Thursday, December 19, 2013

Of concerts, hospitals, and a poem!

This past weekend was eventful indeed!
Saturday morning was unusually relaxed for us- ever since we've moved here we have been busy, either in the house or chasing/being chased by the bank!
We even had coffee with our breakfast (we usually have buttermilk or juice), lounged around, and relaxed after lunch.
We went with our younger daughter to hear Anoushka Shankar at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium.
Google maps helped us upto a point, after which we had to ask our way. It was not an easy route, so we felt very triumphant when we finally got there.
We stood in line for about forty minutes until entry into the venue commenced.
It was really interesting.  I'd never heard Anoushka Shankar play before, and was charmed both by her performance and her compositions. She was accompanied by a vocalist who also played the piano and the cello, a cellist who also played the piano, a mridang player, who also played the morchang and the ghaatam, a shehnai player, and a percussionist who played the drums as well as a wholly enchanting instrument I'd never heard before: the hang. Here's a sample for those of you who are as ignorant as we were. It was a truly memorable evening. It was also memorable in that the RE actually shared the bar of dark chocolate that I had in my handbag: he is a wonderful spouse who only gets me good chocolate but never eats any! (Our daughter didn't want any).
We went straight to our older daughter's home, so that we wouldn't miss much of  '24', a highly action packed TV serial that is broadcast on Friday and Saturday. She'd made a fabulous kheer with jaggery, so we had our dessert before going home for a late dinner.

Even though we were up till late, I woke up early on Sunday morning and was pottering around in the kitchen when I heard the RE stir. I entered our room and he asked me to call his nephew ( a cardiologist) as his pulse was racing. We were advised to go to the hospital at once, and treatment for tachycardia was started immediately.  The doctors spoke of perhaps having to give an electric shock if the patient didn't respond to the intravenous medication. The kids all rallied around, and we spent time together, being allowed to see the patient only very briefly at infrequent intervals. We were most relieved when he responded to the injections and was allowed to go home on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday the Resident Poet came up with this gem:

Dil ka Dimaag

Dil ka kya hai, woh to baccha hai
Bachpan se jawani tak kitnee bar
Humey rulaaya or pitwaya hai
Dil ka kya tha, kaheen bhi ulajh jata tha
Badnam hum hote they, gam ke ansoo hum bahaate
Humne socha sattheeaney ke baad sambhal gaya hoga

Per parsoan to hadd ho gayee
Laga belagaam ghode sa bhaagney, hospital pahunchey
Doctor ne apni bhasha mey bataaya,
Humey yeh samajh mai aaya
Shock de kar usey raah pe lana hoga
Shock ke naam se Dil thoda ghabraaya
Humney usey samjhaya:
Dekh abhee bahut kam baaqi hain
Aanewali potee ko Mahabharata kee kahani sunani hai,
Aam aadmi ki party ko Dilli kee gaddi dilanee hai
Ek rotey dost ko manaana hai
Ram key lakhon bhai Shyam kee naukree ka jugaad lagaana hai
Philhal toh dil maan gaya hai
Per dil ka kya, dil to baccha hai, akal ka kaccha hai
Per imaandar aur saccha hai

Imaandaar aur saccha hai,
Iraadey ka pakka hai
Dimaag ke sotey shaayar ko jaga
Yeh khud behak kar sambhal gaya

The various tests conducted in the hospital did not indicate any specific cause.
My personal belief is that it was the unexpected combination of chocolate and coffee (which he is not at all used to) which might have caused the tachycardia. The doctor has asked him to avoid tea and coffee, so the RE is drinking hot lemon and honey instead, and relishing it. He is absolutely convinced that his heart went crazy for awhile- dil ka dimaag is the new phrase in our lives.
He's relaxing at home now, and will go for a check up next week.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Strange Dream

I dreamt, this morning,
that I'd had a fight with my mother
and she'd gone to stay
with my sister-in-law
(my husband's sister,
not my brother's wife).
And when I get back
from whereverI had to go to,
ready to apologise, and to hug her
I see her at home, sitting,
forlorn, thinner and paler than I've ever seen her
in a dull peachy beige saree,
her eyes bereft, and I know that she's a widow
which is really very strange,
as she predeceased my father
nearly four years ago..........

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Settling in!

November is almost over and this post has been sadly neglected, not even a quarter written.
My maid has been ill and absent, and I have a sinkful of dishes awaiting me, but this is today's resolution- completion of this post!

It started with the container with our unaccompanied earthly goods entering the building complex, and parking itself outside our building, after a delay of a few hours because of the rain. The rain seems to be chasing our stuff since the time we were leaving Kolkata!
It now seems like a lifetime ago that we were dealing with the madness of unpacking. Finding new homes for your things in a new space is challenging, to say the least, particularly when there are several men working simultaneously and you are trying to answer several questions and also be in several different rooms at the same time! Thankfully we were still staying with our older daughter, so we could go home and rest our weary bones after a hard day's work. It was two days of utter chaos, different people opening different boxes in different rooms. On the first day, the 10th October, I had sat near the front door, ticking off each item from the packers' master list while the SRE ensured that they went into the correct rooms. On day two, the workers unpacked almost everything, apart from the boxes of books and CDs which we planned to unpack later, when we had space for them.
Two of our new neighbours sent over large quantities of delicious prasad as it was Ashtmi, some of which we shared with all the workers, the rest was more than enough for our lunch. Our daughter also came in, with her electric kettle, teabags and a delicious doughnut and plans for lunch. It was a relief having the packers finally leave that evening while we started the slow process of arranging the house.
My younger daughter's maid helped me arrange the kitchen one afternoon. She has been part of the family for many years, and it is a pleasure to work with her.
One neighbour suggested that her part-time help also work for us, so that was organised too.
(She's taken a lot of sick leave, though, which makes life a bit difficult).
We moved in on the 18th October, the day the gas line was connected.( No more cylinders, we have piped gas).

