Summer Colours

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew there are things you want/need to do, but didn’t end up doing because life happened?

As a person, there are several things which recharge me creatively: writing, reading, gardening, sketching, making videos and so on. However, when the going gets tough work-wise, I end up focusing singlemindedly on that and forget that there are other things to life than just that.

This March my work calendar was crazy. Naturally, I did very less to energize myself. The interesting part is, amid all that business, I was also organizing a sustainability related event at work. It meant that I had to work few hours extra every day, but sustainability is a cause that I am passionate about, hence I wanted to do all I could to help. The event was on World Forest Day and Water Day. I had to make a presentation on a beginner’s journey in gardening, showcasing all the plant collection that I have. I made a colorful presentation that captured all the hues of my garden. I have to admit though, at the time, I did question how much value add that presentation would be to the audience. Also, until the event, I was considering making the presentation a chore rather than something to enjoy.

But having made the presentation and brightening my mood with the colors, I was left with a different feeling. I realized that I had lost touch with my garden (my mother was doing all the watering/pruning herself) and I needed to get back on track. To that effect, I have again become active in my garden and am gradually adding summer colors to it. You’re welcome to have a look at my journey on my Instagram id: @arpitamanick

Until next time!

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Intermingling cultures and hybrid identities

Happy Ugadi and Gudi Padwa to all those who celebrate the festivals in your part of India. Since my base work location is in Bangalore, I am enjoying a nice Tuesday vacation today on account of Ugadi.

The Bengali equivalent of Ugadi is on the 15th of April, when my family would do their usual celebrations, but I’d be busy with work. This lockdown has allowed me to stay with my parents for the time being, but that said, sometimes the workload is such that it wouldn’t matter where I am – given that I have such little time to spend with my family outside of work during the workweek.

Well, maybe it’s not as bad most days as the last statement might make you think – I do like the job and feel fulfilled by it. But there are days when I am in endless meetings when grabbing glass of water feels unaffordable.

I’m perhaps digressing. The point that I wanted to make is given that we are migrating so often from our homes, we cannot but embrace the cultures of the places we go to, if not in spirit then in mere execution. For example, I might not care about the underlying spirit of Ugadi as a festival; but I sure might go out today and enjoy some nice food were I in Bangalore. Two days later though, I’d be back in my meetings, forgetting that it’s Poila Boisakh on which my family would be welcoming the Bengali New Year.

Such hybrid identities have become the norm. For the most part, it becomes a part of us so subtly that you won’t probably complain. Well, you might when you just left home and the remains of your younger self craves for the same holidays that you forever enjoyed. But gradually, you get used to it. You learn to blend in, you learn to not complain. You mellow down.

Yet, on a summer afternoon, when you get to the rooftop and take stock of your life, you might realize just how unsettling the change is. You are a version of you which you weren’t a decade back. At times, you might not even recognize yourself. Even as you know that your hybrid identity is who you are now, and that’s all that you will have.

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Political consciousness of the common (wo)man

I think who we end up becoming as individuals, especially, the basic values that we imbibe in ourselves: kindness, optimism, pessimism, insecurity, political awareness etc. are very much informed by the early conditioning in our homes.

In West Bengal, maybe, my family stands out as an anomaly, because we never had detailed political debates in the house. Even if there were any such discussions between the parents and grandparents many years ago, it wasn’t discussed in front of us. Maybe this was so because my father was away at the shop for over 14 hours a day and my mother was too busy taking care of the house and the kids. None of my parents ever actively supported any party, never campaigned for any local leader of a given party or raised funds for party.

The mandate I had growing up was hide myself in my books and even if the house was on fire your focus should not be diverted. I dare say that I have done this very well, you’d need to work really hard to get my attention when I am busy with something.

But as you get out of your home, meet new people and new cultures, you wonder what is it that you should be busy with. Should you be part of the ongoing political debate that you see overflowing all around you? Or should you put your head down and just focus on your work (similar to what you did as a kid with your books)?

For the longest time, I did the latter. In my defense, I do find the current political environment in India distasteful, to put it mildly. I see a lack of leaders who one can be inspired by. I see a lack of representation of the causes that I personally deem important. To give an example, I see very little representation of sustainability in political speeches. While on the other hand, the century-old debates on religious fault lines are still at centerstage, even though for a good chunk of the population, religion has very little impact on the day to day life. I suppose though my views are urbane and I do not see how my religion defines me. Perhaps in a more rural setting, religion does define your identity. Even so, should that be the cause the common people should be bothered about when the world around them has changed so much?

