Friday, December 13, 2013

Cooking class.

This dish is best if prepared the first thing in the morning or as a nightcap. Can be served hot or cold.
Preparation time: 15 minutes

Blessings: 3 cups
Silence: 3 tbsp
Rage: 2 tsp
Regret: 1 tsp
Fear: 1/2 cup
Humour: 1/2 cup
Friendship: to taste
Duties: 1 tsp
Ambition: 1 tsp

For the Marinade:
Freshly picked laughter: 1 cup
Fresh tears: a few drops
Belief: 1 cup
Love: to taste (optional)


Count the blessings carefully. Think of them, appreciate each. Marinate it in fresh laughter (when was the last time you laughed?) and a few drops of tears. This maintains sanity and balance. Sieve belief carefully culling all the blind spots and information derived from media and loud talking individuals and add it to the mix. Add love if available. Usually it is, but make sure it is fresh, not stagnant. Look around you, it's out there somewhere: in the eyes of a parent, in the smile of a child, in the warmth of your pet?
Take a wok and heat the silence till smoking. Add rage and wait till it starts sputtering. Make a paste of regret and fears and add it to the silence. Saute well until the pungent smell departs. Add humour and the marinated blessings (along with the marinade) and fry on high heat for two minutes or till the blessing are pliant and kind. Season with friendship and garnish with finely chopped duties and ambition.

Enjoy contentment!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

do you really want to know what i'm thinking?

I'm thinking of life in the hills somewhere far from this city. Far away from routine and normalcy, from the noxious fumes that assail me on the street. I fling open a window and the room sweetens with the soft cold smell of dew glistening in the sun. I'm sharing the room with two girlfriends and eating off the paper boxes the food came in, with no concern about plates or cutlery.

Actually that's not a thought, it's what I dreamed the other night and cannot shake off. The idea has taken root in my head. The dream grows till I can actually imagine the craggy peaks outside the window and see the toy-train as it chugs past. 

Move to a normal morning. It  starts early. Wrapped in a fog of grumpiness  I rise to make breakfast and pack lunch for two errant children, self and  spouse. I don't know why I do it: I have a perfectly capable maid who would do the needful but I insist on it. Maybe it's my way of shaking off the cobwebs of the night. So I rattle the pans, trim the bread and  prod the girls to hurry up. In my mind I can hear the little stream bubbling its way over the rocks, the water is crystal-clear and I can taste the crispness in the air.

The newspaper and the morning chores take over somewhere and the next time I am alone with my thoughts I am in the car on the way to court. The spouse maintains his usual uncompromising silence. The driver is giving me a heart attack with his usual reckless driving and even more reckless braking. I have shut my eyes in an effort to shut out the clutch-plate that is screeching in protest and somehow hang on to my sanity. The train turns effortlessly into a tunnel even as I watch the hills turn green in the rain that suddenly falls like a thin curtain made of the finest lace.

In Court I wait my turn, for my case to be called on. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. I busy myself with boring drafts and paperwork. I am trying to shut the window on the birds cheeping as the sun bursts though the clouds and a rainbow slants over the hills heading the other way. I catch up with pending work in the Bar library after wasting an appropriate amount of time on social-networking and trying to decide on my next holiday destination. A friend calls and worries worry me. Some real, some imagined. Some of which is my business, some of which is not. I share my witticisms and add my own two bits. All the while the grass is soft underneath my feet; tiny red wild flowers wink at me through the undergrowth.

The day passes. To that magic hour when I go home and there are two girls waiting for me, their faces and buried in the computer or the Tab or the iPod. That's when the dream starts to disintegrate; that dream I had been clinging onto throughout the day. The air turns balmy, the clear skies disappear. Reality strikes and how. I am transported to a war-zone where the only sound in the rat-tat-tat of heavy machine gun-fire which sounds something like this:  "Why aren't you studying?" "Who put the broadband on?" "Why is this room such a mess?""Pick your uniform off the floor!" "Move your shoes from my room!" "Hurry up, you'll be late for squash!" "Get off that phone this instant. Now!" ....The replies are sometimes shrugged, sometimes mumbled, sometimes I think everything I say fall on deaf ears.

After dinner, I finish my work for the day: I tie up the loose ends, finish whatever it was I was doing and start to feed that hungry monster: my writing. It's ten pm. The girls perk up: Hallelujah, their faces can be seen, they are not hiding behind some mechanical device! They've had dinner and done their routine, they have changed and they are on their best behavior! Are you surprised?

