Tag Archives: relationship

The Happiness Project | Day 2

As human beings, it is definitely important to be civil. We should be polite to people when we speak to them. But how often are we able to do it?

Over the years, toxic wastes that are not handled accumulate in relationships. We do not see their effects right then and there, but the cracks are already forming. And when they show, they are too ugly and we just can’t see how the people we knew could be that way.

I feel the best way to stay sane in life is to expand our horizons, to do a variety of things, to keep our brains involved in different things. When that does not happen, our minds think about the same things day in and day out, and we end up not only ruining our days, but for others as well.

People in suburbs and small towns face this lot more often than in big cities. Their lives are limited to their neighborhoods, their workplaces and the thoughts of making ends meet. For example, for my parents, their focus through the years that my brother and I were born and grew up, was to somehow hold the family together, manage the finances and ensure there was food on the table and education for the children. In the process, they forgot to explore their own likes and dislikes, forgot to explore who they were as people, what they liked to do for themselves, etc.

Now that both the children are away from home, they do have time on their hands, but not a variety of things to do. Eventually, they end up worrying about us, all the time. The phone conversations reflect that. The news reports they read have almost always to do with how people get killed in traffic or food adultery, and they parrot it to us so that we can be careful while walking on the road or while ordering food from outside.

None of this is bad. It is good to make your children aware of things that are important. But if the only news you feed them is of the negative things that are happening around the world, it does not really help much.

For the most part, I am myself quite negative about the states of affair of the human world. If I am being given some information, I would rather want it to be something positive that is happening around us. Our childhoods were amazing because when we read newspapers we would see amazing news of innovations in the worlds of science and technology. Those inspired us to become better than who were were, because they inspired us to be part of a world that we did not know.

Today, I am inspired very little. By myself or the world around me. That’s perhaps the most significant thing that is different from the world now and the world then.


‘Us’ does not exist

I have seen them in the traffic jam, in the lines of waiting crowd, when she sat back on his bike and caressed the dog peering outside the window of the car next to them.

I have seen them in front of the museum; him holding the kid in his arms, her trying to find something desperately from the cheap green faux leather bag. Perhaps, she was fishing for the blue handkerchief to rub the snot below the baby’s nostrils, or the bubble gum to keep it silent.

I have seen them in shopping malls, sitting together with big cups of coffees on small white table, flanked by matching white chairs. She had a brown leather sling bag and long leather boots. He looked chic in a pair of blue jeans and white shirt.

I have seen them in buses, in the metro, in the pool cab that I take to save money that needs to be paid towards the bills.

I have seen the love, the care that flows between a man and a woman. The care that one finds in little day-to-day things. The way the girl on the bike holds onto her boyfriend in black leather jacket in one hand and in the way she caresses the dog with the other. I have seen the attraction in the eyes which reflects the coffee table. New love is always fire.

The married couple in the front of the museum can be just about anyone, with a kid early in their marriage because he did not believe in planning and she had no choice.

Perhaps, they had fought on the way to the museum. Her bickering about the nagging kid, him tired of her tantrums. Perhaps, the boy on the bike is going to drop the girl off for good and ride his own separate direction. Maybe, the couple on the coffee date will no longer meet for the next one, because she speaks a little too much and he turns out to be a snob.

But, in the moment that I see them, in the moment my heart skips a beat at the sight of people doing ‘couple’ things, I miss you.

I miss you on my way to work, when a random stranger walks by wearing the same perfume that you wear. I miss you when I re-record songs in a broken voice and send to all the people who do not matter, but stop before sending to you, because I no longer can.

I miss you in them. I miss us in them.

Us does not exist.

You and I do.

In separate cities, in separate worlds evolving around us.

(c) 2017 Arpita Pramanick

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?”

Farewell, my love – A Vignette

They sat across the table, sipping their last cup of coffee in the softly lit coffee shop. A crass English song played loudly just above them. For the third time, he said to the waiter, “Can you please turn down the volume?”

“Yes. Right away, sir.”

The sound level decreasd. He looked at her. She glanced back. Behind her glasses the skin below her eyes shone. A teardrop waited at the corner of her eyes.

“Guess this is it then. The last time.”

“Yes. Last time, until we meet again, that is.” He stirred the coffee with the spoon. After all these months, the day had finally arrived. Tonight at eleven, he’d catch a train to a new city. Day after tomorrow, he’d start his new job there. She’d still be here, pursuing her bachelor’s in botany.

He toyed with the wristwatch on her hand. She put her palm in his. He felt the same warmth in their contact that he had always felt.

She opened her mouth to say something, but her voice choked.

The wall-clock showed it was eight p.m. He had a bus to catch – he lived in a different part of the city. She saw him eyeing the time on her watch.

“Let’s go, then.” She ran her fingers through her hair and pursed her lips and took her purse from the table.
“I’ll be a minute,” he said as he walked to the washroom.

She stared around her. People were sitting around other tables. A girl with her boyfriend. A married couple. A man working on his laptop. Three married women. She had seen most of them every day she came here with him.

Tomorrow, all these people will still come here. Only, not me.

The coffee shop was their secret hideout. None of their families knew about their relationship yet. “After I get the job and you’ve completed college, we’ll speak to them”, he had said. She didn’t disagree. He was barely starting his career. There was time. But for all this to end, no more seeing each other, merely texting and calling and skyping – suddenly everything seemed too restrictive, too cruel. It’d probably be six months before he’d get a long holiday to come home. Six months before they’d hold hands again. Six months till they’d watch a movie together. Six months before she’d look at him in the eyes as he toyed with her hands. Could she do it?

