Monday, April 15, 2013

That ‘Tiffin ka Dabba’

I have to admit, I have even surprised myself this time with the topic that I have chosen to write here, but nevertheless I shall try and do justice to it. The idea actually took birth a few days back when I was editing an English course book for kids at my workplace which had a chapter on a kid and his exploits in school. He went on to talk about many things he does in school and out of that the Tiffin box makes a tiny entry. That very mention somehow transported me back in time and hence came this idea. I had actually always wanted to write something on the experience of my school days, which I will one day, but for now I want to explore another really not-so-important aspect of my growing up days in school: the Tiffin box.

During my kindergarten days, going to school, I remember used to be a pain. I do not have vivid memories of those times, but I do remember my Tiffin box and its contents. I had s small green coloured lunch box with a spoon in the front, back then and the contents would generally be limited to a couple of ‘sandesh’ and a few pieces of bread and butter or biscuits. Not much of a diet you would say, but for a four year old it was more than enough. I relished munching the sandesh though, it was blissful. The soft and tasty sweet would be wrapped up in a thin sheet of paper as I would take it out during lunch time and gobble it up sitting on the floor of my classroom as the others would look on greedily.

As I grew up, my Tiffin box and its contents too changed with me. However it is my primary days that I consider the golden period of my Tiffin eating days for many reasons. Primarily because of the varied memories it gave me. I think it was during my second standard that I had gotten a new Tiffin box then. I was thrilled then as it was the first time I was getting to use a ‘real’ Tiffin box. My father had bought shiny new lunch boxes for both me and my brother. It was a big moment for me then; exploring my white coloured, two cased lunch box and thinking of showing it off to my classmates. I remember it had a brown coloured bear drawn on its front, but as the years went by the bear too faded away. I would always envy my brother who would preserve his Tiffin box without a scratch for years at end, and mine would just be wilting away. I preserved that lunch box of mine for quite some time even after I stopped using it. I had my sentiments and whole lot of memories attached to it. It’s no longer existent but the box did not just provide me with food, it gave me a lifetime of memories.

Moving on to the content of the Tiffin box in my primary days. Those days, as I had just entered my teens, I needed more nourishment. Alu ki sabzi and roti would make for my staple menu for most of the days (It still continues though. Being a vegetarian does puncture your options a bit. Sigh!). Those were the days when we would eat our lunch as quietly as mice. All of us students would be seated on our benches quietly and without uttering a word would munch our lunch. However, the third standard gave us some liberty. It was during this time, that I discovered a new dish with my close friend. My friend would be very fond of the sabzi that I used to bring and he bought along a small box of bhujia with himself. So what we would do is to take his bhujia and mix it with my alu ki sabzi. My friend would prepare the mixture quite efficiently I admit and despite people giving us strange looks in the beginning, it tasted quite tasty I tell you. It was our special preparation and slowly it became quite a hit in my classroom. However, the greedy wolves that we were, me and my friend would never ever share ‘our’ special dish with anyone. In fact I had become so fond of the dish, that it would be the reason I would look forward to my lunch breaks. No sooner would the bell ring; me and my friend would get up, eat some of our staple lunch and then go on to prepare ‘the dish’. There would be one ball of mixture in my hand and one in his. We would smile at each and other and say a loud ‘Cheers’ before gobbling it up. It was foolish, but fun.

Apart from these there would be the occasional time when I would get to bring some other ‘special’ dish’ to school. They would be generally limited to paav bhaji or maggi noodles. Inconsequential as it may seem now, it would be a big thing for me to eat the cold paav bhaji or the yellow and sticky maggi noodles on occasional days. I would wait excitedly for lunch time on these occasions and would gobble up the remains of my lunch box in no time; showing off my spick and empty Tiffin box with pride to my mom at the end of the day.

I have another fond memory of my lunch days during my fifth standard. This was the time that my lunch breaks would be like that of being in an army school. Our horrendous P.T. (Physical education) teacher would make us eat without even uttering a word and wouldn’t even let us look at another fellow’s box. But me and a fellow mate of mine decided to be rebels. I do not know if this is how everyone else feels, but somehow in those days, we always used to like the contents of our other classmate’s boxes more than ours. And I used to just love my fellow mate’s lunch and he mine. He used to bring simple alu and sabzi too, but the taste would be different from mine and I would eye it greedily. We then decided to formulate a way out, without letting anyone know. I would quietly take one morsel from my box and putting my hand under the desk would pass it on to my mate. He would then do the same. It would take time to finish our lunch then, but it was cool. Doing something right under the nose of our ‘Hitler’ teacher, without anyone getting any inkling of it made us feel thrilled.  I used to like that guy; he was very simple and nice. After that I never really got the chance to meet him. I don’t know where he might be today, but I do hope that he does remember our little adventures. I know if ever he gets the chance to read this post, he will smile. Thank you mate; I still remember the taste of your alu bhindi. It was sumptuous.

