Kites in the Sky

The sky is filled with colorful kites and the terraces are filled with laughter and cheer. Today is Makar Sankranti for Bengali(East India) and Uttarayan for Gujarati(West India). Since I am a Bengali from Gujarat, I get to celebrate both. It is a festival dedicated to the Surya Devta(Sun God). The days are expected to become longer from today. We worship the Sun God with prayers and offerings. People fly kites in Uttarayan. The stalls for kites start appearing from first week of January. The colorful kites of different sizes and designs hanging on the shop windows makes the market appear like a palette of colors. As a kid I used to look forward to taking a stroll in the market during these times.

Delicacies at home. Thanks to mom

Most of the delicacies of this festival are made with jaggery. In East India, they make Pitha from rice flour, coconut and jaggery. In West India, they make sesame and peanut rolls or bars(chikki) with jaggery. We spend most of the day in terrace flying kites and eating all these delicacies. This is also the time when families come togather and celebrate. Uptill last year, there used to be Kite festivals, where large kites of various shapes and sizes were flown. Participants used to come from all over the world to display their unique kites. It used to be a fair like atmosphere. During school days, the mid year exams used to get over just before Uttarayan. So it used to be a bigger celebration for us. This year I was able to celebrate the festival at home after a long time. My mother prepared everything I enjoy. The world is seeing a new hope with vaccines coming up after last year’s pandemic. I just pray there is a vaccine which provides us permanent immunity from this disease and again allows us to meet each other without the fear of getting infected. Happy Makar Sankranti and Happy Uttarayan to everyone.

Support for festivals

Flowers at my house

Today is Diwali, the festival of lights. It always brings amazing memories for me. The house used to be cleaned thorougly before the festival. In the morning all the coushion covers and sheets would be replaced. The house would be decorated with lights and lamps. Special ceremonies would be conducted. One of the key requirements of any ceremony are flowers. My grandmother planted flower trees for this. We were scolded everytime we climbed those trees or hanged on their branches. During festivals, my grandmother would get up early, cleanup and pluck flowers for ceremony. We were not supposed to bother her at that time. The first few days were fine but after 4 days, the flowers at the lower branches were not there. At that time we were called to provide support for the festival. Then all the skills of hanging on the branches and climbing the trees would come handy. We would manage to bring the branches with flowers within her reach.

Flower tray for the Ceremony

Today my mother called me for the same purpose. I felt like a school girl looking for the higher branches with maximum flowers and then calculating how to bring those branches within reach. It filled me with an amazing energy and excitement. Co-incidentaly today is also the Children’s day for India. It just reminded me how important it is to keep the child within ourselves alive. The enthusiasm to find new things fills life into the dullest of days. Keep discovering. Its never too late to start learning. Go back to your school days, pick up that skill you wanted to have and go for it. Today all classes are available online. Also the day after diwali is the New Year in many parts of India. The best time for beginnings. Get all the blessings and start working towards a better version of yourself. May this Diwali fill everyone’s life with lights of happiness. Wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous Diwali.

Bijoya Dashami 2020

Today is Dussehra or Bijoya Dashami. It is celebrated for the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasur. At home we take blessings from our elders. We will everyone Shubho Bijoya Dashami or Happy Dussehra. This also marks the end of Navratri. It feels sad that the festivities have come to an end. Special food delicacies are prepared for this day. The idols of Goddess Durga are emersed today. This is the best time to start anything new be it business or a habit. Many people buy their vehicles today.

The last four days of Navratri are full of fun. The Bengalis organize a community festival. The idols of Goddess Durga and her children (Saraswati, Karthik, Lakshmi and Ganesh) are brought and the entire place is decorated. We dress up every morning and go to the venue. This is the time we meet up with everyone. The air is filled with the fragrance of Parijat (night jasmine) and Marigold flowers used for the ceremonies. The very thought of attending the ceremonies fills us with a special energy and enthusiasm. It is these festivals which give us a break from the daily grind of activities. They bring color to our lives. The stories behind these festivals remind us that Truth always wins and hard work pays. This year everything about the festival was different. There was no socializing. Most of us attended the ceremonies online. All the wishes were sent and received online. All of us had one common prayer, that of finding a solution to the crisis caused by Covid-19. On this day of Bijoya Dashami, I have faith that all our efforts will bear fruits, soon there will be a vaccine and life would be normal again. I wish everyone a very Happy Bijoya Dashami.

Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations 2020

Today is Ganesh Chaturthi. Lord Ganesh is the lord of new beginnings and remover of obstacles. We celebrate his arrival from Kailash. People bring idols of Lord Ganesh in their homes. The entire house is decorated. The days are celebrated with Aarti (ceremonies) and prasad (sweets) are distributed. My home towns of Vadodara and Pune used to come alive with beautiful decorations of community ceremonies. Here the idols will be large and a pandal(temporary stage) would be set up. These festivals gave us an opportunity to meet our neighbors. Many people prepared the sweets for Aarti at home. We also have dance and music performances within the community.

