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.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Scent of Privilege

The RE has reverted to type, and is, once again, only Sometimes Resident.
The house is tidier, and emptier.
I even watch TV, sometimes.
And I do go out and meet people.

Since we moved here, we have not employed a regular, full-time driver. The RE drives us most places, and if required we have an agency who provides drivers for the day, as required. We have been using this facility since we came here, and are familiar with several of these young men.

I had to go out for a family function yesterday, and young M came to drive our car.
When I sat in the car, he asked me if I'd be offended if he asked me something.
I told him to ask away.

He asked me if I could give him the wrapper of the scent I had used, so that he would know what to buy.

I happened to be using Kenzo's Electric Wave, a gift from my younger daughter.

I told him that it was a gift, that my daughter had bought it while living abroad, and that it wouldn't be available here. I didn't want to say that it would also be much too expensive for him.

It was heartbreaking, the privileges which we so unthinkingly take for granted.




Friday, June 30, 2017

Dholak drumbeats

The well travelled dholak
started out from Indra Market, Noida
hired for a few days
for a family wedding
in distant Mangalore.
Thanks to airline mendacity,
it first flew to Bangalore,
bussed it to Mangalore
where we tunelessly
sang to its mellifluous beats.
(The groom and family
were perhaps
zapped by our dholak traditions!)
We didn't have the energy to bus
back to Bengaluru airport
after the wedding
cars were hired
(expensive business, that.
Rotten Spicejet)
The dholak came home,
to my home, as the
daughter who had hired it
didn't think it worth while
to collect the mingy balance
from the shop
(the deposit was the cost of the dholak)
We changed flats last year
and then it moved
to our basement store room
with the empty trunks
and cartons of cassettes
and the grandchild's high chair
and bath tub
and other sundry items
useful and useless, but not yet
discard-able.

And then our niece
needed a dholak for
an informal celebration
at her home,
for her daughter's wedding.
So the dholak travels
across town,
and is celebrating a wedding
once again!
And then the bride's uncle and aunt
host the mehndi at their home
and the dholak visits their house too.
No, it doesn't attend the beautiful
monsoon wedding in Goa!
It comes home after the mehndi,
in the boot of the car,
and stays there
as the basement key is upstairs.
One trip to the hospital
for Chacha's knee check-up.
It goes riding to Connaught Place
bouncing on the speed breakers,
and visits a Noida mall,
for Chachi's final shopping .
I finally take the key downstairs
and put it back in its place.

Let's see what it celebrates next,
and when...


Friday, May 19, 2017

Utterly delightful recipe videos: Bong Eats

In all my years of blogging and internet surfing, I have come across many interesting recipes, both as written blogs and as videos. Some food bloggers are now dear friends.

Here, though, are old friends whom I knew in the real world, in a brand new avatar.

I am absolutely delighted to share with you here the link to a great new favourite: https://bongeats.com

Disclaimers:
I am not a Bengali, though I love several Bengali dishes, and have lived in Kolkata for years.
I am a vegetarian.
I usually cook regular desi meals.
I rarely cook from a recipe.

Why I love Bong Eats:

The format of their videos:
You only see a pair of hands working out the recipe.
No face, no voice, no accent to contend with.
All instructions are written, succinct and to the point, including timings.
Most ingredients are accurately weighed out in grams.
The ones that aren't will be a particular number of an item:
say, two green chillis, or one cardamom.
They give detailed instructions on how to precisely cut ingredients for each recipe.
Equally detailed recipes or links to recipes for typical Bengali spice mixes.

The absolutely wonderful Bangla music that plays in the background.
You know that the creators of these videos truly love this fabulous cuisine.

They usually post a new video every Friday.
Do follow, and do try their recipes: you cannot go wrong.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Lifetime Ago: Sisters in the park





These photographs were taken sometime in the early 1960's, on a sunny summer day in London, probably by my brother. It's been two years since my sister left us...
.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A fleeting thought

A fleeting thought
flew in
and out 
of my mind

where did you go, thought?
what were you about?
will I ever know?
It's a matter of some doubt.

You may not have been important
but you came into my mind
and disappeared in an instance:
that really wasn't kind.

I will sit and wonder
perhaps even bite
my nails, as I ponder
what did I want to write?

The great wide world 
is full of mystery
The great unknown,
unexplored, puzzling

Far more bewildering, though
are the mysteries of a single
human mind

What on earth was I thinking about????

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Just an hour later


Today I walked
An hour later than usual
The walking friend is away
The maid was on leave
and I was lazy

The walk was a very different walk
Flocks of school children
heading for the bus-stop near the main gate
being chivvied along
by harried mother hens
and the occasional father hen
one running with his son's school bag,
the son running behind him.
I wonder if they caught the bus!

The child who enjoyed
a relaxed chat with the escorting parent
and a sad looking kid who
really didn't want to go to school

The sun higher in the sky
The elegant school teacher
greeted after ages...
The Modern School kids
in the car, with their mother
(We used to live in the same building).

The bunch of senior ladies,
all 'wishing' friends now!

The lycra clad, the elegant,
the casual, the comfortable:
immense variety

The driver who cleans his master's car
with immense love and devotion,
always so patient, so thorough.

The same compound, the same circuit
An entirely different walk...






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

Expired

























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
immortalized
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,
somewhere?
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,
betrayal,
karmic debts, 
perhaps, that make 
no sense in just
this present life.
Love and jealousy
both abound
untrammelled 
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 
expression,
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...