Love of the common people…

I can’t remember my first specific memory of my grandparents- specifically my maternal grandparents whom we sisters lovingly call Dadu and Ammey. But there are memory triggers in the form of soft, rounded hands cradling my little face as eyes full of love and tenderness looked down at me; or sturdy hands that lifted me off the ground in one happy sweep as my frock billowed in the breeze causing me to go into fits of giggles.

My sister and I had happily divided the unadulterated love of our grandparents between us- she had undisputed claim on our Dadu while I was the sole claimant of my grandma’s affections and attention. It was as easy as that- and the elderly couple happily complied as well.

My sister was deftly guided through the labyrinths of Indian myths and epics by my erudite and enthusiastic grandpa, while I (three years younger) was given the uninterrupted supply of handmade dolls and dresses for the vast array of toys I had accumulated from hand-me-downs as well as newer acquisitions.

They were such good days- such days of simple joys, of languid afternoons spent dozing off while listening to stories in the soft lilting voice of my grandma. They were days of delight when we sisters could have yet another sleepover with our grandparents when mum and dad wanted to catch a movie. They are days that will return nevermore except as remnants of the half smiles like the one I am giving now while writing and reminiscing about them.

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How can I measure what I have gained or lost when it comes to my grandparents? Both are immeasurable. How have they inspired me? Well, the greatest gift that the elderly give to the next generation is the sense of compassion and empathy for all things big and small, strong and frail. I believe this is my endowment as well after all these years.

Today, when my little one runs into the arms of my mother, I do miss my grandma and her touch. I know my sister still gets that lump in her throat when she remembers her tears on the day our grandpa passed away.

Life is hard- especially when you have to grow up. So it is like an oasis in this desert when you can return to your grandparents or to their memories to relive the simple bonds of joys that unite two vastly different generations.

Dadu and Ammey, I do miss you.

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Making sense- the Calcutta way… Calcutta Chronicles Part 4

How do Calcuttans make sense of their city?

Here are some (helpful?) visuals that indicate how we try to derive meaning out of chaos and nothingness. Now these deductions are based purely on my observations, and do not intend to offend or ridicule. I cannot afford to offend and ridicule- I am a Calcuttan myself!

First- How do we react to the world around us?
We read the news- not just the news, we read between the lines, we go deeper and deeper till we sometimes lose sight of the line itself, and then, we chew upon it, we muse and ponder…

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we read- we read between the lines…

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we go deeper and deeper till we sometimes lose sight of the line itself,

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we chew upon it, we muse and ponder…

Second- How do we react to criticism?
We may turn our backs to it and ignore it into oblivion.

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We may turn our backs to it and ignore it into oblivion.

Or we can introspect- we deeply introspect, look back into ourselves to pry out the flaws which called for such unwarranted attention.

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we deeply introspect, look back into ourselves

Third- When faced with a problem, what do we generally do?
Hmm, let’s see…
Yeah that’s it- the ‘lets see’ approach. I will stand around, looking pretty or wise, seemingly prepared to take on the world but secretly hope that the situation gets over-awed by my awesomeness and goes away.

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I secretly hope that the situation gets over-awed by my awesomeness and goes away.

Fourth- Are we materialistic?
Yes, of course, we want to have it all and…

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yep, that is what we want… a little more of everything…

But then, we also believe that unlike the yellow cabs, our Gods are of the ‘No Refusal’ variety. So that helps a lot!

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our Gods are of the ‘No Refusal’ variety

Fifth- Are we obsessive?
Yes we are! About our loose change- a.k.a. khhuchro;

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we obsess about our loose change…our khhuchro…OCD at play…

about what is being cooked for lunch in a neighbour’s house or even about whether pubescent Gooplo and Munni are in love… and we stalk our objects of affection with much talent.

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we stalk our objects of affection with much talent.

Sixth- How do we solve our problems?
We initially bear our burdens with an optimistic approach to making…

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our lemons usually meet with this fate!

If that does not help, we may briefly wallow in melancholia and stare despondently at the Howrah Bridge for what has been and never may be, the ubiquitous black umbrella sheltering us from the rain without.

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we may briefly wallow in melancholia and stare despondently at the Howrah Bridge for what has been and never may be,

If that does not help, we look for that beam of light, in the darkest ruins of our former selves and believe everything will be alright! You cannot contest the eternal sunshine of the spotless Calcutta mind!

