Saturday, December 29, 2007

Eighty fifth birthday

My father celebrated his eighty fifth birthday on the 26th of this month.

I wanted to write something to celebrate this rather nice human being who happens to be my father. I still need to find the right words.
So I'm taking a short cut and posting something that I wrote in my pre-blogging days, almost two years ago, which is also about my mother.

I am a privileged person, I know.

My father was, for most of his life,
like most people, biped,
walking on his own two feet,
till age and infirmity and a broken hip
added a limb, a walking stick,
made him three- legged,
a ‘tri-ped’, to coin a word.

Tri-ped, he managed, went to the park,
climbed the stairs back to his flat,
restricted, but not housebound…
Just needing that one extra limb.
Until the next hip fracture…..

Uh-oh. The tri-ped needs a walker now-
The four-legged frame becomes a trusty friend
I’m like an insect now, he laughs, I walk with six legs!

And my mother ‘inherits’ his walking stick
Her knees hurt her, she needs support
The height is adjusted to suit her,
Clever stick, adjustable, one size fits all!

Somehow they managed, “tri-ped” and “hexa-ped”
Alone in their flat, until yet another fall
Convinced them that it was time to move,
To live with a child, cede to the vicissitudes of Time…..

Much relief all around, despite occasional maternal yearnings
For lost independence. For me, no more long distance anxiety,
Or emergency flights- a peaceful rhythm established
It may be the back of beyond, but at least we are all

Together, sharing our lives, our joys, our sorrows…
After some years of use, one fine morning,
the walker breaks a leg- (at the ankle, as it were).
That too on the day of a major local festival, followed by

A Sunday- no way of getting a replacement for two days.
Relative immobility is something my father accepts,
But total immobility is frightening, especially when
Nature’s calls have to be answered- not possible
Without the walker.

The poor wounded thing needs emergency repair-
I look at curtain rods and broomsticks and mop handles
Nothing seems right. And then the walking stick appears….
Can you manage without it for a day or two? I ask my mother

I think I can, she replies, As it is I’m always leaving it
Somewhere or the other, asking you to find it for me
so I’m sure I’ll be fine. But how will you fix it?

That is easy- height re-adjusted, handle turned inward,
the walking stick tightly bandaged to the walker
once, twice, tight, safe, secure
a functional entity once more
tried out successfully, a great relief to us all!

It was symbiotic, and symbolic of my parents’ lives
one barely mobile, yet sharp of ear and memory, the other
hobbling along, despite aches and pains, needing the other’s guidance
for so many things, both their personalities deeply intertwined,

each alone relatively helpless, together still a viable entity
life companions, sharing a world of memories no one else could share
peopled with those long gone, a world changed beyond imagination.
Blessing my home with their loving presence, my father’s innate courtesy,

Gentleness and humour, my mother’s amazing faith and good cheer,
Their occasional arguments …..
Let them be together always, I pray, knowing that it’s unlikely…
One has to go first- that is the very nature of life.

In the meantime, the tri-ped and hexa-ped ( with brand new walker)
Walk slowly on, together!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Young Traveller- a lullaby tale

This post is inspired by Y's search for a good lullaby for Peanut.
Many many years ago, when my youngest was tiny, he would require much lulling to sleep.
His eldest sibling was already away at college, a non-resident child, so Sister No. 2 did much of the necessary baby-walking. (He wasn't a baby who needed baby-sitting- he demanded a couple of miles walking before he'd allow himself to sleep). He liked the 'vertical hold' position, and the little head would finally droop onto a shoulder and there would be much relief all around.
So we'd all take turns, and hats' off to the person who managed to get him to sleep.
When he was old enough to talk a little, he'd still love to be carried around when he was sleepy.
One day he asked me to sing him the " hinjay waala gaana". I had absolutely no idea what the little chap wanted. "Which song do you want? I don't know what song you're talking about".
"The song Didi sings for me on the road". ( The lane outside our house).
I was still completely clueless. Didi was summoned, and asked what song was she singing to her little brother on the road which was supposed to be the "hinjay waala gaana".
She thought for a second and then burst out laughing.
She used to sing him her version of "Nanha Munna Raahi Hoon" which went like this:

Nanha munna raahi hoon, Didi ka mein bhai hoon,
Bolo mere sangh Jai Hind, Jai Hind, Jai Hind, Jai Hind, Jai Hind.

Got it, everyone? Jai Hind!

Monday, December 17, 2007

More quirks?

Dear 2B's Mom and Parul,

Sorry for the delay in responding to your tag.

Five of my quirks are already listed here (

Can I find even more weird things about myself?

I should consult the Sometimes Resident Engineer- I'm sure he'd have dozens of things to add.

6. I think I'm rather allergic to glamour. If someone is extremely well-dressed and well made up, I will assume that that person is rather shallow. I may take back that assumption later, but I guess I tend to like people who, like me, are more Zenful about their appearance.
(So if you are meeting me, be prepared for a casual and comfortable looking person, who will no longer be caught dead in high heels and who uses lipstick maybe twenty times a year. But I do have a wonderful collection of perfume, so I will smell rather nice!)
But if I've been reading your blog and I like what I read and hence continue to read your writings, you can be as glamorous as you want to be- I already like you.

7. I seem to be changing the colour schemes in the various rooms in my house more than most 'normal' people seem to do. Which means that I keep changing cushion covers and bed covers and rugs along with other knick knacks. I even colour coordinate the few perfume bottles that I keep on my dressing table at any given time. Not only do I kill myself doing all this, whoever comes home is supposed to notice and appreciate the new look. Especially the SRE.

I think I've revealed enough quirkiness. Whomsoever hasn't already, or has but would like to indulge in some more introspective revelations, please go ahead with this tag.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sue's tag!

Given that I've just turned fifty two, completing the decade i.e. being sixty years old seems unimaginably far away. (Since I'm considered to be a Rocking Girl Blogger, I guess I mustn't have grown up properly. I'm sure the Sometimes Resident Engineer would agree with me on this). Since I have nearly eight years to achieve these goals, I guess they may well get done. But given my firm belief in Parkinson's Law (work expands to fill the time available for its completion), you can never tell. I'm also a generally contented, laid back person, so some soul-searching is required.
Here goes: Ten things I hope to achieve by the time I'm sixty:
1. To be more attuned to my spiritual self. (By sixty it would really be high time I was). This means being more disciplined in spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation, less interested in gossip and less of a glutton.
2.To be in really good physical shape. Once the gluttony is over, I should be a very shapely sixty!
3. To live in my own place i.e. be able to get rid of the umpteen trunks and original packing of many of my worldly goods which have to be around since we move every few years.
4. To have offloaded many of the above-mentioned worldly goods upon my offspring and other deserving candidates.
5. To have got all my documents well organized and filed, a process which has never succeeded till now, despite all my good intentions.
6. To be a good and loving m-i-l and grandmother. ( I have a son-in-law, but that relationship is always less fraught, don't you think?)
7. To continue to be my husband's best friend ( and severest critic, of course).
8. To para-jump at least once.
9. To have happy, contented, reasonably well settled children.
10. To be content.

Ten things that I miss having in my life now, in no particular order.

My brother. It's not yet two years since he left us, leaving this empty space in our hearts.

My kids, all four of them. Especially in the afternoon, when I would love to have someone make me a cup of tea! (Trust me to have a vested interest). Tea or no tea, I do miss them.

A flexible body. I can't sit cross legged on the floor now, my knees are too stiff.

Plants- used to have lots of them around. Giving them away each time we moved was a pain.
Last two stations, no plants.

Leisure time. I don't know where all my time disappears- I always have loads of things pending, this when I'm not gainfully employed. I must be most inefficient.

A good family doctor. We've had such a wonderful doctor some years and postings ago, no one else can live up to his standards.

Janahware pottery. I have some, have broken some, and would love to acquire some more. (I believe the factory is closed now). There was a bowl I used for about twenty years before it broke.

The 'kalai-waala'- I used to be fascinated when the brass vessels were all shiny and silvery on the inside when this itinerant craftsman wrought his magic!

Roads without traffic jams!

Enjoying sweets without thinking about my damn blood sugar.

I'd like to tag Jawahara, Hiphop grandmom, Neha, Broom, Lekhni, and the Mad Momma.
Let me clarify- this is for the next decade you complete, not necessarily sixty!