The fridge fitted into its designated area in the kitchen. It is a big fridge, so the SRE was a bit concerned. Given that he has retired and rarely travels, I can  now drop the Sometimes and retain the Resident Engineer! After more than seven years I actually have my fridge inside the kitchen!

We had our bed assembled in the guest room, as we needed another double bed.
The master bedroom was a dumping ground for several days. We bought the new bed and finally moved into the same room that our clothes were occupying.

We bought office furniture for the Resident Engineer's home office, where he spends much of his day.
It wasn't easy adjusting our drawing room furniture to a smaller space, but after a frank suggestion from our son-in-law, I removed a couple of chairs and our living room is spacious once more. It is flooded with sunlight every morning, while the bedrooms get the afternoon sun!
We also discovered the wonderful Amar Colony furniture market, which we had heard about from our daughters, both of whom have acquired beautiful things there. My first purchase was this full length mirror. I prefer to tie my sarees with the help of a long mirror.
The laundry hamper is from Dastkar Haat! It was wonderful, discovering new places in Delhi.

We hunted, unsuccessfully, in several places for a bookshelf, and finally took ourselves back to Amar Colony. This time we were more familiar with the place. It is a market of several rows, each of which is several yards deep. There are all kinds of antiques and restored furniture, as well as new stuff, some of which is 'distressed'. We walked down several rows, almost finalising one bookshelf or the other, while I insisted on going till the very end, where I found perfection!!!! This was a double shelf, not very tall, way beyond our budget but utterly beautiful and utterly irresistible: it is many mutual presents rolled into one!
We kept it empty for a few days as we'd bought it just before Diwali, which was a busy time for us.
Unpacking books and CDs was a big job- many books had to be put back into cartons and kept away in the staff/store room.I also spent a couple of sleepless nights worrying about the carton of my favourite CDs that seemed to have vanished, but it was fortunately located.

We had a lovely time at Diwali, spending time with family. There was much coming and going.
We also enjoyed a visit to a Diwali Mela with the kids. While eating interesting things like moong pakodi, mirchi vada, moong dal halwa and rabdi with jalebi, we made sure that we were drinking mineral water!
There were lovely stalls with goods from all over the country, which we enjoyed looking at but were not interested in buying as we are still somewhat overwhelmed by packing and unpacking our material goods.
Since we are presently living in a rented place while waiting for our own apartment to be completed, in about a year or so, our future holds one more house move. We should have recovered from this one by then!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy 80th Birthday to my Chacha!!!!!!

Today's the day to celebrate my Chacha.

I remember meeting him for the first time when I was about nine or so. Earlier meetings are way beyond the scope of my memory- I would have been far too young to remember anyone.

My father had been posted to England when I was two years old, and we returned to Delhi when I was eight. Chacha lived in Bhilai, in what was then Madhya Pradesh, now Chhattisgarh.
We had many 'aunts' and 'uncles' in our six years in London, but we wanted to know who our parents' actual brothers and sisters were. At the time, for us, my sister and I, they were strangers in the black and white photographs that were painstakingly air-mailed to our parents. Given the distance and the expense in those far off years, neither my mother nor father could attend their younger brothers' weddings, so the new additions to the family remained mysteries to them as well as to us. Our local aunties and uncles provided much support, kinship and friendship- our parents could travel to Europe for two weeks because one family insisted that they go, while they looked after my sister and I, which was wonderful, but they were not our parents' siblings............

But Chacha sounded exotic! It helped that he'd lived in Russia, and the 'cha cha cha' sound seemed like fun, too!

The first time that I remember meeting him was when he came to Delhi when his young son was about 15 months old, and Chacha would take us to the nearby park with him, and sing to him, Hum bhi agar bacchey hotey., and try to make the baby say 'shakarkandi'.  (He could say 'shakar' and 'kandi' separately, but not together!!!!!). I remember him coming to Delhi every couple of years with his family, bringing each new son as an infant or toddler, sometimes driving all the way from Bhilai, meeting various members of the family at different cities en route. These visits ensured a lasting bond between all of us cousins, which is something I cherish a great deal. We may not meet often, but when we do there is a level of closeness that goes back to our childhood.
We loved the visits when Chacha brought his car- we had glorious trips to the zoo, and various parks and monuments in Delhi, and I remember my sister and I attending a wonderful Ravi Shankar concert at Sir Shankarlal Hall with Chacha.

Chacha sings. He's often found humming, or singing to himself, and he's arguably the most tuneful member of our family. We share our love of classical music and old Hindi film songs and the eternal KL Saigal and many others.......
He writes, from his heart, mostly about his own life experiences. He hasn't posted much on his blog recently, but often writes for his local newspaper.
He is amazingly young at heart. He is tech savvy, and started his blog at the grand age of 77.
His laptop is a constant companion!
He has achieved a great deal in his life, yet is completely self-effacing.
He is fun to be around, and manages to be cheerful and positive even under the most difficult circumstances, of which he has faced several. He is disciplined and takes good care of himself, and is quite fit and active despite diabetes and aching knees. I pray that he continues to enjoy good health for many years to come.

The childhood memories are strong, but what is even more special to me is the bond between us that was forged much later, once the SRE and I returned to India in 1984 and were living in Lucknow.
Chacha visited us there a couple of times, his oldest son was married there, and somehow, over the years, we became allies. He and the SRE and my cousins all enjoy each others company.
Chacha has been an exemplary brother, insisting that my parents travel to Bhilai for Daddy's prostate surgery. Whenever my father was hospitalised, Chacha would drop everything and come and be with him, providing tremendous support to all of us. He even managed the paperwork for getting a refund of monies spent in hospital from Bharat Sarkar, which was tedious in the extreme. Once we came to  Kolkata, he and Chachi, (who is generous and wise and kind and deserves a post of her own) came to stay with my parents while the SRE took me on my first ever trip to the USA, where we were also visiting two of Chacha's sons. My mother would recall those three weeks with great joy and appreciation, as they'd never had that much  uninterrupted time together before or since.
I cannot forget the tears in Chacha's eyes when he visited my mother in the hospital, after her stroke.
He was a pillar of strength for us all after her demise, when he came again for the final Satsang.
That was the last time he met my father, as he was in the US when he passed away...........

