Tuesday, December 08, 2009

मन का रेडियो बजने दे ज़रा...

Recently, I heard C’s friend hum one of my current favorites: aaogey jab tum o saajna…but her next line made me fall off the chair laughing, ab na phool khilenge! When you come beloved, the flowers shall never bloom!! Whoa!

Funny thing is they now have a google that just swabs off your query to come up with all possible answers that you are looking or not looking for. So in a few seconds you have the lyrics nicely decorating your screen and you can play the song as many times as you like to ‘by heart’ it.

The radio gen did not have it this easy. Our big rectangular box sat on a wooden rack in a corner of the drawing room. It had two big knobs – one for volume and the other that had to be touched ever so lightly to set that frequency which blared into a loud crackle even if touched by a flying bird’s dropping feather.

All the four girls in the house were fond of singing. Now catching the lyrics on such a sound system wasn’t easy and most of us then had notebooks with our favorite songs painstakingly handwritten. My notebook was divided into filmy, non-filmy and ghazals - neat triangles of folded pages segregating the three genres I understood. So we had to stand really close to the radio and hear really intently and write very fast. The constant ‘shut up’ by this one and that trying to hear, punctuated all house chatter. I had a brilliant knack for blurting excitedly during such and ‘shut up’ meant get lost.

Small wonder then that Vandu was caught singing ‘kaho Mati Chand kidhar chale?’ for ‘tohmatey chand dil pe dhar chale’!! and ‘thandi hawa ke jhonke chalten hain halke-halke, aise mein dil na todo, baatein karo na tan ke’ for ‘asie mein dil na todo wade karo na kal ke…’!!!

Now my  munchkins sing ‘hal ghadi badal rahi hai…jo hai samaan kal ho na ho!’ really it’s all stuff, isn’t it? Kal ho na ho! So as long as the heart sings, sing along…flowers will bloom. 

My earliest radio-memory is of the whole family joining in when ‘Badan pe sitaare lapete hue…’ played and everyone smiled at me for it was considered my song. Massi Aunty and Mummy got me a short black shift dress with silver sequins so I could imagine myself wrapped in stars. Yes C, mum wore an LBD back then :)

ना तुम हमें जानो , न हम तुम्हे जाने...

I’m known for such goof-ups – yeah, all of you who remember and want to recount can, leave the really embarrassing ones out of the public domain please (what would that leave us with though). And don’t hold your head like this, Mr Slightly Bald.

Today is Jash’s birthday. I have never met him. He will be seven or eight today. He does not know me. But before he was born I saw him vividly in my dream and told his father that it would be a boy. I came to Jash through Sunil and to Sunil through Papa. Bangalore, new job, new home, new friends, I was emailing Papa about all that every day. One day I got a mail from one Sunil Tripathi gently telling me that some of my mails to my ‘Mummy and Papa’ were going to him instead. Papa was tripathisn@...and he was sntripathi@... Mortified, I apologized. Sunil discerned my embarrassment and wrote back that it was perfectly okay. He may have read me and I saw the gentleman in him. So we continued writing – to each other. It’s almost ten years now. We have never met. But he’s been with me through a lot – my new jobs, friends, travels, writings and very importantly Papa’s illness and his going away. During these years he married, had a son. In 10 years we’ve never forgotten to call each other on birthdays and other days. Both of us agree that Papa meant us to stay in touch. And we will.

But the hilarious ones far outnumber. Topmost – Chotu and I traveling from Delhi to Bhopal by the night train. In those days it was common for the train to stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere like the dacoitful Chambal. The power failed. It was hot and dark. Chotu was on the berth above me. Now he was sitting across the berth from me and we started to talk about how hot it was and how sleep was impossible. Then casually looking up, in the darkness I saw Chotu leaning out from the top berth shocked to find me chatting up a complete stranger!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


It seemed like a good time to move out of Delhi. We won’t stay for more than two years, husband was categorical. So Bangalore it was, exactly 10 years ago on November 18, 1999. Three days later, walking alone on Old Airport Road at 10 night, I called friends in Delhi to tell them this! It was amazing that I could walk that stretch without anyone gawking at me during the day even. What a respite!

There were things I couldn’t get used to in a hurry and then there were the rest…

EVERYONE called me 'Amma'! Aiyyo why? I clearly remember the day I graduated from ‘baby’ when I travelled alone, the train attendant called me ‘madam’ and I was quite shocked. But Amma? The maid, I did not mind. But the doc called me Amma, the autowala, the school teacher, everyone.

