Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Image courtesy: me

Jhumpa Lahiri needs no introduction. An author revered and celebrated for her literary brilliance that is omnipresent across the periphery of literature- not just English but also recently Italian, Lahiri is widely known for her novels and collections of short stories. Her writings have received prestigious accolades from time to time, across the globe, right from the Pulitzer Award to being finalists for the Man Booker Prize and National Book Award for Fiction. Her book ‘The Namesake’ was also made into a popular movie by the same name. Her debut short stories collection, ‘Interpreter of Maladies’, is one of the most celebrated collections of short stories worldwide.

The book consists of nine short stories, and gets its name from one of the stories titled ‘Interpreter of Maladies’. The first story speaks of an Indian-American couple, with different career aspirations but deep love for each other, now fallen out of love and struggling to merely live together in the same house. The reason is as pathetic as the result- the loss of their first ever child, and it is for no one’s fault. And while they tried to come to terms with this huge loss, they were living a lie of still being in love. Only when they shared certain unprecedented truths, did the lie get exposed to each other- both realized with extreme grief that they lost the love that bonded them.

The second story was set up against the backdrop of Bangladesh fighting for independence. It shows how the narrator’s parents, of Indian origin but settled in America, host a well-natured East Pakistani (now Bangladeshi) scholar every night for dinner, who had come to America temporarily, upon a scholarship from his government for a botanical research, and it was then that the rebellion of East Pakistan began. The story portrays the anxieties that both the scholar and the narrator’s family shared together, while India stood by East Pakistan’s fight for independence from West Pakistan (now Pakistan), and how this impacted the narrator.

The third story, is the title story, based in Odisha, and shares how the tour guide-cum-driver develops a crush on the Indian-American, young lady tourist who was already burdened with three children and had fallen out of love for her husband with whom she used to be deeply in love. She bears a hidden truth, which she shares with the guide, within whom she found an ‘interpreter of maladies’ owing to his part-time job’s nature. However, the guide ‘interprets’ her ‘malady’ well, but fails to soothe her wounds, and also loses the loose bond that he had developed with her.

The fourth story is based in Calcutta, and is about an aged lady, who acts like a caretaker or ‘durwan’ of an averagely affluent, old residential building. While the residents cared for her, things went downhill when a theft occurred the building- and the lady wasn’t cared for anymore.

The fifth story is about extra-marital affairs. Two plots run in parallel- one where the protagonist’s colleague narrates incidents from her cousin’s life, whose husband has an extra-marital affair. And the other where the protagonist herself, is an American lady with whom an Indian man is having an extra-marital affair. As the story unfolds, the lady realizes the errors within the relationship, and that both she, and the wife whom her beloved was cheating upon, deserved much better in their romantic lives.

The sixth story is again about an Indian couple newly settled in the USA- they had grown up purely in India. The lady puts up an advertisement as a day-care provider, and receives an American school boy as the first client. The boy looks on, as he maps the differences between her and his single mother, and how the slightest reminder of her hometown Kolkata made her nostalgic. The lady desperately tried to find a piece of Kolkata in her current dwelling, with the boy as the only silent witness of her desperation.

The seventh story is about an Indian-American lady and an Indian man settled in the USA, who got married recently. Their marriage alliance was arranged- their parents were family friends and had decided upon their children’s marriage. Thus, while they superficially connected with each other, and shifted together in a house post-marriage, they- especially the man, eventually felt the heat of the differences in their ideologies and their ways of perceiving things around them.

The eighth story, based in India, is about a lady with a strange disease, which has only worsened with time, with no available cure. Her father’s darling, she was left at the mercy of her brother and his wife post her father’s death. What eventually cured her was a deep relationship which she developed upon giving birth to a child- a rape child. Nothing could be found out upon investigation about the mysterious culprit. But the best part of it all was, she started healing after this. It seemed that, this deep relationship with her child, gave her a sense of belonging, which was the best antidote for her.

The final story, critics say, is autobiographical, as the protagonist has the shades of Lahiri’s father. The protagonist is an Indian man who travelled to the UK for a coveted degree and to the USA for a job, and struggles bravely while trying to settle in these foreign countries. It particularly speaks of a century-old lady formed a crucial part of his life at the USA forever. It also shows the eventual blossoming of love between the man and his arranged marriage wife, with the cultural shocks of a newly-arrived Indian in the USA in the background.

The characters, like most other characters from Lahiri’s books, are primarily set against an Indian or Indian-American background, and often resemble the Bengalis, who are a community of people from the state of West Bengal in India (for that matter, well, I’m a Bengali too!). This is quite obvious to happen as Lahiri has Bengali roots of origin, and was born to Indian immigrants in Great Britain and holds an American citizenship. The book, as evident from the brief synopsis of the stories above, provides a roller-coaster ride through human relationships. Lahiri has taken a deep dive at human emotions which are ubiquitous irrespective of countries of origin or communities of people. The characters in the stories have felt the most complex yet the most commonly felt emotions- and Lahiri, through her literary wit and a lucid language, subtly points out how these emotions are easy to be felt but equally difficult to express. She has done a brilliant job in making sure that her stories are typical short stories- which end on paper, but have a lot of questions whose answers are upto the reader to imagine, and can either leave you with a lingering thought of “What could have happened next?”

