Tag Archives: culture

Festival Art and Ephemerality: End of Durga Puja 2014

It was Durga Puja. The air was full of the non-stop beat of pujo’r dhaak (drum), music, microphone announcements, children’s elocution recitations, honks of a thousand cars, autorickshaws, rickshaws, voices of screaming kids and parents, lost and found announcements, children bursting crackers in their toy guns (“caps”) that went off with loud booms, pujo mantras (incantations) and loud ghanta’s (pujo bells) for the last five days.

Now there is all silence.

Pujo Pandal. Gigantic boat on the Ganga where the waters are blue hands lifted upward asking to be saved (Ganga Aaamar Maa--Burosibtala, Behala)
Pujo Pandal. Gigantic boat on the Ganga where the waters are blue hands lifted upward asking to be saved (Ganga Aaamar Maa–Burosibtala, Behala, Calcutta)
Buroshibtala Pujo, Behala
The water is a million hands (top) and inside the pandal it’s cool (AC’s) with scattered fish, mermen, rowers and underwater creatures (bottom two pictures).

The roads were full of streams of crowds from all walks of life, mostly youngsters and huge groups from distant parts of the city and outside suburbs walking along the roads inside bamboo barricades, dressed in their best new finery (some of which had zari borders that glowed in the dark). They had to stop at police ropes at intervals, taking tiny detours around sleeping dogs who seemed pretty nonchalant, considering the crowds who were desperate to see the pujo pandals, either patiently waiting or getting into skirmishes with police and volunteers, lifting their hands as far above the million heads as possible to take pictures, posting on social media in real time, desperate in their desire to savour the moment.

And this morning, it’s all empty.  At least as empty as Calcutta can get. Continue reading Festival Art and Ephemerality: End of Durga Puja 2014

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Street Food: Calcutta Durga Puja–Shoshthi Shaptami 2014!

If you’ve lived in one of the great Indian mega-cities for any length of time, one of the things that you can never forget is the street food. But street food during a festival like Durga Pujo? You have to see it to believe it.

Calcutta street food
Phuchka, Shoptomi morning

I’ve only really lived in one Indian city, Calcutta/Kolkata, and even though I grew up almost on a daily  diet of various kinds of street food (my parents being a little less strict about this than many and my stomach having grown most resilient via this eclectic exposure) I wasn’t prepared for the number, scale and magnitude by which street food culture had proliferated in the city during my absence of fourteen years and the subsequent fifteen annual Durga Pujo’s I had missed.

The crowds in front of a pandal, Behala, Kolkata
The crowds in front of pizza, coffee, ice cream, paan, coke

I took all these pictures on Shoshthi evening and Shaptami afternoon, the first and second of the five days when Pujo crowds are only warming up. I just walked a little in the evening, barely a ten minute walking stretch from my parents’ place to the major road in my area. It’s a very middle-class neighbourhood and didn’t include any of the city’s major intersections or Pujo-visiting destinations or markets and must be a very miniscule picture of the city’s crowds and street foods this Pujo.

Yet, just as the spirit of the Goddess inheres in the smallest Debi idol in the tiniest by-lane in the littlelest poorly-lit Pandal as she does in the award-winning enormous mega-Pujo’s, I’m hoping that this chronicler’s mini-attempt at reflecting the spirit of the season will convey a little bit of the excitement and anticipation regarding how the Goddess has transformed a city of a 4.4 million people (14.38 million if you take the metropolitan area into account and swelling during Pujo) into a cosmic food court. Continue reading Street Food: Calcutta Durga Puja–Shoshthi Shaptami 2014!

Writing Memoir on Social Media

I’m doing something in the room and The Boy walks in stealthily from behind me and suddenly there is a shower of bubbles in the air and lots of childish laughter. I turn my face and I see a host of bubbles floating up and up and up towards the light, their shiny surfaces catching the light and turning them into iridescent rainbow hues. It’s hard to tell how each bubble will float away, where it will stick and when it will burst.  But together they transform the room.

Actually I’m not just sitting here doing something. I’m writing yet another blog post. It isn’t unusual at all, while I’m writing, for a childish face to peek in and insist on typing a word or two or close a window or want to check out a blinking light below the touchpad. But bubbles? They are new.

The bubbles floating around me make me think of a lot of writing I’ve been doing lately. Light, beautiful, polished, iridescent and ephemeral.

What really has been the end goal of these pieces? To live for a bit, to catch the light, to stick in someone’s mind for a moment and then to disappear? To float directionless, to dazzle and to die? Continue reading Writing Memoir on Social Media

Home on the Interweb

At the end of play or at the end of work, when the sun is rising in the wee hours of the day or when the sun is going down, when you pull the curtains on prying eyes at last or when you display your exploits in their splendour on the wall to envious eyes, you want to return home.

Home is where work gets done, or no work gets done at all, where a thousand voices descend on you the moment you enter the door or where you sit still in solitude deep in thought. It is where you are thankful for today or you wait for a hopeful tomorrow or you sit and wonder if this is all there is where one day fades into the next quite silently with indistinguishable footsteps where not even a mouse clicks in the dark.

