Tag Archives: family

Day 16: Camp NaNo (April)

Lots happened since the last post, not just in terms of writing, but my personal life as well.

Today was Day 16 of Camp NaNo. Sometime this week, I upped my NaNo goal from 25K to 50K. Unlike NaNo in Nov ’15, I find myself much more disciplined this year. I have been writing almost daily and have mostly been ahead of my daily goal. I try to get a lot of the writing done on the weekends – because the weekdays are too unpredictable.

Thankfully, I have managed to write for about 30 minutes after lunch during work days as well. I think of it like an extended lunch break. At any rate, I do not have much of a life outside of work, so the writing bit keeps me sane.

I am currently at 32K words, pretty close to my target of 50K (yes, having written 32K, 18K feels like a cakewalk). So far, I am proud of what I have achieved in terms of my current project. I have never been this far into any novel. I am almost halfway through the story of Sukriti – a housewife whose husband is alcoholic and whose young daughter blames her for everything that is wrong in the family. The second part of the book will be from the daughter’s POV. For some reason, I feel writing the daughter’s POV is going to be more challenging for me that the mother’s. Somehow, inside my head, I can feel Sukriti, understand her motives. I do not know yet if I understand her daughter, Maya, so well.

I have to outline her side of the story soon, because I see myself reaching the finish line with the mother’s POV soon. And unless I have a plan for the daughter’s POV, I am going to be stuck and the word count will suffer.

On the personal front, I have been going through some tough times. Had to take a hard decision in terms of relationships this week. So far, I stand by my decision and I hope that I will see myself through it.  I need some big changes in my life right now.

Thankfully, I spoke to a lot of people this weekend, which helped me keep my mind off the immediate worries. I spoke to a lot of people who I had not spoken in a long, long time. So that way, good things are happening.

When I was younger, I was okay with loneliness. I even cherished the silence around me. I cherish it now as well. But as I move into my twenties, I realize that I am craving relationships and support more. I feel the need to connect to people, speak to them and be in touch.

Hopefully, I will be at a better place by the end of this year – have some clarity in terms of what I want to do with my life.

What’s up at your end? Did you visit some new place this weekend? Tried out some new dish? Share with me bits and pieces of your life in the Comments below. Like I said, it feels great to be connected.

How feminist is Gone Girl?

I remember looking at the picture of the slender Gillian Flynn beside the description of Gone Girl on Kwench and wondering, ‘Wow, how pretty she is!’ To believe something such sinister could be plotted and made into a book by someone so beautiful seemed unlikely, but having seen the movie, I knew what to expect. The sheer wickedness of this book stuns you and makes you wonder if this could really be true, and how insane it would be if it were true. I understand people go through nightmares in their married life – often in the form of abuse – but for someone to be so sinister-ish sends chills across the spine.

I wonder if Flynn is the modern feminist who likes to take a dig at men by making Amy, a girl with a name as cute as Amy, the ultimate anti-hero – someone who’ll make you sick to the stomach, so sick that you dare not be unkind to her. Dare not abuse her.

ggAmy is brilliant, and she seeks validation in everything. I somewhat relate to her, because I have a similar streak – I seek validation and it is something I am working on. So when she wants revenge, I understand her motive. When she wants to punish, I feel her anger. You cannot, like Nick, but be amazed by the sheer brilliance of Amy’s mind. What are you thinking? What have we done to each other?

Flynn, on so many levels, brings out a clear picture of compromised married life. Boy meets girl, or vice versa – things seem great for a year or two and then begins the same old drama of being pissed out, being angry at all times at each other’s annoying habits, tired of the smooth sameness that everyday life brings. I wonder, as I think of a married life ahead, if it is possible to be happy all through life, to promise yourself and someone else that you will not be like the average couple who start picking on each other after a couple of years. When you are young and in love, marriage seems a blissful thing – a new beginning. To have your own home and one person who is really, truly yours. But can you really be content with the same person all through your life? What if some weird habit of his irks you to your toenail and he does not give up on that habit, even after being repeatedly told by you to? Then I think of my parents and the close to quarter century of married life that they have lived together and remember the fights they had while I lived with them, on the simplest of issues -my father not being able to bargain well at the grocer’s, my mother being constantly worried about her aged parents, which pissed my father off at times. And I think, it’s all good. At the end of the day, when your family is gone, your father and mother are dead and siblings, if you had any, are settled somewhere else, you think it is okay to compromise a little and live a okayish married life. Your parents have done that. Your grandparents have done that. And I don’t want broken homes for my kids either.

