The Sultan Of Somaland

My dog is really special. I know, this is what every dog owner says. But, my Sultan is truly, truly special in a very, very special way. We understand each other. We talk to each other. I have a constant conversation going on with him all the time. We just look at each other and we know what we ought to be doing. We love similar foods. We love similar activities. For examples, both of us love chewing flowers. Both of us love rolling on the cold floor naked. I think he looks like me. I am not kidding! I read a survey that proved that dogs tend to look like their owners. We eat from the same plate. He loves eating Borolin, toothpaste… something that I used to do when I was a kid. He is a rebel. Just like me, if you call him a bad boy, you must explain why you are calling him a bad boy… or else he will keep arguing with you. He hates it when somebody points finger at him. He doesn’t take shit from anybody. It is November 2 today. This was the day, exactly a year ago, when I took him in my arms and got him home. He had swag even when he was just a month old. He would force his way into your lap and sleep, eat from the red little apple shaped plate and lift his hind legs into the air… he had spikes too! Sultan was an explosion in my life. He forced me out of depression like a hero. He is my hero. His arrival in my world was like an explosion of a million emotions that my heart had long forgotten. My Sultan is Sultan. The real Sultan. The one and the only absolute king who rules the center of my being. I love you, my baby! My life is unimaginable without you!

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Diwali post or post Diwali?

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We found our way to the other world!

Last night, we were on our terrace watching the sky lit up. The peace of watching the sky bloom like a shy bride, with the person you love, is incomparable. We had finished all our crackers. Tubri or Anaar has always been my favourite… Not the conical ones but the ones in earthen balls because they spill stars. We got plenty of them. We lit the sparkling fire-fountains one by one… and marvelled at them. It was perhaps the fourth or the fifth one, when I saw the smoke that silently goes up, unnoticed while everyone is busy watching the fireworks. The dark smoke creeps up like a rebel guest trying to escape an embarrassing party.

Later, when other people of the apartment were busy lighting up their crackers with family, kids, friends… we stole a quieter corner of the terrace for ourselves and saw the beauty of the Delhi sky on Diwali. A Faanush (sky lanterns) floating, bloated with promises and wishes, colourful fireballs doing all sort of acrobatics… we tried to imagine the talent of firecracker makers who manage to crumple and stuff their beautiful vision in a roll of cardboard with just layers of something so, so grey and dark.

And as the crackers lit up the sky and burst so close to us that it lit our faces and smiles, we could see our sadness and worries, creep out of us like jailbirds.

We woke up to the news how polluted Delhi air had become. We had felt the heaviness of the trapped ambitions, insecurities, worries, jealousy, adulthood in the air last night. Who could imagine that humans could derive pleasure from such a thing? Who invented firecrackers? Chinese? Who also invented kites? But who was it exactly? One man or woman? Who knew how to satiate the animal in each one of us and yet with such incredible beauty?

I just wish such beautiful things did not come with a price so heavy.

Mom’s the word

A department of the state government organized an essay and drawing competition for school students on energy saving and green planet. Several students across the state participated in the competition and during the award ceremony, it was observed that most of the winners were from the districts. They couldn’t be present during the ceremony to collect the award because of their examination and the hall was filled with students of city schools ~ the winners, participants and their friends to cheer them.

After the dignitaries had given their speech on the topic and cracked a joke or two to nudge them out of their afternoon slumber in the air-conditioned hall, the organizers invited some of the winners to share their views on energy conservation. The students (those who managed to reach the function compromising their study time) spoke and some recited poems while their parents gleefully clicked pictures.

Despite all the speech, it seemed the organizers were left with some extra time. So, they invited more students to come up on the stage and speak on the issue. As the children looked around to see who was going to speak next, cry of a woman tore the silence of the auditorium. The mother of a well-known English medium school was coaxing her son to go on stage.

In her moment of persuasion and when even after repeated requests, her son refused to overcome his stage fright, his mother gave a final push. “Taratari ja Babi!”

The son was finally on the stage. He looked around the audience. The high decibel of the mother has woken everybody up. Everybody in the audience had their eyes focused on the poor kid. The kid started off with his introduction.

The words about saving electricity tumbled out of his mouth very reluctantly and yet, her mother sat charmed, smiling and starry-eyed. However, about 50 pairs of eyes focused on him took away all his confidence and he forgot whatever he had though he would speak.

Blank, he stared at the audience again. And, in a desperate attempt to save himself from further embarrassment, hurried out of the stage after thanking everybody. As he took his seat with all eyes following him, his mother took him in her arms and congratulated him. Ah! Mothers!

Soma Basu

Strange meetings

In a conference for women entrepreneurs held recently, a considerable crowd of businesswomen had gathered.

