Freedom in Colours

She was trembling as she stepped out of the room, half her face and her head covered by her sari. No more than seventeen years of age, she was getting married to a man her parents had chosen for her. He was six years her senior, she was told and he was a teacher at the local school. She had never seen him before but she managed to sneak peeks of him while the rituals were still going on. Scared and intimidated for the most part, the wedding rituals finally came to an end and she was married.

Married life suited her well. She quickly settled down in her new life, tending to the house and doting on her loving husband. They developed a good bond, it was almost as if they were made for each other even though the marriage had been arranged. While she cooked his favorite meals, he surprised her with simple gifts. He shared the household responsibilities with her, never ashamed to wash a cloth which even his own mother thought to be a “woman’s job”. They worked together, looking after each other when either was sick and never failing to enjoy a cup of tea together in the mornings before he left for work. They had small fights, as all couples do but they never lasted longer than a few hours. Together, they built a wonderful life full of smiles and laughter and each new day in their lives brought in another opportunity to create happier memories.

The mornings were the best time of the day, for either of them. Sometimes they sat in silence, content in each other’s presence and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere that surrounds most mornings. Occasionally, he’d read the newspaper out loud for her to hear an interesting piece of news. She liked watching him read and when he took little breaks from reading to sip his tea, he’d smile at her. Soon after he’d leave, promising to be back as early as possible. She’d watch his retreating figure from the door and mutter a small prayer for him.

They’d been together for over five years when the news came and till date, she doesn’t remember anything about the day. It was as though her mind had been wiped clean to accompany the huge void that had been created in her heart. She had walked to the cold ghats in a trance, hadn’t reacted when they broke the red and white bangles that had been given to her during her wedding or when they wiped her forehead clean of the red sindoor. She had accepted her fate mutely but a part of her had died along with her late husband. She hadn’t cried, she hadn’t wailed or lamented loudly as most new widows do. She was quiet, kept to herself and it was as though she wasn’t herself anymore. She was still flesh and blood but her mind had changed, she was caught somewhere between life and death – the worst place to be.

The routine was standard as the rules were strict. In the day and age she belonged to, widows weren’t allowed to be happy. Her long hair had been chopped into a rough bob around her neck and she was stripped of all her jewelry and fine silks. When it came to food, she had to give up many things. She was to wake up each morning before anyone else, bathe and dress in white, go to the neighboring meadows to collect flowers and come back to perform a puja. This would be her life, everyday until she breathed her last. She hadn’t complained, this was the routine and everybody knew it. Rebelling against it was unheard of in the society she belonged to and so she awoke each morning and as she stepped out into the mild darkness to collect colorful flowers that were still wet with dew, she felt nothing at all. Being a widow was oppressive, she was stripped of everything and filled with a certain ache that she carried around all the time. With death, came freedom and having to mourn for the dead this way, the living soon wished for death.

The previous day had been Dol, the mighty festival of colors and a festival she and her late husband particularly enjoyed together. They would invite their friends and relatives over, he would buy the best sweets and the celebrations would last for hours. To her, it seemed that each year was better than the last. Until this year, when she shut all the windows and doors and had stayed home all day. This was the first time she had allowed herself to cry as hard as she did, missing her husband so terribly and wishing he was there by her side again – laughing and holding her hand. She hadn’t eaten all day and by evening, her eyes were extremely red and puffy. She collapsed into an exhausted heap pretty early and awoke the following morning to return to her standard routine which had become so monotonous that it was exhausting.

Generally, she had still liked her mornings. The air was relatively cool and felt nice against her damp skin and her thoughts were mostly peaceful. But this particular morning, she was weighed down by her thoughts and the awful ache that seemed to consume her. Her eyes were still puffy and it seemed that she could cry at a second’s notice. She hated this life and she missed what she had. Dejected, she collected the flowers and went back home with slow steady steps. After having completed her prayers, she noticed the stains on her sari. They were of various shades – all kinds of green and red and sometimes even a little blue here and there. She blamed herself for not having been careful enough, after all the previous day had been Dol and she ought to have known better. She immediately changed into another white sari so that she could wash the one with colors. But no matter how hard she scrubbed or what kind of soap she used, the stains wouldn’t go. Cursing everyone for using bad quality colors to play Dol, she eventually gave up scrubbing.

The following morning, she wore a clean sari and this time, she moved extra carefully to ensure that she touched nothing at all, in case there were still some colors left here and there. But when she came back home, there were colorful stains again! She proceeded to scrub at it again and nothing, the stains refused to go. She was rather annoyed by now, how many white saris did she have to sacrifice this way? And were the neighborhood kids playing some kind of prank on her?

