Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Part of the Family-Part II

Some inanimate objects are so much part of one's life, especially those that have been part of childhood. Inspired by my last post on Boseji, I'm taking a long trip down memory lane, remembering devices that have brought music into my life ever since I can remember.
This picture is the closest I can find on the Net to the Pye radio which was the first music supplier that I can recall, an important part of my earliest childhood, way way back in the nineteen-fifties. The 'tika' like thing between the speakers is what was known then as the magic eye, and therefore of great fascination. It would shine a bright green when the radio was properly tuned. We, my sister and I, used to love turning the knobs, and were scolded for doing so too rapidly or too hard. I was quite convinced that little people and orchestras lived inside the radio, and was always trying to peer into its innards.
A couple of years later came the tape recorder. This was a Telefunken spool player, which, together with the radio, became a major part of our lives. Once again, I have no access to any old family photographs, so I'm putting up as close a representative as I can find on the Net.
Both of these devices were acquired when we were living in England, as my father was posted there. I was about five years old , my sister seven, and our great big older brother was a true-blue teenager at sixteen, when the tape recorder came into our lives.
This was obviously a machine that was more fascinating than the radio, because we could chose what we wanted to listen to. That most of it was recorded from the radio was irrelevant. I wonder who did the recordings- was it my father , or my brother?
We had our favourite tape of children's songs, and spent hours listening to the Ugly Duckling, and the Little White Bull, and Thumbelina, and Maurice Chevalier singing 'Thank Heaven for little girls', and so many many others, which I have heard countless times and have sung to my children. Then there was this radio comedy called "The Clitheroe Kid", of which we must have recorded several episodes. We loved this awful boy who plagued his family, especially his older sister Susan, and a malaprop neighbour. My brother recorded Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, and Buddy Holly and Connie Francis and the Beatles, who were just beginning to be talked about. There would be strange, eclectic additions to the different genres- we had movements from Handel's Water Music, the rather haunting soundtrack of Shakespearewallah, Yehudi Menuhin playing with Ravi Shankar, some amazing tap dancing: Antonio dancing Zaffariado or vice versa.
Then my parents had their Hindi oldies. I don't quite recollect how and where they recorded those, but they were there.
Before we returned to India, we acquired a Garrard record changer. It was just the chassis, no case- a rather spindly, delicate looking structure. A case was made for it, an almost cube-like, suitcase like container. It was played through the radio, and the only record from that time that I remember was Cliff Richard's 'The Young Ones.' Records were very expensive in the sixties. But my father's more prosperous young cousin would buy KL Saigal and other records, and bring them over for my father to record on tape. That was the basis for our several hours of old music. By the time I reached college I could, very occasionally, save up and buy an LP. Of course, I did wish that we had a radiogram, but our real treasure was the tape recorder. It was a great companion to have when ill, or otherwise stuck at home. Recording on the microphone was great fun, something we'd only done when it was new- I recited 'We are off to Timbuktoo' in a teeny little voice, and my mother read something from her Essential English text, about the difference between a clock and a watch. Dad's cousin did some Raj Kapoor imitations, when we were back in India, good ones!
The radio was of course an institution unto itself- All India Radio held us in thrall, as we grew older and became more comfortable with Hindi lyrics. A great and unique treasure that accompanied us back to India in 1963 was a transistor. That was something new- to be able to carry it around was simply unbelievable, back then! It was our companion on the terrace when we slept there in summer. All too soon, affordable transistors invaded the Indian market, and you could, sadly, be assailed by transistor- toting roadside Romeos.

These were, till I left home, my childhood and teenage musical companions. I was in college when I first saw a cassette and cassette player, at a friend's house. It seemed so amazingly small, compact, plus you didn't have to thread the tape into the empty spool. The word 'stereo' impinged upon my consciousness around the same time. Technology was bringing in many changes............

Monday, July 21, 2008

Part of the Family- Part I

Other people of our age have grandchildren. We have granddogs. Dogs whom we enjoy when we meet them, whom we play with, and for whom we are not responsible, as they live with our oldest daughter, in a different city. They haven't come visiting us, though. Our apartment complex doesn't allow pets, and I guess the logistics would be rather complicated. The girls, as it is, are only able to come for a few days at a time. So we get to meet the dogs only when we visit our kids.

We have dog-sat their predecessor, when we were, all too briefly, living in the same town. We have mourned him, and visited his grave. My older son wrote a tribute to him here. Mowgli was missed so much that the kids had to get another dog as soon as possible.