In 2011, the SRE was going to be away for several days around Diwali, and suggested that I spend that time with our kids in Delhi. To me, though, it seemed an ideal time to go to Chacha's place- I'd last visited him decades ago, before we'd got married. I had a wonderful time and was thoroughly pampered by everyone! The photograph above was taken then. Last October the SRE accompanied me to Bhilai during the Puja vacation, during which we also went to Kanha National Park. When our young nephew in Nagpur died so suddenly last December, we travelled via Raipur and Bhilai, as getting a direct flight was impossible. Even spending those few hours at home was a great comfort to us at a very difficult time.

Chacha, all of this past year I had made grand plans of being with you on your eightieth birthday, being with you and all my dear ones in Bhilai, celebrating this great day together. Our sudden move to Noida made it too difficult to actualise, but I know you will understand. I thought of sending you a present, but sending you material objects seems meaningless. These words are completely inadequate, a poor attempt at sharing what you mean to me: an ally, a friend, a wise elder, someone I am so thankful to have in my life..........

Friday, October 18, 2013

Exit Notes!

Our last few days in Kolkata now seem like a dream: farewell  meals and meetings with friends, a Satsang at home on the last Sunday before we left, (which was so beautiful and so moving that I found it hard to control my tears); a delightful, though all-too-brief visit from our daughter-in-law.......
Gandhi Jayanti was when we packed our personal luggage and isolated it in the corner of one room. The packers invaded our house on the morning of the 3rd , and a whirlwind reigned all over, as they were a large team and we were outnumbered. They were experts at dismantling/packing /wrapping/numbering. By the evening of the 4th October we had some 163 packages ready for despatch. We were still staying in the house as we had the landlord's beds and air conditioner in my parent' room, and decided to use old sheets, cushions and towels that we could give to our maid before we left.
Too sleepy to get up and check, I wondered whether the packers had even opened the cutlery drawer in the glass-fronted sideboard.
While reading a restaurant review in the morning paper, a mention of saffron triggered off a memory of my cutlery drawer, in which I'd kept a beautiful saffron box from Iran. The packers had not opened the drawer, and were most abashed about it, and promised to pack it once the rest of the loading was done.

I was saddened to see that some of the loaders looked far too old for such heavy work,but they were an enthusiastic crew. This old gentleman had a fabulous moustache, and was quite happy to pose for a photograph!

Kolkata has had a heavy, long monsoon this year, and I was worried about the cardboard cartons getting wet in the rain. God was very kind, and the day was mostly bright and sunny. But, after the truck had been loaded, we had the deluge to beat all deluges- I've seen very heavy rain in my seven years in Kolkata, but never anything like this. We had the house cleaned up thoroughly, quite astounded by the amount of trash that emerged from various corners. We said our farewells to Meena, my trusted helper of over seven years, who had even helped me unpack when I moved to Kolkata, and Anil, the boy who kept my bathrooms and fans scrubbed and shining. Then a young man from the SRE's office came to take charge of the house, and that marked the end of a rich and eventful chapter in our lives. Arun drove us through flooded roads to the company guest house, where we bathed and changed, and then went for a lovely, intimate dinner at a cousin's home.

We had decided to settle our Tolly Club dues before we left. I had to capture the SRE's pensive look as he overlooked the green......
We went to meet some old friends who couldn't come and see us because their dog was very ill. (He passed away a couple of days later). Back to the guest house for lunch and a nap.  Some dear friends were coming over for a farewell cup of tea with us. After a pleasant hour or so together we went out to see them off, only to discover that our driver, Arun, had had a dizzy spell in the bathroom and had a big wound at the back of his head. Fortunately, our friends hadn't left, so they took him to the doctor and called his family. (The poor man had to have nine stitches in his scalp). We called for a taxi, and reached the airport well in time. All sentimental thoughts about leaving Kolkata were completely overshadowed by our concern for Arun, who has served us so well for over seven years. Each time he'd drop us at the airport, he would say, "God bless you", in English, so this departure seemed strangely incomplete. (We still don't know why he had the fall. But he's sounding cheerful, and having the sutures removed today).

Our younger son and older daughter were at the airport to receive us.
A new chapter of our lives begins!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Joyful ears!

Today I'm the girl
with flowers in her ears,
stars in her ears
Flowers like stars,
emerald and ruby,
star like flowers,
flower like stars
Happy stars
Farewell flowers
Embedded in silver
navaratna stones
and tiny black roses
Happy floral ears,
happy stellar ears
a tourmaline necklace,
so subtle, so fine...
I couldn't resist it,
it had to be mine,
Gifts from this city,
my love of seven years
I lived a great life here,
rich in much that I love
(I'm nearly in tears).
But no, I'll wear these flowers
with their magical powers
to restrain my fears,
and dam up those tears
with sparkling and happy
stars in my ears,
flowers in my ears,
the chimes of the future
alive in my ears.......

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Farewell, Kolkata

After a sudden turn of events and a fairly tumultuous August, the SRE and I have decided to leave Kolkata and relocate to the NCR.
The gods seem to be looking favourably on this move.
We found an apartment that we liked on the very first day, the fourth one that we saw.
It helped that our older daughter had put us in touch with an excellent property dealer, and had already told him of our basic requirements.
It helped that it's just the two of us, who need a place to rent for the next couple of years, while our own apartment is completed.
(When I went through the thirty-five or forty odd apartments I'd seen in Kolkata, finding something that also met my parents' specific needs was very high on my list of priorities).

