaalisa”. By the time Chaalisa has its effect on Hanuman, Ganesha Mantra confuses the air in heavens. Just when Ganesha heard my voice & raised his hand to bless me, I have showed by back to him & started chanting the “Gayatri Mantra”!

We expect Gods to take us out of our miseries. Who will take the Poor Gods out of their dilemma? Whom to bless & how to bless? The moment Ganesha would try to smile on one of his devotees, Shiva would threaten to open his third eye & devastate the equilibrium because Monday is the first working day of the week, so he has the first right to bless. But Hanuman is on Tuesday & stands in between Shiva’s Monday & Ganesha’s Wednesday. Sai Baba, being silent & peace loving, would wait his turn on Thursday. But Lakshmi can’t wait as she missed last Friday’s shower blessing as she was attending to recession. No one dare come on the wrong side of Shani Dev. I think the safest is Ravi as it’s a holiday even up on the heavens. But then, there is no holiday for him as he has to burn all day. So, when does he take out time for mortals?

Go slow on fasts. Go slower on the chants. Go slowest on deciding your God of the Day. Give a thought to those up there, looking down at a billion prayers & playing “akkad, bakkad, bambae, bo….”

Friday, May 08, 2009

Bong Series (III) - The Bong Ultimatum

K in his short life has traveled a fair bit. His parents are in Lucknow; he studied in Mussoorie, moved to Kolkata for graduation, then to Trichy for his Management & has stayed longer stints in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore & Hyderabad and Goa & shorter stays in Coorg, Kodaikanal & ofcourse Kolkata because of work. He tells me stories from everywhere, some usual & some unusual. But ofcourse, the most fascinating ones are from of bongs across these places or elsewhere.

Bengalis love to trabhel (I said, no ‘bhi’ in our bhocabulary). Infact, they love to travel in large groups. Family outings are always social outings with an intention to have some fun & a lot of rum. In a hill station, even a blind man can tell the arrival of a gang of Dadas & Boudis with their Laltu, Jhontu, Jhilmil & Laddoo, Batuk Mama & Lulu Mami not far behind. Whatever the weather, Boudis, Mamis & Kakimas will have their ears covered with colorful scarfs & Montu, Jhontu, Jhilmil & Laddoo will be made to wear monkey caps. What our Dadas, Mamas & Kakus wear is picture perfect too; a sleeveless sweater over a bright Kurta over loose trousers ending with sandals in their feet.

Back home, at the corner of the colony road called ‘rock’, the pure pleasure of ‘adda’ & stories of their travels & escapades would continue over countless cups of tea. Most would gather around Bapi Da & hear him detailing the exact height of the mountain, exact depth of the valley, exact temperature of the cold water from the tap with the exact expression on his face. It is mesmerizing. Later when Roxy Boudi would pass the club, some young lads would tease her asking if it was so cold, how was Bapi Da helping her keep warm? She would reply with a smile and, to their dismay, displace the pieces of the carom on the carom board which these boys were playing under a hanging bulb. Disturbing the game was annoying, but her naughty smile & the sway in her walk cools them off for a while.

Bengali Ma, living & bringing up her kids in Kolkata, is the best. The way she takes care of her kids, K says, he has not seen or heard anywhere else in the world, err, actually India, as K has never lived out of India. Just like any other mother, Ma would get up before her kids, wake them with a cuddle, get them dressed, prepare breakfast, make them eat, actually make them hog – early morning rice, dal, fish & milk. She would pack some snacks for tiffin too. There are water bottles for students of Class XII too. School bags get heavier with every passing class. On top of it, a kid has the tiffin box, water bottle & spectacles to balance on the nose. Ma has found a way. She does all the above herself. She picks the school bag, the tiffin box & the water bottle & carries it along with the kid till the school gate! Pity, she is not allowed inside.