No wonder why this book is one of the finest masterpieces amidst the genre of short stories for a reason. If you haven’t tried out Lahiri’s works before, this is a great book to start with. With stories heavily hued with myriad emotions, you are bound to feel happy, sad, angry, romantic, helpless, and hopeful- all as you sail through this book! And if you are a human psychology enthusiast, this book shall be a treat for you- the short-story nature of each tale sending you into a spiral of thoughts about the emotions the characters have felt. And try re-reading this book, as you may perceive the emotions better and in a different light as you mature- such is the magic of the book, and maybe every such book giving ample freedom to the readers to interpret the characters of the book themselves. Thus, I will surely recommend this book for your bookshelf.

Positivity- a powerful, rare and contagious necessity for humankind

Our mind is a strong receptor of everything around us. It picks up whatever it finds- grime or flowers. And reacts on our being accordingly. I don’t know much about hormones, but I’m aware of our happy hormones- whenever they get activated, they make us feel happy, and happiness leads to smiles and laughter. And as we know, laughter is the best medicine, and smiles require less energy than frowns owing to lesser involvement of facial muscles. And our happy hormones shall only get activated when we do something that our minds can resonate with happiness, bliss, positivity.

Panic, fears, anxieties are real- they not only destroy your mental well-being, but also your physical well-being. And possibly the most effective way to deal with it is trying to feed your mind with positivity. I know, anxiety is different from fear- anxiety attacks or panic attacks are severe mental health issues, not something like fearing ghosts upon passing by a graveyard. Yet, positivity can soothe your nerves and make you feel better, and in such a case, music acts like the best source of positivity, much well-known as the ‘music therapy’. Take this example- you heard of a super cyclone that will make a landfall in your city within a week. You grow anxious- you have a proper home and your food supplies are intact, you know you can survive through the cyclone, but your anxiety attack won’t listen. Your head starts aching when you think about how severe the after-effects of the cyclone can be, and you hold it tight and place it between your crouched up knees to stop those loud poundings in your head. You pick up your earphones with shivering fingers, plug into your cellphone and listen to that soothing music which is your favourite, especially during these attacks. Does it help? Not much, but you will feel slightly better. The poundings will put up a stiff fight and will manage to live on till they pleases to go away themselves, yet they will lessen in intensity. If you haven’t tried music during those attacks ever, you can try it- I don’t get anxiety attacks so I can’t give a first-hand experience of myself, but I’ve read a lot about how music therapy can help during the attack spells.

Sometimes, allowing negativity in your mind is inevitable. You need to hear the news to stay aware of what’s happening around you, and nowadays we hardly see any good or positive news. You are also often surrounded by such people, who are sometimes unfortunately your own family and friends, who radiate nothing but negative energy- they lack empathy, know nothing other than how to grumble and how to pull down others’ hopes, and so on. However, while negativity gets into your mind, you can keep wearing that armour of positivity, and try keeping negativity at bay. I know it sounds way too challenging, but nothing is impossible. People will pull you down, and often do a brilliant job at it, but saving and repairing yourself is in your hands- and believe me, you too can be brilliant at it.

For all types of negative circumstances I’m in, I try out the following methods to stay positive- no, I’m neither an expert on attaining positivity, nor can I claim that I always manage to stay positive, but I keep trying, and would like to share them with you.

  • Check what you can do to make things better- Check if you have ways to fight the crisis and try not to despair, for it is always better to light a candle than cursing the darkness. Take deep breaths, try to concentrate without paying heed to all the toxicity in your mind, and try to help yourself.
  • Do what you love to do- Very important. Helps to stay distracted for a while from all the negativity around. Can be a hobby, or something new you wish to try out.
  • Stay around positive people- You cannot cut off ties with people who are important yet negative, hence keep them, and add more positive people in your life. They are people who try to spread hope, empathy, smiles, peace, and help you find solutions to the rut you are in. These are a rare breed, so you need to search a lot.
  • Be positive yourself- At times, the sources of positivity you rely upon, may not always be available. And since self-reliance always comes handy, develop positivity within you- try to stay hopeful, to not grumble and find ways out for solutions- ask for help in case you cannot solve problems alone, and smile thinking about the good times you have had and the good times you will have in future. Smiles are magical, you know, thus try looking at yourself into the mirror when you smile, and say, “I will fight this and win this!”

You may have tried these before- if yes, let me know if they have worked for you. If not, they are worth giving a try- you know, they will not make you feel positive forever, but they can help you even slightly. They do help me for a short duration, and I need to keep repeating these to continue being positive. Also, I’m sure there can be other ways to try to attain positivity, you know, people have different ways to attain positivity and some are popular only because they have impacted a majority of people. Thus, if some different ways have worked for you, do let me know them as I would love to try them out too!

I know, attaining positivity can seem draining- it requires a lot of effort. It is like the evil news reaching you first than the good news. In fact, the fact that you can stay positive seem Utopic to many- what is life other than negativity? Isn’t life synonymous to negativity? Indeed, we have got so seasoned to negativity that positivity is like a far-away dream. Yet ironically, positivity is important for life- it is like that fuel that will keep you going, while negativity is like that friction which will keep stopping you from moving ahead in life. Also, with positivity being such a rarity, if you stay positive and radiate positive energy, another human in dire need of positivity can be helped. Positivity should essentially be a two-way traffic, thus while you try to attain positivity from someone, make sure you give some positivity back in return too. Positivity, believe it or not, is not just powerful and rare, it is extremely contagious too. Thus, the best humankind can do to leverage this resource optimally, is to understand its power and importance, and spread it as much as possible.

