Weekend Review| Ski Bunnies, Berkshires & Birthday Surprises

Weekend Review| Ski Bunnies, Berkshires & Birthday Surprises
ERMAHGERD* it’s G’s birthday! Okay, it was actually on Sunday. But we spent all weekend celebrating (because G doesn’t do birthday months**…yet), and spent last night adulting aka laundry and grocery shopping. So really this was my first chance to pay a bloggy tribute to my favorite bae, boo, super special man friend who I absolutely did not chose because he can get things off the high shelves.
This year, I planned a surprise birthday get-away to the Berkshire Mountains.  I used to go there when I was a kid, mostly to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum and eat my weight in farm-raised food (before farm to table was the cool thing to do). So when I found an epic hotel + ski pass promo for Hotel on North and Jiminy Peak, and an awesome car rental company ***,  I knew this would be the perfect combo of adventure and relaxation. I hope you enjoy my little diary of our weekend escape.
– A
G’s Super Special Surprise Birthday Weekend
The surprise starts with our fancy-smancy rental
Dinner at Fireside BBQ. 
Not pictured, me DEVOURING those ribs.
Hipster Keys at our awesome Hotel. The details in this place were unreal!
Relaxing after the long drive
This super cool Instagram worthy lobby! Seriously, the whole hotel is SO dreamy.
Day 2 is our SKI DAY at Jiminy Peak.  Obligatory Ski Pics below.
Apres Ski with some delicious food at Eat on North- our hotel’s restaurant. You can’t see it, but the bread on the right is covering up the baked garlic…SOOOOO yummy.
Day 3: G’s BIRTHDAYYYYYY! Breakfast in (the) Bed(room!)
Post-breakfast, G researched and found two epic spots.
First, we visited Edith Wharton’s home — the Mount-– and saw how this brilliant and hard-working woman wrote some of her masterpieces, like House of Mirth.
Then we went down to Great Barrington for some EPIC salad and pizza at Baba Louie’s.
Post lunch, we were full but needed some candy from Robin’s Candy Store. This place is amazing. They have ALL this incredible candy — including Vintage Style Pop-Rocks— and Robin personally gives you a tooth brush to make sure you don’t ruin your teeth. That’s winning in my book.
After a breezy 3 hour drive back and super simple car return. G + I went up to Times Square to his favorite movie theatre to watch Game Night — surprisingly good btw— and finished the weekend with some Shack Shack. An amazing end to an amazing weekend in honor of my favorite AMAZING human.
* So I had to google how to properly spell this word, and let me tell you. The internet takes defining words seriously. According to Knowyourmeme.com, Ermahgerd is a rhotacized pronunciation of “oh my god.” People, I had to look up a word from a site called “Knowyourmeme.com!” I feel humbled here.
** Anyone who knows me knows that I LUURVEE birthdays. There is something magical about getting to #treatyourself and overindulge in the funfetti department. And while I love my birthday (ahem, month), I LOOVVVVEEE to celebrate my nearest and dearest’s. So when I got the iCAL reminder to start planning G’s bday, I was…stumped. Seriously. The last three birthday celebrations have been epic and set the bar WAAAAY to high. First it was the secret Japanese speakeasy in an old Andy Warhol studio, then it was a magnificent trip to Cartagena. And don’t get me started on last year, when his two college friends planned the ULTIMATE birthday celebration with a self-driving Tesla car ride through multiple Napa wineries. The boy is spoiled. Hehe. Hopefully, this one made the top four list ;)
*** I am literally obsessed with SilverCar. Renting a car in New York is miserable. You either have to shlep up to an airport or go to New Jersey. It’s expensive, time-consuming and weirdly difficult. I think maybe New Yorkers LOVE their city SO much because they can’t easily leave it. Anyways, I found this super cool company called SilverCar that rents out silver Audis. Fancy Smancy, right. But like all super trendy start-ups, they are very affordable, waive traditional car rental nonsense — like tolls, gas surcharges etc), and they usually have awesome promos. This is not a #ad, but if you’re lucky enough to live in a city with SilverCar- I would HIGHLY recommend it. Also, if you use my promo code —BOVTAHZQ–, you and I can get $25 off.


Diving into Durga Puja

Diving into Durga Puja
This past weekend, I traveled back to Connecticut to celebrate Durga Puja– a jubilant multi-day celebration of the hindu goddess Durga. I’ve been attending these celebrations- filled with prayers, performances and most importantly, good food- since I was a little kid. But this year in particular was special because I brought G along for the first time.
I won’t lie. I was both excited and terrified that G was coming. I find it super hard explain Durga Puja and honestly, I usually rely on my mom- -an internationally renowned scholar on human rights, women’s rights, peace-building and religion- to help explain Hinduism and the significance of Durga PujaThe problem was- she was in Los Angeles doing very important work for the weekend. I didn’t want to give any lackluster explanations about what was happening so I asked my mom for help. She- being the wonderful WONDERFUL woman she is- filled a dropbox folder with different articles, videos, blog posts and images for me to read.  I regressed to my former college self- highlighting, taking notes and binge-drinking cups of tea- trying to learn the full history and social context of Durga.
And…the weekend went well. G impressed everyone with his knowledge of Durga (and all the Bengali terms he learned last year on his trip to India), and enjoyed the “inclusive” “relaxed” and “unstructured” nature of the whole event (his words, not mine). I thought, given the amount of work my mom did for me (amidst all her other commitments), that I would try to piece together a blog post about Durga Puja. If you are really interested in the subject, I highly recommend reading Living Our Religions and The Religion of Man (Tagore). They do a far better job of capturing the essence of religion. I hope you enjoy.
– A