So, I will never be as sinister as Amy. But as much as you hate her, you cannot but appreciate the nastiness of her scheme and praise her for not giving up. In the end, like Nick, you feel sorry for her, because you wonder how hard it must be to wake up every morning and be Amy.

I enjoyed the biased, parallel two-character narrative that Flynn followed. When the first part gets a little monotonous, Flynn strikes back hard with a completely changed Amy POV, which will shock any first time reader. And I liked it better because unlike in most books, the girl is the real villain. Once in a while, I think it feels good to see others do things that you will be never be able to do. Just to know that there are other possibilities to deal with a situation, as in an Amy way, as opposed to your way. In their own gruesome, scary way, Nick and Amy make a perfect couple.

I also love that Gone Girl is so much more that simply adultery. I like how Flynn captures the effect of joblessness and childlessness on marriage.

Ms. Flynn, respect!


Of ends and beginnings

I had a series of life-changing experiences since the last post.

A few hours just before we were about to board the train, we were informed that my maternal grandfather passed away. At first I was shocked. The tears came later. The very day I was about to start a new journey was the day Grandpa’s journey came to an end. The suddenness of Death caught me off guard, because I talked to Grandpa just the previous day and he was just fine! I only talk to him once in a while on the phone, but I am so glad we had the last talk.

The toughest blow was on my mother, of course. She was already sad with me leaving and then this news. I felt like leaving all the luggage at the station and taking another train to see grandfather one last time – I knew that was the right thing for mom. But my mother, grieving and speechless and crying, took the toughest decision to come with me to see me off to this new city instead, where I start working from Thursday. The moment my mother took the decision was the moment I realized the weight of reality. And suddenly, I was not afraid anymore, not nervous anymore. I knew if I had to face this side of Life, I had to be strong. The fact that I had never travelled long distance before, the nagging worry of what kind of a place I’d be reaching and what kind of people I’d meet, somehow faded away for some moments, and all I knew was that no matter what, I had to be there for my parents and take care of them.

Rest in peace, Grandpa! You will always be in our hearts. And my mother, she is the strongest person that I’ve ever met. I don’t know what I’d do if I were in her position.

Presently, I am at the office-provided accommodation and thankfully, it has good internet,which is the best thing to happen to me since the internet on my phone doesn’t seem to work at all! I couldn’t take many pictures on the journey because of the sad memory that haunted us. But Nature can heal everything, I guess. I took these pictures from the train.




Day 7 of Writing 101: Homecoming

“There is more to a boy than what his mother sees. There is more to a boy then what his father dreams. Inside every boy lies a heart that beats. And sometimes it screams, refusing to take defeat. And sometimes his father’s dreams aren’t big enough, and sometimes his mother’s vision isn’t long enough. And sometimes the boy has to dream his own dreams and break through the clouds with his own sunbeams.”
Ben Behunin, Remembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp

I was putting off going to the bank for as long as I could. But my daughter, Anita, is persistent. A new bank has come up near our house, and Anita suggested my husband and I create a joint account there. She has been pestering us about it ever since she came home on a break from office.

“Think about it, Ma. You hardly visit that old bank of yours. Why? Because it’s so far! This is near. You can deposit money on your way back from a walk.”

Today’s kids! They know their money better than they know themselves. At least mine does. Last week, Anita did all the necessary applications for creating the account. She had us sign numerous times on a form she downloaded and accompanied us to the bank to submit it. Today, we’re going to make the first deposit to the account. My husband was supposed to come as well, but his knee started to pain again. I used this as an excuse to skip the bank visit, but Anita wouldn’t budge.

The bank is about seven minutes walk. Along the way, Anita keeps blabbering about how much her insurance covers, how much she has kept in fixed deposits, etc.

All my married life, I never bothered about banks. My husband made not much more than was needed for us to get by. The meagre amount that we saved had been used up in Anita’s education. Somehow, this left a huge impact on her – she has made it a mission to have money in the bank. She wants to be prepared for emergencies. I respect her thinking. But I am too afraid of technology. Everything is computerized these days.

