DEAR MOM

Dear mom,

I have never written about you. I have written about girls I have liked but never written about you. So here I sit down and type this letter just for you, dear mom. Although I don’t have clear memories of my early childhood and never asked you if it was easy for you to give up your job as a nurse to look after me, to take care of me, help me grow up, I thank you for that. It may have been a difficult decision for you to make I assume, but you still did it for me. Women are hardly asked about the effect of quitting their jobs to care for a baby or look after the family. It is expected of them, so much so that in certain cases if the newlywed wife doesn’t intend to give up her career she is criticized unfairly by others. Of course, things are changing in the present times but men are never expected or asked to give up their careers to bring up a son or daughter. You were so practical and did it anyway just for me so that I could receive your love from the moment I was born.

Mom, we don’t talk much. I mean at least when I compare with my friends talking to their mothers I don’t think we talk much. But I tell you things I would never have the courage to tell dad. I tell you about the girl I like, about the time I went to meet her. You ask me if we watched a movie and I say “no, no”. And I always feel very happy when you ask me to get KFC’s zinger burger whenever I go to a mall. Can I tell you something more? I have many close friends who are women, and also if I wanted to have a sibling it would be an elder or younger sister. Perhaps it’s the way in which women-kind can empathize and sympathize that makes them such amazing people, whom one can easily confide in, and talk about most things under the sun without being made fun off. I have guy friends too who share this trait but they are a rarity.

You know the one thing which is so underappreciated and equally undervalued is the immense hard-work you put in maintaining the home and family. It might seem that you are duty-bound to do it but the commitment and perseverance you show is just unbelievable. I have seen you washing clothes early-morning during the winters, do the dishes, when dad and I either just sit in front of the television or doze-off. I have seen you enthusiastically waking up early to prepare breakfast so that dad can go to the office and I can go to school on time, even though you might be running a fever. You never have any designated days as holidays. Dad has off days at work. I have off days as a student. But you never have. I heard you saying once “we women never have a day off”. I didn’t understand it then but now I do. Especially after you fell ill last Christmas and I had to help out dad with the household work. I realized how effortlessly you do the entire body of work without complaining about your grievances. I know I have let you down, by not providing more help in maintaining the house and share the chores to reduce your workload. But I intend to work on it. Men have so-called “more important jobs” and women are left to do the “unimportant, menial tasks”. I don’t think anymore that women do unimportant tasks. Their contribution is as important and sometimes even more as the husband’s or the son’s. I have to make sure that you have holidays too and that we share the household workload more.

Mom, I love your liking for water-less puchkas and excitement for an occasional “yum-yum chili-chicken”. I love your eyes lighting up for steamed-momos, rosgollas and misthi-doi. I love the sweet mango pickle, our “jelly-pickle” you make during the summers and the kheer you make whenever I return home for holidays. I get so delighted when you prepare “tikhil-asma” and “bairka-asma” and our favorite, though tasteless yet very fulfilling “thappa-roti”. I miss the “osa-dishes” you made when I was small. I used to love mushrooms at that point of time. I miss our walks back from primary school. Mom, you know what quality of yours I love the most. Well, it isn’t just one. It’s your humility, your perseverance, your silent sacrifices without ever making a big deal about it, your quiet stillness and calm amidst all chaos, the way you stay calm and brave even during earthquakes when dad gets all panicky and scampers out of the house like a rat. We both know about that. I have grown up to be a bit like you, mom. I definitely look like you and I have some of your qualities, though not up to your level but I am working on it. And I have so much more to say and write but I will stop here now. I know words are never enough and I don’t say this enough but I love you, mom.

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REMINISCENCE

The sun had risen and a new day had just begun.
School days had just become past and it was time to step in the college,
New faces, from different places what a collection it was,
Excited, expectant, and zealously everyone looked forward;

The years ahead were unknown, mysterious and surprising.
We got bored, irritated, frustrated with no scope for an uprising,
Days past we grumbled, but nothing would change;
But our camaraderie ripened and friendships began to develop.

Some would blossom, bloom and last forever till the end,
Some just took off and then ended in a crash.
That’s sad but that’s how things go at times,
But life’s spirit never let us down and kept pushing us on.
Step by step we moved forward and treaded our own paths
Towards our dreams and goals, and an unpredictable future.

