I am More Indian Than You Think

I come from a suburb of Kolkata which has a population that followed all kinds of religions possible in India. We even have people belonged to different tribes as neighbors. An outsider can’t differentiate between houses of different religious person, we live in such a way. Inter-caste and inter-religion marriage is very common in our area and nobody thinks it as more than a small gossip. But we all speak Bengali so the harmony was nothing extraordinary in my opinion.

I started playing chess when I was 11 years old. To be honest I was quite late compared to other chess players I know. I was a shy and introvert girl at that time. I still am. But that exposure into the world as a sportsman changed my life. During my first year I came to know the players speaking different but familiar languages and coming from different parts of West Bengal. I made friends for the first time with the boys and girls of different ages other than those I knew since my childhood. The horizon of my mind just started to get bigger.

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Within a year I got selected for national level age group tournaments. My first ever national tournament was held in Thrissur in Kerala. That was the longest train journey I have ever made at that age. It took us 3 days to reach there. I struck up an acquaintance with a lady in train who spoke fluent Bengali but told me her mother tongue was Telugu. I was amazed. Co-incidentally the journey covered the 31st December and 1st January. I was woken up by some people running around shouting and wishing each other “Happy new year!”. Such a unique and happy way to start the year.

My experience was same at the tournament as well. Till then I only read in books that our country’s political motto is “Unity in diversity” and I experienced just that after reaching the venue. So many girls from every corner of India came to participate in that tournament, held in a small village called Peechi. Some came with their families, just like me. The families made friends with each other with their broken English while we girls played against each other. Many knew each other from earlier tournaments. Every evening after our tournament rounds and before our practice sessions we played together in the hilly ground or went to see the beautiful reservoir & dam nearby. The tournament was hosted in a church. We all shared dormitories and had so much fun together. The village had only a small hut which served rice, sambar, and omelette for lunch and dinner. The only small stationery shop available there had a pay phone from where we made calls to home.

I made best of friends over the years from every corner of India. We grew up together literally. We met each other at tournaments every few months held in different corners of India. I participated in tournaments held in places I never imagined existed. I traveled extensively. And from that time I became a bohemian at heart forever. I felt proud being an Indian. I don’t think any other country has as many differences as we Indians have yet so connected to each other. During International tournaments I even made acquaintances with people coming from different countries.

We, chess players played against each other but never hated any. After every match we discussed and helped each other to analyze the games and find wrong moves we made. We wrote letters to each other for years pouring our hearts out.  I am still in touch with many. We never bothered about religions, regions or financial status. We shared rooms, meals, heartbreaks, failures and success with each other as if we were families. We loved and accepted each other just the way we were. We even tried to learn each other’s languages. We never laughed at each other’s accented and broken languages as we taught each other or at our poor scores in the tournament. More than anything we exchanged our different cultures and values.

I tasted different authentic regional foods (sometime even home-made foods) as I traveled to different parts of India since very young age. With that exposure I have developed a tongue which can survive with any kind of tasty food available around me without feeling homesick. From Chhole Batore to Dosa, from Fish Curry to Misal Pav, from Momos to Haleem, from Lucknow Biryani to Hyderabadi Biryani, from Rajma to Malabar Chicken, I am all game. That same exposure made me understand and love people even if they are not Bengali or Indian. I have become a global citizen yet an Indian at heart.

Today India has more than 40 Grand Masters and many International Masters. India has produced exceptional players over the years and many more in the making. Even though I don’t play anymore I still feel so proud of being a chess player. It is not a team game yet there is no rivalry. It is this Indian-ness that helped me succeeding in my career as a Graphic Designer, as a designer must understand every client’s taste and need is different. I shifted to Bangalore 10 years back and never felt away from home. I am #MoreIndianThanYouThink it is possible.

Knowing people with different mother tongues made me a language-lover. So I started learning German as well. Two years back I met an elderly German couple, Moni and Klaus on a trip in Coorg, Karnataka and we are still in touch through e-mails. As I spoke to them in German they said they felt at home. Before parting Moni gifted me her magazine as that was the only possible option she had. I still treasure that one.

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Lufthansa’s new TVC caught my attention. It is celebrating India’s growing global influence. In this ad the mouth watering food they are serving made me think how delighted Moni and Klaus would be when they make their next trip to India as they always travel by Lufthansa. And I hope I can visit them soon.

This post is written as a part of the contest #MoreIndianThanYouThink in association with Indiblogger and Lufthansa.

Flowers, Spring & BigBouquet

Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!”
— Robin Williams

Spring is here again! The season of new beginnings. Fresh buds blooming, animals awakening from hibernation and the earth coming to life again. The temperature is rising slowly. At some places the slight winter chill still refusing to leave the night air. This is the season of flowers. The earth is turning green again before the Summer hits us. Spring is the season of colors as well in India. 12th March we are going to celebrate Holi, the festival of colors. Humans of India surely took inspiration from the nature.

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Spring also reminds me of my childhood in Kolkata. Every year during March we would have our annual exams. We would eagerly count days for the last exam to finish and then we would be free birds playing in our garden whole day. The White Lily would spread its enchanting fragrance every evening and I would smell and tell myself how lucky I was to have a garden full of flowers. Because I knew not everyone was that fortunate.

In our garden we had White Lily, Marigolds, Pinwheelflower, Four o’clock flower (Mirabilis jalapa), White Rangoon Creeper, Rose, Land Lotus, Hibiscus, Night-flowering Jasmine to name a few. We never needed to buy any flowers. But that was past. While we still have the garden in Kolkata, I live in Bangalore now and having a garden here is merely a dream. Balcony gardens can’t beat the actual garden ever. Even if we wish to gift someone or wish someone to gift us flowers we need to go to the local florists. The fragrance of freshly bloomed flowers is one of the things I miss so much.

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With our busy schedules these days we hardly can spend much time at the florists and buy the perfect bouquet for our loved ones or for ourselves. Some shops are at such a busy road that even standing there for few minutes is a pain. That’s where online e-commerce sites come to our rescue. Even then most of the sites have limited combinations of bouquets and no tool for customizing our own choices. BigBouquet (www.bigbouquet.in) gives us such options. The first ever and only site which allows their customer to choose the flowers, number of flowers, greens, fillers and packaging.

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Give it a try this coming women’s day. Tell the women in your family that they are special. Or just buy flowers for your home anyway. BigBouquet ties up with local vendors who don’t have access to the online market. With the current situation after demonetization and our economy changing from cash-based to cashless these local vendors are one of the victims. Even though BigBouquet started its operations last Spring, the role it is playing to help the local florists’ businesses is more relevant now.

Celebrate the season with flowers, friends and loved ones.

HUMAN I SEE : 4 : The Cab Driver

‘A’ has a habit of talking to the drivers whenever we take a ride anywhere. He just can’t sit idle having a stranger within his radius of 10 meters. I join him sometimes if the person is really interesting. Meeting new people is one of the main purposes of travelling after all. Last year we were going to Chennai from Bangalore to attend a family function and we took a cab to reach airport. I don’t remember the driver’s name anymore but I remember him and his words vividly. From the first moment he struck as a very nice person. Offered us bottled water and wifi password for free. It was hot summer day. We didn’t need the wifi password.

We started chatting as usual. The JNU topic was still fresh. Kanhaiya Kumar was out on bail and rest were still in jail. Automatically our discussion shifted to the topic of the recent trend of labeling people as anti-national and sending them to Pakistan. It is amazing how words of wisdom come from strangest people and places. I will try to quote and translate his words as I remember.

“These politicians and their supporters now want us to hate everyone who is not Indian. Specially if they are Pakistanis. But tell me madam why should I hate a person I don’t even know or have seen him? They are also someone’s sons and daughters. They also work whole day like me to feed their family. Tell me sir, does a Chinese mother love less? When they die at war do their families grieve less? What if I was born in China or Pakistan? These things are not in our hands, right?”

At this point I felt sudden rush of emotions that someone so different from me feels exactly the way I feel. While those days I was discovering lack of empathy and compassion is the new definition of patriotism which disturbed me and made me worried so much, I was overjoyed meeting a stranger who has both the qualities in right amount.

He went on telling more.

“Regarding our own countrymen and fellow citizens, did you ever notice how do they keep the 5 rs pen locked with a chain at the counters of Banks? They (the authority) don’t even trust us with a 5 rs pen and we talk about enemies! We don’t need any enemies. We are even beating our own children at colleges. If they become successful in starting a riot anytime soon people like us will die or protect each other. They will take the first flight abroad to run away. Probably all of their children are already abroad studying or working or they don’t have any family to worry about that is why they don’t care.”

There were more discussions till we reached airport but these two points he made stirred me most. All these fresh incidences of violence and outrage at Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia University reminded me of him.

Dealing with Death

This post is personal. Generally I don’t share all these openly but today I had to.

If there is anything in this world I couldn’t learn to deal with yet, that is death. Death of someone close, death of someone I know and even tragic death of unknown people. Probably I will never be able to learn it.

The two heaviest deaths among all the deaths I have seen and tried to deal with till now were my grandparent’s death. Missing them is one of my daily task even after 17 and 14 years. I can’t explain the amount of pain I go through whenever I think about them. I have never imagined that I would need to live without them. Life is not same without them.

But today one sudden death knocked me down so bad which I have never imagined is even possible. He was a friend of my brother, lived nearby, in his mid 20’s. [I can’t believe I am writing ‘he was’.] He was 2-3 years younger to my brother and much younger to me. I saw him growing up from an adorable tiny baby to a still adorable young handsome man. He was one of those rare humans who is always smiling. Even the crankiest person might have felt calm around him. He had to face family problems at very young age still he never looked upset or down even for a day. I am very close to my brother and most of his friends from our locality, as if they all are my own brothers. We literally grew up together. So this loss is unbearable and so strange.

Few months back he fell from a two storied building while flying kites. It was a holiday on 17th September when everyone in West Bengal celebrates ‘Viswakarma Puja’ by flying kites every year. I heard he fell on a tree luckily instead of falling on the ground and then was rushed to hospital. My heart skipped few beats hearing such horrifying news and then I assured myself that he must be alright since he was taken to hospital. Afterwards I completely forgot about the whole incident as I myself fell sick and had to run around from doctor to clinics. And then “demonetization” happened. So there was no chance left to remember his accident as I live in a different city.

Today my father called me up and told that my brother went to his friend’s funeral! He was wrongly diagnosed and not treated properly. Another victim of medical negligence. If not for the wrong treatment he would be still alive. He had a beautiful girlfriend and a job. His marriage date was fixed on this coming January. He had a long bright life ahead. His girlfriend tried her best to take care of him. They were still so young. This is so unfair.

Incidentally my brother went home (kolkata) for a short while. Even though I know how does it feel to hear about a dear friend’s death but I don’t know how does it feel to attend a childhood friend’s funeral and see him becoming ashes which my brother is dealing with right now. And I didn’t know how horrible it feels to face a younger brother’s death, until today.

HUMAN I SEE: 3 : THE STRANGER AT NIGHT

It was 9 p.m. at a deserted bus stop. I was alone waiting for my 2nd bus for home and no one else was there apart from few passing cars. Suddenly I noticed one lungi-clad-guy, looked like a daily wager, coming to my direction. He almost toppled and I thought ‘oh a drunk man’ and started feeling uncomfortable. Then he just stopped there and I noticed a slab which was supposed to cover the drain has fallen inside the drain itself. It was a dry drain, thankfully. Anyone else would have left such heavy slab just like that but this guy alone tried to put it back for a long time. He left only after putting that slab back to its correct position. It felt really nice to see a responsible human being that night. People like him make the world better. And I am going to remember him for a long time. I couldn’t thank him in person as society made me paranoid already. So thought of thanking him here and sharing the story. The slab is still doing fine.

Human I see: 2 : The Chaiwala at Juhu Beach

It was the last day of our 15-day road trip in Maharashtra. We were sitting with our luggage at Juhu beach before catching our flight. I was hit by “October-heat”, which managed to appear well in advance in September last year and knocked me down. Actually that was the reason I wanted to come back to Bangalore as soon as possible and feel better with the usual and famous pleasant weather of Bangalore. Maharashtra was terribly hot.

As usual we noticed some dogs there, as we always do. But we had no energy to make friends with them this time. We were watching from far. People were rushing to the beach as it was already evening. Just then we saw this chaiwala on his busy hours of business stopped in front of a dog who looked old and diseased a bit. He sat down beside the dog, took out one of his paper cup and poured some water from a bottle and gave the dog to drink from it.

He waited till the dog finished and then poured some more. The dog was probably done with it and moved further. He took the cup and threw it in the dustbin near.

Then he went on his way and resumed his business.

We fell in love with a human.

Our evening tea was special.

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Human I see: 1 : Beggar Amma

That morning I didn’t see her at her usual place. Everyday she would be sitting at that spot in the pavement where the road takes a sharp turn. There was something really graceful about her which I have never seen in a beggar before. Her face always had a faint smile and she always approached people in a serene, calm manner. She didn’t mind if people didn’t notice her. She would always sit with her legs folded at one side as if she is going to start singing. She looked like an adorable, contented granny. Some days there would be an old man, a bit younger, he would sit beside her and talk while puffing cheap beedi. Some days they would be eating something together.

That day I realised that I see Amma every morning on my way to office and her sight always makes me feel good. I didn’t see her next few days and I started imagining  worst. I was sad. Very sad. Neither I knew her, nor I have given her anything ever. I realised I missed her. I hoped she was alright.

My morning German class started after few days. I started my day early and went to office directly from there everyday. I almost forgot about her. After few weeks I saw Amma again. It was 7 am. She was crossing the road ahead of the turn. With a help of a young boy, who was probably on his way to his morning chores. She was limping with her polio affected legs yet smiling brightly. I was happy to see Amma again.

After few days I noticed she had a wheelchair now. Nothing fancy, just the basic with a plastic chair attached. She looked even happier. The old man was sitting beside her talking in a serious manner. Probably he arranged it for her.

I don’t travel on that road frequently anymore since last one year. But I still see Amma sometimes. And when I don’t, I start wondering about her. Now I imagine what she might be doing if not begging. I imagine her at home doing things or talking to people. I imagine her with her family. But most importantly I imagine her always smiling.