Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Toddler Communicates, and How!

The toddler had a pretty severe case of jet lag. The angel child who usually slept for about eleven hours each night would be put to bed at her normal time, and after a couple of hours sleep, would wake up and cry. After some crying and some soothing, she would go back to sleep, and then the entire cycle would be repeated, all through the night. The son and daughter-in-law were not happy. She had hardly slept on the flight, and so they couldn't sleep then either, and now she was neither sleeping herself, nor letter her parents sleep. It was not a happy situation.

Four days into their vist, the youngsters had a party to attend. They would leave early in the evening, and return the next morning. Given that the previous night had been a night from hell, they were not feeling very chipper, but hoped to eventually catch some toddler-free sleep at their friends' home. They slipped out of the front door, evading detection, but our smart little detective soon realized that her parents were missing. She went to the front door and screamed, but the RE and I managed to distract her, soothe her, and feed her.
Bath time was great fun, as was story time. At a little past seven, I sent a trimphant message to my son. He wished me luck!

Modern babies, or should I say parents, are high tech. folks. We had been taught how to start the baby monitor. After an early dinner and some quiet TV watching, the RE and I retired for the night, with the monitor at my bedside. We had barely dosed off when the monitor squawked- our grandchild was crying. We waited for a few minutes, as instructed, and I went to the nursery (the fond grandfather's office has been closed for the duration and adapted to the toddler's requirements) and tried to soothe the child. It seemed simpler to bring her to our bed. She was happy enough, admiring the pa(n)khaa, the ceiling fan above our bed, and talking to her doyee (doggie), whom she was holding on to. After a while, though, once we had switched off the light, she tried getting out. Since we were on each side of her, the young lady tried to climb out of the quilt from the centre, which seemed a rather dangerous activity in the dark. I thought it safer to put her back in her crib. I took her back to the nursery, put her in her crib with Doggie, patted her and left. And, mercifully, she slept.

Two hours later, she wakes up again. Bringing her to our bed didn't seem to be a viable option. The desperate parents had put a mattress on the floor of her room, so that whoever was on baby shift could get some sleep. (The minute they brought her to their bed, she'd want to play). It made sense to just be in the room with her, rather than march across the whole house in the watches of the night. Sleeping on the floor wasn't brilliantly comfortable, but some sleep was better than none. If the baby cried in her crib, I'd pick her up and cuddle her, and sometimes she'd sleep, sometimes she'd try and wander off in the dark, which was unnerving, so I'd pop her back into her crib. We did this several times through the night. Each time I flipped open my phone to check the time, the young lady would admire the pa(n)khaa. When I took her out of her crib at around 6.30 a.m., she toddled off to the window and pulled back the curtain very dramatically, as if to say,
" Look- it's daylight now. Do not try and make me sleep anymore, Grandma."
I had no intentions of doing so. I was quite happy taking her out-thide the room!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Toddler's Travel Travails

My Big People take me
wherever they want to
when they want to
in cars (car seat, strapped in)
strollers (strapped in)
airplanes (seat belts)
and they tell me things
(where I'm going,
whom I will meet there,
the wonderful things I'll see)
and try and comfort me,
but I only want to be free
to run, and play,
and move,
unstrapped, free.

After lots of straps
and restraints
and loud noises
and bright lights
and lots of people
and lines of people
and funny feelings in my ears
and my Big People waiting
near a strange moving thing
with lots of bags and cases,
me in my stroller,
we come to where
some more big people
hug mine, and talk to them
and we all go to
a place with lots of cars
and my Big People fix
my car seat into a car
and my stroller goes
into another car
and the other big people
smile at me, and talk to me
but gently, softly, giving me
time and space to know them.
Baba gives me some milk
and water on the way,
and I see lots of lights
which I love.

And then, at last,
I'm out of the car seat
my Baba carries me
into a shiny box,
and I can see
another Baba Person
holding a Small Person
who looks like me
Is it? Or not?

Before I can figure it out,
doors open, more doors open
and I'm in my Dadu's house
And I run, and I dance
And I skip about
Into some rooms,
Through some curtains
and out again.....
On to a soft carpet
And I dance in delight
Free once more,
Happy and free once more......

Thursday, November 26, 2015

My Sixtieth Birthday or The One In Which My Family Gives a Series of Award Winning Performances

This year hasn't been an easy one for our family. The loss of my sister this April especially did not make for a festive feeling, and when the kids asked me, some months ago, how I wanted to celebrate this milestone birthday, I was quite sure that I didn't want a party. A quiet dinner with just us and the kids sounded good to me. The youngest son, who is quite a connoisseur, recommended Indian Accent, a restaurant which is supposed to serve the most amazing food, apparently costs an arm and a leg, and has to be booked months in advance. He was given the task of making a reservation for my birthday evening.

We'd also lost two members of the SRE's family this year, and at both of their Choutha ceremonies (the 4th day prayer meeting) we heard the same bhajan singer and his troupe. He was a very good singer, but there was a strong feeling of deja vu. I didn't really think I was being particularly morbid, though perhaps my kids did, when I said that I wanted Bindhumalini to sing at my Choutha. My younger daughter didn't think it to be a particularly brilliant idea. Given that Bindhumalini is based in Bengaluru and that we live in the National Capital Region, and that there is no knowing whether I would even be able to hear her singing once I was dead, it seemed rather pointless.

A few weeks before my birthday, my daughters came home for a visit, and the older one  addressed me in a rather scary, serious tone, but then proceeded to move me to tears. She said that she was quite sure that I was not particularly interested in acquiring more material objects on this birthday, so she and her siblings had decided to publish some of my writings in the form of a book. They had wanted to keep this a secret from me, but the younger son felt that it would not be ethical: anything published under my name should be done so with my knowledge and consent. I had to dig out some of the short stories I'd written about eighteen years ago, and also chose some blog posts, and they would do the rest. The RE was not meant to be a part of this, he had to go find his own present!