Both of these creatures are characters, with minds of their own, and both of them love to go for rides in the car, as you can see. The driver was their best friend, but since he has left, there is a vacuum in their routine.

They are most sibling like in their behaviour, though they are both of different breeds. They share a typical sibling like relationship, fighting, playing and sleeping and eating together.
When one of them goes visiting my younger daughter, the other one mopes. The two of them share a loving bond, though they do pinch each others bones.

I guess two dogs are better than one. My children all think so.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Me and Mr.Bose

I know it's an ungrammatical title. But 'Mr.Bose and I' doesn't convey what I want it to, so please excuse this deliberate error.
The Mr.Bose, or Boseji, in his more desified version, that I'm talking about refers to a small Wave music system from the hallowed House of Bose, which, I believe, is way up in the hierarchy of sound equipment the world over. The Sometimes Resident Engineer wanted to buy it for me as a birthday present last year, or rather he wanted to buy it and wanted to justify the purchase by calling it my birthday present. Prior to our famous trip to the US last year, we had agreed that no birthday presents were required since we would be quite broke when we came back.
But when the SRE gets a bee in his bonnet, the man is unstoppable. Apparently, if we bought the system before a particular date, we would also get a free IPod. Now, if what you really want is an IPod, then why not just buy an IPod. ( The younger son had already got one, which the fond father had bought him on one of his trips abroad). But no, the man wanted a free IPod and a Bose music system. He wanted to carry the IPod to entertain him on his travels, on his long flights etc. etc. Plus it was free with a Bose. A Bose- not any old music system, but a BOSE!!!! If you claim to be a music lover, how can you possibly say no to a Bose?
Fine and dandy, my friend, as long as you don't call it my birthday present!

I did strongly voice my reservations, as we already possessed
A) a WorldSpace radio (in the dining room), which is clearly heard in the kitchen as well.
B) a home theatre system connected to the TV in our drawing room
C) the computer in our bedroom, which can play discs!
D) a cute little Akai system which can play tapes, CDs, VCDs and MP3 discs as well as radio.
E) a radio cassette player in my parents' room.
F) a retired Discman which had earlier been bought for long distance travel, but was now an embarrassment to be seen with, in this new zamaana of tiny devices!

The SRE thought my reservations specious. Well, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and so we went visiting the Bose showroom.

The Bose showroom is just amazing! Wonderful systems, and a beautiful show in their soundproof studio. The sound quality is exquisite. We left with a Wave in our hands, and collected the IPod a few days later.

The IPod story: I admire the gadgetry- the tininess of the contraption, the sound quality, the amazing technology that has gone into the thing. Wow. When the younger son flaunted his, I'd appreciate it and admire it and occasionally listen to it. But I'm one of those people who does not enjoy using headphones of any kind. I like to listen with my ears free and open to the sound.
So M'sieur IPod was definitely not my baby. The SRE realised that loading it took some effort, but persevered and soon had some of his favourite music on the gadget. But, strangely, he didn't enjoy it as much as he thought he would. He'd travel, but wouldn't take it with him. This was, sadly, a very short lived romance. Our elder son came a-visiting, and was delighted to take it off our hands, saving it from certain decay and death from disuse. Smart cookie that he is, accepted it, but not as a birthday present. That had to be separate. Bah. Anyway, the fond parents indulged the NRI student son. When he comes home later this month we'll find out how that particular IPod is faring.

The Bose Wave story: I admire the machine. It is beautiful, small, fits nicely where the Akai used to sit, on a set of drawers fixed to our bedroom wall. One drawer is full of cassettes, which the Akai used to play. Some CDs sit on a rack- mostly the bhajans that the SRE likes to listen to while he gets ready in the morning. Other CDs are occasionally imported from their home in the drawing room.
(Major sibling rivalry occurred. Banished to the guest room and rarely used, the Akai died of neglect- something I discovered when I thought of playing it while I tidied the linen cupboard.
It's been repaired since then, came back working fine, but now it only plays cassettes. It probably thinks we have enough CD players already. I will take it to the Akai hospital again- since we ought to have at least one music system in every room!)