© Copyright by Debasmita Ghosh. All rights reserved.

Motherhood

The lady of my house,

Almost a humming bird- cute, short and stout.

Her honey-like voice, start singing again please?

Akin to sunshine is her smile- or maybe prettier, I doubt.

Ma, I call her- but I’ve never feared her

Just because she’s my mother!

Ma- I call her, for she’s my confidant,

My pillar of strength, diary of extreme secret.

She’s my advisor, my soul sister,

The way best friends are!

Are you my close friend?

Or someone who made me cry till night’s end?

Rest assured, Ma knows the entire tale-

From its inception to its end.

She’ll behave none different from others with you-

But she knows the place my heart has for you.

She has cried when I’ve cried-

Do I cry? Oh you will never know, perhaps!

I cry just with her, the person I’ve let in through my walls.

She has laughed the heartiest, clapped the hardest on my successes.

Unknown to you- it differed from those of the masses!

Love drips from our bond, garnished with kisses and hugs,

If only I could articulate the bond that makes us,

That frankness, yet her ways of disciplined parenting-

Ah I’ll leave it to your thoughts- transcend mind’s every bordering!

All aren’t as blessed as I am, agreed.

You may ask me- I saw my mother succumbing to death,

You know how painful it was to give that funeral wreath?

Or sigh- I don’t know how a mother’s presence is felt by oneself!

She had priorities, and never in the list did I find myself.

You can retort- my mother showered everything

But motherly affection on my being.

I understand dear, you needn’t elaborate more of a thing.

If you have read till here,

I ask you- hoping you will read further,

Has none ever showered you with motherly affection?

Mother or motherhood is an emotion,

A feeling, a behaviour borne within one.

Acknowledge the fact- your mother is a human,

Death, blunders, hence can deserve acceptance, forgiveness.

I’m nobody to lecture you- agreed with steely stress,

Yet I say- don’t let this bitterness deter you

From finding those who are a mother for you.

Motherhood is about unbridled love- sweet and pure.

Often sprinkled with sacrifices by choice, it’s a relation like no other.

That neighbourhood aunt- checking on your well-being,

As though you’re her own offspring.

That grocery seller giving you free packs of muesli,

Worried about your monthly expenses- you have shifted recently.

That teacher, bringing you fruits and comfort foods-

So it soothes your menstrual cramps and swinging moods.

Your father, who brought you up single-handedly,

That you can afford the services you need to read this today.

Your uncle or aunt- brought you up, gave all comforts,

Their plates heaped less than yours.

Your sibling- older, younger or twin,

To assist you in life’s battlefield, stepped into mother’s shoes so you win.

Yes, you have so many around you-

They aren’t your biological mothers, true.

But they’re champions, when it comes to motherhood.

They deserve your bountiful love, care, gratitude-

All with which you wished to bind your mother to you.

Oh they aren’t your biological mothers, true.

But when they acted a mother so you survive life’s mayhem,

You ought to be the child they found in you- for them.

© Copyright by Debasmita Ghosh. All rights reserved.

Book Review: The Palace of Illusions

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Image courtesy: AnyBooks

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one of the contemporary stars in the sky of bestselling novelists. She writes poetry, short stories and novels, which majorly fall under the genre of historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism and young adult, though she has also written some children’s fiction. A versatile author, her works have kept bringing her awards and accolades. Many of her works have been made into movies as well. Her work The Palace of Illusions, is one of the most celebrated historical fictions worldwide.

If you are into Indian mythology and have a fairly good idea about the Indian epic Mahabharata, you would definitely know Draupadi, the queen of Hastinapur, and the major heroine in Mahabharata. We know how she humiliated Karna in her ‘swayamvar’, got married to all the five Pandavas, how she was saved from humiliation at the hands of the Kauravas by Krishna, and how this humiliation was one of the major triggers that led to the Great War or ‘Mahabharata’. But, did we ever wonder what Draupadi went through, physically and emotionally, during the war? Did we ever wonder what made her humiliate Karna? No, we don’t quite know the answers, and the answers of many such questions that will surely arise if we rethink the epic from Draupadi’s point of view. The epic is mostly male-centric, which of course, was the result of the deep-rooted patriarchy in the society during the timeframe of the epic. The heroines, who were equally important, and at times even more important game-changers in the epic, were shadowed by masculinity. This exact gap has been beautifully addressed by Divakaruni, by keeping the males and the females at a same pedestal.