The hostels would never disappoint with the life it housed,
The hustle and bustle, noisy corridors and the loud music,
The rollicking four-seaters and the companionship developed,
Loud screams at night and it was someone’s birthday.
The counterstrike warfare, or the need for speed,
The craze for the beautiful game and the head breaking
Age of empires, all engrossed many of us.

Life would teach us lessons along the way,
We loved and lost but we never gave up;
We passed and failed but we carried on, with
More wisdom and understanding, learning from the past.

All along we lost track of time,
The day was coming to a close and we couldn’t run away from it,
The time to part had come once again,
My heart grew heavy and tears rolled down my eyes.

Everyone would go away and get lost in the crowd,
Whether friends would meet again will remain unanswered.
One thing was for sure, we would never get these days back:
Memories were all we could carry with us in our hearts.

I looked up in the twilight sky thinking of all that I would miss,
All that it could have been and some that never could be.
I closed my eyes, as all those carefree days flashed in front me;
I walked towards home waiting another brand new day.

ON THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

What is the purpose of Education? Why do we go to schools and colleges? Are our lives determined by our board percentages? Is the pressure on the students and teachers justified? These numerous questions and more prop up in my head when I think about education and its purpose. In schools everyone asks about the toppers and the not-so good performers are looked down upon. And once people get jobs and start working they are asked: “Dude, what’s your salary?”, “How much package does the company pays you?” Have you ever seen the nature of the job or the actual tasks to be performed by the prospective employee reported on the newspaper? I don’t think so as the only thing which is reported and highlighted is the highest annual salary package granted to supposedly the most brilliant and most meritorious student.

Is the purpose of education to enable us to earn money and get rich? Earning money is definitely a necessity but education is not meant to serve this purpose. Rather its purpose is to make us become open-minded, life-long learners; help us in finding our interests and become ethically judicious human beings. Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton was not the richest person in the world. Neither was our beloved former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, but they contributed to our world in the best possible way they could. And perhaps that’s the biggest purpose of education. Of course not all of us can gain that level of expertise and excellence in our respective fields, but that does not matter. We still retain the power to influence and touch the lives of so many around us and influence our society in a positive way.

In the modern materialistic world we are taught to be competitive and consistently outperform others. This leads to cheating and use of unfair means in the examination. Education should teach and guide us to share and work together, synergize and learn from each other. Just because a student gets the highest marks does not mean he knows everything. Even he can learn something from the poorest performer who may have his or her strengths which our mark-based rigid examination system fails to gauge. Teachers play a pivotal role in helping these academically weaker students. Unfortunately, teachers are also subject to the system and are pressured to focus on the high-performers than each student to boost the reputation of the schools. The school is for the students and not the other way round.

In India we have a very peculiar way of coercing the students to choose subjects. Most of them are pushed to choose science and mathematics because these subjects have the biggest earning potential. Engineers and doctors are the highly respected professions apart from the highly coveted IAS services and other Central Government jobs. What does this lead to? This leads to corrupt bureaucrats who are not at all interested in serving the people and select the jobs just to enjoy the benefits. There is no harm in enjoying the perks but providing service should be the priority. Likewise we have heartless doctors who ask for money before treating a dying patient. Engineers are plagued with inefficiency and do bogus work without any civic responsibility for the safety of people. Sometimes I feel like these are the worst sort of people, as they are educated bandits, looting the common man of their hard earned money.

None of us are encouraged to become teachers who remain the backbone of our education system. It’s because of them, the few who have inspired and influenced us; we have managed to make something of ourselves. Perhaps someday we will realize that life is more than money and that every profession is necessary and respectful in its own way. Education is not limited to school and is imbibed from every experience we ever encounter and every person we meet throughout the course of our lives. So let’s keep learning, let’s remain a student, let’s keep moving forward.

ON THE BANKS OF TEESTA

On a January winter morning,

The gossamer mist engulfs me.

It carries me away in the cold air,

Above the tiny ever-growing city buildings

And gently lowers me on the banks of Teesta, the mysterious green river.

I see footsteps on the white sands,

Once they were mine,

It’s been a long time since I walked on them.

The kids blow balloons and frolic around,

The silvery water gushes past the huge boulders,

My mother warns me not to go into the water,

I am a good boy and I listen to her.

I have always been cautious of the river,

Buses have fallen into it, people washed away never to be found-

Adrenaline pumped teenagers have been drowned by its strong currents

But I never blame Teesta.

