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Monday, 5 December 2016

An Unassuming Chat

Monday mornings are usually very dull. They bring with themselves the displeasure of knowing that the weekend is over and a whole week is up ahead. However this Monday morning was quite different. The AT&T guy came to install the internet connection in my apartment. He was early and knocked at the door several times while I was deep in sleep. By the time I had opened the door, he had realized that I was sleeping. I was partly apologetic for the delay in opening the door and partly apprehensive about the boredom of sitting through the installation process, when I saw the sunny smile on the person's face. It made me feel happy in an inexplicable way. As soon as he entered he started talking. He broke the ice by cracking a joke on spotting a mock connection on the wall of my living room and soon before I knew I was having a nice chat with him.
He was from Philippines and lived here in San Diego with his family, which consisted of his mother, his brother, his wife and two children. He was very fond of his kids and kept on talking about how they watch a lot of cartoons and play a lot of games without any interruption from the internet connection. Though it was a kind of advertisement, I did not feel like I was sitting through a soap commercial. After asking me if I was from India, he told me about one of his friends who was also from India and had a garment business. Soon we landed upon the discussion of joint family versus nuclear family. He told me that Filipinos like to stay together with all relatives under one roof. They have big houses and like to keep household help. This was in particular very similar to Indian society, though now due to the fast life of most people things have changed. People settle wherever they get jobs which are most often than not, far away from their native place. He confessed that the house he lives here is small but still all his family members like to stay together. He almost complained that his American neighbors think that they live together because of poverty and that they are quite insensitive to their way of life. In a moment's flash of ego he also said that back in Philippines, they are quite well to do and have a good living with few domestic servants.
Soon the discussion rolled over to the topic of marriage. He informed me that he was married to a Mexican lady whom he met at a friend's birthday party. His mother did not approve of the match. She had always visualized a Filipino daughter-in-law, but now was trying hard to reconcile with the Mexican replacement. I thought to myself that somethings remain same across geographical locations and cultural as well as linguistic variations, the affinity towards your own kind and the fear of the unknown. In fact, in India there are places where even inter-caste marriage is a big taboo and the topic of marriage between people belonging to two different states lead to blockbuster movies and bestseller novels just because of the surprise element.
I made him some coffee and then started talking about religion. He was born a catholic christian, but was quite areligious. I told him that I was religious but did not believe in rituals. He poured his heart out about how he was reprimanded for asking simple innocent questions about God and verses of the Bible when he was a kid. He confessed that the sour experiences of childhood led him to become areligious and that he doesn't regret his thoughts. I told him that all religions are good but the followers and priests make things ugly by imposing their thoughts on others, mostly to satisfy their ego or ulterior motives including monetary gains.
When the installation was complete and he was about to leave I actually felt sad that the chat was over and I had to get back to work. That day the whole time in my laboratory, my thoughts kept returning back to the diversity of topics we talked about in the morning. It was indeed very unassuming and interesting.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Religion of human is HUMANITY

When you stay in a country where most people follow one religion, you have the freedom and pleasure of harboring prejudices against people following other religions. According to me this is one of the major reasons of hatred and war across the globe. But when you have to mingle with people out in the world, trust me, it is a very difficult task to alienate people based on their religions. I had previously read that great people like Rabindranath Tagore always professed about one world without any divisions, but now I feel it more based on my personal experiences.
I am a born Hindu. Although I was never a big fan of any religious rituals, I had a liking for my religion. Though I have many good friends who were muslims specially my PHD junior, who is an amazing person, I sometimes had anti-secular feelings on listening to terrorist attacks majorly conducted by Islamic people. What I forgot is that it is the bad people who tarnish the name of the religion by justifying their evil deeds based on their understanding of the religious teachings.
When I shifted to San Diego, California, for my postdoctoral training, I was almost forced to shake away any preconceived ideas I had about other religions by the kindness and friendly behavior of my co-workers. Every time you move to a new place, you are a stranger and you try to adjust and fit-in. Then you meet new people who become your initial acquaintances who make you feel comfortable and not a stranger anymore. With time some of these acquaintances become your friends and transform the foreign place into your home. I also felt the same way when I first moved to San Diego, but the journey towards the growing familiarity towards the place has been both interesting and loving.
After a few months of living here, I now do not really understand the rationale of religious distinctions. My supervisor who is an eminent scientist and almost a father-figure is a Jew. My colleague and one of my very first friends who helped me a lot when it was most needed is a muslim. He helped me to move-in to my new apartment, guided me through all the new things in a foreign country which I would be clueless without him, and also took me to visit the nearby tourist spots taking time out of his busy schedule.  My immediate senior and co-worker is a Russian orthodox christian who gave me my first bed, my first coffee-maker and a thousand other things and has taken care of me almost like my mom to make it easy for me to settle down in the new circumstances. One day she brought me fresh grapes and I started eating them without washing. She had informed me that the grapes were unwashed, but I didn't listen to her and kept on eating them. Next day she actually washed the grapes for me to eat and ever since she always washes the fruits before offering me. I do not remember when I was pampered so much.
The lady whom I respect like my mother and love like my good friend is an American catholic christian. She works as a human resource personnel in my office. She has, without showing any feelings of displeasure, driven me to my office from my home and back everyday. She has taken me to shopping after work even when she takes an hour to reach her home. She has taken care of all my initial needs of banking, renting an apartment, my social security affiliation and several other things. She was the one who picked me up from the airport when I first landed here. I can never forget that day. I was very tired and my luggage wheels had broken and one of the luggage had not reached. She comforted me and took charge of the whole situation by going to the airport staff for filing the complaint against the late arrival and damage incurred to my suitcases. She also brought me food anticipating that I must me hungry which I was. Without her I would be baffled and would never have done things as efficiently as she did. That day and every day afterwards she was so polite and kind to me that I never felt I was away from my family.
I really believe with my heart and soul that being good and humane is the only religion people should follow. I am eternally indebted to all the people who have made my life easier and comfortable. To judge a person based on religion is a fallacy indeed.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

La Jolla cove

It was a cloudy sunday morning. I was in my veranda having my black coffee. I looked at the palm trees near my apartment swaying in the rhythm of the mild breeze. Generally San Diego has hot afternoons but the cool overcast morning suggested otherwise. I thought that today was definitely a day to go out to the beach. I called up my friend and we planned to go to the La Jolla cove.

The La Jolla cove is a small sheltered bay of the pacific ocean surrounded by cliffs at La Jolla, San Diego. When we reached there it had already started drizzling. We walked to the park near the cove. It was very relaxing as the breeze was cool and soothing. The view of the vast stretch of blue water with intermittent waves of green water from the cliffs was stunning. There were stairs down the cliff to reach the beach. The sand was damp and gritty with rocks scattered here and there. I had to remove my sandals as the rocks were slippery and I twisted my ankle more than once. The sand below my feet and the splashes of water from the waves hitting the rocks felt heavenly.
La Jolla Cove beach

Scripps park

Since it was sunday, many people had come to visit the area. It seemed to be a popular picnic spot as groups of teenage students and families could be seen in the Scripps park engrossed in joyful conversations and playful activities. Me and my friend were sitting on one of the rocks when I saw a father with two kids paying. One of the kids was on his shoulders and the other was holding his hand.

They were walking in and out of the water. Taking their example I too went into the water and stood their taking in the bliss of the sight. There was a huge rocky surface in the water where several cormorants were sitting. The father was pointing at the cormorants and telling the kids how these birds hunt fish from the ocean.
The cormorants

I sat down on one of the rocks and stretched my limbs in order to relax when my friend called out to me. I had not realized that it had started raining quite heavily by now. We ran back to the cliff and stood below one of the pine trees which was tilted and had been used to add to the aesthetics of the scripps park. Soon the rain stopped and we walked along the cove and reached the area where there were a few sea lions calling out and playing among themselves.
The tilted pine tree
Sea lions
I went down to take a few snapshots of the sea lions. I was trying hard to capture them in a selfie but alas couldn't do much justice to the photograph. A very nice gentleman who was observing the sea lions himself offered to click a picture of me with the sea lions. My friend had not come down to the shore as he was afraid of the high waves. Thanks to the kind person for a beautiful snapshot of me with the sea lions. That area was designated for various sea and water activities like snorkeling, kayaking etc. It was quite crowded there and the sea lions were calling out and jumping in and out of the water excitedly as if trying to please the spectators.
Right across the snorkeling area was another cliff where I could find many brown pelicans huddled together. Other than the cormorants and pelicans, there were also sea gulls visiting the shores. As a zoology graduate I had developed a taste for ornithology and La Jolla cove was certainly a treat.
Brown pelicans
I was very excited to observe the different birds when my eyes fell on the La Jolla caves.
Me and my friend went to the entrance of the La Jolla caves where there was a ticket counter for a trip to the caves. The water is calm and very safe for kayaking and other activities. However we did not go for any of the activities. There is an underwater park enriched with wildlife like the sea lions, seals and various varieties of fishes which is an important tourist attraction. The caves were unusual rocky formations inside the cliffs. They were quite huge and dark. and very different from the ones I had visited before. Kayaking inside the caves would definitely be quite adventurous.
La Jolla caves
Not only is the area abundant in natural beauty but at the same time the narrow streets along the cliffs beside the ocean is swarming with many small cafeterias and shops offering little delights. The streets are laid out of concrete blocks and looked very much like the small streets in many european cities.

It had stopped raining and we went inside a small cafe to have some hot drinks. It was cold and the breeze had chilled me to the bone. We had some hot chocolate which was delicious and went out to explore more. As we were walking down the street we found a national geographic gallery. After such a wonderful day the glimpse of beautiful pictures captured from various places on earth including some little explored regions was like icing on cake.
The next day one of my colleagues told me that La Jolla means 'the jewel' in spanish. I thought to myself that the name couldn't suit better.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The incurable romantic

My colleague says that I am an incurable romantic. I am guilty to the core. Romance has always been a bestseller for ages because of people like me. Romantic dramas where the hero professes undying love to his heroine has always been my favorite. Blue skies, scarlet roses, streets covered with brown dry leaves while taking a stroll in a golden autumn evening, fragrance of tea and wet soil after the first rains sitting in my veranda, sound of the wind through the leaves of the palm trees, has always inspired romantic thoughts in me.
It may seem absurd but I am sure there are people who will agree with me when I say that there is an inexplicable satisfaction when you cry your heart out on watching emotional scenes of unrequited love. There are two scenes in the movie 'The holiday' where Kate Winslet as Iris describes the feelings which a person goes through when he or she is madly in love with somebody, knowing that the person they are in love with do not reciprocate their feelings, they go through the hell and bliss of rejection and hope of love again and again as if stuck in a vicious circle. While watching those scenes each and every word has pricked my heart and I have never been able to stop my tears whenever I have watched this movie.
The colors on Hilary Swank named Holly in 'PS I love you' when Gerry or Gerard Butler first sees her with the background scenery of the national park and the way she turns around and says I am lost is one of the most romantic scenes of the movie. 'Gone with the wind' is another movie which portrays love in a rosy way although between two imperfect people.
In 'You've got mail', the most romantic scene is not the one where Meg Ryan comes to know that the guy whom she used to write mails is the same as Tom Hanks, but the scene just before the last scene. She has fallen for the guy who has thrown her out of business and she has hated him from the first day she had known him. The confusion caused by the realization of Meg Ryan that she is in love with the hard headed businessman in spite of herself, all the time thinking that she is in love with the guy she used to write mails to, is a very touching scene. The expression on her face when she rejects Tom Hanks thinking that she has already committed to her pen friend and will not be able to accept the love of the man she never realized till then that she had fallen head over heels in love with, is remarkable.
But my best romantic moment is one that happened in real life. When me and my husband were sitting in the hotel balcony looking at the snow-capped mountains in the intense cold, sipping red wine with the stars gazing down at us from the clear night sky, he said that he has always found profound beauty in the laps of Himalayas and now it has become even more special because of my presence. I had never thought men capable of such romantic feelings and to have found it in the man I love, I felt myself the luckiest woman on earth.
Yesterday I saw a couple during my morning walk. They did not seem romantic as they were walking at a distance from each other as if walking was a routine activity and were not even talking. In our community the walking path is lined with bougainvillea trees. So most of the times the whole path is covered with the white and pink bougainvilleas, especially in the mornings. Also it had rained the other night and the tree leaves and branches were wet and still water was dripping from them. I saw that the man all of a sudden moved close towards one of the trees and shook it so that the water drops fall on the lady. She squeaked and looked with an indignant expression towards the man, most probably her husband and said in a serious tone not to act childish. The husband returned back as gravely as possible, 'No, you are right, it doesn't suit my age' and then all of a sudden plucked a bougainvillea from one of the tree branches and offered the flower to the lady. She looked up at him in astonishment and he quickly kissed her cheek. She was so embarrassed that she started looking here and there to make sure nobody had seen. Her eyes fell on me. She was blushing and trying to repress the guilty smile.
Love is a beautiful feeling and I think I am capable of experiencing romance even in the most ordinary circumstances. Although I may seem an incurable romantic, but according to me romance is everywhere, maybe sometimes hidden but nonetheless always present.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Beauty of Yosemite

