Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Made for Each Other aka Dumb and Dumber

A friend gave us complimentary tickets for the film 'Tees Maar Khan', so we went to see it this Sunday evening. The less said about the film, the better. Inane might be sufficiently descriptive.

We had a good Chinese meal in a restaurant in the mall. Of course the SRE had to mildly annoy me by constantly checking on the messages on his phone- a part of him is always at work! While driving down from our third floor parking spot, my cell phone rang. The call was from the SRE, who was sitting next to me, driving the car. I disconnected and laughed, "Why is your phone calling me? Very strange."
It rang again. I disconnected it again, wondering at the vagaries of mobile phones.
In the meantime, the SRE checked his pockets, and realised that he had left his phone in the restaurant. I called his number and was answered promptly by the restaurant manager. Since we were halfway down the slope, I told the SRE to proceed downwards while I rushed back to the restaurant, and gratefully received the man's Blackberry from the smiling manager.
Now how did he know what my number was? The SRE has listed me as 'Wife', and since I had gone out alone that morning, we had exchanged a few calls, so 'Wife' was up there in the recent calls!

I don't know if this particular restaurant is jinxed. The SRE had dined there with a colleague after watching a film while I was away earlier this month, and had left his car keys there, and had a merry time looking for them........

Quite apart from this joint stupidity, we had a great time at my niece's wedding. On our second morning there, while waiting at my sister's house for the rest of the family to assemble for the havan, some of us were sitting around after having had tea, when I thought that the contents of the huge fruit basket sitting on the dining table should be used. So a niece and I peeled some oranges, someone chopped up some guavas and served them with chaat masala, some grapes were washed and served. The dozen or so people assembled there were all enjoying this 'fruitful' session, when the SRE plaintively asked if I'd promise not to laugh at him if he told me what he really wanted to eat just then. Of course I never promise not to laugh at him, but I did ask him to speak up! What he wanted to eat was mooli, the white radishes that are an integral part of a North Indian winter. My sister had none at home, but the neighbourhood Mother Dairy vegetable vendor was barely five minutes away. An expedition was mounted, consisting of the SRE and spouse, a cousin's daughter, her six year old son, and the cousin's young daughter-in-law. A couple of kilos of radishes, a few slender carrots and some fat juicy limes were procured. Two large platefuls were served, one with chaat masala, one with salt and pepper. Happy munching over, it was time for the havan to commence.

Long may the SRE come up with wishes that are so easy to fulfill!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December is a busy month

There's a whole lot that has already happened- a golden anniversary (my oldest cousin's); a cousin's daughter's wedding was held on the same day, so I missed that and attended the reception in Kolkata along with the bride's parents and brother, who stayed with me. Then the merry visit of some close friends. The SRE was travelling, and also did these ridiculous day trips, which involve getting up at unearthly hours for him to catch the first flight of the day, and coming back late the same evening. And if these trips occur on a Sunday I most strongly disapprove. (I still get up and make him a cup of tea, though).
We are leaving for my niece's wedding tomorrow, and will be back after a week.
Let us see what the tail end of the year holds for us all.
Au revoir, my gentle readers. Take care.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stringing along!

The 'patua', or jewellery stringer, is still part of the North Indian market scene. New Market in Kolkata has a few patuas, usually sitting outside large jewellery shops. Not only do they string your pieces for you, they also have a large array of colourful necklaces and bangles and earrings for sale.
On a recent visit to the patua, I sat on a small stool and gazed in fascination while he did my work. I have a beautiful black and gold pendant, strung onto golden thread which had become dull with use. I planned to have it put onto thin strands of tiny black beads. The patua first measured out the length I wanted, and told me how much it would cost. Then he slipped what looked like a crooked curtain ring onto his big toe, essentially a large hook, on which he pulled out sufficient lengths of black thread. He then slipped my pendant onto a nail on his work table, and attached the threads to both hooks. What was totally fascinating was how he transferred the tiny black beads from their original white thread to the black thread. You'd think it would be a lengthy process involving a very fine needle and eye-straining concentration. But no! The man clipped and then combed out, with his fingers, the ends of both threads, twined them together, and simply pushed the requisite length of black beads onto the locket thread. He repeated this process several times, and then fixed the strings and pendant onto the closing tassel. All this in between dealing with customers who were looking at and buying his 'pearl' bracelets and necklaces, answering his mobile phone, and drinking tea! His work space is actually tiny, perhaps six feet square, with a neat display of ready products, plus bundles and boxes of the materials needed for his trade. He has to dig through many bundles to find what he needs, but does so with equanimity, knowing that he has all that he requires.
When I asked him if I could take a photograph of him, he readily agreed, saying that many foreigners have photographed him.

Some of our traditional craftsmen, like the local dyers, (the rangrez of so many classical bandishes) make our lives so colourful and so simple, and, of course, do not charge very much money. Long may they prosper!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

One year ago today

By this time today, last year, our lives had changed, irrevocably.
The morning began like any other morning. I may have skipped my walk, as the previous day had been extremely busy. The SRE and I had gone to Bangkok for a conference the previous week, and my sister had been staying with my parents during our absence. She had planned to leave on the day after we returned, but owing to one or other of the eternal threats of bandh or strike on the Monday, decided to go on Tuesday afternoon. A dear friend had lost her father, and there was a ceremony for him on the same day, so I went there after leaving my sister at the airport.

I remember meeting my mother in the kitchen early in the morning as she was taking the tea tray to her room.
A while later, I heard my father call for me. (The home nurse used to come in at 8 a.m- this was about fifteen minutes before that). He told me that my mother seemed to be stuck in the bathroom. I wondered if the lock had jammed, and went to open the bathroom door. The door opened easily, fortunately not locked. My mother was sitting on the floor, parallel to the wall facing the commode. The floor was quite dry, but the porcelain cup she used to dilute her shampoo in lay shattered on the ground, and there was blood everywhere. The SRE and I managed to get her onto her bed, and covered her as she seemed to be in shock. Our GP was called, and he promptly came and examined her. At that point he could not say for sure whether she had a fracture or not. He prescribed painkillers, and asked me to observe her till that evening- if she was still in severe pain, I should take her for X-rays. The home nurse was told to give her a bed pan when required, and not let her get up.

