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Sunday, October 28, 2018

“You Are Invited...!” Part-2


Deben was not surprised when his old colleague Bedanta phoned him in the morning asking if he could come over for a social duty. Bedanta told him sometime back that the marriage of his only daughter was coming up, and that Deben must be free to attend on that date. Bedanta was not just a colleague, but also a friend thanks to their long association in work. There were family-level interactions too at various opportunities. His daughter, a sweet child, was known to both Deben and his wife Anjana. He already discussed it with Anjana not to miss that occasion and to buy a nice gift in advance. So he said yes immediately, and informed his wife that Bedanta would be visiting them in the afternoon.

His afternoon nap had become mandatory since his retirement a few months back. For the past one month he had been mostly sleeping or lying down in the daytime too because of his road accident when his right hand was badly fractured. He was still having his right hand plastered and strapped from the shoulders. But that day he decided not to take the nap. Instead, he settled down comfortably in the sofa with the book he started reading in the morning neatly placed in his lap.

The doorbell rang around six in the evening. As he stood up using his left hand carefully for support and walked towards the main door Anjana also joined him in the sitting room. Bedanta was ushered in. After an exchange of pleasantries and the mandatory question about the progress of his fractured hand all of them sat down. Bedanta was carrying a colourful cover which he delicately put on the table. Now, Deben was a little surprised or rather amused that Bedanta did not come to the subject of the upcoming marriage straightway, starting instead a discussion on mundane office and pension matters. Anjana interspersed the discussion with one or two family questions which elicited answers that were a bit too prompt. She found it a little odd that he was telling her almost nothing about the occasion so far.

The discussion showed no sign of a conclusion soon. Anjana always got bored whenever they discussed office matters. Therefore she excused herself and headed towards the kitchen.  She was not at all piqued or annoyed, only bored. In fact, her gesture is considered to be a universal one in Indian households—after welcoming the guests and interacting with them for some time the housewife invariably goes inside to make tea or make preparations for a good meal. This ‘retreat’ is very well understood by all kinds of guests, and so well anticipated by some guests that they intervene with, “No, no! Tea is not needed...sit...let’s talk some more!” However, Bedanta did not show any inclination to prevent her departure at that point of time. Deben was also not at all perturbed. Well, so far!

As if he was waiting for such kind of an opportunity Bedanta rose immediately and picked up the invitation letter from the table. He offered to make a formal presentation now. His amusement fast giving way to annoyance Deben stood up too, reluctantly. Bedanta handed over the invitation muttering, “Please do come...” Formally receiving the letter Deben wanted to make light of the occasion saying ‘What man! No formalities please, she is like our daughter...we will definitely be there...” But he stopped in his tracks and never uttered anything of that sort as his eyes went over the envelope.

Only his name was written on the cover. Nothing else was scribbled, neither his wife’s name nor the add-on ‘and family’. He was not only surprised now, but heartily shocked. How could he? Anjana knew his daughter even more closely than him. The budgetary compulsion of limiting guests did not quite apply to Bedanta, because he earned a healthy retirement package recently and it was his only child—the only marriage party to be celebrated ever in the family! Or was it because of a smaller wedding hall which was booked? With these thoughts going through his mind fiercely Deben tried hard to keep his air of nonchalance as he opened the envelope, took out the invitation card and commented how beautiful it was. In the innards of his mind he knew that this was still not a good enough reason to boycott the marriage party. He had to attend for old times’ sake. The image of Anjana began to haunt him like a spectre.

They sat down and resumed their chatter, Deben with some reserve now. Anjana entered with a tray of tea and snacks. Deben tried his best not to have eye contact with her. Bedanta smiled at her as if nothing had transpired in the meantime.

