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Sonali Banerjee

A Dreadful Night While Traveling By Indian Railways

Travel is meant to be an enjoyable experience but there are times it becomes just the opposite. Our storyteller tells us about a horrifying experience while traveling by train in India a couple of years back. This story happened two years back but similar stories continue to happen even today and there is little to no measure in place to address it. There is also no dearth of onlookers who silently prefer witnessing the wrongdoings. 

Continue reading “A Dreadful Night While Traveling By Indian Railways”

Women’s Day And My Trip To The Police Station

After days of putting it on the back burner, I decided that I will get a work done with for once and all. The work was nothing extraordinary. I had to go to the police station and report a lost passbook (a document used in many banks to keep log of banking transactions). I have crossed this particular police station near my home many times before and observed all kinds of people lining up in front of the station. Some looked harassed, may be they were there to lodge a complaint. Some certainly looked like they had done or were associated with something criminal. There were rowdy, bully sort of people, who could care for nothing. A police station is not a place a woman would ever want to visit in India. That is the primary reason I was putting off my visit for a month now. 
Finally, I mustered the courage and went to the police station yesterday. There was a cop sitting and working at his desk. He noticed the perplexed look on my face. He took a look at the draft of the complaint in my hand and directed me to another officer. I walked into the room next door. There was a cop working on his computer and reading a newspaper. It looked as if he was typing something off the newspaper. There was another one sitting behind a pile of files and folders (unsolved cases perhaps). A few people stood in the room waiting for their turn to discuss their matter. They were being made to wait because the cop has all the authority and no one else dare challenge him, even if the cop was doing nothing. There was an awkward silence in the room, interrupted by the occasional sound of the wireless walkie-talkie every now and then. 
One of the cop looked at me and said, “Madam, What do you need?” 
I handed the draft of my complaint to him. He asked for a valid ID proof, I handed that as well. He then read the complaint (called FIR in India) and said to me, “Please, add you husband’s name to the report.” 
“Why do you need my husband’s name? My passbook is lost. Not his.“ 

“We cannot file it without your husband’s name. We need his name for your identification.” 
That definitely did not make any sense. Sounding a bit furious, I asked the policeman, “If my husband lost his passbook, would you need my name in the report for identification?” 

The people who stood in the room let out a laugh. 
The policeman got severely annoyed. He looked at me, furious, I could tell. “That is the rule. This is how it has been happening for years. If you want to file this complaint, we need you husband’s name on the report for your identification.” 
A woman in many government documents in India, still needs to have a person assigned who is responsible for her, a father or a guardian if unmarried and the husband if she is married. This is after presenting a valid ID proof of her own. A police station in India is not the right place to argue about the validity of such requirement. To avoid being mistreated, very unwillingly I wrote my husband’s name in the report and it was filed. 

This incident happened a day after the world celebrated International Women’s Day. The celebrations seem almost ironic since we still cannot respect the existence of a woman by herself. Women’s day and all the talks around it, seem like a joke. Every woman encounters such challenges here on a day-to-day basis and nothing is still being done to correct it. 

In the face of reality, all this talk about equal place for women in the society, just falls flat. 

Written by : Sonali Banerjee, our regular storyteller. This is based on a real incident that took place this week, just a day after International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2015. 

Love Is Being Enveloped In a LARGE Family

Response to the writing prompt “Love is”, this post discusses love as it was when children grew up in large families and everyone lived together as one big family. Sonali Banerjee shares a facet of life that will probably be unknown to the current generation and the ones in the future. As always she keeps it real and very simple. 
One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life I think is to have a happy childhood —Agatha Christi.
In the era that I was growing up, they truly believed it takes a village to raise a family and there is a reason that this saying exists. Childhood has a different sense of happiness when you grow up around family and extended family, more so if everyone lived under the same roof in what was called in India as a Joint-Family. A concept tough to even imagine in today’s generation of nuclear families.
But talking about love, I always reminisce my childhood and all the love and affection I received from everyone in the family. I find myself enveloped in the memories of that love.
I was born in a large joint family with my three uncles and two aunts( father’s siblings) and my one and only grandmother whom I used to call Mummum,all living in the same house. Mummum always wore a smile on her face, had soft hands and white silk-like hair. I remember drawing with chalk on the veranda floors in the lazy afternoons. On those afternoons, I also used to lie next to her and listen to her stories non-stop. She used to be my partner in whatever I liked to do, sewing, playing with dolls or an imaginary pretend game. She always loved to cook my favorite dishes. Whenever I needed some extra money I always knew where to go.
The long corridors and their endless memories 
The terrace of the house had an elaborate dollhouse and my friends would gather to play with me there. The house was filled with warmth and there was room for everyone and everyone was welcome. My dolls were not any exception. 
As I was the first child in our family, I was a pampered child. Everyone took care that I was never upset. I remember vividly that if I ever cried for any reason everyone would run to ask my mother – “Boudi(sister in law) why she is crying?”
It always was a very comforting feeling to know so many people cared so much for me. For a child, this is the most important feeling – to be loved and cared for.  There was always someone there for me and it was not my parents all the time.
I loved everyone as much. I loved my uncle so much that every morning when I woke up I would run and plant a kiss on his cheek. When my uncle was transferred to another city, I still woke up in the morning and blew kisses in the air for my uncle…thinking that he will get them…
One day my mothers and aunts were planning to watch a movie without my knowledge. My cousin sister, who knew their plan, told me before leaving for school that if they go without you, just start crying. I don’t think I understood her instructions well. However according to the plan I started crying when my mom and aunts began to get ready. When they asked as to why I was crying, I told them it was because my sister had asked me too, obviously not understanding the outcome of my action. Such was the innocence. I remember everyone had a good laugh, but I do not remember if they took me to the movie or not.
Going out was one of my favorite things to do. We would take a rickshaw to a relative’s or a friend’s house. We did not have to plan ahead or call anyone. There were no telephones in most homes. You could plan impromptu visits.
There are many such fun stories. I could go on and on. My childhood was beautiful because of the people in it. In today’s times when the concept of a joint family is almost laughable, I wanted to mention this facet of love that will be unknown to this and future generations.  

A Wedding Of Dolls

“Don’t you wish you could take a single childhood memory and blow it up into a bubble and live inside it forever?”  Sarah Addison All  
Sonali Banerjee takes a trip down the memory lane and remembers her childhood days playing with dolls with her best friend. The fine details in the story are so engaging that you can visualize the pretend doll wedding that she describes. Our favorite part is the ending of the story. 
I am a kid of late 60s. At that time there was no Barbie and Kane…but we had our own kind of dolls. We had small earthen pots and miniature kitchen equipments made up of metal, wood or clay. We would make small pretend doll houses for Diwali. 
I just can’t forget those days spent with my best friend Swati, playing with such dolls. Swati was my neighbor as well as my classmate. Our Dads were colleagues too. When we first met in the school we became friends immediately. 
We started spending time together in school. We used to talk so much in class that one day our class teacher asked us to sit on separate desks. Our friendship extended as we started visiting others house after school evening also. We played many games like Vish Amrit*, Ludo, Chinese Checkers and with our Dolls.
Her mother whom I used to call Kakima (Aunt in Bengali) was also very friendly and very creative .Apart from many other things she was fond of making dolls out of fabric. Those dolls were very beautiful and perfect. She used to sit with us when we played with dolls made by her and gave many innovative ideas. The one thing I remember most is when we planned a pretend wedding of our dolls. It turned out to be a gala event. 
Kakima organised all the things methodically. She took the pain to make a lavish spread for our wedding. All in miniature sizes. Sweets and Puris (fried India Bread). Potato cut into small pieces made into a curry. Everything was served on tiny plates. Our brothers became the Baratis (the groom’s family). We made small special dresses for the bride and groom, packed tiny gifts for the bride and the groom’s relatives and performed all the rituals that are part of a traditional Bengali wedding. 
There was this one particular ritual where the bride’s mother is supposed to measure the groom with a thread and then swallow that thread. (Don’t ask me why, it is an age old ritual.) Swati, who was the bride’s mother, was in a dilemma on how to swallow the thread. Obviously she was only a 8 year’s old ‘mother. So I took it upon me swallowed the thread with ripe banana that day. 
Memories of what we experienced that day is so vivid and precious to me that I will never ever forget it.
Last year, Swati’s real daughter got married. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the wedding ceremony. I did wonder though whether she had mustered enough courage to swallow the thread that day.
*Vish Amrit is a popular game played by children in India. It is very similar to playing tag. but once you are tagged you stay put in your place till another team member can come and help release you from your spot. 

Birthday Surprise

Sonali Banerjee and her kids

Balloons, cakes,candies, ice-cream and goody bags. All of these and more is what makes a birthday party. Childhood birthday parties are fun because you get to just enjoy the day. All the planning and the hard work for the party is done by the parents.

Here is a birthday story with a twist. Children planning and arranging parties for their parents and grandparents. Sonali Banerjee writes….

 When I look back to the days when my children where very small, I realize I am one of those lucky women whose husband and kids always want to do things which would make me very happy. Out of many thing I enjoyed the most was my surprise birthday parties which they used to arrange and celebrate. As the date approached, I could feel the of suspense in the air. I could guess all of them secretly planning in hush hush tones what gifts to get for me, and ordering the food and the birthday cake. When goodies were finally brought in, those were concealed in the house so that they could surprise me. Although their every bit of planning, which was with the help of their father was somehow known to me, I used to pretend as if I knew nothing. Even my mother in law and father in law were also active participants in this secret! Finally on the day of my birthday, they would set the table with the cakes and candle and arrange the gifts, one of them would take me to the Drawing room where other members of the family were already gathered. That expression of surprise and joy which I would give could have easily won me an Oscar!

 Later on such surprise birthday  parties became a part of our life which we would organize for my husband and for my mother in law and father in law also .Such small celebrations became a great  source of joy for our entire family.

 Now my children have grown up and live in other cities, busy in their work.  Even then every year my husband and the kids plan for my birthday and they send me gifts and arrange for some party in absentia. Receiving a humble bouquet by courier with a birthday message written by my kids give me more happiness that getting a diamond necklace.

It’s All Worth It

As children begin to grow up into adults, they begin to think and do things independently. Often this gets misconstrued as their unwillingness to listen or adhere to parents. This mother’s day Sonali Banerjee, one of our very active contributors remembers her years as a mother when her two children were still growing up. Today they are matured adults and their mannerisms and lifestyle is totally influenced by their beautiful upbringing. 
When the Chatoveracuppa team asked me to write about something on mother’s day, various thoughts hovered in my mind but I could not decide what to write. I think being mother is a full time job and for a mother, everyday is Mother’s day. So what was there to write about mundane things? Then I gave a thought about my kids. Yes there are many special things to write about them and there existence makes me Mother.
I am a proud mother of one son and one daughter. Both of them were born on the same date exactly at the gap of five years and it was an act of God (not doctors). So cerebrating their birthday on the same date was a great source of joy as well as a challenge for me. Imagine when my daughter was five years old; Son was ten years of age. So it was a sort of ‘Kids Generation Gap’ between them. While one was girl the other was boy. So their Friends were not common. Arranging a successful common birthday party and to keep both of my kids satisfied  was a great act of balancing so that both of them should feel equally important on that day. 
Sibling rivalry involving comparison of gifts and number of invited friends was a problem I faced. Sometimes I succeeded in my attempt for truce and many times I failed because I had no control over the quality/ quantity of gifts they received from their friends. Few years later my son declared that he does not want to be a part of joint Birthday party anymore! Our all persuasions failed to convince him. After many years when my son got his first job in Pune, he arranged a party for himself and his sister, inviting all of us at a hill resort of Mahableshwar on the occasion of their joint Birthday and revived the tradition. It all came back a full circle and as a mother I could not be happier. 
I have many proud moments as a mother. One of them was when my daughter scored highest marks in her School in class XII Board Exams. Through an invitation letter, her school administration invited us to be a chief guest for that years Independence Day celebration at school. I was asked to hoist the National Flag. I attended the event with my husband.  Before flag hoisting ceremony, my introduction as a mother of the school’s highest scorer was given in front of hundreds of school children and staff. I was very nervous and very proud as I hoisted the flag. It was a really proud moment for me as a mother which I will cherish always.
My daughter was always expressive, speaks her heart out especially to me as to what she is feeling. I will be honest and tell you that my son’s attitude was like puzzle for me as he did not share most of things and was getting more and more Independent. I know all moms feel and experience the same thing. But I realized that my son also misses me. 
When he got his first job and had to work in a different city, I received a text message after few days. A text message, that expressed his love for me and touched my heart. It read “Ma, in future I want to be with you all… in the same city….may be in any city….”. I realised that the love of my son and of my daughter for me  is all the same. They expressed it differently. 
On this Mother’s day, I am sharing a handmade card prepared by my Daughter many years ago on the Occasion of Mothers Day. I am a proud mother of two wonderful adult children and I say this to all the moms out there, all the sweat and hard work is worth it. You realize it when your children turn out to be wonderful beings. Everything that you teach or tell them, stays with them eternally.

