Wish You A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year

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I was taught the Christmas carol, ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’, in junior school. This time of the year – Christmas – was full of happiness and laughter. Many memories are still fresh in my mind – our annual school festival, the winter vacation that followed, visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral and the lovely aroma of freshly baked Christmas cakes everywhere, especially in New Market, the oldest market in my city, Kolkata and my dearest till date. The city used to be adorned with beautiful lights, much like in the present years, only without the extravagant pomp. Christmas trees, small or large, graced the homes of many Calcuttans. Archies and Hallmark Card Galleries flooded with people buying pretty holiday cards for teachers, friends, lovers, spouses, children and neighbors. That was a fun-filled time and I always looked forward to the warmth of Christmas.

During the years when I grew up, from a little skinny fuzzy headed kid to a fluffy, fuzzy headed adult, I gradually realized that Christmas is and never was and perhaps never will be a happy time for all, as it was for me. There are not-so-well-to-do parents who feel pressurized at the thoughts of getting gifts for their children; there are orphans who long for the company of their parents on Christmas and there are countless homeless people, lying somewhere cold and hungry and wondering where the Christmas Angel is or where their savior can be found. Though such thoughts make me sad and though most of the greeting card shops have vanished gradually over the years, Christmas for me, was and will always be joyous. Every year, I feel a tug of nostalgia at my heart – nostalgic strings tied deep into many years gone by. Christmas is a happy time for me, as it fills me with a certain childlike glee and I feel like a little kid again. I pray for all those who have not been blessed so and hope some of my happiness and the glow of candles that light up the churches will be passed on to them by the good angels of love and care.

Christmas is closely followed by New Year. Every New Year brings with it, its own share of happiness and unhappiness. For most of us, a year is anything but a completely happy one. There will always be problems with studies, jobs or relationships; some of our extremely loved ones will perhaps go away forever; there will be struggle, loneliness, illness and a lot of sadness to be dealt with. Add to all these, the natural calamities and political disturbances that are beyond our control. Yet, I do not want to lose hope. No one should lose hope as the new calendar year begins. Every religious belief and philosopher advise us to be positive and look forward, gaining strength from all the bad that has happened in life, taking one little step at a time toward the silver lining that might be seen someday. There is no harm in being positive for one day amidst all the negativities gnawing at us from all directions. So I smile today against all odds and wish everyone who is reading this and even those who are not, Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year. I hope that the year ahead will give everyone good reasons to rejoice!

 

Love does’nt always need Words

Love

Love

As we walk along the path of life, we come cross many definitions of the word ‘love’. The word has just four letters and yet these four letters are strong enough to keep up alive – sometimes when we are down or depressed and sometimes when we are spend time with our special someone – our parents, partners, siblings, friends or our pets. To me, love is defined by the feeling that is so strong that it overwhelms us and overcomes all other emotions. It is a feeling that makes someone neglected feels they belong somewhere. It is a feeling that touches in more than one way the lives of those who give and those who receive. A very insignificant little being made me realize that love can also evoke humility in our heart – in a strange way that defies all reasons.

Four months ago, just as winter was saying ‘Hi’ to the city of Kolkata, in an abandoned house opposite my residence, three little four-legged sisters were born to a mother who looked much undernourished. The tiny puppies ignored the fact that they did not get fed by their mother and ran around playfully, enjoying the bliss of each others’ company. We felt sorry for the state that they were in and gradually I and my family decided to give them food each day. The mother along with their babies enjoyed the warmth of the food that was offered to them on the cold days and nights. Suddenly, their happiness seemed to disappear little at a time, as one puppy came under the tyres of a car and another suddenly fell very ill and perished within a few weeks. Now, the last puppy was too lonely as she did not have anyone to play with. Her mother seemed to have been in a lot of emotional stress. She missed her lost puppies and gave up eating gradually.