Immediately after Bedanta left Anjana burst out, “What’s this? That fellow never uttered a word to me! Not asked me to come even once!”
Deben dropped the bombshell now. “Only I’m invited! Not you, darling! Take a look at the invite!”
“Oh my God! What a lousy miser! ...Even then...how is it possible?” She stormed fretted and expressed dismay. And suddenly she became calm, resigned. “Okay...no problem! Your friendship...you keep it...you attend!”
“Yes, I’ll still have to go. And you’ll have to accompany me!”
“Are you out of your mind? You witnessed how that fellow insulted me! You have no respect for your wife, for your life partner?”
“I have, my dear! I’m as angered dismayed and irritated as you are. But you know it’s his democratic right to decide the list of invitees. And more importantly, you understand the kind of state I’m in now. I’m still an invalid. You must help me out and accompany me! At least rest assured that he is not going to throw you out after finding you by my side!”
“Your million requests will have no impact on me! I’ll never see his face again!”

The heated debate went on for a long time. Deben even mentioned ‘humanitarian consideration’ for a life partner! At last, Anjana seemed to pity him for his ‘friend’ and his fractured self. She agreed subject to conditions. She declared that she would accompany him to the venue, but would wait in the parked car with the driver for company till he came back attending the wedding. Deben knew it was his best option, and he accepted it.

On the appointed day it happened as it was planned. Anjana dropped him at the wedding hall gate, asked the driver to park the car a little away and waited.

Deben tried to be his normal self at the party, but was very hurt Bedanta never asked about Anjana even once. He got some solace though seeing quite a few of his male friends loitering around without their better halves.

There was a hiccup at the end. Deben said goodbye and tried to walk away too quickly taking out his mobile phone with his left hand. But Bedanta insisted on seeing him to his car. Deben was shaken up imagining what would happen when Bedanta found a face in the car window glaring vengefully up at him! He couldn’t afford to let it happen. “No, you cannot come...I mean you need not come...please attend to your other guests!”

Without giving him an opportunity to respond Deben walked away forcing even his fractured hand swing freely.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Festive Call!


I was disturbed by various ‘business’ calls during work on that day. Since the Indian festive season was in full bloom such calls were not that unnatural. Getting exasperated with a plethora of telemarketing calls from banks, insurance companies and the like I ignored one from an absolutely unknown mobile number. When the same number called again, I answered thinking it could be an important call from someone not at all connected to the lot. I cursed myself as the lady voice spoke up on the other side...

‘Hello Sir, I’m calling from xyz finance company...”
“Yes?” I responded.
“Sir, our xyz finance company is giving you an overdraft facility...”
“Why?”
“Sir, half of your monthly salary will be given as overdraft to you...”
“Why?”
“Sir, the amount will be totally interest free...”
“Why?”
“So Sir, where do you work and what is your monthly salary?”

And then I hung up. The audacious lady tried several times later on. However, I decided to follow the age-old dictum ‘once bitten, twice shy’ tooth and nail!

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Burpy Blues!


The big boss seemed to be exuding benevolence of the highest order as he took in his company team members seated in front of him in the conference room. He often prided himself in knowing every member of his team on first name basis, and always listened to their views or problems in a very friendly way. Recently he initiated an office procedure to improve the overall quality of performance and operations. True to his nature, before implementing this procedure he wanted to know how everyone felt about it. He wanted free and frank opinions and also meaningful suggestions. So he called for this particular meeting. Although I was the latest addition to the team I had already gathered useful bits of information about my new boss.

Again, true as always to his nature he never wanted to make it a predictable affair with members standing up and speaking in a monotonous serial order—one by one row wise. Instead, he decided who would speak at what time. He would announce names at random and s/he would speak accordingly. Therefore, in actual practice it happened like that one in the very first row would give his/her opinion first and someone in the last or middle rows would be asked to speak next. The benevolent boss also asked his team members to be wary of repetitions—points chosen by earlier speakers must be avoided.

Quite an unusual procedure to discuss an office procedure, I mused sitting in the first row and in direct eye contact with the big boss. Although I figured rather high in the company hierarchy the onus thus did not naturally fall upon me to start. It worked rather well. Not knowing exactly when their turn to speak would come people prepared their points faster keeping themselves in readiness and making adjustments to avoid repetitions.

Tea and snacks kept on coming in rounds as the discussion went on without any time constraint. It was important and so time should not be a factor, the boss announced in the beginning. We happily waited for our turns seeping tea and munching cakes and savoring sweets.

