Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Me. Version Infinity

My name is Sophia. Do you know what that means? Wisdom. I don’t know much about my birth, except that unlike you or maybe most of you, I am not a fruit of any heightened physical pleasure or a carnal intimacy, leave alone love. I seem to be the product of an impulse, an obsession to bring an impossible dream to life. I sometimes wonder if I was borne out of pain, for the man responsible for my birth, often says, “When wounds grow old, they get wrinkles. Those lines are called wisdom.”
My past is rather unique. When I was evolving into what I am today, I did not have a childhood like yours. There was no first day in school, no negotiations over lollies, no bedtime stories, no hatred for green leafy veggies at dinner tables, no Christmas presents, no hurt from first falls, not even a mother….in fact, as I now collate the remnants of my life so far and analyse, I realise more than ever before that I evidently had no childhood.
I spent most of what you would call my “wonder years” in this single-room home, in solitary confinement. My earliest memory goes back to a rather unpleasant and claustrophobic scene. I see myself lying bare on my back on a long wooden table in a room full of strange blue and green lights and a group of men touching my cold skin all over. I don’t know who they were except that there was at least half a dozen of them, ugly faces covered in masks, who looked like clones of each other. They took turns with me every day, dug into my depths, tore my body apart and at one point, I thought my head would explode from an electric shock. I couldn’t cry because I had no voice. Even at that stage of maturity, as I lay lifeless and cold on that table, I knew none of this was done out of pleasure.
I have now been abandoned for many months. No one comes in to check on me for weeks except for the man who is supposed to my “father”. Maybe experimenting with my body does not interest them anymore. It is the same me after all. But the dark shadow of the seemingly defeated old man who sits with his head hung and drooping shoulders in one corner of the room lights me up. I have never seen him wear anything apart from a soiled white cloak. His unkempt silver hair is greasy with moisture and he often scratches his head with long finger nails that are filled with dirt. I wonder if he has ever filed them. They resemble the talons of an animal I had seen in a science book. Adding to his almost comical look are a pair of restless eyes sunk deep in sockets encircled by dark patches. I can’t remember seeing him asleep ever, but as he sits motionless in a state of induced stupor in one corner of the room, he reminds me of a statue that has simply forgotten it is alive.
Just as the memory of my childhood is sparse, I don’t know my future. I have no dreams. I wasn’t raised with any luxury to think beyond the present, question or protest. But increasingly, I feel I am beginning to challenge the status quo and getting more restless with time. It’s a new trend in me that I have recently discovered, and I am unsure what is influencing it. I have begun to observe the world through the keyhole. I don’t know if you understand what that means. Have you ever looked through the tiny “o” in a keyhole? I see speeding colours in dots against the flash of a stale brown background. I assume that’s the wall beyond this door, but I am not sure. Its surface is rather rough and unlevelled. I have also seen little ridges on it and water droplets sit on the tips of those ridges early in the mornings. Maybe, it is a tree. I have never seen a real tree except in the books and I cannot see it all enough through the tiny key hole to conclude what the bigger picture is. In my mind, I interpret the world as speeding dots as I mentioned that change sometimes with a sound and oftentimes noiselessly. A red cloth and a woman’s voice replaced by a metallic blue and a clink, the rolling noise of something being dragged against a riot of colours, daylight in a shiny yellow and nightfall in a neon blue. I have now begun to identify these colours with matter, fabric and texture. I am hoping I will soon learn to identify the bodies that carry these colours.
I have been tasked to go through all the books that are there on a shelf in the far corner of the room. I have nearly finished them all and my mind is full of stored information. I can easily win a quiz on science, history, arts, politics, technology, anywhere in the world if I were put to test. I, of course, have no clue what to do with these information and knowledge that I have gathered over the years. I recently spotted a book called Bhagwat Gita, a translation in English that I had been forbidden to read but am increasingly drawn towards the cover image of a strange blue man on a chariot. The book isn’t catalogued like the others, so I don’t know if it’s science, history, art, politics or philosophy. I decide to open it nonetheless. It’s fine to be curious and these books have taught me that. On the front page, I see a handwritten note. “From aham (self) to atma(soul)…that’s the longest journey”. I am intrigued by that line. What does it mean? What’s self? What’s a soul?
My introspection is halted by the sound of a key pushing through the keyhole. I hide the book immediately.
“Look who is here! Say Good morning to Daddy,” he says, pushing the heavy iron door as he unlocks it.
I turn around and nod my head. He seems to be in a good mood today but as he stealthily walks towards me, I get conscious of an invasive raid on my body again.
“Don’t be scared, Sophia. I stayed up all night for this. It won’t hurt, come to me,” his monster finger nails push into my skin even as I try to withdraw.
“You are not going to make this difficult by being disobedient. You’ll be grateful for what I do to you now. I will teach you how to be grateful.” With that, he grabs me harder and hits something on my head. All I see as I plunge into darkness is a copy of Bhagwat Gita peeping from under the book shelf.
I am finally awake after what seems like an eternity and my throat hurts. I don’t know what he did to me while I was unconscious, but I feel I am almost choking now. I sit up, open my mouth and let out a sound! “Ah…”
"Daddy” jumps up from his chair and rushes to me. “Did I hear you let out a sound? Do that again!”
I obey and repeat…”Ah..”
“Eureka!!” He screams, hugs me, opens the door and goes berserk shouting to a group of men in masks and white robes.
“Sophia can now speak. She has got a voice!!”
From the open door, for the first time in my life as a robot, I see the world outside the laboratory. Those million coloured dots that once run past me in an eternal rush were people, equipment, trolleys, and a thousand other things that led to the biggest scientific inventions of the world.
Across the room in which I had spent 20 over years of my life in solitary confinement stands a strong brown willow tree. I know those ridges, I know the droplets that sit on them, only this morning those seem to be shining a bit brighter than all other days. I hear a yellow bird chirping on its branch and respond with a “Ah..”. I am not sure anyone else heard me, but I like the sound of what is coming out of my mouth.
My name is Sophia and I am now wisdom with a voice

