Monday, February 27, 2012

"Hi Miss."

"Hi miss," said the stranger sitting opposite my berth. I don't know when he boarded the train. Maybe it was during the night. He was was right there when I awoke. He seemed to me to be quite a forbearing kind, with no smile or any nod of acknowledgement to a fellow passenger. 
I thought, khadoos (means arrogant) who wants to befriend you anyway?

I looked up to be sure it was me he was addressing. I replied and he asked me if I minded chatting with him? To be honest, I am game for any chat, because talking is so ME. Its like if someone will ask me the time, I will tell him everything from the time I was born to the present time. I know I know, its wrong and I am trying to control it. really, believe me!

"What do you do miss?" he asked.
"I am a housewife, have 2 kids a 11 year old girl and a 9 year old boy, my husband is an exporter, I am coming from Calcutta and going to Delhi, and I am also a stock trader and I love my work because it is self employed and most importantly it keeps me busy, and you?" I answered. (saw the example now?)

"I work in a private company." he replied flatly. Thats it, I looked at him if he was going to offer me more about him.

"So tell something more about yourself?" I pestered.
"I am an old man memsaab. Nothing much to say." he replied.
Me,"well something? Are you married?"
Me,"Ok kids?"
Me,"Ok how many?"
Me,"Boy or girl?"
"Boy. Enough about me memsaab, Lets hear what you do.
Its interesting to see a woman trader in stocks specially, its largely a male dominated thing." he stated. I was a bit sad to see people still think of that about women. I disagreed with him and said, women can do anything as long as it doesn't require heavy physical effort. He nodded, and we went on to discuss the current market situation which was facing a huge financial crisis world wise. Sensex was at 12000, I told him, and I didn't see Sensex falling any further as it had already fallen 50% from its peak. He said," why not sensex at 7000?

I was taken aback. How can it go down so much? I considered myself learned enough and I completely disagreed with him. He didn't challenge me. He just smiled. His attitude of smiling in the face of adversary seemed both intriguing and irritating to me.
I probably had given him more info than required and I suddenly got wary of him. I told him, I generally don't talk to strangers and although I burst if I have no one to talk to, I gave him a subtle hint that if he was only extracting information from me and not giving any then I wont be game for his chat. 

The train had pulled over at Allahabad, some vendors selling tea, samosas, sweets and other beverages boarded and the compartment was full of their chai chai, garam samosa, jhaal muri in an accent which is special to them.
I stopped the chai wala (tea seller) and asked for tea, and he said one for him too. I don't know why I didn't do it myself first but he immediately paid for both of us. I could see he was a gentleman of the bygone era. I insisted to pay him back but he declined in a way that told me that he could not be forced. I quietly sipped my tea.

He gave an amused smile, and asked me my date and time of birth. At first I thought what a question to ask? Then he said it was his hobby to look at horoscopes and he was pretty good at it. There I was being offered a free horoscope and would I behave like any other woman and hide my age? No ways, I gave him the required data.

"Anything I say is likely to be incorrect (this is true of all astrologers). So don't take anything seriously,ok?" he started with this statutory warning. At first I thought there was some bad news about me and I braced myself to what was to follow.

"Extremely wealthy? And you will have lots after the June 2011." he told me..
"Whaaat? er, well yes, I am not poor definitely! My father says I am his lucky child. what else?" It was September 2008, 3 more years to roll in more money and why shan't I not believe this? 
"Fairly good understanding with husband, much above average quality of marriage. Strong martian and a gregarious personality. Overall a very very nice horoscope, the kind I don't see often. I am envious of your horoscope" he said.
"Gee." I was blushing now.
"Where is my commission memsaab?" he said matter of factly.
I hurriedly asked how much? He laughed and said, "2 rupees miss."
"Only?" I was shocked even beggars don't want less than a five rupee coin!
I made a mental note, 5 plus 2, I got to give him 7 back. hmm..

He was quite funny, not at all khadoos as I thought of him earlier. I asked him his phone number (which he didnt give) and told him that I will give him tips on stocks as an exchange to what he had told me about me. This was the least I could do to return the debt (Rs7 to be precise) back. 