Diving into Durga Puja

A couple of caveats before I start this very simplistic breakdown of Durga Puja
  • I am not an expert
  • There is no way to capture “what is hinduism” because it varies from person to person
  • Hindu celebrations vary widely and few are celebrated the same way
  • Most spiritual terms cannot be wholly translated into English
  • My most wonderful cousin- Sanchita Bhattacharyya- is an incredible photographer and provided me with all the photos of Kolkata Durga Puja.
  • I could not do this with out my mom- I am indebted to her brilliance and compassion.

What is Durga Puja?
Durga Puja is a four day celebration in late September or October of the goddess Durga. During Durga Puja, Hindus celebrate her victory over evil with special prayers, readings, decorations and dramatic events recounting her legend.

Who is Durga?
Durga is the goddess of strength and power. Accordingly to Hindu mythology, when a particular Asur (demon) got too strong for the male gods, they collectively appealed to Durga to vanquish the demon. They showered her with their most potent weapons, one for each of her ten hands. But victory was not easy. The asur kept changing his form to evade her. Finally, Durga tracks him down, hiding in the skin of a water buffalo, and slays him.
5. Durga- Gabriel
Durga is typically depicted in moment she victoriously kills Asur.  This image (above) shows her in action, yet her face is calm and serene. Durga is violent, not because of her hatred, egotism or pleasure in violence, but because she acts out of necessity, for peace, for love, and for preservation.
She is also often shown surrounded by her four children- Lakshmi the goddess of wealth, Saraswati the goddess of learning, Kartik the god of war, and Ganesh, the god of benevolence. Now Durga is powerful enough to be shown by herself. She was the only one capable to defeat the Asur. However, she is not alone in the universe. She was strengthened by the gifts & knowledge from the other gods. She acts in the interests of protecting her children and the future generation. This is why Durga is known as both the “warrior goddess” and the “mother goddess.
During Durga Puja, we are reminded that we are all connected.  No one person can act alone, autonomously, without affecting others. It is our manava dharma (religion of mankind) to become more human by acknowledging and enacting this interconnectedness to the universe. Durga represents everyone regardless of religion, gender, or orientation. During this time, we are reminded to think about our place in the universe, renew our ethical commitments, reconnect with family & friends, and stand up for goodness and justice in the world. Durga is a part of us- representing our ability to challenge wanton violence and might, and a figure we aspire to be.
The Cool Social Justice-y History of Durga Puja
Durga Puja as we know it today was popularized in the 20th century as an act of resistance.
Worshiping Durga dates back millennia. Originally, worship occurred in temples throughout India, most abundantly in Bengal. In the 18th century, Kolkata’s elite- wealthy kings, landlords, and merchants- began organizing pujas within their homes- combining the religious ceremonies with theatrical and musical performances.
As Durga Puja began to shift into a elite cultural event- the British started taking over India, imposing rules, segregations and hierarchies. During this time, Durga became a symbol of resistance- a goddess who fights against “evil” (British colonialism). As interest in Durga increased, community members initiated Durga Pujas in outdoor areas- like like fields and parks, and away from the private temples and residences. These sarbojanin pujas (collective worship) were open to all- irrespective of religion, gender, age or class. What was originally an exclusive family affair transformed a whole community event.
Celebrating Durga Puja
Durga is rarely a permanent deity in a Bengali temple. Her image is created in clay before each puja and at the end of the five days, her image is immersed into the river water. Her image is housed in a temporary public edifice- called a pandalEvery Durga image and pandal are different as you can see below. Each reveals a mesmerizing display of artistry and skills, made even more special given they are only created for a short period of time. Below you’ll see a series of images taken by my cousin. She and my mother visited Kumortuli where they create the images of Durga.