Life continued busier than ever.
My older daughter was invited to speak at a performance of Flamenco and Kathakali  in Agra, on the eighth of this month,  and asked us to come along too. The younger son couldn't make it, so the four of us had a wonderful outing and a chance to attend this fabulous programme against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal. A few days later, my daughter told me that there was another Flamenco performance being organised somewhere in Mehrauli on the 13th afternoon, that she had to attend, and since her husband was away,  could we please go with her? She'd apparently told the organisers that there was a family get-together that evening, but she was sure we could leave by seven and reach Indian Accent in time for dinner with her siblings. My younger daughter insisted that I wear the beautiful saree that was last year's birthday present from the sons and spouse. I still hadn't (and haven't) performed the onerous summer-clothes winter clothes exchange, but in the light of her request pulled out the saree and two more silks from the trunk in which the silks are stored. It all seemed rather tedious, but also simpler to comply!

I had a rather bad throat, so was under the weather over Diwali. I was on anti-allergens and painkillers, so I asked the kids not to come over at midnight to wish me, which they usually do,  because I find it difficult to go back to sleep after a midnight cake-cutting and feasting. Phone calls were welcome! The kids said they would come in the morning, and would also bring idli sambar for breakfast. The RE came into our room with a giant card and a small gift, just at midnight. Which is when I wondered why our older son hadn't called- he is usually the first person to wish me punctually at midnight. Was he flying down from the US to surprise me, I wondered? I asked the RE, and he looked sheepish and said that he must be taking a class.
I had my doubts, since he had flown down for a brief visit on his father's sixtieth,  but I also rationalised that it would not be a big deal if he didn't come, since we had just met in late August, and also, that he was coming with his family in December.

We got up early enough and I was bathed and changed, and ready for the kids when they came. Both daughters, a good friend of theirs who is now family, her daughter, and my younger daughter's household
 help. In a few minutes the younger son came in, followed by the older one. I gave him a hug, and said that I was only mildly surprised, because of my deductive reasoning as well as my usually non-existent ma ka dil
We breakfasted, a small chocolate cake was cut, lovely presents given to me- several kurtas and a top, and then the girls left. One had to go to work, and the other had some tasks to complete before going to her office.The boys were home for a simple daal chawal lunch, and we tried to nap, while the younger one also left as he had to do some work in his office.
(It was a working day- the country didn't come to a standstill just because it was my birthday).
Post-siesta, I was rather exhausted and in no mood whatsoever to go all the way to Mehrauli to watch another Flamenco performance. I expressed my reluctance, but was gently persuaded by the spouse. I put on my beautiful saree.  We pick up the older daughter, and move slowly across Delhi and its accursed traffic. She did receive a couple of urgent sounding calls, but there was nothing we could do. As we drove into the courtyard of the building we were going to, I was a little surpised to see a familiar, slightly stooped figure, who looked like our brother-in-law. And then I saw that he was accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law and daughter. We exchanged greetings and I accepted their birthday wishes, and they said they were visiting one of the designer stores in the arcade, and what were we doing there? I told them about the Flamenco programme and we made our separate ways. Our older daughter seemed to have disappeared. We climbed up a flight of stairs, and I was most relived to see signs pointing to the restrooms a flight above. I think I asked my son if there was some surprise party business afoot, which he either ignored or denied. We reach the upper level, and then I see a familiar figure carrying an instrument case. Could it possibly be Bindhumalini? And then I see my cousin, and her daughter. I am already quite stunned, when they steer me down a few steps, and there is my dearest Ma'am, Dr. Anandalakshmy, with yet another good friend, whom she is staying with on this vist. Ma'am has come all the way from Chennai especially for me! She hugs me, and I cannot control my tears. And then I see my cousin and his wife from Chattisgarh, a good friend from school with her daughter, and more and more people whose presence both surprises and delights me. And of course our brother-in-law and his family. A dear friend from college, and her husband,who live in Chennai, rescheduled their holiday in Jodhpur so that they could be with me on this day.My nephew, who is visiting from the US, another niece and her spouse, more friends.......

The setting was beautiful: it was early evening, an open sky, and you had the majestic Qutub Minar as backdrop. The evening began with some beautiful songs from Bindhumalini, mostly songs of Sant Kabir, and one of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. After a short break we had a Dastangoi performance of a Vijaydan Detha story, which had the audience enthralled. Many of them had not heard of, let alone seen, Dastangoi before. It was a truly riveting performance by Nadeem and his partner.

This was followed by yet another surprise. My older daughter had insisted that I write a dedication and an Author's Note for the prospective book, which was very hard to do to my satisfaction. With some nagging from her and some hard work from lazy me, we finally managed to put it all together. And here was the surprise: she had got the publisher to create a few dummy copies of the book which I was delighted to have Dr. Anandalakshmy 'launch". The actual book is supposed to be available early next year- I will keep you posted.

Snacks and drinks circulate, some more surprise guests appear. After a while, during which I try and spend some time with each wonderful person who is there, it is cake cutting time. A fabulous chocolate and orange creation is brought in, and the spouse is called upon to say a few words.

Of course he is very  busy chatting with friends. The middle picture in the ones above this  has me wielding the microphone, and I manage to summon him with a single word: "Patidev"! He gets there and says some funny things and some really nice things, and then the cake is cut, and dinner is served. The dinner is really unusual: individual shallow bowls with buttered rice and malai koftas are circulated, and there is, of course, the really wonderful cake to follow. The snacks are supposed to have been excellent, but the immediate family has been so busy circulating/being hospitable, that we don't really know what we missed!
I ask Bindhumalini where she is staying. She asks if she can stay with me: her flight is the next afternoon. What a wonderful bonus that is!
People have to leave, farewells are said, and the wonderful flowers and presents are packed into the family's cars, and we reach home.