If one has to visit Kolkata, it should never be in & around Durga Pujo. The city becomes mayhem. The creativity is unparallel, though, with the ever innovative Pujo pandals. The crowd & traffic jams beat your life out. There is love in the air everywhere. The girls are in their best, flowing open long hair, saree clad & innocently flirting with all boys in their new t-shirts, with jeans & sandals. There are new Kurtas flaunted too. The only problem is one cannot make out who is the maid of honor & who is the maid of the house. K tells me stories of his friends falling for the maid more than once in a single day!

Bengalis just cannot seem to have enough of food. Breakfast is over by 1000 hours, comprising of rice, dal, fish curry & curd. By 1300 hours it is lunch time & is the same & in equal amounts. Between 1700-1800 hours, they are hungry again & need a snack which comprises of egg or chicken or fish roll, phuchkas & Mughlai paranthas. Dinner is the heaviest meal with rice, dal, vegetable, fish curry, curd & sweet dish. Sweet dish reminds me of K telling me how there are sweet dish eating competitions at weddings in Kolkata where people hold records of eating over 50 shondeshs & 70 rosogullas all at one go, after the usual feasting on delicacies at the wedding!

All above was nonsense by a bong at heart….

Bong Series (II) - The Bong Supremacy

While most of K’s batchmates were pulled to a more happening part of the country, Kolkata pulled K ‘heabily’ towards her. K joined college in Kolkata & got to know how a ‘heaby’ life can be lived lightly. Can you get up as early as 0500 hours & still be late to office, everyday?

Nata Da gets up early to buy fresh catch of maach, everyday. He is carrying his newspaper with him so as to catch on news while the regular fish-guy lists the day’s fresh catch, argues on the rate, weighs, cleans, cuts the fish into pieces which is never to the satisfaction of our Bhodrolok & then gives him tips on how to cook this particular fish, everyday. Not one to keep quiet on the curt comment of the fish-guy on Central Government’s latest ruling over the Excise Bill, Nata Da gives him & the on-lookers a crash course on Excise Tax, subsidies & the lacunae in the Government’s policies. There is a slight resistance by a passerby on Nata Da’s outlook on China’s stance on World Bank’s subsidy cut but Nata Da who is multi-tasking all this while; selecting the fish, arguing on today’s rates, reading news, retorts sharply on China & EU’s non consensus & gets back to directing the fish-guy to cut the fish a little squarer today. On his way back, Nata Da sees a bunch of boys playing football. He cannot resist himself from shouting for not attending school & on top of it still not kicking the ball he showed yesterday. So, he keeps his bagful of purchase, lifts his dhoti & does a rewind of how to stop the ball, pass it with finesse & then shoot it with the outer part of the toe, keeping the other knee bent & the other foot directed towards the player to whom the ball should go. Just then he realises his newspaper is getting wet due to water from the fish pack. He curses the boys again, rushes & picks his bag & starts walking in a haste.

Just when Nata Da about to take the last turn to his house, he sees two known gentlemen talking animatedly on the ‘rock’. The moment it is clarified that Mr. Basu’s shoes are from London, there is that known expression of disbelief, anger & revolt on our Bhadrolok’s face. The next 30 minutes whizz past discussing the wardrobe of Mr. Basu, the untidy dhoti crease of Mr. Mitra & how even the lady who comes to clean their homes is better dressed than Ms. Banerjee who has been wearing the same saree since a fortnight. A sweet voice of a Bhadromohila from the balcony of a buidling breaks the debate. First, the person who supposedly stopped our Bharolok is cursed, then the other friend & finally the Bhadrolok is slapped words like the fish scales of an “ilish maach”. Nata Da had left home at 0600 hours & its 0900 hours now. While our Bhadrolok is getting ready for office, he remembers the sports section of the newspaper was left unfinished. He has his breakfast in a hurry constituting of rice, dal, a cooked vegetable, his much relished fish curry & finally curd rice. He is listening to his Bhadromohila’s dry, dumb & daily comments of non-sensical discussions right outside the house and that too even before starting his day. She is amazed what does Nata Da do all day in office? Bhadrolok smiles, not at her reactions. He has finished the sports section. He does not mind Bhadromohila not giving him his share of sweetdish in breakfast today but packing it for lunch.