When we are inside the bank, Anita fills up a form for something called a remit card – it has to be used for depositing money. This bank does not have paper slips for deposit.

When we are done with the procedure, we are handed a green-coloured card.

“So, this is not ATM card?” I ask Anita.

“No, Ma. It’s a remit card. You can only make deposits with it. With ATM card, you can withdraw.”

Anita was insistent that I apply for the ATM card as well, but thankfully, cash withdrawal can still be done using paper checks! I want to avoid complication as much as I can. All those news about people being robbed after withdrawing cash from ATMs gets to my nerves. Then if you lose the card there’s hell to pay. I lost a SIM card once. We had to go to the police station for the general diary. God! They had so many questions. What a hassle!

Anita and I stand in the line for depositing cash. People, bored people, are standing in front of me. They look at their phones, touch and type. Screens and screens and screens. Mobile screens. Laptop screens. TV screens. All eyes are on screens now. Even the older folk like me have smart-phones. Whenever we meet a smartphone-savvy woman, Anita makes it a point to remind me why I should get one too. I couldn’t care less.

I am next in line to deposit the cash. I push the green card in Anita’s hand.

“What, Ma?”

“You do it. I can’t.”

“Of course not. You’re doing it.” She thrusts the card back in my hand. When did she become this stubborn? What if I do something wrong?

“I will guide you. It’s no big deal, you see.”

“You better do it. I promise I will watch carefully.”

“No, you can only learn by doing it. That’s what you told me when I was in school, remember?”

The man in front of me leaves the line. I cringe inside. Anita pushes me forward. On the counter in front of me there is a small machine, slightly bigger than a calculator. It has numbered keys, like in a calculator. And one red, one yellow and one green key. Behind the counter, a banker, a man with black-rimmed spectacles, is shuffling pages and typing into a computer.

“Here, swipe the card in this slot,” Anita tells me. I never noticed the small vertical slot on the side of the machine.

I put the card and run it along the slot.

The display reads: Please swipe your card.

I swiped it, didn’t I? What is the meaning of this message?

“Not this way. Here, let me put the card in the slot for you again.” Anita re-inserts the card and holds my hand in hers and draws the card along the slot. This time, the machine gives out a hopeful result.

Anita guides me through the next steps.  I type, with trembling finger, the amount I will deposit. Then I press the green button thrice. But where do I put the money?

“The cash, madam,” the banker says, as if reading my mind. “Five thousand rupees, is it?”

“Yes, yes.” I hand over the notes to the banker.

With a whirring noise, a paper slip comes out of the little machine. One end stays attached to the machine.

“Please hand over the counterfoil to me, madam,” the banker says while examining the five hundred rupee notes.

“Tear off the slip, Ma.”

I fiddle at the machine. The paper is so stubborn, it won’t come out. Oh, God! Can I do one thing properly? Why on Earth do these people make simple things complicated? Somebody please give me the old deposit slips!

“Madam, hurry. We don’t have all day,” says the man behind us in the queue.

“Here, let me do it, Ma. It’s simple, see?” She bends the paper towards the keys and tears it off at an angle. The paper gives in easily.

“There are small teeth on this side which cut the paper,” she says, “but if you do it the other way…”

Anita goes on explaining to me how I was doing it wrong. But I am not listening anymore. I am tired of feeling incompetent every day. Every day there is some change. New laws. New technology. The older I get, the more difficult it is to cope. With Anita so many miles away, my husband and I are lonelier than ever. Helpless, too.

On our way out, Anita says, “Wasn’t that cool? No paperwork. No hassle!” She is smiling. She is content with the inventions of her generation. She is proud of digital technology.

I look at her. She breaks out into laughter. “You should see the look on your face, Ma. You look like you have the flu!”

I feel too weak to say anything. My daughter pins her hands on my shoulders and looks at me in the eyes. “I know it is difficult for you, Ma. But trust me, it will get easier,” she says, “Especially now that I am here to guide you through everything.”

“Well, you won’t be here next week when your office starts, will you?” A stubborn tear makes it down the corner of my eyes. Anita hates to see me crying. She gets all furious. But I feel so lonely right now, I can’t help it.

Anita smiles. The smile touches her eyes. She had the same smile when she came home after winning the Best Sportsperson award in school. The same smile when she got her job and flew away to a different state. She wipes my tear with her finger and chuckles.

