Heartfelt Words…the best gift

Damini was the friend of a friend, and I met her at his birthday party. A girl as unlike me as possible. Where I was a nerd, always poring over books and worrying about exams, she was carefree and loved playing sports. She was a wonderful sketch artist. I couldn’t draw to save my life!

Yet somehow, despite our differences and our contrasting personalities, we connected. It was like we were friends in some past life, and when we met in this life, our souls remembered each other, even if our memories didn’t. For two years, while I was still in junior college, we remained good friends. We would meet each other during vacations and after school. Her eighteenth birthday was a few months before our final board exams and bang middle during our preliminary exams. I knew that from next year onwards things wouldn’t be the same. We would move to different colleges, make new friends and lose ourselves in new activities. For a few months maybe we would call each other and talk, but too soon awkward silences would develop. When our lives would change the little link of commonality that we still had would snap. All that would remain is a sweet nostalgia for times past…

I wanted to give her something special for her birthday, something that she could look at 50 years from now, and fondly reminiscence about the bygone days.

A teenager is always short of money. We are a perpetually bankrupt species and our meagre pocket money can barely keep pace with our grandiose dreams. So buying something for her was out of the question, but I did have one thing that I could gift her — my words.

I set my pen to paper, and the words flew out weaving a tale of our friendship, of our memories, of us:

Today, as you are on the threshold of a new journey,

Let us take a short walk back down the memory lane,

Let us sniff the fragrance of our sweet friendship,

Laugh at jokes that once we had shared, shake our heads over the quarrels;

Start from our first trip together to Infinity and Inorbit,

There were just too many French fries weren’t there, and you learned I was an inexorable chocoholic,

Then let us move on to all those evenings we spent together –

Board games, friends, gossip and laughter – what more could one want,

Look at Ranbir Kapoor strumming his guitar, and then look a little further,

Six friends dancing on the road together in the twilight, oblivious to the strange gazes,

Hear the tiger’s growl, and the monkeys’ chatter, as we visit the old caves of ancient Buddhist monks,

Our jeans and T-shirts in sharp conflict to the age-old eternal statues with whom we pose,

Again four friends, journeying in history together, and I doubt whether anyone then or since has passed those silent, eternal statues with a sweeter, more carefree friendship than ours,

Picnicking in the meadow, boating in the sun, with the cool air fanning our cheeks, in a bubble of friendship,

Can there be a better summer’s day?

Look over there, can you see me, with ice-cream on my shirt (clumsy, as always),

Then to the vibrant night, with the deep rumbling of drums and loud music,

As we shake a leg on the dance floor, and I finally learn to dance Dandiya,

Two years gone by in a flash, I never heard them passing, did you?

Rude of them to leave without giving us a chance to say goodbye,

But Time has always been known for being inconsiderable to one and all,

Wherever we go in life from now, even if we part ways,

Remember me, and remember these days, as I will –

Forever Cherish These Days,

Thank You, for making them so special, thank you for being my friend,

So, here is me saluting those days, and a toast to you,

May you have a wonderful life, as sweet as ‘us’

And Happiness forever rule your path, I hope.

Since then I did indeed lose touch with her, but a couple of months earlier I met her at a college fest. We hugged and chatted for a few minutes – nothing like our long late night conversations – but just a minute before she was swallowed up by the crowd, she said, “By the way, I still have your letter…”

I am participating in the #DilKiDealOnSnapdealactivity at BlogAdda in association with SnapDeal.


A Harry Potter Birthday

I met Padfoot (my nickname for her. She calls me Prongs) in junior college. She was a commerce student and I was studying Humanities. We bonded over our mutual love for young-adult fiction. Four years from then, we are the best of friends. We chat incessantly for hours on the phone, discussing everything from our tangled love lives to the latest Game of Thrones episode. Whether the news is good or bad, she is always the first one I share it with. She chides me when I worry too much and cheers me up when I am low. I try to do the same for her.

Yesterday was her birthday. Now I have my exams coming up in a few weeks and I am also interning with an ad agency. Work and studies take up so much of my time that I have very little free time left. Yet I wanted to do something special for my friend’s birthday. Another common friend and I scoured the shops looking for gifts. We bought her a few goodies we thought she would like, including a LED book lamp.

But I still felt like something was missing. I wanted to do something more. Not a grand gesture, but a small one which showed how much I appreciated and cared for her; something that commemorates our friendship. So I went about creating goodies inspired from one of our favourite books Harry Potter. 

We made her a Chocolate Frog Card, a letter from Hogwarts, a ticket to the Hogwarts Express leaving from Platform 9 3/4, and a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. I will tell you how I went about it, just in case you want to make something similar for a special friend of yours.

