Thursday, November 16, 2017

Conflict



Between the books you want to read
and the as yet unpacked suitcases
and the laundry
and the ironed clothes, waiting
to be put away

We have help, here in India:
no dishes, no dusting,
no sweeping, no swabbing,
no ironing, no chopping
and yet, the conflict remains
between tasks and leisure.

The urge to write adds to the fun,
on these few days of being alone
when the need to feed
the significant other
is absent. A cooking break, mostly.

Being out helps, seeing a film
or play, or book event
all time seems well spent
away from the conflict zone
of home, where work and leisure
fight over my 'undisciplined' soul.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Always so welcoming!

We bought this dining table in 1985 or so. It has been a part of our family for decades now. The chairs have been re-caned a couple of times, the table top has been changed, it has accompanied us to various corners of the country. Meals, conversations, guests, parties: it has seen a lot of life chez nous.
Nothing extraordinary here. Absolutely nothing which most long standing dining tables haven't done.

Now, however, in its dotage, as it were, our dining table, and the sideboard behind it (of the same vintage) have taken on a new avatar. They, especially the dining table, are welcoming all kinds of stuff unto themselves. Things which belong elsewhere. Medicines having been consumed, the empty foil wrappers, the medicine boxes, the glasses of water, all park themselves on the table. The table mats often stay on after a meal, unless they need a wash. A stray unused spoon may be hanging around. My handbag parks itself on one of the chairs at either end.The spouse and I both have our own desks, but very often cheques are signed at the dining table. Cheque books park themselves there, along with the newspaper that was used as padding under the NEFT form. Stray pens, newspapers with crossword puzzles or Sudoko, files, books in transit from bookshelf to bedroom, telephone chargers, battery packs, grocery bags until they are emptied and sorted. In winter, of course, jackets and shawls drape themselves over the back of the chairs. The home help does what she can, which usually means gathering all the table top detritus into a reasonably tidy pile and leaving it there.

It is looking so pretty and perfect and clean in this photograph. Perhaps we should have our meals standing up in the kitchen! When we were young there were children in the house, who had the thankless task of laying the table for meals and clearing it up afterwards. Perhaps child labour is required again. The last time I cleaned up the table and sideboard, it took so much effort that I am now hesitant to even leave a glass of water on the table, in case it grows roots and attracts a whole lot of other objects to give it company.

My dear table, please learn some detachment. Continue to embrace friends and family with warmth and love, and detach from material possessions. Do not be so welcoming of them. I think this is a lesson both of us need to learn!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dominant habit?

This entire post is about me not minding my own business. Or rather, apparently minding my own business, but getting perturbed by something which should not bother me at all.

After my recent long travels and battles with jet lag and air pollution, I finally went for a walk, the standard round of our complex's drive. Some familiar faces were seen, some greeted, some merely noticed.

Among the latter category was The Balding Youngish Man With The Lhasa Apso.
The dog is adorable: he is a miniature Apso, and when he was younger and less sure-footed, would slide down the speed-breakers on his belly. Over the past several months, my friend O and I have noticed something somewhat discomfiting. The Apso's owner is often on his phone early in the morning. He holds the dog's leash in his left hand, and the dog remains on his left. However, he also holds the phone to his left ear, using his right hand, right across his chest. It looks terribly uncomfortable. It obviously doesn't bother either him, or the dog. How silly can one get, being discomfited by something that has absolutely no bearing on one's life????


Picture from Pinterest

Monday, October 30, 2017

Chasing a cop!

Yes, that's exactly what my daughter and I did yesterday!
We had gone out in the morning, and on our return journey had planned to stop at one of our local markets. Unfortunately, there was no convenient parking available, so we decided to go straight home. Going straight home meant going down the underpass, but S forgot, and automatically drove onto the left road. As we took the next U-turn to get back on track, we spotted a young man in police uniform, riding on a scooter (a rare sight, we mostly see motorbikes), minus a helmet.
S decided that as a law abiding citizen, she had to tell him of this lapse on his part.
We opened the car windows, honked at him and speeded up, but our man remained oblivious. And then he parked at the police chowki! S hailed him, and this very young policeman came up to our car, perhaps wondering what help these two women required.
S told him that if as a citizen, she was obliged to follow certain rules and regulations, as a policeman he needed to be doubly sure of doing the same. The poor chap sheepishly agreed. He got quite an earful: it's the first time we'd caught an cop making such a silly mistake!
He was really very young. Let's hope that he becomes an exemplary policeman!


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ten years of 'Of This and That'

Ten years ago, after much encouragement from friends in the virtual world, I posted my first ever post on this blog.
I don't write often enough now, the busy-ness of life often has me composing blog posts in my head and never writing then down. The desire to do so remains, and yet gets subsumed by so much else. 
The patterns of internet usage have changed so much in these ten years. 
Technology has me writing this post on my phone, accessing an entire world from a device somewhat larger than the palm of my hand. Some things are truly amazing. 
Even now, though, what I really want to express on the tenth anniversary of my blog, is my gratitude for the love and warmth that came my way over these past ten years, the support offered during some very difficult times, and love and friendship that transcend time and distance. I'm looking forward to finally meeting friends as yet unmet, soon. 
Let's see what the next ten years bring!


