Thursday, 26 September 2013

Birthday Parties

Spicy Saturday

                                                                ( Courtesy Google Images)

  Don't we all have happy memories of our childhood birthdays? The balloons swaying from the ceiling fan and streamers fanning out right above the main table. Enticing aromas wafting out of the kitchen building up anticipations  in the guests of yummy food. The birthday child beaming in his or her  special dress with eyes focused on the door and ears straining for tell tale signs of the first arriving guest. The  waiting child impatiently wearing the parents down  with "what is the time?", "why hasn't anyone come?" while the parents scurried around trying to put everything in order only to see it all coming down with the arrival of the first guest.

"Aunty, can I have a balloon?"
"Yes, you can but only after the party!"
"Aunty, can I play with the toys?"
"Next time, beta. Today we have special games for you!"

   If only things were so simple. If the above looks simple to you, that is. For me, this was the most lavish way to celebrate a child's birthday. Till I came to Delhi. We had already heard stories of  birthday extravagance,  when the posting order came in asking us to shift from Sharifabad, a good half an hour's drive away from Srinagar, to Delhi.

  Once the kids  were enrolled in a decent school (and that is another story), we dusted our hands thinking all was taken care of till the first birthday invitation came in. There was no looking back. We were caught up in  nerve racking trips weaving our way to all corners of the city, to all kinds of malls worth their stores, play zones, an ice-skating ring, bowling alley, farm houses, party gardens with stalls of tattooing, hair styling, nail art, bouncies with the sad looking keepers, with a couple of movie halls thrown in. Children running around with friends from one point to the other with a half done tattoo here or a plea for a balloon there. The only food that always managed to be shoved down their gullet was the odd slice of pizza or a forkful of noodles. The final icing on the cake, after the original birthday cake was demolished and devoured, was the the "Return Gift" time. The return gifts turned out to be more lavish than the birthday gifts.  Whew! What an ordeal for all the parents!

  Soon it was our turn, as the daughter turned a year older. My husband and I had sleepless nights trying to figure out a decent way to organise a birthday party for her. He would get nightmares of currency notes flying away burning huge deep holes in all the pockets of his trousers and shirts and all other garments that can accommodate  pockets. We were now the conjurers doing a tight rope walk for we were still reeling from the mounting and hidden expenses of living in the National Capital. Having lived in smaller towns and remote places in our married life so far, we were yet to cope with the pressures of city dwelling. With the Sixth Pay Commission playing peekaboo with the defence personnel (and that again is another story), we had our limitations.

 However, we had decided long back that keeping up with the Joneses was never going to be a thread in our life and in the family. We had made this clear to our daughter from the beginning that we do not believe in lavish affair and shall not indulge in it even if we could afford it later. We will try to be the best hosts to the best of our ability. Preparations started almost a month before, with lists drawn, struck out and redrawn. Imagination was sent knocking at every crevice of the cranium and the internet of course, got no respite! Listing down the menu catering to children's affinity, party games to be organised, decorations that can be carried out, a birthday dress, invitation cards, getting the list of parents phone numbers from the school to doubly ensure attendance, marking out days in the calender for shopping. Idea was not to outsource so as to keep the costs down. It was the "return gift" that gave us the jitters. We now had to think beyond the colourful packets of pencils, rubbers, sketch pens, other stationary, trinkets etc. A valiant trip was made to the mother of all wholesale markets, Sadar Bazaar in Old Delhi, thanks to the Metro connectivity! We came back with bags of decent gifts at affordable prices approved by the child in question and a much relieved husband.

  On the D day, the birthday girl walked to and fro, checking the gate and the clock. Balloons were swaying in the breeze and the streamers fanned out. The table was ready with the food in the kitchen awaiting their turn with the  spotlight. The return gifts neatly spelled out each child's name, snug in their bag along with the winning prizes for the games.

