Superheroes. Western And Eastern.

Amar Chitra Katha’s ‘Tales of Hanuman’ introduced me to the heroics of this mythological superhero. I was fascinated by his exploits. Especially the one in which he flew up to the sun thinking it’s a nice juicy mango, or some equally delicious fruit. His Lankan pyrotechnics, of course, is the stuff of which legends are made of. The wrestling icon of India, Dara Singh was aptly cast as Hanuman in the 80’s mega serial ‘Ramayana’. He did try his best to do justice to this superhero with the help of his highly expressive eyebrows that wiggled lovingly at every utterance of Lord Rama and nostrils that flared alarmingly in the mighty Ravana’s presence. However, the not-so-cutting edge graphics of that era and the occasional HMT watch on Hanuman’s hand did not do justice to this mighty hero’s adventures. This watch fact is a bit of an urban legend though. However, canvas shoes were often spotted on the feet of the soldiers who pranced around each other waving their weapons in a desultory fashion on the battlefield.

Around the same time, another caped crusader started making a dent on my impressionable mind. Every Sunday at 5:30 pm, ‘The Amazing Adventures Of Spiderman’ would be shown on the one and only Doordarshan channel. Playgrounds would get emptied. Birthdays in the neighbourhood were postponed till late in the evening. Homework was completed. Favourite uncles accompanied by hot samosas and juicy jalebis were ignored. A lot of compromises were made for the webbed superhero as he swung from one adventure to the other. In fact, one of my most memorable birthday gifts was a special Marvel Comics ‘bundle’ edition of Spiderman. Memories of those wonder years came cascading back as I spotted these two childhood heroes together in the bustling Beltola Bazaar in Guwahati.

Love In The Time Of Intolerance

Dighalipukhuri (or the long pond) is a famous landmark in my hometown, Guwahati. I used to cross this tree-fringed pond every day on my way to school. The beautiful location of the pond and its proximity to famous institutions such as Cotton College and Handique College ensured its popularity amongst young couples eager to spend some quality time with each other. An activity that used to raise the BP levels of the older generation considerably. I particularly remember a letter addressed to the Editor of the venerable daily, the Assam Tribune, lamenting how the Assamese society is crumbling under this onslaught of unbridled youthful passion (or words to that effect). All because the writer spotted some cooing youngsters at Dighalipukhuri when he went for his morning walk. Couples who obviously found each other’s company more interesting than early morning lectures on Keynesian economics or the difference between mitosis and meiosis.

Much water has flown down the Brahmaputra since then, but the attitude towards public displays of affection hasn’t changed much even today. There is some tolerance. A bit of grudging acceptance. At times, there’s also tacit approval. Take Mumbai’s Bandra Bandstand for instance. A romantic albeit rocky Eden of sorts for lovers craving some us-time away from the prying eyes of millions. Previously, cops patrolling the area used to act as the moral police. Any hint of affection was quickly dispensed with a stern warning. Now they intervene only they see couples oblivious to the incoming tide and are in danger of being swept out to sea. On the other hand, there are the culture zealots who preserve our age-old culture by ganging up against these young couples on specific days of the year. Or, if they have nothing else to do, on specific days of the week.

It’s really difficult to comprehend how simple expressions of love can be frowned upon. Simple being the operative word here. Of course, people have a right to express their reservations about tonsil hockey being played in a bus or bare-bodied horizontal calisthenics being performed in a nana-nani park. But other than that, I really don’t see any other reason why we shouldn’t celebrate being in love in public like this lost-in-love couple. In an increasingly violent and intolerant world, these are the moments that serve as a reminder that life could be beautiful too.

Biscuits from Mr. Biswas.

A good part of my growing up years was spent in salivating over the goodies of our friendly neighbourhood bakery, Kamrup Bakery in Guwahati - a veritable Alladin’s den of freshly-baked goodies, appetising aromas of which would waft out and encircle unsuspecting passersby and slowly but surely entice them inside the bakery. Various varieties of delicious bread (no brown, multi-grain or other pretenders). Cream rolls. Jam rolls. Sweet biscuits. Salty biscuits. ‘S’ biscuits (because they were shaped like an ‘S’). Birthday cakes (with icing so hard that a bite into one could induce slightly shaky milk teeth to get embedded in it. It had happened to a friend’s brother. Only once though.) Boiled cake (an Assamese special). Pastries. And much, much, more.

Everything would be stacked up or laid out in colourful neat rows. Samples would be distributed liberally to help in the crucial decision making process. Of course, the regulars would just have to step in and before one can say ‘Threptin’ their neat brown-paper packages would be waiting for them at the cashier. One fine day, they started preparing snacks such as singras (samosas), egg chops (pronounced as ‘sops’), and if memory serves me right, even chicken/mutton cutlets (minus the stuffy colonial club atmosphere where white-gloved attendants look down upon the non-regulars with practiced disdain). Life became much tastier. However, the inevitable call of ‘higher studies’ meant moving approximately about 3400 km away from Kamrup Bakery. Slowly but surely, like all pleasant memories of childhood, they receded gracefully to that special place where they wait patiently to be revived again. And revive they did when I was roaming around aimlessly in Bara Bazar, Shillong. The heady aroma of just-out-of-the-oven bread helped me sniff out Mr. Biswas’s modest bakery. A bit bashful (as evident in the picture), Mr. Biswas, however, had no qualms about lending me an attentive ear as I recounted tales of my favourite bakery. I asked him for a half-kilo biscuit pack. He happily packed a kilo of his best. And vehemently refused my money. We shook hands and I walked back happily. It always feels good to part on a sweet note with a bakery.