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Review

Travel Stories Beyond Borders

Book Review of an anthology of travel essays by Gracy Samjetsabam

Book: Across and Beyond

Editor: Nishi Pulugurtha

Publisher: Avenel Press, 2020

Across and Beyond edited by Nishi Pulugurtha is an anthology of sixteen essays by multiple writers on travel. Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and writes on travel, films, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Besides Across and Beyond (2020), her works include a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a volume of poems, Real and the Unreal and Other Poems (2020). She has a number of publications in various newspapers, journals and magazines.

Through the essays, the contributors share their travelogues to entertain and enliven our imagination and reason. Pulugurtha opens the introduction by invoking “small little things” from a travel as passages to our journeys taken in which nostalgia, memory, and longing play a significant role in recreating the magical experiences and knowledge gained and shared.

She contends, “Travel is about negotiating with the known and the unknown, the familiar and the unfamiliar.” The essays traverse on these negotiations to humanise the travelling self by pondering on perceptions before and after the travels. Thereby, highlighting how travel writing is not merely about the journey but is more about the experiences of people, places and cultures. And in this, the memory ignites the experiences to a better comprehension on life, politics, history and geography.

The essays are arranged thematically into four sections. Each covers multiplicity of themes on language, identity, gender and culture. In the first section – ‘Music, Textiles, Food and Travel’, Srirupa Dhar’s ‘From the Womb of Wien’ beautifully blends motherhood and music to her travel experiences and takes us on a tour to Vienna, the home of Hayden, Mozart and Strauss. In ‘Here and There: My Experiences with Food’, Usha Banerjee shares her gastronomic travel explorations of places in and around the two places she calls ‘home’ – Roorkee and Calcutta (now Kolkata). Ilakshee Bhuyan Nath’s ‘Celebration of Everywomen’ races her memory of travel to Lyon in France and a nostalgic remembrance of her childhood days in Tipling village in Assam and juxtaposes the two different cultures across time and space to weave new ideas and thoughts. As she ferries across the Brahmaputra, she remembers seeing Le Mur des Canuts, one of the largest murals in Europe, a tribute to silk workers in the city, a celebration of textiles. She thinks of women, weavers and the Muga silk in Assam and hopes for such an “art that celebrate the life of Everywomen”. In “A Journey to Santa Barbara”, Ketaki Datta muses over her trip to Santa Barbara and compares her taking the route Tagore took in 1916, experiencing the Danish culture in the city and visiting the Christian Anderson Museum to getting into portals of history.

In the second section – ‘The Solo Women Traveller’, Sohini Chatterjee’s “Travelling with fear and baggage of vulnerability: Reflections on Gender and Spatial mobility” juxtaposes her travel from Kolkata to Nottingham with the issues faced by women traveling alone, stressing on fear and vulnerability. Amrita Mukherjee’s ‘How Work Travel Taught me a Thing of Two About Life’ recollects her trip to Kashmir to emphasise on how an enriching travel is more about discovering people than places. Debasri Basu in ‘Journey’s Mercies Please – The Female Traveller in Perspective’ recalls her trip to the Himalayan province of Uttarakhand.

In the third section – ‘Literature and Travel’, Nishat Haider’s ‘Travelling Memory: A Study of Qurratulain Hyder’s River of Fire’ critically explores concepts of time, history and memory and examines plurality of culture. Haider notes how the novel evades conventional boundaries of historiography or narratology and is “like time travel across the map of memory”. In Arundhati Sethi’s ‘Re-mapping A Small Place: Examination of the Tourist Gaze and Post-colonial Re-inscription of the Antiguan natural and social landscape in Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Village’, one can read to find out how Kincaid “uses the Antiguan consciousness to reveal the inerasable tie between the colonial past and the post-colonial present”. Gillian Dooley’s ‘From Timur to Mauritius: Mathew Flinders’ Island Identity’ analyses the travel accounts of the British navigator Captain Mathew Flinders to enlighten us on how the islands inspired him and “never quite lost the aura of romance for him”. Nabanita Sengupta’s ‘A Bibliophile’s Sauntering in and Out of London’ tells us about the joy of actually travelling to re-live familiar places that have earlier featured in books. Sayan Aich’s ‘In Search of the Lost Travellers: Tradition of Travel in the Bengali Milieu’ debates with humour and serious concerns on the label “Bengali tourist”, the community’s passion for travelling and pauses to reflect on how political and social turmoil can dampen the spirit of inclusivity and cultural heterogeneity.

In the fourth Section — ‘History and Travel’, Sheila T. Cavanagh’s ‘“The Sun Shines Bright in Loch Lomond”: Geography Meets Politics in Scottish Highlands’ explores the narratives of the 18th century travellers Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell to point out the power of narratives in shaping political and social agendas of the time. Himanshu Sharma’s ‘The Exotic Tropics of William and Thomas Daniell’ is an interesting take on how one of the earliest travel impressions of the ‘Oriental scenery’ of the two engravers-painters travel to British India from 1786 to 1796 indirectly contributed to coloniality by creating new materiality of India.

Ankita Das’s ‘The Private Lives of Memsahibs: A Study of Emily Eden and Fanny Parkes’ Experiences in India’ discusses multi-layered experiences based on a traveller’s social class or caste and their purpose of travel to relate race, gender and politics in narratives. She explores representation of Otherness, cross-cultural contacts, feminist discourses in Europe and on mental health and travel. Ruskin Bond’s story ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’ later made in the Bollywood movie Saat Khoon Maaf was inspired from the life of a Dutch lady Susan Anna Maria who lived in Chinsurah, whose tomb is locally known as “saat saheber bibir kabar” (tomb of the lady with seven husbands). This and many more stories through art, architecture, culture and heritage interlocking history and literature in and around Chinsurah finds life in Nishi Pulugurtha’s ‘By the Ganga-Chinsurah’.                    

