Saturday, September 28, 2013

Random things I dislike: II

I finally have something in common with Woody Allen: people like our 'early comedies'. Nobody has liked the concept of Abhishek's Blog growing up. I have been receiving complaints that I'm getting all pensive and emotional.

Now, this is a serious complaint. It's time for a change of genre. Given the fact that I am seriously challenged in the realm of humour the safe option would probably be to fall back on the aspect of life I'm really good at: rambling.

What's more, this is not even an original topic. This is going to be a sequel of an older one, which means that the usual disclaimer will hold good:

What I'm talking about is things (or people) I dislike with a passion, while other people find them perfectly normal.

1. The Hole Entrepreneurs
I was probably Hitler in my previous life; or maybe I was Marie Antoniette; or maybe Genghis Khan (who basically murdered anybody who misspelled his first name, which was everybody: I himself used the spelling 'Chengiz' in my heydays, but by then he was dead); or maybe I was one of these ladies.

Unlike credit card points sins do get carried forward; they have done in my case, at least. This is probably the reason that God and Satan had got together, had forced me study inorganic chemistry, watch Kirti Reddy trying to act on screen, and - well - purchase leather belts and watches with leather bands.

Don't get me wrong. Leather is cool, more so because I'm not a vegan. Given a choice I would probably have become a non-vegetarian vegan (someone who eats flesh but does not use animal products), but till it has a name I would stick to my habits.

The manufactures - may the sky fall on their heads - have clearly singled me out for this. They do not, I repeat, do not want me to get a perfect fit at first attempt. I always have to get an extra hole or two done to allow it to fit me.

Exactly why they do this to me remains a mystery. As I have mentioned above, it must have been a thing from my past life.

2. The Obstinate Soaplets
The habit of sticking the remaining 1/37 of the last bar of part-elliptical, part-rectangular soap to the fresh one is as old a Bengali middle-class as forming group theatres. It usually works well if both soaps are more or less soft. The fun begins when it is not so.

Two hard bars of soap simply refuse to give in to whatever methods you apply: you may soak them in water and then try to gel them together with your steely grip. They just refuse to stay together the way USB drives refuse to fit at first attempt.

The following chart can be considered a handbook on this:

3. The Humming Pigeons
Don't get me wrong. Pigeons are nice, pigeons are peaceful, pigeons are generally well-behaved, and pigeons have made it to iconic scenes in movies like Parinda and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. I have also heard that they are generally delicious.

They also used to carry letters, which is rather cool. They come in different hues of white, black, blue, and bluish green, and are generally quite tolerable.

Unless they decide to build nests in air-conditioners and go hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm throughout the day, that is.

4. The Weekend Plan Revealers
Okay, let me break this amazing bit of knowledge for the sake of the world: my idea of a perfect weekend involves a lot of reading, a lot of writing, and a lot of thinking. It also involves catching up the random movie and meeting people I want to.

It does not involve meeting people I do not want to meet; it does not involve hanging out or chilling out with anyone who uses the abominable phrases; and seldom does it involve going on a weekend trip, because the preparation and journey typically involves more time than the time spent at the spot itself.

But that is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. I do not have anything against people who hang out, chill out, or go on weekend trips, no.

What I do have a problem is with the same people asking me what my plans are for the weekend, or how my weekend meant. If you're reading this blog post you do have a fair idea.

If you still do not get it look at the first paragraph of this segment.

If you still do not get it, do leave a comment. I will reconsider our relationship.

5. The Tee-Party
This is more of a question, so I will be curt and to the point. What am I, as a man (I've leaving out the macho alpha male bit, which, however true, is redundant here), supposed to do when a woman wears a t-shirt with a one-liner* or a picture that is possibly funny?

Will the answer change if the woman is reasonably, er, well-endowed?

* This is an assumption from the fact that men wear t-shirts with one-liners as well.

6. The Polo Pizza People
We all know what is common to doughnuts, cheerios, bagels, and Nestle Polo. However, there exists a group of people who believe that the exact opposite holds for pizzas. The following illustration would help prove the point:
So basically every pizza slice ends up looking this after every meal.

Source: The internet
Fine, you cannot like the ends or crusts or whatever they're called. That really doesn't mean you throw them away. This is food, no less. Remember, life always comes with a thin crust option. And I'm not talking about Jennifer Lopez's wardrobe here.

