Monday, October 15, 2012

Pujo Shopping, Pandal Hopping & Much More...

Oh, how I wish we kids had cameras back then. I tried going through all my old photos and am bummed to find out I have absolutely no pictures of us friends in our famous pujo attires of yesteryears. Those pictures would be priceless based on our sense of fashion back then.

Pujo fashion in Kolkata was of course dominated by the latest Bollywood styles. I think it was 1990 - the year of Maine Pyar Kiya - pujo shopping in Gariahat, the street vendors crying out loud, “didi, come take a look at the kabutar ja salwa kameez” - the one Bhagyashree wore while singing that famous song. No, I DID NOT purchase that. I cannot remember if it was my choice to not buy it or I wasn’t allowed to. But whatever the reason was - thank God!

That definitely did not stop us from trying to pick up some of that fashion when it came to our hair and makeup. I have specific images of those big hair bows with nets at the bottom to hold your hair into a bun. I think that rage started with Divya Bharti in the early 90’s as well. Anyone remember her? I also remember sporting that hairdo at the Golf Green pujo pandal one year - got a non-facebook “friend request” from one of the senior dada’s there - SCORE! I wonder if it was the hair or those big button-style (for lack of better words) earrings that did the trick - LOL!

Now I cannot remember who started the whole matte lipstick phase paired with a darker shade of lip liners - but boy oh boy - we were all over that one, especially me. I had every shade of brown matte lipstick there could ever be. Followed by those pastel, short-sleeved churidar kameez from Dil to Pagal Hain.

I was surprised to see the same trend after I moved to Sacramento a decade ago. The year of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam  - Jaya Bhaduri sarees selling like hot cakes at the Berkely saree stores for aunties and the Kareena Kapoor outfit for the youngsters. Now, now, aunties - please don’t get mad at me for calling you an auntie. If its any consolation to you - I think I’m one now as well.

So, its that time of the year and I miss all the craziness. I have no idea what’s “IN” these days anymore. I mean, based on the recent Bollywood movies I’ve watched there is no way on earth I can sport some of those outfits worn by Kareena Kapoor or Deepika Paudokone. I miss those days when Bollywood actresses had some meat on their bodies and wore clothes maybe some of us could carry off. I guess I really AM an auntie now.

If you haven’t already guessed, the first thing pujo is all about amongst many other things  is fashion. The crazy shopping and planning of new outfits to be worn all 5 days of Durga Pujo -  that includes separate morning and evening wears. As kids, we used to keep a tally amongst friends as to who had the most number of new outfits that year. Ronita almost always won.

As much as pujo was a time to spend with family, our friends always got precedence. Our group of friends had a schedule down for those few days. Mornings were to be spent with family and anything remotely religious that was expected out of any of us. Evenings were reserved for friends and pandal hopping with them. As we grew older, we convinced our parents to have sleepovers and were out all night in the city going from one pandal to the other with expectations to out number last year’s count as well as to determine which locality had the most number of good looking males.

Pujo was also about relationships. Extended families came together and it was a time to reunite with cousins you would normally not meet the whole year. It was about friendships – both old and new. It was also a time for romance. I think the last one took precedence over the rest. It was a time for folks to fall in love – time for the guys to muster up the courage to finally tell a girl they liked them. It was a time to feel giddy with excitement knowing someone had the hots for you, a time to openly check out and be checked out without being judged. 

Bengali’s are foodies. So it comes as no surprise pujo was also all about food. I still wonder how the “bhog” always tasted as heavenly as it did, without fail, each and every time, year after year. But what was most delectable were the rolls and fuchkas being sold on the streets. You can never go hungry those five days of pujo since street food is available all night long. 

Apart from these pujo to me was waiting for baba to arrive along with waiting for Durga’s face to be unveiled,  Thamma's crisp white sarees with red borders, going to see the new protima at mamoni’s house in Tallygunge, Dadubhai’s ear plugs, those blaring loudspeakers, narkeler naaru, maangsehr jhol on nabami, the beating of dhaaks and dhunuchi naach, the friendships, the lights and sounds, Jodhpur park, Babubagan, Golpark, Ekdalia, Mudiali, Maddox square - the heartbeat of my most favorite city – Kolkata. 

