Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Welcome, you have Arrived!

You had more faith in Newton’s law of Inertia than Newton himself and state of rest was all you ever wanted in life. This was not the world of your dreams and you have wife and kids who have been applying an external force to take them out. You sustain the force for a long time but it grows exponentially with time. You soon realize world peace is more important and even Newton would have chosen it if given a choice.  
Your wife says she wishes to go to a place that is popular yet pristine and you tell her that was an example of oxymoron. You complement yourself on wisecrack but anyways suffer the consequences for voicing that. You are now family’s odd one out and even the kids are on the other side of this divide.
You demonstrate your seriousness and surf the internet for a long time looking for various tourist sites. You search for hotels and flight discounts. During this time, you have gifted yourself spams for a lifetime. You start getting deals for hotel/airlines and there are even offers for baggage loss insurance.
You show all this to your wife as an alibi in being helpless in locating any site and you are reminded of ‘one that should not be named’ popups that have been receiving without any complain for a long time. You quietly open your laptop and book the first exotic holiday that appears on the website. You feel a large hole in your pocket and show the amount to your wife to salvage some pride. You get a consolatory pat on the cheek. Next few days are spent in shopping for suitable dress, hats and goggles and you are ready with an attire that screams ‘See how a tourist looks like’.
The D-day arrives and you board the flight. Your kids punish the flight attendant for committing the mistake of offering a candy one time. They also compete in who can press the flight attendant call button more number of times.
After a long arduous journey, you are at the hotel and it does not disappoint. All you want to do in the hotel room is to sleep on the soft bed and wonder why there is no such mattress in your house. You have competitive kids and they treat the bed as a Bouncy and demonstrate their high jump capabilities. You remember the fortune this booking has cost and do not ask your kids to stop. They also scribble their names on the hotel walls.  
Next day, you request the hotel to book a Cab and your driver is an English-speaking man. You now can only get impressed. He confidently tells you about the not to be missed sites and for next three days, you are his ungrudging hostage. You visit/do not visit places that he recommends and you sincerely want to live up in his eyes. You eat, drink and shop at places that he says befits your stature and you enviously calculate his cut in your mind.
Long traffic snarls in the place tell you that it is anything but pristine now. You buy chips packet, water bottles and cold drink cans like all other tourists to leave your own mark at the tourist spot. You still have to negotiate a long queue in entering tourist attractions and you haggle with salesmen and beggars during that.
Your kids take toilet breaks at odd places at odd times and locating a public toilet is now your favourite pastime. Soon you have experience of sniffing public toilets of various kinds and you realise finding a clean toilet would be the ultimate dream of any Indian voyager. You have also started appreciating Graffiti on the toilet walls. There are complex biological concepts demonstrated, love professed in pure primal forms and simple copulation described. You are confident that A L Basham named his book ‘Wonder that is India’ after having a look at graffiti on toilet walls.   
You reach a historical site and since you already have been tricked, you do not mind becoming a fool one more time. You hire a tourist guide at an exorbitant price. Soon you realise hearing him may spoil chances of your kids studying history any time. You spend rest of the time in reading information written at the spot to your children and the tourist guide. You extract your revenge by not buying anything from the souvenir shop that he guides you outside.
On last day, you buy Souvenirs for neighbours and relatives. One cannot miss telling them about the great time that you had and see their envy of not being at this site. You also duly click pictures at all places and make funny smiling face. You realize breathing out when the picture is clicked helps as it hides your family pack. You keep on doing that all the time. Once you are back, you get an uncanny feeling that your trip was a waste. You still post pictures on your Facebook wall.
You finally feel that your trip was a success when you have attained the objective of getting maximum likes!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

How (not) to Learn Swimming in Three Days Straight!

You dreamt about being Jack of all trades but you are already in mid-thirties and bereft of any skill in life. Being good in studies was your alibi for quite some time and now you have a strong urge to learn something but you happen to be shy; you also happen to be District Magistrate of the place where you reside. 