7. The Elevator Button Champions
This may come as a revelation to a lot of people, but I guess it's time for me to come out with the truth: when you're in the lobby pressing elevator buttons do not make the elevator arrive to you a millisecond earlier than when it is supposed to.

While we are still on elevators I guess I need to add some more information to this. Once again, this is a concept that has eluded the smartest of minds over decades. It is a two-part concept that goes like this:
- If you want to go up, press the button with the Up arrow sign. It looks somewhat like this: 
- If you want to go down, press the button with the Down arrow sign. It looks somewhat like this: 

8. The Deliberate Pluralators
You cannot, I repeat, cannot have ONE patties. Patties is the plural for two words - patty and pattie. These are two completely different kinds of food.

Patty is the thing that goes inside a hamburger. In Mumbai a patty goes by the name of aloo tikki and it goes inside a vada paaw. It's basically the same thing as a beef patty, sans the taste. Below is an illustration.


However, when these people use the word 'patties' - somewhat obnoxiously - this is not what they have in mind. What they have in mind is this:


This is not 'a patties'. This is not a 'patty' either. This goes by the name of a PATTIE.

9. The Informative Callers II (for I, see part one here)
Oh, these people are a class apart. Suppose this person is called X. You have had a gazillion or so conversations with X, and X is perfectly aware that the CLI on your phone shows X's name. And yet, the moment you answer the call you hear that ubiquitous bright, lively voice: "Hey! It's X!"

It's definitely illuminating, X. Thank you for letting me know that you're not Mila Kunis.

10. Kirron Kher Fans
Kirron Kher cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot act.

She's not a shade on the majestic Farida Jalal or, as Diptakirti has pointed out, the first 'cool mom' of Bollywood - Reema Lagoo.

Bariwali did not work because of her. It worked despite her. She did not act there. Rita Koiral (or Koyral, or Kairal - does this sound similar to Genghis Khan's name?) did. And the National Award did not go to Rita. It went to Kirron.

It went to someone who cannot act.

Kirron Kher cannot act.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Boy and Dog

Long, long ago in a place far, far away, there lived a dog. It was not as gigantic as a Mastiff or as annoying as a Chihuahua; it was a plain, simple, commonplace, boring, white quadruped.

We will call this dog Dog. We will use the capital D to distinguish it from the other dogs.

Since this is from an era long, long back Dog had a lot of empty space to run around; it even roamed inside forests, looking for easy prey like wild roosters and stray goats; there was also a brook that meandered through the forest.

Once he had his fill Dog slept through the night on the lush green field adjacent to the forest. His days were spent in peace. True, he had picked up wounds from minor tussles over food, but he was generally happy with his life.

Life passed as serenely for Dog as you can imagine. He was happy, complacent, and blissfully unaware of the outer world.

***

Then, one day, something strange happened. A little creature turned up on the field the dog always had to his own. He was one of those creatures Owl talks about all the time: the hopeless, harmless beings who stay in oversized nests and always stay in groups.

This was not a grown-up, though. This was a small one.

Dog approached this being to have a closer look. He took small, cautious steps. True, this baby did not look menacing at all – but you could never be too cautious.

No, he was all right.

Boy looked at Dog apprehensively. Then he stuck out his hand; Dog licked it.

They became the best of friends.

Dog and Boy. Boy and Dog.

They had made the vow: the vow not to part from each other till ‘Death did them apart’.

***

Every afternoon, when his father was out hunting and his mother was busy weaving, Boy invariably found his way to the pasture; Dog got used to these unusual hours of frolic; they played and ran and had a lot of fun. Then they got tired and lay on the grass, staring at the bright blue sky for hours.

Then, when it started to get dark and the big orb on turned red and the sky turned orange, Boy bid goodbye to Dog and the set off for his village where his parents waited with a big bowl of food around the fire.

***

Then, one day, Dog saw tears in Boy’s eyes when they met. Boy sat down on the grass, weeping. Dog tried to get into his mind, he licked his hands and licked his face and tried to lick Boy’s tears away, but Boy did not stop crying.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity, Boy opened his mouths, looking directly into the eyes of Dog.

“Dog, I am sad.”

Dog understood. He could not speak, though.

“The people in my village are moving. My father and my mother told me that we are not getting enough crops from this place; we will have to move somewhere else.”

Dog looked blankly at Boy’s face. He could not believe this.

“Dog, what will we do?”

The eyes spoke; Dog cuddled up close to him.

Yes, there was only one way out.

***

Dog had wanted to ask Boy whether Boy had really wanted this. Dog did not want to give up his comfort zone: he had got too used to his nice daily routine.

Boy, on the other hand, was always going to be with the people he wanted to. Was it worth leaving the woods and the meadow and following Boy and his folks and venture into the unknown?

Dog decided to go for it. Boy was, after all, the only friend he had, and you do give up your comfort zone for good friends.

Boy was happy. Dog was happy to see him happy. He followed Boy and his family into the unknown.

***

They found another meadow. They found another forest. Dog longed for his old nook but did not seem too sad about the compromise. He had, after all, his best friend with him. Life was still fun, and that was all that mattered, no?

Times changed. Boy grew up. He learned to paint using bright colours his parents made using mysterious components and processes. He drew on the ground and on the leaves and on the pots, and then he decided to colour Dog.

Dog had never felt so happy. Gone was the bland, lacklustre white: he was now painted in different hues of red and blue and yellow and green and purple and orange and what not! He was overjoyed; he walked smugly in the forest, showing off his radiant self in front of its jealous residents.

Life was colourful for Dog. Very colourful.

Boy was happy as well. He was happy to bring colour to Dog’s life. From the day he was introduced to colours Boy had been obsessed about them: for him life was all about colours. He learned various skills from his parents to make the colours on Dog last longer.

***

Boy and Dog both grew up. As it always happens with boys and dogs, Dog grew up faster than Boy. He grew more and more protective about Boy. He grew more affectionate, caring, and loved pampering Boy.

Boy loved him back as well. What was more, he went out of his way to share the nuances of colour with Dog: he would not unravel the mysteries himself and not share them with Dog. That was not what friends do. Friends share.

Every day was like a gust of fresh air in their friendship now. Boy painted Dog and his surroundings with the mighty brushes after mixing the shades for hours on his wooden palette. Dog watched Boy with pride and joy: between them they had created a world of colour.

***

More time passed.

Boy was now a celebrated painter. Not only were his works appreciated all over the village, they were also in demand from worlds far away. His talent and dedication had turned him into a very, very important person.

He got busier with every passing day. Dog understood. He missed the sunny afternoons, but realised that he would have to make these compromises for his friend. His friend was, after all, no ordinary person: Boy was loved by all, and he could not give away all his afternoons to Dog the way he used to.

Dog had accepted that.

Then, one day, Boy came to the meadow again. He sat down on the grass and wrapped his hands around his knees. Then he told Dog in a tone not very different to the one he had used years back:

“Dog, I cannot meet you anymore.”

Dog had been busy observing the paint on his forelegs, marvelling at the amazing finesse with which Boy had painted them. He did not get it in the first time. Then he looked up.

“I am sorry.”

Sorry? Dog had given this friendship his all: he had given up all he had in life – his pasture, his forest, his comfort zone – everything he had; just for the sake of this friendship.

Dog looked at Boy inquisitively. Where did I go wrong?

“It’s not about you, Dog. I need to spend more time with my folks. They need me. My work is also being affected. I loved our friendship; I had cherished every moment of it. But I cannot continue with this anymore.”

What about me, Boy?

“I know it was not your fault. You have been perfect – the best friend one can imagine. But it has eventually come down to a choice with spending time with you and spending time with my folks; I cannot afford to desert them. That would be the same as disowning my past.”

Why is it only about you and them? Don’t I feature anywhere in this decision?

“I’m sorry, Dog. There is nothing I can do. You know how important my folks are for me. You always knew that. You could have chosen not to come.”

But we had made a vow...

“I know. Do not make me feel guiltier. I am feeling bad about this already.”

Please...?

“I am really sorry.”

***

Dog looked in disbelief as Boy left him for one final time and disappeared into the village. Did all this really happen?

He waited for a day, then a week. He missed Boy.

One day he paid a visit to Boy’s village. He found out Boy’s house. He could see him talking to people. These were not his parents. These were patrons who had come to purchase his works of art.

Just outside the house were a group of young girls who looked at Boy and whispered and giggled among themselves.

Was Boy happy?

Dog knew that these people meant the world to Boy; Boy still meant the world to Dog, but that did not matter to Boy anymore. Dog was history to Boy.

It was not about love after all, Dog thought. It was about how long you know a person. The intensity did not matter; the past did.

