Friday, March 9, 2018

Do Not Disturve

That was what I had written on a piece of paper which I stuck on our bedroom door, when I was five or six. Of course my brother and sister had a good laugh at my expense. But that was what I thought it was. And in my mind, "disturve-ing"  people was not a nice thing to do. My mother hated waking up people, but it's one of the things mothers have to do. I think I enjoyed my kids' school holidays especially for this reason: not having to wake them up!

And then, for two days running, I inadvertently woke up the solitary pigeon that sleeps outside our bedroom window. On Thursday my older daughter took me out on an impromptu shopping and lunch expedition, which was great fun, but then I had to hang out the laundry in the balcony after I got home at four-thirty. At seven o'clock I decided to take the clothes off the line, completely forgetting that the solitary pigeon retired at six p.m. (Pigeon or no pigeon, I'd rather not have laundry hanging out all night). As soon as I opened the balcony door the pigeon flew off. I don't know if it came back later or not. Yesterday again I did the laundry rather late in the day, and it wasn't dry when I left home at two in the afternoon. I got home at nine. This time I remembered the (damn) pigeon, and tried entering the balcony from the guest room side. (Our bedroom and guest room both open onto a common balcony). But once again I did "disturve" the sleeping bird, who flew off immediately.

And then, today, a friend on Facebook posts this picture:

"A woman cuts the hem of her kimono so as not to wake a cat."

I do not love the pigeon. But I do feel sorry for disturbing its sleep.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Solitary Sleeper

This winter we've had a strange 

"almost-companion" as we sleep. 

One solitary pigeon sleeps on top of  the split air-conditioner's connecting pipe. 

Sleeping there is bad enough, since it also tends to excrete just below its perch. 

More than that, though, is the problem I face when our feathered neighbour suffers from insomnia. 

Why wouldn't it, considering the ridiculous size of its sleeping perch? 

The insomniac pigeon makes the weirdest of sounds, like horses galloping on gravel.

The occasional change in position I can understand, but when my actual bed-mate snores, and the 

insomniac pigeon scratches and scrapes on its perch, it renders me insomniac too. Perhaps it sleeps 

too early: roosting about half an hour before sundown means a very long night.

And why are you all alone, Pigeon? 

                                          The rest of the enormous pigeon population that occupies our apartment 

complex seems to believe in couple-dom and family life, billing and cooing in the building shafts 

and the ledges of bathroom windows.

Are you lonely, Pigeon?

Did someone break your heart?

I can only let you sleep on the a/c pipe, undisturbed...

Thursday, February 1, 2018

January vanished!

The older son and his family were coming home, the younger granddaughter for the very first time.
The older one knows us well now, thanks to Skype calls as well as our recent visit when her baby sister was born.
Jet lagged babies and preschoolers make for mega jet-lagged parents! Parents who had a lot of work to do, ASAP. That included finding an apartment for a year, setting it up, finding suitable help, a school for the older child, air purifiers ( a necessity in Delhi), kitchen ware, bed linen, bank accounts, WiFi etc.
Parents and sisters and friends dug into their stocks, the visiting children found the household helper who had worked for them before, and now seem to be settling into their lives here. The older child, an extremely articulate almost four-year old, isn't really convinced as to why they have left her green house in XXXX city and come here. She is, fortunately, liking her new school, and we hope she will be comfortable in her year here. She is a great fan of parathas, and enjoyed rolling out rotis in her Dadi's kitchen!
The baby has finally figured out day and night, thankfully. This grandmother loved taking her out for walks in her stroller, when this tiny person, all of 4 1/2 months, expressed her joy by merrily kicking away as we walked. She expressed, to my grandmaternal heart, great intelligence in one of our early interactions. I held her in my arms, giving her a bottle of milk. The young lady would stop sucking and cry every time I looked at her, so the first time I fed her here was by holding her close, without making eye contact with her! Seemed like early stranger anxiety, finally eased by the comfort of a full belly. On her last day in my care, she had been fed, changed, and left to play on the floor while I tried to pack up some of her big sister's toys in another room. After a few minutes on her own, there is an imperious yell from Her Tiny Majesty, summoning her attendant minion! The poor little thing is teething, so I have been drooled on and chewed upon, with great joy, I may add. I've also been haunted by the tunes of her Play Gym, which were an almost constant accompaniment to her waking hours. We had days of sunshine, oil massages and happy kicking little legs...
While trying to entertain the older child, I remembered something my brother used to sing to me when I was a child: I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat. Simple enough to locate it on the 'Net. So my brain was a happy mush of Puddy Tat and Alouette (from the Play Gym) and the endless nonsense songs that emerge in the company of babies!
 Incoherent, but happy that at least our precious grandchildren are just a not-too-long drive away (depending on Delhi's traffic, of course).

