Friday, October 20, 2006

Diwali, the festival of Lights. We are celebrating in various ways. Cleaning and beautifying our spaces, decorating our homes, buying utensils and jewellery, lighting ‘diyas’ and candles, cooking and buying sweets and chocolates, making our selves beautiful and dressing up in new clothes. The buildings are a- twinkle with fairy lights and the sounds of firecrackers rent the air. The joyous screams of delight of the young ones as yet another ‘anar’ of light shoots up delights many an indulgent face. A slight nip is in the air and thoughts of snuggling in with loved ones in warm blankets holds its own romance.

We are welcoming Lakshmi into its homes with joyous smiles and eyes closed in prayer. This is the beautiful India, golden and bright.

The other side of the golden coin is dull and listless. Here the wind nips the air as young ones huddle together for warmth. The pavement is ill- lit and there is neither a sparkle in an eye nor a sparkler in any small hand. The feet are dirty, the hair mud-caked, the mouths hungry for a morsel of food. There is a wistfulness in the eyes that gaze with longing at the well-lit stores with their hordes of happy shoppers, wondering why they have been left out in the cold. Why Laxmi has failed to appear and bless them as well. After all, they are human too.

So the Festival of lights may just prompt us to not buy that too-expensive gift for a friend who will most probably dump it for recycling to someone else once Diwali comes around the next time. It may prompt us to gift that money away to a well-meaning NGO working towards bringing some cheer into the life of those for whom the lights do not shine. So that they may also have a full stomach ,warm blankets, and sparklers in their eyes like the rest of us on this Diwali day and in the days that follow.

“Shubh Deepavali!” May the lamp of joy, hope and love burn forever in all our hearts.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

The ‘Chaska’ of it all!

The ‘Chaska’ of it all!

For the last three days I had wanted to eat ‘puchkas’ or ‘paani-puris’ or ‘gol-gappas’ (A rose by any other name is still a …) whatever you may call them.

But since I had been brought up to think hygiene all the time and not eat from road side stalls as far as possible, I had been telling myself that I was being foolish and should avoid them at all costs. I could get diarrhoea, jaundice and all the other dirty water associated diseases if I put these little concoctions dipped in imli- paani into my mouth. And the steel plates they served them in nowadays-God alone knew what water was used to wash them. Avoid this temptation then like the plague; the voice of sanity warned me.

Yet my mouth watered. It is not that I have such a ‘chaska’ or taste for these things. My sister is the one who never resisted an opportunity to visit the Bangla Sweet House ‘gol-guppa’ guy on the way back from school, while I watched with discreet disdain, and she slurped and then sniffled all the way home, tears streaming down her face. These tears were a rare combination, brought on by the chillies in the ‘masala’, the sour tanginess of the ‘paani’, and her intense gastronomical delight. She would smile at me foolishly and I would look down my nose at her like Mother Superior did in our convent school.

I cannot explain this sudden, freaky wish to indulge myself with this forbidden flavor. All I know that I kept away for three days. And then last evening I went for my usual walk with my mobile and earphones grasped in one hand. What was different was that in the other hand I carried my wallet. I think I told myself that I needed to buy some pen refills.

What I really did was that I strolled around the market. Then I made a straight bee-line for the go-guppa wallah. Let me tell you that the eight gol-guppas for rupees ten that I hogged myself silly on made me feel more fulfilled than any hot-dog at MacDonalds or pasta at MagPappa’s. I drank the ‘paani’ like it was nectar. The ‘puchkas’ as we called them in Kolkatta, were delicious, crisp and crunchy with their filling of ‘chane’ and ‘aalu’. To top it all, I had some ‘aalu- tikkis’ as well. I was on a roll, and there was no stopping me.

With tears streaming down my eyes and sniffling away to glory, I walked back home, pretending all was as usual. No one was the wiser, except that I had a hard time explaining away a sore throat the next day.

“It’s the air-conditioning, I suppose,” I said to my husband and kids. “I think I’ll have an ‘adrak- ki- chai’ and that should do the trick.

Oh! The ‘chaska of it all! I had the time of my life.