I visited Yosemite just after my marriage in 2013 and the beauty of the place has captured my heart ever since. It could be that Yosemite felt so amazing because it was my honeymoon, but the fact remains that it is rich in bio-diversity with lakes, mountains, glaciers, granite cliffs, giant sequoia trees and several other scenic attractions. Yosemite National Park located in the central eastern part of California is one of the most picturesque spots of United States visited by millions of tourists and has been the world heritage site since 1984.
We stayed in America's best value inn near Yosemite south gate which is an affordable and convenient place to stay for tourists. We had our car, so we drove to the national park everyday to explore the various parts of it. The park is huge and has several spectacular sceneries, so the three days were worth spending here.
Yosemite consists of a valley that extends up to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains whose terrain is majorly composed of granite. The granite gives the cliffs the bold look with the sharpness of its edges quite eye-catching. Among them El Capitan is one such cliff which has been quite popular among rock climbers. However I liked the Half Dome more which is a naturally formed granite dome around 5000 feet above the Yosemite valley floor because of its unique shape. 
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

 I had visited several hill stations situated in the lap of the mighty Himalayas. The snow peaks are of course the stunners but I had never seen such a remarkable shape among the peaks as that of the Half Dome. It looked similar to the face of a lady with a veil covering her head.
The other extraordinary feature of the Yosemite valley is the high density of water falls and clear water streams. Among them the Yosemite falls are the tallest falls in North America. I remember sitting on one of the rocks and watching the falls cut through the granite cliffs for hours together. The lush greenery and the rays of the sun penetrating through the leaves falling on the water and making it sparkle is a sight worth capturing. These wildly romantic views are one of the many reasons that photographers come flocking to Yosemite for creating their very own natural masterpiece. 

Yosemite falls

There are two rivers that cross the valley, Toulumne and Merced.  It is difficult to tell the color of the water. It's a certain shade of blue mixed with the deep and light green colors of the shadows of the trees around the rivers.
Toulumne river

Merced river

On the Merced, there is a beautiful perennial waterfall, the vernal falls which flows all through the year unlike its ephemeral companions. The vernal falls are quite clearly visible from the glacier point which gets its name from the abundance of glacial materials found here.
Vernal falls
A strenuous but picturesque trail leads to the mesmerizing viewpoint which is closed during the winter months because of the slippery snow accumulation. There are many such beautiful trails which are not that strenuous and are great for observing wildlife and for breathing in the fresh air mingled with the sweet smell of pines.
Along with the natural beauty there is a museum which tells about the history of the American Indians who used to live in this area for thousands of years. The evidence about their life ways and culture majorly comes from the archeological evidences and oral histories passed down through generations. Earlier Yosemite valley was called Ahwahnee meaning 'gaping mouth like place' and the inhabitants came to be called as Ahwahnees. Behind the Yosemite museum is a reconstructed Indian village of Ahwahnee.
During the California gold rush in the mid-nineteenth century there was an influx of many non-Indian miners who settled in this region and caused the local population to deplete. The ruthless search for gold lead to the killing of thousands of native people of Yosemite.
One of the foreign settlers called Galen Clark discovered the Mariposa grove in Wawona, an Indian encampment in the now south western part of the park. The giant sequoia trees in the Mariposa grove are surely a tourist's delight. They are very tall around 60 meters in height and have a formidable structure. I had heard about these trees and throughout my visit to the park me and my husband made wild guesses as to which trees could be those giant ones. There were blue oaks and grey pines everywhere and some of them were also huge trees. But when I first saw the giant sequoia my mouth remained wide open with astonishment for a few minutes to say the least. Among them the most famous was the tunnel tree which had a carriage wide tunnel cut through it. It was 69 meters tall and 27 meters wide and very popular with the tourists. We were no different. Both of us clicked several selfies standing around and inside the tree. There were other giant sequoias that had interesting names like the 'Grizzly Giant'.
Tunnel Tree

Grizzly Giant
The widespread coniferous forest of the park is also an important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. We were lucky enough to spot quite a few like the golden-mantled ground squirrel and coyote. There are many more like the grizzly bear, Sierra Nevada red fox, bobcats and many species of birds and reptiles, some of which are rare sightings.

We had visited the park in the summers, so I cannot describe its beauty during the winters. However the bookstore in the Yosemiti Valley visitor center had some beautiful picture postcards and books with amazing views of the snow covered cliffs of Yosemiti. While returning back I felt refreshed but at the same time a little sad to leave behind such magnificent surroundings. Even today sometimes when I close my eyes I imagine myself strolling in the beautiful green meadows of Yosemite.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The confession of love continued..

