Monday, December 20, 2010

Open letter to my daughters.

Dear Isha and Amisha,
Another year is drawing to a close; the smell of Christmas is in the air. The weather is lovely and its time for you to dream of all the goodies “Santa” will bring you……. You know it’s only us, that Santa does not exist, yet you still play along and I do not discourage it for it’s all a part of the spirit of Christmas….the warm glow that surrounds us as we look forward to another year, another fresh start, another beginning. There’s also the end of the past year, a chance to look back on our mistakes and a chance to learn from them. As you grow older, I find there are so many more things I have to tell you, so much more I need to tell you for soon your childhood will be out of my grasp and I will find I haven’t had the time to tell you all I ever wanted to. Hence this note, someone forwarded me this email today, apparently, it’s part of a speech given by Bill Gates (if you do not know who that is, look it up on your encyclopedia, yes, that fat book you never touch!) and it seems to say so many things that I do want to tell you. Maybe it will be a little out of your depth right now, but then, who knows, maybe it will help you understand and evolve into better individuals…. So with all my own two bits thrown in , here goes:

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

At least face up to the fact that when things do not happen the way you want them to, everything seems so unfair to you…but that is probably exactly what makes it perfect for someone else! And it’s not your parents business to right every imagined wrong…neither is it possible for them to fix it, nor do they want to. So when you are busy playing and scolded by the teachers for missing class, it’s your headache, not ours.

Rule 2: The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

And feeling good is something that comes from inside yourself, using up all my shower gel or deodorant because you like to smell nice, doesn’t quite cover it! And self esteem will make you look good even in scruffy jeans and sneakers…you do not need those high heels and mini skirts to feel good about your self!

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

That includes buying chewing gums or having icecream at dinner. You better earn it. Just because I vaguely said I would buy chocolate sauce does not mean I have to rush to the store and get it when you do not bother to finish the work I set for you. And even if you do the work, we have no deal here, lifes not a contract.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Just wait till you grow up……life is tough, just revert to Rule no 1.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

And that’s something that passes by silently all the time, you had the opportunity to finish all your work and watch TV in the evening but you chose to mope around the house with your fake story about the fake stomach ache just because you did not want to have your lunch……now don’t come and tell me its TV time and you are missing your masterchef nonsense!

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

It’s never ANYONES fault, but your own. Specially, remember your sister had NOTHING to do with it!!!!

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

And while you’re at it, clear the desk and the bed and the floor…. And leave the bathroom dry and clean after you’ve used it!!!! Remember clothes are to be folded and kept in the closet; you do not scrunch them into little balls……

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

In life, you don’t get second chances, ask me! And when it’s gone, it’s gone. You cannot say, ”oh I got most of the answers right…”, in life you have to get ALL of the answers right EVERYTIME. Btw, there isn’t always one right answer, life is not a question about revolution and rotation, often there are many answers and choices to be made. You just have to find whats best for you and live by that!

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

And your own time is not my time. I really don’t care that you are bored with your teacher or do not feel like practising the piano today just because you THOUGHT of something. Your thoughts are in your head. The piano, it needs to be physically practised every day.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

And fairies do not come flying to your rescue either….and remember, if you visit the sickroom every time you forget your homework, someone’s going to catch on….guess who?

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Yes, I mean that boring little girl in the corner, the one who looks like she is going to burst into tears and the one whos always answering the teacher’s questions…..it’s not cool to be ignorant. And even if you don’t end up working for anyone quite like that, you will have befriended someone who maybe is just feeling shy and lonely…..and who knows, it may be a beautiful friendship that will last you all your years.

It’s still a beautiful world out there. Enjoy every moment of it for all it is worth. Most importantly remember to smile, for there is more love surrounding you than you can possibly imagine……. And take care.
Happy new year!
With love,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

family vacations



Every ever so often, we go on vacation. A “phoren” holiday, to be precise! True, the High Court being closed for stretches of time during summer and pujas and again in winter, (we officially have 210 working days…in a year!) helps. But yes, like true-blooded Bengalis, we love to travel. I particularly do. I specially like packing a few things in a back pack and setting out to find new and exciting places….my ideal holiday would have no bookings, no set plans, expecting the unexpected and a lot of adventure….yes, I look back on my college holidays with shameless nostalgia.
For when it comes to family vacations, it’s an entirely different ball game.
First we choose the destination. I like the off-beat destinations, specially ones where I believe my interaction with other Indians or Bengalis will be very limited (yes, I am a snob) and my family is very agreeable and accomodating…..provided the finances allow it. So it may be Bhutan in the dead of winter, Thailand in April, Singapore in the rain, Spain in the summer, Scotland in the frost, Munich during the Oktoberfest…everyone gives in to my whims. No complaints.
Then comes the planning. I am given a freehand and a credit card (sometimes a few)….no one interferes, so I may plan a nude beach in Ibiza or a mountain climb up Zugspitze or a ferry ride in the North Sea, I am allowed to plan and book and choose the hotel and everything. I just love this part. I love to dream about that seven star deluxe accommodation overlooking the Bosphorus and then book the practical one we can afford. Then come the frantic phone calls, by me, to ensure everything is in order, tickets have been booked, hotel confirmations are at hand and passports and visas (if required) are in order. Before the holiday starts, hence, I have a dossier thicker than my wrist and probably a few fat books on things to do when we have reached wherever we are going.
That’s the fun part.
Then comes the part I dread. Packing. I pack for four people. My stuff is simple…..all minimal and keeping the weather in mind. My husband too does not fuss too much as long as he has fresh clothes every other day…..I must say he’s been most tolerant when I have forgotten to take his inners or shirts or shaving kit (not all on the same trip) and generally follows a non interference policy. That I can live with. Then come the girls. When they were small I only had diapers and cerelac and bottles and sterilization to worry about. That was when life was easy. Now I have to pack for two brats with opinions of their own. So while packing for Bhutan in winter I am handed a slip of a dress which my daughter insists she will wear on new years eve. The other one wants to carry her skimpy shorts that “make my legs look long” and no amount of explaining will help them understand that it will be COLD. So I wave them away and pack. But lo and behold…..when I reach Bhutan I find that string bikini stashed away in a corner…that chocolate I insisted could not travel with us squished inside my favourite sweater and a hardcover book which no one ever reads. Believe me, my first impulse is to throw them out in the snow along with their precious owners!
Anyway somehow we are ready…and on the plane…..we have woken up at an ungodly hour, the house has been appropriately shut down, the keys are in my bag, passports have been stamped, visas verified, the endless waiting in the boarding area is over, the new crayons we bought for the holiday are half broken and some have irretrievably rolled under the bulky uncomfortable sofa, the filthy loo has been visited for the umpteenth time, my voice is sore from asking the kids to “shut up” and “stop it” and “no you cannot have chocolate at 5 in the morning”…is it any surprise then, that I sink into my seat, turn on the i-pod and wait for the alchohol to be served!!!!!!!? My husband looks at me askance, its only 7:30 in the morning but I insist it feels like midday!
The girls watch TV. That’s if we’re lucky. If there’s no TV they play the whining game which means they whine in their seats, they whine about the window seat, they whine about the fact that there is no view and they whine about the food. These are times when I pretend I have a migraine and let my husband “bond” with his children……
We land, we clear customs…we are on holiday. The next few days…..weeks…I am chilled. I don’t care that the girls have not had a bath every day (after all, it IS cold) or have not emerged from the swimming pool all day; we catch the trains/ferries/whatevers and make the connections…we visit friends and/or relatives if there are any in the vicinity and we walk. On holidays, miraculously, everyone can walk. Only at home it’s the 50 yards to the medicine shop for which you need a car! We walk down riverfronts, in the castles, up and down the main square and all over. Sometimes we even do touristy things like hire a car or grab a buggy ride or ride a hop on hop off bus!
I like to experiment with food so I end up trying all the local stuff, sometimes, one or the other daughter will be adventurous and try something like baby octopus or oyster or black pudding and look at me in horror, “you just ate a unborn pearl, Ma!” But all in all the girls are happy, they are handed a huge sausage with a bit of bread and told that that’s lunch, they munch on some corn on the cob or jacket potatoes or coconuts and are happy….only a few days later, it starts. “You think we could get some Chinese food here?” one asks. The other says, “our room has a kitchenette, why can’t we have some butter rice?” and then we invariably make a trip to the supermarket….and here I am cooking and cleaning…not that I really mind, mind you!
And then there’s the night life, after a lot of planning, one night, the girls have been fed, bribed to agree to watch TV in some foreign language for as long as they want, and my husband and I go to check out the night scene! After a while we’ve had enough of the semi naked women (and men) and loud lights and that crazy ‘one beat serves all’ music and we return to the hotel exhausted and more than a little drunk but not admitting that we are too old for this shit. We both have had our eye candy and that’s that…..
Our holiday usually ends in a mad rush for souvenirs and gifts for friends and relatives…souvenirs we have been seeing all along and saving to “buy later, we have lots of time, it may be cheaper there…” So our last few hours are spent running about like headless chickens as each of us remembers soandsowhowentsomewhereandgotussomething and we rush about to buy something for them….then all our stuff is stuffed into suitcases that are over spilling and overweight although I insist “I didn’t buy anything for myself, ……. only those bottles of Cognac and Sangria and Jagermeister….” . Somehow we make it to the airport and are home ward bound again. We’re ready to drop on the plane as strangely content and satiated we survive the trials of the duty free area and manage to avoid paying excess baggage yet again……yes, “can I have a stiff Vodka please?”
I’d like to get sentimental here and say that no matter how good the holiday or whatever, there’s no place like home. As I look out the window (I’ve fought my kids for the seat!), I see the familiar landscape looming up below us, I’d like to say how much I’d missed being home and all that jazz. But my mind is worrying about the bottles in the suitcase, the ones I hope did not break and the weeks worth of laundry waiting for me and the girls’ school that will be reopening and all the unpacking I have to do but that’s another story.
Sure, after three weeks of ogling strapping young German men, I look at the squat bespectacled short bald man in blue overalls as we disembark and sigh, “yup, I am home!”
At that moment, jet-lagged or not, I’m strangely refreshed! And the holidays are over.
Until next time!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nothing