However, this continued for days and it felt strange to her – what was causing these stains and why wouldn’t they go? And by now, she had no clean white saris left. After about a month, she had finally given up and had stopped questioning the entire matter. She mutely accepted this as her fate as well.

She wore the colorful saris even though awful comments were passed about her and even though the local women had begun to socially boycott her. They called her names but mostly, they thought she was “selfish” and “ungrateful” for not respecting her late husband as all women ought to do. The comments had bothered her initially but with each passing day, a new color appeared on the saris she wore and they brought a certain amount of peace within her soul. She began to eagerly look forward to her mornings, a time when she could be lost in this trance-like state with nothing but the silence and a strange spirit that seemed to seize her and fill her with happiness. It was as though this spirit accompanied her each morning as she left her house, lamenting with her and trying very desperately to make her feel better. The void in her began to heal with this unseen force of nature. She didn’t understand it but that didn’t bother her. It made her happy, it made her whole again.

The neighbors thought she’d gone mad but who were they to understand anything so magical? Perhaps she really was caught between life and death and perhaps it wasn’t the worst place to be anymore because in that state of being half-alive and half-dead, she had found freedom in colors.

Dol – a festival very similar to Holi, celebrated in Bengal

Advertisements

The Sound of Ma

When Baba came home one day to tell us that Didi and I were going to Calcutta to visit Mama, I was elated. We had never been there before and from what Khokon, our next door neighbor, had told us at playtime, it was a big city with trams and double-decker buses everywhere. He painted the city out so well for us that I frequently caught myself daydreaming about visiting Calcutta. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait. The only downside was that Ma would not be accompanying us. This made me sad for a little while but I hugged her and told her I’d be back very soon. Besides, I couldn’t imagine being away from Bera for too long. I loved our little mudhouse on the banks of the Talat river and the mango trees Didi and I would often climb. I loved everything about our small village but I also wanted to see Calcutta so badly.

Baba looked slightly serious while Ma hurriedly packed all our essentials into one steel trunk. We would be off that following morning and Baba would drop us at Mama’s house. That night, I barely slept because I was too excited. I was awake to see the first morning light and soon, Ma woke us up. While we dressed and as Ma plaited our hair, Didi and I could not stop grinning. Before we knew it, it was time to go.

At our doorstep, Ma stood covering her head with her sari. She teared up as she hugged us tightly before we left. We hugged her back quickly and turned to leave. As we got to the fence in front of our house, she called us back to hug us again. This time, she was weeping. I didn’t understand why she was so sad about us leaving or why she was so reluctant to let us go, I kept reassuring her that we’d be back before she knew it. Baba stood at a distance, patiently waiting and looking rather grim.

We arrived at Howrah Station, a huge station that had so many people, I was rather intimidated. Baba held both our hands firmly as we chased after our coolie and mixed into the crowd. Once we were in the taxi, we were excited to look out. And Khokon was right, there were trams and double-decker buses everywhere! Soon enough, we arrived at Mama’s house who welcomed us with open arms. Baba left soon after a cup of tea, he hugged us both briefly and with a quick nod, he left.

I’m over eighty years old today and I never saw Ma again. I saw Baba once, at Howrah for a brief five minutes and that’s the last I saw him. I don’t know what happened to our little mudhouse during the Partition. I’ve heard many stories, some too awful to even imagine and I definitely don’t have the courage to visit Bera to see the after-effects. But after all this time, I finally understand Ma’s tears and sometimes, I can even hear the sound of her weeping and her sari-clad figure at our doorstep.

After All This Time

Last December, my parents and I toured Rajasthan. We stayed in about eight hotels in just ten days, covering a distance of at least 2000 km by road. In the end, needless to say, we were exhausted but it was most definitely worth the entire effort. Rajasthan, has become one of my favorite states in the country with its rich culture which is different in every single city of the state and obviously, the smell of history in every nook and corner. It’s all just so colourful and beautiful.

If you drive westward from Jaisalmer, towards Sam and closer to the heart of the Thar, you’ll come across a small and completely abandoned village named Kuldhara. My Dad and I particularly have a fascination for paranormal stories and we jump at the chance of hearing more of them. Kuldhara, we knew, was famous for its tales of the supernatural among other things. After my mum suggested it, we decided we definitely had to pay a visit to this supposedly haunted village. Our assigned driver seemed slightly hesitant at first but finally agreed.