1. Acquiring Clay

© Sanchita Bhattacharyya

1B. Durga head

© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
2. Details
© Sanchita Bhattacharyya

3. Skilled Craftsmen Skilled Craftsman from Kurmatoli © Sanchita Bhattacharyya

4. Photographing Durga
Photographing Durga © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
One of the best places to celebrate Durga Puja is in Kolkata. You may have read my account of crossing the street or tales of chili garlic prawns, but Kolkata during Durga Puja is a whole atmosphere.  During Durga puja, Kolkata transforms into a multi-day open air art festival filled with makeshift artistic displays and performances. The city closes, as a carnival-like atmosphere descends on the city as people hop from one pandal to another, enjoying the sensory overload.  Each neighborhood and club in Kolkata tries to outdo one another  through the form, material, and beauty of the images and pandals they commission. As you will see below- the themes & images range dramatically.
© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Pandal Detail- Bosepukur Sitalamandir
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Shibmandir Pandal
Shibmandir Pandal © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti Scale
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Sponsored by Google © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
7. Beliaghata
Beliaghata Pandal © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
6. Durga Beliaghata
Beliaghata Durga © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
The celebrations in Kolkata are magnificent. I truly cannot wait to visit one day. My own experience celebrating is very different. Growing up in Connecticut, I took time out of school to celebrate with my family and the rest of the (very small) Bengali community. Durga Puja was squeezed into a weekend, where we’d head over to a local school auditorium or church hall. On Friday night, men and women would set up the hall with our recycled images while playing Bengali music and eating Bengali food. At this time, I’d join my other Bengali friends in extreme games of hide & seek or tag as the grown ups did their thing. On Saturday morning, we’d all come together, say some prayers, and then watch various performances over the next two days.
To me, while growing up, the religious ceremony was one small part in a larger celebration to hang out with other Bengali people- something I didn’t get to do in my normal day to day. As an adult, I struggle to contextualize this experience to my partner and many friends who grew up attending church or temple. I was brought up in a non-faith based, non-ritualistic Hindu tradition. We did not gather at a specific temple, have a specific priest or follow any set of rules defined in a book. Instead, I was brought up to live religion in a spiritual, philosophical sense. I was expected to figure out for myself — hence my typical inability to express feelings about religion as actual articulated thoughts- how to be connected to a larger universe. It is an evolving process, and something that I will continue to ponder here as I wander around.

Wander with Steph Jones of Remote Rhode

Wander with Steph Jones of Remote Rhode

Meet Steph Jones; she is the author of the popular running blog, Remote Rhode, and does (sometimes crazy) cool things like swim from Alcratraz, packs a single backpack for a wedding in Scotland, and starts marathoning with infamous Marine Marathon. She’s also one of my best friends. We met 3,068 miles from our homes, carrying the same awesome (some people may say ridiculous) green and pink flamingo sheets, conquered creepy hostels, chased old ladies for lapin recipes and have wandered through ten countries together. It made perfect sense to feature her adventures in wandering…of the totally impressive and hardcore running kind.

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The Donkey Tales from Santorini

The Donkey Tales from Santorini

Santorini, Greece: April 2010

Back while I was studying in Edinburgh, Steph, Allie*, and I decided to take a cruise across Venice, Croatia and about five different Greek Islands. We had just finished a rather exhaustive finals period and we were looking forward a week of doing absolutely nothing.

Our vacation routine was quite regimented. Every day, we’d roll out of bed around 10:30AM and immediately scamper off to one three endless buffet breakfasts. After piling our plates high with healthy waffles (grains), chocolate covered strawberries (fruit) and several scoops of ice cream (dairy), we’d sit out on the deck, basking in the sun, as our resident cruise director, Steph, would explain our options for the day. Most days involved tough activities, like deciding which restaurant we wanted to eat at or which poolside we wanted to occupy.

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Voice (Non)Recognition: Airline Edition

Voice (Non)Recognition: Airline Edition

One of my family’s favorite video clips features two Scottish comedians trapped in a Voice Recognition Elevator in Scotland. Upon entering the elevator, they notice this new fangled voice recognition technology and try, with increasing desperateness, to activate the elevator. Unfortunately, Voice Recognition software can’t recognize the Scottish brogue and the gentlemen are forced to repeat “Eleven” until the elevator can “learn” the Scottish accent. Any mention of “eleven” in my household results in the three of us dissolving into fits of toddler-like giggles and of course a chorus of “Elevens” from all sides. I will say that I always thought they took a little liberty with the “voice recognition software,” since technology has come a long way, or so I thought….

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Leaping Over Luggage and Other Legacies: An Ode to Dr. Arindam Purkayastha

Leaping Over Luggage and Other Legacies: An Ode to Dr. Arindam Purkayastha

As some of you know my grandfather Anjan Kaku Dadu* passed away last month after a four year battle with cancer. I was in the process of writing down some of his past (mis)adventures, which he loved to share with a captive audience over a nice cup of cha and biscuits. I had hoped to share this post with him directly, but I think he’d be happy to know his stories continue.

Before I dive in, I wanted to take a moment to reflect. Over the past ten years, I’ve watched two grandparents** get diagnosed with terminal cancer, suffer through a seemingly endless cycle of chemotherapy, remission, and relapses. I have, as a matter of course, watched them go through the unspeakable. I have watched them them change- as anyone facing terminal cancer will- and finally saw them as adults, making decisions on their own, yet different and sometimes difficult terms, and handling -with extreme dignity– the terrible circumstances that came their way.

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