The book is more than Mahabharata revisited through Draupadi’s eyes. It is more of an autobiography of Draupadi, where she retraces her life right from her birth, to her reunion with the universe as a soul free from mortal bindings after her death, and the Mahabharata is a vital section of the narration. The book begins with Draupadi introducing us to her little self, where she narrates her flamboyant birth from the sacrificial fire along with her brother Dhristadyumna (often called Dhri) as a result of vengeance that her father King Drupad- the ruler of the kingdom of Panchaal, had nurtured in his heart to cause destruction to Drona- the supreme tutor of archery and an erstwhile close friend of Drupad. She had an extremely lonely childhood, with Dhri and her Dhai Ma as her only constant companions. The brother-sister duo were deprived of the love and affection of anyone from the royal family, except some from their father. Draupadi also suffered from low self-esteem owing to her dark complexion, which was overcome by her with the help of Krishna, and that was how the introvert Draupadi came into limelight, and the world came to know of Draupadi or Panchaali, the wonderful princess of Panchaal. And for this to happen, the words of Krishna which acted like the ultimate trigger for which she developed the courage to shed off her cocoon, are my favourite words from the book-

“A problem is a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself.”

Krishna, from ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The book explores various incidents from her childhood, where predictions were made which said that her life was meant for something that would change the course of history. And these somehow, had made Draupadi have high hopes from her life, amidst her sad childhood. She had expected something magnificent- she would have a wonderful palace, a splendid kingdom, and an extremely loving husband. However, as she grew from an innocent adolescent girl to an aged lady, seasoned by the pitfalls and laurels of life, she eventually knew what fame was meant for her. Her life was tragic and happy, her fame was paradoxical, and these were the exact reasons why she caused history to change.

The book describes the relations Draupadi had with each human that has crossed her life, with utmost clarity. Draupadi unveils her feelings for her husbands, and her true love of life- who was not anyone from her husbands. She narrates her love-hate relationship, with the scaling pans titled more towards hatred, for her mother-in-law Kunti. She narrates how much she hated the palace of Hastinapur, and cherished the Palace of Illusions like her comfort zone- the one she designed herself when the Pandavas and Kauravas got their share of separate kingdoms. She also speaks at length about Krishna- her best friend since childhood till her deathbed and beyond. She narrates every intricate detail about her physical and emotional experiences during the exile, the Mahabharata and post-Mahabharata- when she pulled up Hastinapur back to glory. She narrates her death as eloquently as only a valorous and revered queen like Draupadi could. The book ends on a satisfying, blissful note, with a proper closure to her life as Draupadi.

Divakaruni has indeed done a highly commendable job in writing this book. Writing such a historical fiction, requires a strong understanding of the protagonist’s character, and keeping in mind the fantasies about which the readers would love to know more. The icing on this delicious cake, is her writing prowess. The book is intricate with interesting details, captivating with the way it is written, and yet easy to grasp- we know how the epic has so many twists and turns, and Divakaruni has made sure that while her readers get overwhelmed and literally have to fasten their seatbelts while riding on the highway of her book, they don’t get lost. And while an epic is elaborate in nature, Divakaruni has composed her novel crisp, while making sure all big and small details are included.

If you are into historical fiction or wish to explore the genre, and wish to know about Indian mythologies from an alternate eye, this book must be a part of your reading list. The book has also portrayed human relations beautifully- how complicated and yet how necessary, relations are for survival. This book will make you realize that while we place our mythological characters onto a supreme pedestal, where we worship them and follow their ideals, they have always been, at the root of their larger-than-life roles, a human at heart. And because of this, they bear emotions as entangled as ours, and their lives are adorned by highs and lows, just like ours. Thus, I would surely recommend this book.

Bookworms

I can start writing about the history of books, how printing technology revolutionized the way humans learn. I can start writing about the geographies where books first came into being. I can start about the science of book printing and the art of publishing a book. I can speak everything about books, by reading books. You see what I did there? That is how important books are. I know you knew it already, just re-emphasized it, more so because we just passed the World Book Day on 23rd April. Nowadays, most people tend to take books for granted, even without them realizing it. Some even hate reading books, and keep them only for educational purposes, that too if extremely required.

Today, technology has made everything available at our fingertips. Buying a book seems to be an unnecessary expenditure for many, and some also complain about the space books take up, hence free or minimally priced e-books seem more viable. We have been so used to getting everything instantly, that we have lost the patience of reading a complete book. I have known people who give up a book in the middle, saying that it is too tiring to read. I have seen people visiting bookstores, viewing all the lovely books and stepping out without buying one, solely because they were scared of the volume of the books- who will read that much! However, I wonder how one can wish to read a book and settle by not reading one, or settling for an e-book, for I simply love the way my fingers feel when I caress a book. Well, maybe that is the new normal, I’m no one to judge or conclude anything just because I’m not one of them. And who taught me this? Well, books!

And here comes people like us, who love reading books. They call the people who love reading books, as bookworms, or bibliophiles. That is an understatement, for we don’t just read them. We love the way books look, smell, and if it turns out to be a great book, rest assured, we will not only remember the story just like our own life stories, but also remember why we read it- the person who recommended or gifted it, or the site that wrote a review about it. And while we tend to explore all kinds of books, classics tend to hold a special place in our hearts- like teachers who remember all their students, but holds those exceptionally well behaved and mischievous students an inch closer in their hearts.

We don’t just read books, we live a life while reading them. Our minds critically review them, while memorizing those lovely quote-worthy dialogues or sentences, to garnish our conversations with our friends with them, or frame them up on our walls.

You will find different types of bookworms. I feel the following are the categories of bookworms:

  • the constant bookworms- people who can give up everything but their books,
  • the seasonal bookworms- people who start reading only if some book is in trend or they are on a long vacation (like people who have rekindled their love for reading during this COVID-19 lockdown period),
  • the erstwhile bookworms- people who used to breathe books but then life happened and the love succumbed to the pressures of earning bread and butter for the family or bringing up children and so on.