  At the first sound of the gate opening,
" Mamma! They have come! My friends have come!"
And she rushes forward to take the gift and deposit it in a room inside. The party has begun.
As more of them turn up, the child's beam radiates to see so many of her friends in her home for the party. The music from the humble stereo heightens the party mood. They call out for games. One after the other. Squealing, laughing, sulking, they run around the lawn hunting for the treasure, or bursting balloons tied behind each other's back, cheering their mates in the relay of activites.

" Aunty! Can we play more games, please!"
" But I've run out of prizes, beta!"
" No, we will play just like that!"

  When the parents came to pick them up, they left reluctantly like they always do from every party.
" Mamma, just five minutes more!"
" Papa, let me finish this game please!"

  Their faces shone with the return gifts.
"Look, what I got! What did you get?"
" Aunty, my sister couldn't come. Can I take one for her, please?"
" Of course, you can. And all of you must take the balloons with you!"

   The house was a mess. The lawn was littered. I finally found my limbs attached to my body and a mind that settled in its case.We sat down with a hot cup of black tea. Every child is special for it's parents. And so they go the lengths to create happy memories for special days. Do we tend to go a tad  too far in this? I wonder.
It is just fun time the kids want irrespective of the venue or the means and maybe a little surprise at the end of the day. Paucity of space and time in a fast city does have its tight corners. Or are we being caught up in the trend? If so, can we blame the child if their demands keep growing directly proportionate to the number of candles on the cake? I have seen the entire class being invited and yet some children sit in a corner because they do not belong to the "group". Maybe the number of guests also play a role in determining the success of the child's birthday party.

  Whichever way it is done, the measure for a birthday party's success is the number of balloons burst, the amount of soft drinks spilled, the packets of fryums and smileys wiped off the plate, strands of noodles on the table, snapped streamers.... and a smile on your child's face as he or she sleeps softly with gift wrappings strewn on the floor.

   So what do you think? I would love to hear your views and I am sure the others would too!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Meeting Two Brothers - Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika

                                                              Courtesy Wikipedia

       “A good day would be him working on a new composition filled with quietude. And a bad day would be utensils flying about and the chairs strewn with stuff as he would be looking for a composition jotted on a cigarette packet…”
       With interesting and amusing anecdotes from slivers of Bhupen Hazarika’s life, the Conversation between SanjoyHazarika and Kalpana Lajmi kept the audience regaled on the 9th September 2013   evening in the Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay Block of IIC, Lodhi Road. It was an evening to commemorate and celebrate the musical geniuses of the two brothers Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika:
     On receiving a mail from Sanjoy Hazarika, we decided this was not an evening to be missed in the National Capital not just for the promise of the melodies we grew up with, but also to introduce my daughters to the many facets of the man behind the legacy of Assam. Having trudged through the evening Delhi traffic like many others present there, we reached just in time for the lights focussing on the stage.  Black and white photographs of the two brothers propped on two easels looked on from one side of the stage leaving the rest for the artists of the evening to take their place.  Sunita Bhuyan , the noted violinist from Mumbai captivated the audience with her nuanced rendition of  “tumi biyar nixar xoyon pati…, snehe amar xotoshrabonor( rendered as jhooti muti mitwa awan bole from “Rudali”)  and manuhe manuhor baabe in her inimical interactive style not just with the audience but also with her accompanists. The evening had begun on the right note striking the right chord, with many in the audience in rhythm with the performance.
      Was Bhupen Hazarika a political activist, a reformist, a socialist, a humanist…? The list could go on with all the ‘-ists’ as posers  but never a term be found to straightjacket this essence of humanity and a truly South East Asian celebrity who single-handedly drew the attention of the world to the people of the region and gave voice to their angst and aspirations. His pain at the miseries of the marginalised people inflicted by political apathy and turmoil found vociferous expression in the lyrics we know so well. He belonged to a generation of artists who did not know how to ‘manage’ their art and looked for no reciprocity except the love of the people. As Kalpana Lajmi reminisced nudged by Sanjoy Hazarika,  taking us back in time, she shared an incident when Bhupen Hazarika along with Rev Michael Scott were travelling to Nagaland to act as mediators. On hearing an old peasant’s lilting melody in the fields, he stopped to ask what he was singing. The peasant said it was an old song and that he didn’t know its origin, probably a folksong. This amused Bhupen Hazarika and he turned to Rev Scott and said “I am not Bhupen Hazarika. I am folklore!” The peasant was singing “manuhe manuhor baabe”in Nagamese. In all innocent happiness of having found a place in the common man’s consciousness transcending physical boundaries, he found strength in them.
     Mayukh Hazarika along with wife Laili, took the audience through many songs of his illustrious father Jayanta Hazarika and legendary uncle Bhupen Hazarika. Mayukh’s hereditary baritone reminded many of the sepia tinted days with the old LP playing in the Assamese households, the brothers’ vast repertoire of songs in the rainy mornings, drowsy afternoons and chilled evenings – any time of the day and any time of the year. Interestingly he began the evening with “Shonar boron pakhi re tur”, a note of farewell to the departed souls leaving behind a space to celebrate all that they left behind.

