Thanks for the Memories

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In three days, I will be done with my end semester exams and will become a college graduate. And there are only two things that I shall be taking along with me from there:

  1. A document pronouncing me as a graduate
  2. Memories

The first one undoubtedly is important because it will help me in whichever career path I chose in the near future, but the latter is paramount.

It is this wealth of memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and on dark, gloomy days of montony and amidst strangers in a foreign land, the wisps of days gone by will make me smile.

It is a difficult realization: my friends and I, after spending a few years together and aiding each other in the painful process of growing up, shall now part ways. Of course we shall promise to keep in touch, but promises slowly fade away.

Some of us will become famous, and we one fine day, we shall see them on the TV and with a start cry out, “Oh! I knew her!”, and stare at the screen, mentally comparing the gawky teenager we knew to the well-groomed celebrity on screen.

News of some will filter to us through other acquaintainces, and we shall delight or rue their truimphs and defeats vicariously. (In our hearts, we shall long for those days when we were the ones they confided all their news to first).

Some we shall meet, suddenly, in markets and at the bus stop.

“How have you been?”

“Good. Can’t complain, and you?”

“Just doing fine”.

At this point his bus arrives, and we both move on with our lives, and maybe later that night reminisce about the’good old days’.

Maybe right now I am being cynical but change is scary. And yet part we must for whatever next adventure life takes to.

There’s only one thing that can be said…Thanks for the memories!

 

Taste of Home: A Flash Fiction

Prison Guard, Stockholm. Public domain photo.

Standing on the bridge, Gaurav cast a long look at the white expanse of deserted snow and the snow-capped mountains. There was no movement to be seen. Not even a stray leopard or a jumping goat met his eyes. It was like the terrain itself had frozen. Somewhere across the snow-white horizon was Pakistan, but all was quiet on the border today.

His breaths rose like hot mist in front of his eyes. Guard duty at the military outpost on Siachen Glacier was a lonely job.

He looked at his watch – five more minutes before his turn ended, and the next soldier took over. Right at six his reliever arrived. “They are making malpua in the kitchens”, he said.

Gaurav hurriedly took off. Malpua was his favourite dessert. As he ran towards the mess hall he remembered how as a kid he would pester his mother to make it for him.

The mess hall was warm with hearty food and cheerful company. The cook slid a brown malpua glistening with golden syrup on his plate.

Gaurav took a bite and smiled to himself. He patted his pocket where lay the last letter from home: “…when you come home, we’ll find a  good match for you. Come home soon, son“. 

***

malpuaMalpua is an Indian dessert, similar to pancakes, and is eaten with syrup. It is one of my personal favourites. You can find the recipe here

Siachen Glacier is located in the northern part of Kashmir, between India and Pakistan, and the no-man’s-land of Siachen is 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level. Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire. Both countries agree on a need to demilitarise the glacier, but neither side wants to take the first step.(Source: HindustanTimes.com)

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.

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“Anything Else, ma’am?”

I was on my way home from college, when my mother texted me and asked me to pick up some groceries from the local kirana store.

I listed out all that I needed to the shopkeeper, more interested to the songs on my mp3 player, tapping my fingers in rhythm and impatience.  It had been a long day, and I wanted to go home. After fetching the items, he asked courteously, “Anything else, ma’am?”

I froze.

Ever since we moved to this neighbourhood ten years ago, this is the shop we visited most often for grocery shopping. I have tagged here along with my mother, peering excitedly at the glass bottles of candy, displayed prominently to entice kids like me. I have come here, a warm coin curled up in my fist – that week’s pocket money – and spent a long time wrestling with the conundrum of which chocolate to buy.

I have visited this shop often during the summer vacations to buy zillions of ice-creams and at Christmas, dragged my father here, to buy chocolates and plum cakes. I have come here with my playmates, when some magnanimous parent or other had handed one of us a currency note and said, “Go buy some sweets and share them with your friends”. I have stood behind, giggling and prodding each other, daring them to go talk to the shopkeeper. It was a daunting task back then.

I have heard the same shopkeeper (minus the silver streaks in his hair) tease me and address me, while I shyly hid behind my mother’s pallu. When I couldn’t reach a packet of crisps, he has many-a-time come to my aid.

I don’t know when I transcended into this new category of customers — customers who were not to be teased, but spoken to courteously. I don’t know if it is a welcome change.

*

I was sitting at my desk, next to the window, studying for my upcoming psychology exams. Now and then excited giggles and laughter from the kids playing below would reach my ears.

Suddenly someone shouted — “Priyanka Didi!

I recognized both the person being called and the caller. Priyanka was the youngest girl in our group of playmates. The one we never took seriously, the one to be picked last since she was always thought of as a liability to the team than an asset. I was the eldest, and animously called by all those in our neighborhood playgroup, Didi. To think that someday my title would pass on to Priyanka was surreal, but it had, and somehow till that afternoon I had never realized it.

As for the caller, I was already a teenager by the time she was born. I have seen her take her first steps, played ‘peek-a-boo’ with her and pulled her cheeks.