The community festivals are for 11 days. There are many memories associated with this festival. My father would take my sister and me for a visit to all the Pandals in our area. My mother’s colleague used to send her home made sweets for us. If I came up with any resolution after June, I would wait till Ganesh Chaturthi and begin from this day. Praying to Lord Ganesh before starting anything is a part of life. I share my love for modak(sweets) with Lord Ganesh. The sweet shops would make different kinds of modak and put up for display. I used to visit all the sweet shops near temple and get the most unique modak. This year the community festivals are being conducted at a smaller scale because of the pandemic. This has not stopped the devotees but has increased their creativity. People have come up with different ideas of creating their own idols. Many of us have learnt to perform the ceremony ourselves and prepare modak as well. Let us come together and pray a vaccine is found soon, the sick are cured and we are all able to overcome this difficult phase. Happy Ganesh Chaturthi.

The Farsighted Shopper

The precious Calculator

Whenever we buy gifts, we always think about its use to the receiver. Have you ever thought about gifting something which may not be of much use at present but may become a necessity in future. Seems difficult but its possible. Let me share a memory. My father, who was in shipping, had to visit Singapore for work. I was in 12th grade at that time. He was very fond of buying new gadgets. When he returned there was the regular big box of gifts, chocolates, etc. He got a new scientific calculator. My mother scolded him for spending on complicated gadgets which are not needed. He didn’t say anything but kept on smiling. At that time no one needed it. So the calculator was kept in cupboard. A year later, I was in college. I still remember the first physics laboratory. The professor mentioned everyone should have a scientific calculator. That day I came home and declared Baba(Papa) is the most farsighted person I have ever met. He did not know what would be my major in college, yet he got the calculator. That was my father, he knew what we needed way before time. He was unable to predict the same for himself. I often wonder what was it that gave him this power. I still don’t know how much salt would be needed in my meal until I taste it. Maybe it was his love for us, which gave him that ability. That is the father, who thinks about our wellbeing all the time whether he is travelling, shopping or resting. He always encouraged me in everything be it work, studies, etc.

Today is Father’s day. Let us take this opportunity to wish our father. The strongest pillar of our lives, the one point 24-7 helpdesk who can solve all problems, the farsighted shopper, the role model, the best friend and biggest gift of our lives. Happy Father’s Day.

Unexpected discoveries

Just as bees are drawn towards flowers, I am drawn towards book fairs and always end up shopping. These books are scheduled to be read after the library books. A new set is issued every time a visit to library happens for book returns. The experience of browsing through shelves of hard books has its own charm. With the library being closed, I was beginning to miss this experience which made me sad. To divert my attention I began organizing my closets. To my surprise I found many books(bought from fairs) that are yet to be read. I also found a Rubik cube which I had once bought but that too got buried in the closet.

We are often so affected with one setback that we ignore everything else. If one would just divert the attention they would find many unexpected discoveries which may be wishes, unfinished goals, etc. It might seem hard particularly in the current scenario but what is life without ups, downs and challenges. While organizing any closet, the first step is to empty the contents. As soon as the contents are out, the overflowing closet suddenly appears spacious. Then we keep things based on utility. Once done, it seems so hard to believe there was no space. Needless to say, the look of an organized closet gives the same sense of achievement as completion of a long cherished goal. In the process, there are byproducts like lost articles, memories, etc. How would it be if we treat life after setbacks like an overflowing unorganized closet. We take out everything and start arranging from scratch. Don’t you think once done, we maybe close to our goals or motivated towards bigger achievements. Let us take this opportunity to re-organize our lives, we never know what unexpected discoveries we will make.

Guided by the Poet

Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore

7th May is Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday. He is engraved in every aspect of a Bengali’s life. He is the first Indian Nobel Laureate. His works are quoted in appreciations, motivations, lectures and scolding in our upbringing. A celebration is not complete unless his name is taken. My mother was named after one of his books and even my name is synonymous to one of his books.

Let me share one story where he guided me. When I started working, I was posted in Mumbai with a few of my friends. Initially we explored all the famous landmarks of the city in group since we all were new to the city. Then came the phase where we all started discovering our own interests, some delved into studies, some sports, some into work and so on. It was at that time, I felt there was more to Mumbai than just landmarks. My roommates often visited the famous fashion street clothes market. On one such visit, I happened to look in the opposite direction while entering the market and saw rows of book store. We decided to explore the book market and then go to Fashion street. The book market was simply amazing. There were books on every topic from classics to mysteries to self help to competitive exams. I had been meaning to read Tagore’s works particularly the novels but never found time during college. I was unable to find them in local libraries also. My eyes just fell off my head when I saw his works in one of the shops. That day I did not buy any clothes although we went to Fashion street, still my bag was the heaviest because it had books. I ended up reading all the books in one month and wanted to go to the book market again. This time no one was available to accompany me, so I went alone singing the famous song by Tagore “Jodi tor daak shune keu na aashe” (If no one responds to your call, then go your own way alone). That experience gave me the motivation to explore new cities on my own. I still have some of those books at home.

