Sunday, August 31, 2008

One year of this and that!

28th August was my blog's first birthday. I didn't even remember the date, since Lalita had just passed away. It is indeed ironic that my first anniversary post commemorates Lalita, my very first blog friend, who was most encouraging while I hesitated to take the plunge into blogging.
Since last night my computer has crashed, so this is being written on the SRE's laptop. To which I have, obviously, only limited access. So this is just a little post announcing that 'Of This and That' is a year old, and that I am so glad that I have this wonderful forum for expressing myself.
Wonderful friends have come into my life via cyberspace: thanks for being there- you all know who you are!
I don't know when I'll manage to post next. Take care, all of you.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Remembering Lalita

Lalita Mukherjea of Lalita Larking fame passed away on Tuesday afternoon.
She was the first blog friend I made, and it was wonderful knowing her. Lali knew so much about so many things: books, (she was an avid fan of Pratchett's Discworld, among so many other authors of so many genres), music, poetry, mythology, trees, birds, grammar, lyrics of Mohammed Rafi songs, some of which she translated into exquisite English renditions, and so much more.
Her love affair with cryptic crossword puzzles was the stuff of legend.
Although you could feel completely humbled in the face of her erudition, Lali was always most self-effacing. Her announcement of her illness on her blog was as gently humorous as anything else she'd written.
Words were a passion, and she used them with incredible expertise.
She even cooked with flair, mastery and precision- her famous fried potatoes were cut into exact 1cm cubes.

One of her earliest posts is a wonderful analysis of how relative our perceptions of a single event can be, written in her inimitable style, dealing with her son, a pencil sharpener and, of course, a cryptic crossword puzzle clue as the leitmotif of the post.

Going through each of her posts is a pleasure. Knowing that there will be no more wit and wisdom from Lali is sad indeed.

I see Lalita sitting in ‘her’ chair in her apartment overlooking the lake, scintillating conversation accompanied by the cacophony of nesting birds at sunset,enjoying a cup of excellent Darjeeling tea. The tears well up again. Farewell, my friend.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Music Lessons

I was a deprived child! My parents never thought of giving me music lessons. So even though I would beat away at an Egyptian leather pouffe as though it were a tabla, or stage home ballets using the fridge door as a spotlight control, and could whistle in tune since I was five or six, I didn't have music lessons. I thought I could sing beautifully, but the nuns in our school were, presumably, tone deaf, and couldn't appreciate my voice. So I was never encouraged to sing. Though of course that never stopped me from singing, as my long-suffering offspring will affirm.

I have found an encouraging friend in Robert Fulghum, a kindred soul.
I quote, from his book ‘It was on Fire When I Lay Down on It’, ‘……I am a singer. ……I sing. It is what I do. God did not put my desire together with the necessary equipment. My voice is what you might politely call ‘uncertain.’ I can hear the music in my head, but I cannot reproduce what I have heard, though it sounds fine to me……….I liked being a parent to my children when they were young and had no musical standards and would uncritically sing with me…….Singers are those who sing. Period.’

Whether I could sing or not, I was, by the time I reached college, a passionate but ignorant listener of Hindustani classical music, especially vocal music. The radio was a great friend, and my major source of all music.

When I left home and started working in another city, I decided to fulfill my long dormant desire to learn music. So a colleague and I acquired a harmonium and found a music teacher near by. We obviously lacked the necessary commitment, or inspiration, and after a few months we quit.

After several years of marriage and family life, we moved to Kochi, when my youngest son, A, was five years old. None of my other children had ever shown any great interest in learning music, and neither had this child. But somehow my long dormant maternal aspirations came to the fore, catalysed by the interest of my friend J, who was, at the time, a single working mother with a six year old son, N. We were bus-stop friends, as the boys used to go to the same school and we lived in the same building. In the afternoon I would bring both boys home from the bus stop, and N would go up to his grandmother. I cannot remember how J and I decided that our sons should learn vocal music, but we did. J being local found the teacher, but since she worked all day I was the one who had to supervise the lessons, which were held in my sitting room. J explained to me the ritual of the first lesson: a tray was set out with flowers, betel leaves and an oil lamp. The betel leaves were presented to the teacher, and the new students touched his feet. We didn’t have a harmonium and were wary of buying one, so decided to make do with an old Casio keyboard

Ah, the students. They were around six and seven when the lessons started. My son, A, had a regular kiddy voice. J’s son N had a really deep voice even at age seven.
You can imagine one thin squeaky little voice and one really deep voice going ‘saaa’ and
‘SAAAA’ at the same time. The teacher certainly had his hands full, especially as after the novelty of the lessons wore off (I think they were held twice a week), the boys completely lost interest. Two wrigglier bottoms were never seen. The teacher was a kind and honest man. After completing the first month, he declared that the boys were not yet ready to learn music, maybe they would be more receptive later on. I think he was most relieved. The boys certainly were!