***

Dog made his way back to the old meadow. This stretch of grass was his last hope. He wanted to find some solace in the memories of his younger days and of the days he had spent with Boy.

It did not work, though. He could never feel the same emotion for the place that used to be world for him. Fleeting memories of moments spent in unadulterated joy kept coming to his mind, as did the vow they had made together.

***

It hurt Dog. He wept and wept, but to no avail.

Then, on one of those nights, he finally felt anger growing inside him. The agony of being let down by the person he had cared for the most.

He called out into the night. The eerie, lupine shriek echoed across the forest, sending chills down the spine of the nocturnal animals.

The howl lasted for hours. Then his eyes gleamed red; there was unmistakable anger and blood in them; you could see the venom in those bloodthirsty eyes.

His eyes drained the colour from his skin. It had turned gray, just like a wolf’s.

He growled louder.

Then the rain came down. It pelted down and washed the gray from Dog’s coat.

Gray was, after all, also a colour.

***

The next morning the hyenas feasted on the carrion of a white dog – so white that it could even be called transparent. It seemed that all colour had been sucked out of its body.

Even from the insides.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sponsored Video: Help a Child Reach 5!


What is a picture of Kajol doing at the top of your blog post?
                                                                                    
Ah, I was always a big fan of hers: but now that she has taken the initiative to lead the Help a Child Reach 5 campaign my respect for her has gone up manifolds.

What is this campaign all about?

Ah, that. It’s just that two million children do not reach the age of five. To put things into perspective, it is equivalent to the population of a small European country like Slovenia or Macedonia.

But isn’t this a really high count?

It is. And we’re talking about an age of five here (which is the age where children are most vulnerable), so it’s time we get serious.

This sounds serious. Why do so many children die?

There are numerous reasons. The one we’re addressing here is diarrhoea. Diarrhoea is one of the more common reasons that lead to death of children at a very early age, especially in rural areas. However, it can happen to your children too.

How does diarrhoea happen?

In India we eat with our hands; if our hands remain infected with germs while eating there is a very high probability that we can end up having diarrhoea. Of course, the probability is higher in children, since they have a lower immunity level.

Okay, I’m convinced now. But how can I help?

The solution is simple. In fact, it’s simpler than what you think. All we need to do is to wash our hands with soap before meals and after we use the bathroom. That will really cut down the rate of diarrhoea. What is more, it can turn out to be a difference between life and death.

That’s obviously doable. But what is this campaign about?

See, you’re reading this post, but a lot of people are not: which is where the campaign comes in. Just go to YouTube and type “Help a child reach 5”. You can also see the video above.

The campaign has chosen Thesgora, a village in Madhya Pradesh, as the first step. Thesgora has a very high child mortality rate: in fact, people celebrate if a child reaches the age of five.

Once you’re convinced that it is worth sharing, please do. It’s that easy to help. Just spread the news. We have to take the initiative; we have to show the way.

Read. Watch. Share. Maybe you may end up saving multiple lives in the process.

Can we donate as well?

Of course you can! Just go here and donate! Your donation will go straight to Population Service International – an organisation that is already playing a stellar role in this! In fact for every rupee you pay, Lifebuoy will pay a rupee, which makes the impact you make twice as good!

What is more, every time you click the video above Lifebuoy will donate a rupee towards the cause. This is not the usual spam where you need to share age-old posts on Facebook, no. This is real-time, and it depends on the number of hits the YouTube video gets. Of course, this also means that the more you share video, the more the number of clicks, and the more Lifebuoy donates to the cause.

You can also find out more at Lifebuoy's Facebook page. You can also visit their website here or here.

I think this is a very long post, so I scrolled down to the very bottom. Can you tell me the gist?

You can stop a lot of children below five from dying of diarrhoea (a very common thing even today, especially in rural India). You can simply click and share this video (it’s also provided at the top of the article). Additionally, you can donate to the cause here; remember, whatever you contribute will be matched by Lifebuoy.

Why does Kajol not act anymore?

I knew this was coming, but I have no idea. I will ask her if I ever get to meet her. A comeback is long overdue.

 ***

This post has been sponsored by Lifebuoy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The third and the best

Of the five of them the nose works the fastest. I will tell you why.

Growing up in Kolkata meant that trips to Puri were a regular affair: I was very, very young when I was there for the first time. I was possibly (I have been told so by my parents; and "parents don't lie" is the golden rule in Indian households) very excited at the concept of actually watching a sea.

