We look back only to look forward

Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn

The past 12 months have been a year of non-stop headlines, corona virus taking the center stage. The year started with the bush-fire in Australia, Ukrainian plane crash, Prince Harry and Meghan stepping off from Royal duties, death of Kobe Bryant,  WHO declaring Covid-19 as global health emergency and on March 11,Covid-19 labelled as pandemic, oil prices hitting record low, super cyclone hitting eastern India and Bangladesh, Pakistan plane crash, George Floyd and the global anti-racism movement Black Lives Matter, the US election in which Americans voted president Donald Trump out of office, the first vaccination for Covid-19 and finally the Brexit deal getting done.  2020 has also seen some unfathomable losses, the list of artists and great personalities who left us this year has been long.

The elements of our life were invisible until this pandemic forced us to take steps back to actually see them through our mind’s eye. There has been a lot of talk on social media about 2020 being a ‘write-off’ year. Our human tendency for predictability often leads us to believe that if it is not something we planned for, we strike it off. I believe there is much to be carried forward with us into the New Year. As we countdown to 2021, I reflect through the pages of the calendar of the year 2020.

When the first news of Covid broke off in this part of the world, all we knew was that there is a virus in China. I can bet on this that not many imagined that the world would change drastically. We believed that the virus would lose its strain or the spread would not be this dreadful. But in no time, we started seeing spike in the number of people in UK and Europe being affected on a daily basis.  Even before we realized the severity of the pandemic, we were all locked within our own houses. The whole world came to a standstill. Busy cities were quiet, offices were empty, shop shelves vacant due to stock piling and trains, buses and flights were stranded.

Photo by Yoss Cinematic on Pexels.com

Starting of the lock down, it all seemed fine. From a traveling job and living life out of a suitcase, it suddenly started feeling like a long relaxed vacation.  It felt like a blessing, as it allowed families to spend more time together. Families and couples who started living together 24/7, like mine, during the lock down discovered newer and at times surprising elements in each other. Things which were earlier ignored or over-shadowed started becoming more apparent. Sometimes we annoyed each other; sometimes we disagreed, sometimes, the brutality of this pandemic frustrated and depressed us but in the end I was fortunate to have someone at home to deal through the uncertainty, whilst many struggled in loneliness.

Soon we realized the importance of socializing and meeting friends and colleagues. Digital technology came as a savior. Initially I thought I would not mind the rules of lock down, isolation, deprivation of meeting in-person. But with time, I started missing the normal which I had unknowingly taken for granted – like shaking hands, chit-chatting with the people on way to commute, hugging my friends, travel for work and pleasure. Yet, this crisis has also shown me human being’s extraordinary ability to cope, adapt, and learn. I realized just how creative and resilient humans can be when our lives – and livelihood – are on the line.

This year, UK had seen a beautiful summer, I can’t remember when we last had such perfect bank holidays without rain spoiling most of the plans but we had to enjoy the sun from our own gardens and balconies. Some found time to indulge in physical fitness but for me, I lacked the motivation and had an excuse that the fitness centers were closed for most times of the year. However, I sat hours on my Yoga mat contemplating various thoughts that usually clouded my mind, mind Yoga?

For most of the year I was and am still very grateful, I have a job which allows me to work from home, protecting myself and my family. When we were asked to work from home, I had heaps of complaints – my apartment seemed too small and there was barely any home-office arrangements. But over the last months, I have learnt to enjoy my makeshift home office as much as much as my real office.

We often have different coping mechanisms when faced with a crisis. My coping mechanism has been to go into complete overdrive mode. For me, I found peace in writing which I love the most. Can’t deny I love it when people read it and appreciate, who doesn’t? Perhaps it is a way I try to explore myself more than trying to gain any sort of popularity as another wannabe-writer in the block.  Scribbling down thoughts has helped me make peace with some of the most troublesome incidents of the year. Seeing people suffer, being in pain, losing jobs, losing loved ones, fighting over religion, racial discrimination, exercising power over another has many a times made me utterly disturbed. It is my way of trying to make sense of certain senseless situations. As we come to the end of the year, I observed we all are all doing what we can to cope and sometimes doing nothing is a way too.  

I won’t make a verdict whether 2020 was bad or good to me. To the world, it was definitely dark before the light. An unintended but positive consequence for me has been that I could spend time in deciding things that I want to do and those that I no longer want to do. Usually being on a hyperactive work mode, I had my diary full of work, which meant I’ve never really sat down and considered what’s important to me in more than a superficial way. Finding some stillness in my own life has meant that I was able to be more present for myself.