(Young A did learn to play the Congo drums in school. His teacher would also give him private lessons at home, during hot and humid, sleepy afternoons. Those drums have been in storage for a while. N does play the guitar).

Another friend and I decided that it’s never too late to learn! She acquired both the harmonium and teacher, and I would go up to her flat for lessons two or three times a week. Neither of us was musically endowed, but we enjoyed our lessons and loved hearing our teacher sing. As busy wives and mothers, we were bad at practicing our scales and lessons, but we thought we were reasonably sincere. Our best times were after the teacher had had his tea and left, and then we would sing to our hearts’ content, lovely old semi-classical songs that we were probably murdering, but we both enjoyed our own singing! After several months my life became complicated with serious illnesses in the family, and my lessons just had to stop. My friend did continue for a while, but then she also lost her motivation.

Although I insist that I’m a contented person, I do wish for a couple of things,
which don’t seem possible in this birth. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other, and seems most foolish and irrational, and that is my desire to be tall and slender.
The other is to have a great singing voice. In the meantime, I will cultivate friends who have no ear for music, and who will (faints) actually applaud my singing. Any takers?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Independence Day 2008

The birthday surprise wasn't a surprise. My son went to visit his grandparents before leaving for New York, and told them about my visit. No, I didn't murder him for that either.
It might have been too much of a shock for my old folks to suddenly have me land up at their door.
Well, not only was the country celebrating I-Day, so was the local residents' association, in the park just below my parents' flat. And at full volume. So our greetings took place against a loud background of patriotic songs, which went on for quite a while. Rather than bond with my parents and sister, I tried escaping to the farthest room, but to no avail. The noise was still deafening. At last the songs got over, only to be replaced by one very very loud and shrill 'auntieji' who was giving away the prizes for various races and games, and who seemed to be most delighted to have access to a microphone. We were all most relieved when the festivities got over.
I had bought some Corelle plates and bowls with a green leaf pattern as a gift for my mother. (Green is her favourite colour), which we promptly used for lunch. After a post-lunch siesta, my sister and I went out for the usual vegetable, fruit and bread shopping and had a couple of rounds of the now blissfully quiet park. Back home, we dug out our family prayer books and had a beautiful prayer session, both sisters not really melodious, but more or less in tune. This was, I think, something that our mother really appreciated. (It has been years since she has been able to attend the Satsang we belong to, though she tries to read our holy books as regularly as she can). Various grandchildren called up at different times of the day, and when the SRE called up to wish her, he told her about the many blog readers who had sent her their good wishes. Thank you, everyone.
My sister had to go home on Saturday morning as her son and his wife were coming over for Raksha Bandhan. I gave my father a haircut, more difficult now as he is stooping much more than before. My sister wondered where I learned to cut hair. ( Nowhere, but I'm willing to try as long as I have a willing guinea-pig!) I managed to prepare lunch and dinner in a kitchen which now seems so unfamiliar. Conversations. My mother was relieved that we didn't have a big party and call all our cousins and their families, which is something my sister and I had thought about and rejected. It would have been way too exhausting for both parents! I did trim my father's nails. (Scary because he's on blood thinners and he scares me when he squeals!) Telling my father to make more of an effort to walk. Giving him a soothing pedicure and foot massage. Before I knew it, it was time to go.

It'll probably be another couple of months before I can bring my parents back to Kolkata. My energy levels are still low, and my parents do need a lot of care. I am glad that I went, though. And I know that my visit was the best possible present I could have given my mother on this milestone birthday.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Happy Eightieth Birthday!

My mother is celebrating her eightieth birthday this Independence Day. Strangely enough, she got married on Republic Day. Both days were 'hers' before they had any national significance.
I plan to visit her in Delhi and surprise her on her birthday.
I think she is really beautiful.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Of three abortions

I'd met Ana several years ago while doing a tiny role in a play. She was beautiful- dusky and slender, and about to marry soon. She happened to be a Christian, her fiance was a Hindu. (I don't know if these demographics are relevant or not). Ana and her fiance got married, and before you knew it, she had conceived. She'd be at rehearsal, rather pale and wan, and then rush to the toilet and throw up.
We were all very solicitous of her. After a few weeks of throwing up and general misery, one fine day she announced that she was going in for an abortion. She also told us that she had had two abortions before she had married. ( Both pregnancies due to the same chap whom she'd subsequently married) . And now her mother-in-law was insisting that she abort the child as her son wasn't ready to be a father yet. Ana wanted the child, but could not have it without her husband's support. They were living with his family at the time.