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Some thought on reading Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory


The Partition of India is a painful memory for many people who have lived through it, or have heard about it from their family members and friends who witnessed those terrible times. Although my natal family was never displaced, I wonder what traumas my parents were witness to. When my parents came back to stay with me in Kolkata, after I had recovered from a bout of typhoid, my father suffered from auditory hallucinations, the most fearful and frequent of which were the screams of a young woman being burnt alive. Fortunately, these ended after a home visit by a psychiatrist and subsequent medication. I often wonder if he had witnessed any such event, at any time in his life, or if the hallucinations were a product of a fertile imagination and/or a chemical imbalance. In his eighty seven and a half years he must have witnessed some traumatic events, and yet he was, mostly, a cheerful and gentle soul. It was much too painful to ever ask him if this trauma was based on a reality he had witnessed...

In her book, Aanchal Malhotra finds that material objects have tremendous value in invoking memories, many of which have been long suppressed in the busy-ness of daily living. Her story begins with the gaz (yardstick) and ghara  (metal pot shaped like the earthenware matka) at her maternal grandparents' home, older than the family patriarch, her grand-uncle, brought by his parents
at the time of Partition. She writes: "This was the first time that the importance of material memory truly dawned on me- the ability of an object or a possession to retain memory and act as stimulus for recollection. But more curious than this unexpected revelation was the context in which it had arrived. Despite the fact that I was born and raised in Delhi- a city thick with Punjabi migrants who had flocked here after the Partition from across the border- as well as that I was a descendant of migrants on both sides of my family, this desire to study the Great Divide had never been as strong in me as in that brief encounter withe the ghara and the gaz." And yet, it is when her paternal grandmother tells her how, as a young child, she was sent by her mother to ask a relative for five rupees, and was refused, shedding tears at that memory of extremely hard times, that Aanchal sits with 'a void in my heart for a memory that is not mine. In this instance, I am just a listener, a passive contributor to the vulnerable act of unfolding a painful past...........am I an intruder?'
             In nineteen chapters, in interviews with people from both sides of the border, as well as with an Englishman who was born and served in India, who considered it to be his first home, Aanchal evokes memories from material objects of various kinds. The chapter titles are evocative:
The Light of a House That Stands No More: The Stone Plaque of Mian Faiz Rabbani,
Hereditary Keepers pf the Raj: The Enduring Memories of John Grigor Taylor,
Utensils for Survival: The Kitchenware of Balraj Bahri,
Gifts from a Maharaja: The Pearls of Azra Haq,
The Dialect of Stitches and Secrets: The Bagh of Hansla Chowdhury,
Stones from My Soil: The Maang-Tikka of Bhag Malhotra
and several others.

Each individual, and his or her family members, help to weave a densely detailed tapestry of the Partition. All the stories of displacement, are, of course, painful, but one of the most extraordinary is one wherein the protagonist leaves his home fearing for his life, as a massacre has taken place there, and comes back to the same area as a refugee. He receives, ultimately, the documents for the land, but never the land itself. And yet he rebuilds his life and his home, and has served his country in his own way. "We, my family and I, have done it by staying here, staying true to this land. India is my country, regardless of my religion. I live in unity with its people; I don't create disorder of initiate violence. I respect it. And so I have served it all these years in my own way."

Each story is poignant, many are uplifting. The pain of displacement is immense. Displacement by a natural calamity,is, perhaps, more easily acceptable than man-made displacements. Involuntary uprooting is immensely painful. We must remember the pain of these displacements so that we do not replicate them.And yet, sometimes, in order to keep on living, to move on, forgetting the pain of the past is also necessary. This is described with great poignancy in the nineteenth chapter.

It is a labour of love by this young author. I can only imagine how painful it was for her to hear all these first-person accounts of one of the most traumatic event of India's history.
This is a book to cherish, to read and re-read.

         

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Older

As the youngest sibling,
I was a jealous little cat.
Eleven years older than me,
our brother was
almost an adult,
possessed of many skills
that we couldn't even aspire to,
in a league of his own.
But my sister: my sister
was only two years older
two years and two months older,
to be precise.
And those mere two years
granted her privileges
that little me craved.
I wanted to be older,
and smarter, and taller,
and prettier.....
It all seemed because
of her being older.
(She had her own
jealousies, of course.
I was younger, hence
pampered,
spoiled, lazy.
I had nicely shaped fingernails
compared to her stubby ones).

And now, now that
I'm a few days older than she ever was,
ever can be.
It's not fun at all.