“What is it? Tell me.” I feel a rush in my blood. What is the girl thinking?

Anita takes out a white envelope from her bag.

“Ta-da!” She waves the envelope in the air before putting it in my hand.

“What is it, Anita? What is in the envelope?”

“My offer letter. I got a new job, Ma! Here! Now your daughter will work from home!”


“Really, really, really!” She gives me a hug in the middle of the road.

My daughter links her arm with mine. We walk on.

Sorry, she walks. I am flying! I am flying along the edges of the clouds.

Copyright © 2015 Arpita Pramanick

Day 5 of Writing 101: Home Sweet Home

In the Day 3 post, I talked about home and whether being happy on my own, far from home, made me selfish. If you read it, you’d know I sound quite sad and guilty in the post. The post elicited some wonderful comments from my blog-mates and helped me explain myself to myself. I’d like to share one such comment with you. Thanks Annie for this one:


I’d like you to consider the underlined sentence in the above comment, because that brings us to today’s topic.

Home is a person. If you’re lucky, home is yourself.

All my life, I have complained that no one understood me. Not my parents. Not friends. Not cousins. Not nobody. I had tastes I did not find common with anyone else: I loved reading story-books – my mother would call that a waste of money and storage space (Don’t judge her by that, please, because she was all up for buying textbooks. Reading for pleasure was something she did not understand). I liked writing. Almost none of my friends did. I enjoyed solitude, no one else cared.

Most of my life I have spent in futile attempts of finding a person with whom my wavelength matched, someone who could understand me without me having to explain everything. As it is, I am my own best friend. Not so long ago, I joked with a friend, “I’d rather marry myself than someone else.” The best thing about being your own best friend is that you know yourself. You know what pleases you and you know what hurts you. You try to prevent situations which may make you feel bad. You do things for yourself that no one else would do.

Even as a child, I was okay if I had to be away from home without my mother. My mother thought this was a selfish trait. To this day when I go somewhere, though I miss home very much, I can get equally comfortable wherever I am, if I choose to. So hell, yes, home is indeed a person. And I am one lucky gal!

What about you? Is the closest relationship that you have is with yourself? Let me know in the comments.

Bound by Life is still free for a few hours until midnight Pacific Standard Time, so if you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, please make sure you do right away.


Day 3 of Writing 101: Am I Selfish?

My mother tells me as a kid I was never upset when I had to be away from home (e.g visiting aunts with Grandpa). I was content wherever I was, never asking after my mother or little brother. Mother says I am selfish. I don’t know if that’s the right word to describe me, but I do have an ability to think I’m home wherever I am staying. How I did it when I was young I do not know, but now that I am older I do it by choice. If you’re cursed to live away from your family, you better do it with a smile on your face. There isn’t much to look forward to in Life otherwise.

The largest chunk of time that I have been away from home was during the four years of college. I visited occasionally, yes. But I never felt home at home anymore. I felt like a guest in my own house, one who comes to visit but leaves eventually. I hated this feeling. I hated that I had to leave the peace of our tiny home to live with people who did not care two hoots for my feelings and emotions. But I had no choice. I had to complete my degree. I don’t know if selfish is the right word to describe me, but I did miss home. Badly.

Even now that I am home, feeling at home typing into my laptop sitting on my favourite red stool (how the word came to mean such different things, I wonder!), I miss home already. This day, next month I will be in a different city, on the second day of my new job and my parents would be in a train back home after dropping me off in that unfamiliar jungle of unfamiliar faces. Maybe you’ll call me a baby for being so clingy. Anyone beyond twenty is supposed to be grown up; after all eighteen is when we are all adults. But indeed, age is just a number. In my mind I am still the teenager post-high school, taking a bus with my father to a new city to start college. Even after having lived with strangers for four years and becoming “friends” with them, I am not ready to face the unknown. Uncertainty makes me nervous. I cringe inside, because I know that I have no control. No choice either. In all honesty, I am even less prepared to leave now than I was four years ago when I started college, because I know now what I can expect. I know that no matter how kind people seem, it might all be a facade, a mask. I have never been too good with people, or relationships for that matter.

The hardest thing about goodbye is all the things you didn’t say.

