Curious Inkpot- Beyond a Blog

Stories from an Indian Millennial

This is not another political commentary on Kashmir (god knows we have been over-flooded with them, some half, some overcooked). It’s a montage of my encounters with people and their experiences of and associated with Kashmir. These encounters in some or the other way might have contributed to my perception of Kashmir as an average Indian citizen.

Indian Postal Stamp, issued as on 15-Mar-1967.

Kashmir is a word that always brings out strong emotions or at least that's what our political ancestors have ensured, even till today. In all honesty, my exposure to issues of Kashmir is very limited or accidental per say. 

As a 90s kid, my first exposure to the idea of Kashmir was via the movie ‘Mission Kashmir’. The landscape, portrayal of the conflict and Kashmiri lyrics of some of the popular songs like ‘bumbro’ and ‘rind poshmaal’ which by the way were a hit for independence day performances in schools.

Many years later, I happened to read two books on Kashmir, ‘Our moon has blood clots’ by Rahul Pandita and the second, ‘Curfewed Night’ by Basharat Peer. While Rahul Pandita’s book takes you closer into the persecution of Kashmiri Pandits, Bashrat Peer’s starts as a neutral one (in my opinion) until the point he starts justifying militancy.

But, it’s amazing how much art and culture can teach you about a place. A couple of years back, I had heard this amazing Kashmiri song by Amit Trivedi whose opening lyrics were ‘Gar Firdaus, Bar-eu-e-Zaminast, Hamin-asto, hamin-asto (If there is a paradise on earth, it’s here! It’s here!)’. The feel of these lyrics was kind of magical, instantly transporting you amidst the mystic mountains. But I didn’t understand the meaning of it at first. So next day I asked a mentor of mine who is a Kashmiri Pandit, what do these lines mean. He translated it for me but then said that a different version of this phrase is used nowadays. It translated to, ‘if there is hell (दोज़ख़) on earth, it’s here! It’s here!’

It was winter of 2016, I had gone to meet someone whose team had been working on various initiatives and issues related to J&K. I remember sitting in the conference room waiting for him when a big map of J&K and now Ladakh drew my attention. The map had boundaries around Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh area with an estimate of the area, population etc marked. Trust me for the first time in my life I realised how small Kashmir was in area and population. I mean you do map state boundaries, right, during your geography class. I remember drawing and redrawing it so many times in school to capture that bulge on the left, that dent on the top, perfecting that neck below. But never did I pay attention to the details inside it.

When I saw this map hanging on the wall, the first question that popped into my head was: so why does any issue related to J&K is consumed by the portrayal of Kashmir, negating the rest of the regions? When we speak or read about J&K, we rarely subconsciously think about Jammu. Ladakh didn’t even add to common Indian dictionary until the pictures of those bullet rides to Leh became in vogue on Facebook. So when Ladakh’s sole MP, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, spoke about this neglect during his speech in the parliament, it touched a chord. 

Anyways, the person I was there to meet, arrived in the conference room. We said hello and as anyone would as an icebreaker, I mentioned that it was an interesting map and then I went on to mention the two books I had read. I had expected a strong opinion in return, maybe a criticism of one but he smilingly replied, 'Well everyone has their own story to tell about Kashmir’. That moment I knew that I should say no further. He obviously knew a lot in depth to be able to give that kind of response. 

My next experience was during a poetry gig I went to attend in Mumbai. It was all good until a self-proclaimed Jammu boy narrated a poem. The story in his poem was about a Kashmiri friend of his who had gone missing and whose mother would keep asking the narrator if he had seen the boy as he walked passed her house. I am not sure if it was a story fictionalised to put his point across or he drew it from his personal experience. But the underline of his whole narration criticised the army, the political establishment and painted an innocent, oppressed image of the youth in Kashmir. I felt very enraged. Shouldn’t he have also talked about stone pelters? Shouldn’t he have talked about the anguish of mothers from the rest of India whose sons were martyred? Couldn’t he even put a single line for the jawans who protect Kashmir be it floods or terrorism? Even acknowledge? 

Well, that would have disturbed his portrayal of himself as a rebel artist, I guess. Because where is the fun otherwise! These days there seems to be a Sufism, a zing in being anti-establishment, right? An easy way of getting noticed may be or call it his artistic freedom? 

I was very tempted to go to him and ask these questions but I didn’t because wisdom has told me that, it’s a waste of time to try and show people the other side of light unless they really want to. Human opinions are probably inherently biased. We believe only what we want or what we experienced. 

When another influencer whose photography I very much admired, proclaimed people supporting the scrapping of Article 370 as and I quote ‘unquestioning robot’, my first response was to reply him in harsh words but I decided to quietly unfollow him instead. Later, I peeped into his Instagram stories again, there he was trying to do the damage control, sharing stories that would make him look neutral. Too late bro! 

Though, I still tend to wander sometimes from this self attained wisdom :) 

So when another popular travel blogger posted a biased view on Kashmir on Independence day, I could not stop myself from pointing out her biased opinion. All I got was her silence as she seemed to reply only to people who supported her view or didn’t confront her. But a lot of people replied to me on the post and personally, endorsing the comment on calling out her bias in open! 

Sometimes I don’t understand why some of these ‘influencers kind’ undermine the people or consider them intellectually inferior if they support a popular or pro-govt opinion? 

You already know what prompted this blog. The Big flash news of this August was that Article 370 is scrapped from our constitution! A historic move that would change the course of this country and at least Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh but especially the turbulent Kashmir. For good or bad, history will tell. The reactions have been tremendous across the country. For some of us, it's about patriotism, for some, it’s about rallying behind the ideology we support or just endorsing what is right for the sovereignty of our nation. It also brought the comic side of many as a form of celebration. But I feel for Kashmiris, and I am not talking just about the ones who reside there, yes they are going through inconveniences currently but I am talking about the Pandits, I feel, for them, it's very very personal. It hit me when I saw this emotional video of a Kashmiri lady in her 60s wearing those long gold chain earrings looped around the ear, peculiar to Kashmiri women. Of all the things she sobbingly said about the scrapping of 370, one thing remained with me: ‘अब हम अपने घर जा पाएँगे'। 

So much tragedy, longing, pain and joy in those simple words! 

It took me back to the year 2008. It was the summer break of my first year of college and we were visiting my father who was posted in Jammu at that time. I come from Dehradun so in my imagination Jammu was something similar. Surrounded by hills, cool climate and natural beauty but instead, we were welcomed by a scorching heat. So in the evening, we went to a big garden in front of our house to cool down and enjoy some breeze. While my brother was mostly busy playing with other kids, my mother and I decided to take a stroll. As we completed a round, we came across an old lady probably in her late 60s or early 70s who was sitting on a bench all by herself. Introductions followed, we asked her if she was from Jammu. She mentioned she was from Kashmir and had to move with her family to Jammu during the exodus. What ensued was an evening full of stories. She talked about her beautiful house in Kashmir which they were forced to sell for cheap prices. She spoke about the apple orchards they owned. Basically telling stories about her life there. I would see a spark appear in her eyes but it would quickly extinguish and her eyes would swell with tears instead. Even though she had home now in Jammu, it was clear she missed her life in Kashmir, deeply. I would have spent at least 3-4 evening with her, sometimes all by myself.

One day I remember sitting with her till the dark as the garden lit up with street lights. No matter what we spoke about, it used to eventually converge on the same topic. She would tell me so many stories about her time in Kashmir as a child and then as an adult. I cannot even begin to explain the emptiness of her eyes and the sadness and longingness of her voice. The trauma of being forced out of her motherland and god knows what horrors she saw, consumed her. There were no words that could fill the void she felt. I tried but failed miserably every time. 

I hope, really hope she saw 5th of August 2019. Whether so many Kashmir Pandits like her would finally be able to go home, for those who want to, is a question only time will tell. But to know that there is a window, a possibility, is a good start, I guess. 

So what can we do as fellow citizens to support this? 

I believe the law is but a guideline for how a society should function but ultimately, it's the society that really implements it in the spirit. Otherwise, we would not have the need for courts. Abrogation of article 370 and consequently article 35a is only a beginning. Real transformation will take consistent and persistent efforts. Therefore, It is imperative that we use social media responsibly and not make any loose comments. Anything that can derail the process or can be used as propaganda by separatists should be avoided. This is the least we can do as responsible citizens. This is also true for the so-called leaders of the ruling party. We all know of the verbal diarrhoea that follows such controversial decisions especially from some or the other wannabe leaders. One of the MLA was already in news for talking nonsense. It anyways is uncalled for and we can all live without it for a change. If not advice then a request from an average Indian like me! 

