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     Volume 5 Issue 95 | May 19, 2006 |

   Cover Story
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   Slice of Life
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The Beginning The End

Richa Jha

Four years ago, I came to Dhaka with one husband, a year old son and the comfort of few friendships that resurfaced intermittently as hilarious junk mails (which would inevitably clog my slow dial-up), along with the desire to thoroughly enjoy my stay in this city. I go away from Dhaka with the same husband, same son, but also a year old daughter, several new forged friendships, and one in particular that transcends the mere mouthed platitudes of being 'friends for life'. 'Enjoyment', encompassing life in its multitudinous moods, did become a way of life here.

I came to Dhaka with tentative steps, not fully confident whether I had it in me to touch the lives, in my own small way, of thousands of people at the same time; but am leaving with an unflinching belief in myself that I can. And though it is impolite for ladies to divulge their vital statistics in public, I should tell you that I came to Dhaka with 60 kilos on person, lost and re-gained 10 odd kilos, and go back with not a kilo more than what I had cleared the initial immigration at the Zia International with!

Between this Friday when you read this and the next a week away, Slice of Life will be tailored to a 'meaningful' conclusion, as insisted upon by the editor, neatly wrapped in parting garbs, festive and all, delivered on time, read, and maybe forgotten forever. Or maybe not.

For many of my well wishers whose mostly unsolicited, but always welcome, feedback helped me going, this 'Friday morning ritual' will ease out and give way to some other equally (if not more) engaging ritual. A natural way of life re-enforced, that no individual or institution is indispensable - something that I myself never tire of saying. But in the double-edged barter and give and take of life, Slice has perhaps given me more than what I have placed before my readers. It has taught me valuable lessons in life, the least significant of which is, that making people smile is not easy!

Theoretically, the first 'Slice of Life' piece, as a column that has appeared ever since, came out on December 5, 2002. But the origins are rooted deeper. I myself am not sure when Slice began. Did it begin on the day (while still in India) my husband mooted the thought, at least eight years ago, that I should aim to be a columnist? Cringing at the thought of joining the bandwagon of celebrity columnists in India, and fully aware that no newspaper would give a fledgling writer such a big responsibility, I treated the thought as both, an unattractive proposition as well as a frivolous wishful thinking; Did it begin the day, again, more than seven years ago, when I wrote my first supposedly 'funny' piece and it got accepted by a leading newspaper in India? Or did it begin on that October afternoon three and a half years ago, when my husband, after having tried every coaxing trick in the world, finally did manage to pull me along up the narrow stairs of the Daily Star office to meet up with Aasha in their canteen. Or can it be assumed to have begun on the 1st of November, a fortnight after this meeting, when I wrote for the first time for the Weekend Magazine under its 'Humour' section?

And just when and how would a Slice piece get written? In never more than a couple of hours every Monday mid morning or noon, upon my return from the school where I teach. But the run-up to those two hours included several hours of desperately staring at a blank computer screen for some ideas to hit me, wracking my brains in vain; cribbing that I can't sustain it week upon week; and temporary display of hysterics, including extreme short temperedness and inexplicably heavy bouts of somnolence (the very thought of the imminent deadline made me sleepy, sluggish, and nearly brain dead!). At times, to beat the block, I would stroll across to my friend's house and start thinking afresh. I think the orderliness of the computer table there, the squeaky cleanliness that hammered my senses from all sides, and the uncanny quiet played both ways on my senses: at times, a story flowed effortlessly, while on other occasions, it put me off even before his computer had booted completely!

For every Slice that finally got written, I have only a few things to be grateful to God for: that single moment of inspiration, ever so transient, appearing to me just for that split second, because if I wasn't quick enough to spin a yarn in flash, that idea vanished as quickly as it appeared; my husband's incessant exhortations that I cannot renege on my commitment to the editor, the column, and my readers by not turning in a story on time; and the gentle text-sms reminders of 'You can' from my friend. I did, despite all this, miss Slice on a number of occasions. Looking back on those Monday mornings, I wish I hadn't. If only I had pushed myself a little more…

I pack up my household and move on, secure in the belief that memories of my affair with SWM will remain with me, fresh and strong, for many moons to come. I look back at the extended courtesies from all quarters, the abundant warmth, the genuine smiles, the even more genuine concern expressed in my hours of need, and the forthcoming desire from every person whom we came across to put us at ease both physically and emotionally, whether in our initial days or until these final stages before our exit. These Dhaka days will not be forgotten.

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