Friday, September 26, 2008

Application to our Sometimes Resident Father Hen

When I wrote about cell phones and maa ka dil, just over a year ago, I had neglected to mention that sometimes there exists something far more powerful than a mother's heart. That is a father's concern for his children. When married to such a man, the maa-ka-dil is often totally redundant.
Once his children grow up, such a man is referred to, mostly in sheer exasperation, as Father Hen.
As in, 'Stop being such a Father Hen, Pops'.
I'm sure you can tell that we are not a particularly reverent family.

We were staying with our oldest kid some years ago. She went out for the evening with her husband. The next day Father Hen asked her why they had come home so late. I nearly died of embarrassment. The daughter looked at him in shock and awe, and said 'Excuse me!' with an underlying intonation that said, 'Are you for real'?

Let me confess- when we moved to Noida, and our older son came home to stay with us, after three years of living in a hostel, it was not easy. For either of us. Though he did not possess a cell phone then, I did expect to be told whether or not he would be home for dinner, and if he planned to be out late, I expected to know about it. Somehow, in the strangeness of having a young adult in residence, I'd forgotten my sanity-maintaining principle of no news being good news. I did get worked up if he stayed out without informing us. Mostly though, he would let me know. Although I never sat up late for him and he had his own house key, I'd ask him to just come to my door and tell me that he was home- I'm a light sleeper and that was enough for me to sink into a sound, relaxed sleep.
I think the SRE and I take turns in being paranoid parents. He was somehow never overly concerned if the older son was out late without prior information. Perhaps because the older son is six feet tall and well built. To me, that isn't important- you can be in danger even if you are the size of the Incredible Hulk. And given that life is a risky business, a little paranoia is normal.

Cell phones have increased the SRE's paranoia. He assumes that his kids will be accessible on their phones at all times. As I had written earlier, there are many possible reasons for not being able to reach your child on his/her phone. Besides the indisputable fact that however much your teenager loves you, he may not always feel like talking to you. Well, our younger son (and youngest kid) has been having his first semester exams. And he stays in the college hostel, and is usually home on weekends. He's been a little anxious about these exams, so we were most relieved when we learned that he was quite happy after the first one. I called him before the second exam to wish him, and he didn't seem very confident. Anyway. It so happened that neither parent could get him on the phone for the rest of the day- we were getting a 'switched off' message. By evening the SRE was getting rather agitated, and since he wasn't in town he kept insisting that I go to the college the next morning and 'FIND OUT WHAT'S UP'. Now, I was quite sure that any such measure would mean our son taking a transfer to another town, far away from his paranoid parents, so I refused outright. I also spoke to my eldest daughter, who'd taken care of him while he was in the school hostel at Noida. She also strongly advised us to lay off before the poor son ran away from Kolkata.

My mind was more concerned with technology failure-either the cell phone had not been charged and the kid was asleep after burning much midnight oil, or his phone had just conked out entirely. Since my own old brain only remembers exactly four cellphone numbers (my own, my driver's, the SRE's and our elder daughter's), I wondered if this guy would be able to call us if his phone died, taking all our numbers with it. The SRE was probably contemplating far more dire scenarios.

After several fruitless attempts at calling him I went to sleep. In the morning I was delighted to hear the son's phone ringing. He'd obviously woken up enough to charge his phone. His not answering it wasn't worrisome at all, since he is a nocturnal creature, as well as a latter day avatar of Kumbhakaran. (If you've seen the movie Omkara, and remember the scene where Rajju tries to wake up Langda Tyagi, that's my son for you. His sleeping and waking habits deserve a post of their own.)

I left an SMS on his phone, asking him to call me. In the meanwhile, the husband called and said that he had spoken to the son. The son called me, and I told him about Father Hen's distress. The poor son was most horror stuck! He also rattled off all our phone numbers, and said that he would definitely inform us if his phone died on him. He had gone to sleep after two nights of staying awake studying, and had charged his phone when he finally woke up, in the middle of the night.

Dear dear Father Hen. I know you love our children and are always concerned about them. But please rest assured that we have good and sensible kids who can take care of themselves. And they know where we live, and they know that we are always there for them. They also know our phone numbers. Let them learn to spread their wings- they will love you even more for it. Let them call us when they wish to, not because they feel they have to. Keep the faith, and just chill!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Public address!

How do you address a stranger in a public space, in case you ever need to? How are you addressed? Have you noticed changes in such modes of address, over the years?

