I straightened my eye-glasses, which were frequently slipping down my nose-ridge due all the sweat trickling down my face, uncomfortably down my chest and back. But the guard wouldn’t budge. “ Madam, jab tak woh hume nahi bolti, hum aapko andar nahi aane denge.” I was flabbergasted. This wasn’t an attempt to barge into the PM’s office, I was just trying to talk to a school-coordinator! The guard initially insisted that I explain to him the reason for wanting to meet the principal. I duly agreed and explained the purpose of visit which basically involved a short survey to be conducted in a classroom for academic purposes. I don’t believe in brands, but seeing his expression turn from being disinterested to mildly suspicious, I flashed my ID card to indicate the ‘prestigious’ institution I belong to, but to no avail– the word “survey” had done all the damage possible. He…
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Cuttack — a major city in Odisha. Over 1000 years old, located in the delta of the river Mahanadi and only about 25 kms away from the state capital of Bhubaneshwar. Its claim to fame is its silver filigree work (locally called Tarkashi) and it is the birthplace of the famous revolutionary freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The city also saw the early school days of Netaji. My interest in Cuttack — well it is the birthplace of some of my dear most, like my mom, dad, bro, hubby… not to mention many of the other relatives. Reluctantly, I have to admit it is the city of my origin.
Cuttack is a strange place. It is strange because the time seems to have stopped here. Cuttack being the native place of both my parents, I have been a regular visitor for the past 32 years. And I think it was somewhere around my early childhood the progress kind of came to a halt in the city. Or at least in the localities that I visit. Any change that has happened after that has been mostly superficial. Bhubaneshwar (BBSR for short) is just a bit away in terms of distance… but in terms of time Cuttack seems to be lagging behind many, many years. If you are going by road from BBSR to Cuttack there is a place where a horde of cows and bulls cross the highway, I think right after that the time gets suspended. But, in a way it is enchanting. Enchanting because as my cousin says it still retains the “Malgudi” like quality. Personally, I find it intriguing how a country is moving in a certain pace, while this place which is very much part of our country, is able to ignore the rest and and be just the way it had been even years back.
Super-narrow streets framed by shallow overflowing drains on either side… cows and bulls moving about freely. Animals, children and adults attend to their nature calls, totally uninhibited, right under the blue sky wherever they feel comfortable (on the river sand if its not too far away). Splotches of ‘paano’ (betel leaf) stains are familiar sight throughout the city… its there on the walls, its there on the roads, and even on people. Walking on the streets requires a definite degree of engrossment. You have to watch your step lest there be mouthful of spit (chheppo in Oriya) or dung in front of you, or a big damn puddle of mud. All of this while you are dodging a cycle rickshaw or two, trying to make their way in that narrow lane. God forbid if you have a four-wheeler coming… forget the crap, save your life! And if you happen to be behind the wheel of a four-wheeler, it can become the ultimate adventure sport. You are like some hero in slow-mo, trying to get past a wave of humanity and animal kingdom, in an average 10-12 feet wide road lined with drains on either side.
In this general ambiance of drain, dung, crap and spit you will find hundreds and thousands of temples of all sizes. Cuttack seems to be the abode of every possible gods and goddess. The ritualistic form of worship is ingrained in the people right from childhood. Nowhere else i have seen the children recognize as many deities as they do here. I have a cousin who used to collect pictures of different Gods when he was 6-7 years old! There are houses where age old calenders are plastered to the walls because they cannot be discarded as they have the image of some deity or other. The god-fearing people have diligently assigned days for the prominent divinities and follow every ritual to please them on that particular day, sometimes a single day catering to a multitude of them. And then there are ujjapans (submission/conclusion of a series) and sthapanas (start of a new one)… the list has no end. If you happen to take a ride through the city with an inhabitant, it will amuse you to see the number of times their head bows and hands join at the sight of slightest temples (mundiya maro). And, as if the number of deities were not enough, there are people like you and me, on whom the God “descends on”. They too are revered with same faith as the deities. I do not understand the science behind this but it seems to be rampant in those areas. Pujas are called to ward off any problem one can imagine and encounter.
The priests are busy and rich. The healthy Dakshinas (alms) they receive from “jajmans” (hosts) often find their way back to the shops where they were originally purchased from. Now the new gen entrepreneurial wives of these priests have started their own business of selling puja “samagris” (requirements), where they resell the goodies their husbands got it for free! Pujas are not always simple, because of strong “Tantrik” presence black magic (Gudi- gadhudi) is also quite common. When these simple minded, god fearing people get impatient with their regular pujas, they sometimes deviate and do pujas to present obstacles in in someone else’s lives. Here begins a series of curses and counter-curses, very much like the mythological stories we heard from our grandmothers.
