Friday, March 17, 2017

Further Key Chronicles

Our front door and its key(s) have often featured in this blog.
The last key I remember losing was when I was in college, when my key was stolen from my bag in a crowded Delhi bus. I try to not complicate my life by not losing keys, but...

The RE and I possess two keys for our front door, one on a jingly blue key chain from Taipei, the other, more serious looking key (along with the key to the wooden door, which we never use) on our house owner's key ring. There are days when I go out early and lock the door, so the spouse can sleep undisturbed, and can unlock the door whenever he needs to. 

The Sunday before this was one such day. I was going out with my younger daughter. The RE and I had our tea, and he decided to go back to sleep. For a change I decided to carry the other key ring, not the jingly blue one. As per my usual practice, I locked the door, and walked to the lift with the key ring in my hand. I walked through the apartment complex's garden to the gate, where my daughter was waiting for me in her car. After an hour or so at our destination, we were on the way home. We often have Sunday lunch at this daughter's home, so while she was driving us back, she asked me to ask the spouse to come directly to her place, which he did. We got home after a delicious lunch, looking forward to a Sunday afternoon siesta.

I kept thinking that I must take the house key out of my handbag and keep it in its place, in the drawer near our front door, an intention that I didn't act upon for a few days. The spouse left town for a couple of days, which is when I planned some long overdue social visits to far off parts of the capital.

I hunted through my handbag, but I couldn't find the key. I even felt the entire lining of the bag, just in case the key had slipped through a hole. I wondered if I had dropped it on the colony road on my way to the gate on Sunday. That was scary- what if someone saw me drop it, and identified the key with our house. I decided to override this bit of tension by putting a padlock on the wooden door, and then locking the grill door with the only key I could find. Perhaps I had dropped it in my daughter's car, since I somehow ended up always holding it in my hand till I sat in the car. I messaged her, then went off to meet my friend. The anxious mind remained worried, though. We couldn't manage with one key between us. We'd need to go to the computerized key maker in Sector 16. And, at the back of my mind, the persistent worry of someone in the colony having picked it up after seeing me drop it.

I didn't hear from my daughter regarding the key, so I assumed it was irretrievably lost/stolen from the colony path. Even if I stepped out of the flat to go and buy a loaf of bread, I would use the padlock. Life didn't seem quite 'normal'.

Two days later, the Mostly Resident Engineer was to return. We did speak on the phone, of course, but I didn't want to give him any stressful news while he was too far away to do anything about it.
A cousin was visiting the NCR for a wedding, and I had the good fortune of meeting him and his wife after some fifteen or sixteen years. They decided to spend their last evening here with me, so I quickly made a simple dinner. The spouse was coming back the same night, but it was a very late flight, and he was unlikely to reach home before 2 a.m. I spoke to him after my cousins had left, and asked him to call me on my phone once he got home, since I was unlikely to hear our doorbell once I was asleep. He said, "Don't worry, I have a house key, just lock the door from the inside, I'll let myself in."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry! I had completely forgotten that I had left the blue key ring at home, and had assumed, wrongly, of course, that the spouse had let us in when we had returned from our daughter's home on Sunday. I immediately call up my daughter and tell her that the missing key was apparently never missing, after all! (It just happened to be in the pocket of the sleeveless jacket that the RE has been wearing since the worst of winter got over: he never carries a key if he can possibly help it). I had automatically, unthinkingly, unlocked our front door when we came home on Sunday afternoon, and put the key in the right place, quite unwittingly!!!

After all this unnecessary drama and tension, I make sure that after locking the door I keep my key ring in its designated pocket in my handbag at the door itself!

Friday, February 24, 2017


They could have been useful:
cured aches, pains, fevers,
allergies,acidity, vertigo,
reducing human misery
in their own quiet way.

Instead, they are ruthlessly
peeled from their foil strips
which declare them useless, expired,
no longer fit for consumption.

An ignominious end to their existence
Being flushed down the toilet...
where else can you
safely dispose of them?

I cheat, though.
I don't recognise expiry dates
on Digene tablets
or Micropore tape
or Karvol capsules
(for steam inhalation).
It doesn't make sense to me.

