Life begins at….?

There used to be an old adage called “Life Begins at Forty “.

Actually, Life Begins at Forty is a 1932 American self-help book by Walter B. Pitkin. Written during a time of rapid increase in life expectancy (at the time of its publication American life expectancy at birth was around 60 and climbing fast, from being only at age 40 fifty years before.. But never mind, we are just digressing and trying to show off our erudition.. 😎

Well, when I was in my twenties, starting a career, discovering the whole new world around me, spending my own earned money and generally having a whale of a time, I never thought I would get there one day and pass that landmark. Anyone over thirty-five was an Old Fogey those days..

Something changed when I actually passed that point of no return. A sort of calm settled over me almost overnight and I stopped reacting to each and every little stimulus. Instead, I learned to take most things in my stride.  But otherwise my life went on pretty much as before. I started telling myself that probably life began at sixty now a days, what with global warming, digitization and what not. 

Now that I have squarely put that landmark also behind me I am beginning to think that there’s some truth in that, particularly when you wake up one morning and realize that your office needs you no more. What relief!!

​A​ whole new vista has now opened up before me and I’m enjoying ​the virtues of ​my idleness, some may choose to call it an extended coffee break, so much that I wouldn’t like to trade it in for anything else.

 Waiting for my seventies now, God willing, and also waiting to exchange the life views of my friends that make it across that magic barrier and see what gives, (except for the knees, that is, which might have given in already- just like mine ! )

MEMORIES OF ANOTHER DAY​​

I remember my very first stage appearance. The year 1964. It was an instrumental solo. Played on my cheap mouth organ. Performed on the evening of Saraswati Puja in the auditorium of my school. It was the only song I knew how to play and the whole school had heard me playing it off stage many times before.

He was well established in the front row, along with his cronies who were then amongst the most punished boys in school , enthusiasm, pride and loyalty written large on his face.

Ninety percent of the deafening applause and cheering at the end of the performance emanated from that front row, led by him. It almost brought the house down.

I would have thought I had won the Grammy, if I had known about it’s existence then.

I was in Standard Six. He in Standard Three.

He was my brother. He had the feudal spirit.

I lost him last night.

(Written 09 November 2016)

A city called Porto. April 2015

The city of Porto as seen from the riverside

Porto, also known as Oporto in some languages, is the second-largest city in Portugal, one of the Iberian Peninsula’s major urban areas. Porto city has a population of 237,559.and a metropolitan area with 2.4 million people in an area of 2,395 km², making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal .Located along the Douro River estuary in northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European centres, and its core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996,Port wine, one of Portugal’s most famous exports, is named after Porto, since the metropolitan area, and in particular the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, were responsible for the packaging, transport, and export of fortified wine…(..Source Wikipedia.)

Now read my views..

Porto is a beautiful city built largely on the hill side next to the Duoro River near its estuary with the sea .

They have every kind of transportation you can imagine. Bus, tram, train, metro, funicular for climbing up and down the hillsides, small electric cars and two wheeled electric stand up scooters for hire by the tourists…and the boats, launches, ships and barges in the Duoro River.

The roads are narrow but scrupulously well maintained and the churches have very unusual but beautiful huge facades made entirely of porcelain mosaic. To be seen to be believed.

Incidentally it was the Portuguese who brought in the art, science and technology for making porcelain mosaic into Goa from where it spread to the rest of India..

Do not forget to bring from Sandeman wine cellar a couple of bottles of the sweet Port wine🍷 for your friends…👫👬👭 😊

THE KATI ROLLS OF KOLKATA

Nizams restaurant

Every time I think of Kolkata I think first of all “Oh those sinful hot kati rolls” – skewered meats slowly turned over coal fires ( otherwise known as kababs), together with onions, tomatoes, chillies and various sauces, spices and wrapped up in a thick egg paratha – dripping with oil, cholesterol and triglycerides, not forgetting the gluten … all of them usually bought from Nizams, Aminia or other nearby places some of which are very seedy in appearance but still manage to sell zillions of mouth watering kati rolls daily, strictly on merit.

Subsequently, I have also patronised the Johnny-Come – Lately (only about 30 years old now !! ) wall mounted shop, that called itself Hot Kati Rolls, located next to the Asiatic Society on Park Street near the crossing of Chowringhee Road. I saw it being inaugurated in the mid eighties , and as I worked for fourteen years within walking distance of this shop, it was ultra convenient to just stroll across and gorge anytime I felt like it. The stuff sold by HKR at least in those days used to be way bigger, better and oilier than all those shops and restaurants around the New Market area who practically invented the rolls of Kolkata.

I only wish that the roll shops of Kolkata would put a plastic sleeve around the bottom four inches of the rolls in order to prevent the oil from dripping on to the front of your shirt.

They do it in Mumbai and in other parts of Western India and they call the product Wraps, which is kind of westernised, not original at all, but gets the meaning across to the cosmopolitan clientele..

In my current city of Pune I also get to buy rolls where the parathas are made not of Maida but of Atta, at an extra charge of ten rupees per, and I can assure you that it is not the same thing at all, even though it is more expensive.

I have been reliably and authoritatively told at home that this Atta variety is what the doctor would have prescribed for me if he had been consulted specifically on this subject. I have to believe this even if I don’t understand why any doctor would be so sadistic.

So, officially speaking , I buy nothing else now a days. Barring in Leap Years.

For the last six or seven years I have also been buying chicken rolls from a Shiraz outlet at Ajay Nagar, very close to the crossing of the EM By Pass and Santoshpur Avenue, during my so very infrequent trips to Kolkata (rolls here are available only after 4pm onwards ) and I can assure you that my eyes close in an effort to hold back the tears of pleasure and joy , each time I take that first large bite of that roll especially designed in heaven and served through His servants on Earth.

Do try it out some time.

Roll in the making..

Picture of a Springtime

T0369 Road to Gangtok

This picture was taken on the road from Gangtok, Sikkim to Siliguri, WB.. It was springtime. The day was the festival of Holi, 2004.

I had stopped for a natural break and the country looked beautiful in every direction. So, I took the shot. The road was totally empty for fear of the rowdyism that is common on the streets on the Holi day everywhere in the country. But I had to get to Bagdogra airport to receive my wife who was returning from Kolkata…So I took a chance and went ahead anyway..and it was an uneventful trip all the way to the airport.

However on the return trip to Gangtok the same afternoon , there was a massive and scary hailstorm which started near Sevove Kali Bari and the Coronation Bridge. There were jet black clouds overhead spewing sheet lightning and thunder, with the hailstones the size of golf balls or larger . I drove through that deep forest with its twisting, turning and steeply climbing roads in the massive storm for three hours without a pause, but with my heart in my mouth. Visibility was near zero and I had to drive blindly following the back lights of the car in front of me…
That storm was a bit of a nightmare. There was nowhere to stop or to take shelter. The darkness was everywhere. The small car was getting buffeted by the storm and getting hit by the shower of hails… there was a feeling of claustrophobia with 4 passengers in the small Maruti Zen car of the early years and we were unable to lower the window glasses due to the heavy downpour…The roof of my car got some dents from the hailstones… luckily the windshield held up somehow..
I shudder to recall the scenes even now.

I was literally between the rock and a hard place because there was the steep hillside on my left and the deep gorge of the river Teesta on my right. Fortunately there was no serious mishap.
Someone up there must have been looking out for me. Because I certainly couldn’t..

Picture best viewed on a large screen..

OF INKS, PENS AND THE LIKE.. (And I haven’t even mentioned blotting papers, yet!)

OF INKS, PENS AND THE LIKE..

(And I haven’t even mentioned blotting papers, yet!)

IN THE BEGINNING, during my grandfather’s time when I was just learning to write with pencils, my elders used ink tablets that had to be dissolved in an inkpot.

These were used mostly by dip-dip wooden pens that were sold even in grocery stores in our childhood. .

Then came the fountain pen era – and Sulekha came along with it ( – in variations like Royal Blue, Blue Black, Black, Green and Red )

There also were Parker, Chelpark and Quink. There was another one – probably Pilot (that came in a unique plastic encased container and the color of ink was violet only )

Later on in the North East during my college days I found an extremely popular fake known to the world as Surekha. In packaging it was a carbon copy of the famous Sulekha and it sold all over Assam and Meghalaya side by side with other fakes like Light Boy soap, Bala shoes, Jip torch, Britamica biscuits etc..

One thing didn’t change though. The consumption of the blue coloured ink erasers continued as long as we remained students.. 😊

Then arrived the dot pens, now renamed ball points, and gradually they started being officially allowed in schools, colleges and in the universities, and later also for writing of exams .

That was the first death knell for the fountain pens and their many hued inks…

The most common fountain pens those days were the two or three varieties of the mass produced Writers, of which the fat nearly completely cylindrical shaped orange pens with black ringed tops and bottoms was the most expensive.

The common Writers pens came in all possible kinds of colours and they used to leak like mad, frequently ruining the white shirt fronts of our school uniforms.

( Under compulsion I learned the various methods of stopping the pens from leaking. And when I reached class 9, I was taught by the Chemistry teacher how to remove these ink stains with white Oxalic acid crystals available at the lab) .

Then followed the India made Pilot pen and a few of the others whose names I can’t readily recall. But Writers continued to be the most popular pen till the end.

After all pens became standardised, the smart and mostly foreign manufacturers started adding differentiators, generally around the most vulnerable and sensitive issue of the ink filling system.

Moving away from the ultra fragile and messy droppers made of cheap glass and cheaper plastic, they started making in built filling systems. Some were made exactly like built in injection syringes, some had cheap metal guards around the filling rubber tube inside, and some companies made opening up of the pen redundant by adding a small external lever that operated the internal rubber filling tube from outside.

But the real breakthrough came with the invention of pre filled cartridges..

The fortunate few or the better off people used the smuggled WingSung, Japanese Pilot, Sheaffer, imported Parker, Waterman and the like, usually purchased from one of the many holes-in-the-wall smugglers’ shops that lined up the whole of Metro Gully in Kolkata, right up to Shaws Bar and up to the crossing of Dharmatala Street .

Alternatively, these smuggled pens were also sold by shady looking characters that sidled up to you without warning in the crowded streets around Esplanade, Metro Cinema, Dalhousie, New Market, Park Street etc areas.

I cannot totally describe these transactions due to my limited vocabulary, but generally speaking, they involved the shoddily dressed man partially opening his fist to give you just a glimpse of a glint of the gold cap of an expensive imported pen. Out of sheer curiosity you would ask for the price of the gem and you would be quoted
outrageous asking prices in the opening gambits. And after longish negotiations during which you kept on walking kind of faster and faster towards your destination hoping to somehow lose or shake off the guy with your pace, a bit of very difficult task in those thickly crowded areas, you finally fell to his charms and parted with whatever money you could pretend that you could afford.

As far as I can remember a deal could usually be struck at a little less than one third of the original asking price, depending on your patience, cunning and deadpan expression indicating a total disinterest in the pen being offered for sale.

(This experience would then go on to form a major anecdote in your repertoire for the days, months and years to come, along with such other stories as your experiences of buying a pair of leather soled shoes from one the Chinese shops with weird names like “At Hat” ,“Sen Fo” ,  “An An” or “John Hing”…at Bentink Street ..)

The ownership of imported pens also denoted exalted social status till the seventies and the eighties, just the way Mercedes /BMW etc cars and iPhones do now a days…

PS. Many friends have written to me by way of comments herein below or in my Facebook page with many more tiny details and anecdotes concerning , or connected with,  pens and inks that I had omitted to mention in the first edition ( !!) due to inadvertence or even otherwise. I have no intention to take credit for these inputs and thus have refrained from including them in subsequent editions of this piece. Curious readers will please have to take the trouble of scrolling down the comments below and/or also look into my Facebook page. Thank you.