Life… it changes.

I’ve been missing for a few months from this blog now. I just did not find myself reaching out to write about anything. Dhaka has been like Dhaka – what it normally is. it’s noisy and chaotic and then there are amazing moments like summer storms and the fever of the national cricket team beating the neighbors in a historic win. My love for Dhaka has been pushed through the paces as it does every day.

And now I am to leave it all behind.

This is not a surprise. I’ve known I would be leaving; I’m the one who initiated it. I’ve typed in my essays; I’ve gone through the hurdles of standardized test scores, of picking schools, researching programs, getting recommendations. I’ve mentally prepared myself and my family that I plan to undertake a big change in my life soon and we should all fall into line. Now the last bit of formality is done.

Then why does it feel like such a big surprise?

I am not ready for this at all. Everything, and I mean, everything tangible around me is changing. I’ve lived in this one city my whole life. I’ve lived around these same people. While I’ve always dreamt of starting a new life, taking on a new adventure, when I’ve finally able to do it, it suddenly seems a bit nerve wracking.

It’s not that I’m moving to a new city.

A new country. Half way around the world.

I’m a mixed bag of emotions now. On the one hand I’m incredibly excited that this is finally happening after so much hard work. I’m so looking forward to starting this new phase in my life. It’s a new wonderful place and all I see around me are opportunities.

But my heart still yearns for the familiar. My family, my friends, my life here seems too precious to just uproot and leave behind.

We are all made of the experiences we have and the people in our lives. When I leave, I will leave behind a part of myself among Dhaka City and the people I love. I will be a different person from leaving behind that part of me. When I start that new life I will get new experiences and meet new people who will change me again.

Maybe it’s not just the moving and the change. Maybe all I’m scared of is meeting this new me.

The Balloon Man

I work in one of the busiest areas of Dhaka City. If you want to get a taste of the rush of Dhaka, you need to stand in the Gulshan 1 Circle for five minutes [preferably holding on to another person for support]. People cross roads wearing their heart as a protection helmet, rushing into oncoming traffic as though the cars are made of air. If you stand still, the oncoming rush of people and motorcycles [two-wheelers rarely use the roads in Dhaka, they prefer to think the pavements are made for them and honk on the people trying to walk there] will drag you along – a lesson about life itself.

A few days ago, I was standing in the middle of the pavement in this busy area during rush hour. The evening was comfortably cool and uncomfortably busy. I was surrounded by office-goers, shoppers, families, street-vendors and a hundred different types of people going about their day. I had an arm full of groceries. As I waited for my ride, I stood next to a shoe store, and found myself contemplating my experience of the city, always good fodder for the next blog post for my often-ignored little blog.

My eyes were drawn to a man sitting quietly next to where I stood. He was old, wearing a long white panjabi and lungi. He had an impressive beard and wore a traditional cap on his head. And he held a large bunch of orange and blue balloons in his hand.

Balloon Man
Balloon Man

I had seen him around that road a few times before actually. He sold balloons in the area. I had often wanted to buy some from him to keep in my room – just to brighten the place up. I would like to believe we are never too old or too lost to buy balloons for ourselves.

Balloon-man was content to stare at the world pass him by, holding on to his balloons, not even bothering to approach potential customers for a hard sell. It was like he had taken it for granted that nobody was in the mood for his balloons that day in that busy street.

I put my paparazzi skills to use and furtively took a picture. I wanted to ask his story. I wanted an orange balloon. I wanted to haggle over the price and figure out if this is all he’s ever done. Had he always sold things on the sidewalks? Has he come to hard times? Why on earth did he look so wise and peaceful? Why was he not trying to sell his balloons?

But I couldn’t. I could not gather the courage to walk up to him and ask for a balloon, and have a thousand people turn their heads as they passed me by, a young female standing in the busiest road in Dhaka, holding groceries and an orange balloon floating over her head.

I do not blame the city or the people who would stare. I blame myself and my own hesitance to be uncomfortable for a few minutes and trade money for a balloon. I also blame the thoughts in the man’s head and the stories that he kept. I was too intimidated to break his quiet contemplation of the world. I just did not want to bother him.

I left Balloon-man sitting on his perch, the balloons floating calmly as he did in his thoughts. I look around for him when I pass that place now. I have not caught him since that day. If I do see him again, I’ll get myself a balloon. Hopefully that day, he will just be an ordinary balloon-seller, and not the most interesting, most intimidating person in the busiest intersection in Dhaka City. If he happens to be that again, hopefully, I will not be a wimp.