I agree that much of human interactions can be lost due to online meetings, but while we move into 2021 and having explored the possibilities of technology I think smart uses of digital technology is underestimated and we prefer to live in denial. I hope that most of the benefits of digital technology, which were forced to be the only way in these tough times, will be retained even post-pandemic.

Amidst the heart-breaking losses we experienced, we somehow became more hopeful and more helpful than ever. The emotion that was stirred when I opted as an NHS Volunteer responder in my area, cannot be expressed in words. I am sure many never knew that a simple gesture like clapping for Carers, NHS staff and other key workers dealing with the corona virus pandemic could bring so much tears.

Finally, the biggest uncertainty has been what happens to all the love and friendship and responsibilities we bear towards people and families, this pandemic will not allow us to see? This year, I have seen new friendships emerge, old bonds have renewed themselves and some unfortunately fragmented. Some bonds could pass the test of time and the distance made no difference while few have taken a back seat with the pandemic bringing new highs and lows in life. Perhaps, a pandemic is what we needed to really know true bonds that lasts a crisis. For they are there, waiting for the storm to end and a new day to start.

Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.com

Memories and Nostalgia of Durga Pujo

With only few more days to this year’s Durga Pujo, I found myself wondering what it is about Durga Puja that makes me long for ‘Kolkata’ more than any other time of the year. While I sit down to pen my feelings on a cold night in London, I find it hard to put it in few sentences, I feel overwhelmed by rush of emotions. I question myself, what is this ‘Pujo Pujo’ that we, Bengalis, keep referring to each other just before the grand Durga Pujo.

Durga Pujo – the moment this is said to a Bengali, their heart will leap in joy. Their minds will instantly draw pictures of kaash phul (Kans grass), neel akash (Blue sky), dhunuchi (an earthen pot filled with burning coconut husk and camphor) and dhaaker taal (sound of drums). Over the years, I realised the feeling ‘Pujo Pujo’, although has a lot in common yet the differences are how one has absorbed the feeling of Pujo during the growing up days. Durga Pujo is what every Bengali’s life orbits around. The excitement around Pujo has not changed through eons, but how they celebrate it has varied as one grows up and grows old.

Durga Pujo during childhood meant ‘achieving freedom’, 4 days of unadulterated freedom. But the definition of freedom changed with age. I grew up in a Bengali para (neighbourhood) in North Kolkata, where the essence of Pujo started much before the Pujo itself. The entire calendar of a Bengali planning revolves around Pujo.

For Bengalis, the ‘Pujo Pujo’ feeling kicks off from ‘Mahalaya’ – folklore associated with the day, people believe that on this day, Goddess Durga officially begins her journey from Mount Kailash — where she resides with her husband Lord Shiva — to her maternal home on Earth. The ‘homecoming’. Our childish imaginations would relate that to- us, as kids, visiting our maternal uncle’s house or ‘mamabari’ with our mother and the unlimited ‘mamabarir ador’ we used to receive during our stay there.

When the devotional chants by Birendra Krishna Bhadra filled the air, we knew countdown has started. In few days, the ‘parar pujo’ would pile bamboo poles and other decors in a corner of the street.  That sight had boundless joy.

Afternoons, after coming back from school was all about staying glued to ‘Pujo Barshikis’ – Bengali magazines timed during the Durga pujo. Smell from those pages were delightful. It was a common picture in every household then, where the elders in the family were hooked onto ‘Desh’ and we, as kids, used to be engrossed into the pages of ‘Shuktara’,’Anandamela’ . After a certain age ‘Anandalok’ formed a major secret attraction, providing us with the sauciest gossips.

As kids, we used to dutifully fill up our piggy banks for the whole year – savings for these 4 days. More the savings, better the treats. Depending on the money collected, we used to treat ourselves to egg roll or egg-chicken roll from the Pujo street-food stalls. If we had any ‘dada’ or ‘didi’ assisting us, we might even have a ‘Gold Spot’ or ‘Thumbs Up’, as a bonus.

Another very important aspect of Durga Pujo, during childhood days, used to be the cultural programmes. Growing up in a middle class Bengali family, one is bound to acquire multiple skills including singing, dancing, drama, recitation. The days leading up to the Pujo was supposed to be serious rehearsals at some ‘kakima’s’ (local aunty) house in the neighbourhood. As kids, we used to look forward to finishing off school homework and rush for practice sessions. Groups of kids practicing ‘Rabindra Sangeet ‘or ‘Adhunik Pujor Gaan ‘and dance performances or ‘Natok’ (drama), all lined up for Durga Pujo evenings.

What is Pujo without Pujo shopping in New Market or Gariahat, depending on which part of Kolkata you are from. 4 or more fixed dresses for 4 days – the best always reserved for Nabami evening. And a pair of new shoes, which I always ended having painful shoe-bite experiences, after a night of pandal hopping. Up to a certain age, strict Bengali mothers would always decide which dress to wear on which day and we hardly had any say on that.

