I walked earlier than usual
This spring morning
Around the colony garden
When there's a loud, composite roar.
A dog barks, alarmed.
It's five elderly men
Being tigers and lions
Before they clap in unison
And laugh in unison
Kindergarten days again!
A bright and sparkly young woman, whom we first see dancing with joy and abandon, marries into a 'good, traditional' family somewhere in Kerala. And then there is the endless kitchen and household work which she shares with her mother-in-law, a woman who is kind and considerate towards her, and who has, unfortunately, tolerated/enabled some extremely inconsiderate behaviour from her husband and son. Their smug, entitled acceptance of all the goodies and services that comes their way is repugnant. I wonder how deeply entrenched these behaviour patterns are, and how common they are. The story progresses: the mother-in-law has to go and look after her pregnant daughter, leaving her young daughter-in-law to manage the home. Demands are very politely worded as requests. Tradition is ascendant: a woman is employed only for the few days when the protagonist is having her period. Her natal family is not so conservative, having lived for a while in Bahrain. The men decide to undertake the Sabarimala pilgrimage, with its conditions of abstinence and ritual purity. A leaking kitchen drain is not repaired, despite several requests to call the plumber. This slow, constant leak seems to symbolize the slow erosion of harmony, of trust, of consideration, of communication, of a bond that has barely had a chance to form. This was a film that both disturbed and enraged me, with its depiction of deep seated patriarchy.
When we lived in Kerala in the late nineties, my dear teacher, Dr. Anandalakshmy came to stay with us for a few days. The redoubtable Mary Roy was an old friend of hers, and came over for dinner one evening. She remarked upon my then teenaged son laying the table for dinner, as something extremely unusual for Kerala. For our family it was normal, no task was exclusively gendered. Perhaps my childhood and youth were exceptional, but I recall no task of any kind as beneath my father's dignity. He was a deeply independent person, and hated dependence and laziness. Heaven help us if he overheard us sisters ask each other for a glass of water. Strong disapproval. An early riser, he would go for a walk and come back and make tea for himself and my mother. Although he was the breadwinner and Mummy was the homemaker, she would happily deal with the bank work if Daddy was too busy, and he would cook something for all of us if she wasn't well, or one of his specials just for fun. (Very ugly but delicious eggplants made in the pressure cooker). Once he had retired he often sat and cut the vegetables, especially if my brother and family were visiting, and the quantities prepared were larger than usual. Shopping for fruit and vegetables, getting the wheat ground, and most routine grocery shopping were his department. My mother would, besides the daily cooking, dish washing, laundry, (mostly by hand, but my sister and I had to wash our own socks and handkerchiefs) and cleaning ( which she did for several years until we finally employed a part-time helper), she would manage to sew for us, read magazines, make pickles, sweetmeats and various snacks. Holidays were when my sister and I were supposed to clean the floors, until the helper came into our lives. As we grew older, we took turns making the evening meal. And yes, chutney was ground by hand, on the sil-batta. Overall, though, our normal cuisine seemed relatively simple to prepare. Our much older brother had been away from home for years, and presumably, knew how to fend for himself. My spouse had three much older sisters, and was a boarding school and college hostel product, hence totally unskilled in any culinary activity. If push came to shove, he could survive on bread and eggs and, later, Maggi noodles. Given a choice, he would certainly prefer to outsource all housework, rather than do it himself. The lockdown made a dish washer out of him, as well as salad champion. A few more weeks might have had him actively cooking, but anyway...
Despite not having dealt with the specific situations/nastiness as was shown in the film, it nonetheless struck a familiar chord. Power equations within families are often skewed. A non-earning member's contributions are oh-so-often taken for granted and undervalued, or his/her ambitions squelched with false praise for the thankless role he/she is fulfilling. A movie which truly makes you think, one which reinforced my firmly held beliefs that cooking, cleaning, laundry, driving, banking etc., are all life skills which every adult human being should possess. Do watch.
Our holiday in Corbett Park last month was wonderful. The best part of it was of our having no agenda, no itinerary beyond the walls of our resort. On the first two days of our three day stay there, the other room on the ground floor of our cottage was vacant, so we also had sole access to the drawing room, dining room and kitchen, besides our room, of course. The sitting room also had a powder room, which was a blessing, because even with only the two of us, one toilet isn't always sufficient. (On our Nile cruise I was personally delighted to find that our cabin had two tiny bathrooms!).
Over the next three days we walked to the river bank, strolled around, sat on the deck and read, walked, ate, slept, enjoyed the Diwali campfire with live music, and relaxed. Before we knew it, our three days were over, and after a good breakfast, we loaded our stuff into the car. The boy who came to help us with our luggage also opened up the wardrobes to make sure that we had left nothing behind, and so did I. Nothing.