Since the programme was named on a social problem and aimed to find a business solution for it, a large number of other members of the society also went to attend it. The mixed crowd had some mainly businesswomen, students, social workers and other who went there for individual interest.

Since, a very high profile personality had agreed to grace the occasion, many gathered at the last moment. The available seats were not enough for all and most of the people who reached even 10 minutes before the event had to keeping standing to the speakers.

An elderly lady standing beside the colleague was visibly uncomfortable with the situation. Her eagerness had brought her to the event but her age was making it difficult to stand for the endless speech.

After about another 15 minutes, a man was seen getting extra chairs. The elderly woman heaved a sigh of relieve and rested picked up her heavy jute bag once again to be seated on the chair the kind man was getting. But, just as the chairs were kept, some women, perhaps in their early 30s, jostled to sit on them. The women, evident from their looks, were either relatives of the organizers or somebody whom the public relation officer there would have wanted to give extra attention.

The women shamelessly took their seats as the elderly woman let her heavy bag slip once again to the floor in disappointment. What worse, after another three-four minutes they looked disapprovingly at the elderly lady standing very close to them, covered their nose and whispered something. As the speakers went through their rhetoric on sustainability, the women chatted on about shades of nail polish and boutiques.

Soma Basu

Heritage tour

Not many days ago, a colleague who takes an auto from Ultadanga to Sovabazar to come to office had to wait to wait for more than 10 minutes before she could get one. It was unusual as Ultadanga is such a place where one never has to wait for autos towards Sovabazar. Finally, an auto driver asked her whether it would be all right if she is dropped not exactly at Sovabazar Metro stop but somewhere near it. She readily agreed and took the seat next to the driver’s. The three occupants on the backseat were headed towards Sonagachi while the other two crammed in front belonged to Nimtola. No auto was plying from Ultadanga to the Sovabazar and Ahiritola ghat as one of their colleagues had died in an accident a day before. Scared that others might stop him, he took a route through the narrow lanes near Gouribari. And, soon lost his way. All the passengers became advisors instantly and the situation got worse. The confused auto driver then took whatever lane he could and tried to come out on the main road. And all this maneuvering took 45 minutes. The route is usually covered in 15 minutes. The auto went on from one lane to another. At some places, one of the passenger had to get down to clear the path as women squatted there washing utensils and men sat stitching quilts. In those 45 minutes, while the radio played old songs like Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi by Manna Dey and Lata Mangeskar, old discolored yet charming buildings in North Kolkata gullies revealed themselves. The 45-minute journey became more of a heritage tour. The auto dropped the colleague near Jaipuria College and sped towards Sonagachi.

Soma Basu

Lust For Life

Dr P Lal had a distinct way of entering the class. He would virtually float inside and keep his books on the table delicately. Look at the students. His eyes would move steadily from right to left and then back. And the commotion in the first year class of English Honours in St Xaviers College would subside gradually to pin drop silence. Then he would climb the teachers’ dais and sit as delicately as he had kept his books on the table. A colleague narrates the experience of her first class with Dr P Lal. The students had expected that he would tell them the subject he would be teaching them…whether it would be Thomas Hardy or Shakespeare or Blake. He opened the attendance register. Closed it. Told the students to introduce themselves. And then said that those who are not interested in the class may go out and have some fresh air. Although from the first glance most of the students had apprehended that his class was going to be horribly boring, nobody dared to get up. Then he told one among us to recite the first line of any poem. The students were given the freedom to consult books. One of us recited first line of Daffodils. From the second line on, Dr Lal continued. Students picked lines of Eliot, Witman, Neruda, Plath, Dickinson and so many others poets and Dr Lal recited them all without batting his eyes in his characteristic monotone. That is how the batch of first year students was introduced to Dr Lal. He narrated stories about himself and others. He once explained the reason behind his lean form. He said it was because of Gangrene. Students went out and shared the story with others and he would be seen shrouded in a strange mystery. After a couple of classes when some studious ones became impatient and asked him which part of syllabus he would be covering, he said that no syllabus can contain literature. For the rest of the year, Dr Lal taught the students how to love literature. The colleague said that the memory of those lectures were such that each time she comes across a book by Writers Workshop in a book store and felt the markings on the cloth-bound books with her fingers, Dr Lal’s voice resounds in her mind. The association had almost been distant but Dr Lal lives on in her love for literature.
Soma Basu