I still remember – the year the movie ‘Bazigaar’ was released, I had bought (had to really try hard with my mother) the colourful jeans SRK wore in the popular song “Ye kaali kaali ankehin” and oh boy! I was super popular amongst my friends!

As we grew up, Pujos got bigger, freedom took a different shape. As a teenager, permissions were expanded to be with friends for the whole day and late evenings. The time of return was always a point of negotiation. Thanks to the traffic during the Durga Pujo, excuses were not difficult to make.

Years passed by, mere hanging around with friends and counting the number of pandals hopped each day changed to love interests. A major shift of topic happened and the focus was on “Chele ta ke re? “Or “Meye ta ke dekhechis”?  (Who is the guy? / Have you seen that girl?)  Girls by then had the permission to do their first eyebrow threading and boys perhaps had their first shave. This was also the phase when we witnessed our crush for the first time in a saree or a white Punjabi. Our heart skipped a beat at the ‘Astami Pushpanjali’.  

SRK’s colorful jeans took a backseat in the wardrobe and I picked up Maa’s ‘dhakai jamdani’ with the wish to impress my knight in white Punjabi.

Over the years, life has taken lot of turns. The meaning of ‘Pujo’ has also changed.  Home is now London yet every year during Durga Pujo, the memories of ‘Pujo Pujo’ from growing up days in Kolkata, become even more vivid and prominent. The heart becomes heavy yet the mind can play the cacophony of ‘dhaak’ and ‘dhunuchi naach’.

 In the end, on ‘Bijoya Dashami’ it reminds me that every good thing must come to an end. It reminds me that life and death are inevitable yet we celebrate days that we live on this earth. Durga Puja reminds me that – what ends, marks the start of a new beginning ushering new hope.

The fault IS in our STARS

It was another lockdown Sunday, typical, lazy and useless – not knowing where to start and what to do, cursing 2020 for being such an ominous year. Little did I know that one of the darkest news was on its way? 14th June, around mid-day in London, WhatsApp messages start popping, social media feeds starting pouring – “Sushant Singh Rajput is no more”!

The news read as “Sushant Singh Rajput took his own life”. Really? Within hours, different theories started spreading even faster than the spread of the deadly virus. Nepotism, Depression, Mental health, Bipolar Disorder, Failed career and many more. Nothing was spared – some spoke about past allegations and others on his daily habits, his relationships, family and so on.

It took me more than 2 months to write this and this is not the first time I have sat down to write about Sushant’ s untimely death. But every time I have sat down to write something, it has pained me immensely – as if injustice has happened to me.

To be honest, I haven’t been an ardent follower of ‘Pavitra Rishta’ (Sushant’s big TV hit which made him very popular) when it aired on the television, but I do know my close family members who did and learnt how quickly ‘Manav’ became a house hold name. I did watch few of the episodes with my sister, who happens to be a huge fan of him, STILL! After few years, he made it for himself into Bollywood among the reins of Khans and Kapoors. It was a remarkable journey for a small town boy from tele screens to big screen. We saw him evolve from the small screen to Bollywood with ‘Kai Po Che’ and he never looked back. In no time, he made us love him from ‘Manav’ to ‘Ishaan’ to ‘Raghu’ to ‘Mahi’ and so many more. There ‘would have’ been many more such characters but this story reached a deadly climax too soon.

Did I follow him while he was struggling and making his way to the peak? Maybe, not. Like the mass audience, I was busy celebrating mediocracy of Bollywood. I too was whistling and dancing my way when SRK stretched his arms, with his signature style, for his female co-star or Sallu-Bhai, with his bare shaved chest, knocked down all villains at one go. 

Then why does it pain so much now and why am I fighting for justice along with million other Indians all around the world?  

Sushant, you were one of us. One of my age group. One who risked things, took drastic career steps. Your family seems so like one of ours. Your journey from Bihar to Mumbai and mine from Kolkata to London might not be exactly the same but the ‘struggle-to-survive’, I bet, were quite similar and so is it for many more like me who could relate their struggles with yours. We battled, won few, failed more, laughed and cried with big-fishes only to be included and make it big one day. But, today, it seems that you not only travelled to a different world through your telescope but you also took away with you the ‘courage to dream’ for millions like me? You left us thinking whether dreaming big costs something like our ‘life’? You took every step as a challenge – making long leaps from engineering to dancing to TV to Bollywood to starting your own gaming company to learning AI to learning to code to flying plane to gazing at the stars for hours… to many more. You were an actor by profession but your love for astrophysics and quantum physics were rarely spoken about. Few say that you took your own life but we find it hard to believe that a person with so much of passion and a long list of aspirations could give up on life? One who already sailed through rough waters can commit suicide? Or are you saying we should never challenge the unchallenged?