We have to respect the power of nature.

I recollect how Teesta’s beauty captivated me,

The serpentine contour, the murky green surface,

The forested hills rising on either side of it,

Rocky hills, Strong hills, Old hills.

We jump from rock to rock carefully balancing ourselves,

My curly haired-crush moves deftly on the rocks.

I am rather tentative and worried that I will fall.

I am so in love with her.

We don’t have smart phones to take selfies,

We don’t need one as we are lost in nature.

I can smell the chicken-masala wafting through the air,

My feet can’t stop tapping to the rhythm of the song,

All of us hold hands together and we dance in unison,

Our faces, look happy, all smiles, at least for a day,

A day worth the wait,

Picnicking on the banks of Teesta.

The mist disperses as the sun comes out,

I am brought back to the present.

I retain the smiles and the joy,

The times have changed, and picnics are no more regular.

People throng the malls more than the serene riverside.

I stand on the bridge and look down at the green waters,

They flow where they have to as life goes on.

WHAT I DO TO PICK MYSELF UP

Last year I had a brief spell in my life when everything turned upside down. Despite all the light around me everything seemed dark. A small term paper submission triggered an avalanche of self-doubt in me and for a week I was mentally paralyzed. I began to wonder what the hell I am doing with my life.

I had left my job for pursuing my masters in English literature as I wanted to rebuild my career, start from scratch ,and do something I actually like and care for. The term paper submission got me all tensed and worked up and I started to rethink about the decision I had taken. I even tried to find a way if I could get back my old job. I had almost made up my mind do drop out from the course and look for another job if I could not get back my old job.

I was living alone and did not have anybody to share this with. My parents would get too worried for me and my situation was such that only a few could understand my agony. A friend who had made a similar decision helped me out and calmed me down. His conversations helped me a lot. Another thing which kept me strong during this phase was taking long walks. I would wake up and go for long aimless walks till my legs hurt. And I did that even in the evenings. I would have walked 5 kms on certain days. And those were the only times I did not think of my decision.

Apart from definite health benefits walks can be very helpful to our emotional and mental well being I believe.  Whenever I am at home in Siliguri I take long walks to the nearby “fafri” forests. The sight of the tall Sal trees, the sound of the morning birds, the sight of the mischief-making monkeys, and the company of strangers clears my head and prepares me to face another day. When I was in Tezpur, a quaint town on the banks of Brahmaputra in the state of Assam, I would always take a walk during the evenings to Ganesh-Ghat and sit beside the quiet waters of Brahmaputra and contemplate. It was soothing and relaxing at the end of a taxing day.

Another activity which pumps me up is listening to music. This is especially on holidays when I’m feeling very lazy and also at times when I feel low. I never keep a readymade playlist at hand and usually listen to varying genres across different languages. One common thing across them is that I look for uplifting and relatable lyrics along with good music. The well-written songs carry stories and episodes which can really lift up your mood and elevate your mind.

Deep conversation with select-few friends, either in person or over phone, is a blessing which I relish whenever I get a chance. A very personal thing I try to do, whenever I have to cope up with a situation beyond me, is to pray. At times in my room or go to the church, sit by myself, close my eyes, and just soak in the quietness, the solemn atmosphere, and let myself feel all that comes my way without inhibition and leave it at the hands of the almighty who is my sign of hope, love and life. I just feel light within, as if a burden has been lifted off me, and it gives me the courage and strength to continue to fight my battles.

An extra tip: Indulging in your favorite food can also work a charm when you are down in the dumps. A margarita pizza or an amazing misti-doi (you can google it) with semi-mashed himsagar mangoes does it for me.

​HELD IN MEMORIES

Whenever I see a graveyard or visit one it fills me with melancholy, certain sadness, a feeling of desolation. Although, I have happily eaten stolen litchees in a graveyard under a moonlit sky, the graveyard always reminds me of the ultimate truth of life, death.  We all will die one day and no matter how rich or famous we become, how many medals we win, how well or bad we act, we end up as dust.

All that remains are memories, may be few lines on an epitaph, or if we are lucky enough, our being gets etched in the hearts of the people we have been able to impact in a special way. When I reach my end in this beautiful world I would like to be remembered in a certain way even though saying this is futile since as people, we tend to forget with time.