Saturday, December 1, 2007


[rockin'+girl+blogger.jpg] [schmoozeawardou81.jpg]
Yashodhara had given me these awards quite a while ago. While I was quite pleased to receive them, I was also quite quite clueless about to how to bring them to my blog! Young Sue came visiting yesterday, bearing a rather scrumptious chocolate and honey cake, and no Bhablet, who was enjoying a well deserved afternoon nap. She was consulted, and reminded me of the existence of the right-click button on the mouse, which I usually tend to ignore.
And, by trial and error, managed it this morning!
Y, thanks for both, especially for the first : I'm pleased to be called 'rocking', girl seems to be rather optimistic, but blogger is the identity I am really enjoying!
And I take Schmooze in the nice sense of the word.
Thank you kindly, says the slowcoach dinosaur.

With joy I beheld a.......... cockroach!

I can't believe that I've actually written this. Me, the eejit who used to scream if a flying cockroach was anywhere in the same room as I was. (I wasn't even very comfortable eating litchis as a child, because the seeds reminded me of cockroaches).
I'd been rather paranoid about the mouse that was lurking in my bedroom a couple of weeks ago.
I'd only noticed it because of an almost subliminal movement on the floor. It was a tiny, rather cute looking 'mouselet'. What was bothersome was its potential peskiness. I could see it chewing up the computer's zillion wires, the clothes that the Sometimes Resident Engineer so casually flings upon the floor, hopping into our wardrobes ( which Someone who lives in this house usually leaves open) and chewing up all kinds of belongings. And then finding a soul mate and going forth and multiplying. And then me having to buy nasty poisons, and trying to locate the stinky corpses from behind heavy pieces of furniture. So much trauma and turmoil induced by one night's sighting!
A week or so after that my parents, sister and I were watching a movie in our sitting room. Again, a fleeting movement on the floor. I get up to look, and joy of joys- it is not the mouse! Just another damn cockroach.....sprayable, disposable, easier to deal with vermin. NOT THE MOUSE!

I haven't spotted it in the last fortnight. I sincerely hope that it found its way out of my house.
Do you remember the movie "Fiddler on the Roof"? In the spirit of the rabbi of Anatevka blessing the Tsar, I offer a blessing to the tiny mouse: "Lord, bless and keep the mouse.......away from us."

Friday, November 30, 2007

That weird tag

Kiran, I'm obedient, though rather late with my assignment. The tag, twenty two questions that will apparently let men figure out women. I have my doubts. But anyway, here goes:

1. How do you feel after a one-night stand?
No idea.
2.Do you ever get used to wearing a thong?
No idea.
3. Does it hurt?
What's it?
4. Do you know when you are acting crazy?
I guess so- I'm answering these dumb questions so I must be nuts.
5. Does size really matter?
When I'm buying clothes and shoes it certainly does.
6. When the bill comes are you still a feminist?
7. Why do you take so long to get ready?
Speedy is my middle name, didn't you know?
8. Do you watch porn, too?
What do you mean by 'too'?
9. Will something from Tiffany's solve everything?
What's everything?
10. Are guys as big a mystery to you as you are to us?
No way.
11. Why do you sometimes think you look fat?
Because I am.
12. Why are you always late?
Never am.
13. Does it bother you when we scratch?
14. Do you wish you could pee standing up?
Better things to wish for.
15. Why do so many women cut their hair short as soon as they get married?
No idea. Do they?
16. How often do you think about sex?
Never collated data on this.
17. What do you think about women who sleep with guys on their first date?
Their business, not mine.
18. Would you?
Would I what?
19. Do you realise every guy wants a girl just like his mom?
20. Why does every woman think she can change him?
She can, mostly.
21. Does it matter what car I drive?
To you or to me? Drive what you like.
22. Do you ever fart?
Do you really want to know?

Everyone seems to have done this already. If anyone feels like doing it, you're tagged!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The rather weird traveller

The Statue of Liberty in the background.

At last I've put a picture on the blog- the dinosaur is learning, but still has a very long way to go. With the Sometimes Resident Engineer,
aka Vinod.

The famous trip was over on the 28th of October, when we got back home to Kolkata. When I think I thoroughly disgruntled the Sometimes Resident Engineer by expressing my ecstacy at seeing the vibrant green of the rain trees on the road down from the airport. He'd taken me half way across the world and we'd seen amazingly beautiful fall colours in various parts of the United States, and here I was, going gaga over the rain trees in Kolkata.

There was a song I used to love as a child-

The Scottish Soldier:

There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier
Who wandered far away and soldiered far away
There was none bolder, with good broad shoulder
He's fought in many a fray, and fought and won.
He'd seen the glory and told the story
Of battles glorious and deeds neforious
But now he's sighing, his heart is crying
To leave these green hills of Tyrol.

'Because these green hills are not highland hills
Or the island hills, they're not my land's hills
And fair as these green foreign hills may be
They are not the hills of home.

Substitute 'trees' for hills, and you will know what I mean. What I really missed in all my travels was knowing which trees were which. There were leaves which I thought were maple leaves. Some of them were apparently oaks. I wasn't able to check what was what, and that left me feeling rather lost. I need to know the names of the trees around me, which then makes them 'mine'. (I have never claimed that I am not weird. This is part of my weirdness, which I'm glad to know that my elder son shares- he's been in New York for over a year now, and also misses having familiar trees around). I don't even know the names of all the trees where I live, but at least I know some of them.

It's such a pleasure to see trees that are fresh and green and alive. We are just into the best part of the year in Kolkata, when the weather is mostly pleasant, and drowning in perspiration isn't part of the daily kitchen routine!

Since I mentioned the weather, let me tell you that we had amazingly good weather for most of our trip. One rainy day in New York, and two cold, soggy days in England.The third day, when we went to London, was better. We were probably somewhat acclimatised by then.
But now I know why the British love to travel all over the globe- to get away from their awful weather.

I've realised that I can't write a linear account, city by city, of my travels. I will probably hop and skip around various places, and give you mostly general impressions, and some specifics. If you want details and facts about different cities, Googleji and Wikiji should be just right for you

People in America ( apart from New York, which is a different story altogether) seem to live in their cars. When they aren't driving from city to city, they seem to be driving around all over the place from their 'sub-division' into town and back. (We used to jump with joy whenever we spotted a pedestrian- rare creatures indeed. Joggers inside parks were another matter). No parking fees in most places, and humungous parking lots and stores. "Stores" is right- they seemed more like warehouses to me. Neat and shiny clean rest rooms. Horribly soft, springy mattresses and beds. (No wonder they have so many chiropractors). No dust. Their 'desh-ki-maati' seems positively well behaved. (We were thrilled to see some loose dirt on the edge of the road in a park Washington DC). Huge back yards. Dishwashers. Supposed to be a life-saver in the American kitchen, but- first you rinse the dishes, then you load the machine, then you unload it- it still seemed like a lot of work. The ubiquitous washing machines and dryers were very convenient for us - we managed with a mid-sized suitcase each, doing a load of laundry every two or three days. Practically every house we visited was covered with beige wall to wall carpeting. We tried to get used to the floors thumping when we walked on them. I tried not to feel guilty when our hosts and hostesses worked so hard at keeping us well-fed and comfortable, especially if they didn't let me help. Some days of course we'd be exhausted from sight-seeing, when I would gratefully collapse onto the nearest available sofa, and gratefully accept cups of hot tea from kind, ministering souls. (I do not think that the Sometimes Resident Engineer suffered from any such qualms or guilt. Lucky chap!) Almost all the men were very very 'hands-on' in their homes, in their kitchens and with their children. This was really such a pleasure to see- whether their wives were employed outside the home or not, they were really competent in their homes. These were all men who had had a fairly traditional upbringing in India. I think their wives can definitely take some of the credit for this. Our niece's husband made some wonderful Mexican food one evening, and excellent soup and pizza the next.
Since we were staying with either family or friends, we were very much at home in terms of language and good desi food. There is now a great variety of international cuisine available in India so we were familiar with Italian, Mexican and Lebanese food, among others.
I really enjoyed my first encounters with Greek and Ethiopian food. Being a vegetarian wasn't a problem at all. (The US has really progressed on this front in the last couple of decades). The staple grain in Ethiopian food is called 'teff', a tiny, millet like grain. It is fermented and ground and made into 'engera' (in-jeera) . The nearest approximation to it in Indian cuisine is the Malayalee appam. It is eaten with the hand, (cutlery is not recommended) along with good vegetable, chick pea and lentil preparations . Meat preparations are also available. Deliciously light and not at all oily or greasy. Mother and son enjoyed this, father did not, sad to say. Ah well, to each his own.

