Friday, September 30, 2011

The Puppies

According to my daughter's latest bulletin, the two brown puppies are females, while the dark one is a male.

Even more brand new!!!

The mother with the newborns
The proud father (on the left) and uncle.

Our family's youngest dog, the beautiful black cocker spaniel Mahi, delivered her first litter yesterday. The mother and babies are doing well, but since she is not letting anyone near them, we don't yet know the sex of the puppies. One of them didn't want to suckle, so has been fed by a dropper- yes, he's a boy, who has been named Piglet (for now, at least).
The vet had said that the pups were likely to be black, since it was likely to be the more dominant fur colour (the father is the pale gold American cocker spaniel, the bigger dog in the picture), so we are very pleased to see the little golden brown pups.

More puppy updates as and when I get them!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Brand New!

My old computer has finally retired, after several attempts to revive it over the last year or so.
During the last couple of months I would actually give the CPU a tight slap to start it, poor thing. It would also spontaneously shut down, which was, as you can imagine, extremely annoying. The monitor's colours had been looking quite ill for about a year, and there were many programmes that were next to impossible to use on it. After much thought, I decided to get a new desktop, rather than a laptop.
My younger son and one of his friends have done a marvellous job in planning, buying, assembling and installing this new beauty. They have also loaded it with some wonderful music. Thank you, boys.

Our first computer was bought in late 1995, I think- an HP Beanstalk. I still remember the mouse being completely out of my control the first couple of times I tried to use it. It was replaced about four years later with a model that connected to the telephone line, and e-mail became a part of our lives. Domestic internet usage was limited in those days, and the kind of instant connectivity we have today was unimaginable. The third one was bought from Chennai, when we were living in Gummidipoondi- I used that for about seven years! That was the machine on which I started blogging (the one which has just been made redundant, poor thing), and which gave me access to some wonderful writing and some great friends. I wonder what changes will occur in this new machine's tenure!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guilt Trip

The Bride wanted to know if this malaise (of mommy guilt) affected moms in a different generation from hers. I'd say that it was endemic!
The first time you accidentally poke your poor baby with a nappy pin, you die of guilt. (The fact that the said baby was wriggling away to high heaven is completely besides the point). The baby who was safely immobile, suddenly rolls over and lands on the floor, screaming. The infant who tumbles out of your arms and falls, and throws up........ remembering all this will induce guilty nightmares, I think.
Then the years of school, and homework, and unwilling to do the said homework children and your reaction to them. Smacking your kid because he/she didn't lay out his school uniform the night before and is now hysterical because the wretched school tie can't be found in the morning rush.........
The scared faces of your kids when you and the spouse are engaged in a gargantuan fight. You wonder how deeply you are scarring them, but the battle continues....
It goes on. The reasons for the guilt may change, but the guilt remains. With grown up kids, again, you can feel guilty about practically anything.
The SRE and I had gone to Bhutan last July. Our tickets were booked, and we were leaving early on a Monday morning. The youngest kid was home from college that weekend, and I also had a house guest whom I had to entertain. The son was not too well on Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning was running a high temperature. Our doctor was consulted and medicines were started. Our guest was sent to the airport with the driver. We seriously contemplated cancelling our trip, but were duly scolded by the unwell son. We thought we could drop him to the hostel on our way to the airport, but we had a very early flight, so that didn't make sense either. My trusted maid works only part time, but she promised to look after him and feed him, and said she was just a phone call away, if he needed anything after she had left.
The driver was also given a shopping list of soups and fruit to buy for the invalid. I knew that the boy would be miserable all alone and ill, but he insisted that he would be alright and that we had better go as scheduled.
We called him as soon as we landed at Paro, we called him from Thimphu. I'm sure we were calling him with irritating frequency. We were pretty miserable holiday makers ourselves until we spoke to him on Tuesday afternoon- he was much better and was back in the hostel. (Afterwards he did acknowledge that being all alone and ill was no fun at all).
Talk about a guilt trip.
I don't think you can ever be immune to mommy guilt, even when your kids are adults, leading there own lives, running their own establishments. If you are aware of anything wrong in your child's life, it's probably your fault anyway!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Of Flipkart, mysterious disappearances, and two scatterbrains.

The narrow table in the dining room as it was in 2008.
The same table, as it is today.
Our bedroom window sill, and Boseji's corner.

In recent months, Flipkart has become my new best friend. It is just so easy to order a book online and have it delivered to your doorstep in a couple of days! Flipkart has made me forget both my beloved lending library and my main reason for borrowing books from the said library- not enough space in any of our bookshelves. This reasoning has never appealed to the SRE, though- he is an inveterate book buyer. (I'm not quite sure whether he ever finishes a book, or whether he absorbs it by some kind of osmosis, but that is almost completely besides the point).
A narrow table, which used to have decorative thingummies and a fruit basket on it has become a bookshelf with the help of bookends, but is also overflowing. My bedroom window sill is laden, as are other odd surfaces, as you can see in the photographs above.

When the older son was visiting us this summer, Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke was gifted to him by the fond parents. He read it at top speed, and I borrowed it from him, knowing full well that since he would not be taking it back with him to the USA, the other kids and I could read it at leisure. I read it, and lent it, along with The Immortals of Meluha, to Sue. It came back a while ago, and was kept on the narrow table along with The Secret of the Nagas, a more recent acquisition, courtesy Flipkart. I'm sure you know that River of Smoke is a large book, not easy to lose, but that is exactly what I did.

I was talking to the oldest child a few days ago, and since the youngest kid will be travelling to Delhi by train this October, we decided that I would send several books across with him, including River of Smoke. I pulled out several books that I had enjoyed from my window 'shelf', and dumped them on the narrow table. I was, however, puzzled to find River of Smoke and its companions missing from there. Being me, I vaguely wondered where the books were, and then got busy doing something else.

At the back of my mind, though, there was a niggle. Where were those three books? I looked into all our various bookshelves, even under the cloth covering the narrow table, and in some random unlikely places just for fun, but there was no sign of them.
The younger son had been away from Kolkata, so he had hardly been home, but I still asked him, this weekend, if he had, perchance, borrowed them. He said that he hadn't, so I let my brain worry a bit more.
This morning I asked the SRE if he'd seen them. He said he remembered seeing them on that very table, but had not touched them. He wondered if the maid had cleared them away. That, I said, was not possible, because she never touches our books. He looked at his half-unpacked-since-Thursday-evening-suitcase lying on the bedroom floor, and asked me to look in there, and of course there were no books to be seen. (Quite surprisingly, he hadn't bought any on his last trip). We remained most puzzled, and realised that there had been no recent visitor to our house who could have possibly taken the books- the last non-resident, non-family, non-regular worker was the electrician, repairing and replacing a ceiling fan which was moaning and groaning away to high heaven, making so much noise that it was impossible to live with.
An unlikely book pincher, we thought. There had been no guests, either.

The SRE thought that either we or the books were now in a parallel universe. I thought that maybe they had chosen to dematerialise just because I was planning to send one of them off to Delhi. Such things have been known to happen, especially in my life. We were pottering around in the dining room, and wondering what could have possibly happened, when I suddenly remembered . I flicked aside the curtain above the divan, and there was the missing threesome, all present and correct. If I could have kicked myself, I would have. Once again, it was the Cleaning Monster's fault, coupled with her general absentmindedness. Since I was sick and tired of seeing piles of books all over the place, I thought of commandeering the dining room window as an interim book shelf, and at that time the only extra books on the narrow table were those three, and they managed to be completely hidden by the curtain. (In the first picture you will see a single curtain, in the second you can see one of a pair, drawn back to let the light in).

I do try very hard to be organised, but ours is a big household, and if something is not kept in its designated place, it can be very difficult to locate. And cleaning sprees, or clearing up stuff in a hurry, can lead to some major displacements. I still shudder to think of the time I'd managed to misplace all of our life insurance policies. Phew. Yes, original LIC policies, which I had cleared away into the unlikeliest of places. However, (thank God for this), I'm not the only one. One evening I gave a slim plastic folder of credit card statements to the SRE, who had needed them for income tax reasons. Within minutes, though, the folder went missing. He was sitting on the bed, and the folder was supposed to have been kept in one of the drawers of his bedside table, but it was nowhere to be found. We went through all the drawers, and he hadn't moved from the bed, but there was no sign of the wretched thing. We gave up in despair, wondering anew at our foolishness and the malevolence of inanimate objects, and went to bed. The next morning I was, once more, inspired. I pulled out all the drawers and found the folder lying bent, at the back of the chest which the drawers slide into. Bah. The drawer was so full that the poor folder got squeezed out of it. No malevolence, no dematerialising, and no parallel universe.

I am absolutely convinced that we are made for each other. And that we also need a competent secretary, archivist and librarian in our home.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Confusion of Being Us

The golf course at the Tollygunge Club

The SRE and I have dovetailed certain idiosyncracies into a strange pattern that usually suits both of us, but sometimes has innocent bystanders wondering at our sanity. This morning was a case in point. The specific idiosyncracies relevant to this morning's fun are as follows:
1. The SRE hates carrying a house key if he can possibly help it.
2. I'm paranoid about taking my personal house key out of whichever handbag I'm using at the time, so if, at any time, I step out of the house without my handbag, as, for example, when I go for a morning walk, I take the 'spare' key.
3. I do not take my mobile phone out for a morning walk.

I left for my walk at five thirty a.m., not quite sure whether or not the SRE would go to play golf or not, although he had planned to. When I got home, the car was still there, so I asked the car cleaner to come up and take the car key. The car key wasn't in its usual place, so I went into our room to check. There was no sign of either the car key or the SRE. (Yes, I even knocked on the bathroom door). His wallet, however, was lying on the dressing table, which was odd, because he needs to carry it to pay his caddy. (Besides the minor fact of his driving licence also being ensconced within it). I was rather puzzled, then looked to see if his golf clubs were in the house or not. They weren't, so I tried calling him on his mobile phone. I kept getting his caller tune, but no SRE.
Picking up the spare key, his wallet and my phone, I went downstairs to look for him. The car was still there, and the car cleaner said that he was walking around the building. The watchman told me he was in the lane outside our building, and there he was, trying to call me on my mobile phone.

The poor man was most relieved to see me. He had come down at six a.m. and realised that he had left his wallet in the house. He started heading out on the route I regularly follow, but then realised that Nature seemed to be calling, so he thought it prudent to walk around our building.
Unfortunately, if you walk in a more or less circular path around a building, there is a great chance of missing someone walking in through the single pedestrian gate, especially if that person doesn't know that he or she is being looked for. It would have been simple enough for him to tell the watchman on duty to tell me that he was walking around the compound and waiting for me. I think he had too much on his mind to think of such simple solutions, poor man. After several rounds he probably thought that he was more likely to find me in the lane. Also, he wasn't answering my calls, as his phone had been 'silent' since the important meeting he'd been attending all of yesterday. An unanswered ringing mobile phone is something I find truly nerve-wracking.

I think we were both quite overjoyed to finally find each other. He did go and play golf, with his wallet! I am seriously thinking that both of us need to change a habit or two, to prevent such chaos from happening again. Knowing us, though, we may well find some other way of totally confusing ourselves.

Monday, September 5, 2011

To my mother, on Teachers' Day

My oldest child calls up on Sunday morning with a huge smile in her voice.
She is returning from a two and a half hour breakfast meeting with Ma'am, who was in Delhi for a short while.
I'm smiling too, inside my heart.

I am proud to be a part of this wonderful lineage of teachers, even if it's been years since I taught a class.

I recently came upon my mother's old school certificates. She had completed what was known as the Vernacular Lower Middle in 1940, and the Upper Middle in 1943, growing up in a small town in U.P. By the time she passed her upper middle school exams, at the age of fifteen, she was already married, taking care of an ailing mother-in-law, who did not survive for long.
Her firstborn, my brother, was born when she was a little over sixteen years old.
My sister was born when she was twenty five, I when she was twenty seven.
My parents spent their early married life in fairly turbulent times. They were staunch nationalists, and would go and hear Gandhiji speak when they could. My father managed to study as well as work in a government office, and had graduated in 1953, thirteen years after he had passed his high school exams.
In 1957 my father was selected for a posting in England. He sought his father's permission to leave the country, and was told that he was free to go anywhere in the world as long as he could take his family with him.

My earliest memories are of our house in Teignmouth Road, of my mother helping us make clothes for our toys, particularly for our golliwog. And satin drawstring purses from remnants. I remember being utterly fascinated to see how turning a raw-edged piece of sewing inside out gave it a smooth finish.
In 1959, my mother attended English language classes. We remember her textbook, Essential English. I also remember not feeling happy the evenings she wasn't at home. Her fondness for learning didn't abate- she did baking courses (despite never eating cakes or eggs) and lampshade making courses. In the early sixties she did her Montessori training, and my sister and I were absolutely fascinated by her neat 'homework', files and boxes of flashcards. We used to love going to her school when we could. She would ensure that we learned Hindi from her, against our inevitable return to India, despite our protests. There is a whole lifetime of memories associated with her, far too many to write down here..........
There is so much I have learned from her, despite the inevitable differences which often cropped up between us as I grew up. But, as a young child, I could not have wished for a better teacher.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lost and found!

The SRE and I have a strange relationship with Salt Lake. It is a part of Kolkata that we have to drive past every time we go to the airport, we know people who live there, and the youngest child even goes to college there. There are parts of it we are somewhat familiar with, and are able to reach with relative ease, but these are few and far between. It is, in theory at least, very well planned, with few traffic lights within the area, instead of which there are innumerable straight roads (rare in Kolkata colonies) interspersed with equally innumerable roundabouts.
Here is a map which shows you the layout of this township.

The SRE and I first got lost here a few years ago when we went to drop young Suki home after watching Sue act in Proof. Suki guided us to her home, and also gave us clear instructions on how to get out of Salt Lake, but being rather dumb and befuddled by the darkness and roads which all look just the same, we managed to get ourselves well and truly lost. Since it was late it was also hard to find someone to give us directions, but we eventually got back onto the main road, and back home.
Early in 2010, a good friend of the SRE was in town. We sent our driver to pick up the couple and bring them home, and then dismissed him. The four of us went to the club where we were all meeting yet another couple for dinner. We decided to drop our friend and his wife back to Salt Lake, and actually managed to follow directions and not get lost. What a triumph!!!

A short while ago we learned that a dear cousin of the SRE and her husband were moving to Kolkata, and were staying, for the time being, in a guest house in Salt Lake. I went over one morning and spent the day with her, my trusty driver locating the place with relative ease. We called them over for dinner with us on Saturday evening. I did ask them to stay over, knowing fully well that locating their guest house at night would not be easy. However, they decided to go home and the SRE insisted on our dropping them there. We did get very near to their place before we got majorly lost in the grid of straight roads and roundabouts that is Salt Lake, since the cousins are also very very new to the place. A few confusing/confused directions were taken from a stray cabbie or two, and we deposited our most relieved guests at their gate. After which we proceeded home, getting misguided by the lack of street signs and stray guides who gave us the most flimsy of directions. We ended up several kilometers off track ( my only comfort being the fact that our petrol tank was full), when we reached a broken down road which had a metro line being built over it. This brought us to the Salt Lake City Centre, from where I more or less knew my way! One wrong turn and a u-turn to correct it, and we were back on familiar, known roads. Such awesome relief! I think I've told you before that I am the family navigator, but it is a role that I find exceedingly stressful now. I still like to follow the routes I'm driven on, and to note to myself the landmarks on the way, and the SRE doesn't utter a cross word either, but I feel huge silent waves of unease emanating from the poor man when he doesn't know which way to go.

Being lost and found that night got me thinking very seriously about life and beyond, and how important it is, if one is to tread unfamiliar paths leading to something worthwhile, to have a road map, and a guide to help you understand the way, and how to overcome the perils on the path. Ustad Amir Khan's wonderful dhrut bandish in Raga Marwa comes to mind-
Guru bina gyaan na paavey. Here is Rashid Khan singing this beautiful, meaningful bandish.

Going through the various journeys of a single lifetime, one encounters many guides and teachers. Even within a single relationship, one is both the teacher and the taught. The other day the SRE had to pay an emergency visit to his dentist, on a day when the driver was on leave, so I guided him around the long way that I knew well. He needed to make another early morning trip the next day, and proudly called me from the clinic, having got there comfortably all by himself. I felt most proud of my dear pupil! I cannot even begin to list the number of things he has introduced me to and taught me about, areas in which I am now reasonably competent.
Children, friends, enemies, strangers, pets, Nature.........all can teach us valuable lessons.
And if, like me, you are lucky enough to have Ma'am as your teacher, you can never be lost for long! In the most difficult of situations her wisdom and common sense shine like a beacon, guiding you through the trickiest of life's situations.

Truly, as the Adi Shankara said in his Gurustrotam:

Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara. Guru Sakshath Parambrahma, Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha.
(Translation: Guru is the creator Brahma, Guru is the preserver Vishnu, Guru is the destroyer Siva. Guru is directly the supreme spirit — I offer my salutations to this Guru.
Source: Wikipedia)