Vinod never denied anything. But he also did not suffice an affirmative answer to Soumi. He was surprised by Soumi's question and instead of giving an answer asked her why she entertained such an idea in her head. Soumi told Vinod about the different instances and the strange feeling she had about there being a connection between Latika and Vinod. But Vinod only said that Latika was different, a little weird and he was sure that Latika didn't have any such feelings. After saying so, Vinod went on talking about the picnic and other things and totally avoided being caught up in a similar discussion any further.
Soumi had studied hard for the exams not by choice but because she was almost forced by Latika. What else can a friend of a topper do other than prepare seriously for exams. Soumi stayed back at Latika's home for joint preparations. Latika's mother would prepare coffee and delicious pakodas for them and her sister would provide the comic relief after the mundane hours. One day after school, Soumi went directly to Latika's house to find out why she had not come to school. Her sister opened the door and ushered her inside. While she was waiting for Latika, her sister appeared again and informed her that Latika was asleep. She told Soumi that Latika was not feeling well since morning and probably would have gone off to sleep just then. Since both Soumi and Latika's sister were good friends they started talking about school, teachers, how Latika is too serious for her age etc. All of a sudden she told Soumi that Vinod is a good guy and that Latika liked him from the first day she met him. Soumi was taken aback. Seeing her disbelief, Latika's sister asked Soumi to keep it a secret, but also commented that romance can make the most boring person on earth interesting and what her sister needed was a little romance in her life badly.
The day of their first exam was Latika's birthday. Soumi had bought a pale green scarf with small red flowers painted on it for her. She waited for the exam to end eagerly. Then caught hold of her friend and pulled her to a corner to give her the gift which she had taken so much time to choose. Latika was very happy to see the scarf and had wrapped it around her neck to show Soumi how it suited her. She asked Soumi how she looked, but there was no answer. She then looked towards Soumi to see why she was not paying attention. Soumi's attention was diverted on seeing Vinod approaching Latika. Vinod gifted Latika a fancy pen which Soumi was sure would have cost Vinod a month's pocket money. At first Latika felt a little awkward but then she accepted the gift with a broad smile. The next day, Latika brought the pen for her exam and showed it to Vinod.
Now Soumi summoned her courage once again and asked both of them, of course separately, whether they liked each other. Again the answer was 'no'. It was negative from both sides this time but both of them were smiling while giving that absolutely false answer.
On asking again and again, Latika gave an indignant look towards Soumi and in a rough voice said that she was not a stupid romantic like Soumi and wouldn't dream of unrealistic emotions. Soumi was a little upset. Latika on seeing Soumi sad, pressed her hands in an affectionate way and said that she couldn't expect Vinod to like her. She said, "I am not attractive like the other girls and fact is that I have a tomboyish look. I do not entertain such illusions. I am practical and happy."
Soumi decided to play cupid. She was now quite sure that Latika and Vinod liked each other and she was determined to make them confess their feelings. She understood that Latika is hiding her fear of rejection behind her cold exterior and Soumi agreed with Latika's elder sister that she really needed some romance in her life. Since everything is fair in love and war, Soumi told a few lies mixed with a few truths to Latika that how Vinod always talks about her in her absence and has also noticed her beautiful eyes. To Vinod she again used the same tactic and also divulged some secrets saying that Latika liked the pen he gifted, a lot and also that she had liked him from the day she had joined this school.
Slowly but steadily Soumi's plan was working out. Latika and Vinod had started talking to each other now quite often. They also shared lunch and sometimes could be seen sitting together in the library. But still they did not declare their feelings to each other or to Soumi.
Soumi could only take solace in the fact that now both had become good friends. As the school days were now coming to an end Soumi thought to herself that after all she is not cupid. On the day of school farewell, everybody had dressed up in the best attire. Soumi had specially bought an off-white kurta and light pink palazzos for the occasion and Latika had bought a bracelet to wear with her light blue salwar kameez. When they reached school, the teacher announced a special program arranged by the junior batch of students. Latika was looking here and there as if she was searching somebody. Soumi asked her twice whom or what was she searching. But Latika just nodded. Sometimes, Soumi thought that even if Latika was her friend she could never understand what was going on in her head.
All of a sudden Soumi realized that Vinod was not around and probably Latika was searching him. Soumi went out of the auditorium where the performances were going on to find Vinod. She looked everywhere but in vain and when she was returning back she was stunned to see Vinod sitting on one of his knees and offering a bunch of scarlet roses to Latika.
Soumi could never forget that face. The expression of ardent love had made him look transformed to a grown-up man from a teenager boy. Latika's eyes had become soft and wet. She was blushing and was looking like the shy girl who didn't know how to react on being proposed for the first time. Her voice failed her. She couldn't find any words. Vinod said that he had liked her from the first instant he had set eyes on her. He had liked her eyes, the way she talked, her short trimmed hair and everything about her. He pushed the flowers into her hand and while holding her hands told her that falling in love with her was so easy that he never realized when exactly he had started loving her.
Latika was dumbstruck. She replied after a long silence that she never knew love was so beautiful. She hugged Vinod and acknowledged her feelings. Later the three of them went to an ice-cream parlor to celebrate and of course they paid for their very own cupid's ice-cream without whom there would have been no confession of their long-repressed love.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The confession of love