And I hope none of us has to go through the trauma of losing their homeland, their identity in this free, beloved country of ours! 

And for the crown jewel of our country, may ‘Gar Firdaus, Bar-eu-e-Zaminast, Hamin-asato, hamin-asato’ spring from the pages of Amir Khusro’s poetry and become a true reality one day!



आप सोच रहे होंगे यह blog हिंदी में क्यूँ ? मैं कहूँगी क्यूँ नहीं? जहाँ के बारे में यह blog है उसके अनुभव को अभिव्यक्त करने के लिए हिंदी ही उपयुक्त थी। शहरों से दूर गाँवों में बसे भारत की आबो हवा कुछ ऐसी है की अंग्रेज़ी जँचेंगीं नहीं।
वैसे सच तो यह भी है की हम कितनी भी भाषाएं सीख ले, लेकिन जो भाव अपनी मात्रभाषा में है, वह कही नहीं।
ख़ैर ! तो सफ़र शुरू करें?

हमारा सफ़र शुरू हुआ मध्य प्रदेश के आर्थिक राजधानी कहे जाने वाले शहर, इंदौर से। पहली मंज़िल थी ओमकरेश्वर, भारत के १२ सिंध ज्योतिर्लिंग में से एक। इंदौर से ओमकारेश्वर का रास्ता कुछ दो ढाई घंटे का है। ओमकारेश्वर मंदिर, नर्मदा नदी किनारे, एक पहाड़ी पे स्थित है। जहाँ जाने के लिए या तो पुल नहीं तो नाव का इस्तेमाल करना पड़ता है। पुल से नीचे का द्रश्य कुछ विहंगम सा था। दो पहाड़ियों के बीच से बहती नर्मदा नदी और उस पर चलती हुई नावें । वैसे नाव की मोटर के शोर को छोड़ दिया जाए तो बाक़ी सब सुकून देने वाला था। एक बार को लगा की शायद यह बाक़ी तीर्थों से थोड़ा अलग है। कम भीड़, शांति और दूर दूर तक बस कल कल कर बहती नदी। तभी प्रसाद के लिए आवाज़ लगते हुए विक्रेताओं ने हमें धरातल पे ला खड़ा । फिर आए पंडित जो सभी करम कांड कराने को तत्पर थे।

भारत के तीर्थ स्थानों के दर्शन करते करते अब आदत यूँ हो गयी है की मंदिर के प्रवेश द्वार पर पंडितों को देखते ही मन पहले से ही सतर्क हो जाता है। ना जाने धर्म और पूर्वजों के नाम पर कितने पैसे खसोट बैठें। आप कभी रामेश्वरम जाएँ तो बौखला जाएँगे । कभी भारत के मंदिर सिर्फ़ पूजा पाठ नहीं पर ज्ञान, शिक्षा और कौशल के केंद्र हुआ करते थे। अगर ऐसा आज भी होता तो भारत के धर्म स्थलों का द्रश्य कुछ ओर ही होता। TV पर ज़ोर ज़ोर से बहस करने वाले हिंदू धर्म के ठेकेदारों को इस बारें में भी राष्ट्र स्तर पर कुछ सोचना चाहिए। छोटा मुँह बड़ी बात।

फिर भी एक २५-३० साल के पंडित जी माने नहीं। दर्शन अच्छे से कराएँगे कहकर, अपना rate पहले ही बता दिए। मंदिर का प्रांगण काफ़ी साफ़ और व्यवस्थित था। दर्शन भी अच्छे से हुए। पंडित जी ने हमें बहाने से करम कांडों के लिए बैठाने की कोशिश भी की पर हम बहके नहीं। बस निरंतर बहते जल से क्षति होते हुए शिवलिंग को देखते हुए ऐसा लगा की क्यूँ हम इन धरोहरों को आगे की पीढ़ियों के लिए बचाने के बारे में कम सोचते हैं। ऐसा ना हो की आगे की पीढ़ियाँ सिर्फ़ तस्वीर में दर्शन करें। आप सोच रहे होंगे, फ़र्क़ क्या पड़ता है। भगवान मन में होने चाहिए। आपकी बात से मैं पूरी सहमति रखती हूँ। बस इतना ही कहूँगी, काम तो work from home से भी हो सकता है पर फिर भी कंपनियाँ बड़े बड़े आफ़िस रखती है। बाक़ी आप समझदार हैं।

ओमकरेश्वर से हम निकल पड़े रानी अहिल्या बाई होलकर की नगरी, महेश्वर जो नर्मदा तट पर बस हुई है। कानों में indian ocean बैंड के ‘माँ रेवा’ की धुन (नर्मदा का दूसरा नाम रेवा भी है) और हाइवे पे सरपट दौड़ती हमारी गाड़ी। हाइवे पर सिर्फ़ दोनों तरफ़ खेत ही खेत। शुक्र है, हम खाने लेकर चले थे। अप्रैल की तपती धूप में हाइवे पर गन्ने की जूस की रेड़ी दिखी और उसके पास लगा एक छोटा सा तंबू । हमने गाड़ी वहीं रोक ली। दूर दूर तक आबादी का कोई निशान नहीं था।
निशुल्क पियाऊ से जल पीते यात्री
सड़क की दूसरी ओर एक बड़े पेड़ के पास खंडर सा कमरा। तंबू में लाल वेश में भगवा पगड़ी पहने एक बाबा चिल्लम जला रहे थे। हमें देखते ही वो अपनी कुर्सी उठाए सड़क के पास बैठ गए ताकि हम सब खाने खा सके। कुछ खाना हमें बाबा जी को भी दे दिया, उन्होंने खाया और अपना चिल्लम बनाने में वो फिर मस्त हो गए। खाना खाते हुए मेरी नज़र बाबा जी पर पड़ी। कुर्सी पे एक पैर चढ़ा, आँखें बंद कर, गर्दन को एक तरफ़ किए, होटों के एक कोने में चिल्लम दबाए, अपने आसपास के माहौल से बेख़बर, वे जिस तरह से बैठे थे, मुझे मोहम्मद रफ़ी का बस एक गीत मन में आया। “मैं ज़िंदगी का साथ निभाता चला गया, मैं फ़िक्र को धुएँ में...”। इच्छा हुई की इस पल को फ़ोटो में क़ैद कर लूँ। पर जब तक मैं इस झिझक से बाहर आ पाती, बाबा जी सड़क के उस पार चले गए।

ख़ैर हमने भोजन ख़त्म किया और गन्ने का जूस पिए या नहीं पिए इस पर विचार चल ही रहा था की मन में अभी भी उत्सुकता थी बाबा जी की कहानी को तस्वीर में उतारने की। थोड़ा साहस कर हम सड़क के उस पार गए। बाबा जी से पूछा, “क्या आपकी तस्वीर ले लें?”। वो तुरंत तैयार हो गए। बोले, ‘अरे जब वहाँ बैठे थे तो तभी बोल देते’। हैरानी की बात यह है की कैमरे के सामने बाबा जी ऐसे सहज रहे मानो कोई celebrity हों।

ग़ौर से देखोगे तो शायद वैराग्य दिखे।

मन हुआ की इनके बार में और जाना जाए। तो बैठ गयी मैं भी बाबा जी के पास, कौन है, कहाँ से आए हैं पूछने। पता लगा बाबा जी का नाम राणा जी है। हाँ हाँ, हंस ली जिए। पहले मुझे ध्यान में नहीं आया, जब लिखने लगी तो लगा आप लोग ज़रूर पकड़ेंगे। लेखक जब कुछ भी लिखता है तो वो मात्र शब्द नहीं जोड़ रहा होता, उसके मन में वो अपने पाठकों से सामवाद कर रहा होता है। कब हँसेंगे, कब भावुक होंगे...

हाँ तो बाबा जी इंदौर के निवासी हैं , ५ बेटियाँ हैं जो सकुशल अपनी गृहस्थी में व्यस्त हैं और बाबा जी ओमकारेश्वर की यात्रा में निकले थे। रहने का कोई ठौर ठिकाना नहीं है शायद, क्यूँकि बोले, ‘बस सब भोले की कृपा से हो जाता है, जैसे आपने अपने आप से दो रोटी दे दी, कोई थोड़े पैसे दे देता कोई सर पे छत, सब अच्छे से हो जाता है।

सच में सुकून तो सिर्फ़ उसके पास है जिसके पास संसाधन कम हैं । बाक़ी हम सब तो बस दौड़ रहे किसी ना किसी आकांक्षा या ललक की ओर। काश बड़े शहर की भागती दौड़ती इस ज़िंदगी में थोड़ा सा इन बाबा जी जैसा वैराग्य, थोड़ी सी बेफ़िक्री घुल जाती।काश!

