Where’s home?

As adults who are part of this rapidly globalizing world, we’re often asked to pinpoint the exact, city that we identify as our home. Honestly, it is the hardest question to answer after “…the nation wants to know.” For some people pat comes the answer, it’s mostly the city where they were born and raised. Where they bought their first home or had their first child etc. These answers are usually related to some significant moment in their life. This however, isn’t the case for the larger segment of our society. Take me for example; I was born in New Delhi, raised in Calcutta, college in Pittsburgh, grad school in Boston and worked in Mumbai, albeit briefly. So, when I’m asked where’s home, I find myself, flummoxing, just a little bit. To me, Calcutta will always be dear, I grew up here, my parents live here, my childhood is associated with this city, but, is this where I feel I belong? Or is it simply, just an emotional attachment, since the people I love and need in my life live here. On days that I was terribly homesick while still in college, I’d wonder if I simply missed mom and dad, or did I miss the city? More often than not, I must confess, I missed my family, my bed and my own bathroom. Living in the dorms and sharing your bathroom with 30 other girls can do that to you.

When we graduated high school, the obsession was to leave Calcutta, immediately. It was understood that one must “get out of Cal.” I too carried this feeling of wanting to leave the city that had watched us grow, protected us and given us the perks of innumerable Bangla Bandhs, thanks to the rivalry between CPI(M) and TMC. It was only, when I left the country did, my inner Shahrukh Khan from Swades surface. I became, Suniel Shetty from Border, not missing the opportunity to say, Bharat mata ki jai! 🙂

My first two years in Pittsburgh were miserable. I would fly back home twice a year, just to get away from everything America. One should have seen me on May, 27th 2010. It seemed as though I was being sent to prison, when I packed up to leave for Boston. I heard, Mariah Carey’s It’s a wrap on loop as my plane took off from Pittsburgh. Somewhere, my overdramatic Bengali self enjoys such moments.

Looking back, I think it was Boston where I found myself. People, who have lived in various cities, will tell you that by the time you leave a city, it has engulfed you and you land up leaving behind a little piece of your heart there. Every city in its unique way teaches you something. It could be something about yourself, how you deal with breakups, how to keep your head down and power through school, one’s strength of character is tested and a bond is thus created. We may find ourselves loving a place more than the others, but essentially, that has got to do more with the people and the memories you make at that particular place. I loved Boston, I had already been living and studying in the U.S. for about four years when I moved there, everything seemed familiar, so the transition to a new city was smooth. I remember leaving the airport and taking Storrow Drive down to Commonwealth Ave. to get to my apartment and falling in love with the city instantly. Boston was a city of many firsts for me, and for that reason it’ll always remain a huge part of my global home.

I cannot end this post without talking about, how some cities that were once a cause of great joy, leave a disturbing aftertaste. New York, for me is that city. A city, that I frequently visited during my time in Boston. Some wonderful memories associated with it, but it’s also a city that caused me a lot of hurt and pain. A place, I’d probably think a lot before visiting again.

Cities do that to us. They imprint on us. They mark us as their own, and consume us with every fiber of their being until we can’t tell ourselves apart.

Handwritten notes

The little library at home is full of books, books that belong to my grandparents, my parents, my brother and a tiny collection that I have procured over the years. Being Bengali, one is predisposed to love books. This gene however, surfaced quite late in my life. The warriors that my parents are, they tried every few years to inculcate the habit of reading into me. At first it was the Noddy collection, and then came the Enid Blyton series, everywhere they went they would bring back books for my brother and I. They even tried Bangla short stories! My brother on the other hand was a voracious reader, as a matter of fact he would average at least two books a week when we were still in junior school. While he looked forward to the Calcutta Book Fair each year, I’d wait for our trips to Nicco Park.

Something changed in 2004 when my brother left for college. Suddenly, I lost my companion, my permanent buddy to do things with. It’s during that summer after ICSE, that I started reading. This is probably why; I hadn’t really explored our little library at home as much as my brother had. All the Tell Me Why’s, the Encyclopedia’s didn’t know of my existence till much later. It was only recently, that I trekked down to our mezzanine floor library to look through my dad’s art books that I stumbled upon one particular book. This book, had an inscription, it said in Bengali, that it was an anniversary present from my grandfather to my grandmother. I stroked over that page and sniffed it to see if the smell would remind me of them. Alas, it reeked of mothballs. Agh!

In another book, I found a note, which said, that my grandfather had won the first prize in 10th grade while studying at St. Gregory’s High School, Dhaka. This was one of the few things that he had brought with him when they had to leave former East Pakistan. That’s the thing about handwritten notes. It transports you to another time almost instantly. I love handwritten letters! This is probably why, I always ask for birthday cards. While studying in the U.S. I’d occasionally send my parents handwritten letters and cards. Whenever they sent me a letter, I would hold it a little close and try to smell my mom’s shower-to-shower powder and dad’s old spice cologne.

