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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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.

Categories
Musings

Hope in Troubling Times

By Nishi Pulugurtha

My college is closed, classes are off and examinations have been deferred. We need to go in only if and when there is a need. It is not a holiday as I keep telling all my students, it is a shutdown, done for the sake of social distancing and isolation.  It is difficult convincing all about the seriousness of it all, how important it is to take precautions. There are many who dismiss it as media hype, as unnecessary, as India is safe, etc. Convincing does not seem to work, nor does rationale, some just refuse to see logic and reason.  No, I am not in a state of panic, just being careful. Trying to do my bit. As I began writing this. news came in of the first case in Kolkata.

As I was reading news about COVID_19 a few days ago it seems like some dystopia, a sci-fi movie or novel, only this time it is not fiction. It is for real and the earlier we realize it and take all necessary measures the better. Life for the daily wage earner could be even more difficult. The driver who came in yesterday morning told me that since many like me who will not be needing their services for sometime, his income is going to fall sharply. What happens to people like us, he said. I did not have an answer.

The shutdown gives most of us time to slow down, to work at other things that we can. I recorded my first lecture last night, a brief one, a test one. I shared it with my fourth semester students in a group that we created, our virtual classroom for the time being. I need to make sure that they are connected to their books and studies. Some of them did watch my video and even asked pertinent questions. I am sure many more will do it too, will take it seriously. Yes, we are angry and disturbed that so many of our plans, our schedules, our trips, our holidays, our getogethers, our parties, our functions, our movie dates, our programmes, so much of our lives that we looked forward to are all cancelled. We need to make the best of a bad situation. We are all in it together and maybe that is what will help us tide over it all.

Yesterday I noticed a post by a young dentist interning right now, miles away from home, she spoke about restraint, about taking precautions, about being careful. That post gave me hope, that in spite of the many who are throwing precautions to the wind and taking things very casually, there are sane voices. I know things sound depressing, who wants to be stuck at home. Even though I have prepared a long list of things I plan to do during this shutdown, I am not sure how much I will actually get down to doing.

It is going to be difficult for the elderly and for those with other health issues and ailments. My mother is in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s Disease and is immobile now. I have been writing about our journey with the disease for some time now so as to create an awareness, just to talk about it, to give voice to those who are no longer able to speak for themselves as the tangled nerves in their brains prevent them from doing so. I need to be extra cautious as a result. She needs constant supervision, her hands need to be washed as she very often puts her fingers into her mouth, just like a baby. The caregivers at home have been instructed to take precautions.

A group of friends came up with a brilliant idea to reach out to those who need help. The Facebook post which I then shared spoke of reaching out to parents of friends, colleagues and acquaintances living alone in Kolkata as their children are abroad or in other parts of the country and are unable to come back now. It spoke of reaching out to them, checking on them to find out if they are alright, if they need anything, of making arrangements so that they have basic supplies, medicines they need. Work on it has already begun, people on both sides have begun to reach out, help is reaching homes. A friend is worried about her father undergoing dialysis at a city hospital and the worry is absolutely justified. The most I can do is to reach out to her. A word of help, of consolation, I believe work.  That friend, too, is part of this group reaching out to the elderly. There surely is much hope and compassion in times such as these. Let us look out for them, reach out, just be there.

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). Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film and has presented papers at national and international conferences in India and abroad and published in refereed international and national journals. 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.

Categories
Poetry

Witness to times past and Yellow Bird

By Nishi Pulugurtha

Witness to times past

A garden tracing its time back

Centuries,

The river flowing by

As it had always done

They have been there together

For years now

Bound by geography, by place

Witness to all that has changed

Witness to all that is changing now

Huge trees, overarching branching

Creepers, shrubs, foliage

Dry leaves – red and brown

Rustling, now quiet

The wind blowing through the green ones

Leaning on, some bent

Broken too,

Twisted and curled

Cut down, decayed

Banks derelict too

The river’s course has changed

Mud flats with debris

Muddied waters.

Glistening in the winter sun

On the broken bench a lone figure

Asleep in the winter sun

Some rest amid all the noise and bother

Before life resumes all over.

Yellow Bird

That yellow bird with a black band around its neck

Perched itself each year

December/January

Its winter haunt, I guess

It sits for a while perched on the branch

And flies off

To land on another branch

The little leaves barely a camouflage

Solitary on its perch

Chirping for a while

To soar away

It is back soon

Almost each morning

The pleasant winter sun seems to be just right for it

It feels nice

It makes me feel nice

The colour, the motion

The flight.

That happy yellow bird

With the black band around its neck.

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). Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film and has presented papers at national and international conferences in India and abroad and published in refereed international and national journals. 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.