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Daddy and Mr. Saigal

My father loved several kinds of music. Our Telefunken spool tape recorder and our Pye radio gave us a wonderful variety of music to listen to, from Handel's Water Music, to the theme from Shakespearewallah, to Yehudi Menuhin and Pandit Ravi Shankar performing together, children's songs, comedy radio programmes, my brother's collection of pop and rock, and, of course, old Hindi film songs: Talat Mehmood, Jagmohan, Pankaj Mallik, Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt, etc. They were singers whose song were enjoyed and appreciated. My father's love for K.L. Saigal's songs, however, was a class apart. I have a strong suspicion that he worshipped him. In my teetotal family, even the fact of Saigal's premature death due to alcoholism was glossed over, without even the teeniest disapproval being manifest! Sorrow, yes, that his illustrious career was cut short, but never disapproval. At least that's what I remember from my early years.
Since Mr. Saigal was Daddy's all time favourite, there seemed to be a preponderance of his music in our home. My sister and I would protest sometimes, but Daddy's obvious joy in Saigal songs often overrode our petulant grumbling. He would hum Radhe Rani De Daaro Na, and even sing it at parties. All of Saigal's repertoire was cherished: my introduction to the ghazals of Ghalib and Seemaab Akbarabadi was in Saigal's voice. His  bhajans have found a place in my deepest core: the simple philosophy of Andhe ki laathi tu hi hai is a great comfort in difficult times. Suno suno he Krishna Kala is utterly poignant. But the ultimate Saigal song for my father, the creme de la creme of his fabulous repertoire, was a song that the maestro had written himself: Main Baithi Thhi. It is the song of a seeker, full of longing and deep spirituality: bhakti in its truest meaning.

Today, on your ninety-fifth birthday, Daddy, I want to thank you for making Saigal a part of my life. I wonder if he holds musical soirees in the afterlife. If he does, I'm sure that you have a front row seat! Happy listening, Daddy.

Monday, December 25, 2017

In the name of vanity!

Sushil and Tina Mohan were friends of friends, whom we met occasionally at parties and weddings. We had moved out of their town some years ago, so it was a pleasant surprise to bump into them at the breakfast buffet at a holiday resort. Rather, I bumped into Tina and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast together, as the men were both out for an early round of golf. We spoke about our mutual friends, when we had last met them, our children, my grandchildren, and our lives in general. Tina looked at my few strands of white hair and laughed, "You are so lucky to not have to dye your hair."
I gave due credit to my mother's wonderful genes, and admired Tina's long and lustrous mane and youthful looks "You look very young, Tina. And in any case you are much younger than I am."

Tina sighed. "I've been dyeing my hair for years now, which is part of the problem. I look young, so Sushil insists on dyeing his hair and moustache."

"Is that a problem?" I asked, bemused.

"Yes, he's had a terrible rash for the past few months, which the dermatologist says is caused by a reaction to chemicals in the dye. And the doctor says this could lead to skin cancer, but he still insists on dyeing his hair and moustache. He just doesn't listen to any one."

I was shocked. Was looking young so important? I knew that nicotine and alcohol were physiological addictions, but a psychological compulsion such as this was really strange.

"I doubt if he would listen to me, but I will try and talk to him about this," I said, before we went our separate ways. To dye or not to dye is a very personal decision. The spouse now has plenty of salt among the pepper, but has never been bothered by it. We both seem to believe in comfort/laziness before vanity, but, as I said, I have nothing against hair dyeing in general.

The spouse and I had a relaxed weekend. He played golf. I swam in the pool, enjoyed the sauna, and read to my heart's content. We'd bump into the Mohans at the restaurant, and exchange pleasantries, but I didn't find the opportunity to have a little tete-a-tete with Sushil.

The afternoon before our departure I went to the local market to pick up a few souvenirs. The spouse was golfing. Tina had gone for a session at the spa. A very neatly groomed Sushil appeared, fresh from the ministrations of the local barber. He was in his mid-fifties, dapper, balding, with jet black, obviously dyed hair, which, to my eyes at least, didn't make him look particularly young. He gallantly offered to carry my shopping back to the resort, and I gladly accepted, glad for the opportunity to talk to him in confidence about his 'dyeing' issues! He was an easy conversationalist, and even before I could organize my thoughts, he started telling me about the rash, and the dyeing, and the dermatologist's advice, and the second specialist whom he consulted (who had the same advice as the first: stop dyeing!) and so on.