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the eternal sunshine of the spotless Calcutta mind!

And then, there is always tea/cha, friends, a walk, an adda or long chat and the return of the Calcutta Zen stance, where the moment is always greater than the sum total of your past.

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and there is always tea/cha, friends, a walk, an adda or long chat

And once more the Lady atop the iconic marble edifice dedicated to another formidable woman, bugles our entry into the hall of unsung heroes, who smile and struggle through a life called Calcutta!

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the Lady atop the iconic marble edifice dedicated to another formidable woman, bugles our entry into the hall of unsung heroes

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CALCUTTA CHRONICLES- PART 3 Moonlighting City…

The city goes through her daily motions, feigning ignorance of the calculated drama that unfolds in her vast darkness right above the heads of the millions who know Calcutta as ‘home’.

Calcutta had one more tryst with the moon tonight- she does so every month, as do millions of cities all over the world. But I am going to be shamelessly partial and claim that Calcutta’s moon is worth mooning over, and the city has been ‘moonlighting’ rather surreptitiously for aeons now.

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First, the moon- well, she plays hard to get- take s cover behind clouds that are amazingly rust brown and ivory black tonight. She whispers to them as they move towards her, and playfully hides her silver disc just as you try to locate her through your view finder. Meanwhile, the soothing breeze tries to calm your nerves 🙂

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Then you find her, grinning at you, craters and all, as she emerges in a dazzling array of moonbeams messing up your ISO, Aperture and what not in the camera. You re-adjust the settings, she waits with uncharacteristic patience, and then you click, and then you realize , your hand shook and the picture is a blur. You can almost hear her chuckle as she moves on behind a giant black cloud.

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You think it is all over for the night- look up once more, sigh and shut the camera off, put on the lenscap, turn your back, when she makes a re-appearance and the drama starts all over again!

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This has been my story tonight – but curiously, Calcutta’s moon is just like her. With both these ladies, you can never tell! Calcutta will frustrate you, test your patience and just when you think, you have to leave, she will dazzle you with her most brilliant self, and your plans need re-thinking.
My city does moonlight as a dull, boring, laidback, humid pit of despair, but she lives another life, as a seductress, temptress who has too many charms up her sleeve!

So, the next time you are in Calcutta, and you notice there is a full moon up above, enjoy her show by night as she moonlights into a new role for you!

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Calcutta Chronicles- Part 2 In the shadow of her mighty bridge…

Calcutta Chronicles- Part 2 In the shadow of her mighty bridge….

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Calcutta Chronicles- Part 2 In the shadow of her mighty bridge…

The most iconic landmark of this city is undoubtedly the Howrah Bridge or the Rabindra Setu, which has outlived its colonial architects by more than 70 years. This Colossus stands, spanning the two shores of the muddy waters of the Hoogly, like a piece of period furniture- much in use but in a constant struggle to fight the decrepitude that creeps up in the form of killer rust, filth and daily wear and tear .

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But in its shadow pulsates another life. It almost seems like a host of lower end organisms who live their common lives dwarfed in the shadow of the Goliath that towers over them. This is the Mullick Ghat Flower market- which is no bed of roses I assure you!
The flowers that find their way to the garlands of gods and demi-gods, the bouquets for loved ones, the wreaths for the dear departed- are all sourced from this large market, which spills over from the bathing ghat which lies behind it.

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An imposing structure that is crumbling notwithstanding the coat of paint, stands overlooking the ghat that is the living space of the homeless and hapless.

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The accumulated waste that sits on the banks of the ghat, jostles for space as more and more garbage is washed onto shore and also disposed off right there. The scene defies all standards of hygiene and logic- standing in waist deep water unclean, credulous devotees pay obeisance to the gods to sanitise themselves of all past misdeeds!

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And  there are the people living on the ghat; there are the bathers- who come to the river every day or on special religious occasions; there are countless nameless faces who seem strewn over the ghat, busy doing nothing, sleeping or curiously staring at every new visitor. There are the huddlers- crouching around a cigarette that offers more than regular nicotine. There are the persistent beggars who are annoyed at the audacious miserliness of the visitors and seem tired of waiting and asking. The empty looks on these gaunt faces are also faces of my city.