Oh by the way, sorry but we live in a world where once you leave the stage, your co-workers won’t remember you beyond a RIP post. I know, I know “The Show Must Go On”!  

Should we keep dreaming big, Sushant? Can we swim with the big fishes?

The Locked down LOVE 

If you thought it’s all ‘Love’ in the air – think twice – because , now , along with love – you might get the infectious Corona Virus too. The path of love was never easy – ask the people in love and now during the lockdown- it has become even more plagued… well, quite literally!  As a result of the pandemic, people are not allowed to leave home and maintain social distancing. While the world went crazy over the ever increasing infected numbers and stock piling, little would anyone think about love? So what is it really like, to feel ‘Love in the time of Corona’?

The coronavirus crisis has put all our relationships to test – from the singles without a partner feeling even more singular than before to couples stuck in different cities to what seems like an indefinite long distance relationship to home-working couples juggling long office calls to in-house childcare to every other person stuck or unstuck with the right or wrong person – whether you have called-off that ‘no strings attached’ relationship because the thought of getting locked down together was giving you sleepless nights or the couples who are sure to hire a divorce lawyer after the lockdown is over or the ones whose ‘almost-dead’ relationships are rekindled once again – COVID-19 has definitely remolded ‘love’ for everyone.

For all the singletons around the globe, technology has come as a rescue. The feeling of date nights, meeting a new person for the first time, getting butterflies in the stomach – might not be a thing now.  Who knows when that time would come again, when holding hands would send sensuous signals without the brain raising the urge of sanitizing? Until then ‘Virtual Date’ is probably the way to go. So, get your Tinder accounts ready and choose that catchy pickup line to woo that ‘someone’.

If Love was supposed to be blind, during this pandemic make sure it is ‘2 meter’ distant too. However, romance is unstoppable, it still finds its way to flourish through the digitalised screens and applications. FaceTime, Wastapp and Zoom are making sure lovers are staying connected, can speak and see each other regularly and are engaging in shared online activities which may, in turn, foster a strong emotional bond between couples. Virtual dating has paved the way for knowing each other more, spending more time in talking as compared to casual coffee dates and hook ups and has brought to life the old traditional courtship period.

The lockdown can be a ‘blessing in disguise’ for unmarried couples, giving them another chance to look before the final leap. As it goes by the age old believe – it’s through difficult times that couples come together and find a new shared meaning. Now a lot depends on how and under what condition couples are quarantined – for some love is new, it’s all rosy and viewed through tinted glass while some might have ‘not-so-rosy’ experiences while accidentally stuck during a weekend visit made to the in-laws when the lockdown was announced.

On the other hand, there are instances where things have gone spectacularly wrong. For example, I was speaking to a friend who is locked down with his ex, who recently dumped him for another guy. But the misdeeds of fate that before she could move out, the lockdown was announced.

For some “Love is unstoppable” – like the famous lyrics – “No sin, no shame, no past, no pain can separate me from Your love”. Teens under strict supervision of parents managing with ‘once-a-day’ texts and removing any traces of its existence thereafter or people having a secret affair outside marriage – this lockdown has been cruel to them. The uncertainty they are living through is – will our secret love affair survive the lockdown? Frequent visits have now been reduced to quick phone calls without ringing any domestic alarms. At times, they risk all sorts of penalties in order to see each other – thankfully once-a-day exercise and essential shopping were allowed, granting some leeway to the lovers in non-existent relationships.

For couples living together through marriage or social partnership, there’s more space for quality time, more time to spend with each other and getting to know the good and ‘not-so-good’ sides. Now this is not about which side weighs more, as long as couples find a way to complement each other.  Partners are spending unprecedented amount of time together confined in their homes and isolated from other people. Marriage has definitely been on the mend for most however the endless rows about the TV remote, doing dishes and preparing dinner continues in most household. For few, the strain of Coronavirus has brought the worst side of their marriage resulting in family fracture.

Social distancing, isolation, lockdown – different ways resulting in dearth of meeting other people can have a huge impact on one’s mental well-being. In these strange and extraordinary times, everything about love might seem delicate and frail. There are times when love is questioned through the quarantine. But the irony is that we need love now more than ever before. Love might be locked down now but is never knocked down.

After You…

“Amber weather warning in most parts of England – forecast of heavy rain and strong winds” – the MET office weather update popped up on the brand new iPhone 11 of Rishi. With a frowned face, he tried to look outside from the waiting room of Oxford Railway station, to make a quick judgement of the climate– it was raining cats and dogs. He cursed the non-negotiable work commitment which made him to travel urgently in such a weather.

