Kolkata meets Troy

A very dear friend came to visit me from India and started talking about his roomba. He extolled the virtues of it. He said how easy it is to use and programme. He said how satisfied he was with the product. He, perhaps, saw the dog hair universe in every nook and cranny of my house and felt this dust and dog hair infested house could do with some cleaning help. The inhabitants are obviously laz….I mean, otherwise occupied to keep their house minimally clean. He said he was going to gift us a roomba. I protested vehemently, he did not bring it up anymore, we had spicy chicken wings, went to the mall, hung out drinking tea and then he left. After a week of his departure, an Amazon packet came for me bearing the gift of …..yes, you guessed it, a roomba. Whenever I get a new gadget, my first reaction is one of panic. What? I have to learn something new? Something modern? Something that requires reading directions and setting up? My brain’s first impulse is to simply shut down for a few minutes. Unwillingly, I read the directions, make sense of them, set things up and use them. I looked at my shiny, black roomba with same anxiety and brain shutdown. “I have to figure you out?”

But first things first, it required a name. After much deliberation we all decided on Troy. I don’t quite remember the reason behind it so don’t ask. The next step was to set it up, connect it to the wifi and turn it on. When all was done (after some hiccups) Troy started zooming around the house picking up Sage hair as the four of us, humans, watched him work with utter amazement on our faces. Sage watched him too, with wariness and distaste.

I became Troy fan. Why won’t I be a fan of something that runs around cleaning my house while I sit on the couch with my feet up and a book in my hand? A robot maid! When I read about Irona in the comics Richie Rich in my childhood, I never imagined I would own a semi Irona one day. But here it was, running around my house picking up dirt, dog hair, gently nudging the dog to move when he was in its way, gently nudging my feet when I am in its way. How enchanting!

Not too long ago, on a Sunday morning, I was calling my home in Kolkata while Troy did its magic around the house. On a whim, I turned the camera around on my phone and showed my parents and the women who keep the house for them my robotic helper. The astonishment rivaled mine when Troy first came home. Baba called both Breshpati and Gouri to see the marvel. He explained to them how I sat on the couch all day, without moving a muscle, and my house gets cleaned. I tried to intervene weakly saying, no, I still need to dust and mop, but that was brushed aside. The news spread that I sit on my lazy butt all day and my house gets magically clean. The cleaning ladies in Kolkata watched with their mouths open as Troy ran around cleaning. They spend hours sweeping, dusting, mopping to keep the Kolkata dirt out of the house and here was a circular machine doing just that without any human intervention. They asked me several questions. I answered trying to explain. But the explanations did not sink it. To them, this was simply unbelievable, magic even. I followed Troy with my phone camera while the two ladies watched it clean. Roomba met its adoring fans via internet. And the word of my laziness spread like wildfire.


Food and us

Long, long time ago when I was very little and was just learning to read English, my mother bought a picture book for me. It was mainly pictures of two blonde children, their white dad, their white mom and their yellow dog. The few sentences in that book talked about their usual day. For example, they woke up at 7:00 am, ate breakfast, played with their dog, went for a picnic – mundane things like that. The most surprising element in the book for me was that the mother started making dinner at 4:00 pm and the family ate dinner at 5:00 pm. I remember reading that line again and again in amazement and wonder. I always wondered what the family ate and it confused me to no end that dinner was prepared in one hour. Since I was a wee lass, I have seen and observed a very different rhythm of life, not only in our household but in the society in which I was nurtured. The rhythm of our very middle class Bengali life was completely food centric.

When I was 4 or 5 years old, the morning started with intense smoke. The household help put fire to the earthen stove called unoon. It required coal and cow dung patties. Experts could get it going with minimum smoke but if one was not an expert or the coal was not completely dry, the smoke permeated the whole neighborhood. Water for morning tea was boiled on the burning stove, followed by breakfast. Generally the menu for breakfast was decided the night before. Tea was accompanied by biscuit (cookies), while real breakfast was cooked. After breakfast, the household help came to my grandfather asking what the menu for lunch and dinner would be. My grandfather held the purse for family expenditure so the menu for lunch and dinner was a joint decision by my mother and him. Sometimes they disagreed and then there would be problems.

