Wednesday, April 30, 2014

'Z' is for Zumba Fitness

Ah, Zumba! It's quite the rage nowadays, isn't it? Everywhere we go there are these ads screaming in your face for attention. In the Clubs and gyms all these glamorous ladies are signing up for Zumba classes. It's the latest in fitness.
Let me share my experience on the topic. 
A few years ago when we were in the UK and at the HMV store, in particular, my eyes fell upon a Kinect Zumba DVD. I pounced on it. You see, in spite of having two left feet, I like the idea of dancing, specially the Latin American types, (imagine Antonio Banderas in a tuxedo with a rose in his teeth) and Zumba sounded like fun. That DVD cost a pretty penny (thankfully my husband still does not know exactly how much!) but I said to hell with it and mentally justified it on the money I would save by not taking up a gym membership completely unmindful of the fact that I have never had a gym membership! My daughters who were at a more impressionable age at the time took one look at the sexy midriff on the cover and were shocked, "you will have to wear that to do zumba?" they asked. I didn't have the heart to tell them that I would never dare wear anything like that, zumba or no zumba. 
In any case, we got home and the DVD predictably, gathered dust. Then one day, I found it while looking for something else and knew I just had to do the Zumba! Obviously, I needed a partner in crime. Who better than my niece who incidentally is also a Z : Ziggy. 
The stage was set. Late afternoon we drew the curtains and started on the beginner course. As I said I have two left feet. I can of course wriggle my butt like anyone else but steps and all leave me cold. Ziggy coped better than I did. We both huffed and puffed and sometimes banged into each other during the first session. The next day everything ached. We decided it was no time to give up and huffed and puffed through it again. The third day our joints hurt a little less, the moves seemed easier. We wondered whether we should move up to the intermediate course. We decided not to push it. My daughters watched us and were alternatively amused and embarrassed. Then came day five. We tried the intermediate course and congratulated ourselves on our accomplishment. 
That was it. Something or the other came up and the DVD again gathers dust. Ziggy left school and went off to Bangalore for her studies. 
As for me? If anyone asks me if I want to join Zumba classes, I smile knowingly and tell them 'BTDT"(Been There Done That)!!!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

'Y' for you, yes, YOU (who did not believe in me)!

I guess we all have positive and negative influences in our lives. I've had my share of both; but let's just talk about the negatives today.

That uncle who went around telling anyone who would listen that I was a drug addict just because I had a mind of my own and did not conform to his idea of a "good girl". That Aunt who shook her head and said I would come to 'no good' . Those relatives who shook their collective heads and berated my father for sending me to an unknown city for my education instead of getting me married. Those classmates who thought I was cheap because I talked to BOYS! Those friends I have now out-grown, whose constant whining about the in-laws I cannot stand, the ones who blamed me for all their nonsense just because I was rebellious and easy to blame. The teachers who said I was difficult and would fail.. Those relatives who said I was cold-hearted because I did not cry in public when my father died. That brother-in-law who had the gall to come and tell me when I was getting married that I had made a good 'catch', after all no one expected me to amount to anything. That acquaintance who wondered how my friends endured my scarred face. The other one who wondered how I get along and have so many friends since I am not fair and hence not 'good-looking'!

Shocked? Hurt? I guess I was at some point of time. Yet, I got over it.

So here's to YOU. The ones who did not believe in me. The ones who bitched and cribbed and made me feel small. At the time I said 'up yours' and moved on. But now that I think about it, you made me what I am today, you helped me grow a thick skin, you helped me believe in me.
You made me strong.
Thank you!