I've just discovered a tiny little mouse in our bedroom. I wonder how it reached the second floor. I've decided not to scream and shout and chase it about since the Sometimes Resident Engineer is snoring away and it would be unkind to disturb him. I just hope it leaves without bloodshed.
Will update!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Insanity can spring up anywhere

Yesterday was strangely disturbing. There was a lot of noise downstairs, far more than the usual chit-chat of the drivers and security guards. It sounded like one person shouting, really loudly. And that person was really angry. And/or really mad. The voice was familiar. I looked over the balcony railing- it was our building's resident electrician. A soft-spoken, gentle, hard working soul who lives in the compound and goes home maybe once a month. I hadn't heard him raise his voice in the year and a quarter I've been here. Here he was charging around the place in a rage, shouting something incomprehensible to me, as if possessed by some alien being.
He's gone home now. According to his assistant he has these bouts occasionally. When he's in these states he shouts in English, not in Bengali or Hindi. After he'd left my flat the other day, he came back to ask me the name of the President of India.

What really triggers off these episodes of insanity? If it is a malfunction of the brain's biochemistry, which is oftentimes triggered off by stress, I guess the really amazing thing is that despite all the stressors in the world, a vast majority of people do remain more or less sane.

Why is the world so unbearable for some people?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Diwali cleaning and all that.........

I've always loved the song "Desh ki maati, desh ka jal , hawa desh ki, desh ke phal...."
But there's always a proviso- when the desh-ki-maati takes up residence inside my house I have no love for it at all. Which is what it keeps doing. In Kolkata, thanks to the air pollution, there's also a blackish grime which adheres stickily to curtains, ceiling fans and the inside of your throat and lungs.
I've finally decided that the safety of my bones is more important to me than the cleanliness of my ceiling fans, so I no longer hop on and off high stools with the cleaning materials. However, a stationary ceiling fan shows the grime, and even I will not keep all the fans in the house running just so that I don't see the dirt! So the boy who cleans the bathrooms also cleans the fans- extra income for him, clean fans and no broken bones for me.
Despite the house being cleaned everyday, it still gets filthy, and special cleaning is required sometimes. Diwali happens to be one of them. I can understand the spirit behind Diwali cleaning. It's a festival, after all. So cobwebs are removed, curtains are laundered, interior decoration changes happen. Somehow, though, me being me, I have some strange notions in my head about all this 'safai' business. Maybe it's my mother to blame, maybe some kind neighbour, who said that Lakshmiji will not come to a dirty house. And if Lakshmiji doesn't visit you, buddy, you are really in the soup. Lakshmi, being the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is the one goddess who is always welcome. I'm not really sure what she's busy with most of the year, but Diwali is the time of the year she visits most North Indian homes. Presumably only if they are clean. (Bengalis have a separate Lakshmi Puja a few days after Durga Puja, for them Diwali is the time for Kali Puja). Today, while removing cobwebs from the ceilings and sundry other places, and wondering why on earth the things I put on my sofa cushions are called loose covers (more about that later), I had a strangely dissonant, perhaps blasphemous vision. The goddess Lakshmi in her usual dressy attire, with the addition of a pair of spectacles. I could see her peering over them and telling me, sternly but kindly, that I'd get grace marks this year and pass, but only just. Knowing that I'd been really jet-lagged, and hadn't a great deal of time to do a proper, industrial strength, Diwali cleaning. I heaved a sigh of relief, and prayed that she wouldn't peep into my glass-fronted sideboard, where, despite the glass, huge cobwebs have taken up residence. (Or the guest room, which is still a dumping ground, but which will reach an acceptable state of 'reasonably tidy' by tomorrow morning). A good friend of mine is also a very good girl who takes all this ritual cleaning business very seriously, and has actually taken out all the good china in her house and washed it, besides changing almost all the curtains and cleaning loads of other stuff. I clean the good china before and after a party, period. If any object in my house has a proper place to stay in and it is there, it is assumed to be clean. Innocent till proven guilty. Clean till proven dirty. The Sometimes Resident Engineer will occasionally decide that all our telephones and remote controls are filthy and attacks them with Colin cleaning spray and paper napkins- (he never knows where to find a duster), and in my wise old age I no longer feel guilty. If he thinks they are dirty, he can jolly well clean them.
Although I don't think there are any medals awarded for a clean house, and I don't think any goddess in her right mind would do a house-to-house Dust Inspection ( maybe, with some special cosmic vision, she does it all at once, and gives everybody good marks because she loves the Diwali season), I do respond to the season. It's a good time to indulge in one of my favourite activities: changing colour schemes. Sounds simple enough. Change the allegedly loose covers, top cushion covers, coasters and assorted bric-a-brac, durries, and voila, the room is transformed. Easier said than done. Especially when the moronic person who made the first set of covers puts the opening of the long sofa seat at the narrow end. Try pulling several feet of a fitted cover over several feet of foam rubber mattress- it is most definitely a struggle. (The one I took off was easy- it had a Velcro fitted opening all along the width- made by a different, less challenged tailor). The polyurethane back cushions are hard, and so quite hard to dress and undress as well. But the end result is worth it. Especially with lovely new covers for the throw cushions. And the muted old blue-green durrie. And the new divan cover in the dining room, and a new table cloth to match. My uncle and aunt had brought me a Bastar metal-work cow, which is positively voluptuous. ( I need to un-dinosaur myself and not only use the camera but also learn to : a) upload and b) post photographs. Shall do so, in the fullness of time. The living room curtains have been washed and will be put up tomorrow. Of course the Sometimes Resident Engineer is away again, and will be back tomorrow evening. I sincerely hope that he is pleasantly surprised.

Wishing you all a very very happy Diwali.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Choxbox's tag.

Well, I don't have a middle name. If I had one, what would I have liked it to be? No idea.
I guess I'll inflict my favourite descriptive term for myself as my middle name- yeah, you guessed right-DINOSAUR. (Saw the skeleton in the Smithsonian in Washington DC. and felt tremendous sympathy for the poor ungainly creature)

D: Devoted to my friends and family. Which doesn't prevent me from being nasty when I have to be.
I: Inimitable. Methinks I have a unique, laid back, very very comfortable way of dressing.
N:Nitpicking. I have an eye for detail, esp. for spellings. Can irritate my husband no end by criticizing his spellings instead of appreciating his poetry. ( Yes, he does write poetry, I'll post some on the blog some day).
O: Optimistic- almost always. And Life has reinforced this optimism, even during the toughest of tough times.
S: Stupid: Can be very stupid at times. When my brain just refuses to work. Bah!
A: Adorable- in my dreams, that is.
U: Uncomplicated. I think so.
R: Ready-made clothes are what I like. I hate going to tailors, but have to go to them for sari blouses ( sadly, I hardly find myself in saris these days).

Chox, I guess that is some strange dinosaur. I'm not passing it on because I think almost everybody's done this tag. But whoever hasn't and wants to, please go ahead with Dino Dipali's blessings.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Home sweet home

It isn't, actually. It's a terrible mess, at the moment. My uncle and aunt left yesterday, the Sometimes Resident Engineer also disappeared for a few days. I think he's hoping for the magical transformation of our living space that sometimes happens when he's away. I'm aching and jet-lagged, and keep dreaming of tunnels and underground railways and conveyor belts- I guess fourteen flights and umpteen subway and tube and car rides can boggle the sub-conscious mind quite thoroughly.

The pink plastic mug was very very useful. We stayed at twelve different places for various lengths of time, and only three of them had mugs in the bathroom! (My sister-in-law had a bidet in her bathroom, but that seemed too exotic to me, so I remained loyal to my mug).

The trip was great. Meeting family in their own setting was a major part of it. Seeing young cousins and nephews as husbands and fathers and householders was marvellous. Seeing their involvement in their homes and in their children's lives was lovely. Meeting their wives in a different setting, now settled into their lives abroad. Meeting a beloved niece whom we have seen grow up, with her own lovely kids and her gentle, caring husband was great. Friends, some whom I have never met before, but with whom I immediately felt at home.
People I haven't met for decades, but with whom there has been intermittent communication over the years. Two sisters-in-law: both warm and wonderful people, in completely different settings and life situations. A very warm and loving niece and her delightfully zany husband who cooked wonderful meals for us, and their enthusiastic young son with his "welcome" sign on the front door. Another city, another toddler: the non-stop chatterbox and her dignified elder sister.
And our son, in his new city, his campus, his haunts............
We disrupted everyone's schedules, bedtimes and mealtimes, but were welcomed warmly everywhere. We are truly blessed with a wonderful family and wonderful friends.

As you must have realised by now, for me the people were what made the visit worthwhile. Sadly, we didn't have enough time to meet everyone. Hope we can do so some other time.......

