Loosely translated to ‘The Wall of Love,’ this installation is pure love at Montmartre, Paris. I have been to the city thrice now and visited this wall on our second outing. A search for ‘unusual places to see in Paris’ led to this and we didn’t budge once to skip it. The weather in April is usually pleasant but 2019 saw a mini heatwave and we were exhausted after a hike in the morning to the Sacre Cœur Basilica. A long walk down through the winding lanes of Montmartre led to this refreshing Wall of Love. This was conceptualised by Frederic Baron and executed by calligrapher and mural artiste Claire Kito. There is ‘I Love You’ written in 250 languages for 311 times on 612 tiles of enamelled lava. It was installed in 2000. The beautiful quote on the top says ‘aimer c’est du dèsordre…alors aimons!’ – “Love is a disorder, so let’s love!”
Do you spot আমি তোমাকে ভালবাসি (I love you) in my mother language Bangla, right in the middle? It was so heartwarming and emotionally overwhelming to find your own among 250 other languages from the whole wide world. It’s a one-of-a-kind moment when a part of your social identity is recognised in other continents. I think we stood there for a few minutes, soaking it all in, letting ourselves flow in that moment. It was surreal.
When I was a suburban, stodgy kid, I used to wait for our trips to Calcutta for the occasional tram rides. The joyrides used to be sparse though, since we’d be pressed for time to return to our suburban abode, or we might have been visiting some part of the city not connected by trams. The scenario improved when we moved to Calcutta in 1998. It was by sheer luck that we rented a house around 300 metres from the Ballygunge Tram Depot. I would have loved to take the tram every day enroute to my school in Kidderpore, but time was a constraint to romanticism. I had to give in to the mundane daily drill of the school bus and its irritating co-passengers. As a countermeasure, I began to commute to the private tuitions via tram, whenever possible. Sometimes, the route would be from Ballygunge to Tollygunge, where I would alight at Rashbehari to walk the rest of the part. Since this is one of the busiest junctions in the city, the journey would consume quite some time and I loved sitting idly at one of the windows, watching the rest of the world rushing by the street. The gong of the tram would alert few crossing pedestrians, would scare a few and be a fair bit of warning for private buses and vehicles. That window seat meant a different world to me, sitting in a comfort zone, separated from the chaos outside. Recollecting about the other routes – I have hopped trams too, taking one from College Street in the North, dropping off in Park Circus and taking another till Ballygunge. That one used to be a long ride but quite enjoyable through the busy criss-crossing roads in the North, widening up as we approach the Central towards South Calcutta. It would be unfair if I miss mentioning the Maidan tram depot, one of the picturesque ones in the city, within the greens. It’s a delight to watch the trams slowly emerging at a snail’s pace from their depot at Maidan, much like a caterpillar. I spotted one recently, on one of my trips to the Government offices in Esplanade. Didn’t have the time to hop onto one though. Sadly, I still haven’t clicked a single decent photo of trams in Calcutta.
Did you know? The Tram system in Calcutta is the only existing one in India and the oldest operating network in Asia. It goes back to 1873 starting with horse-drawn trams and moved on to electric trams in 1902.
I was obviously delighted when we moved to Brussels as it has an extensive tram network. Although we use the metro rail more than the tram within the city for convenience, I like the trams in Belgium. They’re a bit too modernised in the interior, thus missing the old world charm emanated by the trams in Calcutta. We have been fortunate enough to visit other cities in Europe that have an operating tramway. From the glamorous red trams in Den Haag to the dazzling yellow in Budapest, from pristine serious trams in Amsterdam to cute ones in Prague and red-white beauties in Vienna – we have seen, ridden and loved them all. I’d like to explore more of them, in other cities that we haven’t visited and collect a lifetime of memories in trams.
Do you like trams? Have you been on a ride ever? Share your experiences in comments. I’d love to know.
Do seasons have an unsettling impact on you, year after year? It’s not always the disturbing kind of effect, rather some inexplicable transition in the overall mood and essence of living. It might not happen to everyone, but I’d like to believe that seasons and climates stir and muddle a lot of emotions in me. Growing up in India, I’ve learned that there are six seasons – spring, summer, monsoon, autumn, pre-winter and winter. I can vouch having witnessed all six of them at least till two decades ago. Spring and pre-winter (called Hemanta in Bangla) were the two most enigmatic seasons in my childhood. Hemanta was a very dainty season, fragile in its appearance, ever so transient for a few days post autumn. From mid-October till the beginning of December, the air at dawn would be laden with fine dew droplets, drenching flowers in the garden, rendering everything fresh. Those few days would perceive a subtle change with a nip in the morning air. The pre-winter sun would mellow down and turn a little yolky late morning. Just as Kali pujo/Diwali passed every year, people in West Bengal would gear up for the diaphanous pre-winter season, prepping to collect date palm sap to be turned into jaggery. No wonder M’s father was named Hemanta as he was born on 2nd November.
Spring has been more conspicuous to me as I lived out of India, in the US, UK and now Belgium. The passage from winter to spring is almost like a shock in the upper parts of Northern Hemisphere. Since winter is often harsh and beating, spring appears as a big relief with a platter of colours and flowers. There’s a bit of sunshine thrown in too for good measures. Leaves spring out of nowhere on seemingly dead trees, tulips galore in most places; surprisingly the city councils and communes gear up to plant new saplings in all cul-de-sacs and public gardens. It is indeed surprising to me, as I’d love to see municipalities in Indian cities invest just that fragment on public environment.
I like spring. I like the freshness in the air, still crisp and cold though if you are in Europe. It might even snow and yet it is spring. I have missed the chance to click snow on tulips this year. Spring has been instrumental in instilling some hope post humid and horribly cold winters for the past few years. I’d even go so far as to proclaim that spring is my go-to season these days. I stayed in Calcutta this spring and it was almost non-existent to a saddening point, barring a few Laburnum and Palash/Butea blooms.
Summer – the least of my favourites in the Indian sub-continents. Every chore I do in Indian summer has the propensity to leave me drenched in sweat and panting for breath. Summers are harsh here, in this part of the world and global warming is making it worse every year. The season wasn’t this bad though three decades ago. The unbearable heat of the day would be cooled off by breezes and Norwesters that we fondly term Kalboishakhi in Bengal. Dark clouds and thunders rumbling would take off the heat from the earth and bring some relief. They have become rare though. We hardly had two or three Kalboishakhi this year with just temporary respite. I know people who detest winter and love summer. My sympathies are with them, I cannot stand the scorch.
Monsoon is one of my favourite seasons in India. I have grown up being enamoured by the monsoon in Bengal, revelling in the thunderstorms, the cooled down climate, the impromptu khichuri-machh bhaja lunches and watching the incessant rains by the window. Monsoon used to last for more than two months in Bengal with intermittent sunny, balmy days. The seasons have all been jumbled up now with environmental disruptions. This year, monsoon has arrived at the predicted time but it is sporadic. In monsoon, Calcutta appears like a newly washed kid after playing in the mud with schoolmates. It gets dirty, too, and that part is not adorable at all. I loved the monsoon in Bombay as well, although that turns out to be disastrous most of the years, tending to flood. The season was far more enjoyable in Pune. Monsoon came with a flourish in that city, with the nearby Western Ghat hills sprucing up in their green finery. The weather cooled down to the level of bringing out quilts and devouring cups of caffeine throughout the day with various fried food. We had made some amazing trips to the hills of Malshej and Khandala in monsoon.
This year is half gone already and I have experienced these three seasons here in Calcutta. I’d love to spend another favourite season, autumn, in Brussels though as there are endless opportunities to admire nature’s beauty and click photographs. Which is your favourite season? Let me know in the comments.
Death makes a person cold. Not the one who died, but some of those left behind. There’s a stone coldness in few people that is brought out to striking daylights with the death of a loved one. They struggle to cope, to accept the absence of the person closest to them. In this constant endeavour to ‘return’ to normal life, they lose any warmth left in their character. It depends a lot on the definition of ‘normal life.’ It’s quite normal that we would grieve a loss and the life we carry on after a loved one’s death, is normal in its own way. A ‘new normal’ that lets you accept facts gradually and tweak living accordingly.
I have been in the realisation of something for quite a while now and it deepened slowly in the last four months of my stay in Calcutta. Most people around me are living in their own way, within the cocoon of a comfort zone. It is often the eat-work-sleep-repeat routine that burns them out near the end of their work life. The ennui that a routine creates is very stifling to me. If I were to just eat-work-sleep-repeat, I’d burn out much sooner than my retirement age. I believe that every person should be able to do something in their daily routine to feed their creative self. Now, you might disagree and debate, that in this already distressing scenario, what is the role of art?
If you just give it a passing thought – art is not exclusive to galleries or theatres or concerts. A bit of art is present in all our daily lives to push us through in anticipation of tomorrow. And it need just be something tangible, to show off the creative angle of your persona. It could even be a thought, a few kind words to a stranger or something that you might find insignificant. I know someone who places a bowl of water in their balcony everyday in summer for birds. It gives them immense satisfaction to wake up listening to a dulcet conference of birds in their balcony, around the water. When I’m in Brussels, I go for long walks in the evenings, often not regimentally in a park but aimlessly in the quiet streets. If the weather is pleasant, I sit somewhere and soak in the sun, mostly in winters. On days that I feel dejected, I stop somewhere in the track and stare at the Art Nouveau/Art Deco houses. I believe I have even spoken to the stone gargoyles and motifs on them, just asking how they have been through the past century. This isn’t ‘art’, no, I wouldn’t call it that. But it is a way to do something different than my daily drill. Sometimes, I’d click a photo on my mobile and it has thus remained as a warm piece of memory, to be thawed and savoured on absolutely downcast days.
I’m grateful to my parents for having inculcated the idea of a hobby in my early years. I think it was part of the Bengali culture, at least till half a century ago, to introduce children into some form of hobby that would sustain them forever. It was looked upon as something that would save your life from the clutches of a regimen. I was encouraged to read, listen to music and watch movies. I began writing much later and was interested in embroidery watching Ma and my paternal aunts. I’ve been living on and off it for years, neglecting embroidery while being immersed in ‘life.’ It took a pandemic to instil the habit of stitching for at least half an hour every day as a mode of creating something by forming colours and patterns on fabric. I looked forward to that time in the evening or late afternoon post work when I’d be able to pick up on an unfinished part of the pattern and progress bit by bit. Once a pattern was complete, it would bring unprecedented joy and fulfilment. I’d suggest you pick up a hobby, it might be anything, as long as you look forward to it post work and household chores.
I did this satin stitch leaf yesterday on a used, washed fabric mask using Ma’s leftover shaded floss. It’s not perfect and I’m not very happy with the precision, but it is something. I did this bit that made me feel a little more alive and handy. What do you do, to live? I’d love to know, share in the comments.
When journalist Ellie looks through her newspaper’s archives for a story, she doesn’t think she’ll find anything of interest. Instead she discovers a letter from 1960, written by a man asking his lover to leave her husband – and Ellie is caught up in the intrigue of a past love affair. Despite, or perhaps because of her own romantic entanglements with a married man.
In 1960, Jennifer wakes up in hospital after a car accident. She can’t remember anything – her husband, her friends, who she used to be. And then, when she returns home, she uncovers a hidden letter, and begins to remember the lover she was willing to risk everything for.
Ellie and Jennifer’s stories of passion, adultery and loss are wound together in this richly emotive novel – interspersed with real ‘last letters’.
