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

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.

A Love lost, a Love found?

It was just a photograph, yellowed with age, preserved carefully in a trunk that was never opened, with other broken dreams; preserved with care between her flowery pink journal, scribbled with blue ink, the voice of the broken dreams. A moment frozen in eternity, kept fresh by nostalgia.

It was all that took to set the waterworks running.

They both knew, right from the beginning, that it was never going to work. But they wanted a little more: some more time together, one more stolen kiss, one more moment of togetherness. 

Even today that is all her heart aches for.

One more moment in the green meadow, with the hills echoing with laughter.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.

Rumi

Writing 101: Day 16

Moving Into Sunshine

jennifer-pendergast4I set down my suitcase and stare at the stone portico. I stand in the shade, overwhelmed for a moment by memories, cruel till the end, unwilling to let go. I remember a dimly lit room, torn scribbled in books, the wail of shattering glass and the sharp crack of a leather belt.

Then the moment passes. The leaves flutter in welcome, flashing smiles of orange, gold and green. The breeze wafts through my hair – like a caress. It brings with it memories of bedtime stories and lullabies from a long-forgotten childhood.

I clench the scholarship letter tightly, and walk through the university gates, to a fresh start, away from my step-father. It’s all downhill now.

This story is posted as a part of the Friday Fictioneers.

Writing A Blog….

writing-centerI will Write! I decided, and with great determination opened my computer. The ‘new post’ page loads and there is no sound in the room except the whirring of the ceiling fan, and the soft crackle of the newspapers in the wind – no sound, NONE – not even the fantastic one of brain gears clicking and churning to produce an idea, that blossoms into a story.

‘Text’ I click on the dialogue box, and a sterile white box opens – waiting, waiting for my words…..as I wait for them to come, to descend like invisible moths into my brain, and help me write. For I want to Write. But nothing comes, and in desperation I open up the daily prompt ‘Shake it Up‘ write about your birthday from when you were 12. Ah! what a nice idea! I will write on this.

I re-open the page. The white box stares at me expectantly. When I was 12 years old….nothing comes to mind, except the image of my mother, my mother in the kitchen cooking for us, my mother waking me up with kisses – my mother who is right now at a hospital, battling for life from hyperglycemia.

mother-and-daughter-1Writing for me is therapy, and so I want to Write, but nothing really comes to my mind. When I think of my 12th birthday, at present it is only my mother who comes to my mind, saturating all my memories, with a heavy sweetness. My taste buds yearn for the taste of the dishes she cooked for me on my birthday, all my birthdays – pulav, prawn curry and chilli chicken. And for desert – caramel pudding and rice kheer. Always! At every birthday, she would be the first person to get up and visit the temple to thank God and pray for my health. Then come back, wrap up my presents – and wake me up to her own rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. The whole day she would be busy in the kitchen, in the dreadful heat, cooking up dishes whose fragrance dragged me and my sister to the kitchen door, where we would linger, watching her work. My nostrils ache for that fragrance now. In the evening we would go to my grandmother’s house for dinner, and it would be late by the time we returned. I remember how on our way back I would put my head in her lap, drowsy and half nodding off, and watch from this position the vast blue sky above with twinkling stars, interspersed by tree leaves and street lamps, while she gently patted me to Dreamland – this image always evokes in my mind a sense of safety and security that I cannot find now. I long for it now. I long for the comfort of her hug, the warmth of her arms, the promise of hope and security in her kiss, that could in an instant cure anything – from bruises to heartbreaks. I remember her pushing me on the creaky old iron swing in the park, I remember her holding my hand tight in the crowded roads, I remember her patting me to sleep, and I remember her hugging me tight when I woke up in tears after a nightmare; and later when these nightmares became real in the form of school bullies and cruel taunts.

I want to write, but it is only my teardrops that fall on the keyboard – and they craft their own song of nostalgia, of undying love and of Hope.

Daily Prompt: Shake it Up

Turning 18

ImageSo two days ago was my eighteenth birthday, and just like that I crossed over the threshold of childhood to adulthood. And now, two days into my life as an adult I still don’t know how and when time passed. As a child like most of my peers, the only thing I wanted was to grow up – to be an adult, independent to take my own decisions. There were so many things I dreamed of doing ten years ago at this time – cook like my mother, use a knife to cut vegetables, learn to light a match, go to the shops on my own, go to college, stay up late – small dreams of the forbidden. Now that I finally am an adult why doesn’t it feel so? I haven’t yet had any over-night epiphanies nor have I realized the deep philosophy of Life. I don’t feel grown-up and not at all matured or wise, yet I am supposed to be so, am I not ?

There were no fanfares and trumpets to welcome me into the world of grown-ups. Nothing around me seems any different than two days ago, except small things here and there. No longer do I have to climb a chair to reach the top rack in the kitchen. In that one moment when I look around myself from the eyes of an eight-year old me, I feel like Alice felt when she ate the cake that made her taller. I remember looking up at my teachers, my parents, now I stand shoulder to shoulder with them, and yet I am not half as wise as they are. The old picture books in my bookshelf have been replaced by huge, drab volumes that contain hardly any pictures. My old soft toys and worn out barbies are arranged neatly on shelves, no longer gateways of my imagination. Nowadays, sometimes it is almost unthinkable to me that once upon a time I considered these plastic figures with glassy buttons for eyes to be my playmates, my friends, that I kissed them goodnight, and wished them good morning. The eccentricities of a child!

When I look at old photos I get a brief glimpse of how much things have changed. My parents’ faces have become more lined, parts of their hair have become grey. I don’t fit in my mother’s lap anymore, and it often seems fantastical that I ever did. My father doesn’t lift me up in the air now, and the one-sided acquiescence both reluctant and otherwise I was used to as a child, has now transformed into lengthy debates and discussions between me and my parents. My country now deems me responsible and mature enough to decide to a certain extent its future, to elect a leader worthy enough of leading my country, but politics is still as confusing to me as trigonometry was only a few years back.

Of course there are certain things to look forward to, but adult life comes with such huge responsibilities that I am not sure I can handle, and sometimes all I want is to run back down the time line to my carefree past. I feel like I am standing upon a cliff, where behind me lies my past and all that I have experienced, while in front of me lies the murky depths of an unknown future. And I don’t know whether what I am feeling is apprehension or anticipation.