That’s a quote from a friend’s Whatsapp status. The biggest regret of my life is that even though I have lived so many years with my parents under the same roof, I know so little of them. I know so little of their aspirations, their dreams and their desires. As long as I have known my mother (whom I am closer to than my father), I have known her as a mother only. Until very recently, I could not see past her motherhood for the woman that she is. And now that I have started to see, it is almost time for me to leave. I fear I will never have the time to know my parents as well as I wish to. It is sad that only few years back, I did not even care enough to know my parents. Now, the word selfish does make some sense.

There is nothing like your parents’ love. There is no treasure greater than your own family. To value these is the secret to real happiness. It sure took me time to realize it, but I will still have time to make amends, won’t I?

The clock is ticking!

Indeed, the clock is ticking. In about three hours, my ebook, Bound by Life will be available for free on Amazon! Do you use Kindle? If you do, don’t forget to download your copy of Bound by Life. I am eager to hear your thoughts on it.

Update: Bound by Life is now available for FREE on Kindle! Be sure to download your copy!


The best teacher of my childhood – Teacher’s Day Special

They say,the teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the way for others. Today, let me introduce you all to the person whom my consider the best teacher of my childhood – my uncle**. I wish a Happy Teacher’s Day to all the teachers out there, and that includes all parents and guardians who shape a child’s life. I wouldn’t be writing this if my mother hadn’t taught me the alphabet. As I watch little kids struggling with identifying letters and numbers and multiplication tables, I am reminded of the hard work and patience my parents and teachers had once put for me. Where would I be if not for them?

**This piece was originally written as part of a series of personal essays. For a little bit of my personal history, please read this article.

After we came to Durgapur from our ancestral place, my uncle, Aunt Polly’s husband, took over the duty of teaching me from my mother. My uncle was born in Bangladesh in the early 1940s. He had to leave the country to avoid the wrath of communal riots and came to India with an unfinished college degree. (A fragment of his life there inspired a section of the title story in my ebook, Bound by Life)

When we came to Durgapur, my parents had no clue where to put me in school. Uncle took the responsibility of my admission. I remember him giving me a sheet with a list of words and sentences for me to remember.

“What is your name?”

“What does your father do?”

“Who is the President of the country?”

On and on it went in his small, cursive handwriting.

Since my admission until my fifth grade, Uncle taught me. He was not a teacher by profession. But he liked to teach young kids very well. He had a curious mind and was a life-long learner. He had answers to every question I had!

His most successful trait as a teacher was that he never made me memorize anything. He would dictate answers to the questions in my textbook and I would write them down. While revision, he did not expect me to vomit his answers. He encouraged me to write my own. This habit had stood me in great stead in higher classes. I have seen many of my friends struggling in the exam hall while writing answers to longer questions. If they forgot one sentence, they couldn’t write anything after that. Fortunately, I never faced that sort of problem.

Until my fifth grade, my Uncle lived a kilometre away and visited us every evening to teach me. He usually arrived at 7 p.m. to teach me and continued until 9 p.m. If by any chance he were late to arrive, I prayed, “God, please make Uncle stay at home today! Please let him not come. Please!” I chanted this repeatedly while standing in the balcony, waiting to see if God listened to me (As you can guess from this, like every other child, I was hardly fond of studies at the age). Sadly, that rarely happened, as rare as perhaps once or twice in a year. Punctuality was another of Uncle’s remarkable traits.

Once one of my cousin brothers and I were staying at Uncle’s. Uncle told us a story about an ant and a dove (the one in which the dove initially saves the ant from drowning in a river and later the ant returns the favour by saving the dove from the arrow of a hunter). He wanted both of us to translate the story in English. I started it with enthusiasm.

With the first draft, I thought I was finished. Little did I know how far from it I was! Uncle had many suggestions for improvements in the first draft. I incorporated those in the next draft and then, he had further suggestions. In total, I think he made me write the story at least thrice! Once he even said that he liked the previous draft better (imagine my frustration!). I was thoroughly bored and exhausted with the exercise. But now that I think of it, I realize that Uncle had already given me the training required to become a writer: write, edit, rewrite and never be absolutely satisfied with the final product. There is always room for improvement.

As I have grown up, my relationship with Uncle has changed. He is in his seventies. Now, I am not afraid of him. Now, I don’t pray to the gods to keep him at home. He accompanied me during my admission in college as well. People thought he was my grandfather!