After we left the hotel, way before we could actually be in front of it, even before we could hear the waves splashing ceaselessly on the shore, I was hit by something I had never experienced before.

The smell of the sea.

It was built of sand and water and salt and earth and shell and magic. It made me come to an abrupt halt and inhale deeply, allowing the aroma to seep into my olfactory system. It build up a desire inside me that I, even at that age, knew I could not discuss with your parents.

It was a fragrance like none other.

It has been three decades.

Since then I have been in a frantic search of re-living the aroma: I have ran across the lengths and breadths of my city; I have tried forests and rivers and mountains and big cities; I have braved the winters, been drenched by the monsoon, and been scorched by the summer in pursuit.

It was nowhere.

It needed the vastness, the infinite depth, an entire horizon to hug and kiss to make things happen. It needed its waves to splash into the shores with relentless tease and then run away, day in and day out.

It was elusive. It was seductive. It was mysterious.

In other words, it was Woman. Not a woman, but Woman: Woman, who creates, destroys, recreates Man; Woman, who makes Man melt with a quick, stolen gaze; Woman, over whom wars have been waged and entire cities put to sword; Woman that has become the ember that has scorched Man to non-existence and has then become the shadow that has soothed him.

Yes, that smell was Woman.

You can bury your nose in it, go deeper, deeper, further inside... in pursuit of that unknown realm of Womanhood unknown to Man. You know it's there, somewhere deep, but you cannot reach there - and the futility of the effort drives you insane.

It is that small.

You won't find it anywhere else.

Unless you immerse yourself in the sweaty bosom of your woman of desire in a lazy Kolkata afternoon for hours with only the mindless, monotonous squeak of the ancient ceiling-fan and the persistent flapping of an a Bengali calendar on the coarse wall interrupting your passion.

The next time I went to Puri it reminded me of home.

***

Gurgaon summers are hotter than their Kolkata counterparts: back home summers drenched you with sweat; here they scorch you with their arid ruthlessness, making you bend into submission: it is a kind of feeling that you desperately want to get away from but cannot.

You can feel the unforgiving noose of the Gurgaon summer strangle you with every passing day. Along with it comes the power-cuts, which, on weekends, leave you with no option but to lie on the bed, too exhausted for any activity.

It is then that you rediscover home: as you lie for what seems like an eternity with your face deep into the mattress you are teleported to those lazy summer vacation afternoons in Kolkata where the power cuts used to cripple you to the same extent as they do you here, right now.

The aroma penetrates your system - the aroma of the sun-baked mattresses. The Sun has already slid towards the west, but on its way it has somehow left the bed rich with chaste memories of the Kolkata summer.

Of all memories of the summer days of my childhood this blazing, pure smell of the mattresses and bed-sheets is probably the most lingering one. You can grow up, go places, toss around restlessly with the inability to go back to your childhood days tormenting you: but this is one thing that will never cease stalking you.

Summers vary across time and space.

The mattresses, once kissed by the Sun, do not.

It's the same Sun, you see.

***

Everyone knows that Kolkata has the prettiest February in the Universe. It's so well-known a fact that I won't spend words explaining.

February in Kolkata is that time of the year when sweaters are at war with common-sense, the latter eventually prevailing. There comes a day in every household when the sweaters get packed and sent away in a whiff of mothballs.

Kolkata does not erupt into blossoms in February: you may catch a glimpse of the first polash here and there, surprising you with a sudden dash of red; the Saraswati Puja, bolstered by the innocent faces of young girls clad in yellow sarees; but ultimately it's about the smell.

You can inhale a Kolkata February.

After a winter punctuated with difficult pre-bath minutes in bathrooms, February is when you can step out of bed the moment you wake up: you open the windows and are greeted with the smell of fresh leaves; you step out of the house for a barefoot walk in the sensuousness of the dew-clad virgin morning grass: you know what dew and grass smell like, right, when kissed by the early morning sunshine?

The Book Fair, with its aroma of new and old books, of dust and smoke, of fried fish and bland coffee, and in recent years, of money, adds a new dimension to the all-too-special month.

But that's the Book Fair. That's not the Kolkata February I'm talking about.

February is about switching on the ceiling fan for the first time in the year and letting the faint smell of soot and fresh sweat spread across the room. It's supposed to be acrid but somehow melts into a pleasant aroma, possibly because it comes as a refreshing break after a month devoid of the fan. You're back to your comfort zone now.