I wonder if I could ever explain to my daughter what these few days meant to us. Starting this year, mainly because she is beginning to understand things better and has opinions (how did that happen? She’s still 5!), I plan to introduce some of my pujo experiences from back home. It will of course not be the same, pandal hopping will have to be substituted by pujo parikrama on the internet – but we can start our own new traditions and it will be as much fun for her as it was for me growing up.

I guess its time to start with shopping…

Disclaimer: Photos have been randomly picked from the web

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Organizing a show requires more than an idea and will power. It requires a team of dedicated individuals who believe in your vision and dedicate themselves to making it happen. Apart from all the hard work that goes into it, there is also a lot of love and faith.

The idea for organizing a dance show that portrays the strength, character and beauty of the Indian woman had been brewing in my head for quite some time. Coupled with that, telling a story that partly related to my life in some ways meant a lot to me. I’ve fought social stigma on several occasions in my life, so when I came across Breakthrough’s work in India and the music videos they had created to raise awareness on AIDS and violence against women – I knew my dance would have a purpose.

Social stigma within the Indian community exists even in this country. I know that from personal experience and that of my friends. I know of women who go through abuse, domestic violence, life threatening diseases, and instead of talking about such matters, seeking help and/or putting a stop to it and gaining self respect, we continue on in our lives afraid of what our society might think or say about us.

Well, I say: If you can’t speak about such things then just dance! A few raging emotions gave birth to Raging Rhythms and only because our team was passionate, dedicated and such wonderful human beings, that this show became the success it was and we witnessed over 300 people make the drive to Davis to rise above social stigma and help us raise close to $11,000 for Breakthrough.

Good persists in almost all of us. We need to recognize it, streamline it and put it to work. And no matter what life throws at us, we are all equally entitled to a life filled with love and respect no matter what other people think. Respect will come to you only if you respect yourself. And one by one if we all share our stories and work towards educating people, we WILL get rid of the various stigmas that still plague our culture. We have the power to make this a better place to live in. All we need to do is believe.

My sincere thanks to the entire team of dancers, volunteers, and supporters for taking that first step. I surely hope Raging Rhythms is the beginning of many good things to follow.

Rising above all odds - a personal journey

Monday, April 09, 2012

Love, Sex & Dhoka

"Sex is a three letter word, not an abused four letter word" – Ekta Kapoor

So this past Sunday, for lack of better things to do, I indulged myself to a few old episodes of the Indian talk show “Koffee with Karan” and heard the soap queen Ekta Kapoor give her take on sex in Bollywood movies prior to the launch of her movie “The Dirty Picture”.

The time I grew up India, women did not talk so casually about sex on national television. In fact we refrained from using the word ‘sex’ even in Biology class. Now that I think of it, I don’t think our teachers ever mentioned the word. I remember having only one lesson on the reproductive system and all we could do was look at each other and suppress giggles. And this was in a class of all girls too.

The sexiest thing in Bollywood movies at the time was Shah Rukh Khan gently moving his heroine’s long locks and blowing mildly at the nape of her neck and that’s all it took for us girls to melt in our seats.

Well, the reason I bring all this up is because the said interview took me back to those times and the impact of love, sex and dhoka in our lives back then.

I was more in love with the concept of falling in love than the real thing. Having lived in a girls hostel for the most part I did not come across boys that often (no getting ideas here). Also, I was very choosy (here some would describe me as snobby and bitchy) and most of the guys I met after I quit boarding school did not quite make the cut. It was getting very depressing. By that time most of my friends were “falling in love” and trying to sneak out of their homes and make trips to Victoria Memorial or movie theaters and writing love letters. And when my best friend at the time found a boyfriend too, I was almost determined to fall in love and did so (or thought I did) with the next guy I met. BAD IDEA!

