Tag Archives: nostalgia

Reena Kapoor’s Poetry Is a Nostalgia Trip Of Places Untraveled

What makes you a poet?

Reena Kapoor’s debut book of poetry, Arrivals & Departures: Journeys in Poems makes this question even more relevant. Consider poetry a result of meditation, of thoughts, ideas, and memories that collect in the mind through observation. Reena grew up crisscrossing India as her father was a doctor in the Indian army. Her educational path is, like her poetry, quite diverse. She earned an undergraduate degree in Engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, a Master’s from Northwestern University, and works as a software product leader in Silicon Valley. Kapoor’s debut poetry collection is thematically divided into sections interspersed with photographs she took. These images seamlessly connect her poetic utterance with passionate understanding. Recently I caught up with Reena Kapoor, a Bay Area resident, over email to pick her brains about her beautiful bouquet of poems and pictures. 

IC: Arrivals & Departures is your debut poetry collection. What role did nostalgia play in putting this book together if any and how?

I am an immigrant and a traveler.  And grew up as such – my father was a doctor in the Indian army and I grew up living all over India. In fact, I attended about 8 schools through high school, and call myself a “musafir” which is the Hindi/Urdu word for a traveler. Nostalgia plays a big role in my written word both due to my life circumstances and I guess to some extent life stage. Something about middle age and you start to see your life as it has been and how it’s brought you where you are. So looking back becomes much more natural vs. being younger where a solitary focus on the future is more apt and natural. My poems also express a “nostalgia” of sorts for what I don’t actually remember, ironically e.g., “koel” talks about the songbird that reminds me of childhood but the home is my parents’ current home which I did not grow up in but it still feels like mine…

IC: My reading of your collection introduced me to multiple themes, and a speaker addressing different voices. Can you talk about the various themes there are in your work, and how they interact with each other? 

The themes in my work are multiple but they tie back to me, my life experiences and my take on life, and how to live a good one. A lot of what I say has to do with how I grew up, (what it was and I guess to some extent IS like) being a girl/ woman in India and then my own very personal attachments to people and interests and objects that hold enduring meaning for me.

IC: I quite like the interdisciplinary play of images and words, where sometimes the image is a poetic utterance itself. What was your process like in putting this unique book together? What do you want your audience to take away from it? 

This is perhaps the hardest question for me – one that I get a lot of but one that I am pretty much at a loss to answer i.e., the “how” of writing my poems. The pen moves and I follow. I am led by an inner voice that I can’t turn away. When it arrives, I am compelled by words that spill out. I may polish or refine those words later but the initial and main body of the work almost creates itself. I guess it’s probably a given that I can’t “teach” poetry because the “how” of it is so elusive to me. 

These poems have been “coming” to me for over a decade now and I finally found the quiet space to listen and put them down. But it was really my husband who pushed me to publish my work. I was plagued by the usual self-doubt that I guess many writers face – and I still do – as to who would be interested in my words or my ordinary life? The fact that even a few of my friends and loved ones have found some resonance in my poems has been one of my most precious gifts.

IC: You are not just a poet. With degrees from IIT, Northwestern, a keen interest in photography, theatre, and performance as well, did these other aspects of your creativity influence your writing, and if yes how did that come about? 

Becoming an engineer was a practical and financial choice. I liked Math and Physics. And I came from a middle-class family in India where my parents emphasized the importance of being financially independent — especially for women. In those days in India, you could choose to be a doctor, or an engineer or a loser. So I ended up in IIT. I was always active in theatre and continued this pursuit through college and my early working years in the US. Photography came to me later with the iPhone 3…and the iPhone has continued to be my camera of choice. And Poetry came about the same time that I started capturing photos. I guess some latent creative impulses were clamoring for expression all along but I could only hear them once I felt a little more “settled”, a little more free, and in some ways liberated from my own expectations of “success”. It’s been a wonderful path and I am still loving every minute of it. My very first play “Art of the Possible” was played online recently and I am actively writing more theatre and literary pieces that will hopefully be produced soon. 

IC: Every day before I sit to write, I like to read something that I love, irrespective of the genre. What inspires you to write? 

The human condition. Nothing more or less. Why are we this way and what moves us and why? Finding happiness and meaning in the smallest of things is all there really is — yet it is also the human condition to chase so much else for naught; so much prestige, empty adulation, status, endless wealth yet most of which often leaves the traveler feeling alone and empty. Yet the chase becomes a life. Why? Eternal questions and I am not sure I will ever have answers. But the pursuit of such questions moves me and such learning is what I seek.