“Let’s go,” he said. His wiped his face with the kerchief. Always, always he washed his face in the washroom before leaving the coffee house. Always, he came out of the shop rubbing his face with the same blue kerchief.

He clasped her hands as they waited to cross the road.

For the final time, they walked on the deserted street. Though both of them could catch a bus or cab home from the coffee shop, they preferred to walk towards her place. Never to her home, though. They’d separate near an alley that led to her street. It was a thirty minutes’ walk from the coffee shop. Then he’d catch his bus. He’d pass the coffee shop again, ten minutes later, watching it through the window of the bus.

“Nothing will change between us, right?”

“Not a thing,” he said and pressed her hand.

“I know,” she said. She knew it was true. “But it won’t be the same again.”

“It won’t,” he said, “but we’ll be here again in six months. And we’ll walk like this, hand in hand. And that is all that I will dream about for the next months. That is enough for me.”

“Yes, it is enough. For you. Not me.” She said.

His mouth found hers as her tears fell. Their hands were clasped in firm embrace.

© 2015 Arpita Pramanick

In conversation with author Joanna Barnard

Joanna Barnard is the winner of 2014 Bath Novel Award for her first novel, Precocious. It is coming out on 2nd July and is now available for pre-order on Amazon. 

Precocious is about Fiona, a woman who meets and starts an affair with her former English teacher. Interspersed with the present-day relationship are flashbacks to her time at school and the crush that developed into a relationship back then. Events unfold that force her to re-visit her version of the past.

Joanna is also a fellow WordPress blogger. Her blog-post about the initial struggle to find a publisher for Precocious (which was then called Being Different) to finally winning the Bath Novel is a brilliant documentation that every newbie author must read. You can also read about her journey as an author in this beautiful interview.

In conversation with author Joanna Barnard

Interview by Arpita Pramanick

In one of your blog posts you mention that you wrote your first story aged six, and published one in an anthology when you were nine. So, should we say you have always wanted to an author?

Definitely! I had other ambitions from time to time (I even wanted to be a nun, briefly, probably because I thought it would be like The Sound of Music!), but I always came back to writing.

How has life changed since the Bath Novel Award?

The award was a huge turning point for me because that’s how I met Juliet, who’s now my agent. From there followed the publishing deal with Ebury and the opportunity to write full-time. So life has changed dramatically and it’s really exciting.

Was giving up your day job post-Precocious an easy choice?

Yes and no. It’s nerve-wracking leaving behind a secure job, but I wanted to devote my time to  writing the second book. I knew it might only be short-term but I think if you get the chance to live your dream, you should go for it!

Precocious is written in second person. Was it easy writing in this POV? Is there any special reason for choosing this point of view for this book?

Well, it’s first person technically because it’s narrated by Fiona, but it’s addressed to Henry [the teacher] so yes, it reads like second person. There are some challenges with keeping up the ‘you’ voice for a whole novel, but it felt right for the story. It works in terms of the plot but more importantly, it’s true to Fiona’s character: she’s obsessed with Henry and thinks of everything only in relation to him.

You are currently working on your second book as part of your two-book deal with Ebury. What is it going to be about? Have you decided on any names yet?

I’m undecided on the title and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a family story told from multiple viewpoints – it starts with a child getting hurt and everyone has a slightly different version of events. The family starts to implode as all their secrets and lies come to light.

Does the extensive editing process for your first book make the writing process of the second book easier?

Sort of. I suppose the experience of the first one means I know what to expect, and what ‘good’ should look like, but this can be restricting in a way, too. The temptation is to ‘edit as you go’ and try to make each sentence as perfect as it can be, first time around, but this prohibits you getting the story down. So at the moment I’m trying just to write, finish the first draft, and worry about edits later!

For your first book there was no deadline, but there was no promise of getting published either. For your second book, there is a deadline, and you know you’re going to be published and read widely. Does the deadline add to any pressure?

Well, first of all, it’s a really nice position to be in so I would never complain! And as pressures go, there are far worse. But yes, it’s a very different experience having a deadline. There’s that sense that you’re writing ‘for’ someone, whereas with Precocious I never knew whether it would ever be read by a wider audience. Also, I’m really proud of Precocious, and I want to improve as a writer, so I challenge and put pressure on myself all the time to make this book even better.

In this fast changing world of publishing where more and more authors are going the ebook and self-published way, do you think a newbie author should still give traditional publishing a try? If yes, then why?

I think there are pros and cons to both and authors should think about what they’re trying to achieve. From my perspective, a major advantage of the traditional route is scale: you will get wide distribution in a way that is very difficult to achieve going it alone. But also, if you’re lucky (as I have been) you will get a team of people around you who are incredibly supportive and whose guidance will help improve your work. Writing can be a lonely business as it is

I have been following your blog and see that you often share short stories on the blog. Have you ever thought of publishing an anthology of your shorter works?

Not yet, but you never know! I actually find short stories really hard to write, but I like to use them as ‘exercise’ when I need to get away from the novel for a bit.

If Joanna Barnard is not writing, what is she doing with her time?

Spending time with my son, who’s five. He’s a total joy at the moment. I’m also studying – I’m training as a psychotherapeutic counsellor, so that takes up quite a bit of time, both theory and practical. I read A LOT. I also love walking and, occasionally, running – I think it’s important to get fresh air and exercise when you spend most of your day sitting at a laptop or notebook!

Lastly, where do you see yourself in the next five years of your writing career?

I know I’ll still be writing novels and I hope that people will still want to read them! That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and all I wish for.