Falling in love did not mean having sex. Well, I take that back. That information was not shared openly and not everyone indulged in it, or at least I’d like to think based on my situation. If the couple were bold enough they would hold hands in public places. That was the most physically intimate gesture couples used in public to demonstrate their love. I remember once I was walking back home from the bus-stop on my way back from college. Instead of the regular 10 mins it took me 20 mins that day to get back home. I had probably wandered. On reaching home dad asked me if I was seeing someone. The seemingly shocked expression on my face led him to spill the beans. One of my relatives had called him to disclose that I was spotted at the Jodhpur Park bus-stop holding hands with a guy. So this is what really happened. While growing up, us girlfriends held hands a lot. One of my girlfriends did dress like a boy most of the time and had super short hair too. I think whoever saw me that day holding hands with my friend mistook her for a guy. It is funny to me till this date. But it was more amazing to witness how such news traveled faster than BBC.
Getting back on topic here, since sex wasn’t part of my life, all I can think of is my first kiss. Now we all know how memorable that can be. It was to me too. Just in a slightly different way.  The guy I was dating at the time (believe me when I say I don’t know what I was thinking) decided to land a kiss on me one day when I went over to visit him at his place as he was sick. Gross alert! Why would anyone kiss another person when they’re sick to begin with? But the ultimate grossness lay in the fact his breath reeked of onions – I mean real bad! And that did it for me. I was afraid I would NEVER kiss another man again. But then again, I will NEVER forget my first kiss. So, any idea of sex after that did not for once cross my mind.

Dhoka (betrayal)
Petty betrayal was a big part of teenager dating as well. If not, there would be no drama or gossip. You could tell by the way folks dressed or the kind of music they started listening too, that they had been dumped for someone else. And if someone was being overly poetic and/or a realist – then you could be pretty sure that said betrayal was taking its toll. However silly the causes were, it did bring in a lot of pain and at one point each of us friends have mourned or heaved a sense of relief having ended a certain relationship over some banana split sundaes at Outram Ghat.

The simplicities!

Friday, March 30, 2012


Okay, I admit, I have more pressing problems than my purse. Q&A sessions with my five year old whenever we drive somewhere, is topping the list right now. More often than not they extend beyond just “car time”. If for any reason I thought I wasn’t crazy enough to see a shrink before, I do so now.

Q. Mommy, how old was I when I was in your tummy?
A. Zero

Q. Mommy, how did I come out of your tummy?
A. The doctor cut my tummy open (NO, I am NOT ready to discuss natural birth right now) and took you out.

Q. Isn’t that dangerous? While cutting did the doctor not cut me?
A. No. The Doctors are very skilled and they do not cut the babies while cutting their mommy’s tummy.

Q. Mommy, how did you know I wanted to come out?
A. You knocked on my tummy and I knew you were ready to come out. Just like I can tell when you need to go to the bathroom when you do your little dance.

Q. Mommy, how did I get into your tummy?
A. {The question I was dreading} Ummm…well, when mommy and daddy get married, a baby comes to mommy’s tummy because mommy and daddy want you so much. (Let me know if any of you have a better one for this)

Q. Mommy where was I before I came to your tummy?
A. {I’m stumped} Hmmm…let’s see… (inserting favorite scenes from one of her Barbie movies) I think you were in a different world with with the cloud princess and her flying unicorns and you had long hair that touched the ice when you ice skated. {Very proud of myself here for coming up with something so creative}

Daughter{Tears start streaming down her eyes}
Mommy {totally flustered}: What happened baby?
Daughter: I want to go to the cloud princess right now! I want to ice skate with Barbie
Mommy {SHIT!!! Did not see this coming}:  But ‘shona that was a dream.
Daughter: But you just said I was there before coming to your tummy. Why can’t I go back?
Mommy: What I meant to say was you were dreaming about the cloud princess before you came to my tummy. Hey! who wants  brownie with ice cream???

And you think why my brain is turning to mush?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My "Little" Purse

Lately I've been too nostalgic and living a bit too much in the past. Its time to change that and talk about real problems that I face in my life right now. For example: my purse.

So for those of you who don't know me well, the purse to me is what a shopping cart is to a homeless person. I mean if I were to be stranded somewhere, I could probably survive from the stuff I have in it minus a change of clothes. Which, if I used a tote bag, I'm sure I'd have that too.

It can also be used for self defense. If I were to swing that thing on someone, its sheer weight could crush that person's skull.