The Graduates

This is the Mother’s Day week and we will celebrate mother’s all week long. There is never a dearth of inspiring stories about mothers. Today we share with you two different stories of mother’s who dreamt and built something for their children, things that they did not have for themselves. 
Story 1 – Shared By Piya Mukherjee 
She would drop her little boy at our house at the crack of the dawn every day before she left to deliver milk around the small township. The little boy always dressed in a crisp school uniform would then attend to his school work. My mother would assign him a reading task or math to do or help him with the social sciences. She would also feed him a good breakfast before he left for school. In the afternoon he would return to our house. My mother would feed him lunch or an afternoon snack, help him with all his homework and prepare him for any upcoming tests.
By late afternoon, his mother would come over to pick him up and take him home. She had by then sold milk around the township, worked as a help around a few houses and tended to a few people’s garden. She was a single mother. She did all this to make ends meet, to run a house, to support a bedridden mother and to send her only son to school. She looked fragile and old for her age. But she was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm every time you spoke about her son or how well he was doing at school or her dream to send him to college.
I was often surprised by my own mother’s dedication to this little boy. When asked, she always said she was doing it to enable another mother. Over the years, I saw the boy go from an elementary to a middle school. And then we moved.
One day, a few years later, my mother was extremely jubilant on the phone. She said with a great sense of pride “I was informed this morning that Mukesh graduated from high school and got enrolled in a college. His mother must be so proud of him.”
From barely managing one meal a day to sending her son to college, this is the true story of a mother who dared to dream. This story is not complete without the mention of the mother who supported the dream, my mother.
Story 2 – Shared by Sonali Banerjee

Many people think that children of parents doing menial labor or those who are underprivileged will do the same job as their parents. My maid is a mother who worked hard to defy that notion. .

Though my maid is illiterate but she has done her best to make her children well educated. Once she confided in me that one of her employer told her- `Why are you educating your girls ? After all you will just marry them off and they have to do the same job as you.”  My maid had felt sad and humiliated at the remark. She asked me, “Didi, Please tell me, am I wrong in thinking or dreaming big ? “ I gave her solace and said, “No you are not. It is actually the mindset of people that they can’t see a maid’s children  doing well or competing with their own children.”

My maid’s daughter now works in a MNC and is doing very well for herself. She recently gifted a brand new apartment /flat for her mother (who still continues to be a maid by her own choice). My maid chooses to be a maid because she is not embarrassed of her profession. She has been a maid all her life. She became a maid to send her daughters to school and college.

I think children do great things if they get the right direction and spirited support. My maid’s story to me is a story of a mother who worked hard to gift her daughters a pair of wings. Wings of education. 

* House helps, maids and other helps around the house typically belong to the under privileged class in India. Both the stories are based out of there. 

One Order Of Burger And One Order Of Compassion, Please !

This story is being shared for the #1000 speak, 1000 voices for compassion initiative. This story is based on a real life experience of the author who lives in India. 

Compassion, care, kindness all seem to be second nature to us. But that is not always true. Very recently I witness something which will tell you why.

It was a hot summer evening. I was shopping for groceries at a nearby mall. After shopping, I felt thirsty and went into a nearby McDonald’s to have a snack and some ice tea. While waiting for my order to be delivered, I kept myself busy by watching the people sitting around me. 

McDonald has been present in the Indian market only for the last few years and there is always a frenzy for eating at MCD, as it is referred to here. I noticed an elderly couple really enjoying their chicken burgers. McDonald’s usually is full of young people here. So my instant thought on seeing the elderly couple was that when they were young, McDonald’s did not exist in India and that they might have read about it in foreign magazines or seen on TV Channels. And now at a post retirement age, they get to enjoy burgers, fries and shakes.

As I settled myself with my ice tea…looking around again, I noticed in a corner table, there was a lady sitting with her two little granddaughters and her daughter / daughter-in-law(I presume). The little girls were busy eating burgers but I was really curious to see two other little girls standing behind their chairs. By their clothes and demeanor it appeared that they were the maid of the children. Yes, the girls who were themselves probably only a few years older than the other kids had been employed to look after the younger kids.