I went close to her and tried to console her in whatever way possible. Slowly she began taking her food again but her health did not recover. The lack of emergency services for animals in my city only added to her woes. I could not get to anyone who could help. For days together I tried to give her little food and medicines that were known to me. One night in February 2015, after having her food, she came close to me and touched my right leg with her head and stood still that way for what seemed a very long time, although it might have been just a few minutes. I felt something being conveyed to me – her pain or loss or gratitude … what was it? I could not understand her silent whispers. All I could do was pet her on the skeletal head and talk a little. By this time, she has turned into a bag of bones and skin, with no flesh or fat. I was too helpless to do anything at all. I prayed that she be either healed or relieved from her distress. And someone up there did listen … only to the last part of my prayer

For the next three days, I did not see her anywhere. I tried to search for her in every nook and corner of the streets and lanes and houses that lined the streets. But it did not help. One day, in the morning of 27th February 2015, I saw her lying still in-front of the gate of my house. I do not know when she breathed her last. But I knew she took her last breath outside my gate. Perhaps, she knew that this was the only place that had a soul that loved her, fed her and petted her. In those moments, she did not have to tell me in words about her feelings for me, but by dragging herself to where she laid still told me in a hundred thousand silent words, that she loved me and she thanked me for all I did for her. She humbled me with this little gesture and her love is something that will remain with me for rest of my life. Since she was a stray, she had no place to go, no one to call her own. Her life was as insignificant to the world as that of a fly, but she has touched a very special place in my heart and she will remain there forever.

Kolkata: A City with a Soul

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Victoria Memorial

Long time ago, in a half-forgotten article, I had read a few lines that remained unforgotten. It said, in India, if one is looking for greenery, Delhi is the city to be in; if one is looking for money, Mumbai is the city to find a job in; but if someone is looking for a city with a soul, Kolkata is the place to live in. As I had spent all my life in Kolkata, I did not realize the true meaning of these words, until, one day Gurgaon beckoned and I had to pack everything in order to settle in a city I had never known before. As the flight hovered over Kolkata before soaring high up in the sky, I knew, without anyone having to tell me that I would return someday, for I was leaving my soul behind. A feeling of emptiness filled every part of me, where my soul should have been.

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Green Expanse of Maidan

A year later, when the emptiness could not be borne anymore, a decision was taken – to return to my hometown, Kolkata, the city that had occupied much of my thoughts for most part of the year I had stayed in Gurgaon. As I boarded the train, from New Delhi Station, my heart longed to be reunited with its soul – to feel complete yet once again. That night was spent in restlessness onboard and when at last the all-important new day dawned, I looked out of the window at the bright landscapes. The green countryside looked greener, the white clouds looked whiter, the chirpy birds looked happier. We went past the lakes and streams, the paddies and trees at lightning speed, faster than I had imagined. It seemed the whole world had been secretly planning to take me home and nothing could stop me now from going back to where I truly belonged. When the train gradually entered the station, I was not appalled by the filth on the train tracks or the stench on the platforms teeming with faces of poverty-stricken masses. Neither was I confused by the chaos nor put-off by the noise that filled every corner of the station. I knew I was back to the place I longed to be in – my Kolkata.

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Festival: Durga Puja

Upon my return, I realized that the soul of this city does not lie only in her picturesque skyline with the majestic Victoria presiding over it, the songs of Tagore or the world-renowned ‘Rosogolla’. It also resides in every road and corner of the city, a boat ride on the Hoogly River, the expanse of the evergreen Maidan, the bustle of New Market, the old world charm of colonial Churches, the madness of the maddening crowd, the revelries and festivities year round, the narrow winding lanes of North Kolkata, the calls of “Didibhai” (loving sister) and “Dada” (brother), the countless fast food counters, the unending rivalries between the football clubs: “Mohun Bagan” & “East Bengal” and innumerable other unseen elements. In Kolkata, one finds satisfaction in searching for tranquillity in turmoil, peace in unrest and conviction in confusion. If the hustle ever stops or the noise seizes to exist, if the roads are ever deserted or the hawkers stop screaming, if the tram stops running or the music loses its meaning, if the love for sweets and fast food dwindles, the soul of Kolkata with die with each one of them. The soul of the city lives in every heart living in Kolkata and everything that gives the city its distinct character, embalming them all with an unfathomable sense of everlasting companionship and completeness.