Getting back to the aged looks of the city. It’s the structures that contribute to this. There are a number of dilapidated households almost century or centuries old, often uncared for scattered throughout the city. Sometimes there are newer structures totally in-congruent with the original ones jutting out like sore thumbs.These structures hold both nostalgic and haunted quality. The layout reminds you of bygone era when there were courtyards with wells/hand-pumps in between, bathrooms are often out of the household, kitchens with no sink (used utensils are kept and washed near bathroom), little gardens with banana tree and tulsi, typical old wooden doors with chain latch on top, windows which fold on hinges- to fan in and out. These houses seem to hold many untold secrets. If you go in, it is almost certain you will run into some bent over really old granny or grandpa watching black and white television in a box with sliding doors. After giving a distant look and hearing your intro that you screamed out, they will grin at you toothlessly, eagerly wanting to tell you stories from the past which you definitely and maybe even your parents don’t know of either. They like to take out really old stuff from age-old huge cupboards with stained glass doors showcasing many old books and paraphernalia, to support their stories. Most of these houses are empty now. With many a members dead and few migrated out, these places haven’t been done up for quite a while. So in twilight they capture the grace of a haunted house. But what makes Cuttack interesting are the confused houses which are fusion of new and old. Newer, painted structures piggybacking on old tattered ones!
One also needs to take a stroll through the local markets. Choudhury Bazaar, Mangalabag — these are the paradise for trinkets. There are a battery of shops selling small, shiny clothes for the Gods along with every thing required for puja, garlands, aggarbattis, diyas etc. Slowly as you move towards Gourishankar Park the small gaudy clothes for God gives way to loud, gaudy clothes of human mortals especially women and girls. Seriously, no place else has taken so much shine to bling as this place! The number of sequins on clothes is directly proportional to the garment’s likability. These shops which once had local handwoven saris now exhibits cheap blingy replicas of the sarees seen in the “Saas Bahu ” serials, which are yet another fad in this city. In the evenings these collective sequins twinkle in all their glory giving a very village fair look to the area. What can I say about the new hangout — all new “Big Bazaaro”? It’s become pride of Cuttackis since its advent.
Another thing that I find interesting is that Cuttack is terrorized by monkey communities! Families, specially the ladies, fear the sudden raid by these monkeys. These monkeys, to show their clout, do every possible mischief. They throw the clothes drying on clothesline, they pluck flowers, uproot plants, steal food from the kitchens and then there are the legendary ones… Ones, they say, can open latches of doors and enter the house, steal food from kitchens and refrigerators. Dare you try to defy them, they make vicious faces, threaten and attack you or maybe even bite you.
It’s small idiosyncrasies like these which define Cuttack… the laid back attitude, afternoon nap time, ubiquitous paan stains and crap, screwed up drainage system, houses, cycles and cycle ricks haws, crowded markets, festivals which make the entire town look like a big fair. Yes, these are what makes Cuttack such a colorful place. People who live here rarely want to move away. People who have moved away (like most of my family) and see the shortcomings very critically yet, they carry this place dearly in their hearts and then there are people like me, the ” reluctant insiders”, who find it amusing!
If you liked this so far, there is more coming, in my next post… Keras, watch out. Its not gonna be good…
Lying in a corner or coffee table, it does not hold much fancy of the owner on most days. Then there are days when we are nostalgic, and that’s when the album spreads its charm. The album which had chronicled a period or event of our lives makes the pictures come to life. Transporting us back to the event help us relive the moment. One glance, and every small detail which was clouded by day to day tardiness starts to get clearer. Once again we are in the magic of the moment… birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, holding the baby for first time, baby’s first steps, first day to school… oh so many, many events… this ordinary item holds it all. It contains within itself a story. As I am writing this, I realize it is both like a book, and the easiest form of time travel!
If you are wondering why this sudden respect for this mundane item? Well, its because something happened today. I was visiting a friend and my little girl, in her exploratory whirl, pulled out a beautiful album and handed it to me. Curious to get peep into my her life, kind of excited to know which event will jump out of the pages, I opened it immediately. I opened from somewhere in the middle, expecting it to be filled in. But what came next was beyond my expectation. I did get my story… but it wasn’t from the owner… it was the album itself which told it. The tale had no words, but the story was so strong that I could not avoid it.
As i had mentioned earlier, I opened the album from the middle… and found the slots empty. I turned some more, towards the beginning, still no sign of any photos. Only the silvery glimmer of the empty slots, never used, never filled. The album cover didn’t look new — it had a yellowish sheen and the corners were blunt too… and looked used. This made me even more curious and I kept turning till I reached the one and only photograph of the whole album. The moment I laid my eyes on that photo, my heart began to fill with incredible sorrow. The tale began to spin itself all around me.
It was a picture of a birthday party celebrated many, many years ago. Among the usual party setting stood a beautiful woman holding a child about 2 years old. Both of them wore big smiles-smiles which reflected the pure happiness and delight of having each other. There was heaps of warmth, gratitude, innocence, security. The picture had captured one of those moments which we wish to make the time freeze at that moment and live that particular moment for the rest of our lives. Because of all these qualities, this otherwise ordinary picture became one of the most beautiful picture i have ever seen in my life. There was no picture after it because I knew my friend lost her mother soon after that. No words spoken… no eye contact… I knew the album was empty because what she went through after that, isn’t something anyone would like to be reminded of. There must have been so many stories… some prizes won in school, some plays or dance performances, so many festivals, so many more birthdays, graduation… the empty slots screamed out even those stories. With her mother, she had lost the security, the warmth and selfless love only a mother reserves for the child. No wonder this picture comprised the entire shortened childhood of hers.