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Then there are the children- many pairs of little hands, feet and eyes roam the ghat selling the sacred mud from the sluggish river that flows by apathetically. Or they take a short breather before heading out to form a part of the invisible contingent of child labourers who grapple with the city that threatens to swallow them up. Do they have dreams of another life? A better life? Do they dream about themselves?
My city inducts new arrivals daily (either from the womb or from the station within arm’s reach) but falls short of any guarantees of being fair to them in any way.

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The non-human presences in this vicinity are the birds- the bully Calcutta crow, the timid sparrow, and the pampered pigeons; an assortment of street dogs and puppies and a band of sly cats who move around like the secret service, rarely seen but definitely there!

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But what could be the greater oxymoron than this place, when squalor and dirt cohabit with beauty and colour in the form of the millions of flowers that lend their fragrance to the stench that clings onto one’s clothes! Marigolds, lilies, lotuses, hibiscus, lilacs, orchids put up brave faces, wilting in the hot morning sun- while shopkeepers haggle vociferously over mobile phones with buyers.

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And then in the middle of all this chaos, a pair of chapped rough hands walks by with a bunch of sun-kissed sunflowers and I look on mesmerized…before I am elbowed out of my reverie by this wave of moving people, bodies glistening with perspiration and faces marked with furrowed eyebrows. And I am on my way again…

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So it is with the Calcutta that lives under the shadow of the song carved out in heavy metal melody. It is always on its way- flowers, people, buyers, sellers, dreams, hopes, illusions, hearts, souls- all arrive and leave, are lost and found, are trampled upon or celebrated, wilt or are revived to a second lease of life. Calcutta treats all of them with the same indifference, sharing the river’s nonchalance.

The bridge stands overlooking the hustle and bustle of the Mullick Ghat, and I wonder the tales she would have been able to narrate!
Till she speaks, I covet that position of being a self-appointed chronicler of the sights and sounds of my city- and till I venture out of myself to meet my Calcutta head on again, I wait for her call, and I know she will…she has already…

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Calcutta Chronicles- Part 1- Sounds of my city

Everyone living in this city has a similar memory I believe-

a stuffy humid summer’s afternoon, languor hanging heavy in the air, suddenly disrupted by the unabashed loudness of a marriage procession, the band belting out the latest Bollywood chartbusters, to which men (mostly) of all shapes and sizes, gyrate as an expression of their undiluted joy at the impending matrimony. The groom is the man of the hour, in a ceremonial carriage drawn by tired horses, and the long retinue of celebratory relatives follow. But the music playing itself out is what the memory is all about- the familiar sound of the marriage band of the city. The timbre of that sound was so distinct- the sharp edged clarinet, the tooting trumpet, the pompous presence of the ‘brass’ and of course, the rattling rhythm of the drums. A motley crew of musicians in garish uniforms, with silver gold braids and lined trousers play out song after song, while we gaping children and adults lined the balconies with curious eyes.

Now fast forward through many years- 2015, five friends on a scorcher of a summer’s day meet up to walk the lanes of this city in an amateur attempt to find facts about its marriage bands- starting with the famous Mahboob Band.

We were in for a surprise because nothing online had given us any clue that there would be four such bands with the same name! We ultimately found ourselves being guided into the ‘office space’ of what was claimed as the ‘authentic Mahboob Band’. Looked upon initially with curiosity, mingled with obvious hesitation to speak, we managed to settle ourselves into the long seat on one side of this tiny space, they call the booking office. But Calcuttans will be Calcuttans, and soon, with our Hindi ranging from the poetic to the ridiculous, we managed to actually carry on a hearty conversation mainly with two very obliging and forthcoming gentlemen-
Mohammed Wasim, grandson of the founder of the original Mahboob Band, and Barkat Hussain, who seemed to be the man on the job for bookings and deals. In fact, when the conversation would dip ever so slightly, to register the pause before the next question, Barkat Hussain would pipe in- ‘Ask, ask, what else do you want to know?’

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On the left- Mohammad Wasim- fourth generation of the founder of the Mahboob Band.