The only thing you will need is a modicum of talent in Adobe Photoshop or a similar photo-editing software.
For the chocolate frog card, I took an empty template off Google (just Google Harry Potter chocolate frog card template) and opened it in Photoshop. I put my friend’s picture in another layer. Then on the first layer, using the magic wand tool (kind of apt in this context) I selected the empty space inside the card, and made it into a layer mask. Then I carefully positioned my friend’s image in that space.
For the platform ticket, I again took the image from Google and on top of the place where it said London I first erased the word using the clone stamp tool and then I wrote Mumbai on top of it.


This is the end result

Then I drafted a personalized letter from Minerva McGonagall, the Headmistress of Hogwarts, awarding an honory degree to my friend.
For the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, my friend and I purchased a cheap plastic container. We filled it with different types and flavors of sweets – gumdrops, mints and colourful chocolate balls. Then we put the chocolate frog card inside and decorated the container using coloured craft paper.
A tip in case you are using a plastic container like us – use tape instead of glue to attach the craft paper onto the box. Glue we learnt from trial soon ebbs away

Then giftwrapped the box and put the letter and ticket in an envelope. At the back of the envelope we put a picture of an owl with the words Delivered by Owl Post , and on the front we wrote her name and address.
The project took an entire day and by the end we were very tired. I hadn’t studied anything and I had work the next day. But the effort was well worth it, because Padfoot loved the gift. She got teary-eyed with happiness and her happiness was our reward. After all, what are good marks in front of a friend’s happiness. I am glad I spent as much time and effort on her gift as I did. She had been with me through thick and thin, and she is one of the best people I know. She deserved a gift that would make her feel as special as she is.

I am participating in the#DilKiDealOnSnapdeal activity atBlogAdda in association withSnapDeal.

Loves Me, Loves Me Not


Today morning in The Times of India I read an article about a boy who has been arrested in Jaipur for illegally appearing as a proxy candidate in a medical examination in the army recruitment process, for another candidate. He was caught when the astute army recruiters noticed the discrepancies in his signature and the signature of the actual candidate. He had been offered 5000 rupees for the job, and he had readily accepted the same as he wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his girlfriend in style. He had previously been depressed for not being able to afford gifts for his girlfriend. Now his affection for her has landed him in jail. What do you say to ‘Love’ like that?
What’s ironic is that this incident occurs in a country where certain right-wing activists have already forbidden all Indian couples from celebrating a West-inspired festival. Any couples found roaming in the streets, holding hands or exchanging gifts and roses shall be forcibly married!
Not that this has in anyway deterred lovers or marketeers, for you see:

Love triumphs all. And if not love then definitely cash.

Storefronts, window displays, spam emails, billboards, hoardings and TVCs are all busy advocating the message of love and busy arguing over which branded chocolate, which diamond cut, which neck tie and what oversized teddy best screams L.O.V.E.

Love is definitely in the air, and so is consumerism!

Valentine day offers galore – from candlelight dinners in posh restaurants, themed cakes (and its expensive, younger sister – cupcake), chocolate boxes, helicopter rides, diamond rings (or bracelets or pendants…girls aren’t really picky when it comes to diamonds), rose boquets and fluffy teddy bears – everything you need to give your date and your wallet a day they can never forget! Newspapers and magazines publish articles on what to wear to allure your date, the list of the most expensive and hence most romantic restaurants in the city and which coloured rose conveys what.
Which brings us to the question – Is this all that Love is supposed to be? While there is nothing wrong in organizing a special day for your special one why enter a rat race with the rest of the world for that? Your love for him or her should be what matters, not the carats of the diamond ring. Amidst the riff-raff of cosumerist and materialist gifts it takes a lot of effort to find love. How is it love if he spends more than he can afford to get you a gift on Valentine’s Day, but fights with you and hits you the rest of the year? Even if he is a sweet, caring boyfriend, will he not resent you for burning a hole in his pocket? How is it love if you let it happen?
There is nothing wrong with celebrating Valentine’s Day, but it is important to remember what one is celebrating is not a Western festival rooted in consumerism and materialism but your love for each other. The dozen expensive roses shall wilt in a day. The box of chocolates shall be eaten and digested. The teddy bear shall lie in a corner, gathering dust and in the age of tiny apartments you shall curse it as a waste of space at least once. What shall remain is the sweet fragrance of cherished sweet moments spent together. And that’s what this is all about.

Once upon a time people were ready to die for their lover. The generation now is more pragmatic. They are ready to go to jail in their attempts to organize a special Valentine’s Day for their lover.