I was so perturbed to see that and the hungry look in their eyes really made me sick in my stomach. They had not been offered any food. The other ladies appeared to be educated but when I looked at them again I just found them to be nasty and without any compassion. Why had they brought those little girls inside the restaurant? Only to humiliate them? Or were they simply happy to play ignorant? I strongly felt like going and asking them but restrained myself.

I now wish that I did not. I thought that it was their personal matter and did not intervene. But it was a perfect example of LIFE IS NOT FAIR. Those of you who live outside of India or have never visited India, it is a fairly common sight here to witness young children being employed for jobs, even as baby sitters. If that is disturbing enough, eating under the nose of such children and not offering them a morsel of food is plain cruel. 

Looking back I think I should have done something about it. So I write this post for this blog today, so that the readers of this blog do not ignore kindness and compassion towards others, more so towards the needy, the poor and the KIDS. Help people around you, in the smallest way that you can. 

If I could go back in time, I would buy burgers, fries and shakes for those little girls, give it them and watch their smiles as they ate that food. It’s the least I could have done. 

This story has been contributed by Sonali Banerjee who also shared “Treasuring Love” with us. We had shared a similar story “The Help” before. This story will make you think if humanity and compassion is slowly becoming a bit extinct.

Treasuring Love

Love thy neighbor…is an old saying but what I experienced while practicing it was so painstaking that whenever I remember that, it makes me shiver. The saddening lesson I learnt from the experience is that anybody can betray you despite showing all love and affection.
Love and affection is something that is always meant to be reciprocated. It is a natural human reflex and something most of us teach and practice with our kids. If we do not, we make them incapable of respecting and reciprocating love as adults. My story will give you an instance of that.
On a hot summer afternoon, a smiling, cheerful young lady came over to my house to look at one of the adjacent flats that we were renting out. We own two adjacent flats that we had interconnected so that it could be used as one big flat or partitioned in two.
The next day she came along with her husband and two cute twin daughters aged around two years. I instantly fell in love with those two little angels. We liked the family, a loving young family. They moved in the next day and as it happens I started liking the long chat over tea with my new neighbor, the young lady. The kids ran throughout the house while we did so.
We became very friendly with each other. She was young and would often come to me for advice and I advised her on things as I would have advised my own daughter. She was of my kid’s age, my kids who like her live in a different city on their own (also the reason why I was renting away part of the house). I somehow also saw a reflection of mine in the young lady, as it reminded me of the time I was settling in a new city with two very young kids many years ago. Soon meals were being exchanged, I would many a times baby sit the twin girls, help the young lady with things around the house. As I mentioned I did what I would have done for my own kid. In the process I became extremely fond and immensely attached to the young lady and her kids.  
My husband and I have an active social life and every three months we go for vacations or religious trips. I must also tell that I am not very methodical on keeping valuables around the house. On returning home, we would usually be unable to find things. It was as if they were disappearing. Soon we were certain someone was stealing things from the house. During such grim period it was the friendliness of the young lady that provided me some solace.
As it usually happens, we doubted all the help around the house, we changed our locks but things still kept on disappearing. My husband once mentioned the possibility of our tenants being involved? I immediately ruled out that out. I was not ready to believe that she, whom I treated like my own daughter may be involved in it.
A sense of helplessness prevailed. So my husband placed a camera within the house.
We went out for dinner that night. As soon as we came home, we checked the recording with a bated heart. I almost fainted when I saw that within moments of our leaving, my tenant, the young lady entered our flat through the interconnected door, she had somehow manipulated latches of that door. What was even more shocking that her kids also came along with her who played around unaware? She looked for things in the closets, in the drawers, found some currency bills, pocketed it and left the scene.
I sat dumbfounded. I was numb, tears rolled down my eyes from the shock. The shock was not for loss of goods but for loss of the faith, loss of love, loss of affection which was blown to smithereens like a mirror.
You may think this is to do with a con job, a habit of stealing or much like an addiction that shop lifters have. But I think otherwise. When someone cheats a person who treats you like your own, showers you with motherly love, the fundamental problem is different. I say then it is the inability to absorb and reciprocate love. It is because that individual has perhaps not been taught to reciprocate love, respect and trust. It could be because the individual had scarce love and trust bestowed on them while growing up.
What do you think? 

This is our 30th story published on this blog. It has been 30 days of storytelling so far. One story a day, it has been an amazing journey hearing, sharing and reading stories. Real stories from real people. Stories that touched, inspired and made us smile. 

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