The SRE was sent to his office, lunch was prepared and other routine jobs dealt with. In the afternoon I went to buy sufficient provisions for the week, just in case. I came back home and found that Mummy's pain had not decreased. I called my orthopaedic surgeon, and he advised me to take her to the hospital and get the prescribed X-rays done, and then he would examine her. When she left the room, I don't think any of us realised that this was the last 'normal' farewell she would ever say to my father. That same night, once she was admitted in the hospital with a broken neck-of-the-femur, her delusions and hallucinations began.

In retrospect, I am quite sure that she did not slip and fall in the bathroom. Having seen my father through two hip replacements, and essentially being a careful person, she was really cautious with her movements. What had happened would have been something intrinsic to her body- perhaps a TIA, perhaps a heart related event. Whatever the cause, and whatever she suffered in the next three months, seems like God's mercy- she did not have to see my father's slow and painful decline. Although she had wanted to take care of my father till his last breath, I don't think she would have been able to bear to see him suffer as much as he did. Even while she was in hospital, her delusions mostly centred around my father's care- was he properly covered, was he wearing his socks, had he eaten, why were his things not in their proper place.......

She used to wish that spouses could depart this world together. I have a feeling that she was taken first so that she could get things ready for Dad, make the way ready for him. I can quite imagine her nagging the workers in the Great Beyond to make sure that things are just right for her dear husband...........

For me, though, today was the beginning of the end.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On the street where I live

The Bauhinia is blooming in all its glory. There is a pleasant nip in the air in the morning, and my morning walk is sheer, un-sweaty joy! The fans are still running, but I think the air-conditioners can now declare their annual break. My silk sarees are out, as are my shawls, in readiness for further chill. The youngest kid finds Kolkata winters an apology for the season, but to me this weather is glorious- an autumnal climate, perhaps, but so very pleasant.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Pune this week!

I am pleased to inform you that my friend Sukanta Basu is having an exhibition of his paintings in Pune, at the Waves Art Gallery. Please do visit.

Opening on 19th Nov. 2010, at 6:00 pm

on view till 27th Nov. 2010, 10:30 am to 8:00 pm

(Sunday Closed)

Curator: Raju Sutar

'The Source Unknown'


Sukanta Basu

Waves Art Gallery Pvt. Ltd.,
B 204, Parmar Trade Centre,
Sadhu Vaswani Chowk,
Pune 411001
+91 (20) 40064059

Opening on 19th Nov. 2010, at 6:00 pm

on view till 27th Nov. 2010, 10:30 am to 8:00 pm

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review- By The Water Cooler

Here Be Dragons!
Parul's second book is out! By The Water Cooler is the quintessential fairy tale, transposed to modern corporate Mumbai. There are fire-breathing dragons, obnoxious slimy creatures, a damsel and her handmaiden, an extremely unlikely fairy godmother, an unexpected Prince Charming and so many many more interesting and convoluted characters- the CEO's assistant who sees herself as a top-class spy, for one! Parul tells us a rich and rollicking tale, in exquisitely crafted and hilarious words. I found this hard to put down, and sighed a contented sigh when I finished the last page!
I thoroughly enjoyed the desi touches, like the Sutta Club, the Apsara-named flatmates Urvashi and Menaka, the Great Indian Wedding which Tanya happily manages to plan out in detail during office hours........
With deft strokes, Parul conveys the nuances of single desi living- Mini's umpteenth phone call to her mother for her alu-tamaatar recipe, her calls to her father which inevitably boost her morale, the flood in the flat, the 'borrowing' of garments....... little vignettes which are humorous, and also very real. Like all good desi mothers, Mrs. Shukla is hoping for a suitable boy to materialise from somewhere, although Mini refuses to allow her to look for one, since she believes in love.
Although quitting is always an option, our Mini Shukla is no loser. With grit, determination, and good luck thrown in, her dragons are tamed. Of course there will always be others around the corner.........

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I don't know why I'm doing this, but

I am in the throes of some rather obsessive cleaning and sorting out. I've been at it for several days now and there is still loads to do, but I think I'm getting there! I am, normally, a member of the out-of-sight, out-of mind school of thought as far as this is concerned, where I can happily tidy up all visible signs of mess, and then forget about them.
But my drawers and cupboards are protesting, tired of this overload, so I've finally got my act together, and am ruthlessly sorting out and chucking out whatever I can. Which, strangely enough, seems to be releasing endorphins into my system, and I'm actually enjoying the process.
My household is more than thirty years old, and despite various moves over the decades, during which a whole lot of things are disposed off, we seem to be breeding stuff. Strange stuff that may never be used, but which doesn't want to be thrown away on the specious grounds that you never know when you'll need it. That you will be unable to find it when you need it is another matter, of course. Of the various kinds of stuff, paper is a villain in my house. There are papers, and then there are important papers, and also very very important papers, like income tax returns and financial documents. Although we have more than thirty drawers of various sizes in the flat (yes, I just counted) , we do not possess a filing cabinet or dedicated cupboard. For a decent sized apartment, we have woefully inadequate storage.
Maybe it's us, lugging our accumulated possessions across the country........
Maybe it's the SRE, buying strange objets d'art from across the globe- some beauties, some horrible dust collectors.......
Maybe it's the younger son, our weekend resident. He loves to create things out of waste materials, and then the waste materials keep sitting there.......
Maybe it's just me- my father was a terrible hoarder, and I seem to have taken after him in several ways. Some of my youngest child's toys have been kept for posterity. A trunk full of children's books is a treasured possession, which also has some of my own childhood tomes. Some things are too precious to even think of giving away, though I wonder if they will be in good enough condition for our grandchildren to read. The now rarely played cassettes are waiting for the day they will be converted to CDs.

