Tuesday, December 4, 2012

November disappeared

with just a single post from my keyboard. There were two weddings in the family, both of which meant being away from home for much of the month. There was more manipulation of the operated toe, which, perhaps, deserves a post of its own! What was really amazing was the solidarity of our family, and the joy of meeting old and new friends. Totally enriching, this November!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Book Review: Another Man's Wife

Manjul Bajaj's collection of nine short stories is a worthy successor to her debut novel, Come, Before Evening Falls. She takes you across the country, from Bengal, to Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir, Chennai and Gujarat. Each story is peopled with wholly believable characters, reflecting aspects of contemporary Indian life, as well as some eternal truths.
As always, her wealth of knowledge of topics as varied as the technicalities of Kathak, varieties of mangoes, jazz , agriculture, chikan embroidery, self-help groups, and tribal culture and traditions,  adds immensely to the richness of the narrative tapestry she weaves.

The first story, Ripe Mangoes, tells a tale of betrayals of love and relationships, as well as the acceptance of these betrayals. A married woman, much to the chagrin of her adoloescent daughter, sleeps with her children's resident tutor. The truth of their relationship, and that of the narrator and her husband, is an eye-opener.

Crossed Borders tells the familiar story of a household servant murdering his employer and his family, for a reason that is wholly plausible. It seems like a trivial reason, but he is realistic enough to know that nothing will remain the same, and he has to take the  salary owing to him, a huge sum for him, and leave. Things go horribly wrong, and he has four deaths on his hands. The story of his escape and subsequent redemption is grippingly told.

The Birthmark underscores the tragedy of sex determination in the state of Punjab, and how a stray 'birthmark' changes the course of events for Bhushan's family, particularly for his wife, their erstwhile servant, Ulsha Minj, who has been 'imported' from her native Jharkhand.
Where had Bhushan got her? From the cattle market in neighbouring Haryana. He had bought her outright, he said, with the money they got from the sale of the buffaloes. They needed a woman around the house desperately.  Bhushan's mother tries to ensure that Ulsha Minj aborts her female foetus, but fate has other plans. The story ends on a positive, heart-warming note.

Me and Sammy Fernandez is a tragic story of a love soured by suspicion, violence, and bloodshed. The narrator, Cory Dinshaw, has been an ardent fan of Amethyst Fernandez, a famous Goan singer, and is shocked by her suicide. Her son, Sammy, is also a singer, and Cory falls in love with him. It is a difficult situation, as her parents, particularly her father, are loath to have her mary a non-Parsi. Marriage, however, changes things between them. There should be a rule against letting lovers marry. It's like allowing the blind to walk the tightrope. Or taking fish out of water and asking them to swim. Or asking HIV positive men to donate sperm. Reckless. Irresponsible. Doomed from the word go. The very first night of their married life, Cory sees Sammy's brutal, paranoid behaviour. Cory finds it hard to leave this marriage, though. First there were my parents.......Before I could apologize and tell them I had been wrong in marrying Sammy, they apologized and told me they had been wrong is opposing my marriage......Then there was Sammy's dad. I felt responsible for him.......But most of all there was Sammy and me- the glorious mess of us....... The final truth is I never left because, though I was eventually cured of my love for the son, I never quite got over the mother.

Marrying Nusrat tells the story of a the impact an outsider has on the life of a sleepy UP village, and the fascination the narrator, an adolescent boy, feels for her. Nusrat's interaction with Yakhni Begum, the 'official' sarpanch of the village, begins with the old lady aiming a slipper at her.
Nusrat had caught it deftly and stood there gazing at it, appraising it from all angles, insouciantly humming a tune all the while. Then she shook her head and sighed. 'I really don't know what the angel would have made of this offering of yours, badi ammi.'  The old lady throws a second slipper at Nusrat. And Nusrat had caught it deftly yet again and grinned happily. 'Ahha! Now this is much better. Two slippers I know what to do with.'  Nusrat charms the old lady with her story of the angel and the gift of  "chakeen", and before she leaves that afternoon sets up a meeting of all the women in the village the following week, in order to establish a chikan-work cooperative. There is, of course, much resistance from the menfolk, especially from Yakhni Begum's son, Jameel, the de facto sarpanch, but the old lady gets her own way. How Nusrat helps establish the cooperative is told in fascinating detail, including what the narrator thinks is a 'pyaare', which turns out to be a PRA, a Participatory Rural Appraisal!  The author is poetic in her description of chikan work: Chikan had a whole language of its own-of butis, motifs of elephants, fishes, birds and lotuses, and bels, creeper patterns named after jasmine and roses and other vines and jallis, trellises of various kinds created with a delicate parting of the warp and weft of the muslin to reveal a finely patterned mesh. Nusrat's marriage to a Stockholm based groom leads to her leaving her job. However, fate has other plans............

The Deepavali Gift narrates how wealth and its appurtenances can shackle the lives of its owners.
What was it about this house? The whitewashed exteriors, the large high-ceilinged rooms, the spacious verandahs on all four sides, the neat, well-appointed lawns, the vast stretches of kitchen gardens and fruit trees, its boundary wall located too far away to see with the naked eye- all spoke of a cool detachment. Yet it clung heatedly to its daughters like a jealous mother. The protagonist, Jujube, finds herself trapped by the often trivial decisions she is forced to make: The sensation of being trapped inside a pettiness not of my own making overwhelmed me. Those mugs, these cups, how did any of it matter? Surely I deserved bigger battles than this? Her trusted major domo, Jugal, asks her to make the Diwali list Each year every member of the staff and their families got a Diwali gift, handpicked by me. Jugal, Pratap Singh, Maya. These were the inner circle. Then the head gardener. Plus Sarita's driver...... Munni. The new girl who came in to help Munni with the dusting and beds. The younger mali and his family........The outside sweeper..........The woman who cleaned the inside of the house. And the other woman who came to do the dishes...........I had mastered the complex socio-political realities of the minefield called the servant quarters, and gave the task the careful attention it required. Jujube wonders about what to get for her orphaned niece, Sarita, who lives with her. Her gift is a shocker, but is ultimately a wonderful gift indeed!!!!!

 'Under a Moonlit Sky' is the name of a houseboat on the Dal Lake, where the honeymooners Rohini and Venkat are well taken care of by Bakhtiar and Mehjabeen., who run the houseboat together. On learning that Rohini and Venkat have had a love marriage, Mehjabeen is enchanted, and feels that this is a bond between the couples, for she and Bakhtiar have also had a love marriage. For the next five days the two couples gravitated towards each other. Every night the discussion inevitably veered to Love........Bakhtiar brought to the love stories such an urgency that it did not seem as if they were long-gone legendary lovers that they were talking about.........Back in the real world after the brief honeymoon, Rohini found out that in more routine circumstances love didn't blossom and flower as naturally as it did in Srinagar in springtime.........It needed careful tending and constant watering to be kept alive. Although they live in their own company apartment, and not with Venkat's parents, coping with Venkat's mother turned out to be tougher than anything Rohini could have envisaged.......The harder Rohini tried to adapt, the less she seemed to measure up in his parents' eyes, his mother vocal in her criticism, his father remote in his coldness. Venkat does his best to keep her happy, and they do have happy times, but Rohini's inability to conceive adds greatly to their stress. Rohini does send Mehjebeen a photograph on every anniversary, of something beautiful in her life. In the meantime, the turmoil in Kashmir has greatly affected normal life there, and Bakhtiar finds himself estranged from Mehjabeen owing to a newly adopted, highly unethical business practice. Although they have two beautiful children, Mehjabeen is heartsick.......The shared memories of the two couples, however, lead to an unusual denouement.

Lottery Ticket talks of the aspirations and the reality of a middle-class family in Delhi, in the North Campus/ Kamla Nagar region.The needs of the younger generation here are opposed to  the needs of the older generation,  and this turmoil is perceived differntly by different members of the same family. Ravinder and his wife Sukrita both teach in the university, while his mother has been running a dhaba from her home in Kamla Nagar ever since she was widowed, several years ago. That property is now extremely valuable, and selling it would help finance their brilliant daughter Shreya's higher education abroad. Sukrita has seen some retirement homes that she feels would be suitable for her mother-in-law.  Manjul brings poetry even to the description of a domestic spat: He had managed to get hold of the stale toast brittleness in his voice and spread a layer of sour sarcasm over it. Sukrita knows that she and her mother-in-law have totally different views on something as basic as food: In Biji's universe food was a cultural construct, a measure of civilization; a deeply moral and complex ethics underlay the preparing and sharing of it. For Sukrita food was fuel, something to keep the body going- nothing else. Two value systems as disparate as hers and Biji's could not share one kitchen without bloodshed and grief. Shreya's brother Ronish is one of the most interesting and appealing young characters I have come across in recent times.The flapping of a butterfly's wings in Brazil could cause a tsunami in China. Ravinder had spent an entire weekend talking to Ronish about the butterfly effect after the Class 10 boards, hoping to enthuse him about chaos theory and the possibility of a career in the sciences.........Ronish didn't want to study the effects of the flapping of a butterfly's wings. He wanted to be the weather changer. A beautiful story of love, relationships, and the tensions within a family.

I'm not at all sure of how to bring to you the essence of the title story in this collection, Another Man's Wife. It begins with a beautiful narration of tribal life, wherein Kuheli, who has recently come to the village after her grandfather's death, marks Devji, the most eligible young man of the community, as her own.  His friend Goku's cousin, she was a newcomer  to the village, sent here to her mother's relatives when her grandfather died and there was no one to look after her. The grandfather was an old badava, a tribal medicine man and a famous diviner of water. The girl and her grandfather had lived together, all by themselves, in the depths of the reserve forest flanked by the Sahyadri mountains on one side and the Amnbika river on the other, emerging only when summoned by villagers for important feasts and consultations. Manjul's descriptions of tribal life and customs are lyrical. The seasons come and go, impacting their lives greatly. Hunger was a habit they could all begin to unlearn now, if the rains continued to live up to their early promise. In the last few months even the game and fruit from the forests had begun to decline as the monsoon failed for the third year in a row.
A major disaster strikes when the government decides to evacuate the village, along with several others, to facilitate the construction of a dam. Compensation for the proposed displacement had been distributed a few years ago, when the land was surveyed. No one had told Devji's father or the other villagers that the electricity and irrigation water from the dam wasn't meant for them. Or that their lands were going to be submerged by it. The sufferings of the displaced were immense. The only work available for them is manual labour. The children suffered terribly, for both Kuheli and Devji had to work at the canal site, where they were engaged in digging out the earth on the canals which were being relined. Their five-year old, Nanlo had to fetch the day's drinking water, feed Babla and himself the food Kuheli cooked and left behind for them, tend to their three remaining hens, safeguard their belongings and protect himself and Babla from bullying and attacks by older boys and no-good drunken perverts. After Nanlo falls seriously ill, Kuheli goes back to their old home to seek a solution to their problems, and is utterly distraught at seeing the destruction of their beloved forests. But her grandfather's words come back to her: There is always a way through the darkest forest, train your eyes so they can see.  The solution, however, brings an even more devastating situation in its wake. One of the local contractors, Dhansukh Bhai, decides that he has to have her............. How does the disempowered family deal with this, when their very survival is at stake? Kuheli's courage and her ability to keep her family's welfare as her sole priority make for a riveting story.

The Amrita Sher-Gil painting on the cover adds to the elegance of this remarkable collection, which is totally contemporary and often subversive. The elegance of her writing and the strength of the narration makes this a book to dip into time and again.

Another Man's Wife, by Manjul Bajaj, 2012
Publisher: Hachette India

Friday, October 19, 2012

Inspired by Violence

Eina Ahluwalia grew up in a secure home with loving parents, who always treated her and her younger sibling with respect, from earliest childhood. The world outside the home, however, is not very respectful to young girls and women, and Eina found her blood boiling when walking down the street could mean a man brushing past her, or eyeing her breasts, or just touching her when/where he could.  However, this rage had to find expression, and it did so in an unusual medium: the medium of jewellery.

An MBA followed by a few years in the corporate world left her dissatisfied. She had been designing jewellery in her free time, and felt that it was her calling, her chosen medium to express her creativity and her thoughts. After bidding adieu to corporate life, she devoted herself to her art. She also carried out a lot of research on the Internet, in order to understand international trends in jewellery design, as well as the relatively recent field of conceptual jewellery. She was fascinated by the pioneering work of Ruudt Peters, in Holland, and trained with him for a while, as well as at the Alchimia Contemporary Jewellery School in Florence, Italy. Not only are her designs the result of deep soul searching, they are executed by a handful of craftsmen who still practise the art of fretwork, handcrafting each piece, thus preserving a traditional craft heritage.

I first became aware of Ms. Ahluwalia when she came to give a talk at a women's club I belong to. It was an amazing morning- interactive and fun, where we all got into an animated discussion of why and how jewellery was worn down the ages. What really took my breath away was the video presentation of her Wedding Vows collection, at the Lakme Fashion Week 2011.

From her website: http://www.einaahluwalia.com/home :
"I am Durga & Kali. Love, Respect & Protect me. Or else I will." This collection is an empowering stand against domestic violence, which permeates through social, economic, professional, religious boundaries. Our concept note above, outlines the physical, sexual, psychological nature and definition of domestic violence and alongside, upholds the three pillars on which a marriage stands - Love, respect and protecting each other. It also reminds the women (and warns men) that they have the power of the goddesses Durga and Kali, and can stand up against violence and protect themselves. Some strong motifs that invoke the power of the goddesses are swords, knives and the trishul, weapons of the goddesses themselves, all intricately worked, beautiful and grand like wedding jewels traditionally given to a bride, and yet, symbols of empowerment. The underlying message is also to the families that their daughters' trousseau must be strength, support and knowledge, and not just gold. The trishuls also are symbolic of the trinity of Love, Respect and Protect, which as words, are also motifs used in the jewellery.

Eina has always been amazed how a culture which worships the goddess in the form of Durga and Kali can often treat its women so badly. This collection was inspired by hearing from women close to her how insidiously marriage to an abusive partner could drain them of their sense of self-worth, beauty, desirability, economic independence, and isolate them from their sources of emotional sustenance- these are all subversive forms of abuse, as well as the more obvious cruelty of physical violence. The scars and bruises of emotional abuse do not show on the body, but they can destroy a woman just as much. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to recognise a potential abuser prior to marriage, though there may be some warning signs.

These facts have been recognised by the 2005 legislation, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Since there is widespread ignorance of this legislation, Eina had the Act printed on the palla and pleats of two sarees used in this show. She also created many large, 'unwearable' pieces of jewellery for the show, making strong statements: One is a large placard across the chest, saying 'Violators are subject to arrest', and a round, 'No Entry' sign at the level of the pelvis, saying No Entry Unless Authorised. She has also made a huge necklace from lava rocks and a skull, as a subversive version of the traditional mangalsutra, symbolizing the fact that any mistreatment of the woman can invoke the Goddess Kali within her.

Many women in the audience were very moved by this show. What was interesting was that several men have ordered the Wedding Vows collection for their wives!

Of course, violence has not been the only source of inspiration for this remarkable young woman. Her other collections- Containment, Forgotten Jewel, Byzantine, Rose Window, among others, speak of a deeply committed, thoughtful, soul searching creativity. I am truly privileged to know Eina.

Photographs courtesy Eina Ahluwalia

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In Memoriam

I just got to know that Dr.K.K. Haridas is no more.

He was an important part of our lives, seeing the SRE through a very serious illness and associated surgery fourteen years ago.

It is hard to believe that this extremely dynamic, and incredibly hard-working doctor is no more.

May your soul rest in peace.

May your family and colleagues find the strength to go on without you.

May the blessings of the thousands of patients you have helped throughout your life always be with your family.

The world is diminished by your loss.

Monday, October 8, 2012

October 2012

We are already into the second week of October. Do check out the posts on the site.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Footling business and the mating season

I've been away from home for a while now, as I have had  surgery on my right foot, minor corrective surgery which entails what feels like the very long recovery period of three weeks. I am staying with my older daughter, and the SRE is actually managing on his own, with some help from the younger son on weekends, the part time help who makes his dinner when he is in town, and my neighbour, who has the most important role of guarding my spare house key with her life, as well as opening the house for the maid when she comes to work in the morning.

I am doing well,  hobbling around now, going for slow walks in the colony premises, and being thoroughly pampered.

I also have  cuddlesome canine bedfellows, as I like to have the air-conditioner on at night ( my daughter and son-in-law are not using theirs these days) and it is the dogs'  birthright to sleep in whichever room the a/c is running. You cannot, however, close the door, as both the boys like to check on their owners whenever they feel like. This used to mean a wide-open door and inefficient cooling. A strategy has, however, been devised, in which the curtain is drawn across the doorway, so the door can't open very far. I am now the official a/c person in the house- even if I'm outside in the drawing room, I am barked at so that I may go and switch it on. I don't comply, of course, most of the time.

What has been very very educational is the love life of the family dogs! The black beauty is in heat. Her first lot of puppies are now a year old. When she came visiting last weekend, we had a tough time keeping her away from the resident males, as there were plans afoot to mate her with a friend's dog. The friend and her dog both proving unavailable, this week was a different kind of circus. Both the apso and the spaniel had spent a very frustrated week, during which the little apso kept trying to mount the male spaniel, and kept getting yelled at for this unseemly behaviour.

As soon as the female came home this weekend, we had the equivalent of a canine orgy. Finally, of course, the male and the female spaniels mated to their satisfaction, leaving out a very unhappy little apso. We have been wondering what strange puppies would emerge if such a union happened to take place. It is, however, extremely unlikely, as she is so much taller than he is. Our little chap has not conceded defeat yet, though. He  keeps jumping on her head, trying to get her to sit down, and of course she doesn't oblige. Each time he tries mounting her from the rear, she just shakes him off, and the poor little chap tumbles down, only to try, try again. The male spaniel, of course, watches smugly from the sidelines. He has been wearing a very satisfied grin since yesterday afternoon. My younger daughter has been scouring websites, looking for a suitable match for the poor little chap, but has not yet found one. Apparently dogs come into heat once in six to eight months, and have a gestation period of  a little over two months. Let us see if he finds a mate this season. Last night the dogs were thrown out of my room as the little chap just wouldn't stop his antics, and the big one won't stay put the whole night. The female has been enjoying all the attention, and teases the little chap mercilessly when he finally desists. Let us see what form the canine circus takes tonight!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Covered in memories!

In my daughter's home,
on a recent visit
I found these cushion covers
still in use.
The stitches are worn through
in many places, and should be
as I'd made them some twelve or
thirteen years ago.......
(I still have have the 18" steel ruler
with which I drew the lines, with tailor's chalk).
My mother-in-law had fractured her hip
And we had to wait a few days
for a home nurse to come and stay with us.
I'd be in her room for most of the day
leaving her only to cook for the family
or to go to the corner shop for vegetables
while the part-time help sat with her.
I might have read, but maybe not.
I could embroider a simple running stitch
while listening to her stories
of long ago, and attending to her needs.

It was probably a blouse piece that
was lying around the house,
that beautiful flat in Kochi
with strangely shaped rooms.
I would surely not have had the time to go shopping
for cushion cover material!

Biji came, the first home nurse in our lives
this Malayali girl who knew a bit of Hindi
Who could handle her patient with care
And they'd manage, somehow,
to communicate.

I've always wondered at the strangeness
of life, what takes you where,
where you live, where you die.
It's just so strange that this
rosy cheeked lady
from the North West Frontier Province,
who lived in many cities
mostly in the north of the country
spent the last three years of her life
in a part of the country that had never
figured in her life before...........

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On Teachers' Day

My favourite composition for this day- Ustad Amir Khan singing Guru Bin Gyaan Na Paavey- a dhrut composition in Raga Marwa


This is followed by an exquisite dhrut  in Raga Darbari.

I must add that I first heard of Ustad Amir Khan from Ma'am, who has been my teacher ever since I first saw her (a while before I actually met her) in 1972!

Saturday, September 1, 2012


I cribbed about the ladder outside my bedroom balcony yesterday. It was there this morning.  There was some loud chanting in the afternoon, just when I thought a siesta was in order, and I peered out of the balcony to see a loudspeaker affixed to the lamppost, but no ladder. I muttered under my breath, as I am wont to do when loudspeakers violate the peace of our otherwise quiet area, but was genuinely thankful that the ladder was no longer there.

I think I should blog about whatever problems I have, it seems to make them disappear!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Why are you still here???

This ladder, propped up on a lamppost outside our compound wall, has been around for about ten days now. It is standing tall, just outside my bedroom balcony, perhaps a good twenty feet away, but nonetheless impinging upon my visual space.
Please go away soon, Mr. Ladder. Doesn't your owner want you any more? Don't you have any other important work to do?
Or is it just me, getting annoyed by an inanimate object well outside my orbit?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Been away

Our travelling shoes seem firmly stuck to our feet.
The SRE and I spent the weekend before this in Gorgeous Goa, where we couldn't meet the wonderful Aneela, who was celebrating Eid out there, ( but then we were in Delhi this weekend, so we did meet her).
Our Goa trip was for the SRE's IIT batch reunuion, and a fine, frolicsome time was had by all. We had planned to spend an extra day in Goa, but the powers-that-be decided that the SRE 's presence was required elsewhere, so I actually spent the extra time all by myself, which wasn't bad at all.

I must tell you, gentle readers, how inspiring some of the SRE's batchmates are. One of them started learning Hindustani classical vocal music after he turned fifty, and is, within the space of 8-9 years, most adept. All of us thoroughly enjoyed the recital he gave us, and wished it had been longer.
Another one is treating patients, with great success, through an alternate healing system known as Su Jok. There are too many stories to share here. Mostly,though,  we were busy having fun, catching up, and forgetting that all of us were in our late-ish fifties!

Three nights and two days after our return from Goa (we both returned to Kolkata on Tuesday evening) we went to Delhi for some important personal work.We got back late last night, glad to be home again!

Of course I remembered Lalita on the 26th- it's been four years without her, four years of remembering her with or without reason- the turn of a phrase, the shape of a head, a voice, a crossword clue, a place we visited together, anything can remind me of this friend who was part of my life for so short a while. I miss you. There is so much I would have enjoyed sharing with you.

My blog will be five years old tomorrow. God bless you, dear blog. May you continue to enrich my life for many many years to come.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The ''Just Married, Please Excuse'' Contest

I'd recently blogged about Yashodhara Lal's delightful book, Just Married, Please Excuse, and I'm sure many of you, my gentle readers, have read it and enjoyed it thoroughly. Yashodhara is hosting a contest through the month of August, and though there's not a lot of August left, here goes!

Although we had been courting for about a year, our actual wedding was arranged in a hurry as the SRE had taken up a posting abroad and had to join within two short weeks. So there were several glitches and absentees, no printed wedding invitations, a change of timing at the venue, which led to a very significant member of his family strolling in with her kids after the ceremony was over, but let me not digress......

We got married in Delhi, and were leaving the next day for my mother-in-law's home in Agra. The SRE's middle sister was based in Delhi, and so her home was the venue for the baraat. We were both quite reluctant to spend our wedding night in the midst of a house full of relatives, so the SRE decided that we would stay at the Lodhi Hotel for that night. We'd had, unusually for non-Sikh North Indians, a morning wedding followed by lunch. In the evening it was decided that we would go and pay the ritual visit to my parents, visit a cousin of mine who'd had recent surgery and so could not attend the wedding, visit another old friend of mine who hadn't been able to attend the ceremony, and then book our hotel room. After these visits, all of which were fortunately in South Delhi, we would go back to Didi's house for dinner, and then leave for the night. The SRE's uncle, who was a senior official in a small mining town, had an official car at his disposal, which he very kindly lent us. Three of the visits were uneventful. At the Lodhi Hotel, however, the two newly married geniuses, having emerged from the hotel lobby after booking their room, realised that they had no idea of which car they had been travelling in all this while. All we knew was that it was an Ambassador, at a time when most cars in India were either Ambassadors or Fiats, with the occasional Standard Herald thrown in for variety. The parking lot was full of Ambassadors. We weren't quite sure of the colour, either. We didn't know the driver's name. There was no such thing as a cell phone in those days. We walked up and down the parking lot, hoping that the driver would spot us and come up to us, but no such luck.
We pondered and puzzled over the Mystery of the Missing Car, with no solution in sight. We didn't want to call up the uncle and ask him, because a) we didn't want to look stupid (which of course we were) and b) he may not have known the car number himself! Finally, and most reluctantly, we asked the doorman to call for Mr.Taneja's car which had come from Sarvodaya Enclave, and to our utter relief, the relevant Ambassador trundled up to us!

We've lost many many things in the intervening years, including our tempers, money, the older son in a mall in Bangkok, (whom we luckily managed to find), books, papers, you name it, we can lose it. But you can rest assured that we haven't ever lost a car again!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

For a young man I never knew

You are no more,
A young man I never knew,
Yet knew of as part of
a dear friend's family

You ended your young life
in despair so deep
that you couldn't go on
despite medication
for the depression that
claimed your life

Learning of your death
shook me up in many ways
I grieved for you, your family
All those who loved you
And yet whose love
was not enough
to conquer your despair

The darkness of your end
showed me light:
my love needs to reach
those I care for,
Unblocked by rage, resentment
and an unwillingness to forgive.
It needs to flow in open channels
Reaching all whom I care for

Let me not add to the grief in this world
I pray, through thought, word or deed
Let love, joy and peace be mine,
Enough to have, enough to give

May your soul rest in eternal peace.
I thank you for helping restore mine.
Rest in peace, I pray.
May your loved ones be blessed with peace.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Delightful, honest, heartwarming

These are the adjectives that come to mind when I think of Yashodhara Lal's book, Just Married, Please Excuse.  Anyone who has read her blog Y On Earth Not will know that Yashodhara's accounts of self and family make you laugh out loud. I wonder, sometimes, whether it's the inhabitants of her world who are so hilarious, or her unerringly accurate view of them. Probably both, I guess.

                Just Married, Please Excuse is one of those books that can be read several times over, for the narration, the deceptive simplicity of the language, the amazingly funny imagery (a bridegroom looking like a tube of Colgate toothpaste immediately comes to mind), and the endearing quirkiness of the characters. Yashodhara does not spare herself at all, either, whether it be her predisposition to 'tamper tentrums' or her much verbalised yearning to be herself at all times. Vijay, her husband, is responsible for much of the hilarity in the book, although he ultimately proves himself to be a hero, albeit an unlikely one. The trials and tribulations of a newly wed couple from very different backgrounds can easily be identified with. Even couples with similar backgrounds face many of these issues. Throw a not-really-planned pregnancy into the mix, and the enormous life changes that an  infant brings into a young couple's life, and  much drama ensues. I sincerely wish that I'd had a book like this to read when I was newly married, several decades ago- it makes you feel that you are not alone, fairly clueless in the uncharted, often rocky seas of marriage and motherhood. There are several deliciously quirky characters apart from the couple themselves, affectionately and accurately portrayed. There is absolutely no malice in Yashodhara's writing, but she is keenly observant, and portrays each major and minor character in convincing detail. Her mother's penchant for always being right, her friend Vivi's utter cluelessness about elementary Geography, the hilarious interaction between her Mumbai helper Zarreena and the baby's maid Kajal, who comes with her from Delhi, their driver Vinod, the love and respect with which her parents-in-law interact with each other and with all around them, Vijay's previous attempts at romance, our clueless protagonists going to buy land, Vijay's Florence Nightingale tendencies....... all these provide a great deal of background detail, enriching the tapestry of Yashodhara's and Vijay's life together. The occasional dialogues in Hindi add flavour to the book, as does the ubiquitous alu gobi! Love alone is not enough for a happy marriage- it needs to be accompanied by trust and wisdom, a lesson which is ultimately learned by our hapless protagonists.      

                   I am eagerly awaiting Yashodhara's next book. In the meantime, Just Married, Please Excuse is great to re-read right through, or to just flip through, again and again.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Yoga-ing away

Finally, the SRE and I decide to get a yoga teacher to come and give us both lessons.
We know that we lack the discipline to exercise on our own, despite our golf and walks, respectively, with which we are more or less regular.
Our teacher started our classes last Thursday. He gives us customised, separate lessons, based on our physical status and individual health issues.
The SRE is much lighter and lither than I am- the following are my personal experiences.
Deceptively slow and easy moves, mostly.
The discovery of many many new sets of muscles, which were quite sore after being woken from their perennial slumber. Thursday and Friday were agony. We relaxed over the weekend, and now, after a walk plus yoga, there are hardly any aches and pains. I did have a two hour siesta this afternoon, though.
It feels wonderful to learn something new.
Yayyyyyy yoga!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just read

The Householder by Amitabha Bagchi. Dealing with the travails of a corrupt central government employee who lives in Delhi with his family, I found myself compelled to finish it as soon as I could, to the detriment of various pending household jobs. The characters and the language are authentic, even the translations of stock Hindi idioms are charming- 'doodh ka dhula' becomes 'washed in milk', which sounds very real in the voice of Arti, the protagonist Naresh Kumar's wife. The domestic details, the nuances of relationships both within and between families, a happily married man's long unexpressed desire for another woman, a visit to the North East which transforms him in more ways than one, the corruption which riddles our institutions, including the police, a murder where an innocent man is framed out of sheer expedience, childlessness and the pressures it brings about on all concerned............this rich mixture is handled with amazing flair. The depiction of life in sarkari New Delhi strikes a chord with many of us who have lived there, as do the the pleasures of eating icecream at India Gate and chaat in Chandni Chowk. The city never intrudes, yet is an integral part of the story.
I haven't read Amitabha Bagchi's earlier book, Above Average (2007), but after reading The Householder I definitely will.

Here is a more detailed review.

The Householder by Amitabha Bagchi, published in 2012 by Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Suno Bhai

My friend Bindhumalini and her friend Vedanth Bharadwaj have brought out this beautiful collection of  Kabir bhajans. It is available on Flipkart. I got my copy a couple of days ago, and have been playing it almost endlessly. They have sung the compositions of great Kabir singers like Kumar Gandharv and Prahlad Tipaniya, with original, modern musical arrangements. Most of all, though, it is the beauty of their voices and the emotions they bring to their rendition of these timeless songs that appeals. I'm eagerly awaiting their next offering in this genre!

All the songs are wonderful, but the most magical is the last- "Naiharwa."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

To my Mind- please listen carefully.

Dear Mind,
I am tired of your judgemental nature,
the way in which you are blocking
the free flow of love from my heart,
the anger you keep generating,
the grievances you make me recall.
It tears me to pieces, this dichotomy,
between what I think
and what I want to feel.
The heart wants only to love freely,
joyfully, thankful for what is,
but this foolish mind of mine,
it practices sheer bloody-mindedness
in its endless judgements of those whom I love.
Desist, Mind, I've had enough.
Let love win this round, please.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Completely floored

by this beautiful old floor. I was out for lunch with a friend, and was so involved in our conversation that I never noticed this beauty until she happened to drop a coin on the floor! I love this elegant design.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It's been a while

since I wrote a post. Much was happening in our lives- our older son got married, the SRE had a health scare, so did a very dear cousin (both of them are fine now), we had a voltage surge that caused a lot of damage, including the messing up of our newly painted walls near the fuse box.
Much fun and laughter with family, friends, mehndi, songs, dance and celebrations across three cities. Going to visit my sister's grandson, the youngest member of our family. He was nearly six weeks old when we met him- as the younger son famously said, after stroking a tiny sole-"Thoda kaccha hai."
Fatigue beyond belief. A house that keeps demanding tender loving care, as do its inmates.
A blog that has been sorely neglected.....
Life goes on.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Strange dreams

My daughter's dog
was nibbling away
At my fingers in my dream
Nipping and nibbling, and I wondered why.
I'd been looking after her and had
forgotten to feed her for two whole days.
I nearly died of guilt in my dream.

And then, equally weird:
I'd called home a dear niece and her family
for dinner,
and time kept passing by,
it was getting later and later
and I just couldn't cook.
Strange, tired dreams.

The house is a lot cleaner now,
freshly painted, decluttered.
Maybe the old brain needs
a thorough springcleaning.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Well, perhaps not as dire as a Mayday call, but the merry month of May sees us have the painters in, so life as we know it will be suspended for a while. I am wondering about our twin passions for books and music, why they have filled our house with treasures that at the moment are just so much stuff that needs to be carted around the house. My other passion for colour schemes and colourful ceramics also adds to the confusion. I think we are extremely brave and foolhardy!
The SRE returned from his travels yesterday, and has kindly decided to take half the day off, while we get organised for the painters. We are lucky to have a company guest house that we can stay in for the duration, so at least we can sleep and eat in comfort.
The last load of curtains goes into the washing machine. The computer is shut down till further notice. All your good wishes for my survival and sanity are required!
Au revoir, my friends

Sunday, April 29, 2012


A dear friend and her daughter were visiting us. We managed to visit some places in Kolkata that I had not seen in my almost six years stay here, including the Mallick Ghat flower bazaar. (I had not heard of this either). We were quite fascinated by this large area on the banks of the Hooghly, where there were loads and loads of flowers, especially marigolds, in what seemed like a huge sabzi mandi, except that there were beautiful flowers instead of vegetables. An ancient looking building opening onto the river was found to be a ladies bathing ghat. I could imagine ladies from wealthy families being brought here in their carriages, attended to by maidservants while they took a dip in the river and came back into the domed, tiled and partitioned building to change their dripping clothes before they rode off again in their vehicles. Despite the heat, the humidity and the squishy leaves and debris underfoot, it was a great place to visit.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Go watch

Vicky Donor.

Entertaining, thought provoking, delightfully Dilli- Lajpat Nagar vs. C.R.Park.
An infertility specialist who talks about the 'strass' of modern urban life.
A delightful saas-bahu combo who drown their sorrows together most nights.
A lead pair who are made for their roles.
Very authentic people, lifestyles, even cliches!
Great humour, as well as sensitivity.
We just might watch it again!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Treasure House

I learned about this delightful initiative in Hyderabad from my friend utbtkids.
I am briefly quoting her here:

"Treasure House can be called a children’s library, but the thing is, it is much more than just a library. When you are there you feel the 7000+ books being carefully cataloged and cared for, the bright and spacious rooms inviting you, the amazing art studio inspiring you. You will feel like bringing you child and just being there, reading and participating in the programs they offer. If you live in Hyderabad, check it out, you will love it.

This is where I am to be found this summer, if you are looking me that is :)

I am designing a Summer Reading Program for TreasureHouse.

The program is called Reading Bugs.

It is for children age infant – 15."

Do visit her blog and the Treasure House site to learn more about this exciting initiative.

Friday, April 6, 2012

CSAAM April 2012 :What makes an abuser?

Sexual abusers of children seem to be present all across the social spectrum, they are of all ages, education levels, and may have varied relationships with the abused. It seems difficult to pinpoint the possible causes for such repugnant behaviour. At a gut level, one feels that either the abusers have been abused/bullied in their own lives, or have witnessed abusive relationships in their own childhood. There is, however, little hard evidence to substantiate this.

In this post I am citing three examples from recent literature and a movie, which illustrate the nature of particular incidents of CSA. The first example also reveals the antecedents of the abuser.

In Manju Kapur's book 'Home'- the protagonist, Nisha, is abused by her cousin Vicky while he ostensibly baby-sits her or plays with her on the terrace. Vicky is Nisha's paternal aunt's (Bua's) son, and he has been brought to live with his grandfather's extended family after the tragic death of his mother, in what was said to be a kitchen 'accident.' Vicky's father, an abusive lout, seems to be well rid of his son. An insecure, unloved boy, not really welcome in his new home, also dealing with burgeoning adolescence, Vicky seems to find some joy in contact with an innocent young cousin. Despite some suspicions afloat in the family, these are never verbalised. Rather than confront Vicky with his misdeeds, a traumatised Nisha is sent to live with her aunt, where she will be safe. Unfortunately, and inevitably, the young Nisha's tender psyche is deeply affected by these sexual explorations, and her first romance as a college student leaves her feeling guilty and besmirched when the liaison doesn't culminate in marriage. She develops a skin condition which plagues her for years.

In this scenario we understand that Vicky himself is severely damaged, and merely bringing him into the shelter of his maternal grandfather's home does not help heal his deeply wounded psyche.
He is well aware that what he is doing is wrong, and yet cannot stop exploiting young Nisha as long as he has the opportunity to do so.

In other stories, however, where the abuser appears as a fully formed adult, one can only guess at his motives to exploit the young and innocent. In The God of Small Things, the Orangedrink Lemondrink man simply takes advantage of the situation in which young Estha finds himself alone in the foyer of the movie theatre. The terror that the young child feels leads to tragedy.
Abusers such as this appear in the novel fully formed, with no inputs that tell us where they are coming from.

In the movie Monsoon Wedding, the bride's cousin Ria breaks down and talks of her own childhood abuse at the hands of her uncle, her late father's sister's husband, Tej Puri, when she sees him making similar overtures to a much younger cousin. Tej Puri is a wealthy and powerful man who has helped his wife's brothers during difficult times. His wife is outraged, and condemns her niece as a liar. For me, the most moving passage in the film is the scene on the following day, the day of the wedding, where Ria's uncle, the bride's father, tells his brother-in-law that he believes what Ria says, and asks him to leave his house. This is a scenario which is wonderful to see because it may not often be seen in real life. Families hush up 'these things', no one talks about them, and a cloak of secrecy usually permits the abuser to carry on with his perverted behaviour, especially if he is a powerful man or a benefactor of the family.

And yet, so many many people who have had difficult or traumatic or abusive childhoods do not, thankfully, go down this road. They learn to respect boundaries. Their moral code will not allow them to see the young as objects of lust.

As parents, besides protecting our children from sexual predators, we also need to ensure that they are well socialized insofar as other people's boundaries are concerned. Concepts of personal space, respect, appropriate touching, especially of members of the opposite sex, all need to be instilled. Our children also need to have sufficient affectionate physical contact with their own parents and siblings so that they are not desperate for physical contact, which can make them vulnerable to sexual predators.

There are no simple answers. What we can do to prevent our children from exploiting others in their own lives is, perhaps, simpler. If the family operates in terms of mutual love and respect, with zero tolerance of bullying and exploitation of others, perhaps we will get somewhere. In the meantime, however, we have to keep our children safe.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Brilliance of Moi- Part Deux

I amused myself quite thoroughly with my brilliance last March. It seems to be seasonal, since I did something equally brilliant today, just a few days later to the year!
I had to telephone a cousin in Delhi, whose number was not stored on my cell phone.
I took out my diary, looked up the number and dialled, only to be told that the number did not exist.
I then called up the cousin's sibling, who asked me to note down the number.
It looked very similar to the number I had dialled, in fact it was the very same number. Apart from the STD code, that is.

I had been trying to dial a Delhi number with the Kolkata STD code.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Just finished

Kiran Nagarkar's latest book, The Extras.
Go read it
Anvar Alikhan's review says it all.
It is wonderful reading about our old friends Ravan and Eddie again.
Nagarkar's brilliance shines on.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Granny Love

The frail old lady
accompanied by her family,
supported by stalwart young men
(and her four-clawed walking stick,
handed over to another while she ascends)
hoists herself up the stairs,
step by painful step,
pulling herself up by the bannisters
to reach the first floor apartment
where her grandson will have
the initial ritual with his bride-to-be.
Once she reaches the landing,
she asks her assistants to settle her saree pleats,
and give her a comb to tidy her hair.
She then pulls her necklace of gold beads
out of her cardigan, pats all garments into place
and enters the house,
beaming away.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kahaani- Please Mind Your Language

The SRE and I went and saw Kahaani last night. It was gripping, engrossing, and worthy of all the accolades it has been receiving. But, right in the very beginning we were disturbed by the thanks given to our Chief Minister. She is referred to as the Honorary Chief Minister of West Bengal.
I am quite sure that this is a total 'off-with-their-heads' moment.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Gripping Political Story!

The nitty-gritty of politics rarely appeals to me. I find myself observing the changing scenarios with a detachment that borders on indifference, which often makes me quite ashamed of myself.
Throughout the excitement and agitation of Anna Hazare's movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill, I was, as usual, perched firmly on the fence, knowing fully well that corruption in everyday life is a huge problem, and yet not at all sure what the movement would achieve. I still don't have the answers, but I am definitely better informed now, having just read Ashutosh's book: Anna- Thirteen Days That Awakened India. Ashutosh has been a distinguished Hindi journalist for several years now, both in the print media and in television. The opening chapter grips your attention with the excitement of the chase. Anna is supposed to have been discharged from Medanta Hospital, and it is not known whether he is heading for the airport or not. This is is April last year. Over the next few chapters, Ashutosh describes in detail the events leading up to Anna Hazare's fast in August. He also gives a personal perspective of major events that occurred in previous decades, which have greatly affected the Indian political scene, such as Jayaprakash Narayan's call for total revolution, Indira Gandhi's imposition of the Emergency , and the demolition of the Babri Masjid, many of which occurred when he was a youngster.
This is not a hagiography, but a dispassionate account of a series of events. The author freely gives his opinions on what he feels were the errors made at different times both by Anna and his team, and by various ministers and officials dealing with the fast. What is most fascinating are the accounts of different people who joined Anna's movement, people from all walks of life, age groups and socio-economic groups. Corruption affects all of us today, in varying degrees, sometimes with devastating consequences. (The recent film 'Paan Singh Tomar' shows how a national, record holding sportsman becomes a dacoit because his property is usurped by his cousin, and how both the local administration and the police refuse to help him regain what is rightfully his).
Let me add an excerpt from the blurb:
.......Ashutosh weaves together the story of the thirteen days that changed India. He had a ringside view of the developemts, stationed as he was at the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi, the venue of the fast, and had intimate access to the two warring parties: the UPA government at the centre and Team Anna. Evoking the Jayaprakash Narayan movement and Gandhi'd satyagraha, Ashutosh mines the history of India's post independence politics to understand the phenomenon that is Anna Hazare.

I feel very proud to say that Ashutosh is a part of my family.

Anna 13 days that awakened India, by Ashutosh.
Publisher: Harper Collins.
Price: Rs 199

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wasting, wanting!