Why, housework is a terrible thing. It must’ve been invented by the devil himself. Because the mind is idle. Ask me, I know. I’ve been maid less for the past six weeks…and amid all that endless back breaking work is an idle mind. That thinks. And asks dumb questions and has no one to answer them. In the midst of cooking and cleaning and yet again picking up stuff that really should’ve been off the floor by now, what can one do? After tiring of fantasizing about a luxurious life in a mansion with Brad Pitt, that is. (Where of course little grubby children are not seen and clothes are not oil spattered and fit over an exquisitely sculpted body and are always laundered and ironed and gourmet food laid on the table without having to do the dishes….! And yes, no messy daughter turns up covered in mud claiming she was bored so she was trying some pottery!!!!!)…… Oh I manage fine, been bunking Court save on a “need to go” basis and I seem to be juggling the maid role quite well….So today I was thinking. About guilt. How we are conditioned to feel guilt…or is it some ailment only I suffer from? I feel guilty if the house is not clean, I cringe when someone frowns at my children, I feel awful that the bed’s not been made, I feel lousy if I am having too much fun, or come home too late at night, or am feeling too hung over to give the kids anything but Wai Wai for their tiffin! I think this ailment revolves specially around the kids. When I was pregnant it always began with “you should not…” or “in our time…..” to the extent that I couldn’t even cut my hair! I was told not to swim, not to drink, not to keep my hair untied after nightfall, not to read Stephen King and generally just lie in bed and dream of cherubic babies! When Isha was born, it was, “She is hungry, go feed her…” till I felt like I was a cow having given birth to a leach hanging on to my breast for dear life. Irony was, Isha was NOT hungry. So I used to sneak around my own bedroom pretending to be feeding her while Isha happily played on the bed……oblivious to the post natal pressures on me. Oh I felt so guilty….probably she wasn’t feeding enough, maybe the milk wasn’t enough, maybe I was doing it all wrong…the possibilities were endless. Every step of the way, I’ve been trying to do the ‘right thing’ for my girls. When they said banana time, I gave them bananas, when they said no coke, I stopped looking at the stuff in the supermarket, I worried so much about cavities and sweets that I ended up eating every chocolate in the house before they saw it! Then one day when my patience ran thin, I said to hell with it.
Since then, I’ve lived a normal life. My daughters have been brought up on a healthy dose of coke, fried foods, chocolates and neglect. Every so often they eat Maggi and fries and do not get any nutrition whatsoever. They thrive on the TV, they listen to lousy cheap Hindi songs, they read silly stories meant for teenagers with boyfriends and their knowledge of Indian history and mythology is developed from comics! When I am sad, I tell them why. When I feel like running away, they know and when I am in a foul temper, they bear the brunt of it. I am assured my children are being brought up all wrong. The books, magazines all say so. I don’t know why but someone gifted me with a subscription to this health magazine which I will not name here. According to that, each month, I find, with growing alarm, that I am too fat, I do not get enough cardio exercise, I eat too much, I do not check the nutrition contents of the food I am buying, my BMI is way away from normal, my children are not getting adequate nurturing, my house is not child friendly, I am a step away from a heart attack or some other fatal disease, I am traumatizing my kids by sharing my angst with them and I should actually walk my way to good health with my entire family before my bum starts sagging seriously. In short I got it all wrong.
So every so often when the housework monster drives me and I am mindlessly hand washing yet another runny t’shirt, I think. And coming back to what I was saying, I feel guilty.
So what a pleasure it was today to check into Facebook and find an article posted by a friend…”If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable?” You can find it at http://www.slate.com/id/2275596/ in case you are interested……It inspired the rest of this article, I particularly liked this bit “…those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves.”
I like it.
But it sowed another seed in my idle brain, are my kids not bored enough? No they are not. They always but always have something to amuse them. Whether it’s a toy or a book or a Tv, we find ways to keep them out of our hair and busy. Well I’ve decided enough is enough, the next time they say, “I’m bored can we bake a cake?” I’m going to say no. I think I’ve finally discovered what is missing from their lives: ennui.
They have too much to do. They need to sit and gaze at a full moon with nothing on their minds, they too need to lie awake at night and think of nothing. That’s what they need: nothing. We had plenty of it as kids and right, I do think that’s what made us the people we are…and yes, I may not be perfect or have flat abs but I’m content.
Now if only I could find a damn maid!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

call in the idiots....

When we were kids there was no TV. We had the radio and we waited for Sunday afternoons when they played English songs like “Yesterday once more” or “Every breath you take”. Then one day my dad went and got this huge heavy box, it was my first introduction to the Television. There was even an antenna, which had to be installed on the terrace. Those days TV was a black and white affair, with loads of gray and blur, and started in the evening at about 6 pm with a ridiculous children’s programme and ended at about 9:30 pm after the evening news…….In the middle you had very interesting programmes like documentaries on farming and stuff in blurry black and white and moments of wavy lines and static which a quick slap on the TV could easily adjust. It fascinated us. There were houses in the area where the TV would be switched on promptly at six and would go on blasting till the much revered Doordarshan went off the air, whether anyone was watching or not….Not so in our house. 6 pm was study time and my dad was a stickler for discipline…so our TV never was switched on. No one watched, at the very best it was switched on for the ten-minute news bulletin at night and my father insisted it was not worth it…how I envied all our neighbours who had TVs that were actually switched on! Once in a while my dad would call all of us and make us sit and watch, because some “good program” was on. That usually meant a boring historical tedious Bengali movie like “Ananda Math” or “Devi Choudhurani”……… Yikes, the next time I heard there was a “good program”, I developed a headache!

The colour TV came much later, with the Asian games. It was soon followed by serials which ALL my friends watched and discussed at school. I obviously was not allowed to watch and felt very deprived when their discussions revolved around “Humlog” and “Buniyaad”. We only watched when my dad thought we could derive some education and/or information…and that was not often. In the US, I almost went into shock, they had about 80 channels or more and by the time I’d gone through them all, I had no clue where I was!

Back home, the buzzword was the Bangladesh airwaves, if your antenna was turned in the right direction, you could catch fuzzy snowy images of “A Team” or “Knight Rider” or even “Remington Steele”…….we spent more time adjusting our antennas trying to get a picture than actually watching the shows! That was until the cable wave hit us. Suddenly you had TV all day. And all night. You got all those shows you had hitherto only read about in foreign magazines left behind by cousins from “abroad”. Only I was not interested. Friends, college, life, the TV had never gotten a chance to dig its nails into me.