Driving around in Rajasthan, especially the west, means miles and miles of sand and dry shrubs all around. The view doesn’t change too much and you definitely wouldn’t miss a lot if you took a nap. We arrived at Kuldhara possibly around 1 or 2 pm. It was incredibly bright and hot, with the sun pricking through even our thick jeans. Our driver parked a little away and we walked the rest of the way, hastily wrapping our heads with scarves to protect ourselves from the harsh sunlight.

Kuldhara, is an entirely ruined village. What we could see all around us were burnt bricks and a semblance of what looked like small huts and temples. It was exceptionally quiet. It makes sense, in a way, a ruined and abandoned village in the middle of the desert shouldn’t exactly be expected to be noisy or anything of the sort. But being city folks, we weren’t too comfortable with this kind of silence. The three of us walked around aimlessly for a while, I suppose we were expecting something but we didn’t know what to exactly expect. Another soul wasn’t in sight and I suppose that’s what added to the uneasy feeling we had. Soon enough, I took out my new DSLR and started taking pictures from all possible angles (inserted a couple of them below)

Walking around the ruins
Top-view of the ruins
Ruins

We walked around for quite a while, occasionally entering some of the remaining rooms while being painfully aware of the heat. From a distance, we could see a man sitting outside one of the less ruined structures. Slightly excited, the three of us walked towards it and found an incredibly disheveled man with unkempt hair sitting outside on a few bricks, smoking a beedi. Thankfully, he spoke in Hindi, a language we could all understand. We were intrigued and obviously asked him why he lived in the middle of nowhere, amidst a supposedly haunted village. The man took a while to answer, he took a last puff of his beedi, put it out on the ground and looked us dead in the eye and asked us if we could handle the truth.

From inside his claimed house

“Back in the 13th century, Kuldhara was the center of activity for the Paliwal Brahmins, a sacred sect even among the high castes. The land was ruled by Salim Singh, Diwan of Jaisalmer who was infamous for his debauchery and cruel tax-collection methods. On a particular visit to Kuldhara, the Diwan set his eyes on the daughter of the village chief. He immediately asked for her hand in marriage but was refused as a Paliwal Brahmin’s daughter could not marry a Kshatriya. Enraged, the Diwan vowed to have her anyway and promised to be back within a fortnight to take her away and if they refused, he would levy heavy taxes on them. He left the villagers in a state of confusion and fear. For thirteen days, they brainstormed and discussed how to get out of this fix while keeping their ideals upright. On the 13th night, the entire village disappeared. No one saw them leaving and no one knew where they went but overnight, every single person of the village had disappeared. When the Diwan came the following morning with his men, he was furious and demanded for a search. But no man could find any of the Paliwalis again.”

The man had us hanging onto every word of his and when he paused, we looked at him expectantly. This story wasn’t entirely new to us, we’d Googled it before arriving there but the man was a good storyteller and listening to it from someone who lived there certainly brought about a different kind of effect. My Dad finally interjected into the long pause and asked, “But what does this have to do with you?”

This time, the man smiled. But his smile made me uneasier, it just didn’t seem like a normal smile or a normal thing.

“The Paliwali chief’s daughter was exceptionally beautiful but what people admired about her the most were her strong ideals and sense of morality. She listened to every word of her father’s, regularly gave offerings to the Gods at the temples and in every way, she was a perfect daughter. If her father had asked her to marry the Diwan, she would’ve done it, even if it made her unhappy. But seeing her father in so much distress and all the villagers in a state of terror, it dawned upon her that she was the root to all their problems. So on the 13th night, when everybody was preparing to flee, she hung herself from the ceiling in the main temple. And you see, that’s why I can’t leave.”, he said and smiled again.

We were distracted by a small voice saying “Papa, papa…” and we watched as a small girl of about four or five years came running to the man and sat on his lap. He looked at her lovingly and stroked her hair and turned to us to tell us that this was his daughter. Her features were striking and left us a little surprised. She looked frail for her age but she had a huge smile and I noticed a strange mark around her neck.

She looked at us and gleefully said, “They’re all coming back.”

Dear Diary, I’ve Missed You

It’s been a very very long time since I’ve actually written something and this post is just going to be about my musings on how terribly unfortunate that is.