उनसे विदा ले हमने अपना ध्यान लगाया गन्ने के जूस पे। ग्राहक की बाट देखते हुए पहले विक्रेता मक्खियाँ मारते थे आजकल मोबाइल चलाते हैं। हमारें जूस वाले भैया मोबाइल में कुछ यूँ ही तल्लीन थे। सही में India तो भारत के गाँवों में पहुँच चुका है, पर भारत के गाँव कब India तक पहुँचेंगे?
फ़ोन में व्यस्त
गन्ने की जूस से हमारा पुराना रिश्ता है। बड़े शहरों का तो पता नहीं पर छोटे शहरों के हर बच्चे का होता है। शिवरात्रि के समय शिवमंदिर के पास लगे मेले में भाई और पिताजी के साथ हर वर्ष गन्ने के जूस का आनंद लेते थे। मिट्टी का किचन सेट, पानी पर केवल २ दिन चल ख़राब हो जाने वाली नाँव और बुलबुले बनाने वाला पानी जो घर पे कितना भी ईज़ी या डिटर्जेंट घोलने पर भी ना बने! यह सब तो साथ में आते ही थे।फिर एक साल गन्ने के जूस पीने से तबियत थोड़ी नासाज़ हो गयी, बस तबसे फूँक फूँक कर पीते हैं। यहाँ स्थिति थोड़ी साफ़ लग रही थी तो हमने सोचा क्यूँ नहीं! तपती दोपहरी में ठंडा ठंडा गन्ने का जूस, भाई वाह!

सफ़र बढ़ चला, मध्य प्रदेश के पुरातन शहर महेशमती यानी महेश्वर की ओर...





कुछ शब्द बहुत दिनों से मन में घूमेर कर रहे थे, आपके साथ साझा कर रही हूँ...

कुछ आधा सा, कुछ अधूरा सा,
तुम्हारी आँखों में शायद?
पर मेरी आँखों में पूरा सा,
इश्क़।

कभी आज़ाद पंछी सी उड़ान,
कभी बुदबुदाते शब्दों की लड़खड़ाती ज़बान,
इश्क़।

कह कर भी अनकहे सवालों सा,
उस ख़ामोशी में ढूँढते जवाबों सा,
इश्क़।

पल में झील सी गहरायी,
पल में समुन्दर की अँगड़ायी,
इश्क़।

किताब के पन्नों में छुपा, सूखा सा गुलाब
या बस कोई बिसरी सी याद,
इश्क़।

कभी सुनी हुई कहानी,
कभी मीरा दीवानी,
इश्क़।

कभी सब के जैसा,
कभी सब से अलग,
इश्क़।

फिर भी है,
कुछ तुम में थोड़ा,
कुछ मुझमें शायद,
इश्क़ ।

-सुगंध


We are in the month of reflection and redemption. It’s that time of year when a lot of us get into a pensive mood, thinking about things we could have done better and things we should start doing. This mood might be voluntary or forced upon us by the excess of ‘New Year Resolutions’ posts or annual appraisal cycle of corporate which adds little to our pockets but more to our mental stress. What should I say about new year resolutions? I think they are as overrated as Valentine’s Day. Largely engineered to increase the sale of gyms and other health centres with full paid and hardly attended memberships.
On days, I am not serial procrastinating, I believe today is the day to make the change because tomorrow never comes and certainly neither, new year. But if you are one of those to whom new year is the motivation to make amends and you are really determined to shake things around you. Let me give you my two cents on changes that may last longer.
Why? Well since everyone is pretending to be a travel blogger these days, what stops me from hopping on to the wagon of my choice! So here you go:

This year I am going to sweat out those extra kilos in the gym!
If you have been saying this to yourself, every time your dress’s zip gets stuck at a trial room or someone points at your every increasing belly, be warned. You know you haven’t been able to get yourself to do it since like years? So what is the guarantee it would happen now? Nor are we Kareena Kapoors, so the thrill of being spotted by paparazzi or getting to wear free or expensive sportswear is out of the question. Plus there is no dearth of larger clothes in the city malls and who doesn’t like the comfort of a loose pair of pajamas?
Since we have safely established that our motivation to change the ‘shape of you’ is extremely low. So what do we do? If you ask me, not that you have any choice now. I’d say have a real conversation with yourself, lower your pedestal and find something that suits you. Treadmill routines can be utterly boring and it won’t make us any less mortal in admitting that. So just like a well-stitched suit, find an exercise that motivates you, be it yoga, circuit training or simply running. Understand if you are a lone wolf or a group motivates you better. Powai has great green stretches and abundant gyms and classes. Explore, experiment and get on.

I am going to have a better work-life balance!
Well, we all mere mortals have been trying to achieve it but just like a carrot hanged in front of a donkey, it always eludes. With the new buzzword of work-life integration, we can only expect more work being integrated into our lives and rarely the vice versa. So what do we do? Well if you ask me, I would be running with double speed from such a lifestyle. But if you are someone who enjoys the adrenaline rush of closing a deal or the experiences that come with constant travelling, well you gotta plan your life better. I am sure most of you do that already. But if you haven’t started, the clock is ticking. After all, no one takes trophies to the grave but only memories. So they better be the best ones ;)

I am going to spend less time on mobile or TV!
In a world of endless scrolling and immense options to watch from, knowing when to stop is becoming increasingly difficult. But if you have been intending on doing it, let me help you with some suggestions. Use the technology against itself. These days there are free applications that will automatically shut the social media apps, once the predefined duration is over. You can even choose to block the apps for certain hours of the day or keep them relaxed on weekends. I personally have found them a great saviour. Go hit your play store and try one of them. If you are a couple, not watching Netflix during dinner time and instead opting for a chilled out conversation is a great pact you both can make together. The good old buddy system never goes out of fashion, even if it's for getting over TV addiction. The options are many. You just need to find what is really doable for you.

One last resolution. This may or may not be in your priority list right now. But it should be. It's a resolution that impacts beyond our personal lives.

Climate Change (Did you say boring…?)
Well, hopefully unlike trump we all are aware that climate change is real and happening. Every day we hear about Delhi but have you noticed the smog clouds that lately surround Powai from time to time? Do you know a 10% water cut in Mumbai has already started until next rains? Did you read that the 7 lakes of Mumbai are being monitored for water levels? Are you aware that Mumbai's garbage dumping grounds are already reaching their limits? The seasonal cycle is already going for a toss. So what can we really do on our own? An initiative to carpool within society or nearby people? Optimizing usage of water in daily activities? Saying no to straw by nariyal paniwala? Every small act when combined can create a huge impact.

So now that I have given you some unsolicited 'gyan', I hope you find it useful. I will see you in this new year, hopefully Instagramming a lot more workout photos or whatever is that you plan to kick-start or let go in the new year!

Ganpati celebrations mark the beginning of the festive season. We are already through with Navratri and just days away from Deepawali. As a little girl, I always looked forward to Navratri celebrations. It used to be one busy week, especially between Saptami to Navami. It would be as if the whole neighbourhood has suddenly woken up to my existence. There would be so many invites that I could literally use an appointment diary for those 3 days. For the uninitiated, this is the time when in some parts of the country, families host young girls for a meal and gifts as a ritual of ending fasting period. The house hopping with cousins and neighbourhood friends would start sharp at 8 am with multiple trips back home. As there was only so much of chole, puri and halwa plates that my little hands could accommodate. Back then I could never understand, why the people whom we were supposed to bow with Namaste and call uncles and aunties rest of the year, would be washing our feet and asking for our blessings. But the happy chatter with the gang and the joy of eating all the food would fade away any serious business. 

The real excitement, however, would start when it was finally time to count your earnings for the day and compare with rest of the cousins as to who got how much. That time, gifting 1-2 Rs was a norm and if someone gave in the denominations of 5 or 10 Rs or things like a pencil box, a mental note would be made to move them to the high priority for next year’s visits. If you could collect 50 rs (with a generous contribution from mom and dad), the next few weeks at the nearby candy store would be a breeze. But for the ‘good’ kids like me, it would be a question of how much to invest in the ‘gulluck’ and how much to spend on candies.