When you stare into the distance of a blue river or a blank screen from your window or when you spot a poster on the wall (of paper or pixel) next door, you float up and down memory lane or look into the crystal ball of time from your couch at home.

Home has the old and the familiar box from where you shake out a dusty album or it houses the kaleidoscope of friends and relatives, living or dead, floating down a timeline at the click of a mouse, as though they were all there in your living room sipping tea and munching sugary biscuits this afternoon. [Such as when a pop-up floats about a sidebar and says “Say Happy Birthday to S today” when you know that that smiling S left both the world of humans and Netpeople three years ago and left her profile active to haunt us forever every year on this very day.]

Thoughts of homelessness spring to mind as you get away from home for home in another part of the world on a huge airplane. You look down from the window at the familiar skyscrapers and trees and river fading into the billowing clouds.

When you’ve moved many times, between home here and home there, so many homes are scattered in different places that there is no getting away from home although there is no living at home without all those other homes knocking at your door always to come home.

Continue reading Home on the Interweb

Thrift Stores: Memories and Things

I have this gigantic beige coat that has been lying unused a long time in my closet. It’s humongous with a gigantic aura of fake fur trimmings. It is certainly at least a size too big for me. It makes me look very well equipped for a trip to Antarctica whenever I get into it.

Because of the recent snow storms slamming the North East, I took the coat out at last a couple of times this season. I noticed that a tag  under its collar says L.L. Bean. Yet, I vividly remember the day I bought it at a store in Florida which is as far as it could be from a nice outerwear clothing store such as L.L. Bean or Burlington Coat Factory.

Having always lived in tropical climates, I was stumped a few years ago when I was due to visit Philly at the height of winter from Florida, where I lived then, for some interviews at a conference. I realized that nothing I possessed could match the kind of cold I might have to face up North. Knowing I’d never use the coat beyond the day or two, I visited the town thrift store to look for something suitable.

Image by brina_head on flickr

It was a biggish store with vast spaces full of clothes on hangers hung on rails with bright natural light coming in through the windows. Almost all the clothes there were either cotton or made of artificial silky material that hung on the hangers with slumped shoulders looking like they could be crumpled into little balls if needed. Continue reading Thrift Stores: Memories and Things

Home and the Blog

What does my blog mean to me?

Many a time, as I’ve sat by myself at night when the sounds of the day have quietened down and noises of the night have become louder, such as that of the whooshing of the AC, or thud of the softly falling snow or rain, the zzzzzing of the ups and downs of voltage brightening or dimming the tubelight or the buzzzzz of a single mosquito trapped in the mosquito net, or the dulled sounds of boats in the fog or the frogs croaking outside with the glow worms, depending on which part of the world I am in, I’ve wondered what the blog means when the writing has or hasn’t come.  Continue reading Home and the Blog

Of bloggers, Birbal and birds: How to make yourself heard

An old post revisited

How many of us bloggers are out there?

A mind-boggling number very hard to grapple with for sure.

Our sheer numbers  reminded me of a well known tale of Akbar and Birbal I came across recently on my flight back to the US from India. It was a version of the story in animation adapted for kids which I watched on the screen trapped in my little space in the sky.

It goes something like this: Continue reading Of bloggers, Birbal and birds: How to make yourself heard

A great post I read this week

I chanced upon this piece by Elizabeth Gomez called My Life as an Engrish to English Translator a few days ago on the Freshly Pressed collection. I laughed hard and was touched by it and so I thought I’d share it with you. It relates a series of experiences where the writer, presumably Korean-American,  had to keep “translating” her Korean mother’s hilarious “Engrish” on numerous occasions all through her childhood. But the light touch belies the seriousness behind it all–the episodes are really about a lot more. The post reminded me a lot of Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue. Continue reading A great post I read this week

Why we share and what can go viral

What makes some quality pieces of writing more shareable than others? What makes some writing go viral while others stay quietly dormant where they started?

Good content is a must for a strong chance at being shared (I can see some rolling their eyes here and I agree. “Good” is a term subject to interpretation. Good here would be a measure of how far the writing has met its own goals which might not not necessarily be aligned with a universal standard of wholesome writing.)

There are too many “how to write viral content” articles out there for me to rehash here again. What intrigues me today is not so much the writing itself but the people involved with the writing in some form or the other–the readers who read, discuss and share–with or without having read the article. 

The desire to share

Jadavpur university bookstore
Jadavpur university bookstore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where does this desire to share come from? Do we gain anything from sharing an article written by somebody else, most often a total stranger? Could we understand the shareability factor of writing by not just looking at the writing itself but at the people who share? Is this new phenomenon really as new as it sounds?
Continue reading Why we share and what can go viral

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

The Anatomy of Regret

English: The lines meet... ...Or do they part?...

There are many who will tell you they have no regrets in life. They lived their lives the way they meant to and every new turn, every new nook, every new bump need not have been lived another way.

Seriously? You mean to tell me that every time you made a choice you made the right one? You mean to tell me that your life had only one correct way of unfolding itself and this is it? This is the only one and it could have been no other way?