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Boats on Hoogly River

With the past disappearing fast, replacing much of all that is traditional with elements of globalization, many conservatives fear that Kolkata will lose her myriad façades in very little time. However, some hopefuls believe that Kolkata will never lose her soul as it will continue to live through its people, some of whom dare to give up brighter prospects just to return, live on and sometimes pass away in her arms.

Goodbye: A word not just for humans

Goodbye

Goodbye (Photo credit: Lennart Tange)

 

 

In every step of our lives, we say goodbye to our friends and families at one time or another. ‘Goodbye’ is a word that inevitably follows a ‘Hi’. We say hello to so many people from the time we take our first breath and then we say goodbye to them knowingly or unknowingly as we gradually take our steps into the future. We hold human relations and the humans who are part of those relations close to our hearts. Friends, grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and all those who cannot be categorized are always hard to say goodbye to. In the midst of all these, little do we realize that we say goodbye to many more elements that go unheard or unseen and almost always are never thanked.

The first bench in our first class, the playground of nursery school, the innocence of childhood, the stairs of high school, the dear books and clothes we part with to make space for new ones, the warm bed in our parents’ house when we leave home for the first time, the first mobile phone, the first car, a destination we return from after a long vacation, the festivities when they end, every loved moment with our first pet are just some of those elements that pass by unnoticed. When I left north India in the beginning of this year, left Gurgaon – a city I almost despised – I did not know that saying goodbye even to a place you never liked can hurt and remain somewhere deep inside. A few days back, I realized that a city is not just a place; it is all about the elements it comprises. So, in my case, it is the apartment with the large terrace, the innumerable sunsets, my voiceless friends like the pigeon and the stray dogs, the park across the street, my long reading sessions, the taste of warm food in chilly winter nights, the sound of guitar that echoed through the rooms that I miss today the most about Gurgaon. I have said goodbye to them and can never return again.

I went back a little further in time and I felt I said goodbye to so much more:  I said ‘bye’ to my favorite festival – Durga Puja, one month ago. I had to say goodbye helplessly to my kitty Sandy, when I put her in grave three years ago. I had said goodbye to my favorite Indian destination, Kerala, four years ago, after a long vacation. I had said goodbye to my first job during recession five years ago. I had said goodbye to the fields and trees and the long balcony of my college 9 years ago. I had said goodbye to my school church and the beautiful sound of its piano 12 years ago. And I have said goodbye to so many things and elements and seasons in between without saying thank you.

I realize now, that I say goodbye to every breath, every time I breathe and with it I say goodbye to a part of my life. I know now that I will not let anything that touches me, pass by, without saying thank you before saying goodbye. I believe every non-human has feelings and if it has made a difference to my life, it has helped me live through another day. A thank you or a goodbye can never be meant for humans alone. These two words are for everything that makes us what we are today – living or non-living, tangible or intangible and very thing in between, that help us live through each day and give us memories to live with, tomorrow.