We had barely been on the road for some twenty minutes when my husband's phone rang: it was from the hotel reception desk, telling me that I had left some money behind. I was quite sure that I had done no such thing, but we stopped to check, and both my handbags had the correct amount of cash within them. The spouse called the hotel, and the man said there was an envelope with cash in it, some four thousand rupees. My cousin in the NCR had paid me for something, and had put the money in an envelope, which I had put into my handbag. I checked, that envelope was there too. The man said that there was something written on the envelope in Hindi, the gist of which was 'Sorry I didn't give this to you earlier'. That's when the proverbial penny dropped. I had opened that drawer, noticed the envelope, and because of us living in Covid times, I did not pick it up or touch it, I probably would have otherwise thrown it straight into the dustbin without even looking inside it. I was so pleased with the honesty of the staff member who took it straight to the manager, and to the manager who immediately phoned us. They planned to call the people who had occupied the room before we had.
An interesting end to a wonderful holiday!
Boxing Day has, for me, always been special because it was my father's birthday. As a family, we liked the idea of special dates, and we also liked the way my mother's and father's birthdays, in August and December, flanked those of us three children.
When I was young, which was, as you know, quite a while ago, saree blouses were almost inevitably made out of a fine cotton fabric called rubia, which was available in hundreds of shades in shops which called themselves matching centres. Rubia was fabulous because it had a little stretchiness, which could accommodate an extra couple of kilos without alterations. In recent years, though, saree blouses have attained an unprecedented freedom. All fabrics, cuts, and styles of blouses are potential saree-mates. T-shirts and formal office shirts, short kurtis, longer ones, all are happily being worn with sarees. However, for formal occasions like weddings, a fitted, matching saree blouse is still the norm.
So, cut to 2017. Our niece's daughter was getting married. Until we moved from Kolkata in 2013, I was quite comfortable, blouse-wise. I had found both a good tailor as well as matching centres in New Market, and also managed to get some beautiful colours in a silk cotton blend, to wear with silk sarees. Those blouses served me well, and some of them still do. (My daughters don't quite approve of the fitting, but that is another story). But a wedding in the family meant new sarees, and new sarees meant new blouses, and new blouses meant a new tailor. Help. My older daughter's tailor was in the North Campus area, which was much too far away. My younger daughter's tailor was about 10-12 kilometers from our home, which wasn't really a problem, except that she didn't have a fitting room, so it was very difficult to tell her what was actually wrong with the garment she had made. I have actually worn a saree wearing the said ill-fitting blouse, gone to her shop and shown her the fitting, then gone to the nearest mall, changed into another blouse, and gone back to her shop to give her the blouse to rectify. This was not a viable proposition at all. ( Some months ago she expanded her premises and now, to my great relief, has a fitting room too, thank goodness. But let me get back to my story...)
It so happened that an enterprising resident of our housing society started a tailoring concern in one of the basement shops. It seemed logical to try the tailor there. There was also a curtained alcove with a mirror where you could check out the fitting of your garments.And so, a few blouses were given to the tailor master of this establishment. Among them was a cheerful apple green handloom material, with a subtle yellow striped weave, bought to wear with a mango yellow khesh saree with green stripes on the pallu. Sadly, this tailor master was not brilliant.Every blouse required a couple of alterations at least. Although the shop was less than five minutes away from our home, door to door, it was still a tedious business. We also had house guests at the time, so I was busier than usual, and probably more scatterbrained too...
Somehow, the green blouse went missing. I looked for it high and low, on multiple occasions, before and after the wedding in Goa, where, on one morning, I wore the yellow saree with a kalamkaari blouse, silently mourning the missing green one. All wardrobes were checked, each cushion cover pulled out of the linen cupboard, each towel, each garment in our wardrobes. No sign of it. I finally gave up, concluding that the packet containing it after its last sojourn at the tailor's had accidentally gone out with the trash.I even went and asked the tailor if I had left it with him again. Poor man checked high and low but couldn't find it. I even checked the empty bags and packets in the store...
An apparently pointless digression: Our washing machine had been on its last legs for a while, but thankfully survived the first few strict lockdowns, finally conking off in early August. It stays in the bathroom attached to the store room, a bathroom on two levels, the bathing area lower down, the Indian style toilet area a few inches higher.Our landlord's step stool used to stay on the higher level, with the washing machine in front of it and random stuff on top of it and stuffed below it. (That toilet, of course, was never used).Well, the new machine was to be installed the next day, and the delivery boy took the old one away. It seemed like a good opportunity to clean up the area. There was a giant bag full of bags, there was a bag full of old rags, often required by plumbers, painters, and sundry workmen, there were shoe boxes (often a useful item). I rubbed and scrubbed the floor, and decided to take the step stool out and have the new machine on the higher level. In the interests of both tidiness and ecology, I decided to divide the collection of bags between the housing society's general store and the vegetable shop. All of this happened in early August.