Obviously, they want something. Sweetly, too sweetly,  they waltz up behind me and give me a hug. They linger over my table. They wait till I am distracted enough and I shoo them away. As a parting shot I hear something that sounds like "we're watching some TV, okay?" The 'okay' is just for effect, no one waits for a response. I mutter under my breath: the magical allure of TV. "One Tree Hill" to be precise. I have never watched a single episode but from whatever I have gleaned in passing through the room, I have to insist that almost-13 and almost-14 are no ages to be watching that trash! My criticisms fall on deaf ears. I bully them, I bribe them, I explain why they do not need all this additional information disbalancing their already fragile mental database. They are too involved in the idiot-box to pay any heed. With an irritated flourish I snap the TV off. More gunfire and static. They sulk and go to bed. Oh horrors! Because of me they have missed seven precious minutes of their dysfunctional story.

"Until tomorrow night," I think, as I give up on whatever I was doing and try to settle in for the night. Soon the cool mountain breeze brushes over me, I open the window and the hills are soothed in a moonlit glow, the brambles scratch my shins as I walk into the night wishing I could get lost there forever.....

Monday, June 3, 2013

My little girl is leaving home........

I stand outside the gate and gaze at the sea of faces coming out of the school gate. And then I spot you, busily talking to some other girls as you leave school for the day. You catch my eye and your face breaks into a smile, "Chachiii," you explode with joy, as you rush to the gate. I bundle you and your sisters into the car and we head out for a bite to eat.
How many times have we done that, Zim? And in how many places? Haldiram, Raj, SatC, even that lousy Govinda's and the dhaba where the bedbugs bit you, sometimes even Mainland China.... places I cannot remember now. I treasure the times we spent together, all of us, tearing down the roads music blasting, the swims, the drives, the mela where Dada and Isha were too scared to get onto the giant wheel, the phuchkas, even the rickshaw ride we went on the other day. So let me get that out of the way first. 
I will miss you. 

Cut back to 1996. You were not yet two when I saw you that first time, big button eyes peeping at me from under the curtain, yes, you were that tiny. Forever braver than your brother you never hung back, your welcoming eyes and welcoming smile made me feel at home. I warmed to you instantly. And that hug and the smile you always, always, greet me with make my world that much brighter, that much warmer. I was lucky to have you and Rubic in my life. Back then,  who else could I bundle into the dicky of the van and carry along on my hare-brained adventures? (And a word here for your Mama and Baba who never stopped me from doing it!) You both were and still are the first children in my life. You always will be. And no matter how tall you grow or how much bigger Rubic gets, you'll always be those two tiny faces peeping at me from the door. 
Little Ziggy...cute little Ziggy with the bright smiles and tiny feet that never bothered to step on the stairs relying entirely on the hand she clung on to to get her to the next landing. I feel blessed that often, that hand was mine. Little Ziggy who almost gave me a heart attack by biting down on a glass and having it break in her mouth! Sweet Ziggy with whom I played chor-police and hopscotch and dark room and football and other strange running-catching games on the terrace. Ziggy of the toothless smiles and warm hugs. Ziggy of the "ho gaaayaaa .......". The treasure hunt, crash Maths, looking for DVDs and watching them together, Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady. The Hindi songs you were not supposed to listen to, the elocution contest where I was one more proud face in the audience, the glares I got from your Dad for giggling with your friends at the others....getting wet in the rain, "Winds of change" (that will always be your song along with the other ones we scream our heads off at!). I have to thank you for all the times you looked after your sisters, albeit teaching them more than they really needed to know. You made parenting that much easier for me. I have this huge cache of happy memories that I can call upon.....and I am certain there will be many, many more.

Yet, when I think of you leaving, why does the house seem more quiet, why does my heart hurt, why do my eyes mist up? 'Cause you have always been my first little girl (yes, Isha has that in writing now!). And much as I want my little girls to grow up and spread their wings and fly, something in me also wants to hold on to those wonderful years that will never return. So here's to the Ziggy that was and the Ziggy that will be and the Ziggy that's in my heart for ever more. I will not give you gyaan. You will get enough of that from everyone else. And I will not even say that if you should ever need me I am always there for you. For you already know that.
I'll just tell you one thing: be happy.
Much love. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

One woman's heart.....