At around 4 in the evening lovely hunger-whetting aromas arose all around. Bhajjis! Ah! fiery peppers and crunchy capsicums, mangalore and maddhur wadas. Totally addictive. But the carrot was ‘ello’ (when I first corrected C for using that she told me if she said ‘yellO’ no one would understand!) and ‘jamoon’ did not easily evoke the taste of gulab jamoon but remained the succulent purple-tainting fruit. ‘Bhaiya’ could not be used to soften the heart of plumber/ electrician/ security. Everyone spoke in a sing-song kinglish and a sentence became a question by just elongating the last word. The all signifying ‘aa’ made all the difference ‘going out aa (!!)’, ‘going out aa (?), ‘going out aa (.), going out (~) ’ Similarly ‘pa’ ‘da’ ‘la’ – good fun!!

Nor was the ‘one dosa parcel’ easy 'cause parcels came in post and not at food take-away counters. The trucks and buses ‘sounded horns’ and never horn pleased. The traffic cops wore bowler hats. Women wore flowers in hair to work – not one or two, entire bushfuls even with trousers. They rode bicycles in sarees. There were lady bus conductors, petrol pump…nah 'bunk' attendants and postwomen too! The cows had elongated and very pointed horns. Red light se right lena, bhaiya was not understood. 'Signal' it was. ‘Where is your native?’ was hello. And ‘tell me’ after hello wasn’t meant to sound as rude as it did.

Now we look forward to 'meals' not thalis and eat soft mounds of fluffy rice slobbered over with spoonfuls of gee (just as g becomes gh, as in 'gar' meaning home, gh become g, and same interchange for 't' and 'th') as spice induced tears of sheer pleasure stream out of our eyes. We break into the impromptu 'jinke marina' at balle balle moments. I 'remove my phone' from my pocket to talk into it. And use Amma, Ma liberally for aunty, neighbor, kid, store attendants, loo keepers… When at indecisive shopping moments, I place my hand on five silk sarees and tell them I want only one, the exasperated shop attendant points to one and says, 'chennagidya', which I now know is not 'go to hell', she’s helped me select.

Why I’m writing all this? Chumma!

PS: All you scandalized north log, 'chumma' in not the jumma ka chumma but simbly JLT !! yeah, that took a while getting used to!

Monday, November 02, 2009

न दस्तक ज़रूरी, ना आवाज़ देना...

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Catch you on Facebook?

What’s the world coming to? Or again, am I getting old and hankering after old-world niceties? Okay, latter. But here’s talking of an exception.

When I see the packers and movers truck parked under my bedroom window, I try and figure out who’s moving out from my neighborhood or who’s moving in. Because before I know it, it will be too late. Last week when I bumped into a neighbor in a store 10 km from our place and commented on her new hairstyle, C politely interrupted to lead me to the far end to look at pickles because she was afraid I would say something to reveal that I had no clue they had moved out of our complex months ago.

But being what I am I still look forward to new neighbors introducing themselves and the moving out ones, ringing the bell just to say, they’re leaving. Yeah, that’s all. No need to leave your new address. On good days I make plans for visiting friends next year.

My relationship with neighbors on the left starts on the wrong foot. Some Vaastu problem, I’m sure. But it always gets better. Good Vaastu. I would be terribly miserable if I did not get along with immediate neighbors. So I was really pleasantly taken aback when the couple who bought the flat on the left appeared at my door. Never mind it was 3 on a Sunday afternoon. I’ll take good manners over the snooze any day. To compound matters, they were very young, too young to be nice and well-mannered.

Now what brought them to me was me. Sundays are no tolerance days as far as ‘bang-bang’ goes in our apartment complex. We try not to drill tunnels, chop down unused cabinets, solder new grill designs on Sundays. So when the bang-bang next door began, my fluish mind, a little hurt with the former neighbors leaving without a word of farewell - I had no intention of holding on to their legs crying, mujhe chood ke mat jao, started heating up. As the noise continued, I called the Manager who called them and quietude was restored. Apparently, they were not aware of the unwritten rule.

They came to introduce themselves and apologize, OMG! What’s the world coming to? I’m better off romanticizing my good old days and sighing.