Now we have digital transmissions, we have state of the art TVs with a never-ending choice of channels catering to every whim and fancy. We have entertainment in several languages, we can set reminders, we can order movies on TV and we are spoilt for choice. Only I still don’t know what to watch!
Oh my kids have no such problems, they are smart. Very smart. I know it’s my fault. When they were small it was so simple to dump them in front of the TV and switch on something like “Teletubbies”, while I got some work done. I didn’t think about it, I thought they would outgrow it. They did. But then they grew into “Pokemon”. In an effort to keep up with them I learnt the names of all the mind boggling characters like Raichu Pikachu and Someothershitchu….by the time I learnt them, they told me, “Ma, you’re so out of date, we don’t watch Pokemon any more, now its Doreamon.” I gave up.
And I haven’t tried since.
My girls have it all, they ran the gamut through animations to witches, to Son Pari to Barbies that set your teeth on edge to Hannah Montana to some baby faced twit called Justin Beiber who apparently if you do not know you should goslapyourself! They know all the weird movies I have never heard of, they know when Miley Cyrus goes to the loo, they know songs that make my head ache and they even watch some master chef nonsense and tell me they have tips to help me when I make a cheesecake!!!! I never have to explain the facts of life to them, they saw it all on TV (well, not all, I hope!!!!) they know which shampoo will stop hair fall and make your hair grow three inches in three months. They know you can get a policy to live with your head up in your old age and they dream of McDonald’s happy meals! They even were telling me the other day that hamdard safi and suthol will help me live a more vibrant life!!!!!!
True it gets my goat, as soon as I see they are watching TV I chase them off to go play something or read something…but I also have to give in. And true, in eleven years, I have not found a better baby sitter. I keep lamenting about how in our time we had more fun outdoors and used our imagination to amuse ourselves but face it, times HAVE changed.
I know why they call it the idiot box, my girls become like that sometimes, their eyes glaze over, they cannot hear when I call, they are oblivious to the world around them until someone snaps the damn thing off, but somehow it’s ok. I guess. As long as they do all the other things they are supposed to!
All the rest is on DTH!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Forwarded email

Well, I've been down lately....for several reasons, things do not seem to be in sync and sometimes I do want to quit, who doesn't? After a rather hectic bout of cooking cleaning scrubbing and generally depressing household chores, here I was wishing life was over for in my usual dramatic style I had had enough.
But lo, there came this email, right then on the bb and thankfully, theres always something to smile about. And today I want to share this email that made me smile and realise I do want to live, after all..... and nothing is quite as bad as it seems to be!


"I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly. As I've aged, I've become kinder to myself, and less critical of myself. I've become my own friend.. I don't chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I didn't need, but looks so avante garde on my patio. I am entitled to a treat, to be messy, to be extravagant.

I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.

Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 AM and sleep until noon? I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 60 &70's, and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love ... I will.
I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set.

They, too, will get old.
I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And I eventually remember the important things.

Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when somebody's beloved pet gets hit by a car? But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.


I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face.
So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.
As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don't question myself anymore..
I've even earned the right to be wrong.

So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever,
but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day(if I feel like it).

MAY OUR FRIENDSHIP NEVER COME APART ESPECIALLY WHEN IT'S STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART!"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Idyllic holidays.


“Come down from that tree this instant, “ I shouted, “ the milk is getting cold.” A face petulantly peered at me from the leaves…..”how did you know I was here? And I had the milk!”
“Nonsense, you gave the milk to the dog. This is another glass.”
“But how do you know?”
I looked seriously at my daughter, feigning anger and suppressed a smile. The fresh litchi peels and stones on the ground told me where I would find that monkey…and the milk trick had been going on for days….
As I took the empty glass and turned away, I woke in my own room from the dream and had to smile.
How many times had I done this before?
I remember my own childhood when every holiday, more time was spent in water or on trees than on land, I had my favourite nooks, afternoons in the guava trees, specially when they were in season, mornings among the ripe litchis, it was easy to hide among the dense leaves but the pits always gave me away!!!! Pholsha season found me sneaking a ladder around in the afternoon, the branches were too light to take my weight but the laden branches with the tart sweet fruits were irresistible. Similarly in the hot summer sun we’d run about with an ankshi trying to pull down the aamras from the tree that was too high to climb and the fruits too high to reach with a ladder. Raw mangoes were stolen when everyone was sleeping possibly dreaming of ripe yellow juicy mangoes. And that hideout covered in bougainvillea where I crawled in with my story book and communed with the ants and other creepy crawlies and pretended I was miles from human civilization and hence could never hear anyone call specially if there was homework or some chore to be done. Jackie joined me…ah Jackie, The mongrel I adopted when she was just a pup, my faithful companion when I fell off a bicycle or went exploring in the ruins where everyone assured me there lived a snake…..I was as afraid of snakes as anyone else, but I couldn’t admit it, could I? So every now and then I’d venture in and climb up to the top and run back and pretend it was nothing while all the while my heart had been thumping against my chest and Jackie stuck close to me, tail between her legs,
The rest of the time I spent in the water. Swimming mainly, but also floating about and being ship wrecked, that sport Jackie was also dragged into the water, a true test of her devotion to me……poor soul often took to running away whenever she saw me making my “raft” which basically consisted of a plank of wood, an old tyre tube, some rope, a stick and a dirty rag. The game ended very undramatically one day when the rope came undone in the middle of the pond and the wood floated off and we fell into the water and Jackie had to swim frantically to shore. Days and evenings saw me turn lazy somersaults in the water, the sunsets were always colourful against the backdrop of the coconut trees…..and when the moon rose my world was lit with fantasy and dreams.

Of course life went on in the interim. Ma called and called and called. There were meals to be had, holiday homework to be done, tables to be learnt…..but in my world I was the sole explorer, a Peter Pan in uncharted Never Land discovering mermaids, pirates and crocodiles. Sums could wait, so could the world, my idyllic summers were…mine. Sometimes I was joined by cousins, sometimes friends, Often I was the bully defending my territories and making everyone toe the line……one favourite of mine (this was when I was older) was to get some non swimmers in an inflatable raft and assure them I would be there and taking them to the middle of the pond. Once there, I’d launch into this wild story of a monster that hid underwater and every ever so often would bump under the raft….which can be easily duplicated with a knee…..(I was heavily inspired by Stephen King!)…and then I’d pretend I was attacked and dramatically swim off underwater…. soon they would frantically want to go back….My father would order me to “stop that at once”. No I wasn’t all-evil. I helped them back all right and got my share of the scolding due to me but also could not stop smiling inside. After a while I tired of the game. Most people knew about it anyway. Fishing was fun when I used to sit with the rod and the reel but patience is not one of my virtues, never was. Moreover I was slow. It took me a while to realize that the fish I caught was being served for every meal. That’s when I rebelled, never caught a fish again in my life.
We had no TV. We had the outdoors. We had a cycle and a huge garden and all the freedom to explore every inch. We had earthworms, we had fireflies, we had ladybirds and butterflies. We skinned our knees and wiped away the blood without a thought of running to tell our mother for fear of tincture iodine that burns like hell and when we fell we never cried out. I remember being chased around the fields by my aged grandfather who wanted to put tincture iodine on a cut, I remember sneaking into the neighbouring houses from under the fence and always being welcomed with orange squash. In the evenings there would be a simple meal and we’d all sit around the table and share our day. There was warmth and there was conversation. Sometimes, after dinner, we’d play chess or scrabble or just read a book. Often, we would go for long walks in the night and my father would point out the stars and I’d gaze at him in admiration and now I desperately try to remember for that’s where he is but I was too self involved to remember then.
Oh we had school and all that, we had the city to return to but for our holidays we had Ranchi, we had the garden house in Murari Pukur and we had Madhupur, famous for its ghosts but that is another story..
Now I look at my girls and wonder. They have TV, they have computers that can download information in seconds so they never know the joy of hunting through an encyclopedia. They have cell phones that tell me just where they are and when they reached…hell, we ourselves never knew where our adventures would take us and when we were out, well, we were out. They have Nintendos and weird games, they have amusement parks. For us, the Ferris wheel at the Park Circus mela at puja time was enough. And candy floss. And if you teamed it up with pop corn our lives were full. My girls know all about international immigration and customs but they have never dabbled in the sand at the local stream where the clear water reflects every blade of grass and the most dangerous thing was the proverbial quick sand which we luckily never found. They have other dangers; we worry about too much time on the net, social websites, letting them out alone, bus rides, accidents and pedophiles. It’s not that the fears were less when we were small, every family had at least one pervert and we knew we had to steer clear of them. No, no one told us, we just knew. And we grew up despite all this and never thought about it….it’s just something you took in your stride.
We had the terrace, we had kites, we had the skies and we were our own masters. We had endless hours of making tea out of mud and water and making a mess. We played with our imaginations, and we bent them to our will.
Yes, times have changed. Holidays are organized; you don’t just all pile into a car and hit the road. There is no garden house to go to. When we go on holiday it is important whether there is a swimming pool and/or a TV, my girls have never been inside a pond. No, I don’t blame anyone, and as they say, the old order changeth….the new has many wonders too. It’s just that once in a while I feel nostalgic and wish those idyllic days were once more in my fist and I had my entire life to re live them!
C’est la vie!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bengali

Bengali or Bangla is an eastern Indo-Aryan language. It is native to Bengal, and about 230 million users speak it all over the world as no matter where you go, you are bound to find a few Bengalis. Along with other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali evolved circa 1000-1200 AD from the Magadhi Prakrit, a vernacular form of the ancient Sanskrit language. (I got that from Wikipedia.....so it must be right.)
Till here, I am okay. To re quote Amitabh Bacchan, I can talk Bangla, I can walk Bangla, I can dress Bangla, I can also read Bangla but for God’s sake don’t ask me to WRITE Bangla….or explain what I just read. My mother always said it was deliberate and for some reason our generation is proud to say, “I don’t know my mother tongue …”, but that’s not true. Right from our early days we are taught our ABCs. By the time we get to the Bengali alphabet our minds are so congested with apples, elephants and the like that the elegance of the letters elude us. My mom also said that if you are good at one language you can also be good at another……she is a wise lady and I do not to want to sound disrespectful, but I also did German for a while and sucked at that too!
Now, so many years away from school, I’ve been wondering what it was that really made us so averse to the language? We are not from a generation that only spoke English at home, we heard the language all day all around us…..what was it then, that prevented us from loving the language? After all there are many wonderful words that cannot be expressed in any other language…like ‘nyaka’ or even ‘eeeshh’, as made famous by Aishwarya Rai in Devdas, (only she made it sound like she wanted to go pee or something…..in the translation, the words are lost……..as ‘bitch’ or ’shit’ doesn’t quite cover it…….and I would have to say a paragraph to call someone “nyaka” in English!). I had the dubious good fortune of learning Bengali as my first language till Class XII…under the West Bengal Board, that means you know the language like the back of your hand, swirl it in your morning milk and drink it and know all about the history of the language too. And moreover, you have to pass, for it is a primary subject. Now when I was in school there was a lot of tension in the house about this……my father insisted I needed help, mother’s eyes would water when I asked her the meaning of a word for the hundredth time, grammar had me running to my grandfather who would consult a huge dictionary….and well, any morning of any Bengali exam would see me brooding quietly into my breakfast and praying for salvation from a God, any God, I insisted hitherto did not exist!!!
Somehow I passed. I had the distinction of writing Chaitanya in place of Chandidas because I had no clue of the latter, and I wrote ‘jatra’ as a journey instead of a local play but….yes, by some stroke of luck the Board of Examiners ensured I would not make a mess of the language again! I barely passed but the ordeal was over.
In West Bengal, Bengali was compulsory in college, is it any wonder then, that I went away to Pune to study……?
Anyway that took care of that. Or so I thought. I never thought then that years later, I would return to Calcutta and actually marry a Bengali. Thankfully, his Bengali isn’t THAT much better, but we get along. Or rather, we did. Until our daughters were in school.
Now one reason why I put the girls in my old school is that they now have shifted to the ICSC Board and I was very adamant that they would not have to go though the rigors of a Madhyamik Bengali. Yes, that was one of my primary concerns when choosing a school for them…..but lo and behold, here we are again, those same text books that had tortured me, the same tongue twisting words and those pencil breaking spellings…..I hesitantly asked Isha’s Bengali teacher about this, since Bengali was a second language etc etc etc, I hummed and hawed and reached my point. The teacher very brightly smiled at me and said that they were maintaining the standard of the school and instilling the children with a love for the language……Uh oh! I think I saw a strain in her eyes when I quietly asked her if it was working…….
Now my point is this, if you want some one to love a language, talk to them in it, read to them, sing songs, enact plays……..make it interesting for them. Why on earth insist on correct spellings and difficult sounding words that do not mean what they sound like or sound like what you think they mean and more importantly, grammar? When Isha was in Class III, lost in a deluge of Bengali words like "kingkortorbo bimurho" and "pratyutpannamotitto",(next time you meet a Bengali speaking individual, why don't you ask what it means?) I surrendered. One bright day I shuddered at the text book and wrote to the principal asking her to appoint someone to teach Bengali to my girls after school hours. Two years have passed, she is still searching while I have been tearing out my hair in frustration. The other day someone said “hey, your hair’s really thinned out….”, I sweetly smiled and said it’s acid indigestion from the Bengali words I seem to be regurgitating from my schooldays! I have bought English to Bengali, Bengali to English, Bengali to Bengali dictionaries but they don’t seem to be helping much…..the nuances of this sweet language escape me every time.
Is it any wonder then, that when ever I call the girls to do some Bengali, they develop a runny stomach….they hide in the loo and keep flushing the john till I drag them out and make them sit down. Then they cannot find their pens, the text book has vanished and a rat made a hole in the exercise book. I wait till they run out of excuses and we begin. At the end of the hour, I have a glazed look on my face, the dictionaries have been pawed at for the umpteenth time and I have called at least five people for intricacies of the language which my friends in turn ask their mothers to answer!!!The other day I went to a Crossword sale and bought only Bengali story books for the girls, books I thought were easy to read and interesting. I told them they were fun and would help them learn the language…two days later those books could not be found.....I was told that the maid reads them! They ultimately turned up from behind the old newspapers while my daughters continue reading their English “trash”.
Sure, I love the Bengali language, it is sweet sounding and expressive…..please, dear God, help my children love it too.
More importantly, LET THEM PASS!!!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Little Angels


When my daughters were born, I was thrilled. For several reasons.
But then everyone exclaimed how lucky I was to be blessed with two little angels…..”not like boys,” they said, “ you’ll see girls are such an asset, you’ll have peace and quiet and there’s nothing quite like daughters to heal a mother’s soul….”
Ever skeptical, I resolutely went through the enigmatic stages of breast feeding, weaning, bottle feeding, diapers, potty training, the mashed vegetables, the stage when every time I sat to eat, one or the other would want to go to the loo, the stage when all I ever got in a restaurant was mismatched leftovers of food I did not want to eat…and waited for them to turn into the little angels I had been told they would become.
I’m still waiting. The girls are now almost 10 and almost 11 but there is not even the slightest hint of a halo on either head. Even if I squint at them without my contact lens when they are in the shower….no. Not even an illusory soap induced rainbow like aura on their head, much less a golden one!!!!
At a party another mother sighed, “you are lucky you have girls, I have two boys, you can’t imagine the noise and the mess……” I invited her then and there to visit my house. Somehow I manage a semblance of order in the rest of the house, but their room always, but always, looks like a hurricane just passed by. I seriously suspect a ghost lives in that room. I go home from Court after a long day. The cupboard doors are open, flapping about in the wind, clothes are strewn on the bed, books are all over the floor, some naked headless limbless relics of Barbie dolls stick out of the toy basket and the study tables resemble a kabadi khana. And if that’s not enough, a roller skate is strategically placed on the floor so that any unsuspecting entrant will slide halfway across the room to cause serious bodily harm or at least stub the toe.
I yell…two would be “angels” peer at me after some delay…..no one knows how the room is messy. “But Ma I had closed the cupboard door, Ishadidi must have taken out her clothes….” and “those books we don’t even read, how would I know how it got there, it must be Amisha…..” Sigh. And we don’t have a cat so it must be the ghost!
So I order them to clean up……for ten minutes there are a lot of “stop its” and “shut ups” and “Ma, she’s not helping”…..and then silence. A while later, when my nerves are ready to face it again, I go to their room again. The cupboards are closed but I do not open them for fear of a landslide and I can see Barbie’s limbs peeping from under the cupboard but I settle for it. Because I now have another battle to face…..
Studies. (In the interim, my husband and I have had dinner, he’s gone down to his Chambers, the teacher has made them do their homework, but the pivot joint that joins the skull to the spine has been saved for me…...)
Now I seriously have a complaint for Kapil Sibal. And every teacher, educationist, professor and all those knowledgeable souls who are in any way connected to “educating” the “future of India…” Why on earth do I have teach my kids all those things that I thought I was over and done with quarter of a century ago? And I know mothers who are very knowledgeable and informed…..they dedicate themselves to inspecting the child’s bag when the child returns from school. They attend every parent teacher meeting and school discussion and have a network of other mothers to fall back on when the child is unwell or…(God forbid,) forgets to copy the homework….. I am not one of them. I do not have one single iota of patience in my body. I do not know my daughter’s friends’ mothers, I have no retentive powers when it comes to the alimentary canal of a frog and I seriously do not care that the people in Jammu speak the Dogri language. Yes, I am a self contained selfish individual who does not want to fill her head with useless bits of information…can you imagine, a judge asks me “and what do you have to say to that, Mrs Banerjee?” and after a slight hesitation, I say “ a baby cockroach is called a nymph, the process of growing up is called molting…” Yes, that’s one of my recurring nightmares!
Anyway so there I go. Everything from fractions to HCFs to un enchanting Bengali words that have me frantically reaching for a dictionary to Black Beauty’s rescue from a fire to the fact that Jain holy books were written in an obsolete language called Ardhamagadhi (I think!), those are all saved for me….. I study, I write, I learn poems and I feel like I am back in school again.
I keep telling my husband that I was not made for this life. I should be lazing indolently on my bed in a chilled room all day, servants running at my beck and call and have pet lap dogs who I will cuddle once in a while for diversion…..I’ve even thought of names for the dogs….gin and tonic….and I will call them ginny and toni and when the kids come from school, I'll wave a perfectly manicured finger at them and they shall silently retire to their rooms! Once in a while I shall attend Kitty parties and shop for diamonds…….
Only that is not to be. Here I am stuck in an endless world of climatic zones and bone marrow and hominids. After I have finished battling them with the studies, I badger them till they spend some time at the piano, banging away tunelessly and shout at them while they fuss over dinner. After all my orchestrations I am free. Only it’s usually well past ten o clock, I may have work to do but I am exhausted….. I do what I must and quietly sneak into bed and dream of baby tadpoles wriggling about in court!