It's late, but we all have a cup of tea and open and admire the beautiful and thoughtful gifts. Now that I actually have the time to breathe and think, and my family is all present to clear my doubts, many things fall into place.
1) Why the RE transferred money to the younger son's account: he was suppose to subsidise his entry into the stock market.
2) Why the younger daughter tried telling me that Indian Accent was in Mehrauli! ( I had Googled it long ago, and know that it's in Friends Colony).
3) Why the older daughter insisted on my writing the dedication and Author's Note the previous weekend.
4) Why her driver was apparently never around, hence the RE was summoned time and again to pick her up from the Metro station or various parts of town. I'd really wondered at the amount of time he was missing!
5) Why the kids got him a new shirt to wear on the day of the party. (He'd bought it along with the kids, but if he'd brought home a new shirt to wear for a family birthday dinner, I would certainly have been suspicious).
6) Why the RE had a meeting in Nehru Place to discuss a solar energy project. (He'd specially gone to invite a very dear, senior friend of ours whom he did not wish to invite on the phone).
7) Why the girls would keep playing with my phone whenever they dropped in. They were busy pinching the numbers of my friends! They said they were sending themselves  photos that I had taken.
8) I have a dear friend whom I see often enough, or e-mail, but never call on the phone, though I do have her number in my actual, physical,address book. She also has a theatre space in her home, so the older daughter concocted an elaborate story about a play her students had created, and which they wanted to stage outside the University as well, and so she needed that number!
9) The younger daughter asked for the number of another friend who runs an online boutique, among other activities, because a friend apparently needed an outfit in a hurry. We usually communicate via Facebook messages, and I still don't have her number, so finally the older daughter writes her a long mail, explaining who she is and what the plan is.
10) Why the kids were trying to find out who my favourite nieces and nephews are!
11) Why the RE was removed from some WhatsApp groups. He'd ask the wrong questions on the wrong groups, and I would still not suspect a thing.

It was truly a masterpiece of planning. I am still completely overwhelmed by all the love, and the grace and elegance of the entire venture.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I found our guest room bed today

It was there last Friday,
And the bedcover and cushion covers
had been changed recently,
after I had spotted
monkey paw prints in that room
after the dreaded invasion
which was not as catastrophic
as it could have been.

But the clean and tidy bed
vanished after last Friday.
We had an overnight guest,
for whom a single sheet was spread
on top of the bedcover,
given the brevity of her stay.

And then our social life
went into overdrive,
and the guest room bed
vanished under piles of
ironed laundry (three separate loads)
unironed laundry,
socks and underclothing,
towels, napkins, dishcloths,
tea towels, shorts,
pyjamas, nightgowns

All overtook the poor bed
in a few short days.
I'm so glad it's found,
and I wonder to myself,
just for how long will we see it
neat and tidy?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Unwelcome guests!

We had some very unexpected guests this Sunday, rather unwelcome ones. I'm glad my neighbour phoned and told me of their visit, which would otherwise have been a huge shock.

Let me begin at the beginning.
Diwali is around the corner, and fairs and festivals are mushrooming all over the NCR. No, we don't visit all of them, just a couple of them. On Sunday afternoon we went with our daughters to Dastkaar Haat, a good hour's drive away from home.

We found a parking spot quite easily, and spent a good couple of hours enjoying the different stalls, buying small, interesting items like beautiful earrings (the girls and I), a small damru and a strange wooden cube puzzle which is now thoroughly annoying the person who purchased it: the spouse, since he is just not able to turn it back into a cube again. We bought apple chutney and flax seed fudge, candles in beautiful  rolled paper diyas, elephant dung paper products (the older daughter) etc., and then sat down to refresh ourselves with vada pav, icecream and delicious puranpoli. We were collecting our various parcels from the different stalls after paying the bill, when my phone rang. It was my next door neighbour, asking me if I was home.
I said that I wasn't, I was at least an hour and a half away. She told me that apparently my kitchen door was open, and a troop of monkeys had got into my house.

I told the family, and the RE immediately said that there was nothing to be done till we got home, so not to panic.

My older daughter has a spare key to our flat in her house, she tried calling our son, who was  enjoying a prolonged siesta, and didn't answer his phone.

We drove home in an exhausted, stunned silence, occasionally cheering ourselves up with the thought that at least we had eaten in peace, before the phone call!

We had just bought a brand new carpet, and I was hoping that the monkeys wouldn't destroy it. Or knock over the television. Or throw pickle oil all over it.

The RE was worried about the cabinet full of cutglass and bone china.

The girls didn't say anything.

I hoped that the monkeys had left. I didn't want to have to deal with them as well as whatever destruction they had wrought. They can bite.......

As we neared home I could feel the tension rising within me.

At the colony gate the RE asked for two guards to come to our apartment, and for them to carry stout sticks.

We took one such stick from the building guard.

We rode up the elevator to the third floor. I was extremely nervous about whatever lay within.

I unlocked the door. The RE told me not to switch on any lights, just in case the monkeys had switched on the gas......

It was dark, so we used our cell phones as torches.

The carpet was clean and undamaged.

There was no smell of gas.

We switched on the lights.

The TV was upright, the crockery cabinet unopened.

There was a banana peel on the dining table, the salt cellars were awry.

There were teeth marks on the cap of the RE's thyroid medicine bottle.

Our bedroom looked okay, as did the guest room.

The kitchen looked tornado struck.

The fridge was, fortunately, unopened, as was the pickle cupboard.

The glass fronted snack cupboard was wide open, the lemon squash bottle was on the floor, closed.

The Rooh Afza bottle was open, lying on its side, and the sticky red syrup was all over the floor.

The plastic cookie box with four tabs had one tab wrenched off, all the cookies devoured.

There had been four packets of pistachios in the cupboard, two were still there, one was ripped open and seemed full of half-eaten nuts. There were pistachio shells everywhere.

The front balcony (which has a door each to the drawing room and kitchen) was apparently the party venue. There were pistachio shells and cookie crumbs all over the place, even on the balcony chairs and table.

There were sticky red paw prints around the kitchen and dining room.

Before I could even heave a sigh of relief and give thanks to the powers-that-be, my girls had wielded mops and brooms and old newspapers and cleaned up the house to a functional level.

The younger son finally woke up, saw all the missed calls, and came over. He had got us those awesome cookies from Dehradun.

We all felt that the loss of some cookies, pistachios and a bottle of Rooh Afza and some odd namkeen was a very small price to pay for an invasion of this nature.

My older daughter looked at the beautiful turtle from New Mexico, and the bowls from Turkey, and said that we were truly fortunate that nothing valuable was damaged. The RE said, it's like being in an accident and escaping without a scratch. Much thankfulness all around.

The next morning a few monkeys came to our balcony again, presumably hoping for an open door. I clapped my hands and made shooing noises. Enraged, one yanked at my poor tulsi plant and knocked the pot over.
The pot didn't break, and most of the plant survived too.

We are now, of course, extremely careful with all our doors, especially when we go out, and even otherwise. The monkeys are not a constant feature- they arrive a couple of times a year, are a great nuisance until banished, until the next time. We have obviously taken over their territory, and they keep trying to take it back.

However unfair it may be to them, I would rather they stay away.

I am still truly thankful that our home escaped with minimum damage.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Big Fight

Life is full of conflicts- major ones, minor ones, global ones, national conflicts, sectarian conflicts ( all of which seem so unnecessary and so very distressing), inter-personal conflicts, and intra-personal ones, which are the most ludicrous of all.
Your average homemaker may or may not get sufficient sleep. This seems plausible enough when she has school and college going children, who have to be woken up and sent off with meals packed and breakfasts served to them, and to husbands too.When the spouse has retired, surely she has no reason to complain.
This is where the intra-personal issues arise. The body gets used to waking up at a particular time. The body also wants to go out for a walk, most mornings. On the days you decide not to walk, the bathroom beckons. It is usually possible to go back to sleep after a 'small' job. Once the bowels move, though, it is harder to get back to sleep. And if there are the usual issues of an urban Indian home, sleep remains under threat: there are early morning doorbells to be answered- the part-time help comes in, the press-wallah dhobi comes to collect the clothes that need ironing, the car-cleaner needs the car keys, drinking water needs to be filled before a particular time- it goes on. This is all normal. Problems arise when chemical substances confuse the poor body still further........

The weather these days is pleasant in the early mornings, and sweltering during the day. It has also triggered some strange allergies: my eyes itch, then water, and then the sneezes begin. Yesterday was a case in point, with streaming eyes and runny nose and acute irritation. I decided to take an anti-allergen. I thought of taking half a tablet, but it seemed as though the tablet was sniggering at my bulk.(Note to self: do not act upon the perceived sniggers of inanimate objects, particularly pills). One Cetrizine at bedtime, and at least the sneezes were under control. I decided that a morning walk was not an option, and woke up at 7.25 a.m., with five minutes to spare before the RO water supply was over for the morning. I filled the bottles, watered my solitary tulsi plant, filled the birds' water bowl (at least one pigeon drinks there every day), opened up my absent neighbour's house and watered her plants. The maid arrived, as did the dhobi. I parked myself on the couch and dozed, telling the maid to not clean our room as the RE was still asleep. As she left I told her of my dopey state, and when she sympathetically told me to go to sleep, I said that I was sure the spouse would be up the minute I entered our bedroom. I was wrong- as I closed the front door behind the maid, the man manifested himself in the dining room!  I made tea for both of us, drank tea, asked him to remove the tray from our bed, and I was asleep again. I did get up once to switch off the light, and pottered out to see him chopping onions and tomatoes for an omelette. I slept. And slept. And woke up to the inevitable conflict- needing to go to the bathroom vs. needing to stay asleep. Guess who won!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Eid (not always) mubarak

Our housing society has many employees, and most residents employ part time help for their mundane household chores. Many of these helpers are Muslim women from Bengal. They have interesting ways of substituting for each other, when one or the other has to go back to her native place, for whatever reason.
When we first moved here, in October 2013, my neighbour suggested that her maid work for me as well, and said that she was honest and reliable. Which was all very well, but Mehrun was with me for perhaps two months or so. She brought in Menuka, who was with me for nearly a year and a half: mid-March this year, she came in one day and announced that she was going to her village, and  Shaheen would do my work.  Menuka and Shaheen were quite reliable and regular- they rarely took time off, and would normally inform me in advance if they were doing so. In fact, Shaheen only took one day off for Eid in the five months she worked for me. (That she used to come to work very early in the morning and upset my morning walk schedule was another matter). In the interim, Mehrun came back and asked to join my employment again. I was loath to dismiss Shaheen, for no fault of hers. But it so happened that a couple of months later she had to go back to her village, as her daughter's in-laws were making her life miserable. Menuka hadn't returned. When I was leaving on my travels, she told me that Mehrun would work in her stead! Quite the merry-go-round. So, since my return earlier this month, I'm finally back with my original helper.

I'd forgotten to ask Mehrun yesterday whether or not she'd been coming to work today, on Eid, and was pleasantly surprised to find her come in earlier than usual. Apparently one madam had refused to let her take the day off today, so she decided to work in all her houses. A few days ago she had informed that she was taking the next day off, which is, to my mind, perfectly acceptable. I asked her why she didn't employ the same strategy when it is an important festival ? Perhaps that madam is very overpowering/entitled. I don't know what her reasons were. But I do think it very unfair to not give a person time off to celebrate a festival.

On a happier note, while I was going to our colony shop to pick up some vegetables, she asked me to buy a litre of full cream milk, so that she could go home and make sevaiyaan. (She wanted to pay for it, but I declined. A litre of milk and some cash as Eidi seemed to be an affordable token gift).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A very rooted story: Chasing New Rainbows by Manika Lal

How much of a person's life is defined by his or her origins, the place he/she was born in, the family and the town which define him/her?
India's modern stories are often found in the metropolises, or else in the rural areas. Stories from small towns, where the social structure is far more defined than in the big cities, where your ancestors and their peccadilloes are public knowledge, are not so very common, especially original works in English. Life may take the person out of the small town, but it is not so easy to take the small town out of the person. Manika Lal's novel, Chasing New Rainbows, explores the life stories of two 'best' friends, Kalpana and Vasundhara, growing up in the nineteen seventies, whose life trajectories take them on very divergent paths.

A deep childhood friendship apparently comes to an end with Kalpana's sudden marriage to Prince. (Yes, his family seems to have delusions of grandeur : although not of royal blood, they are very wealthy. Thankfully, he does have a nicer, desi, name). Although she would like to study further, beyond graduation, a cousin 'aunt' finds a perfect match for Kalpana, with immense pressure for an immediate marriage, as the prospective groom's grandfather is very ill and would like to see his Prince married before he departs this world. Prince is an ambitious young man who would rather focus on his business plans than on marriage, and although he agrees to marry, he is very cold to his beautiful new bride. She does come to terms with this new life, but a core of dissatisfaction remains deep within her. When they move to Mumbai, she is happiest when at her bedroom window, overlooking the birdbath in the housing society's garden, watching the birds. For her, birds and open spaces are home, the childhood home she has lost forever, since her parents have locked up their sprawling ancestral home and moved to a city to stay with their only son. Motherhood brings its own satisfactions as well as a new loneliness to Kalpana's life....

Vasundhara's childhood is far more restricted and constrained than Kalpana's. Perhaps their families had been similar to begin with, with large properties in the town. Vasu's father, however, has not consolidated his ancestral holdings, but has squandered them, leaving him with just the house he lives in, and a job in the local municipality, which somehow sustains his family. His hopes and ambitions centre around his son, Akash, Vasu's older brother. All resources are spent on his education and his nurturance. Even his baby sister is taught to take care of her older brother. Akash does go abroad for higher education and a job, but, tragically, suddenly stops communicating with his family. A pall  of gloom descends upon their home. Vasu has recently graduated, but is completely shaken by this event. Kalpana's visit telling her about her impending marriage upsets her even more, as she had hoped that they could, once again, study further together. (Kalpana's parents had sent her to live with her Nani and attend college in Nani's much bigger town). Her aunt, Muniya Bua, is shocked to see the state of her brother and his family, and especially her young niece, when she visits them on Raksha Bandhan. She decides to take Vasundhara back with her to her home in Delhi. Vasu's response to life in the capital is described beautifully and with great empathy. Slowly but surely, Vasundhara overcomes her insecurities, takes up a job, grows independent and supports her parents to the best of her ability. In all this, her family neither seeks out a match for her, nor do they encourage her to find one for herself. Vasundhara excels at her work, but is also very lonely, despite the unwanted interest shown in her by several male colleagues. A business associate from Mumbai seems to be interested in her, and she feels a growing attraction towards him.....

A chance meeting at a mall in Mumbai brings Kalpana and Vasundhara together again. Their renewed friendship helps both of them share their innermost thoughts and feelings with each other,  overcome a great deal of pain and sorrow, and find the eponymous new rainbows that they have both been looking for.

Manika Lal writes with great sensitivity and empathy. The interior lives of her characters are richly described. The chapters dealing with the different characters add layers to the narration. Finally, it is a book of hope and courage. (I also feel that better editing is required). I am hoping for a sequel!

Monday, September 14, 2015

A long break, a book event, keys, closed doors and the resident engineer

In the interim I travelled, spending time with the older son and his family, which includes my grandchild, who is now a delightfully busy and playful toddler. After spending just a couple of days with the RE's sister and her family, I hopped across the pond and visited the English side of the family, which includes another delightful infant, now all of seven months old (my late brother's grandson). I had a wonderful time with family and friends, and came home to jet lag, an aching wrist, and a stye on my left eyelid. (It's less swollen now, but still a bit painful).

These woes, however, are minor when I consider the trauma inflicted upon me by the spouse this Saturday evening. Saturday was one of those rare days when I had stuff to do on my own, stuff that was not really of interest to the RE. I made breakfast for both of us, prepared lunch for him, and left the house, carrying my front door key, just in case he happened to be out when I returned. ( In case you are interested in earlier key stories of our lives, do click on this link and the links in the post).

Saturday was not an easy day for me: it was my late sister's birthday, the first since her passing.
It was also her daughter's birthday. I spent the morning with my niece, and then went on to have lunch with the inimitable Aneela and the wonderful Kiran Manral,who was in the NCR to launch her latest book, All Aboard. ( See post below this one). After a delicious lunch, (and some truly awesome dark chocolate) we went to Meher Chand Market for Kiran's final book event on this trip, where a good time was had by all. Finally caught up there with Devapriya, who was too late to have lunch with us, but who is a dear friend whose delightful vagueness in real life belies the brilliance of her writing.   
( I almost drowned in nostalgia at the sight of said market, which is now full of very hip and happening shops and restaurants, a far cry from the innocuous little local market it was when I was a youngster who lived right next to it from late 1963 to mid-1976).

Our present accomodation is on the third floor, with a single entrance: we have a wooden door, beyond which is a metal grill gate covered in wire mesh, which has a giant key. ( I once went crazy hunting in my handbag for said giant key as soon as we'd left home on a long-ish trip to Delhi, and was so worked up by my inability to find it in the bag that I asked my daughter to send her driver across to make sure I hadn't left it in the front door, and on our return journey picked up the spare key from her place just in case I had actually lost it. I hadn't: it was lurking within stuff in the same inner pocket of the handbag in which I had kept it. I do live. My only excuse is that this was quite soon after we had moved, and the key's aura wasn't yet in harmony with mine).

I got home around seven, exactly as I had planned to. The house was dark. I tried inserting the key in the lock, but it was not locked, merely bolted from the inside. I phoned the man on his mobile. I phoned our landline, which has a LOUD ring. I called several times. I rang the doorbell too, several times. I was quite sure that the man had fallen asleep with the air conditioner on and the bedroom door closed. BUT I WAS STUCK OUTSIDE THE HOUSE WITH NO WAY TO GET IN, AND I NEEDED TO USE THE BATHROOM, especially after the several cups of tea I'd had with Devapriya and Aneela after Kiran had left to catch her flight. I also call my older daughter, who says they'd been out together, but had dropped him home around 5.30 p.m, and he'd said he had some e-mails to write. (I had taken our car).
There are four flats on each floor of our building. Next door neighbour's house was dark, also, my front door isn't visible from there. The people diagonally across are relatively new. The flat across from us is where I need to be. It helps that they have a full time help who knows me. Both the little boys are there, watching cartoons on the television. I tell them the situation, and they are as hospitable as can be. I use the bathroom! I ask for a telephone charger, as I need to keep calling home and my battery is running low. My older daughter calls, asking if she should come and pick me up. I decline, as I'd rather be close to home. The minutes keep ticking by. My phone grows warm in my hands from the constant calling. The mind starts playing tricks- the RE always answers his youngest sister's calls- I am tempted to call her (she lives in the US) and ask her to call him, just so that he picks up his wretched phone. The mind, useless worrier that it is, then goes into full fledged worry mode, imagining all kinds of dire possibilities. I am getting more and more jittery by the minute, although I am absolutely sure that the wretched man is snoring away to glory, and all my fears are heedless. After almost an hour of this nonsense, he FINALLY answers the landline! I call the older daughter, who tells me that she and her sister are at the colony gate and will be with us in a couple of minutes.

