Just lights.

It is a futile exercise, always has been, asking Baba for the paper in the morning. Every word, every line will be read and sometimes read again, to provide enough material for his evening debates with all the Kaka Babus in the street. Sometimes I think they are pseudo-intellectual discussions, no substance only voices, but not for Baba. As far as I can tell, it gives him a rush, his brain doing a somersault in the air of his wisdom and landing softly on the farthest edge of satisfaction! I am in no mood for this, I need my morning tea and paper, and some silence for heaven’s sake. There is always plenty of silence here, at our home because we are all very quiet people, at the risk of being boring, quiet nevertheless. But this morning, there is a wedding in the neighborhood and the sound of conch shells and ulu dhwani and the shrill voices of the para* aunties was what I woke up to. So I put on my sweat pants, the largest t-shirt in my wardrobe, ear phones plugged in, and ran out. I ran for a very long time, going down the slope until I reached a dead end, from where I could see a little church, the one I would visit as a child, sometimes as part of a school trip or just a quiet escape. It has been about 15 years now from the last time that I came here, so I linger taking it all in, the warm sun and the soft breeze, and those long years gone by start coming back to me all at once.

I was a very happy child, not the kind who would be the life of the party with all the dancing and singing, but happy, you know just smiling a lot and talking and playing silly games. There was every reason to be. Baba was absolutely the best father any child could have, he would always take me to all the social gatherings and show me off to his friends, shower me with a lot of treats and gifts, an extremely doting father. So when Maa decided to leave one morning, all Baba was left with was a spoiled, high-headed not so happy anymore teenager, Raihana Roy. I cried and I begged, I flung at her anything within my reach, but Maa had made up her mind to leave, just like I had, to never beg anyone to stay ever again. “Rai stop it! For the love of God, stop, calm down and listen to me”, Baba screamed as he held me down. I cried for the longest time that day, and long into the night, but Baba didn’t say anything. Nothing to comfort or console me, there were no explanations, no assurances, no promises. Baba does not tell lies.

I first met Saher in my 2nd year of college, when she walked into the classroom wearing the brightest yellow t-shirt, oblivious to everyone in the room and literally crashed beside me. My first impression? A clown! She spent the first few weeks following me around calling me Rihanna, just like all my friends have my whole life, and now I think I should have punched her in the face the very first time she said it, but that’s the thing about clowns, they can make you laugh with the silliest gestures. We laughed a lot, talking late into the night and at our long walks around the campus. You know how you meet someone and your souls connect, this was that, and so much more. She knew all the lines of all the poems I had long forgotten, and the little jingles and stories, as if she had learnt the very same things as I, and she had, she was my soul sister. The last two years of college turned out to be blissful, with Sahera by my side. On our last vacation, I packed my bags ready to go to Baba when suddenly she asked me to go home with her, to meet her family and spend some time at her house. I didn’t think for a second and went with her instead, leaving Baba a little disappointed. “Just one week, that’s all”, I said and hung up on him before he could change his mind.

I had heard people with near death experiences say that in those last few seconds your whole life flashes in front of your eyes. If that ever happened to me, this is the one and only moment that I would see. Maa opening the door, looking angelic in a sea blue saree, her long locks replaced by a short cut, looking sharp. Sahera rushed into a hug, and they embraced each other as I stood there my whole world shaking beneath my feet. She lay her eyes on me, I looked, no I blatantly stared, and waited for something to say, but words had left me. She smiled and let me in, never showing the slightest hint of recognition or acknowledgement. She knew I was coming all along, there is no way she didn’t. Sahera always spoke about me with her, giving intricate details of my life, my habits, my family, my name. Yes she knew, she was expecting me. I went about the first two days mechanically eating and sleeping and indulging in all the small talk. Next morning when Sahera was still asleep she came to our room, asked me to come with her for a walk. I obliged more for myself than for her. I had so much to ask and so much to say, that I felt my insides were going to burst by the sheer thought of it. 

It was a cloudy morning, and I prayed for it not to rain, my spirits were already dampened and I didn’t need a wet day. She grabbed my hand and held it tight and started talking to me in the way she always did, softly but authoritatively. As she did, her voice started to fade out because of the screaming, the loud screaming, both of them were just screaming. That was the only memory I could relate to with the story she was telling me. She didn’t cry as she told me how Baba had treated her, not a shadow of sorrow on her face. She told me of all the times he had held her down, and insulted her dignity, questioned her place in his house, sometimes with words or by brute force. And how every morning he would be a different person, a smiling, calm, loving father. “Why did you leave me behind? “, I managed to ask finally. “Because I wanted to start a new life, with no traces of the past”. The brutal truth, yes, that’s what Maa has always been about. She didn’t feel the need to pretend and make up stories to make me feel better about myself. She had chosen to abandon me, for reasons I now understand, nevertheless she had left me behind. I let go of her hand, it was not comforting me anyway and my mind was working its way through the 10 years I spent missing her, and my thoughts landed on Sahera. As though she had read my mind, Maa whispered, “I married again, Sahera is his daughter”. 