You think about exotic hobbies like scuba diving, or something refined like learning Urdu but then you notice your ascending waistline. You zero on Swimming and casually mention it to someone in the town. He tells you how he totally approves it, where one can begin and why swimming is important for one’s overall well-being in life. He tells all those he meets why you have made the right choice. You feel happy inside and promise yourself that once you are done with swimming, you will continue to learn new skills in life.

Next day a group of professional swimmers come for a friendly chat. They explain how joining them may be better and there is logic in their argument. Same day three other groups come and demonstrate their teaching abilities. You choose a pool which belongs to the government and by virtue of being District Magistrate, you also happen to be the President of its Swimming Society.

As you reach the pool, members of managing committee along with their family members (and some distant cousins/neighbours) are there to make you comfortable. They warmly take you inside and as you come out from the changing room in your swimming tracks, you feel their piercing eyes scanning your not so perfectly chiselled body. You are suddenly conscious of the long hairs emanating from various corners of your body and rush to get inside the pool.

The coach is extremely warm and tells you how simple it is to learn this art and shows you simple water exercises. You imitate them fast and he profusely praises your spontaneity. He prophesises you will learn swimming in three days straight. You dream about your sculpted body after days of swimming and toy with the idea of an Olympic gold but for the moment, keep it on hold.  

Next day you are chief guest in a public program and are suddenly woken up from your slumber by generous praise that speaker has unleashed about your swimming capabilities. He repeats the prophecy that you will perfect swimming in three days straight and now you can feel the weight of expectations of entire town. You sheepishly smile and wonder if anyone is still left to learn about your new endeavour in life.

Being diligent learner, you reach the swimming pool again on time and again a horde is there to welcome you inside. You enter the pool and find the coach smiling warmly. He today ups the swimming lessons and you find them difficult. You also realise that breathing water is not something that lungs like and your eyes complain that water of the pool has chlorine inside. Your performance today was not that you dreamt but you still have a day to master this art.

Next day, there is pain in muscles you never knew existed in your body. You still go to the swimming pool and the coach is there to teach some new tricks but you find them completely impossible. You feel that only thing that loves you in this world is gravity of swimming pool calling you inside. In your naivete, you share this thought with the coach who tasks you with touching the swimming pool floor with your hands. You try and try and try and fail at that. The coach murmurs words of motivation and ask you to continue but you have missed the three-day target.

You take a break for couple of days and decide to compromise Olympic dreams. You internalise that you enter the water to rejoice and learning to swim is incidental. You are back with full enthusiasm and the coach smiles at you but you feel he has chuckled. You behave with him like estranged couple and ignore him rest of the time. You keep punishing water by your slaps and you also try to slap it by your feet but gravity still wants you inside.

You go to the pool off and on but avoid looking coach in the eye. You find others who tell what you have been doing wrong and they make perfect sense every time. You discuss with them politics, climate change and career choice of their niece and rejoice. Soon you have discovered 10001 ways in which one cannot swim and feel like writing a book about that.  

Winter comes to your rescue and the pool shuts down. You blame it for not being able to learn this new trade but now you confident that your actual interest was in Badminton. You still wonder if you should mention it to someone in your town. Meanwhile members of the Swimming pool management committee (and other swimming clubs) visit you every alternate day and remind that pool would reopen next month.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Since You Have Been!

The flowers always bloomed, and were colourful too
The birds chirped on the trees, and sailed in far off skies
But since you have been,
Flowers glow in radiant colours, and smile at me
Birds now chirp melodies, and when I listen carefully
There are love songs in their humming

I adored winter mornings
When I could wrap myself in the blanket, and hold soft pillow for company
But now when you are next to me, mornings are welcoming, cosy
When I wake up from my dreams, I am happy, often smiling,
and I try to lull myself to sleep to relive that dream

I always loved poets and poetry, and felt I understood it
But now when I recite them to you
Those myriads of couplets, lost ages ago, come rushing to greet you
Those verses open their heart
And I live the poet and poetry,
I was happy in life, and enjoyed the solitude
I walked on deserted streets, or sat down and gazed the evening sky, 
Now when I am alone and look at the sky, stars twinkle in glory
There are new constellations, seen and unseen and if I stay there for sometime
They whisper pieces of poetry