 “Damn! I should have drove today” he thought to himself but unfortunately his car was at the service centre for the repair of the brake pedal.

The 2018 model of Land Rover Discovery SUV was quite an extravagant buy for Rishi. It was on his dream car list for long. He bought it last year after bidding good-bye to the old banger- 2009 model of Mercedes , his companion for almost 4 years. Nina wasn’t very supportive of this lavish spend initially but she often succumbed to Rishi’s indulgence towards gadgets and love for cars.  

“Consider this as my mid-life affair, best for my sanity” giggled Rishi to calm down a very disappointed Nina. Well, Rishi cannot blame Nina being thrifty most often – she has seen enough struggles in the beginning with him when they started their life in a one bedroom stingy apartment in the suburbs of London, after they shifted to the UK,almost 12 years back. Since then she hasn’t taken her foot off the pedal – be it with Rishi, her career as a pediatrician, making their house a home or raising their 8 years old son Nishanth. She certainly wears the pants in the family and why wouldn’t it be – she is the smarter between the two and more sensible. But in this whole run for perfection she has invariably concealed the girl she used to be, one whom Rishi keeps looking for in his wife.

Rishi was busy checking office emails on his phone, while sipping the Café Latte, he picked up on his way to the station. He was disrupted by the travel announcement from the station control room. Most of the trains were running at a delay due to the bad weather condition. Certainly, this was the last he was expecting for today. What a day it has been – travelling on a day like this for a client presentation which didn’t go as expected, now trains getting delayed and the weather situation turning worse every hour. He was irritated, resentful and least to say was almost swearing in his mind so loud that he was worried that the people in the waiting room might actually hear him out. He looked around – the waiting room wasn’t crowded like it usually would be on any other given day – Who would be so crazy to travel on a day like this?

“What time would you be home?” – watsapp text popped up from Nina.  Chats with Nina are now limited to such questions. There is nothing wrong about that. That is how marriages of 14 years almost looks like – most of their conversations revolve around Nishanth.

Rishi looked at his watch and made a quick calculation of time. “Should be 8” he texted back Nina.

“I would have been home by now ,had it not been this stupid presentation”, Rishi kept on making complaints to himself. Bosses have a magical way to persuade their employees to travel on an amber-warning weather condition to gain business.  He looked around, almost everyone in the waiting room had similar frustrations on their face.

Train to London Paddington is in another half an hour. Some ray of hope for Rishi. The last drop of Café Latte was long over. He was thinking in his mind that in order to survive the long boring journey back to London, he would definitely need extra dosage of caffeine but was also wary of the fact that it wouldn’t do any good to him while trying to sleep. Spin-off from marrying a doctor – you start counting nutritional side effects of everything. Whatever it is, Rishi decided he needs enough coffee to keep his patience under check.

He picked up his laptop bag, put on his coat and headed towards the coffee shop outside the waiting room of the station. Just when he opened the waiting room door, he almost collided with someone. Someone, who was rushing into the waiting room as if trying to save herself from the cold wind outside and the only savior was the waiting room heat radiators, waiting to embrace her with all the warmth.

“Oh, I am so sorry” she said, apologetic yet in a rush. She was almost drenched – the half closed umbrella in her hand certainly wasn’t of much help. She was carrying a laptop bag, which clearly indicated that she was a victim like Rishi who had to sacrifice her warm cosy home for gaining business for some CEO, who must be sitting comfortably at home , sipping hot chocolate.

Rishi hold the door for her and said “After you”, the most commonly used British etiquette, which he has by now picked up pretty well.

“Finally”, Rishi sighed to himself with relief when he saw the train carriage to London arriving at the platform. With coffee in one hand and laptop bag on his shoulder, he started to move towards the coach. By now, he has seen his train tickets multiple times to remember that he was in coach E, seat number 71.

Oh that feeling of going home – Rishi couldn’t wait to finally get home. While walking towards his coach, he saw “Ms. Rushy Rush”, with whom he had a brief encounter at the waiting room door, juggling with her long British walking umbrella, her huge hand bag, laptop bag, mobile phone and at the same time trying to figure out which coach she is in. It made Rishi smirk at the sight – “I thought women are multi-taskers”.

The September evening sky outside Rishi’s window seat looked melancholic and dull. The sky was filled with varying shades of dark ominous clouds. Inattentively, he was scanning through some watsapp texts by his old college mates, giggling at some jokes forwarded in the group, thinking how typical of men even in their 40s to find fun in silly sex jokes.