The medicine shelf is
now decluttered
and these sorry tablets
in a little work of art!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Depths, debts

What do I say
that does not offend
or irritate or annoy 
someone, anyone,
My brush paints
a nude, a child,
a god, a goddess,
a pile of rubbish,
torn shoes,
broken limbs
the end of hope,
which offends.
My truth, my being,
what can I say
if not my truth?
The comfort of my 
segregated life
can also offend:
what do I know 
of poverty?
I will speak
my truth, 
as I know it.
Stories of pain,
karmic debts, 
perhaps, that make 
no sense in just
this present life.
Love and jealousy
both abound
by age and experience
Life, logic, 
a contradiction in terms
wounding the wronged
not the wrong-doer
Who am I  to judge
weakness and compulsions
as wrong doing?
And yet,
those stories sear 
my very soul, 
seeking release 
villainy and heroism
children bearing 
burdens that weigh
them down
way beyond the 
weight of learning
and school bags
and poor memories
that let us forget
the debts we must repay.....

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sheets ahoy!

                                                                                                                                  Flowered bed sheets
                                                                                                                          whipped by the wind into
                                                                                                                                adventurous sails.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The depths of conditioning

A few days ago Natasha Badhwar wrote a beautiful article entitled "Does Your Child Feel Safe With You?"  She describes an incident from her early childhood, in which she and her even younger cousin get lost, and how the younger cousin is soundly thrashed. Please follow this link and read what she says.

The concern most parents feel for their children is often expressed in such negative ways. The child may grieve for the hurt she has caused her parent, and also for the hurt and injury to her self esteem.
Anxiety is infectious. A mother worrying about the late arrival of her spouse transmits that anxiety, willy-nilly, to her children. For those of us who grew up in a world without cell-phones, or without any phone at all, (perhaps a neighbourhood phone where messages might or might not be delivered home), the lack of communication could lead to extreme anxiety if a family member was unreasonably late. It took years of worrying (most pointlessly) and a wise friend's counsel to learn that "No news is good news."

Having grown up in Delhi, and having braved the nastiness of several men on the street and in DTC buses, I was obviously concerned when my older daughter moved to Delhi for her college education several years ago.The general advice we gave her was the same that I had received in my youth: to try and be back home/ in the hostel before dark.
One day last week I spent most of the day out of my house, minus the spouse. I went across Delhi to meet a friend who was here from another city. I had lunch at a restaurant on my own. I went to several stalls at the book fair. I attended a talk I had been wanting to attend. But as evening fell, I was struggling to concentrate on the talk while suppressing the voice within me that insisted that I should be home. The voice was summarily shut up, but the mere fact of its existence annoyed me. Today we have good communication systems, the spouse knew where I was, we communicated as and when required.
I had not made anyone worry about me. There was absolutely no need for guilt.
And yet the wretched guilt did exist...

I asked my older daughter the other day whether she felt the same way? She does too. She does whatever she has to, comes back home whenever she wishes to, but that wretched voice still exists.

This is a legacy I do not wish to give to anyone. Our cities may not be terribly safe, we may live our lives with sensible precautions, but we need to be our own women, not haunted by the conditioning of our youth...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Doors

As I may have mentioned earlier, we moved house (our thirteenth since we got married) the end of this June. It was a flat almost identical to the one we were living in, and in the same housing complex, but with some additional features introduced by the owners, who had lived there for several years before they decided to move to Texas.

Since they had moved in to this apartment complex several years ago, when it was on the outer edge of the civilised world, they were very safety conscious. The main door had the builder's mortise lock, a bolt for a padlock, and a big safety lock with two latches. The outer, grill door had a steel frame and netting, plus a mortise lock, and a bolt on the inside. The skylight above had a stainless steel grill.
They then handed me a bag full of keys to the various cupboards and cabinets and drawers to the house. There were drawers in the dressing table that could be locked, cupboards in the kitchen, sections in the store room: a truly overwhelming number of keys for a couple whose worldly goods mostly consist of books, music and cushion covers!

Our young landlords had done a wonderful job of adding storage space to the house. In the storeroom/ servant's room, they had built a huge shoe cupboard against one wall, and an ironing table with storage drawers against the other wall. The master bedroom had a huge shelf/sideboard with many small cabinets built into it, and the guest room, (formerly their children's room), had a big desk cum bookshelf occupying one wall. Many of our books were no longer homeless, and our movie collection now saw the light of day.

The morning after we received our set of keys to the house, our kids dropped in and wanted to see it.
(The landlords had left late the previous night, and had left one set with one of their relatives).
Wielding the bunch of house keys, I marched across with two kids and a friend  in tow. The steel grill door was double locked, and opened with two turns of the key. The safety lock opened with two turns of the key, too. The key turned in the builder's original lock, but I couldn't extricate it. My younger son, (who is also known as Terminesh on occasion), tried pulling it out, but the key broke in the lock. We could push open the door and enter the flat, and then wondered what to do. My daughter sent her driver to get a locksmith, and he came back shortly with a Sikh locksmith who extracted the broken key.