I need to throw out all the unused and now obsolete cell phone chargers that are sitting pretty in one drawer. Two brand new packets of the joora pins my mother used to use. Old magazines which I want to re-read, but I know I never will. Three and four tier stainless steel tiffin carriers. Will we ever use them again, I wonder? Fliers from Dominos with discount coupons. No, we don't have to buy their pizzas. The four-in-one music system which gave up the ghost soon after
Mr. Bose made his appearance. The emergency light which stopped working soon after my father passed away. His electric shaver with blades that needed replacing but then weren't because the home nurse would shave him with disposable razors. I'd once asked the SRE to buy some nice bedsheets from Thailand. Unfortunately, they are fitted sheets which are difficult to fold properly and which are a little too big for our bed, so they have rarely been used. The tiny broken terracotta elephants which lurk in a corner of the sideboard. The list goes on and on.........

Thankfully, something has motivated me, and I'm at it for hours every day. I need to follow my sister-in-law's policy of cleaning out one drawer or one shelf every single day- all the time.
I wonder if I will suddenly develop the discipline to do so. But in the meantime, each clean drawer is a triumph.

I didn't think of this as Diwali cleaning when I started out, but now the weather is pleasant and cool and there is festivity in the air, so I think it has morphed into Diwali cleaning!

Happy Diwali, everyone.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chacha on Sunset Years

It's a long post, but a wonderful one- please do check this out.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Crocodile on the Nile!

On the deck

Sparkles on the water

Pretty please!

That, my friends, was the only crocodile we encountered on the Nile. We spent four days cruising down the magnificent Nile, from Luxor to Aswan. Photographs are being sorted out very very slowly, but will follow soon.
We had a lovely room on board, with a large bed, a seating area, a fridge and TV (with hardly any channels, but enough for the SRE to have something to channel surf) plenty of wardrobe space, and, best of all, two bathrooms. Tiny, but one each!!!! What more can one ask for?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review- Come, Before Evening Falls

Manjul Bajaj's book, "Come, Before Evening Falls" has the distinction of being the first book I ordered from Flipkart!
That apart, I read it soon after our July visit to Bhutan, so the opening chapter, in which the founder of the village travels to Bhutan for the second time in his life (in what was then a journey of several months) immediately resonated with me.
(It was only on visiting Bhutan that I learned that it is a largely matrilineal society).
Set in the Haryana of a century ago, in a village that is named after a stud bull, Kala Saand, this book depicts rural Indian life with great authenticity.
The protagonist, young Jugni, orphaned at an early age, loves her home and her village, the beauty of the family's farmlands, and her beloved Dadi. Her widowed older uncle, her Tau, marries her Chachi when her younger uncle dies in battle. (The men of the Jat community mainly earn their living as farmers and as soldiers serving in the British army).
Tau is a leader in his village, and is progressive in his thinking. In order to improve the educational standards in his village school, he sends for a young master from another village. Raakha is an unhappy young man, the product of familial rape. He loathes his father and his aunt, and is always infuriated by the way in which his mother, his younger brother, and he are treated. His father is a rich landowner, favouring his other sons, and ignoring or refusing anything Raakha dreams of or aspires to do with his life. Raakha gets educated thanks to his maternal uncle ensuring that he goes, first to a gurukul, and then to college in Lahore.

Raakha is a progressive and enthusiastic teacher. He is also ambitious for others, and encourages Tau in his political ambitions, seeing himself in a more than advisory role in the future.
There are many social changes afoot- Tau's older son, Lena Singh, is stationed with the army in Bengal. Along with several fellowJat soldiers, he is planning to wear the janeu (sacred thread) in defiance of army diktat. His father feels that such a move would be unwise, and unfavourable to the community at large. Dadi agrees with him, because Guru Nanak refused to wear the janeu when it was offered to him.

It was lovely the way Dadi told that story, of Nanak at nine years, refusing the sacred thread. Beaten down by his stubborn refusal, his father's purohit had asked him at last what kind of thread the boy wanted and he had answered he wanted one made of the cotton of compassion, spun with the thread of contentment, with knots of continence and twists of truth.

Raakha, however, wondered what Nanak would have done if the janeu had been denied to him, rather than offered to him.Was it still your dharma to play according to the rules, to behave like a gentleman, when you knew the dice was loaded against you from the start?What was the duty of a rightful man in a wrongful world? Was it to douse one's anger or stoke it? Was he to speak soft words of logic asking for justice that no one would hear, or was he to stand on the pulpit, shout and raise a red flag of protest that everyone would notice from afar?

Jugni is initially repelled by and also attracted to Raakha. He soon comes to respect her clarity of thought and her integrity. Inevitably, the youngsters do fall in love. Jugni is tormented by opposing inner voices, wondering which voice is true to her real self. She is well aware that her relationship with Raakha is doomed even before it can begin- besides not having any land or wealth, he also belongs to the same gotra. In any case, she has grown up well aware of the dangers of love- one of her earliest memories is of her older cousin Sheilo crying out late one night to her mother to save her 'Maa manne bachha le! ' Jugni never sees her after that, nor is she ever referred to. She recalls other village girls who have committed suicide, having brought dishonour to their families. And yet, she and Raakha do share a deep, though clandestine friendship. When Raakha abuses his father, she stops him."He is your father, his blood flows in your veins.When you abuse him you dishonoour yourself..............Can't you see, Raakha, that your father is not here? The only person you are hurting in this moment is yourself."