One of my favorite Robert Frost poems:

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

तारे ज़मीन पर

Suddenly the significance of Ashtmi/Navmi puja – specially the kanya puja dawned on me this year. How wonderful to see the Goddess in little girls. It became clearer and clearer. It was indeed a day to be celebrated – the whole nine yards.

Most people in the family fast and feed poor girls on either of these days. Mummy sends biscuit packets and money to slum children – her belief is not restricted to nine girls or poori-channa. When we were in Delhi and C was little, as early as five in the morning, the doorbell would ring and a pados ki aunty would hand me a paper plate with googey halwa, soft and salty kala channa covered with two limp poories. It had a one-rupee coin stuck into it. Then all morning many such plates arrived and D and I ate only that whole day.

C grew up and life in Bangalore made us forget many such celebrations. So this year seemed like the perfect chance to not miss. I wanted C to experience the traditional way it is done and also thought it was a good opportunity to socialize by inviting little girls from our apartment complex with their mothers.

So C and I took a list to market to buy churis for the girls. They were extremely lovely. I took my time making sets, imagining each girls' wrist size, tying them with ribbons of different color according to sizes. Then I bought shiny little drawstring bags to keep the money in. All this, two days in advance. The excitement was building up.

I fasted on saptmi, the seventh day and in the evening went to invite the girls. The first child did not give a conclusive reply. Not a great beginning :( The second agreed. The third mother, looked at us and nodded even before I opened my mouth to state my purpose. Yes, yes, she said and after my house all the girls could come to her house. Fair enough. The fifth and sixth child were traveling. The seventh little girl hit her head with her palm and sighed ‘how many houses will I have to go!’ Eighth child confirmed. At the last home, I was met with questions such as ‘isn’t nine too early?’, ‘you want her bathed?’ but the real damper was ‘aapka jugaad ho gaya kya?’(meaning if I had been able to herd in the required nine girls). I realized then that the socializing, fun time I was looking forward might be seen by many as having a very self-serving motive. But there is all kinds.

I got up at five to make pooris, halwa and black channa. The dining table was moved to make place for seating on the floor. Alpana and candles decorated the entrance. The beautiful angels started to arrive sharp at nine - yeah, bathed and dressed beautifully. I washed their feet (symbolically, by sprinkling a few drops of water), applied tikka, did arti, touched their feet and asked them to bless me. One of the naughtier ones raised her palm to do so others giggled. And they loved the churis! Then they sat alti-palti on the floor to eat. We had a wonderful, wonderful time. C enjoyed it and I hope the little girls did too.

PS: Photo quality is bad as the search for the next camera is still on.

AFTERTHOUGHTS: Nothing moves Indians like the fear of afterlife and the wrath of the gods. They offer diamond necklaces and gold crowns to idols of gods but will doubt the intentions of those who devote themselves to the service of the needy. If it was told to them loud and clear that feeding nine girls on Ashtmi every year would secure a berth for them in Heaven, perhaps it would gradually instill in them a respect for the girl child.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Cling Thing

Perhaps it’s the view from the wrong side of mentionable-age that scandalizes me so. But what I’d really like to know is who created lycra – man or woman? It could be either since it affords such great estimation of women’s anatomy to men and is so liberating for women, revealing and yet not quite so. cooperative.

Wiki enlightens: Modern hosiery is usually tight-fitting by virtue of stretchy fabrics and meshes... Due to its close fit, most hosiery can be worn as an undergarment….

The key words here are tight fitting and undergarment. Yes, tight fitting undergarments are most nice and comfy. Never one to appreciate nylon (read synthetic) I still welcomed tracks and leggings which are great exercise-wear and about-the-house-wear and house-on-fire-rushing-out wear.

In local parlance, hosiery was/is best understood as baniyaan ka kapda – the cloth of vests. Comfy lycra inner wear! Libration clothing. But inner. So how did it come out of the closet? To be flaunted without the outer? First it was only t-shirts. Nice, comfy. Then it tightened its grip. Tight fit was called 'Smart fit'. Then they got the brainwave to create ALL women’s clothing in this. Tops were okay. Leggings too were because they still stayed inside homes and in parks. But now they have created the baniyaan churidar! So comfy and thin you’d think you weren’t wearing anything (and that’s exactly how you appear, btw). Fittingly it walked into offices, lunches, launches, and very quickly kneed out all decent forms of leg coverings.

These clingy churidars leave nothing to imagination what with the kurta slits forever riding up. Do the wearers have any clue how clearly visible each sinew of their bady and detail of the inner wear is – every flower, each stitch, each lace trim? I guess it saves a lot of trouble – no iron, no nada and is a boon to those who have to step out of homes properly covered so no bro/nani/dada/hubby/mother-in-law or neighbor can raise an eye or finger and then rush to the washroom of the nearest Mall to emerge in cooler/hotter/lesser clothes. Now they can go out bindaas in traditional, body-covering attire and still feel confident that they will get the all-heads-turned response only a leg-show did.

Like it’s said that you ain’t revealing till you reveal skin. But my demure lovelies, be assured men are looking and seeing. How can they not. My male friend referred to my lovely Lucknowi, hand embroidered top, as 'that transparent top'. Gossamer, I said. Men don’t understand gossamer and such, it’s plain and simple transparent!! So if you’re out in those lycra churidars (especially if there is mild breeze) please be informed that you are just wearing a dress with slits to your waist.

The whole point of this natter being, pointing out to those that do not know that they are revealing that they are; and those that know that they are but think that we think they are not, that we know that they are. I am a prude but not enough to grudge anyone revealing clothes. Reveal by all means. Oh please go ahead with the spaghettis, off shoulders, minis and shorts but leotards under kurtas? Have mercy!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Unmentionable

The F word cropped up in my writing unbidden. Now I was only getting under the skin of the character – urban, Indian male to who my best ‘Saala’ is an endearment. ‘What the hell’ sounded insipid and rendered it punch-less. Guess who should protest? Urban, male friend. The one whose sole mission in life seemed to be ‘to desensitize’ a timid, small-town girl thrown into the ugly (read obscene), harsh (read more obscene) working life of Delhi. Yeah, c’est moi. I was a prude who couldn't breathe for a few minutes after hearing the s- - word hoping no one would notice I existed. The s - - word was used JLT, as in, s-- road, s-- pakoras, suchlike.

We grew up calling our period, ‘ahem’. We blushed if we had to use ‘naked eye’ in science class. The convent provided staid answers to big girl dilemmas such as ‘What should I tell a boy who asks me why I am not swimming during those days?’ ‘Say no, he will understand.’ There was no boy, no male in sight for miles except the PT teacher who had many daughters in many classes in the school and could not for anything replace the boy in swimming trunks in the brochure who spoke in a bubble. But equipped we were with the answer. The Sister recommended we keep a safety pin handy while travelling in a bus and if a male were to come ‘too close’, poke him quietly. That too never came to pass.

In our timid times Karishma Kapoor’s s--- song was ‘repaired’ and we saw her mouthing ‘baby, baby’ while the ‘s---, s---' synchronized perfectly in our heads. When Mr Orange Pants came dancing and singing about his sprayed-on pants and other belongings being s---, the radio and TV were promptly turned off or everyone started talking all at once about something ELSE. There was also a song starting, ‘tutak, tutak…’ for humming which a friend’s little brother was slapped hard by the father.

The girls in office were smoking, drinking, dancing and more. And I was struggling to keep a straight face when WORDS were pronounced. Slowly I graduated. I could manage to lift my hand to my hair and tuck the already tucked strand of hair behind the ear when such was spoken. Then the loo upstairs began to leak and became unusable. So the girls went to the five-star hotel across the road in groups two-three times a day and the boys just used the bushes. I hardly stepped out of the office all day and left for home only when I was sure that every male colleague, and peon and chowkidaar included, was present inside the office.

Now more than a decade later, I used the F word. Naturally it flowed. So what’s his problem with the F word, I ask him. It’s not me who’s saying it, it’s my character, I explain. I hate obscenity, he says. Obscene it is. Chastised, I replace it with a demure ‘Hell’.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Carefully Casual