He sent a quick text to Nina to keep her posted that the train should leave in another ten to fifteen minutes. He looked around – the coach seemed less crowded. Handful of few, mostly professionals, making their way back to London on a grim weather day. On any other day, his home is approximately half an hour drive from his work place. He is usually home by 7 in the evening, except for very few evenings when he chooses to attend after-work drinks with co-workers, which is very rare actually. Rishi has never been too outgoing or social. Ever since Nishanth’s academics has taken up speed, Nina has been very particular that most week evenings are spent in preparing him for the secondary school. There are strict rules been followed under Nina’s governance and there is no escape from those. 

Rishi closed his eyes, waiting for the train to start anytime now. It’s been a long and tiring day.

“Sorry, is this yours?” a voice stopped Rishi from almost falling asleep. He looked up to see “Ms. Rushy Rush” standing there with a newspaper in her hand.  She had put her handbag on the seat diagonally opposite to his.

“No, that is not mine”, said Rishi politely with a smile.

The next few minutes, Rishi tried hard to look outside the window, making all possible vain efforts not to catch a glimpse of her while she was settling down.  The station guard whistling outside was the final signal that the train would depart now – Rishi was going back home finally, after a long day, he couldn’t wait to get over.

There’s something wonderfully melancholic about gazing out of a train window on a gloomy evening and hearing the heavy rain hitting the window. He was lost in his own thoughts looking outside but couldn’t fully focus – may be a part of him wanted to take a sneak peek at his co-passenger.

She would probably be in her mid to late 30s? Well, he was never an expert in making wild assumptions about a woman. He usually has his “foot in the mouth” moments with women when he tries to make informal conversations for the first time.

She wasn’t exquisitely attractive or gorgeous, one who will make all heads turn but maybe she has a charm of her own which was captivating. She was wearing a long brown trench coat, which was still wet by the rain.  She was dressed up for work with black trousers and brown ankle boots matching with her trench coat. She had a very simple, ordinary and unadorned look – but what was so enchanting about looking at her?

She had finally settled down into her seat with the huge handbag resting next to her – what do women carry in those big bags? Rishi always had the same question for Nina but never got a satisfactory answer. 

She was quite engrossed in her own world, into her phone, lost in rapidly typing something.  Something must have really captivated her thoughts, making artistic furrows on her beautifully shaped brows. Only thing that could disrupt her thoughts was her free flowing dark black curls which occasionally fell around her face, covering most parts of her visible round face.  She had a clear face, wheatish complexion, small nose and thin lips. Her eyes, still lowered, were covered by black framed retro style glasses giving her quite a geeky look. Between gently tucking her hair behind her ears and carefully adjusting the glasses to sit perfectly over her small nose – she didn’t realize that someone sitting a meter away ,has spent almost thirty minutes of the journey in minutely observing the nitty-gritty of her actions.

The train had made an intermediate stop. Passengers getting off at this station made their way out. Another forty-five minutes till the train reaches its final destination. Why doesn’t the desperation to reach home seem obvious anymore? Rishi realized he hasn’t even finished the coffee – the one which seemed life-saver for him, just few hours back.  Is it because he knows home is not too far now or has he started enjoying the silent company of his co-passenger? He hasn’t checked his phone for long, longer than his usual habits.  Has there been a hypnotizing effect on him or is it that he is just too tired and clouded in his mind about the whole day?

It’s dark outside and rain drops over the window makes it even more difficult to see anything outside. Not that Rishi want to opt for the choice of looking outside, if given to choose between looking outside or inside.  

The typing has now reduced and so has the furrows on her brow line. The sequence of curls falling on her face and being tucked behind ears continue though, building a beautiful chemistry between her hair and her ear lobes.  

What is so mesmerising about looking at her?  Does she look familiar? No. 

May be, she has a charm which has the power of revitalising.  Is it her or her presence that is making the journey nothing less than pleasant?

Just when Rishi didn’t expect, she looked up and smiled.

The weather seems to be getting worse. Nina, meanwhile, texted Rishi that she would come to the station to pick him up, anticipating lesser chances of getting a cab in this weather.

Rishi was embarrassed, he didn’t expect he would be caught off-guard staring at her. He was not quick enough to take his eyes off. But his embarrassment was all worth, because what he saw then was more beautiful than the whole of her – her eyes. She had deep, black, rounded eyes with thick eye lashes. She smiled through her eyes, making it more enchanting. Her eyes were bright and powerful. She looked into his eyes and smiled coyly.  Thankfully, this time her hair didn’t make an unwanted guest appearance on her face.

“Do you know what time the train would reach London?” she asked Rishi, may be a gesture to break that unwanted silence between them. 

“Should be by 8, I think” ,said Rishi.