I often think how to describe you,
As earthy smell of first rain, or morning dew in lush garden
Or silence of the mountains, or may be as gushing sound of a hasty spring
You are also like the colour of sky, with myriad hues on different times
And then I remember your laughter on a dull day, spreading cheerfulness all around
I feel you are like the sound of a train, waxing and waning
You are also like view of the world outside, from the window of a train
Lush green fields, Kids playing carefree,
Lotuses blooming in a deserted pond
When evening falls, passing lights of small towns
And a frail old couple, holding hands and walking

I always hated words but since you have been
I do not need them to talk to you
Since you have been
I believe in hope, kindness, beauty, eternity
I believe in all the beautiful things in life,
And did I tell this ever to you,
Since you have been
Love makes much more sense to me

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Eighteen Wishes for 2018!

1.     May you party like never before on new year eve and be sober next morning, may you always get complimentary drinks and may you eat pasta/ice cream and still reduce your waistline!
2.     May you click the perfect selfies, may you get hundreds of likes when you post it and may your life be as glorious and happening as on Social media profile.
3.     May your Angel Priya be as beautiful in real life as in profile pic!
4.     May your internet history always remain discreet, may you never find a TRAI blocked website and may you easily download whatever you are seeking!
5.     May IRCTC website never hang when you book rail tickets, may you find cheapest online air fares and may you never have travel/hotel deals popping up days after you have completed the journey.
6.     May your mobile never lose charge/balance whenever you need, may you find 4G internet at all places and may offers of Jio 4G internet be as good as they appear to be!
7.     May you win One Billion Pounds in online lottery, may your long lost relative in Honululu actually bequeaths you ten million dollars and may no one ever question your forwarded WhatsApp hoaxes!
8.     May you find cheap Popcorn/Coffee in cinema halls, may your chips packet have less air and more of chips and may you never repent midway during a movie loss of time and money. May your favourite actress/actor remain single even in 2018!
9.     May you never blink an eyelid when your wife/girlfriend asks if she is looking fat/pretty and may you never mix Yes and No in such scenarios. May you have a peaceful domestic life!
10.  May you be never disturbed when you are doing nothing and ‘doing nothing’ is treated respectfully.
11.  May you find socks matching your trousers and matching tie without even looking for it, may you always find the traffic signal green and may you get thirty minutes more of sleep and still reach office 15 minutes early.
12.  May your snores never be discovered while you attending a lecture, may plagiarism tracker fail to find anything wrong in your reports and may you never be caught plucking your nose during a meeting,
13.  May your weekends be free, may you go for exotic outings and may your vacation pictures be source of your social media friends envy.  May you always find clean public toilets when you are need it!
14.  May you successfully link Aadhar with PAN, Aadhar with Mobile and Aadhar with Bank Account. May you link anything with everything. May you be stupid enough never to feel stupid!
15.  May no items on new year resolution need to be repeated next year and may you not feel guilty after watching same repetitive ‘follow your passion’ movies.
16.  May you win debates on religion and politics and yet not lose any friends while debating. May your memory be good enough to recall anything you want and yet bad to keep your conscience clean.
17.  May the mosquito that bites you not be a carrier of Malaria, Chikangunia or Dengue, may you enjoy smoke if you want but are not forced to smoke smog like Delhiites and may you grow more hair than you lose.
18. May you find readers who appreciate satire and you are not asked to explain it. May in this new year, you have your cake and eat it too. Happy 2018!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Dear Students II