A woman’s heart is as complicated as her handbag. There are compartments and there are compartments. There are those usual odds and ends which constitute daily living, like that engagement diary or the notebook, the wallet, the chequebooks and the n number of pens, even a few glittery ones she will never use, the sunglasses, those cloth bags she will need in the supermarket to save Rs 2 on the plastic ones. Then there is that old face powder cracking away at the edges along with that barely used lipstick and comb, all left there for “just in case”. And of course there are those safety pins, toothpicks, congealed throat lozenges, dried face wipes, keys, a lighter, a pen knife and that pack containing three cigarettes she has been planning to smoke someday. Then there are the odd bits of paper, a bill from the tailor shop promising delivery of an item she collected six months ago, the credit card receipts she has been meaning to throw away and that ticket stub from the first time she took her toddler on a ride in the metro. A flat round stone her three-year-old gave her for safe-keeping “for always and for effer”. And there’s that old picture of her dad and another frayed one of some God that someone gave her and she does not believe in, yet cannot throw away. And then there’s a special compartment for the smiles she reserves for her children and the one that holds her fears. The fears of a young mother who is afraid to sleep for she thinks she might smother her new born baby, the fear of going too close to the balcony for fear her child might slip from her arms, the fear of letting the child’s fingers lose hers in a crowd, the fears of anything, ANYTHING bad happening to her child, which she would happily take upon herself to spare her children.
Today I sit and imagine that poor mother who sits beside her five year old daughter brutally raped for no reason and I can feel her fears biting into me, gnawing at my very core. Although I do not pray what I am doing now is akin to prayer: hoping the reconstruction surgeries will come out successful, that she will recover, (physically at least) and the scars will fade somehow…..Thankfully none of our clever politicians or erudite fellow countrymen have come up with any enlightened comments on her dress, choice of life style or have said she was asking for it. Not yet.
My heart goes out to the parents who were offered a bribe by the police who wanted them to hush up the case. To the angry young girls who demanded an explanation and were slapped by the cops. To every person who is helpless in their anger and want these crimes to stop. To the little girls mouthing prayers on TV not understanding why their mothers worry about them the way they do. To every person who is outraged and is protesting in whatever way they can: begging that somehow, SOMEHOW these heinous crimes must stop. “Stringent rape laws”, “Capital punishment for rapists,” they are screaming from the streets. Again. Only no one’s listening.
What happened to our humanity? What is wrong with our men? What soulless creatures reside in these rapists who portray themselves to be normal, God-fearing, sometimes even educated persons and integrate themselves into our lives and neighbourhoods and even sometimes break bread with us? I see reports that the rapist had raped his wife and had been ordered by the Panchayat to marry her. What kind of people think that is a solution? Where does the madness start and where does it end?
All my answers have no questions.
All my questions are a shout in the dark.
All I know is that my fears have raised their ugly little heads and are threatening to slither outside its’ compartment. And I am afraid. Afraid for my sons and daughters who are still testing their little wings, who are still learning how to fly. Shall we shoot them down mid-flight or shall we let them soar?
Answer me, dammit!
Or have I said too much?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Escape to Adventure