Silence prevailed again. Rishi is usually very bad in striking conversations. He was thinking hard what to say next but then preferred to keep quite especially after he was caught red-handed staring at her. Unable to continue the conversation, she went back to her phone, watching something which made her smile and her eyes lit up, like a little child watching Disney. The sight was beautiful.

The train reached London Paddington – the final stop. All passengers headed towards the door to depart. Rishi picked up his bag, put on his coat and started to move. She carefully picked up all her belongings and made her way to the door too.  A beautiful journey without the need to speak has come to an end. Some people has a unique magnetic charisma of casting a magical spell without interaction, bringing a harmony to the chaos in your mind.

 As they reached the door, Rishi turned back and smiled to give her way – “After you”.

The irony of time – it will never move at a pace you would want it to.

A long tiring mediocre day turned out to be beautiful in the end. It had a calming effect on Rishi. Not always morning shows the day. As he saw her walking out of the station, he made his way to the car park. He will never have an answer what made the unspoken journey so pleasant? What was so special about the “After you”s – he probably has used this multiple times before?  Sometimes there are people who crosses your path, giving you the serenity like fresh lavender smell, and you know you would probably never meet them again.

Rishi walked to the car park, still clouded with thoughts from the journey. Nina was there in the car, waiting for him. He sat in the car and they made their way to home.

As Nina made a turn to go out of the car park, there was another car at the giveaway junction. Nina made a gentle gesture to signal “After you” to the other car which was also waiting to leave the car park. The gentleman at the driving seat, waved his hand to make a thank-you signal.  

Rishi looked at the passenger beside him. It wasn’t difficult for him to recognise those deep rounded bright eyes and that effervescent smile. The car passed taking a turn left. Nina left behind, signalling right.

Looking from the ‘Inside’ out

Quarantine Diary #1

Like the rest of the general population, I’ve been living in quarantine and practicing social distancing for the past so many weeks as the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. My routines are all messed up – I have lost count of my daily meals, I wash my hair when I cant remember when was the last time I have washed it… I , by now, know the real value of pajamas, there are tiny dust particles on my foundation and BB cream, I haven’t waxed my legs for long (don’t see an immediate need too), I sleep and wake up at crazy hours, I keep reading inspiring stories of how people are making the best utilization of this time only to tell myself “Ok, I will do this next week”.

So, while sulking and indulging on a packet of Vegan crisps (yes, I have turned Vegan, will tell that story another day), I was remembering the stories I have heard from my grandparents about how days of Indian Independence struggles were or lock down due to Japanese air raids or the India-Bangladesh partition war was, I was thinking when did I experience anything close to “terror” or similar . Tried to think and look back – might not be in exact sequential manner but tried hard to remember when, on a global or national level, I or people of my generation faced something closer to this.

My first experience of a national turmoil was Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination – at that time, little did I have any idea of the severity of the incident and the national storm it had created. For me, it was family gathering around the television whole day with distraught faces, exchanging their own political opinion. For me, nothing changed – except for some disruptions in watching my favorite cartoon shows.

Next, happened the Babri Masjid demolition. Compared to many other parts of India, Bengal was probably relatively peaceful or at least that’s what a primary-school goer like me perceived. However, would never forget the scary scenes over the news. Media coverage was much less compared to today yet the unrest was all over the bulletin updates and newspaper.

Even before a year could pass, India was shaken by the 1993 Bombay bombings which knocked the swagger out of Mumbai, then called Bombay. Newspapers were flooded with disturbing pictures of the aftermath. Sitting on the other part of India, there were speculations of riot and unrest all over India which went on for few months. But for us, the main topic of discussion at school was “How did Divya Bharati die? Was there a conspiracy?”.

Few years passed by, 90’s was fast pacing – there were achievements – World Wide Web ,Dolly- the cloned sheep, cell phones, Amazon and Alibaba, Linux and Java,DVDs…and there were incidents too – terrorism and violence, Kashmir and Assam , crisis and conflicts but again little did it hamper anything  for a school going kid whose primary interests  were Cricket, Bollywood , Scrap books, gel ink pens, Enid Blyton, Mills n Boons,inter-house competitions.

Then came the monsoon of 1997 – August 1997 – the revolutionary, Princess Diana died at a car crash, crashing along millions of hearts and bringing an end to the princess and the paparazzi. The string that attached Princess Diana to the girls of my age at that time was her eternal fashion. With age, I have learnt more about the fearless princess and have formed my own opinion to adore her beyond just fashion. While the world was still mourning the death of Princess Diana, came another big blow and this time it was really big to us – the death of Mother Teresa in September 1997. We sat in front of the national television which was telecasting the daylong ceremony of homage paying while time stood still for many at the news of Mother Teresa’s death.