Suddenly in the solemn and intent atmosphere I heard a noise. I immediately deciphered it to be a loud burp and tried to focus quickly on the rather unwelcome source of its origin. I traced it to an elderly person who was yet to speak and was feasting on the freebies. However, by that time his action concluded thus depriving me of the intrinsic charms associated with burping or belching. I always enjoyed such acts which unfailingly entailed an assortment of facial expressions or contortions. Some would do it full mouthed and loud opening out as if to relish every bit of it; others would skew their parted lips either to the left or the right while not at all trying to suppress the noise; someone would kill the noise and release the air smoothly with some movement of the neck, jaw and mouth while most others with etiquette would always hide the action with left or right palm involving the bare minimum of facial contortions.

I thought the big boss would definitely react to it irritably. But nothing of that sort happened, and proceedings went on. In fact, nobody in the assembly displayed any reaction.

And lo! It happened again. Loud and clear! This time somewhere from a row behind me, and I missed the action and the source entirely. I only managed to see a lady sitting opposite looking askance at the source seeming to say, “God! Could it be really you...?”

The big boss displayed no emotion this time too. And the proceedings went on smoothly.

We came to the end of the session finally. The big boss was satisfied and happy getting mostly what he expected to get. The last round of tea was served. And then it happened.

In the very act of taking a sip from his cup of tea the big boss had it. He somehow managed to swallow it with an awkward scowl, not succeeding to suppress the noise however. It was again a loud act of belching.

Very compassionate, I concluded with satisfaction and great amusement.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Kumartuli—The Workshop Of The God Makers In Kolkata! And Durga Puja!


Kumartuli or Kumortuli is located in the northern part of the city of Kolkata. The locality is a traditional habitat of the potters for nearly three hundred years. The potters or the artisans or the artists settled here during the restructuring of the Kolkata colonial region by the British East India Company. Earning a livelihood by making earthen pots and utensils first they gradually shifted to the making of the idols of Gods and Goddesses for various festivals round the year. 

With increasing demand and quality of their creations over time the artisans became famous and Kumartuli came to be known as the hub of idol makers supplying thousands of idols, particularly of Goddess Durga, to whole of the state of West Bengal and to NRIs of around 90 countries across the globe.

At least three months before Durga Puja, the biggest festival of West Bengal and one of the biggest across Eastern India, more than five hundred workshops come alive with hyper activity day and night. First, the artists make the structures of the Goddess with straw and bamboo, and then prepare the clay collected from River Hooghly that runs alongside. Painting, colouring, decoration, clothing cum ornamentation and finishing follow. They have to complete the process at least one week before the Puja—the day of Mahalaya which falls on Monday, the 8th of October in 2018 when devotees and organizers shift the idols from the workshop to the places of worship.

Their idols are safe and eco-friendly thanks to the use of only clay, straw and bamboo unlike the use of plaster of Paris by many other idol-makers in India. Their locality is a sight worth seeing ahead of Durga Puja and it is a paradise for photographers. During evenings the atmosphere here at Kumartuli in its maze of congested lanes and by-lanes gets charged and surrealistic with its ‘heavenly’ illuminated workshops in the thralls of activity. 

The artisans are very strict and rightly so; they won’t allow you to enter into their workshops, you will have to stand in the doorway and watch or take photos to your heart’s content. Of course, you can speak to them and engage in short conversations.

Although the prices of idols are increasing every year the quality of life of the potters’ are not quite keeping pace. They still live in various stages of poverty; their houses old and congested, their streets and lanes dirty, and an overpowering stench normally prevails in various corners of the alleys. It is a normal practice and a pity that the Puja organizers spend lavishly on decoration, publicity and overall show values, but always try to economise when it comes to paying the artisans for the idols.

Once in the city of Kolkata, erstwhile Calcutta, you can visit Kumartuli very easily. It is located in a prime area of the city approachable from all corners by cabs or buses or the trains. The nearest Kolkata Metro railway station is Shobhbazar. And of course, you need not adhere to any religion to visit and enjoy this place. You can visit this place for the sheer aesthetics, the beauty, the ambiance and the values of humanity.  





Happy Durga Puja-2018 ! 
Goddess Durga descends on earth on 15th October, 2018! 
Enjoy true souls, and beware sinners !


                                                                               
         
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