As I grew up further the Tiffin box and its contents slowly started taking a backseat and were replaced by other more ‘important’ matters. As the shorts were replaced by full length trousers, the Tiffin box did not matter anymore and in fact it started becoming an embarrassment to carry. As hormones took control of your emotions, it suddenly seemed ‘cool’ to not have a Tiffin box to carry around every day to school and eat from the school canteen. In fact, even the days I would bring my lunch box; I would hardly give it any credence and eat hungrily from other people’s boxes. In these days, the contents of the Tiffin box would hardly last for minutes and would be devoured by us like hungry hyenas. The thrill of the lunch box had unfortunately been replaced now; it lay insignificant in my life.

And now, as I have graduated to being a man from the boy that I once was, I still do carry my lunch box. But its purpose is primarily to feed my hungry tummy in times of need. The thrill of a new box or bringing some special dish to share with someone no longer exists. However, a few months back when I bought a swanky new lunch box from a super market, I felt that thrill again, albeit feebly. Yes, I can be pretty childish at times. The next day however that thrill went away as I noticed my office colleagues eating somberly in the lunch room, without so much as a look at my new box. I opened it and ate quietly, perhaps a little disappointed as well. As I finished and was about to get up though, a female colleague exclaimed, “Hey, that’s a new Tiffin box isn’t it? It’s nice.”  I looked at her to see if she was kidding me. She wasn’t. I don’t know why I felt happy and perhaps a little relieved. I smiled and just said, “Thanks.”

It was lunch time at my work place. I waited for everyone to finish as I usually like to eat alone with my own peace of mind. The school story that I had read in the morning was still ringing in my head as I opened my Tiffin box. It was the same old alu ki sabzi and roti. I sighed and started eating. Then I noticed I had been given bhujia too that day. As I opened it I abruptly stopped; suddenly feeling a pang of nostalgia. I don’t know why, but I took out the bhujia, poured it on the sabzi and made a mixture with it. I made it into a small mixture and looked at it happily. The image of my school friend and me suddenly swam before my eyes. My friend of my school days would have been proud of me. I suddenly felt a strange pain in my heart, my eyes became a little wet and the throat went a little dry. I thought, “Me, the Editor of a book publishing house, making a stupid ball of alu-bhujia and feeling emotional about it; what was wrong with me?”  I just closed my eyes, and could now clearly see my school, the corridor, my class, me and my friend, and the mad cacophony of other kids. Everything else then became blurry, but just the picture of me and my friend making our famous dish was crystal clear. I opened my eyes again, but the image of us two still remained. I smiled weakly at us, took the ball of mixture and muttered ......... 'Cheers’.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Step towards a dream

The last time my name
appeared on print.
Nov. 2001:  Clutching the newspaper in hand, I ran towards my mom who was seated in her prayer room. I sat beside her as she kept mumbling some prayers. As my heart beat kept thumping like mad, I opened the last page of the newspaper and placed it on her lap. It was a full-length picture of me with my name under the section: ‘The tallest boy in schools in Kolkata’. My mom smiled warmly and pinched my cheeks; I felt happy. Then my father saw it and he too was seemingly very happy. However my brother saw it next and soon commented, “What’s the big deal in this? When you get your name for some ‘real’ and good stuff then start blabbing about it. You have just flunked in math, you should be ashamed at even trying to be happy.” My uncle and cousins smirked and laughed openly at this.  I was stunned and hurt beyond belief. That comment might have been made off-handedly, but it completely shook me up; hurting me deep within the core of my heart. All my excitement and happiness went down the drain.  As hot tears rolled down my cheeks I promised myself that day, “One day you shall see my name in print again. And that time it will be for a ‘real stuff’. Everyone will see it. I promise.”

I will not specify as to why I have mentioned this extract of my life here. The ones who will read through the end of this post, and the ones who know me genuinely, would understand its significance.   

There is nothing that exudes as much passion in me as a game of cricket does. Absolutely nothing comes close to it. Having been following it for close to two decades now, the game it feels is a part of me, and it feels I was somehow always meant to be associated with it. But then there are millions of others who think on similar lines and very few get that chance to actually do it. Destiny however has given me the chance to live my dream.  