While I was growing up I was the swashbuckling heroine of many a thrilling adventure involving brutal killings, kidnappings, piracy and war. Dressed all in black, with or without a black cape with red lining, I would fearlessly fight my way through disasters, lead loyal men in uniform (who  owed allegiance only to me)  into the jaws of death  and emerge unscathed. Of course I wasn't short and fat, I was tall and slender and most men and women alike looked up to me in admiration and wonder while I would send villains to their death with a careless wave of my hand.
Of course a husband, family  or (God-forbid!) children never featured in any of my adventures save to be stunned when they came to know about my secret life as I raced off on my sturdy motorcycle, yacht or private jet (I disliked horses, I could never visualize myself elegantly or smoothly jumping onto one!) headed towards the Himalayan dirt tracks or rain forests or into the open sea in the eye of a storm to rescue the world or whatever... you get the drift?
Now having said all that, marriage was obviously not a feature in this long running fantasy. I imagined a steady stream of boyfriends and lovers who I would discard at will. Love, commitment, romance were trashy emotions for the weak-hearted and feeble-minded. So when I met my husband and found myself actually contemplating a commitment, believe me, I almost disowned myself!  But the fancy stuck and there I was, slowly adjusting myself to erratic domesticity. Yes, it got to me, that marriage thingie and that violent leading lady  raised an eyebrow and retreated into the wings.
Before we had kids, understandably, I thought about it for a while. I saw those cute little cherubs in ads and in movies and I decided I wanted them, not just one, but at least two, maybe three. Preferably twins. Two little ones smiling cheerily in the crock of my arms, sitting on my lap while I effortlessly went about my chores, smiling at me through their meal, running about in the tall grass with me, snuggling up to me and sleeping contently smelling of soft love and baby powder.....I was ready for kids. Yup. Two little angels who would love and cherish each other and be friends and companions through life.....
Now firstly. I did not have twins. I had them one after the other though and that made me feel as though I had twins so it had the same maddening effect of twins. And they did not smile cheerily from the crock of my arm. More likely they were bawling in my arms, after having pulled my nose and brought up milk in my hair. They never sat still long enough for me to get round do any chores with them on my lap and more likely spewed food and spit out of their mouths while at their meals.
No. I never had kids like the cherubic angels on TV but they were cute enough. And I loved them. Most of the time. Okay, as long as they were not smelling of puke or poo. But yes, they were sweet, I had my 'aww' moments and 'let's melt mommy' smiles. I will not forget how each one felt in my arms when I held them that first time or how their tiny fingers felt on my cheek and I wish that I could hold on to each smile and each hug from those tiny arms.
I remember when the older one, Isha, started going to school. The younger one, Amisha, who was just 13 months younger would toddle up to the head of the stairs and wave and their baby voices would go "ta-ta, ta-ta" till they could not see each other anymore. Then Amisha would run to the window, clamber on to the sofa and go on saying 'bye' to her sister and her sister would reciprocate with equal enthusiasm. See, a mother's heart can swell with all those baby coos and all the sisterly affection spilling out.
More than a decade has passed. This morning Isha left for some social service thing she goes to sometimes. She is  grown-up now, about my height (which isn't much) smartly dressed in jeans and kurta and dangly earrings that  I swear I have never seen before.  Amisha had just  woken up and was yawning her way out into the living room. I suddenly remembered my babies from years ago. "Ami", I said,  "Isha's leaving, say bye". Isha didn't wait, she just left, muttering something incomprehensible under her breath.  And Amisha? The one whose adoring eyes followed her older sister as a baby?  She didn't even stop rubbing her tummy over her shorts, much less run to the head of the stairs. She just pulled a face and loudly said "Bye, Isha...diidii," sarcastically. Very sarcastically.
You see, there is no one quite as awful as the other sibling. There is never any real peace in the house. Always, whenever both girls are at home there is the constant low hum of "stopits" and "shuddups" interspersed only by sounds of slapping and kicking. And then there is that special whine saved specially for me when I return home after a long day. Along with that high pitched shriek that is for my ears only ...should I make the mistake of imagining that they are doing something peacefully together.
I should just kick start my bike and drive into the wild to save the world, it's friendlier (and quieter) out there!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Its that time of the year again!

It's exam time. So I tip-toe around the house so as not to disturb the little darlings when they are studying. And they "study" everywhere. The dining table, the sofa, the guest bedroom, even the piano is littered with textbooks and hastily scribbled gibberish which they insist are notes. Yes, you got it. They study everywhere except at their study tables. I should just turn their room into a swimming pool, take a deep breath and stay underwater until the exams are over.
Coming back to where I was, here I am trying to maintain peace and a feeling of calm, conducive for studying peacefully. Peace. Did I say peace? That's impossible. You see, "she took my eraser and Ma, she licked my earphones and she will not share her colour pencils and she lost my compass and she is not studying and she is kicking my chair and she pulled my hair and she is hiding in the loo and playing with the ipad and she is reading so loudly and LOOK MA, SHE IS HUMMING AGAIN!"
I've tried separating them but they gravitate to each other. I take that as a good sign and ignore them. But that's impossible.
So after a round of weak 'shut up's and 'stop disturbing your sister' without any success I march in to where ever they are. I make them sit up straight, stop slouching and remove all distractions like Archies Digests, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the PSP that has been shoved under some papers as soon as they heard me approach. I try a lecture about how it is their responsibility and it's high time they knew what was good for them and I refuse to nursemaid them by sitting there and for good measure I add that if their grades do not measure up they are not coming for the summer vacation with us! They know the drill. They listen. It usually works until I have left the room. The 'shut ups' and 'I will tell' are softer now. I settle back into my Smurf Village.
One daughter strolls in,"I don't understand this."
"This" is of course the whole Science book.
"But you have Science tomorrow, no? What were you doing for so long?"
"I was doing Geography."
"Because I like it."
You cannot argue with that kind of logic. And Science has to be learnt.
So I bite back the harsh words I was going to say and we spend two hours going over the chapters.
Obviously she has no notes, she falls from the sky as if this is the first time she has heard the word 'mass' and has no recollection of anything being taught in school. As she looks at me wide eyed, I snap,"what were you doing when they taught you?"
She smiles coyly, "I like it when you teach."
Yes, I am a sucker for things like that. I smile vaguely. I tell her to learn diagrams and revise this, that and the other.
And I go to find the other beauty.
She is lying in the guest bedroom book open on her face, fast asleep.
The cordless phone is next to her. Discharged.
I shake her awake.
"I'm resting," she protests.
"Well, you've been resting all day.Get up and study!"
As I leave the room she says shyly, "Ma, will you read this for me?"
A piece of Bengali literature. Thankfully it's an interesting one by Satyajit Ray. I read. Then she makes me read another and another. I am filled with disgust.
"And where were you when they taught this in Class?"
"Choir practice."
Prompt comes the answer. As it has for the last week for any subject or any class you ask her. It seems all she does in school is attend choir practice! She should be Lata Mangeshkar by now!
I mutter something obnoxious about what I think of her choir and leave the room.