To this day, Uncle would remember some story that he had read out to me during my school days and ask me a question. When I would say I don’t remember what happened, he’d say, “That’s too bad! I remember everything.”

Of course he does. He was always known for possessing a good memory. In our childhood, we called him an elephant for his memory!

On growing up, education, personal finance and nostalgia

Yesterday, I woke up in the afternoon to a clouded sky. It had rained heavily few hours ago. I live in the first floor of a flat building that is part of a continuous row of identical flat buildings. facing our row of buildings there is another identical row and behind ours another and so on. Most of these buildings have been painted a long time ago and are now blackish. During cloudy days, these buildings appear like specters of a dystopian world – sad, isolated hollow accommodations with no hope or smile.

Housed inside this dystopian exterior, however, there is a different story. Each of the flats has two rooms, a kitchen, bathrooms and a balcony for those who live on first floors. For a family of grown people, it is rather small. But it feels like only yesterday when the house was so big for my brother and me. Growing up, we never complained of lack of space.

This table where I am typing out on my laptop was only four years ago piled with scores of books. I was in my final year of school, preparing for school-end and college entrance examinations. I had a hectic schedule. If there is hell, it is those two final years of school for me. I was studying physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer, English and Bengali and there were just so many textbooks and reference books that if I were made to stand beside the pile, I would soon be dwarfed. I slept little and complained much. I was continuously irritated and shouted at everyone. I had no time for myself, let alone anyone else.

In college, I moved out of my home. The first two years were miserable. I hated the place I stayed in. One of the walls of my room was plywood and it carried over the noise that my housemates made. I shared the tiny square room with two others and would wake up in sweats in the summer – it felt that the fan was miles away from me. Even in the daytime, we had to keep the light on. The food was gross too, but that I adjusted with, eventually. Not a day passed when I wanted college life to end as soon as possible, so that I could finally earn and live in a better place.

The last two years were comparatively better. I moved to another accommodation which was a lot airy and well-lit. Most of the boarders were working girls, and after a busy period in the mornings, the house would fall strangely silent. Of course no place is without its problems, and I had my share of pathetic experiences there as well, but I lived better there.

Life at college improved too. I met a great teacher who inspired me to do new things. I guess the learning curve was steeper towards the final semesters in college that the first four.

When I left the Kolkata, the city of my college, and returned home on the last day of June 2015, I was worried if I would miss the independence that I enjoy while living alone. But as much as I prized my freedom, I loved to spend time with family because I was soon to realize that the time with my family was going to end soon. Soon, I would be shifting to another part of the country and would probably visit my parents once in six months. There would be no eating together as a family and no endless soul-baring chats with my mother. The worst part is my family would be sadder than me when I leave.

My parents were never that successful with their finances. My grandparents were first generation immigrants from Bangladesh and could not provide well for their eight children. My father and his siblings did not receive proper education or food or clothes. By the time my father started his own family, he inherited nothing except few antiquated copper utensils. My grandparents lived with us until they died. Both of them were bedridden for about one year each before death. It was a huge strain on my father’s finances – my mother tells me now that at that point of time, our shop had literally become empty – they was no money to buy goods to sell. What a difficult time it must have been for my parents – to take care of my ailing grandparents and my brother and me.

The good thing about being educated is that you have more control over your finances. When you are well-educated you make smart investments, take informed financial decisions. My father provided for my living costs while I was in Kolkata, but he couldn’t make enough to cover my tuition fees. Whatever savings he had made went towards my admission. I took a loan which has now surmounted to an obscene amount with interest. Ever since my first year of college, I have felt perpetually weighed down with the burden of student loan – I worried when finally would I be able to pay it back.

As I start my career, I think of the same thing. Thankfully, I am more aware of my finances than my father. I do all my banking work myself – something I was fearful of when I started college.

Every year more and more millennials are moving out, flying to different parts of the country or different countries, altogether. When I look back now, I see the child version of myself hating every moment of childhood and wanting to grow up. Now, I am grown up and no matter how much I wish to squeeze Time in my hand to make the moments with my family longer, the days end. So do months. And soon, it will be October and I will move to another part of the country, to officially start my career.

I wish I never grew up!

The Cottony Clouds in the Blue Sky

The August sky outside my window is a shade of royal blue. White, cottony blobs of clouds float in that vast blueness. In the countryside of West Bengal, soon kash flowers will start to bloom, announcing the arrival of Durga Puja, one of the most celebrated festivals among the Bengali.