So what is it that I have in my purse? Quite honestly I am no longer sure. The one thing I am sure about is that it does not have any money. So having lost the sole purpose of the purse - I am now at a loss. I am actually scared to empty its contents - it just gets too stressful (I speak from past experience). However, the situation is getting out of control since I am no longer able to find things I need when I need them.

As you might have guessed by now - I am not the "matching purse with every outfit" kind of a gal. That stresses me beyond belief. Which means I would have to shuffle contents on a daily basis. That could cause me a mild heart attack. I am not the expensive purse lady either. My purses know no brands, unlike some of my friends purses I might steal and sell one of these days to buy myself airfare to India. Yes, they can fund an entire roundtrip ticket to any continent of my choice actually. I once had a "Lolo" purse (that's what I call a Polo from China) which I literally used for well over a year on a continuous basis till my friends started threatening me to trash it. It was perfectly fine. They just over reacted to the leather that was starting to peel off of it.

 I miss my Lolo. And there you go - I'm back to nostalgia again!

Friday, March 09, 2012


I am prepped in really old clothes and have oiled my hair and tied it tightly into a bun. I knock on my neighbors doors and gather everyone on the ground floor of our building. We bring buckets and fill them with water.  We are excited and unusually loud. Well, actually we can hear ourselves talk because there seems to be barely any traffic on the streets. All you can hear is the sound of hurried flip flops and squeals of delight. The day is undoubtedly Holi - the festival of colors.

My dad will not leave the house that day and I for one will not stay indoor for a moment. All us kids in our building are downstairs mixing color, preparing the water balloons and talking strategy. Whoever crosses our path is going to be smeared in a concoction of color that will render him/her unrecognizable. In the mean time we are pretty much unrecognizable ourselves. You see, we haven't wasted much time playing between ourselves. Kids from neighboring buildings have joined us and its a big party on the streets.

The day has progressed, we've smeared color on people we've never met and will never see in our lives again. The sun is out in full force and we are almost baked in a way it seems like the color will never leave our skin. Our eyes are look so bright compared to our black painted bodies. We see our parents walk out to the balconies trying to keep an eye on us. I'm however waiting for the best part of it all.

No sooner than I'm thinking of it I hear Babun da's motorcycle. Without losing a second I hop on it and off we go whizzing past Dhakuria bridge, Golpark and Gariahat to Ballygunge where we get the best "Bhang". Going for a bike ride the day of holi is a pleasure in itself. The roads being empty, you can actually feel the wind. We load up bottles and bhang infused "shondesh" and bring the loot back to the happening place in Jodhpur park - the sidewalk of the Sen residence where we end being merry and entertain the pedestrians with our beautiful vocals.

We've been out for hours now and it is time I head home. I promise the rickshaw puller I will pay him a few extra rupees to take me there. Instead of going to my flat in Jodhpur Park, I find myself in a place far far away. I want him to turn back and start pedaling faster to take me back home, but he can't hear me anymore. He has disappeared into this colorful mosaic and all I'm surrounded with is memories.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Fairy Tale Fifth

Once upon a time there was a little princess who magically turned five and all her wishes came true.

The birthday weekend never to be forgotten (I will make sure of that) was Evani's first time at Disneyland as was mine. And all I can say is I'm glad that I waited this long. Experiencing it for the first time through her eyes is what's going to make this trip so memorable for me.

As parents we've never been too keen on large birthday parties for Evani. Firstly because they become more of a hassle than enjoyment and for some reason it always seems parties like those are more for the parents than for the kids. We've always preferred keeping them small where she can spend time with all her friends and or taking her somewhere to do something that she really enjoys. As part of that we had planned to celebrate her 5th birthday in Disneyland maybe right after she was born. And the fact that we did not take her there prior made it the kind of birthday she will hopefully remember as will we.

As a typical five year old girlie girl, her world revolves around princesses, fairies, flying horses, Barbies and most recently rock stars. Possessing a very vivid imagination she weaves her own fairytales that I'm beginning to think might make a great book one day (note to self: start writing some of that stuff down). She is a bundle of personality already with a bucket list that has me cracking up. When she's six, she wants to eat at Spaghetti Factory. On letting her know that she doesn't really need to wait another year to eat there and I can take her now, she says "but mommy, I don't like spaghetti yet!" When she's 16 she wants to go to Japan to meet Hello Kitty. Once she turns 70 (and yes, I checked with her and it is not 17) she wants to meet Hannah Montana and at 80 she wants to meet Madonna. Today she also asked me how much it costs to go to Japan.