She had grown up in front of my eyes, but somehow I never realized that so had I.

*

Jolly Didi was my grandmother’s aide and companion. She had always been there, as far as my childhood memory stretches back to, and whenever we visited my grandmother, she would play with me and my sister. She would tell us jokes, teach us new games and narrate funny anecdotes from her village. My sister and I would follow her all around the house while she did her chores, constantly chatting.

She was a constant at my grandmother’s house for most of my early childhood, until she left to get married. Soon after that we moved to Mumbai, and all she became was the vestige of a childhood memory.

I never spared her much thought, until last year when we were visiting my grandmother, and she came for a visit with her son.

I don’t really know what I expected would happen. Maybe I wanted to relive the camaraderie we had shared when I was a child. I would love it if she became her previous self, tell us jokes and play hide-and-seek with us in the garden. But it was not to be.

Clad in a simple orange cotton sari, her head bowed and eyes downcast, she was not the playmate I remembered. Her behaviour towards me was courteous, bordering on reverence. I vaguely remembered her treating my mother and aunts with similar politesse, but I couldn’t fathom why she would treat me in the same way.

A particularly disconcerting moment was when she tried to sit down on the floor, near my feet. I jumped up, shocked, and asked her to sit next to me on the bed. She obeyed me but with a timidness in her behaviour that frustrated me and left me bemused. I wanted to but didn’t know how to dissipate the awkwardness in our relationship.

When her son poked me in jest, she immediately chided him, and begged my pardon. I wanted to scream that I had behaved similarly with her, when I was a child. She instructed her son to touch my feet and when he ran away shyly, she repeatedly begged pardon for his discourteous behaviour. I told her it didn’t matter, that he was just a child, and I didn’t mind – but the words sounded hollow and patronizing, even to my ears.

I was dying to relive, for even one moment, our earlier companionship and comfortable ease. But it was a thing of the past, and I didn’t know how to bring it back it back to life.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “All Grown Up.”

My Dream World

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There was this little world I had made,

In my childhood days.

I had woven it with care.

Nurtured it with love, and to me it was dear.

Small and bright,

Clean and white.

Located in a fairy castle on a hilltop highimages (2)

Up amongst the clouds, in the sky

Full of fairies, kings and queens

A child’s dream, a child’s fantasy

Many a playtime I spent here;

Many adventures I had there;

All my dreams came true here;

My wishes were fulfilled there;

It was a child’s dream, a child’s fantasy. images (3)

But one day, I heard this shout,

Calling me to the world out

I poked my head out and saw,

And, Oh!  How lovely the things seemed to be,

“Come out, and play”, they called to me.

I left my little world and came

But, Alas! Everything was not the same,

As they had before seemed to be

Oh, how true the old sayings are,

Grass always looks greener from far.

This world is full of deceit and lies.

Betrayals, broken promises and painful cries

Terrorism, Corruption, Pollution

Is there an end or a solution?

My little world was still there,

Free from such worldly affairs.

Unpolluted from all these worldly pains

Unaffected by the troubles of men

But I couldn’t enter it again

Not now, never again.

It was a child’s dream, a child’s fantasy

And I had grown up.

I wrote this poem, nearly six or seven years ago, when I was 13 years old. It lay forgotten in some dusty folder on my computer, stored along with other childish scribbles. I hadn’t thought about it in all these years, till I saw the weekly prompt by Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. 

This poem was, according to me, my best work in verse when I was thirteen, and probably for quite some time afterwards. And hence, I had never shown it to anybody, lest, somebody make fun of me, or the poem. It was a little too close to my heart back then. More than half a decade later, I am willing to unveil it to the eyes of the world. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated 🙂 

How I Came Across Harry Potter

Today’s Daily Prompt: Reader’s Block

What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without reading a book (since learning how to read, of course)? Which book was it that helped break the dry spell?

Now, this is what I call a tough prompt – I can’t remember the last time I did not have a few books lying around, except….maybe….uh, there’s a little spark of memory here —

I was in seventh grade, and had ‘overgrown’ Enid Blyton. Well overgrown isn’t the right word, but I had finished seven mystery series be her, three sets of school stories and thousands of short stories. I had read all the Nancy Drew novels in my local library, and was now in the painful dilemma of trying to decide what to read further. Needless to say, I had quite high standards.

This was when my mother suggested that I give the ultra-famous Harry Potter series by JK Rowling a try.

“I have been reading quite a few reviews of it in newspapers. Apparently children all over the world love it”.

I wasn’t really enthused, “Ma, you know I don’t like all that magical mumbo-jumbo. I never liked ghost and fairy stories. I want real stories, mysteries if possible!

But my mother was adamant, “People wouldn’t like it if there wasn’t something good in it. Read it. You might be surprised“.

I grudgingly agreed to borrow the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the library, but made sure to borrow a Nancy Drew mystery at the same time. Just in case!

The Book that changed me

The Book that changed me

While we were still on the bus, I flipped the book open, and started reading the first chapter – The Boy Who Lived

 I couldn’t put it down! The Nancy Drew mystery lay untouched, gathering dust, as I reveled in the magic of Rowling’s words. I was hooked. 

