Monday, October 28, 2013

Durga Puja for Probashi

“When is Mahalaya?”

“On 7th Oct.”

My father was enquiring, few days back.

For the uninitiated mahalaya, officially marks the beginning of Durga Puja festival. It’s the day when Durga finally wins over Mahishasur. However all that is for pundits, for us it is the countdown towards final four days of unadulterated fun.

This year though it is starting on bit of a somber note. My father suffers from alzheimer’s. Over the years it has gone from bad to worse. His memory mixes up time and memories across decades. So coming back to the conversation, it went like this between my mom and dad –

“So everything is planned?”


“Bibhuti and his family are invited? Your mama etc. will be coming down the night before.”

My father does not realize that he is rattling of plans and practices 35 years ago, when we were staying in Kanpur, which the traditional Bengal calls as “Probash”. In IT parlance an “onsite”, where you stay for years but never really home. It was different for me though; I was born and grew up in that city. I had no idea about any other home.

Days before ‘mahalaya’, invitations were sent out to come and stay with us from the night before so that all of us can wake up at 4 am to listen to All India Radio dance drama. Not all had the privilege of owning a radio. It was same stuff repeated year after year on radio and our rituals were same year after year.

Anticipation and excitement was palpable, if we will wake up in time? Will the large size radio will be able to catch the AIR signal? Most importantly, if the electricity will let us enjoy. Those were the days when radio running on batteries was a novelty and certainly our neighborhood did not possess one.

My father has gone back to those days.

We lived in a colony, yes you read it write, we called it ‘colony’ and not a ‘complex’ a term, which is in vogue nowadays.

It is only after settling in Kolkata I realized ‘colony’ has a different connotation too. My father being a central government employee and our neighborhood also of the same creed, it was really a pot pourrie of cultural and religious diversity.

The best part of all that was, there was no one to remind us of all that. Mass participation in various religious festivals was natural and lack of it what made news. ’Eid mela’ was as eagerly awaited as post puja ‘Vijaya Dashami’ sweets.

Our Puja planning started with the start of new academic season in April. By the time summer holidays started we were eagerly awaiting a new pair of bata shoes (only one available). Existing ones were battered through the last season, not fit enough to survive more than few months of street football on the way back from school.

Durga Puja idol always used to be the same look and size for a simple reason ‘Dhiman’ uncle did not have confidence of pulling through anything different. Working as a factory supervisor in ordnance factory right through the year, to make ends meet, did not give him the means to experiment.

Today situation is bit different. I am struggling to find a radio, its wiped out with advent of mobiles. I am also not sure if AIR nowadays play the ‘mahalaya’ anymore. Cassette, CDs, TV programmes on the subject has overwhelmed us.

My daughter is already bored with deluge of dresses she has received. Yet to be teen, she finds it a waste of money(?) Mahalaya does not even get a passing mention in her routine. Ronaldo or a Shakira are her search items in ‘google’.

Most of the Delhi pujas are cancelled this year as government has refused security clearance. They site the reason of common wealth games making the city a high alert zone.

Kolkata pujas are dreaded by most ‘Probashis’. The crowd, the light, the show of wealth and the festival is lost somewhere. We are busy planning a cramped down schedule of “Big Boss” where we will be confined to our home for four days.

Does that mean all fun is lost? No, I am as eagerly waiting for the pujas as I did three decades ago. This week I have dug out few old “Sharadia Shonkha”(Festival edition) a “Ghona da” series, blackberry and laptop can go take a break for four days, next week.

PS.: Apologies to all those for whom I could not really replicate the sentiments and used an abundance of Bengali words. I hope they will use their imagination to fill in the gaping holes in my inadequate literary attempt.
This blog was written few years ago and only now I got the inclination to put it into a blog site

Imran Khan

Dad ! Do you know Imran Khan?

Oh, yes I do, but he does not know me.

Same here I too know him, but he does not know me. My daughter replied, she has carried my genes for being witty.

Thankfully I don’t have to tell her a joke and explain it too. Two of us chug along nicely.

So what’s this Imran Khan business?

He is so good looking. My friend, showed me his pictures, he is just a lady killer.

I realized, my daughter is growing up fast and I am ageing equally rapidly.

Oh yes, I always envied that guy.

Why dad, he is not even your age? There she goes, when daughters start reminding you of age, it is time to retire.

See that’s the problem. He is not even my age but garners more than fair share of attention from girls (not ladies) of my age.

I have become a fan of his.

I am a fan of his, long before you even knew his name.

Wow. I never knew you were into movies? Which one of his movies you saw?

What movies are you talking about? I never knew that he made movies? I know his ex-wife is going around with some actor, but Imran in movies? I never heard of that.

Oh c’mon dad. What else he can do, he comes with film background, and he acts in movies. I thought he is still married did not know he was separated. Are you sure you are talking about Imran?

Oh yes I am dead sure, are you?

How can I forget the ’82 India Pakistan cricket test series? Imran takes 42 wickets, Amarnath becomes best no.3 in the world.
Do you think I have grown so old, to forget it?

Dad Imran was probably not even born in 1982. He is nephew of Amir Khan, he acts in movies.

That settles it. We cannot go on any further. 1982 just seems the other day to me, but in her radar its closer to Sepoy Mutiny.

I am growing old and she is growing up.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

King and his lessons

I have a daughter (15+) and son (8+). My son, like most kids of his age likes to hear a story. Surprisingly he likes to hear stories on Hindu mythology and stories with Indian background. I on the other side have very little knowledge on these so at times I have to make up stories.

Problem arises when my daughter also sits through. Like most teenagers she likes to pick holes in anything that her parents do or suggest. She picks holes in my stories, so I have devised a strategy - I pick up real historical characters, locations, some events that I remember and then I let go my imagination. So here is one such piece of my imagination.

Many years ago there lived a king named Akbar. He had to fight many battles in life right from his childhood days. One of them was ‘Battle of Panipat’ against King Hemu.

In these wars Akbar was led and guided by a veteran army chief Bairam Khan. Bairam actually worked with Humayun i.e. father of Akbar and when Humayun died he picked up the mantle of being guiding light for Akbar’s fighting and administrative skills.

Akbar was a teenager when he went for the war and like most teenagers and also some learned people Akbar had complete disregard for people of wisdom who have grown through the ranks and learnt from life. His outlook changed completely with growing years but as a teenager he was brash.

One fine morning Akbar and Bairam were out for an inspection of the preparation for the upcoming war. During the walk Akbar noticed to his utter surprise, quite a few potbellied men along with some women too are stocking up things, clearly getting ready to go to war. They were not at all army people as one would envisage but they seem to be at home with the entourage.

Akbar saw that Bairam walked up to one such group cracked few jokes, cajoled them to speed up. They too passed some remarks and did not look too bothered by the rank held by Bairam. Akbar was intrigued but chose to keep quiet and decided to enquire further secretly.

Akbar was fond of archers, especially archers from Assam. He called for one of them, up came the six pack guy, chiseled body, lean mean fighting machine, swift, nimble, fast mover, keen to go into a battle and demonstrate his skill. He was a professional warrior, keen to showcase his talent, please his supervisor and earn a bonus. It does not matter who he was fighting as long as he can ensure a fat pay check. Through him Akbar got the view that preparation of war is getting delayed due to those fat bellies, weak knee guys. They never seem to move fast, do not possess any fighting skill and are a drag on entire army. Their delay is giving critical time to Hemu to prepare.

Akbar quietly altered the plan and asked his fighters to charge ahead next dawn, leaving behind the slow movers. He wanted to surprise Hemu with a swift attack and finish the war. He was confident that Hemu would be taken by surprise. Bairam was not part of this decision, he was not to be consulted, Bairam is well past his sell by date and his planning ideas are all stale, used by everyone, innovations are flavor of the season.

Bairam though came to know of the designs but decided to keep quiet; he wanted Akbar to learn from experience.

Akbar’s troop rode up quick and fast on their horses and reached up to place where supposed battle was to take place. In their rush to reach the goal they did not notice that all the villages on the way were empty, fields were empty too, those who still remained were also looking to move out. Army did not notice any of this; in their mind they have already won the war, empty roads and villages only made their journey faster. Next morning the war will start.

Army planned to retire for the night. They were tired and hungry they also had to strategize for next morning. There was minor hiccup though, they could not locate their camp, archers, cavalries, horses and horse riders all were tired they needed hot food and place to lie down but none of it was available. All they could see was a gigantic fort in the front and deserted villages behind at considerable distance.

Soon the matter reached up to Akbar and he decided to reach out to Bairam Khan. When asked, Bairam said, “But you ordered to leave those people behind, those who were entrusted with the job of putting up the camps, preparing food etc. while the fighters plan out their strategy of attack”. Akbar responded, “They are not army, they were slowing up things, we cannot win wars with such slow, average people. To win wars we need niche skilled, high performers”.

Bairam then explained a learning which stayed with Akbar through his life.

Bairam said, “It is true high performers, niche skilled people help you to attack and gain ground. However you choose to ignore the cooks, errand boys, average foot solider and support staff at your own peril. They are as much your army as the cavaliers are. They are the ones who help you retain the ground gained. They pick up the mundane jobs so that high achievers can demonstrate their skills. They are not the glamorous ones, but they do the job given to them, diligently and often remain unnoticed. They are as important to your plans, as your archers are.

We often tend to focus only on 5% of our team of high performers and may be another 20% gets noticed occasionally. Remember many of these 5% team are professional soldiers, they fight for a living and they fight for anyone who cares to pay them higher. It is the average, who compensates their average skill with high loyalty. Great leaders have the ability to put attention to rest 75% and get the loyalty to work for his advantage. Every army has those 5% and 20% of high fliers and they help win battles, it is the 75% which makes the difference in winning a war”.

Akbar realized his folly and asked his army to retreat in quiet of night, promising to come back later. He realized that without rest and food his army is already defeated and not ready for the battle. He needs to go back and get those potbellied guys into the fold, if he wishes to win the battle of Panipat.

History tells us that Akbar won the battle of Panipat resoundingly.