I am always for substance over style but I cringed when I saw Aamir Khan in jeans on a public platform with Ms Clinton. It’s another thing that Madam was dreALL red – I mean, the only thing missing was red hair. But then Hillary Clinton is not Michelle Obama. Though I admire both for different reasons. It would be nice to see style and substance meet in one person. Now Aamir Khan according to me made a real faux pas. It wasn't just about showing respect towards a State Guest but towards a lady. And to say later that he doesn’t EVER dress formally isn’t correct. Here, at the premier of Jaane tu…
To me clothes and dressing ARE about showing respect.
When we invite people home and sit in our pajamas, it tells them we don’t care enough. Same when we go out with others. We convey that they are not important enough for us to be dressed up for the occasion or for their company (I see sister # 2 nodding approvingly).
We lose a lot of sleep (and waking time too) thinking of what to wear and still  end up in a bright orange shirt for an animal safari!!
I remember meeting a friend's wife for a Sunday lunch. I dressd up nicely only to find her track pants with haldi stains and oiled hair – the former perhaps to let me know how busy she’d been cooking for me and the latter so I remember she’s waiting for me to leave so she can leisurely shampoo her hair. Point noted.
Another incident that stays stuck in my heart for the anxiety it created for some time (for like 20 years?) was when a friend and I, as students went to Bharat Bhawan to see a French play (Antigone?) dressed in formal tussar sarees. We were dismayed to see that almost everyone else was in jeans. We got by telling ourselves that WE were the ones appropriately dressed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't leave your x-rays behind...

Three people always have views on my writing. I always listen to them. Sometimes half-listen. On the previous post Total Eclipse of Reason written in haste (so excuse some blabbering) as visitors were expected and in a slightly angry mood too, the youngest of the three, daughter’s view was that it was too direct – translating into hurting others feelings. Friend’s opinion was slightly bald and ‘don’t fret’. Sister said it was honest like ‘Sach ka Samna’. The latter two take the sting out of the first. Yes, one has to be direct sometimes, beti.

This news item in Deccan Herald today was heartening as well as…unusual (?)

Breaking the shackles of superstition, the grandchildren of an orthodox man, who never allowed his children to witness the solar eclipse had their bit of freedom on Wednesday…Almost thirty years later when his father is no more, Sarvesh with his wife and two children came to Lalbagh to see the celestial event with the dead man’s X-ray film, which was cut into four pieces.

Although I have imposed no such restrictions, I think I shall take my x-rays along and deposit them at the pearly gates locker for safekeeping.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Total Eclipse of Reason

Some schools declared it a holiday. Some will start late. Apparently to facilitate the watching of the total solar eclipse of the century. I don’t just have doubts, I’m hundred percent certain as any of you is that it is to facilitate ritualistic baths and purification.
Not a single morning walker was seen till 7.15 AM. The teeming crowds of school kids on bus stops had dwindled. Schools where we send our kids to learn and question, rhyme and reason, get to the bottom of things and get a more rational/scientific view of life and world tell them to stay at home because it’s a solar eclipse! Come on, you just taught them in class 2 that it’s but the shadow of the moon.
Everyone is free to keep their faith. But please do it quietly. Don’t impose. Don’t propagate. Don’t influence and don’t create hysteria around normal, scientific occurrences.
I am a traditionalist, make no mistake. I follow tradition from sheer regard for the logic and thinking that goes behind it and from the fear of not losing beautiful things. I will do a million Surya Namaskars. I will visit temples and other places of worship because of their positive energy which makes me feel peaceful. But I will not bathe, clothe and feed my gods every morning. If I can do it so can HE. But I have no grouse against those who do. It can have a very calming effect as any repetitive, mechanical task and daily routine can. Also, chanting and meditation have benefits far beyond our estimation.
If you have older people at home who would like things done in a specific way, please oblige. It’s difficult for them to come out of it in a hurry. Because when the skies grew dark at midday and the sun was very systematically getting eaten up by the darkness; the birds grew restless and the cows mooed; they prayed and kept themselves half dipped in holy waters and asked pardon for their sins. Lo and behold! The gods heard them, forgave their sins, the sun was restored and life returned – all because of their faith and prayer. So it continued. Now don’t we know better? But the insecurities in the human heart tug. Rituals are a small price to pay. Kya jata hai? I will bathe in milk if it gives me shanti. Fair. Do it but do it in private. Schools that declared a holiday must have about ten percent or fewer students who would have stayed behind at home to follow rituals. But by declaring it a holiday they have made the other ninety percent rethink. What’s a bath? A few tulsi leaves? Let’s do it for the peace of our minds.
Insecurity. God forbid if anything was to go wrong this day – like say, a total all-day power shutdown, I would be taunted for sitting on the pot while the morning was turning night.
Do what makes you feel good but for goddssake don’t draw the impressionable minds into regressive rituals. It would have been so heartening if a school had organized a sighting and a session about the eclipse and made students come in early. Even if they had to close early afterward so they could go home and catch on the sleep, food or even the turmeric baths.
For a week now, I’ve shut my ears to all dos and don’ts and those nonsensical TV channels that have proclaimed doomsday and adverse effects on my rashi. But I have listened to the advice of not looking at the sun directly – it may damage the retina. Fair. Good. Thank you for reminding.
I hate confrontation. I do what I want to do – what I think is correct – logically, scientifically. I’m not strong on any - logic or science (sisters will comment that I don’t know why the roti puffs up because I never did study science). So tell me what the eclipsed sun does to my food and water how the tulsi will purify? Tell me how the early morning eclipsed sunrays will enter and spoil food that is not covered? Tell me how my chanting mantras will save the sun? Tell me how the bath will rinse away my sins? Tell me HOW?
The stories will come in all day today – I toh did not let anyone touch food! We stuck tape on our mouths afraid a word may slip. I am ready to turn my deaf ear. You didn’t know I had one? Good.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gluttony is a s..port

Conversation with friends over lunch veered to some eating competition and to some two guys who ate up to 60 rasgullas. They reached a point where they had to eat the rasgullas with chutney.

Eating competitions are held at all levels - impromptu to professional. The most famous being the July 4 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in NY with a cash prize of $10,000. But these are for pros. Idiots. Who indulge in a sport that has adverse health effects. Then there are the amateurs – those with their eyes on Nathan’s. Idiots-in-the-making. And finally there are those who do it for fun and won’t go beyond 5 rasgullas. They are gluttons. Good. Sensible people with love and respect for the food, for their bodies and the machinery within.

There is no dearth of incidents where people die eating. What a way to go! I mean you go to a beautiful place and say I could die here! or eat a beautiful meal and say I could die now! but you never think I will participate in this rasgulla eating race and choke on my vomit and die, do you? Among recent instances, a student in Taiwan died during a steamed-bun-eating contest. Closer home in Gurgaon a young techie died during a pastry-eating competition and more recently the winner of a pancake-eating contest dropped dead after gorging himself on 43 of the cream and banana stuffed pancakes. I feel sorry for the last guy. The others died of eating something nice, at least.

When I was small a school in the neighborhood hosted a Jalebi race to mark the end of the annual fest. It was the most awaited event. Jalebees were suspended from strings tied to a rope held by two tall teachers who swung it continuously. The participants had their hands tied at the back and had to constantly jump and eat as many jaleebees off the string as possible. I don’t think the winner ever mattered there, it was such fun way to eat jaleebees and funnier to watch. (I have some heartbreaking news for India’s jalebi lovers – what you thought was yours, isn’t. Wikipedia with all her matter-of-fact tells me that our beloved Jalebi originated from Middle East and North Africa!)

I like going for buffets not because we can eat all we can but because as a family our tastes are varied. So if it’s a Chinese-continental-Indian buffet, we don’t have two sad faces in the car on the way back. Before even sitting at our table we just go off in our three different directions. No one tells the other your noodles or your dal-roti – uff!

When one day we were going out for one of these, a very straight talking neighbor familiar with our miniature appetites remarked that if we were indeed going to the place we were going to ‘bada loss pad jaayega’. That got me thinking. How much people eat when the food is free. They don’t mind falling ill because they have eaten at every stall at the wedding – from chats through chole bhature and chowmein to rabdi – I did not miss anything (now I’m dying of dysentery). When ordering, they will count rotis per person (embarrassingly pointing finger and asking ‘you?’ ‘how many?’ and you mumble 2 less than you want because everyone’s eyeing you) and even the addha or chappa left behind will be doggy-bagged but they will waste mounds at a buffet or a wedding.

Never count your roties, said mummy. It was blissful. But I talk like an old hag now. Because those who remember, remember. At age 10-12 yours truly sat on the patta (wooden plank) on the kitchen floor and downed at least 10-12 chapatis with a katori of ghee on the side and whatever curry, mostly aloo. It was a life lived cycling and running and the 12 chapatis went down without a rumble. Most importantly never showed up anywhere on the anatomy in the form of love handles.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Runcible! Making sense….

