From India to Illinois : I moved continents!

I’ve been missing for a while (again), but this time I have an extremely valid reason – I was firstly holidaying around the US, and now I’m settling in at my new home. After living a little more than the first two decades of my life at the same place, I’m now living away from home, because I’m doing my PhD at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The level of adulting (kindly excuse my use of crazy words) has gone up, people.

In the last couple of weeks, I have…

…learnt that packed lunches are a wonderful thing

…already got my first set of bruised scabby knees

…pulled/pushed doors in the wrong direction (way too many times)

…gotten a water account in my name (well they first named me Baner (first name) Jee (last name), but I got it changed after I’d laughed a full minute)

…left my water bottle in class (and then retrieved it the next afternoon)

…learnt that I can cook well enough and my experiments aren’t bad at all

…had a staring contest with a rabbit in front of my apartment building

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After the staring, it royally ignored me

…understood that if your front door is open and someone is moving around in your room, it’s probably just the maintenance guy fixing your window blinds(and not an intruder, so don’t scream)

…stuck to my resolution to wash dishes as soon as I’m done with them

…gotten lost in Walmart (and Target. And JC Penney)

…repeated myself several times (slowly) because my English is accented

…learnt that my English is accented

…been expressed deep commiseration and laments over the fact that I’m a doctoral student, and will probably stay here forever

…already gotten socialized to dread midterms

…confirmed that UIUC is indeed surrounded by cornfields, but what people leave out is that within those cornfields you have pretty much everything you might need

 

…visited the ‘Taste of Champaign-Urbana‘ and despite the live music and delectable food, been most excited by the froyo spoons which change colour when cold

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…got a taste of what the (in)famous #gradlife is about

…observed the “Undergrad” and seen several stereotypes played out

…observed the “Grad” and seen several stereotypes played out

…realized that I’ll probably be okay.

Now these realizations/learnings were only in university, so you can imagine how much I was bombarded with while I was being touristy before I got here. It wasn’t as much of a culture-shock as it is a learning process. The widespread reach of American movies, TV series and Tumblr has done at least one thing – made American popular culture known to everyone.

And now I must go and study, because you know, Grad school and all that.

(I’m probably just going to chat with my flatmates about which restaurant we’re going to try out this week)

A Brand New Year

How on earth is it already 2015? Or, to be more precise, where did 2014 go?!

In my 5 years of blogging, this last year is definitely the one in which I’ve neglected my blogging the most. And I have a reason – major life changes (oh yeah).

I completed my masters degree and spent a while lazing about, contemplating topics for a subsequent PhD. Within that period of contemplation, I began an internship with an international NGO (so that I would stop enjoying sleeping so much) and then, the internship turned into a proper job! And I realized how precious weekends were. And why people kept saying that remaining in academics was a jolly good thing to do. And I realized I’m terrible (I may be exaggerating) at multitasking in life – work became the priority and next priority (on weekends) was catching up with friends or lounging in front of the TV. So blogging-time went flying out of the nearest window. Which is sad, because now I wish I’d written about all the myriad first-time experiences I’ve had in the short time span of the last few months. Oh well.

The beginning of the year was wonderful and then suddenly declined as I dealt with an injury. Thankfully I recuperated fully from that phase. The rest of the year was a whirlwind, though a busy one…

I started getting used to this being-an-adult thingamajig (grudgingly)

I spent weekends being even more childish and crazy to compensate (I would like to thank my parents for making that possible)

I learnt to stop being devastated when someone was mean (more like, managed to decrease the period of sadness by 2% maybe. At least it’s a start!)

I went on my first official trip for work (living alone in a hotel room isn’t all that great though)

I made new friends and became part of a wonderful work team (which made it hard for me to ever really dislike going to office)

I felt the satisfaction of working in the social sector, when I got a ton of love from the lovely girls I was working for during my internship (you can read about that here)

I made it a point to send up thanks whenever something good happened, however small the incident. Everyday miracles and good incidents are truly wonderful.

I walk into this new year with the hope that humanity wins over all the atrocities and begins moving towards a more kinder version of itself. This year, I want to send out all the positive vibes I can, with the hope that they will be reciprocated.

Happy New Year guys! Wishing you happiness, peace, love and contentment in 2015.

Of Long-due and Sudden Trips, a Pocketful of Sand and Ligaments

Such a lot has happened since I last posted the list of my favourite feel-good songs. And when I say ‘a lot’ I mean it in the absolute sense; no exaggerations.