Now I will admit I was a very average cricket player in my growing up days. But as I started following the game a little more ardently, I grew more focused towards being better. With the blessed height that I have, many would tell me to become a fast bowler. I would try and bowl with pace in my school matches, with decent enough results and that boosted my confidence considerably. That somehow instilled the idea in my head that I should perhaps take the game professionally. Barely in my teens then, I approached my family for wanting to join a cricket academy to hone my skills. The reply from my brother was on expected lines, “What? Cricket? Tell me how much did you score in your math exams last semester? Please get these rubbish ideas off your head…” And that was the end of the story as my family agreed with his opinion that studies are of course much more important than trying to follow a ‘dream’ that you are passionate about. Demotivated, I gave in to that part of my dream despite people and friends who would keep prodding me do otherwise.

However, what I didn’t give up was on watching cricket matches. The more the matches were played, the more hungrily I would lap it up. Those days there were no T20s, and yet I would watch as many matches as I possibly could. I remember, even following Test matches throughout the day with rapt attention. Soon my cricket watching habit too became a sore in the eyes for some family people and I was regularly chided for ignoring my studies and ‘wasting’ my time watching cricket. “What would you get by watching these people play? They are earning their money and going home. But look at you. Flunking your exams and wasting your time by watching useless matches.” – this was another regular rebuke that would come my way from my family folks. No one really cared to know that I really liked watching cricket. Instead I was made to feel astonishingly guilty for doing it.

However, I was a stubborn child, and would fight and try and catch the game without anyone’s knowledge, or by keeping the TV volume in mute. Those days with the restricted freedom that I had, it was quite a task. My cricket watching however was not just limited to India specific matches. I would also follow matches of different countries.  I remember getting up early in the morning to follow a Test Match between Australia and Pakistan, when a certain Adam Gilchrist had made his debut. I also had enjoyed watching the Test match where Brian Lara single handedly destroyed the Australians in the West Indies in 1999. These and many more would make for my staple diet of cricket viewing pleasure. I would also eagerly wait for the post-match analysis and pre-match shows of many matches and listen to the greats of the game airing their views. Listening to them really helped me a lot in building my cricketing acumen.

As I grew up I slowly accepted the truth that I can never be a professional cricketer.  But even then, I would somehow always feel that I still have something to contribute towards the game and I can still be a part of it in some way. I did not how; but that feeling never really went away. I refused to believe that I would just remain a cricket viewer. However, with the course of time there was another thing that I soon discovered I was passionate about: Writing.

In my school days I was an average student; especially towards the end. I had no particular goal as such, because I did not know what I could go on to become. Neither my school friends, nor my family thought that I would be good for anything. I was apparently useless and a ‘mastikhor’ who whiles away his time talking to girls on the phone. I was made to believe by many of them that I would never achieve anything in life. But then, there are certain weird ways in which life takes care of you without you realizing it. I was always a decent writer from my childhood days. In fact it was the only thing I was good at; writing good stories, essays and feature stories were my specialty in those days. But I never really considered writing to be a full time career. Fate though had other ideas, as in weird ways I got into a Journalism institute and there I somehow got the confidence to bring out the writer in me in full flow.

Months passed, and I honed my skills, worked really hard and finally ignited my passion. Writing made me feel good. It inspired me, made me get away from my troubles and also gave me confidence. Luckily at this time, I met friends who appreciated my work; in fact they were the first ones in my life that actually saw me for what I was. That is why; I really value a couple of them with my life. That gave me belief and I kept working harder, without looking back. Soon my efforts began paying off and I started tasting success from different quarters and slowly things started falling in place. I had found a passion and I wanted to submerge myself in it.  Subsequently, I got some work because of my writing skills and I now I kept developing it, and keep doing so till date.

It was during this period that I somehow got the idea to use my cricketing acumen with my passion for writing. I thought to myself that why not try and combine the two passions and see how it goes. I started slowly, writing cricket pieces in my blog and on a few different websites. Then in my last job, where I got hired as a reporter, I enhanced this passion further. Here I didn’t hold myself back and started by doing some cricket stories to build my base. In that job I didn’t even have a press card and neither was the company renowned. But I was hungry, and I wanted to try. I did my first genuine cricket story when I covered the renovation work of the Eden Gardens back in 2011. I remember that day, as if it was yesterday. I was nervous and skeptical, yet I collected my guts and approached the CAB head. Fortunately he agreed and later I went on to even build a good rapport with him. That day I also got the chance to step onto the actual field of the Eden Gardens. That feeling, I have to admit, was amazing. The feel of touching the lush grass and standing at the same place where Sachin had scorched the grass with his straight drive was something special. It was bliss.  The story came out well and it really gave me confidence to keep going further. There was no stopping me after that and I went on to do stories on people like Arun Lal, Pronoy Roy, a local umpire and even some Kashmiri cricketers who had visited our city then.  