Festive Tidings On The Autumn Breeze

After 4 months of torrential rain, dank days and humid air – finally the dark clouds have passed. The sky is a lovely azure blue, with fluffy white clouds, and a just the merest hint of a cool breeze. The birds sing. In India, we do not have a ‘fall season’ like that in Europe or other parts of the world. For us, the end of monsoon brings with it the festive season. It’s time for joy and celebrations, for sharing happiness and beauty everywhere. Soon after autumn begins, there are various festivals celebrated in various regions of the country. Be it Navratri in Gujarat, or Durga Puja in West Bengal, or Diwali, all parts of the country cheer up as the festive season draws up on us. Shops across the city suddenly come up with massive festive discounts, and it’s time for innumerable shopping trips to purchase not only your festive wardrobe but also gifts for friends and family. This is a time many people choose to renovate their homes. Walls are painted, dusty corners swept, leaks fixed and every single bit of grime and dust washed off in preparation for the arrival of gods and guests. Houses are decorated with lights and rangolis. Fragrant, mouth-watering smells start wafting from the kitchen, and the larder over-filled with dry fruits, packets of crisps, and many more tasty delicacies. Most schools close for a month or so, and relatives flock to each other’s homes in masses. It’s time for laughter and loud conversation, for sharing old jokes and stories. Women from different generations gather in the kitchen, to talk and to cook together. The children are thoroughly spoiled by all the various uncles and aunts who come a-visiting. It’s a time for family.

Durga Puja

I have faint memories of Durga Puja at my hometown in Kolkata. Our locality, like many other localities, had its own pandal with our own idol of the goddess. It was a community affair, and the entire neighborhood would pitch in to help. The stage where the idol was kept would be decorated by the neighborhood women, all dressed in brand new saris. Young girls would braid the garlands that would be used for the idol. The men hurried around making sure that everything was proceeding smoothly. In the afternoon, the bhog would be prepared by the wives, while the men would serve it. In the evening there would be singing and dance performances by people from within the neighbourhood. We children would roam around in herds, utilizing all the money we had got from our parents and relatives to buy food and trinkets from the various stalls that would have popped up here and there. The trees all over the compound would be festooned with lights. Long strings of fairy lights would be hung off the apartment buildings. There would be no fixed bedtimes, and everyone would be up way past midnight. Sometimes there would be fireworks, and the sky would be lit up in gold and red. At Dashami, or Dusshera after the idol is sent for immersion there would be time for sweets. The ten days that followed is the time of reunion in Bengal. Relatives and friends from everywhere come visiting, and gifts and sweets would be exchanged.

After I moved to Mumbai, the celebrations changed. Now we don’t have family to meet during Durga Puja. Face-to-face conversations were replaced by long talks on the phone (never a good enough substitute). My parents, I think, feel the loss sorely, but my sister and I, as kids often do, just adapted ourselves to the change. Instead of running to the Durga Puja pandals, we would visit the mandaps of Lord Ganesh, during Ganesh Chaturthi with our friends. We would bow our heads in deference before the idol, and then stuff ourselves with the sweets kept as prasad. It grew to be a sort of practice for us. In the afternoons, when we were playing down in the compound, every time we felt hungry, we would run to the neighborhood mandap to munch on the prasad. During Navratri our locality hosted a dandiya raas, and we would dance riotously to the loud beats.


Diyas at our home in Mumbai

At Diwali, when earthen diyas and fairy lights illuminated all homes, together we would burst crackers at eventide. Those friends have moved on now, to some unknown distance, far far away from these childhood reminiscences. I still celebrate Diwali and Navratri. With new friends that can never completely replace the old, but still provide unprecedented joy. We dress up in sequinned traditional garments that we will never wear again throughout the year (unless it’s for a wedding) and go dancing to some dandiya party. My High School Alumni Organisation hosts a reunion dandiya raas every year, and if I go there I meet all my old classmates, and it’s still a time for remembrances and nostalgic joy.

The Autumn Breeze brings with it  all the sweetness of a distant, innocent past. It brings with it faint memories of old friends and joyous times – the sound of forgotten laughter, the smell of my mother and my grandmother’s homecooked sweets and the smell of shiuli flowers (a white flower with an unmatched fragrance that blooms in Bengal during autumn). But it also brings with it the promise of a happy future.

It reminds me of who I am, where I come from, and where I need to go. It gives me the strength I need to stand against the cold winds that would soon follow.

It is my Favourite Time Of The Year. 

Shiuli Flowers

Shiuli Flowers

Today’s Daily Prompt: Autumn Leaves