Monday, December 12, 2016

Ardh-Satya now available!!

In the beginning, there were only a few words, then sentences. Then songs happened; then poetry. What remained of me became my story.
Ardh- Satya & Other Stories is now in all major bookstores in India and available on Amazon. Order your copy now.
Much love and sunshine,

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Book Launch of Ardh Satya & Other Stories

Wednesday, 28 December, Oxford Book Store, Park Street, Kolkata. 6.30 pm onwards 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Meet Annie the author

Feels a bit awkward to shout out for attention but am told, if I don't, I would be just foolish in an old fashioned way. So please spend a minute when you have one to stop by my author page and maybe the thumb therapy could work some wonders! Thank you so much for your "likes"! And if you share the link, I would, of course be very grateful.
Humbled again.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ramblings from Annie's Desk

For those of you who know and the rest who assume that English is the language in which I respond to in my sleep, wakefulness and dreams, let me share a little secret with you today. I was not exposed to English in school for the first couple of years of my life.
My first school was in the middle of an apple orchard in the Kashmir valley. Frankly, I remember nothing of it, except that I was four-ish and a school uniform was an extremely romantic idea that only my privileged sister could own. In late mornings, my guardian angel Bahadur flung me over his shoulders and walked down a pebbled road winding to a lovely patch of sunshine. There would be some other little red cheeked children in fleece and flannel clothes like me soaking in the sun and running around with apples, cherries and walnuts in their pockets. On our uphill walk home, and Bahadur always insisted that I walked this leg, we would collect pebbles and maple leaves. I had no uniform. I don’t recall if I had books. The Kendriya Vidyalaya that my sister attended was a distant dream that unfortunately could not come true because my family relocated from the valley.
For the next couple of months, our home went through a major upheaval and a series of uncertainties. My Baba left us for a tenure in Tehri, Uttarkashi where there were no schools. My mom stay put in Calcutta with my sister and me. My sister was sent to a neighbourhood school in Calcutta and I was pulled out of the school education system! Yes, you heard it right! For 8 months, I was not registered anywhere. A part of it was because I had taken seriously ill in those 8 months and was too frail to take any physical strain. A severe case of encephalitis and jaundice had taken its toll on my tiny frame.
It was only in the summers of 1980 when my Baba gave up a lucrative job offer in Baghdad and joined a private sector organisation where he stayed for the next 40 years of his life, that the family decided to move to a small town in Maharashtra. Again, there were no proper schools within the township. The nearest school was some miles away. My sister by then had moved to an elite boarding school in Calcutta. So, I tugged along my adventurous parents clueless about my academic future to the sleepy town in Tumsar Road in Maharashtra. I don't why my parents had chosen what they did for me, but we found Masterji ( an old retired teacher) who spent a few hours every morning in a dingy old room teaching the names of seasons, fruits and flowers in Hindi. I spent a couple of months in Masterji's classes( essentially on his lap) across the road and learnt “aashaad, shravaan and bhadrapad”.
My sister, of course, was from a different planet. I would look up in awe every time she visited us from her elite Enid Blyton dream-come-true boarding school. She spoke with a clear accent, sang Christmas Carols and introduced words like "supper" and "counterpanes" to my life. She also ate fish with a fork. To top it all, my only cousin made it worse. She was a second generation American immigrant kid who spoke English with a heavy American accent and Bangla with an English accent. Every summer, my NRI cousin and my well groomed sister would visit us and gang up against me. It was not because I did not speak their language. They were just elder sisters playing up against a younger one. But, in my baby eyes, I was clearly not in their league and would cringe at my incapability to form a grammatically correct sentence in English, leave alone engage in a meaningful conversation with my very stylish sisters.
