The Fantastic Four!!

My most recent memories are from the last couple of years in the US. It was a new chapter, nay, a new  ‘Act’ in life’s play!  It is Friday night and that brings a relief of sorts. Besides, I leave for India for a few weeks this Wednesday. It is surely something to look forward to, though I must confess that I aint overtly excited about it. Yes – politically incorrect to say that, but I think  the level of excitement  is a function of age and not so much about situations/people/ things. I hear you: I am getting old!

I busy myself this evening with finally starting to pack for the trip. Half way through, I want to make this experience funner. Besides, its Friday night!  With available resources in the refrigerator, I dig some soy sausages from the freezer (a treat for a recent ‘Veggie Convert’ that I am), some (healthy)  cheese and some “Wine Enthusiasts – 10 Best BuysShiraz  ! I do not watch T.V. as, or therefore, I dont have one. I am used to getting a sense of committing sacrilege the way people react to my “no-TV-situation”! Its high time kids textbooks updated the basic needs to : food, clothing, shelter and  TV ! So, I decide to entertain myself with a good DVD tonight amidst my “packing dilemmas” – a term women can most identify with; “This or that“, “this one is sexier, but that one makes me look thinner“, “boots or wedges?”… Phew!      

Anyways, I put “Sex And The City” Season  4, episode 49: The Agony and the ‘Ex’-tacy . I had not gotten time to watch this DVD ever since it was presented to me on my birthday. I had loved watching it on TV (exception  here!) when in Chicago.  Aim: uninterrupted and speedier packing for the night. I pour some wine, serve some cheese, dig into the “soysage”as I watch. I remember having watched this episode before. Carrie starts her narration and that is it! Her voice pulls me into the lives of these four women and I get caught in the screen-wine-cheese-‘soysage’ loop…

Carrie Bradshaw  (the protagonist) is single, as her three other friends, and is turning 35 today. She is struggling with the “35 (and still single)” concept, her friends don’t turn up on her planned birthday dinner and a whole lot of events make matters worse! But eventually she and 3 friends do get together that night. And the conversation gets into singledom, do- soulmates-exist-at-all and not-having-a man-to-care-for making the night sombre. Its a very interesting conversation and situation of these women that most women of today identify with, more or less. You don’t have to be “35-and-single” to experience I-am-not-as-young-and-my-love-life-sucks. Its then that Charlotte  comes up with a great thought which culminates that episode on a wonderful note: “maybe we could be each other’s  soulmates and may be we could let men these be great nice guys to have fun with! “. It was such a beautiful and comforting thought (the first part), brimming with the true essence of love and friendship amongst the foursome!

Me and my three roomies during grad school (Smrithi, Athiya and Prajna) were there for one another always! Each of us had a great equation with the other. It was nothing short of special! I loved to watch with “Sex And The City” with Smrithi, listen to her ideas about life and men and fashion and food and shoes! To me it was like listening to this little girl in ponytails talking about life and philosophy! It was rather cute!  Though we were years apart in age, and  she was from another generation, we bonded. Athiya and me would draw similarities in our situations, our vulnerability and our approach to life. We were the “crazy saggi two-some”with similar ways of doing random worldly-weird things!  Be it going biking for hours together or having wine in the University computer lab (carried in tinted water bottles!!) or be it getting a body piercing done one random evening! We always had a connection and we loved one anothers company! Me and Prajna would have discussions on art/ poetry (mostly Gulzar) /movies /relationships. It was a mature exchange of ideas. Being a Bengali, she has a whole cultural heritage to bring into our talks! We have spent nights playing long forgotten random classics on youtube, which would light each other up as we did our own thing  in our respective rooms: she working on her PhD paper, and me, if not dragging with my assignment, perennially cleaning…..something.     

On cold white nights when the city streets would be buried under inches of snow, our house would be brimming with warmth and activity! Some permutation-combination within the 4 of us would keep the night going! It was so beautiful. To me they weren’t just the roomies, they were great friends! And they could have certainly qualified for soul mates at that point in my life. Other people (read men) in our lives were actually the side characters! As I finish watching this episode of  Sex And The City, I burst into tears and get very emotional (hmm… more than one glass of Shiraz …understandable!!) . I only remember my friends who are now scattered around the country. But these are the classic “khushi ke aansoo” (tears of joy) – any Bollywood fan will know what the hell I am talking about! I wipe my tears, close my eyes in a smile and start writing this post feeling good about the wonderful memories we made !

My best birthday gift ever!

1018 S. Oakley (my address when in Chicago) had its own wonderful ways of going about things! Birthdays was one such occasion when all would try to bring to fore our creative sides (whether present or not), and make it memorable for the birthday boy or the birthday girl.

It was now mid November and we didn’t have any birthday for some time to come. Chicago snow and daylight only for a few hours wasn’t a pleasant experience altogether! On top of it, the impending exams in December and project deadlines for something – familiar to me only as coffee until a few months back – Java was cruel! I spent nights in the computer lab struggling and would be back in the wee hours of the day. Thanks to the UIC”red car” service , which would drop us to and fro to the lab in a usually in a snow filled campus! My life started and ended with assignments, and fatigued, I’d be back home. Prajna (pronounced as Prugg-yaa), my roomie, would usually open the door for me; she’d be the one who would be awake those days. On asked why she was up so late, she would have a one liner “We are working on Bhushans resume!”. She and Bhushan ( one from the gang of four boys staying upstairs) would be quietly working on the laptops as I walked past her room. It was relieving to see not the whole world was sleeping as I burnt the midnight oil.  Also, when you keep out of the “den”, you don’t quite know whats happening. I’d see saw people talking to one another on phone, discussing something, running from here to there and giggling, and would stop as soon as I was in the picture. Well, I do miss out on a lot of stuff being always out doing my assignments, I told myself. “Its not their fault after all”.