Soumi was new to the school. After her father got transferred to the small town Bagpur, she had joined the only school in the area. She had become used to the fast life of a metropolis. This was a huge change for her. People of Bagpur had a rural touch and the society was a little confined and conservative. Soumi had never wanted to leave Delhi, but she was left with no choice. At first, she had a tough time adjusting to the new environment, but soon new friends and the beautiful scenery of Bagpur helped her to get assimilated into the hitherto unknown surroundings. One of her friends who particularly made the change easy was Latika.
Soumi first met Latika in the school premises while rushing to find her classroom. Latika was a tall and thin girl with a boyish hairstyle. She had very beautiful and intelligent eyes. She helped Soumi find her classroom and soon Soumi realized that Latika was in the same grade. Latika was a bright student and was the class representative. She invited Soumi to sit with her but never talked to her much. Most of the times Latika was engrossed in her studies and Soumi was left alone to observe her fellow classmates. The class had sharp divides. The bright students used to sit in front and the backbenchers were of course the ones who were only interested in causing nuisance. Latika sat at frontmost seat and the others around were also equally serious in their attitude. Soumi had always been a very jolly girl and found the company a little too grave for her liking. But she was in the earnest to fit in.
Everyday Soumi would have a lot to talk about but was always confronted with a disinterested face. Nevertheless she tried to make conversation with Latika. Within a few months she saw that Latika was actually listening to her incessant chattering. Once or twice she would comment on the non-stop blabbering problem of Soumi but would still lend a patient ear. Eventually Latika started talking about things other than studies and told her about her favorite movie stars, food, music etc. She also took her to her home where Soumi met Latika's mom and elder sister, her father was at work so she couldn't meet him. Latika was a very obedient girl and Soumi could sense that her family was very proud of her. Latika's elder sister was a little like Soumi and had a very good sense of humor. She studied at the nearby college and was not very good in her studies unlike her younger sister. Although she loved Latika very much, the constant comparison with her sister made by her parents instilled in her a slight inferiority complex. On the other hand Latika respected her elder sister for her amazing easy-going personality and always felt bad about the fact that she lacked the happy temper of her sister. 
Since Latika was the topper of the class, all students as well as teachers had a lot of respect for her. Both boys and girls would come to her for different study-related problems and she was always prompt in helping them. Soumi also started liking Latika. While the days passed peacefully, Soumi noticed that there was one guy named Vinod, who never came to Latika for help. On the contrary, he befriended Soumi. He would take a chair and sit beside Soumi between the classes and would talk about endless number of topics. Vinod had a very charming, kiddish smile. He had a very happy outgoing nature and became friends with Soumi almost instantly. Soon Latika started teasing Soumi about Vinod. But Soumi was sure that Vinod was just a friend and neither her nor him had any mutual feelings. 
However, there was one peculiar thing about the whole matter. Soumi occasionally found Latika looking in their direction whenever Vinod came to chat with her. In fact she sometimes found Latika keeping her fellow classmates waiting while she was absorbed in their conversation, which was very unlike Latika's personality. 
After noticing this a few times, Soumi asked Latika if she liked Vinod. Latika denied it right away and instead said that she had known Vinod from the time she had joined the school and had never found him interesting. She said that she can never like people who talk so much and laugh without a reason. This hurt Soumi a bit, but she identified the incoherence in Latika's statements. She thought to herself that Latika loved her sister so much who almost had exactly same personality as Vinod. Now, she was a little intrigued about Latika's feelings towards Vinod.
During the winters the school organized a school picnic every year. This time it was a nearby lake. Bagpur had many scenic places including hilly forested areas, natural lakes and old temples and monasteries. There was never a problem with finding a beautiful place for picnics and this year was no different. Latika and Soumi were also excited about the picnic. For Soumi it was a new experience here, she packed some snacks, loaded her mobile phone with songs of all genres and some clothes in case she needed to change. Latika showed her a fancy hat which her sister had gifted her and was overjoyed to finally have a place to wear it.
All the students assembled in front of the school gate but Vinod was missing. The school bus came and after all the students had boarded the bus the teachers started calling for attendance. Soumi was a little sad as she had hoped Vinod would come but she had Latika with her which was enough for her to enjoy the trip. As soon as the driver started the engine, to everybody's surprise Vinod was at the door of the bus panting heavily. Soumi's eyes glittered with happiness and she turned towards Latika to express her joy. To her surprise she found Latika looking straight at Vinod with a smile on her face that suggested a strange respite. At that moment Soumi caught Vinod staring at Latika as well.
Vinod came up to their seat and greeted them. Soon the bus started moving and all the students started cheering and shouting. It was a four-hour journey and as usual Soumi went on talking to Latika while Vinod was with the other boys giggling about something. On reaching the destination, Latika forcibly turned Soumi's face outside the window so that she could have a look at the scenery. Soumi was stunned. It was breathtaking. A blue lake nestled at the lap of absolutely green hills, was a view which found everybody dumbstruck. Soon everyone alighted the bus and started spreading mats on the grass. On Soumi's insistence Latika went with her to the rocky area near the lake. While approaching the water her ankle twisted and she fell over the rocks. Soumi rushed to her side and made her sit on one of the rocks. She could see blood on Latika's lips and to the horror of both of them, Latika had broken one of her teeth partially. Latika started crying. Soumi didn't have words to console her, nevertheless she tried her best. On seeing blood Vinod who had followed them without their knowledge, now ran up to them and offered water to Latika to wash her wound. Soumi could see how nervous Vinod had become. His hands were shaking and he was fumbling with words. But within a few moments when he discovered that Latika had only broken a teeth and there was no serious injury, he started teasing her calling her 'broken tooth girl'. Latika was very angry with Vinod. But the strange thing was that Latika was trying to hide her great disappointment behind the anger.
The picnic was over and exams were approaching.
Soumi always felt that there was something she was missing. Latika was always very affected whenever Vinod teased her about her broken tooth. The Latika whom Soumi knew was least bothered about what people thought about her. Soumi decided to ask Vinod if he had any special feelings for Latika. Soumi had always imagined that they were secretly in love with each other.
Was she right? We will soon find out. Till then hold on to your curiosity..

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Psychology of Crime

Recently I read a novel called ‘Crime and Punishment’, by Fyodor Dostoyesvsky. It describes the journey of the mind from the time of committing a crime and after. The author has dissected all the levels of mental analysis that results in a crime, the subsequent struggle to justify it, the realization of the emptiness and absurdity of purpose resulting in it and the remorse and mental agony leading to almost begging for suffering to cleanse one’s soul of the taint of vileness. The beauty of the novel is that not only does it describe the crime and subsequent punishment but also the healing of the bruised soul by love. 
Hunger, gloomy hopeless circumstances and profound suffering of loved ones causes the protagonist to commit a random murder. He convinces himself through a lot of deep thinking that if he kills a certain old rich lady with a rotten soul and robs her, he would be able to secure a bright future. However, he is unable to use any of the money after killing the woman. He suffers from delirium and is unable to even look at the exploits of his robbery. Just after the murder he starts visualizing the follies in his reasoning behind committing the crime. The constant mental agony he suffers in anticipation of getting caught also tears him apart. Finally he meets a poor, humble girl who has sacrificed her life by becoming a prostitute for the sake of her poverty-stricken, starving family. He is astonished to encounter such purity of soul and such forgiving attitude after so much sacrifice. He helps her family with whatever little means he has and also preserves her self respect by honoring her with proper introduction with his family, which she had never expected. At this point of the story, he appears to be the ray of hope for the girl. However, as the story proceeds she emerges as the savior of the man’s worn-out soul. When he confesses his crime to her, he is bewildered to see love in her tear filled eyes. He had expected revulsion and hatred but he could only find deep sadness. He could see that she was not only able to understand the pain he was going through but was able to feel the same pain. Through her love she makes him come to terms with his guilt and convinces him to accept his suffering. He confesses his crime and is sentenced to exile for eight years where she follows him. Throughout the period of punishment when he goes through the cycle of remorse, anger, hopelessness and anguish, she stays with him even when he has behaved rudely and showed his annoyance and rejection. However, he can finally appreciate the beauty of life and unburden his soul. That is when he can acknowledge his love for the girl, whom he had perhaps loved from the time he had first cast his eyes on her.   