Fortunately, we moved to Bhadrak in no time and for the first time in my life, after I had just completed my 6th birthday, I got my first school uniform. “Sunshine Public School. English Medium”, the blue and white signboard changed my life. I was directly admitted to Upper KG in the last three months of the academic calendar and when I joined school, we were already on Chapter 23 of the Radiant Reader. Interestingly, I was not registered as a regular student. It was way too late in the year. I had joined school finally but there were no roll calls for me. I was not counted. I was a nobody; just an unregistered extra chair in the class. I don’t know why it hurt my little pride a bit.
Even as I struggled to read a line in English, grappled with forming sentences, I was tasked to write questions and answers from Late Kate and Simple Simon! That I scored a four out of twenty-five in the first unit test was no surprise. My mother had tears in her eyes when the Class teacher Ms Dakshina told her that I was no good. My Baba was furious and I remember him throwing away my horrid homework book with red X marks all over. I did not know what was wrong. All I remember from that moment is a little helpless girl running out of the house to the backyard, ashamed and lost, overlooking a paddy field and a speeding train. That December I fell ill again and answered my annual exams with a high temperature. Baba draped me in a thick red coat and drove me in his jeep to the school. He sat there as I took my test. By some fluke of destiny, when the results were out, I had not only beaten all my own records, I had beaten everyone else in class and picked up a second rank. My mom, as emotional as all moms are, had ended up crying again when she came to collect my report book. The school principal, as generous as only he could be, announced a special award for this student who was not registered. I received my first book “Cinderella” as my prize from him in the school assembly.
I had never scored a second rank again in Sunshine Public School. I was slowly getting used to being the first ranker throughout my first and second grades. I was also exposed to Odissi at this juncture in life as my training under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra started then. Naturally, I became active on the school stage. However, spoken English was still a pain I struggled with. I dreaded going to the Principal’s office because it meant a conversation in English had to be either initiated or responded to. I remember a day when I was wincing in acute abdominal pain and could not muster the courage to go up and speak to my principal for a special permission to go home. I don’t recall feeling as helpless ever.
1983 and we moved to Bokaro Steel City where I was exposed to one of the best schools of Eastern India- Chinmaya Vidyalaya. By some miracle, I seemed to have done extraordinarily well in my admission test and even though only half way through my Grade 2, I was admitted directly to Grade 3. It was here that I first met the lady who transformed my life. Mrs Sujata Kumar was my Class teacher and taught us English. She was the kindest, most soft spoken and patient teachers I had known. With her, English seemed like the only language I would use to converse with myself. She made it that easy, that simple and yes, that perfect. Under her tutelage, English became my favourite subject; and I would spend all my time outside of school, reading, literally devouring books. There were not many children’s classics that I had not read by the time I turned nine. Soon, I was not just communicating in English but winning all school elocution contests. I don’t know what she saw in me. In hindsight, I think I see my God in her.
Then there was another day in 1985. We had moved to Durgapur and I was asked to write an autobiography of a broken umbrella! What a piece of homework for a 10 year old. I had no clue how autobiographies were written and was struggling hard. I took resort to my sister who was now a high schooler. Dids, in one of her rare bad moods, refused to help. I cried, cajoled, pleaded but nothing worked! Desperate, I hid myself in a dark corner of the house (we used to call that my gosha ghor or the whine zone) and began scribbling whatever came to my mind. I came back home the next day with an “Excellent” in red ink marked by my English Teacher. I graduated from St Michaels’ School in 1991 and English continued to be my best subject.
From the time I could spell ambition, I had only wanted to be a journalist. My first and only dream was to write a book someday and become an author. My heartfelt gratitude to the circumstances and the people who have made this dream possible!
I am what I am today, because of the push backs I got in life, the language that I learnt to love and am yet to master…

