Celebration of Learning

Today is Vasant Panchami, a festival to welcome spring in India. It is celebrated on the fifth day of month of Magh in Hindu Calendar. It is either in February or last week of January. The celebrations are performed to welcome spring(Vasant). In East India, people worship Goddess Saraswati. Goddess Saraswati is called the Goddess of learning, music, knowledge and arts. We dress up in yellow, decorate the temples with yellow flowers. We put up our books and musical instruments at the house temple. With the exams scheduled for April, we pray to the Goddess to bless us with good scores. Community functions are organized where we all meet up. This is special for kids who are about to start schooling. A ceremony called “Hathe Khodi” is performed. The priest prays in the name of the kid and then helps him/her write a few alphabets with chalk on the slate.

During my school days we used to have drawing competition and poetry recitation competition making it a celebration of learning. The poetry competitions were very special. I learnt to face the stage from them. We used to be given a poem of one of the notable Bengali poets. The community hall used to be filled by members. We had to stand on stage and recite it. It used to be interesting to see different kids recite the same poem. The first poem I had recited was Lichu Chor. It describes the experience of a village lad while stealing lychee and getting caught. I was 8 years old. I could remember only 4 lines from the middle of that poem today. Funny part is these were the lines that I forgot while reciting on stage. There are music and dance performances. These events made me realize my love for performing arts. This year the celebrations were different with social distancing and mask rules in place. On this Saraswati Puja, I pray to the Goddess Saraswati the pandemic phase gets over and life returns to normalcy. Happy Vasant Panchami.

Celebrating World Radio Day

The first thing that caught my eye in newspaper is today that is 13th February is World Radio Day. Mention of Radio brings up beautiful memories. Let me share the most recent one. Last year due to lockdowns, I was at home like everyone. Initially the rising counts created fear and I started looking for ways to keep myself busy. At that time, I started trying new things in kitchen. But the fear kept on coming so I started listening to Radio. The monologues by the RJs followed by songs allowed a nice break. Radio allowed me to move around the house doing different activities. Also it is less stressful for the eyes. There are different programs on various genres of music. I also discovered audio dramas for suspense stories. This took me to the world of Sherlock Holmes, Feluda, Byomkesh bakshi. I searched in net and found the Radio broadcast of special events like that of Apollo 11 when man stepped on moon or of India’s independence. These just reminded me Radio had been the such an important part of our lives although devices have changed from dedicated radio to radio app in cellphones.

These broadcasts not only helped me get over the pandemic stress but also helped me relive special events about which I had only read in books. Today Radio is part of my life while cooking and walking. I would take this opportunity to thank all the people associated with Radio for making our lives better in these tough times. Best wishes for World Radio Day.

Celebrating the Republic Day

My mother was surprised to see me awake early today before 5:00 am. I told her its 26th January and I am at home. 26th January is celebrated as the Republic Day in India. The Indian Constitution was created after Independence. The new constitution came into force on 26th January 1950. From then onwards, every year this day is celebrated as the Republic Day. This is one of the special events of winter. My school used to start at 7:30 am. We used to start practicing march-past 2-3 weeks before republic day. For this practice we used to reach school by 6:30 am in cold. I used to get up before 5:00 am to reach on time. Maybe this was the reason I woke up early today. The house captains used to align us based on our heights. The school band used to play the drum and we would practice march-past for days. “Haven’t you seen the march-past of Republic day!” This was the ending statement of every scolding of every teacher and captain for every mistake during the practice.

We used to have a dry run of the entire ceremony on the previous day. Before the Republic Day, I used to iron my uniform and polish my shoes. On 26th January, I would wake up early to dress up in freshly ironed uniform and put on the polished shoes. Then my mother would tie up two tight plats. We would reach school on time, stand in our designated positions. Then the march-past would begin. We would walk a path across the playground. Then the principal would come and unfurl the flag. As soon as the flag unfurls, we would sing the national anthem. The event used to complete by 8:30 am. We used to rush home, to catch the Republic Day Parade at the capital New Delhi. The defense parade is followed by the tableau of different states and national organizations. We used to discuss about our favorite tableau for the next few days. Our Constitution gives equal opportunities to everyone. We have leaders who have come from humble backgrounds. They have proved themselves through their work. They always inspire me to strive to be better. This year I watched the entire parade like school days. As the day comes to an end, I hope everyone is inspired to do their best and make 2021 a great year. Happy Republic Day.

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.