Writing has always comforted me. Things I could never say to anyone, I used to spill on pages as a blurry hybrid of emotions and words. I started writing my first diary when I was nine and although it doesn’t contain anything more than a daily account of my life (in rather atrocious handwriting, if I might add), it was still something. I had the idea after my mum decided to buy me a really cute Disney diary which came with a tiny lock on the side. I was determined to make it my “secret property”, perhaps the only thing any average 9-year-old can claim her own with full confidence and proceeded to fill the pages with entries which started with “Dear Diary,” and continued to give a full account of when I woke up, what I ate, what I did at school and so on and so forth.

Thankfully, the habit of writing stuck on but eventually, my diary become a place for me to vent all kinds of emotions rather than just daily accounts. It’s amusing to read why I had a fight with my best friend in 7th grade or why I thought my math teacher was an “evil woman who practises black magic” or why I was so concerned about losing two marks on a test (as a college student, I scoff at my own past self now). They even contain detailed accounts of what I thought about certain people, including myself. I guess everyone goes through a low self-esteem phase and there are pages of me wondering about what I’m good at or perhaps why I’m not good at a certain thing. Almost a decade later, I’m glad I’m past that and that I can be at a lot more peace with myself. But what I’d like to point out is that writing has always helped.

The past year, however, has been unfortunate. Not in terms of anything else besides the fact that I haven’t really been writing much. It’s been an eventful year, with all kinds of ups and downs and I may or may not have spent too much time worrying about getting into a good uni and/or burying my face in various physics books. I stopped doing most creative things and after all this time, I’d like to go back to it. I’d like to start thinking about story plots more often and observe a passing stranger on the metro to get ideas for a character again.

It’s truly amazing when you think about it. All you need is one piece of paper and a pen and you can write absolutely anything at all – thoughts in your head, things that exist, things that don’t or might exist and anything, anything at all. I miss the ability to think so freely and to conjure all kinds of warped and strange ideas and to put them down on paper. I miss the satisfaction of writing a story or a poem. But most of all, I miss the magic of writing, of pouring out thoughts and emotions. So here’s to a promise I’m making to myself – to write more and to free my mind all over again.

Tides of Yearning 

How long are you going to take, before the wounds heal? How long until you peel off the half-formed scab and pierce it anew? 

The tides come and the tides go, just as the people come and the people go. But would it be too much to ask for, just once, to hold onto a tide and never let go? 

As the question escapes my own lips in a bare whisper, I’m suddenly aware of my own childish demand. Of course you can’t hold onto a tide, wouldn’t it escape faster if you held on so tightly? And besides, would you really want to watch another slip away, bit by bit? 

As you stand there, looking out at the dull waters and the overcast skies, you realize how much you have in common with the seas. You take a deep breath, still cold and wet from the tide that slipped away, and walk into the dull water. Little by little, you disappear into a sea of death and dullness. Until another tide pulls you back to the shore. 

The Science Behind Some Coincidences

Coincidences happen everyday and moreover, a day without anything unusual happening is an unusual day in itself. So why do coincidences occur at all and do they have some kind of special message? In this article, I’m going to explore the science behind coincidences and also talk about a couple of examples.

For starters, there are a couple of ways of looking at coincidences. A mathematician will tell you it’s all about probability and how every strange event always has a chance of happening. A psychologist will bring in ideas of Pareidolia and Synchronicity (we’ll discuss these in a bit) among other things. And if you’re relatively more spiritual, you’ll believe that coincidences are actually messages from the Universe (whatever that means).

If you think of a coincidence in mathematical terms, it really is rather simple. Take, the following incident, for example:

Coincidence #1: A student and professor were both to attend a conference in a different city but since they had different destinations from there, they booked the tickets separately. On boarding the flight, they were surprised to find themselves seated next to each other. They were convinced it was a coincidence. But let’s look at this a little differently:

Explanation: All 747’s roughly seat around 450 passengers which means the chances of them being seated next to each other is 1 in 450. But they had booked tickets in the same class. There were also a few isolation seats but in most cases, you had to sit next to another passenger. Next, some passengers fly in groups of 2s and 3s or more. So the chances of two single passengers sitting next to each other has relatively increased. If you take ALL of this into account, the chances aren’t really 1 in 450 anymore, it’s dramatically decreased. So in the end, it isn’t so much as a coincidence anymore.

Coincidence #2: An engaged couple are going through their childhood albums when the woman discovers a picture of herself at Disneyland from twenty years go. Her soon-to-be husband, on closer inspection, discovers his father in the picture, pushing a stroller forward with him in it!