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Barkat Hussain

Mahboob Band is supposed to be the oldest band of the city- set up as far back as 1942, by Mahboob Alam, the grandsire of the present generation that now runs this business from four different office spaces. The four sons, apparently, thought it better to part ways and carry on the family business, using the name that began their story over 70 years ago. Mohammad Wasim identified himself as the son of the second of the four sons of Mahboob Alam.

The band can comprise as many as 50 members but only 12 members are sent at a time as a band of musicians. Interestingly, the band members are mainly sourced from Bihar, where in their village- Biharsharif, there is a musician who imparts training in the different instruments to willing young men, who seek better financial opportunities in this city. They come to the city, like many others did before them, to make money and melody. They are all housed literally on the premises in the lanes of the bizarrely congested Mahatma Gandhi Road, practise their art under the watchful eye of the Band Master, a position currently held by the much revered Muhammad Mukhtar Saheb (a cordial man who made a brief appearance and then disappeared to read his namaz for the afternoon prayers). Incredibly, the musicians do not ‘read’ music; it is all picked up based on their fine-tuned hearing of songs!

An interesting point of conversation was the instruments themselves. There were some glass shelves lining the upper walls of the shop, filled with shining but used instruments-namely the trumpet and brass. We got to know that Meerut is the hub for procuring these instruments, and also the uniforms of the band members. They were unaware of any place in West Bengal itself that sold these instruments.

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instruments on the shelves

Mahboob Band has also travelled on outstation calls- to places like Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam. Delhi’s Ziah Band was an obvious favourite mention among other national bands they see in their field of work. ‘Music has no competitors’, declared Muhammad Wasim philosophically, implying that one could not compare among bands objectively.

Another interesting fun fact was that their business was apparently running on calls from Bengali weddings, where they were treated with respect and invited to dine as well- a gesture they appreciated although it meant a little less remuneration in comparison to the dos of the other communities that use their services.
Like many other traditions of the city, this business is also threatened by the uncertain future that lies ahead. With the next generation not keen on taking up this business, and increasing use of technology (read DJs and recorded music), the band faces a future it does want to deal with right now. So very fatalistically, Barkatbhai, gestures to his forehead and says it is all fate, what lies ahead no one knows. And we all smile, silently acknowledging the practical wisdom of this man. He himself has been learning to play the Shehnai for some years now, taking up after his now- deceased father. But one cannot help but notice the well concealed sadness in his eyes, when he enacts how his daughter reacts to the music on returning from school- she shuts out the music her father is playing, by blocking her ears with her hands.

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Pic Courtesy- Rishi Roy

Studying their faces, listening to them speak, we hear another melody playing itself out beneath the words and smiles- a difficult symphony of lives striving on different paths towards the basic human goal of survival. Travelling away from village and home, making sense of this overwhelming city, and constantly jostling to keep one’s head above water is a lot to deal with. But they do it all, as they have been doing it for ages…performing the melodies which always do not play out so well in their own lives.
Every city is a multi-sensory feast. Sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch – all are powerful memory triggers for the way we remember a place. In this regard, Calcutta dishes out an unlimited-eat-all-you-can buffet that is not for the faint hearted.
You need to take up her challenge and dig right in to savour her spread.

But what is the Sound of my city? It is not just the persistent futile honking on her congested roads; neither is it the cries of promised revolution in the half-hearted vociferousness of her political processions; nor solely the songs of the Bard playing out at traffic signals while lovers whisper cautiously in stuffy cabs with misty panes. It is also the music that resounds from the legacy started ages ago in a city with a strong colonial hangover.

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the typical halogen? lamps carried in the processions. Jit looks on, while Sammya is almost hidden from view.

And to finally conclude this chronicle- the five friends who set out on that Saturday morning, well, they have been diagnosed with a severe case of the Calcutta Curious virus, which is incurable to say the least. So, it is anticipated that intermittently, they will group together and set out once again, to rediscover something else about this city that they are in love with 🙂

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the coveted ‘groupfie’ – from left to right- Sammya Brata, Aparupa, Jit, Barkat Hussain bhai, a couple of family members. – in front Rishi and myself.

You may contact the band on the following numbers:

Mahboob Band– 9831038535/ 9883345208/ 9748502526

112/A, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Kolkata 700007.