There are two kinds of leftovers in my fridge
The ones that are eaten as they are,
or recycled in some other form,
but consumed, nonetheless.
They also definitely outnumber the other kind,
the few pitiful morsels that meet their end
in the kitchen bin, while I feel guilty
about wasting food,
and yet......
the rice which isn't enough to give away
the sabzi that my helper didn't enjoy,
and I have had my fill of, (and the SRE is away),
and the crusts that even the crows won't eat
(and how many breadcrumbs can I use anyway?)
the coriander leaves which turned into a soggy mess
and the three French beans which got left behind in the vegetable tray
and the tablespoon of baked beans, dried up and sad
(I never imagined that I could throw away a single baked bean
I loved them as a child, but now, the tin that was opened
for an urgent quick meal, contents transferred to a glass bowl,
those remaining contents
no longer hold any appeal)
more than guilt, the joy of an uncluttered fridge.
And I think of all the weight I put on
because of not wanting to waste food,
I am a monument to that childhood training.
I will still try not to feed the garbage bin
with edible food, but I will not die of guilt when I do!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sweet is the Songbird's Sound

Not just sweet. Also acerbic, hilarious, poignant, moving, spiritual, philosophical- so many flavours to Saaz Aggarwal's writing.
After reading her book, I wanted to meet the author, and tell her all the places in her book where I went 'Oh', and where I chuckled, and where I could say, yes, I know what that feels like, that is a pain that I'm familiar with, that is a joy that I've felt too!
I'd read some of her articles in Open magazine, notably the ones referring to her father's valiant battle with Parkinson's disease, and her sorrow at being away from her parents, in boarding school as a young child, among others.
Her poems speak to me.
Her world is familiar, and yet uniquely hers.
Somewhere, though, the Songbird strikes a familiar chord.
Whether I ever meet Saaz Aggarwal or not, I feel that I've found a friend.
You can read some of her stuff on the Songbird's very own blog.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Colour Mauve

The colour mauve was one of my mother's favourites.
Seeing various shades of mauve at the flower show this afternoon reminded me of some of her favourite sarees.
When I was a young child, nylon georgette was very exclusive.
Since we were living in London till the early sixties, we had access to Japanese synthetics- the good quality nylon georgettes had a code number- I think it was 644.
The first one that I remember had sprays of deep purple flowers along the lower half of the saree. The second one was sent to us later, when we had moved back to Delhi, and was mauve with a very fine print of deep purple half-circles, like protractors, with delicate traceries of whirls and whorls all through. I know she had many other sarees, but these two stand out in my memory, through most of my school and college years!
The third, the most formal of all, was a pure French chiffon, onto which my mother stitched a beautiful cream lace border. (Among other occasions, she also wore this for our wedding).
Mauve is not one of the colours I usually wear, but it never fails to remind me of my mother.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


While walking each morning,
I see the same yellow cab parked
at the head of the very last lane
on my route.

A young couple
(whom I rarely see)
are regular, daily passengers.

The old Sikh taxi driver,
grey beard flowing,
sits at the steering wheel
and reads his prayer book,
oblivious to the world around him,
so very peaceful.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Memories like sledge hammers
assail me out of the blue
A short drive home
from a familiar
pot-holed lane
evokes pain that leaves me
gasping for breath

It washes over me,
and passes
leaving me drained,
aware that it can
strike at will.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Smoke alarm, house guests and other chaos

The SRE and I were expecting the Akatha Kahani girls very early in the morning of the 14th of January. The 13th had been unexpectedly busy, and it was past eleven before I started winding up for the night, putting the house to bed, as it were. The SRE had already got into bed, when I smelled smoke. I checked the kitchen, the gas knobs, toaster etc., and drew a blank. I thought that the smoke could be coming from the central shaft between apartments, perhaps the security guards had lit a fire there. I called the watchman, but they checked, and no, there was no fire lit there. I asked them to send the electrician upstairs (one of two is always on duty in our building), and then called the SRE. By then there was a strong smell of burning and our sitting room, near the main entrance, especially, was full of acrid smoke. I opened all the windows, and the SRE checked the mains, which seemed fine. The electrician also came and opened the board, declared it to be fine, and said that the smell was more of something roasting, perhaps chicken in the first floor guest house. Just to check, he pressed our next door neighbour's bell. It turned out that they were having a havan. It was Lohri, after all!
The next day dawned very early for us- at around three a.m, as the train was reaching Howrah at around four a.m. Jaya had said that they would take a pre-paid cab from the station, but the SRE and I much preferred receiving them ourselves. We did nap later in the day, so that was not a problem.
While washing up the lunch dishes, my trusted help told me that something seemed to be wrong with the kitchen drain- there was a backflow from the main outlet. I wasn't quite sure what was wrong, and decided to ignore it and hope for the best. But by four o'clock, when we were washing up the tea things, I realized that there was a serious problem. Our other guests were expected at five, and it was already a quarter-past four, and the plumber was out buying materials. He finally came and did a quick emergency repair- he even managed to acquire the requisite part, and all was well before the programme commenced.
As the poet Robert Burns famously said:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley.
Truer words were never spoken. We plan to the best of our ability, but so much is out of our hands. Our well-being depends on so many factors, and also on the goodwill of so many.
Truly, there is no place for arrogance in our lives!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A little whimsy

We drove past a shop sign the other day that said Sur-o-bani Musical Shop.
I was utterly charmed by the very thought of a musical shop.
I could imagine it humming a tune to itself under its downed shutters.
Or dancing a little jig, or just tapping its feet to a really good tune that it happens to hear.....

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Celebrating Spring!

The SRE is travelling once again, so I managed to attend only a small part of the Dover Lane Music Conference this year. The younger son and I did attend most of the final night, and what a night it was- we heard absolutely wonderful music from master musicians- Ustad Amjad Ali Khan on the sarod, the vocalist Manjari Asanare Kelkar (whom I'd last heard about eight years ago), the wonderful N.Rajam, who makes her violin sing, and, finally, Pandit Jasraj, who sang just before dawn broke on Republic Day.

Today is Basant Panchmi, celebrating Basant, our very own springtime, a joyous season indeed!
Bengal celebrates Saraswati Puja today, a day devoted to the worship of the Goddess of Learning.

Our folk songs and classical bandishes have many compositions featuring the beauty and joy of spring. Here is Pandit Jasraj, singing a delightful bandish in Raga Basant, in which all the other ragas are part of the baraat, the bridegroom's procession, while Raga Basant is the dulha, the bridegroom!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Refreshing Change: The Reluctant Detective

One doesn't think of murder as a laughing matter. More than one murder, even less so. But when two murders happen in close proximity, near the housing complex in which the protagonist Kay Mehra resides, they become the raison d'etre for what is often a hilarious book.
Anyone who is familiar with Kiran Manral's blogs will recognise her self-deprecating humour, her patent exaggerations, her child's (former) speech patterns. Many of her concerns as a parent come through in the book: Kay Mehra's dread of Parent Teacher meetings in the school, for one, the child's desire for junk food another!
Detaching from the blogspeak, so to say, the book still holds true. The chapter headings themselves make you smile: In Which There is Never Anything to Wear, Close Encounters With the Police Kind, In Which Much Gaping at a Superstar Happens, In Which There Is A Typical Suburban Weekend, and so on. What is interesting is the effortless ease with which suburban life is painted, with detailed sketches of minor and major characters. Kay's compassion, empathy and her apparent psychic sensitivity make it imperative for her to get to the bottom of the murder of her fellow morning jogger, Sheetal Jaiswal, with whom she has just a nodding acquaintance. So nodding, that even the regulation condolence visit is a complete farce!
At the decent hour of 11a.m.,around five of us put on our white condolence and flag-hoisting and political meet purpose regulation salwar kameezes and appropriately mournful exzpressions and landed up at the E wing lobby, congregating like a flock of chattering seagulls. We took the lift up together in hushed silence though. The bereaved husband, however, does not entertain the women or their condolences, and they leave his doorway feeling most unsatisfied.
Kay reminisces: In the two years Sheetal Jaiswal had passed each other in the mornings, all we had done was crack an occasional wary smile at each other, not a single word had been exchanged by us,.........yes, it was true. She hadn't had any friends. What a miserable life she must have led:no friends, an antisocial husband, and weight that refused to shift itself.