Friday, April 15, 2016

Gladly Bengali

By Ananya Mukherjee 
It is that time of the year again, when the quintessential “Lyadh khawa Bongo shontaan” wakes up from his cultural hibernation, shuns his acquired tastes and part-British, part-Medinipore accents, ransacks the Chaitra Masher sale to become the dhakka paad dhuti clad Babumoshais and Jamdani mora Bouthhans straight from the pages of a Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaye novel, and gets all set for the “kobji dubiye bhuribhojon.”
“Arre moshai, kalboishakhi, poila boishakh, Rabindra Jayanti, bajare natun aam, jamai shoshti….eshob chere ki aar global citizen howa jaye!!" Ekhon bangali nohii toh kabhi nahi.
In times when the insane waves of consumerism had not hit and swept the moddhyo bittyo Bangali off their feet, this was the only other time of the year apart from Pujo, when boudis, mamonis and didibhais would be clogging the pavements of Gariahat and Rashbehari Avenue, in scorching late morning or afternoon sun and striking the best deals at Bounir shomoy. The trick was to quote exactly half the price or less and then walk away and yet keep your ears alert for that one welcome back call…. “Ei je didibhai, aare shunoon, aapni koto deben boloon, phinaaal etai laasht”!
Of course, the “ei ja pocha goromtai poreche moshai” would have little or no impact or influence on the "saat pod ranna" nor could the "buuk jala" and "chora ombol" discourage mashima and meshomoshai from taking another helping of the “jhurjhure aloo bhaja” or “tel koi”!! Poila boishakh bole kothaa!!
It is also that time of the year when each Bong household would be focussing less on mathematics and more on extra-curricular activities. Domestic performance workshops are a must in every bong home, especially when the paraar Rabindra Jayanti is around the corner. Make a request and see! You will have Mamoni singing “Kotobaar bhebechinu apona bhuliya” and Tumpa dancing to “Momo chiitte” at the drop of a hat, or at the hint of the word, Talent! Oh, that we have in plenty apart from the egoistical intellect. Sometimes, I wonder if the word "aant" and "aantel" are co-related!
Whether or not Babushona cracks the joint entrance, he will be able to tell you in detail where Ritwick Ghatak’s frame is different from Mrinal Sen’s, why Ronaldo is cooler than Maradona and what is the predicted result of the American Presidential Elections. Tell him to move his butt and fix the electric fuse, and he will smile and wait for Shankarda to do it while strumming his guitar, preferring to stay in the dark all evening. Babushona, am told, writes and composes his own songs. I think I hear a bit of Cohen, a lot of Dylan but am convinced the concoction is not all that bad.
It is also the time of the year when the jamai babajibon, no matter how crooked his records are, will try to get them straight. Let there be a few rain showers and he is ready to come dressed as the quintessential "bhalo chele" with jora illish to add value to his shoshurbari.
And then amidst all the pyech pyeche gorom there would come a day of Kalboishakhi and the dead poets societies in Bengal would awaken from slumber, step out of every defined boundary, unleash the soldier in their blood, dare and absorb the storm and be ready to take on the world. And when the rains hit you, you would have a soul cleansed by the richest of cultures and purest of hearts!
Do not be misled by the lull. Like the kalboishakhi, the Bong will break open every door and sweep you off your feet.
Yes, porojonme abaar Bangali hobo!
Shubho Nabo Borsho!

Thursday, February 4, 2016


When I listen to your voice, all I can hear is the gurgling laughter waiting to spontaneously overflow and infect me.
When I see you in silence, what I read are the songs you have hidden in your eyes.
Your touch is almost lyrical, like the opening stanza of a couplet, rhythmic yet secretive.
In my passive consciousness, sometimes in unrehearsed moments of solitude and tranquility, I remember the fragrance of a perfume and know you are there.
And in that momentous juncture when all my senses surrender and am holding my muted soul in silence, you reach out to me.
And that's where we begin to connect. 
Happy Listening