Yes, I know my life is full of light, laughter and sunshine. I know my children are the daughters of Life’s longing for itself and I house their bodies and not their souls or something like that as Kahlil Gibran has wisely said. And I know they are little angels in waiting…….
Right now only I am waiting.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Non application of mind.

I am often accused of a very serious crime: Non application of mind.
Take this for example…..
One morning when I was busy with yet another mindless crossword, I get this call: “you know ML Roy?” without waiting for a reply he continued, “the shop near triangular park.”
“Yes, yes,” I replied, I didn’t want to sound like a fool.
“Can you go there and find out if they have a rain shhhr shhhr…….” The cordless crackled.
“Eh, can you say that again?”
“you know a rain shrrr shrr…crackle crackle…shop…..”
“Eh”, only I said it in Bengali and as any Bengali will tell you its impossible to reproduce in any language, much less in a limited language like English…
“ok, don’t bother, I can see you are not thinking…I’ll do it myself.”
“no, no, you tell me once more, I can’t hear you”
“it’s ok,. You don’t have to do anything, I will manage…”
Click.
So I call my husband and narrate the conversation.
I learn that ML Roy is a renowned sanitary ware shop. (I had no idea, it’s not like I go running about buying commodes everyday…..)
And I was told:
“rain shower, cant you understand rain shower? Couldn’t you figure it out? You just do not apply your mind.”
Ah.
“so should I go and get one?”
“Do what you want, don’t disturb me, I’m busy.”
Bang.
So I look up the yellow pages, call up some sanitary ware shops, find out if they have a rain shower and arrange to pick it up and have it installed.
Now if anyone asks, I am a minor expert in rain showers, they have an arm and can be square, round or rectangular. The sizes vary too. And the water falls like big fat rain drops…hence the name.
The more I live the more I learn.

Or take this instance. My mother calls.
“you don’t talk to me anymore……you know the other day I called the girls and they just returned from school and they were having curd and rice…can you imagine, only curd and rice.” (Sure, Ma, on a hot day at 3 in the afternoon, it’s a crime) “they need nutrition, they are not getting enough nutrition, you want them to be tall…and when you were small I always ensured you ate fish curry and rice, it makes your brains open up” (no Ma, didn’t work on me, either the height or the brains) “and they should have eggs, have you seen what proteins they have and you don’t buy any fruits for them, when will you learn about a balanced diet and you give them that worthless maggi blah blah blah ….” I resign myself and listen…words beget words, so I shut up and listen…or continue with whatever I am doing with a few mumbles, then my ears perk up “…..haven’t been paying the rent”
“Whoa, stop, what rent, who has to pay?”
“Obviously the tenant, you think I’m talking about the girls, you just don’t like to think.
Ah. There we go again.

Or take this.
We’re at this fancy shindig party and everyone is busy kissing everyone’s cumulative backsides….we have to attend these social dos a lot. And I spy some friends in a corner, and make a beeline for them. On the way I have probably ignored the chief guest and looked through the host but I am undaunted. I have my drink in my hand and turn with the latest gossip that I heard on the way to the party, “You know, X’s wife ran away with her gynecologist…that old pervert ….” I feel a hand on my arm. I hear silence. X is standing next to me pretending to admire some flowers. My friends take me away. My husband says “you just don’t look around you and you don’t think.”
Oops!

So the next formal do I go to, I resolve to be quiet. But what does a gal do when she’s decided to shut up? She drinks. One thing I’ve been blessed with is a strong constitution when it comes to alcohol. I can put away amazing quantities and not appear drunk. I am a quiet drunk. So I quietly sms my husband, skip dinner, or forget all I have eaten and go home. Only in the privacy of the car do I admit I may have had too much. Hubby grunts, drives home and sends me to bed. I lie in the dark and think I’ve escaped this one…….
Oh no. Next morning I’m looking at life though a jar of Vaseline, my tongue feels like it has been scraping paint off the walls and a marching band is playing in my head and my husband says, “you were drunk last night” (Bingo!) “ at these formal places you have to act like the other ladies and chit chat in the corner…you don’t think about these things.” I groan and say I’ll fight about it tomorrow; I’m just not in the mood today. Thankfully, sweetly, he gives up.

At the Bar Library, I’m the last to understand the bawdy jokes. I’m the one who gets kicked under the table when I launch on yet another embarrassing story and the one who’s glared at for speaking out of turn.
I believe I am at an age when I can say what I want and get away with it…because by now anyone who knows me knows what I am and the ones who don’t can go hang themselves for all I care!

A lost cause? Or just guilty as charged?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

An ordinary man

My father was an ordinary man. He had ordinary hopes, dreams and fears. He grew up in a typical North Calcutta household and did not attend school till he was nine. He did his engineering from IIT Kharagpur and went on for higher studies to Glasgow University. That too was not uncommon those days. He returned to Calcutta sometime in the early sixties after his first wife left him for another man and took up service as a construction engineer with CESC. His family was up in arms as boys from well to do old business families do not work ( the singular reason for the destruction of most old Bengali business and zamindari families in Bengal!)or divorce, for that matter,...anyway Baba was not interested in the family business or opinions and found support from his father who told him to leave home, go through with the divorce, stay somewhere in South Calcutta and follow his heart. So that's what he did. Baba married my mother in 1967 despite a lot of odds....from various family members but as usual he had it his way.
Baba loved his work. When I was young I sometimes accompanied him to the work sites and power stations and I remember my intense fascination with the coal shutes which to me were like gigantic slides. My father was a gregarious happy man who loved life and living and gave of himself just as he gave of his wealth. We often had unexpected guests for dinner and there was always laughter and warmth resonating in the house. He always found time to be there when we needed him and made it a point to share in our successes and achievements. He was there for every school play, every prize distribution and school sports that I ever took part in. My father never hit us or shouted at us. One look was enough. He tried to instil in us the virtues of honesty, integrity and responsibility. He gave us the values and set us free. And if he asked me to do something, I dared not disobey.
My father did not win any accolades, never made the headlines. His picture never appeared in the papers, his name will not appear in history books. He is the common man who dreams of a home and someone to share it with. He is the man driving down to work each morning. He is the quiet man crossing the road early in the morning returning from his morning walk. The only uncommon things he had were his passion for yachting and surfing. Today I feel so proud, when people who knew him, and they are many and from all walks of life, be it a carpenter, a gardener, a CEO, a colleague, or friend or relative or just a mere acquaintance, they always have a kind word for him, some happy memory to share.....It surprises me that even after all these years they speak of him with love and affection. Otherwise, as I was saying, he was just the man next door, the ordinary man who took his family out for holidays, struggled to make ends meet sometimes, neatly organised his life so that should anything happen to him, his family would not have to suffer. In all respects he was very ordinary...if you passed him on the road, you probably would not even turn to look, a straightforward common man who was suddenly, cruelly snatched from his family at 59 by a common disease called cancer.
Yet to me my father is an extraordinary man, he is my hero.
He shielded us from griefs, kept us safe and warm and gave me the security of loving arms to cry to. When I was ill he'd sit by my side all night and never complain. Even when he was dying and the pain coursed through his veins and burst forth from his eyes, when he saw me,he managed a smile. Yes, he lives forever in my heart and each day I am grateful that I had him for my father and no body else. In my teen age years, I had one very common intent: to be different. And I always thought that no body understood me (how terribly ordinary).....during those troubled times when everyone agreed that I was insolent and "difficult", my father faced my tantrums alternatively, with indulgence and indifference. As a result, I never could shut him out...no matter what. For he never judged me and always had faith that I would turn out right. I did not believe it myself, even now sometimes I feel I have screwed up big time...but that faith also carries with it a lot of responsibility... I constantly try to live up to the expectations of the man, imitate him, be like him. In essence, be someone he would be proud of.
What I am going to do next could be termed as plagiarism. Theres this song by Dan Fogelberg called "The leader of the band"....and the words there somehow open my heart.... So with liberal liberties, here is my version of the song:

"A child of a large family
a business man's son
his hands were meant for luxuries
his heart was second to none
He left his home and went his way
to a dream he believed in
and he gave me a gift
I never can repay...

A peaceful man in his soul
denied a simpler fate
he couldn't carry a tune
but had music in his heart
He earned his love through discipline
A thundering velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
took me years to understand

The others' lives were different
for they heard another call
they carry on in limbo
and I'm here where I stand
living out this life I've chosen
and come to know so well

I thank you for the dreams
and your faith in my goals
I thank you for the freedom
when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness
And the times you got tough
And Baba, I don't think I said
"I love you" near enough.

The hero of my life
is dead and his pictures' turning brown
but his blood runs through my veins
and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
to imitate the man
I am the living legacy
to an ordinary man......