      With music of the legends taking most part of the evening, the Conversation brought out the human foibles of the man. The personal anguish of Bhupen Hazarika’s political debacle, a cherished desire to represent his people, led to the first stroke and disillusion from which he never quite recovered. His friendship with tea baron, Hemen Barooah, is what legends are made of. Two boys who grew together, studied at Harvard and Columbia, poles apart in their ideologies and went on to become giants in their own right and yet retained their friendship through all these years.
       The mischievous streak in him reflected when he instigated an MLA to challenge the then Leader of the Opposition in Assam, Dulal Barua, only to stop his never ending political speech even if it amounted to citing ‘bad grammar’ as a reason. Or the time when he went to meet Bharat Shah, the diamond baron, for film financing with a piece of ordinary glass adorning his trademark Nepali cap. On being asked he nonchalantly said “You, of all people shouldn’t be asking if it’s a diamond!” Bharat Shah perhaps did acknowledge it to be one. As they came out, Kalpana asked him the reason for it. Pat came the reply “He should know that I can also afford to buy a diamond this big.”
       As someone whose contribution to the assamese language has been immense, he bridled at its distortion especially by the younger generation. He once asked Kalpana to correct a couple of young lads conversing while he sat back with closed eyes. When Kalpana countered that why he shouldn’t do it since she was in no position to do so herself, he replied that he didn’t want to be obtrusive and seem like he was throwing his weight around!
       With 3000  original compositions, a postage stamp in his honour and clueless about his date of birth all his life, Bhupen Hazarika is an institution that needs to be cherished and preserved. The evening fructified in bringing together, music lovers, artists and interesting conversation, with the initiative of C-NES in collaboration with Oil India Limited. A prolific writer whose creativity often poured out on empty cigarette cartons and loose sheets of paper, he left behind a treasure and a sense of pride not just for the people of Assam but also for the people of the entire region.
      As Mayukh took the stage to ‘complete’ the evening with his soulful bilingual rendition of “Ganga amaar ma…” strumming on the guitar, I found myself drifting to Nazira, the place of my early childhood, listening to the gramophone records of Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika with the ceiling fans whirring and the rain pouring outside. The magic of the two brothers continues to weave through the generations.    

This was published in the e-magazine The Thumbprint Magazine

Monday, 9 September 2013

Creating Happy Travellers in Tsol Erutan


  "Okay everyone!" declared the Big One holding up his hand for silence. 
 Everyone in the room stopped and looked around to see who had interrupted their spirited discussion. 
  "As usual, we have not reached a consensus about the destination for these holidays which is just a month away. In that case, we might as well stay back and enjoy the dust and traffic jams here."

 " But you promised me one! After an entire year of stressful house-wifery!" objected his wife first.   
"No! And I told my friends we are going on an exotic holiday!"  butt in his College Going daughter.
His niece, all of nine plump years, looked at him with doleful eyes threatening to bawl her disappointment out in high wet decibels.
"Hah! I knew this would happen!" came from his Know It All nephew lounging on the floor with his lanky limbs getting in everyone's way.