It is located mid-way between the homes of three of our children, which is wonderful.
I can see us being thoroughly spoiled by them!

Kolkata blessed me with some amazing friends, both old and new. You know who you are..........

Kolkata was from where I travelled extensively (for me), both within the country and abroad.

Kolkata was where my parents spent their final years.....
Both of them died peacefully at home, within three and a half months of each other......
Their room is still known as their room, though many many visitors have stayed there since they left us.
I spend many restful moments in that room, imbued as it is with a peaceful atmosphere, which feels like my father's gentle hand upon my brow..........
My mother would smile and wave from their balcony as I returned from my morning walk.
I try and forget the extremely painful images of the last few months of her life, especially those weeks after her stroke when she was fed through a tube inserted into her nose, unable to speak, her eyes following us,  my sister and I, whenever we left her bedside.......
My father slowly fading away, growing weaker by the day, despite all investigations and treatment, broken -hearted when my mother returned home from hospital, a shadow of the woman she was........
The crematorium at Keoratala, their ashes kept in the nearby gurudwara until it was time to immerse them in
the Hooghly, from which their mortal remains would have long washed out to the sea.......

Much joy, too!
When we moved to Kolkata, our older son moved too,
to Columbia University, New York, for his doctorate.
He's completed it and moved to his new life in a new state, as an assistant professor.
Last summer, he brought his wife to this home of ours for the very first time..........

The younger son, who'd been, of necessity a boarder from an early age,
obtained his law degree from Kolkata!
Though he stayed on campus, home was for weekly visits,
sprawled on the leather couch, often with friends who, as many youngsters have done, enriched our lives......

Both girls came when they could, and we enjoyed so much of my Kolkata together.........
Kewpie's and sarees and of course New Market, footwear and silver jewellery, Thai food at Benjarong,
and lycra blouses from Jhil Mil, requested by so many of their friends.

I know I will miss so much of this city.
So very much...........

I was so happy to be able to attend my natal Satsang here, each Sunday evening, after a break of several years, because of living in far off places. Even if I dozed off, I would be glad that I went!

Movies, concerts, theatre, exhibitions, ceramics, book launches and Lit Fests, the fabulous Akatha Kahaani which I was privileged to host.
Dover Lane- I will miss those wonderful night long performances which both exhausted me and enchanted me!

The trees I had grown to love, near our home, on my morning walk route, and all across this verdant city.
Good old Tolly Club with its sweeping green, and trees, birds and lurking jackals, as well as some fabulous meals. I never swam there as much as I'd hoped to......
The SRE learned to play golf here!

My trusted driver, who has served us so faithfully all these years.
My maid, who has helped me from the very day our luggage was unloaded.
The girl in the courier office who shed tears when I told her of our imminent departure.
The people in my building, and the little boys next door- two small acrobats!
Their mother and I have been planning a coffee date since forever......

The wonderful people who visited us, and all those who came and stayed.....
The huge beds that came with the house, and the nice sideboard and the monster sideboard!
I will miss you all.

It was a great chapter in our lives, closing now, as a new one unfolds.....

May God's blessings be with us, and with all of those we leave behind.......

Friday, August 30, 2013

Alert Security!

When we reached the exit door of the supermarket, as always the security guard examined our bill,
(we had just the one bag of fruit and vegetables) and then, most unusually, asked us to move to the side. Our bill had one unnamed item billed at one rupee. The guard was well aware that there was nothing in the store that was sold for a rupee, so we pulled out all the items and counted them and tallied the number of items on the bill. I had bought a pomelo for thirty rupees, and it had been billed a second time for one rupee. The guard sent one of his minions to the cash counter to get the bill corrected, and he returned shortly with our bill and a one rupee coin. The security guard apologised for delaying us, and seemed most pleasantly surprised when both the SRE and I praised him for his sincerity and his attentiveness towards his work.

I don't know what opportunities he will get in his life, but I do hope he always has the satisfaction of a job well done. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Six years old today!!!!!!

Of This and That is six years old today!
It's enriched my life tremendously.
I know I often neglect it,
But it's there, waiting for me
The silent recipient of
So many mental conversations
With myself, many of which
Remain only mental!
I hope I write more
In the coming year, dear blog.
I'm glad you are there.
Happy birthday!

Monday, August 26, 2013

August memories

August is drawing to a close,
bearing with it reminders of Augusts past.

This year, it feels like a month of loss,
many times over.........

My mother's birthday, on Independence Day.
She would have been eighty five this year.
I no longer mourn her, or even miss her very often,
But that date belongs to her.......

Lalita- it's been five years since you left us.
You remain unforgettable,
A memory shared by the few of us
Who knew you, even briefly as I did.

Those two young men, mere boys, really,
Who took their own lives last year- they are no more,
Not visible to us in this world, at least,
But their loss remains, constant,
In the hearts of those who loved them.
And yet life moves inexorably on........

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The hypocrisy of the lazy morning walkers

We walk early, K and I,
Our alarms going off at five a.m.
And we meet somewhere on our route
And catch up with each other's lives
Trying to manage to walk
five days a week.

But most mornings, we peer through
Bedroom windows, looking at the road
And the sky, hoping for rain
That will let us curl up in bed again,
Without guilt...........

It rarely happens, though,
Apart from days
When the rain is torrential,
Keeping us housebound
not only in the morning, but all day long
Our lanes flooded,
Part time house help
Unable to come,
And suffering the rising water,
The leaking roofs
That damage their goods and chattels
With not a spot to dry them in.
The extremes of nature
Cruel to those whose lives
Are already so.........

We know this,
we count our comforts,
And we continue our walks
And our hopeful, fraudulent,
Guilt inducing
Wish for morning rain.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Dinosaur is Happy!