When I was young, everyone in Delhi was related to everyone else- you were, to the public at large, depending on your age and sex, either "beta" (son), "Bhaisahib" (older brother), "Bhaiya" (brother), "Chachaji" or Uncle, usually pronounced 'Unkil', or, if really venerably old, "Baba" or Dadaji (Grandfather) if male, and "bitiya" or "baby" ( not like 'babe', though)"Behenji" or "Didi" (elder sister), "Maasiji" or the ubiquitous Auntie, and "Mataji" (mother) if you looked old enough to be the person's mother.
(Or, as in Lucknow, if you had children and were, therefore, a mother. My grey-haired dhobi-in-residence insisted on addressing me as Mataji when my kids were really young). Like it or not, every member of the public whom you interacted with you was your kith and kin.

Which is not to say that some of these relationships were not incestuous in intent- buses and streets had a huge share of creepy guys even then. Some things never change.

As a child I hated it. How could these random people presume kinship with me? I realise I was a terrible snob. All these relationships thrust upon me! Of course this was probably because I had spent my early childhood in England, and this was just one of the shocks that the mother country jolted me with.

Having grown up in this enormous joint family that was Delhi, then having left it for decades after getting married, I had a reverse culture shock when we moved to Noida a few years ago.
Noida is part of the National Capital Region and I was frequently in and out of Delhi.
The humungous Dilli joint family had got globalised, and I was no longer any random stranger's Behenji or Auntieji. I had morphed into an unrelated 'Madam', a word that denies any form of kinship beyond the business at hand! Men were still part of a universal brotherhood, though some have graduated from "Bhaisahib" to "Sir ji", but as more and more women stepped out of the familiar roles of teacher or nurse or 'lady doctor', and assumed a more corporate character, the man in the street no longer seemed to relate to you in familial terms. After years of being part of a huge joint family, you had been disowned.
Madam is not a term that incorporates any degree of familiarity or kinship. The phonetics of the word are sadly, rather damning. 'Madam', when uttered by the disgruntled, emphasises the second syllable. Emphasising the first makes it no better! It only sounds polite if your first name is put before it, which will of course, only occur in a familiar setting. I wonder, though, how much resentment is hidden by a now ubiquitous term. Women have emerged from their homes, from their known, familial roles, and have taken on all kinds of occupations, many of them have several men reporting to them. This is still a relatively new phenomenon in India, and will take some getting used to. Women who appear to belong to a social stratum with power and wealth are often treated with surface deference and underlying resentment, especially by men. Even women who drive their own vehicles are largely castigated by resentful males, who somewhere seem to question a woman's right to own/drive a car. So much of this is subconscious and subliminal, but centuries of patriarchal conditioning will not be erased in just a few generations.

Kolkata is still a more affectionate city, as this post by Lalita shows, though our opinions on this are very different!
'Madam' is now part of the global culture we all seem to aspire to or have thrust upon us, willy-nilly.
If only it was uttered with a little more respect.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hypocrite? Me? Yes.

Do you always act consistently with your deeply held beliefs and values? Stuff that you pride yourself on thinking? On consistently being the person that you think you are? Have you ever had to question yourself on this, and come up with answers that you don't quite like?
I certainly have. I do not think I'm better than anyone else, but I refuse to be shoved around by anyone. (Considering my size, I wouldn't be easy to shove around anyway, but believe you me, people do try. Did I tell you that I'm sometimes invisible? Or seem to be. Often when I'm standing in a line for tickets, like the railway reservation counter. By the time I'm finally at the window and about to hand in my request some random person, usually male, will barge ahead as though I'm not there. When I sternly remind said random male of my not inconsiderable presence, he will wave me ahead as though he's doing me a favour. What utter cheek.)
Neither a shover nor a shovee, that's me. And a bleeding heart liberal as well. Sympathy for the underdog etc. etc. But I had to question all these beliefs on one random bus journey, from my parents' flat in East of Kailash to Noida, several years ago. It was a journey I did often enough, there was a convenient bus route, and I was usually lucky enough to get a seat. Now, this particular journey involves two possible routes, either the speedy one over the DND expressway, or the circuitous route that goes via Mayur Vihar. You can't always tell from the bus number. Anyway. I was sitting next to a rather smelly young woman and her baby. The baby was also sitting on the seat, next to the window, so I was perched on what was left of the seat. After the Ashram bus stop I realised that this bus wasn't taking the DND route. At the Sarai Kale Khan stop lots of people got onto the bus, and even while sitting I was getting pushed. I politely asked the woman to hold her baby on her lap, but she rudely refused, saying that he would cry and who would quieten him? She most certainly did not seem amenable to reason, and I certainly did not want to get into a heated argument. I already looked like a 'memsahib' type, a potential oppressor of a poor slum/village woman. I looked as though I could afford a more exclusive form of transport, at least an auto, if not a cab. But for all my surface nonchalance, I was seething within, and actually hating that woman for the remaining half hour or so of the ride.
I think it was most foolish of me to expect what I think of as common courtesy from someone who may have received very little courtesy in her own life. Had she been of a visibly better off, educated background, she probably would not have hogged the seat in the first place, and would have quietly picked up the child if I'd asked her to. Most of my interactions with the socially disadvantaged had me in the role of some kind of benefactor- whether as blood donor or teacher or facilitator of some kind. There was courtesy, if not deference, built into the role.
My personal space was never invaded. I was not spoken to without courtesy. That was what I was used to- I had enjoyed working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and their parents were always courteous. I meant nothing to the woman on the bus, so she could be as rude as she felt like being.
I realized how thin was the veneer of my compassion. By the end of that bus ride, I didn't like myself very much.


I'm always learning new things about myself. Today I learned that even if I am not one of the world's great travellers, my passport is very precious to me. I feel secure having it locked up in my steel almirah locker! It is so precious that I even hate sending it away along with a visa application. Yes, I know that my passport is what I get the visa on. I know it. But it doesn't mean that I like it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I think I disappeared today!

The SRE seems to enjoy my company. Sometimes, at least. He woke up early for a game of golf this morning, and I was all ready for my walk. ( I actually managed to walk three days this week.) He invited me to come with him to his club, where I could walk, he could play golf, and then we could breakfast together.
It was great when he'd started learning golf, and was confined to the practice range. At least I'd know where he was, and could sit on a nearby bench and wait for him to finish. Now that he's out on the course he takes much longer, and I don't even try looking for him. (On principle I do not carry my mobile phone on morning walks, though the SRE has to carry his- he needs to be reachable at all times.) We decided to meet in the restaurant at a quarter past seven.
I walked as much as I could, and was in the restaurant a little before seven. Picked up a couple of newspapers and kept reading them, wishing that I had my own newspaper with its familiar crossword and a pencil. The man is usually later than plans to be, so I didn't really expect him before seven-thirty or so. But the clock kept ticking , and there was no sign of him. I was sitting at right angles to one of the restaurant's two entrances, and facing the other one.
By seven thirty I was feeling rather hungry and slightly irritated- if I'd walked on my usual route, near our house, I could have been comfortably snoozing again! Or reading. Or having a cup of tea. (Which i could have ordered for myself, but I am rather perverse). The rolling green of the course and the lovely old trees dotting the landscape made a beautiful picture. The overfed stray dogs, who seem to have a good thing going for them in the club's hallowed precincts, lazed luxuriantly on the tiled floor. They seemed to have breakfasted well.
The SRE appeared at a quarter to eight. Nothing unusual in that. I tried not to glare at him. He announced that he had come at seven twenty five and hadn't seen me, that he'd looked through both the entrances, and HE COULDN'T SEE ME. (He had pushed off to the loo after that, probably distraught because his better larger portion was missing.)
Spending twenty minutes in the club loo doesn't sound very sensible to me, but I had more important things to worry about. If you know me, you'll know that I could easily lose fifty pounds and not miss them at all. I don't think I'm easy to miss. Why couldn't he see me? Had I dematerialised? (That's something that I thought only happened to me in queues. The very instant I reach the head of the queue, I become invisible to the person just behind me.)
But I wasn't in a queue here, I was sitting at a table, reading a newspaper, all zillion kilos of me.
Why was I invisible to my husband of decades? Does he need glasses? He plays golf without any difficulty, and I'm certainly a lot more visible than a golf ball! ( His reading glasses are another story better not remembered here.) He said that my thoughts might have carried me far away, but I wasn't lost in thought at all!
(I know I was visible, but strangely so, for a while at least, while I was alone at the table.) A waiter came and put a cup and saucer and tea strainer and sugar sachets on my table. Then he brought a small pot of tea, at which juncture I told him that I hadn't ordered anything yet. Why did the waiter bring me tea that I hadn't ordered?
If the SRE didn't want to see me, he wouldn't have invited me in the first place. This seems to be one of life's strange mysteries, never to be solved. And never to be heard the last of, either.
My sympathies, Husband. Dear readers, any ideas?

Memories of a birthday

Lalita would have been fifty-one today. On her birthday last year I visited her at her home for the first time. I'd posted a bunch of corny limericks for her on my blog, and had taken over Kalpana Swaminathan's Page 3 Murders as a present, mainly because it was 'a Lalli mystery' that I'd read earlier and enjoyed, and the Lalli in the book was just about as smart as our Lali.
Neha's parrot arrived while I was there, a lovely mounted photograph. Some other friends of hers were already there, others dropped in. Little did we know then that it was her last birthday that we were celebrating.

Lali became a part of my life in many ways. I cannot look at my IFB clothes dryer without remembering her. She had recommended it on a rainy day when I was cribbing about the laundry never drying. After an excellent cup of tea at her place, I've even adopted her brand of tea.
I was delighted to discover that Kolkata had an Eloor Library, after reading this post of hers. (I'd been a member of Eloor when I was in Kochi). Lalita had been a book buyer for them at one time, and the staff all knew her, as did some of the staff at Crossword, the venue of our first meeting.
We went to Eloor together a couple of times after she fell ill. If I ever went alone the librarians would ask me for news of her.
Two days ago I went to Eloor after a really long time, and told them that she was no more. There was no one else who could have informed them of her death. I don't know if the chaps in Crossword know.

Lalita was one of those special people who touched so many lives with her own brand of magic.
The 13th of September will always be special to me because it is your birthday.
Be at peace, Lali, wherever you are.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Elephants on my Bed!

This is a bed spread embroidered by my younger daughter some years ago.
It had been hiding itself in the plenitude of my linen cupboard. It is cheerful and happy-making, especially on a cloudy day.
I am sure the SRE is going to come up with a nasty crack about me no longer being the sole elephant on our bed. Ah, well........

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Look Ma, an award!

Thank you, Mandira, Dotthoughts, The Mad Momma, Neera, Kiran and a muser for giving me this award.

The past year spent in the blogosphere as a blogger (rather than as a reader and commenter) has been tremendously rewarding. Receiving an award like this is a nice bit of frosting on what has been a largely scrumptious cake. ( You can see what a foodie I am, though I haven't yet blogged about food, barring cabbage and a mention of Ethiopian food in a travel post).
New worlds have opened up to me, and I have come across some amazing bloggers.
Since the rules of this award require me to pass this on to a minimum of seven bloggers, I take great pleasure in giving this award ( in no particular order) to the following:

sur notes
space bar
bird's eye view
sundar narayan

This award is for blogs whose content and/or design are brilliant as well as creative.
The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.
1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
5. And then we pass it on!

Friday, September 5, 2008

For Ma'am, on Teachers' Day

It has been thirty-one years since I left college. I'm one of the lucky few who has had a teacher who has been more than a friend, philosopher and guide, a teacher who has truly made a difference to my life.
The day of our orientation programme, when other teachers were telling us about how great an institution we were in and how fortunate we were to be part of it, Ma'am had a unique point of view. She just emphasised that our college had a wonderful location, with art galleries and theatres within an easy walking radius, and how enriching it would be for us to visit these marvellous places.
Although she taught post-graduate courses, she would always find the time to guide a fledgling, first year debater. She has this amazing ability to be genuinely interested in everything. Her friends come from all walks of life. Ma'am is one of the most large-hearted and inclusive people I've ever known.
Her classes were challenging, requiring your entire, unwavering attention. If, for some reason, like a heavy downpour, attendance was thin, she would take class for the benefit of those who had come. I see her with a colourful parasol, making her way through the puddles, a veritable peacock romancing the rain. Her passion for music has been infectious. Steaming coffee and the sounds of a maestro's recording in her apartment, a privilege indeed.
Academic excellence, integrity, a kind heart. Words just cannot say it all. A total commitment to her students. Sensible guidance in matters of the heart. A terrific photographer, good enough to exhibit. A way with words- she uses them with both precision and poetry, as required!
Her distinguished career continues years after her official retirement. She is still an intrepid traveller, with friends and students all over the globe. I cannot use the term 'former student', because I think we are all still learning from her.

She has been part of my family since its inception- approving of the SRE when he travelled in a truck to meet her, because of a public transport strike the day she was near his town.
She was the photographer at our wedding. She has been a most encouraging grandmother to all my children. It has been such a privilege and joy having her stay with us. Meeting her family has been wonderful, too. From Ma'am I have learned that age is just a state of mind. Her thinking is unhampered by chronology or any kind of negative mind set. Her clarity of thought has been a boon to many: she can cut through all the surrounding irrelevancies and get to the heart of the matter. This is one single quality which makes her advice and guidance invaluable. She has been a tower of strength in times of crisis.

Ma'am, these words are inadequate and cannot convey a fraction of what you mean to me.
There is still so much I need to learn from you.
This Teachers' Day, I want to thank you for being my teacher, for being part of my life.