Destiny at Disney World: Alex Voutsinas, pictured in the pushchair in the rear of the photo, and his future wife Donna, front right, were shocked to realise their paths crossed as toddlers

Explanation: Both of them were five years old when this picture was taken. And they both possibly visited Disneyland in the holiday season or rather, the peak season. Considering the average number of five-year olds who visit Disneyland every year and in the peak season, two of them could easily be in the same picture. But the interesting part is how they were getting married twenty years later. While even I’d secretly like to believe that this was a match made in Disneyland, the chances of them meeting later in life do exist. The chances are outrageous, yes but they are chances nonetheless. From a mathematician’s perspective, any chance is good enough.

Now, if we were to think about this from a psychologist’s point of view, we would be met with explanations based on how the human brain works.

Coincidence #3: This is a satellite image of the Cydonia region on surface of Mars. ‘Face on Mars’ as the image is dubbed, convinced many of extraterrestrial lifeforms being present on Mars. And for those who knew better and said it was just a rock that looks like a face, they thought it was a coincidence.

Explanation: Here comes in the concept of Pareidolia. Pareidolia is basically a psychological phenomenon that convinces us to see patterns and recognize shapes everywhere. It’s the way the human brain works. So more than this being a coincidence or evidence of the existence of Martians, it’s simply our mind playing tricks on us.

Some more examples of Pareidolia: 

Space Pareidolia – Carina Nebula: This particular image has been featured in more memes than I can count.

Image result for examples of pareidolia

The Door: Image result for examples of pareidolia

Unsettling Trees: Found this image on Reddit (obviously)

Image result for examples of pareidolia

Coincidence #4: In the 1950s, Eric W Smith, who lived in Sheffield, England was in the habit of collecting horse manure for his tomato plants from the woods behind the house. One day he saw another man doing the same. When he sat down on a bench to rest, the other man did the same. Eric introduced himself, saying his name was Smith. “So’s mine,” said the other man. So Eric expanded: “Eric Smith.” By then it was obvious that a strange coincidence was occurring: “And so is mine,” said the other man. “Eric W Smith,” said Eric. “Yes,” said the other man. On further discussion, they realized that the W in one’s name was for Walter and the other was Wales but they overlook this tiny difference and decided the entire encounter was a big coincidence.

Explanation: One thing we realize is that Smith is the most common surname in the UK, with around 700,000 people sharing it – that’s about 1 in 100. The name ‘Eric’ isn’t so uncommon either. ‘The Law of Near Enough’ of The Improbability Principle basically states that the human mind works in such a way that we tend to overlook tiny details in an attempt to point out similarities. In this case, we overlooked their middle names and the fact that collecting manure and sitting down are really normal human activities.

Coincidence #5: The French writer Deschamps claims in his memoirs that, in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fontgibu. Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a dinner and once again ordered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fontgibu was missing to make the setting complete – and in the same instant, de Fontgibu entered the room.

Explanation: This particular coincidence or rather, series of coincidences, perfectly describes the concept on Synchronicity, an idea proposed by Carl Jung. Synchronicity basically refers to the phenomenon of meaningful coincidences happening with no casual relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. His hypothesis was met with an incredible amount of criticism, people labelled it as ‘pseudoscience’ and even referred to it as a philosophical concept.

Well, there you have it. Here are some coincidences and the possible explanations of them. I didn’t touch the subject of spirituality here because personally, I refuse to believe that a coincidence has some kind of upper world meaning or something of the sort. However, if you really are interested in it, I suggest you read this post by Deepak Chopra here.

I hope this pretty long post (kudos to you if you’re still reading this) has helped, feedback would be great!

 

References:


1. http://www.sciencefocus.com/qa/why-do-coincidences-occur
2. https://understandinguncertainty.org/node/130
3. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285238/Engaged-couple-discover-paths-crossed-Disney-World-toddlers.html
4. http://improbability-principle.com/

H U M A N

 

It’s in the whispers of the wind that blows through your hair,

It’s in every star that sweeps down on you in your sleep.

It’s in the endless dreams of our rambling mind,

And in every wish we wish with all our hearts.

~

It’s bound to our souls as it colours it with scents of memories.

It’s present in the pit of  our hellish passion,

It’s what makes us laugh until we can’t anymore,

It’s what makes us cry on our bathroom floors.

~

It turns us into monsters, pawing and scavenging,

It turns us into lovers, gullible and sick.

It tugs at our heartstrings as we win and lose.

And it decides the echoing melody in our heads.

~

It’s in the sun and moon, in the clouds and the skies,

It’s everywhere, it’s in us, it’s around us,

It is what makes us what we are.

Human.

~

[Featured Image Taken From Here] 

Sumedha Biswas

%d bloggers like this: