history · Life in India

Why I Am In Love (And Rightly So), With Humayun’s Tomb

I have always been very clear about my love for Humayun’s tomb. Why a tomb, a place for death, you may ask? When Akbar built the place, he did so to commemorate his father, who died a rather tragic death after falling down the steps of his library. Why then, do I find so much peace and love for the place?

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Opening my eyes to this view.

This Sunday, I decided to sit in front of the tomb, in the lawns, and contemplate my emotions for the red-and-white structure, which has enamoured me ever since I came to Delhi more than seven years ago. Writing an ode to Humayun’s tomb will not be enough.

When I walk around the tomb, I can see the past – the grandeur of the Mughal empire. The red walls, through their coldness, speak to me of the love of a son for his father. Nothing can go wrong here – wherever you look, you can see the blue minaret or the white dome – white, a symbol of such peace and tranquility. If you take a book and sit in the lawns, a lovely wind blows behind your neck, as if soothing you and blending you into the peaceful existence.

Thousands of people visit Humayun’s tomb every day. But, once I am there, all I can hear is the sound of the wind and the birds. All I can see is the tomb, standing in all its grandeur, beckoning me to be calm and think only good things.

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Monuments span beyond time and religion, for they belong to everyone, yet belong to no-one. The Taj Mahal may be a symbol of love for the world, but Humayun’s tomb is a symbol of peace and tranquility. When I play a song in my mind and walk around the monument, I feel a spring in my step, a twinkle in my eye. All my troubles wash away and I can only see the expanse of the red walls in front of me, as if telling me that life is way more beautiful than I can imagine it to be.

Which is why I will always love Humayun’s tomb, and rightly so.

 

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Life · Life in India · Opinionated

Which State Do You Belong To?

Which state do you belong to? – is the most common question faced by me, every time I meet someone new. Till I was 20, I used to answer – Mumbai, the city, not the state, Maharashtra. Somewhere, deep down my heart, I knew I was more a Mumbaikar, less a Maharashtrian. Now, 5 years later, I don’t know what to answer. My constant shuttling between the two cities Delhi and Mumbai and my ancestral lineage from West Bengal have confused me beyond my understanding. I am no longer too Bengali to be called Bengali, no longer too familiar with Mumbai to call myself a Mumbaikar, and definitely don’t know much Marathi or Marathi culture to identify myself as a Maharashtrian.

For the longest time in my youth, I vehemently denied being a Bengali. I hated to associate myself with Communist, monkey-cap wearing, Sreeleathers-loving stereotypical Bengalis, even though I had an upbringing consisting of Gelusil and Boroline, two of the most Bengali things ever. I didn’t want to associate myself with any stereotype, hence I preferred calling myself a Mumbaikar – I could easily identify my Bambaiya-hindi, night-life loving characteristics with the city and inadvertently be identified as someone ‘cool’, someone who came from that city of lights, colour, fame and Bollywood.

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It’s a weird world out there for people like me, who grow up in a different state from their ancestral one. Most of the time, we learn little of our culture, and unknowingly, try to hold on to it tightly without admitting it. I belonged to the same crowd. I loved Bengali food, Bengali culture, Rabindrasangeet, et al – yet refused to identify myself as a Bengali. Yet, emotions hit home ground the most when a dear friend from Kolkata called me a ‘fraud Bengali’, for not knowing anything about the Bengali culture, according to her.

I tried fitting very hard into every city – thinking every city is the place I can claim to be from. But, eventually, I realized, over time – I made friends not with people who were from a particular culture like me, but because we had a certain intellectual framework that appealed to our sensitivities.  My best friends are Sindhi, Syrian Christian, Malayalee Nair, Bihari and Baniya, all radically different from each other. Till 20 years back, it was unimaginable to befriend so many people from so many varied cultures and religions for my parents. Yet, this happened because I became part of a new cultural revolution – the Indian who is cosmopolitan.

I identify myself as an Indian more than anything else now, because I can’t see myself ‘fitting’ in anywhere, yet ‘fitting’ in everywhere. I don’t hate it when people tell me I remind them of a ‘stereotypical bong’ who says “ish” when she’s disgusted. I love it when people like the different facets of my personality and link it to my very Indian identity.

