A tribute to my maternal house

My childhood was not all that fairy tale nor was it extraordinarily hard. It was a normal phase with its haves and have-nots but the highlight of this childhood was ‘Avenue House’. It was essentially the center point.

Avenue House of my childhood days was bustling with life and its various oddities. I had friends of all age groups and I had friends who came and went. There was a ‘kakima’ on every floor and there was life as one could possibly imagine. We played in the landings and on the steps. We played in the backyard of the building and between the parked cars in the garage. Our footprints and laughter resounded from the nook and cranny of this apartment block. Most houses had an open door policy which meant they were accessible at most times.

People intermingled freely and we children were given the free run and so we ran with all those we could gather around us and wove a fantastic world filled with laughter, joy and the occasional cry.

In those days having flats were not all that common, so we the residents of apartments were considered special. Hence we reveled in our own glory and lived in a bubble. The peak moment was always defined by the Durga Puja celebrations in our building.

Yes, we all studied and went to schools were equally focused and had our term exams. But the advent of autumn meant, Durga Puja celebrations must begin and so we began. It began with the Pujo meeting conducted by the elders in the building and one of them was my grandmother, my thakuma. That was all we needed to start thinking of cultural activities.

Those days saw active participation from adults and children alike. More than having practice sessions these cultural meetings was just another excuse for us kids to meet up at an odd hour and catch up on gossip and giggle. Fun was in the air and we all loved the camaraderie and shared the excitement. There would be easily around 15 children performing with the adults and the elder ‘didis’ guiding them.

Four days marked the celebration and that entailed 4 days of fun filled performance. There would be dances, dance dramas, songs, fancy dress, a play and of course the all encompassing antakshari. To be honest I am not too much a follower of Rabindra Sangeet, but all those years in my childhood, dancing to Rabindra Sangeet as made me very aware of most songs.

The pujas begin and so does the never ending ‘pandal –adda’. Even before the Goddess has taken residence we have began our celebrations. Parked on chairs and benches what followed was four days of glorious adda.

Of course one can’t eliminate the superb performances delivered on each day which kept the audiences enthralled, so good they were that passersby would stop to appreciate and watch.

Durga puja saw the entire ‘Avenue House’ come together as one,  as one family putting aside their individual differences and coming forward to make each year a pleasant one to remember.

Even after I have left this place, got married and had kids I would return like ‘moths to a flame’ to take part in the celebrations all over again. The faces have changed, the enthusiasm has dimmed, and my friends have long gone. But what remains is the house echoing with memories, jubilant celebrations and of course Ma Durga herself.

This year marks the fortieth year of celebrations and as I sit thousand miles away penning my thoughts I wish one last time to be taken back in time to perform one last time on that famous rickety stage, wishing for my children that they are exposed to such warmth as I got in ‘Avenue House’.

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The Lowland – A book review

Needless to say, i completely adore Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. I love her style of writing and her characterization. An advantage of having an enterprising husband and a promise to review her latest book – The Lowland, landed me with a free copy of her just released book. It was an engrossing journey and what follows is my take on The Lowland.

Similar to her previous work, Lahiri’s story starts from the shores of Kolkata, India and travels to the United States. But the backdrop of the story is set in the 60’s and 70’s, highlighting the Naxalite Movement.

The story is about two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, their similarities, differences and the bond between them. It traces the journey from their shared childhood to adulthood. The different paths forged by them later in their lives, the path, which entwines at some point and then forms a new dimension in the story, through Gauri and Bela

The storyline is not uncommon. The Lowland takes the reader through the by lanes of Tollygunge, where Subhash and Udayan grows up. Just 15 months apart in age they are but two sides of the same coin, one dominating and wild the other accommodating and gentle. Both good students, Subhash ventures out to further his career in Rhode Island while wild Udayan plunges himself deep into the naxalite movement. Their paths meet with Gauri forming a fulcrum between them. What is perhaps the most gripping feature of this novel is the style of narration. In a single word, the story is extremely intense. It leaves the reader gasping for breath as the author describes the emotions of Gauri struggling with motherhood, an unhappy marriage and the grief of losing her love. However the highlight is how fantastically the author sketches Gauri’s lack of love towards her daughter, Bela and makes that feeling not at all absurd.

Lahiri sketches the emotions of each of her character immaculately, at times they are so minutely observed that one tends to share some common solidarity with them. The reader can easily envision some shared attributes or emotions, whether its Gauri’s inner turbulence, Subhash’s need for love or Bela’s desperate feeling of being rootless.

Lahiri’s signature style of total precision makes all the characters relatable and identifiable in real life.

All the characters have strong elements of sadness in them.  At times the mental agony is too much, in that aspect the storyline is tragic, mostly. However the conclusion brings peace and acceptance, which helps the reader to unwind from the turbulent journey Lahiri takes us through.

The Naxalbari movement is crucial not for the ideals it propounded but for the twist in the tale which carries the story forward and allows the characters to develop.  It allows Udayan to venture on a path and gives the title its due importance.

Lahiri’s measured descriptions and settings gives the reader glimpses of Calcutta, as it was known before and Rhode Island. Her attention to detail is so astonishing that one can actually visualize the story unfolding in front of their eyes. Whether it is visiting Tolly club in Kolkata or taking to the beach in Rhode Island. The lowland in Tollygunge, from which the story derives its title, is so meticulously described that one can feel surreal about it.

Lahiri is definitely numero uno when it comes to portrayal of her characters and bringing forth all shades of emotions. The reader is provided with a complete understanding of all the flaws and frailties of human nature. Her level of detailing and precision is completely unmatched. Her capability to turn an ordinary story into an extraordinary one is superb.  So if one is looking for an extremely good read then this is definitely the book of this season. It is an unforgettable journey into the human mind.

This review got published in Storizen Magazine – September Issue. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

The Lowland Book Review
The Lowland Book Review