Rich and delightful, subjective yet universal, whether you are a citizen of the world of globalisation or a postcolonial scholar, Across and Beyond is a book for everyone. Ranging from personal accounts of travel to critical essays on literary texts, it engages to connect and cater to mindful and meaningful travelling. Passionately written by a group of travel enthusiasts from their own experiences of travel, their shared moments and memory make the set of essays a bumper harvest for anyone looking for ideas or insights to solo travel or group travel, or for those who want to partake in what Jumpa Lahiri wrote in Namesake, “… to travel without moving your feet”.     

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Gracy Samjetsabam teaches English Literature and Communication Skills at Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Excerpt

Across and Beyond, Essays on Travel

Excerpted from the Introduction of a book of travel essays  

Title: Across and Beyond, Essays on Travel

Editor: Nishi Pulugurtha,

Publisher: Avenel Press, 2020

Small little things – a place, a book, a poem, an image, an incident, an anecdote, the memory of a journey, a short walk, a sight, a monument, a photograph, a magazine article, a snippet of history,  the train whistle, a meal, a trinket, a souvenir, someone I met, help received at some point of time — these and many more things like these often remind me of journeys, of my sojourns, some taken, some still to be taken, a story that is waiting to happen or a story that has become a part of my being. Nostalgia, memory and longing are closely intertwined in my mind whenever the word travel comes to mind.

Travel is about negotiating with the known and the unknown, the familiar and the unfamiliar. It brings in ideas of negotiation, urban planning, history, architecture, space, food, memory, exile, emigration, and colonialism. As a free, voluntary, spontaneous movement, travel could be contrasted to ideas of displacement. This brings into contention as to who can and who cannot travel, an important idea in today’s world, where violence has caused forced displacement of people. There are places where one cannot travel to because of restrictions. This counters the basic idea of travel as a free, spontaneous movement. There is also the travel of certain people that is necessitated by work – for instance, journalists travelling to war ravaged zones.

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Since time immemorial travel has excited and enticed people. Inspite of the fact that not all travel has had or has happy associations, people have written about their voyages in strange and new lands, opening new vistas, people and places. These works of travel, of experiences and adventures have enriched literature, and have worked at recreating social, cultural, political and economic history.

Travel writing is not just about travel. It is about one’s experiences, about places, people, culture. It is the subjective that matters more, or should matter more. Travel is about observations, it is about lives lived differently, in places that are so very different from what one is used to, the land, the history, the culture, the people, the food, the music, the textiles, the sights and sounds, the weather, everything that one gets to see is so very different. The personal, the subjective, becomes important, whether it is a personal narrative, or one that has a particular agenda to serve, whether it is about experiences pleasant or those unpleasant. Memory plays an important role in writing about travel experience. History, politics, geography, almost all branches of life feature prominently in works that talk about travel. 

Travel and writing on travel bring up various issues and themes. What makes people travel? How does the idea of travel work to re-present one’s lived place? How do the familiar and well-known take on a charm so very different? How do people and places seem to interact to create a sense of lived experience? What role do memory and nostalgia play in travel? Does writing about travel bring about a re-living of the whole experience? How do bad experiences while travelling colour one’s experience of the place visited? Who travels, for what purpose, and how does the purpose or nature of travel determine itineraries? Do images/ narratives/ descriptions produced by travellers influence or present constructions of identity? What is the role of travel writing in colonialism? How does travel writing work to present the little known or almost forgotten places and people? At a time when more and more women are beginning to travel alone or in women-only groups for pleasure, how do their experiences of travel add to the genre of travel narratives? Could travel writing be gendered?

The essays range from personal accounts of travel that interweave food, music, textiles and books into them, that speak of the nuances of language and words, of culture and its influence on things, of place and memory, critical essays on literary texts which have travel as an important aspect of their narrative or deal with travel as a metaphor, essays that deal with travel in the nineteenth century, to essays that talk about the fear that instinctively comes to the mind of a solo woman traveller conditioned socially to be wary of people and /or places, travel in popular culture, essays that bring together notions of identity, politics, diplomacy, geography and history, of work related travel and the experiences wrought thereof.

About the Book

An edited volume of a collection of essays by travel enthusiasts and scholars that range from personal accounts of travel that weave together food, music, textiles and books to essays that speak of the nuances of language, words and culture, of place and memory. There are essays that speak of travel in popular culture and bring together notions of identity, politics, geography and history. The volume also contains critical essays on literary texts which deal with travel, essays on travel in the nineteenth century, to essays that reveal the experiences of the solo woman traveller.

About the Editor

Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and creative writer. Her research areas are British Romantic poetry, Indian Writing in English, diaspora literature, Shakespeare adaptations in film and she has presented papers and published in these areas extensively. She writes short stories, poems, essays, travelogues, and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her creative writings have been published in anthologies, journals and magazines. She is the author of a monograph on Derozio (2010),  a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019), and has a volume of poems, The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems (2020). 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Musings

In the Winter Sun

A special for the Republic Day of India by Nishi Pulugurtha, what will it be like this year with social distancing and the global pandemic

The Republic Day of India being observed by school students wearing traditional clothes. Photo courtesy: Wiki

Christmas this year was a quiet affair like most other festive days for the past nine months of 2020. The pandemic has changed much of life as it was for all and for me. I have been indoors mostly.  Work and reading has kept me busy for much of the time. Online classes and examinations tire me but then reading and writing keeps me pleasantly occupied. And yes, cooking too. As the sun mellowed and temperatures dropped a little, I began to spend some time in the afternoon sun in the backyard. The water tank is my seat and a few plants around add to the ambience. A few colourful butterflies flitter around, the neighbour’s cat mews as it moved around.

I sat in the afternoon sun catching up on a novel that arrived a few days ago when I heard a voice. The two little girls in the red building just beside my apartment building were back again. They were at their mamar bari (maternal uncle’s house). The little one, the younger of the two, asked me what I was doing. The last time she was here, she was mostly quiet, following her sister around. It was the older one who did most of the talking. This time, the older one played a more protective role – that of the elder sister. When I expressed my surprise, she told me that the little one talks a lot nowadays. She, for one, still had online classes to attend to, she made it a point to tell me that. The mother looked out from the window with a warning — the little one asks too many questions and that they will keep coming. She added that if I was doing something important, I would be constantly disturbed. I smiled at them. 

I answered her question, told her that I was reading a book. She then wanted to know what the book was about. I told her it was a story book. She then asked me my name. When I told her, she repeated it after me. Then again, she asked me why I was sitting outside. And she went on and on. The questions kept coming. She had a small doll and she showed it to me. She wanted to see what I had in my hand. I show her the book. I know she could not see it clearly as she was on the second floor. But then, she was happy to see it. I guess, she was happy that I responded to her. A little later, she was joined by her older sister who smiled and told me they were going for lunch, reassuring me they would be back soon.

I smiled at the two at that window and as the questions stopped and the two disappeared, went back to the novel. The sun was on my back, a little kitty on the wall under the neem tree. As it got warmer, I moved indoors. I could hear their goings on. It was time for my classes too.

Today, I heard that familiar voice again. We have been talking almost every day now. She told me she has a book too. She told me she is reading. She even had a pencil in her hand. I asked her about her book, and she began a tale – a tale of a princess imprisoned in a big house. She tries showing me the pictures in her book. “Can you see the pictures?” she asks. I smiled at her and listened to the bits and pieces of her story. The older one appeared at the window bars, smiled at me and said that she had been reading that story to her sister. The little one wanted to read, everyone else around was doing so.

It is nice to see the book in her hand, her interest in them and in stories. It was also sad to note that they are, like most of us, stuck in small spaces. I hear the voices of these two girls ‘playing’ with the two young boys on the opposite terrace. Their play was verbal, they could not meet, run about or fight. One of the best childhood memories that I have is playing on the street just in front of our home. In winters we played badminton, our racquets would be out and dusted and shuttlecocks bought and kept ready. We lost many of the shuttlecocks. They would fall into the open drain, get completely wet and dirty, would land up on trees, would get damaged too soon. We took turns to buy them. There were plastic ones available too, and though they lasted longer we didn’t like them. We played singles and doubles as well – pushing and jostling on that road in the para (colony). We would stop for a passing vehicle and then get back to it, all over again. 

It is not just because of the times we are in, running around and playing on the streets is almost a thing of the past these days. There are other things that keep children more occupied and other activities too. Times change and so do norms. I just hope that these little ones get a nicer space to live in. As I go on with work, the headphones plugged in, cutting me from sounds excepting the ones that emanate from the laptop, I move, for some time, into another world, a world that most of us have got used to in these COVID-worn times. In one of my classes, one student says that since Republic Day was approaching and that we would still be online connected virtually, maybe in one class we could just talk about how our lives have been affected by the pandemic. “There would be the flag hoisted at college,” someone else chipped in.

“Yes,” said another, “but we wouldn’t be there. So, it would be interesting to talk about the scenario now.”

“I saw flags being made in a house nearby,” said another. I agreed to the idea immediately. I would surely like to hear about what young minds feel and think about things happening around us.

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Nishi Pulugurtha’s works include a monograph Derozio, travel essays Out in the Open, edited volume of travel essays Across and Beyond, and The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings

Of Cats, Classes, Work and Rest

By Nishi Pulugurtha

On the step of the building just opposite my living room window is a cat. A beautiful tabby that is in repose – a blissful repose, it seems, as I struggle to deal with things online. Examinations, messages, mails, calls, meetings, discussions – they just seem to go on. Beyond working hours, on Sundays too – yes, they do keep me busy, maybe keep me sane, however, at the same time they are tiring and exhausting. I attend sessions which tell me of various technical aspects of the online platforms that supposedly will make things easier, my take on them —  they seem to be even more complicated.

The cats are not my pets. It is just that I like to observe things around me and working from home my views are limited these days. One of my neighbours has about four pet cats, I can hear her calling out to them – Chini, Mini, Kini, Tini. I hear them purr in response to the call. They snuggle around her feet as she walks out. She picks up one, cuddles it and then picks up another. I see her kneeling and talking to them. That conversation goes on for a while. I hear all kinds of noises – human and feline. She goes in and gets to work and the felines decide to remain in the compound. I guess they want some more of the sun – it is scorching still but that does not seem to stop them.

One of them crawls into the green space in front. She seems to be looking for something — maybe she did get a scent of something that could be a delicious afternoon meal or snack. There is a big noise, an uproar, you could say. That is my other neighbour. I hear her go on. She seems to be shouting at someone. I can clearly understand that she is trying to drive something out of her house. She hollers out to her husband to close the kitchen door. She has just finished her cooking. Well, one of the felines decided to visit neighbours and that was the reason for the commotion.  Inspite of all this shouting and hollering, Mita makes it a point to mix a little bit of leftover rice and some fish bones every day after lunch. She puts this in bowls and puts them out in a small dish near the steps. Slowly the cats venture forth. She has been doing this for years now. She has a late lunch, a very late lunch.

I am in between classes then, online classes and need a cup of tea to cheer me up. As I make myself a cup, I see her walking towards that empty space, bowl in hand and a few of the felines following her. She is no longer shouting at them. Rather, she is talking to them, asking them to wait for a while. She leisurely walks, greeting someone in the distant window. As she puts the food, the felines get busy.

Mita decides to catch up on some conversation with the lady who lives upstairs. As I put on my headphones, I can hear their voices. I am off to another world, a virtual one – my classroom these days. The class consists of new students who are more than lost in all this huge virtual space. I tell them I am in as much trouble as they are in. I am still trying to negotiate my way through this maze of platforms, learning something, trying to learn and not always succeeding. They are quiet for some time, and then I see a message in the chat box. I answer, ask them to speak one by one. I have the list of names on a list, a list that has numbers too – numbers that confuse. This is the first time I am unable to associate the name with the person. I have never seen them, do not know when I will meet them in a classroom.

Room 212 on the second floor, a big, warm, airy room that in the summer months burns, is the allotted classroom for my students. The windows of the room look out to the huge playground. A lot of activity is seen there. A lot of noise too, that disturbs my class. I need to raise my voice to be heard by all. A couple of huge trees stand between the windows and the playground — trees that are home to beautiful pigeons and mynahs. Between the trees and the huge playground is a narrow path that meanders around the playground, branching off at two places. That physical space of my college and the classroom, the space beyond lingers on in my mind as I talk to these students who have just joined college. They have not been to the college. All they have seen are images in the virtual world. We go on trying to make some sense of things.

When it is done for the day, I still have work to be done, attendance and the like – there are still things that I need to attend to. I hear the sounds of the cats purring. They are all under my car that is parked just outside the window. It has been parked for most of the time in the past few months. The space beneath the car is the favourite afternoon siesta time for the cats. They play, they rest in the much cooler space there — nice and cozy too. As I walk on the terrace in the evenings to take a break from work, the two little girls on the neighbours terrace call out to me and point to two cats high up on a ledge. Like these two little ones they are at play too. A little later the cats are near the red toy teddy that has been discarded and tied to a pole on the terrace of the house opposite, their play still on.

Dusk settles in and the autumnal sky hues bring in much colour. The clouds, the setting sun, and that all those exuberant colours remain for a while. The cats are in by now. I know I will hear their names being called out again a little while later, at dinner time. As it gets dark and I turn towards the stairs I see a pair of bright eyes sparkle on the verandah grill – comfortably at rest.

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Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in various journals and magazines. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010), guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus and has a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). Her recent book is an edited volume of essays on travel, Across and Beyond  (2020). She is now working on her first volume of poems.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Musings

Travels with Gandhi

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha meanders through the passages of Aga Khan Palace…

Places have always fascinated me. They say so much, about lived experience, about people and about culture. There is so much of history and life in places, known unknown and little known. Some waiting to be discovered, some familiar. Tucked in the familiar lanes and by lanes of the city I live and places that I have been to are moments of history, of lives, of stories that need to be heard, places and buildings that need to be discovered. Even familiar places throw up new stories and new histories.

Living in times such as these when COVID_19 has kept us locked in, at times I see some picture, a news item, a small story somewhere that takes me back to a place, a memory,  a slice of history and the past. Travel writing has taken up quite a bit of my time in the past few months as I sat editing my manuscript, an edited volume, a collection of travel essays. So, even though I was physically in one place, at home, I was able, at least, for some time to visit and re-visit places as I read the essays that my wonderful contributors had crafted.

 I thought of going back in time too, to speak of a place, a city that I had visited some years ago. Of a monument, a building that stood majestic, of a hot summer day when I decided to put to use a couple of hours that I had at hand before I had to catch my flight and head home. Those were times when travel was not a big issue and we travelled for various reasons. Moreover, we could travel when we felt like it, or wanted to. The pandemic has pulled the plugs on that, life has now become restrictive and as I try to make the most of it,   I decided to scribble some thoughts that came to mind. Especially, as October was knocking around the corner and being imprisoned was something that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi often experienced. I refer to him as the monument that I speak about has a connection to him and to an important aspect of his life.

On a trip to Pune I encountered a small part of history. This was my first trip to the city and a very short trip at that. I was hoping to make the best of the few hours of leisure I had. A city that had been growing at a fast pace for some years due to the software industry, Pune seemed at first sight very much a modern city that is ever growing and expanding. The older part of the city is crowded with a lot of traffic. The dirty Mutha river, mostly dry, the Shaniwar Wada close by and the very popular Dadushth Ganesh temple are crowded with tourists and locals. I did check them out too. I did write about my visit to Shaniwar Wada some years ago too.  In this essay I will write of my experiences of my visit to the Aga Khan Palace. One of the reasons for my choice of it is its connection with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi whose birthday falls in this month.

A short auto ride took me to the Aga Khan Palace that is located in Samrat Ashok Road on a scorching day in May.  Built by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of the Nizari Ismaili Muslim, this palace was built to help the poor in the region badly affected by famine in 1892. According to popular lore, the Sultan built the palace to provide employment to villagers of the surrounding region. About a thousand people worked on it and it was constructed in five years at a cost of about twelve lakh rupees. For many years the palace housed a school till it was handed over by Prince Karim Aga Khan to the Gandhi Smarak Samiti in 1972 as a mark of respect to the memory of Gandhi.