Chairman Shemford School, Principal, Faculty, Parents and Dear students, a Very Good evening!
I am extremely happy and honored to be present here with you tonight. I am as excited as you all are as I am not just a Chief Guest here but a father whose son performed tonight. I had butterflies in my stomach all the time. I compliment the students for putting up such a great show tonight. I am amazed by the potential that I see in all these kids and I am sure they are going to attain great heights in life.
And now coming back to my formal speech, I have been strictly instructed by my wife not repeat what I have already said so many times. I was also advised that if I want to tell anything to the children, I can tell them a story instead.
So, I will tell you a story about a boy. He was like you all in all respects, minus the special talent that you exhibited tonight. He watched TV cartoons, ate lot of candies and was little rude sometimes. I guess he was also slightly lazier than you all. He had loving parents who told him he should behave well with all and great teachers who told him he should work hard. They sometimes made sense to him and sometimes they did not.
One night when he had just got into his bed, he saw from his window that the weather was pleasant outside. There was cool breeze blowing and someone was humming a song. His eyes grew heavy and just then he saw a boy smiling. The boy said his name was Dream and he was here to be his friend. Dream was with him when he was sleeping but he could also see Dream with open eyes. Dream took him to the world of Cartoons, Chocolates and Cakes. Dream could also summon Super heroes, Monsters and Ghosts sometimes.
As he grew up, Dream told him that he should be successful in life. Dream also told him to learn new things or at least try but the boys was extremely shy. He slowly tried to run away from Dream. One-day Dream asked him to perform in the school play, like you all did just now but he did not like it.
He wanted to avoid dream and kept looking outside the window. It was raining heavily and he saw there was another boy getting wet in the rain outside. Before he could say anything, the boy came and said his name was Fear and he wanted to stay with him for some time. Since he wanted to avoid the Dream this time, he agreed to that.
Whenever Dream told him to do something big and not be shy, Fear said he won’t be able to succeed. Fear also told him that if he failed, others will laugh. Fear said only those who were lucky or extremely talented when they were born could do all that.  Slowly Fear also brought his two friends, Ignorance and Arrogance. Ignorance advised you should never worry about what your Parents or Teachers said and you know everything that is required. Arrogance told him that it was OK to be rude and bad. They whispered in his ears that no one loved him in this life. Slowly he was not a good boy and everyone wondered what had changed in his life.
One day it was a bright sunny day and he was playing outside. He saw Dream was just around and he asked Dream if he could come and sit nearby. He told Dream he wanted to do so many things in this life and if Dream could bring him Aladdin’s lamp through which he can realize all that. He had recently read the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp. Dream said he could invite Aladdin but his lamp was not of much help in real life but he knows someone who can help him achieve whatever he desires.
Dream called Hard work who told him that there was no magic in this world and if he wants to succeed in life, he has to believe in what his teachers, parents and his good old school text books said. Now whenever he felt shy or was not sure in life, he called hard work and took its advice. So, before his class tests he practiced many times. During play, he rehearsed his lines many times. Now Fear did not come nearby. 
Slowly being with Hard work, he realized that one needs to work upon how you are. You need to improve upon your weaknesses and play upon your strengths. You can do that if you try to understand yourself. He did not get all the answers but realized that asking questions was what mattered in life. He also learnt that if you know then you cannot and if you do not, then you keep knowing on and on. He decided to retain the twinkle in his eyes for new things of life.
If I think about it now, this boy did what he did because he worked hard, played on his strengths and believed in what dreams told him in his life. Friends I was that boy and I am so happy to share this tonight.
All these children performed so well tonight that I am humbled. Being here with such talented kids, I am reminded of the song by Louis Armstrong:
I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
They will learn much more, than I will ever know,
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world!
This was all I wanted to say tonight. And like it is done in all good old books, let me mention three morals of the story before I end.
1. You will never find Aladdin’s lamp in this life
2. Dream and Hard work can be your only true friends.
3. On cold dark nights, Fear will try to become a part your life but take help of Hard work to keep it out!

Thank you for listening to me patiently, wishing kids all the best in life!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Intimate Impressions of the People and the Place: Bengal/Burdwan