Another time? Only if I can fly Business Class. I never realised how uncomfortable long flights can be. My entire being seemed to be settled upon my posterior. The seats seemed tinier than ever, and the hours infinitely long. Terra firma never seemed so inviting as it did then, when the plane seemed to be crawling across the sky..........

Our route was Kolkata to Frankfurt, and then on to Houston. The immigration queue was long, but the officer was courteous. We just walked through customs, delighted to see my cousin and his family waiting for us.
Houston was the beginning of the wide open spaces we saw everywhere in the US, except in New York. We went to a shopping centre in Sugarland that evening, and the shops seemed to be the size of warehouses. Although my cousin lived in an apartment, since it was on the ground floor and there were lots of plants in the patio, it felt like a bungalow. The next morning we were off to NASA, which is truly a great experience. We were able to see the continuous telecast from the International Space Station: it was like science fiction made real. A parallel universe peopled by men and women who have extended mankind's reach tremendously. Rockets and equipment that are part of humanity's collective history. Fun rides for my young nephew. And then a long drive to Austin......

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Leaving on a jet plane

Having technology restored to my life ( barring the land line- apparently the line is alright, it's the concealed wiring in the building which wants its share of the Puja bonus) I am about to fly half way across the world, for a vacation in the US. Packing for just going away is not too bad, but rearranging the house before you go is quite a task! My uncle and aunt will stay with my parents while we are away, and the Sometimes Resident Engineer feels that they will be more comfortable in our room, rather than in the guest room, which is a smaller room, and the bathroom is not attached. Our bathroom also has the SRE's favourite piece of plumbing, the hygiene faucet. What I, in my crude, unsophisticated fashion, call the bum-washer. The guys in the swanky establishment I bought it from called it a commode shower. I think my nomenclature is the clearest. I am trying to imagine that noble soul (the SRE) not grumbling about my not having installed a hygiene faucet in the guest bathroom. I am sure that he will most definitely grumble. Getting one installed in our bathroom was a sufficient pain in the relevant region.
(Another post, someday). Spacebar, you'll be glad to see that I'm leaving on this somewhat loo-ish note!
I had started this post to tell you all that I'd be away for a while, and would try and post as and when I could from the various places I'd be visiting. Which are Houston, Austin, Atlanta, Raleigh,
WashingtonDC and New York. Returning by way of London, where I hope to meet Neha and Choxbox, as well as my dear sister-in-law. And anyone else who can manage to mail me......
But now the hygiene faucet issue has clouded my thoughts. Will my better half spend the entire trip grumbling about not having this important piece of equipment in firang land?
I am seriously planning to carry a plastic mug for my own personal use, since paper is not my preferred mode of fundamental hygiene. On the eve of my first trip abroad after twenty three years, can I find nothing better to agonise over? What kind of person am I anyway?
Maybe we'll know when I get back at the end of the month!
The SRE has kindly emptied out his wardrobe for our guests. I have been shoving stuff in random places trying to tidy up. I need to get enough space for us to sleep on the guest room bed- our guests arrive early in the morning tomorrow. I need to bid you farewell and get back to the jobs which will probably finish only when I leave for the airport. Parkinson ji- your law still rules! ( For readers who have never heard of the great man, the rule: -Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.)

(Mail me at

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Just in case you missed me

This time I'm not the one who's challenged by technology- the technology in my house has gone for a six. The computer was refusing to start sensibly- it had become a matter of luck. So the contraption that had slowly and steadily taken over my life is now 'missing in Inaction'.

Don't know when it will recover. The Broadband connection had been on the blink even before that. And then the fantastic rain that had inundated Kolkata.........

Of course I remain challenged. The Sometimes Resident Engineer has been subjected to my frequent requests/demands for his laptop- of the 'Yeh laptop mujhe de de Thakur' variety.
He kindly left it behind when he went out of town for a day. Yours truly couldn't charge the damn thing.
(The adaptor of the charger was challenged, which was a minor problem that he forgot to tell us about. We finally tried all the adaptors in the house, and succeeded, but only after he got back. Bah.)

There's most definitely some kind of technology-threatening broad spectrum virus going round- my father's cassette-player has been repaired and found its voice. The toaster is having its element replaced. My cell phone has been re-repaired, after I bought a new one in sheer desperation. The computer is ill. The landline telephone has been dead for a week. The building intercom had also been on the blink, and has been repaired. My visiting daughter's phone caught a short-term bug, and misbehaved for a few hours this morning. I think it recovered after we left these unhealthy premises! Last night the car's wheel bearing got jammed- it spent the morning being fixed. I may have forgotten a few things but I have learned something of significance. I know now what is my biggest challenge vis-a-vis technology.

First you get used to it, fond of it, perhaps even addicted to it. And then it ditches you as and when it chooses to. Heartless beast, methinks!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Why I'm about to curl up and die very very soon....

Blame Choxbox. She's the one who's tagged me. Me, poor docile Mom with four grown up kids who say that they read my blog. Hope they skip this one, in which all the ghastly nick- names we ever called them will emerge!
The eldest is M, who used to be called, at various stages, Mandy, Minolta, Diu, Miss Tooti-phooti and Dukhi Bilouti (accident prone was her middle name- she's the only person I know who managed to concuss herself while sitting on her own bed). With littler siblings around, she grew up real fast, so no really juicy pet names.
Number two became Sandy, Sandy Gandy, Ginipot, Ginolta, Poochki, Bilouti etc.
Number three had all the usual suspects- Chublet Bublet, Lallu, Andy Panda, Nandu Halwai(by his doting Dadi) , Darjan Singh, (he was the doting Dadi's dozenth grandchild). He grew into a rather large teenager and became Thobson and Thobson (from the Tintin Thomson and Thompson), which is now shortened to Thobby.
Number four has suffered the most: from being Numpi Bumpi he became Nimpy Numpy, to Nimpy, Nimps, Nimbus Columbus, Miss Nimbupaani, Piglet (which he has always hated and which I find so cute), Pilla, Dollypot. He's the one who's going to kill me for this post.
(Just remembered that he used to be his Bua ka Chuha, and his maasi's El Chico).

Chox- jo dar gaya woh mar gaya toh theek hai, joh nahin dara woh toh mar hi gaya!
(And I was planning to visit you in London next month- ab toh sirf mera bhoot pahunch payega)

disappearing words and domestic architecture

Where did they go? Some very common Hindi words have been taken over by ubiquitous English words- a verbal globalization, as it were. This may be a very North Indian, Hindi-centric post, but I'm sure the same thing has happened in many other languages.
To begin with- the bathroom. The word 'bathroom' has replaced words like 'snaan-ghar' or 'gusl-khaana'. Not only has the word been replaced, its placement in the household architecture has also changed. In most middle-class homes, and especially the ubiquitous government accommodation in Delhi, one bathroom was quite enough. Its counterpart, the toilet/lavatory/pakhaana/tatti (considered by my family to be an extremely rude word, not even to be thought inside one's head!) was considered to be the lowest of the low, and was delegated to the farthest corner of the house. If it was a single-storied house, the toilet would be located in a corner of the backyard. There would usually be no running water inside, even though there would be a functional flush tank with a chain and handle- you had to pro-actively fill the trusty 'taamlot' (special toilet mug, usually aluminium or enamel) before entering the precincts.
In my earliest childhood, staying at my aunt's house meant many interesting procedures: after visiting the toilet-in-the-corner-of-the-courtyard, you had to wash your hands with mud, and then with soap. If there was no one around to open the tap for you, you would use the inside of both wrists to manoeuvre the tap open, not touching it with either palm or fingertips. After thoroughly rinsing off the mud, you were supposed to wash your hands again with Lifebuoy.
Lifebuoy in those days was a carbolic soap with a peculiar, supposedly hygienic smell. It was also the soap used in our school Biology laboratory, post-dissection. (It is a soap that I then began to find unbearable.) Taps were simple, horizontally mounted brass affairs.
I often wondered how people managed to get to the toilet in the pouring rain. Where could you park your umbrella? And cold winter mornings, just imagine blowing out vapour trails on your way to the toilet!
In our first floor house the toilet was in the back corner of the house, with the bathroom next to it. It directly faced the back door, so that the sweeper could come in and clean the toilet and bathroom without 'polluting' the rest of the house. Unfortunately the poor sweeper woman who cleaned our toilet was blind in one eye and repulsively smelly, so we never questioned those practices. Any left-overs were given to her from a safe, non-touching distance.
The bathroom was a square room with a narrow window, a drain, a tap and a shower head. Wash basins were a luxury in those days, as were kitchen sinks. The bathroom tap had a length of cloth tied to it, directing the flow of water into a not-too-splashy stream. Which is where teeth were brushed and faces washed. Where hot water was rationed in winter- a steaming kettle-full was considered enough for a civilized bath. (Perhaps that is the root of my obsessive bathing with hot water now, even on a hot summer day).
Progress was slow, but it came about- running water in the toilet! Plastic mugs actually looked very smart to us when they replaced the rather untouchable 'taamlot'! Wash basins were installed, with a mirror above- you could actually see your teeth as you brushed them. Obviously you couldn't change the structure of a sarkari 'quarter', but private homes built in the late sixties and seventies became very modern.
The gusl-khaana and pakhaana merged into a new structure called the bathroom, which, having been promoted from Hindustani to Angrezi, also came right inside the house, attached to the bedrooms. What an enormous change! Since you now had more than one bathroom/toilet, there were far fewer desperate people queuing up outside the lavatory door, leading to jokes about kids knowing that God lived in their bathrooms ( Oh God, are you still in there?).
Presumably God had found a new residence.
Sweeping changes occurred- the sweeper was now less 'untouchable' than before, since he/she usually had to come into a bedroom to access a bathroom to clean. The part-timer slowly became willing to clean the bathroom, unless she also cooked for you. There were maids who would clean the entire bathroom apart from the pot. A revolution was slowly being wrought.

