Monday, December 26, 2022

One hundred years

 Today is very special for me as it marks my father's 100th birthday.

This photograph is about thirty years old, taken on the occasion of Holi, at my aunt's home in Allahabad. My brother was visiting from England, and he accompanied my parents to Allahabad, and to my home in Lucknow.
My father looked like this for much of his life: serene, good humoured, with a smile hovering around his lips. Even when he was old and infirm, Daddy was always stoic. He shed a few tears on learning of my brother's sudden demise, but subsequently kept his grief to himself. He shared joyful memories of my brother with my sister-in-law and my nephews, for the memorial service
From him, I think, I have learned to find joy and contentment in the everyday, to appreciate whatever life has to offer. He was always appreciative of good food, and relished, most expressively, my mother's cooking. He would, enthusiastically, share the hottest of green chillies with me, leaving me with watering eyes and a burning mouth! He loved listening to good music, especially his beloved Saigal, whom he inflicted upon his unwilling children, until Saigal's immortal songs became part of our very being. He had a fondness for the performing arts, and was an enthusiastic theatre goer. I remember hearing about my parents, (when we lived in London), having had to book their tickets for the My Fair Lady musical, some ten months in advance. He subsequently also loved the Stagedoor performance of Pygmalion in Delhi several decades later. An abiding memory is of an M.S.Subbalakshmi concert at the Ashoka Hotel, transformative by its sheer beauty. He would take me and my sister to Sapru House to watch children's films.
Books, of course. A few cherished reference books: an atlas, dictionary, encyclopaedia, plus some of the Readers Digest condensed books. Mostly library books. Daddy chortling away while reading Wodehouse. Much later, while staying with us (when living independently was no longer possible for my parents), he would happily watch old Utpal Dutt movies time and time again, chuckling away at the same comedies. Golmaal and Naram Garam were his great favourites. He had a wicked sense of humour. He also, in his later years, became very fond of Google Baba, which became the arbiter of any factual disagreements we may have had. He had always been staunchly independent, and was always willing to try to learn/do something new.
As I plan to make the first carrot halwa of the season, I remember our family halwa making venture, with Daddy grating many kilos of carrots with a hand-powered rotary grater.
He was always appreciative of my efforts in looking after him, and would say, "Tum ko badi mushakkat karni padti hai."
I am inundated with memories, far too many to share here.
I remain eternally grateful for having Dayal Saran Seth as my father.
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Friday, October 28, 2022


Reema Ahmed's book, Unparenting bears the tagline "Sharing Awkward Truths With Curious Kids." It is much, much more than that. It is a deeply philosophical book which has you question many of your own beliefs and practices, and seriously makes you think, not just about parenting, but about your own relationship with the world. It is also gently humorous in places. It can also punch you in the gut.              

 I read this book a few weeks ago, and have, since then, been wondering how to write about it without merely quoting Reema's words!

Reading (and practicing) Unparenting  is likely to provide an antidote to Philip Larkin's immortal 'This Be the Verse':

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    I quote."in its rush to propagate our species, to achieve fulfilment and immortality, to feel whole and happy, we have forgotten something crucial to the survival of the very thing we need--the clarity to want to reproduce not because we feel we need children, but because we want them....very few parents think deeply about what a child really needs beyond the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter...Does that tiny, beautiful, incredible, individual life exist because you want it to exist, because you're ready and prepared to welcome and nurture it with presence and joy? Or does it exist because you think it is something that must be done or simply because there was a condom 'accident'?....We need to probe deeper into our own patterns of need and neglect as parents that create these 'bad' children who never really grow up...Children are born powerless, innocent and harmless. If they destroy themselves and others, if they fall prey to violence and abuse, then surely, their circumstances are a reflection of the society they live in...children are routinely subjected to fear, punishment, deprivation and neglect. and no one intervenes. Why?"

The author describes real life cases of parenting gone wrong, cases that will break your heart. She speaks of body safety and abuse awareness, in terms which help safeguard rather than frighten the child. She speaks of the child's discovery of its own body, and its curiosity about self and other relevant bodies. The author guides parents to answer their child's questions pertaining to sex with sensitivity, and age appropriate information. The chapter headings speak for themselves, dealing with puberty, sex and reproduction, bullying, relationships, love and dating, single parents and dating, separation and divorce, loss and grief, emotions and mental health. She gives examples from her own life as a divorced single mother with a now teenage son. She writes of the support she has received from her natal family, as well as the difficulty of balancing the emotional needs of her child vis-a-vis the generational differences with her parents. She speaks of the need for support and friendships which sustain. 

I find myself unable to do justice to this beautifully written, intensely honest book. I think  that the best I can say about it is, Read It!  It will transform you. 

