Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

The other day I was talking to my friend and ex-colleague Subhomita Dhar. We started our careers in journalism in the same month in the same newspaper in Kolkata and then we both ended up in Dubai, although she first, me a few years later. She worked in the largest newspaper there and I worked in the biggest magazine house. We both became moms while balancing our jobs and then one fine day we decided to give it all up.

I remember it was my last day at work. I had finally taken the decision, something I felt I should have taken much earlier. Then I could have done away with developing cervical spondilosis, sitting with the baby on my lap all night and sitting at the desktop for 9-10 hours a day, that too exactly six weeks after I had given birth to my little boy.

My urge to hurry home as soon work got over to be with my son was not looked upon kindly by my boss. She always felt that sitting around longer meant more commitment and productivity and I on the contrary, felt that I was managing my time well enough to finish work in advance. The skirmishes became a daily affair and the issues remained perpetually unresolved.

I had always been an extremely career-oriented person and not having a full-time job was the last thing on my mind. I felt my job defined me. I loved my identity of a journalist, who had worked in the best newspapers in India. My pay pack gave me that financial freedom that I always enjoyed.

But the moment I came home my son clung to me in a way that would put an octopus to shame, stirring an emotion inside me that I never knew existed. When I had to carry him to the bathroom even to wash my face, that financial independence, that post I had acquired by sheer hard work, all started paling into insignificance. It took me 10 long months to finally decide that I wanted to be with him 24X7.

It was probably the hardest decision that I had ever taken in my life. Since the day I appeared for my MA exam I had never been jobless, and I was in office till 6pm on the night I went into labour. I was bordering on the workaholic, actually. But I guess my clingy son and an insensitive boss made me change my attitude to my job and life altogether.

But the day I put in my resignation I was determined about one thing that changing nappies and catching up on lost sleep was not the only thing I would be doing while at home.

Within two months I was sitting and writing the first draft of my book, freelancing a bit, I had started my own blog too and of course changing nappies. Little did I know then that I was also re-inventing myself.

So was Subhomita. She had continued in the job longer than I had done but as the days passed she felt her over-bearing nanny was taking over her home, taking decisions for her daughter and sometimes even for her. The final nail in the coffin was when one day Subhomita came home from a night shift and the next morning her nanny told her that she should have tiptoed and shut the door silently because she disturbed her sleep.

Subhomita Dhar gave up her full-time job to be with her daughter and today she is a fitness expert and runs her own fitness studio.

“But as I look back, probably the main reason I quit my job was to be at home when my daughter came back from school, I wanted to be there to hear her stories,” said Subhomita.

Subhomita decided it was time to take charge of her home. Like me it had never happened that she had not worked but she quickly settled into her at-home-mom role dropping and picking up her daughter from school, cooking and doing the housework but things didn’t end for her here either.

She had grappled with weight issues as a young woman and she was determined to change it all. She had been taking fitness classes earlier but now she had more time to devote to vigorous fitness training and learn the nuances of the training process. She started swimming and practicing healthy cooking and learning the virtue of a healthy diet.

We often met for kids’ play dates at the beach and at the coffee shop and we exchanged notes on our transformed lives and future dreams.

We both faced a lot of jibes and judgmental comments for our transformation into mushy moms from career women. But no one actually knew, probably not even us, that we were rediscovering our capabilities beyond our full-time jobs.

That was 2013.

I gave up my full-time job to be with my son and concentrated on writing and became an author.

In 2017 we are both back in India. She lives in Noida in NCR and runs a weightloss studio Dance to Fitness. I live in Kolkata now and I have two books to my credit, a novel Exit Interview published by Rupa Publications and another a collection of short stories Museum of Memories published recently by Readomania, both have been well read, critically reviewed and have been on the bestseller shelves for months. I am already on to my next. Blogging has allowed me to have a distinct voice of my own and I have managed to write some in-depth articles in international magazines and websites.

“I never thought I would run a business one day. I guess giving up my job motivated me to do different things. It’s a great feeling to make people feel good about themselves.”

Dance to Fitness (Crossing Republik) offers Aerobics, pilates, weight training and diet counseling only for women. It has been running successfully for close to two years now enriching the lives of hundreds of women.