The next two weeks, I dragged my mother to the library every alternate day for the next part, and gobbled it up with as much enthusiasm as I had read the first book. I forgot everything else in the world….including my studies. So my dad laid down a ruling – NO MORE BOOKS TILL AFTER EXAMS. 

I was on the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the verdict destroyed me. I just had to find out what happened next! The suspense was agonizing. Voldemort was out there somewhere, and(*SPOILER ALERT*) Dumbledore was dead! There were seven horcruxes and they could be anywhere! Ginny and Harry had broken up, and stupid Ron still hadn’t kissed Hermione! I had to know what happened next.

But my parents remained firm.

That night I dreamt of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I kept trying to pick it up and read it, but it kept moving away from my reach; so tantalizingly close yet just an inch away.

DeathlyHallowsCover

I pounced on it and was about to read it — when I woke up, and found myself clutching my pillow.

I burst into tears, which melted my mother’s heart long enough to let her make a bargain with me – I could get the book, but I had to finish it in one day.

It wasn’t a bad bargain. The book was so engaging that I could barely put it down anyway! I stayed up the entire night reading it, and fell asleep with the book still in my hands.

With Harry Potter began my newfound love for the fantasy genre. Soon Chronicles of Narnia followed. Followed by Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, Artemis Fowl, The Mediator Series and The Kane Chronicles. I remain an ardent fan till date, and all because:

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

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.

Diwali

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

Passing On a Reading Legacy

Ever since I can remember, I was fascinated by the bookcase. It stood in our family drawing room, filled with fat volumes of books that had no pictures. I knew they were my father and uncle’s books, and my childhood dream was to read all those books one day.
I would spend hours in front of the glass case, gazing enraptured at the dusty volumes within; craning my neck to gaze up at those books my short stature kept me away from. Like all kids I wanted to grow up quickly, and to my mind, hidden within those books that I could barely lift was the knowledge of a lifetime, that my parents and uncle had, and that I desired.
That one sunday a year when my parents would take all the books out to air them and dust them was probably my favorite day of the year, right next to the first day of summer vacations. I would sit next to the huge pile of books, and try to read them….or at least find one with pictures.
I was around 5 or 6 when I discovered the ‘Mystery of the Spiteful Letters’ by Enid Blyton within that pile. I was thrilled. I had already read Noddy and a few other of Blyton’s classics for children, but was yet to move on to reading her mysteries. This at least was an author I knew, and the book cover was a colourful orange with the picture of 5 kids. I wasn’t, yet, old enough to read on my own…not a novel at least, and my dad read out aloud to me. It was like a tradition. Every night before dinner he would read out to me, and together we would traverse through the written world of dreams and adventures, and I would fall asleep with the images still resonating within my mind.
That night I carried the book with me, and requested my father to read it out to me. He laughed and told me I was still too young for that book. I bristled at the suggestion, and insisted that he read it. He complied, and truthfully I did get a few nightmares for the first few nights, but I never told my parents about it, and this book started my lifelong romance with all kinds of mystery thrillers.
A few years ago, I rummaged the self-same bookcase for my first Agatha Christies.
Also I have made a few new additions to the shelves – JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, Dan Brown and Meg Cabot are just a few of the authors I have added to the rows already filled with tomes written by Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Shakespeare and other great literary giants.
This is my family’s reading legacy that has been passed down through generations to me…and yes, I am yet to finish reading ALL the books on the shelf. 

It’s Been Too Long

With the cool evening breeze, a waft of nostalgia drifted into my room today. Fond reminiscences of my high school friends came to me, and I had a sudden desire to pen down all the memories that were crowding my mind, insisting that they be heard. This semblance at poetry was the result.

It’s been to long since I had an ice-cream with you in the cloy summer heat,
It’s been too long since the long walks home down the empty street,
It’s been too long since I laughed so hard that the nearby trees shook –
And the birds took to flight, all a-clamour,
Indignant at having their siesta disturbed.

It’s been too long since the last plate of shared pani-puri,
The last time we argued about the merits of Harry Potter over Twilight –
Like we were discussing the fate of the world!

It’s been too long since we shared songs over our phone’s Bluetooth,
Since we talked in hushed whispers under the librarian’s nose,
Since we giggled over certain words and talked about others in an awe-struck whisper,
Been too long since we discussed our futures on the playground swing!

Back then, life seemed so simple,
The future just within our reach,
All we needed was to pass the exam, and the world would be ours.
Grand dreams, solemn promises to never lose touch,
Promises fade, only memories don’t….

Been too long since I laid out the tale of my heartbreaks to you,
And you with a sympathizing air told me:
All boys are fools. You are better off alone“.

Been too long since we bunked of class,
Since riotous games, crazy dares and long hours of playing charades,
Been too long since our group studies, where we did everything but study.
The marks are inconsequential now when balanced against the memories.

The last laugh, the last cry still echo in my mind.
It’s been too long since, dear friend, we relived those memories in time.