Even though I spent the first few years of my life in Guptipara, a small rural town in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, the more conscious memories of my childhood are engraved in the soils and air of Durgapur, my present hometown. Durgapur being a city, you won’t probably see sprawling kash fields by the riverside. So, for me the arrival of Durga Puja in Durgapur was marked by the bright blue skies filled with blobs of white clouds. To this day, the sight makes my heart leap with joy, because it is associated with my childhood. It reconnects me to my past.

My fascination for the white, cottony clouds date back to when I was four or five. At the time we were still in Guptipara. We lived in a house which was home to a big, joint family. Our family had to itself two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom separate from the house, a well for drinking water and lots and lots of trees: wood-apple, litchi, mango, jackfruit, banana plantation and teak. There was big yard surrounding the house on three sides.

All our neighbours had the same surname. The ones on our left were especially close to us. My mother says the grandpa-like figure of that house loved me a lot and I spent a lot of time with him. One day, I walked up to their house, attracted by a blobby, white mass on the ground next to their verandah. There was no one watching me at the time. I knelt down beside the white mass – it resembled the clouds up in the sky that I loved to watch. The clouds have descended to the ground! Wow!

I checked to see if anyone was looking and sheepishly touched the whiteness. It felt wet. Suddenly, someone came and said, “That’s shaving foam, sweetheart. Go wash your hands, it is dirty!”

Eww! Gross!

As I write this, I feel numbly certain that this incident had happened but I can’t exactly be sure that it happened the way I am writing. Was there really no one around at first? I have a feeling that I was indeed alone. Did someone actually tell me that it was shaving foam, or did I realize it myself? Again, I am not sure. There are memories like this embedded in the cells of my brain of whose existence I am vaguely, at times seriously convinced of, but can’t bet on them.

Do I really remember things as they happened? Or is it some dream that I believe to be a memory? These anomalies bite at the back of the writer’s mind; she wants the truth. She wants to see through the sepia-tinted lens of time and find out what little Arpita loved to do, who she played with, what she played with.

At times, I am certain of the events that occurred, but cannot point them to any particular year. I have tried asking my mother, but her memory is weaker than mine with respect to such anecdotes. She is one happy little woman who is content with the present. I have never seen her speak to us about the past nostalgically. Even when I ask her about it, she is factual about what she remembers. I do not see any hint of the sentimentality in her that according to poets, are associated with memories.

My father wasn’t exactly there when I was growing up – when we were in Guptipara, he stayed in Durgapur, manning our medicine shop, visiting us once a month. Even after we came to Durgapur, I saw very little of him as he was at the shop the whole day.

The only persons who might have told me about the first few years of my life, my paternal grandparents, are dead. I lost both of them before I was ten. I will revisit their story in a subsequent chapter.

Sometimes I feel sad, not being able to construct the first few years of my life. Somehow for me, understanding the past holds the key to understanding myself in the present. I can’t accept that those years have simply slipped off my cognition, alive only through some feeble memories on whose authenticity I am not sure I can rely.

Perhaps that is why I look for the broken toys in the few old family pictures we have, because they bring back memories of something that had been, something more tangible than my fading memory.

Copyright © 2015 Arpita Pramanick. All rights reserved. 

Note: This essay is part of an upcoming anthology. To read my fiction pieces, please check out the Short Stories on this blog. You may also buy my Kindle ebook, Bound by Life on Amazon. It is available for only $0.99 until 19th August, 2015.




Support your elders!

In 2011, I started college in Kolkata, about 170 km away from my hometown, Durgapur. The four years of college has been enriching to me in more ways than one – the most important being my enhanced appreciation for the elders in my life.

Before I left home in 2011, I was a sulky teenager. I had become fed up with everything my parents told me – I was tired of their nagging and complaints. To move to a different city wasn’t as painful for me as it should be for a person who’s leaving home for the first time. I remember, I did not shed any tear while the bus took me away to Kolkata with my father, while my mother stood with my brother at the bus stand, tears glistening on her cheeks.

It was probably in my second year that I started to appreciate the value that home held for me. By then, I was in a messy relationship. The place I lived in was dingy, I had to keep the light on during daytime. Space was scarce because the landlord optimized every inch for business. The food was pathetic. I had had enough of living alone. I wanted to be home.