I was furious with A for loving and marrying such a wimp. Didn't she have a say in contraception use? Especially after the first abortion.

If her husband had been on the premises I might have strangled him.
For not learning from the first abortion.
For not standing up to his mother.
For being so weak.

If his mother had been around I would have asked her a few simple questions:
1) Since when do you have the right to interfere in your married son's reproductive life?
2) Can you guarantee that Ana will be able to conceive/bear a child after this abortion?
3) Is there a hidden agenda responsible for this interference?

Obviously none of these questions were answered since they were never asked.
And though I did not have any right to ask them, these questions have stayed with me all these years.

It's been over a decade since I last met Ana. I have no way of locating her.
I wonder:
Does she have any children?
Is she as slender and beautiful twelve years later?
What kind of life is she leading? Is she happy?

A whole bunch of questions.
Not a single answer.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Handbag

The handbag, stashed carefully

On your chair, between your arm and your back,

poking you enough

To remind you of its presence,

And of its safety,

That’s what my friend felt like….

Valued, most definitely valued

In her marriage

As an attractive, very precious possession.

But twenty-odd years later

The handbag seeks personhood

And the right to a voice that may differ

From that of its ‘owner’.

He is a generous man, of many ideals,

respectful of women,

(but his wife is perhaps neither woman, nor person

she is his wife- is that not sufficient?)

An excellent provider, a bestower of luxuries

But dissent from her is unbearable to him,

and she knows it.

She completes him, fills up his insecurities

With her strength, but, for the sake of peace

She remains silent, strangling her opinions

Before they reach her tongue.

He can feel her discontent

Manifested in many ways-

Mostly physical- vague illnesses

And aches and pains, he pays the bills

For all the specialists, the high-end tests

He heaves a sigh of relief as each test reveals

No organic problem, no lesion, no tumour.

He really does care for her,

in the only way he knows-his way……

he needs her next to him whenever he is free,

whether he’s watching a movie, reading the papers,

or switching channels on the TV.

And as a bonus, holidays abroad, expensive clothes and jewellery

His money spent the way he thinks it should be

‘I give her everything, what more can she want?’

She knows him so well, understands all his foibles,

successfully maintains all his family ties

with gentleness, respect, and humility.

He does recognize her place in his life,

he knows how incomplete he is without her.

She values, so highly, this man that Life has given her.

But now, in middle-age, her own mind screams

out to her, for attention, for growth, for the right to be

accepted as herself,

to be more than just a handbag, to be able to say

‘ My dearest husband, I have opinions of my own,

thoughts of my own, wishes of my own.

Can I teach you, even now, to care for me and love me

As I wish to be loved?’

Personhood is what you give yourself-

Your definition of yourself has to come first, dear friend

with all of your life lived up to now…

Middle age with the comfort and security of knowing yourself.

Know thyself

A basic tenet- and a lifetime quest

To go deeper within, and know the Infinite Self,

The ultimate source of love, that lies within us all.

Once there, your search changes direction….

The man in your life is there still, to be cherished

And loved, as never before, perhaps, because you

Are one with the Source of all love

You no longer need mere mortal love to define you……….

( A brief aside for the lovers of old Hindi classic songs-

KL Saigal got it right-

in his compositionMain Baithi Thi,

the protagonist is searching for her Beloved-

Sakhi kaun des raje piyara-

And after exhaustive, fruitless outward seeking

(jangal, upvan, tibhupan dhoondha,

par kahin na uski ter mili)

the answer is found within-

Baahar ke naina moond sakhi, aur nain hriday ke khol sakhi

Ab apne moonh se bol sakhi, sakhi kaun des raje piyara)

To be able to love from the heart,

without the mind getting in the way,

with its habits of score-keeping and grievance collecting

and expecting , always expecting something…

that is true joy…..

The loving is no less, (more, in fact,)

But away from the mind, it sustains itself and all those around

Relationships change from dross to gold,

Detached, yet not detached- a strangely zenful balance

Definitely worth striving for…….

P.S. This was written some years ago. You will be glad to know that my friend is no longer a handbag, and now states her truth as she sees it. Yes, there have been painful conflicts, but she is no longer afraid of them. A good silver wedding anniversary present to herself, I guess!