The objective of the Saturday sessions at the puja mandap was to gather the people of the neighbourhood for bonding over a cup of tea and munchies .Not a bad idea because it is always good to bond in a neighbourhood . Saturday evenings even second saturdays , (which is a peculiar Indian government office concept whereby the office remains closed on second Saturdays ) not being very conducive to neighborhood welfare, the crowd was very thin .Over a period of time the numbers have not increased , just around 20 regulars including a retired professor of English , an advertising professional ,BRG and people like us who are re discovering bonding over bhaanrs ( earthen pots ) of tea , having discarded them for more potent stuff in the last 20 years .
However what started out as a lively interactive session has now degenerated into a showcase for amateur poets, story tellers, juvenile poets and worst, singers and woe betide you if you whisper or cross talk while yet another lady reads from her limp cover register or launches into a yodel or hits a high c .
The group for the most part consists of middle aged and ageing housewives who have suddenly discovered literary , emotive and musical skills . Although a little tiresome , for cynics like me I cannot but marvel at the childishly primitive poem written by a woman who at the age of 14 was picked up for marriage by a wealthy landowning family of Bankura – and has spent most of her life incarcerated inside a huge ugly house alongwith her sisters in law , trapped in the luxuries of a Bengali business family . Over the last few years she has suddenly emerged from her cocoon . In the mornings she walks to Dakshinapan and takes a class for street children on the stairs . And I like to think she has spent a lot of time on the poem , composing the verses , going back to her childhood in rural Bengal , drafting ,re drafting , erasing and writing in her exercise book , hunched up on her bed ,going through her daily routine and snatching off some time to thinking about the poem and how to make the lines sound better .
Then there were small stories about what winters are like . Unfortunately I am not a skilled talker in front of an expectant audience .. that is when all my skills suddenly dry out but if I could talk about winter I would talk About winters in Jamshedpur when I was very small and the world was large and cold in December and big burly Baba with his comfortable bulk very reassuring ; the tiny sister born one winter and the kanthas my mother made from her old sarees that were so comfortable in the autumn when autumns were cold and not warm and humid ; the strains of a carol suddenly borne on the wind from the house across the road where a family of Anglo Indians lived ; the mist rolling in from the hills - I could talk of the picnics when I lived in Kolkata , the zoo green and full of animals and birds , not the decrepit mass it is now ; of watching Gene Wilder in Charlie and the Chococlate Factory ( Johnny Depp was such a disappointment ) and Park Street all glittery with lights and Santa Claus outside Bombay Photo ; could talk of the lovely food that Ma made only in winter – I could talk of being in Jamshedpur ,in a different time , the sun and friends in school and making masti after college ; eating peanuts in the sun in Lucknow and gajjac made with sesame and gur and revri with sugar and sesame ; Poush mela in Santiniketan and the thrill of being out with that special friend on the mela math – listening to Bauls , creeping inside the dope laden tents , eating momos in Amar Tashi’s Ma’s stall and falling sick after that ; walking with AG in the winter evenings trees looming tall , light spilling out of cracks in shuttered windows , the stars bright and innumerable overhead , getting drenched as a posse of migratory wild geese and tern fly overhead at Laal banndh , going home to Ma down the dark side lane and stealing a kiss maybe in the dark … hoping no nosey neighbours see us – feeling the magic of winter in the blood and what did I do … I was dumbstruck at the plethora of talent that threatened to submerge me ; I sat with a blue paper box containing one nimki, one sandesh and one chamcham and felt so untalented and bereft of any narcissism whatsoever ; I sat and listend to my namesake sing a beloved song totally off key , murdering the song and beating it fine into kabab keema and I sat quiet , chewing at the greasy nimki , the fat drying on my tongue and thanked the lord for passing me over when he was handing out narcissism and agreeing animatedly when X said the best thing about winter was eating oranges in the sun I did the next best thing – came home and watched Schindler’s List at night, having missed out on Big Boss earlier