I spent about three weeks without my trusty desktop computer.
Life was no fun.
I can access e-mails on my mobile phone.
I can read a lot of stuff on the iPad.
I even wrote my last blogpost on the iPad, though I had to edit the last line on my husband's laptop, as somehow I could not access the last line to edit it on the iPad.
My brain froze- here I'm trying to edit the post on the SRE's laptop, and getting quite worked up as I can't find the 'edit' icon, the pencil!
At last I realise that I need to log into my blogger account, and do so.
I'm amazed and amused by the tricks the brain plays on one.
While I was without my desktop, I was truly grateful for the iPad, or at least tried to be!
My daughter even sent me a Bluetooth keyboard to use with the iPad, as I don't enjoy writing on a touch screen. I never got around to using it.
But now, I am genuinely glad to be sitting at my computer table, with the comfort of the familiar.......


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: The Man With Many Hats

The Man With Many Hats begins with a delightful account of a childhood with an amazingly warm and generous man for a father. It speaks of life in Kolkata in the fifties and the sixties, and the unique perspective of life in a Jewish home. The protagonist, Rachel, a sunny and bubbly young girl, tells the tale of life in the Selman home, a home that is peopled by many wonderful characters, including several vistors from across the globe. Her grandmother, Mozelle, visits their home  every week, even carrying her own drinking water, as she feels that her daughter's home is not sufficiently observant of Jewish traditions.  She also teaches her grandchildren Hebrew, which young Rachel does not enjoy learning, especially because she is sure that an All Knowing God  would surely understand English!!!!!  Young Rachel's childhood is magical and brings back warm memories of my own, of studying in a convent school and wanting to be a Catholic, for one! Rachel has a close knit group of  friends, a warm and loving family, a comfortable, privileged upper class existence- what could possibly go wrong? Her father's infidelity destroys the idyllic family life enjoyed by the Selmans, and major changes occur in all their lives. Rachel goes abroad for her higher education, and her mother and brother, Jacob, move to Israel. Morris Selman remains in Kolkata,  living life, as always, on his own terms, but their home has changed forever.
Living and studying abroad, Rachel becomes aware of her unique identity as an Indian and a Jew. She also takes a keen interest in the movements for social change that were then sweeping across India.
Rachel's story, of love, loss, some unexpectedly warm relationships, and immense personal growth, intersperses with that of her father's life, and the troubled paths they traverse before reaching a place of  forgiveness and reconciliation.
It also gives us valuable glimpses of the history of the community of Baghdadi Jews  that has been part of Kolkata since the latter part of the eighteenth century.  Although there are now very few members of this community left in the city, the heritage remains in some place names and some beautiful historic buildings, traces of the immense economic contribution the Baghdadi Jews made to their adopted country.
Each chapter heading has been beautifully illustrated by the author, who, like her protagonist's father, also wears many hats. (More about her in a later post).

The Man With Many Hats by Jael Silliman,
Published by Jael Silliman, 2013
Price: Rs. 295
Available on Flipkart, and Amazon India

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Conspiracy of Silence

Mornings in our house mean music, especially at the time that I'm making breakfast and the SRE's packed lunch. In the good old days when Worldspace existed, our radio was perched on the sideboard in the dining room, just next to the kitchen door, and beautiful music would float through the house....... Mourning isn't bringing WS back, though, so cassettes (yes, they still exist) and CDs need to be played.
(I'm not sure how or why, but the music systems in our house are all male, hence will be referred to as such).
Boseji has been temperamental for years, so when the younger son wanted to take him to college for his last term there, we agreed with alacrity, though we didn't know how well or otherwise he would play there. The younger son duly returned Boseji to us before setting off on new journeys, and we found that all it would play was FM channels. So little Mr. Philips remained our system of choice, being more reliable than the others, and small enough to cart around the house.
The Pioneer home theatre in the living room had been for repairs, and the repairman said that he would not be able to repair it subsequently- parts were getting too difficult to find. Also, it would no longer play VCDs or DVDs, only audio CDs.  Mr. Pioneer took a leaf out of Boseji's book, and became very very selective about the CDs he was willing to play. Very often the CD you lovingly selected and put into the system would not load, and you'd get a sign on the display saying NO DISC, which was rather annoying. The younger son had previously connected the Pioneer to the DVD player, but when we changed our dabba TV for a flatscreen a.k.a. The Blackboard , the DVD player was  connected to the TV, so playing audio CDs on it was no longer an option. Since the computer could be used to play music in our bedroom, we thought we'd install the little Phillips in the sitting room.

That's when the fun began.

Mr. Philips has played happily across the house, from the kitchen to the dining room to the bedrooms.
He even played at the location of our new plug point. Since I didn't want him on that particular table, I put a small stool next to the Pioneer table, and tried connecting the system there. It would just not play. It was hot. I turned on the air conditioner, and the lights near the plug points. I changed various adaptors. I was sweating from every pore, and really annoyed by the whole business. I had other things to do that morning, so I finally gave up, and resolved to return later with a spike buster, in which the sockets are normally good and tight. Mr. Philips was out to get me that day, though, because he acted up for ages even with the spike buster, simply refusing to connect. I was seriously miffed with the whole situation, but finally managed to connect the wretched machine. Now, unfortunately, Mr. Philips doesn't have an outlet from which I could play him through the Pioneer amplifier. Although he sounds pretty good in small spaces, especially the kitchen, he really doesn't have a voice powerful enough for our sitting room, which is fairly large. The SRE and I thought of finally getting a new system, when Boseji caught our attention. Since he wasn't playing any CDs whatsoever, it made sense to take him to the service centre. Some ten days after leaving him there, I receive a call from the service centre, telling me that a certain (large) sum of money is required, as a significant part needs to be replaced. The SRE agrees that it has to be done, and so, that afternoon, I go and collect a brilliant and beautiful Boseji.

When the SRE comes home that evening, we decide to put Boseji on the sideboard, in the hallowed space that had been occupied by our beloved Worldspace radio. We remove the Croma, the digital photo frame our kids and given us, and put it back on the corner table in the sitting room. Boseji's plug and the plugpoint have the usual conflict, which involves shifting the (heavy) sideboard back and forth a few times. Finally, though, we have rich and glorious sound!!!!!! Long may it last.
The SRE has enhanced Boseji's status still further by saying that he's playing 'with' our children!