When I was a child, books were my window to the world outside. Books take you to places you have never been and show them in different perspectives through the eyes of the writer. The same happened to me about Bengal. I was always fond of reading and soon I took liking for the novels of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. I devoured his books fast, albeit their Hindi translated versions. I found his stories intriguing, most of which were about love and loss, and I was deeply moved with human emotions woven around. His portrayal of relationships was unmatched and his characters, especially women in the plot stood out that you found in any other novels. They were selfless and often deeply in love, and yet they had a strong sense of independence and self-respect. All these stories were set up in villages and towns of Bengal which provided a perfect background setting to the plot.
            This was my first impression of Bengal, the Bengal of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when it was still a pioneer in India and Kolkata was still the capital of the British Raj. I was born and brought up in Uttar Pradesh and stayed there during initial years but I was always fascinated by the mystic land of Bengal.As I grew up, I learned about other icons of Bengal, about the freedom fighters and revolutionaries, about Tagore and his influence on overall culture of this land and many other great things about this land.
            Of places in Bengal, I knew only about Kolkata. The image of Howrah Bridge, Victoria Memorial and Maidan represented this metropolitan. A good number of Bengalis stayed in our town and I often went to visit Durga Puja in Bengali habitations which were celebrated with full enthusiasm. Despite these impressions, I did not get an opportunity to see this place with my own eyes.
            A dream is a dream and when I entered IIT Kanpur from where I did my engineering, the image of this place was not so perfect in my mind. I had started following national affairs with keen interest and the outside world was not very kind toWest Bengal. The place had earned a bad name due to bandhs/strikes when all life came to standstill. There were horror stories of how trains were kept standing at the same place for hours and hours and there were kids playing cricket on otherwise busy Howrah Bridge and Kolkata by lanes. The globalisation was taking States of India on road to development and it appeared that West Bengal was not moving with the same pace as rest of India was. It was known as a place where development had come to a grinding halt. Kolkata had long lost its place to Bombay in being the economical capital of India. As a person who was in a way infatuated with the past image of Bengal, I felt sad.
            After passing out from IIT Kanpur I started working at a multinational firm. The pay package was fine but soon I got disenchanted with lack of motivation to excel in private sector. I wanted to create a difference, howsoever small and soon it was clear that private sector is not a place for that. I decided to take Indian Administrative Service (IAS) exam.    I worked very hard and finally got selected in this exam.Officers in IAS are allocated states (cadres) where they are supposed towork for rest of their lives. In a way, the cadres allocated become their actual homeswhere most of the officers end up spending rest of their lives. As fate would have it, I was allocated West Bengal cadre!
            West Bengal had a pretty bad name as a cadre and our colleagues made fun of us for being allocated to West Bengal. There were hundreds of stories of gloom and West Bengal was a place where officers were not allowed to do any work. It also had a name for having the worst work culture, where drivers threw key on your face at 5’o clock in the evening and no one listened to you or worked. There was fear of impending gloom in our lives.
            I started my training at Administrative Training Institute Kolkata. Infrastructure here needed improvement, Ambassador Taxis gave an impression of an era gone by but, somehow, I did not feel bad. All this had a kind of old world charm, a world where many things other than money also mattered in life. This place had a flavour of its own and I went along. Of the various things told about West Bengal, I still remember what was told to us about the uniqueness of Bengal. India is primarily a landmass that stretch from Himalayas range in North till the sea in South and only West Bengal had distinction of having both,the Himalayas and the sea.
            My district training was at Bankura and this was my first interaction with Bengal. Bankura stint is personally dear to me as I got married here and also, we set up our first independent house at Raipur block when I held the charge of BDO for four months. The place was Maoist infested, underdeveloped and no one spoke a word that was not in Bengali. I picked up Bengali faster than my batch mates because there was no other alternative to survive in this place. In this place, I learnt the indispensability of mosquito net. Our private joke was that without a mosquito net, if you do not fall prey to malaria, you can be sure of anaemia at least. Snakes were another common feature of this place that came and went by. They had more claim on that compound than we had.And then, there was these millions and millions of ants who appeared unannounced, made large black patters on the wall and vanished as fast as they had arrived.