This post is for all those who think that women are taking the easy way out by giving up their careers post childbirth.

You never know they might be just preparing to walk a tougher path and take up new challenges. It’s not being crazy to give up a job for your baby it’s actually, at times, an immensely sensible decision.

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The food stalls decorated during the South Point re-union at Wet-O-Wild at Nicco Park

The food stalls decorated during the South Point re-union at Wet-O-Wild at Nicco Park

The last time I attended the South Point School reunion was eight years back. So I was really excited when I walked into Wet-O-Wild at Nicco Park, recently, to attend my school reunion. While we had loads of fun here are a few realizations I had:

  • At the South Point reunion everyone talked about and looked for his or her “byatha”.

For the uninitiated this means the sweet heartache that comes from having feelings for someone. This could be also entirely one sided. While some were elated to find their byatha (in this case the person), some were dejected they didn’t, and some revealed how they ensure they keep in touch with their byathas on FB.

The clincher came from someone who asked me, “Do you know if X is coming?”

She was a few batches junior to me and X was her byatha.

I answered, “I really don’t know.”

Her hubby, looking dapper in a jacket, smiled.

I just nudged her and said, “Wouldn’t he mind?”

“Arrey nah didi. We always discuss our byathas. It’s okay. I even tell him when my byatha comes in my dream.”

Then I met another classmate, happily settled in Europe, who confided in me that more than spending time in his classroom he used to spend time in front of mine.

“Who was your byatha?” I asked.

I rattled off the names of the good-looking girls in our class. He stopped me at one name and at 41, blushed like a 13-year -old.

“She also lives in Europe. Maybe you can do a Dilwale Dulhaniya train journey one day,” I joked. He blushed again and this time the red wouldn’t leave his ears.

And those who actually found their byatha and had a word or maybe even shook a leg, were also persecuted by a few judgmental kinds, who probably feared their friends  were going to elope with their byathas that night or were plain jealous because they couldn’t find their own byathas.

One such conscience keeper in an attempt to embarrass a friend went up to him when he was dancing with his byatha, and said, “Would you want a picture together?”

The guy replied without blinking an eyelid, “Yes please. Post it on Facebook and make sure you tag my wife.”

Before I could react to this I saw A walking in then in a while spotted A’s ex-spouse B and then a while later spotted A’s second ex-spouse C with C’s current flame (I presumed. Now don’t blame me if this sounds like a riddle). All are ex-South Pointers.

The stage all set for the party

The stage all set for the party

  • Don’t cringe if you are called auntie/uncle

As soon I entered I heard a young girl shouting, “Auntie! Auntie!” I looked around and spotted my friend’s daughter.

“Which batch?” I asked. “2011,” she answered. I gulped. I am 1991 Madhyamik batch.

Then she put up her mobile cam and said in a sing-song voice, “Auntie selfie time. I have to send this to mom.”

I don’t know if I posed with a heavy heart or with a heart full of realizations, but I posed happy at the thought that this young girl, at least, wanted a selfie with me.

Back to our table I could hear my classmates laughing and saying the reunion crowd was strong in PYTs and oldies, we were not fitting in.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that probably when we again go to the reunion after another eight years we would be in the second group.

Because the last time I had gone I was 33 and never knew just eight years would make such a hasty difference on others’ perception about me.

As such my five-year-old, who, I was under the illusion, makes me look a young mom, is after my life to colour my greying strands.

Another classmate introduced me to her daughter, who is a tiny bit taller than me.

I had just started reflecting on my own age all over again, when her daughter said, “Aunty I really liked your book.”

I felt like telling her, “Call me aunty as many times beta, because your words are music to my ears.”

  • Most drank like it was their first sip from the bottle

People from all age groups were guzzling their drinks like it was their first taste of alcohol.

I guess the reunion reminded one of school days when you would sneak out a peg from your father’s wine cabinet and do the forbidden.  Hence school reunion is the time when one is reminded that one is allowed to drink as much one wants, with one’s own money and there is no guardian or teacher telling you that it’s not right. It’s a way of celebrating the long way we have come.