Coping with Life in a New City

Sunset from terrace

Sunset from terrace

For someone who has lived in one city for more than twenty years, the going gets tough when suddenly that someone has to leave to live in a new city. I relocated but with it came depression and a feeling of “where am I?” The first few days flew with the blink of an eye as they were filled with countless activities – receiving goods, buying new stuffs for the house, setting up the kitchen and with all these, setting up my mind and getting prepared for whatever was about to come next. And what came next was not very pleasant: harsh winter in a dry city, which I was not prepared for. God seemed to be cruel and conspiring against me. The days were punctuated by long hours of power-cuts, which made living in the rooms unbearable due to the cold. I was forced to stay out on the terrace for much of the daytime, taking pleasure in the warmth of the bright sun. This is when I began to see things differently. I knew life had to go on and so suddenly decided to make the most of whatever came my way. The days that followed were spent by:

  • Watching birds, especially the tiny ones that chirped all day and the green free parrots that spoke relentlessly, giving me company
  • Smelling the air that brought in nature’s fragrances
  • Admiring the white cotton clouds that changed shapes every now and then
  • Watching amazing sunsets that painted the sky purple and red
  • Interacting with stray dogs, feeding them and making them the closest friends of lonely times
  • Talking to a pigeon that made a nest in the chimney, hearing her feed her chicks and seeing her teach her babies to fly with utmost pleasure
  • Shooting images of all kinds of subjects like abstracts, nature, insects and candle light
  • Reading books, especially the motivating ones that helped me gain more confidence

When the lights came back and the interiors were warm enough, I tried out innumerable recipes – a new one each day

Between all these activities, I tried to learn something new every day – about blogging, about freelancing, about marketing, about animals or new destinations and about the goodness of yoga. I also took up work from home options and enjoyed the freedom of working independently. The relocation helped me gain valuable experience, which in turn gradually taught me to cope with life in a new city.

My Pigeon Friend

My Pigeon Friend

People around the world get caught in the web of depression and often take their own lives when they go to a new city or are left on their own.  I wonder why? There is so much to do, so much to learn, so much to take care of, so much to change and so much to love. One lifetime is not enough to delve into the depths of all that the world has to give. So we must always try to search for all the gifts hidden in all that is mundane.

A Homeless Lonely Hungry Kitty Finds Home

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On the afternoon of 21st June 2011 I was returning home from my parents’ place knowing that I will not be back for a few weeks now. The drizzle had stopped and I decided to walk home from the main road and I love this walk as this time of the day is usually very peaceful with most people preferring to stay indoors. As I turned round the corner, to my bewilderment I saw a tiny kitten, drenched and shivering and meowing in a small voice – trying frantically to get attention from passersby. But alas! no one cared. My eyes met his, and then in a split second, the poor creature was at my feet, rubbing and meowing and stretching. It was … so very lovely. His grey-black coat was wet and he was shivering from the cold. I didn’t know what to do but something from deep inside asked me to pick him up and there he was, in my arms kneading my palms, reaching for my face as if he has found a long-lost friend, as if he was waiting for me, as if he knew I would pass this way… as if we were destined to meet.

I knew I would face a tough challenge trying to convince everyone at home to keep him…I knew there would be objections but I did not think twice and holding the sweet little bundle in my arms, headed for home. I sneaked into my room, hoping my in-laws would not see the kitten. I offered him some milk. He was terribly hungry and drank most of what was offered to him.. but perhaps due to starvation and dehydration, his tummy soon started giving trouble. I had to take a decision, now that I knew the kitty was  unwell. I spoke to my in-laws but they refused to keep him as they did not want to keep another pet after the death of their beloved German Shepherd.

I could not give the kitty away or leave it on the road knowing so well that he needed me and he was only a month old perhaps and an attachment was already forming between us… I could not let him go!!!! I was in tears as a decision was needed to be made urgently and no one would help. I knew the only way to save his life was to give him to a shelter perhaps but it was already quite late in the evening and none of the shelters would answer calls. So I had to keep the kitty for a night or two until I could find a permanent shelter for him, but how could I keep him?

Making a call to my mom seemed to be the last option and I pinned all my hopes on this. My loving Sandy, my pet cat of 5 years, had passed away last December due to some unknown reason and this had left my entire family emotionally shattered. We had decided that there would be none other to replace her… there will never be any one as beautiful, as loving, as warm, as understanding as Sandy. I was worried that my mom may just say “NO” about keeping this little kitty… even for a day. But somehow, when I told her the details and explained the urgency of the situation, she agreed to keep him for two days. I was overjoyed and soon got a shoe box and after making holes in them, put the little baby inside. I went out immediately and took a cab to my parents’ place.

