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.

When It Rained Here

The wind started thrashing the window panes suddenly in the evening and I knew it would rain. I opened the window of my bed room and sat on the bed in dark. The silvery threads of lighting were flashing at the distance in the sky. The cloud started rumbling. Bangalore is no more pleasant during summer like it used to be. Earlier we used to show off the ever-pleasant weather of Bangalore, the city of gardens. So a rain like this is a reason for a joy after a hot summer day.

Even though our apartment building is far from the main road, the adjacent lanes have a good number of vehicles flowing through all day. Soon it started raining and the cool breeze started coming in my direction. People started running around, disoriented yet happy. Some of the balcony doors opened and people stood there for a while enjoying the rain. I remembered it’s been a while I took time out to watch the real life around me. Many memories were piling up in my mind. Thought about the paper boats and puddles in our garden. I can never get enough of rain.

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[Royalty free picture taken from internet and edited in Photoshop]

Bikers were hurrying towards their destinations as they were not prepared for this. Few pedestrians were struggling to hold on to their umbrellas. Cars, autos and trackers were occasionally clogging the 4 lane junction. The shop owner across the road was watching the rain with an amused expression. One tall guy changed his direction suddenly as it was being difficult for him to manage his umbrella and remain dry. Raindrops on black telephone cables were glistening like diamonds.

Away from all these a lone dog was trying to keep himself dry under a tree. I know this dog. The dispirited dog was all soaked within few minutes. The front gate of the house next to him was closed. He walked away somewhere to find a better place.

The lady from one balcony in 3rd floor of a building across ours went inside leaving the door open. I noticed the only big tree in our area moving violently, as if it was dancing with impish glee. The dog came back again to his old spot but didn’t feel comfortable. He looked at the boundary wall of the house for a while and then decided to leave again. This time to a different direction.

I closed the window, knowing it won’t rain for long as everything was still so visible. I didn’t want to witness the moment when it stops.

 

Fact and fiction

This was my task.

Fact and fiction

Trying to write both fact and fiction can help you realise the relationship between the two.
Write a paragraph (50 to 100 words) containing one fact and three fictitious elements. You can write about yourself, about your interests, about history – about anything you like.
Then try the reverse – write a paragraph containing three facts and one fictitious element.

 

And I have come up with this.

1 Fiction, 3 Fact : Ravi was in his final year of engineering, living in a different city while I already started working and still lived in our native place. He was my childhood friend. One night during our regular chat session over yahoo messenger he told me he was going to see the sunrise at the sea beach nearby with his friends whom I didn’t know. He didn’t reply the next night but next day I got a call from an unknown number telling me he drowned and if I suspected anyone.

1 Fact, 3 Fiction : That giant truck from the opposite direction was overtaking the other one at the same time when we turned at the blind bend of the road. It was too late to avoid the clash. Before I lost my consciousness, drenched in my own blood, I saw both the truck ran away. No one else was there to help me on the highway at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Why don’t you try too and write in the comment section of this post?

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.

Dear Zindagi, The BFF

Dear Zindagi,

Did you have your food today, the food for ‘our’ thought I gave you? Did you smell the rich aroma of the cold coffee while I was having it? Or did you notice how happy I was while I was imagining shapes in cloud-lets in the evening sky? Did you see how it brightened up the face of the cab driver today when I thanked him politely at the end of my ride? And did you hear the melodic funny song the dog, who lives in our building, was singing to me? Or did you feel the butterflies in my stomach when I was planning my next trip to mountains? I know you do see it all. You are the one who taught me all these. You made me find all these miracles of little joys.

I know you watch over me all the time. It is me who doesn’t give you enough importance sometimes, I know I am guilty of that. But then you told me once that it was not about me; it was about life, about everything else around me. That I don’t have  all the time in this world to finish seeing, feeling, smelling, sensing all the beautiful things. So I don’t waste my time whining, complaining(okay, I do that still), or making excuses anymore. You told me life was about facing challenges and finding solutions. It is about accepting both the win and failure with grace. A win makes us confident and failure teaches us lessons of life. So I stopped controlling my life. I am much happier ever since. I feel ‘free’, just as I always wanted to feel.

Did I ever tell you how much I appreciate all the gifts you gave me? My brother (my twin soul), my husband (love of my life), all my grandparents (most loving ones), parents (oh actually they are my children, still so immature), all my friends (I have great ones), my nephew, cousins, my granddaughter(oh I already have a magical one too). I have made so many wonderful memories already with them that whenever I feel down I remember those gems and they give me wings to fly again. They are my happy thoughts.

Hey Zindagi, tell me secretly, does any of them consider me as their gift of life? Do they find me intolerable or do they feel lucky to have me in their life? Do they write about me when they write you any letter? [I often wonder, you see! *big grin*]. Because it matters most to me, to be able to love and to be loved back.

You know, there were times when I thought you were going to leave me and nothing would be same again. Specially whenever I was confronted with mysterious, dark deaths of my loved ones. Or those times whenever I was heartbroken. Wasn’t I naive? You were right back there holding me up every time. You have given me enough space and freedom without choking my senses to deal with those losses and helped me back on my feet. There were those times when you changed  the courses of my life with twists and turns. I can never thank you enough for that. You make the entire journey worthwhile.

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I know one day we will part our ways. My final destination, like everyone else’s, is somewhere else. I will finish my chapters and close the book the moment my story is over. I don’t mind going back to the bookshelf. Because I know it is the journey which is more important, not the destination. I want to be free but never free enough of your charm and companionship. I am going to miss you when we are done.

But hey Zindagi, I am not quite finished with you yet.
Let’s rock for many more years.

Reply, are you going to miss me too?

Love,

Swati


“I am writing a letter to life for the #DearZindagi activity at BlogAdda“.