At the other end of the alimentary canal was the rasoi-ghar/bawarchi khaana/chowka.
Which have all been replaced by the extremely uninspiring word 'kitchen'. The kitchen is probably much the same in many parts of the world now- with its sink, counters, storage, refrigerators, blenders, microwave ovens etc. It may be larger or smaller, more modern or less so, but it has far more uniformity than ever before. The Indian rasoi was preferably apart from the rest of the house as cooking on coal stoves was a smoky affair. There were also deeply entrenched notions of purity and pollution, and it would be unthinkable to enter the kitchen with shoes on. Most food preparation was done at floor level, including grinding stuff on the sil- batta.
Chopping and cleaning was often done in the courtyard or verandah. The fridge became popular and more easily available in the late sixties, as was cooking gas. Coal, coke, kerosene and occasionally electricity were the fuels used. The kitchen sink also made an appearance around the same time. ( No, I'm not talking of the colonial houses left behind by the Brits). Pots and pans were scoured at a low, shallow, slightly below floor level space in either the kitchen or the courtyard.
Ashes from the coal stoves used with coconut husks were the scouring material. Brass vessels were scrubbed with tamarind or lemon peels to make them glisten. Nylon scrubbers and Vim were revolutionary when I was a youngster. Having a kitchen sink installed was being very very modern indeed. The entire kitchen was slowly raised up from ground level, for better or worse.
Cooking gas was largely responsible for this upward mobility: as a safety feature, the stove was meant to be above the height of the cylinder. Initially wooden tables were used, until such time as the PWD was willing to lay down slabs at the required height.

Homes, as such, were largely communal spaces. An average middle-class, more-or-less nuclear family home would have two or three rooms (rooms, not bedrooms), a couple of verandahs, a store room where large quantities of wheat, rice, dals and pickles and bedding were kept. The front room, or baithak, would have , perhaps , a takht or diwaan, some old cane-bottomed chairs, and that was that. Meals were eaten either on the kitchen floor, or in any of the rooms , usually on chatais (mats) spread out on the ground. The floor would be swabbed, shoes removed outside the room, and then the meal would be served. The same room could be a bedroom in winter, or a study, or studio. People had areas marked for keeping their clothes and personal stuff, but having a whole room to yourself was unthinkable in the middle class set up. Perhaps there could be a master bedroom, with the furniture gifted to the lady of the house by her family at the time of her wedding. Mostly, however, sleeping was communal in summer- either on the terrace or in the courtyard or open space outside. Many families would be sharing the same large open space, clusters of 'charpais' set out near each home. Even in winter, there were no/few dedicated bedrooms. Beds would be laid out at night, removed in the morning. It was part of the daily routine of the home, a job usually handled by teenagers and pre-teens. Verandahs were the repository of rope cots standing on their sides. And what wonderful fun these cots could provide: a bedsheet on top of the wooden frame rendered it into a tent or a palace or a cave- the possibilities were endless.
There was a caste distinction in the bedstead hierarchy- 'palang' was the top quality, fancy, often carved bedstead. This usually occupied the sole/master bedroom in the house.
The mattress was usually placed on a network of what looked like thick bandages- 'nivaad'. These were criss-crossed all over the frame, and would be re-woven a couple of times a year, depending on how loose it became.
Next was the wood-framed 'khaat' or 'charpai (literally translated: four-legs) the struts were not polished or carved, though the head and foot supports were usually shaped on a lathe. The struts and frame all slotted into place, and the cot was woven into intricate geometric patterns with a thin rope called 'baan'. These bedsteads were carted around as required. Lower still was the 'baans ki khaat'- the struts were made of humble bamboo, fitted into rough wooden legs.
When it was really hot, even cotton mattresses seemed to exude heat- just a durrie covered with a sheet was comfortable.
At least a foot would be left unwoven at the base, with a thick edging. Through this a thicker rope was roughly laced- this served to tighten the woven base whenever required.
Jagjit Singh has immortalised the humble 'khaat' (manji in Punjabi) in his rendering of Southall poet Chaman Lal Chaman's immortal Punjabi lyric "Saun da Mahina Yaaron". Among other monsoon nostalgia are words recalling how the troublesome rain makes you bring the 'manjis' in from the terrace again and again, and tighten or loosen the rope.
(Bada hi haraan kare mahina ae tay kanjiyaan nu,
baar baar laana pave kothiyon tay manjiyaan nu;
Deelli kadi kassi hoi, don da mahina hai
Saun da mahina yaaron, saun da mahina)
We also have popular film lyrics such as 'sarkaye lo khatiya, jaada lage'.
The 'khaat' remains part of the rural setting. Part of dhaabas. In most urban middle-class homes it has disappeared, or has evolved into the folding-cot. Most useful for guests, easy to store, but lacking the charm of the charpai.

Nostalgia has a charm of its own! Anything that you miss that is no longer part of your daily life? Do write in with your own nostalgic memories of words/objects that seem to have disappeared.......

Friday, September 14, 2007

cellephony and the 'maa ka dil'

The 'maa ka dil' used to be an important part of many Hindi films for a very long time. The mother's heart would know, instinctively, when her offspring was unhappy/in trouble.
(The said offspring in these fillums was usually male, so we will use the male gender here for convenience).
It was a bond which appealed to many, including the poet Nida Fazli:
' Main roya pardes mein, bheega maa ka pyaar
Dukh ne dukh se baat ki, bin chitthi, bin taar.'

Loosely translated,
'I cried in a foreign land, and my mother's eyes were full of tears
Grief spoke to grief, with neither letter nor telegram intervening'.

(The mother was also held solely responsible for the misdeeds of her offspring. Her tender- heartedness as a mother led to all kinds of iniquities being perpetrated by her offspring, and, oddly enough, both for his moral fibre and the lack of it. This seems to be a universal truth- the mother is to blame for everything. Enough digression- back to the point).

Here we are dealing with the maa-ka-dil in its avataar as worrier-about-offspring.
When cell phones came into common use, the mother thought she had found a major ally, one who would reduce the worry-about-offspring's-wellbeing quota of her life. At any given time, she could speak to the offspring and assure her tender heart that all was well.
(Since my girls had grown up before cell phones invaded the world, I will remain with the male offspring of the species).
The offspring could no longer say that he couldn't find a pay phone, didn't have change for a pay phone, had forgotten that he had a home with a mother in it, had told her when he'd left home that morning that he'd be late and she had conveniently forgotten because she needed to worry for no reason, or any other convenient/specious excuse to the plaintive/aggressive maternal statement:
'You should have called/ why didn't you call?'

With a cell phone equipped offspring, the anxious mother's life acquired new optimism.
Whether her offspring was of the resident or non-resident variety, he could be reached when required. That's what the poor deluded woman thought, until reality kicked in.

Cell phones need money: if they are pre-paid, and the card runs out of cash, you cannot reach the offspring.
If they are post-paid, and bills are not paid on time, you cannot reach your offspring.
The cell phone battery also requires periodic charging, and may run out just when you wish to talk to the offspring.
If the moronic offspring has put the cell phone on the 'silent' mode to attend his classes and forgotten to switch up the volume again, you cannot reach the offspring.
If he is travelling in a bus he will neither hear his phone ring nor feel it vibrate, because the bus makes more noise than the phone does, and vibrates much more.
If he is enjoying a few beers with friends he can't hear his cell phone anyway- the pub is too noisy/the music is on too loud.
If he is with his girlfriend he might hear your call and say "I'll call you back" even before you are able to tell him why you need to speak to him.
If he is my particularly brilliant elder son, his cell phone will land up in the toilet, and you most certainly cannot talk to him!