Life was different but people there ensured that we had no discomfort. They took extra effort to get whatever we needed. When I got my farewell there, I found people crying, and there was a lump in my throat, something that I have not been able to avoid in all subsequent farewells. This was the place that turned me into an officer from a young inexperienced trainee.
            After that, my first posting as an SDO was at Alipurduar. North Bengal is beautiful beyond words and I had to  travel to Jalpaigudi that was the then district headquarter from Alipurduar and in that three-hour road journey, lovely mountain ranges of Bhutan  accompanied me on the highway. Some days, we could spot wild elephants on the road and they would disappear as discreetly as they had arrived. SDO Alipurduar had a beautiful bungalow with a lovely balcony. When it rained, it poured for days on and on and we just sat there and watched the incessant rains. During nights, the entire garden was lit up by thousands of fireflies and one has to witness it to believe how majestic it looks.
            My next five years were spent in Kolkata in three different stints and I totally fell in love with that city. Kolkata grows upon you and once have stayed there for long enough, you find it hard to adjust to any other place. Now, I can appreciate why Kolkatans find it hard to work in any other city. Kolkata was also the place where I started enjoying the cultural life of Bengal. I got introduced to plays that took place in different auditoriums of Kolkata. I watched the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Raval and Anupam Kher perform. The majestic beauty of listening to Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma on the banks of Hoogly at Princep Ghat is a memory that we will cherish for a lifetime. I also witnessed cricket matches at the famed Eden Gardens. Eating out on Park street and visiting the Oxford book store were always our favourite past times.
            In IAS, the most prominent job that one gets is that of a District Magistrate and I got my first posting at Darjeeling.It is and has always been a complicated place but not many hill stations in our country can claim to be as beautiful as Darjeeling. I had stayed at Mussoorie before during our IAS training but I found Darjeeling much more beautiful that it. All our weekends, we had an option to stay out at any exotic location and each place turned out to be more beautiful that all that we had previously seen. I was fortunate that Darjeeling remained peaceful during my tenure and we could enjoy the place and its beauty. Some of the tea garden bungalows we stayed at turned out to be more beautiful places that the best five-star hotels I had seen.
During my stint, Kalimpong district was carved out of Darjeeling and after nearly two years, I was posted as District Magistrate of Burdwan district. Again, I had to bifurcate Burdwan, into Purba Bardhaman and Paschim Bardhaman and till date I hold the distinction of being the only District Magistrate to have bifurcated two districts.
My posting is Burdwan was sort of my coming back to the real Bengal. Burdwan always had a prominent place in West Bengal. This place has lush green fields spread across the district. Three major rivers, Damodar, Bhagirathi and Ajoy flow across it and keep the land fertile. The place has excellent rail connectivity and is a prominent town on Grand Trunk Road. It has everything that any perfect human habitation needed; fertile land, water source, moderate climate and good connectivity. It has rich culture and history and this place was the perfect rural setting of Bengal that I had read about in the novels of Sarat Chandra and Tagore.
            After bifurcation of Burdwan, Purba Bardhaman became primarily an agricultural district with a rich cultural heritage. This place still is the rice bowl of West Bengal and out of the total paddy procurement of the state, Purba Bardhaman supplies major share. Farmers of Burdwan owing to the fertility of land, unlike that of many other places are comparatively well to do. Burdwan town is big enough to have all modern amenities yet it has a flavour of small countryside towns. Burdwan Raj, ruled by efficient Mahtabs, had a major contribution in the development of this place and their insignia and other symbols are still present all over the place. Till today, Curzon Gate built by the Mahtab’s is the most recognised symbol of Burdwan town. Burdwan Raj also took special interest in education and Raj college is one of the oldest colleges of Burdwan. Burdwan University has been set up on the buildings and land donated by them.
Another distinct feature of this place is fame of its sweets. People all across India know about sweets of Burdwan and this time when I went back to my hometown Kanpur, everyone demanded sweets from this place. Mihidana of Burdwan has already acquired Geographical Indiactor(GI) tag and soon Sitabhog and Langchawhich are other specialities of this place should acquire the same. In UP, there are some wonderful sweets but back here, sweets are less heavy, have less sugar and yet they taste better. This is probably the speciality of sweets of this place. I have stopped consuming ‘Chena’ back home as my standards have been significantly enhanced.