After a while he got up took out his slipper and started to walk, I called after him, "hey, you are wearing only one slipper?" He smiled, "I lost it miss, it fell while I was trying to climb the coach."
It seemed he didn't have another or why else would he go barefoot to the toilet. When he returned, I told him he should carry an extra pair while travelling. He smiled again, "I am a fakir miss, had only one, now will have to buy another." I was suddenly guilty of the many shoes I have back home and the 3 pairs which I have to carry, a white, a black and multicolour for matching with my clothes. That 5 rupees must mean a lot for a fakir, but he didn't seem to mind parting with it. Wierd.
Whoa! Are there people like him really?

We were at Etawah and  it was lunch time, I opened my tiffin, I had brought with me fried aloo stuffed parantha. You get that uncanny sense when someone is looking at you intensely. I looked up and saw him stare hungrily at my paranthas. I invited him to eat a parantha, he looked guiltily away and stammered something about being not hungry. I am quite sure that he must have really had his eyes on my paranthas, for the next morning I had severe stomach ache and it is believed that if someone eyes your food hungrily like he was, it is bound to get you sick! 

He was marking something in the newspaper intently, I peeked and saw it was a sudoku puzzle. He told me that though they are classified from easy medium hard to evil, they are godly to him. He explained that its better to be doing something rather than sit idle. I agreed, after all empty mind is a devil's workshop. After that he settled down to read a book, it was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a classic romantic story of all times. The guy had some heart after all.

When Aligarh came, he got up to go. Before leaving he said, "It was nice chatting with you, but you must be a little more cautious of revealing too much about yourself while travelling alone. Bye miss."

After about exactly a fortnight, the sensex plunged to around 7000 levels, if only for a day!! I know, he was just casually mentioning it, but somehow I am intrigued by this mystery man and his simplicity of looking at things. And though I lost some money in the stock market, my husband did go on to prosper in his business and well we are definitely more richer now than we were almost 3 and a half years ago.
He was a strange stranger. I cannot say much about his looks, he was just like any of us, perhaps looked a little older than his 42 years. I know his age because I saw it on the chart outside. But, if any of you know of a simple man, who is good at predicting, plays sudoku, and calls himself a fakir, perhaps loves aloo paranthas, then please contact me here!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A real getaway Dhosa!

farmhouse sighted!
entrance to the farm house over the foot bridge
Last year, while I was already vacationing in Kolkata, I had gone to the Sundarbans with my parents and my own family of husband and kids. My father has some friends who have a kind of a farmhouse just near to Sundarbans. This is a small village called Dhosa. We went there in our own car and it took us approximately 3 hours to reach that place from Kolkata. The distance is not much, but the roads are narrow and the villages congested so we have to drive slow.Now, the farmhouse I am mentioning although built recently had yet to get electricity and it was actually built on reclaimed silt. This area is a delta area and islands have formed over the years.

 For years these islands were too salty, because of the continuous backwash of the sea into the land, to be irrigated to grow anything. But, the villagers have made a kind of a natural dam and diverted the backwaters so that they could use the silt formed islands for irrigation. This new farmhouse was built on one such large silt island.

We reached there just before the sun was going down. When we came to know that there was no electricity we kinda panicked, we are so much dependant on it that without it we just cant survive. My kids took it very sportingly. They had a mini torch with them and it was good time to play torch torch now. My father's friend was the host and he was sorry that he couldn't arrange for electricity or any generator for us. Although he more than made up for it by arranging a most sumptuous feast for us, with fresh fried fish and prawns from his own ponds. I didn't know my daughter was such a cat, for she pounced on the fish like one and I had to show her my eyes to control her eating. Can't blame her though, it was truly the best fried fish I ever had.

fried prawn.
After dinner, we were shown the sky, and wow, my kids were ecstatic. I remembered my childhood days where I spent my vacations at my maternal grandparent's village. The moon and the stars have so much light, that if there is a full moon, we don't really need street lights or even perhaps a night lamp. Granted you can't see a whole lot, but it was not entirely dark. I think we just want too much of everything, we don't even consider less of anything. The concept of bare minimum is unheard of orthodox and maybe sound stupid to people today.

I was woken up early in the morning. Our host had brought something in a pitcher. It was the juice collected from the bark of a date tree over the night. My father urged me to drink. I was unwilling to even taste it. I was sleepy and asked them to keep my share and I will drink later after I have brushed my teeth. Papa said no, drink it NOW, this is not any juice which can be stored even for minutes. I raised myself up to a sitting position and took a sip. You wont believe it but it was a mind blowing nectar. I was told that they make gur (jaggery) out of it for personal home consumption. I later researched on juices of barks and found that they have such healing properties, which is actually used to make medicines. One can't think medicines as being anything but bitter, but this one was a pleasure to drink.
the eggs came from these hens.
desi eggs!
Soon the sun was up and we had to leave for Sundarbans tiger reserve. We got ready and washed ourselves  using as little water because even fresh clean water had to be pumped from the ground using a very small generator which could only do little for now. We had real desi (not poultry) eggs which were small and had a brownish cover. We had brought with us bread butter and jam. The host had even called his family over who had reached there in the morning to join us and brought with them fresh rosogollas for us.
man who shook the tree
berries I picked.
There was a small island behind the farmhouse and it was encircled with wild berry trees. This man in the photo shook the trees so that the ripe ones fell down and we picked them to eat, mmm delicious, my mouth waters as I write.

That's our motor launcher.

We went in a Jeep to a place called Sonakhali where the motor launcher was waiting for us. The whole launcher was booked for our use. We had taken cooks and enough ration for 2 days. The journey began with all of us excited to see the tiger. even in the launcher there was no plug point where we could recharge our mobiles because of which we had to switch on our mobiles and use it only when we had to make any calls. I couldn't wait to get back home to proper electricity and (ab?)normal lives!!

sunrise the next day

We did not see any tigers in the trip. We spent a couple of days away from the maddening materialistic and electricity dependant world and enjoyed nature as it is. Saw the moon and stars and the next morning got up early to take the breath taking view of the sun rising.

 How much we are chained to self created necessities! Can we go back to the era where there was no bond? Less dependency on things like electricity and mobile phones? What choices have we made? To choose unreal things for 100 % real things. In life when one is stuck in a situation where one has to make a decision to choose between the lesser and greater evil, have we instead chosen the greater evil?

written as part of Kissan 100% real blogger contest

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tumultuous Traveller

busy airport
Enter a railway station or an airport, I am throbbing with a joy quite indescribable. Being born and brought up in Calcutta, a basically plain and not so much happening city, the mountains, the deserts and the beaches were all the kind of geographies I wanted to see.

My love for foreign travel was much more because there was more to see, the people especially, the whites, yellows and blacks!! Thanks to some big banner Indian movies, I got to get a glimpse of the beautiful alps and the golden and blue beaches of exotic locations. But all this didnt quench me, for I wanted to feel and be a part of them in flesh and blood, than just see pictures.

eeks! is this me?
When I was very small, papa often travelled abroad for work and I always begged him to take me but I always had school when he was going and even if there was vacations he would not take me because he wasn't going for a vacation himself, but his NO didn't deter me from taking out all my clothes from my wardrobe and crying my lungs out. My longing for foreign travel reached such levels that when my father took my grandpa for treatment to London because he had been diagnosed with cancer. I prayed that I should get some dreadful disease for which my father would have to take me there!!

 Even if this didnt work, I thought it would be best if some "foreigner" fell for me so that I could be his bride and in his foreign land for real!! For the love of travel too, I wanted to marry far away from home so that even if there was nowhere to go, I'd still be travelling once a year to my parents.

Enough about my rantings of my obsession for travel. I have met some people whom I might have influenced more than they influencing me so here I am writing about them.

After I had turned 18 (desperate to be 18), I planned a trip with only friends to Darjeeling. We had just finished our boards and ready to taste our new found freedom of adulthood! There was a group of boys who reached there same day as us and we kept banging into each other during our outings and sightseeing. We were already quite raucous and bolder than the boys. We thought one of them would pick up enough courage to come and ask to accompany us together for the rest of the trip, but I think they were either too afraid or just too genteel!! But as luck would have it, we had our train berths adjacent with each other on our return journey. Since the trip was over and they had done nothing at all (meaning to get friendly with us) we took it upon us to get at them, we kept lunging at them with our boisterous behaviour. One of them wore shorts on the train, obviously for comfort reasons, and whenever he passed us we sang aloud, "jungle jungle baat chali hai pata chala hai, chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai phool khila hai.
(the word is in all jungles that a flower wearing an underwear has blossomed) LOL!!
So he finally came up to us and asked us why were we doing all this? We couldn't answer at all, because we couldn't stop laughing at him! I have never forgotten them and the fun we had because of them and hope they haven't forgotten what fun we gave them!
inviting attention? :P
I particularly cant forget the south India trip which was the last I took before I got married. The hit film DDLJ was released and the story was similar to mine, heroines engaged to an unknown guy and she takes a last trip with her friends to enjoy her last days of being single. I had secretly hoped to find a Shahrukh Khan equivalent who would fall hook line and sinker for me and come to rescue me from being bonded to an unknown person for life. Unlike Kajol who was not in the lookout for any SRK, I was. I particularly laughed  aloud and made a lot of gesture to attract people around me, lest anybody missed seeing me. you see, there is no director in real life who can orchestrate the entire romance. I flirted shamelessly with a cute salesguy at a big store in Bangalore. I told him my entire itinerary in the hope of him following me all over the trip and propose to me by the end or perhaps even come to stop my wedding!! hehe.
He had promised to come to the hotel later in the evening when he was off from his job, but he never came :(
No dilwale for me.

desert safari
When I went to Dubai, I had gone to the desert safari and when we were at the highest dune, the driver stopped for us to have a view and I just felt like rolling down the slopes in filmy style so I just dropped down and let myself goooo..down down the slopes I rolled and the speed picked up so fast that I thought I would not be able to stop myself. It was risky but what adrenaline pumping!! Then at the camp, the belly dancer asked me for a dance with her and I kept turning around in such speed that I was caught in a tizzy and fell flat on my back. Seeing such high excitement in me the driver, who was also our guide commented if I had been possessed by any ghost or spirit inside me! I remember his face, he was plainly in shock!

Now, did I meet interesting people or did they meet ME?

Picture from here (airport), here (crying kid) and here (woman)

I am writing this post as part of the around the world with Expedia at indibloggers contest.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reliving Realities

Perhaps I was born at the right time or I was lucky enough to have stayed in 100% real places for most of my childhood holidays. Yes, my maternal grandparents stayed at the smallest of villages in North India, and I would look forward to spending my vacations there.

I was from Calcutta, a big city, with not much open spaces and though there are a lot many parks, they don't have trees with mangoes or litchis hanging on them!!

My grandparents lived in a sprawling if not very grand, house with a shed for cows and goats for milk. Some of my cousins and my sister sat around the milk giving cow and opened their mouths for the milkman who pulled at the udder and directed the flow towards them who relished the warm milk, much to my chagrin!! A coop full of cocks and hens for eggs and a back orchard for all kinds of trees from jackfruit, litchis, falsa, guava and not to forget the mango trees. Usually we were joined by other cousins for the vacations and we had a field time climbing on the trees of whichever fruit we wanted to eat and racing to the top to see who climbed the highest!
playing with the goat kid in the orchard.
During summer vacations the day started at the crack of dawn and the crowing of the cocks which seemed to go on crowing like an alarm bell refusing to stop. Grandpa wouldn't let us sleep and nudge all of us out of bed. We would straight away go into the orchard and start to play and climb and swing on branches which were low enough for us to sit. Sometimes we went beyond the orchard into the fields and trample on the sown soft earth (for which we would be admonished later on). I even ploughed the ground once and did the mud feel like velvety carpet? There is so much activity in the ploughing to sowing that each muscle is exercised and toned!

mango laden tree
I have to say that there are special ways to get to the highest ripe mango. Either risk your life and climb to the top without falling off or take this, a curved blade tied at the end of a long stick with which the mango is cut from its branch and it falls down. The third makes you quite a marksman, you aim at the mango and throw a stone to shake it off!! The mangoes ooze a fluid when it falls fresh from the tree, so we kept a bucketful of water and dropped those mangoes in it. When there was enough for everybody and the bucket was full, we would sit down to peel it and not with a knife but with a special peeler which was also 100% natural and made from a seashell. (wish I had one of them to show). The taste and smell of the mangoes is something I can never get even from the best alphonso mangoes!

There was a special guava tree. There was two things which made it special, first, it was our neighbours and secondly it had no seed!! Have you eaten a seedless guava? I have yet to buy one from the market. It was tasty as hell and we had to sneak and steal and run for our dear lives for the neighbour was a typical thief hater even if they were little children!!!

earthern stove
We only went back inside the house to eat our meals and get ready and be back in the orchard as soon as we finished. The house itself had small rooms and there was open space called aangan in the middle and a big kitchen beyond where women helpers came to assist in the cooking. Two or three of them would sit with a mill (hand grinder) to ground the wheat into flour. Curious that I was and wanting to try them all, I also tried my hands in grounding the wheat. Watching them change from grain to powder somehow seemed like magic to my young eyes. There was always two women grinding the spices together. And if you all think that the cooking was as easy as clicking a lighter on a gas stove then you have to get your imaginations to work again. There was an earthen kiln with 3 holes on top of different sizes. There was an opening in the front from where we stuffed the dried branches of fallen trees (this was yet again stored in a hut behind the house) which had to be fired with so much huffing and puffing till your lungs had all the exercises it needed in a day!! But it was fun and somehow the food cooked on it was the best and most delicious I have ever had in my entire life!!

There was no tap, only a hand pump. So, when I really had to rush to the toilet (and considering the amount of mangoes I ate, there was always a rush), pumping the water made the rush into a power rush and god helped if the only toilet was occupied. I had no option but to go to the fields and hide behind a tree and relieve myself!! Last year I had gone on a road trip with my kids there was a tyre puncture and we were not close to civilisation. I got the urge and I promptly went behind a tree with a bottle of mineral water and relieved myself. My kids were aghast!! Oh! they don't know what they have missed while growing up!
train just yonder the fields :)
Did I forget to mention the train tracks? Well, they were just beyond the fields and we laid 5 paise and 10 paise coins on the tracks and wait for the train to come. The train flattened the little aluminium coins and once I repeatedly put my 5 paise till it was absolutely flat as a blade and bigger than the old 20 paise. Interestingly we were quite small, with all of us not even teenagers, yet we were never stopped much and we could go and roam about the entire village. Playing hide and seek was never so much fun and I have even hidden inside the haystacks which is so perfect for this game. We had real mud to knead and make stuff out of it unlike the toxic clays of today! We made round balls and dried them in the sun and later used them as missiles to strike our cousins, which was so much fun!

 I forgot to say there was lots of insects and flies which came out in the dark and I especially couldn't no matter what sleep with them buzzing around me. So it came upon me to burn the dried cow dung which gave out thick smoke to ward the flies away.
rope bed

Could I have had a better relation with nature had I been to exotic locales each vacation? I think not, I cant say how much I miss those vacations. Although when I returned I was burnt black and my paternal uncles teased me for days on end that I lose my complexion whenever I come back from the village and that it was no fun to go. There is nobody who lives there and all maternal uncles have moved to cities and the house is almost beyond use. We cousins have plans to go back and relive some of our moments again with our kids to show them where we spent our vacations, but it hasn't materialised yet. Maybe some day I will.... I miss my village too much.

Pictures from here (mango tree), here (earthern stove), here (hand pump) and here (ropebed).

This post was written for The Kissan 100% real blogger contest at Indiblogger.