Nobody yells at the man. We merely express our anxiety, and describe the various solutions to gain entry into the house that we had thought of. Of course he had planned on having just a ten minute nap, or he would have locked the grill gate from the inside. If he hadn't been so sleepy, his cell phone would have been with him, instead of being charged at the point near the front door. He used to have a charger plugged in near his side of the bed. Why has that vanished? We think that a self-locking door, as we had in Kolkata, might be useful. (Though the risks of him getting locked out are very high with such a system). We decide to get a loud doorbell installed in our bedroom (though we haven't done it yet). The RE feels we should employ a full time help to be there as a permanent door opener! (With my luck, that person would probably be a modern day Kumbhkaran). Rather bitterly, I say that he obviously doesn't want me to go out on my own. I recall the zillion times I've woken up at all odd hours to open the door for him when he's returned from his travels.
The younger daughter and I have to go out together on Sunday morning. The girls suggest that I lock him in, and hide the spare key! I do lock him in, if he's asleep or in the bathroom when I need to leave, but the second key is kept very visibly and prominently near the main door, as I'm quite paranoid about leaving anyone locked up. We tell him that we will lock him in, and the key will be right there, but he should be a good boy and not unlock the door for anybody.

The next day, as we unlock the door and let ourselves in,  the RE calls me on my mobile phone just to let me know that he's awake!!!!!!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Coming Soon!!!

Kiran Manral's third novel is soon to be launched!
And since most of the action takes place on a ship, "launch" seems particularly appropriate.

 'All Aboard' is published by Penguin Random House.

When Rhea Khanna is dumped just days before her marriage, by her boyfriend of four years, the only thing she wants to do is to get out of the city to clear her head.  The opportunity presents itself immediately when her aunt, a retired school headmistress, invites her to accompany her on a Mediterranean cruise.

As Rhea struggles to cope with her grief of being dumped at the altar, she finds herself getting attracted to the seemingly unavailable Kamal Shahani—the infuriatingly attractive ex-student of her aunt and a hot shot entrepreneur.  To add to the confusion, Sonia, Kamal’s very attractive ex-girlfriend boards the ship in a bid to win him back.

Will Rhea heal her broken heart, or will she end up even more shattered than she was when she got on this cruise? Read, to find out.

The Pre-order links for the book here:
About the author:
Kiran Manral was a journalist before she quit to be a full time mommy. An erstwhile blogger, both her blogs were considered amongst India's top blogs and she was a Tehelka blogger columnist on gender issues.
Her debut novel, The Reluctant Detective, was published by Westland in 2012 and her second novel Once Upon A Crush, was published by Leadstart in May 2014. She has three books due for release in 2015, the first of these being All Aboard! from Penguin Random House.
She is on the planning board of the Kumaon Literary Festival, an advisor on the Board of Literature Studio, Delhi, an Author Mentor at and a columnist at She was awarded the Women Achievers award by Young Environmentalists Group in 2013.
She currently blogs at and is on twitter @kiranmanral.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A mystery solved!

I'd wondered for years how coconuts were cut into beautifully uniform pieces and sold by roadside vendors. A couple of months ago the RE and I decided to buy some fruit (and bhuttas) from a local market. There was a coconut seller there too, selling whole coconuts, as well as large pieces. I asked him how he shelled the nut, and he was kind enough to give me a live demonstration! He used a screwdriver as a chisel, and a hammer, and banged and hammered away gently until the coconut was shelled, after which he cut it into large pieces.
I haven't tried this technique yet, but it didn't look too difficult.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mixing metaphors

The Hindi language has some interesting proverbs and idioms, many of which I had to learn in school, and which have been part of my mental landscape for decades now.
For the past few years I have been rather distressed by the inaccurate use of some of these metaphors, not only by individuals in private conversation, which can be excused, I suppose, but by public figures on television and in film lyrics.
A case in point is the mixing up of the phrases 'thhaali ka baingan' and 'ek hi thhaili ke chatte batte'.
The first refers to someone with no fixed beliefs or values: one who will roll along like a round eggplant on a tray: shifting as the tray is tilted, therefore untrustworthy.  The second refers to a set of small pebbles or jacks which were used to play various indoor games with, all were more or less alike, and all were stored in the same pouch/small bag. Metaphorically, it means arising from the same source, being similar, sharing the same values.
When we refer to corrupt officials, we may deride them by saying 'sab ek hi thhaili ke chatte batte'- all belonging to the same category.

The children's film Chillar Party perpetuated this mistake in the song 'Chatte Batte'. You cannot even Google 'Ek Hi Thhaili ke Chatte Batte'- you will automatically get to this song and 'Thhaali'.
The lyricists ( Nitesh Tiwari, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Vikas Bahl, Amit Trivedi)  obviously meant 'Thhaili", which is what makes sense in the context of the film. Thhaalis do not have chatte batte.
I wish they had checked with a Hindi grammar textbook.