It seemed like 7 in the evening at 3 in the afternoon. The sky became dark and soon thunderous rain was lashing the window panes. It never fails to gladden the heart. Especially at 3 in the afternoon. Watching the world fill up and spill rainwater, ‘splish-splash’ came to mind and escorted it to my most wondrous nursery rhyme:

If all the seas were one sea,
What a great sea that would be!
If all the trees were one tree,
What a great tree that would be!
If all the axes were one axe,
What a great axe that would be!
If all the men were one man,
What a great man he would be!
And if the great man took the great axe,
And cut down the great tree,
And let it fall into the great sea,
What a great splash-splash that would be!

The thought of that great splish-splash makes me want to rush out and splash the puddled waters. Yeah, I know singing of cutting trees is so downright sinful, politically incorrect. But that was a world enclosed in Ringa-ringa roses/Pocket full of fozes. Now, now, before the elders (sisters, especially) scurry to list all the erroneous details of my rhyming times, let me clarify that my thoughts did go into the meaning, at least once, with alarm for, ‘London bridge is falling down, falling down…’ What was the song and dance about?

But I accept that much of it was a mincy-quincy of sorts. Now that is not uncommon in the age when a small dot of an injury needs to be band-aided, to realize later that the excitement of it obscured the fact that the injury and the band-aid are not on the exact same finger. So I could full-throatily and unabashedly reel off Peter, peter pumpkin eater/ How does your garden grow? And the guy who put the ‘ding-dong bell pussy’ in the well was little Jonny Thin (Flynn) which was so concurrent to the guy who pulled it out - Tommy Stout! Wasn’t that logical? The thin one was naughty and the fat one kind. I’m sure that singular logic made me look at all the fat people with respect for the rest of my life.

Much of the happy, foot-tapping, rhyme-singing time was all that except ‘happy’. Because unlike many of my classmates who sang unthinkingly while yawning, fiddling with anything within reach, chewing hanky corners, picking nose or the others whose focus was solely on getting their exaggerated facial expressions more exaggerated (like this 00), I reflected over word and meaning. Sometimes feeling most threatened. Like I hurried to cover my nose every time a bird came near me because Sing A Song Of Sixpence ended with,

The maid was in the garden, hanging out the clothes ;
There came a little blackbird, and pecked off her nose.

So when an eagle flew too close by during school recess and making me hurriedly cover my nose with both hands, it flew off with my paratha instead. That was a consolation.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Bonding with kids

-->Read Mr Bond to kids at easylibrary this Sunday morning.

The minute Vani asked if I’d read Ruskin Bond to kids, I thought of The Night the Roof Blew Off , that is, after I said 'yes' to her. I had loved to read it to Chulbul when she was little and to myself, at all sizes. 
…snowflakes…settling on picture frames, statuettes and miscellaneous ornaments. Mundane things like a glue bottle and a plastic doll took on a certain beauty when covered with soft snow. The clock on the wall stopped and with its covering of snow reminded me of a painting by Salvador Dali. And my shaving brush looked ready for use!
But it was long and descriptive for her wide-age-group (ages 6-12 years) audience so I decided to start with A Tiger in the House, sneak in a ghost story (nothing very scary, complaining parents, my only deterrent) in between - The Haunted Bicycle seemed safe; and close with a tree story, the beautiful The Cherry Tree that ends with the philosophical, ‘Just one small seed,…. ‘I wonder, …is this what it feels to be God?’
After the tiger story there was a small discussion on why Grandfather calls the tiger Timothy, knowing Timothy was dead. The Children were unanimous in their belief that Grandfather thought the keeper was lying! I had never thought of that and tried to lightly introduce the idea that perhaps Grandfather didn't want to believe that Timothy was dead or that all tigers were as dear to him. There were no takers :( So the question that perhaps we are making them grow up more ‘cautious’,  distrustful (?) than necessary, is niggling still.
The Haunted Bicycle left them wide-eyed and wanting. Before I read the story, we discussed that ghosts were creatures of our imagination. I read out a humorous intro from The Ruskin Bond Omnibus, ending with ‘Ghost stories are meant to frighten you, but at the back of your mind you know it’s all a nightmare from which you are going to wake. In other words, it’s a “safe” fear and you can enjoy the process of being frightened. More than them, it put me at ease.
So? I asked. What was it? Buffaloes? Not wanting to put the G word into their heads. Ghosts! They were positive!! How can buffaloes talk? How can they ride bicycles? Why not? I insisted but between a ghost and a buffalo, the latter does seem like an insipid choice, really. 