As one enters the compound one notices a plaque at the entrance that announces that this building is a monument of national importance. It is in this building that Gandhi was imprisoned along with his wife, Kasturba Gandhi, his secretary, Mahadev Desai and political activist and poet, Sarojini Naidu after he began the Quit India Movement, from August 1942 to May 1944. This monument is also important as it is here that both Kasturba Gandhi (February 22, 1944) and Mahadev Desai (August 15, 1942) died. In a corner of the premises of this monument is a Samadhi, a memorial to both of them, marking the place where they were cremated. Two tulsi plants mark the spots. A calmness pervades the whole place. A lone gardener cleans the dry leaves as I stand there for a while transported to another time.

The palace is now a museum with the rooms used by Gandhi, Kasturba and Mahadev open to the public. The rooms are spartan revealing the simple life that its inhabitants lived. A few personal items of Gandhi are on display too – utensils, slippers, clothes and letters. As one enters into the big hall at the entrance there is a large statue of Gandhi. The museum has large paintings which present various aspects of him during the struggle for freedom. There is one that has Gandhi with a begging bowl in front of a big crowd. One image is that of Kasturba lying in Gandhi’s lap, a canvas that presents an intimacy in their relationship. A painting titled “New Hope for Rural India” reveals Gandhi’s engagement with the “Constructive Programme”- a programme that envisaged an agenda for a revolution that would bring about a change in the individual and in society, a programme that Gandhi undertook to prepare the people for a post-independence India. Another painting is titled “A Crusader for Humanity.

The imposing palace has Italian arches and lawns and has five halls. With a magnificent structure, the two storied building has a corridor that encircles the entire building. This building is now the headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society. I recall walking through the building taking in every aspect of it, pausing to observe and note as I move through the rooms and corridor. I remember sitting under one of the large trees and gazing at this building that had been witness to a major part of Indian history. As I revisit the place with words and emotions, in times that are so different, I am reminded of the relevance of Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence in a world that is increasingly becoming violent — in action, in deeds, in words. It is time, to ponder about his ideals that are needed now more than ever.

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Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Nostalgia Poetry

In Memory of Spring

By Nishi Pulugurtha

The Morning Glory

A green mossy wall

Broken glass pieces

Some thread, a used bottle, cut –

and the green

that flowers.

On some days

in the cloudy light it

smiles.

The small droplets cling

And shine bright.

The tiny yellow bud

That blooms this morning

just for a little while.

Fleeting . . .

Drops on a Periwinkle

Jutting through masonry

from small cracks and crevices

the small green plants crop up

breaking through.

In a few days the violet flowers

that dance in the wind

and shine in the sun, bring more colour.

The little drops of rain

beaded and full

cling onto the bright green leaves.

on the bent stem

that still holds on.

Burdened, yet strong –

The dim, dull light causes patterns

in the drops

that flash at times too.

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Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings

Playtime

By Nishi Pulugurtha

I see more of the sky these days. A beautiful blue sky, some clouds here and there. I try to figure the shapes in my head, something that I did as a child. I see the light from the rather dimmed sun endowing the clouds with some colour, at times bright, at others, dull and dim. There seems to be some play at work, the sun, the sky and the clouds. I used to walk in the gated compound that houses my apartment only to be largely disturbed by mosquitoes and other insects. As these creepy crawlies cause an allergic reaction on my skin, I decided that I had to find some other place to walk. A climb up some stairs to the terrace and the discovery of a small, restricted place to walk and an open, sprawling space around me (beyond the walls) and above me — this is where I walk most evenings now.

The other terraces around me also seem to have some activity. Just beyond the compound wall are two buildings, yellow and green. I see people there — an old gentleman leisurely walking alone. After some time, a lady joins in on a brisker walk. The old gentleman moves to one side and looks at children playing on the opposite terrace. He has a toy in his hand which he throws. It is caught by the little girl who is out at play. She runs, hops, jumps, and plays. At times she has company, another small one. But mostly, she is there with her father. I see her learning to ride a bicycle. He is there holding on, trying to teach her, reaching out to lend a hand if he thinks she needs help. I am sure she will learn it soon.

The red house next door is usually quiet. As I was looking around, I heard someone calling out my name. I turned to see a young girl of about eight. There was another little one behind here, about two years old. And then I saw their mother and we start catching up. She decided to visit her mother and that is the reason why the quiet house has so much activity now. Moreover, she said that kids were getting restless. She had come for a week, she said. A small break for the kids. Well, not much of a break for the older one, though – online classes were still on. The kids moved on to play. They were not playing among themselves.

Right opposite the red house was another pink one with a terrace adjacent to rooms on the first floor. Two small boys played there each evening – riding a small car, playing with plastic cricket bats, running about and the like. Their mother is a nurse and has long hectic hours. I hear their voices every day, they wave to me when I look out too. I noticed a new game these days with the kids talking across buildings, not just talking but playing as well – the girls in the verandah of the red building and the boys just opposite. I hear their voices, I notice their games too. It is mostly a kind of a dumb charade – the eight year girl mostly deciding on the nature of the game. She is the oldest of the lot.  The girl in the red house enacts a scene and the boys have to guess what it is all about and vice versa. As I look at them at their ‘game’ I find it sad, I smile too. They have managed to find a way to ‘play’. Sad, because their ‘play’ reveals the situation we are in at the present times, stuck in our respective homes, trying to deal with the present scenario.

I am reminded of our games and play too. As kids we played on the road in front of our homes. We ran about, played ‘hide and side’, hiding in lanes, behind houses – we had a particular demarcated zone of play. We had our fights, our quarrels too. Those were days when there were not too many cars on the streets and hence it was safe playing on the street.