We decided that the grill door was safe enough in a building and society with plenty of security, and put both latches of the safety lock in a neutral position, since we decided that we didn't need more than one lock on our front door.

That was Door/ Key episode 1.

A couple of months later we had house guests. My aunt had undergone knee replacement surgery, and my uncle was going to visit her in the hospital.  I happened to be running a temperature, and on this particular morning was not able to get up. My maid suddenly comes and scolds me that the stuff I had kept in the small room has fallen and jammed the door and it can't open. I had propped two or three large paintings behind the door of the store room, and in some mysterious way they had fallen down, blocking the door completely. The spouse and the uncle tried desperately to move them, but to no avail. Somehow the maid got a hand in, and managed to lift the heavy frames enough to manoeuvre
the door open, bless her. I promptly put the picture frames between the dryer and the steel almirah, where they could do no further damage.

So that was Door  Episode No. 2.
When I told my good friend O about this, she narrated a similar episode in their house, where the ironing board got wedged between the door and a wardrobe, and could not be moved. Someone actually climbed down from the terrace to their eighth floor window, removed the pane of glass in the skylight, and entered and opened the door. Thank goodness we didn't have to do that. (The next day the maid's arm was badly swollen, but thankfully she recovered soon.

Once my aunt was home from hospital, we had many visitors coming to see her. One of them was her granddaughter, who had flown in for a day to meet her beloved Dadi! The spouse and I decided to get some rasmalai and dhokla from our local shop, and left the house with my niece watching TV and Chacha and Chachi following their normal routine of morning exercises. We didn't even think of telling the young lady that our place was very safe, and that our just closing the steel grill door was more than enough. When we came home, we opened the steel door, but the wooden door wouldn't open. Chacha threw down the house keys for the RE to retrieve, but the door still wouldn't open. Chacha tried attacking the lock with hammer and screwdriver, but to no avail. The RE went to get a locksmith. I went upstairs to O's house and asked her to keep the rasmalai and dhokla in her fridge. I sat down and drank some water. I was somewhat terrified, because the front door was proving to be impregnable. Even cutting open the grill above didn't seem possible or practical. The carpenter came and sat around uselessly. The RE returned with the locksmith, who seemed to be the original Sikh chap who had come some months ago! Within seconds the door was open, to our collective relief. The locksmith spent a good couple of hours de-activating and removing the latches from the safety lock.
That was Episode No. 3.

The fourth episode was comparatively milder, but potentially much more dangerous.
Last year we had visited the Blind School Diwali Mela (for the first time), and among other purchases had bought a bamboo and coconut shell mashaal.

I used it last year, and this year, once again, it was in the little corner between the front door and the wall, although outside a different apartment. On Diwali I placed a glass candle holder on top of it, and lit a large candle inside it, and all was well. On the day after Diwali, I lit the wick inside the coconut shell (there was a good quantity of wax), and a couple of tea-lights outside the door. When I opened the door the next morning, there was a blackened mess where the mashaal once stood. It was only when we got back from our walk that O pointed out how lucky we were that our electrical wiring didn't catch fire: the switchboard with the doorbell and entry light had melted and was quite de-shaped. This wasn't quite a door episode, but since it was in close proximity, I guess it qualifies!

Is there a particular God of Door Things who can help? (We have a Ganapati outside, and one just inside, who seem to be sleeping on the job). Do let me know!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Thoughts on Diwali, 2016

So many Diwalis
have come and gone,
same old wishes,
same old pledges
hoping for peace, 
and love, and light
(not noise, thank you so much)
for something to change,
for goodwill to appear,
pollution to vanish
life easier to bear
for the poor and the lonely
on the edges of our world...
(My inner cynic
has decided to relax today,
and let my upbeat self emerge.
Hoping doesn't hurt,
or does it, if it remains futile?)
At night the city glimmers and gleams
like a bride with glittering ornaments...
I overhear a young boy tell his friends,
a bunch of them bursting crackers
'My mom says she is anti-pataka,
but my Nanu let me buy crackers'
and hope dies down again.
But this Diwali morning,
despite the hazy sky,
the pigeons are still waiting
for me to fill up their water trough
and stubborn hope bestirs from its slumber.
I wish, and hope, and pray
that human beings learn to love
each other, all living beings, our Mother Earth
today and every day.
Happy Diwali.