Its 1100 hours. Nata Da knows he is late. But he also knows, he can be attacked by anyone & anywhere. Even the rickshawpuller knows the name of Costa Rica’s Finance Secretary, the bus ticket collector follows sports like a seal follows fish, the lift man in his office building is a Post Graduate in Political Science & smells of sections & clauses of the Indian Constitution. He has know why Leander Paes cannot speak bengali, reason for rising inflation in Cuba & Madhya Pradesh’s tourism budget. Passion redefines supremacy. Supremacy is not just about making impossible things possible. Its also about making possible things impossible.

K tore his shoe & walked into a shoe shop. Wandering around, suddenly he saw a man picking up a shoe & then telling his wife, “wow, this shoe is heaby light”!!

Bong Series (I) - The Bong Identity

The true identity of a true bong is that he does not hab the alphabet ‘bhi’ in his bhocabulary.

The rain Gods in an yet another unsuccessful attempt to save earth from the miseries of ‘bhodroloks’ & ‘bhodromohilas’, instructed the clouds to dump so much rain water on Kolkata that K, I hear, had his first visitor after three days he was born. The roads were flooded, houses had knee deep waters inside, there was no electricity and ofcourse, all K knew was to cry, either of hunger or feeling hot & humid. I pity his mother who had to face the brunt of the whole community from the Gods. The visitor, infact, could not enter the building and came in chest deep waters to deliver food from the window of the hospital ward.

Anyhow, K never got to grow up among bongs. He was (un)lucky that his father was based and working in Luck(y)now. Soon as he was growing up, he was sent to a residential school in the hills of Mas(t)soori. On the very first day, for lunch he was made to sit beside a bong girl. They were served mangoes, neatly cut in small pieces, after the main meal. The moment the girl sprayed sugar and salt together on her mango, she was heavily ridiculed by all and sundry on the lunch table for her communal idiosyncrasy she demonstrated and K too got branded as one, ban-gaali. Bangaali remains a ‘gaali’ for all bongs who join. Nonetheless, taste of sugar and salt together on mango isn’t that bad.

As time passed, K was simultaneously getting familiar with the surroundings of residential school and his new found identity, bangaali. Most bongs were from the eastern part of the country but the state was called West Bengal. All bongs looked studious and most of them wore spectacles but none of them actually were in the top three rankers in their respective classes. (Exceptions always prove the rule, so there might have been someone, am sure. K never told me about them). Most of them were laborious though, hence, many became favorites of teachers. K was not from West Bengal in east, K did not wear spectacles and on day three K was slapped by a teacher whose word spread as “K’s Welcome Slap”. K was a gone case. He was probably among the few bongs in the history of the school who was slapped on the third day, was made to kneel down in the second month of joining and became an “out-standing” student from the class by the fifth month. The only other guy I remember who became K’s competition and actually overtook him from his community was Sam, (Sadhan Mridha). He remains incorrigible. I salute you, mate. (Just for the record, K & Sam became flat mates while in college in Kolkata. Those stories, some time later…)

Once quizzing, K doesn’t know the difference between CPI, CPI(M) and CPM, he doesn’t love fish, prefers chapathi over rice & while eating rice prefers a spoon than eating with his hands, doesn’t understand Bengali literature, can listen to Rabindra Sangeet for maximum 10 minutes with 2 minute breaks in between & prefers wearing Kurta as a night suit than an evening gown to a party.

K’s some other symptoms though indicate something “fishy”. He sings okay & used to play decent football. K was certainly a romantic at heart who could fall in love every hour, with every girl he met and then let her go because if she doesn’t come back, she was never yours! So, K was born philosophical too. He believes after Satyajit Ray the only other Indian who deserves an Oscar is Mithun Chakraborty, supports Saurav Ganguly blindly & thinks Bappi Lahiri is the most under-rated Music Director of all times. He is also capable of competing in the “Park your Bum at one place Contest” & win the laziest creature on earth award, under any given situation.

Bongs can live without drinking water all their life. That’s because “haam log jaul khata hai”….