December 27, 2013

The Relic - Soumalya Chakraborty

The hand picked up an ancient broom and began dusting the shelves. Rows upon rows of books were cleansed of the fine layer of dust which had settled upon them over the last 2 days. As the broom swept it away, Manik asked himself if the effort was worth it. After all, dust was the only companion his books had these days.

Manik was the owner of Chowdhury Book House, one among the numerous second-hand book stores which dotted both sides of College Street. The shop was opened by his grandfather during the late forties. His father had then taken over and bequeathed it to him. As he looked at their framed portraits, he knew that his would be the last portrait in that series on that wall-IF that wall would still exist. His daughter had no intention of continuing the family business and who could blame her? It appeared nobody cared for books any more. The same stall which kept his predecessors busy all day during their times was now a shelter for cobwebs, termites and forlorn rows of old books. Their wrinkled covers and yellow pages resembled a bygone generation slowly heading towards oblivion. 

"Manik Da…still no customers?" smiled Tarun as he wandered from stall to stall, serving tea in small earthen pots. Manik accepted the steaming cup and took a satisfying sip. 

"No Tarun, and looks like another dry day for me apart from your tea", Manik replied.

"You know what, a few students had come yesterday to look for reference books on Botany. I picked out some of the best titles you'll ever find. They turned the pages for a while and left. Where do you think they'll get better books than those? Our business is 3 generations old. I know all about books and can confidently say that in Kolkata, if you are looking for titles on Botany, those books are the best you'll get."…a tinge of anger seeped into Manik's voice as he sipped his tea-louder and longer this time.

"Manik da, it's not about the books. Nowadays, it's about where you buy them from. Urban youngsters don't like rummaging through dusty shelves of old book stores any more. They'd rather go to a swanky Crosswords or Oxford. Or they'll get entire titles as E-books" Tarun shook his head. "It’s not just you Manik da. Everybody here is talking about the same thing".

"But e-books? Don't they care about holding a book in their hands? Take in the smell of printed paper and be proud of a well-stocked shelf?" Manik could not believe it.

"The time has passed us by Manik da. For us, business isn't about making money. We truly are passionate about the products we sell. But things are not the same any more. The shopping malls have tea shops where they sell tea in earthen pots, just like the one in your hand. But to drink it there is trendy, buying from me is not" Tarun smiled.

The past is now a relic-put in a showcase and exhibited as a sideshow. People who are still living it ought to fade away.

It was a cold winter evening as Manik downed the shutter of his shop for the last time. The small truck had carried away all the books, the stall was up for sale. He was currently considering two offers-one of a fast food joint and another of a barber.

Tarun arrived just as Manik was walking away. "Manik da, your tea"

Manik looked back, "Well Tarun, maybe at another time, in another life, I'd be the owner of a Crosswords at City Center and your cafe would be beside mine, serving tea in earthen pots to youngsters. I'll have my daily two cups from you again. Hope you will still maintain my account in that book of yours-no wait, not a book, on your Laptop that time", Manik laughed at his joke. A laughter that was all sound and no emotion. 

Tarun watched as Manik's silhouette faded away. A homeless beggar rushed to pick up a few yellow pages which had fallen off an old book. The pages would keep his fire going for a few more minutes.

Tarun walked away. The cold night descending around him.

Soumalya Chakraborty

About the author: Soumalya Chakraborty did his Masters in English Literature from University of Hyderabad and have been here since 2006. He currently works in a Gaming company as a Project Manager. Though professionally he is not into literature but reading and writing have always been an integral part of his life and will continue to be. Soumalya joined Bengalis in Hyderabad actively in 2011 and for him it's been a blast so far with all the friends. He has organised activities and has participated in. The networking he made in Bengalis in Hyderabad has benefited him till now. ____________________________________________________________________

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December 19, 2013

The Return... - Soumalya Chakraborty

The streets were narrow with rickety shops encroaching from both directions. Pedestrians barely avoided colliding with each other as they hurried past her. She stood-confused, in a daze. Trying to make sense of it all. What happened to the wide and well-maintained roads of New Jersey which she was so familiar with? Where was she? It appeared like a post-apocalyptic world where humanity was struggling to establish itself all over again. The picture of squalor and chaos everywhere.

With trepidation, she gingerly moved forward, trying to avoid the crowd, the rush of oncoming people, vehicles, cows and stray dogs. Avoiding the stares of curious onlookers, she searched for a sign of familiarity. Something that would clue her in as to  where she was.