The beauty of the novel lies not only in its critical analysis about crime but also the strength of love in reviving the soul. Here, the girl acts like the slave who frees his master, or the angel who shows the light within the soul which has been forgotten by the frail human mind. The selfless love of the girl and the immense devotion towards the man without the weakness of desire, burns away the thorns which had been injuring his soul. He could finally become free of the endless struggles and torments of self-realization and remorse. The anger and resentment he used to feel for being stupid enough to jeopardize his own future was dissolved in the ocean of love. He was reborn and a new excitement originated in his soul. Sometimes he even felt that the long years of punishment were just weeks ahead before he could again smell freedom and reunite with the vitality of life. As somebody has truly said that love is much greater than hatred.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Marriage and love

What is marriage? In religious terms it is that bonding of two souls when neither wants to be parted from each other in life or in death. But to be more realistic, can we call marriage an end result of love or just a need for another human being to fight loneliness. Yesterday, my friend was talking about a short story that came in readers digest where a couple who were madly in love with each other, after marriage gradually realize the fading away of their love. Both of them were independent people having their own separate lives coexistent with their married life. Initially like most relationships there was a lot of passion and excitement between them. However, with time the intensity of their love making decreased, overshadowed by their ever-increasing list of follies which neither of them had noticed when they had first started walking on the tread path of relationship. They started picking up fights on unimportant subjects and their arguments were mostly on topics of little consequence. It became as if they wanted a reason to vent out the anger and frustration piling up on their hearts. Eventually they decided that they could not breathe in the same room any longer and hence should get a divorce. During the days of separation, both were at peace. They had finally regained their freedom. But as the days passed by, the woman started feeling that the peace she felt was not because of contentment, but because there was no one to say a word. It was as if she entered the house and she was all on her own. Home had become an apartment where she had the amenities to sustain her everyday life. The man was initially very happy to get back to his old friends. He went out with them to party, play cards, drink like a fish, flirt with anybody he wanted. But there was something missing. He felt like a kid playing throughout the afternoon with his friends, but when the sun goes down the horizon, he is the only one who has no where to go, no home to return to. He started feeling her absence in all the articles of the house, the coffee mugs, the towels, the bed sheets. The apartment looked like it was shrinking, the walls were so near each other as if they will suffocate him. The day when the divorce was to be settled, both of them looked at each other outside the courtroom, and in silent approval, retracted their case. The story ended by the note that it was difficult for them to stay together, but it was impossible for them to stay apart.
I knew a couple who were married for five years. They had also lost the initial charm of married life. They were friends of my husband who told me that they had a lot of fights and arguments nowadays. After listening to all the details shared by the guy with my husband, I started questioning myself if love really existed between a married couple few years down the line. But when I met this couple, I could see something totally different from what I had heard. There was no obvious display of affection, but somewhere in their eyes, when they looked at each other, the sparkle had still not disappeared. I got a chance to talk to the woman alone and she told me something which I had never expected. I thought that she would be complaining about her relationship. On the contrary she told me “men have the capacity of loving a woman deeply. The vice-versa may not be so much true.” The look of disbelief on my face prompted her to add, “I can tell you this because I feel so much loved. I do not deny having arguments, vexations, emotional highs and lows but at the end of the day it doesn't matter. The important thing is that we are together no matter what  ”. That night when I came back home, my husband told me that for their fifth anniversary, his friend had planned a surprise trip for his wife to Greece and had asked us not to breathe a word about it to her. My husband asked me why I was smiling. I said I was happy for them. Actually I was happy for all the married couples including myself.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Samapti retold