This list is by no means exhaustive. Being a parent means you have to worry about your offspring. It doesn't matter how old the said offspring is. You produced him, so now you can jolly well worry about him. It is part of the parenthood deal.
You may delude yourself into thinking that technology will rescue you from your worries.
It cannot, beyond a point. I personally think it makes things worse, because you worry even more when you're not able to reach your child when you ought to be able to. It is time mothers stop expecting too much from technology, and get on with what they are genetically programmed to do- worry about their children.

(I claim to be an exception to this rule- all my maternal life I have been known as the tough cookie who refuses to have a maa-ka-dil).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Limericks for Lali: A Birthday Tribute

Lalita, of Lalita Larking fame, the first friend I made by way of the blog world, celebrates her fiftieth birthday on the 13th September (tomorrow). I have been completely floored by her amazing poetry (she writes in English and Telugu), humour, tremendous musical knowledge, wisdom, erudition, and last, but not least, her consummate ease with cryptic crossword puzzles.

Disclaimer: Although Lalita has inspired these limericks, she is not to be held responsible for them.

Our wonderful Lali turns fifty
with words she is so very nifty
they twist and they turn,
they wriggle and squirm,
as she deals with them all very swiftly.

Greetings to our very own Lali
who with words is exceedingly pally
Her 'ana' can 'gram'
And her verses all scan
She's so brainy, she is, actually.

Not only a brilliant mind
Lali's also exceedingly kind:
A diffident blog commenter
Hesitantly sent her
An invite and she kindly complied.

I've known Lali for less than a year
Bloggers mail her from far and from near
She may meet them or not
But she's there in their thoughts
'cause they really admire her, my dear.

Now that I've got Lali on the brain
I wonder if you can explain
Her kinship with crosswords
She makes easy tough words
and never once does she complain.

Lali's neither 'craft'-y nor artsy
But she's known as the Grammar Nazi.
She knows her dipthongs,
prosody and songs
Bad grammar makes her feel very nasty.

On Lali's fiftieth birthday
Is there anything we can do or say
Some magic, some whimsy
Be it ever so flimsy
to get rid of her painful RA.

On this big day be of good cheer
& look ahead to the forthcoming year
Have lots of fun blogging
Some running, no jogging
And for now, have some more beer.

These limericks, pathetic and flawful
Some of which are truly quite awful
are emerging, of course,
form some underground source
that's beyond me and must be unlawful.

I close with these words, dearest Lali,
I'm so glad you're a friend and an ally.
Knowing you has enriched me
Your words enthrall and bewitch me
Your wonderstruck friend, Dipali

Sunday, September 9, 2007

cellephony and the scatterbrain

The trouble with a cellphone is that it is a small piece of equipment and it has no fixed abode, being, by its very nature, mobile.
If it belongs to a somewhat scatterbrained person, much effort has to be made to ensure its optimum use.
It took me ages to remember to carry it with me when I left my house.
I wouldn't even think of looking at the 'missed calls'.
I would be scolded by whoever had tried to call me.
It took me even longer ages to remember to take it out of my handbag when I returned to the said house.
I tend to be rather paranoid about my handbag. So I try and keep it inside my wardrobe as a matter of habit.
So the poor phone would be ringing away inside the cupboard, while I remained happily oblivious to its sound.
More missed calls, and even more scoldings.

Maybe, at some deep, unfathomable level, I wish to remain incommunicado for some of the time at least.

Some of the world wishes to reach me though.
Especially Airtel, my mobile phone service provider.

They remember me at strange times of day. If they are not calling up with some new scheme or other, they are sending me short messages. And the 'sms' beeps have ruined many an afternoon siesta, when the phone is actually not in The Handbag in The Cupboard.

Maybe Airtel thinks I sleep too much.
I have some suggestions for Airtel so that they can give us more personalized service, and for Nokia, so that they can make even more efficient handsets.

Devise a system so that the phone calls that you really want to miss never show up on your phone.

Devise a system so that you always receive a call in case of emergency.
Most times when it's really urgent the network will be congested or the number you want will be switched off or unreachable.

Devise a system so that Airtel knows when the users are either asleep or very sleepy, or deeply involved in the latest Harry Potter and do not wish to be disturbed by either calls or beeps from Airtel.

Devise a system that knows when you are in the bathroom and tells the caller that the dialled number will be accessible only after ten minutes or so. Agreed you will get a missed call, but think of the tension one undergoes while using the facilities with the cell phone merrily sounding off the while. Technology is nowadays so advanced, it ought to know.

Instead of those ghastly low-battery squawks, the cell phone should remind you once a day to charge its battery. A polite message can be worded to suit the user's temperament. ( Like: 'Please charge me, I'm really feeling low now', or, alternatively, for tough cookies, 'Charge me right now or else'.)

A system whereby the phone tells you that its in the wrong place in your handbag. Most ladies' handbags these days come with a special pocket for a cell phone. If you have not put the phone in the special pocket, it should immediately trigger an alarm. This will save you from the embarrassment of fumbling in the assorted junk in your handbag for a full five minutes with your phone ringing away to glory while an entire concert hall/seminar room looks upon you with great disdain.

A system wherein the phone knows when you are leaving the house. If you even try to step out of the house without it, maybe it can yodel out a little tune: "Yoo hoo oo, you've forgotten something important" or " What'll you do without me, Babe".
You should also be able to deactivate this system when required.
(It should also be able to tell you not to lock it up in your wardrobe in your handbag).

Cell phones should, generally, refuse to accompany you on morning walks.
Or when you are going for yoga class, or for a swim.
They Ought to Know when they are not welcome.

The scatterbrain has put in enough thought for the day.
We hope to find new and improved handsets and services.
Your valuable suggestions are most welcome.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Y have you tagged me?

Y, I insist that I'm really very non-compulsive. I guess that's a quirk, or does everyone insist that they have no OCDs?
However, some thinking took place,
Some thoughts were thunk
(No matter what you're thinking
I know I'm not drunk)

Somebody stop me. Caught myself by my metaphorical collar and am now serious.
1. I share the obsession with reasonably correct grammar and spelling with you and many others out there. I have friends whom I love very much, but whom I would prefer to talk to on the phone than ever receive letters from them, since I get so put off by poor writing skills. My husband is a brilliant thinker and speaker, but doesn't write well by my standards, so I tend to edit all his personal mail. ( I seriously wondered whether or not I should marry him because I didn't like his handwriting. A good friend whose brothers had equally unbeautiful handwriting convinced me of how trivial an issue it really was. Of course there are days when I wonder why I ever listened to her, but that is neither here nor there).
What to do- I seem to have the soul of a sub-editor.
( I also know that I can make weird mistakes myself. Kindly do not point them out)
It also helps me make an idiot of myself in judging people- they may be complete so-and-sos, but if they speak good English I tend to like them even against my better judgement.
2. Related but different: would love to correct each and every mis-spelt sign board I've ever encountered. ( Neha- I can never forget the CHILD BEER)!
3. If, as my kids insist, talking to inanimate objects is the first sign of insanity, well.... I talk to some weird things, particularly the cobwebs in my house. (Not out loud, for goodness sake, only inside my head). Sample: Yup, I've got my eyes on you, Mister. One of these days I'm gonna get you. ( The villains in my life are inevitably male: now what does that tell you about me?)
My eldest daughter gets it from me: she spotted herself being looked at askance by passers-by when she was talking to the flowers in her balcony.
4. I have a high tolerance for dust. I would like my house to be self-cleaning, but since it isn't, I dust only when the spirit moves me. (Usually once in three/four days). I tidy up, make beds, sort out laundry etc. quite regularly, but dusting is somehow low priority, which is ridiculous because dusting the drawing room wouldn't take more than fifteen minutes.
It helps that my husband leaves before any self-respecting household ought to be dusted, and comes back when the dust has the inalienable right to have settled again. I no longer squirm and feel guilty when I see him pick up the Colin and some cotton wool and clean the various remote controls that we have. Good for him. Once again, this is something I have my eldest child to thank for: in her house, whosoever comments on the dirt has to clean it. Don't talk about it and you are safe! No guilt anywhere in the picture.
As I said, 'tidy' is my stronger point: I actually fret and fume until I have achieved 'reasonably tidy'. I do dust when I know that someone is coming over. I can also make out if your house is dusty, but I promise I will not hold it against you- the world needs many more tolerant people like me.
5. If someone tries to bulldoze me into anything it puts my back up, and then even if I need something I just refuse to buy it. I'm getting very upset with the vegetable sellers whom I frequent since they start yelling and screaming and insist on showing me vegetables which I mostly don't need. Goddammit, I'm a grown up woman who's been running her household for decades. I don't need to be told what vegetables to buy. I can see them. And my poor brain has no tolerance for heavy sales-pitches. The trouble is that the super-markets never have such fresh stuff. I often scold the poor chaps and they shut up for a bit, but their habits of screeching die hard.
I'm also one of those weirdos who is not happy unless the fridge is loaded to bursting.
Major conflict-of-interest here. Bah.
( Again, the eldest daughter figures: we were buying sarees for her s-i-l's wedding, and the salesman was a royal pain in the butt. She almost walked out on the whole deal. I (patting myself on the back) was the one who told her that the salesman would not come home with us, while the sarees would. Why doesn't it work for me and my wretched vegetables?