Boseji swallows CDs- you insert them into a tiny slit and they disappear into the maw of the machine. All functions are controlled by a slim, small remote. Boseji seems to be a system of great taste- all bhajan CDs were played without a whisper, as well as Beethoven's Ninth, to which it did great justice, and my Hindustani classical discs. A couple of months later, though, Boseji gave me my first indication of its true potential for trouble. It did not like the CD of Barsaat ki Raat (such delightful songs- Zindagi Bhar Nahin Bhoolegi Woh Barsaat ki Raat, Na Toh Kaaravaan ki Talaash Hai, Yeh Ishq Ishq Hai etc.). Boseji said 'Disc Error'. Very well, we will eject the offending disc. But Boseji seems to be a masochist. Refuses to eject the damn disc. I press various buttons on the remote. Nothing happens. I'm seriously thinking of unplugging it and carting it off to the showroom, when switching the mains off and on somehow ejects the CD.
To my great relief, may I add. I tenderly carry the poor rejected Barsaat Ki Raat to the drawing room and play it there.

(Boseji is also supposed to have a clock and an alarm etc., but the clock has a mind of its own and slowly slows down. I could have lugged it to the showroom, but since we haven't really bought it to tell the time with, it doesn't seem worth the bother. So, if you wake up in the middle of the night you are supposed to ignore the green luminous numbers hanging in the dark, and switch on the table lamp and look at the nice little alarm clock that does tell the time).

I thought that Boseji liked what I can only call the good stuff! I was delighted when it rejected a Gurdas Mann CD and happily played Rabbi's new offering, Aavengi Jaa Nahin. ( I was most distressed to see the SRE thumping it in an attempt to extricate the CD. You have to use wiles and trickery, pretend you aren't up to anything, and magically the CD will emerge). But then it also rejected Kalapini Komkali's wonderful disc with Raga Nand. And gave me a hard time ejecting it. (I just brought the disc here to check, and it's playing now- so Boseji doesn't permanently hate a particular artiste- I guess its a matter of mood).

It is well established that Boseji is temperamental and has many 'nakhras'. Boseji is also quite the sadist, where I'm concerned. Last week we were gadding about the South City Mall, trying to pass time till it was time for the movie (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) to begin, when we strolled into Planet M. We saw a CD of patriotic songs, beautiful old ones like 'Hum Laaye Hain Toofan Se' etc. which the SRE and I both liked. Then we realised that it was an MP3 CD. Given Boseji's track record, I had very grave doubts about its ability to play an MP3. Boseji's brochure has been carefully kept away, and you wouldn't think you'd need a brochure for equipment with not a single button or knob on its face or body! The younger son thought it would play. The home theatre doesn't play MP3, and the little Akai, poor thing, is not in the mood for any CDs these days.

Well either Boseji is out to get me ( remember, I'm the one who didn't want more any more music systems breeding like rabbits in my home), or else is a true patriot- of course it played the patriotic songs. Bah.
Well , I like the songs, so I should be grateful! Unbah?

I have come to the conclusion that as a true maestro, Boseji is entitled to all these tantrums and aggravation. Even Kishori Tai is supposed to be quite the prima donna. So why not Boseji? Boseji of the sound quality par excellence is surely entitled to a few idiosyncracies.

However, I do get my own back. Boseji also plays FM. So I enjoy playing all the trendy, silly, mast fillum songs on the FM, and poor Boseji can't do a thing about it. Crazy numbers like
'Dil dance maarey' and 'Pappu can't dance saala'. However, I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed- equipment in my house is known to have a mind of its own!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On being alone, and more!

Those ten days came and went- WHOOOOOSH.........

The SRE left on the Saturday night with the requisite, expected dramatics- a very important document was not in his laptop bag. He remembered taking all the extra stuff out of the bag before leaving his office, and had obviously left that document in the office. The car had been called a little early, so after having dinner he left, went to the office, picked up the document and proceeded to the airport. Calls up, confirms that the document is now with him, and then has the cheek to tell me that I wouldn't have packed his cell-phone charger, would I?

(Nasty man, casting aspersions upon his highly organised full-time assistant, moi). It is in the side pocket of the laptop bag. Check and make sure. I haven't taken it out, so it's there if you haven't dumped it somewhere.

It was.

After all this khit pit, we bade each other a fond farewell, with instructions issued to the SRE to call me from Milan.

He had left a copy of his itinerary with me, just so that I'd know where he was, and when. I am rather challenged when it comes to time zones, but I gratefully accepted the document and put it away carefully. (There had been this one distressing episode some years ago- the SRE was away in Mumbai, and I tried calling him in the morning. In my house, we can even do international wake-up calls if required- this was a very routine, national one. The cell phone kept ringing. And ringing. Several times. At a respectable wake-up time. Scratch me and I'm as neurotic and anxious about my husband as any other Bhartiya nari. I was worried, seriously worried. All kinds of unpleasant thoughts were having a field day. I knew which hotel he was in , but didn't have a number.
Called up the older son, who advised me to use Googleji. Who gave me a number, which I dialled.
And they had never heard of the man, and no, he wasn't staying with them. But they had another branch, of which they kindly gave me the number, and a sleepy SRE was thankfully located. His damn phone was in his blazer pocket in the wardrobe. Bah. After this we do try to have alternate numbers for the man. For the sake of my sanity).