You mean to tell me that you have the confidence to have figured it all out?

It is one thing to not wallow in regret, to not waste energy on what cannot be changed, to let bygones be bygones. It is quite another to not realize that a nuanced life has potential for regret.
Continue reading The Anatomy of Regret

Memories of student life

Century Tower dominated our campus
Century Tower dominated our campus

There is something about student life that seems irreplaceable in later years. There is a capacity for bonding, for sharing, for taking risks to abandon ourselves to friendships that we keep losing as we get more and more fossilized into our set roles in life. For those of you who missed it, here’s a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my student experiences in a university town in Florida that some of you might identify with: Memories of Graduate Student Life.

Are relationships becoming shallower online?

If you’re reading my post you’re a denizen of the online world just like me. C’mon, there’s no denying it. [insert smiley face here]

We’re all here. There are those of us who are writing things online. Others are reading us. Many of us spend hours on social media connecting and reconnecting with friends. Yet others spend time here learning, informing themselves, mis-informing themselves, finding partners, finding their way, playing games, snooping on people and doing pretty much most of the functions we could perform in the good ol’ real world.
Continue reading Are relationships becoming shallower online?

Writing and online experience

Imagine a moment in a story in which the protagonist finds his ex-girlfriend on Facebook. Imagine a story in which a woman falls in love with a guy through chats and comments and pictures and fantasizes about the rest of her lover in her mind. Imagine a story involving an online stalker who is everywhere and nowhere. Imagine a story of artistic melancholy where life feels fragmented and fake like a Facebook wall.

Would these stories be comprehensible to a reader without any online experience? As Lloyd Alexander has said, “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” While our fantasies stretch beyond our imaginations, their raw materials have to have their foundation in experience. The sensibilities that the above stories depend on can only exist because our online worlds exist and we have some experience of it. These experiences can hardly be separated from the form and content of these stories.
Continue reading Writing and online experience

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

Blogging and voice

Communication | ArtPrize 2010
Communication | ArtPrize 2010 (Photo credit: Fellowship of the Rich)

I wonder how many of us take a conscious decision to become the people we are and how many of us just come to be as we wander through life.

Each human being is already complex. Put one human being in touch with another and you have an even more complex set of possibilities of interaction. When you think about it, only part of that interaction is communication, only part of communication writing, only part of writing blogging and just a small part of that voice.
Continue reading Blogging and voice

Magic spaces in a globalized world

IMG_5267The sky lit up with a million iridescent fragments last night lighting up the dark surface of the Hudson and the hundreds of boats that had gathered there to watch the July 4th fireworks in reddish, whitish and bluish hues. There were crowds all along the edges of the water, on the piers facing Manhattan from the Jersey side, on the boardwalks and on the tops of buildings. Continue reading Magic spaces in a globalized world

What would Homer do?

There’s a lot of advice out there on how digital writing differs from traditional writing. Whenever a new way of expression is discovered, our response is exuberance and wonder at what current technology can do. Often, that kind of discussion spawns a myriad other discussions and rightly so.

Sometimes, while we build on the old, we only focus on the new as though the old is not relevant anymore. Continue reading What would Homer do?

Digital Writing and Diversity of Audience

internet users around the world
internet users around the world (Photo credit: Septem Trionis)

In my early days of blogging, I was often overwhelmed by a sense of wonder at how far my writing traveled. When I saw the names of all those countries listed on the stats page about where people were reading my blog from and sending me heartwarming comments, I was amazed. I expressed my new-found wonder in a post called My Blog Audience where many readers shared similar feelings about their writing.

 As I progressed with my blog through the months, I got more and more used to the fact that while it was my day, my reader could be reading at night. While it was summer where I was, my reader could be shaking off snow from his boots somewhere. While the country I was in might be at peace or engaged in a distant war, my reader might be not be in such fortunate circumstances.

Getting used to the novelty of an experience is inevitable but it can be very dangerous for one’s writing. Leaving aside other considerations where a sense of wonder aids the writing process in today’s digital age, failure to remember the diversity of your readers and their backgrounds can take away important nuances from your writing and prevent it from reaching its potential for readers.

But here is a paradox. As a writer you must be comfortable showing who you are or where you’re coming from or what your own concerns are because there is nothing so boring as a colourless, generic piece of writing. The writer’s identity remains important in digital spaces while the potential reader’s identity needs to be given more of a free range than earlier in our digital age.
Continue reading Digital Writing and Diversity of Audience

Trapped characters at dusk

I was watching some very young kids playing on a pier next to the Hudson on the Jersey side a couple of evenings ago. Summer evenings are great for watching people in a place usually as cold as it is here all year round. The air was balmy and the mood pleasantly mellow.

One tiny person toddled over and stopped right in front of me and just stared for several minutes. At that age, the world is full of amazing wonders. It looked like s/he would like to say something but didn’t quite have the words for it yet. Another kid, barely older, followed this one to see what was up. This second one had the confident air of command. “Say hi,” ordered the second to the first. “Ba ba” was the response and they both dawdled along to more important work.
Continue reading Trapped characters at dusk