"But why must you dye your hair? I'm sure you will look fine even if you go grey".

"I'll stop dyeing my hair if Tina stops dyeing hers".

His tone was petulant.

"But she has no problem with hair dyes, so why should she stop? Besides, you are the one with medical issues. It's certainly not worth risking your health for something so trivial."

That seemed logical to me.

"Because she'll look younger than ever. I'll look too old to be with her. People will think I'm her dad or her uncle or something."

His reasoning seemed specious. I was inspired, for once, and countered his idiocy with an idiocy of my own.

" You'll look very very rich. People will assume that you are a rich, distinguished gentleman who can afford to have such a lovely young wife."

My line of reasoning seemed to appeal to him. We had reached the lobby. I thanked Sushil and took my bags from him. We left early the next morning, so I don't know whether he plans to follow my advice or not! However, our mutual friends' son is getting married in a month or so, and we do plan to attend. We will know then whether Sushil Mohan practices vanity before sanity or vice versa.

Photo: the back of the RE's head!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Not riding the camel

Our younger daughter accompanied us on a road trip to Rajasthan last winter. She was also the co-driver, so we spent some good times together in the front seats, while the RE relaxed in the back seat.
The spouse and I fulfilled a long cherished dream of visiting the Dargah of Moinuddin Chishti, the beloved Ajmer waale Khwaja. Our daughter had visited it earlier, so was somewhat familiar with the place. One night in Ajmer, one night in Pushkar, then off to Bikaner. Which is the locale of this post.


The spouse had been studying routes and booking hotels and planning most of the trip. He discovered what seemed like an interesting activity, a camel safari, which was followed by a folk dance performance and dinner in the sand dunes somewhere near Bikaner. 
(I had last sat on a camel in Puri, nearly eight years ago. 
That was some eight years younger. 
That was a mere 20-30 minute ride on a beach). 

This safari was a different kettle of fish entirely.

My camel didn't seem to like me. It also seemed much wider than the only other camel I had ever ridden! Sitting astride the camel seemed to be pulling apart all my thigh and pelvic muscles. It was jerky, kept diving forward ( making me hang on for dear life, clenching all relevant muscles even more), kept trying to sniff the hind quarters of whichever camel happened to be in front of it, and sometimes terrifying me even more by breaking into a trot. The desert was beautiful, the view of the setting sun with another camel safari in silhouette was breathtaking, but the ride seemed endless and my discomfort was intense. Dismounting, after what seemed like hours (but was probably not more than an hour and a half) was an immense relief. We explored the camp, enjoyed some tea, biscuits and namkeen, and chatted with our fellow adventurers. The arrangements were adequate, but the camp dinner got delayed, and I was irritable and exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel. 

However, this camel safari has had its uses. It is my personal benchmark for physical discomfort (quite apart from medical/surgical situations which have entirely different standards of discomfort). 
It can be hours of being stuck in traffic, endless waiting at airports, long flights, very long car rides:
(all highly privileged discomforts, I know) all of which I endure with reasonable fortitude, and thank my stars that at least I'm not riding that camel!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Woman to Woman: Madhulika Liddle's latest book.

I have always enjoyed reading Madhulika Liddle's work, so much so that when her new book was released recently, I didn't have the patience to wait for a physical copy, and immediately got it on my Kindle! Whether it be her fabulous Mughal era detective series, featuring MuzaffarJang and allies, or her short stories (My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories) or her blog, Dusted Off, in which she writes mostly about classic Hindi cinema, she is always good to read.

Woman to Woman is her darkest work till now, yet never so dark that the reader is engulfed in gloom.
Nemesis takes unusual forms in these stories. However oppressed they may be, the protagonists ultimately find some form of justice. The stories cover a wide swathe of history and geography, with the stories set in fascinating locales and time periods.

In the story 'Paro', Sana is sold as a bride owing to the particular circumstance of a cow going into labour, delaying her journey to a wedding with her aunt. Floods wreak havoc that night. Their farm is destroyed. Sana's father sells her to Usman, who promises to get her married in far off Delhi. She is first married off to Basheer, a man older than her father, who is brutal, demanding, and unwilling to give her time to adjust to her new life, far from her home in the North East. A week later, he sells her to Sajid who takes her to his village, a few hours away from the capital. Neither her husband nor his family are good to her, but Sana learns to accept her lot for the sake of her children.

In 'Ambika', her father sends her out for his after dinner paan on a cold winter night. She is raped before she reaches the shop. That she can name her rapist convinces her father that she must have brought it upon herself, and the shame is too much for him to bear. Ambika, however, finds a reason to live.