While stereotyping and being judgemental is part of being human, I also think it’s important for people to move out of their comfort bubble and see the world, because we Indians need to realize that the beauty of cosmopolitanism lies everywhere. Not ‘fitting’ into something conventional isn’t a bad thing. In the US, we have a half-Puerto Rican, half-Ashkenazi Jew entertaining us and he is currently touted as the next Michael Jackson. He’s none other than Bruno Mars. He’s a product of globalization and cosmopolitanism. Booker prize winning writer Arundhati Roy, who wrote The God of Small Things is half-Malayalee and half-Bengali. Yet, her understanding of Kerala’s culture in the novel is unparalleled.

It’s a wrong notion that if one leaves their state or marries outside their culture or identifies as someone else, they lose their culture. I know that deep down in my heart, some things about me will always remain Bengali. I know that even if I marry outside my community, I will never stop identifying myself as a Bengali. I will always celebrate Durga Puja, not Navratra. Because that is MY festival. There are certain traits I have latched onto, vowing to never let them go. Not because I like being Bengali, but because these traits define me.

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Yet, I hold on to my identity as a Delhi-ite and Mumbaikar ferociously too. I know my rich experience of a Mumbai local parallels that of a Mumbaikar, I know the roads of Delhi as the veins in my heart. These two cities are the mothers that taught me how to live life on my own, and I latch onto these identities too, albeit “shamelessly”.

I know there may be many confused folks like me out there. My surname is mistaken to be my identity on many occasions. I know who I am, but I don’t know whether I can fit into any classified identity. I can’t fit into that one bottle, for I am that free-flowing water, that can assimilate into any bottle you put me into. I can sing a Bollywood song with my friend from UP, I can dance equally madly on a Tamil tune with my friend from Hyderabad, appreciate that Bhojpuri song my friend croons, or eat momos with my friend from Manipur, loving to hear her complain how stupid it is when people can correlate things like momos with the North-east without knowing anything else about the region. I want to visit other regions of my beautiful country, assimilate more in other places, distorting my identity to the extent that even I can’t figure out myself where I fit into anymore.

I want to reach that state when I don’t identify myself with any caste, any region, any community anymore. Right now, I am that Bengali who speaks the language, but can be spotted with a Premchand novel in a metro. I am that Maharashtrian who grew up in the state but can’t speak Marathi. I am that Delhi-ite who knows all the party places in the city, but can’t tolerate the city at night. I am that small-town Durgapur/Navi Mumbai chick, who knows her world is just within a small city, where everyone she meets knows her.

It’s time we celebrate the plurality India is. Celebrate that Mallu who speaks Hindi with the heart of a Dilli-waala, that UP girl who loves Mumbai and identifies as a Mumbaikar for the freedom the city gives her, that Sindhi who speaks Punjabi, that Marathi girl who prides herself in knowing Gujarati and Tullu. That Indian who prides himself/herself for belonging everywhere.

Our complexities define us as the modern Indian who can move beyond barriers, accept each other as friends because of the thoughts we harbour, not because we pledge our identity to a certain community.

Which state do I belong to? I don’t know, guess I play for Team India now! 😀

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Life

What Is ‘Peace Of Mind’?

I know, I know. Confusing title. Either you give people a ‘piece of your mind’ or you can achieve a ‘peace of mind’. Both are extreme things in their own way, and I am definitely, cent percent sure that one would prefer the latter over the former. Right?

For the past one year, the only thing I have been trying to achieve is my peace of mind. Be it finding the perfect job or my soulmate, happiness is what the soul has been seeking, and I believe has been denied for the last 12 months. I kept thinking that all this is primarily because of my circumstances or the people around me. I hated my job, thought the people around me hated me, assumed everyone was out to get me and definitely did go through a huge phase of depression.

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I won’t say I am out of all that, and I know depression is scary. You don’t know to what extent you can go to harm yourself, you always think people around you are out to ruin your life, and make their best out of your misery. Of course, it’s natural to be untrusting and scared. We have seen what happens if we trust too easily, if we make easy assumptions about life being easy. You know what happens. It never ends on a good note.