Unparenting is published by Penguin Random House India.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Book Review: Hyderabad: The Second Book of the Partition Trilogy

 Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is an author whose books speak about the human condition in immensely informative and enriching ways, and one whose works I value greatly.

I was greatly affected by her first book in this Trilogy, Lahore. Her interweaving of the lives of ordinary people, with the lives of the leaders and politicians of the time, was masterful. The character of Sardar Patel stood out for me, as I realised I knew so little about this stalwart, as well as the support he received from his daughter, Manibehn. Even the Mountbattens' dog found a mention, as did their daughter, Pamela. Somehow, though, the horrors of that painful time in our country's history converged, in my mind, with our present state of  simmering communal tension, inducing intense despair, which kept me from writing about that brilliant book.

Hyderabad deals with a history that I knew very little about. It is an immensely readable account of the difficulties in getting the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, to join the newly independent Indian nation. It is a fascinating, and yet again, painful time in our history, with communal riots breaking out, 'death trains' crossing the borders between India and Pakistan, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and Jinnah's attempts to woo the Nizam, who was an extremely strange character in his own right. Dirty, smelly, a heavy smoker, yet astute enough to run rings around his legal adviser, Walter Monckton, the Indian government as well as the Governor General, Louis Mountbatten, the Nizam comes across as an extremely intriguing character, totally convinced of his own, and his kingdom's, invincibility. And yet, his daughter-in-law, the Princess Niloufer, speaks highly of his kindness to her. Her lady in waiting, Uzma, gets caught up in the political intrigues of the time, as do Jaabili, and Daniyal Khan, who runs a printing press.The narrative is richly textured, and one learns about many of the social systems prevalent in Hyderabad at the time, many of which were patently unfair, if not actually cruel. There are many characters and many adventures, all interwoven skillfully, to create a richly woven masterpiece.                                                                                                                      

Friday, September 2, 2022

Tech travails

 The universe seems to be truly conspiring to get me to blog! This morning's adventure is a case in point.

Not wanting to bore you, gentle readers, with medical details, let me tell you that for several years now, the spouse has been on blood thinners, and also has to keep the thinness of his blood within certain parameters. This has involved regular visits to the local pathology lab, scoldings and much nagging when there is too huge an interval between tests. In India, though, testing itself has never been a problem: you give the blood sample in the morning, and by late afternoon or early evening you get the report online, well in time for the next dose of blood thinner, which we have learned to tweak as required. (During the lockdown, the technician would come home in protective gear and take the sample).

The problem arises when we travel abroad, and especially in the USA, where our visits are of a longer duration. Most places you can't get a blood test without a prescription, and if you do manage to get a doctor to phone in a requisition for you, you don't get the results in time for you to know how much of the thinner to take that evening. It becomes especially stressful if the patient has symptoms of extra thin blood like bleeding from the ear or nose.

And so, before we visited the son and his family in the USA this summer, I was determined not to travel without a Coaguchek, a device very similar to the home blood sugar monitors, but vastly more expensive, and rather more complicated. Nonetheless, your testing remains in your domain. The spouse had tried my cousin's machine when we visited him last October. It seemed sensible to acquire one. And so, a few weeks before we were due to travel, I bought the device from the dealer, and he came over in the evening to give the spouse a live demonstration of the same. This included setting the date and time, and the code chip for the box of strips. Although there was a fairly exhaustive booklet accompanying the device, I made simple procedural notes on a sheet of paper, which I kept in the machine's pouch. The young man was incredibly helpful, and said that we could call him any time we had a problem.

We had adventures with the device. The next time we tried to use it, it showed an error. We phoned. The dealer told us that it was a delicate darling, would not function in severe summer heat. And so tests were conducted in our bedroom, with the air conditioning on. The blood drop had to be of the right size, the device demanded a fat drop of blood. You had to remove your finger at the precise moment that it beeped. There were various error codes. Each time the spouse tests, it is a joint venture: I stand by with my instruction sheet, issuing instructions. We seemed to be getting reasonably competent, or so we thought.

This morning, after much prodding over the past few days, we proceeded to test. But, the device showed Error No. 3, which meant that the strip had expired. I checked the box: the strips were expiring next August. We tried another strip,and another one from a new box, which bore the same expiry date. (The second box is a monument to my stupidity, will spare you that story). We urgently phoned the dealer. He said that it was possible that the device's date settings had changed, hence the error. We looked. The time, day, month, all were correct. The year had mysteriously changed itself to 2023. The dealer had said that he could help us correct it on a video call. The spouse pottered off to his study. Charged by my new gung-ho spirit, I took out the instruction manual, and successfully changed the date. Summoned the spouse. The test was conducted successfully. I messaged the kind dealer, and we went about our day. Our life and its strange challenges!

