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

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A Tale of Beans and Brews – the Coffee Culture

The legend around coffee goes that an Ethopian goat-herd discovered coffee after he noticed strange effects on the behaviour of his goats after consuming the plant. The earliest credible sources of coffee drinkers (according to Wikipedia at least) appears in the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi shrines of Yemen. Throughout history, the bitter brown bean has formed a part of culture, often extending beyond the dinner table. In East Africa and Yemen, coffee was used as a part of native religious ceremonies. As these rituals conflicted with the beliefs of the Christian Church, the Ethopian Church had once banned the consumption of coffee. The drink was also banned in the Ottoman Empire during the 17th century, and has also been associated with rebellious activities in Europe.

sbux3

Coffee today has become an intricate part of the modern Western culture, rapidly being assimilated by many countries in the global village. Often the act of drinking coffee goes beyond the mere consumption of the same. Chains of coffee-houses and cafes, notably Starbucks or Café Coffee Day among numerous others, have become an all-too-common sight in Indian metropolitan cities. Drinking coffee is part of the morning ritual for many students and young professionals alike. I have many friends who cannot fathom starting a day without the caffeine buzz that coffee provides. As the day progresses, coffee becomes a motif for social interaction. Friends call each other up, ‘Hey, let’s meet for coffee’. Life issues, romantic estrangements, social problems and contemporary affairs alike are discussed over steaming cups of cappuccinos, espressos or lattes in the winter; and with ice-cubes or a scoop of ice-cream in the summer, or have a frappe.

downloadIn the romantic context, ‘going out for coffee’ may sometimes involve no coffee at all. Cafes are actually one of the most popular spots for a first date. Ask your friends, if you don’t believe me. I bet 9 out of 10 of them will have had their first date in a coffee house.

‘Coffee breaks’ too are a time for socialization and interaction between members, during a meeting, a seminar or on a normal workday. Coffee houses, like the one in Kolkata, has been reputed for being the rendezvous spot for the intellectual elite.

Caffeine has a stimulating effect on the brain – this much is scientifically proven. Thus coffee now is synonymous to studying or working late. An interesting fact: the Computer Language JAVA, which is used for most internet applications, was named after Java Coffee. Incidentally, the programmers were in a meeting trying hard to find a name for their new language, and they were having cups of coffee. And suddenly someone joked that they should name the language JAVA, and the name kind of stuck. You might also have noticed that the logo of JAVA is a steaming cup of coffee, reminiscent of that night.

coffee2Many global transactions are hidden behind a cup of coffee. A veritable network of complicated social and economic relationships are stretched across the globe on the basis of coffee. Coffee is primarily consumed in the developed and rich countries of the first-world, but grown in relatively poorer countries. It is the primary source of foreign exchange for many countries. The production and transportation of coffee requires continuous transactions between people thousands of miles away from each other, and the coffee drinker. Moreover since coffee is not naturally grown in most European countries or North America, it hearkens back to the colonial rule and is a souvenir of its legacy today. It was only when European colonizers settled in Africa and South America that coffee became a part of the ‘Western’ diet. Its history is the history of colonial rule and colonial struggle.

Coffee is also a lifestyle choice. The choice you as a consumer make about what kind of coffee, which brand of coffee, and which coffee house, says a lot about your life style. You may choose to drink only organic coffee, natural decaffeinated coffee or coffee that has been ‘fairly traded’ through schemes that pay full market price to the small coffee producers. You may choose to patronize an independent coffee house over corporate coffee chains; or you may just make it at home yourself. Next time that you drink a cup of coffee, pause between sips to appreciate all that is the ‘coffee culture;.

Now, you have to excuse me……I am going out for a cup of coffee 🙂

CCD

The Coffee I had. It is a Crunchy Vanilla Frappe, with butterscotch. I like it cold. How do you like it?

1st March 2014: Tryst With Edgar Allan Poe

Today, by chance, I happened to find myself in the college library, with quite a considerable amount of time on my hand. While browsing through the literature section for books to read, I came across a fat volume titled: The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Now I had of course previously heard of Edgar Allan Poe, vaguely, as a writer of Gothic Romanticism, of macabre tales and dark poems. But this was the first time I had read (apart from a short story I had previously read for class – and which pretty much fell into the established and commonly accepted norm of his stories) any of his works. And was I fascinated!! Here are some of the poems I read and loved by Edgar Allan Poe:

To Octavia

5211782unrequited_love_by_captain_curly_d31j2u1When wit, and wine, and friends have met
And laughter crowns the festive hour
In vain I struggle to forget
Still does my heart confess thy power
And fondly turn to thee!

But Octavia, do not strive to rob
My heart of all that soothes its pain
The mournful hope that every throb
Will make it break for thee!

It took me a minute to understand the last two lines, but when I did I was kept marveling at the sheer beauty of them. The original poem was written to Octavia Walton, daughter of George Walton, Secretary of West Florida under Governor William P. Duval. The poem manages to convey despite its brevity, a deluge of emotions. The narrator says how even in the most lively company of friends, and no matter how entertaining the conversation, his thoughts only turn to her, to Octavia, the girl he loves. He is fighting a losing battle with his heart, as he struggles to forget his Lady Love (who though it is not explicitly stated in the poem, must have turned down his proposal). The only hope the poet has is someday his heart will break, as he will realize that she is unattainable. It is only after this realization – no matter how painful – that he can never have her, strikes him, that he will be able to continue with his life. Because till then, he hopes (though he knows it to be in vain) that she will someday return his love, and that keeps him tied to her and her memories.

Lost and/or unattainable Love is a common theme in many of his poems. Here are two more that struck my fancy. The first one is only of two lines, and yet the couplet is one of my personal favorites.

Deep In Earth

1328790080_Love GraveDeep in earth my love is lying
    And I must weep alone.

Poe wrote this poem, I later learnt, courtesy of Google, in 1847 – the year of his wife’s death. In the poem he talks about the loneliness and grief he feels at her death.

The other poem, is not autobiographical, but the theme it discusses is similar to the previous poem – the loss of a loved one. It is one of the few poems written by Poe in a woman’s voice.

Bridal Ballad

beautiful-chinese-bride-white-wedding-dressThe ring is on my hand,
 And the wreath is on my brow;
Satins and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
 And I am happy now.

And my lord he loves me well;
 But, when first he breathed his vow
I felt my bosom swell—
For the words rang as a knell,
And the voice seemed his who fell
In the battle down the dell,
 And who is happy now.

But he spoke to re-assure me,
 And he kissed my pallid brow
While a reverie came o’er me,
And to the church-yard bore me,
And I sighed to him before me,
Thinking him dead D’Elormie,
 “Oh, I am happy now!”

And thus the words were spoken,
 And this the plighted vow,
And, though my faith be broken,
And, though my heart be broken
Behold the golden token
 That proves me happy now!

Would God I could awaken!
 For I dream I know not now,
And my soul is sorely shaken
Lest an evil step be taken,—
Lest the dead who is forsaken
 May not be happy now.

The poem is narrated by a newly-married bride, whose first love died in a battle. Her husband loves him, but she is unable to forget her earlier lover. He is rich and showers her with jewels and silk garments. And she tries to be happy and grateful for these gifts, explicitly crying out And I am happy now. However the very fact that she has to clarify on this point, repeatedly state it shows that she is not. She is just trying to fool the readers, and herself, into believing that she is happy. She confesses, that the only reason she accepted her husband’s proposal is because his voice reminded her of ‘dead D’Elormie’ her first love. She manages to partly convince herself that D’Elormie is happy now, and at peace; and thus in a stupor she goes through the marriage rituals. But even when she is taking her wedding vows, it is dead D’Elormie whom she imagines to be standing in front of her, and in this way she gets married. After the marriage when she returns to reality her heart is broken. But that is not what bothers her. What bothers her is that she has broken her promise to both men. She broke her promise to D’Elormie to love him forever, and she broke her wedding vows to her husband. But again she points to her golden wedding ring, and declares herself to be evidence of her happiness, since newly-wed brides are happy on their marriage day. The poem ends with a dream (or nightmare) of the bride, which shakes her soul, as she is made to consider the possibility that her dead lover may be unhappy by her betrayal to him, and thus he cannot rest in peace. The guilt and inner turmoil of the bride’s conflicting emotions underline most of the poem.I will conclude this post with a stanza from Poe’s poem ‘Alone’:

Sunset_Alone_by_ibadurrahman1From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw — I could not bring
My passions from a common spring —
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow — I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone —
And all I lov’d — I lov’d alone —

The poem simply describes the lonely childhood of the poet, as he was different from all his peers, in his thoughts, feelings and passions. Yet at the same time it celebrates his own individuality and uniqueness. And isn’t that what Life is all about – being one with the crowd, while maintaining our own uniqueness. We are just one strand of colour in the rainbow of society. Not alike to anyone around us, yet made beautiful by their presence.

Images taken from Google