I admit, I fall between being a seasonal and a constant bookworm, and often feel guilty for being so, for I used to be a constant bookworm in school.

Bookworms are also categorized based on the number of books they can read. You can find some who read more than one book at a time, or some who literally get into a romantic relationship with one book. The latter ones get so committed to a book while reading it, that once it is over, they feel empty and numb, as though experiencing a breakup.

Bookworms also differ based on their reading styles- depending upon their postures, and even based on their styles of bookmarking! How? Well I’ll tell you. Regarding postures, some read while lying on their tummies, some while lying on their backs, some in an upright posture as though they are reading for an exam tomorrow. Bookmarks can be used to categorize bookworms as those who use actual bookmarks readymade or handcrafted, those who use any object they can lay their hands on which will serve the purpose, and those who, well, earmark pages- I personally hate them, but okay, they exist. And books have taught me to be tolerant as well.

But whatever it is, our love for books keep us united. Thus, all booklovers, cheers to the common reason we have, out of the numerous varied reasons in our lives, to keep rocking! Now, we will pick up that book we’re reading, sit at our favourite corner of the room, grab a cup of tea or coffee, (and it would be the perfect icing on the cake if it is raining at your place but it’s alright if it doesn’t) and let’s get lost in the world of books, again. Happy journey!

© Copyright by Debasmita Ghosh. All rights reserved.

India- the newest participant in the much awed ‘Space Race’!

This blog had won the ‘Blogger of the Month’ competition held in July-August 2019 at my college, SIIB Pune. The competition was open to all current students at SIIB. The topic was- India’s Chandrayaan expeditions and the Space Race. I’m glad I have the honour of owning the appellation of ‘Blogger of the Month’, and hence wished to share the concerned blog with all my fellow bloggers here. It is also available on the SIIB Blog portal, the link to which is: https://blog.siib.ac.in/india-the-newest-participant-in-the-much-awed-space-race/

P.S. : When this blog was written, Chandrayaan-2 was yet to complete it’s mission, and we still didn’t know it would meet an unfortunate and sudden end, thus failing to enter the club of nations with moon landings, hence the blog has been written in that perspective. Happy reading!

The term ‘Space Race’ dates back to the 1960s, when the USA and the erstwhile USSR were having the ‘Cold War’ with each other. On seeing the USA conducting successful moon exploration missions- including a manned mission, USSR would not have wanted to be far behind. Hence, even USSR started working on missions aimed at exploring the moon- right from 1958 to 1976. And thus, the race to fame and prestige of winning the space and conquering the moon, began between the two countries, giving rise to the Space Race. In fact, USSR was so competitive about this, that space exploration tests were conducted in utmost secrecy, such that those plans were revealed to the outside world only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991!

Even though the world has been progressing rapidly with the advent of technology, space explorations have always been a risky affair. Sorry incidents like that of the Columbia Space Shuttle Exploration in 2003, need to be taken utmost care of by space research agencies, before venturing into space. Also, space explorations demand huge monetary investments in terms of resources, planning, and training of astronauts, especially in cases of manned missions. With so many difficulties in the way of space explorations, only 5 countries have had the honor of and sending missions to the moon and attaining victory in it- starting with USA, followed by USSR, Japan, the European Space Agency, China and finally- India. Each of the above countries have faced some or the other failure- from missions not getting launched at all, to probes crashing down before their stipulated date and so on. Yet, the world regards them as the latest club of the elite- ‘space-explored’ countries. However, only USA has been successful till date, with the first manned mission on the moon in 1969, making Neil Armstrong the first man to step on the moon. USSR also tried, and was successful in sending Yuri Gagarin to space.

Coming to India, we have been really successful in our missions to the moon, as is evident from it being the fourth member of the space missions’ club. India’s mission to the moon began on 22nd October, 2008, when Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched India’s first ever mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1, from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket. It reached on 8th November, 2008, with the objective of finding water ice on the surface of the moon. The mission carried 6 scientific payloads of other space stations, other than five scientific payloads of India. However, the moon impact probe, which was set to touch the moon’s surface, crashed when it was launched, thus India could not enter the club of countries with successful moon landings.

Chandrayaan-1 has successfully helped in determining the evidence of water ice on the surface of the moon, specifically the lunar craters, and even NASA endorsed this fact. It made continued transmissions of data during its lifetime, and made 3400 orbits of the moon. Launch of Chandrayaan-1 has indeed been another jewel to India’s crown. However, though Chandrayaan-1 had completed above 90% of its mission, it crashed after 10 months of its launch- on 29th August 2009, much before its stipulated lifetime of two years.

India had already started planning its next mission to the moon, and this time with moon landing. Chandrayaan-2 was successfully launched on 22nd July 2019, and was scheduled to finally touch the moon’s surface on 7th September 2019. And we hope to see this success, which will not only make all Indians proud, but also make India officially enter the club of countries with moon landings! Also, this time, a bigger challenge lies in front of India as far as space exploration is concerned, as Chandrayaan-2 is all set to explore the South Pole of the moon. And this is that area of the moon that no country has explored closely yet- water ice within shadowed craters exists near the poles of the moon. Chandrayaan-2 aims to probe about compositions of moon rocks and soil, and measure moonquakes, temperatures a couple of inches within the soil, and charged particles from the Sun.