Kolkata is home. But a Kolkata February is homecoming.

***

Then, as the spring gives way to incessant heat, you will find the packed buses filled with a combination of sweat, deodorants, talcum powders, and stale tobacco. The smell will suffocate you, especially since you will realise that there is no breeze anymore.

There are days like this at a stretch.

Then it happens, suddenly, out of nowhere.

You may be in a bus, inside a classroom, or lying peacefully on the bed, contemplating the meaning of life or thinking about your past relationships with a smile on your face.

Then you smell it.

The smell of fresh earth, brewed in the Sun, beginning to simmer as the moisture content builds.

They carry a message of the approaching Nor'Westers. They're coming. They will be here to engulf you and the city in a violent storm followed by a refreshing rain that you have been craving for the last month or so. Soon.

It is April now. Move aside. Make way for nature. She has sent its scout ahead to spread the message. Can you not smell her?

If the smell of the ocean is lust, this is unadulterated love. Of course the two cannot be separated: they come hand in hand. This one, however, comes with a dash of innocence the other has not known in ages. It's not the inviting mystique of Woman: it's the smiling innocence of a girl breaking into that endearing laughter.

You inhale. You smile. You rush to the terrace to embrace the first rain of the season. You sing and yell like there is no end to the world.

She has got the fragrance to lead her. She is on her way.

***

In those dark days of power-cuts in the 1980s and 1990s power cuts and mosquitoes were a frequent menace to Kolkata. Power-cuts meant that you were deprived of the ceiling fan: not only did this let the smell of sweat-soaked talcum powder spread across the room, it also invited smells from outside.

City nights come with their own sounds and smells. The occasional gust of wind from the North-West brought with it the aroma of some unknown flower; in monsoon you could sense the faintest trace of moss; and of course, the terraces and verandahs of old buildings had their own distinctive smells.

But that was only if you stepped outside the room. Why would you?

Power cuts were when the smells that were hitherto warded away by the rampant ceiling fan came into prominence; the mystique of old, wooden furniture, slightly damp; The Father's shirt, lying in the washing-bucket, smelling of tobacco and perfume and sweat and detergent, ready to be washed the next morning; the distant fragrance of a blend of spices from the kitchen; and the lure of the rich odour of shoe polish.

All this were, however, dominated by Tortoise-Brand Mosquito Coil, burning away to glory to save the humans from malaria. Liquidators and mats had not yet shown up, so it was all about mosquito nets; and mosquito nets were not really ideal for reading inside in candlelight.

The coils have always reminded me of armed soldiers with bayonets ready at their disposal: their angry orange eyes gave us the reassuring idea that someone was constantly on the lookout to ward off those tiny demons.

More than the angry eyes, however, it was the smell. The smell was alluring; however hard you tried to concentrate on your book the smell lured you, made you look deep into that orange eye that moved slowly into oblivion as the night moved on.

You could hear the clock tick; you could see the eye look back at you, reminding you that there was someone keeping a vigil; and you could inhale the smoke that was poisonous and soothing at the same time; and dissolve into the deepest of sleep.

***

True-blue Indian families do not use oil for cooking: it's always ghee. Which possibly explains my girth.

Long, long back, when the family members were less busy and had ample time in their hands, they often managed to convert kitchens to heavens. They produced all kinds of divine products, and with my brother still young, they used me as the taster-in-chief.

All the adults in the family had reached a common consensus: it's not worth purchasing ghee from the market. So, after boiling, the milk was allowed to cool every day, and the rich, thick layer of cream at the top was carefully removed and stored away in the refrigerator.

Then, when the ghee seemed to be running out of stock, The Father and The Mother and The Grandfather and The Grandmother - all four of them - took up various roles in the kitchen: the cream was churned and converted to ghee.

Have you ever smelled freshly prepared ghee? It's an aroma so strong that for a few seconds you're left wondering whether this is the same household that smelt only of tea leaves, coconut oil, and tobacco till an hour back.

I was summoned to the kitchen after the ghee was safely tucked away in small jars. My hour has come. The Grandmother scraped out the residue of the ghee - a rich, brown, aromatic powder (we used to call it khnakri) - and handed it to me in a small bowl.

Solid, concentrated ghee in a bowl is certainly the crème la crème of any cuisine. It really doesn't get any better than this. You either know it or you don't.