Monday, July 15, 2013

In which the SRE goofs !!!!!!

He doesn't know it yet, but the Sometimes Resident Engineer has blundered.......

Washing machines are a great blessing and a boon, but they do require a little care in using them, or you may end up with  strangely coloured splotches on a load of formal shirts. I remember my mother-in-law being extremely impressed with the SRE's watch surviving an entire wash cycle, and still keeping time accurately. Although the SRE was the person who put it in his trouser pocket, I ought to have checked the said pockets before loading the machine.

Pockets are a pain. Things get left in them. Things like wallets, which I have managed to wash a few times. That is one of the few things I do that actually annoy the SRE, and for which I feel genuinely very remorseful.  And yet, somehow,  his wallet manages to get washed every year or so.

I have also managed to stain a brand new bed sheet with ball pen ink, by the simple expedient of bundling up the sheet and throwing it and its accompanying pillow cases into the washing machine, along with a ball point pen that one of us must have been using for Sudoku or the crossword.

This time, though, it was the SRE who done it. Not his wallet, but his Parker cartridge pen. (The replacement of the one I gave him for his birthday, which he lost within two months). He had come home from his travels on Saturday with a suitcase full of dirty clothes, which he proceeded to dump outside the hamper in our bedroom. I told him that he might as well dump them right into the washing machine, and he proceeded to do so.

I added more clothes and did a load of laundry yesterday.

The maid dried the clothes on the line. It was late at night when I took them down, as we had gone for a late movie (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, in case you want to know- great film). It was only this morning that I noticed the pen lying on the window sill with a wet blue streak on its side. My heart sank. Did we have a load of clean-but-ink-stained laundry? Apparently not- the SRE is one lucky guy- his shirts escaped, and the pen leaked only after emerging from its ordeal! I have dismantled and wiped the various parts of the pen, and have mostly got the ink off my fingers.

I am already metaphorically rubbing my hands in glee, and looking forward to a very enjoyable evening.
My first question, of course, will be regarding the whereabouts of  his pen!

Monday, July 8, 2013

In which the SRE is very concerned

On our recent trip to  Kerala, (where the SRE was working and I was holidaying with friends), we had a little weekend getaway to Kumarakom. As we entered the resort we saw several trees laden with huge flocks of snake birds or darters.
Solitary darter
This photo courtesy Aurangabadkar
Cottages at the resort
The hornbill in our room

Indian almond trees on the shores of Vembanad Lake
The trees near the lagoon full of darters
As you can see from these photographs, it was a very lovely place. The SRE, however, got  very worried when he saw a darter dive into the lagoon, head first, and apparently not emerge from the water. This was followed by several more. I presumed that these were aquatic birds that could swim underwater, but the man was not convinced. He was quite convinced that these were all kamikaze birds, each one on a suicide mission. It was only after he saw a few snakey heads emerge that he relaxed!

Monday, July 1, 2013

After the Storm: Book Review

After the Storm, Sangeeta Bhargava's second novel, is set in the latter part of the British rule in India.
It opens in 1941, when Mili (Malavika Singh), princess of Mohanagar, is allowed to go to boarding school in the hills of Kishangarh, along with her best friend and soul sister, Victoria Nunes, better known as Vicky, whose mother is Indian and whose late father was British. The two girls share an extremely close bond, despite the differences in their temperaments and upbringing. Vicky is a tomboy, ready and eager to embrace her new found freedom with wide open arms, while Mili usually hesitates at first, knowing how hard it was for her parents to let her leave her sheltered, pampered existence. Two and a half months into her new life, "she had got used to life in a hostel. She had even got used to getting dressed and making her bed all by herself, without the help of Bhoomi. But she hadn't yet got used to queuing up outside toilets every morning, drinking tea that smelt of kerosene oil - just like the tea sold on railway stations - taking showers in tiny bathrooms without any bathtubs and gulping down the inedible food. The only things that were the same as Mohanagar were the classes; they were boring."

With her characteristic easy to read narrative style, Sangeeta Bhargava manages to weave a gripping story around several burning issues of the day. As the story unfolds, the characters and locales come to life. Your interest is gripped by Raven, the teacher without a surname and what seems to be a mysterious past, Gurpreet, who is violently against the British, his friend Jatin, the young widow Vidushi, Vicky's Aunt Ethel and her husband Uncle George, the mysterious Guruji and his band of insurgents, the popular Uncleji and his tuckshop, Bahadur, Miss Perkins, the sinister ceiling fan, the tattle tale Angel........

A central tragic event affects them all. Childhood and youth give way to a new maturity. Love and loss forge Mili's character into a person completely different from the pampered princess of her youth, a person you feel proud of, although she is aware of some irrational aspects of her personality, and hopes to overcome them some day. " Would she finally have the courage to break free of age-old customs and traditions and leave home? To pursue a life which none in her family had ever done before? All the girls in their dynasty had been good little princesses who had married the man of their parents' choice and become good little wives. Would she be able to break off this tradition?"

As with Sangeeta Bhargava's previous book, The World Beyond, you live the story and the history.  You realise how the personal becomes the political, how seemingly unrelated events have a tremendous impact on individual lives, sometimes detrimental, sometimes hugely positive.
Through it all, I can see Sangeeta's steadfast love for India........

Published 2012 by Alison and Busby, UK
Available at

Friday, June 21, 2013

Promises, promises

To myself, mostly! That I have so much to share and no time to do so. I will blog lots, soon.

Friday, June 7, 2013


This morning,
Not my regular route
three Lhasa apsos
on a  triple leash
(One with her(?) fur
tied up in a little fountain
on the top of her head)
all trotting along
in synchrony.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My day was made

While waiting for my friend in the mall, I heard faint, tuneful whistling.
When I turned to look at the whistler, I was delighted to see a spry, white haired lady, perhaps in her early sixties, whistling merrily as she made her way.