And now we also have Hindi newsreaders also using this misbegotten, inaccurate phrase.
Lyricists, newsreaders: sab ek hi thhaili ke chatte batte.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


My home is full of clutter of various kinds: ancient files, paperwork of various vintages, endless books, several of which we may never look at again, objet d'art and assorted bric a brac . We also have vast quantities of the original packing of various appliances, against the day when we move out of rented accomodation and into a place of our own. I would love to ruthlessly dispose of many many things, but I don't really see myself doing so. I don't know about the rest of my ancestors, but my father was definitely a hoarder. I have another, rather specious sounding reason too, to not get too organised.
My sister had been on a mission to declutter for quite some time. She gave away vast quantities of stuff to various people, things both new and old, which she distributed among friends and family with the utmost generosity. My father and I had bought some small ceramic snack bowls (for his house) from Cottage Industries many many years ago. One fine day my sister packed them up and handed them to me, insisting that I keep them and use them. She very rarely wore sarees, and gave away most of her saree wardrobe, as well as many other things that no longer found much use. She seems to have very successfully cleared out whatever she thought of as clutter. And then, quite suddenly, she left this mortal coil.
          A good friend of hers has been inspired to take a leaf out of my sister's book, and get rid of all unnecessary items in her house. I, on the other hand, am hanging onto my clutter for dear life. As long as my decluttering remains merely aspirational, I'm sure that my Maker will let me hang around in my messy domain. Once I've successfully organised my life, who knows. I'd rather not risk it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Another loss

In an extremely strange symmetry, the RE also lost a sister. She had been suffering for a long time from a progressive condition, and we sadly observed this bright and beautiful lady's irreversible decline, the tireless efforts of her family to reverse her condition, and her husband's single minded devotion to her care.
We all miss her. With her passing, I try to erase the memories of the silent figure who seemed impervious to our greetings and caresses, and to remember the sister who loved and cherished us all.
Each one of us has our own particular set of memories of our interactions with her, and sharing those brings us some comfort.

This is life.
This is life.
It ends, for each and every one of us,
It will end.
Knowing this,
why does it still hurt so much????

Thursday, June 11, 2015


How do I lighten this load of an absence?
Is it grief, or fear, or both?
Grief, missing her in so many ways;
so many things remind me of her presence: her many many presents!
The tulsi plant, the flour scoop, the click-shut kitchen boxes,
the snack bowls Dad and I had bought
at Cottage Emporium long years ago
which she insisted that I keep
the embroidered hand towels,
and the small hanky sized ones for my morning walk.
The book she decided that my husband would like.
The Tanchoi the colours of our mother's wedding saree
The yellow silk saree that she wanted me to wear on Basant Panchmi
The Kota she couriered to me in Kolkata.....
The block print that was exactly my type of saree
the bed covers, the cushion covers, the generous presents to all my kids,
the presents that came in handy for giving away, too.....

And the landline, that hardly ever rings now,
it was like our exclusive, personal, sisterly phone.
It hardly ever rings now.
Its silence underlines her absence.
I miss her calls, all the family news she gave me.

Soon before she left us, I noticed her wonderful dark eyes and lashes
that looked kohl-rimmed, but never were.
How had I never noticed them before????

We were so different but so similar too that it scares me:
Our voices apparently similar, or maybe it was the way we spoke.
We did resemble each other, apparently, although we didn't always want to!
Both my siblings gone before sixty two. A very scary fact.
And yet pointless, this fear.
Each day has to be lived
the best it can be, whether there are just a few days, or many.
Who knows? Not me.

But how, pray, will this burden of an absence be lightened?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

An Unimaginable Shock

My sister passed away very suddenly on the 25th April. 
She had called me just a few hours before that.
I am still trying to come to terms with this strange new world in which she longer exists, 
her absence a huge gaping void.

From a childhood of having her as an additional mother figure,
who plaited my hair tight, and ironed our school uniforms,
( the two years between us seemed insurmountable:
she'll always be two years older than me, I'd wail,
at her bossiness, at the special privileges she had)
an illustrious role model in our school,
where she was an avid sportswoman, athlete, all-rounder,
the head girl of our school
(almost to the point where I resented her
for practically defining my identity)
to our lives diverging through college
(different streams, different campuses)
and marriage, different cities and countries,
our lives' trajectories taking us far away from each other

And yet, always there for me
Sewing clothes for my babies, giver of many gifts,
taking us around her beloved city,
visiting mine......

Being a rock solid support during our parents' last few months
and years, there whenever I needed her.......

I suppose God knew what he was doing 
when we were inspired to move back to the capital.
Even though we lived at different ends of the city,
At least we were in the same place, 
(meeting occasionally, speaking often)
for this final chapter of her life......

It feels much too soon, 
this sudden departure, not even sixty-two,
just like our brother, who went as suddenly
at almost the same age, so many years ago.

Memories: from long ago, and from the recent past.
From being the youngest of three siblings, to having none.
Two families with only a single parent left in each.
A three year old looking for his grandmother all over her house.
A four month old who never ever knew his grandfather
But both of them live on in our thoughts, in our lives, and in our memories......

Monday, April 13, 2015

Toothpaste Tales

I have a magic toothpaste tube
that has been living in my bathroom
for a while now.
It is squeezed out, and ready for the bin,
but every time I give it
'one last squeeze'
out comes enough
for yet another brushing.
I can see my father chuckling away,
wherever he may be,
knowing that he may be gone, but never forgotten!

As a child I used to seriously hate
the almost empty toothpaste tube
that Dad would insist on our finishing completely,
every last smidgeon of toothpaste squeezed out, ruthlessly.
He would even cut the tube in the middle
to extricate the last tiny bits,
which annoyed me even more,
and I dreamt of an adulthood
of toothpaste extravagance.
I dreamt of wasting whole tubes of toothpaste,
making jalebi squggles with them on the floor,
something that I never ever did.

And I see myself in the bathroom mirror,
squeezing that damn tube till the very end
Not quite knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Even if I wanted to, Daddy, (which I know I don't)
I can never ever forget you.......

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Delightful folktales!

My friend Riti Prasad is on a roll! I have before me her second book for children, Folktales from Around the World. It has five delightful stories, one each from Malaysia, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Nigeria and Japan. The book is beautifully illustrated by Navleen Kohli.

The first story tells the tale of a clever mouse deer, who manages to outwit several far more powerful animals in the forest in which he lives.

The next, a Zulu folktale, tells us how stories were born, and is a charming account of a family whose children are hungry for stories, and how the mother's sincere efforts to get them stories bear fruit.

The Czech story is about two sisters, Marushka and Helena, and also why the Czech weather is so unpredictable.  Marushka's efforts to fulfull her  sister Helena's demands take her to the top of the mountain, at the base of which they live with their parents, where she meets the twelve months, who help her. Of course there is a moral too.