The book moves at an even pace, depicting many interesting details of rural life a century ago, such as the special garments given to a bride, and the seven kinds of vessels that are given to her, the way a prospective bride's height is measured, and how she is critically examined for 'defects'.
The political atmosphere of the period is volatile.The Arya Samaj is an emerging influence. Many changes are afoot. Raakha's interior monologue when he receives his first quarter's salary, fifteen silver rupees, besides telling us what this not-so-princely sum can buy and cannot buy, also gives us a glimpse of city life.
In Lahore fifteen siver rupees would have bought him a pot of tea in fine porcelain cups with saucers on a silver tray and finely cut cucumber sandwiches, at the new restaurant off Mall Road..........Or it would buy him a bachelor night in Heera Mandi in the company of friends, good liquor and a clean whore.....

Each character is lovingly depicted with a light and sure touch. Jugni and Raakha, Dadi, Tau, Chachi, the various cousins, Raakha's long suffering mother, the barber's wife, the potter's daughter, all come vividly to life.

Beautifully crafted, (and also elegantly printed), Manjul Bajaj leads you through a rivetting story, to an ending which stuns you and leaves you gasping for breath.

Come, Before Evening Falls, by Manjul Bajaj, 2009, Published by Hachette India

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Parul's new book- By The Water Cooler

Parul's new book is expected to be out in November. Her second book, By the Water Cooler, follows her second baby who is a little over five months old.
Parul deals with motherhood and the resultant mayhem with great aplomb, and also manages to write books as well!
Her first book, Bringing Up Vasu, was a hilarious account of the trials and tribulations of early motherhood, and featured several unforgettable characters. (I live in mortal fear of getting as fat as the nanny who Had to Be Extricated from a Really Tight Spot). She and her spouse have bravely brought forth another baby, Ragini, whom she sometimes refers to as Raagu-face. Her monthly letters to her daughter are utterly delightful.
Parul is also hosting the following:

By The Water Cooler Contest

  • You need to write a post telling a story or an anecdote based in an office. It could be about you, your spouse, kids, neighbour, whoever - it just needs to be based in an office. It can be funny, serious, somewhere in between, but it needs to be based in an office. It can feature a single protagonist or multiple characters, but it...yes, I know, you got it.
  • You need to link to this post
  • You need to put By The Water Cooler in the title of your post
  • You need to leave me (Parul) a link to your post in the comments section
  • If you don't have a blog, leave me your entry in the comments section and it will be counted
PRIZES - Five autographed copies of By The Water Cooler are up for grabs. The five best entries will be decided by the esteemed M so please remember to pick up your grouses with him.

- October 31st, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Almost home!

We got home last week, but are off again to celebrate my sister-in-law's golden anniversary.
Back next week.
Let me leave you with one of my favourite pictures from this trip- a kitten near a gate in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Travel time

The SRE and I will be away for a while.
The travel tales will happen once we are back.
Take care, everyone.

On Teachers' Day

If a dog was the teacher you would learn stuff like:

a.. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
b.. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
c.. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face
to be pure ecstasy.
d.. When it's in your best interest, practice obedience.
e.. Let others know when they've invaded your territory.
f.. Take naps.
g.. Stretch before rising.
h.. Run, romp, and play daily.
i.. Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
j.. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
k.. On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
l.. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
m.. When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
n.. No matter how often you're scolded, don't buy into the guilt
thing and right back and make friends.
o.. Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
p.. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had
q.. Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you're not.
r.. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
s.. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by
and nuzzle.

This was sent to me by Dr. Anandalakshmy a few years ago.
Greetings and all good wishes to you, Ma'am, on this special day.
Happy Teachers' Day.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Belated birthday wishes to my blog!

Of This and That has been around for three years!
I had house guests and so I was really busy on the actual date, the 29th August.
You are so precious to me for so many reasons, my dear blog.
Wish I could hug you:)

Some more glimpses of heaven!

From the mountain trek.

Tiger mural in the Paro Dzong(fort). The highly revered Guru Rinpoche is said to have come to Bhutan from Tibet, riding on a tiger.

The monastery inside the Dzong

Covered bridge

Memorial to the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who began to open Bhutan to the outside world, began modernization, as well as initiating democratization.

Pigeons in the park at the memorial!

Prayer wheels

Welcome to Bhutan! Paro Airport, the prettiest airport I have seen!

Archery is Bhutan's national sport. Here is the scoreboard and pavilion at the archery ground.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Glimpse of Heaven

The SRE and I spent a few days in Bhutan last month. It is truly beautiful, with verdant mountains, running rivers, and warm and friendly people.
A few glimpses of this paradise on earth:

The view from our balcony.

Monastery at the top of a hill.

Inside the Paro Dzong (fort).

The SRE communes with nature!

Swiftly flowing water.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Long Years

since the larking one left us.
Missing you.
You made a difference.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fabulous fungus!

A Square Meal!

Minestrone and pasta salad in my favourite crockery.
A square meal indeed!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The uses of adversity

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
( As You Like It, William Shakespeare)

I had fractured my left wrist on 19th August last year. The good that came out of it manifested itself after a while. As far as I was concerned, it was something that had happened, that was painful, but something that we managed to live through with a lot of help from the help! Family and friends were of course a great support. My part time helper, M, was a boon. She would cut vegetables, make chapatis, and help me put on difficult garments. She was, however, going through a tough time of her own. Her grown up son had been unwell for the past few months, and despite several consultations, treatment and tests, nothing seemed to be helping. I had given her some money for his treatment, but nothing seemed to work. There were days when she would be in tears with worry, and I was feeling utterly helpless in the face of her anxiety. When things appeared to be totally beyond my control, I consulted the spouse.
He said that helping her out financially was not an issue, but what we needed was a good doctor for her son to consult. I wasn't quite sure what his problem was, so I asked her to bring his medical records over for me to have a look at. A quick look through revealed that he had some kind of infection in his backbone, which was not responding to the several courses of antibiotics he had taken.
I took the papers with me when I went to consult my orthopedic surgeon, who had become 'mine' by virtue of being on duty at the hospital the day I had my fall. He examined the papers and asked for a particular x-ray to be taken. This was shown to him, and he diagnosed it as a case of tuberculosis of the spine. He advised hospitalisation for a few days, as he felt that injectable antibiotics were required, and he wanted the patient to be monitored closely for the first few days. He referred us to a charitable hospital where he was a consultant, which was neat and clean and where the charges were not exorbitant.
I went with M and her family for admitting her son in the charitable hospital. M's granddaughter and her husband supported her son, A, who could barely walk, up the three steps into the building. The doctor came, examined him, wrote out the prescription, and we completed the formalities. When we returned with the medicines, A was having lunch. He could not even sit up in bed, but was lying on his side at an awkward angle, and somehow managing to eat.
A few days later I dropped in for a visit, and was pleased to see A sitting up in bed, a lunch tray propped in front of him. Another couple of days found him walking in the hospital grounds. He was discharged on Eid last year, and remained on daily injectables for a while.
His oral drug treatment continued for several months, and he went for checkups as required. His latest check up was this past Friday, when the doctor whacked him hard on his back, and declared him fit and fine.
On Saturday M told me that he wanted to send us some sweets to celebrate. This Independence Day we enjoyed the laddoos and rasmalai (the SRE's favourite) that he'd sent over with his mother.
God's ways are strange indeed! I think that fracturing my wrist was a small price to pay for getting to the right doctor for A. This 19th August is indeed the happy anniversary of a broken wrist!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

After the rain

It was a quiet rain, the sound of which did not awaken us.
This is this morning's view from my front balcony.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Something silly, and something worth reading!

When we were having tea this morning, in bed, with newspapers all around, I was charmed to see that the SRE's salt and pepper moustache was perfectly matching his striped kurta. I promptly took a photograph, and showed it to him. Since we are almost as loopy as each other (although I do know that he's definitely ahead of me) he asked me to post it to the kids.
An important part of our relationship is the ability to be silly together, and to accept each others' silliness as well. You can only allow yourself to be silly with someone you are totally comfortable with.

This brings me to Gouri Dange's new book, The Counsel of Strangers. The narrative device of strangers interacting with each other in a particular setting is a familiar one. Here they are all guests at a wedding which none of them is particularly keen on attending, but has to, for some reason. What makes this book compelling is its contemporary Indian voice and characters each of whose stories will strike a chord within most readers.

The first chapter has a retired Air Force officer describing a visit to his NRI daughter in the USA. What comes through is how aging parents are expected to fulfill their children's perception of their role in this particular stage of life, and how they are dehumanised by their well-meaning offspring. I quote: "My daughter gave an I-give-up sigh. Really, why couldn't I, like the other Indian Pas and Mas here, get religious and ritualistic in my old age, the sigh implied." Wing Commander Brahme, a widower, finds unexpected love and companionship with Netra, whom he first encounters on his daily train expeditions in the Bay Area Rapid Transport system. Netra is estranged from her husband, and her grown up son is a solemn lawyer, also in a different city. When their relationship comes to light, the metaphorical shit hits the fan, and the Wing Commander's daughter and son-in-law send him back home in disgrace. ( I do believe that deep seated taboos make it hard for both parents and children to accept each other as sexual beings, especially when either is outside the supposedly 'normal' age range). What was especially insightful about this narration was how much joy and laughter and sheer silliness the protagonists could share, despite, or perhaps because of their mature age.

The youngest protagonist, Kartik, is a teenager bearing the fall out of his much older brother's delinquency. Although brilliant, Vishwas is first suspended, and then, later on, rusticated from IIT Mumbai. Perceiving his presence to be a bad influence on their younger son, Kartik's devastated parents send him to live with his grandparents in Nagpur. There he continues to feel as though he is under observation all the time. Although he does not wish to hurt his parents in any way, he is burdened by this constant need to be the good son, and suppresses his emotions so as not to rock the family boat any further. He has to accompany his grandparents everywhere (which is why he is attending this wedding), and is most upset by his every movement being monitored through the lens of his brother's misdeeds.
"Everyone is terrified that I will 'follow in Vishwas's footsteps' as if I'm such a fool or such a baby."

Anandi Mohini has seen a fourteen year old marriage end, thanks to her husband's unhealthy dependence on a psychoanalyst under whom he wished to train. He ends up as a long term patient, and the marriage erodes with the constant criticisms of this third party.
There is no dramatic abuse or single traumatic event that triggers the break up. This chapter has a wonderful description of how a divorce makes a couple the focus of intense scrutiny and unwarranted judgement."How dare anyone presume to know what exactly went on in a marriage, and what exactly was the last straw. How the eff can they talk so much about an accident just by glancing at the skid marks? You then learn to live a little bit like a celebrity- accepting that stuff will be said about you and written about you and assumed about you,without anyone bothering to check for the truth." After two years of a lonely single life, Anandi is willing to seek conjugal happiness once again. Her NRI cousin has a friend who seems to be just her type, and she travels to Chicago to see if she can find conjugal bliss once again. Things seem to be working out well, until, a few weeks later, she realises that Mr. Just My Type has no friends. When she asks him, he says he has decluttered his life. Although this does not make sense to her, she ignores her own instincts, returns to India to wind up several matters, and makes yet another trip to stay with JMT. She decides to make friends of her own, but her attempts are met with strong disapproval from JMT. "In his script, whites shot you and blacks raped you and the yellow peril had to be avoided like the plague. Life here for him was colour coded with no room for shades and hues." Things seem to improve during the Indian festival season, until she realises how utterly hidebound and reactionary JMT and his Indian friends really are. He even disapproves of her interaction with a pair of neighbourhood dachshunds. Although she sees all these, and several other pitfalls, she is loth to admit to another error of judgement and to cut her losses, despite feeling stifled in the relationship.
In the company of these strangers, she acknowledges her deepest fears- that perhaps she herself is impossible to get along with, and is destined to be a lonely old bag lady who will die alone.

Sahil Baig is a newsreader whose "news channel and I both got carried away during the 26/11 reporting." His channel survives fairly intact, but thirty year old Sahil has to hide his face and hang his head for being overzealous and the "immature face of TV journalism."
His lady love deserts him in this difficult hour. It slowly dawns on him "that TV anchors were a much hated lot- doing our 'we are the judge, we are the jury and we are the hangman' act every night." He begins to wonder whether there is something fundamentally wrong with his profession. He is much reviled upon the Internet as well, and decides that he needs to get away from all mass media. A visit to an exhibition of photographs of great classical musicians by Raghu Rai, catalyses a change in perspective- "I felt a huge pang of envy, for this purity of performance and intent.........It cast a deep shadow on the performance and intent of jerks like us in the media." Having found a little peace at last, Sahil is unfortunately captured on camera apparently trying to pick up girls at a bus stop. This proverbial last straw makes him leave town, and stay in a remote forest sanctuary for twenty days. He stays with Jagat and family, local people who have built a machan room in a tree near their huts. Jagat's children walk miles every day to go to school. He is asked to help Omkar, one of Jagat's boys, who does not fare well with his studies. Sahil finds that the boy has many other skills, and tries to foster them. He plans to go back to Dajipur with a plan, and make an actual difference to some lives.

Nurse Sajani finds herself on the verge of suicide. She has been nursing elderly patients for several years, in different parts of the world. While in New York, old Dr.Baijal passes away, leaving her a handsome bequest, and although she would like to return to India she is persuaded by his son and pregnant daughter-in-law to stay on for the impending delivery of their baby. "After years of working with the old and dying, you would think I would be happy to deal with the demands of the newly born and thriving. But this is the thing: I had become fed up of the human body." She takes care of the baby when his mother goes back to work, but the isolation of being stuck on the 17th floor of an apartment building in Manhattan constantly preys on her nerves. When, in sheer despair, she finally tells him of her desire to jump from the 17th floor, young Dr. Baijal immediately arranges for her ticket to Trivandrum, glad that it was not too late. She goes to live with her brother and his family in their ancestral home in Allepey, and is soon fed up of being treated as a caregiver and nurse by the entire family."On and on, as if they had no doctor or no clinic or no home remedies or no common sense before I landed there." She is glad that this group of strangers is talking only of emotional issues, not physical ones, as the human body and its illnesses and decay have utterly exhausted her.

The last chapter tells of the estrangement between Professor Natrajan and her son, Pparan, who, despite a brilliant academic record and a degree from Harvard, is a Bollywood scriptwriter. His change in perspective and life style do not go down well with her, and she finally moves out of the family apartment. She even finds herself lamenting Pparan's life choices to her late husband's portrait! "I badly missed Nattu's voice that had always held so much reassurance for me, resonating with his strong sense of perspective and continuity. He would have said about Pparan's U-turn into Bollywood:'Ah the silly donkey...but he's our donkey,no, Ambi...cut him some slack.' But I couldn't, I just could not cut him slack." After initial success, Pparan faces some rough times, and resorts to various forms of what Ambika calls mumbo jumbo to help turn the tide of his fortunes. Although Ambika knows that she needs to be more accepting of her son's choices, she is so trapped within her own perceptions of what he should and should not be doing that she is unable to break through these barriers. Pparan is her only son, and she wants to reach out to him but is unable to do so.

The final chapter has the six protagonists communicating to each other the results of their taking the wise counsel of the strangers they had all once been. A shift in perspective has been all that each one of them needed, something which perhaps only a kind stranger could give.
Gouri's writing speaks to me at many levels. Her characters largely inhabit middle class worlds, and the idioms are familiar. Her deep love and knowledge of Hindustani classical music and Urdu shayri shines through this book, as well as her warmth, compassion, and great sense of humour. I love the W.B.Yeats quotation on the fly leaf of this book: "There are no strangers here; only friends you haven't yet met."

Monday, August 2, 2010

New Addition!

The boys grow more and more handsome. The black beauty in the second photograph is the latest addition to the family- she came to my younger daughter's home in April. She rarely sits still, so most pictures of her are of a black blur. She sometimes visits the boys, who are united in their bewilderment at this mischievous creature who skids around the house at top speed. I'm longing to meet them all, and especially this beautiful new addition to our family.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gifts from our children!

Besides the indescribable, non-material gifts our children give us, they sometimes give us beautiful material objects as well!
My daughters fell for this beautiful kalamkari bed cover, and brought it for us on their last visit. Although it was intended to be a divan cover, I thought it far too beautiful to not be in our bedroom, so I added block-printed panels to the sides, and voila! The tree of life cushion covers on the bench are from Tilonia, bought years ago at an exhibition in Chennai. (The bedside lamps, from Fabindia, were also given to us by our older daughter, who was tired of the mismatched lamps we'd been using. I had to replace the lampshades, after melting the original ones with high-wattage bulbs! The photo frame in the last photo is a gift from The Mad Momma).
When my sons went on a brotherly trip to Goa last year, they brought us this beautiful bronze bell which hangs on the curtain rod outside our room, among other interesting things. It has a lovely deep tone, and both the tall sons often manage to ring it quite unintentionally!
The older son also bought us this extraordinary Azeri rug from Isfahan, on his recent trip to Iran. I find the design and weave most unusual, and love the muted colours.The elephant print cushion covers are from Jim Thompson, and were given to me by Moppet's Mom when we visited her in Thailand in 2008.
Our children's gifts make them a constant presence in our home, even though they are rarely physically with us! God bless you all.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Most In-tree-guing

This beautiful rain tree is part of my morning walk route. I wonder what happened to it, and when. It looks as though it had been struck by lightning. Despite the damage and the dead half, it is still vibrant and alive. The dead part is now hosting another plant.
I love this tree.

