With age, advertisements claiming products for women to age gracefully, gets my attention more than the shoes that I used to lust after. The messages are that I must look divinely as a woman. I read all endorsements and marketing campaigns, targeting the older bolder women. Most tell us that women are strong, godly, motherly, blah blah. With so much bombardment, I automatically search for the invisible halo around my head, to my horror, all I find is thinning hair and tons of others things on my crown that need nourishment and care, except for the crown that companies claim that it must be there. Crooked but hanging precariously, to embody and look like the Queen on all occasions, good or bad.
The truth is that with ageing comes irregular periods and sleeplessness. An inability to tolerate bullshit. I feel like passing a napkin to the bullshitters and telling them to wipe clean as the bullshit is stinky and unsightly.
Also constantly to be told “you don’t look your age”. I retort, “thank you but I am my age. I am looking for the Botox and the fillers, the minute my skin demands it. I have earned the jab.” Most are frightened to say more. My looks say that no one can age shame me any longer.
The only thing I miss about growing older is my inability to sleep through all problems. In my younger days, before my math results, I slept through the stress my parents had for me. I also slept through the heartbreaks, the best friend who was bitchy and the guy who I liked, who didn’t like me back. Yes! I mostly slept through things.
But now sleep is precious.
I don’t sleep as deep as before. I thought it was anxiety of various kinds that was robbing my precious sleep. But I realise maybe I don’t eat enough carbohydrates before I sleep. I don’t know the reason. Is it my crazy hormones or lack of rice in my diet at night? I haven’t pinned yet into the answer.
Recently, I was most amused and proud that a fellow Bengali girl, 26 years old, Triparna Chakraborty won a whopping prize of Rs 5 lacs from a mattress company in the sleep internship programme. Yes! You read it right, there is a competition of who can sleep the most. This girl beat all the other competitors hollow. I am her fan now.
Also, I take this as a personal victory. Any Bengali winning anything, the state wins it too. It is by default that we take personal pride. I recall my Dida and Ma constantly talk about “Bhaat Ghoom” (rice induced sleep). They promised me “eat the rice and shut the eyes.” Truly it was magic. I ignored their advice, but I used to very sleep well.
It is only recently that I have stopped eating rice at night. I miss it a lot at times. I envy cousins and aunties of mine who eat rice, at any godforsaken hour and also manage to not put on weight. Plus they zzzz away to glory. I have been witness to the tummy going up and down and off to la la wonderland they reach. I envy them all. I have been awake listening to the sonorous sound of my late father and mother snoring after a plateful of rice. It seemed so blissful and calm.
I think for Triparna too, one must credit this envious diet of the Bengali fish curry made with onion seeds in mustard oil with a big dollop of rice. Voila! She won the competition.
My gran promised me if I ate the sticky rice with ghee and potatoes, my eyes will shut for 9 hours flat. It will be like the slumber of a sloth bear. As I grow older, I quite like the idea, I must admit.
If you dig deep, most Bengalis swear by it. You will find them aplenty in the alleys of Kolkata, they argue about politics, football and the quality of the fish. Very few care too hard to make the big money and buy the big car. It is about who wins the debate on the quality of the fish and the ardent wait for Hilsa every monsoon.
I do credit my parents for teaching me to pick up the gills and check the freshness of the fish. They did it always before buying the fish in Delhi’s CR Park market. The locality of the displaced Bengalis from Bangladesh. All came during partition and settled there. It is mini Kolkata.
With so much of roots gnawing inside, I cannot do a heart to heart if you’re not creatively inclined and also if you can’t have a conversation about nostalgia and Tagore, in reverse order.
Also, I can’t be “fast friends” with you if you don’t understand the love for Posto (poppy seeds), Shorshe (mustard) and the quintessential Begun Bhaja, (aubergine fritters). Every time the rain pours into the heart of the city of Kolkata and its dwellers, where time stands still. Most honourable Bengalis must eat the fresh catch and have a good night sleep.
Written by an unapologetic Probashi Bengali (out of the state Bengali).
—Mohua Chinappa is an author and a podcaster of a show called
The Mohua Show.