I packed my bags the next morning, while Sahera threw her little tantrums trying to stop me from leaving so soon. I couldn’t hear a thing, because I had made up my mind to leave. I didn’t hate Maa, but I couldn’t find it in me to forgive her. She had built a life of her own, which I was not meant to be a part of and I wanted to leave it that way. I hugged Sahera one last time, while she cried and begged me to stay. Sahera just like her name was my dawn, my call to wake up and see my life for what it was. I held her tight and whispered in her ears, “Never beg anyone to stay, never”. I turned around and smiled at Maa, hoping in my heart that our paths would never cross again, I smiled again.

I got a call this morning from a doctor back home, telling me about Baba. He had fainted on the road while on his morning walk, and immediately rushed to the hospital. I took the next flight home. 15 years, yes that’s how long it has been since the last time I called Baba to tell him that I won’t be coming home. “Why Rai? I thought you had gone to your friends place for just one week!”. I gathered all my wits about me and finally told him “I mean I am not coming home anymore, just like Maa”.  Never have I looked back since then, up until this point when I opened the door to his hospital room. Lying there was the best father any child could ever have, my Baba, looking tired and ill and much older from what I had pictured. He opened his eyes dreamily and asked me to take him home. Two days later I did, on a wheel chair. I cooked and cleaned and gave him all that he needed to regain his health, but never did I catch his eye. Sometimes silences say so much more than words ever could. As he got better, I told him that I would leave in a day, and that a nurse would take care of him if needed. He nodded in agreement, or I think he just nodded the way you do when someone says something you have no control over. 

When I came back from my run that morning, Baba was waiting for me, dressed in that grey half sweater he always wore no matter how hot it was outside, with his walking stick in hand ready to drop me off.  I told him that it wasn’t necessary but he insisted so I let him come along. We said nothing on the drive to the airport, but I knew Baba was thinking hard. I thought too, that maybe this was the last time I was seeing him, he was old after all. It’s funny I felt that way, because for years I didn’t answer any of his calls or emails. We got off the car and started walking towards the entry gate, when Baba held my hand. I let him, for all I knew, this was our last goodbye. I walked towards the ticket counters looking back every second to see if had left yet. He smiled at me as he finally turned around to leave, and I just stood there watching him go. I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out, but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath, “Ten, nine, eight, seven…” Baba! 

We took the next flight home, my new home.

*para: Bengali term for locality

IF IT DID NOT HAPPEN ON FACEBOOK…IT DID NOT HAPPEN?

Ahhh the Millennial generation more popularly known as Gen-Y! But why? Well technically the phrase Generation Y first appeared in an August 1993 Ad Age editorial to describe teenagers of the day, which they defined as different from Generation – X. Different yes, but I wish I could say better.

I am not going to get all preachy about how social media has gone beyond being an essential ‘part of our life’ to being life. I enjoy it as much as everyone else, but what I do spare myself is the obsession bit. I believe we took the first hit as ORKUT, then the overwhelming inrush of FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM and WhatsApp and of course there are other names as well. There is no doubt that these are all amazing apps, I mean I am still in touch with some of my kindergarten friends because of them! I know if they are married, staying abroad, studying or working, in a relationship or just got out of one, sometimes I know if they even have a fever (“feeling sick”), or their boss yelled at them (“feeling angry”) or wake up in the morning to see a post of 3:00am(“feeling sleepy”), well did Zuckerberg keep u up! No don’t get me wrong, I love sharing my thoughts too, pictures from my vacation, friends, food, books, all of it, but where exactly do we draw the line?

Or have we gone too far past the line?Tell me you don’t come back from a trip check all the pics and choose the ones that can go up on FB? Which one can be your ‘Profile Picture’, hell you will even get one clicked specifically for that purpose. You will check-in at N number of places with N number of people on a weekend. It’s like the new mantra, ‘Party Hard, Fb Harder!’. And all of this would have been perfectly fine if you were simply doing it for the joy of sharing. Sadly we have crossed that stage. If you were at home for two consecutive weekends doing nothing stuck at home, any updates from your friends about their partying makes you miserable. You feel like everyone else is having fun except you, that their lives are cooler, you are wasting your time, simply growing old! And well, the weekend after you will go party your ‘Fb-off’ and there starts the cycle.

I’ll tell you what, take at least a week (honestly a month) off from all social media, go to an amazing place with your best people, click the most awesome pictures, have a gala time, and tell no one else about it! Brush off the ‘need’ to share your life with everyone! Because really will you be less happy if nobody knew how happy you are? You matter as much as the things that matter to you. It is so easy to get stuck in being something, anything! We don’t even know why we need it, we just think we do.

Now once that is done, you can come back to all your posting and sharing, because this time you can be sure that you don’t ‘need’ it but enjoy it! And really just because it did not happen on Facebook does not mean it did not happen (*wink)!!!

HARRY POTTER….Why I Think It Is The Greatest Book Ever Written..!