We had spectators then too. There would be Pishima* sitting on her tall stool upstairs, her afternoon nap done, with a cup of tea and a biscuit in hand. There would be Bubun’s mother who took an active interest in all what we did, at times even interfering in our play — Bubun was one of our playmates. There would be the Dida* in the opposite house, alone in that big house, looking out and delighting in our play. We played every day, after we got back from school, after our homework was done. As we went on to middle school, we played only on Wednesdays and Thursdays (school was off on Thursdays) and on the weekends.

There would be some weekends when there was no company to play outside, my playmates were off to their grandparents’ place. However, my sister and I played at home, in our long verandah. We managed to keep ourselves busy. Yes, we did complain that all our playmates were away. It was not possible for us to travel to Ammamma’s place on weekends, she was in Kakinada and later moved to Hyderabad. We had to wait for our vacations to visit her – and we longed for that, looked forward to it with so much excitement and anticipation. That excitement of going to Hyderabad still persists in both of us even today.

As I climb the stairs this evening and come into the open, there I see a long cloud, fluffy, a bit dark just behind that skyscraper, almost as if holding it up, supporting it. It remained like that for quite some time. A languid, beautiful scene that filled my senses for quite some time, filling me with a Wordsworthian sense of delight in the simple things of nature. I rest for a while after my walk is done, mostly to take a few photographs of what the city offers me. Tall buildings in the distance, familiar buildings I am able to identify, houses, water tanks, pipes and crows on them, many buildings I am unable to identify. I try to locate the directions as I look around.

The birds seem to be pausing for a while, catching up with their conversations, before heading home, the day done. I notice a few pigeons on a maze of pipes, perched away from each other, almost as if in keeping with the times. The play of the little children continues. I can hear their laughter and talk as I move indoors. As we approach another 15th August, another Independence Day, I just hope that we are able to create a place where these young ones are able to think freely, to give voice to their thoughts freely, to live the way they want to, in a place where “their head is held high”. 

*Pishima – Aunt

*Dida – Grandmother

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings

New Normal & Corona Puja

 By Nishi Pulugurtha

Covid_19 has been changing a lot of things. We are trying to get used to the ‘new normal’. Most of us are still indoors, working from home, trying to deal with things in the best way we can. Those of us who are into teaching are working from home too and trying to learn new ways of engaging with our students, of being connected with them. I tried ways and means of taking online classes if and when I could, of emailing my student papers and reading material,  of getting assignments mailed to me, of correcting them and of counselling them.

I even tried various online platforms.  There is the question of network connectivity, not all are able to join in regularly. Some call and talk too. One misses out a lot when one is teaching online. I feel it is important to see my students when I teach. All I am looking at is a blank screen — their videos are off to save bandwidth. I know they do disturb in class with their fidgeting, their talking and their daydreaming but teaching online is a poor substitute to classroom teaching.

I see many of my students write poetry these days. Some of them scribbled once in a while, but these days I find them doing that more often. Some of what they write is really good. I encourage them to go on as I am impressed to see them expressing themselves in English. There are many who want me to read and comment and edit their work too. This, I feel, is their way of trying to deal with the situation they are in.

There are many who draw and paint and share their art work too. I had always wanted to have a Literary Society in the College I teach at but never actually got down to having the students work at one, so I thought I would use the online medium to create one. A platform where I could share the creative done by students of the college I teach at.  I am sure that some encouragement will make them work harder at it.

We even got down to celebrating various events online. To commemorate World Theatre Day, we shared readings of plays in the department virtual group. We shared video recordings of our readings, songs and even dance recitals on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore too. It was nice to see many of the students joining in. The best we could do. A student compiled them all into videos and posted them online too.  

There are a number of Webinars being organized.  I jumped the bandwagon too. I have felt that they are nice ways of engaging. Yes, there are gaps, lacunae, criticisms and the like but at least for some time I think it does open us up to ideas and thoughts in a scenario where concentrating on something is becoming difficult for many of us every day. I have had people tell me that as long as they are listening to the lectures their mind was engaged in stimulating discussions for some time at least. I learnt working on a new medium in order to organise it all. Yes, there were hiccups and snags and I am still trying to navigate my way through the technical maze.

A young dancer and dance teacher told me that he had begun taking dance classes online. A friend tells me her son is taking karate lessons online. I was surprised to hear that initially, but have taken that in my stride now. This is the new normal, the way things might have to go on for some time. My nephew’s coaching classes are all held online. He was even given a test that he had to take at home. I guess, one of the important things is to be connected with whatever one is involved with.

My mother’s carer was speaking about how people in her village are reacting to ‘Corona’. She said that though there have been no cases as yet in her village but people are scared. They have been asked by the village elders to do a number of things that would help them ward off the evil eye of ‘Corona’. I could not but be interested in what she had to say.

One of the first things that they were asked to do was to get up early in the morning, before sunrise, and stand facing the East. Now they had to chop onions into round pieces, put them into their mouth and chew and eat them. They could only have water after about one and a half hours after that. She said, that her family followed all the instructions, like everyone else in the village.

Another set of instructions soon followed as more news about the pandemic trickled in. This time they had to get up early in the morning and stay unwashed. They were asked to eat five grains of rice and five wet tulsi leaves.

At another time, they had to get up early in the morning, have a bath, light five lamps, earthen diyas, which they had to make the day before, and pray to the gods. I laughed when I first heard her say all of this but soon realised that this was their way of trying to deal with the unknown disease. They had no clue about it, or what it could do. As it is the gods are goddesses are propitiated when someone in the family falls sick.

I was reminded of the Sitala Puja that is associated with sickness and disease. Maybe these village folk were trying to do the same with this new sickness as well.  She tells me that there is talk about ‘Corona Puja’ as well. I ask her details of it.