Dr. Manisha Sharma is a poet, fiction writer, and yoga teacher passionate about social issues in India. Her work is longlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, a finalist for the 2020 Cream City Review Fiction Contest, a semifinalist for the 2019 American Short(er) Fiction Contest. Her publications are in The Madison Review, The Common, Puerto Del Sol, The Bombay Review, and more. Currently, she is a lecturer in English and Yoga at two community colleges in Virginia and Ohio. 

Pink and Pollution at 4 O’Clock

I’ve begun applying hot coconut oil on my hair again every Saturday. I search for the little footprints I left back in the streets of India playing football. I seek that warm sun and humidity in Hyderabad on Saturday evenings. I’ve begun reminiscing about the pink and pollution of 4 pm. The kiraane ki dukaan that quenched my thirst with sprite and a 10 rs. Lays packet. I reminisce about the rainy days of playing four corners instead of basketball. I remember the smell of rain hitting concrete. I remember the feeling of melted dairy milk silk on my fingers, the cold glass of mango juice that numbs my fingers on a hot day, the smell of yellow daal tadka, and aloo after coming home from school on Saturday. 

Artwork by Swati Ramaswamy

This nostalgia made me realize: the smell of rain on concrete is not so different in San Francisco. Sprite tastes the same here, just a little (lot) sweeter. The sun at 4 pm yesterday was bright and golden and made me feel like I was in Mumbai. As a kid, I never understood the feeling of belonging to a place, everywhere can be your home if you want it to. But this past year I felt so distant from every place that I had called home. I felt in between things and just slightly offbeat. But these small things, like the smell of concrete and the sun, connected me back to all my homes. It connected me to Sunday morning skies in Japan, which were perfectly blue and sunny. It connected me to the most beautiful view from my balcony in India. It made me realize that pieces of my home, that felt most like it, always carry themselves with me. They repeat, they renew. No matter how much I change or grow, they give me comfort when I need it. The new year felt like that. Like the smell of freshly baked cake in the kitchen. Like finally making the perfectly round and “crisp on the outside soft on the inside” dosa. It feels just happy enough to be happy for no reason and happy enough to be happy when I’m sad. The feeling of jumping into a cold pool on the hottest day. It was like landing. I think home, wherever it is, invokes comfort in its meaning rather than its physicality. This phase of nostalgia made me realize that if I ever feel lost, I’m still always home.

Renewal. It’s a very tedious word. We renew passports, leases, and licenses. It’s a process that we have already achieved, but need to repeat. Renewals are odd and vacant. But the years that repeat are also renewals. The seasons renew too, so the second time it rains you have an umbrella. Situations repeat, and we change how we react to those repetitions, and we grow. This new year won’t be much different, but I hope it ends up being one of familiarity and comfort, even if it is about seeking new things. I hope there is always belonging, there is always that memory of a home that makes you feel permanent, like a cold glass of mango juice on a hot day.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Nostalgia and Other Maladies

It has been two thousand eighty-eight days since I entered a classroom full of expectant faces waiting for me. I am a teacher, or previously, was! On a chilly December night, in 2014, I bade my best friends adieu at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, to embark on a journey that would change my life. Looking back at the foggy landscape of the city I loved, one last time, I boarded the plane with my seven-year-old daughter and four juggernaut suitcases stuffed with an abbreviated version of my life in India. Twenty-eight hours later, I landed in Lincoln, Nebraska, where a golden sunset reminiscent of an HD wallpaper greeted me. I shook my exhausted daughter out of sleep, thanked the onboard staff, and got off the plane, to start a life in a city at the other end of everything and everyone I knew.

It has been almost six years, since, and in all fairness, I have fallen in love with this country. I have grown to love the “honestly, it’s not for everyone” state of Nebraska. The humble midwestern city with its warm welcoming people, hot, dazzling summers, and bitterly cold, snowy winters, sneaked its way slowly into my heart. Miles upon miles of trails running through the city became my source of sustenance. I love walking! Being raised in a small town in West Bengal by the river Bhagirathi, I grew up walking miles every other evening, along its banks, with my father, listening to him talk about the rich ancient history of Bengal, embroidered with betrayal, bloodshed, and glory! It went on to become an unshakable habit that stayed with me! 

Trails running through Lincoln, Nebraska (Image by Saswati Sen)

Life moves slowly for the wife of a research scholar. It gave me ample time to appreciate the innumerable moments suspended in sunlight, the incredible, intricately shaped snowflakes that stuck to my windowpanes, the unbelievable double rainbow that unfolded in front of my eyes during a walk one evening after a thundershower!.

I wholeheartedly jumped into the new role of a stay-at-home mom and wife! I read voraciously, baked cakes, planned my daughter’s Halloween outfits, listened to my husband’s research goals, cooked specialty Indian dishes for the Department parties. But from the nooks and crannies of my new life, peeped my old one! Assignments, worksheets, Shakespeare, Joyce, and Conrad struggled for predominance in my leisure-languished mind. I woke up in the middle of the night, one day, worried about my next day’s lecture, only to realize that there were no classes to teach… 

I remember one of my favorite Professors talking about roots, how it spreads inside us without warning. We all carry bits and pieces of our childhood, our culture, our beliefs, and practices deep inside us. We realize this only when we migrate.

It is when an atheist’s heart skips a beat watching a video of “Dhaaker badyi” on a forgotten Ashtami evening. It is when you wish that the tall grass of the prairies were “Kaashphul”. Or when you suddenly desperately crave “phuchka” after a particularly heavy grocery run. Or when you run out in the rain, out of years of habit, only to run back inside shivering, realizing its Fall and you are in Nebraska!

A year ago, we moved to the East Coast. It has been a ‘sea’ change of surroundings. Today, I miss Lincoln like I miss India. I miss walking along the trails, waking up to tornado sirens going crazy, or snow days. I miss the old lady on the trail who had the kindest smile in the world. I miss the fragrance of chlorine and sunscreen as I lay lazily by the pool watching my daughter race her father to the deep end. I still miss teaching like an amputee misses a body part. The pain is gone, but the emptiness persists.

Nostalgia is an uninvited guest! It has a peculiar habit of finding out where you live and turning up there. As you adapt, your roots grow wings. The context changes, the music shifts to different chords, but the longing remains. You pine for different things. The subjects change, the needs change, but the ache remains constant.


Saswati Sen is a former English teacher, an avid animal lover, a food enthusiast, who runs on coffee and long walks on the beach or on the trails. When she is not holed up in her den, writing or reading, she always looks for an excuse to travel to quaint little towns with her husband and daughter to sample the local food, art, and music scene.

This Diwali, We All Could Use Some Light

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Dressed in an orange salwar kameez, donning a small black bindi, as I sat on the floors of the verandah in my maiden home in Begusarai, finishing the last bits of the rangoli, it suddenly dawned on me that this was my last Diwali here. I was getting married soon, later in the month of November, and I did not know for sure when I would get a chance to celebrate Diwali in my hometown again. Nostalgia struck and I could see a carousel of images flash in front of my eyes—vibrant speckles of light livening the colony and the entire town, little kids spinning in euphoria around the chakri or ghirni, girls twirling their sparkly ghagra cholis, boys playing around in their best ethnic attires and arrays of sweets spreading the aroma of desi ghee in the air. 

As my entire childhood flashed before my eyes, a drop of tear trickled down my cheek and smudged a petal off my floral rangoli. I quickly fixed it and heralded inside to clean up and get ready for the pooja. I decided to enjoy every bit of it, and cherish every moment with my family. We all got dressed, offered our prayers, lit diyas, and burnt a few ceremonious crackers. This was four years ago. 

This year, as we gear up for yet another Diwali abroad, I miss home. I miss the smiling faces of friends and families. I miss the special desi ghee laddu and barfi. I miss the ambiance of the festival in the air. But most of all, I miss the quintessential Indianness of coming together as a community.

India’s unmatched sense of community

Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, is celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month of Kartika. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. 

One of the best things about growing up in a small Indian town is that you get to experience the sense of community at an altogether different level. For major festivals like Diwali, the entire town decks up and the air fills with ubiquitous love. Every shop, big or small, is decorated, every house, the poor’s or the rich’s, is lit with lamps, and people all over the town visit each other to exchange sweets and gifts.

One of the aspects that makes suburban and rural India unique and special, is the unmatched sense of community. Sadly, in big Indian cities, the essence of the community is slowly diminishing. Having grown up in a small town for 18 years of my life and then having spent a decade in the national capital, I can say this based on my personal experiences and observations. In the blind race to embrace everything modern (read western), we are becoming more and more closed. We have started living behind shut doors. We question all existing traditions and mock centuries-old rituals in the name of modernity. However, this notion cannot be generalized. 

Fortunately, there are still thousands of people who are keeping these traditions alive even while living away from their motherland. I know a lot of Indians, both friends, and families, based outside India in countries like Singapore, the UK, and the US who are actually more traditional than a lot of Indian friends living in cities like Delhi and Bangalore. Only last month, here in Singapore, I was invited to a friend’s place for Navratri celebrations where we offered prayers to Goddess Durga and enjoyed homemade traditional prasad.

On a personal level, I too try my best to celebrate festivals like Holi, Teej, Diwali, and Dussehra with my friends here in Singapore. We visit the temple together, cook traditional dishes, exchange gifts, and bask in the glory of our rich Indian culture. On that note, let me share how I celebrate Diwali in Singapore.

How I celebrate Diwali away from India…

Surabhi lighting a diya for Diwali.

Singapore is a multicultural country with a considerable Indian population. The mecca for Indians like myself looking for specific Indian supplies is Little India. So, naturally, all my festival preparations involve one or two trips to the markets to Little India where I get everything I need- from desi ghee laddu and pooja samagri to diyas and colorful earthen lamps. Besides, whenever I visit India, I make it a point to get sarees for myself and new clothes for my husband, keeping the upcoming festivals in mind.

As the festival approaches, I follow the drill that I grew up watching in my mom’s house. From thorough cleaning of the entire house to replacing old sheets and mats and buying new clothes and garlands for the divine images in my home temple.

Following a generations-old family tradition, one night before Diwali, I light the Jam ka Diya. This mitti ka diya is traditionally lit to keep the evil away and invite prosperity and happiness into the house. Lit at midnight, this diya is kept outside the main entrance of the house on a base of five essential grains or anaaj.

A day before Diwali, we celebrate Dhanteras, also known as Dhanatrayodashi. This day is dedicated to Lord Dhanvantari, Kubera, Yama, and Devi Lakshmi. There are several folk tales associated with this festival. 

One of the most popular ones is that of King Hima and how his wife laid all her gold and silver ornaments at the threshold of her husband’s sleeping chamber and lit an oil lamp in the evening upon hearing about the prediction of his death. The story entails that when Yama– the Lord of death arrived disguised as a serpent to kill King Hima, his eyes were blinded by the shining jewelry and the brilliance of the lamps. Yama returned without taking the life of King Hima. Another story goes that Dhanvantari-— the Lord of Medicine was born on this day following Samudra Manthan, a cosmic battle between Gods and Demons over Amrit or the holy nectar of immortality. 

I get really excited about this pre-festival celebration as we go out and buy gold or silver coins as a sign of prosperity to mark this day.  

On the night of Diwali, we deck our house with floral decorations, lamps, lights, and diyas, cook special dishes and offer prayers to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha. I generally get my desi ghee laddu from Kailasa Parbat in Little India and try to make some sweets at home as well. We meet with some of our local friends and exchange gifts. I love dressing up in a saree and taking pictures for the families back at home.

Another key aspect of celebrating Diwali, or for that matter any festival abroad, is video calling everyone back at home and exchanging greetings and good wishes.

The next day, we celebrate baasi Diwali where we clean up the diyas that completely used up the oil and light the diyas that still have oil left in them using the baasi (old or stale) oil. This brings the three-day celebrations to an end and leaves us with lights twinkling in our eyes and smiles on our faces. I feel that as Indians, we are lucky to inherit a rich cultural heritage. Our traditions are thousands of years old and we must take pride in celebrating them no matter where we are. If we look at everything that is happening around the world right now—from natural disasters to health pandemics and increasing crime rates to the unnecessary spread of hatred—I think we all can use some knowledge over ignorance and some light.

May this Diwali enlighten us all with love, compassion, and kindness.

Shubh Deepavali!


Surabhi Pandey is a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

Without Subtitles: The Sholay Test

I grew up in one of those Bengali families that rarely went to the theater to watch a Hindi film. Despite its sixty golden jubilees even Sholay could not breach that snobbishness. Haathi mera Saathi did but that was more about the elephant than Rajesh Khanna.

sholay_movie_wallpaper75920

I watched Sholay years later, an act that was in part catching-up, and part atonement. Outside the rarefied environs of a missionary school, my Bollywood ignorance was proving to be a serious handicap in fitting in an engineering college. By the time I went to see Sholay with an equally deprived friend, almost everyone in the audience had seen it umpteen times and could recite great spaghetti strings of dialogue en masse as if at a prayer revival meeting. I felt very embarrassed but thankful that the darkness of the theatre could hide my Sholay virginity.

A film that I had only known from the Holi song telecast every year on Chitrahaar (a Bollywood music television program telecast in the 1970s) unfolded in front of me in technicolor splendor. I did not care that it had been described by some as a “curry western.” To me it was thrilling.

Perhaps it was the over-compensation of a new-found convert but I quickly became a sort of Sholay missionary. On repeat viewings Basanti’s chatter would grate sometimes and Asrani’s Little Dictator act was not quite as funny but the film still held together. I knew everything by then-the loaded coin, what lay under Sanjeev Kumar’s shawl, what terrible fate awaited young Sachin. But it didn’t matter. The film’s melodrama just sucked me in every time.