    The Chaos
      The room once again erupted into a cacophony with everyone voicing their concerns. How can a family of myriad opinionated selves ever agree on anything tangible! If one was looking for adventure, the other wanted to loaf around a beach, the third vetoed it since she didn't want to get tanned before her college reopened. The Elderlies didn't want to go abroad for gastronomic reasons. But the most abominable of all 'wants' was the one to live in a tree house! A long nurtured fantasy and vestige of "Phantom"comic days. That one came from his brother, Young One.

   The Big One looked around exasperated. His old Mother walked up to him slowly and said,"My Friend's sister's grand daughter works for a travel company called Yatri something..."

 "Yatra dot com, you mean. But they book only journey tickets and hotels, I think."
"Let me speak to her in the kirtan today, baba."
 That evening, she came back with F's S's Gd's number and gave it to Big One. Two days later Big One found himself in F's S's Gd's office at Yatra dot com  pouring out his woes. He looked at this young girl wondering whether she at least identified that there was a problem, let alone figure a way out.

 The Messiah
"Sir, you do seem to have a problem there." as though reading his mind, " and I've spoken to some of our experts and they have come up with an option. It does look like it'll suit you all!'
"It's relatively new in the travel circuit and so very few are aware of it. There is this island in the Andamans which was recently permitted to be developed as tourism property by an environmental NGO. Well, it has the usual snorkeling, deep sea diving, limestone caves, back waters. Ummm... it has few shacks on the beach itself and....a few tree houses!" she said scanning the monitor on her desk.

The Big One's heart leapt. What! They found a place for his cantankerous family! Thanking her profusely he discussed the travel details and made the arrangements before the place filled up. He already loved this place. No mobile network, no TV or internet - total electronic detoxification! Ah! They were to tank up on bird songs, lapping sea waves, rustling leaves...

Tsol Erutan


"Can we please behave like a well groomed family..."

             The Big One's voice was lost in the cacophony of excitement and grumblings of his family.He gave it up. No point behaving like a class monitor when his family decidedly turned into kindergarten kids. Their motley group of Growing Kids, Grown Up Kids and the Elderlies bundled into a waiting vehicle taking them to the Port Blair jetty from the airport, finally on their way to Tsol Erutan which was to be a three hours sailing into the sea.

   The family chattered on non-stop. Once out in the sea, they became silent. Either they were tired or the magic of the  clear sky and the open sea tied their tongues in place. Faces broke out into smiles and even the reluctant ones wiped that grumpy look off their face as the destination came into sight. The sea had many shades of blue with the clearest view of the sandy bed near the shore.

  Thick vegetation sprouted from the  tantalizing white shoreline. A few neat shacks dotted the beach. Jumping off the boat on to the pier and towing the luggage they  followed a shaded path into the island Tsol Erutan. Coconut trees, ficus trees, hibiscus shrubs flanked them as they reached a clearing. Everyone gasped!
     Surrounded by the thickets was a clearing with few ancient banyan trees with sturdy roots making many columns from the branches that spread out wide in all directions.
                                                               Ancient Banyan Tree
Tree Houses

  Wait!The best is yet to come! On these branches were gracious tree houses with thatched roofs, wooden structure and waiting to host the weary and the tired! The tree foliage screened them from a 'bare it all' view. Every one looked at Young One and who in turn looked at the Big One with a dazed look that reflected a recap of all the "Phantom"comic days. He looked liked he was going to beat his chest and do a "Me Tarzan you Jane".
Tree House

Everyone exclaimed and twittered with amazement, silencing the feathered inhabitants of the trees.This indeed was going to be an exciting holiday! Much to the relief of the Elderlies, a wooden stairs led to the tree house from behind, taking care of their tired limbs and old bones. Each house had two bedrooms, a lounge and an attached bath, thankfully with modern plumbing!

   The caretaker appeared from behind the bushes wearing a huge welcoming grin and a hat. He showed us our 'nests' and said breakfast would be served in the dining shack just beyond the Banyan Line. Happy voices filled the trees punctuated with squeals of excited discoveries. Young One was particularly beaming having discovered a pretty view from his 'nest'!
                                                                            The View

Soon hunger pangs speeded up all freshening activities and the Family found themselves tucking into a sumptuous feast of fresh fruits, tender coconut water,  cool sandwiches and steaming idlis.