Dog’s love

A colleague’s love for dogs is immeasurable. He repeatedly confesses of dreaming about dogs. Golden Retriever, Alsatian and Labrador mainly feature in his dogland dreams. The quizzes he takes on the social networking site, Facebook, are like “what kind of dog were you in your previous life?” and “Which dog suits you the most”. One fine day he said he wants to have a Great Dane. Great Danes are normally very big in size. His friends threatened him that if he gets one they will never visit his house.
Watching dog videos and pictures on Internet is his favourite pastime. While he was looking lovingly at a picture of Great Dane that reached up to the shoulder of a man, one of his friends said that its not a dog, it’s a calf. He secretly started collecting money to buy one. He even stopped smoking and drinking alcohol to save money. But his younger sister who had been keeping a track of his activities and to whom he had confessed his wish told his father what he was up to. His father was already fed up of his son’s love for animals as his house resembled almost a zoo and stank of animals. He told him sternly that if another dog comes home, the colleague would have to look for another house for himself. Betrayed by his sister, he did not talk to his family members for several days. When last heard of, he has settled for a goldfish.

With love to Dianjan da,
Soma Basu

Comic relief

A colleague’s friend wished to read Nonte Phonte and Hada Bhoda, the popular Bengali comics all over again. All the comics in his collection were stolen by his younger cousins or were donated to some other friends. He asked the colleague to help him find some of the copies so that he could  ruminate about his early days. Without any second thought they headed towards the boi-para, College Street. Booksellers from the rows of shops invited them to visit their stall. “Didi ki chai bolun” echoed from every corner. But when the colleague’s friend, intimidated by so much of importance, named the books, their voices died down. None of the shops had any of the copies. The friend wanted old ones of course. Having failed at the quest they decided they should look for the new copies. They again started visiting the stalls asking for the comics. “These books are not easily available nowadays. Children seldom read comics. After all, such wonderful videogames are available in the market,” said a stall owner. They were further disheartened to see the door of Deb prakashan, publisher of the Hada Bhoda, closed. One of the stall owners who had been watching them said: “arey dhuke dekhun na. Dorja ta thelun (go inside and see, push the door open).” There were people inside. An elderly man in dhoti and kurta asked them what they want. And they came out smiling with several copies of Nonte Phonte, Hada Bhoda and Batul The Great. However, the colleague’s friend could not stop wondering why only one shop in the boi-para sells comics that the children of his time grew on.

Soma Basu

Friendly advice?

SOME men have a habit of becoming talkative with women on the road when the women have their ears plugged with headphones of radio or mp3 players. Autodrivers and bus drivers become increasingly vocal about their views when they know the woman addressed to would not be able to hear. When confronted they could easily say: “No didi, I was not talking to you.”
A colleague who had her ears plugged but her radio was not on was looking for an auto towards Salt Lake. An auto driver of another route asked whether she is headed to Baguiati. She heard him but since that was not her destination, she did not reply. Confident that she cannot hear him, the auto driver sang a lewd song and said, “Didi, if you keep your ears plugged how would you listen to better songs?” When she confronted him, the driver promptly said that it was for her benefit he was telling her to remove her headphone while walking. “Do you know how many people are meeting accidents because of this,” he said. The colleague’s fury knew no bounds and she started threatening him and demanded an apology. The other auto drivers sensed trouble and pulled him away after apologizing.

Soma Basu

Lunatic’s dance

At the dead of the night, apprehending trouble a colleague and other journalists from different media houses assembled near a city hospital where the junior doctors had gone on strike. The journalists were waiting near the gate, as they were not allowed to go inside where the trouble was brewing. A considerably large contingent of police was also deployed. All that could be seen was relatives of the patients admitted in the hospital trickling out in twos and threes. The colleague went to talk to them. They were narrating their harassment and how the junior doctors had told them to leave the hospital premises. Just opposite the gate of the hospital, a patient from the districts was also waiting. With urine bag in one of her hands and another held by her brother, the elderly lady was narrating how she had to wait for hours before being visited by a doctor. The journalists were diligently taking notes. All of a sudden, there were screams heard from the other end of the road. A mob of 200 people, including junior doctors, was rallying towards the main gate. When they approached nearer, it was seen that almost all of them had lathis in their hand. They shouted slogans. The cameramen and the journalists started walking towards them to hear what they had to say. When the doctors were just a few meters away from the group of journalists, somebody shouted “beat the media people up.” The journalists were then chased and beaten up. Almost all the cameras were either snatched away from them or broken. When they the mob retreated, the journalists assembled again at the other end of the road and waited the police to come to their rescue.
Shuddering after what had happened, they were even scared to collect their belonging that were scattered on the road and everybody was wondering what to do next. And as they all waited with bated breath, a lunatic danced on the road. She turned and found that the elderly lady with the urine-bag had also run for her life.
Panting, she sat near one of the shops.
The police came and asked strange questions. The lunatic danced on. A senior police officer arrived and the media men narrated the incident. The lunatic danced on. The woman on the stairs rested her head on her brother’s shoulders before fainting. And the lunatic danced on.

Soma Basu