The spread at the do

The spread at the do

I asked a friend, “How many pegs?”

He answered very nonchalantly, “Seven.” Then he added equally coolly, “I topped it off with biriyani and kebabs and parantha from the Oudh 1590 stall.”

My head had just started reeling with the information when I saw a guy swaying precariously standing in front of me. Then he went down on his face.

A young girl in a mini skirt, looked at one guy in our group and said, “Uncle, can you please help me pick him up?”

My friend gave her a semi-disgusted look and unconsciously ran his finger on the hint of grey on his side burns,  then helped her pick up the sozzled guy.

I guess when you are neither too old nor too young you are just perfect to help in picking up the sozzled.

  • For once a girl was not judged for hanging out with 10 guys

When we were in our teens being the only girl in a group of 10 was a strict no-no. Somehow the presence of just another girl made the gender equation more acceptable. Growing up as a Pointer whenever we made plans to go for movies, pandal hopping during Pujas or any other outing, the question at home would always be, “I hope there is another girl in the group?”

I saw no logic behind the question but I think it kept us safe from the so- called social stigma of the tag: This girl only goes around with boys.

But at the school reunion a girl from South Point School – she could be 18 or she could be 50 – is free to mingle, dance, be tipsy, click selfies and hang out with those 10 guys of her batch, or for that matter any other batch, without being judged without being asked questions. It’s indeed a liberating experience.

I for once, screamed and danced to Jumma Chumma De De like there was no tomorrow.

  • The naughtiest are doing equally best

This time I met some of the naughtiest guys in my class. They were the ones who could never be disciplined, failed in class, were expelled and some passed with frightening marks.

I met a friend who actually had the cheek to come to school day after day with just a pen, without any school bag or exercise copies in the Xth standard and most of his time was spent standing in the corridor because he was punished.

When he felt like taking notes he would borrow paper from us and write and then crinkle the note and put it in his pocket maybe to bring it out only after the trouser had been washed.

But today he is in a good job and in one of the biggest corporations in Middle East.

Another friend said that he could click pictures with two batches because he had failed in the ninth standard. Then out of curiosity I asked him what’s his profession. He told me he’s lived in three foreign countries, is a citizen of one of those and a fourth one is his home now and he holds a good position in an insurance company.

Needless to say they are still the naughtiest, but they have made themselves the best too.

(Pix courtesy Kaushik Sengupta and Ranjana Roychowdhury Banerjee )

jhinuk4

Jhinuk Gupta is a tax lawyer and a brilliant singer

Apart from the fact that their names start with “J”, Jhinuk Gupta and Jhelum Banerjee have much in common.

I should start with their capacity to hide certain facts about themselves. While I have known Jhinuk from school, I never knew she started singing Rabindrasangeet at four and was a topper at the music school Gitabitan, a fact she never wore on her sleeves.

jhelum3

Jhelum Banerjee is a PR professional and singing is her passion

As for Jhelum the first day she walked into office I was quite excited to see a pretty face on TV (Jhelum was then working in serials like Bhalobasha Mondobasha and Ogo Priyotama) was going to be a part of a newspaper team. As I got to know her better I knew Jhelum continued to dabble in theatre and balance sales targets but I never knew she had so much music in her.

If some realizations are beautiful, it’s realizations like these. You know people for ages and then one fine day they take your breath away by their music, something they always carried in their heart, but you never knew.

Jhinuk’s rendition of Aguner Paroshmoni by Tagore during the staging of the dance drama Pujarini, at ICCR recently, had me in goose bumps and Jhelum’s Chhai Ronga Akash, a song which is a part of the album Kolkata Music Diary, which they launched recently, swayed me by its sheer passion.

These two women actually made me fall in love with Kolkata all over again. I realized,despite all the criticism, all our daily woes, all the issues, passion is still the crux of Kolkata’s social fabric. People still dare to dream, follow their heart and indulge in their passion.

Jhelum and team Kolkata Music Diary at the launch

Jhelum and team Kolkata Music Diary at the launch

Jhelum is now a PR professional keeping a hectic day job, yet she found the time to bring together a bunch of talented young people along with brother Pavlu Banerjee and cut an album that resurrects Mohiner Ghoraguli memories.