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mornings

“Ma, Ma, can I not have my egg today? And there’s ‘shor’ in my doodh…yuck…and I said I don’t like Complan…can’t you get Milo? Please Ma. And Ma, Suhasini wants to have a dog, can we get one too? At least a kitten? And you know Suhasini’s father said he cannot teach her Sanskrit…I told her that you once got 3 out of 100 in Sanskrit. …do you think Miley Cyrus wears baby dolls to bed? When will you get me those socks, Ma, you know the ones I wear have become too small. Ma, you are not listening…I said I need bigger socks…Ma, Amisha is sleeping at the table. And I need chartpaper, don’t worry I’ll take six rupees from the tray and buy it myself in school. And Ziggydidi said when Amisha’s friends come on Sunday I can go and watch ‘Legally Blonde’ with her because Amisha’s friends are sooo naughty and VERY irritating and I do not want to be here… and you know all my friends are afraid of Amisha and her friends, you do like Selina Gomez, you remember her, the girl in that movie we saw at the hospital…and Ma, yesterday Amisha and Subhika made Ziggydidi chase them in the rain..do you thing Ziggydidi has a cold today? And NOBODY scolds Amisha,, even you don’t tell her anything…I AM eating…and you need to get another toothpaste, something minty. I like minty. And where’s my badge, AMISHA where is my badge, oh yes, it’s in my yesterdays uniform. Ma, do you think I can also call Tatjana and Suhasini on Sunday? Hey, have I taken my Arith CW book….ah there it is….And you said I could have chewing gum, so where is it? And my friends loved your cake, can we have brownies? Yuck you gave me sandwiches again today……Can I watch TV when I get home……..”
That’s Isha for you in the morning…a non-stop prattle jumping from topic to topic that goes on and on till she’s out the door. I just grunt in desperation while Amisha sits and groans and wishes she was back in bed…But a thousand grunts or shut-ups cannot quell my elder daughter’s tirade…. Not being a morning person, I stumble to the kitchen to make their tiffin and save for a few “shut up"s and “hurry up"s, bury my face in the morning Sudoku and wait for the storm to pass….In the 50 minutes it takes for them to have breakfast, get ready and leave for school, I am a wreck, praying for quiet…. Amisha sits at the breakfast table staring at the food and willing it to disappear until one yell from me gets her moving…Then she wants to jump back into bed and pretend it’s a Sunday….
I growl. I grunt… I yell. I resolutely tie their hair, pin their badges, ensure that they have brushed their teeth (Amisha’s the slacker) and mumble a quiet “bye”. They leave and peace descends…..softly, and I have ten more minutes before my day begins……..

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Faith....or faithlessness.

Faith is never random. Faith is universal. It's just that our specific methods for understanding it is arbitrary. Some of us believe in salvation or nirvana, others in heaven, yet others believe that they shall go to heaven only by taking the lives of innocent 'infidels' along with them. (Ah, the roads to destruction are too many to be counted.) And for how many decades have people been fighting for their own faiths? Trying to get others to believe what they believe.....why do they do it, I wonder, is it so important to be multitude? Why do we not realize that in the end we are all just searching for a truth that is far greater than ourselves.
Why do we have to belong? Why do others want us to belong? I admire people who have faith...I have seen what faith can do to you...walk bare feet up a craggy mountain or wear sack cloth and ashes and sleep on stone or whip yourself bloody....it's all faith. It's what one person believes over all others that propels him to follow some strange customs or rituals put in place by some perverted individuals that thought only in punishing our bodies do we attain some degree of truth. So I really admire all those who pray, who believe that God will rescue them from evil, real or imagined. And they organize themselves together and go about their business in the name of religion...
It's fine by me till here. You have your faith and I have mine, you go your way and I am free to believe in the lack of a "way" and make my own. Yet, sadly, that is not so. Right from our childhood, we are required to belong. In school, I got into trouble because I left the space for religion blank. I ultimately compromised by writing my father's religion and not my own.....At every stage of our lives we have to fill up the blank for religion. We are even judged by what we fill. I do wish people would quit that. For most people it is automatic, they are brought up to believe what their fathers believed, no questions asked. In my case, I came from a family where my mother was a non practicing Christian who went to Church maybe once a year for Midnight Mass and my fathers was a non practicing Hindu who did not believe in the fuss of rituals and prayers. We had no deities or puja rooms in our house, we were given information on both religions and given the freedom to decide without actually being told to do so. True to the tag of being a "difficult" child, I chose neither. For a while I toyed with the idea that there is no God but even in my addled brain I knew that there was, however, a truth far bigger than ourselves. So my God does not smile beatifically from a cross nor does she stick her tongue out at me from the top of decapitated heads....my God exits in peace within myself without any form or image. Where I dwell is my God. As I think so is He (or She or It for that matter!).
But that does not solve my problems with rituals, I do not believe in them. I refuse to bow down before an image or idol or go on a mindless fast be it for my family or anyone else. But I do so quietly for I have no wish to hurt the beliefs or feelings or others. I do not feel the need to shout what I think from rooftops nor do I want people to understand me. I am at peace with myself and wish everyone would just do everyone else the same favour.
But no. We have killing, fighting and lectures in the name of religion. We have all kinds of evil just because everyone wants others to cut off their tails just as they have. THAT is what makes me angry. And frustrated.
Faith does not protect you. Medicines and airbags, these are the things that protect you, and that too not always. Ask the 18 year old who died in the car accident, the Tsunami victims, or the children dying in the earthquakes. No, God does not protect you. Intelligence does. And enlightenment. One should put their faith in something with tangible results. How long has it been since someone walked on water? Or balanced a mountain on a single finger? Modern miracles belong to science...computers, medicines, vaccines; we have instruments to warn us of dangers, natural or otherwise, yet nothing prepares us for the calamities that follow.
And we cling to faith.
Still.
Like drowning men we cling, yet so few of us have faith in ourselves. In our own strength, in our own ability to make a difference.
I believe that doing one's duty or karma is enough. "When you live by the highest you know, however it turns out, it turned out right" (Richard Bach). So I do what I have to. When required to teach my girls, I do it although it means re learning Bengali again. I ensure there is food on the table (and beer in the fridge!). I do my best for my clients and solicitors when I am acting on their behalf. I even go to the puja room at 4 am to cut fruits for a God I do not believe in. It's all a part of my life, of who I am. My thoughts I keep to myself. My beliefs too.
Does it really matter, that I do not "belong"?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

promises.....