I had literally degenerated into a hate boombox. I hated everything – my life, my house, my society, my country, my lover, my office, my pen, my clothes, my face.. not much was left to hate. And I don’t think what happened to me was abnormal, what I was doing was a result of a circumstance that had arisen out of my mental state.

There’s an identity I was running away from, a city I was scared to call my own, a life I knew I liked, but refused to acknowledge as my own. All of us want to be something or someone else, we aspire to be ‘better’, and not be someone we should be, or rather can be. Let me give you my example. When I first came to Delhi 6 years ago, I took an instantaneous dislike to the city. Why? Because I was ‘told’ that the men of the city stare at you when you walk, when I did face a couple of uncomfortable instances in the metro and on the road, and when my college life ended with the tragic Nirbhaya rape incident. All my assumptions and solitary experiences made me judge the city and its people.

To the extent that whenever I lived in Delhi, I craved to go back to Mumbai, make it my home. But, when you spend a considerable amount of time getting to know a city, you unconsciously make it your own. I had become a Delhi-ite in 6 years, without even realizing it. I knew more about where one can get the best sweets in Delhi, rather than in Mumbai or my long-lost hometown Kolkata. I liked heading off to Safdarjung or Humayun’s tomb whenever I got some time off for myself, to just stare at the marvel of those monuments and meditate. I liked the culture of Delhi, where people woke up in the morning to take a walk in Lodhi garden, or just read the newspaper and be so close and aware of the political atmosphere of the city.

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When I finally came back to Mumbai this year in April, I thought that this was going to be it. That I will make this coastal city that I grew up in my home, that I will someday, if not near the sea, but close the sea, will have my home.

I never realized that Mumbai embodied a spirit very alien to me. My politically active mind suddenly didn’t fit into this city that was more into a private sector-financially sustainable life. I didn’t want to be bound into a same desk job, partying hard at the end of the week. No, that’s not me. I am different, I am the girl who heads to an exhibition on her birthday, instead of partying at a disc. I am the girl who reads a novel on a lazy Sunday afternoon or watches a critically acclaimed film on Friday night, instead of heading out with colleagues for drinks.

I wouldn’t say I was disappointed with this discovery, but it made me take tough calls. I still remember picking up the phone and informing my mom that I left my job, leaving her livid and worried about my future.

But, what I have realized in this short span of 24 years is that one thing in life is something you should never let go of – and that is comfort. If you love your flatmate, don’t leave her unless you have to. Don’t leave your job unless you have to. Don’t take major decisions unless you have to. Life is better off on a comfortable note, because at the end of the day, all of us want to be happy, don’t we?

I am happy today, getting up in the morning, heading for yoga, resting my mind and using it for studying and reading up on things that are informative and make me feel wiser. I am happy heading to a space where I am happy and comfortable. I like living in Delhi, which, with its bad weather is still the city I connect with in every possible way.

I don’t know if I am over my depression, as I have heard that it never leaves you. But I feel that all of us who have gone through a rough phase have met depression on this road of life, but we have learnt to deal with it and make the best out of everything we have.

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I am learning, growing, maturing. Every experience I am getting is something I will be cherishing for life. For now I understand that without considerable struggle, no one moulds their character, and how much ever your parents try and protect you, you need to fall to learn to stand up again. You need to take responsibility for your actions, you need to learn to live on your own and most importantly, figure out your priorities and the person you are.

If you don’t like cooking, don’t do it. If you like music, pursue it. If losing weight makes you feel confident about yourself, do it. If being off social media makes you feel more secure about your personal life, do it. Do anything and everything that makes you happy. Because life was created with the intention of living happily, so don’t let that go and don’t let anyone make you believe that letting go of what makes you happy is better for the society or anybody else. Because you have to live this long life, not them.

Adios for now. Maybe I will retrospect more and share with you some more experiences of my life. You may or may not connect with them, but if you do- I want you to know that I am exactly like you, and we are not alone in this world. We will live, survive and live to be great, exactly the way you dreamt of it. Just duck all the bouncers, life will soon send across a straight ball on which you can hit a six 🙂 (cricket innuendo for those who don’t know about the game).