Jhinuk is a tax lawyer who followed the family tradition of joining the profession while keeping her love for music alive. Jhinuk is married to Rajib Gupta, the grandson of famous singer and music director late Pankaj Mullick, and in 2005 the husband-wife duo founded the Pankaj Mullick Music and Art Foundation, which aims at preserving the work of the maestro.

Looking at these two ladies I thought of my own passion for dance which got lost in a medley of day jobs, deadlines and duties. Or maybe I didn’t have enough music in me to keep the passion alive. Or did I?

Jhinuk and Jhelum taught me to think anew. I guess this is what real passion is all about.It makes others want to be a part of it.

 

 

 

Swati Singh worked with designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee for four years

Swati Singh worked with designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee for four years

I was meeting my old school pal Swati Singh after more than a decade. But I don’t know why sitting by the window of Café Coffee Day on Ekdalia I was filled with anticipation. Maybe this was because the Swati I knew was one of the prettiest girls in our school, she was a great dancer, a superb singer and a fantastic painter and I was waiting to see how she’d turned out after so many years.

Swati was working as an assistant designer with Sabysachi Mukherjee, the man who probably commands the highest price in India when it comes to his creations, and gets away with it too.

But during our conversation over the phone when we were planning our meet Swati told me, “I have quit!”

“Why…?”

“I will tell you when we meet,” was all she said.

I waited for Swati looking out for her red Maruti, the car in which we had travelled to so many movies, birthday parties and luncheons, not realizing that it probably hadn’t stood the test of time.

Swati emerged from a white car in a bang-on-trend black and white striped maxi dress looking like a dream.  When it came to complimenting her I did not know where to start and where to end.

“It’s all make-up yaar. If I want to convince others to hire me as a make-up artist the first thing I should show them is my own make-up, right?”

Swati likes to work on her own make-up to give people an idea of what they can expect

Swati likes to work on her own make-up to give people an idea of what they can expect

She told me she wanted to start off as a make-up artist on her own so she tossed up her four-year-old job with Sabyasachi that involved overseeing the production at his Topsia workshop and ensuring that each piece met the standards he had set.

“It was a wonderful experience, I learned a lot and I am grateful to Sabyasachi for giving me this opportunity but I wanted to pursue my own creativity.”

While she was excelling at her work at Sabyasachi’s workshop, her personal life was all about dealing with ups and downs. Being in an unhappy marriage for several years and later on dealing with the consequences of a separation was draining for Swati. But she believed in fighting it out.

“I knew that I had to start my life from scratch. I had to stand on my own feet, I had to move on. So many times I was on the verge of having an emotional and physical breakdown but I didn’t give up. While dealing with the mental trauma of a disturbed personal life I struggled to keep my creativity alive…”

Swati with Marvie at her hair and make-up academy in Mumbai

Swati with Marvie at her hair and make-up academy in Mumbai

She’s taken a professional make-up and hair styling course at the Marvie Ann Beck Make-up and Hair Academy in Mumbai and she is all set to step into the glamour world as a make-up artist. Swati’s also got back to painting, something she always wanted to do but never had time for because of her busy schedule and she is selling her work through her Facebook page which she has aptly named Colours of Hope.

“I know I am setting foot in a tough profession as a make-up artist because here nothing but word-of-mouth publicity will work for me and it won’t be easy but we have only one life and I don’t want to live with any regrets. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams,” she said with conviction.

She is starting off with bridal and party make-up but she wants to test her creativity with photo shoots and ramp styling too.

A Bengali bride before make-up

A Bengali bride before make-up

The same bride after Swati worked her brush strokes

The same bride after Swati worked her brush strokes

“I am taking one step at a time. I don’t want to rush things. There are some well-known make-up artistes in Kolkata and I respect the work they are doing. I hope and believe I will be able to make a space for myself here,” she said.

When I left CCD that day I kept thinking of the Swati I knew – a talented girl bordering on the shy sometimes, who never believed in breaking any rules and I thought of the Swati now – brimming with confidence, not afraid to live her dream.

Life has put her through the tests but she has transformed her negative experiences to emerge a positive person. She has mustered the courage to be what she wants to be. I couldn’t help but admire her for that.

Swati at work

Swati at work

Some quick questions I asked Swati and here’s what she said:

What’s the biggest make-up mistake we all make? Not blending the blush-on well which makes it look patchy and also neglecting the neck while applying the foundation only on the face.

One make-up item that can alter your looks drastically…..A well defined kajal or eye liner

A quick fix for unruly hair…Hair pulled back and tied into a tight ponytail at the centre or on one side of the neck. Taking small sections of the loose hair, twist and pin up forming a messy bun. Spray hair fixer generously. It looks very chic and works with every look.

A Bollywood actress you want to work with…Kangana Ranaut

A Tollywood actress you want to work with…Swastika Mukherjee

A model you want to work with…Noyonika Chatterjee

A challenge you want to take up…Life is full of challenges but the biggest and toughest challenge is to ‘maintain your smile’ at all times. I just want to keep smiling.

Swati's all-new visiting card

Swati’s all-new visiting card

 

Ullash Group raised Rs 3 lakhs 65 thousand during the Uttarkhand floods

Ullash Group raised Rs 3 lakhs 65 thousand during the Uttarkhand floods

When war and natural disaster unfolds in front of us on the television, we often want to do something to make a difference in the lives of people who have been affected by these circumstances. A common way of doing it is to donate in cash or kind to organizations who are working on the ground in these disaster zones.

But there are people who go one step further to make a difference. This story is about them. These individuals from Dubai took the initiative to knock on doors and within weeks raised money or gathered clothes to help out people dealing with crisis in their respective home countries.

Their story is inspiring because it doesn’t take a lot to be in their shoes. Anyone can follow their footsteps, all one needs is the will to make a difference. I tell you who they are and what they did…

Who? Ullash Group, a group of Indian (Bengali) friends 

Why did you decide to take the initiative? After seeing the TV grabs of the floods in Uttarkhand we could not sit around and do nothing about it.

What did you collect? We collected Rs 365,000 (Dhs21,778).

How long did it take you to do the collection? One week.

How did you do your collection? We got in touch with friends and colleagues. Amal Banerjee, who is a member of our group, told his colleagues at Ducast Factory LLC about our initiative. Each and every person in that company donated a day’s salary and that helped to increase the collected amount in a big way.

What kind of response did you get? Everyone contributed within their means, no one said no.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? One of us personally handed over the money to Ramakrishna Mission in Kolkata, India. The oganisation is building homes to rehabilitate thousands in Uttarkhand.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of this? We are a group which is into regular weekend parties, adda (chat) sessions and cultural meets. The satisfaction was in the fact that we could use our friendship and respective relationships to help other people.

Salam Al Amir went over to people's places to collect cash and clothes

Salam Al Amir went over to people’s places to collect cash and clothes

 Who? Salam Al Amir, Journalist, Jordanian

Why did you decide to take the initiative? I know how cold it gets in Jordan during winter and the thought of Syrians, especially children, weathering it in refugee camps without adequate clothing kept disturbing me. I just thought I had to do something about it and wrote down my intention on my FB status.

What did you collect? Some people gave me cash in order to go shop for warm clothes others gave me blankets and warm clothes. The shops where I bought warm jackets, hats and socks (mainly for children) donated some stuff themselves and other shops gave me real good discounts when they came to know my purpose. In all I had around 10 huge bags filled to the brim.

How long did it take you to do the collection? Less than a week.

How did you do your collection? I went over to people’s homes and offices to pick up the stuff (clothes and money).

What kind of response did you get? It was good. But some of those who responded with much enthusiasm on FB didn’t even get back to me later to coordinate how I could pick up their donations.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? I was going to send it to a close friend in Jordan so that he could deliver it personally. But then I came to know that there are certain procedures and donations had to go through an organizing body. I chose to send them with the Big Heart Campaign, organised by Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah. They are doing an amazing job.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of it? Frankly, I got very little satisfaction. I feel we should do a lot more but most often can’t because we are so bogged down by life’s responsibilities.

