India, especially New Delhi, where I hail from, wears a lovely hue this time of the year. The busy capital city decides to slow down. It wipes the sweat of its forehead just like the people who inhabit it. It dresses up to welcome winter. Dubai too enters a similar phase at almost the same time. Festive and pleasant vibes fill up the air. It’s Diwali; the message is loud and clear, in both the lands. Yet, the NRI (Non-Resident Indian) Diwali leaves one wondering what’s missing? Something is, though it may be tough to pinpoint.
If there is a clan that can poetically describe a curry, it is a Bengali. Every Bengali is a food critic.
I eat. Therefore I Am.
A Bengali is born to eat. Literally. Bengalis eat everything. The clan saw no innovation in having three different verbs that did the same thing: eating, drinking or smoking. So, they decided to stick to one. In Bangla (the language) you ‘eat’ everything from fish to water to their favourite brand of smokes. The idea is not to labour on ‘how’ it is being consumed but ‘what’ is being consumed. Simplicity redefined.
On a recent trip back home to Kolkata, I was scheduled to meet my fave gal pals, who were incidentally in town too, after some ten long years. We were to catch up at my tiny pad, which had for years, shared the privilege of being the crash out zone, to our growing up years, before we succumbed to bigger and better jobs, in far flung cities.
The room is filled with hysterical laughter, fast chitchat and meandering commentary. We’re at a social ‘catch up’ gathering hosted by a family friend, where we hear: “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you.” Over and over again, like a scratched record.
There is an archaeological proof that 1,000 of centuries ago the Greeks, Romans, Japanese, Indians and the Chinese used fans, both as cooling and ceremonial device. I am not surprised. With our humid climate, one cannot imagine life without it. On quiet evenings, lying on the bed and staring endlessly at the ceiling, I nonchalantly notice the swift set of spinning shadows left by the rotating blades. There isn’t a day it remains still. Even on cooler days. Except maybe when the maid is sweeping. Those two-unbearable minutes in this sweltering heat are brutal and even before she finishes sweeping the last tile on the floor, all eyes are on her to turn the fan back on. Fan or pankah as we lovingly call is an indispensable part of our urban lives.
Being the only son in the family is enough reason to have to clean all the fans in the house, time and again, especially when Diwali’s round the corner. There are other duties that sons don’t really mind, like fetching stuff from the market, but they’re always going to be less willing to do anything that involves standing on rickety chairs and cleaning unstable machinery.
The blissful, lazy Sunday sleep had just been disturbed. I was feeling distinctly warm. The room was quiet and I instantly knew that the fan had been switched off. The soft, comforting whirring of the fan had stopped and with my eyes still closed, the hearing sense took over. Diagonally across my bed to the left, I could hear the slow jingling of the maid’s bangles as she swept the floor. A decision had to be made: should I just keep my eyes closed and fall asleep again? Or should I open my eyes and investigate? Sensing that she just switched off the fan to sweep the floor, I decided to keep my eyes closed and wait it out; there still was a chance of falling asleep again.
I am sitting in the dining room, back home (Having been married for more than a decade, home is and will always be my parent’s house; one where I grew up with my little sister and one where my little girl spends her summer vacations each year). My little chefling is enjoying the makhane ki kheer her nani made for her to try and I am looking at both of them enjoying each other’s company with a cup of coffee in my hand. My parents don’t drink coffee but always make sure they have a jar ready for me when we visit.
Especially those in dusty, not pretty, one in a few thousand towns across the nation? Where living is a simple business, governing is almost nonexistent. Intricacies of administration are less and extended conversations on daily predictable mishaps are more the norm. “Why is the chai less sweet today?” “There was more cow dung to avoid on the road today, too much of a nuisance, I tell you!’’