1997 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) – 2007 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) ,a tale well told, and needless to say a great and successful one indeed. As of July 2013, the book series has sold between 400 and 450 million copies (MERLINS BEARD!!!), making it one of the best-selling books in History. But what truly makes it a great book, is how it touches your life, with larger-than-fantasy characters with an emotional range greater than that of a spoon (sorry Ron!), the bond of undying friendship, what it means to be brave, and the power of true love.

Honestly though my affair with HP was not a love-at-first sight, it took some persuasion, patience and two whole books (a hoard of spells and charms and some love potions) to fall for it, and well it is an irreversible process! I have eagerly waited for each book ever since, to watch them swoop into the world of witchcraft at Platform 9¾, board the Hogwarts Express into the great big castle, to listen in awe the words of Albus Dumbledore (“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”), to loathe the Slytherins and well, ride my own little broom to smack Malfoy in the face. Because “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good”!! This series opens up a world you know does not exist and yet you feel that urgent need to explore it, to live it, to feel that extraordinary pain when a killing curse has been uttered…Sirius, Dumbledore, Fred, Lupin, or dear Dobby. When turning the pages of a book can make you feel all of that, it is real, even if it’s just in your own head. “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” 

The story basically revolves around the fight of the greatest evil power, “He-who-must-not-be-Named”, against all that stand before him but what will stay with you forever is the extraordinary brilliance of the story with very minute detailing (Tom Marvolo Riddle=I am Lord Voldermort!!) and the Muggle heart that all wizards have! Ron-Hermione-Harry, possibly the best trio ever, standing side by side to fight what is beyond their ability, letting go once in a while but finding a way back. Ron- “He must have known I’d want to leave you.”                                                                                        “No, he must have known you would always want to come back.”  The ability to be brave in trying times, to fight for what is right and keeping your honor while doing so.( “It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.”) . And well this is one book that never fell short on humor, like it could make a frown run faster than Severus Snape confronted with shampoo! 

But oh the sense of loss! That the death of a house elf could mean so much, that the death of the biggest villain of the story could make you weep, and as Dumbledore fell down to the grounds from the astronomy tower something went off inside of me like the Dementors had sucked out all the happiness out of me. That’s when I would repeat to myself his wise and witty words “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (You see I am Dumbledore’s man through and through,a self-proclaimed member of DA!). 

All was well-the last lines of this amazing journey. But Hogwarts will always be home, it was the first and best home Harry had known. He and Voldemort and Snape, the abandoned boys, had all found home here. And so did we the readers, in some strange unexplainable way.  As for the power of true love?  I know years from now when I have nothing to do but read, I would start over from the Sorcerer’s Stone and go all the way to the Deathly Hallows. And when someone will ask me…  “After all this time”? , I’ll say “Always”.

The Back Stage Syndrome.

I have always known I suffered from this curious case, yes, from the very start I had an inkling, and as I step into my mid-twenties it is more profound than ever.  What is this case you say? I could list out the symptoms, if you will, but let us go down a different path-introspection.

You enter a room, with about twenty people or so, find a friend and stick to his back side(figuratively)throughout the party. A bunch of friendly people with better courtesies than you, introduce themselves, and start talking about your favorite TV series of which you probably know more delicate intricacies than anyone else in the room or the world. What do you do then? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Tongue tied is the term for it. But really it involves so much more anatomy than that. You cannot speak yes that’s how it starts, followed by a morbid state of silence, then you slowly realize that you are no longer a part of the discussion (that my friend, is a two-way street), and then you very beautifully blend into the furniture of the room. The night ends (relief!), you say your goodbyes to the few people who see you leaving and life goes on. Or does it?

Have you ever rehearsed saying “Hello” to an important person you wanted to make an impression on, and all your feeble heart could manage was an awkward, bordering on creepy, smile? Do you chew on your opinions sometimes, thinking and over thinking about the exact phrase-clause-statement you should use? Do you chit-chat with your friends and comfort-zoned people but find yourself at a loss for words with strangers? It is alright if the answer is yes. It is actually excellent, because you have just diagnosed yourself with what I like to call The Back Stage Syndrome.

Now I personally believe that listening is a wonderful quality. In a world where we love to hear the sound of our own voices, silence is a beautiful thing. But not when you actually have a valid point to forward! No, then it is not acceptable. You will find yourself drowning in a sea of views and opinions that you did not agree with in the first place, but you have to say or do something to make that known. In that respect silence will not do. So swallow down your insecurities, gather up your wits and open up. It is not an easy task I can tell you that upfront. The way to go is to make a conscious decision. Accept that you are not a peoples person, you will never be the star of the party, but you can surely find it in yourself to talk. Yes just that, talk. Walk around a room, and introduce yourself to someone, preferably someone older, who doesn’t seem to share any common interests with you. Initiate a conversation and keep up with it. It will take up a lot, I don’t doubt it, but you will come out a more confident person. Nominate yourself for an impromptu speech, eat with people you don’t know that well (not yet) ,or just go Karaoke! All I’m saying is, you are a one-man show, and the show doesn’t need to end when the curtains go down, in fact, that’s when the backstage work begins.