  "Welcome to Tsol Erutan!" boomed a voice. Everyone jumped to look at the source of this voice, during their various phases of munching and gulping. He was Dr Borah, the head of the NGO working in the island, researching the ecosystem and preserving it. A round of introduction followed before he gave  some advice on island living.
" Do enjoy every bit of your time here in Tsol Erutan and take back lovely memories. But remember to respect every inhabitant of this island be it a plant, a snail or a monkey because they are the hosts and we are merely guests. Leave the island as you found it and that means not to take back even a shell. Do have fun but not at the cost of inflicting pain on others. Cheer up! I didn't mean to sound like a wet blanket! Raghu here will take you for your snorkeling session now and all the other activities planned for you."
  "Errr... could we come and see you sometime and your work?" asked Big One.
  "Sure! Only I hope you don't get bored" he said.

Everyone scrambled to the beach while the Elderlies sank into the hammocks nearby. And into the lapping aquamarine colours with every shingle visible, waded the others fitted with snorkeling equipment and life jackets. Colourful fishes swam around the corals with an orange, pink or a blue starfish here and there. It was a different world altogether- a world that followed its own decorum quietly.
Snorkeling With Raghu     

 Everything else seemed like an intrusion into this different cosmos altogether. Smiles brightened up
every snorkeler's  face as they came out of their session. The children ran to their Elderlies who were dozing off in the hammocks. Pulling them towards the water with excited chatter of the colourful   fishes and corals they said,
" You must snorkel!"
"But I am too old for it and besides I can't swim!"
"You don't need to swim. And you wear a life jacket and they guide you."
"Hey Ram! At this age! What if I die?"
"You won't. If you do,be happy. You would die having seen a slice of heaven. Don't be such an 'oldie'!" and so ended the argument with the Elderlies gingerly testing the waters and the apparatus.

And so the first day rolled by between lazing around, inspecting each other's 'nest', building sand castles about which the Grown Ups seemed more interested digging a moat here and adding a turret there, and walking along the beach into the sunset.

   The next morning, at the break of dawn, all were up and down at the beach waiting for the first deep sea diving lessons. Snorkeling had fuelled the desire for the daring in the reluctant ones. While the ones looking for adventure were revved up. Raghu showed the breathing techniques, the under water communicating signals and the uses of the diving suit and flippers. This was all to be for the day.

Surprise Trek

"There's a surprise trip for you after breakfast" he said.
No cajoling could make him divulge it. Soon after breakfast, all started on a trek into the island with packed lunch and a naturalist from Dr Borah's team leading the way. 
The trek progressed into a dense area with thick  green canopies and blanketed atmosphere broken by bird and insect sounds. A stream wound around with thick trees on both sides. At places these trees had roots from the trunks pointing towards the stream.
"Notice these strange roots?" asked the naturalist
" Well! They are kind of strange! Like they are trying to find each other across the stream" observed the College Girl.
"They are on their way to making natural living bridges" said the naturalist.
"Sorry, what was that?" asked Young One.
The naturalist looked around and said,"There are some indigenous people here who are said to have been inhabiting this place ever since the African continent broke up and drifted here. Don't look alarmed. They are harmless and do not mix with outsiders. And we do not have permission to be in contact with them. They are protected from modern civilization."
"Just like the Jarawa tribe" observed the Young One.
"They help to build these living bridges by pointing the roots of the rubber tree towards each other across the stream" continued the naturalist, "As they grow over the years, they are initially braided with each other and left to grow and strengthen."
"I thought these were found only in Meghalaya "  quipped Mr Know It All.