In the first week of February, I visited Kolkata after a gap of 7 years, even though it’s my parents’ first love as far as cities are concerned by virtue of being the city they spent their childhood in. It was a wonderful trip as I had my cousin sister’s wedding to attend and then, after a long time, six of us cousins got together at the same place. It was a lot of laughing, new friends, joking, teasing, reminiscing, tears and emotions running high. I had been looking forward to this trip since a long time, and it lived up to the expectations that I had from it (might need a separate blog post for it).

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Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

While in Kolkata, my friends from university called me to tell me that they had given my name for a university fest to be held in Kerala. While the message was delivered to me over a abysmal cellphone network, which meant I heard only two words out of seven in a sentence, I got to know all the details only once I got back to Uni.

So, merely a week after getting back from a week-long holiday in Kolkata, I was off again to Kasaragod, North Kerala for the First Convention of Departments of Social Work of Central Universities of India.

It was a glorious trip, as only one with friends can be. Lots of uncontrollable laughter, hilarious antics, jokes and madness. Once again, I met a lot of new people and made some wonderful new friends. Also, being in God’s Own Country, how can I forget the beautiful surroundings? Coconut trees, rivulets, the mighty Arabian Sea! A feast for the senses! I think a photo post will be needed for it.

Bekal Beach, Kerala

Bekal Beach, Kerala

My last day in Kerala wasn’t idyllic however.

I got a ligament injury in my knee.

So now, I’m back home, sitting with my leg in a knee immobilizer (which is pretty much like a cast and lives up to its name), wondering how I failed to notice the wondrous ways in which a knee works.

Now take a moment to thank God for knees and the wonderfully versatile ways in which they function.

More than anything, it’s one of those times when you feel like indulging in self-pity and asking that futile question – “Why me?”. But I don’t have the time to do that. I’m more busy worrying about how on earth am I supposed to make up the classes and fieldwork I will miss, not to mention the irksome attendance issue that my department has.

Pray for me, will you?

R.I.P. Indian Telegraph Service

Yesterday night saw the last telegram ever being sent in India. A service which began in 1850 in British-ruled India, stopped functioning after 163 years of bringing good, bad, happy, sad news to millions in the country.

I really wanted to go and send myself and some other close people a last telegram as a souvenir of a bygone era, but with one thing and another, that didn’t happen. Oh well.

Thank you Indian Telegraph. You are a veteran, martyred to rapidly changing technology.

Worshipping the Goddess of Prosperity

While the Western world celebrates Halloween in all its glory, Bengalis in India are celebrating Lakshmi Puja. I specify the Bengali community because other parts of India worship Goddess Lakshmi at a different time, namely during the festival of lights, Diwali.

Goddess Lakshmi is the goddess of Prosperity and Wealth. she blesses you with health, wealth and abundance.

For me, this day becomes all the more important because my family holds this puja in our house. It’s a lot of work and running around, but it’s an awesome amount of fun too. So I thought, why not let you have a behind-the-scenes, step by step look at what makes up a Lakshmi puja?

There she sits, on a pedestal, decorated with garlands of marigold.

 

This is what the whole room looks like after everything’s ready (of course a lot of pushing furniture out etc. happens much before it reaches this stage).

An extremely happy picture of me putting down the white designs on the floor. The designs are made with rice powder mixed with water. It’s called an Alpona (pronounced Aal-poe-naa). It looks pretty awesome, and is kinda tough to make, even though I say so myself. I, however, am nowhere near a lot of my mom’s aunts who draw masterpieces with this white paste.

The pedestal gets a new design to brighten things up.

 

This is the main design that’s made on the floor. Those ‘S’ shapes (and reverse ‘S’ shapes) stand for the goddess’s tiny footprints, coming into the house and upto the pedestal. And the foot-steps are put around a long strip of what depicts wheat. You see, as I said, the Goddess Lakshmi blesses you with abundance, and the wheat signifies the abundant harvests and foodstuff of yore.

Right in front of the pedestal stands this copper vase (called a ‘kalash‘ in Hindi, or ‘Ghaut‘ in Bengali), on another white floral design. On it sits a branch holding exactly seven auspicious mango leaves. And on top of the branch sits what is called a ‘Sheesh Dab‘ (‘sheesh’ meaning stalk (see that long stalk coming out of the young coconut?) and ‘dab’ meaning a young coconut).

 

The copper vase is decorated with red vermillion.

 

There is a whole copper plate full of flowers and leaves from a ‘Bel’ (wood apple) tree. Also, there have to be small amounts of white and red sandalwood paste for the flowers to be dipped in before offering to the goddess.

 

Now, a very exciting and important part of this puja, is the food. My mom makes a whole, lavish spread. the idea is that all the new seasonal foods (veggies, fruits) which are coming up with the season, are first offered to the goddess on this day, and then we start eating them. It’s a good way of getting to know when certain veggies or fruits are in season…a simple ‘ritual’ which is actually just a very practically thought out act!