An encounter with the complex's resident TV star Meena has Kay in form: I was torn between wanting to shoot her in the head for being so unbelievably slim, and asking for her dietician's number.
A few paragraph's later, she says, of Meena: I had always envied her life, national fame, a career to die for, no one to answer to, and the freedom to call for takeaway every single day of her life. And I was sure Meena envied my life in a way I couldn't understand, and definitely didn't want to understand on days when the child had me tearing my hair out in bunches........
And after the Parent Teacher meeting, Kay says: I love my food, I love buffets. When the two come together, especially after times when I am emotionally drained and hurting, like this, when I have had to sit through half an hour of being told why the child is well on his way to delinquency.......... I need food that was deep fried, and desserts which are steeped in sugar.

Kay seeks the help of an old school friend of hers, Runa, who happens to be a private detective. Since no one is paying for the investigation, Runa insists that Kay does the legwork, which is something that our dainty, lady-like protagonist finds rather unsavoury: This was a completely new twist of events. I was not cut out for blood and gore; I was a delicate, mincing creature, who, had I been Victorian, would have to move around with smelling salts in my skirts.
Runa, however, insists: Ask around. Ask the neighbours about the lady who was killed. Ask the security guards of her building.Ask her maids. If you spot the cops who came to meet you, ask them about progress in the case Go to where she was found, look around, see if there is something you can find.

Kay reluctantly does follow Runa's advice, leading to the capture and arrest of Sheetal Jaiswal's murderer.

A brilliant first novel, light hearted, yet accurate and oh-so-honest in it's portrayal of modern-day urban life. The various characters are sketched in with deft strokes, and of course you have to love Kay, with her struggles with her weight, her clothes, her son, and at times, her strong, mostly silent spouse.
Looking forward to many more books from you, Ms.Manral!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Akatha Kahani: The Event

Photographs courtesy Mallika aka Eve's Lungs

Since Saturday evening I've been trying to find the words to express what was, essentially, inexpressible. Not only is the Akatha Kahani an untellable story, the experience of it is also very hard to describe in mere words.
I can give you the bare bones of it- three women: an author, a singer and a dancer share their experiences and understanding of Kabir and how his couplets, songs and teachings have impacted their lives. All three of them relate their individual experiences. They sing together, in amazing harmony. The poetry and the wisdom of Kabir, unaccompanied by any musical instrument, set to the compositions of Kumar Gandharva, creates magic.

The first few couplets speak of the need for a Guru, a teacher, one who can show the path.

Avdhoota yugan yugan hum jogi speaks of a timeless, joyful spirituality.

A gentle request to the restless mind is soothing:
Dheerey dheerey re mana, dheerey sab kuch hoey.
Mali seenchey sau ghada, ritu aavey phal hoey.
(Slowly, slowly, oh mind, all will happen, but slowly
The gardener may pour a hundred pots, but the tree will bear fruit only in season)

Jhini jhini beeni chadariya is a beautiful song in which Kabir speaks of the Creator as a master weaver, who weaves an exceedingly fine cloth. One can imagine Kabir at his loom while he sings this.
The body, of course, is mortal, and one day the soul shall leave it: Ud jaayega hansa akela.
Archana's expressive hands and eyes brought tears to many an eye while this was sung.

The three singers' voices combine in a haunting harmony to evoke the powerful attractions of Maya, the great swindler: Maya Mahathagni hum jaani.

A final dance, to the song Nirbhay Nirgun Gun Re Gaaunga, is uplifting and beautiful.

The programme is over, and all of us are deeply moved by it.

I have rarely been at such a loss for words- this brief account is merely factual- it is far removed from the actual experience of Akatha Kahani.

I would like to express my thanks to the Almighty who orchestrated all the events leading up to this Untellable Experience.

My heartfelt thanks to Jaya, Bindhu and Archana for far far more than this beautiful programme.

Edited to add: Sue reminded me of this beautiful song which Bindhu sang on special request:
Naiharva hum ka na bhave. Bindhu's voice is rich and deep and truly beautiful.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Akatha Kahani

Last July, I had blogged about Jaya Madhavan's book, Kabir The Weaver Poet.
Thanks to my reader Peccavi who is a friend of Jaya's, I heard about Akatha Kahani.
I am delighted to inform you that Jaya and her sisters will be coming to Kolkata for a performance at my home, this Saturday afternoon!
We need your good wishes. More later.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Good morning, Sunshine!

Today is bright and sunny and crisply cold, after days of miserably bleak skies, clouds and drizzle, and cold clamminess which sometimes left you sweating, sometimes cold, but always, always, missing the sun.
I learned yesterday from a dear friend that a young, school-going relative of hers has been suffering for a few years from severe headaches and migraines, and despite numerous tests, nothing could be diagnosed. Finally, he was found to have a Vitamin D deficiency. Since he is very sensitive to the heat, he rarely sees any sunshine, and spends most of his time indoors, often in air-conditoned rooms. A colleague of the SRE has also been diagnosed with the same problem.
People who work nights, or who spend most of their waking life indoors, please make sure you get at least a small dose of sunshine everyday.

People who live in the extreme North, where winter nights are extremely long, may suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) owing to lack of sunshine. The acronym seems so apt.

Even though I try to not let my well-being get affected by something as unpredictable as weather, and may complain about the extreme heat in summer, today I am just so glad to see you, Sun! Don't disappear again, please.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The SRE and Boseji

The SRE and Boseji have, between them, made a monkey out of me.
We had attended a programme of Sufi music in early December, and had picked up a couple of CDs from there. One was a beautiful collection of Kabir bhajans sung by Shaunak Abhisheki, and the other a fusion of Indian bamboo flute and Spanish guitar. The SRE tried playing the fusion CD in Boseji, but Boseji didn't want to play it. I was busy doing something (presumably useful) elsewhere in the house, so I'm not quite aware of the complete sequence of the interaction between the man and the machine. What I was told by the SRE was that the CD was stuck inside Boseji and was not emerging from his maw. I pressed the eject button on the remote a few times, switched the plug point switch on and off a few times, and gave up. Since my dear sister-in-law and her husband were visiting us the very next day, Boseji was wrapped up in an old tablecloth and put away in a suitcase till further notice.
It was only today that I remembered Boseji and the stuck CD. I extricated him from the wrappings, connected Boseji to a plug point, fiddled with the remote. 'No Disc' was what the machine said, but I didn't trust Boseji's pronouncements, so I carted him off to the service centre, complaining of a stuck disc. The service guy called me into the examination room, played a random CD on the system and told me that neither was there a CD inside of Boseji, nor was there any other problem. That was great news, but where on earth was the CD??? Had it dematerialised somewhere? The younger son just got home yesterday from his travels, and was telling me of his future plans for Boseji, for when the parents were sick and tired of him- he wouldn't use the CD player at all, but would connect Boseji's terrific speakers to other music sources. Maybe Boseji was terrified at the thought, and had obliterated the CD into non-existence.
The SRE was called, was pleased to know that Boseji was well, but started worrying about the disappearance of the missing CD. By then I was quite sure that the SRE had absent-mindedly put the CD in some other cover and completely forgotten about doing so. Imagine my chagrin when I finally get home and find the missing CD inside its very own cover!!!!!!!
I am now playing it on the little Philips player, so at the very least I can hear it before I reinstate the temperamental Mr.Bose, who may or may not chose to play this particular record!