December set in. My last exam was on the 4th and I was preparing for this tough one the night before. Incidentally, 4th was also my birthday. As the ritual would go, my roomies and friends from upstairs came over at 12:00, got a nice little mini-cake, sang for me and then offered to leave me with my books. That was certainly nice of them. But this birthday was not like the “tradition”… Cut the cake, smear it on the birthday girl or boy (irrespective), smear anything and everything (that fell within the range of semi-solids and liquids) that they lay their hands on in the kitchen. (On realizing that the aftermath is horrifying for those who have to then clean the mess on the floor and all over, we jointly decided to change all this for the better; we now took the “target” to the washroom tub!!).

Suren(friends love him as someone you can always rely on) would be as if waiting to lead this ceremony with all his passion and energy, Vishal (an artist, amateur guitarist and singer, has a winsome smile) would be the official photographer, Athiya (one who loves to play pranks, the “brands” girl, completely ignorant of how she is loved by one and all) would be ruthlessly on the forefront, Smrithi (cook, passion for shoes, youngest and the wittiest) would be taking a sneak peak at “horrifying” masquerade, Prajna (the “social magnet” , singer, foodie, the tallest kid) would be busy cutting the cake into pieces, eating some (oh yeah! she lohhhhves cakes) pumping enthusiasm in the whole act while Bhushan (man of ideas, who remains chilled come what may) would ensure everything good and not-so-good is going smoothly! Once the birthday victim is fully drenched to the hearts content of the crowd, he was allowed to take a shower and come out of the “shock”. Till such time the rest would settle as if after a hard days work and relish the cake. Once the ‘victim’ was out, he was showered with gifts (literally so; all at Oakley believe in showing love through giving gifts!! We always went overboard! ). There is usually a wine bottle that the birthday boy/girl has to finish (yes- well s/he is expected to finish the whole one) and then give an emotional speech for the rest to enjoy. My brother Shomit was known to be an expert at instigating and emotionally blackmailing the victims into getting emotional. Getting overwhelmed with emotion and tears showing was an unsaid sign of great “success”!

There are so many more characters: Ram (karate kid + biker) , Sarang (artist and an organic chemist) , Nikhil (organizing personified) , Sachin (musician pursuing chemistry) , Yogeshwar (the philosopher) , Yogendra (Shah Rukh Khan die hard loyalist + Ph.D) , Kaustubh (nothing common about him), Tanu (deal-er: expert at looking and availing online deals)… I will talk about them in my upcoming book ;)!

So this night, I felt was certainly and I went back to preparing for the next days exam. I came back home the next day and what do I see: there is a gang of friends gathered at home. It was my Nth birthday (no: I am not talking about the value of ‘N”), and I was given gifts corresponding to the number… I was certainly shocked and happy at the same time. The last gift was certainly the best gift ever; they acknowledged pretty much everything what I was and what i liked, that I loved being photographed, my passion for my favorite male actors including the Big B, closeness to my family and all the past moments with this Oakley gang since the first time I landed in the US! And they did it beautifully by making this:

Those nights of resume-making were actually of making this video. Prajna and Bhushan had started to work on it days back downloading the software to make the video, thinking about the theme, selecting the songs and working with more than 300 photos!! They would steal my pictures from my laptop when I was not around and that’s when the running about and giggling used to happen which I couldn’t understand! I can’t thank them enough for the thought and for making me feel so special!

The world has noticed and loved the term “head fake” ever since Randy Pausch used it in  “The Last Lecture“. There is a head fake here: this little video actually isn’t about me; its about ALL of us and all about those moments we had together which have become lifelong memories to cherish!

We all have moved out now, but the spirit of 1018 S. Oakley lives on!

Home away from home…

Before coming to the US as a student, I came over to visit my brother Shomit for a few months. The idea was that I get a good change. Having come here I got introduced to his gang of friends- Oakley Mitra Mandal (OMM) as they called themselves-  and a whole new world full of best things! This group of people had dreams in their eyes and a strong bond that would never weaken. Amidst restaurants and movies, chai parties and philosophy, discussions and dreams that would go on until the wee hours of the day, I found myself rejuvenating! One of the best times of my life, I treasure those days and am full of gratitude to my brother and OMM. This was written then as a parting gift dedicated to OMM:

I flew from home, to a land unknown

To my brother, on a foreign shore

Did not know what was in store

Just to switch off, and nothing more


Here the buildings kissed the sky

They were ambitions and dreams, in concrete

Manifesting themselves so tall and high

Showing how you could, if you really wanna fly


I came to not to a house, but a family

The houses albeit four, but one home really

Every pair of eye exuded warmth and ardor

And the smiles for me always, I treasure truly.


We met often in evenings for coffee

And talked and talked and wined and dined

I relished every bit, for, from worry I would flee

‘N talked till it was dawn again, and again time for tea


With them I danced, with them I played

They showed me the colors of life; they didn’t let ‘em fade

They made me feel special, in their ways so grand

I knew how Alice must’ve felt in wonderland


I had my share of bliss, and its time to leave

My heart fills with gratitude for Shomit, more than I grieve

And for his gift of you all to me to cherish

A memory of my best days that would never perish


When in someday of my life ahead, I wonder

After a long day’s work, somewhere across seas yonder

I would want to run back to you all, alone

When they say, “baby its time to go home”…



~ Sonali  for OMM. (Oct 2004)