My Treasured Collection

This was one way where Tagore helped me grow. As we grow, we find our interests differ from others, many of us even find it difficult to fit into a particular group. This may seem strange but remember everyone is unique. Appreciate your individuality. I take this opportunity to thank Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore for motivating us.

New Year with New Challenges

Today, 14th april’2020 is Poila Boishakh, the first day of Bengali new year. As kids, we used to get up early, take bath, offer our prayers, pay respect to the elders and hug our friends and youngsters. My mother used to stitch clothes for us for new year. Special dishes would be prepared. There was an image of Goddess Durga in our house. She is dressed up as a villager in it. It always reminded me, God is within us and we can always make ourselves better.

Poila Boishakh used to be just after the final exams of the academic session. So we used to start our summer vacations with new year celebration. This year is different. It is a New Year with New Challenges. The world is going through an extremely challenging phase. The thought of celebrating new year in this situation may seem strange. New Year is the time to identify changes that need to be made to improve oneself. The past year reminds us that time and tide wait for none. This Poila Boishakh, let us resolve to maintain social distancing, let us ensure that we will continue to grow even while enclosed in our houses, let us resolve to believe good times will return. This has created free time for many of us. There are people cribbing about how to spend this time. Internet is brimming with online classes be it drawing, music, dance or new language. There are many book clubs. Most of the libraries have their apps from which readers can read online. This time has brought out the creativity of many people. Some of my friends have started their YouTube channels. As we continue with the shutdown, life without social life, may seem boring and monotonous but we should trust the God within ourselves and persist. Let us ensure, when this phase is over and life is back to normal, we will all be better human beings. Shubho Noboborsho (Happy New Year) to everyone.

Growth in Isolation

Social distancing is the need of the hour. The fear of the deadly Covid-19 is everywhere. We all are aware of this pandemic. Suddenly there is a lot of free time and so everyone is confused about what to do. Be it television, radio or whatsapp its the same fear everywhere. As we isolate ourselves this fear seems to be gripping us even more. This stress needs to be reduced before it starts affecting our relations. All we can do is to keep our distances and pray that a vaccine is discovered soon. Until then we all need to find a way to use this time. This is the opportunity to look at your lives, find out those dreams and work on them. With schools and colleges closed, one needs to find ways to spend quality time with your family.

I have always wanted to read books randomly but always picked those about which I had heard. The day before the library was closed, I went there and browsed through the stack. This time it was not the bestseller list or recommendations, it was any book which intrigued me be it the title or prologue or even the book cover. Similarly there are whole lot of hobbies one can take up. It is important to do something creative with all the tension around. Go ahead, pull out the old guitar, clean it and start playing it. If possible make a video and share it on social media. Your effort will definitely inspire many. Watch a movie and put up a review or make a video of that recipe and share it, organize the closet or find an online course. If not anything start meditating but do not allow the negativity to stop you from discovering yourself. Let there be growth in isolation. As the times are getting tougher, let us pray that a vaccine is found soon.

Warm Smiles on Frozen Ice

Every city has its own way of celebrating festivals. I always look forward to the Christmas tree on ice rink in Pittsburgh. The entire PPG place comes alive during Christmas. Winter Garden is decorated with Santa of the world and live orchestra. The place holds a special warm family vibe during Christmas. People, dressed in their winter best, skate on the ice with their families. One would see people of all age groups in all colors of sweaters, mufflers and hats. Toddlers would be learning to skate. Their determination to skate is so strong that even after multiple falls on the frozen ice, they stand up and try again. They always have their elders to cheer them. This just reminds one that family support helps one defeat all problems even that caused by freezing cold.

This tradition is followed in the city every year, still it amazes me so much that I go there every year. The warmth of the smiles overcomes the bitterness of the cold. The secret is the presence of family. No matter how cold it is, the warmth of families skating together makes this a sight to behold. The spirit of festival lies in the time one spends with near and dear ones. When we are with our loved ones, the place and surroundings don’t matter, all that matters is the presence of everyone. The belief that there are people to love me, to cheer me even when I fail, is all one needs to be happy. A common question is “What is the best gift?”. I think the answer is to spend quality time without any gadgets buzzing around. So the next time you wonder about doing something special for someone, just spend quality with them.