While in school, we’re taught to write different types of letters. Formal, informal, official, inquiry, the list goes on. Truth be told, I am almost 30 and am yet to send out an actual formal letter. We are the generation that transitioned from learning to write letters in school, to work emails (mostly). Rummaging through the old books full of little inscriptions, I had the sudden urge to go look for my old letters and cards that are safely kept in the bottom drawer of my desk. Flipping through them, I felt my face hurting from the constant smiling. I identified the letters based on the handwriting pattern. Smiled, that some of my friends still write the same way.

Essentially, our handwriting gives our stories character.

I received an email last night from a dear friend of mine, who is a beautiful writer and one of the few people who still uses the USPS! Reading her digital letter made me miss her perfectly symmetrical handwriting. Every year as we exchanged books on our birthdays, we’d carefully inscribe little saying in it, in pencil of course! As I sat in our library this afternoon, I picked out books given to me by her to feel a little closer. I wish people took the time out to write actual letters. They’re so intimate and personal. It creates a sense of belonging in each other’s world. Also, I feel it would be a far more valuable thing to pass onto the next generation than, digital copies of WhatsApp text messages.

A steaming cup of chai

“ A steaming cup of chai, invokes the memories of the days gone by.”

I tried really hard, to think back to the exact moment that chai became a part of my life. As a child, growing up in a typical Indian household we weren’t allowed to drink tea. So, my first memory related to tea, was that there was always a certain air around teatime at home. And, that I could dip unlimited number of biscuits into my dad’s teacup. Perks of being dad’s favorite, I guess.

From a very young age, I understood that we, Bengali’s, were different from the rest of India when it came to the art of making and drinking tea. In the sense, we knew how to consume the finest tea (Darjeeling of course!); soaked in a porcelain teapot for exactly three minutes, strained into a slightly warm teacup. Saucer was a must!

This however, isn’t the form of tea that I fell in love with. I went the radical way; drawn to the quintessential masala chai, much to my mother’s dismay. Made by boiling milk and water, with a slightly lower grade tealeaf mixed with a powdery concoction of cardamom and ginger, boiled till it resembles the color of a terracotta tile.

Every once in a while, when my tea is brought to me, I catch myself missing my grandparents. I am reminded of my childhood, my brother and I playing around them, as they warned us of the hot cup of tea that they held at a slightly higher level, so that we wouldn’t knock it out of their hands. A steaming cup of chai, can sometimes, invoke those memories, tucked away somewhere in the corner of our brain.

For instance, up till 6th grade, every Wednesday, we’d have to recite the Bengali poem that was being taught to the class that week. We went around the class, standing up one by one, reciting stanzas of the poem of the week. My father claims that we come from a long line of elephants. Thus, he took it upon himself to help me, each week, to memorize my poem, before my class on Wednesday. Sitting out on the balcony each Wednesday morning at 5am with dad, trying to learn one of Tagore’s many poems for class, watching him sip his tea made my day a little brighter. My life seemed perfect.

Teatime, around my mother however, was very different from the rest of the family. Without fail everyday, she got the 5pm caffeine headache. This meant, that going swimming in the evening was in jeopardy. Each summer, my brother and I would wait for the sun to set, mom to finish her cup of boiling hot tea and for her to give us the signal, that we could go get dressed to be taken swimming. We secretly joked about mom being a tea-consuming dragon, as we watched her down her tea within minutes. Now, I understand the reason why mom used to be so quiet while drinking her tea. It was, her me time, something that I have grown to appreciate and enjoy. After, coming home from a long day at school, to have those few minutes before the chaos of the evening began. Years later she told me that she looked forward to go swimming with us, it gave her some lone time with the two of us. We were the three best friends.

About ten years ago, I met one of my best friends in college. We bonded instantaneously, being Indian in a foreign land, does that to you. As we braved our first American winter together, we found solace in steaming cups of chai. It gave us a common ground, a sense of security and the warmth of familiarity. Masala chai brought us together. Till date, whenever we set up our Skype dates, it’s a ritual that we must bring our chai mugs for the date. It makes us feel closer and stronger, perhaps.

A moment of silence must be observed, for all those who are yet to fall in love with the brown nectar of happiness. Also, for those unfortunate souls, who believe that green tea should be considered as a real beverage.

Dear non- tea drinker,

I wish you’d give me a chance.

Love,

A steaming cup of chai

The art of waiting

April 01, a date that people across the globe celebrate as all fools day, however, for students / recent graduates / young professionals living in the U.S. it has a different meaning all together. It is the day that marks the beginning of the H1B filing season. A day, which most of us patiently work towards, unknowingly perhaps, from the day we set foot in the U.S. It teaches us the art of waiting.