"Yes, they are. These were discovered recently. A little ahead is a full grown bridge" explained the naturalist.
   Sure enough, after a walk of ten minutes they came across this beautiful living bridge created out of
 the roots of the two rubber trees on either banks of the stream.
                                                             Living Root Bridge at Mawlynnong miniaturised
                                                    Living Root Bridge
                                               Courtesy Google Image

Cameras were pointed and mobiles were whipped out. All possible angles were tried to capture this living beauty. From the top, from the bottom, from either ends, hanging from it, perched on it, in twos, in threes and solos for status updates.
  That done, everyone closely inspected it voicing their expert comments on its nuances - philosophical, theological, biological, botanical and all the other '-cals' possible. Everyone unanimously agreed this was the ideal spot to unpack the lunch. Over aromatic biryani sitting on the bridge, some on the rocks in the middle of the stream, all declared this was the best lunch one had for a long time.
  Was it the bridge or the open environment with the green 'powerhouses' all around or the 'feel good' factor seeping in from the close proximity with nature?

Dark Clouds
"What peaceful existence! I wouldn't mind living in a shack here by the beach"  said the College Girl, lying on a branch of a tree bent  over the sea.
"Actually, I am kind of not missing my mobile network and the internet" said Mr Know It All.
"Yeah, and I am excited about the deep sea diving thing" said the Youngest Girl all of nine years.
"So, is everyone for it?"
"Nah! People with Blood Pressure problems and breathing difficulties cannot go for it. So that leaves the Elderlies and my Mother out. Look! Aren't those dark clouds there in the horizon?" asked the Youngest Girl.
"Looks like rain clouds. Let's ask Raghu if we are safe in our tree houses."

They found him near the Banyan Line.
"Where is everyone? I wanted to warn you all about the storm" said Raghu.
" I'll get Father" said the College Girl.

"It's alright" said Big One to his anxiously waiting family "Just be inside your tree houses and nothing will happen. They are storm proof houses and will not fly away or scatter" he said, the only one laughing at his poor joke.
That evening the wind picked up speed and turned into a gale. When they returned from an early dinner, the wind whipped about their clothes and hair. They just about managed to reach inside their 'nests' when the rain came rushing down in torrents. What a night it was! The wind howling through the little openings it found, the waves crashing on the beach and the trees whooshing  and bending outside.  Everyone mumbled a prayer before turning in that night hoping to see the morning all in one piece.  All night the storm raged  threatening to bring everything down.

   Birds chirped the next morning and flew around happy to see the storm pass away. Everything seemed cleaner and brighter. The family from the 'nests''  walked down later than usual, for all of them slept very less  last night. It was decided that everyone would take it easy that day. They spread themselves throughout the day between the beach, the hammocks and exploring the surroundings.
Late in the afternoon they took a trip through the back waters to see the limestone caves barely at a distance of half an hour away. Mangroves with their stilted roots lined the waters. It looked like the trees would just lurch up and start walking around to stretch their limbs.



Limestone cave   

   And so passed the remaining days in Tsol Erutan. With each passing hour, respect for every element and living thing grew. Having interacted with Dr Borah's team and seen their work only deepened the admiration for Nature, realising what perils we as humans are courting in the guise of development.

    Deep sea diving just consolidated the awareness of all things beautiful and the beauty in everything. Descending into the depths of the sea,  unraveled a cosmos alien and yet moving. The corals came alive with fish darting in and out. Ray fish glided around and shoals of  colourful fish passed by least bothered about human presence. The sunlight filtered through the waters lent an enchanting aura to the marine cosmos.Words fail to describe what human heart and mind perceive.
How smug can we be in our limited experiences and knowledge of this world!

So Long!
  Never having got enough of the place, everyone boarded the boat on the last day reluctantly. Each one hoping to come back again. Some day. The Youngest Girl threw back the shells she had collected over the week. Everyone sat quietly on the deck as the boat sped away.
"Tsol Erutan" said the Young One.
"Did any of you notice the significance?" he asked
Everyone turned to face him.
" Its an anagram of Lost Nature" he said quietly. Stripped of urban cockiness each took back a wiser self from Tsol Erutan. It was a yatra that was not just rich in memories and happiness but also wiser in the  realization of the self. Some day all will learn these valuable lessons hopefully before it's not too late...


I am grateful to wikipedia and for providing the information and lovely images.
This post was written for's  Creating Happy Travellers at Indibloggers