That entire night and the whole of the next day, the kitten didn’t sleep for a moment as he was too frightened. I sat up whole night; giving him medicines for his troubled tummy and holding him close to keep him warm. He kneaded on my skin and nibbled my ear lobes all the time … perhaps he thought I was his mother! O! How wonderful it was to hold him, to feel his warmth and to know that his shivering has stopped. He was happy to be here, to be with me and my parents.

For the next three days, I tried to contact every friend and shelter manager but luck never favored as everyone refused to take him. Looking at the situation and for the love they felt toward him, my parents eventually decided to keep him. Now, he has got a loving home and very caring parents… he loves my mom’s lap and all the food given to him… he is now a part of my family, a part of me. He enjoys each day as it comes… he is growing up to be extremely playful and affectionate!!! We have named him “REX” but “KUTTU” is what we call him at home as he is so very cute!!!

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I don’t think there is anything in the world as satisfying as giving a homeless a home, someone hungry some food and most importantly, someone unloved, the love that is craved for.

So what change have you made to the world, in your own way? Would love to hear your story.

Life in a New City

Gurgaon House: Terrace

Gurgaon House: Terrace

A little more than a year ago, I had to leave my hometown for starting an independent life. My husband had to relocate to the Millennium city of India, popularly known as Gurgaon, for his work and I had to make a choice between: (A) going away from my family members as well as a stable life; and (B) staying away from my husband and letting him pursue his career in a new city, all by himself. The decision was tough to make. But when I had married, I had taken another decision – of being with my husband and never to leave him. I have always believed that marriage is more about “togetherness” than “stay-apart-ness”. The decision suddenly became easier and I packed our bags and all our memories and bid a teary “good-bye” to my dear old Kolkata.

The western world perhaps can never fathom the feeling of staying with one’s parents for almost 29 years and suddenly leaving them behind, unattended, lonely and sad. But in India, the scenario is quite different. Most of us not only stay with our parents for all those years before marriage but also, with the in-laws after marriage (this is mainly true for women). Leaving all the pampering and love behind and taking the first steps toward the unknown is not an easy task and so, it was not easy for me too.

Gurgaon winter was bad, when we finally arrived – cold and chilly and dry – everything that I detested. Filling an empty house with warmth is what we decided to achieve first. But my husband would go away for work, and I would be all alone – no one to talk to or share smiles with, no one to have lunch with and no one to give company but the emptiness of the rooms, the warm sun in the sky, the chirping of birds and the greens of trees nearby.

Gradually I began to rediscover my relationship with my husband, now that only two of us were together. Cooking, cleaning, washing and watching loads of movies – I found the new side of my husband – a true friend who would help me in the kitchen, in buying groceries and even drying out clothes. Very few Indian men would do what my husband has done, and there were days when I felt a great sense of gratitude toward him for being by my side.

Winter went by and a new season made our lives miserable: the unbearable Gurgaon summer. Skin burns, burning water, burning room, burning air – the world seemed to be on fire. My days at my new work place eased out difficulties but the city seemed to be asking for life’s blood. The scorching heat gave way to flooded streets during monsoon and the city seemed to be afloat perpetually. I longed to get back home to the monsoons of Kolkata – the misty mushy smells that emanated from the wet soil had been a part of all my growing years.

The monsoons and heat seemed to linger for eternity. The discomfort was accompanied by fears of the hungry monsters lurking around the dark corners waiting for the first evil strike. And then, suddenly the tide changed for the better. I got the news of the possibility of our return back to our hometown. Today, the possibility has changed into a reality. My home beckons me with love as I await to paint myself, yet once again, in the color of its warmth.