Sometimes, I feel that festivals from the eyes of kids are more colourful, vibrant and exciting. Some of my fondest festival memories are from childhood.

This is what Navratri has meant to me as I grew in the lovely little valley of Dehradun. Parents would be fasting for most of the 9 days. In the evening we would be treated with some yummy food, without having to undertake any sacrifice. The festivities would culminate by hosting young girls over a meal at the end of the fasting period. The idea of dandiya, garba and pujo pandal for me was confined to the ‘festivals’ chapter of social studies book and Bollywood with a special mention to the movie Devdas.

So it’s no surprise that my maiden Garba and Pujo visit happened here in Mumbai. I am still always amazed at the enthusiasm with which dance preparations begin weeks before the actual dandia season. Though traditional dancing is not my strongest asset, I at least visit the Pujo Pandal here in Powai, once during the celebrations. I’ll be honest, I do not understand very much of the Bengali traditions despite having at least one good bong connection throughout my life. I even had a namesake Bengali friend in school, whose father would wrongly pronounce her name as ‘shugondha’ until she told me that there is no ‘s’ in Bengali, it is always ‘sh’. She even taught me some survival sentences lest I ended up in Bengal someday. In fact, my ‘sweeter’ ego is definitely Bengali as the sound of Saundesh, Chaum Chaum and Kheer Kadam is like music to my ears.

So I visited the pandal this year too. It was quite busier than last year, maybe because it was the day of ‘Navami’. The statue of Devi maa was captivating as always, the environment outside electric and the chatter vibrant. After darshan, we quickly moved to the sweets counter ready to gulp down the festive sweets. But as the taste of overpriced, stale tasting roshogullas was about to put the damper, KK’s voice singing ‘Kya Mujhe Pyaar Hai’ just salvaged the mood. The weather started to become cool and windy as if indicating the onset of the change in the season after Navratri. We decided to call it a night, with an intention to come back next year again, maybe not for the roshugullas but definitely for the sweetness of the festival.

This year I decided to give the yearly bonus to my cook who incidentally is a Bengali, earlier as I felt for her, ‘pujo’ would be her Diwali. The happiness on her face was priceless. I asked her if she was planning to visit the nearby pandal. She nodded in yes but I could see a sadness loom on her face. When I asked her, she reminiscently said, ‘Didi, it isn’t the same as back in my village near Kolkata. There the festivities are as big as during Ganpati here’. She missed home! Don’t we all, especially during the time of festivals? We all may have built our lives here. Might hold the dream jobs and dream cars but there is something in the spirit of festivals that they will subconsciously remind you of where the home is. It doesn’t matter if you come from a small village of Maharashtra or a small hamlet of Uttar Pradesh. It might be a small fading memory or pure missing. You will always be reminded of where you come from. For me, it has always been the festival of Deepawali. The years that I couldn’t go home for Diwali, I would always reminisce the lights on the porch, the rangoli making in the verandah and the simple joy of lighting every dark corner of the house with one diya at a time.

So if you know of anyone who isn’t going home this Diwali, invite them over or bring some sweets while coming back from home. If you are someone who isn’t going home, don’t be shy to knock on the nearby door and wish Happy Diwali! Who knows when new friendships are forged and bonds are further strengthened with these simple gestures. May this festive season lights not the just the deepest corners of your house but your hearts and minds too.



-Reproduced from my column in 'My Powai' magazine.

If you have enjoyed my writings, don't miss this most popular article.


I am a writer by passion, a petroleum engineer by accident and a proud Indian by origin. Follow my stories on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Ganpati festival is one which doesn’t need any calendar check. You know Ganesh Chaturthi is around the corner when you see big pandals being built up and your society’s WhatsApp group abuzz with the call for performers. It is also the time when social media is flooded with Ganpati visarjan photos from last year and eco-warriors more active than ever. Bappa came this year too in our Powai with all the fanfare that his devotees could bestow depending on their pockets or in case of mandal and societies with ‘voluntary’ donations. Just like the big fat Indian wedding, the celebrations for Ganpati are only becoming grander. Powai was decked up like a bride, the pooja pandals only bigger than last year and the dhol beats and firecrackers louder than ever. The size and grandeur of the Ganpati idol being synonymous with the size of the pocket. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-festive. Nor am I amongst those pseudo-liberals who are selective in their objection to celebrations. I adore festive seasons, Deepawali being my favourite. I also believe we should not only respect traditions but also treasure and enjoy them as it's these traditions only that make individuals, a community. But the problem starts when forgetting the very essence of these festivals we start adulterating them with new and modern ways without realising the adverse impact it is causing to our community and our environment.

With a 20% per cent official increase in pandal across only Mumbai, not to account for small-scale, unreported pandals, the situation only worsens. This year, not just Powai but other parts of Mumbai reported noisier celebrations than ever, despite a ban on DJs. Now, I personally don’t mind the sound of dhol beats. Call it my north Indian genes but it only increases the spirit of the festival. However, I wouldn’t want to have dhols blaring right through my ears for 3 hrs as I try to sleep at 11 pm. I am not writing this to mention my own plight but these have been the experiences of several people within our small community of Powai. Not to mention the firecrackers! Not only it pollutes air but creates noise pollution too. Couldn’t we be considerate to the old ones, the sick ones and the pets who are most frightened during these times? I could only imagine the horror of those who stay near the visarjan sites. Isn’t there a way we could integrate celebration and sensitivity at the same time? Maybe designate a time and open space for collective celebrations if at all fireworks need to be included? Can it be a good starting point?

In pre-independence era, A visiting Italian Sanskrit professor shared his account of Ganpati celebrations in Mumbai of 1885:‘I followed with the greatest curiosity crowds who carried in procession an infinite number of idols of the god Ganesh. Each little quarter of the town, each family with its adherents, each little street corner I may almost say, organizes a procession of its own, and the poorest may be seen carrying on a simple plank their little idol or of paper mâché... A crowd, more or less numerous, accompanies the idol, clapping hands and raises cries of joy, while a little orchestra generally precedes the idol.– Angelo de Gubernatis, Bombay Gazette (1886)[26][27] (Source: Wikipedia)

Could you feel the simplicity of celebrations back then? Yes, you can argue that we are more prosperous now. There is greater disposable income in every household. Then why not celebrations be grand? True! We should all be celebrating Bappa as we wish to. But today, after every celebration, It’s heartbreaking to see sites and images of damaged Plaster of Paris made statues of our beloved Ganpati. How could we do this to someone we love and worship? When the seas wash these statues back to shore, are they telling us something?

The great freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak, who revived this festival to fight the British Raj, surely wouldn’t have imagined that our society will get so insensitive in the name of celebrations. Earlier when we made Ganpati using soil or paper mache, it was understandable that as he came from nature, he was immersed in nature to be back again next year. It would have also been a medium to connect communities at least once every year and to worship God and nature together. After all, since time immemorial we have worshipped elements of nature as forms of God himself. But today pomp and show are increasingly replacing a well-thought tradition. Just imagine how much damage we are doing to the already fragile ecosystem of Powai Lake. Oh, are you thinking but the immersion happens in the artificial pond. Well as per media reports, the toxic and non-biodegradable residue is dumped back into the water bodies? Not sure if this year is going to be any different.

But the picture is not all dark and grey. We are increasingly coming across aware citizens who are opting for eco-friendly options. Even in our society, we organised a workshop of an eco-friendly Ganesha idol making for kids in a bid to create environmental awareness. Later, some parents opted to worship the naturally made Bappa rather than buying a POP-made idol. Some NGOs have also been creating awareness, conducting workshops and selling eco-friendly idols. But is this enough? Considering the damage we have already done to our water bodies and in our case, to Powai lake, isn’t it time we took collective actions? Can we all pledge to bring a nature made Ganpati next year? Maybe request and influence mandals across Powai and our residential societies to go for environment-friendly celebrations? Can we while planning the celebrations, be considerate of all forms of life? Yes maybe the idol would be a bit smaller and the sound of celebration a little lesser next time but the message would be much greater. Isn’t it only then, will we truly imbibe the spirit of ‘सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः’?

-Reproduced from my column in 'My Powai' magazine.

If you have enjoyed my writings, don't miss this most popular article.

I am a writer by passion, a petroleum engineer by accident and a proud Indian by origin. Follow my stories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!