Then she started listening and the rush of sounds poured in. Voices, honks, shouts-they were all a cacophony to start with but the language slowly filtered in and started making sense. The language her parents spoke. The one she spoke as well, albeit with an accent and haltingly. She caught a few stray words as she listened “...Sealdah”, “...Moulali”,”...Puja Pandal”,”...Santosh Mitra Square”, the names didn’t mean anything.
She trudged along, the sounds slowly mellowing and not threatening as before. The smells and sights evoking curiosity and occasional wonder at the elaborate decorations around her. The crowd seemed energetic, enthused and not oppressive as she moved. She caught a number of happy faces-looking their best in new dresses. It suddenly dawned on her that wherever she was, it was festivity all around.

She stopped at a street food stall, curious to sample what’s on offer. The crispy, circular eatables stuffed with mashed potato and soaked in tamarind water tasted heavenly. A confectionary nearby introduced her to a couple of sweets which tasted delicious beyond imagination. The taste was further heightened by the feeling of a deep, previously unknown connection that was awakening inside her. As if she was meant to be a daughter of this soil. This unknown land that was suddenly becoming so familiar with every passing moment.
“Fasten your seat-belts please. We would be landing shortly at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata...” a booming voice over the intercom startled her into opening her eyes. She sat up and caught her parents‘ faces as they were looking out through the window, eagerly awaiting the first glimpse of a city they had left 15 years back.

Seeing her awake, her father smiled, “Welcome to Kolkata sweetheart. Am sure you will love your first visit

“But Dad, this is not my first visit! I have already been here”
“No my dear. We left long back and you’ve never been here since you were born!”
“No papa! You never truly LEFT! Neither you, nor mom and not me!”
Her mother smiled and took her hand, “welcome home!”


Soumalya Chakraborty

About the author: Soumalya Chakraborty did his Masters in English Literature from University of Hyderabad and have been here since 2006. He currently works in a Gaming company as a Project Manager. Though professionally he is not into literature but reading and writing have always been an integral part of his life and will continue to be. Soumalya joined Bengalis in Hyderabad actively in 2011 and for him it's been a blast so far with all the friends. He has organised activities and has participated in. The networking he made in Bengalis in Hyderabad has benefited him till now.


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December 5, 2013

Keep your success close; Mistakes Closer!

Life has different ways to teach lessons. Some times and all it so happens that a lesson of small magnitude creates a magnanimous effect in your life. Now that effect can be either a positive effect or a negative effect. If the effect is positive, then we rectify ourselves from the previous learning and next time get cautious about it. On the other hand if it is negative, then we end up swearing “I WILL NOT EVEN THINK OF DOING IT AGAIN”.  Here is my point. It’s not about doing it again ever; it`s about doing it again but with cautiousness. 

Thus I wanted to share this experience of mine which I recently experienced. I keep releasing my experiences because a senior lecturer of mine told me once, “Try to share your encouraging lessons  as much as possible because you might be helping someone going through a similar situation". Like most people every time I made a mistake; I kept pondering over it. What happened in the process was that I used to roam around with a frown face thinking about the mistake all the time and consequently; all people around me got only negative vibes. So I learnt to let go off the mistakes but the learning. Easier said than done of course! But then that’s the mantra or the cornerstone to be followed when we are trapped in such kind of adverse situations.
Years back when I was assigned with my first job in a French MNC located in Chennai; it took a complete toll on me. Starting from the language, the food, the people, the culture etc. everything almost killed me. For sure, I was an alien in that city. Every day was a struggle at work rather than a pleasure. I was not able to show positive vibes and that affected me both personally and professionally. By the time I realized my mistakes; I had already missed kind of big opportunities. We used to do an exercise called “self-introspection” before our annual performance assessment. That was an eye opener for me and I figured out where all I could have corrected myself.

These lessons were registered in my mind all the time. By God`s grace; I had that much of sense wherein I knew that next time onwards I have to be different in such kind of situations. And this is what exactly happened. The day I landed in UK for my Masters degree; I revived all my old lessons at the back of my mind. Struggle reappeared in all possible aspects in my life but this time I was equipped to encounter them. I kept my past mistakes closer to succeed this time. I fought all possible problems with respect to food, life style, culture, accent whatever it may be under the sky. And indeed I emerged with flying colors both academically and professionally. Failure of my Chennai trip contributed to the success of my UK trip on a broader platform.