The Yoruba tale from Nigeria, about an elephant and a tortoise, is an absolute delight. Anything more about this story would detract from the fun of it!

The Moonflower, a story from Japan, is a beautiful story about a baby girl who is found in the forest by a childless woodcutter, who takes her home to his wife, and they bring her up as their own child.
Once she grows up, her destiny takes an unexpected turn. A gentle, poignant story.

I only wish there had been more stories. These are refreshingly different, and also a reminder of the world's amazingly rich heritage of folk tales.

Published by Mango Books, an imprint of DC Books.
You can order it here:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Neighbours!

I first encountered these neighbours last spring, and was delighted to know that they were part of our environs. The husband was more frequently visible, although he'd often perform apparently magical disappearing tricks. I managed to spy his hideaway one day: the hole in the balcony ceiling for a ceiling fan fixture.
Now Mr. And Mrs. Sparrow were lithe and agile creatures,who hopped/flew in and out of their home with alacrity, but it certainly seemed to be a strange place for a nest. The laws of gravity seemed to be beyond the understanding of this couple. ( Besides the fact that the laundry drying on the stands in the balcony was often decorated by bird-droppings).
A couple of eggs smashed onto the floor. I sincerely hoped that Mrs.Sparrow had laid enough eggs for at least some to hatch. And then it was time for me to leave for several weeks, for the birth of my grandchild.
The spouse followed a month later, and the house was closed for about a fortnight.

When I opened the balcony door, I was saddened to see two almost dessicated baby bird carcasses on the floor. I don't know if their were any survivors out of that clutch of eggs.

It's spring again, Mr. Sparrow is visible, while his mate is only heard. I truly wonder at the chances of the survival of their chicks. I am fond of these neighbours and only wish that they weren't such bird brains.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


A lady with whom I have a nodding/smiling  acquaintance accosted me on my walk this morning.

'I haven't seen your mom around for a while,' she said.

'It's been five years since my mother passed away,' I told her.

'Aren't you an artitect (sic)? She had said that her daughter's an artitect. She looks exactly like you.'

Much as I would love to be an artitect/artytect, I respectfully declined.

But there's someone in our complex who's a dead ringer for me!

Maybe I can be a good  'arty'tect.

Especially since I painted a couple of oil paintings in recent months.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Number Love!

The fact that I did not do particularly well in the last maths exam that I appeared for several decades ago does not mean that I do not appreciate the beauty of numbers. I was delighted to learn that my friend Riti Prasad has written a fun maths book for children ( age10and above) and was very pleased when Mango Books (an imprint of DC Books) sent me a copy to review.

Some famous mathematicians find their place in the first chapter of the book- there are brief notes about the ancient Greek mathematicians from Thales, Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes and Erastosthenes, the Indians Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, Bhaskaracharya, Ramanujan and Shakuntala Devi, British contributors such as Ada Lovelace, Bertrand Russell, G.H. Hardy, and Andrew Wiles, as well as Egyptian, European and Iranian mathematicians.I would have loved more details and stories about some of these personalities, such as the legendary Bhaskaracharya lessons to  his daughter Lilavati, and the friendship between Hardy and Ramanujan.

Riti then narrates several delightful stories in which numbers play a central role. "Who Is The Brave Man?" is based on an African folktale. A Liberian folktale forms the basis for the next story, "How Do They Add Up."
A simple and systematic account of Fibonacci numbers makes the beautiful numbering patterns of nature extremely clear.
We have the famous chessboard reward story from India next, as well as a story that involves dividing chapatis!
Another famous story, "The Father's Will", is used to illustrate dividing into fractions.
A Chinese legend illustrates the concept of a magic square. Time cycle and rhythm in Indian music essentially apply the principles of magic square. It also forms the underlying principle of Sudoku and the Rubik's cube.
Each chapter narrates an interesting story about its central concept. There are puzzles and quizzes after each chapter, and the answers are explained clearly and systematically at the back of the book.

It is a compact book with a lot of subject matter. I personally feel that it could be printed in a bigger format, with more illustrations, and in colour. It was extremely interesting even for someone of my age, and helped renew my appreciation of the magic of numbers.

You can order it at:,_facts_and_fiction

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Of the grandchild and brinjals!

My aubergineous article for AntiSerious:

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Games weather plays!

Weather in the NCR (National Capital Region) is weird, to say the least.
It has decided to play tricks on me!
(I'm egoistic enough to take it personally).

We had planned to go out last Sunday morning, though the RE wasn't very keen to begin with. I woke up at seven, (planning to wake up the spouse by eight), and peered out of the bedroom window, to see fog so dense that nothing but fog was visible. We have a tall building across the road from us, but there was no building, no road, no compound wall, no green belt: only a dense whiteness. The 'view' from the sitting room window was no better: the neighbouring block of flats had disappeared as well. The maid, however, did come in, a little past her usual time.

We remained fogbound till almost noon.

Mr. Sun, please do not vanish on your day. How can we have a Sunday without you?
Monday was foggy too.

There were very few morning walks happening.
On the last morning of the year, though, a good friend called and we went for a late-ish walk.

I resolved to start the new year with a walk, and I did, although it was grey and cold. (Had a nap later).

We celebrated the first day of the New Year, we had lunch with our kids and their friends at the delightful Cafe Lota. Mr. Sun remained on leave. I missed him.

On the morning of the 2nd, I was up early and got ready: jacket and woolly hat and scarf and all!
I stepped out and was about to lock the front door, when I heard what sounded like shuffling footsteps. I looked out of the lobby window, and it was suddenly, sneakily raining. There went my walk. It was miserably cold and soggy and bleak all day, my least favourite weather.

This morning it wasn't raining, though the road was wet. A few minutes into my walk, there was an almost magical misting of my glasses, and I brushed moisture off my jacket, from the tiniest of miniature droplets, enough to make their presence felt, yet soundless and almost non-existent.

I'm quite enjoying these weather games- I wonder what tomorrow will bring!

Happy New Year, gentle readers.
May we all be blessed with a climate of kindness and compassion, and thankfulness for what is.
As Shakespeare wisely said,
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
  Thou art not so unkind
      As man’s ingratitude.....