I wish I could say they study seriously after all that. There's still the shouts, the occasional outbursts as each one picks on the other. Somehow amid all that I hope they are also learning something  I was a pretty independent child myself. Managed my studies without anyone having to play nursemaid although I do admit it all happened in the last minute. All along all I have ever wanted are the two little angels I was promised when they were born. All that I dream of are two good, well behaved polite girls who will not fight and live in harmony under my roof and share the same joys in life. I want them to manage their studies with no interference from me, do their assignments and projects on time and neatly put away their books at the end of the day.
Instead. Instead, what do I have here? We'll have to discuss that some other time. I have to go now.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Occupational hazard

I am, as you all know, an Advocate. Practicing in the Honorable High Court at Calcutta. So every morning I am dented and painted and I make my way to the Court. Once there, I am quite serious. My hair is severely pulled back, I do not smile much, (there's very little to smile about, anyway) growl at strangers and even manage to frighten myself.  And of course I go about my work with all the sincerity I can muster and you can even see me rushing from place to place like I am the busiest lawyer on the planet.
But don't  let it fool you. 
I am also a whimsical blogger and part time writer and a lot of my literary or poetic endeavors are composed in my spare time in Court at the Bar Library Club where you will often find me sitting in my corner pecking away at my laptop save for when I am laughing with my friends or eating hot samosas or drinking endless cups of coffee. Yes, I keep myself busy.
I am also the homemaker, whatever that means, exactly. I have decided it means short order cook, driver, maid, cleaner, washing machine, you know, the works. I do all this with an efficiency that I never knew existed inside me. 
But then above all this, I am a mother. A dubious distinction to say the least!
So this morning after the kids had been bundled off to school here I was, dented-painted, suited-booted, mind full of all the balderdash for the day, wondering if I could seriously pull it off....ready for another hectic day at Court when I got a call from the school. Would I kindly send a car for my elder daughter who is unwell? Naturally I waited till she came home. Naturally I stayed home after she came because she has a severely upset stomach and tummy ache and has been to the loo four times since morning! Now, four spoons of mashed raw banana which I had to really coax her into, one glass of nimbu paani and another visit to the loo later, she has fallen asleep. 
"Aww, poor child," you say? 
I can only pull a face and submit: there's nothing 'poor' about that one, believe you me!
In this house we have two vacuum cleaners. They are magical. They do not look like vacuum cleaners and may be found anywhere in the house but are most likely sprawled on the sofa in front of the TV. They leave the whole house, particularly the areas designated to them, a complete mess. Books everywhere, paper on the floor, dust where there shouldn't be any, sticky glue in the most unexpected places and crumbs on the sofa. 
But they clean out the food from the larder and the fridge. Nothing survives their powerful suctioning skills. No matter how far behind the veggies you hide the chocolates or the sweets or the cheese, they have a special homing button that allows them to clear it in a trice! So do not look for left overs of that yummy Chinese we had two nights ago, or the pizza, or the cheesecake, or the ham, not even that home made keema curry.... one fell swoop and whoosh, it's gone!
Oh, you'll be forgiven for looking at my fridge and thinking it's full of cheese, chocolates and ice cream. Those are just the empty boxes. These vacuum cleaners are so good that they suction the food right out of the box or container and leave the box intact until one day, muttering under my breath I have to throw them out! Yeah, you guessed right, these magical machines do have names: Isha and Amisha.
So this morning while packing lunch for Court, I was looking for that little box of sweets where last night I know I had kept some Kaju Barfis for our tiffin. I found it alright, but it was empty. I sighed and packed something else. But then just before she fell asleep on my bed half an hour ago, I sha admitted she had eaten them. "All of them?" I asked, aghast. These things are full of cashews, heavy and rich. "Um," she smiled happily, "it was so tasty, I had all six after you went to bed last night...."

And here I am missing Court, not doing all the work I was supposed to do nursing a sick child with cramps and a runny tummy. 
I rest my case.