And if you do, passing by the otherwise humble Gurgaon sweet-shops won't be an easy task for you. I mean it.

***

Durga Puja is a clichéd concept these days: one can drone on about it for hours and still not get bored. The fresh smell of new, expensive sarees, the overly made-up teenagers involved in a frenzied clamour, the ubiquitous chilli sauce, strong perfume, expensive cigarettes, sweat, and the occasional stench of stale alcohol.

You get bored by the monotone and break away from the crowd. The more you distance yourself the less the fragrances become; after a while it doesn't feel like Puja anymore.

Then you meet them: a group of excited teenage boys, possibly out together for a Puja evening without parents for the first time. The shirts are inexpensive, the jeans possibly old, the shoes dusty. Nothing about them is glamorous.

Other than the purity of the smiles, that is.

They do not reciprocate to your cold, glassy look; they walk past you instead. As they do that smell hits you: the smell of new clothes, freshly unpacked from transparent plastic packets, purchased from an inexpensive outlet in Gariahat or Hatibagan.

Possibly their only one for the Puja. Tonight is the night they are wearing it. Hence the enthusiastic, unadulterated joy that manages to outshine the artificial smiles that crowd the big pandals.

This is when you remember The Father and The Mother taking you out on Sunday afternoons; the shopkeeper willingly taking down one shirt after another, all sparkling new; The Father looking bored; my getting bored; The Mother carrying on with a fervent passion, and eventually selecting one, or at most two, from what looked like a million.

They were then tucked inside the Godrej steel cupboard and forgotten till Puja. When they were brought out they smelled of Durga Puja and of joy. I used to wonder why The Father and The Mother looked at me, beaming as I smelled it before eventually putting it on.

I now knew why. I turned around, looked back at the children, and beamed in an all-too-familiar fashion.

***

It's difficult to tell on whether a well-oiled bat smells better or a seasoned cricket ball. Both of them marked the beginning of a cricket season, though: the suffocating, musty mats laid out and fixed to the ground by rusted nails; the ancient, reeking pads brought out of nowhere; and the gloves laid out in the winter Sun to allow the sweaty smell to subside.

You are assigned the responsibility to buy the cricket ball. You go to the shop, and ask for a selection. When they lay them out the first thing you is take a whiff, ignoring the bemused look of the shopkeeper.

Does heaven smell any better?

You pay for the ball and walk back home with it nestled smugly inside your pocket. You feel tempted to play catch once you're back, but a seasoned ball is too sacred for that. You hold it with the utmost respect it deserves, and smell it unabashedly.

You go to bed with the ball next to you that night and a smile on your face. Ten hours from now this ball will get hurled at a batsman; till then it, along with its aroma, is all yours.

***

Coffee.

They preferred tea. All four of them. The Father and The Mother and The Grandfather and The Grandmother. I preferred coffee.

They only had coffee occasionally. So did I, since my staple diet used to be Complan. It was only on special occasions that I was rewarded with a taste of the magical bean.

Coffee had become synonymous to my existence over time. It's not only a fuel, it's the force that keeps my brain functioning till the wee hours of the morning. Coffee does things to my brain that nothing else can. Had I been properly equipped I could even have made love to an espresso or an Americano.

That is not the point, though. It's not even about the divine smell that embraces you the moment you open the glass door of any cafe.

It's about the containers.

Even now, when I open the seal of a jar or slash through a packet containing coffee the first thing I do is smell the fumes and the almost invisible coffee dust that fills the air. Sometimes it's so mild that you have to dig your nose inside to let the aroma reach out to you.

I know it sounds obnoxious, but I cannot help it. It's something I've been doing since I was ten.

***

Mullick Bazaar is the place where AJC Bose Road and Park Street meet. Both are significant arteries joining the crucial organs of the city, and between them they dominate the heart of the city to a great extent. As a result Mullick Bazaar is one of the most important crossings in Kolkata.

It's perpetually crowded with shops and people and various forms of transport, making it one of the most polluted crossings during office-hours. Fifteen minutes of smoke and dust in the crossing is enough to reduce your lifespan by six months.

But.

There were two humble shops located in the South-West corner of the crossing: Rahmania, a shop that has produced the best shammi kababs in the city; and Shiraz, which used the undisputed champion of biriyani till Arsalan came along to transform it into a two-way battle.