I have learnt it eventually that it is not about putting a full stop; it’s all about the semi colon in your life. Defeat can be debilitating; crashing down the confidence. However the same defeat provides the platform to learn from mistakes. Even today when I feel defeated I run through all my past defeats and the successes that emerged from the leanings of those expensive losses. Sometimes it may so happen that you are trying to succeed at something, and greener pastures await you elsewhere. If that is so, let’s accept it. Focus your energies towards areas more relevant to you. 

An interesting fact that I am dying to share is quoted below. While browsing through the net; I got this and it absolutely blew off my mind.

The winner of the Miss Diva 2013 pageant, Manasi Moghe, was one of the contestants at the Femina Miss India 2013 pageant, where she did not make it even to the top 10. Had she lost hope and sat back in defeat, would she be wearing her coveted tiara today? She did not lose her belief in herself. In fact, she went around asking her grooming experts, “Where do you think I missed out? Do tell me please, because I want to work on this.” And that’s the killer attitude that got her where she is today.  

Guess this will serve as a one point lesson for each and every spirit that tends to feel defeated amongst us!

November 12, 2013

The Bong Way ----- Mashallah!!

It was morning 2 o` clock at Dubai Airport. En route Cincinnati. I was darn exhausted and drained all my energies. Nevertheless; what kept me awake was the stupendous chain of fashion stores as I walked past each one of them with popeyed eyes.

Finally after sometime; I decided to relax for a while only to resume later. I reached the transit passenger resting place and spotted a reclining chair. I occupied it immediately and stretched my legs. My next chair neighbor, an American briefly smiled at me and we picked up a Hi-Hello tete a tete. Coincidentally we were boarding the same flight. The lady revealed that her name is Lauren and she came to Dubai to meet her son who is posted there currently. I just mentioned my first name and added that I am on my project related trip. The name Donna is so familiar in the Western Culture that she grasped it immediately. She peeked into my boarding pass and enquired about my second name. So I explained her that’s my family name which is “Banerjee”. Lauren almost broke her jaw to pronounce that.

So I just advised her to ignore it and keep it short by using only my first name. We kept chatting and she showed much interest in understanding the Indian Geography, culture, food habits etc. So while walking her through our Indian demographic aspects; I shared with her that I am a Hindu and belong to Bengali ethic group. Thereafter Lauren who happens to be quiet perky asked me to speak something in Bengali. Immediately what replayed in my mind was her attempt to pronounce “Banerjee”…so I just brushed it aside and told her it`s too complicated for her to understand. I just wanted to keep it simple and easy for both of us!

Now enters the hero of our story. A man in his early fifties dressed in white formals came and took the recliner on my right. He was boarded on a different flight. Lauren started talking to him as well while I almost retired from the discussion. I thought now I can relax and just be an audience. The man introduced himself as Al Shammat, an employee of GE and working in Dubai. He is a traditional Muslim with a wife, son and daughter in law. However he never sounded or even looked like one of those traditional native of Dubai. Lauren and Shammat started sharing their respective stories with each other. Al Shammat asked me my name and background. Lauren did it on behalf of me and even added that my surname is too difficult to pronounce. Shammat expressed his desire to take an attempt. Upon hearing “Banerjee” he busted into peel of excitement. And to my surprise; he pronounced my surname effortlessly. My first name was just a cakewalk for him. And that was an initial shock for me. He even helped Lauren to pronounce my name and she got it correctly indeed. That was a huge embarrassment for me.

 He expressed a huge admire for Bengali Community. He went back to the Bengal renaissance age of Tagore, Nazrul Islam and so on so forth. My jaw dropped and I was lost in trance. I managed to pull myself together and asked him the secret of his knowledge of a total different community. He revealed that his daughter in law Naushin was once “Puja Sen”. He shares a vibrant bonding with his daughter in law and she is the one who enlightened him so well about Bengal culture. I was indeed feeling proud of being a Bong…

What are the chances of meeting a man of Muslim origin who is so well conversed about Bengali? What are the chances of a Bengali lady marrying someone of that origin? But that is what called as Destiny I guess…no matter what I had a total hang of that encounter. I didn’t even realize that it was time for me to board the flight…He concluded our discussion saying …” Bengalees are Mashallah”.

Me and Lauren moved started proceeding to the gate…The American attendant at gate asked me my name …I promptly replied “Donna…Donna Banerjee” !

November 7, 2013