I want to be remembered as a good son. I don’t know how much of it I have been able to achieve it yet. I know my mom thinks I’m not so bad but my father is a little hard to please. We have come a long way but even then he always gives me a feeling I have lots to do before I impress him. I sincerely wish that they see me as a loving son, a son who had his faults, but had his heart at the right place.

I want to be remembered as an amicable friend; a friend who was always ready to have a deep conversation over a cup of tea, or join for an aimless walk towards nowhere;  a friend who was never too tired for a game of football and was always willing to join for a game; a friend who forgave and forgot instead of hanging on to petty differences; a friend who tried his best to accept the other as he or she is; a friend who always lent an ear and tried not to judge.

The above is how I want to be remembered as a son and a friend. As a person I want to be remembered as someone who loved the natural surroundings more than man-made wonders, as someone who enjoyed the simple joys of life and had a carefree soul, as someone who believed that people can still be good in this unforgiving world, as someone who held on to hope even in despair and darkness, as someone who tried to fulfill his dreams without being inconsiderate. And when I become a teacher, I wish that my students would remember me as their mentor and guide, as someone who understood them.

I don’t know if I will become all that I want to be remembered as.  My flaws would be enough for some. We can’t please everyone. I have a long way to go to be deserving of the legacy I have painted for myself. I know I will always try.

TUNES FROM HOME

*In a city*

Roshan Toppo stared at his phone which rang for the 3rd time within 10 minutes.

He couldn’t have ignored the call for ever. But he wanted to avoid it, having a feeling if he picked up it wouldn’t be the words he would want to hear.

Hello!

Mr.Toppo, why are you not picking my call?

Roshan hated that tone.

Sorry, sir. The phone was on silent.

Ok, listen”, the voice softened a bit. “I have bad news for you.

There was a pause.

I can’t grant you the leave. I am sorry.

Roshan sulked. He wanted to shout back but he controlled himself.

But sir I applied early. I have to go sir.

The stern voice continued, “I am sorry Roshan. Vijay has had an emergency. I need a stand-in. I can’t let you go.

*In a Village*

An old woman pours out a grey-coloured liquid from an earthen-pot into the steel glasses. Her forehead is creased and she has a tattoo of a cross on it. It’s a plain tattoo, two small dark lines at a right-angle. With the help of another woman she distributes the glasses to the men and women who are seated on the floor in the open space outside the house. She greets each of them as she hands them a glass.

The men and women converse with each other. They share a laugh. And then a man asks this old woman if her son is going to come home.

The old woman’s eyes go full, but she stops her tears. She says, “Dharmes hi ondrna raee hole emaan eraage baros jun” (If God willing he will come to see us).

She continues her chit-chat cheerfully and then all of them break into a folk-song. It talks about a bird which has flown away and the keeper wonders if he will ever see it again.

In the village akhra (dancing ground) the boys beat the mandars and the nagadas with great vigor and enthusiasm. The Karam tree is at the center. The village girls, married women and elderly women hold each other’s hands forming a chain and sing along and dance rhythmically to the beats around the Karam tree. The steps are simple, well-synchronized and the whole group moves in such cohesion. They keep singing even after their throats strain.

*In a city*

Roshan sat in the cafe sipping a glass of cold coffee.

He felt guilty. He thought he should have tried harder to get leave. Not only this time but before too. How could he not visit his home, his mother for such a long time.  He was fed-up playing the nice guy trying to work harder and harder all the time. Promotion, which wasn’t guaranteed, would mean more work but what was the point of working if one could not even see his family.

I think you should go home,” His friend broke his thought handing him a paper-bag of French-fries .

Yeah I want to. But my boss never lets me go. And that nasty Vijay always does this.

His friend chuckled, “You should speak like that more often.

What? Curse more?

No, no. I meant you should let your feelings be heard.

Roshan nodded munching the fries.

You really should visit home. It’s been long. And it’s an important festival of your community and it would be a great time to be at home.

 *In a Village*

Roshan stepped down from the bus. The smell of the soil freshened him up.  The beating of the drums and the vibrant tunes of the songs thrilled his ears.  But a familiar sound jarred and spoiled the moment. Just for a while. Roshan saw the number. He switched off the phone.

The old woman with the wrinkled face and the cross tattoo on her forehead lighted up. Her eyes were watery and this time she couldn’t stop them.  She embraced Roshan.