When I was older, we first had kerosene stove and then gas stove with two burners. Ah, the luxury!! Two burners were so appreciated and the hassle of not having to get the earthen stove going every morning was the best feeling ever by those responsible for cooking family meals. This is how the day went in our house and it is safe to generalize in this case and assume that this is how the day went in most houses when I was growing up. My mother, at that point, decided the menu for lunch and dinner, the household help went to the market to pick up ingredients for the meal. She came home and started the process of chopping vegetables, gutting fish or cleaning meat, preparing spices. When I was young, we did not use ready made spices. Cumin paste was made from scratch, turmeric paste obtained from turmeric tube, gorom moshla was made by crushing cardamom, clove, cinnamon sticks in a mortar and pestle. I still remember the sound and smell of fresh spices being prepared and the noise of sheel nora in our kitchen. Lunch menu was definitely different from dinner menu. In between, there had to be elaborate breakfast – luchi torkari, and evening snack – porota alu r torkari or Bengali chowmein or alu r chop (fritters of different kinds). We had tea (milk for young ones) and biscuit when we woke up, around 9 there would be a hearty breakfast, lunch around 1 or 2, tea again around 4, evening snack around 6 and dinner around 10:30 or 11 pm. This was typically how much we ate during a day off. So one can imagine, the household help’s day was spent in the kitchen. With the advent of gadgets and ready made spices, life became much easier but for many families the number of meals in a day remained the same.

For me, someone used to seeing life revolve around preparing food, it was incredible that the mama in the family started preparing food at 4 pm and the family sat down to dinner at 5 pm.

Being a mama in the family now who loves to cook but hardly has time anymore, I now smile at my amazement at the book. Most days we scrounge around, make do with what is lying in the fridge, boil some pasta and slap some pesto on it, make peanut butter and jelly sandwich and make dinner in less than half an hour. Those days I think that mama in the book must have made some elaborate meal – it took her a whole hour!


Aging does not bother me too much. In a weird way, it is liberating. The face is not as thin as it used to be, the jawline is getting blurry, there are pouches under my eyes, the hair has significant strands of white. Although, I must say when I take care to blow dry my hair, and the strands of white are not all fuzzy and crazy like, they totally look stylish.

Feet hurt a little at the end of the day and yes, the back hurts sometimes when I wake up. The knee creaks and the doctor tells me my bones are bad. Physically, it is a downhill journey but mentally it is freeing. I speak my mind more, I am less sensitive, I can laugh about myself and the horrible insecurity has magically disappeared. No, you will still not find me dancing wildly on the dance floor but that is primarily because I have 2 left feet and no sense of direction. I can cause serious injury to fellow dancers by grooving in the wrong direction. When someone calls me old, it is not an insult, just the state of my being in the present moment. I embrace all of it. Except one thing……

What is with the belly fat??? I hate that jiggle. And it is not about what people are going to think about my pear shaped body, it is completely about my efforts at getting rid of it and the utter failure.

All my life, I have been unable to put on weight; so with the cockiness of someone with fast metabolism I did not pay attention to the gradually accumulating belly fat till one day I could not button my pants. Talk about a rude awakening. Every time a pant feels tighter or the love handles spill over the waistband I promise myself, this is it – less carbs, no sugar, more exercise and I can get this to disappear. But I work at a library. It is a well known fact that librarians love to eat and feed fellow librarians. Customers love us and show their appreciation by bringing us home made goodies or store bought treats. Moreover, I am a Bengali. We Bengalis can not resist food. So all of the above work against my good resolutions.

So now that I have written down all the reasons for my burgeoning girth, I can hopefully work towards a resolution. There are a couple of reasons for that. A doctor check up is coming up. My doctor will not be amazed by my fantastic BMI this time and second being a Kolkata trip in a couple of months. Kolkata means home, Kolkata means parents, Kolkata means love, Kolkata means memories, Kolkata means amazing Bengali food and Bengali sweets, Kolkata means…. belly fat. Sigh. And my slowing metabolism. Deadly combination.