Well, Sunday passed by happily enough. I could hog all the Sunday papers, for a start.
And didn't have to rescue random sections of various papers, usually from underneath my significant other! It was only in the evening, when I expected him to call, that I got a little perturbed. When I tried his phone, it was switched off. Tried a few times, told myself not to worry, and slept somewhat restlessly. Decided to check his itinerary and call the hotel in the morning. Looked around, couldn't find it in the junk on the computer table and our dressing table, decided to look properly in the morning.

Mornings have a sameness- the milk man will come and wake you up whensoever he chooses, or ring the bell when you are busy in the bathroom. Tough if you are the only person on the premises! Mornings mean doorbells: car-cleaner, maid, press-wallah, the boy who scrubs the bathrooms to a shine, the driver! That's a lot of part-time assistance. (And the house can still be a mess- but I digress). Mornings mean baths, bed-making, breakfast, not necessarily in that order. Mornings mean no time to worry about non-phoning husbands. Well, not much- just a dash of worry to temper the long standing family policy of no news being good news.

It had rained all night on Sunday. Which meant that our lane was flooded. I called up the driver, and told him not to come- I would call him if I needed him to come. (Yes, the driver had inherited my old mobile phone- such a blessing).

All morning I search for the itinerary. Properly. Worry about it. Hunt seriously, with full attention, thinking it may have dematerialised in the way most documents pretend to do in our house. I can't find it. Neither does the man call. I even write a note to my husband's secretary, asking her to send me another copy. I'm about to send it off, when I finally find the damn itinerary, in, of all places, my handbag. To my chagrin, I find that there is only one city with the hotel number on it, in Pittsburgh, where he is reaching a few days later. The rest is merely flight details. Bah.

The SRE finally called on Monday afternoon- the much maligned cell-phone charger had taken umbrage or got damaged somehow and refused to work, and so he was incommunicado. His colleagues apparently had the latest cell phones, the chargers of which are not compatible with his older model. The spouse was alive and well, and now I could get on with my life with a free mind!

My entire household was in a strange kind of mode- the maid has been needing to get her roof repaired for a long time. Three days of leave were sanctioned during the week. Since I'm still eating very light food, basically a pressure cooker and a bowl or two were all that needed to be washed every day! And I could exercise the option of being as clean or messy as I chose to be.
I was expecting my aunt and uncle over the weekend, and so I managed to clear out some cupboard space for them. I also planned a minor colour scheme change for the sitting room, which I tackled slowly while the maid was away! I'm admittedly sneaky- she would have protested if she'd seen me fight with the bolster covers. From being cream and beige and maroon, the room became cream and blue. But the old blue curtains looked very dull and faded, so I decided not to put them up. The cream and blue room would just have to have a few maroon highlights to match the curtains that were already there.

There were also books, blogs and mails to read, and of course phone calls to make- to American hotels in Pittsburgh and Amarillo where the staff and I could barely comprehend each other's accents over the phone. The SRE finally bought a charger for the horrendous sounding sum of thirty dollars. Phew. (I digress- it is such a joy to be able to make international calls sitting at home, and not going broke either. When we were just married and the SRE was away in the US for some months, it was blue aerogrammes that I would wait for so eagerly. And each call he made from the States cost a small fortune).

Evenings I caught up on films that I'd been meaning to watch for a long time. I saw and loved "Khuda Kay Liye". I also saw "No Smoking", which Chandni recommended very highly. It was not an easy movie to watch, and yet was interesting and disturbing and quite Kafka-esque! I'd also seen "Anwar", which has the haunting song "Maula mere Maula", and disturbs with its vision of modern Indian life, its politics and human frailty. (One jarring note was the cop whose wife was dying. Surely a guy is able to take compassionate leave, and/ or arrange for someone to be with his wife and daughter in his absence).