Monday, July 19, 2010

For the Tulika Blogathon 4

The two rhymes that follow are from my husband's community, and are in Derewali, the language spoken in Dera Ismail Khan, across the Indus, part of what was formerly known as the North West Frontier Province.

Dangda hai vanh dangda hey
Maamey di dhee mangda hey
Maama dhee nis denda
Chacha sath karenda
Chachey di dhee kaanhi
Te ghinsi lal Pathaani

The boy jumps and jumps
Asking for his Maama's daughter
But Maama doesn't give his daughter
Chacha offers his
But she is blind in one eye
So he will get a red cheeked Pathan girl.

kitthey gayee see
Headmaster mar gaya
Pittan gayee see

Where have you been
The headmaster's dead
I went to mourn.

Tulika blogathon:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Welcome home!

My older son brought me this beautiful rug from Iran on this visit.
It is so lovely that a) I had to decorate my room around it, and b) I had to show it you, my gentle readers.
The divan is in the dining room. The long carved sticks you see on the corner table are whistling sticks from Bhopal- you twirl them around at speed and they whistle!

Edited to add: More interiors here:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Great Big Whoppers!

My major sins against gender stereotypes are the ones I have committed as a mother, in bringing up my children. This was despite having a rather domestically challenged husband, whose 'challengedness' can be attributed to a)having three older sisters and b) being in a boarding school/college since he was ten years old, and c) being too absent minded for his own good! He still does make the occasional cup of tea, and is a non-fussy diner.

My girls have been brought up to be competent human beings, who can deal with whatever the world and life throws at them. Both of them are independent people and live life on their own terms.
My boys have been brought up the same way. As they grew older, they were expected to do various chores around the house. Laying the table for dinner and making tea for me in the evening was just a part of their routine. (They can be incredibly lazy bums at times, and my older son has even kept the blender jar in the freezer after making cold coffee, and on one occasion made rice without washing it first). I never even thought of this as anything unusual, until a Malayalee guest who'd come home for dinner expressed her shock and awe at the sight of a teenage son of the house laying the table. (This was perhaps twelve years ago).

Life skills are independent of gender and must be imparted, insofar as possible, to every child.
All children should grow up to be reasonably competent human beings, capable of fulfilling their survival needs on their own. Restricting them to roles stereotyped by gender is doing them a great disservice.

Edited to add: I had written something on the same theme some months ago.

Monday, July 5, 2010


One of my earliest memories of dissent with the SRE goes back some three decades or so. The man was sulking and did not talk to me properly for three or four days. I was extremely miserable, and tried my level best to find out what was bothering him. With great difficulty, he finally disclosed all- one of his shirts had a cuff button missing. I could have cheerfully clobbered him for being so utterly stupid about something so trivial. Firstly, I did and do believe that all grown up human beings should have the skill to sew on their buttons. Secondly, if he did not possess the necessary skills to do so, why could he not speak up and ask for the damn button to be replaced? Mind reading is not a necessary by-product of love. Many shirts and buttons and squabbles later, though, much has changed in the SRE-Dipali household.

Digression- the SRE would always sleep in a kurta-pyjama, preferably white, and preferably ironed. As long as we lived in Lucknow, this was never a problem, since we had a press-wallah dhobi living in our garage, who did all our ironing in lieu of rent. As our children grew up and away, and more aware of the world around them, Fabindia kurtas were discovered and adopted.
In 2005 we were going to Goa on a vacation with some of the SRE's college batch mates, and our younger daughter came to stay with my parents while we were away. On a shopping trip to Chennai, she insisted that the SRE buy some shorts and t-shirts for his holiday. Till then, the SRE never wore short sleeves or t-shirts. So that vacation marked the beginning of an era, as well as the end of one.

It so happens that middle age often brings about a phenomenon known politely as middle aged spread, and less politely as a paunch. This anatomical feature makes the force of gravity on pyjamas stronger than before, which leads to grubby pyjama hems which also tend to unravel. Over the past few months, several pyjamas revealed unravelling hems. Some new ones had been bought, but needed to be altered to the correct length. Given that I was extremely preoccupied with my parents over the past several months, the pile of mending kept growing and was just not tackled. The SRE was mostly sleeping in shorts. One night, recently, he said very gently, that he would like to sleep in pyjamas sometimes. I realised, to my utter chagrin, that all his pyjamas had landed up in the mending pile. He even suggested that I outsource the repairs.

The very next day I set up my sewing machine and mended for an entire morning. Not only pyjamas, many of my salwars needed their waistbands stitched up. Since all these clothes had been sitting around in various piles for months, I washed them all and ironed some pyjamas. The SRE now has a respectable pile of pyjamas in his wardrobe, and will wear shorts to bed when he feels like it, and not because he has to.

I think about the SRE's long journey from sulky silence to patient forbearance, and thank the good Lord for giving me this wonderful partner on the journey of my life.

My sins against gender stereotypes

Starry has tagged me to list at least ten things you have ever wanted or done which your gender is not supposed to.

I'm not really sure what either gender is supposed to do or not do, as I never grew up with such notions. My brother had left home before I could perceive any great difference in our roles, and my father did all kinds of things, including chopping vegetables and shelling peas and cleaning bathrooms, as well as painting walls and cycling to office. Also, Enid Blyton's Famous Five was part of our growing up years, so tomboyish interests were reinforced by George's character.
My mother did try to instill some lady like traits, but I don't think she got very far.

I. I climbed trees well into my teens. I still would if I could!
2. I whistle. Quite tunefully, when I'm in form.
3. I rode a bicycle well into my forties. (That too, a male version- used to pinch my son's bike for an early morning chukker). Now I have no accessible bike- maybe I should get me a lady-like one for my old age!
4. I've eaten out alone, in fast food places, and in malls, because I'd rather eat alone than starve when I've been out for hours. I might just take myself to a good place for the pleasure of it, one of these days.
5. I've watched two movies alone, and intend to see more.
6. Although I've made good friends on my morning walks here in Kolkata, my walking is not dependent on them. I've walked alone quite happily for years and years.
7. I'm the handy person in my house- hammering nails, making minor repairs where possible.
I used to clean the ceiling fans till I fractured my wrist. I still change the curtains myself.
8. I sometimes swear like a trooper, under extreme provocation.
9. I enjoy looking at pretty girls:)
10.I used to wrestle with my older son when he was eleven or so.
11. Pushed our old Ambassador when it wouldn't start.
12. Had a childhood fantasy of being a motor mechanic. I also collected various odd tools and bits and pieces which I loved fooling around with. I also played with dolls, and loved being a veggie seller as well:)

Tagging twelve people seems rather difficult, but let me try. I tag The Mad Momma, Gauri, Aneela, Rayna M. Iyer, desigirl, Eve's lungs, Maid in Malaysia, Radha, The Soul of Alec Smart, Rohini, Surabhi, and Banno.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Father's Day 2010

My heartfelt thanks to all of you who sent your sympathies and condolences, and my apologies for not acknowledging them individually.

Yes, I do know that Father's Day was two weeks ago. Although it was the first Father's Day without my father's physical presence in this world, it was all about him and it also became his wonderful gift to the SRE. Because we were holding the Satsang marking his demise on this Sunday, all four of our children came to honour my Dad. The older son actually cut short a vacation in Iran to be with us all. This was the first time since the younger son turned eighteen (in 2008, when we flew to Delhi for a day to surprise him) that we were all together, and the first time that all four kids were with us in Kolkata. We did miss our son-in-law, but it wasn't possible for him to get away.
My sister had come in earlier on the Thursday, and we immersed our father's ashes in the river on Friday. That was a heartbreaking, final moment. The children all came in on Saturday evening, and much hilarity ensued, as we tried catching up with each others' news. After feasting on the kebabs that the SRE had ordered in, as well as the vegetarian kebabs I'd made, and some delicious cake from Kookie Jar, all dinner plans were shelved. Our younger son and daughter decided that the local chaat-wallah had to be visited, as his gol-gappas were not to be missed. What was most amusing was that we started out at the dining table, camped for various periods in all three bedrooms, and then finally at the dining table once again, when the SRE and I decided that a little dal-roti was required. ( My dining table deserves a blog post of its own- it was bought in 1985, has had the top changed, the chairs re-caned a couple of times, and is fairly battered by its travels across the country. I wouldn't want to part with it, though, as long as it's remains standing, as it has been the heart of so much family time, and the seat of wonderful conversations with family and friends). Somehow we decided that we had to go to bed if we were to function the next morning.
The SRE and I were up and thinking of having our tea when the older daughter walked in, with a cheerful "Happy Father's Day." The older son joined in soon. The older daughter discovered that an old bread-wallah came to our building with fresh brown 'bakery' bread, which was absolutely delicious. A little while later the bell rang. It was a tall, beautiful arrangement of golden lilies with a handwritten card for the SRE. The younger son and daughter had gone and ordered this while ostensibly out for puchkas! The older daughter slipped four gift-wrapped packages into it, and called the SRE. There were four body washes from The Body Shop, one from each child. The older son took some photographs, which he hasn't uploaded yet. We had planned to go out for an early lunch and come back early to make the necessary arrangements for the Satsang, but since the older son and the SRE were up and about, we decided to use this available man power and move all the furniture that we had to, so the maid could clean up while we were out. In the meantime, my sister and the younger siblings woke up, and by noon the family was ready to leave.
We had an early buffet lunch at the Floatel, which was new for most of us. The view of the river was spectacular. However, I could only think of the traces of my parents' ashes meeting somewhere in that grand sweep of water, and had to concentrate on the food to banish my gloom.
We got home to an expanse of an empty, gleaming floor in the drawing and dining room. The man power and I once again spread out every rug and carpet in the house, including two beautiful durrees that the older son brought from Iran on this visit, and covered them with various bed covers. Then the SRE and I went to get some flowers. Garlanding my father's photograph seemed like the final acknowledgment of our loss. We snoozed for a while, while our trusty driver went to collect the boxes of prasad. I wore a beautiful handloom saree which I'm sure Daddy would have liked. ( He used to travel a fair amount during his working life, and would pick up lovely sarees for my mother from the various places he visited. He also loved to see us dressed in sarees. My mother had spent the last few years mostly in housecoats, and my sister rarely wears sarees. I'd try and wear a saree whenever I visited my parents in the few brief years that we were staying in Noida, while they were in Delhi).
The first guests arrive. There are several local satsangis, part of my natal religious community, friends and relatives. My sister's husband has flown in specially for this.
The room fills up with some 40-50 people, while the Satsang commences. The prayers are beautiful, and it is hard to curb my tears. Once it is over, prasad is distributed and the satsangis leave. The friends and family stay on for a while, catching up with our children, while tea is made and served. There is much merriment and laughter, and I'm sure my father would have really enjoyed this celebration. We get the house back to normal, and a couple of friends, who could not come earlier owing to a previous engagement, come to pay their respects.
Finally, it is just the seven us for dinner. I had made preparations for minestrone and baked corn and spinach a day earlier, which I quickly assemble, while my sister makes a salad. Ice cream follows, followed by a sprawling all over the room session in front of the TV.
Everyone leaves over Monday and Tuesday, including the SRE. I'm quite exhausted with all the excitement and three trips to the airport, (made so that I can spend each possible minute with the family) that I have no problem being all alone at home.
A week later my sister tells me that her daughter's marriage has been finalised. I am, in my heart, quite sure that this is a blessing from my parents.