She said that her folks are awaiting news and information from the village priest. Inspite of all the blind faith and beliefs, one thing that she tells me is that they make it a point to drive home the importance of wearing masks, of washing hands and of quarantine. A local school is the quarantine centre. Her brother who has been out of work, recently returned from Coimbatore and is now housed there. Once he is out of quarantine he is going to get married to his sweetheart, she smiles as she tells me. Some new beginnings in these times.

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Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings

Cyclone Amphan & Lockdown

As cyclone Amphan fireballed and ripped through Kolkata, Nishi Pulugurtha gives a first hand account of how she survived the fear and the terror of the situation

Forecasts and news did not prepare us for the actuality of it all till it actually happened.  We had taken all necessary precautions but what happened on the evening of the 20th of May 2020 rattled and disturbed a lot. Cyclone Amphan was moving slowly over the Bay of Bengal and was expected to make a landfall in the southern parts of Bengal and lash the city of Kolkata as well.

News of this nature is troubling and more so in times of the pandemic. As it is we are all at a loss, stuck at home, worried about how things would turn out. As news kept pouring in about the cyclone which turned in to a super cyclone, the common refrain was why now. Things seem to be getting worse. At a time when we needed to maintain social distancing, people were being evacuated into cyclone shelters. This had to be done, the cyclone would wreak havoc and arrangements had to be made for lives to be saved.

At home, I heard my mother’s carer, Kajal, talking constantly about it over the telephone. She was calling up home and talking to her family members about it. Her home is in Namkhana, South 24 Parganas which would bear the brunt of the cyclone very strongly. Her sister who lives in Bakkhali by the coast, had been evacuated well in advance before the cyclone made a landfall. 

Kajal kept telling me that this was worse than the cyclone Alia as there had been announcements in Namkhana and Bakkhali about how high the waves of the Bay of Bengal would lash out as well. As it began to rain she spoke to her folks, they were all at home, and expecting the river waters to rise had moved everything at home to higher places. Her home is just beside a river. The last time she spoke to her family members was when it was lashing the place. The asbestos sheet that was their roof had been blown away and they were unable to move out of the house as three trees had fallen on the house and one was blocking the door. There were tears in her eyes as she said there was no way anyone could come to rescue her folks.

At about four o’clock I decided to venture out a bit just to have a look at what was happening outside and that is the first time I heard the sound of the wind. It was loud, real loud, of the kind I do not recall hearing in recent times.

It began raining heavily in Kolkata and at home we began securing the glass windows. The intensity of the wind began increasing and we readied candles and match boxes. I even made dinner early as I was sure the electricity supply would go off. I made arrangements for water, both for drinking and use too. Living with someone who is in an advanced state of Azheimer’s, I needed to be prepared with how to deal with things. Living in the moment is something that dementia instills into us.

Friends and cousins started enquiring about how we were holding on. Holding on is something that Amma and I have been doing since her diagnosis had come in. And it is something that every one of us is doing in times of Covid-19. As the storm raged on, the sound and intensity kept increasing.

The tumult of it all was frightening and scary. I opened a window to look out to see how things were outside and that is when I could hear even more loud noises. Many houses in the neighbourhood had fibre sheds on the terraces and as the wind raged, the tins intensified the roars. The sound was fiery and nightmarish. Within our compound was a two storied house that had such a shed on its terrace. As I looked out from the window, I saw a fibre sheet rip off and fly. It frightened me out of my wits.

What if it should hit someone outside. It would lash against electric poles and wires too. It was getting dark too. It was a scary scenario. I closed the window and rushed to be with Amma. She does not speak at all now for some years, the ravages wrought by Alzheimer’s, but it was clear that she was very perturbed. We were enclosed in darkness. I started speaking to her and sat beside her, comforting her. We sat huddled up together not knowing what would happen.

At about 7.30 pm, it seemed that the noises were less. I opened a window again to look out. The wind was no longer raging though it was still raining. My neighbours were out in their verandahs, torches and mobile flashlights on, trying to make some sense of the damage that had been done.

It was too dark to make sense of how things were but we did see our whole compound was waterlogged.  It was important be indoors, to try and be calm. I asked Kajal for news about her family and the state of her village. The last she heard of them was when they had been evacuated and were lodged in a neighbour’s house, all safe. That was at about six in the evening. She said she was unable to get in touch with anyone after that. She tried calling all those whose numbers she had, not just of her family members but also of local villagers, but to no avail.

We had dinner in silence, the electric supply was restored. Amma was taken to bed but she was awake for most part of the night, making noises once in a while. She usually sleeps till twelve, is awake for some time and then falls asleep again. She slept in the wee hours of the morning. I went out to have a look at things in the morning, water all around, my small garden in a mess, the plants mostly bent, fibre sheds strewn around in the compound, glass pieces on my car parked outside.

Thoughts of the pandemic were pushed back, all of us in Kolkata and all over Bengal and Orissa were more concerned about the cyclone and all the devastation it has brought.

I got a call from the local grocer at 6.30 in the morning, I had ordered a few things yesterday before it started. He called up to say that they were on the way. I told him that he could wait. He replied that things were all ready for delivery, moreover I might be in need. The young boy who delivered them told me that there was knee deep water in places.

I asked Kajal if she had any news of her family. She said she had been trying throughout the night but to no avail. There was no news at all. She was with Amma as she usually is. They were holding each other’s hands.

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Stories

The Mask

By Nishi Pulugurtha

Green all around, shades of green actually, that seemed to smile at her as she looked out. The tall moringa tree that seemed to reach up high, its small leaves dazzling in the play of sun and rain. That tree that met her eyes each morning as she looked out of that large window always made her feel nice. The rusted iron grills, the wooden window shutters broken here and there, did not shut tight, the latch rusted too, some bit of concrete laid bare a little of the masonry – her eye moved along.