'Mala' works as a domestic help in a prosperous household. Ashu, the three year old visiting grandson, is totally enchanted by this attractive young woman, as she feeds him good food and looks after him, along with her other chores. She entertains him with her stories, and calls him her little prince. Much of this story reflects a small child's innocent perspective. Things take a dramatic turn when the younger son of the family comes home.

In 'Woman to Woman', a prostitute and a nun share the back seat of a bus and a conversation about the paths their lives have taken, and what choices they had in leading the lives they did. The ending is particularly poignant.

'Collector of Junk' is one of the most moving stories I've ever read. The protagonist Munni speaks of her Amma, who had a food stall outside a flour mill. While mother and daughter worked, preparing the food, there would inevitably be someone beside Amma, talking to her. Munni finds it strange that so many people come to moan about their lives to Amma, who always gives them a patient, sympathetic and often confidential hearing, among them a woman called Sughra. An encounter with Sughra leaves Amma deeply upset, but she refuses to share anything with Munni. What is the worst thing that can happen to a human being? Amma's answer to her own question is the very heart of this profoundly moving, compassionate story.

'The Letter' tells the story of Inimai's eager anticipation of a visit from her son and his family: "she smiled a bright toothless smile to herself as she thought of her grandchildren running in the coconut grove, splashing along the stream, sitting in enraptured silence, listening to her stories." You can almost taste the various delicacies she prepares for her family!

'Two Doors' is a heartbreaking account of a marriage, and a young wife, Kamini's response to the expectations that surround her in this role: "Years of careful upbringing had taught her that you did not argue with your elders. You could argue with the establishment, you could question the government, you could stand up for your rights- but anybody a generation older, and known to you, was to be respected." There is pressure on her to bear a child. Her husband, Vishal, is not particularly keen on having a child, but a sudden tragedy changes his outlook. "In a matter of days, they went from near-abstinence to near-orgies. If something that lacked either love or lust could be called an orgy." Doctors are consulted, fertility procedures are followed. Kamini's anguish is expressed with great authenticity.

'Maplewood' is a story set in an old, colonial bungalow in rural Madhya Pradesh occupied by a lone woman, whose late husband had inherited it from an old bachelor uncle. She can no longer afford to stay in a rented flat in Mumbai. Her son lives and works there, but his halfhearted offer that she stay with him does not encourage her to do so. Adjusting to life in an entirely different terrain is not easy. She rarely steps out, most household necessities being purchased by the local woman who works for her. An encounter on a dark and stormy night has unforeseen consequences.

An old haveli in Old Delhi, belonging to a wealthy family. A long period of childlessness. The arrival of a beautiful daughter, Laxmi. On each birthday Laxmi's father bestows upon her some precious jewellery: the little sandook given to her on her first birthday is filled with various precious trinkets over the years. The prospect of marriage at age fifteen becomes Laxmi's reason for no longer going to school. Laxmi was married to an ancestor of the narrator of this story, who is fascinated to find an old photograph of a highly bejewelled woman at the back of her parents' wedding album. Laxmi's major interest in her trousseau was in the jewellery she was getting from her parents and the bridegroom's family. Her love for jewellery remains an obsession throughout her life. How it figures towards the end of her life is intriguing. 'Captive Spirit' is truly macabre.

'The Sari Satyagraha' is one of the lighter stories in this collection. It is about an overly controlling husband and his wife, during the time of the Non Cooperation Movement. He does not allow her to wear expensive sarees at home, despite being well off and well able to afford good clothes. In the spirit of nationalism, Mr.Chaturvedi decides to boycott all British-made goods. Sulakshana's sister-in-law, Devaki, visits her and disapproves of her shabby clothing, as well as her brother's attitude in general: "He may be my brother, Sulakshana, but I am under no delusions......Let him concern himself with trade and politics and other such matters. Where the household is concerned - and most importantly , where you are concerned - he cannot tell you what you should do and what you shouldn't."  How does Sulakshana heed her sister-in-law's advice without overt rebellion against her husband?

'Wronged' is a story of relationships within a family, of the perception of who is wronged within a marriage, the shifting points of view of the grown up children of the couple concerned. Set in contemporary Delhi, the locales are familiar, and the conversations between the siblings form the narrative of this eloquent, fascinating story.

The final story in this collection, Poppies in the Snow, was longlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. It is a painful, intricate story set in Kashmir, with insurgents and counter-insurgency, love, brutality. betrayal and revenge. Beautifully and evocatively descriptive, it brings the Valley alive on the page. A truly searing story.

Woman to Woman is a wonderful addition to Madhulika Liddle's oeuvre.