'Samapti' is among the many marvelous short stories told by Rabindranath Tagore and it cannot be retold better than it has already been written. It has been adapted as the last part of a movie called 'Teen Kanya' by Satyajit Ray, another legendary personality where both Soumitra Chatterjee and Aparna Sen have done an exceptional job portraying the leads. 'Samapti' means 'the conclusion' which is a befitting title for the last story of the trio 'Teen Kanya' or 'Three Daughters' . All the three stories are about the feelings of women at different circumstances which relate to the social structure prevalent at that time. But here I wanted to highlight Samapti adapted as part of a television series by Anurag Basu telecasted on EPIC channel called 'Stories by Rabindranath Tagore'. Although the tale itself has its magic which keeps the viewers glued to it while its running and also leads into the beautiful dreaminess of love long after it has ended. However, this version is a very romantic replay of the plot and gives a new perspective to love.
It is the story of a simple tomboyish girl Mrinmayi, who enjoys playing with the village boys and doesn't have any liking for household chores. Unlike the girls in the village she has no desire to get married and is a child at heart. She wants her freedom and has a strong mind of her own often bordering on to stubbornness. Her naughty playful activites catches the attention of Amulya who is mesmerized by her and proposes to marry her. The family of Mrinmayi or Meenu is overjoyed to hear this and as it used to be at that time, nobody cares to ask about what Meenu wanted. Her father is unable to attend the marriage due to job obligations and a disheartened Meenu is married off to Amulya within a short notice. Initially she is not able to adjust to the new circumstances and hates the rules binding her to the in-laws' house. She shows her disappointment to Amulya and confesses that the marriage was against her wishes and that she has no feelings for him. On receiving a letter from her father, Meenu becomes very emotional and asks her mother-in-law permission to visit her father. Amulya's mother already displeased with her daughter-in-law for running away at the day of the wedding, disagrees to Meenu's visit to her father. However, later Amulya takes Meenu to visit her father without asking his mother. On seeing her father Meenu is overjoyed and becomes friendly with Amulya. When they return, Amulya's mother is furious for obvious reasons and denies to listen to Amulya's plea about Meenu's innocence in the whole matter.  Meenu on the contrary is quite unaffected by the feelings of her mother-in-law and is not at all bothered to seek her forgiveness or reconciliation.
Meenu and Amulya have a good time together but soon Amulya realizes that Meenu does not love him like a wife loves a husband. Amulya being a sensitive man takes Meenu to her mother's house so that she has time to think about their relationship and tells her that he would return to take her only when she decides to live with him by her own will. Hereafter starts the self realization of Meenu where she finds herself getting bored in the company of the little boys she loved to play with before and she often becomes absent-minded and feels no happiness in the childhood playful activities. A letter from her father about how good their son-in-law is and how Meenu has changed after her marriage makes her more aware of the fact that she has grown out of her childhood. The rains have a different meaning to her now and the flowing air incites a different feeling in her. She imagines Amulya everywhere and starts taking interest in the household chores. She finds an unprecedented emptiness in her heart and a strange fulfillment at the same time. She longs for the kiss which she had earlier rejected on being offered by Amulya. She starts paying attention to her looks, keeps looking at herself in the mirror longer than usual. The ornaments which had been of no value to her previously starts drawing her interest. The journey of Meenu from her girlhood to womanhood has been portrayed very beautifully and the change of her desires to that of a grown-up woman as if a blossoming flower, has been shown with utmost perfection. She returns back to her mother-in-law who had been unwell due to her son's unhappy marriage. On seeing Meenu come back to her, she becomes ecstatic and starts regaining her health. While getting along with her mother-in-law, Meenu writes several letters to her husband but doesn't put the address correctly, so none of the letters reaches its destination. On the other hand a hopeless and heart-broken Amulya has no idea about the endeavors of his wife to reach out to him. Mrinmayi also feels the pangs of being separated from her husband which is heightened by her incessant and eager wait for his reply to her letters. Finally Amulya's mother takes her to him where they find each other madly in love and like two rivers who are destined to end up in the same sea flow into the ocean of romance and passion.
All the actors have done a fabulous job and the background music has augmented the beauty of transition of Mrinmayi from a teenager to a woman. The romance has been pictured aesthetically and with a sensuality which even the most bold scenes would be incapable of expressing. Abhishek Tewari as Apurva and Chitrangada Chakraborty as Mrinmayee make your heart skip a beat with their brilliant performance.
The dialogues have not lost their meaning during translation from the original story as is usually the case. Conversely, they have been very finely able to capture the feelings of a girl and how society treads upon the sensibilities of women and decides everything for them without their approval. The dialogue after marriage where Mrinmayee accuses her husband for forcing her to marry him and asks in a infuriated yet sad tone, 'Did anybody care to ask me if I wanted to marry or not?', was a question most relevant to Indian society at that time. The way the question was asked and the complete scene actually bombarded the painful social inequality directly into the heart of the viewers.
The actors playing the role of Meenu's mother, mother-in-law and father have also done an incredible job. It is true that the protagonist of the story receives all the attention, the supporting actors infuse life into the drama. In making this story so interesting a lot of credit goes to the supporting actors.
Lastly, I would say that Samapti is an amazing story which bundles up a range of emotions and human characteristics which Anurag Basu could do justice by his creative and faithful representation and I would emphasize everybody to watch it at least once.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

True Friend

Friendship is one of the most widely explored topic. There are millions of stories, articles, television shows, movies about different types of friendship and the way it changes your life. Although there is a lot already told about this limitless warm relationship, there is still lot ahead and the best part is you never get tired of it.
From the days of childhood we make friends at home, at school and as we grow up some disappear, while some remain throughout your life. I had many great friends without whom my life wouldn't have been the way it is. Every moment I have spent with them laughing or crying, has been incredible and amazing. Today I will be telling the story of one such special person in my life who was not only my best friend at one time but has been a true friend throughout.
When I first came to Kolkata for doing my bachelor's, I was only 18 years old. It was the first time I was out of my home, living in a hostel. How much ever comfortable a hostel maybe, it can never compete with the coziness and warmth of your home and mine was definitely a mediocre arrangement for basic living. I loved my college and my newly found independence, so didn't feel much homesick. But at times living out of your comfort zone can make you feel depressed. One such gloomy morning, I got out of my room and went to the common area where the water filter was kept to fill my bottle. I saw a girl with brownish-auburn hair, which is very uncommon trait to find in Indian people, standing near the water filter filling her huge jug. I asked her if she would allow me to fill my bottle first which was much less in volume. She turned her head to look at me and said that she was almost done with a little reserve in her voice. Her eyes were big and beautiful and were sitting on a plump pretty face with a cute mouth. She was fair complexioned with a little honey mixed in her skin colour which made her look even more attractive.
In order to make conversation while waiting for her to fill her jug, I asked her name. Thereafter the conversation just flowed on and I learnt that A's birthday was in the end of June which meant she was a cancer. I told her that I am a virgo and cancers and virgoes are very compatible. I said, we can become good friends. Though to all the blabbering about sun signs, her reply was not very encouraging. She merely said "Oh really, let's see! I don't think sun signs can make friends".
The next time I saw her she was going out with some friends and had put on a little make-up which really looked good on her, but she had the same old reserved look on her face. I tried talking to her a couple of times and slowly I don't exactly recall when we became friends. We used to have lunch and dinner together everyday. We studied in different colleges but as soon as we reached the hostel we used to go out together. Later I got shifted to her room and there started the great journey towards becoming best friends forever. We also had another common friend and room-mate, D and we made a perfect trio for going to movies, for shopping and thousands of crazy things that we did.
Oh I still remember the day, when D colored her hair red, I had to keep on washing her hair for an hour to decrease the intensity of the redness. I used to call her aloud 'Lal Badshah' or the 'Red King' in public to tease her.
We had a band of our own called the 'beggar band' and our lead vocalist was A aka 'beggar' of the beggar band. We had such a pathetic name for our band as all of us had meager pocket-money and 'A' was called the lead because she tried to save money from the little we got from our parents. She was also the best child among us who really thought about her parents. I remember her gifting her father a titan wristwatch from the pocket-money she saved. This gesture touched my heart and I have never been able to forget it. In fact, later keeping her as an example in my mind, I gifted my parents sarees and shirts with my PhD stipend.
We had such emotional bonding that even if we were angry with each other or if I had hit A (I was an extremely wild child as a teenager) or if she was not talking to me, all issues got resolved within a day and we never ever kept any bitter feelings later. She always dutifully called me in the morning so that I could study a little bit as if she was my mom. I always screamed at her for trying to wake me up in the morning but she never held it against me for which I am eternally grateful to her.
We used to share 'Golgappas' from one plate which were always extremely hot and spicy because A used to tell the vendor to go on adding green chilies into it and later I used to take away her Vaseline to cool my lips. When she would not be able to find the Vaseline she would look at my lips and smile in a naughty way saying "I knew that you are the thief as soon as I saw those shiny lips of yours" and then we would have a good laugh.
Now when I reminisce those days, I feel a little sad that it's all in the past and no matter how much I crave for them, they will not return. Golden memories of our fights, our jokes, our experiments with make-up and hair color, our whistling at movies, our crushes, heartbreaks and the hearty poems of the old worn-out topic, romance are now part of the album called 'life'.
But the good thing is that A is still my best buddy and even after her marriage, having a baby, becoming a successful teacher, she is the same to me. Her behavior has not changed even a bit towards me. She has a very handsome and good-natured husband and a beautiful kid. I wish her all the happiness in life from the core of my heart. Cheers to our friendship.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Love story