Shouldn’t there be a way to read an author’s works chronologically? I discovered Jojo Moyes and her writing via ‘Me Before You,’ (2012) and going backwards, have just read ‘The Last Letter From Your Lover,’ (2008). When you have already read the bestseller by an author, made into a motion picture and liked the book too – expectation levels are set high for all of their previous books too. I was disappointed with ‘The Peacock Emporium,’ (2005) when I read it this year. So, it is best to accept that a writer you like has written in various styles throughout their career.
‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ is probably a little mis-titled. It sets a certain conjecture even before the story begins. There must be a pair of lovers then and parting, since the title mentions ‘the last letter’. Understandably, the novel starts with Jennifer having lost her memory post an accident. The year is 1960 and she discovers that she has a husband but with zero recollections of his existence. She begins a new life of discoveries from the hospital and regains just flashes of a lost love, a lover, a longing that cannot be explained when she looks at her husband Laurence. She finds a letter that might take her back to her lover, a certain ‘B’ who signs the letter without his name. Cut to 2003 – Ellie, a struggling journalist finds this letter in her office archives and is set on an impossible journey to find what happened to Jennifer and B.
He was 31, she was 22. They were married in August, 1947. If you are an Indian like me, you’d be wondering about the date. Was it 15th August, 1947? As some would joke now, did the country’s independence bring an end to a handsome bachelor’s? I’m not sure about the date either, since celebrating wedding anniversaries weren’t a trend back then. No one cared to document the date and event later. And yet, it must have been an important wedding as the bride’s father soon swore-in as the state’s first Education Minister. The bride was a demure girl, younger on the rung of two elder brothers and six sisters. She was a not-so-beautiful girl, neither fair complexioned like her brothers or elder sisters, but had an endearing smile to win over hearts. I have seen her fading aura while she was above sixty years old in my childhood. He, on the other hand, had a carefree, jovial personality, slightly mired by a mountain of familial responsibilities throughout his life. They are my late maternal grandparents – Gour Mohan and Smritimoyee Basu.
The story began when the handsome boy from a village named Saidpur near Taki (North 24 Parganas, West Bengal) decided to graze greener pastures in Calcutta for education and employment. He completed a degree in Commerce and a diploma later in Chartered Secretaryship. He began working in Calcutta, gradually transporting his younger brothers too from Saidpur so that they could receive the education he wished for them. A few years passed by, the World War II began and its impacts were on Calcutta as well. The modest rural band of brothers struggled to make its ends meet in the city while their parents were still in Saidpur. Gour Mohan was the eldest, he began working already during the war. The second sibling Nitindranath went for a technical training course at the Indian Technical Institute soon after. The other two were quite young then. Third in the line, Pulakendranath enrolled in Indian Army as a foot soldier and the youngest, Ajit Kumar would later start his practice as a homeopathy doctor. The brothers would visit the village at every occasion, especially Durgapujo. Gour Mohan and his bride would grace the family group photograph along with their sister, Sujata and her children. The younger brothers would be married much later though.
Smritimoyee as a young bride, was perhaps a little terrified of her mother-in-law, Rani. Could a bride from the city adjust into the rural life of domestication? As far as I’ve heard, Dida fit herself well into the new ambiance and nursed her mother-in-law well when she was terribly sick. Her brother-in-laws were truly fond of her and respected her. And Dadu was probably smitten with her, or so he looks in the photographs!
Dida was a little frail in health, she would tire easily and couldn’t cook for longer durations. Dadu would visit the markets and grocery stores, sweet shops and the occasional telebhaja. Every time he went out, he would ask Dida, “Ki aante hobe?” (What should I buy?) They had their share of daily banters, not bitter or aggressive ones, but the mild, dulcet kind, that we term as ‘khunshuti‘ in Bangla. Since I was very young, I would wonder at times about these fights. Now that I’m growing older in my marriage, I realise it’s a part of the package and it’s fun at times! I’m sure we’d make memories too, like the photo below that Dadu had cherished to present to his beloved wife. Just gazing at the writing from around seventy years ago fills my heart with emotions that I haven’t been able to fathom till now.
Dadu passed away in 1995 and Dida in 1998. I still miss them.