The tendency to give religious or caste-based color to topics which are far removed from being any of those things has become so prominent.

When you live in such a day and age, not to have a political view becomes difficult. Because now, that student has become a corporate professional who pays taxes. She does feel the pinch when the price of her hard work goes straight into income tax but does not necessarily translate to the kind of reforms she wants to see in the society.

I’m fortunate to have a few left-oriented friends who often provide a counterfoil to my centrist, liberal views. It makes you wonder what would a different world view look be. It makes you think of the larger picture into the future and form your own political philosophies. To that end, I have purchased The Communist Manifesto. Perhaps, there will be another post in which I share my thoughts on the book, but for today, all I can say is: “Interesting.”

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Update: 01

Hey guys,

Hope you all are doing great. It’s been such a long time since I wrote anything on this blog – this is the first post of 2021 and we’re already in April.

When I started this blog in 2015, I was convinced that I wanted to be an author. I was young, fresh out of college, and unaware of where my life was headed. I didn’t know then within the next three years I would somehow lose myself. I’d somehow stop being the person who I was, crazy about books: reading them and writing them. I’d want to express myself in more visual medium, no longer trusting just words to do justice to what I was going through. I’d also find myself again, in the next few months – healed by people who never knew how broken I was or how they really helped me.

Adulthood somehow humbles us, makes us more somber. It teaches you to learn to optimize and take decisions that are in your best interests, even if it’s not what your heart wants. So, this past week, I ended up taking a decision like that: to finally vacate my flat in Bangalore and shift to my hometown in the interim.

Personally, I find it difficult to take decisions that impacts the way of life. I have never travelled much as a kid, hence, the thought of being mobile with no permanent residence does bother me to some extent. Having said that, I know that such biases don’t necessarily support the best of economic sense. At some point, you need to count your chickens, cut your losses and move on in life. Even if you miss standing in that balcony overlooking squirrels on nameless trees or the plants that you will leave behind.

The bright side is, there’s a lot on offer at my hometown. After several months, I am getting the chance to stay with my whole family. That is precious. I love the simple town that I am from. I’m also learning a bunch of new skills: growing vegetables, riding a scooty. I’m trying to gain as much confidence as I can in areas where I had no skillset. It feels good.

Anyways, this is supposed to be a short status update telling you all that I expect to spend more time here in the coming days, writing posts that you all can enjoy. I’m also focusing on finishing a book that I had begun in 2020. Hopefully, that will also come along soon.

Until the next one, keep well and take care!

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Longing

If there was a chance, I’d linger.

But we have been walking

On vastly different paths

And each day, so far

Even though we are

Who we are,

Smile as we speak,

Speak as we think;

In each other, we exist,

There are growing microchasms

Unseen to the naked eye.

Little molecules,

Lost in the vortex of the Universe,

We are in a centrifugal storm.

Each day, the parts of Us

That existed

In each other, cease to be.

We smile, knowing that the paths

Will suddenly take an abrupt turn,

And there can be only moving on;

There can be no pause.

No moment to look into your eyes

And talk about the deep longing in my heart

No moment to let you know

That if there was a chance,

If only you’d let me,

I’d linger

For a journey we can walk together.

And meet at a secret spot

Many years later

When everyone has stopped to look.

If only you’d let me

Know that I’d linger.

Know that I’d wait

As we both

Separately, wait for a conjoined Fate.

© 2020 Arpita Pramanick

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What is your earliest memory of falling sick?

Today, I was in a meeting in my office where they were talking about a program to teach kids about this pandemic, mainly educating them on the importance of handwashing and how that can help them from falling ill.

It made me wonder about how strange it must be to teach a kid what falling ill is all about unless they understand the feeling first hand. Though, I suppose, every child might have some exposure to having fallen sick by the time they get to schools and we teach them the importance of handwashing. But the whirlwind of thoughts took me back in time and made me wonder, what is my first memory of falling sick?

I remember a specific day when I had gotten fever after a school picnic – a definite case of food poisoning. I also remember multiple episodes of me running high temperatures, the taste in my mouth all bland, the sheer tiredness and turning round and round in the bed. Nothing felt comfortable. I preferred to lie right next to the wall touching the bed so I could derive the coolness of the wall as temporary relief. It felt horrible! It always does.

I also remember the bout of toothache in the middle of the night. A pain that originated in one tooth but seemed to have spread throughout the mouth and then travelled all the way up to the head. Hours staying up and putting toothpaste or cloves in the tooth for relief.

But no, I am struggling to remember my first memory of sickness. I cannot remember when was the first time right out of my mother’s womb I learnt what it feels not to feel the best version of myself.

How about you, dear reader? Do you remember?

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Spilling Hearts

Sometimes, we are lost. We are walking in a wilderness, peopled by grasses taller than us. Their rough edges slice our skin as we navigate through. There is a sting where the skin breaks and a thin strip of blood oozes out, eager to explore the world beyond our blood vessels.

That sting travels all the way to our brain, then spreads out evenly into our whole body. Or does it?

Somewhere a nerve has torn, and the world feels foreign, devoid of the usual sensations.

There are a lot of voices. A lot of voices. Every voice speaking in a language that serves its own needs. Howling for your attention, screaming that they “own” the truth. What is the truth? It is, like my friend said, what you choose to believe. But when all the voices shout in a theme which feels relatable, which version do you accept?

And so, a hotchpotch of ideas hurl themselves against the walls of the brains. Blood, hormones, chemical reactions working their way for you to make sense of the world. Only, it does not make sense anymore.

An eyelid twitches. You worry if it’s an early onset of some nervous breakdown. It has never happened to you before. But you know that you have been forgetting the smallest things for a while now. The things which do not need any thinking, the things which are reflex. So, it does not impact your professional life just yet. But it is lurking in the corner, biding its time, waiting to claim your entire existence. A world when you won’t remember what is what. A world which has stopped making sense to you.

Yet, even in your sanest right now, how much of this world does make sense?

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On departures and social constructs

Waking up at a different hour than your usual can sometimes be cathartic.

Since the Covid situation started, I have been working out of my home. I no longer have a job which requires me to wake up at 7 AM in the morning to take calls with the onsite. No longer do I even need to wake up at 8 AM, so I can finish breakfast and leave for office on time.

My morning routine these days consists of waking up at an hour which the young me would have been shocked at and wouldn’t have been allowed anyways in my parents’ house. Yet, the whole world is reeling under a pandemic and wake-up hours may be the least of concern to anyone involved.

However, this morning, couple of my flatmates left the flat as they are going back home. To see them off, I woke up at 6.30 AM. They left about 7 AM. Just having woken up at an hour which you probably have not seen for the better part of a year, you have no idea what to do.

I spoke to my mother for an hour, grateful that some people still wake up at decent human hours and are available for a chat. We talked about people leaving and the emptiness left behind – the suitcases that no longer crowd the hall. The utensils which have magically disappeared, the shoe racks which just hold some blank shoe boxes and dirt from the shoes that no longer belong.

Having spent five years in this city, I would say I have grown to not being affected by departure. I have learnt to shut the lid on memories and reopen them when they are convenient or simply gushing into the mind-screen. The weekends past spent on pizza parties are just that – past. I know now that these weekends are not to come back, but what will indeed come by are new people and new memories which come with them.

This pandemic has taught me the importance of being around people in life. In some ways, I am saint-like in my life. I could go hours without talking to anyone, thinking to myself, reading something or just generally doing things which do not matter in the grand scheme of life. Yet, in the handful of parties that have been held in the house in the last month or so and a game of monopoly which I have gotten great at over the period, I realize the importance of the social construct.

I did not grow up learning to respect friendship. It worked back in the day, because we lived in houses filled with nosy relatives or pesky neighbors, people who made your business their business. But here, in the high-rises of Bangalore, no one really cares. If you ever exchange any words, that’s perhaps because you haven’t been responsible with your trash or you cost your neighbors their sweet sleep with your loud music. We are generally good tenants, which means, we don’t often get called out for the two behaviors mentioned above. Which means, we live in a three-bedroom flat, my flatmates and I, and we are pretty much on our own, on our own routine.