Barkat Hussain Shehnai Party- 9330890463

In gratitude to my fellow explorers-

Aparupa Ghosh – textile designer, retails from her label Syu.

https://www.facebook.com/heylo.syu

Jit Chowdhury-Working as a freelance Illustrator and visualizer.

https://www.behance.net/jitchowdhury

Sammya Brata Mullick– consultant on e-governance, photographer, blogger.

https://www.facebook.com/SammyabrataPhotography

Rishi Roy is a photographer following his passion- food and photographs.

https://www.facebook.com/rishiroy

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The Going Away…

Does everything really go away?

Does everything crumble while the ticking of two hands on a flat disc lose count of the fragments?

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Does everything arrive just to leave- does it come only impose departures?

Does everything turn yellow and grey- does it waste into oblivion?

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Does everything transform itself from need and want to the unnecessary, unrequited?

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Does everything really go away?

Does everyone really go away?

Does everyone fade into the corners of our forgetting?

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Does everyone arrive just to leave- do they come with their bags packed?

Is there a metamorphosis from being the need and want to the one who is carefully forgotten?

Does everyone really go away?

Then who stays behind in the silences between breaths and lines read in a book?
Then who lurks in the peak hour musings in a taxi rushing through a simmering city on edge?
Who breathes unseen messages on misty panes; who remains after the trees shed flowers and leaves like burdens?
Who refuses to leave after we bravely declare they are gone?
Who stays behind in our strength to live without them?
Who remains as the saltiness in our smiles that don’t reach the eyes?
Who remains in the cityscapes, in the busy-ness, in the feigned indifference?
Who remains in the song, in the silence of nostalgia?
Who remains in the pain, in the bliss, in the calm, in the restless wanderings?
Who remains? Who abides?

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The going away does not happen- till we decide.
The ones who get left behind, the things that are leftovers- we the remnants decide.
We are not as powerless like our foolish hearts would have us believe.
Things and people, who go away, never leave…

Till we release ourselves;

till we refuse to be defined by who or what left us;

Till things left behind stop bearing the touch, taste and fragrance of things not there;

Till that moment of final goodbye, of never missing them ever after.

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Love…you are a multi-coloured feeling…

(Lines penned in the name of the visually and emotionally most evocative word in any language).

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Remember the lilacs of the virgin warmth teasing its way out of the arid terrain of your heart, for the very first time?

Remember the redness of that surging wave that silently washed you away in its soothing sensation, but left you parched and thirsting for that high?

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Remember the fuchsia of the sudden touch, the brush of a clammy hand against warm skin that flitted across your face as a delayed blink?

Remember the orange of the words, spoken with casual deliberateness that set fire to your thoughts the entire nightlong?

Remember the burnt sienna of those blazing eyes that simmered with the dreams of tomorrow?

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Remember the greens of envy, aquamarines of bliss, ambers of unending waiting, Purples of anger, pastels of despair, and greys of fear?

Remember the olive greens of a mother’s nurturing caress, the busy browns of a father’s strong hands that held yours?

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Remember the pinks of friends who made you smile through the tears, the aubergines of appreciation, ceruleans of caring, amaranths of affection, turquoise of trust, purpureus of Platonic love?

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Was all of that love?

Love, aren’t you a prism…myriad hued in one stroke?

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And like us, you await a fiery touch to reveal all.

Love you are a multi-coloured feeling.

Credits– All the snapshots in this post have been taken by my super talented friend Sammya Brata. He has graciously allowed me to use his work for this post. Thank you  Sammya Brata 🙂

You can find more of his work on https://www.flickr.com/photos/64325013@N08/

 

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‘I have a dream…’

It is late into the night- everyone is asleep in the house, only the dry sound of pen against paper interrupts the silence as I try to beat the clock, finishing my corrections before the deadline. I am an educator, I shape lives, mould careers – this is not only my job but my passion. And then I hear a stirring- it’s my little daughter turning her side on the bed, and I remember the lines of a famous song,

‘Oh, my sleeping child the world’s so wild
But you’ve built your own paradise
That’s one reason why
I’ll cover you, sleeping child’.

Life changes when you become a parent because the centre of your universe is that little bundle of googoos and gaagaas who depends on you for everything- literally everything. That education will be her most effective weapon to face this daunting world and its ruthless challenges is the absolute truth. What is also bitter reality is that an effective education comes at a price- a price that is set by the environment we live in. So, will I be able to hold good my promise when I say,

‘I’ll cover you, sleeping child’.

Life is unpredictable- that is the only prediction we can go by. So how am I preparing to arm my daughter to look at the future with confidence and courage?

At the moment, I am looking for better financial options – I have started saving bit by bit for her, but I know, that will not be enough to cover the rising cost of living in the future.

I am currently on a quest- I am looking for a good financial plan that will have multiple benefits. Being a salaried employee, I find it a monthly challenge to put aside more and more money for my child’s future, but annual payments turn into burdens as well. So a systematic investment option is my preference, which will not only aid me with tax benefits but also guarantee good returns when I am done with it. If this saving option gives me a dividend at the end of every five years, it will also help me use that capital for my child’s expanding interests- music lessons, art workshops, science or even sports camps can be funded easily. Moreover, safety of my investment is important- I should rest easy that my money is safe and growing at the rate I expect it too. And in the event of my death, the investment should be available to my daughter whenever she needs it.

But while the search continues, I am also preparing for another kind of foundation.I am keeping a keen eye on my daughter’s aptitudes- it is too early in the day I know to predict the future interests of a five year old, but then I am observing her interests, passions and her mode of thinking. Is she a natural logical thinker, or is she more instinctive? Does she enjoy sports, or does she prefer her books? Does she fancy working with her hands to learn something, or is verbal instruction enough for her? These different pointers will aid me to understand her better and guide me to providing her with those experiences which will spur her onward in a direction of her interest.

This I believe is the second milestone in a child’s educational journey- as a parent I must have a clear concept of my child’s capacity and aptitude. This will help me few years down the line, to look for the right subject options as she enters her 16th year.

There is another kind of preparation that I devote myself to – and that is to build my child’s personality through a sound base of values and ethics. Often, as adults we get so caught up in providing for the child’s academic and professional needs, we compromise on the most influential aspect of a child’s personality- her sense of values and morals. In fact, the proper use of the talent and money available to a child can only be ensured when the child grows up with strong nurturing beliefs that any dream can be achieved and that there is no shortcut to success. It is a family effort- we are trying to instil our daughter with the right attitude and principles to lead a good life.

So I sing to my child that,

‘If all the people around the world,
They had a mind like yours;
We’d have no fighting and no wars,
There would be lasting peace on Earth.

If all the kings and all the leaders
Could see you here this way,
They would hold the Earth in their arms,
They would learn to watch you play.’

Every child comes with a promise that the world will be a better place because it exists and we owe it to our children to give them every opportunity to make their dreams come true.

This is the story of my preparation, a dream full of humility and hesitation but filled with visions that my child’s tomorrow will be better than her today.

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pic courtesy- bloomfieldepac.com

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‘Spring is the mischief in me’

‘Spring is the mischief in me’- thawing the icicles within, into brooklets of fun,

That flow in short spurts- but last long enough to sprout an idea or two.

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‘Spring is the mischief in me’- the bubbling fluid zigzags often turn into ‘anything-buds’;

Bunches of ‘anything buds’- which can be, well, anything they want to be.

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‘Spring is the mischief in me’- these close fisted beauties pout their taut lips,

Teasing my thoughts out of the quicksand of predictable routine.

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‘Spring is the mischief in me’-they say, adding ‘we can be anything; you can be anything   Brooklet, bud, and a baby green leaf at the edge of a dry woody bark.

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That ‘Spring is the mischief in me’ is the word that has got around it seems;

And now they all know, else why would there be a conspiracy of colours…

                   on the canvas of my winter-born heart?

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‘Make mischief,’ they say- ‘Be Spring; be the Mischief; make Trouble.

Trouble the palpitating fears that bring you to your knees,

Trouble the automaton routine that builds electric fences around your dreams,

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Let there be Trouble… and then?

Feel the wind in your breath,

Smell the colour in the season,

Taste the feelings of your soul,

See the brilliance of you!’

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Spring is the mischief in me, I believe;

And if there is anarchy in the kingdom of monotony tonight,

I shall blame the moon for this madness,And chuckle to show how Spring has worked its mischief in me.

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all pictures have been taken by me- i owe the refrain to Robert Frost only- the rest is mine 🙂

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