When The Father (or anyone else) went to Mullick Bazaar (it is also the area that sells motor parts at retail prices) I always volunteered to accompany him. He never knew. Eating out was virtually a crime in those days - but there was no harm in basking in that smell. Can you think of the combined effect of fresh biriyani and fresh kababs?

The Mother used to prepare biriyani at home; it was good enough to challenge both Shiraz and Arsalan, but she never acknowledged the fact (she took pride in her doi-machh - fish prepared in a base of curd - instead, which nobody liked). The clash was always there, you see.

Biriyani did not end with the meal, though. The Parents were naive enough to assume that I would wash my hands diligently. How little they knew of me.

I used to sprinkle some water on the soap to make it look like an authentic wash; I did an absolute joke of a hand-wash afterwards, and never used the towel. Then, after pulling the sheet over my head, I fell asleep with the lingering smell of homemade biriyani on my greasy palm being the last memory...

***

Indian households almost always smell of spices. They have been doing the same for millennia and used to dominate the global economy before the British came along. Then the British took away the Kohinoor and introduced us to Durex in return.

Spices have always attracted me for some inexplicable reason (Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni had rekindled it with her wonderful book some time back). Their variety in looks, aroma, taste, and feel, and the exotic eroticism should be enough to make Spices a subject in school.

It was more of an academic interest on my part, though. Be it fenugreek or fennel, cumin or pepper, cardamom or cinnamon, they are all different from each other, but each contributing in their own way to help reach Indian food the stature it so richly deserves.

None of them, however, allures me from a distance. Unless it is asafoetida.

The Mother used to make (she still does that, but less frequently as age is catching up) an incredible alur dom (dum aloo). It was 'alur dom for the vegetarians', which meant one was not supposed to put onions or garlic in it.

So she used asafoetida: you could smell it from a mile away; and you had to give up whatever you had been doing and cast frequent, longing looks towards the kitchen window till it arrived on the table.

Need I say any more? Nobody makes it the way The Mother does, by the way.

***

Next to our house is a bakery. Not just a random bakery, but a bona-fide one that played radio through the night as the workers prepared bread. Very early in the morning the employees set out on bicycles with metal boxes full of bread attached to them. These would then get distributed to the numerous retailers, big and small.

The Grandfather (whose idea of early morning used to be 3.30 AM) used to buy both sliced bread and loaves as soon as the factory opened, often from inside the factory. I attended morning school those days, which meant that I was around and awake when the bread reached home.

Have you ever opened a pack of fresh, hot (not warm) bread and let the aroma subside slowly inside you? It opens up a whole new world for you: it sort of teleports you to the world of Hansel and Gretel and those Russian Folk Tales where they used to have only loaves of bread for meals.

The richness, the freshness, the softness - they all combined to form an incredible combination that surprisingly lasts for about fifteen minutes after it has been baked. Then it's just another loaf of bread.

It's not addictive magic. It's the closest to mush I have ever got in my life. Soft bread. Soft aroma. Tenderness. Dreams. Warmth. Bliss.

Unlike others I got to know at a very early age what "sold like a hot cake" meant. It couldn't have been much different from "sold like hot bread".

***

The Daughter used to smell the same as any other child, which was essentially a combination of all sorts of Johnson's products. You got used to her smell with changing of diapers, staying of nights to hold the teat of the Morrison's bottle to her mouth, with hugging her to your chest in an effort to make her burp, with holding her limbs tightly to make sure her vaccination got done properly.

She grew in age. I grew as a father.

The Johnson's bottles disappeared one by one and gave way to other brands I was completely clueless about. She learned to use the bathroom, she started having cooked food, and Lactogen gave way to cow milk. She also burped on her own.

Her smell changed.

I hated that.

Then, one day, as she walked out after having her hair shampooed, she cuddled close to me; the television was on; we watched Doraemon.

I could smell her hair. For some inexplicable reason I realised a lump forming somewhere near my throat. I have never smelled anything so innocent, so pure.

It wasn't the shampoo working on The Daughter.

It was probably how the hair of all daughters smell after they are fresh after a shampoo.

Engrossed in Nobita and Shizuka, she probably never noticed her head being kissed softly. She never knew that she had given me a new home that day.

It was then that I realised why Walt Disney was so obsessed about making princesses out of young girls in his movies.

***

This post is an entry to the "Smelly to Smiley!" contest hosted by Ambi Pur India and IndiBlogger.

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