Taking of a Toast and Tea

There’s a roadside tea stall (cha er dokan) near my house. There are two more identical tea stalls right beside it. And yet more, many, many more strewn carelessly, almost strategically, all around Calcutta. Kolkata, rather. They usually open early in the morning, around 6 am, or even before that. Big yellow taxis, newspaper-wallas on bicycles and cha er dokans. Familiar, comforting sights that Kolkata mornings greet you with.

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Tea is a lot of things for a lot of people.

It’s a cheap and instant source of energy for taxi and truck drivers whose days start at ungodly hours. It’s a lazy Bengali’s object of late afternoon indulgence “ei, ek cup cha de toh!”. It’s a perfunctory offering to guests who come over at any odd hour at your place. Good tea-making skills are a positive way of impressing a prospective mother in law. It’s a source of inspiration for writers and poets who can mull over a cup for hours at end for the next great inspiration.

But more than anything else, a cup of tea is a wonderful conversation starter. That’s why tea-stalls are so popular outside college campuses and workplaces. It goes beyond a pot bubbling with a super sweet, milky, hot beverage. It’s an adda spot. What is adda, you ask? Well, according to Wikipedia:

“…is a form of intellectual exchange among members, who were originally of the same socio-economic strata, but the process has democratized in modern times. It is most popular among the youths belonging to the so-called “middle-class intelligentsia”. Although many Kolkatans boast of the city being the birthplace of adda culture, Satyajit Ray (in his film Agantuk) traces back the origin of the tradition to regular intellectual dialogues prevalent in Ancient Greece at the time of Socrates or Plato. Adda is a prominent leisurely activity in India and Bangladesh.”

But to me, it is the very essence of being a Bengali. Be it banal commentaries on the insignificant to cannot-be-missed-gossip to heated debates on the existing socio-economic and political state of Bengal and beyond, adda is all-important to us argumentative, intellectual folk. We swear by it. After all, we have a mind of our own. And an opinion on everything, of course. And usually, a tea-stall becomes the hotbed of artistic outbursts and matchless creativity. From Tagore to Ghatak, Madhuri Dixit to Mayakovsky, science, art and aesthetics, everything is touched upon. Oh, and politics. And Corruption. Nostalgia and recollections are other favourite topics, but usually among older people. It is at the very core of communication and has survived social networking. With style.

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I often like going to tea-stalls for a solitary cup of tea. And a biscuit or two from those glass jars filled with crumbling, sweet goodness. So, the other day I happened to eavesdrop on a group of old gentlemen gathered for their evening adda session.

They sat remembering before-times with affection. “It was so good, back in the day…” they concluded unanimously, in a way old people usually remember the past as being continuously better than the present [loud tea-sipping noises ensued].

Everything was cheaper. Everyone was better- better behaved, better looking, better everything. Things were simpler. People were less greedy. “You could walk down the road covered in gold from head to toe and still feel safe!” [heads nodding in agreement] “This neighbourhood you see? It was blissful! Quiet! Almost like paradise, so clean it was!” [mutters and sighs and grunts of approval] “Aj kal toh shobbai bidesh chole jacche…ei toh shedin amar nati America chole gelo…” (These days, everyone’s going abroad…just the other day my grandson left for America!) [a moment of silence, some order another cup of tea] “Ekhane theke hobe tai ba ki? Ja din kal poreche…” (What’s the point staying here anyway?) Then one of them broke into a fit of cough. The vagaries of old age.

I usually like smoking while having my tea. I sat, fidgeting with a packet of cigarettes. To light or not to light. Offending the fragile sensibilities of a  group of grandfatherly men is something that I did not really want. They are not approving of young ladies smoking. A young man smoking is fine though. I don’t mind. I am fond of old people, having lost my grandparents when I was too young to really know what their absence meant. So I finished my tea, smiled at the old man sitting next to me and offered him a matchbox for him to light his smoke. Then I left.

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“Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”

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A Water Grave

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Well, we have all faced despair. The gnawing sensation that creeps all through the body till it reaches a focal point and intensifies gradually into one throbbing sensation of pure, unadulterated terror. A calm sense of foreboding, giving way to a kind of physical distress that cannot be ignored.

I used to get recurring nightmares of drowning. Not the Titanic sort of romanticized drowning. It felt infinitely more horrifying. A cold, wet, tangible sort of dread that would plague my sleep and weigh me down. I feel scared of water. That something life-giving can be so palpably lethal. All consuming, like fire, only more deceiving.

So I made this sketch of Rapahel. A man who is going to drown. Raphael felt fear. Because he was aware of his certain fate. Of a water grave. But hope tends to fuel survival instincts.

Few things are as tragic as a drowning man.

Space Caravan

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Maybe we come from nowhere. Nowhere people, crawling at a steady pace through inter-stellar dimensions. Stalling at starlit junctions for a moment or two and then moving on. Gathering meteor dust on our star-kissed bodies, that emerge from and eventually get immersed in the vastness that is the space-time continuum.

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Maybe we are meant to forever swim through the nebulous sea. Inhaling the mists, looking wide eyed…intergalactic voyagers in motion. Steadily moving towards the unknown. In the distance there are endless valleys, rolling. Crags and snow veiled mountain peaks. Ravines and waterfalls, moving soft, moving slow. And we speculate, and we reach no conclusion.

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A nowhere universe. A turquoise tapestry.
The known pattern of the vast macrocosm that engulf and spits us out.

Consumation. A flaming spark in that aqueous ether.
Conception, birth, consumation.
Followed by death.
A predictable chronology of an expected life. With unexpected turns.

Nevertheless, we keep crawling at a steady pace through inter-stellar dimensions.

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The Feast of Voudon

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The sky glowed iridescent. Streaks of brilliant purple and dull red.

As the thunder growled at an ominously low decibel, the lightning came through in bursts, melting the twilight shades into a puddle. Flecks of ash flew in the air with a bizarre finality. Almost with a sense of purpose.The shadows loomed large. Expectant. Anticipating.

The foot-falls quick and heavy, they made their way. Murmurs and soft chanting as the congregation approached the altar. The smell of sweat and iron in the air ablaze with torches. Silent human eyes reflecting desire. This was no time for patience or forgiveness. The flames glowed scarlet and gold. The lithe bodies swayed, as they formed a circle. Round and round they went. Hand in hand. The chants growing louder.

Neverville shall not sleep tonight. After a long and uninterrupted stretch of rest, it is awake. And tonight, it’s time to celebrate. 

(part of my sketch series.)

Skinny Girls are not Glamour Girls

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“Skinny-shaming? What the hell is that? You’re lucky to be so effortlessly thin…”
“She looks like a bag of bones. REAL men wouldn’t look at her twice.”
“REAL women have curves. And REAL men love that.”
“She must be anorexic.”
“Or a dopehead.”
“Maybe both!”

This is nothing new. We have all seen and heard this. In real life, or on the blessed internet, where there are indulgent memes bashing thin women- piling on hate and getting away with it. Because, you know, skinny people obviously do not feel bad or anything. They are lucky bitches, right? Only the fat of the land can be sensitive.

So we get to see a lot of these

rael men2Just like in the good old days, women were subject to this:

skinnyad3And a bit of this too:

skinnyad2So nothing much has changed. Evidently. People were misogynistic pigs then, and people are misogynistic pigs now (maybe not pigs, they are nice, friendly creatures). And body shaming persists. Which is why, on social networking sites, we often find men (and boys) commenting on photos stating how they’d never get attracted to “a pile of bones”, or how the girl is “pretty but way to boyish” or “flat chested”, or “got no meat on her”. And women join them, enthusiastically. Gloating about how curves make a real woman and are markers of beauty. Often throwing in little bits of personal information and anecdotes (such as their cup size or some such). When you post a photo on a social networking site. You do it to get the attention. You know you are under scrutiny. But that’s no reason for unwanted hate, right?

People are apparently more sensitive these days. Which is why, calling a fat person fat is offensive. And people object. So do I. Why? Because it IS darn right offensive. But somehow, somewhere, there must be some unwritten law which warrants unplugged, open skinny hating, because you can get away with it. Because being skinny strips of you having body-image issues. The fat have a monopoly over that. Skinny plight? What the hell is that? That’s just ridiculous right?

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Of course, many thin people have eating disorders. Bulimia and what not. But so do fat people. That’s not the point. The point is, why is the other end of the body size spectrum subject to such abuse and contempt? Everyone is entitled to body positivity, right? Body shaming can NEVER be okay. You cannot hate on a plus sized woman (or man) and the same way, don’t think you can get away with jibes at a thin person either. How does it matter anyhow? It’s all about personal lifestyle choices and after all, the only thing that DOES matter is if you are comfortable with your own body.

I mean, what the hell is this?
Body Shapes Sketch for blogAnyway. Some people can’t help being thin, just the way some people are not fat by choice. Some people are comfortable with their extra weight. Some are not. Some like an extra helping of dessert, and similarly, there are some who love running an extra half hour on the treadmill to burn off that extra helping.

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Accept people the way they are, it saves a lot of headache. Unless of course they are trying to steal your books or harassing a puppy on the road. Then you can legitimately bash them up.

P and his Dog

P was born in a white-washed, airy house with a small vegetable patch, lying somewhere north-east of the great big city. The sunlight flowing into the house made curious criss-cross patterns on the walls and wooden floor, where a lazy-eyed dog could often be seen stretching out. The family pet. It was a cheerful house inhabited by well-meaning, middle class folk with mediocre aspirations and expectations.

P was a slow child, bordering precariously close to being called stupid. He was the shame of the Annual Sports day. Always the last one to finish the race, but always managing a big, goofy grin, flashing a set of crooked teeth that melted most people’s hearts. He was nothing special when it came to lessons either- failing to live up to his big glasses and small frame. He was no mathematical genius.

P was a happy child. Every evening when the dusk settled in, spreading a loving violet hue across the front yard, he would sit down quietly on the steps of the house. And beside him would be the lazy eyed dog. The family pet. Little boy and his old dog, side by side. The sweet, pungent smell of the vegetable patch, mixing with the kitchen smells. And everything in the universe would feel just right.

“A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy”

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Yorick. Evoking monologues since 1599. Memento mori.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?”

(Hamlet, V.i)

Yorick. The could-have-been talisman. The most-certainly-dead jester. Reminding us of our own mortality, and providing chuckles along the way.

I took that photo in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was sketched on an ice-cream truck. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a gazillion swans splashing about in the river. There were children feeding them bits of bread crumbs. There were old couples sitting on park benches. And then there was this ice cream truck with Yorick on it.

Oh and then I found this on the internet. Sigh.Yes, cats own the internet. Evidently.

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Remembering Alcha

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There’s a little cafe tucked away in Shantiniketan, just around a winding road, that I happen to love a lot. It gives me a lot of peace of mind when I sit on the familiar wooden benches, waiting for my iced tea. It’s name is Alcha.

Alcha is about special evenings with loved ones. About mild evening breezes and low lit lamps that hang right above your table. It’s about amazing Spanish omelettes and grilled cheese sandwiches.

alcha2alcha3Shantiniketan, a 2 two hour train journey from Calcutta, is a quaint little place. Lazy and romantic, with a distinct Tagorean appeal. But for me, it will always be about evenings spent at Alcha.

Where you can spend your time, listening to the night sounds of a place that’s hidden away- one where the day starts early and goes to sleep just as fast. Of chirping crickets and night time birds. And dogs barking incessantly in the distance. A cafe where you write down your order in vertical chits of paper. And give gentle reminders to affable waiters who seem to forget easily.

alcha4There are evenings that are meant to be slow and deliberate. They are about long walks on tree-flanked pathways. About holding hands in the moonlight. And being followed by a lonely dog, in need of companionship. There are evenings that meant to be spent in Alcha with someone dear to you. When the light and shadow of the surrounding lamps seem to play tricks on your mind.

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And you fix your gaze on that certain something.
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Evenings where you like making scribbles that are meant to be forgotten. Where you sit and count the endless days that are ahead of you. Plans that need time to be executed and revisions that need to be made in the grand scheme of things. Of the daily nonsense that you will soon have to return to. But those evenings, you just like stalling time for a while. Those evenings are about indulgences. They are meant to be spent in Alcha. And afterwards, a drink or two of rum and coke in your small hotel room.