Last night I dreamed I went to Murari Pukur again (that does sound so Rebecca-ish!!!!) The house was still standing and had got a fresh coat of paint. The lawn was well kept and the flowers were blooming everywhere. The ivy on the walls was fresh and green and trimmed to perfection. The pond looked clean and inviting…..the skies were laden with clouds and I was wishing it would pour because I could just imagine the sharp cold drops of rain falling on my skin as the rest of my body was submerged in the warm waters of the pond. There was a clap of thunder and everything was dark, night fell with the winds that howled and told me a storm was approaching. I stood under the big bakul tree and could smell the fragrance of the fresh flowers assailing me from my childhood…how I used to love to pick up the flowers and string them to keep by my pillow at night. Memories kept tumbling, like snakes from a jar, I could shut my eyes and smell the sights and sounds that have haunted me……I awoke in my cold room and lay awake and still for a long time after that, wishing it all back, the house of my dreams, the innocence of the girl I was when I was young and little girls had their guardian angels to look after them. Then I do not remember if this was my imagination or really another dream but I was back there, sitting on the patio and having a drink with my father. The house was in shambles and the only light came from a lonely lamppost by the pond which now seemed so far away. My father was talking but I could not make out the words. I replied but my words would not come and I could feel the tears streaming down my face as I cried into my pillow……..
This is why I am quiet today. Reliving the times we have been fortunate to have, memories too multiple and varied to enumerate here. Let me elaborate….Murari Pukur is the name of a garden house my dad inherited from his father when I was very young. It consisted of approximately five acres of land and the main portion was taken up by a huge two storied house built in the early 1800s with pillars and thick walls…and a lovely pond with steps leading up to the pond from both sides. There was another house in ruins on the other side of the pond, we were told that that one was built for the women to stay in…. Later. those ruins were taken down and as that part of the property belonged to one of my father's brothers, it was walled up….So we had the house, the pond and gardens on all sides of the pond. There was even a tennis court and other adjoining lands. It was also, historically, the site of the Esavi Match factory where Aurobindo Ghose, Barin Ghosh and others plotted before the Alipore Bomb case during the struggle for independence. My father, despite the well meaning advice of his relatives, refused to sell out and insisted on maintaining it as a garden house. It was our home away from home. Each weekend and holiday would find us there, my father happily pottering about in the garden while we swam, climbed trees, read, ran about and generally had a good time. The house was a huge old colonial structure with high ceilings and marble floors. The staircase to the first floor was wooden and we used to love stomping our way up and down. Often, during the holidays, we would go and stay there, joined by our cousins, relatives and friends. I used to fish in the pond, swim, eat the unripe guavas from the trees and steal raw mangos, “falshas” and “aamras” all through the lazy afternoons when everyone else was asleep in the heat. Baba even made us a sand pit and we spent many happy hours making castles and getting dirty and running into the pond for a swim afterwards. I learnt how to shoot an air-rifle, ride an bicycle and even drive a car. I hid under the bougainvillea boughs whenever I was called in for a chore, dug for earthworms only to watch them helplessly squirming on the hook of my fishing pole and found several excuses not to do my holiday homework. Oh yes, those were the glory days. Only we never knew it then….Often we would not want to go when asked and had to be bullied into it. All my friends thought we were lucky to have a place like that to run away to but we took it all for granted. When we had parties there, there was a lot of love and laughter…….I remember my cousin and I sneaking around in the garden on moonlit nights when we should have been in bed. I remember a clear moonlit night when my father woke me and took me swimming….the waters were awash in the light of the moon and everything around me took on the glow of a dream. I guess that was when my love affair with the moon took hold. We grew gardenias, champaks, radishes, cucumbers, pomegranates, mangoes, lemons and anything that took our fancy. There was a cinnamon tree and we used to love peeling the bark and nibbling on its wooden sweetness. There were trees I cannot name and plants all around….if you are reading this and have seen the place in all it’s glory, you will know what I am talking of. The hasnahana and bakul flowers serenaded us with their fragrances morning and evening. Even now, when I pass somewhere and smell those familiar scents, I have to stop and smile…its like a breath of fresh air from my childhood.
Baba loved this property; he fought to keep it and poured a lot of love and affection into its heart. He planted a litchi tree a few years before he died and told me that when he retired, he would go and live there and sit under the litchi tree in the summers and have a chilled beer in its shade. The last time I saw it, the tree was big and strong and its branches reached out to sweep the ground….just as today my heart is desperately reaching out to my dad, trying to find him.
Baba always wanted us to keep the property, made me promise I would not sell it, a promise I could not keep. After Baba died, my mom decided she had to sell that property. So even before I returned from college, she struck up a deal with a slimy real estate guy who was referred to her by an even slimier family friend who, of course, my mother trusted with all her heart. After I returned, I was told to sign on the dotted line…an agreement for sale. When I refused, the explanations came thick and fast. Money, difficulty maintaining, trespassers, etc etc etc……the list was endless. I wanted to look at other prospective buyers but I was told that that slimy family friend had the right connections and I was not to upset the applecart because the talks had considerably progressed.
I signed. God help me, but I signed. And it’s the single biggest regret I have today in my life. I should have put my foot down, I should not have been blackmailed by my mother’s cries about money..... The house had to go, and, it was vehemently stressed, my dad would’ve understood. I did not. I still don’t. But it is too late to atone for my naiveté, stupidity and incompetence. Now I look around me and wish I had been where I am in today…. Sure as anything, that garden house would be mine, back then, had I the means, I would’ve bought my mom and sis out. But I didn’t. And all that is so irrelevant. Now. Oh I got my share of the sale proceeds…but as I told Amitesh, it was blood money.
So I live with the weight of a broken promise.
Its never far from my mind.



promises continued...


I've been dreaming of buying back the land at Murari Pukur. I don't know if I ever will have the means or the opportunity but somewhere in the back of my mind the thought is stuck.....and I am optimistic about things falling into place.....some time. I will build a house there, in tribute to the house that was...and, yes, I do hope to live there.
Sadly, the old house has been torn down...the promoter who purchased the property felt it had to go. Along with the litchi tree, the rubber tree and various other much loved plants, yes, even the guava trees near the drive. The last time I saw the place it was like that. Torn down and broken and I want to see it heal...I want to be the one to do the healing.
When the house was being torn down, a strange thing happened. The workers refused to go there...the place is haunted, they said.They refused to be near the place after sundown and they said that whenever they hammered the walls they could hear someone telling them to slow down, to take it gently......
Truth or fiction?
Whatever...... when I heard of this, I went there. That was my last visit. I just went and picked up a brick from there and brought it home. They say that there was no trouble thenceforth....the ghosts went back to where ever they came from. And that was that.
But that is never that. That brick is here, in this very room and I hope one day I shall be able to use it to build a house in memory of a house and a father that define my very existence. And if I am unable to build it, when I die, I wish it is thrown in the river (or wherever it is that they plan to scatter my ashes) and finds its final resting place with me. Nothing else really matters, I have sometimes been asked what that brick is doing in my room....curious maids have even asked if they should throw it away....I just hope I shall have the opportunity to use it again.
And I have heard that the original promoter that bought the place couldn't do anything with it and sold it to another who is now frustrated in his attempts to develop the place......can I then dare, to dream, that that place waits for me sure as I dream of it?
Wish me luck.
I wish you peace.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Memories


13 May 1992. A day that’s etched forever in my heart, as it has the infamy of being the day my father died. In a way I died too. But in the same breath you could say I was also born. To a new life bereft of the paternal security and comfort I was used to. So today that makes me an adult. 18 long years have passed eighteen years without the man who meant the world to me and more. And what, have I grown up then, have I matured into a little adult? Did my father really die that night? No, I shout and I will say no again and again for surely he is alive as he lives in me. How can he be dead then, if I still hear the gold of his voice, feel this thoughts guiding my every action, feel his fingers brush away my tears?
Ah, then I have the memories………

I still remember the blood that flowed
as fresh and near as now
I remember every night in the ICU
sitting silent afraid to move....
lest I cause you pain

I don't remember what I thought
but I could feel your strength
gathering itself in my veins
letting me stay there by your side
time and again

I never once heard you complain
or twist your face in fear
your eyes stayed bright and I was proud
that you were my father
and fighting still

I remember you at home, those days
of stilted smiles and broken dreams
are etched forever in my heart
a vivid memory that I cannot
distil

I try very hard to forget it all
and think nothing of it
but these memories are engraved
too deep to erase even
if I could.

Sometimes in my silence
I understand that final lesson
I have learned. And if anyone thinks
that I am strong, they think wrong.
it’s you that lives in me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Smile please!

For a while now, I’ve been upset. About various things…..work, things not working out the way I wanted it to, the girls’ school work…etc etc, the list seemed long, tedious and endless. So I’ve been moping around, coming out with the most pathetic statements on my fb status and basically spreading the shit around.
Thankfully these things do not last. I got a virtual kick from a cousin who, in not so many words, told me to shut the fuck up about my cribbing…and then I took one good look at myself and decided I do not like the crabby full-of-herself person I am now….So here goes, this is right here, right now. Cheers to the good times, life’s too short to sweat the small stuff!!!!

Little beads of sweat
little drops on my face…
heralding rain
on a muggy day,
hot and sultry
I sit and gaze
at the sky where
rain clouds are held at bay
by the late morning air
ominous and still….
I can forget about
these grey walls
the draft incomplete
the petition unread
the cases left open
for another time.
Clients can wait
the day can pass
life can be on hold
for this moment is mine.
The skies burst open
with a clap of thunder
my mind runs out
as the raindrops shatter
on my head

Wait then, I know
you will
I’ll catch up with
all my duties again
I’ll smile I’ll plead
I’ll even be funny
if you want me to…..

But now let me be,
quiet in my thoughts,
a song on my lips,
a smile in my voice!

ALL THE REST IS MADNESS!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Thanks, Mr. Bell

