Get to the point Paramita.
No serpentine narratives.
This is my disclaimer, before I proceed further.
I am not yet sure what the ‘point’ is. Where I am heading to.
I don’t know when I will get there.
I am just scribbling, after the hearty talk with you, as if you were still in front of me.
There will be detours, a few subtexts in props and possibly other deflections. Please stay with me, I need company on my solitary musings.
Those of you are comfortably poised on your commode with your smartphones for company, I assure you, this will end before you are done and ready to reach for the handle to flush, please hang in there, it’s a win-win.
This is confusing, isn’t it? Why am I reaching out to people on commodes?
I know how entertaining reading is on a throne where no one will interrupt you, and that’s probably your only time in the morning, or even the entire day ahead of you.
The ‘child’ Paramita, reading in the toilet was not even an option, where Indian style squatting, the only choice was learning the balancing act of relieving before the knee started to ache. Adding books in your hand would have further complicated the morning ritual. And, for little Paramita, the word ‘smart’ had nothing to do with the phones. Books were auspicious, and it would be sinned to take it to a shit hole (literally). Fantasies and fairies and tales of epics and valor always had a special corner, and room.
Moving on, in the house where many generations and extended family co-existed without any qualms, words and waste did not mingle. We, the children, were blessed to have several story tellers. Of course not in toilets.
My father’s uncle, my grandpa used to narrate thrilling detective stories. Just as the criminal was about to be discovered by the ever so clever investigator, I begged for more twists when the culprit (usually a man) would escape once again and the search would continue, extending the storyline, much like Sheherzade’s trick. Sadly, I was young and felt the onus of protecting lives while my granduncle desperately craved for his afternoon nap and the story must come to an end.
Ma read Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s adventure novel Chander Pahar and Upendrakishor Ray Chowdhury’s children’s versions of the epics Mahabharat and Ramayan to all the kids. And on many evenings, especially during festive times of Durga Puja, we all dressed up as characters from the epics. Even distant cousins who came to visit and celebrate the Puja took part in it.
I saw my Ma, grandmother, relatives and neighbors, basking in the winter sun in the afternoons, spinning mundane tales, adding their own spices and twists to an otherwise commonplace plot.
The gist of the story was,
‘Ganesh was unusually late from the market and brunch was delayed.’
This one liner would be enough to generate thousand leads– why was Ganesh late? Did he start late? Did something happen in the market? Was he up to some mischief (he is a young man after all)?. Three days ago, the same thing happened, is there a narrative developing? The neighbor saw him talking to the maid next door, was there something going on between them or was he looking for another job?
There were so many questions. Don’t you want to know? Don’t you want to delve into the everyday and find some drama? Don’t you want to escape? Dig deep or fly high, they will all take you to the same place, to a story.
To get to school every day, we sisters, both under ten, travelled into the city from the suburb on an early morning train with wholesalers and labourers. Our mother dreamt to give a decent education and a livelihood to her daughters. Hence the long journey to and from the school.
Invariably there were days when we were delayed because of problems on the rail tracks. After a visit to the Principal’s office for late arrival, when I entered in the middle of a lesson, my teacher paused to say,
‘Here comes the long storyteller. So Paramita, tell us, what happened today?’
From my point of view I was just relating facts but apparently it was similar to what my grandaunt did when she simply could state, ‘Everybody was late for work today because Ganesh came back late from the market.’
(Now let’s try to get to the point, apologies for the rambling)
Personal development coaches often say we should be authors of our own life stories. It requires us to be proactive and take charge of our lives. To start with, instead of thinking of the macro cosmic word ‘life’ and be overwhelmed, we can take charge of a day, or an hour, or break it down to 30 minutes. Write down what you want to do and tick them off as you go.
It could be as simple as polishing my best stilettos.
(I have none, I possess boots and trainers only.)
A few years ago a home help wanted me to buy her a ‘Baha’ saree. I had no idea what it was. She was shocked and thought I was joking or avoiding the trip to the shop.
‘Didi, it’s sarees that Baha wears.’
‘The girl from this TV serial. Please watch it, it’s the best.’
I realised, the TV serials (daily soaps) are not just telling stories, they are selling too. It was my moment of epiphany. But why be alarmed at our help whose only way of becoming Baha would be to wear her saree. It was her attempt to change her story.
I heard two young women on Gariahat crossing discussing how much money their father had saved for their weddings. They looked like young professionals. Then they went into elaborate descriptions of how they wanted to curate the event over a few days. Which film would influence their choice of jewelry or the music. This depressed me for days and saddens me every time I remember it.
Why are we borrowing stories? Why can’t we tear away from regressive narratives and write our own?
All over social media, I see pictures of young couples cutting cakes, clad in gold and diamond, uploading pre and post wedding videos on Youtube, almost conforming to a formula. Are they doing it because everyone else is?
Three days of an Indian wedding expanded to a week in order to incorporate the pattern of the latest Bollywood wedding blockbuster. A lot of the time at the expense of parents’ life’s savings.
Every time I went to buy something for my wedding decades ago, I wanted the experience to end as soon as possible and run away from the shop. I felt like a burden. I did not have the conviction to say NO. I don’t want all this. I just want our families and friends to get together and get to know each other. Cousins who live in various cities of the country come together and laugh. Brothers who haven’t met for years, hug.
And of course eat food, that’s not suggested by caterers. Recipes from the traditional Bengali wedding menu are disappearing in the everyday like lost languages.
Rituals that are organic and symbolic. Why can’t we think of being married in campsites in forests, around a fire; be pagan for a day? Unique instead of prescriptive; creative instead of expensive; intimate instead of lavish.
I am not at all against lavish celebrations, I enjoy it as much as any other guest. The longer they are, the better; the longer I don’t have to worry about what to cook for breakfast, lunch and dinner in my own kitchen.
Talking of weddings, I went to a reception once when an acquaintance said to me that she had seen me in the saree I was wearing at another event. I had no recollection but was taken aback by her memory.
‘I have a quick check of Facebook photos before I choose what to wear’ she said.
So, did me wearing the same saree reflect a wardrobe budget or my limited possessions? I have made it a point to repeat what I wear in certain circles just to make sure I don’t get sucked into this story. I wish I knew how to do this earlier on in life.
As an adolescent or a young adult, we tend to conform so that we belong to a tribe. But don’t we also need to rebel? Isn’t protest healthy and necessary? Does it not prepare us to take a side when we vote or tweet or retweet, or buy a sari or choose a newspaper?
If you really love a Baha saree, please wear one, if you want a bhetki meuniere in your menu instead of a Bengali fish fry, enjoy it. If you want your children to enjoy ‘Chota Bheem’ don’t deprive them of ‘Thakumar Jhuli’. It will only enrich them.
I find myself at the beginning of a road everyday, questioning my thoughts and actions. It’s exhilarating and uncomfortable. There are moments I feel crushed and others when I am invincible. My path is like no one else’s. I hope there will be times when our roads cross. Then, after a moment of pause and chat over tea or cold lemonade if it’s a very hot day we are able to carry on with a bit of each other in us.
May you not be weak by time or fate and be strong in will;
‘To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.’
Images courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay.