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Random Rambling of Bohemian Soul

আমার খুব শখ আমি এমন বাড়িতে থাকি যেখানে, গোলা ভরা ধান, গোয়াল ভরা গরু আর পুকুর ভরা মাছ থাকবে। জন্ম সূত্রে আমরা এমন শহুরে যে, আমার বাবা মা কখনও গ্রামে থাকেনি, গ্রাম দেখেনি, ফলে আমারতো কোন আশাই নাই। পুরানো ঢাকার পুরানো বাসায় বড় হবার সুবাদে, তবু কিছু গাছ-পালা দেখেছি। পেয়ারা গাছে উঠেছি, মেহেদি পেড়ে বেঁটে হাতে লাগিয়েছি, ফুল লাগিয়েছি, বাগান করেছি। কিন্তু বর্তমানে পুরানা পল্টনের সেই দোতলা বিশাল বাড়িটা নাই, আমার পেয়ারা গাছও নাই আর সাধের বাগানও নাই।

ঢাকার ফ্ল্যাট বাড়ির কোনায় পড়ে থাকা বারান্দাই আমার শেষ ভরসা। তাই সেখানে টবে টবে গাছ লাগিয়েছি। পাশের বিশাল বিল্ডিং ভেদ করে সকালে কিছু রোদ পাই, কিন্তু তা দিয়ে ফুল ফোটানো, ছেলেদের পেটে বাচ্চা হবার মতই অসম্ভব। তারপরও আমার মালির ভিটামিন আর ওষুধের জন্য কখনও শখনও দুই একটা ফুল ফোটে বৈকি।  কখনও টগর, বেলি, জবা, কামিনী, গন্ধরাজ, বাগানবিলাস, লিলি ইত্যাদি। আবার মাঝে মাঝে তুলসি, লেবু আর দুই একটা ঔষধি গাছের পাতা ছিড়ে ভণ্ড কবিরাজি করি। আর আছে এক টবে ঘাস। জবা কামিনির মতই আমার প্রিয়, সবুজ চিকন পাতার ঘাস। ঘাসের টবে হাত বুলাই আর মনে মনে ভাবি, এই বুঝি আমার সাধের বাগান, আমি হাঁটছি, নরম ঘাসে পা রাখছি, মনের লন আমার। একটা ছোট টবে এক টুকরা ঘাসের প্রতি আমার আহ্লাদ দেখলে আমার বর হাসে। আমি যখন বেড়াতে যাই আগেই শর্ত থাকে, যেন কোন ইকো রিসোর্টে না যাই। গ্রামে বড় হওয়া বরের ইকোকে এডভেঞ্চার মনে হয় না, যন্ত্রণা মনে হয়। ও বুঝে না, ছোট বেলায় গ্রাম না দেখার লোভ আমার আজও যায়নি। ও বুঝে না, সত্যি আমি চাই গ্রামে থাকতে। তবে আজকের জামানায় গ্রামে থাকতে সাহস লাগে। ছেলে সানবিমস-এ না পড়লে যেহেতু পাড়ায় আমার মান থাকে না, তাই অগত্যা কোনার বারান্দার এক টুকরা ঘাসই সই। 

ভাগ্যক্রমে গ্রামের ছেলের সাথে বিয়ে হওয়াতে আমি, আমার বাপ-মা সবাই অন্তত গ্রাম দেখলাম। যে বাড়িতে আমার বিয়ে হয়েছে, সে বাড়িতে ধান আসে, বতর আসে, গরুর দুধ হয়, মুরগি ডিম পাড়ে, নিজের গাছেই হয় মধু, পুকুরে আছে মাছ, ক্ষেতে আছে সাক-পাতা সব্জি। আমার শাশুরি আদর করে পেঁপেটা লাউটা, দেশি মুরগির ডিম, ফরমালিন ছাড়া পুকুরের মাছ, ক্ষেতের পেয়াজ পাঠায়। আমি মহা-সমারহে মা-কে দেই, নিজেও খাই। বলি মা, দেখো, দেশের থেকে আসলো, একদম ফ্রেশ। 

আমার বড় শখ, আরশান বড় হয়ে গেলে আমি বাঁশগ্রামে চলে যাব। আমার ক্ষেতের শাক-পাতা, পেয়াজ, ধান-চাল নিয়ে থাকব। আমার বারান্দায় রোদ আসবে এত যে আমি বলব, এত রোদে কি কাজ করা যায়, বৃষ্টির দিনে পা টিপে টিপে হাঁটব আর বলব কোন ভুতের প্রভাবে যে গ্রামে আসছিলাম, কিন্তু মনে মনে আমি জানব যে আমি স্বর্গে আছি। টবের ঘাসে হাত না বুলিয়ে বাইরের মাঠে হাঁটব খালি পায়ে শুধু এখন আরশান বড় হওয়া পর্যন্ত ফরমালিন, কার্বাইট আর কীটনাশক খেয়ে সুস্থ থাকতে পারলেই হয়। 

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/is-it-winter-yet/
Date: Published: Sunday, November 17, 2013

It is 6 am and I wake up to a rooster crowing. Somewhere. Looking out through the window I see the world is covered under thick fog, nothing visible. I suddenly feel a shiver a cold wave through my veins and take a deep breathe. Ahh, winter is here. Just when I was about to go back inside the warm comforter I heard loud noises from the kitchen and remembered we are scheduled for our annual pitha breakfast. Without delay, I rush out of the room and see my mother-in-law already up and running. She is in her outdoor kitchen preparing for the grand pitha breakfast. Bhapa pitha, chitoi pitha, shaak ghonto, khejurer rosh and hot malai cha. Slowly one by one each one of us wake up and line up around her, sit near the fire, and wait for our share of the heavenly bliss. Everyone is wrapped in warm clothes, some even sporting monkey caps. The kids are running around and taking occasional bites from us. We, the adults, share jokes while the matriarch gives her creations final touch and serve.
My mother-in-law with her trusted supporting team will sit in the middle-right, right next to the lakrir chula and make pitha relentlessly, as long as we demand for encore. From the pan straight to our plates. Orders come rushing: some want more gur, some less, some hate coconut shavings and some want loads of it. Pitha tastes heavenly; in case I haven’t said it already. The gur has been readied a week back from fresh date juice. Rice flour has been made from the finest rice harvested recently. Coconuts picked from the trees around the house. The overwhelming freshness creates an intangible wall around you. It takes you to a dreamland with the first bite. The tenderness and balance of sweet and savory is just perfect. After an hour or so I realise I must get out of the kitchen before I overeat and can’t move. Then one of us moves to the other side to boil fresh milk to make malai cha, someone adds molasses to that tea. Nothing compares to this kind of a morning.
And then I come back to my senses as my son calls me to help him fix his toys. I look around and I see I am in my bedroom, in our apartment in Dhaka. No makeshift pitha kitchen; no pitha at all. I get some chitoi from a street vendor and boil 1 litre of Dano full cream milk and add some molasses which has been sitting in the fridge for a year. A perfect pitha morning in a village has colours and character that the urban dining table pitha fest has nothing on. One who has seen and experienced both knows what I’m talking about. While my mother-in-law gears up for her annual pitha affair, I daydream about it, make a poor version of it, and wait for our winter vacation to arrive. I have a spare seat in my car this year, anyone interested?

Bohemian Soul is a working mother of a 6-year-old. She would much rather bake and write poetry all day but knows how to keep it real.

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/once-upon-a-time/
Date: Sunday, November 3, 2013

There was a time when I lived in a house with 34 members of my family. There were sibling fights, sad days and deaths but those were the golden days. They were packed with playfulness and sheer joy. The head of the house, my grandmother, was like the sun — centre of our universe. Everything used to evolve around her and her wishes; the menu of the day, responsibilities, chores etc.
It was a big house with many rooms and never-ending stream of guests. There was a garden full of roses, dahlias, chrysanthemums, magnolias and believe it or not, sunflowers. There were guava, mango, coconut, jackfruit trees and henna, beli, shuili plants as well. There was an aata gachh, (custard apple tree) too. It was an old building with a long veranda that was accessible from all the rooms. Usually after coming back from school, when everyone used to nap around 3pm, it was only me who toured around the house and embark on little adventures. Thus I earned the nickname “manager of to-to company”. My favorite thing to do was to keep an eye on the aata gachh and see if there was any parrot sitting on its branches, or whether the guavas were ripe enough to eat. There were monsoon days when I stayed out in the rain to my heart’s content. I had 10 cousins living with me who were of various ages and we were brought up as siblings.
Hardly a day passed when we didn’t have guests and I didn’t want to go back to my desk. In the afternoon we used to sit together, almost all 35 people, for tea and puri or badam at the courtyard. The courtyard was the venue for all our family events — starting from ga-e holud, birthdays, death anniversary milaad, and in some cases, weddings too.
A part of the garage was rented out to a chips maker-vendor. We used to run to “Molla” for chips and asked him to take the money from the elders. Life was perfect. We had indoor badminton tournaments, football matches and the typical borof paani games in the courtyard. It was a big fat family you can only see in the movies now.

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/qurbani-eid-then-now/
Date: Sunday, October 13, 2013

Standing at the long veranda of our family home in old Dhaka, watching men of the house getting the cows in through the main gate marked the beginning of Qurbani Eid, when I was a child. Everyone would gather either at the courtyard or the veranda and make observations about the cows.
quarbani EidOf course the elderly people would scrutinize and provide running commentary on the cow being too thin or something unsatisfactory about the teeth. The women of the house would instantly start booking pieces of the cow for nehari, kebab, roasted cold cuts and meat loaf/pies. The kids would be just excited to have a short term, limited edition zoo in the house. Kids would be feeding the animals and cleaning up after them, under the supervision of the guard of the house. The cows would be given names. We, kids, would rush to the backyard after returning from school. As it was a joint family, every year we had more than five cows and several goats.
On the eve of Eid, we used to get dreadful insights into the psyche of the cattle from the guard or the help. They used to tell us things like “these animals know they will be slaughtered tomorrow morning, look they are crying, all of them are saying goodbye to each other”. Listening to such gut-wrenching stories, we used to get strange feelings, and I remember I couldn’t eat meat for a long time. I was convinced that the cows were aware of their fate.
Then came the morning; all dressed up we used to stand at the veranda, watching the poor animals being slaughtered. One of the boys from our family would do the honour of making the first cut, then the Maulana would complete the formalities, and finally the butcher would get to work. By afternoon as the kolija or brain would get all spiced up, ready to be consumed, at the upstairs kitchen, the yard would be cleaned with bleaching powder — leaving the entire house smell weird. That was Qurbani Eid for us. The entire city smelling of innards and bleaching powder for days.
After getting married I went to the rural home of my in-laws to be with them during Eid. There, all the cows are taken to a particular field and the rest is taken care of by the people in charge. The one-third of the total meat that is for the house would naturally arrive, another share would be for the relatives, and the rest would get equally distributed among the poor households who can’t afford a Qurbani. It isn’t like what we see in the city — the same people asking for meat and getting more than they can consume, and on the other hand some not getting any.
As I’m supposedly a “grown-up” now, I stand in my mother’s shoes — thinking and planning, browsing the recipe sites, deciding on a menu focusing on beef, stocking up spices and making all preparations. I haven’t noticed this shift so thoroughly until I started writing this. The men still talk about the market price, which haat to go to, and the kids are again partly excited and partly traumatised.
Have a great Eid!

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/unattended-books-on-my-shelf/
Date: September 15, 2013.

During schools days, challenged with class tests every week, I had an immense eagerness to read books. I used to have yellow lights in my room so that I could read after my parents went to bed. I used to carry books with me to the dining table, journeys everywhere. Gone are those days when I couldn’t eat or sleep without a book. These days, months go by without reading a single book. Not that I am working so hard that I don’t get the time. It is just that after the daily, mundane chores I do not have the energy left to read anything other than what I MUST read (e.g. grocery list).
Now, “the must read” part is a bit tricky, certainly recipes and Facebook statues are not a must read. However, I realised, the amount of recipes I read in a week, if I accumulate all, it would be two fat novels a week or more perhaps. Also the time I spend on Facebook — reading not so important memes, statuses, notes, comments and shares — affects my desire to do some actual reading.
If you really think about it, 24 hours is a lot of time. You can sleep, eat, work, socialize, do more and still have some time left. If you spend time efficiently, you do get to do things you want. I hate any issue that makes me look or feel inefficient; money and time top that list. Each month, towards the end, I sit looking up at the sky and wonder where did my money and time go, what fun I had in exchange of the two most precious resources I have.
Traffic jams are the best time when you can engage in reading. Every day I spend almost two to three hours on the road, in traffic. From now, my traffic jam resolution is to finish those 26 books on my shelf. Or I can become “digital” and go for audio books. My son loves his books too; he spends quite a good amount of time each day turning the pages and trying to read, or rather pretending to read. I can’t explain how grateful I am for this. His recent interest in books has inspired me a great deal to get back to reading too. I better get started; it’s a long list of books.

First published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/back-to-school/
Date: Sunday, August 25, 2013

I love stationeries. Pens, pencils, pencil box, geometry sets, page markers, paperclips, files, new books — all these thrill me. I always need new, sharp, colourful and varieties of stationeries to keep me glued to my desk (now my work station). Good and attractive stationeries motivate me, to at least attempt to get going. Even now, in my handbag, besides finding a lipstick or an eye pencil, you will certainly find a stationary kit with two to three kinds and colours of pens, pencils, markers, erasers, sharpeners and much more (if you’re lucky, might even find a small stapler). I’ve always possessed bright and of course less durable fancy geometry boxes. My geometry boxes usually were loved by the entire class. That couldn’t help me get great grades in geometry but that’s a different topic altogether.
Another thing I love is “back to school day”. No matter how bad the results were, or how traumatising the previous class teacher was, I always loved going back to school, to a new class with new books and a set of new stationeries. I always needed everything new. My mother told me, it is a tradition to use the old ink pen for years and how people have used it for generations. I, however, never felt that way. I wanted EVERYTHING new. I still vividly remember the first time I bought a fountain pen and an ink bottle. My mother bought me a silver capped, green Parker pen and Pelikan royal blue ink. The refilling sessions were overwhelming in the first few days.
I never realised I missed those days until very recently, when I was wrapping my son’s textbooks. It took me back to the good old days; a walk down memory lane. “The Radiant Way” character Tom, who sings, or Little Miss Muffet suddenly seemed like long-lost relatives. While organising his pencil box, colour pencils, notebooks etc, I suddenly got this urge for that first Parker pen, that green and yellow geometry box my uncle got me from Germany, and that pretty pencil set my father bought me after I recovered from paratyphoid in class three. My rhyme books, “Amar Boi” or even the Wren and Martin grammar book — I wanted them all. All those memories were rushing back to me. I am glad — thanks to my son — I got to reconnect with them.
Starting this year, I have decided to celebrate the “back to school day” with my son. I have decided to bake a cake (my idea of celebration, on any occasion) and prepare him for the challenges ahead. “Back to school day” is again back in my life — in a different form. More challenging days this time. I bet the rewards will be sweeter and failures will be harder to accept. It is back, nevertheless. With that I wish all the best to all the mothers who are going back to school once again.

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/a-gift-from-heaven-at-my-make-believe-lawn/
Date: Sunday, July 28, 2013

There are times when something small and otherwise unnoticeable makes your day. This was one of those mornings for me. After waking up, I opened the door to the balcony and was overwhelmed by this heavenly perfume. My heart skipped a beat — beautiful, pearly white gondhoraj in full bloom. Oh My God! After much perseverance, effort, and praying from my end, they finally decided to show up. I felt like looking at the flowers all day.
A significant part of my time has been invested in the garden I have tried to create at my balcony. I grow a few kitchen herbs, decorative plants and white flowers that can grow in limited space, with minimum direct sunlight and air. I also have a pot of grass; I call it my make-believe lawn.
In a city like Dhaka where life is anything but “fresh”, this is a little piece of heaven I possess. In the beginning when I started gardening, I could never keep the greens look, well, quite as green as I wanted. Slowly, with time I started to understand them — when should I water more, if I should move the tubs and so on. It comes naturally to you, not much effort is required. However the two men at home are totally oblivious to my green thumb. I dragged both to the balcony to admire the beautiful vision. Both said “Oh…flowers.” “Oh…flowers”? And that’s all the enthusiasm I heard for the remarkable sight and smell.
I asked myself, did I start gardening for them, or for anyone else? Do I want applause for my accomplishments, or is it for myself only? I came to the conclusion that I did this entirely for myself. Because it makes me happy; makes my balcony smell heavenly; gives me a reason to smile, a reason to wake up early in the morning, go to my make-believe lawn and feel like I’m walking barefoot on a green carpet of grass.
Very recently I started doing yoga at the balcony. But then I figured I have turned into a local entertainer, and decided to take my act indoor. Early in the morning, five to ten minutes of absolute silence at the green balcony gives me a certain kind of bliss that replenishes my energy.
These are feelings you need to feel, need to have inside. Maybe everyone at home will not understand the importance of that particular white flower, but as long as it makes you happy, stimulates your mind, and gives you a positive feeling — by all means, cherish it.
Bohemian Soul is a working mother of a 6-year-old. She would much rather bake and write poetry all day but knows how to keep it real.

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