While the Chandrayaan moon mission series has been a grand success, India has been successful in other space explorations too. These include Mangalyaan- the orbiter sent to Mars in 2013, and the launch of 104 satellites together in one rocket in 2017. India has also deployed an antisatellite test, with which it could scatter hundreds of debris pieces all at once, and only China, USA and Russia have achieved this earlier.

The future of India’s space explorations looks brighter than ever today. In fact, ISRO is also working on ‘Gaganyaan’, which will be India’s first manned space mission, and is scheduled for launch in 2022. Thus, India is all set as a firm member of the ‘Space Age’ of modern times, and is at par with the erstwhile rulers of space- USA and Russia. India is looked up at with awe due to its successful space missions which are developed at half the cost of space missions of other countries! Thus, India is an indispensable participant and leader of space exploration today.

Sources of Information:

  1. Which countries have been to the moon? (www.worldatlas.com )
  2. Howell, E. Chandrayaan-1: India’s first mission to the moon. March 28, 2018. (www.space.com )
  3. India’s Chandrayaan-2 embarks on the mission to the Moon. July 14, 2019. (www.nytimes.com )

© Copyright by Debasmita Ghosh. All rights reserved.

Savitabai

“Savitabai, fill the water bottles, quick!”

“Savitabai, here 10 rupees, get a cigarette for me. Tell my name, the boy knows which one I smoke.”

The Khurranas had their house just beside my maternal grandparents’ house. My grandparents live in Bandel, a sub-urban town of West Bengal, India. The locality was, and still is, a pretty old one- the ones you can find in Old Delhi or North Kolkata or in the heart of Pune city. And thus, there is no town planning concept here- houses have such small gaps in between, that only one narrow alley passes in between which can accommodate only one pedestrian or two-wheeler at a time, and any both way traffic will cause a traffic jam, followed by the typical fights in Indian ‘mohallas’. Thus, with the Khurranas living at such a distance away from our bungalow, I could tell you when they were siting to dine or when one was leaving for work, just by eavesdropping their conversations, which was not even intentional- you could sit in our balcony, or at our window facing their drawing room, and even just move about our house in a quiet afternoon, and hear their voices.

The Khurranas had come here when I was in class five. The house was initially owned by some Mukherjees, who had been putting it out on rent since the last Mukherjee moved out of the locality to some entirely different city possibly in the UK- nobody remembers for sure as the incident is that old.

I, along with Ma, used to visit my grandparents during the summer and winter vacations. And during the summer vacation of Class Five, I had heard one of the many summons of Savitabai, some of which I have stated earlier. And whenever I was in any doubt during my stay in Bandel, Dadu (my grandfather) was my go-to person. I used to give my mother some respite from my regular calls for even the silliest reason, thinking that she should enjoy her days here, and not approach her unless she called me or unless it was absolutely necessary.

“Dadu, who are here in the Mukherjee house now?” I asked my grandfather one fine afternoon.

Dadu kept the newspaper aside, looked out of the window, straight at the house, and said, “Random people keep coming here, Munni. I often lose track of who are the tenants here. I’ve just heard from the grocer a week before you came to visit us that some Khurranas are here. I don’t know much details about them- just that they have a maid, Savitabai, that too because they keep calling her more than they keep calling each other.”

As a 10-year old child having nothing much to do other than completing the ‘holiday homework’ and playing around, the Khurranas became my new fantasy. I kept wondering who were they, how many people lived in the family, and how did Savitabai look. She seemed to be there throughout the day, as I heard them summoning her during dinner time as well.

The next day, when Ma asked me to get two packs of bread and three packs of milk from the grocery shop at the end of the alley, I grabbed the opportunity to fuel my thirst of investigating about the Khurranas even more. Thus, I bought everything and took a detour towards their house. I found the newspaper still kept between the hinges of the door, and it would fall off anytime. I rang the doorbell, with the paper in my hand. The door opened, and a lady, emerged. She looked as old as my mother, so probably she was in her the mid-thirties.

“Umm..I’m sorry but I saw this paper fallen in front of your door. Is it yours?” I asked softly. I peered a little inside the house curiously, and found it well furnished. I also spotted an old lady- not very well clothed, with wrinkles all over her face, a big mole on the side of her forehead, and unkempt salt and pepper hair. She slid into oblivion as soon as we made eye contact.

“Thanks,” said the lady curtly, and closed the door on my face with a loud thud. I shivered a little, got scared and ran back home, without looking in any other direction, and stopped for breath only after I reached home.

“Dadu, dadu, I met the Khurranas!” I started shouting in excitement.

“Munni, shhhh!” said Dadu hastily. He resumed talking only after he made sure that none of the family members- Ma, Dodon (my grandmother) and Mama (my maternal uncle) were anywhere around the room.

“Look Munni, I understand your eagerness to unravel this mystery. I know, I was just like you as a child, forever curious, forever adventurous. But my little Miss Marple, times were different in those days. The world was safer, the people were more empathetic. I’ll ask Mama to enquire about the Khurranas sometime later, and let you know. Till then, please do not visit their house, ever. You see, even I can’t go running after you now. My knee joint is almost surrendering to the Almighty’s mercy, it seems. So, Munni is not going to the Khurranas, right?” said Dadu and stopped, waiting for the obvious affirmation from me.

“OK, as you say, Dadu,” I murmured reluctantly.

“Now, open the fridge. There are exactly four bowls of ice-cream. Bring two, one for each of us, quick! Don’t let anyone know I’ve asked you, they have literally debarred me from going near the fridge! Now hurry up before you get caught!” said Dadu, almost in a whisper.

“Dadu, not again!” I screamed. But even I wanted a cup of ice-cream in the scorching heat. I had no other option but to obey Dadu. And the discussion on the Khurranas ended for the day.

Almost a week later, I was sent to the market again. And while I almost finished buying and paying the amount, I saw an old lady, with unkempt hair messing with the breeze, with the left hand supporting her half-bent back, clad in a worn-out, purple saree. I immediately recognized who she was.

“One pack of agarbatti, one pack of cigarettes,” said the lady in a loud, unruly manner. But she looked equally approachable and kind.

“Khurranas?” asked the grocer.

“Yes yes, why do you keep asking me every day? Now give me quick!” said the lady angrily.

The lady glanced in my direction. She kept staring at me, while her eyes twinkled. Her eyes were jet black and deep- they looked mystical, almost captivating. Her eyes wished to hide some story which the society shouldn’t know. Her lips quivered a little. But I remembered what Dadu said, and ran back home. I only stopped after I reached the main gate, and turned back to glance at her direction. I couldn’t see her properly, but I swear I could make out that she was still staring at me.

“Dadu, Savitabai, Dadu, I saw her, market, staring, Dadu..” was all I could manage to say, for I kept panting and shivering.

“OK, OK, I get your point Munni. Here, drink some water,” said Dadu and offered me a glass of water. I gulped it all down in a single breath.

“Now, tell me exactly what happened. Do not miss a single detail,” said Dadu calmly.

I described everything. Dadu kept looking at the house, while listening to me. After I stopped, he said, “If you meet Savitabai again, no need to run. Greet her, smile at her, and once you finish your work, bid her adieu and leave. No need to divulge anything about yourself, or ask her anything about herself or the Khurranas.”

The next week, I went to the market again. And this time with Mama, for Ma and I were going back home the next day, so I was sent to select my favourite chocolates and other titbits as parting gifts for myself. Yes, I was a pampered grandchild. And I met Savitabai on the way. I smiled at her, which missed Mama’s eyes, and entered the local grocery shop. After almost fifteen minutes, when I stepped out of the shop, I found Savitabai on the opposite footpath, buying vegetables. We walked past her, and when I almost reached home, I turned around, and there she was, looking at me.

The next day, Ma and I left for home- Papa had come to receive us. The car was being loaded with our luggage, and all the food items Dodon made for us with love- this happened every time, and that was the only bit I liked about departing from my grandparents’ house. And when the car revved up and started moving on the road, I saw two things- my grandparents and maternal uncle at the main gate, and Savitabai from the Mukherjee terrace, looking down at our moving car- and eventually me, while I was peeping out of the window to wave back at Dadu, Dodon and Mama. I kept ignoring her, but when I knew that all of them will soon be out of sight, I made a short, quick wave at Savitabai too, and sat back inside the car. I kept thinking of her- her enigmatic eyes, her beautiful smile featuring gaps owing to a couple of fallen teeth, her face covered with multiple crisscrosses of wrinkles, her posture, until I dozed off.

Life went on, and I eventually forgot Savitabai. I kept asking Dadu about the Khurranas for a couple of days since I was back home, but even I don’t remember when I stopped doing so. Time was indeed a magician, but life was also no less a brilliant player- for Savitabai was to be back in my life soon, and mostly stay there forever.

We used to have our winter vacation almost six months after our summer vacation. And when I visited my grandparents’ house for the winter vacation during class five, just 6 months later, I had totally forgotten about Savitabai and the Khurranas even when I had passed by their house. And it was no fault of mine- for the house was being remodeled into something else. And thus, I asked Dadu about the reason behind this remodeling.

“Umm..even I don’t know Munni, my dear, all I know is, the Mukherjees have sold it to some departmental store chain. Let’s not think about it. How is your school going dear?” asked Dadu. I knew something was wrong, for he looked away from me quickly.

“Dadu, you’re hiding something from me, no? I promise I won’t tell anything to anyone. Okay, I promise I will give my share of ice-cream to you for this whole week. Now tell me please, Dadu, please..” and the pestering continued till Dadu finally agreed to tell me the truth.

“You never listen, my child. Your mother was never so stubborn! And no, I don’t need your ice-cream, keep it with you. I don’t wish to hide anything from you, my child. I’m only scared about its repercussions on your tender heart. OK, now listen. Do you, by any chance, remember the Khurranas? OK, Savitabai?”

My memory had immediately gone into a flashback of events that had come up like unconnected postcards- that house, Savitabai in the market, me running away from her, the curt Khurrana lady who had opened the door, me looking at Savitabai from Khurrana house’s terrace when leaving….

“Dadu! What happened to them?” I almost screamed, after jolting back to reality.

“Yes, my dear Munni, you will come to know everything gradually, be patient. After almost two months of your departure, when your half-yearly exams were on, the incident happened. One evening, we heard terrible screams, a quivering voice which was wailing and pleading, breaking of things, and finally an ear-splitting scream. The entire locality rushed to the Khurranas. The door was broken down, and Savitabai was brought out of the house. She had bruises that no one would pray for their worst enemies to bear. The police was called, the Khurranas were captured- who had managed to run away from the door opening at their backyard. Savitabai was admitted to the nursing home. She slowly showed signs of recovery, and by the end of the month we heard she was fine. The police approached her so that she could lodge a complaint against the merciless Khurranas- it was evident that they were the ones who had thrashed her. However, she refused to lodge any complaint. She kept saying that it was all an accident, and the Khurranas weren’t to be blamed. Your Mama had gone to visit her, a couple of days before her release from the hospital. She said that she will tell her story only if he promised that the Khurranas won’t be harmed,” said Dadu and stopped to drink a glass of water.

“And what did she say?” I asked anxiously, the Miss Marple bug in me completely impatient by then.

“The Mukherjees’ tenants were Ravi and Sneha Khurrana, a couple married since the last five years. Savitabai was a permanent domestic help of the Khurranas since Ravi was a toddler. Savitabai had seen Ravi growing from a toddler to the man he is today. She was his favourite childhood playmate, and loved to hear bedtime stories and lullabies only from her- instead of his own mother. Ravi lost his mother seven years ago, and things went downhill after that. Both Ravi and Sneha started ignoring Ravi’s father, treating him like an unwanted burden on the family. It seemed like Ravi wanted to get rid of the father too- and was not very sorrowful when he lost his mother. The situation became bitter when one day, Ravi announced that the father will be sent to an old age home. Ravi’s father protested, saying that he still had his savings, he could feed and clothe himself, he just needed a shelter as all his friends and relatives had passed away. But Ravi paid no heed. The father refused to give up, he threatened Ravi how he owned the house and he could sell it off and make them homeless at any point of time. And this truth made Ravi Khurrana furious enough to throw a heavy metallic flower vase at his father. The locality members rescued the father, just like we rescued Savitabai. They wanted to hand the boy and his wife to the police, but the father resisted. Thus, the furious locality members decided to punish the two themselves, by boycotting them, and they had no option but to search for an alternative staying place. And when they left, Savitabai decided to accompany them. She was worried about Ravi- how could the little boy take care of himself. Her motherly love blinded her from the harsh reality that was in front of her- the Ravi in front of her was devilish enough to not deserve any form of mercy or love from anyone in the society! And strange are the ways life work- she faced the wrath of her blind love within a year!” said Dadu angrily.

Both of us were silent for a while. I resumed speaking.

“Where is Savitabai now?” I murmured.

“We don’t know dear. Mama enquired about her to the hospital authorities, who said that she informed she would go back to the original Khurrana house- though I have my doubts. I hope she is safe and happy wherever she is. And Ravi and Sneha were absconding then. I don’t think anyone from our locality knows about current whereabouts of those two, or wishes to know anymore,” said Dadu with disgust.

“So that is why the Mukherjees..”

“Yes Munni. The Mukherjees were shocked. Never in their wildest nightmares could they think of something this ghastly. Hence, they decided to stop giving the house for rent, and sell it off completely.”

Dadu got up, and got two tubs of ice-cream for me.

“Here, both of them for my dear Munni. But before that, Munni needs to stop crying, OK?” said Dadu, while wiping my tears. I didn’t even know when tears started rolling down my eyes.

“Savitabai enquired about you, to Mama. She said she liked you- your well-mannered nature, your mischievous eyes, and the eagerness to investigate something,” said Dadu with a giggle.

“Really? What did Mama say?”

“He said, you are our youngest family member. Also the sweetest, cutest, kindest and bravest. And that, you went off home, your school had resumed. You came here just to spend your vacation.”

“Oh,” I said, and let out a short sigh followed by a smile of contentment. The lady remembered me even when I was gone. In spite of being in such great pain. Wow!

“Munni, I hope, with time you will forget the gruesomeness of this incident. But here is a promise I want from you, for life. You will, right?” said Dadu calmly. He never spoke to me in this way before. I was surprised, and skeptical.

“What promise?” I asked.

“You see, there will be people who are pivotal for your existence. There will be people without whom, you wouldn’t achieve whatever you will, in life. There will be people who will console you and save you, when others will rob you of everything. Recognize them, and never take them for granted- even in your dreams. Never make them feel unwanted, uncared for. And you need not do anything outstanding or groundbreaking for that- just stay humble, kind, grateful, and respectful to them. Make them feel prioritized in your life. That’s all you need to do. And I know you will. My Munni can never go wrong, right?” said Dadu, his solemnness eventually converted into the softness in his voice that I’m used to, when he speaks to me.

I nodded, a little overwhelmed by the turn of events.

It has been years since this incident had happened. I have no vacations now, and the departmental store now makes annual turnovers in crores I believe- as it a popular one in the entire town. I’m sure the entire locality, even my grandparents, or Mama or Ma doesn’t remember the incident as intricately as I do. There are some incidents from your childhood that never turns hazy, no matter how much it gets drenched in the waves of time. For me, this is one such incident- which will remain etched in my memory for eternity.

© Copyright by Debasmita Ghosh. All rights reserved.