I have been watching a TV show called 'Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya'. It presents one unusual love story per episode and it has many seasons. I have watched most of the episodes. Among the several amazing love stories the one I liked the most was about a guy who was a writer named N and a girl who was a prostitute named K. It was the usual kind of romance where the boy and girl meet each other coincidently and fall in love. Also, the difference was not because the girl was a prostitute. The story was unassuming because of what the guy thought about the girl and the way he behaved with her. There is a subtle difference between showing that you care about the atrocities faced by the prostitutes and sharing the pain with one of them. Most of us in our society think that speaking out loud about our acceptance towards them or writing articles about how we can put an end to their suffering is most generous gesture we can afford to show them. I do not disagree that it is the first step towards bringing about a change in society and bestowing a ray of hope to these girls. At the same time most of us just do these things in order to prove our open-mindedness to other people but we do not actually think in the same way. In fact even the institutions for their rehabilitation often do not treat them right and sometimes even have worse ulterior motives. Our emotions are always locked away and we use these people to prove our worth. I believe there would be very few people who are not hypocrite about such viewpoints. Most of us would be still hating their lot and showing off how much we care.

In this story the girlfriend of the writer named G was such a person who was doing research on prostitution, its causes and how to save women from such rackets. When a goon being chased by police drops off K in N's house and threatens him to kill him if he refuses to keep K till the time he gets back, N is terrified and is left with no choice but to take care of K. In the beginning, he didn't know anything about K. When he first learnt that K is a prostitute he feels uncomfortable and extremely conscious of letting the girl remain in his house. This emotion was quite natural because society teaches us to judge people based on their profession without knowing their circumstances which led them into it. Also, he had the fear of being discovered by his girlfriend who may not understand his situation. As time goes by, he starts talking to K and gets to know how after becoming an orphan at a very young age she was sold by her heartless uncle to people involved in prostitution and human trafficking. He comes to know about how she was tortured and beaten up brutally upon refusing to become a prostitute. The repulsiveness he had felt for her at first changed to sympathy. N was portrayed as a sensitive guy, so it was not unusual for him to feel sad for K who had suffered so much injustice. He goes up to his girlfriend as he believes she being a researcher on such a topic would definitely help him to find a safe abode for this girl. But alas, she lashes out at him for letting K live with him and also passes derogatory remarks on K's character. He then realizes that the thesis she had written on the status of these women was just a topic for her to get her acknowledgements and accolades in her profession and not at all heartfelt. He breaks-up with her as he feels that they are two very different people who have very dissimilar thinking. He returns home dejected and tells K about the whole incident. K on the other hand feeling guilty about the whole situation and considering herself the cause of N's break-up, leaves him. When she sets her foot out of the house she is again caught by the goon who had run away from police custody. He along with others catch hold of her and force her to leave with them. While she struggles to free herself, N is woken up from his slumber by the commotion and he goes out to find her being forced upon by the goons. He fights them and in the process acknowledges her to be his wife. Soon a crowd gathers up and somebody calls the police who arrest the goons and take them away. K looks at him with eyes filled with love and respect as nobody till now had publicly acknowledged her and showed her the respect she deserved. In fact she had accepted her fate and thought that destiny had refused her the right to being loved and cared for.

Now, she felt that God was still there and people like N are incarnations of God. On the other hand N had never realized before that what he felt for K was much deeper and meaningful than sympathy. He had started caring for her unknowingly. Fighting for her had eventually made him feel for her but it had not occurred to him before the goons asked him what she meant to him, that he really loved her and had subconsciously accepted her as his better half.

This story is a fantasy but it does project the difference between hypocrisy and real acceptance of people who are judged adversely by society. Even educated people are not free from the social stigmas and cannot think beyond what they are made to believe. N was always very concerned about K and even when he was not in love with her, did not treat her improperly. The depiction of their love story was also not partial about the fact that she was in an indecent profession. In fact, it was more about her agony and the distress. Generally people fall in love with a person and then feel their pain. But in this story it was the opposite. N could feel the physical and mental torment that K went through and this pain made him fall in love with her.

This story really touched my heart because it could portray love in its true essence. Love is pure and unaffected. It doesn't happen based on where you belong, what you do, what you are, how you look, so on and so forth. It is as innocent and unadulterated as a new born child.