Two days ago the RE went to the basement salon for a (long overdue) haircut, and came home with a clear plastic bag full of packets of namkeens. There was also a newspaper wrapped package in the bag. I asked the RE what was in the package. He asked me if I had given some bags to the shop a while ago, and I said yes. He said that the shopkeeper said that one of madam's garments came along with the packets. Yes, it was the green blouse.
I had visited the shop several times since giving them the bag full of bags. They must have used them much later!
If I had just thrown them out with the (segregated) garbage, I would never have got it back.
I have already given the khesh saree away, but no matter. Sarees will be found. (Or bought).
This saga occurred over more than three years.
I don't think any garment has ever given me so much grief and so much joy!
I've been thinking of this -- whether relationships can survive without touch. That the relationship between god and the human has thrived without it seems like a miracle. The first long-distance relationship.
These words by Sumana Roy, friend, poet, author, on Facebook yesterday, set me thinking.
Human touch heals, it is central to so many of our bonds, filial, familial, romantic, and those of friendship.
Human touch can hurt too. There are countless examples of that. But let us not go there.
I have had one experience where I felt that I was actually touched by my Maker. Someone very close to me had to undergo an extremely complicated operation. There were well-wishers from across the globe offering their suggestions, mostly regarding the location of the operation and the surgeon who would perform it. In most cases, the more renowned the surgeon, the stronger the recommendation. There was an information overload, as it were. I was sitting in the hospital waiting room, waiting to meet the consultant and show him the patient's latest reports. And then, and I can no longer recall if it was a voice or a gentle touch on my head, or both, but deep within my heart, I knew with complete, utter certainty, that this hospital, this doctor, this surgeon, all were the right ones.It was an absolutely unshakable conviction, which got me through the difficult days that followed. All went well, and it truly felt like divine grace.
Here there was no human intermediary. And yet, when we encounter those adepts who are deeply attuned to a higher power, there is magic in their touch, their entire being, and even in the touch of their possessions. Sacred relics are also supposed to be imbued with great spiritual power. I recall one such touch from my teen years. My parents, sister, and I would visit the home of an old gentleman, part of our natal Satsang, and attend weekly prayer sessions in his room. He was very frail, in bed. When it was time to leave, each member of the gathering would line up, bow our heads close to his bed, to the side he was facing, and with trembling, fluttering fingers, he would touch the top of our bowed heads to bless us.Fifty years later I can still recall the comfort and healing of that touch.
The NCR chapter of our family sometimes gets together for a Sunday lunch, and in Covid times, of course, it is in one or the other of our homes. I had asked the kids to come to our home for lunch yesterday, and, in the interests of making something different from my standard rajma chawal or chhole kulche fare, I decided to make bedmi poori with a railway station type of potato curry, and, in the interests of variety, matar paneer, pulao, and a Kashmiri walnut and radish raita/chutney. After my older daughter and her husband came in and were settled with their drinks and snacks, I sat and efficiently made the dough balls for the pooris. The others followed shortly, there was much merriment and fun. The gas meter reader very apologetically came in to read the meter, as Sunday is the day he is sure of finding most of his clients at home. Before we knew it, it was almost 3 p.m. Time for lunch. My younger daughter was assigned the task of cutting a fresh salad for lunch. ( The original two, a green salad and a raw papaya som tam, had already been consumed as our healthy snacks). The medium burner was a slow poke, so I put the kadhai on the big burner and started frying the puris. Soon, though, the pooris weren't bubbling up at speed. They remained pale rather than the golden brown they were meant to be. I checked the flame. There was no flame. I tried lighting the gas again with the lighter. The son ran and got the matchbox from his father's little mandir. Nada. No hiss.No smell. No gas. Not enough pooris.
I called the maintenance office, which seemed to be manned at that hour by someone completely clueless. I called the tower security guard, and asked him if the meter reader was still around. He was still in our building, and was as bewildered as the rest of us. In a matter of minutes, it was found that there was no piped gas within our entire complex. The older daughter offered to go home and pick up her induction stove. It didn't seem worth the effort. The son suggested that we put the few prepared pooris in the casserole so they would stay warm, by which time I had stopped caring. I knew that I had half a loaf of brown bread, in case we ran short of rice too! We had lunch, we all ate well, no one needed bread. There was a lovely date and walnut cake, baked by my younger daughter, and icecream to follow. Life was good.
We've been using piped gas ever since we moved to this housing complex, over seven years now. I think we had one pre-announced maintenance shutdown when we had internal piped gas, piped from a cylinder bank within the Society. About four or five years ago the entire colony switched to an external supplier, IGL. This was unprecedented. About an hour after we had eaten, I checked, and the gas supply had been restored. The security chap also phoned to inform me that it was back. We celebrated with stove-top ginger tea.
Old Robert Burns certainly knew what he was talking about.