A lot has been said and written about the virtue of waiting. Religion being our first teacher, imbibes in us, the value of waiting for our turn, promising us with the sweet reward for our patience. We’re told to wait in line, which some of us fail to do at most government offices. Nevertheless, we do it in the most rustic form. It stems from our basic understanding of the concept, that, if I put in my time (by waiting) when my turn comes, I shall be rewarded with my work being taken care of swiftly.

This however, is not always the case.

It’s been three years and three months, since I moved back to India. It was a tough decision, but it had to be done. Three years later, I find my mind drifting back to the day that, I packed up my apartment, donated things, which I never thought I would part ways with and buying that one-way ticket back to Calcutta. During that flight from Boston to home, via Dubai, it taught me a few things about myself that I had probably not realized in the seven years that I had lived away from home, independently.

The art of waiting comes from the belief system that, eventually, things will fall into place. Life as we know it, will change, I mean it has to, right? After all, that’s what we’re taught. The unfortunate reality of life is that waiting doesn’t yield the necessary outcome that we desire. The first news article that I read this morning was about a woman news anchor, who had to read out, on air the news of a car crash. A car, that could potentially belong to her husband. The article says, that she stoically read the breaking news with utmost professionalism and waited for the segment to be over. She waited. Waited to confirm a person’s worst fear possible.

It’s been four months since I quit my job. The initial high of quitting, soon disappeared when I found that I no longer had a purpose to get out of bed each morning. The conviction with which I had quit my job was slowly slipping away. It dawned on me that, in my need to stick to my ethical and moral compass, I probably took a not so wise decision. But, that’s the thing about decisions, once you take them; you’re obligated to see them through. Not ‘cause of pride, but, because, intrinsically we would like to believe, that it no longer fits into the grand scheme of things in our life. Coupled with the faith that, this waiting period will eventually, yield our desired outcome.

In an ideal world, the art of waiting would always result in things working out in our favor. Which reminds, me of the Jim Carrey movie, Bruce Almighty, where he plays God for a few days. He starts off by granting everyone’s wishes, only to realize that wishes being granted might not always be good for that person(s).

Waiting can be cathartic, it gives you time to reflect, and appreciate the little things. At the same time, it can seem futile. I guess, it depends on which end of the spectrum you’re viewing it from.

National Siblings Day

Before going to bed last night, I noticed, my Instagram and Facebook page, slowly starting resemble a lot like people’s throwback Thursday posts. Only to realize that, its just Monday, and that it’s National Siblings Day presumably, in America. By the time I woke up, the trend had caught on in India and I could see toothy smiles all over social media. The bandwagoner that I am, I rummaged through a few old photo albums, to find this years NSD picture. For some reason, most of the pictures I found were that of my brother, prior to my birth. But, that’s material for a whole new post all together. Going back to social media, it makes me wonder, why we need the validation? Can I not love my brother, privately? If I don’t broadcast it on social media, does that love not exist? Will people question his existence, if I don’t pronounce to the world that I have the best sibling ever?

Going through people’s NSD posts on various social media platforms, something popped into my head. The love and respect that I have for my brother, is very similar to the feelings that I have for my closest friends. Old friendships, is something that a couple of girlfriends of mine and I have been talking a lot about. The importance of solid friendships. Friendships, where you’re not afraid, to lose that person just ‘cause you don’t see eye to eye. There’s a certain joy in disagreement. Something that we tend to have a lot with our siblings. The effortlessness of exchanges, the comfort with which you can ramble, the squabbles, the rants, the possessiveness. It all finds it’s way back to unconditional love for one another.

Like any sibling relationship, friendships too see their own quota of drama. When you look back years later, you realize those little arguments that were so important and life altering is what made this bond so strong. My brother is barely two years older to me. We fought a lot as kids. Like any younger sibling, I idolized him and wanted to do everything that he was into. Even though, I hated the kind of music he liked, the movies he wanted to see and the fact that he was a brother and not a sister, I still wanted to be just like him. There’s very little he could do about the latter, but still. Occasionally I found myself wishing I had a sister to share things with. Growing up with a brother and all boy cousins was a little rough at times, especially when, they played pretend WWF.

I found solace in my girlfriends. Who have in their own way, also, caused a lot of grief and agony. It was at times like those, that I realized, brothers are simpler beings, they tell you exactly how it is and tend to get over things a lot faster. Having studied at an all girls’ school, I learnt how to be empathetic and kind to other women. That is why till today, our friendships are devoid of pettiness and we all possess the ability to accept the uniqueness of each other.

Some friendships that I have stuck on in the twenty-nine years of my life have now evolved to a bond of sisterhood. Therefore, I would like to toast, not only my brother, but also the amazing women in my life whom I am proud to call my sisters. One doesn’t need to share the same biological DNA to feel unconditional love for one another.

So, cheers to all my friends who became, sisters!