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"Shudhh Shakahari Desi"- Episode 2

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"Shudhh Shakahari Desi" is all about you and me: my exposure and experiences with your culture, your food, your language, your music blended in a humor curry of my own hopeless attempts to become you and my struggle to evolve as the sole epitome of National Integration, as I grew up and cultivated my own self embracing all of my nation in over 15 states in India. Am hoping you will find some of yourself with a bit of me strewn in here....

Episode -2
Life postive

Pishima, in reality is actually not my aunt. She’s my Dad’s favourite aunt, my grandfather’s youngest sister. Married when she was barely eleven to a man twice her age, five miscarriages by the time she was eighteen, abandoned at twenty and widowed at twenty six, her life would have read like a melancholic elegy, if Pishima were not the kind of person that she was. Despite destiny’s cruel tribulations, Pishima was always warm, affectionate and smiling.
I grew up visiting her ancestral home during every vacation, eating home-made sweet coconut balls (naaru) out of her hands, tugging along her as she supervised the mango and lychee orchards, sitting with her to dry mango pickles out in the sun, listening to her melodious kirtans as she prayed every evening to a thousand and one deities in the family prayer room, waiting for the five little nakuldana prasad out of a little silver bowl, loving the smell of the rose petal zarda in her mouth, and hearing bed time stories from her past life before falling asleep on her huge four-poster bed. In short, I was in awe of her little frame and her timeless beauty in her simple white cotton sarees that was further highlighted by her heart warming smile and loving gestures. To me, as a kid, everything about Pishima was perfect, except for her Hindi.
Rumors of her horrendous experiences with the national language reached far and wide across the family tree. Otherwise diabetic, when it came to communicating in Hindi, Pishima would always have a Rasogulla or maybe two in her mouth, the joke ran. Directly translating her thoughts from Bangla to Hindi, she was said to drop an extra “o” between all her words, making it sound like a poor imitation of Ashit Sen (from reel life) in real life. Her sense of gender was another thing. Thoroughly confused how a chair could be a feminine and why a tree should be a masculine gender, Pishima had given up on all such discriminatory grammar and had decided to follow a single uniformity; everything was a feminine gender. In hindsight, I see its deeper embedded significance—women’s liberation. For those from the genre of bra-burning, or the much more “liberated” sorts who refute words such as “chhelebela” and substitute their childhood with “meyebela” Pishima’s solution to the predicament with genders in Hindi could have been an inspiration incognito!
Pishima, of course, never acknowledged her lack of understanding or delivery of the “Hindustaani der bhasha”. Any argument to convince her that she too was a part of a larger scheme of identity called “Hindustan” was dismissed immediately. Instead of rambling about Pishima’s unidentifiable acumen over Hindi or the granular clarity of her own nationality, let me share a few snippets from Pishima’s life, and some instances in particular.
Pishima, since single and childless was often summoned for support by her extended family across the country in dire situations, especially in times of birth, marriages and death. Once, one of my Dad’s cousins in Gorakhpur was to deliver a child. Pishima came to the rescue of her nervous newly-wed young niece and volunteered to play “guardian angel”. An evening, close to the date of delivery, Pishima was said to have stayed alone at home with the “very pregnant niece” and an equally “anytime-now” expecting cow in the backyard. The three females (women and beast) were under the guard of the watchman, Ram Singh. Around midnight, the lady felt her first contractions; around the same time, the beast went into labour too. After juggling for a while between her needs to tend her niece and the cow, Pishima finally decided to opt for the lady and left the beast in the safe hands of Ram Singh. Animal activists wouldn’t have definitely appreciated Pishima’s act I am sure, but then that’s a different issue we can debate on yet another day! So, Pishima went up to nurse the lady and stayed in the house while Ram Singh tended to the suffering beast. After a while, a completely sweat soaked smiling Ram Singh came up to the portico and told Pishima that the cow had delivered a calf.