The rest of the album told the story of her emptiness and pain in her heart, which she masks so well beneath her cheerful countenance. That one day of fun and glee of her second birthday portrayed in that picture is the only memory she cherishes. I do not know if she has memory of the rest of the day or its just the picture. But I know that this picture she looks at so often, is everything she would like to get back again. And for her sake I said a silent prayer, may she have another album much bigger and fatter than this. And that album must not have a single empty slot…
There is a house somewhere in this city
I know not whether it is just cement and bricks,
or has walls already.
It is a house just the same
Calling out our name.
The house is calling out
Yes i can hear it shout!
The walls are waiting to soak
Colors of all kinds, music , aromas and even some smoke.
Can’t wait to find what’s going to adorn it
Li’l girl’s drawings,photos of past or… some of my art
Will there be masks or even som maestro’s art?
All excited to find out,
Yes I can hear it shout.
There is a house waiting to be filled with sounds
Laughter, chatter,quarrels, music , chants…even some sobs
Yes the house is waiting to hear it all.
There will be drama….oh lots of them!
Growing pangs of the child
Challenges of middle age!
It maybe the house where two of us grow old.
But, before that the house is waiting to be sold.
Yes there is a house waiting for us,
Waiting to embrace all our quirks
Waiting to be part of our love
Waiting to join us and grow with us.
Hmmmm….i am writing again after a long interlude. I wondered why i was unable to write … and it took me some time to figure it. i don’t write often even though i would like to… because i wanted to right on big things…. make impact every time i write….as if the world was waiting for me to speak. Then , I realised I do not have too many great things to write about. PPPPhhhttt….went my bubble of grandiosity! But , i still want to write….. a little more than facebook updates. Somewhere i do nurture a wish to make an impact(bad habits die hard), but that can taken care of later on. So i decided i shall write on whatever occupies my mind…. right from rats haunting my kitchen to save water!This gives me lot of latitude to rant on. At the same time i dont have pressure(my own) to write something great… hope this works( fingers crossed). What are the things one can hear from me? Well, i am excited by the following topics:faith, spirituality,travelling , parenting,raising morally uplifted kids, food- cooking…eating…smelling…. reading…., environment, save nature, save water ,save tiger, raising kids who are responsible towards environment, education system, corruption…. basically lot of things. I hope to put forth my simple(complex) minded…totally layman perspective on everyday issues( just like many other blogs). My only aspiration is to maintain regularity in posting( big fall from the aspiration of self- improvement blog)….and find a place to vent out my weird theories on things (which do not interest anyone else).It’s official… my topic will be”Nothing great!”
via Nothing Great!!!.
Yes!! I have to start all over again. I do not want this to be one of the many of my unfinished ventures! My project on self-improvement is still on, only the tone with which I got Started before does not seem to be the right way to start. True, my dreams got shattered, my life slipped away from me faster than slimiest of fishes, I beacame victim of circumstances but these past years were not wasted. I was learning lessons far more puposeful than taught in schools,even parents falter teaching these lessons .. yes these were the lessons of life!
i cannot start over with bitterness! Its about time that i give credit to my “life” lessons. Foremost among them is having faith and gratitude. these are two magic words which can open the most toughest gates with just a bit of huff and puff! In my earlier attempt of “getting started” i had temporarily forgotten all about these two words , hence it looked like a real steep climb! In fact, I am kicking myself for having forgotten these most crucial lessons…. I had learnt them in hard way at the first place!!!
You see, our schools, our society is so busy instilling in us methods of living “successful” lives in “real” world, meanings of ‘faith” and “gratitude’ are often misappropriated.In fact, faith is fast becoming a hollow word, with no practical meaning. It is no wonder , like millions of others , i was oblivious to the magic of faith. To me it had a religious… fanatic kind of ring to it.Maybe,life HAD to be rough on cynic like me. It really had to shake me up up a bit strongly to make me awaken to the real potential of faith. Funnily, as i kept losing my ego, self-worth, job, credibility as a professional and so many other things, i kept becoming richer in faith.
It was faith which popped its tiny head and kept me going when i suffered beacause of bad career decision. It was faith which made me see glimpses of humanity in my husband whenever marriage hit rough patches; and today i have a friend in him who is mostly beside me. It is definitely faith which helps me raise a difficult three year old, both creatively and humanisitcally, almost single handedly. i even have some incidents which can be put under wonderous… i choose to put it down to faith. No matter how hard the situation has been ,i haven’t ever given up, rather i have become a believer . Yes, it is working of faith!
yes, i want to regain my life ….but with faith!i had a bad start but want a splendid end… kind of end they have in sweet animation movies… perfect music, perfect golden background. For this bit I have to rely on my friend Faith!