Guess who’s back?

Wow. Talk about a LONG hiatus.

It’s been a while since I paid this blog a visit. Time for a resurrection of sorts now, I suppose. Frankly, there has been too much going on. Major life changes, decisions and revisions and all that jazz. A lot of moving around, job switches, city hopping. Somethings have remained constant however:

Deadlines
Creative differences
Clients who KNOW. And yes, they KNOW BETTER.

Lot of realizations and introspection have taken place in the life of little me.

The life of an ad(wo)man is a whirlwind of sorts. There’s no space for boredom, sure, but a lot of space for regrets, repentance and…retribution.

So I guess I will be writing more often now. It’s a sunny late-autumn (there’s no such thing as autumn in India, I am just romanticizing) morning. And I shall not let the suspicious looking cup of tea in front me give me the Monday heebie-jeebies.

writer

Of New Market

New Market crawls with the noon crowd. The complacent, even happy, sun shines in hues of gold and white through the glass windows of the shops, over the parking lot, lighting up a million dusty roadside stalls selling everything from bags and purses to cheap, glittery jewellery and strings of beads in yellow, red and green; gaudy hair clips and suspicious looking cosmetics that form a riot of colours on the footpath; little curio shops that sell absurdly priced antiques, and beady eyed, paan chewing, semi-precious jewellery sellers who size you up from behind gold framed glasses.

And when you step into the dark labyrinths of the erstwhile Hogg Market, you are greeted by a dark coolness that relieves you of the heat outside, and the overpowering smell of meat emanating from the slaughterhouse within the complex. I’ve always managed to avoid that side of New Market though. And everywhere you can hear loud, frantic, extremely enthusiastic bargaining between wise women who are forever convinced that they are being conned and seasoned shop owners who are always on the lookout for a  good con.

Students and couples-in-love, in pairs and groups and hordes can be seen loitering about the parking lot. Sitting, standing, eating phuchka and ice creams and chaats. Being happy in general. The middled aged having a cold drink or two. Tired after several bouts of bargaining and some shopping too, expectedly. “Freshly cut” fruits and jhaal muri. Paapri chaat and bhel puri. Chana batura and juices. Dahi vada and dosas.They might seem diarrhea inducing (and probably are) but you cannot help but give in to monstrous growls in your belly, ignited by the sight and smell of these devious, positively evil food-like things.

Women and men saunter into jewellery stores and carefully pick out engagement rings, and wedding rings and bracelets and necklaces and earrings and jewelled wrist watches. All at a good price. Indian weddings are lavish affairs and we are sentimental about our shopping. And then they drift on to inspect colourful shoes and handbags and cushions and bed sheets; all the while digesting the aforementioned positively evil food-like things. What better than a vigorous bout of shopping to aid in the break down of your lunch/dinner/whatever it is?

I can write endlessly about New Market. As a child I used to find it a magical place. A you’ll-find-everything-there place. And that enchantment has not faded till date. Because it is one place where you’ll find everything. Literally everything. From banana chips to flower vases with plastic flower, cheap imitation jewellery and diamond earrings, heavenly brownies and spicy masala cola, suitcases and sand paper. Everything. And you can spend hours just walking around this place doing absolutely nothing. A window shopper’s paradise. A struggling, forever-broke young girl’s 4th circle of hell. Yep. The one associated with GREED. Anyhow, it’s one of of my favourite places in Calcutta. I especially make it a point to visit Nahoums. Mostly for those wonderfully decadent chocolate fudge brownies, the bread rolls and the jam tarts. And their shortbread. I also make it a point to haunt the different antique jewellery shops. Especially Chamba Lama and more recently, Asian Arts right beside it. Wonderful place for silver jewellery. My go to place for stone nose-pins.

New Market exhausts me, and makes me go through severe, tormenting pangs of guilt for blowing up money on absolutely unnecessary things. But I guess it also releases a gleeful rush of endorphin. It’s all about indulgences and at times it just feels good to blend in with a motley crowd of strangers. Anonymity is comforting even in the chaos.

The House on 23 Moore Avenue

horror house

We stay in a large compound housing a lot of trees, and quite a few houses, in 23 Moore Avenue, the southern part of Calcutta. It’s like a quasi-joint family where most part of the large family lives together, but in separate houses. And in most cases, people can’t stand one another. The houses were built a long, long time ago. Some time in the 1920’s, I think. And like most old places, there are many stories woven around it, passed on through generations. Urban legend type. The exciting part? They are mostly ghost stories.

Growing up, I used to sit in awe, as my grandfather, and later, my mother and uncle, narrated story after story about 23 Moore Avenue. Apparently, the entire compound was built on top of a graveyard. And we all know that spirits do not like their rest to be interrupted. I mean, who wouldn’t? I would get murderous if someone tried waking me up when I am asleep. So, as the story goes, when the construction work for the houses began, there were very bizarre instances that occurred. Some eerie, like trees falling down, without any rhyme or reason, without any strong gust of wind or anything. Some downright scary. Like construction workers dropping dead while the main large bungalow got built. Yep. It was jinxed. but people moved in anyhow. There were tragedies which followed. My grand dad’s sister passed away, at the age of 2. Followed by the death of his infant brother. What followed was a mental breakdown for his mother, who never quite recovered. She still wrote brilliantly though, and sang with a clear, strong voice.

Perhaps, due to this series of unfortunate incidents, the entire place gained a reputation for being haunted. The neem tree at the entrance of the large green gate, was considered especially notorious for housing a rather mischievous spirit. One who liked dropping things on passersby and cars. On moonlit nights, when my mother and uncle sat chatting on the terrace, they often saw someone on the opposite terrace. Someone a little too translucent to lay claims on being real. Someone who flickered a bit too much to be considered human. Someone who had a propensity to disappear with remarkable speed.

My grand parents had several pets. Around 5 German Shepherds, and 10 cats. One of the dogs, Tiger, went into a frenzy one day and attacked the entire family, except for my granddad. It resulted in my mother and uncle being hospitalized, wounds being stitched, etc. The vet wanted Tiger euthanized. That thought was unbearable to my granddad, and to my mother. He was family. Somehow, after that incident, he became mellow. But there used to be a frightening look of alarm in his eyes.

August 1975, my aunt’s boyfriend passed away in a terrible motorcycle accident on a highway, along with the pillion, his best friend. They got hit by a speeding truck. He was 23 years old, and my father’s elder brother. He was a beautiful person, as far as I have heard. One who wrote poetry and played the accordion and mandolin. He had long wavy hair, a sharp nose and very high cheekbones. He used a very distinct perfume, a bottle of which he always kept in my grandfather’s house, because he visited so frequently. The day he passed away, he was returning to Asansol from Calcutta, after visiting my aunt and the family.

Tiger was very close to him. He had a very calming effect on the dog. And for many months after his death, Tiger behaved very strangely. Barking affectionately, jumping up and greeting someone very familiar, someone he knew very well and loved. And often, that unmistakable perfume could be smelled, permeating through the entire house, as Tiger went into a joyful barking frenzy.

Strange things happen I suppose. And I believe in the strange, because I believe there are things that go way beyond our cynicism and calculated logic.

My house looks nothing like this, but at times (just at times), I cannot help but feel a slight chill run through me if I stand alone on the terrace. I feel a strange bond of empathy with a house that has seen witness to so much. And for so many years. I made this sketch as a sort of depiction of my house, though it looks nothing like it. But the moon? It sure can be sinister.