Considering it as an auspicious sign, Pishima was ecstatic. “What is it, a ladka or a ladki?” she shouted back in her broken Hindi. The question left Ram Singh bewildered. How could a beast deliver a boy or a girl? His quick reply was “Maaji, bachhra hua” (It’s a calf). Pishima tried her vocabulary again, “Ta to bujhlam, aadmi ki aurat?” Poor Ram Singh got further flustered. Was the old woman nuts? “Bacchra” he retorted now. Pishima must have got frustrated by then for she yelled, “Mukhhpora, tum hua ki hum hua?” At this, Ram Singh, who was generally known to be a quiet old loyal servant smiled from ear to ear. Pointing a finger at Pishima, he answered with the biggest grin anyone had ever seen, “Maaji, aap hua!”
And there was yet another thing! For all statements, past, present or future, Pishima used an exclamatory “hai” (meaning “it is”)! Sometimes, her sentences would start well in Hindi, meander a bit into Bangla, thump back to a language that was neither Bangla nor Hindi but somewhere in between, and finally end with a “hai” , always accompanied by a sigh of great relief and a smile at its completion.
Just as she would happily connect all the world, animate, inanimate, living or dead, history or present to Bengal. My mother recalls an instance where Pishima came to visit us in a little town by the Wainganga river in Maharashtra, India. Away from the hustle bustle of urban living, this little township was blessed with a generous neighbourhood of fishermen at the outskirts. Local fishermen would ferry around the township in the mornings with wicker baskets full of fresh water prawns. In the local language, they called it Jhinga. Once, when my mother was busy in the shower, Pishima, the austere bong Bramhin widow, invited one of these villagers home...”Aye to baba, roj jhinga jhinga chechash. Aaj ektu jhinge posto kore bouma ke khawabo.” My mother came out of the washroom to find a pandemonium in the bungalow verandah as Pishima went berserk...”Shorbonash koreche, hottochara amake ei boyeshe ekhon amish khawabi? Byata murkho, chingri maach ko tum jhinge keno bolta?”
Having said that, Pishima was one person who could justify all her countless antics by that signature smile of hers and an explanatory note so honest and innocent that no one would think of charging her against anything ever again. To give you another sneak peek into her admirable spirit, here’s a story.
Pishima was again summoned by another dying relative whose son had to urgently go on a business tour to the US for a fortnight. Pishima agreed to go to Mumbai to take responsibility and represent the family support system. Just before leaving, the grateful nephew told Pishima, in his absence, she could contact his colleague Mr Godrej, who lived in the same complex, should there be a need for it. Pishima nodded in consent. Fortunately, nothing happened; but after a fortnight, when her nephew returned, Pishima complained, “I don’t like your colleague. He has no respect for senior citizens.” Coming from Pishima who hardly criticized anyone, this was a surprise for her nephew. Godrej must have really misbehaved, he thought and queried, “What happened?” “Oh, nothing much! The other day, I saw him at the elevator and called his name ‘Voltas, Voltas….stupid boy, didn’t even acknowledge.” Her nephew broke into a mad laughter. “He is Godrej, not Voltas, Pishima. How would the poor chap know you were calling him?” “It’s one and the same thing. Both are refrigerator names,” she replied in strong defence.
I could go on and on about her. Pishima just celebrated her 93rd birthday. I met her at a family wedding in India some years back. Dressed in her starched white linen and still smelling of the rose zarda, she was making sweet coconut rolls and sharing stories about her innumerable comic acts with her great grand children. Her toothless grin accentuated the positivism of her being, her relentless effort to live life to its full, no matter what destiny had in store. It takes a lot of courage to offer that comic relief, be able to overlook the pains and sorrows and laugh at life, and most of all at ourselves. God bless, Pishima!
About the Author : Ananya Mukherjee, former editor of HRM Asia, is an acclaimed writer and journalist with more than 1000 publications to her credit. Her journalistic acumen in print and television covers a whole gamut of subjects including politics, lifestyle and business. She is a passionate short story writer, columnist, avid reader, keen traveller, blogger, theatre artiste and a trained dancer. Ananya currently lives in Singapore and spearheads Internal Communications in a Multi-national Company.
Illustration by  : Prodipto Roy

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