I tag
Minimum five quirks/obsessions/OCDs.

Trial Rooms

Are a trial!
Apart from the fact that they manage to make even the reasonably slender look podgy.
( The SRE peers over my shoulder and laughs aloud at 'reasonably slender'- I should only try and write once he's left the house).
No, I'm not talking about myself- I'd settle very happily for pleasantly plump.
(Which becomes disgustingly obese in those damn mirrors).
No, we aren't talking sizes and shapes here, we're talking facilities.
A good trial room in my book has sufficient hooks to hang things on, plus a decent shelf or ledge.
Why shelf/ledge? Because there are people like me who wear glasses, and need somewhere to park the said glasses when they are yanking garments over their heads.
Westside had a delicious sale wherein I tried plonking my glasses on the edge of my handbag which was hanging from one of the two hooks they so kindly provide. I don't know of too many people who religiously carry their spectacle case with them. ( My handbag is usually too full of arbit junk to have room for either spectacles or case, anyway). I ended up with an armful of clothes and a smashed lens. Alright, the specs were old, it was time for an eye-check up anyway.
(I survived the next few days thanks to an old pair of glasses with a crooked frame).
Shopper's Stop and Pantaloons pass muster- Pantaloons has a chest high shelf, SS has a biggish kind of stool in a corner, besides the mandatory hooks, of course.
Now, in case you think that I live to shop, I don't. (I do 'sometimes only', but not most of the time). We (the SRE and I) were looking for stuff to send a friend in the US, who happens to be somewhat thinner than I am. What feels tight for me is right for her. One Sunday we land up in Fab India and I'm back in my not-so-favourite place, the trial room. Which in Fab India also has a biggish moorha in the corner as well as hooks. What do you call a person who carefully puts her
glasses on the moorha next to her handbag, successfully tries on whatever had to be tried on, and then sweeps up her handbag, chipping off part of one of her brand new spectacle lenses as they fall the few inches to the floor?
Two words come to mind- positively challenged. Bah!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cabbage, or Old Habits Die Hard

As unlikely a title for a post as any! I grew up wondering what the Brits had against cabbage- the hallways leading to their bed-sits were always supposed to be smelling of boiled cabbage. Didn’t sound very good to me. But then who on earth ate boiled cabbage anyway? (Apart from the Brits, that is, who are not really famous for their culinary skills). Like any good desi, we ate cabbage cooked in various ways- either tempered with asafoetida and cumin seeds and then steam-cooked along with fresh green peas, or sautéed with mustard seeds and green and red chillis, or made into koftas, or a cabbage and grape/apple raita. And shredded into salads. And of course the left over cabbage sabzi tasted wonderful on toast, or stuffed into parathas. Useful stuff to have left over.
Munching raw cabbage was a part of my childhood and my children’s childhood. The mother or aunt or elder cousin would be sitting with a large thaal and a sharp knife, and the all important cabbage. I was fascinated by an aunt’s technique. She used to cut a whole cabbage into really fine shreds using the edge of a steel tumbler. (I digress: ‘steel ka gilaas’ as opposed to ‘kaanch ka gilaas-a glass made of steel, not a glass glass! Sounds pretty mad). Chopping boards were not part of the kitchen scene in those days. All good housewives in our community at least had knife scars on their cutting thumbs!

Whatever the chopping technique used, begging for raw cabbage or swiping it from the person cutting it was an integral part of childhood. (My younger son would add salt, chilli powder and lime juice, concocting his own version of kimchi). If one was feeling particularly civilized, a small bowl or katori was brought from the kitchen for the shredded cabbage. If one was a more normal kid, the preferred technique consisted of swiping a handful and running off, and getting yelled at in the process. It was part of the fun.
But, now that our world has become even filthier than it used to be, raw cabbage is no longer safe to eat. I personally know of two people who have had tape worm larva infestation in the brain, brought on by eating raw cabbage. Vegetarians are no longer immune. The gory details are in the excerpt below. I do the cooking in my house, and find it so difficult to shred a cabbage without keeping some aside to eat raw. Another one of life's simple pleasures bites the dust.....

This article is from The Tribune, Chandigarh, May 2006

Cases of tapeworm infection on rise

By Rashmi Talwar

There has been an alarming rise in the number of tapeworm infection cases in the city in the recent months.

The disease manifests itself in epilepsy-like seizures when the worm settled in the brain releases certain toxins, causing severe trauma to the patient.

According to Dr Prabjit Singh, a neurologist with Escorts Multi-Speciality Hospital and Adlakha Hospital, 2-3 cases were being reported in both these hospitals daily.

The neurologist said he had treated almost 100 cases in the last six months. The medication for the disease needed to continue for two years to eradicate the worm from the body, he added.

The worm completes its cycle in the pig. The faecal matter or stool of pork/ pig-meat consumer carries the worm to the sewerage. The water contaminated by this kind of sewerage disposal is mostly used to irrigate fields. The worm then settles in vegetable leaves.

The neurologist, who had undertaken research in this field in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, says, “Cabbage is the most vulnerable to house this worm. Since the vegetable is used in raw in salads and fast foods much washing, the worm continues to subsist in its womb.

The consumer of the infected cabbage thus gets infected when the worm lodges itself in the intestines, he adds.

“The worm can also affect any and multiple muscles in the body and cause seizures, frequent headaches and loss of vision when lodged in the eye. The disease is referred to as Nuero-Cysti-Cercosis (NCC) in medical terms, which also manifests itself as frequent body aches and swellings under the skin.”

The life cycle of the worm can only be cut by controlling the population of pigs, hygienic disposal of faecal waste and checking samples of pork sellers, say experts.

The farmers too need to be made aware of not irrigating their fields with untreated water, they add.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

From the Sometimes Resident Engineer

Who is in residence today. A lazy Sunday morning when the wannabe golfer rose at the crack of dawn, went for his golf coaching, came home, and is still wide awake at ten-thirty a.m. Miracles will never cease.
I felt that he has been eyeing my blog space recently, so I'm being nice and letting him say a few words here. This is a copy of the letter he wrote to his IITK mail group, the redoubtable class-of-75 who will figure here occasionally. So here's sharing his no-longer-innocent query:

Sunday mornings is the time to laze around coupled with the chai cuppa. Top it with a mix of old Hindi songs and it can be nostalgic bliss.
The lyrics of some old Hindi songs have me totally baffled at times, poetic license is so intelligently used that one keeps wondering why the Censor Board stays totally silent on such matters. Probably it's the language issue, for example a Bengali friend of mine for years could not understand how a ladies petticoat could follow a man
every where the man went, a very poor adaptation of Mary's little lamb.
It was much later in life he learnt that "saaya" in Hindi meant shadow. The song I am referring to is one from the movie "Mera Saaya".
What baffled me for years as a kid was this one,
Do badan pyar ki aag mein jal gaye , ek chameli kai mundawe taley,
How could two bodies burst into flames,under the chameli shrub? I was obviously very innocent then (bhola bhaala)!
What takes the cake though is the Geeta Dutt song from the movie "Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam":
Na jao Saaiyan ---Chhudah kai Baiyan---- Main ro Padoongi-
"Machal Raha hai Suhag mera"----I don't know how you would explain to a ten year old, in whatever language you
choose, Hindi, English, Bangla, Punjabi, how does the Suhag Machlo?
Gyani log please help,
Abodh Balak

the reason for my existence

It's pretty clear to me. I exist for the amusement and edification of my family.
Not only am I dinosaur, I'm a dinosaur with four kids, two girls and two boys.
So I have a larger target group to amuse than most. None of them live with me now, but I still manage to amuse them with my exploits over the phone. I continue to fulfill my purpose in life, my raison-de-etre.
My children are not dinosaurs, they know/use most/all of the functions on their cell phones.
They are not challenged by their computers either. They can even select the files they want to burn onto a CD. I can copy CD to CD in toto, and feel very proud of myself.