Gladdened my heart, her whistling!

Monday, May 13, 2013

A cellephonic mystery

When the SRE came home from office on Saturday evening (yes, he works most Saturdays), he was distraught. His cellphone was completely and utterly dead- not a glimmer, not a twinkle, not a beep out of it. We put in to charge, hoping that it would revive once it had some power in it. But it remained completely and utterly dead. Not only was he phoneless, he has huge amounts of important data on that phone, so he was understandably upset. On Sunday morning I called his secretary to get the number of the person who supplies phones to the office. The gentleman was told all the gory details, and said he would send someone to the office first thing on Monday morning to collect the phone, and try and retrieve all possible data. As instructed, I put the phone in the SRE's laptop bag, so that it would get to the office.

We had a nice and peaceful weekend, without the phone making its presence felt every few minutes.

I needed to speak to the SRE a few minutes ago, so I called him on his direct landline number. After telling him what I had to, I asked him if the phone chappie had collected the phone. He had come to collect it, but it turned out that after being comatose for over thirty six hours, the phone was alive and well again, and was apparently showing that it was 80% charged!

Now how did this happen????? Any ideas????

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


This neem tree grows outside our compound wall, and its beautiful foliage spreads almost to the balcony of what we still call my parents' room. (It also spreads generously outside that bedroom window, a pretty sight indeed). It is a tree I love, and have longed to caress for such a long time.     I'm also quite nervous of toppling from our second floor balcony, so I try and reach for it with both feet planted firmly on the floor. Today, after months of trying, I finally managed to touch a sprig of leaves. I ate two, tiny tender leaves, savouring their bitterness, and then stroked the leaves that I could reach. I hope, today, that the tree knows that I love it!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Colour Cream

When I was a young child, I loved my mother's cream cardigan. I knew the colour cream long before I knew the product. And therein lies my great befuddlement. We, my sister and I, were enchanted by the creams on my mother's dressing table, especially the vanishing cream. Who or what vanished? And did the cold cream make you feel cold? What were these creams for?????? Our young minds remained puzzled, despite our questions which were waved away by the grown ups. And these creams, too, were white, not cream, to our great chagrin.
Living in Delhi, the only dairy cream we ever used was an almost pure white.
The colour cream didn't make any sense to me.
The desi ghee we used, too, was white, as was white butter.

It was only much later, when we moved to Thailand and used golden ghee imported from Australia that the penny dropped!!!! The cream from cow's milk is cream coloured, hence the subsequent golden ghee. In Delhi, we were using buffalo milk products, all of which happen to be white!Mystery solved!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

For CSAAM: A brutal story, and an interview

Roll of Honour is set in a military school in Punjab, during the early eighties, an extremely troubled time in the state. Sikh militancy is one the rise, as is its brutal suppression by the police and the army. Our protagonist, Appu, has seen the horrendously tortured body of his good friend Joga, when he is home for the summer vacations, and is torn apart by many questions of faith, loyalty and identity. When he returns to school, he still wants to join the army. Events in school, however, destabilise his world still further. He had expected to become the school prefect in this, his final year. Owing to a series of fights between his class and their seniors the previous year, the school authorities change their system: the hostels would no longer house a mix of junior and senior cadets. Instead they would be sorted according to class. Appu finds himself class prefect, a far cry from the honour of being the school prefect. Balraj, who was the school prefect the previous year, had qualified for the NDA but is unable to join because the school did not give him a character certificate. He seeks refuge, and Appu is unable to refuse, as 'his trust weighed me down'. Another student's brother has been picked up by the army. Some of the Sikh students have strong sympathies with the separatists and are willing to be martyrs to their cause. The school has, for years, been run on a system of corporal punishment, or 'ragra', which is supposed to instil discipline among the students. It has been imposed both by the teachers and the senior students. When Appu's father visits him that October, he is able to share his disquiet about the new system, and tells him about the huge fight of the previous school year. What he is unable to tell him about is the sodomy. No one could ever say no to a senior. Rape of junior boys by their seniors was common, and the victim 'loses his respect.' When Gora rapes Ladoo, it was the worst insult the seniors could inflict upon Appu's class. A senior on a solitary after dinner walk is caught by Akhad and Lalten  and violated in revenge. The sodomy lent a new dimension to how the class engaged with the seniors. Cadets whisked away solo cadets from rival classes into dark corners, behind hostels, or at tubewells and threatened them with beatings. Then they took the victim, sometimes three to four cadets to one.......................The school culture placed a sense of manly awe around the abuser. The abuser was a hero, someone who had exercised power. The insults were for the abused.
Appu's story is compelling. Despite the brutality, you need to know what happens next. There is great tenderness between Appu and Gaurav, who are travelling through Delhi when the police pick up Appu for questioning. This romance ends due to a perceived betrayal, a lack of trust. There is a conspiracy between the students and the militants. Cadets disappear/run away from the school. Appu is in torment because, " I cannot be true to myself; I cannot be a Sikh of the guru, nor a soldier of India." However, he does find a way out of his dilemma and displays exemplary courage in the face of grave physical danger.
What adds to the depth and richness of this book are the italicized paragraphs which are the views of the adult Appu. He is determined to be a writer. I only knew that nothing, except words, could protect me. I wanted words to reveal myself and by revealing myself, I would steal people's ability to make me vulnerable, hit me where I would have hidden something precious, and thus, I would save myself.