However due to some unfortunate events, I had to leave that job and thankfully the job that I am currently in gives me the peace of mind to write my cricket  and other writings. Since then I have kept building my knowledge on cricket by reading magazines, blogs, columns, websites and similar stuff which helps me a great deal. I knew I had to prepare myself well, if I intended to be a good cricket writer.  But it was only in the later half of last year that I actually started to believe that I can seriously come into cricket writing. Thus a few months back, I stopped writing my cricket pieces on my blog and approached some genuine sports websites for it. Fortunately enough, I got the chance I was so desperately looking for and then there was no looking back. My cricket writings started getting published and they were appreciated by people I didn’t even know. Slowly but surely I was taking giant strides towards my goal. Then last month I approached a cricket website and a national cricket magazine of reputed media houses for possible freelance opportunities. I was skeptical doing so, but surprisingly things worked out well and I got on board for both of them. My time, I could feel was finally coming.

That feeling of pride. 
It was a couple of days back however that I would consider the biggest achievement of my life; bigger than anything else. I got the news that my article has finally been published in the cricket magazine I had written for. It was a sultry afternoon, and yet I literally ran to the news-stand. I picked up the magazine and ruffled through the pages excitedly, and there it was! My name right at the top of the page with my article. My name, in a full six page article for a national cricket magazine! Was this for real?  I was numb for a few seconds. Then happiness surged through me. I felt my eyes getting a little wet and I rubbed them quickly. I was so thrilled that I even showed my article to the newspaper vendor, whom I share a good rapport with. He was elated, in fact a little too over elated. He told me excitedly, “Sir, (Yeah, he calls me that for some reason) you should go to London. You should join BBC.”. I smiled and said, “Err thanks. I will see you later.”  I held the magazine tightly in my hands and kept looking at my name as I walked back to my office. Then I called my best friend, who is the only one perhaps who really knows and feels my passion for writing and what it means for me. I wanted to share my happiness with someone and his was the only name I thought of first.

For people who might be reading this; it would seem no big deal. However, only I know how I have managed to reach here. For me, seeing my name on print is a huge thing; it is EVERYTHING. The fact that my name is there in print, and can be seen by someone even in Kashmir now, howsoever insignificant it might be for them, is an uplifting feeling. I can be pretty self-critical at times, but this time I won’t. I have no qualms in admitting that I have inspired myself this time. My passion has been my inspiration. I have made myself believe that if you are really passionate about something and are honest and hard working on it, then things will eventually fall in place. You won’t even realize it, but things do happen to sort themselves out.

And now the journey starts. I have now been accepted as a freelance cricket writer for two genuine sports websites and a national cricket magazine. And now I am hungry, I have tasted blood and I want more. I am consumed with writing more and more. Bring it on. I want to work harder, and keep flying towards my dream. It is the path that I chose now, which will decide what I eventually become. Fate has now given me opportunities, and hopefully I will keep grabbing them with both arms. But this definitely is a start. A good start. A step towards my eventual dream of being a full time professional cricket writer.  This step though wasn't easy, and today I pat myself on the back for having taken that step. I do not know where I will eventually end, but it is this very step that actually made me learn quite a few lessons of life. That the only person you should believe in is yourself; that there will always be people who will pull you down, but it is your passion that should lift you up. That there are very few people who genuinely care for you and appreciate you from heart and you got to hold them for life. And finally, that if you really have the passion for something, you should never ever stop believing.

Today I feel like yelling, “I am glad I wasted my time by watching cricket. It is because of that I found my passion.” I wish I could go to that prayer room again and show this magazine to my mom. Unfortunately though, you can't get everything you want in life. But for now all I want to do is to keep moving ahead. I have reached the station and caught the train; and now it is time to enjoy the ride. I don’t want to look back at all the people who have hurt me, made me feel small and discouraged me in different walks of life.  All I want now is to be positive about my life and focused towards my goal.

It is time for me to rise now. It is time for me to fly…!!