Years passed by, India by then had leaders like APJ Abdul Kalam and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and with that came India’s success in Pokhran II. By then, our generation had formed the base for understanding politics, conflicts, science and human-created geographical boundaries.  We started participating in school debates,reading Reader’s Digest, started having crushes too . Next year 1999, Kargil war started – newspapers and TV bulletins were flooded with blood boiling news. Our first experience of a war, far from war-zone but gruesome enough to boil blood and make hearts heavy. We, by then, were well aware of LOC without the need of a J.P Dutta movie. With passage of time, Kargil remained a wounded history and we moved on to focus more towards building our future. We moved onto 2000 and had a different bug then – Y2K (perhaps having a bug every decade is a big way of milestone celebration!)

The budding millennial were then dreaming of making it big in the States someday. The replica of Statue of Liberty at most homes not only adorned the living room showcases but was also a constant reminder that United States of America is where power is. But little did anyone realize that on 11th September 2001, the most powerful country in the world was going to get the biggest shock they would never forget. There was terror, scare, fear, loss, crisis everywhere – economics crashed, families shattered, powers questioned, leaving us confused – So, is America not safe too? The same year, India’s parliament was attacked – news again!

Lots happened in between – crisis, conflicts and some celebrations too. Then came Christmas of 2004 – the deadliest natural disaster, Tsunami wiped away towns from the maps with mind-boggling destruction – millions died, lost and shattered in hours. Before this we heard of earthquakes and floods, being catastrophic natural disasters but this was totally different, totally monstrous – probably our first experience of what Mother Nature can do, at this scale. Christmas has never been the same for many since that year.

It was believed that Bombay rose from the ashes of 1993 and became even more powerful by then – Magnificent Mumbai. The ghastly attack in 2008 in various places of Mumbai left the world speechless. Media and internet were relatively advanced by then. As soon as news started pouring in from all sources, terror and helplessness started spreading at light speed. Life didn’t stop – the Taj has restored back its pride and glory, Mumbai has been undaunted and remains the “Mayanagri or City of Dreams”.

By then, we thought we knew who are enemies were and how we can counter terror attacks. After few years, in 2012, the Nirbhaya case gave India shivers that the December cold of Delhi could never give. Candle light marches, protests, rallies, went on for few months, debate over death sentence or not went on for years but still life didn’t stop for us. We, by then, were adult humans engrossed in making our own busy world. Our thoughts were corrected – terror is just not from terrorists who carry arms.

A lot happened after that –great achievements by humankind in the field of science, sports, culture, politics. We have seen new leaders emerge with new visionaries, we have seen social media prosper, digitization in everything from shopping to paying bills to ordering food to finding life partner. We flourished to arise and spread more, artificial intelligence to predict and prepare, land on the moon, find water in Mars till we confined ourselves within the 4 walls to fight the biggest terror in the history we were not prepared for – The Novel Corona Virus.

An Idle Mind is not always a Devil’s Workshop

So..here I’m, taking my first baby steps at writing my own blog. This has been my on my wish-list for quite a long time but has always been pushed to the end of the list for ‘not-so-good’ reasons. Well, we all have those excuses for not doing things which we all love – sometimes it’s the career or family or social life! My love has been telling stories.. every thing that I see through my eyes are nothing but stories. Remember, we all would leave this world someday but leave behind our “stories”.

Year 2020 when the whole world got locked indoors ,I ran out of ideas on my to-do. Like most, my routine was confined to a disturbed sleeping pattern (thanks to work from home), office works, Zoom calls with friends, take a social media tour of Watsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – get worried at those scary numbers of Corona affected population, scroll through those hidden talent posts on Facebook – which were discovered during Quarantine days, read the various tweets on how the Government has not been capable in combating Corona Virus on time, spend hours looking into the ‘not-so-posh’ living rooms and kitchens of celebrities on Instagram and how they wash their dishes or broom the floor and when all tricks fail laugh at those nonsensical forwards on Watsapp.

Evenings were mainly being a couch-potato and binge watch episodes after episodes on Netflix . During these stretches, I always told myself that I should be more productive , who knows may be I could also discover a hidden talent in me! But Netflix, Prime was there to spoil my plans.

That is mainly how my days of ‘Quarantine 2020’ were passing and I kept on thinking how to be productive while scrolling through my social feeds and lounging lazily in my pajamas. That’s when I thought – let me start the blog, which I have been delaying for long. My own space of “Time Traveler’s Tales” – if you are from my generation, you might find it easy to relate to what I will post. If you crossed past my age, you will too. If you are far-off from my age, good luck – you don’t know what’s waiting .

So, you see – An Idle Mind is not always a Devil’s workshop .