Nerry Toledo collected clothes and canned food for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan

Nerry Toledo collected clothes and canned food for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan

Who? Nerry Azores Toledo, PR Professional, Filipino

Why did you decide to take the initiative? Typhoon Haiyan left an estimated 4.4 million people homeless in the Philippines and I knew that somehow I had to do something to help in my own little way.

What did you collect? We managed to collect 12 boxes of clothing and goods combined.

How long did it take you to do the collection? It took two weeks.

Nerry couriered 12 boxes  full of clothes to Philippines

Nerry couriered 12 boxes full of clothes to Philippines

How did you do your collection? People back home needed basic things and I started talking to friends and colleagues if they could donate old clothes. I had some friends who were doing the same, so we joined hands and had a collection drive. Some generous people donated canned food even without knowing how I was going to ship it to the Philippines. Many people came over to my place to drop their stuff.

What kind of response did you get? It was an overwhelming response. I realized the world is full of kind-hearted, well-meaning people.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? During that time, the only way to send donation was through the courier. It was sent to a charity organization in the Philippines that was working on the ground. I also gave some of the collected items to people organizing similar drives from the Filipino community in Dubai so that they could ship it with their collected stuff.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of it? I sincerely strive to lead a purpose-driven life. In that way my life becomes meaningful.

Picture taken from internet

Picture taken from internet

At a time when Indian men are making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this story comes as a breath of fresh air – reinforcing the fact that there are more good men in this world than bad. This story is about four men, who went out of their way to make a difference in a woman’s life.

This story takes off when a few months back my close friend from South Point School, Joydeep Sengupta, who works at CESC and lives in Kolkata, was running his last check on Facebook before he retired to bed. A status update drew his attention.

Joydeep Sengupta didn't have Samrajni's address. He just knew he had to stop her.

Joydeep Sengupta didn’t have Samrajni’s address. He just knew he had to stop her from committing suicide

From here I am penning the story in Joydeep’s own words:

“Her message on FB said she wanted to end her life that night”

10.30pm

I had joined a group of like-minded people on FB. Few I knew in this group, most I didn’t and some I had met at a get-together organised by the group. Now the status that was in front of me was written by a lady named Samrajni Sengupta, who belonged to the same group. The update on her Timeline said she wanted to end her life that night because she didn’t find life worth living. I was in shock. I had met her just once at the get-together and knew from a common friend that she was having some issues in her marriage. Beyond that I didn’t know anything.

Within seconds other people had seen the message too and we started talking in the group wall, although there was no way of reaching out to her because she had logged out.

“I didn’t know where she lived but I left home to find her”

11pm

Once I recovered from my shock, I decided that I could not sit back at home and do nothing about it. I had to try and stop her. People in our group could tell vaguely that she lived in Garia, located in the southern fringes of Kolkata, but beyond that no information was available. Another member of our group, Sourav Sarkar, who works as a crew member in Air India International and lives in Behala like me, wanted to join me too. We managed to hail a cab and left for Garia.

Sourav Sarkar joined Joydeep in his mission to find Samrajni

Sourav Sarkar joined Joydeep in his mission to find Samrajni

“We wandered aimlessly on the streets as the minutes ticked by

12am

Let alone an address, we didn’t even know a proper landmark near her house. We just had the belief that we had to stop her, somehow. Standing in the middle of the road in the middle of the night, we were not willing to give up hope. Nor were at least 30 people from our group, not only from Kolkata, but even the US and other parts of India, who were all logged in and were desperately trying to use their networks to find someone, who could give her address. Finally, Somnath Chowdhury, a law graduate, who lives in Baranagar, and belongs to our group, said that one day he was travelling with Samrajni in the bus and she pointed at an apartment building and told him it was her home. He vaguely remembered where it was and could guide us.

“Monali Sengupta woke up her husband and told him to help us out

1am

While Somnath was on the phone describing landmarks to us and we were trying to follow his directions, the exasperation was building up. We were really worried that we might have lost all the time in our search and wouldn’t be successful in our mission. On top of that there was nobody on the road to ask for directions and all the gates of the apartment buildings were locked.

