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.

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.