Shoshti and London is steaming chaos. The Northern Line is out of action. As is the District and there’s some work being done on the Piccadilly. Again. Anamika Ghosh mutters darkly to herself before turning back on her heel, mentally scanning through her inner Tube map. Out of luck, she heads over to the escalators and takes the rolling steps two at a time. Outside, the air is muggy. Splendidly overcast, the clouds have trapped in a particularly bothersome humidity. It is autumn. It ought to be fresh, but it is not. Dressed as she is for the wind and falling leaves in a rust coloured coat and a chocolate brown scarf, Anamika feels overwhelmed by a soupy, swampy warmth. Peeling off layers and stuffing them into her Primark tote, she sets off at a pace. As ever, with the odds stacked against her, she is surprisingly fleet-footed and today is no different. She makes it onto the 9 with seconds to spare. There’s a seat going free and Anamika sinks into it gratefully.
As London rolls past majestically – if haltingly, courtesy of the customary Thursday morning traffic – Anamika leans back into her seat, plugs in her earphones and scans her phone. WhatsApp is aflame. Apart from a few messages here and there from friends and colleagues, it’s all the handiwork of the families Ghosh and Mukherjee. She scrolls through the family group-chats. There are many of them and she has muted them all. But now, she looks through them. One for the Mukherjees. One for the Ghoshes. One for the Ray cousins. One for the Ghosh cousins. One for the Mukherjee ‘Gurls’ and one for the Ghosh ‘Gals’. There are three hundred and seventy-six messages in all. Over the last few days, as their count has slowly mounted, Anamika has held herself back from reading them. To open a family group chat, she thinks, is to head down a wormhole of forwards, jokes, warnings (about nutrition, corrupt MLAs collapsing flyovers and radiation from mobile phones), memes and family lore. To open a family group chat, while sitting in a flat-share, in a council estate is to well and truly admit to yourself that you are lonely. It is to admit to youself that your late twenties are not really panning out in the way that you had imagined when you set yourself off to university at eighteen, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to earn yourself what ultimately proved to be an entirely demoralising degree in History. It is a despair almost singularly cured by two and a half tubs of Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough and three 500 ml bottles of full fat Coke. The drink and not the drug. But as Anamika has her Puja finery to fit into, a Tagore opera to be a ‘shokhi’ in and because there was a warning about Cookie Dough maybe, possibly, being contaminated by shards of glass, she has been holding herself back from the wormhole. Until now. Today, helped by Birendra Kishore Bhadra and a YouTube hack, and by an old Twix that she has fished out of the bottom of her tote, Anamika allows the floodgates to open.
On days when TFL has forced her hand and forced her onto the number 9, Anamika takes it as a message from the gods to do nothing but sit back, plug into her playlist on Spotify and watch London go by. The 9 offers, in her opinion, the best tour of London that money can buy, taking in everything from Somerset House on The Strand to the Ritz and beyond. But today, by the time, the bus has pulled up at the traffic lights on High Street Kensington (when she would ordinarily have been ogling the houses and cars of the rich and famous) Anamika is lost in Kolkata. Or, to be more precise, Puja in Kolkata. The chats follow a similar pattern. First come the memes, each wishing everyone a very ‘Shubho Shoshti’. Then come the pandal-hopping photographs. Anamika learns that this year, everyone is scandalised that pandal-hopping has begun on Treetiya, upping the ante on the start of last year’s celebrations which began on the now staid Chaturthi…The groups are filled with selfies galore; selfies at midnight to selfies at dawn. Beaming with sweaty faces, accessorised by Cornettos ,candy floss and DSLRs in hand and looped around necks, all her uncles, aunts, cousins line up with umpteen realisations and approximations of the Devi and her merry rabble of four in the background. Interspersed with these ‘clicks’ are arty close ups of diyas and sculptures of sugar cane, or terracotta, or repurposed light bulbs or pencil shavings!
Her families are live and loose in Kolkata, they are taking in the world’s greatest city-wide art installation and documenting each event, detail by pulsating detail; from ‘notun-jama’ excitement to searing seventy-foot statue, from midnight feasts of egg rolls to sips of sweet,milky tea served in matir-khuri by rosy-fingered sun’s rise. Then, come the wistful ‘wish I was there’ messages from those who have spread further afield and have not accumulated enough holidays to warrant a visit ‘home’. They wish those at ‘home’ well and promise to join them next year. Puja has barely begun and already the battle cry of all Puja-going aficionados have begun: ‘asche bochor abar hobe’.
It doesn’t end there of course. Just as the bus begins its final loop towards Hammersmith and Anamika readies herself to disembark, tucking the phone into her pocket, it buzzes into life once more.
Wear smthng new.
It is her mother. Her words are followed by several brown, politically correct, ‘dancing girl’ emojis. Mrinalini Ghosh has taken to smart phones and social media like a duck takes to water. Unlike her children, both of whom who insist on long form, punctuation and paragraphs and view Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and now, the perplexing yet seductive pithiness of Snapchat as guilty pleasures, Mrinalini Ghosh prefers text-speak and the hashtag. While she does have a propensity to leave a space between the hashtag and the tag itself, thereby not always fulfilling her tagging intention, she nevertheless gives it a good shot. She is the veritable queen of the Emoji and she rarely leaves an Emoji unturned in order to get her point across. Anamika smiles to herself, her mood lifted by the messages from her mother which continue to vibrate and buzz into her hand. Having not yet received a reply, the detail of Mrinalini’s directive only continue to escalate.
Wr da brwn scarf. Baba gt 4 u. Dakshinapan?
Lost it? Alrdy?
There is nothing to do but to send her mother proof. Words alone will never suffice. Anamika unravels the scarf. Tucking her hair behind her ears, licking her lips in lieu of gloss, self-consciously glancing around to see whether she is being observed, she fumbles with the phone and hastily takes a picture of herself and shares it with Mrinalini. She hopes for relative peace for the rest of the day.
It is only when she has greeted her colleagues, put the Venti Macchiato (there’s a reason that she can only afford a bedsit, Anamika’s tastes run high; glossy, gossipy magazines and coffee from international conglomerates notch up a fair bill) down on her desk and fired up the desktop to read and respond to the day’s first round of emails, that she realises what she has done. Warm fear laced with a sweat-scented embarrassment prickles her skin and she reaches for the phone. She checks WhatsApp again and there it is, proof that she has royally set herself up. The ‘Ki re, notun jama?’ messages have already started flooding in, followed, close at heel by messages of the ‘Hey, long time no see’ type. She has sent her selfie to the Indian Family Mukherjee from whence her mother, Mrinalini Ghosh nee Mukherjee has forwarded it on to the Ghosh ‘Gamily’.