Category Archives: Reflections

My Durga

Thursday had dawned like any other Thursday with the beep-beep alarm going off on the cell phone. A sickly dawn spread across the dark sky outside and the city paled across the river preparing for another day same as the last one. Continue reading My Durga

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Becoming Indian: Memories of Graduate Student Life in the US

This is the first apartment complex I stayed at. It's changed its name and management now.
This is the first apartment complex I stayed at. It has changed its name and management since my time.

It was all there. The little bits and pieces of India that had managed to pass through strict inspection. For some of us, it was in the form of three or four bottles of the leading brand of coconut oil, enough to last two years of our serious, nothing but scholarly existence in this well-populated university town in Florida. Enough to oil our heads and necks and the pages of our complicated advanced level cheaper Indian reprints of textbooks that had traveled with us through endless labyrinthine chutes of airport security.

Continue reading Becoming Indian: Memories of Graduate Student Life in the US

The phone call

The other day there was a sudden ring and a friendly voice on the phone. Unfamiliar yet somehow disconcertingly expectant. Sort of demanding almost.

“Hi,” said the voice.

“Hello.”

That was me in my most careful, professional manner at the unexpected intrusion, hiding that of which I’m quite not sure of myself. Wary.

“Do you know who I am?”
Continue reading The phone call

Peripheral friends

I remember a woman I met a long time ago who went hiking with me in California. She was a native of those mountains, having climbed those heights often in childhood.

Me, a city person, unused to those heights, kept lagging behind.

Every few steps she stopped for me, turned back, sometimes climbed down. Often, she would stop by the wayside to show me a berry, telling me which ones were edible and which ones could kill. I trusted her judgement instinctively, tasting a huckleberry for the first time or smelling a sage leaf. Continue reading Peripheral friends

Night

The river is completely dark. A solitary vessel is glowing  like a diamond-studded jewel on the inky black surface. The roar of the helicopters that criss-cross the sky all day is finally gone. The voices of the people who pass by speaking a dozen languages about office affairs by my window in the afternoons and evenings are all silent.

Even the gulls are gone.

A solitary lamp glows on my nightstand providing just enough light to illuminate my keyboard rather insufficiently. When I look outside the window I see circles of light on the concrete right below the street lamps in a straight line all along the river.

There is no one there. Yet I don’t feel alone.
Continue reading Night

A quiet walk on New Year’s eve

Every New Year’s eve seems like the brink of something momentous. As though we are suddenly standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon looking into a vast uncharted space where anything can happen. A second chance at things left behind in the old year. A significant mark on the graph of life.

I’ve celebrated this significant moment in many spectacular ways in years past commemorating  the glory that such a transition is in a way that matched the perceived momentousness of the event.

I’ve spent it on a revolving dance floor in front of the fog machine in Ybor City in Florida. I’ve watched glorious fireworks lighting up the night sky amongst hundreds of people in Las Vegas and Boston. I’ve brought back shiny stars and conical paper caps after parties in Calcutta.

And yet, this year was about a quiet walk by myself along the river towards a train station and a town square near the place I live. All urban, concrete, full of shadows, strangely quiet because of the cold at night.
Continue reading A quiet walk on New Year’s eve

Telling Stories (Part 1: The Confusions)

How is it that you tell a story?
What stories do you tell? What stories get left behind?
A myriad questions come to mind when I try to think of a story. Or stories. To tell.
Ultimately, I stand befuddled in tongue-tied confusion. Wanting to tell all and able to tell none.
All those stories in my head.
Recently, I’ve been able to figure out why. It all dawned on me in a single moment.

A woman thinking

I’m getting out of the train at the World Trade Center PATH station. It’s waves of people rushing out the doors stepping out with me meeting waves of faces waiting to get in. It’s waves of arms, legs, backpacks, boots, elbows, yellow caution lines and discarded metro cards on the floor (being trampled on incessantly by boots), a confusion of emergency phones on pillars, maps and defibrillator boxes all rushing at me in the crowd as I move forward.

Then, the feeling of moving up flights of steps and ramps and wide concourses, rising with the tide of people all the while saving my feet and elbows from getting jammed against suitcases on wheels and pointy heels and sharp corners of cardboard boxes. Finally the lightness of being deposited like a cork with the tide at the turnstiles.

Then moving up, and up, and up on the great escalators towards the surface from the bowels of the earth.

It’s then, when I’m very high above the turnstile level that something happens to me and I turn back. Always. Continue reading Telling Stories (Part 1: The Confusions)

Those readers in the train

Lily Furedi: Subway, 1934
Lily Furedi: Subway, 1934 (Photo credit: americanartmuseum)

I’ve been waiting  a long time for the PATH train at a station in Jersey City. The train will take me under the Hudson river to mid-town Manhattan. It arrives at last and I get in.

It’s not rush hour exactly though not everyone has got a seat. But it’s not so packed right now that someone will trample over your toes or elbow you out of their way to push themselves into or out of the train.

I notice a curious sight.

A lot of people sitting or standing inside the train are reading. Continue reading Those readers in the train

Durga Puja, Fall, Kashful and the city

বাংলা: কাশফুল
Kashphool. The real deal. via Zemanta. বাংলা: কাশফুল (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got out of my apartment building yesterday and there they were. A bunch of dried, white grass flowers framed by concrete next to a stern sign that read : “Private. Do not trespass.”

Kashful. Or its distant cousin has bloomed in Jersey City. Fall has touched even the concrete.

Kashphool
Kashphool in Jersey City? The World Trade Center is across the river. Photo credit: Bottledworder

Kashphool? Or Kashful? How do you approximate from Bengali? Wikipedia tells me it’s called Kans grass in English, a grass native to South Asia. (“Kans grass”! Sounds strange. Not much better than Saccharum spontaneum, apparently its scientific name.)

This Kashphool in Jersey City is different from the ones at home in India.
Continue reading Durga Puja, Fall, Kashful and the city

Cafes and the city

I’m writing this blog as I’m sitting at a café. Cafés have character and this has one.

This isn’t a big name-brand café but a very successful one. It’s in SoHo right in the heart of Manhattan’s artists’ studios and big fashion stores. The café is fairly full of artists and fashionistas while a new breed of finance professionals whose offices have moved here are drinking coffee here too. In fact, the latter comprise the majority. Continue reading Cafes and the city