And within that, when people come and just fill up your lives, in the form of a maid or a random co-worker of a flatmate who you’ll never see again, somehow it feels good. The world is a beautiful place, but it is made all the more beautiful by the sheer variety of people living in it. In some ways, even the pesky neighbors feel like a fixture of the past era now. There is an odd pain in everything being perfect, without a bother. I do love my solitude, but we will continue to be social creatures until perhaps the end of this civilization, in spite of our machines ripping us off our human interactions. In between, perhaps these pandemics will serve us with a reminder of who we ought to be and what we really need to thrive in the world that we have made up to be so complex.

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New Garden!

Growing up, we lived in a house where the water seeped through the walls every monsoon. As the water crept through the layers of cement and plaster, it left sorry marks behind, like careless trails of paint down an artist’s brush.

My parents were simple folks who worked hard for a living and raising a family, and then slept peacefully at night. They had little time for hobbies, whether for themselves or their children.

The sum of these two paragraphs is the fact that we never really had a garden growing up. We lived on the first floor and had a terrace, but due to the leakage we could not have potted plants there. There was a slice of land downstairs where our entrance gate was, which had a hibiscus plant belonging to our next-door neighbour. We never planted anything there. In fact, the only plant that grew happily in our house was the tulsi, which is a medicinal herb revered in the Hindu religion, hence finds a spot of worship in every Bengali house. Sometime, perhaps when I was in college or my early years of work life, someone told my mother that money plant was lucky for families and would bring in money. So, it was duly added to our scant “garden”.

Anyways, in November last year, we started renovating the house. We chiselled away the leaky layers of plasters and re-did the cementing. The house got a thorough coat of greenish-grey paint. We decided to have a small garden near our entrance area, where the hibiscus plant is. Our neighbours do not stay in the house next door anymore, so that area is no longer in use (my mother dutifully picks up the hibiscus flowers for her daily prayers though).

This week, while I was home, we finally ended up hiring some help to dig the soil, irrigate it and layer it with a dash of organic fertiliser. I went to a nearby nursery and bought a few plants: a red rose, an orange gerbera, a snake plant and a rubber plant. I also had a quick visit to one of our neighbour’s house, who is a veteran gardener. She had a whole array of plants, perhaps over thirty in variety. I scanned those and decided on two to add to our collection (since I left for college and thereafter work-life, I hardly spend too much time at home. So, I do not have express permission from my parents to leave a whole lot of plants behind me that they have to take care of): chilly saplings and a succulent from her garden. The next morning, our neighbour brought those in.

I had the happiest time setting up the plants in their new homes and watering them for couple of days. One of the chilly saplings grew limp in the same afternoon that I planted it, and I was able to recover it with some watering. The rubber plant was also curling up with the strong sun, so I put a shade of newspaper to support it for a few days.

Here are some snaps from our mini garden:

As I write this, sitting thousands of feet above the ground on my flight back to Bangalore, my only regret is I didn’t get a lot of time to spend with the plants. Wouldn’t it have been great if I could stay one more week and wake up each morning to water the plants?

On the bright side, the next time I am home, I’d be back to a lovely garden ecosystem, with bigger, stronger plants. Some of the plants may disappear, but I am quite sure most of them would survive. Wouldn’t that be lovely too?

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Happy November

Dear Time-Traveler,

One nagging feeling as you grow older is how time moves so fast. All through primary and secondary school, time felt like that old seed you sowed which just never sprouted. Year after year you were solving those algebra and trigonometry and geometry problems. But when you are grown up, life feels like a hyper-lapse film, each event happening way so fast that now you’re here, and then you’re somewhere else.

And in all this mess, there are days when you feel like time has stopped. You watch the calm November sunlight filtering through the netted window, casting soft shadows on the tiled floor. You watch the blue sky that’s not washed out with the harshness of sunlight.

Today’s one such day, so I wanted to capture a few moments of this day and store it forever in this blog-post. There’s this immense desire sometimes to just put out a strong surge of happiness through the digital world, where pulses of electricity can convey the fleeting joy that I’m feeling to all of you.

I slept late last night, but woke up on time. Went for a morning walk, had a simple breakfast of toast with bananas. I painted a bit, after quite a long time. I made paintings of flowers and plants and pots, something which has been on my mind since last Sunday when I brought home a few houseplants. I also potted a few coriander seeds, with the hope that in 20 days or so, I can stop purchasing coriander and pluck it from my own mini-garden.

Anyways, there’s only so much one can say. Sharing these pictures with you, so you can visualize my joy. Hope you are having a great November as well!

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Until we meet again!

Love,

Arpita

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