Before reading The Cherry Tree, we talked about fruit and seed. How mummy tells them that if they swallow the pip/seed, a tree would grow out of them.
I forgot to ask if they imagined it coming out of their tummies (like I did) or from the head as was more likely? Flowing with their fantastic ideas, I said it would be wonderful to pluck fruit off each other and eat. But a 7 year old cringed at the idea, she was certain the fruit would have spit on it! They also wondered about mud and manure and I assured them there was enough inside. Ten-year old Neethi wondered if they should occasionally go out in the sun and stand with their mouths open to let in the sunlight! :D

In the light of this discussion, THIS was very alarming! So if you can't be bothered with spitting out the seeds, listen to mum and CHEW YOU FOOD!
The kids wanted more. A 'Ghost' story was the certain choice! So a scary ghost story it was – A Face in the Dark. The finale, raw fear and all. We did not stop to talk about it. Fear of ghosts is a good thing. I’m smiling.
PS: Everyone’s favorite RJ Vasanthi Hariprakash, the Sunshine Girl of the Radio City heydays came with her son :)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Turning them into White Tigers

So what if we have a Dalit woman Speaker? The scene for the urban poor and unprivileged is not changing. Because our attitude is not.

We were just finishing our meal at a bbq place, when a platoon arrived – four urban bitches (well, I’m not given to calling people such, but you will soon know), three kids with their customary attachment of maids, girls of barely nine- ten. The women and their brats were seated at the table next to ours. The wonder-eyed maids remained standing. They looked about self-consciously as most diners stared at them and waiters flitted about ignoring them. It was obvious that the maids would not be eating there. That they would be standing, feeding the kids, accompanying them to the wash rooms, apart from picking up cutlery after them, keeping them from putting their hands into the grill and other such that ill-mannered rich brats are likely to indulge in.

The lipsticked and streaked hair mums would not want to be bothered while they discussed important life and death matters like John Abraham’s derriere and their new solitaire collection. So while the girls would stand and watch everyone feast on the sumptuous buffet, they would have to wait to get back home to their humble dal and rice. No doubt about it.

How fair is that! How many times have you resisted any food when you’re hungry, or even when you’re not. How many times have you not spooned into your own mouth something you’re feeding the child? How fair is it to expect the little girls to watch and not want the food you’re literally eating in their face? The women had no business putting them through this and causing others such embarrassment and outrage. They could have very well left the minders at home. Yeah, it would have inconvenienced them a little to take care of their own kids for the bit. But they could have also left the kids at home if it was so crucial to eat out with friends. I could have slapped those women!

A few days later, another one of the species was spotted at a high-end organic food store. She was billing in front of me. I recognize this species by the look of irritation they carry at such stores. It is meant to show that they’re overly used to such. That they cannot possibly be excited over such mundane as the redness of US apples (which incidentally look to me like they have been dipped in red nail polish) or black sapote from Australia.

So madam finished billing, paid by card, as was expected and walked out. At the Exit, the guard demanded to see the bill. What cheek! How dare he! Madam was totally mad. She looked about and located the bill and threw it at his face with disgust and stomped out. The poor man just looked away. I guess it wasn’t the first time.

Why is it that they treat people like this? Same people go update their Facebook status with ‘proud of the first dalit LS speaker’ and suchlike. Why? What are they proud of? Does it matter to them how the majority of the poor and lower castes live or make their living? Do they desire dignity for them? NO. Sadly, they mess up with their children’s upbringing too – desensitizing them to the extent that they feel that the domestics deserve no better.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

कि खुशबू आ नहीं सकती, कभी कागज़ के फूलों से!

All winter I bought tuberoses. Every time I looked at the other plainer or fancier flowers, the soft fragrance of Rajnigandha held me back. Then summer arrived and though the trees outside were dressed in amazing yellows, lavender and pinks, and very soon in flaming oranges; the flowers with the florist began to look dull. Rajnigandha disappeared and one was forced to look for substitutes. Carnations were tried and so were tiger lilies – extremely beautiful to look at but I missed the gauzy fragrance wafting through the house in the evenings.

Last Sunday, at the insistence of Mummy visiting from Bhopal who thought my flowerless existence had something to do also with the soaring prices of summer flowers, a bunch of white lilies were bought. To say that they blossomed into an amazing sight will convey nothing – look at the pictures.

Now I know why poets have called the lily (Lilium, Archu insists) the lady of the garden, the plant and flower of light.

Lilies are growing on me…