Unexpected bonuses. A call from a dear outstation family member who was unable to proceed beyond Kolkata due to the railway lines being flooded, and who was staying elsewhere, but with whom I could spend a day full of fun. That was lovely, A. After some shopping in Gariahat, we went to Kewpie's for lunch, my very first meal out since I fell ill, where I somewhat nervously partook of daal and rice, while A most appreciatively relished Bengali cuisine in a charming old world ambience. A visit to Crossword, and I was able to pick up Gouri Dange's excellent book, 3 Zakia Mansion, which the Mad Momma has blogged about here.

This was already Thursday, the third maidless day! And though I was pleasantly exhausted after the day out with A, I had to read Gouri's book late into the night since I could not put it down before finishing it. And then picked it up in the morning and started re-reading it, slowly.
The driver had asked for Friday off, which was fine, since I needed him around on Sunday, the day my aunt and uncle were coming to town. So I had a nice, peaceful Friday with the maid clearing up the mess and neither need or facility to go anywhere.

On Saturday I thought it would be prudent to buy some vegetables and fruit which can be consumed by people not on a low-fibre diet i.e my aunt and uncle. Also picked up a chocolate fudge cake and some groceries for the guests to come. Some of us Kolkata bloggers are hoping that our favourite mommy blogger and her family will be able to meet us on Sunday- so quite a few fingers are crossed. Sue calls, says that she and Vicky will come over for a while anyway.
The phone signal isn't very clear, so I assume that they are bringing The Bhablet, and I baby-proof the drawing room and locate the toys I keep for visiting infants. However, the young Bhablet has a heavily booked social calendar of his own, so Sue, Vicky and I enjoy a pleasant conversational evening without the young charmer. I decide to leave the room baby-proofed in anticipation of the next day's visitors.
Sunday morning dawns bright and clear. The Mad Momma and family will be coming over in the evening. I convey the good news to Sue and Eve's Lungs (EL). The day is running away at breakneck speed! I arrange for some tea-time snacks. Post lunch, I send the driver to the airport to receive my uncle and aunt.
Sue, Vicky and the delightful Bhablet come first, and while Vicky has a comfortable snooze on the sofa, the Bhablet and I have an enjoyable game with some wooden napkin rings and a basket, chatting all the while with Sue. EL and her daughter are next, and then, voila, the Mad family arrives. The Bhablet shows a distinct territorial streak, since he is the child most familiar with my house. He and the Brat potter around the house, while the Bean, in a glamorous ghaghra-choli, prefers to be near her parents. At one point toys rain down from my bedroom balcony, and the driver is phoned to rescue them.
There is utter and delightful chaos when my uncle and aunt arrive after a very long journey from the interiors of Assam, so they relax in their room with hot cups of tea and some munchies.
The Mad family are on a tight schedule, so I reluctantly remind them of the time, and we all bid them a fond farewell. Sue and Vicky and EL and her teenager clear up the mess, while I sit and recuperate. The Bhablet wanders around rather triumphantly, basking in our undivided attention once more. I've had a grand time, but my body knows that it's still convalescent.
More farewells, and then I'm sitting with my feet up.
My aunt and uncle have rested, bathed and changed, and are looking forward to home style cooking after a fortnight's travel across several kinds of terrain and weather conditions. Since they stayed here with my parents while we were travelling abroad last year, they are very much at home. My aunt quickly makes some spicy khichdi, while I have some bland potato stew.

I have a wonderful time with them till they leave on Tuesday evening. I help my uncle start a blog. We watch Jab We Met on Monday night, and they both enjoy it so much that we pick up another CD for them to take home. Let me tell you that my uncle will be seventy-five years old this October, my aunt is a few years younger, and they are both really young at heart and fun to be with, as well as being wise and eminently sensible. Terrific role models to have.

The SRE returned late on Tuesday night. The ten days had flown past, barring the initial hiccups till he had called. God was very kind to me in giving me so much bonus companionship during those few days. None of the out-of-town visitors had planned to come while he was away, it just so happened. Being alone at home was not bad at all, but that's only because it was for a limited period. But I'd rather have a messy bathroom, wet towels on the bed and shoes and newspapers all over the place, and have the man around! Any day.......

And there's been another big bonus- our youngest child is now in college in Kolkata!
Although he stays in the hostel, we look forward to weekends with a youngster at home. I am so thankful for this, especially as he is the child who had to stay in the school hostel since he was fourteen, thanks to the SRE's frequent changes of location.

Ah, I subsequently had a week, an entire week of Internet withdrawal, as the underground cable was damaged some where. And that was painful: I experienced major withdrawal symptoms, fruitlessly nagged the service provider. I am only thankful that it didn't happen while I was supposedly "Home Alone!"