Biryani Blessings

Winter is the season of weddings. Actually these days in Dhaka, the whole year is the season of weddings, but winter is especially tight. Winter is perfect for the Technicolor, intense, chaotic carnival that our weddings are. Winter is also the time a lot of people making their homes outside Bangladesh choose to visit, and invariably these temporary migrants either come to get married, or attend someone’s wedding. So for the last two weeks of December, I was not surprised that I had a wedding event to go to EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. Yes they were of different people, and mostly different events of the same three or four weddings. But during winter it is not unusual for many of us to attend several events on the same night, especially on holidays and weekends. A lot of people hate the season for this. There are just too many clashes and too many places you have to be in a frenzied attempt to not upset the hosts. Bangladeshi’s believe that happiness increases the more people you share it with. Over the years I’ve found myself being invited, turning down and attending weddings of people I have never met, just because I am known by association. I appreciate the sentiment and I never miss one I should not. But then after every single night of dressing up and doing the same thing over and over again, I find my resolve to attend wavering. However there is the one wedding staple that I always consider before turning down an event – the wedding biriyani.

The biriyani – this fabled rice dish’s origins are a little murky, being known to hail from Mughal and Hyderabadi cuisine in India. The word itself is Persian. But wherever the origins are, it has made a stable and beloved home in the kitchens and stomachs of Dhakaites. No proper wedding celebration in Dhaka is complete without a decadent Kacchi Biriyani (Biriyani with mutton and potatoes) served in at least one of the events.

No matter how amazing our moms are and how formidable the cooking skills, even they cannot replicate the Wedding Biryani. It is so good, that I love Kacchi Biryani with a passion – and I never eat mutton any other time. It’s just simply different in its lusciousness and depth of flavor. There is no finesse in the actual cooking. Giant pots that reach my waist are filled with rice with an assortment of spices and ghee and cooked on the ground on open flames. The meat and the potatoes are cooked separately, and then combined with the rice. The pots are then sealed with soft dough which acts as a glue to ensure proper pressure – called a ‘dam’. The typical wedding chef is a middle aged man with a team of helpers with years of experience – a baburchi with a snappy name like Idu or Nanna or Zakir – and the really good ones need to be booked months before the event. There are no state of the art kitchen equipment and delicate ingredients. Bangladeshi wedding food is hearty, real, spicy, heavy and dangerous in large quantities. Almost like most Bangladeshis. I suppose the cooking is not that complicated, given how common it is to find good biryani in the hundred weddings of the year. But, there is so much magic that wafts up from the steaming rice and soft meat as it is served in front of you, you find yourself struggling with not going to another wedding the next day.

Love is at the heart of a wedding. Love and happiness and good blessings to be shared among well-wishers. Unsurprisingly, it is also at the heart of a plate of perfect Wedding Biriyani. A plate of perfect Biryani is always loved, always makes people happy and is considered a pretty damn good blessing. Unsurprisingly the two are always found close to each other, and hopefully it shall always remain, for those of us in this side of the world with the chaotic weddings and the delicious food – a match made in gastronomical heaven.

BooksBooksBooks

I have never been very regular with my blog posts. I want to be, I really do, but somehow the connection of thought to finger to wordpress – sometimes it does not happen. When I have something I want to write about here, I do play around with it a few times. But then the night goes on and you wonder if you should ‘invite them for coffee’ but you realize that the spark fizzled during the mains so you peck on the cheek politely and give a non-committal “I had a lovely time”.

But for the last one month, I have had a great excuse for being absent. I love great excuses. I gather them and list them in a small notebook so that I can use them later. This one just works because a. It’s legit and b. once you hear it you will totally get it!

See, my dad, being the enterprising young man that he is, decided to bestow some fatherly love and present me with a tab. It’s a spunky thing, sleek, big enough for me not be ashamed of (I don’t like small gadgets) and feisty enough to belong to me. And with it I discovered a whole new world that has so far eluded my attention – the wonderful world of ebooks.

Dhaka unfortunately, does not have great book shops for English books. There are plenty of shops for local publications and a few stores have your J K Rowling and Salman Rushdie and Chetan Bhagat and John Grisham. But you will not be able to find a gem of a book that you have never heard of before in these stores. They bring books that they know will sell.

I opened my tab and was pleasantly floored that I could read any book, from anywhere, without getting out of my bed. I read so much at one go the top left side of my head started throbbing and I literally had to give my tab to my nephew so that I would stop reading. You give the kid a gadget and do not expect to have it back anytime soon.

So I have not been doing anything else except reading and going to work and sneaking in some reading in between breaks and reading through the gloriously long commute (refer to my previous hatred for the Dhaka Traffic here: Wasting Away On The Streets ) being engrossed in fantasy lands of stormlight magic (Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson) and crazy wives (Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn). I have so many options to read it is driving me insane.

It’s just the best feeling.