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Come September : A new beginning

 The last few weeks were marked by exhaustion/laziness. I walked, cooked, did the laundry, put things into wardrobe i.e out of the way. Nothing done particularly well. (All cupboards just have stuff dumped in, not placed/hung neatly and elegantly). Ennui ruled, big time. It was not lack of things to do. It was too many things to do, and a complete lack of interest in doing them. Not doing them added to the guilt, of course, compounding the burdened feeling.

We had a new cupboard made for our storeroom in the apartment. The old, smaller, almost cardboard/hardboard cupboard that I had ordered online last year, was falling to pieces. Our carpenter fixed that beautifully, too, after some persistent persuasion by the spouse. (The spouse is a force of nature, easier to go along with than to resist). The raison d'etre for the new cupboard were the bags and cartons of assorted objet d'art and candles and what not lying in our basement since we moved last year. (Unforgettably, on Independence Day. The cupboards were installed the next day). Somehow, I wasn't able to take myself down to the basement. The lift goes right there, our storage room isn't far from the lift either. The mental block was real. I knew I had to go, but I couldn't. Ironed laundry was piling up in the guest room, ironed sarees and blouses parked themselves on top of the laundry drier, right next to the steel almirahs in which they belong. There's a shelf full of sad pickles in the kitchen that urgently needs sorting. Books double-line the shelves, and are hence "unfindable".

My younger grandchild turned five yesterday. I think I was energized by talking to her. As of yesterday, all the kids in her Kindergarten class are five years old! There was tremendous magic in her being four years old one day, and five years old the next! I think that magic affected me too! August with its ennui is over, September is a brand new month. This morning I went for my walk with the basement key in my pocket, and came home with a large bag which I have yet to unpack and sort. The laundry has been put away. A new blogpost has been written. September augurs well.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Fifteen Years Old Today!

 Yes, Of This and That has been around for the past fifteen years, for better or worse. Nowadays I often see it as just a repository for my musings on Facebook, but nonetheless, it exists. My intentions towards it are always honourable. Perhaps I will do you justice before you turn sixteen, Blog.

These fifteen years have been transformative in so many ways. Many warm friendships in the real and virtual world. An opening up of worlds hitherto unknown. Friendships across the globe. Babies and small kids who featured in their parent's blogs are now grown up, or almost. So much has transpired in these fifteen years. I had the support and love of so many during my parents' last years. Travelling to the USA for the first time in 2007. Subsequent visits, for my son's wedding, for the birth of both my grandchildren, just for fun. Travels to Australia, Singapore, Thailand, England, Europe: some featured here, some ignored due to inertia. The wisdom of so many others, the poetry of many poets, my introduction to some absolutely fabulous authors and poets, movies, theatre, all began in the blog world.

I am so thankful to the technology that has brought so many close to me. I grieve for the misuse of the same technology. I remember Forster's wise words, Only Connect.

Yes, that is what we have always tried to do, me and my blog. Only connect.

Happy birthday, Blog.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

August musings, (with a little July)

My duranta is in bloom.
A lone balloon on the lawn
A skinny kitten eludes the camera
Whitey perches on the guestroom
window sill
A few fat drops of rain
That do not keep me from
Completing my last round.
Happy morning!

26th July, 2022

The insomniac's wife is majorly sleep deprived.
He sleeps whenever sleep comes, like a baby.
Like a small baby's mother, she is advised,
Sleep when he sleeps.
It didn't make sense then,
It doesn't make sense now
There's the household with its rhythms
And its help, its particular timings.
And morning walks are possible only
In the morning.
Breakfast merges with lunch.
Leftovers get leftover again,
Then are given to the help.
Each snore is an onslaught upon her brain.
She prays that he sleeps through the night
And life gets its rhythm back again.

28th July, 2022

Who was the betrayer,
The one I always loved
Who now refused
To be good to me?
Or the vicissitudes of age
Which led to problems
Between my beloved and I?
No longer were we in harmony,
Once made for each other, but now
Troublesome, painful in the extreme.
My beloved, favourite arhar (tur) dal,
Tell me why I can no longer digest you?