After a long time, I stayed over at Durga Pujo and I witnessed the festivities closely for the first time. It would be injustice to this place if I do not describe it. DurgaPujo or let me be correct technically, Pujo is an event that Bengalis wait for entire year. A year can be divided in two parts, ten-twelve days of Pujo and other days which lead to it. All events are described if they happened before Pujo or after. If you realise that crowds have multiplied many times in the market, it is taking infinitely long time for the tailor to stich your suit and queue at the hairdresser has increased, Pujo is at doorsteps. 
 Human creativity can be seen at best during Pujo. Every year you get amazed by the creativity of Pujo pandals and the world they capture in it, and again next time year you find pandals have surpassed what they achieved a year ago. Somewhere there are Angkorvat temples, at other place kingdom of Mahismati from Bahubali movie has been created and at another pandal you are inside an aquarium with beautiful aquatic animals surrounding you.
More than the pandal, you get impressed by the Durga idol, or Thakur. One has to love goddess from all heart to imagine her in various moods/colours. The innovativeness of Thakur has to be seen by one’s own eyes to be believed. People wait in queue for hours to visit these pandals and the city comes to life for the whole night. 
The uniqueness of the Pujo also lies in the fact that it is festival that you celebrate with community. Lakhs of small neighbourhood Pujos are celebrated and you see the spirit of community in it. For days, everyone eats together from a common kitchen. For many it may come as a surprise that fish and meat often form a part of the Bhog, which is a complete meal in itself and occasional boozing is not frowned upon. Women of the family manage Kitchen and organise events/competitions and kids have a blast. Men sit together chit chatting, watching and coordinating and there is dance and music all around. Bengalis are also rich culturally and Pujo festivities is a reminder to that. Everyone can either sing, dance or recite. People of all religion staying in the neighbourhood participate in the Pujo and join hands in organising it.
If you still find it difficult to get a feel of it, imagine a wedding of your close relative where all of your friends and family gather. You meet people with whom you grew up and catch up with everything that happened during this time. Women of the house dress in their best clothes and jewellery and kids run riot with distant cousins. Entire neighbourhood becomes a big family during that time and those three four days are complete bliss to be remembered for a lifetime. Now swallow it, Bengalis get to celebrate that same wedding every single year. 
Bengali women are more liberated than their counterparts in many other parts of the country and you can sense it with their involvement in Pujo. They look stunning in their sarees which they drape with élan and elegance. Everyone is in their best dresses and people get different new attires for different days. After Pujos, it is an uphill task for many to back to their mundane lives, something of the sort that we felt when schools opened after summer holidays. I never thought that Pujas of this magnitude would take place in Burdwan town and I fortunate that I was here during Puja festivities.
Various other developmental activities have been planned in and around Burdwan. A new Rail Over Bridge is coming up near Railway station that will significantly reduce the congestion of Burdwan town.Many road widening projects are being taken up out of which GT road widening in the town is worth mentioning.Mati Tirtha has been developed at Mati Mela ground by the government and every year and aseven-day long Mati Mela is organisedat this place. During this period, award winning farmers from entire state are felicitated from this place. To promote unique sweets, a Misti Hub has been constructed.
Government is also giving a lot of thrust on development of Tourism. This place is full of historical importance and various historical buildings are being renovated and made accessible to the tourists. Watching birds in country boats at ‘Chupi’ lake at Purbastahali would compete even with Dal Lake of Kashmir. This place has immense potential for religious tourism as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had strong connection with this place and temples relating to this sect are spread all across.
Such developmental activities are being taken up not only in Burdwan but across West Bengal. The plan expenditure of the State Government has multiplied by almost four times during the last six years. Various new schemes like Kanyashree, SaboojSaathi, Shiksha Sree etc have bene launched by the Government. All this has resulted in significant socio-economic development and West Bengal has again found its feet back on development. In almost all centrally sponsored government schemes, West Bengal is doing much better that most other states.
Having been in this place for last ten years, I not repented being here for a single day. There is something in the people; there is something in this land which I still find mesmerising. In fact, I now feel more at home in West Bengal than in my home state UP. I feel both Burdwan and West Bengal are places where a lot of potential still exists and once it is utilized, these places will be no less than any other place in the world. Well begun is half done and last six years have proved it.
 I might not have been born in this place but whenever I think about this land, I am reminded of these lines by Dwijendralal Ray:

ধন ধান্য পুষ্প ভরা, আমাদের এই বসুন্ধরা,
তাহার মাঝে আছে দেশ এক সকল দেশের সেরা,
ওসে স্বপ্ন দিয়ে তৈরী সেদেশ স্মৃতি দিয়ে ঘেরা
এমন দেশটি কোথাও খুঁজে পাবে নাকো তুমি,
সকল দেশের রানী সেযে আমার জন্মভূমি,

Fields of golden grains, meadows of fragrant flowers,
Two delights from earth of her many natural treasures,
Nestled within is a place divine set far above all measures,
Created from dreams anchored by memories,
Nowhere else a place of such luminous glories,
This the Queen of all lands on earth,
This the land of my birth, the hallowed land of my birth,

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Of Being Important and being the Main Man!

You always wanted to be an important man. You prayed to God and as luck would have it, God agreed to that. Ok, almost did that!

So here you were, in a profession where you became the locally available, affordable, approachable and still reasonably acceptable Chief Guest for various occasions. You were invited as Chief Guest in local book festivals, you were called to preside over at cultural events and then you were cutting ribbons at Puja pandals.

The people who invite you are humble, respectful and they make your life miserable to ensure there is Chief Guest at their event. They forward Good morning messages along with hoaxes on whatsapp, send Facebook requests and ask when they meet next why you were yet to accept that and call thrice a day to verify that you haven’t yet changed your mind. You get nightmares of being K..K..K..K Kiran from movie Darr being stalked by Shahrukh Khan.

You want the event to get over quickly and commit the mistake of reaching on time. Even organisers are surprised/disappointed to see that. They have been wrongfully denied the opportunity to call you couple of more times.

You are given a warm welcome by showering flowers as it befits a worthy Chief Guest. Slowly the soft flowers give way to Marigold petals and showering get converted to throwing them with force on your poor self. Some kids relish at hitting bulls eye and soon there is a barrage of hitting petals on your eyes, neck and your head. You feel the pointed petals sticking on your sweating self and finding way to strange corners of your body and you rush towards the dais to save yourself.

There you realise that the organisers did not trust you all this time. There is a horde of back up Chief Guests occupying the dais. The number of people on your side exceed those sitting in front as spectators and you feel like volunteering to sit in front but hold on. You also wonder how round table inaugurations would be perfectly workable in such scenarios and would also save the cost of a dais.  

You want this ordeal to end but there is one co-chief guest yet to arrive and you wait on and on and curse yourself for arriving on time.  You make small talk with person sitting next and share their concern about weather, politics and academic future of their child. You stretch your cheeks to portray how privileged you are to sit on this side of the dais.

To the relief of all, program finally begins and the announcer starts by eulogising about their organisation, its history and importance of this event. You now know that in the history of mankind, there never was or will be an event more important. Then the announcer turns her attention on your kind self. You discover virtues you never had and learn about your accomplishments in life. If you happen to share your name with a person who topped IAS exactly fifteen years back (Anurag Srivastava, IAS, 1992), you always got credited for that. You feel like you are betraying them as Chief Guest.

You are dying to finish this fast and rush along with others to light the auspicious lamp to ceremonially inaugurate the event. They have put a nicely decorated beautiful lamp stand but nobody thought they may need a matchstick to light that. A kind soul discreetly brings out a cigarette lighter but the lamp has a mind of its own and takes its time to comply. It is followed by a cultural performance which is not bad but you stare at the back of the performer as she was facing the crowd.

The speeches begin and go on and on and since you are the chief guest, you get the privilege to speak at last. In the meantime, you have thought about this article’s draft, checked your social media messages myriads of time and you also found yourself napping a couple of times. Suddenly your name is announced and you rush towards the podium. As you hold the mike, you have forgotten the name of this event but you vaguely remember what it is all about. Also, you were haunted by their calls but now you do not recall name of any organiser. You mumble few words about how great this event was, how great were its organisers and basically how great all of us are. You thank them for considering you worthy of this job but you only see yawning faces in front, as bored as you are.

The organisers still diligently clap when you end. You want to run away but they are profusely thankful that you could make it to the event and hold you on for a cup of tea. There you are made to swallow a plate full of desserts (read calories) and you promise to yourself that you will not commit this mistake ever again in your life.

Next day you commit yourself to another event.

PS: This is an exaggerated version of all what actually goes around. The writer, who incidentally is a District Magistrate, is profusely thankful to all the organisers who ever thought him to be worthy of being Chief Guest at their event :)