Her favorite song is Bad Romance by Lady Gaga. But ever since she saw Madonna perform at Super Bowl she has become a fan. Her sense of style kind of matches theirs already and I don't know if I should be worried or extremely confident that she's going to make it big. But I'm keeping her Bollywood genes active as well and just for kicks have gotten her singing " I am a Disco Dancer".

When she grows up she wants to become a princess. I don't know about then but last weekend she definitely was. And to see the look on her face when she was told that she would be transformed into a princess of her choice the morning of her birthday made that outrageous price tag all worthwhile.

To Evani: may your happily ever after happen every day. Mommy and Daddy loves you very much and you will remain a princess in our hearts forever.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Growing Up in a Boarding School - The Finale!

To many it may seem like life in a boarding school at such an early age is harsh and painful. It is actually quite the opposite. Once you get over the lack of homely comforts, you begin to enjoy the simple things in life and you learn to adjust, live life to the fullest and love. My journey at Gokhale was such.

Our Saturday lunch chicken stew, our outings to the book fair and Victoria Memorial, those late night dark room games and desperate attempts at bringing back Indira Gandhi with planchits (calling spirits), dancing all night long at farewell parties and then crying like babies seeing our favorite seniors go, endless practices for the annual cultural show, pacing back and forth for the millionth time trying to cram before exams, writing tasks, sneaking trunk calls from "Hedu's" phone and protesting to the governing board about the food while throwing rotis on their faces are just few of the vast sea of memories that will remain fresh in me till I die.

But the most valuable gift I still cherish from my time at Gokhale are my friends. Growing up with them was life's best experience. They were not only friends but family and sometimes more. And on valentines day all I can think of is the amount of silliness we went through to share that love amongst each other and I wish I could do the same today. So despite of being thousands of miles apart with no Archie's Gallery cards, extra quotations, red roses, secret letters with poetry and mixed tape of sentimental songs - I still want to shout out and say I love you all! A decade of boarding school with all of you taught me to love, laugh, live and learn and I couldn't have asked for a better childhood than this.

Dedicated to my Gokhale friends who will live in my heart for eternity

A huge thanks to a dear friends who motivated me to write about my experiences growing up in a boarding school. I finally did it!

Monday, January 30, 2012


The walk to my aunt's house is short, yet it feels like the most interesting route one can take. I cross sweet shops, roadside barbers, a mosque, homes, rickshaws, dispensaries and a tube well crowded with young men lathering themselves with soap so hard that all you can see is the white foam and not an inch of the dark skin under.  As soon as I come to what seems like a clearing, I hear the bells ringing at the Kaali temple and cross the pond covered so densely with foliage that there is no way of telling if there is any water under, I know I'm almost there. It is no doubt easy to spot my aunt's house in that colony - it's the only house that shows signs of wealth denoted by fresh paint, and a car parked in the garage. It is also the only house where the man of the house sits by the window overlooking the street drinking his tea or not. It seems like he is always looking out of that window. Till date, I wonder why.

I love going to my aunt's place and will come up with any excuse to leave my grandparent's house and walk over there. It is also where I want to be when there is no power. Theirs is the only house I know with a generator where we can sit under the fan and watch TV while all the neighboring homes have people sitting by kerosene lamps fanning themselves desperately with hand fans and cursing that the power has to always go off right at the time of their favorite show of which there aren't too many to begin with. I also love going there because unlike my grandparents who won't feed me any junk food, there is an abundance of that at my aunt's place. She will also make those deep fried bread pakoras with a meat filling I love to eat so much with dollops of ketchup. It feels like heaven in my mouth and I savor it till all I can taste is my own saliva.

I love spending time with my sister. We sit on top of the winding stairs that lead down to an overgrown garden and talk for hours. She is much older to me but somehow we find common ground. I am jealous she has her own room in a home I would die to have. I can sense she will make strides in her life like no other women in our family.