***

Bimala arrived in this house after her marriage. It was an arranged one. Baba and Ma looked for a suitable groom for their youngest born and the marriage was solemnised in the traditional way. Dida (grandmother) wanted it to be done just that way. Dada (elder brother) was working by then and just a few years before this they had moved into an apartment on the eastern fringes of the city.

It was a modest one and Bimala took great pains to do it up — from choosing the colours of the wall, the upholstery, the curtains, the fittings in the bathroom, almost everything. Bimala had a keen taste for the aesthetic and visitors to their home always made it a point to refer to it.

Baba had worked with the state government and retired a year after her marriage. They were a middle class family, and a very happy one at that. Bimala was never pampered, Ma and Baba were strict disciplinarians who made sure their children had the best in life.

Anupam, Bimala’s husband, lived with his mother in a neighbourhood in the southern part of the city. Anupam had his education from some of the best institutions in India, he obviously had been a very good student. He had been working with a multinational company for some years now and everyone knew he would soon rise to the top. Kumar Kaku (uncle) knew the family well and vouched for Anupam. He and Kakima (aunty) always said, Anupam was a wonderful person, soft spoken and reticent.

“A reserved lover, it is said, always makes a suspicious husband,” Kate Hardcastle’s line from the play she read in college had come to her mind. She spoke about it to Ma and Baba. Baba said, “You can surely talk to him. If you don’t approve, we will not go ahead.”

She remembered Ma’s reply, “Kumar is distantly related to the family. We have known him for years, he is our family friend, we can trust him completely. When he says the boy is good, we could go along. I see no reason why we need to have doubts.”

She did talk to him a few times before the wedding and Anupam came across as a decent guy. They met up too a few times. She did not want to rush into it, she wanted to take some more time, but Kumar Kaku was insistent. “I know the family well. They are decent people.”

“That is alright,” Baba said. “It is a question of Bimu’s life, let her take some more time before she decides.”

Kakima too waxed praises galore, “Anupam was such a nice person.” She spoke highly of him and his family and called up Ma regularly. For some days, this was what went on in the household. Dada also agreed with Baba.

“Bimala could be given time to decide,” she heard Baba tell Ma. That was all the kind of conversation that went on at home, these days, she thought. As days went by, Kumar Kaku’s visits to their house increased. Bimala said yes after some thought. Kakima and Kumar Kaku were jubilant.

“I know both families and this is what is best for our Bimala,” she could hear his words as he spoke to Ma.

Baba did not say much. “Are you sure, Bimu, you want to go ahead with it? If you have even a little bit of doubt, any questions, anything, let me know. I am sure I can talk with your Ma about it.”

Bimala just smiled, “Na, Baba, it is alright.”

So in about less than twelve months, the marriage was finalised. A flurry of activity – arrangements were done, invitations sent out, so much taken care of. Kaku and Kakima took an ever more eager interest in everything. Things moved real fast after she had agreed. A modest wedding and soon her new “life” in the new house began.

The ‘mask’ came off in less than six months. “Don’t touch that.” “Don’t do this.” “This is my house.” “Do not try to show off your learning.” “All your ideas are worthless” – they just kept coming at all times.

“Why do you need appliances? My mother did all these by herself. “

“But Khokha, things have changed now. Certain things are needed these days. Had they been available earlier on, my home would have been so very different.” Anupam’s mother had been the voice of good sense, not that she had much say in the house.

He would just stare at her. Bimala felt nice talking to her. A year after the marriage, a massive heart attack ended that life. They had been talking when the end came and Bimala was in a state of shock for weeks after that incident.

In summer months the house was unbearable. Bimala had not been used to this heat. Anupam had said that he would make provisions so that life could be nice. That was before the wedding. Kumar Kaku and Kakima too had said that he would do all that was needed to live life well. Nothing happened. Bimala tried to reason with him, he ignored her. That day, about a year and half after they had been married, the television was blaring and Anupam was watching the news. She tried speaking to him about getting an air conditioner, he turned away. She again tried speaking.

This time she switched off the television. He shouted at her. She tried keeping her cool, he refused to listen to anything. Suddenly he caught her with his two hands, he held her neck. He held her that way and pushed her from the living room to the bedroom, she tried to break free, but the grip was too strong. Bimala was so taken aback by the whole think that she could not utter a single word. He pushed her on the bed, holding her neck in his hands, shaking her. She struggled and struggled. After a while, he eased the grip, went into the living room, switched on the television.

She lay on the bed, crying in pain, in hurt, in humiliation, insulted. All for some cold air, to live life well. After some time, she got up, there were marks on her neck. Who should she turn to, she felt so lost. She called up Kakima and told her what had happened.

“Such things happen in marriages. Don’t pay much attention to them,” she said.

Bimala could not believe what she said, “Things will be alright now, you see.”

After the conversation was over, she took out her suitcase and started packing her things. The next morning she left.

Anupam did not say a word.

Baba told her, “You did just the right thing.” Ma was upset with the turn of events but they were both happy with the decision.

Bimala never went back.

***

It has been five years since then. Restricted by the lockdown, amid reports of an increase in domestic violence cases, she got talking about it that evening. I knew that was a traumatic period in her life. She had tried picking up her life little by little. I have known her for years and have seen her as she tried to begin things afresh.

“As I look at the masks that we are to wear these days as precautionary measures, I am so reminded of the masks that people always wore.” We were chatting online, and Bimala said, “Kumar Kaku and Kakima’s masks fell off after I walked out of that marriage. All those years of friendship with my parents ebbed so quickly. They never ever got in touch with us, never again.”

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is an Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.