Meanwhile, Monali Sengupta, mother of a one-year-old, who lives in the same area, was awake and was just browsing through FB when she chanced upon our exchanges on the wall. She didn’t know any of us, just saw a connection through a common friend, but she woke up her husband Sayan Sengupta and told him to call me. My number was on the wall by then. She felt that since her husband knew the area well, he might be able to help in the search. At 1am Sayan came down from his apartment and joined us but we failed to find the building despite his help and Somnath’s directions.

Sayan Sengupta did not know any of them but joined them in the search

Sayan Sengupta did not know any of them but joined them in the search

“Somnath travelled an hour to join us”

2am

After trying so hard I wasn’t ready to live with the fact that I wasn’t successful in reaching Samrajni. Both Saurav and Somnath agreed with me. That is why Somnath decided to come down from Baranagar – which is located in north Kolkata and is more than an hour’s journey from Garia – to join us. He was sure if he was in the area he would be able to recognize the apartment building.

“At 2am Sayan took two unknown men home”

2.30am

Sayan didn’t want us to stand on the road and wait for Somnath, so he took us home. The fact that he did not know us at all, and that it was 2am, did not make any difference to him or his wife Monali. Sitting in their house, we all hoped and prayed together that we would be able to save Samrajni.

“We jumped over the wall of the apartment building to reach the watchman’s room”

3.30am

Somnath came and he managed to point out the building to us. We had no option but to jump over the wall in order to reach the watchman’s room. We woke him up and asked him if Samrajni Sengupta lived in the building. Initially he wasn’t sure who we were, but sensing our urgency and proper intent said he would take us to her apartment.

Somnath Chowdhury travelled for an hour in the middle of the night to ensure Samrajni was safe

Somnath Chowdhury travelled for an hour in the middle of the night to ensure Samrajni was safe

“We were not sure if we were too late”

4am

Samrajni’s father opened the door and was shocked to see the three of us – Saurav, Somnath and I standing there. We told him to call Samrajni without asking any further questions. He said she was sleeping with her door closed. I felt a knot in my stomach and a cold sweat. Were we too late? He knocked on her door and our heart was racing. She finally opened. We were almost jumping with joy seeing her alive. When we told her why we had come she just couldn’t believe it.

SAMRAJNI SENGUPTA tells her story:

“These guys came as messiahs and taught me to think anew”

I was in severe depression due to the situation I was in and had developed a suicidal tendency. I started feeling that if I ended my life all my problems would come to an end. After writing on FB that I would end my life that night I had started making the preparations for doing so. My mother, who had been keeping a close watch on me, sensed my intent and insisted on sleeping with me that night. I remember I kept crying and my mother consoled me and tried to put sense into my head. She stroked my forehead till I fell asleep at around 4am. Then father woke us up.

I was so groggy I couldn’t understand why Joydeep, Sourav and Somnath had come. When they told me I felt like they had come like a new morning in my life. I had reached the lowest point of my self confidence and felt the world was full of horrible people and bad things kept happening to me all the time. Their efforts and those of all the people, who stayed glued to FB to make sure that I was safe, made me believe that there is good in this world.

I am a 38-year-old divorcee with a 12-year-old son, who studies in a good boarding school in Kolkata. I did not take any alimony from my husband because it hurt my pride. I met this other gentleman on Facebook, who is in his early 50s and he wanted to marry me. We had a registration marriage and soon he took me to Dubai, where he works and lives, on a resident visa. There my nightmare started. He lived in a 10X10 single room, expected me to do all the housework and he turned into a pervert and sadist the moment he came home from work. He beat me up at the slightest opportunity. Once he even broke my arm and took me to a doctor a month later when I was screaming in pain. He constantly threatened to kill me and if I raised my voice, his brutality increased. I didn’t know anyone in Dubai and I couldn’t figure out where I could go for help. I just wanted to escape from his clutches. So when he agreed to buy me tickets to see my parents I found my escape. When I did not return he kept calling me and harassing me over the phone and he even told my parents that they were actually doing “business” through me.

I was also facing acute financial woes and did not have enough money to file a divorce suit against him. I thought death would rescue me from this mess.