When I moved to the United States, homesick and lonely in college campuses in the Midwest, streaky pirated Bollywood movies were our magic carpet rides into nostalgia for an hour or two or three. Sholay was the ultimate comfort food.

Moving to California there were Indian grocery stores, lunch buffets, and even a rather shabby theater that showed Bollywood films while the snack counter sold stale samosas. It was our bonding time with other Indian friends. Our American friends, partners, coworkers were not part of that experience. Slumdog Millionaire had not yet brought any “Jai Ho” cool to Bollywood yet.

Then one day some local desi non-profit brought Sholay to the big screen. “We must go see it,” I told G, my very all-American partner. “It is THE iconic Indian film.”
G was nonplussed. “Didn’t you say that about Pather Panchali?”

I had to admit I had said that. And we had been to see Pather Panchali at a film festival screening. The film seemed to be on its last legs, frayed, tattered, the subtitles lost against the black and white. I had felt helpless in my frustration at how much of the film, damaged and crackling, seemed to get lost in translation.
“Yes,” I replied patiently. “But that’s the iconic Indian ART film. This is the iconic Indian Bollywood film.”

“Three hours?”

“Yes, but it has everyone,” I said enthusiastically. “Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Helen …” I stopped since I might as well have been reciting the names of exotic reptiles in the Amazon.

“But you have to see it,” I said. “It’s like part of my cultural DNA.” It was not exactly true but emotional blackmail works. We went to the film together surrounded by dozens of Indians, techie couples, their visiting parents, even some ABCD types. It was some kind of charity screening and the film started late.

Then the train chugged into view onto a sun-baked platform, the supersized titles rolled across the screen and I settled down in my seat.

“Mujhe do aadmiyon ki zaroraat hai.” As I awaited the arrival of Jai and Veeru, G leaned over and said dubiously “Doesn’t this film have subtitles?”

And I realized to my horror it did not.

Thus began Sholay, the whispered translation version, in a dark theater.

“See these guys are small time crooks. They are being recruited by this guy …”
“I get that.”

“Ok this khota sikka (bad penny) line is important. Remember it.” There was some restlessness in the row behind me but I plodded on undeterred, my sinking heart wondering how long we could keep it up before G’s patience finally snapped.
“Now it’s a flashback, this train scene.”

When the screen exploded in fisticuffs I heaved a sigh of relief, able finally to suspend my running commentary. The Indian couple behind us moved to another seat. For the first time I regretted what felt like Sholay’s cast of hundreds. I wished there were more songs so that we could just enjoy the spectacle without worrying about the plot.

I tried to do the shorthand version. This character Basanti is just talkative. She talks too much. It’s not that important to know what she’s saying I said reassuringly even though the audience was laughing uproariously at the well-worn patter. My audience of one merely grunted. Amjad Khan’s dialogues in my translation seemed pedestrian, stripped of all their lazy menace. “How many people were there?” was just not loaded enough but I struggled on gamely, afraid that my iconic Bollywood experience was slipping away with every word I spoke.

When intermission came I steeled myself expecting a demand to go home right away. But for some reason-love, pity, resignation or perhaps a combination of all three-we stayed put as the lights went down. I splurged on the buttered popcorn -bribe cum peace offering.

The film galloped along.

“He is drunk up on that water tank.”

“I get that.”

“Oh, ok.”

By the time the great emotional roller-coaster ride was approaching its explosive end I was drained from my role as the one-man tour guide for Sholay. But it was then that I finally understood the miracle of Sholay.

As Jai lay dying and Jaya Bhaduri’s Radha snuffed the lamp, I realized G was sniffling too. Without any translation prod on my part.

“What could I do? It just holds a gun to your head till you cry. How can you help it?”
And even though my own eyes were, as usual, red-rimmed from tears as the lights came on in the theater, I could not have been happier.

My faith in Sholay was redeemed. It had crossed over even without subtitles into my interracial relationship where the experiences of my growing up had always felt so foreign, so beyond translation. I picked up the program to see what Hindi film was on offer the next week but then decided not to push my luck.
For now this was enough.

I wish I could say that Sholay proved to be the definitive litmus test of relationships across cultures. It did not. That relationship eventually faded and its end had nothing to do with that three-plus hour Sholay marathon that had tested its patience. But for a few hours in a theater in America, a 1975 Bollywood film had reassured me that a relationship like ours, forged across great cultural divides, could make sense even without subtitles. And for that I remain grateful.

Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge
Todenge dam magar tera saath na chhodenge.

Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost.com. A version of this story appeared on Firstpost.com.

First published in November 2015.