31st July 2022

Random thoughts on Independence Day 2022
We were brave enough to move house last year on this day!
Our "own" apartment, as 'permanent' a residence as is possible in this temporary world of ours
Which fact many forget in their hubris...
We are only guests on this planet, not permanent residents.
We, humanity, haven't been good tenants on this earth of ours
Leaving it in a greater mess than before
While Nature wreaks havoc in despair.
My mind leaps from thought to thought
Is it not a strange coincidence that our housing societies are governed by RWAs
Which seem very Right Wing in their practices?
The polyester flag is statutory this year.
You have no option but to pay for it
And have it installed in your balcony
While poverty, ignorance and disease
Run rampant. Huge funds spent, and collected, on shiny polyester flags.
Symbolizing perhaps our synthetic patriotism, in a country where huge power
Is held by descendants of the polyester baron.
And yet, my heart sings songs of freedom
'Jhanda ooncha rahe hamara
Vijayee vishwa tiranga pyaara'.
Though I despair of so much that happens here
My love for my country is visceral.
Happy 94th birthday to my mother.
She was already mother to a toddler then,
And would go to Gandhiji's prayer meetings
With my father, all those decades ago.
Our independence was truly hard won, something to cherish and preserve forever.
Happy 75th Independence Day, India.

15th August, 2022

The Archeology of Dentistry
Every single new hairdresser I've ever been to
Complains of the lousy job the one before them did.
Similarly, dentists.
When you get to my age
And have lived in several cities
And have had several dentists
You are asked strange questions
To which you don't remember the answers
If you ever knew them, that is.
Because once pain is over
Treatment is done, and you feel half human again
You blank out all memory of visits to the dentist of the day/month/year/city,
And what was done to what tooth when.
Which dentist was responsible for which root canal, which crown, which implant...
Impossible to remember.
While having a very long overdue cleaning session today, with my very competent and charming young dentist, I recalled an ancient fantasy of mine:
To be wealthy enough to have a dental chamber at home, with my personal dentist brushing my teeth for me every single day,
So that I would never have to go to the dentist!

24th August, 2022

Catching up!

The French window is open
The plants I watered this morning
Are enjoying the rain
The lights are on
The son is home
Breakfast done
The country is unspeakable
We have rain today.

30th June, 2022

Mr. Beagle
Seems to think
That the walking path
In our green belt
Belongs exclusively to him
So he stands in front of me
And howls at me
Until he is leashed
And taken away.
I have to break stride
For him, annoying,
But I know that we are soul mates:
We both claim that path
As our own!

15th July 2022

The rainy day
Had the dryer
Justify its existence
A thunderclap:
Pigeons panic
flying to shelter
The airconditioner
Has time off.
And we go for a long drive.

17th July 2022

I am introduced at approximately one hour and ten minutes.
Of course, it would be wonderful if you have the time to hear the whole programme.
Srijan Poetry: Tribute to ANNA AKHMATOVA & June Multi-Lingual Poetry Adda!

Right to Life: Powerful indeed

 SAILLE: Right To Life

A woman is not a pear tree
thrusting her fruit into mindless fecundity
into the world. Even pear trees bear
heavily one year and rest and grow the next.
An orchard gone wild drops few warm rotting
fruit in the grass but the trees stretch
high and wiry gifting the birds forty
feet up among inch long thorns
broken atavistically from the smooth wood.
A woman is not a basket you place
your buns in to keep them warm. Not a brood
hen you can slip duck eggs under.
Not the purse holding the coins of your
descendants till you spend them in wars.
Not a bank where your genes gather interest
and interesting mutations in the tainted
rain, any more than you are.
You plant corn and you harvest
it to eat or sell. You put the lamb
in the pasture to fatten and haul it in to
butcher for chops. You slice the mountain
in two for a road and gouge the high plains
for coal and the waters run muddy for
miles and years. Fish die but you do not
call them yours unless you wished to eat them.
Now you legislate mineral rights in a woman.
You lay claim to her pastures for grazing,
fields for growing babies like iceberg
lettuce. You value children so dearly
that none ever go hungry, none weep
with no one to tend them when mothers
work, none lack fresh fruit,
none chew lead or cough to death and your
orphanages are empty. Every noon the best
restaurants serve poor children steaks.
At this moment at nine o’clock a partera
is performing a table top abortion on an
unwed mother in Texas who can’t get
Medicaid any longer. In five days she will die
of tetanus and her little daughter will cry
and be taken away. Next door a husband
and wife are sticking pins in the son
they did not want. They will explain
for hours how wicked he is,
how he wants discipline.
We are all born of woman, in the rose
of the womb we suckled our mother’s blood
and every baby born has a right to love
like a seedling to sun. Every baby born
unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come
due in twenty years with interest, an anger
that must find a target, a pain that will
beget pain. A decade downstream a child
screams, a woman falls, a synagogue is torched,
a firing squad is summoned, a button
is pushed and the world burns.
I will choose what enters me, what becomes
of my flesh. Without choice, no politics,
no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield,
not your uranium mine, not your calf
for fattening, not your cow for milking.
You may not use me as your factory.
Priests and legislators do not hold shares
in my womb or my mind.
This is my body. If I give it to you
I want it back. My life
is a non-negotiable demand.
—Marge Piercy, from her 1980 poetry collection The Moon is Always Female