Once upon a time I borrowed a DVD from the girls as my parents wanted to see 'Baghban'.
My parents settled down in front of the TV, I pressed the right buttons, and nothing......
Nothing on screen. Now I feel less challenged by VCDs somehow, they seem to be a little nicer to me. DVDs are not really my scene. So I called up the girls and asked them if there was some different kind of technique to playing DVDs. "Of course not,Mom, just try again, and let us know"- my wicked girls were certainly waiting from some entertainment from me, and were not disappointed.
Well, I decided to turn up the volume: I could hear some faint music. Which didn't sound like the opening bars of any Hindi fillum music that I'd ever heard. I turned it up some more- it was Rashid Khan, singing Raga Kirwani. Had the system learned the music last played on it? You never know with all this high-tech gadgetry- why, movies start off where you'd left them, sometimes. Anything is possible. Why wasn't the $@*# movie playing. In the meantime my parents were getting restless. Immediate solutions needed to be found. (The Occasionally Resident Engineer was non-resident at the time- if he'd been around there would have been no movie show that evening). I decided to take out the $@*# DVD and try a sensible VCD instead. I open the cover, take out Baghban, and find, to my chagrin, that I hadn't taken out the Rashid Khan CD from the system. I'd been trying to play Baghban while it was sitting on top of the audio CD!
Bah- how challenged can you get? I can get even more challenged: I promptly called up the girls and told them what I'd done.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Application to my Sometimes Resident Engineer

I, the undersigned, have noticed that the electricity bill for our residence shows great variations depending on the presence or absence of one single member of this family for any given billing cycle.
Since this family member shares a double room with his spouse, there should not, logically, be any significant variation in electricity consumption.
On close observation over long periods of time, it was found that this particular family member is challenged by electrical switches. They can, if the occasion warrants, be switched to the 'ON' position. It is, however, virtually impossible for them to be switched 'OFF'.
Since no strategy has proved successful so far, technology is the last resort.
I request you to install sensors in my residence, which will automatically switch off lights and fans and appliances such as electric water heaters when they are not in use. Bathroom lights and exhaust fans are a particular source of wastage of electricity. Once these sensors are installed, as a positive spin-off, energy wasted in nagging will also be saved.
Automatic off-switches for taps are also required. Closing taps properly is also a challenge for this particular family member, and we ought to save every drop of water that we can.

Hoping for a successful and speedy installation,
Your hopefully energy and water saving,

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Many years ago cell phones did not exist. Then they did, but they were rare and expensive creations, which only a few privileged people possessed. And then they went forth and multiplied, so ubiquitous that even the vegetable vendors, plumbers and electricians used them. It's now really hard to imagine that there was Life before the cell. ( Biology lessons, shoo- here cell only means as in cell phone). When they emerged from the Mercedes category and were first sighted on the streets they induced a strange feeling within- of observed lunacy- people with a hand on one ear, TALKING TO THEMSELVES........ then, as they evolved into hands-free models, I'd started wondering why I saw so many people wearing hearing aids and still talking to themselves. ( I admit, life is challenging and I do get challenged by many many things). Of course with I-pods and other personal music systems, many ears do sprout some kind of appendage. But I digress: all this is leading to my first interaction with a cell-phone, only nine years ago.
My husband needed to have major surgery, so his employers were very kind and issued us a cell phone for the duration. A young man came home and showed me how to use it, and that was that. Cell-phone in handbag, I set off for the hospital to meet the doctor. Just one of the many conferences that were to become routine that year. It was a long and winding road, swerving gently this way and that. Our car had just been serviced, and I wondered why on each swerve there was a strange, musical sound. Was this a new feature the workshop had installed- a swerve indicator? What on earth was it for? Perhaps it was meant to keep the driver awake on long drives. Very puzzling. The driver didn't comment either. When I reached the waiting area I suddenly remembered that I was carrying a cell phone and that it must have been ringing. THAT was the musical sound! Swerve indicator indeed. I thought I'd call up home and tell them why I hadn't answered the phone. But I could not, for the life of me, manage to do it- I had completely forgotten that you had to use the STD code before the number. So there, my friends, you have me, so totally challenged by my first encounter with the cell phone.
Of course I did learn to use it. It was very useful, and once the hospital stay was over it was gratefully returned to the office.

The second cell phone experience was tamer, and yet far more painful. It came with my husband's new job in 2001, and we realised what being on call 24x7 really meant. Given that he was working in a continuous process industry, problems could occur at any time of day or night, and he would be trying to solve technical problems at the most ungodly hours, thanks to the wretched cell phone. Given that we lived near Delhi, where driving and talking on the phone is most definitely frowned upon by the traffic cops, and rightly so, I still had ample opportunity to demonstrate how technologically challenged I really was. I could receive a call, but would hate drives wherein I'd suddenly be expected to call So-and-So. I began to hate the wretched instrument since it made me look more like a moron than I was willing to be. My dear husband wasn't such a genius himself- many a time he'd forget to disconnect after completing a call.
That used to be the only cell phone in our lives. Then they became many. And we'd find ourselves at nice happy family dinners in our favourite Chinese joints, with three out of the five or six of us who were together busy with their phones- either going out to get a better signal, or avidly SMS-ing. ( I still didn't have one, so I was free to make nasty remarks). Social life as we knew it changed. Concert and movie halls began to reverberate with alien sounds, until the cell phone was incorporated into public life, and new rules governing its use were formulated.
( Which a lot of horrid people still don't follow).

I remained phone-less and fancy-free, observing this brave new world that has such cell phones in it. My vegetable fellow gave me a card with his number- he would send whatever I needed from his 'thela'. I genuinely appreciated the cell phone for its potential uses, especially in terms of being accessible in a crisis. I also knew that as a nation most of us do like to talk, but..........who was paying the bills for all this endless chit-chat? One memorable bus journey from Nehru place to Noida (about 12km)- I spent the entire forty minute journey in awed fascination watching this scene. A young girl wearing a cap, perhaps a college student, boarded the bus which, by then, had only standing room, talking on her phone, trying to balance with one hand on a moving Delhi bus, (which meant that she was risking life and limb) and remained talking throughout.
In awed fascination I watched her as she descended a stop before mine and went on her way, still talking!
I felt extremely sorry for whoever was paying for that endless call.

I grew up without a phone at home, poor deprived child. By the time my father acquired one I was working in another town. Many years after I got married and my husband finally got a phone, the phone bill was a monstrous entity which would loom large over our heads. Our initial Internet connection was dial-up, which meant even bigger phone bills. And what with various crises on natal family and in-law/outlaw front, we used to have enormous phone bills. Husband would glare. I would get tense. Teenage son would be scolded. Resolutions would be made.
Our intentions were always so honorable, but the phone bill never ever reflected that. Tension abounded. And then, over a few years, telephony in India changed drastically. Call rates came down, and cell phones became affordable. And my husband, the erstwhile glarer-at-phone-bills, morphed into a joyous, cell phone-happy frequent caller. If he was in his car, being driven around, he was on the phone. If he was free to talk, the whole world and its brother should also be free to talk. His timing was terrible- I'd usually have something critical on the stove, or would be serving a meal to my parents. It really became too much of a good thing. The kids were getting inundated with his calls. No friend was immune. A concerted effort was made to wean him off this addiction, which continues till date. He's trying to overcome it, but the constant friendly presence of the cell phone, with the entire world at his fingertips, is not really conducive to de-addiction. I seriously thought we needed to start a Cellphonaholics Anonymous for people like him. Of course he manages an enormous amount of work thanks to his cellphoniness, and the tremendous networking it makes possible.

When the kids presented him with a fancy camera phone, I acquired his first phone. Useful if I was out of the house. When he joined his present company, the fancy phone came to me, and mine was given to our driver, which is a great help, because otherwise I'd never be able to locate the car. It also gives me tremendous pleasure to make international calls as and when I choose to. And to send messages when I think a call may be intrusive. I don't use most of the features of the phone, including the camera- whenever I tried I'd end up with a picture of a table mat instead of my subject. Challenged though I may well be I've learned to love my little cell phone, and I'm missing it. It's been misbehaving, and is presently being repaired.