When we were children, the telephone was an instrument, black and heavy, one could even use the receiver as a dumbbell because the telephone lines were not working most of the time anyway…. We looked at it with respect, and when it rang we all ran to it in the hope that it would be for us. My dad hated the phone. He insisted it was an instrument to communicate, usually matters of extreme urgency and could not tolerate anyone talking on it for longer than it took to say three sentences. As I grew up and my school friends started calling, I always had lame excuses like homework and syllabus to blame it on. Not that it worked…if I was ever heard giggling on the phone, I was met with a frown. Any conversation longer than 10 seconds made the frown lines deeper…and if, God forbid, any BOY called…ah…that was like the ultimate sin! I had these boys calling for me sometimes, local friends, but my dad never could fathom why. Usually he’d tell them very rudely that I was indisposed and after each such call I was given a lecture on the fact that all boys are the same and they have only one motive etc etc etc This held true even of my male cousins who did not identify themselves between the two “hellos”. So they took to stuttering a wrong number whenever my dad picked up the phone, or, worse still, voicelessly hung up! As a result of all this, I learnt to keep my phone conversations short, crisp and non-descriptive. I was rude even, anyone waxing eloquent on the other end of the line would be told I’d talk later in school the next day or some such shit and the matter would end there. But there were also these surreptitious phone calls to and from “boyfriends” late in the night after the house was sleeping…. I remember sneaking around in the dark in my dad’s study….trying in vain to silence the loud whirr of the dialer and hope that when I picked up the receiver or set it down, it would not “tingggg” loud enough to wake my father.
In college, there was a phone booth near the college gate. Not habituated to making phone calls, I relied on the Indian Postal System to get my thoughts across, albeit late. We were taught to make calls only in case of extremely extreme urgency and nothing really came close. The first phone message I received was after two years at college, made at Vani’s house, (which Vani drove all the way from Camp to Aundh in the driving rain to tell me), and it told me to be at Nanavati hospital ASAP to be near my father who was having an operation. I took the train that night….a complete stranger in a strange city and found my way to his side. My Ma had stayed behind in the US to be with my sis. The relatives who had “escorted” dad to Bombay from Calcutta were “in tension” and disappeared to another relative’s house In Borivilli or Kandivilli or some shitsville. So I spent the next six weeks by his side….going back to Pune to get clothes and stuff once or twice, I don’t remember exactly….and the night before his operation was the last proper conversation we had. After that he could never speak properly again and stilted phrases and sign language had to suffice for the deep voice I still hear in the stillness….The hospital authorities and the doctors were most kind. I ate, slept and lived at Nanavati. I became part of the furniture even in the ICU….the canteen guys and I knew each other by first name. And late in the night, sitting alone and crying over a cup of coffee and a Stephen King, my life seemed to be at a standstill. But life goes on…..one night I was suddenly woken up from my slumber on the couch in dad’s room because he had tried to get out of bed and broken the IV drip bottle…he wanted to go home. So over the next few days, arrangements were made, my mother finally deigned to return from the US and Baba was shifted to a hospital in Calcutta. The vanishing relatives reappeared and nodded when the doctors explained everything…..the mistake I made was that I did not fly to Calcutta with Baba as I thought mom was home and would handle things now. How could I imagine that those vanishing relatives had not understood a word of what the doctor had said and could not communicate anything to my mother……I blamed myself when I got my mother’s letter…and that was the first time I called home. This was certainly an emergency. It was one of the longest conversations I have had with my mother and by the end of it all we were both in tears…Baba would have so disapproved, I thought as I pretended it was just dust in my eye for the benefit of the phone booth guys….
After dad passed away I called home twice…once when I heard my grandmother had passed away and then a month later when my grandfather followed her.
Then my five years in college were up, I came home with the (erroneous) belief that I was needed here. The phone was now a slim line push button affair and I could make as many calls as I wanted and speak for as long as I liked. But I didn’t really care to. Oh it was nice to hear from friends and it was good to talk but my conversation was limited….and even curt. When my husband was courting me we used to talk all hours on the phone. He would call after I got home from work at about 1 am and we’d talk till the wee-er hours…..even then I realized that he did most of the talking…so much to his disgust I used to call him All India Radio….switch it on and there it goes…..
I always had this phone phobia ….or communication problem when I came to phone conversations…after I was married , my in laws often wondered why I did not call or speak on the phone. So when they went to Hyderabad and then Delhi, I took to writing to them…. Crazy letters that spoke of everything but said nothing, I realized I am much better with the written word than the spoken one! Even now I am haunted by the phone, each time it rings, I often hang up promising to call back and hope to meet the person in person before that call becomes overdue….I hate it when a client goes on rattling in obvious distress about lengthy domestic issues and wish they would just take an appointment and rant in front of me……when I have time….(one thing I really crave.) And now phones come in all shapes and sizes, they can do everything but make dinner and argue my cases for me in court. I remember the first cell phone I had, it was heavy and it resembled a brick. I used to call it my Nokia ad…once when Isha was just over a year old and could barely stand, she threw it from our 3rd floor apartment to the pavement below…..It was in pieces, I ran and collected them all and lo and behold when I put it together ( I needed the help of a rubber band)…it worked!!!!!!
Anyway now my latest gadget is the Blackberry storm…it’s nice and I can see all the emails I do not want to see when I do not want to see them! And one touch opens up the internet and facebook and helps me pass a lot of time when I really should be finishing that draft…(like now!!) but I still get tongue tied on the phone. I love it when old friends or friends or relatives I have been dying to meet or talk to call…I want to speak my heart out, tell them of all that’s been happening in my life and share a slice of theirs….I want to tell them I love them and they are precious in my life and I miss them and I am so happy and blessed that they are there and life’s too short to not say these things…
But all I can manage is a weak “okay,ya….” when I am asked, “how’s life?”
My silence says the rest.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Last Night


Theres this huge structure that lights up a mute shade of jade and in the light reflecting off it, fireflies glow a gentle golden...the wind whips up dust and on the crossroad stands the poet who made the place famous...also the custodian of the place. As our car passes we see him and his expression is kindly but grim. He is a big man with long hair that curls around his face as the dust blows. It is dark and cloudy and looks like rain and I want to stop the car and talk to him and maybe say something intelligent but the car will not stop the words will not come for my mouth is full of dust....I turn back and I am at my childhood home , only it is unkempt and wild, banyan trees have grown roots and the place hisses at me in the dark. But I know I have to go for there further inside, the lantern glows and I know my father waits for me...patiently. Someone taps me on the shoulder and I fall into my lover's arms...strong and safe and we are falling and free-falling and then flying through the air in each others arms and I am warm and naked and he whispers that he has been waiting forever and I want to reply but I cannot for the words will not come and it is an effort to speak and the wind blows the sea breeze in my face and I find I am alone on a rock and I scream into the wind that this is not what I want......but Isha turns and says,"..but you have to help me, Ma." and I run to catch her and hold her in my arms but then this door opens and I am in a wide chamber where the only light comes from a candle lit in a corner and this huge dark man has his back to me and I somehow know he waits for me so I approach cautiously, careful not to make a sound ...but he hears my footstep and turns...and I wake up screaming...and find myself looking at my alarm that rings me to safety.
Go interpret!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Welcome 2010!


2009
Okay, it’s that time of year again…time to do my annual recap of the year that was giving a low down on the highs and lows of the year basically letting you catch up on what’s been happening in my life…whether you want to know or not!!!!
So let’s see, where do I start? 2009 was a year full of trials…but there were good times too (only I’m trying very hard to remember what they were!)…well, it was one of those years, I guess. Work was good, (let’s start with something safe…) kept me appropriately busy and out of trouble, sometimes busier than I would’ve liked to be, but hey, I’m not complaining. I had to travel a bit and I thoroughly enjoyed the “time out”… a luxury I can ill afford! There were the usual share of disappointments but all in all it worked out more or less. I’ve become quite the juggler… home, kids, work, cooking, family, extended family etc…. only sometimes I feel the jesters cap is missing!
The girls have been busy…. Piano, roller-skating, badminton, singing, studies….they rarely have time to breathe! And I like it that way!! Isha wishes she was learning silly Hannah Montana songs instead of classical and watching TV all the time instead of learning Arithmetic tables but those are minor hitches as far as I’m concerned….at least now she’s learnt the words of the only MJ song I like (Will you be there?) and I’m hoping she’ll sing it for me one of these days…only as any Mum will tell you, kids never have time for such things for their “uncool” mothers! As for Amisha, she loves roller-skating and badminton and ice creams and sour sweets that make your teeth rot and fall out…but hates her studies and finds every excuse in the book to be in the loo when she should be studying! Isha had an appendix operation last March and milked it for all it was worth when she wasn’t allowed to lift heavy weights or do any strenuous activities for 3 months!!!!!
But the girls had some serious growing up to do, their beloved grand-mother passed away last year. She spoilt them rotten and the day she died they were heart-broken, their first encounter with something so final as death….but kids are more resilient than we give them credit for, they have neatly interwoven her memories into their lives. For us too, it was a huge jolt. Ma was more to me than just a mother-in-law and I do miss her calming presence. For Amitesh and Baba she has left much more than just a void and it’s something you can see in their eyes. For me I have just adjusted myself to having more to do…..although I seriously doubt I do anything of worth! We went though the motions and rituals and at every step I was faced with the girls’ pointed questions to which I had no answer. It prodded me to ask myself about the after death state of being…..is it infinite and peaceful floating in eternity or are we doomed to tuneless chants in a dead language! Whatever the case may be, it’s unlikely I’ll know very soon. But faith is a very strong emotion, specially if you have it!
I lost my uncle too, my Dad’s brother… and our family lost a much revered priest. I was sad but somewhere along the way I seem to have lost the ability to cry…grieving has become such a continuous process sometimes…..after committing the man I loved most in this world to the pyre I wonder if there are any tears left! And yes, I do dredge up the past. I look at it often, mourn the memories or smile at them as the case may be and return to my life……
Sadly though, the feelings remain. The loss, the anger, the frustration, the emptiness and the vacancy of nothing to look forward to. Yet there is love and laughter and the joy of friends and family who stand by us through it all.
That has been one saving grace, the support of family and friends. Near and far, they all reached out…some even came as a surprise…but I don’t know where we would’ve been without them. So God bless you all!
The year ended beautifully though, we were in Bhutan on 31st December and awoke to a city blanketed in snow. It was beautiful watching the flurries of snow as it fell. As I watched the snow and heard the girls’ laughter around me I was filled with a sense of peace and hope. May this year be like that, peace filled and as quiet as you wish it to be. May all your wishes and dreams come true and may you find contentment and see the light surrounding you…I hope to.
Quietly,