I think the author certainly did save himself! Meeting him a few months ago was like meeting an old friend, one who is warm and communicative and totally approachable. His first book, Sepia Leaves, is  about Appu's life in a dysfunctional family- his mother suffers from schizophrenia. When I asked him if we could do this interview for CSAAM, he readily agreed, and e-mailed me his responses at very short notice indeed. Thank you very much, Amandeep.
1. Roll of Honour is a brutal, painful book to read, set in a time in our country's history which we should never forget. Was writing it cathartic for you, or was it something that you felt you had to share with the world, or both?
Ans. I knew in school that I wanted to write about how authoritarian power played havoc with 13 year old boys. I personally was very shaken up by all that Punjab had witnessed in the years of terrorism: I had been picked up by police in Delhi because I wore a turban at a time when terrorists had camped in our farm in Punjab and were demanding ransom from my family. The civic authorities could do nothing for three months. But it was after I saw the response to my first book Sepia Leaves, which deals with mental illness, that I felt confident to talk about even more taboo topics in Roll of Honour. Subjects like bullying and sodomy.

I wrote to untangle my confusions. I wrote to understand my fears. I wrote to heal. So, the writing was cathartic but it came from my confidence in the reader and from my desire to share my experience. I wanted to put out the story for the world to join me in my exploration into my own self and to help the process of healing in any of us who was similarly affected. I also wrote so I could stand in the witness-box, to seek justice. It was not only about a crime or a call for action against a nation, it was a justice a victim seeks when bullied, a closure to the cycle of victim hood.

2. Although we are not talking about very young children here, several young teenage boys are sodomized in the school setting you describe. How do you think such brutality can be averted? 

Ans. I wish I had a very good answer for that but if anyone had it we would have seen it implemented. I mentioned child abuse in Sepia Leaves as well. In that book it happens when the young boy, around seven years old, is left in the charge of a temporary caretaker who abuses his position. 

What we need is to call abuse what it is: abuse. Non-consensual sodomy is a horrendous, criminal act and we must de-link it from notions of masculinity. We need to find a language that articulates such acts as wrong and in no way reflective of how masculine are the people who indulge in it.  

We also need to try to understand and empathize with those who suffer sodomy in situations where their voices, their cries, are not silenced. Listen to the victim (and also the bully) without being judgmental and without being biased. Without the traditional: how can 
this happen? The listening is important because the victim has already lost his or her self-hood, or has compromised it. The victim's humanity needs to be restored. We need to assure the victim that the story will be heard and there shall be an attempt to bring justice or closure. Alongside emphasize how the bully is wrong. Do this to ensure that the victim overcomes guilt or a sense of being complicit in the act and the feeling of continuous threat and fear from the bully.

Added to that is a system of checks and balances in any system. The reason why most of this happens is because the perpetrator believes they can get away with it.Not only a school, any organised society must not give that kind of opportunity to anyone. 

3. No one is safe from the lustful gaze of the senior boys in the school, be it the temporary teacher, the housemasters' wives, the washerwomen................   
Do you think this is due to the isolated nature of all-boys boarding schools? 

Ans. No, I do not think so. By that token all monastic orders or nunneries should be breeding grounds of sexual or other kinds of impropriety. It is to do with lack of trust in a system. In Roll of Honour it is the almost complete lack of a system which could nourish the students and build them into exemplary members of a society. It is to do with misplaced notions of masculinity and honour, with teachers being absent, with the disciplined order breaking down such that those who wished to misuse the system believed they could get away with it.      

4. Since I've had the pleasure of meeting you, and have found you to be a warm, compassionate and grounded person, I would like to know what helped you overcome the traumas you faced in your earlier days.  

Ans. Thank you. I am not sure I am really all the nice things you say I am. I have my times, I get angry, I worry ... But yes, I do feel I  
have come a long way from where I was a few years or decades ago. 

Writing has helped, it was the path I took. Reading has helped. Seeing the world has helped but what I have learnt upon observing is how so many of us suffer and are quietly tugging away at improving their lot and the spaces around them. I feel I just write stories, it is those who live them who are the real heroes and heroines.

5. Although he knows his father may have helped him deal with the issues in school, Appu keeps them to himself, observing the 'unbestowed but acknowledged responsibility of trying to protect one's near and dear ones from one's reality'. In hindsight, do you think sharing matters with his father would have helped?

Ans. Yes, it would have helped. Airing out always helps but we need to understand why it is not so easy to speak. There are multiple reasons: feeling complicit is one, feeling guilty is another, feeling that you won't be heard is yet another but the worst is the lack of trust that the situation can be changed. Trust is a big deal and I feel it is the responsibility of the elders to create an environment where the child can find trust and feel safe. 

6. What are you working on next?

Ans. It is very interesting that we are doing the interview at this time. I have just been working out what book or books to do next. While one is a novel, you know, I sort of grow from one book to the next. In Sepia Leaves the idea of abuse came up because I was showing a dysfunctional home and how those spaces are ripe for abuse. In Roll of Honour I expanded upon the idea and linked it to school and state power structures. Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about how most of the discourse in society is about abuse of girls and rape. In fact, there is very little about male rape and male child abuse. So, I am thinking of putting together a book based on first person accounts of such abuse. I think we need to create a body of work that highlights the issue. We need to re-examine masculinity.  

I solicit your help to spread the word that I seek accounts from readers, friends. I promise confidentiality and anyone who wishes to speak up, please do so. I am listening. The world will listen. My email is:
7. How do you think a book on male abuse or masculinity will bring any social change? 

Ans. I feel that one of the biggest aspect of abuse is the objectification of the body. In my experience I have found that boys who go through abuse confuse love and abuse. Note that love is subjectification of the body and abuse is objectification of it. Unless a victim works on the abuse and on healing, an abused boy can either become an inhibited man or an aggressive one. Both are not healthy but an aggressive man can start preying on other victims or women to overcome the feelings of insecurity, of feeling small, or any of the attendant inferiority complexes. One of the ways of doing that is to abuse a victim, rape the victim. In order to prevent this we need to start talking about masculinity, about abuse and its effects.

Thank you very much, Amandeep, for your time and your vauable inputs. Wishing you all the best for your future projects.