In a house so full of fun, laughter and love, lurks shadows dark and ugly. They spring out of nowhere and grab me by surprise. They thrust their long ugly tongues inside my small mouth and I can taste bile rising up my throat. I'm afraid to venture near that window where I know he will cuddle me and shower me with his love in a way that makes me want to run far far away and never come back. The night I sleep over and yet am unable to sleep because my hand is in places that is beyond the wildest and darkest imagination of a little girl - I just shut my eyes tight and try my best to not throw up and wish and pray my aunt doesn't wake up.

My uncle dies a few days after my wedding. I hope his soul has not rested in peace.

Dedicated to all those little girls who are molested by family members and are unable to speak up in fear of...well, FEAR.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Growing Up in a Boarding School - The Journey Continues…

Having the house to myself, access to unlimited wine and streaming old Bollywood hits definitely requires a blog post. Especially since I've been on a hiatus. While the whole world (yes, US of A definitely considers themselves to encompass the whole world with their world series on everything) watches football ( I don't even know why they call it that...sigh!), I can actually hear myself think after what seems like a trillion years.

The songs currently playing are from my school days and recent Facebook pictures of some of my hostel friends have stirred in such nostalgia that I need to go back to the day when I heard I would be moving to another boarding school - a school that had swings, slides and a jungle gym. A place where I couldn’t speak my language freely or have to pray to Jesus every night was not my cup of tea. But most importantly, the fact that Pratt's playground was barren of any play structure, did not sit well with me. So, I was excited to leave Pratt memorial and head for Gokhale Memorial Girls School

It didn’t take long for me to make friends at GMGS. In fact, I found one while taking the entrance exam for that school – a fair and pretty girl from Guwahati who sucked at written Bengali as much as I did – Moumita Saha. Our journey at Gokhale began together – and what a journey that was.

I will always remember this school with fondness as most of who I am today was due to my time spent in those dormitories, corridors, dining hall and playground. Not to mention the ‘ghupchi’ and ‘gauri kund’ where some of us went to escape and share a few laughs. But I will remember this place mostly due to the “Guru Chela” fan system we had going. My first day at GMGS hostel, I was indoctrinated into this age-old custom of becoming a “fan” of a senior by Maitreyee. Too bad we didn’t end up inventing Facebook with its fan pages. Whichever senior I picked would become my “Guru” and I would be her “Chela” (disciple). My first "Guru" I remember was Tora Sinha who was sadly subjugated to my horribly ugly handmade cards and letters expressing my love for her.

Talking about letters - for some reason we wrote a lot of those in Gokhale amongst friends whom we'd meet on a daily basis. We'd exchange letters secretly, hide them in the folds of our socks (folding of the socks was considered fashionable) and hand them over while passing each other in assembly lines. I really don't remember what we could have possibly written and even though it seems extremely silly right now - it is something we devoted a lot of time to. It was probably the only way I knew to express myself. Till date I feel the same way. I am able to express myself better in writing than have a conversation about things that make me uncomfortable.

My love for the arts developed in class VB when our art teacher “Practish” gave me an 8 out of 100 and mocked my “view of a room” in front of the entire class. Apparently I had made no distinction between the walls and the floor and they were all painted in one solid color. My love for Hindi movies – specifically “Aamir Khan” developed right at the same time. It was the year of “Qyamat se Qyamat Tak” and a first in the history of our hostel when the girls united and forced our Matrons to take us to the movie theater to watch the movie. What followed were two dorms full of love-struck girls, listening to QSQT songs, hugging the little black radio on occasions and collecting Aamir Khan postcards. Yes, he was my first love who got me into trouble and I somehow found myself facing severe punishment in class for “dealing” with these postcards of images on Aamir hugging Juhi. I am still convinced though that our teachers wanted those postcards for themselves and Aamir’s cuteness was much discussed in the Staff Rooms.

I most certainly cannot complete my GMGS experience in this one post and I have this feeling creeping up on me that my "alone time" is about to end. So I do need to go back to drinking my wine, closing my eyes and remembering the good old days. More to come soon with pictures...I promise!