But these guys came as messiahs and taught me to think anew. I have never thought of suicide after that night. I know no matter what, I will have to live for my son. Now I know these wonderful people are there to support me if I need them. I am not alone in my fight anymore.

The South Point High School building

The South Point High School building

Since last night I have been trying to remember names of films or books where a girl and a boy are childhood besties. Films like Parinda, Parineeta, Slumdog Millionaire came to my mind along with Chetan Bhagat’s book Revolution 2020. Then I thought of the same direction all the stories take – best friends fall in love as adults.

But is this the direction every close man-woman friendship takes? Not at all! And I am sure all my friends from South Point School would vehemently agree with me on this.

You might wonder what makes me or my school mates so easily answer this question that has been a point of debate for centuries. As students of Kolkata’s first co-educational school established in 1954, which went on to become the world’s largest school in 1984 (and stayed so till 1992) in the Guinness Book of World Records, we can talk about this with conviction because we have all experienced this.

I will start with an example. A few years back I had gone to Pizza Hut on Camac Street, after work with one of my best pals from school. One of his neighbours told his mother that he was spotted with a girl at Pizza Hut. Aunty became quite excited hoping he had found a new girl friend. She asked her neighbour to describe the girl. When she did aunty was disappointed. “Oh that’s Amrita. They are best friends and can’t ever be anything else,” she had said matter-of-factly. We still laugh about this incident but on a more serious note this shows that it was not only us who believed in our friendship, our parents also did.

Our school group enjoying Durga Puja 1990 at Triangular Park, Kolkata (Pix taken from Arpita Mukherjee Mitra's FB albums)

Our school group enjoying Durga Puja 1990 at Triangular Park, Kolkata (Pix taken from Arpita Mukherjee Mitra’s FB albums)

Growing up together, sitting next to each other in class, sharing tiffin, playtime and non-stop chatter, there were times we never realized that we were of the opposite sex. As teenagers when we became more aware of our bodies and our differences most often that did not make a difference in the friendship. I have had at least a dozen close friends, who are boys and who never fell for me or me for them. We have moved on from school, to college to careers to marriage, but even today we continue to be great friends.

Only last October we reconnected on Facebook and decided to meet during Durga Puja in front of an electronics showroom called Anandamela on Gariahat, a place where we used to meet during Puja while in Class IX and X, way back in 1989-90. When I reached Anandamela I realized I was the only girl and there were 9 boys, more precisely men. But I did not feel uncomfortable for a moment. And as the day unfolded and we picked up the threads of our past, weaving it onto the tapestry of our present life, over endless adda (chat), it felt like the years had not gone by. We were the same Class IX kids, not spouses, parents or career people, we were just great friends. We didn’t talk about who’s achieved what, who’s got which car or a new posh address or a recent holiday abroad – we just talked of school.

A recent re-union of the our South Point batch in Kolkata (Pix by Sanjoy Saha taken from our FB Group page)

A recent re-union of our South Point batch in Kolkata (Pix by Sanjoy Saha taken from our FB Group page)

I guess this is what makes our friendship so unique – the comfort level we felt with the boys. This is not to say love did not happen. It was not uncommon to see a small note tucked in your notebook, a card with a heart sign on your birthday or someone loitering a bit too often in front of your class. But there was something cute about these advances too. One didn’t feel harassed or stalked. If a girl said no boys accepted with dignity or vice versa.

When love blossomed what was amazing was the seriousness with which some of them pursued that love. Most had the earnestness to carry forward a school romance to marriage (some romances, of course, petered out in school itself). Sometimes when I see the photographs of a few of my classmates, who have married, on Facebook, it brings a smile to my face thinking of their accomplishment. As a friend of mine, who has married a classmate, told me recently, “We are still great friends. We are equals in the relationship sharing household chores and parenting duties.”

I guess this explains the crux of friendship in South Point School. We were always equals in every way. Our school was also a great leveler in the sense we had friends belonging to every kind of financial background. We learned to love people for who they are, not for what they have.

Today South Pointers are spread all over the world but I am sure there is one thing they all believe in,  a man and a woman can be great friends – all their life, no matter what Parinda and Parineeta say.

That’s a relationship we all cherish.

Happy Friendship Day !