All this food together is called the ‘bhog’. There is khichuri (a gorgeous mix of rice and lentils cooked to perfection with some delicate morsels of coconut flavouring the entire dish), payesh (a sublime concoction of rice and thickened milk with sugar, raisins and cardamom), sabzi (vegetable dishes of two kinds – a ‘panch torkaari‘ (‘panch’ meaning five and ‘torkaari’ meaning vegetable dish) made of five new seasonal veggies and a ‘phoolkophir dalna‘ (‘phoolkophi’ referring to cauliflower which is now in season and ‘dalna’ meaning another different kind of preparation of veggies)), a sweet-and-sour tomato chutney with raisins and dates, luchi (puffed golden fried breads) and ‘panch bhaaja‘ (‘panch’ meaning five and ‘bhaaja’ meaning fried).

 

And there is also the usual fruits and sweetmeats, along with ‘naaru‘ (small bite-sized sweet balls made of jaggery and sesame/coconut) and ‘moa‘ (slightly larger sweet balls made with puffed rice and jaggery).

 

The image of Goddess Lakshmi which is worshipped holds many symbols which signify all that the goddess stands for. There is the Owl, which is believed to be her ‘vahan‘ or sidekick of sorts. And there is a nice, big pile of wheat, which as I said signifies abundance.

 

Then there is a white conch shell, which is considered sacred in all pujas. Behind the shell, you can see a tall, red container. This was what married women earlier used to keep their vermillion powder in. And so, Goddess Lakshmi also blesses women with a happily married life.

You can see her feet have red edges; married women sometimes apply a red dye called ‘Alta‘ on their feet, as red is a symbol of marriage.

 

My mom places the vermillion container which she carried during her marriage ceremony in front of the goddess with a silver coin, some vermillion and some other items on a silver plate.

 

It looks pretty amazing all together.

 

There is a strange sense of peace and serenity which come with a puja ceremony. And it’s nice to take a break from the usual daily routine and do something a little different.

 

(As Lakshmi puja is held in the evening, the photos had to use the flash. So sorry about that!)

A Birthday Wish

Few days back, was the birthday of my bestest friend in the world. We met when we were 13-14 year old girls, and we’ve stuck together and now seen each other become young ladies of 21.

We’ve always had a weird connection with each other; our fights were (and still are) always hilarious. And invariably, after every fight, whenever we’d meet the next time, we’d just hug each other tight and not another word was needed. We haven’t really left anything which we can fight over. Now we’ve reached the stage where we both know what the other is thinking without any words being spoken.

Quite a few cliched sayings somehow come true in our case –

Friend in need, is a friend indeed : After leaving school, communication was hard to come by. Months would pass without a single word being exchanged between us, even in this age of wireless, hi-tech modes of communication. But we always knew whom we were going to call when we needed to discuss something serious or worrying. And the fact that we didn’t constantly stay in touch never diminished the intensity of our friendship. Whenever we met, it was just like the last time. And we had SO much to talk about.

Opposites attract : We are not very much alike in a lot of spheres. We are both very independent individuals (hence the fights) and so we have different tastes in things ranging from music to food to clothing to everything else. We obviously have some common things we both love, but really…opposites have strongly attracted here.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder : I don’t know about her, but I realised how close we’d actually become only when we were placed in different sections in the eleventh grade. And then when she went away for her bachelors to another city, I missed her all the more.

Okay…was all that very mushy? Um…maybe. But then, she only gets it once a year :D

Her 21st birthday was one I’ll always remember…

Staying over from the day before,

buying a cake for her (in front of her. But the good thing was, she got to choose her own firework candles!),

making a special gift for her (which she, thankfully, LOVED),

doing a *secret* photo shoot for her,

watching movies till 4 am,

chatting about everything under the sun,

feeling like a part of the family (I pretty much am!),

having an amazing time!

Happy Birthday again Vids. May you get all the wonderful things you wish for. Stay blessed always. I love you!

It’s That Day of The Year…

…when we all (momentarily) leave our mushiness-related inhibitions, and say just how much our friends are important to us.

For me, I’m just going to take this chance to say a big thank you to all those people who have read (and are still reading) my ramblings. I am so grateful to have you guys around! I don’t know most of you any further than your names and the little tid-bits about your life that you’ve blogged about. But were I to ever bump into you at some place, I’d like to hug you and express the wish to chat over a cuppa.

Because though I hardly ‘know’ you in the conventional sense, you’re still my friends.

So, Happy Friendship’s Day! I hope I do bump into you somewhere, someday :)