I shifted to a different accommodation in early 2014. Around April this year, an elderly lady came to live with us. She had lost both her husband and her son in the space of two years and had been turned out of the place she rented. In her room at our paying guest accommodation, she kept framed pictures of her husband and her son. Because in my final semester I had less classes, I fast formed friendship with her. I sat with her and learnt about her life. She was born in a joint family. She grew up in the humdrum of North Kolkata. Even after her marriage, she lived with a big family. Later, as the decades passed by, the relations spread out as families became nuclear. To have her only loved ones taken away from her in quick succession was a terrible blow – having spent all her life among people, suddenly she was pushed into an ocean of solitude . But not for once did I see her shed a tear. She was a strong and kind woman. She laughed easily. She remembered the happy times she had spent, she said she had had enough happiness for one lifetime. When I asked her to walk with me in the afternoons, however, she refused. She said she was afraid of the outside world. I told her I’d be by her side, but in the one month I spent trying to convince her, I could not quite succeed. On the day I left the accommodation, I gave her my mosquito net as she complained of mosquitoes biting her at night. As a farewell gift, she gave me a cherished paper silk sari. I was deeply touched. I told her I did not wear saris. She told me, “Even if you don’t wear it, remember I gave it to you. It will remind you of me.” She kept saying how much she would miss me after I left. I knew it was true. I had called her once on her roommate’s phone (she did not have a phone) and also sent a picture of me in her sari.

Being in close proximity to her opened my eyes to facts. I realized that back home, my parents were also getting older and I had done so little to show them my gratitude. One day, I was home on a short trip. I was walking with my brother and mother. We stopped at a temple. There were two little girls – twins – coming out of the temple. One was trying to put on her chappal. After some time, she put the right one on the left and vice versa. The simple mistake made me realize how difficult it must have been for my parents to teach me right from left. I remembered faltering to read the time on the wall-clock and how my uncle (who’s in his seventies now) helped me. The simple things which I took for granted – being able to add, subtract or remembering the multiplication tables – seemed so difficult when I thought of teaching them to my kids in future.

Being away from home taught me to be self-reliant. I started to wash my own clothes, dry them and bring them down from the rooftop when the rains hit. No matter how tired I was after college, I had to do those tasks. I remembered how my mother urged me to wash my own clothes when I was in school, and I simply did not care. When my mother shouted at me for not helping her, when she was tired with the chores, I told her my brother wasn’t helping either, so why should I? I was always arguing.

When I had to eat the pathetic food in the places I lived, I realized why my mother asked me to help her with the cooking. All these little realizations have changed me from what I was in 2011.

But have I been able to mend my ways? I returned home on 30th June on a holiday until I start my first job. Before I returned, I promised myself I would try to be nice to my family. I promised that I will try to work towards better relationships.

I have been doing household chores since I came, but I realize my temper hasn’t changed one bit. I still get extremely mad when my parents criticize me. Yes, many times they do not have much reason, but I am not able to control my anger too. I shout back and criticize them. I had a major fallout with my mother three days ago. Things are back to normal, but I got a lot of things to work on if I have to make our relationships stronger.

For one, I have noticed that older people do not trust technology. My parents, especially my father, hate when I spend too much time on the computer. He keeps complaining that I am hurting my eyes. He doesn’t trust ATM machines – with regular mentions in the newspapers about people being robbed outside of ATMs, his worry isn’t too illogical. These people have grown in different circumstances and before they knew, the world turned digital.

For many of our elders, the generation gap is the main problem. With the turn of technology, as we spend more time on computers and smartphones, face-to-face communication has decreased.

To help our elders, we need to understand their views. We need to spend more time with them and make them understand our situations. By calm discussion, we can alleviate their concerns. These days, I try to have my meals with my parents. I try to engage them in conversation and help them understand the world as I see it. I am teaching my mother to use my smartphone.

It will not be an easy task to remove their prejudices entirely or remove their worries, but at least I have learnt to value their presence. We only have so much time to spend with the older people and we should make the most of it before it is too late.

Written as part of a blogging contest held by Kolkata Bloggers in association with Support Elders Integrated Care initiative.

Contest topic: “How have elders influenced your lives and how do you intend to support them?”