Monday, April 28, 2014

'X' is for Xaviera

When I was in my teens, I was heavily into the secrecy thing. And privacy, to the extent that strangers (especially strange boys) I met were often not told my real name. I'd fabricate one on the spot and lie about everything. This stupid quirk of mine got me into a lot of trouble as you can imagine. I also sometimes wrote to this youth newspaper called "Asian Age" which invited short stories and poems from it's young readers. The pen name I chose was Xaviera.
Ah. Why Xaviera? I guess it sounded exotic enough and it began with X. The unknown, one of the most uncommon letters to start with, or so I thought then. So here I was writing stuff and sending it along and lo and behold some actually got published by the paper! I was over the moon with joy but when I showed it to my Dad, he was less than impressed. "Why not use your own name?" I had no answer to that. I went away quietly.
After Dad died we went through a lot of his papers and stuff. One file contained a whole lot of my school stuff. The first prize I got for Art at age four, the birthday cards I made him as a child, stick figure drawings, leave letters, notes written in a rounded baby hand and certificates of merit earned over the years. And among all of those were two newspaper cuttings. One poem and one article written by some 'Xaviera.' I couldn't stop crying.
Now the two articles are yellowed and frayed. But they still have pride of place on my daughter's desk!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

'W' for Wanderlust

If I could I would just pack my bags and head into the unknown. It's my favourite fantasy. I'd just get on a train or a bike or a car and keep going. No fixed destination, address unknown. Of course having a family and responsibilities is not exactly conducive for such adventures so I keep saving my plans for when they are flown.
For now, I move within the confines of my daily routine and go to Court and act sedate and calm and do my job but don't let my blank face fool you: For all you know, at that very moment I could be scouring the flea markets in Goa, or taking a deep drag from a chillum in Manali or riding a bike through some rain forest!
The options are endless!

Friday, April 25, 2014

'V' is for the View from my Verandah

Calcutta summers are hot. And humid. And sweltering. But come evening, there's a cool Southern breeze to calm the city down. When I am home and free, I like to stand at our verandah and watch the city as it moves towards the evening.
There are the school kids on their way home. The parents, the jostling, the crowded buses, the chaos. See that green thingie like a wheel in the right hand corner of the photograph? That's the sugarcane juice guy. And see the traffic, one big mess!
Turn to the other side. Some people have blocked half the road for some festival. They are making the pandal which explains all the bamboo and stuff, and the lines which are tiny little bulbs to light at night. And that car is winging my daughters home after a long day at school.
I love holidays, I love to travel but this is home. After a long hard hot day this is where I am, this is where I live.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

'U' is for Unspoken.

I never told my father that I loved him. Our expressions of love was in our friendship, our hugs, our conversations...and I am quite sure he knew.
But I never ever can remember even one instance when I looked him in the face and said, "I love you."
He died one night and I stayed by his bedside and hugged him all night but I never said those three magic words.
I don't know why.
It's something I shall regret always.

So I hug my family and never give up on a chance to remind them that I love them. This time, I try to ensure that there will  not be anything left unspoken or unsaid.
So if any of my children are reading this, remember always, that I love you. And I am always there for you.
All the rest is irrelevant.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

'T' is for Train-travel

My college was at Pune, at the other end of the country, so to speak. The train journey took close to 40 hours. It also meant I changed trains once to take the Deccan Express from this place called Kalyan, near Bombay. Yes, it was Bombay then, not Mumbai. Those days no one even thought of travelling by air-conditioned coaches. And, more often than not, it was hot.
So how did I survive these journeys?
Oh, I would perch myself on the top most bunk, tie a scarf on my head to protect myself from the dust and hunker down for the 36 hours it took me to reach Kalyan. I would read, sleep, sweat, eat everything that the food vendors were selling from jhaal-muri (puffed rice with stuff mixed in) to cucumber slices and would maintain a strict distance from my fellow travellers. Once in a while some people made the mistake of trying to talk to me. I'd like to think they are still smarting from it!
You see, I rarely had companions travelling with me, I was the only girl from Calcutta in the class and not being a very friendly sort, I had learned to live with myself.
This was such a far cry from the train journeys we took as children with the family. Mom would pack a meal, we would carry, water, biscuits, snacks and other munchies and it would be a picnic all the way. We also had a hold-all which carried everything from pillows to blankets if required. Dad loved trains, he studied the routes and the stations, together we followed the railway time-table and had tea at almost every junction! Those train journeys were part of the holidays we took and, usually, fun.
Even now, I'd happily take the train. I adore the chicken curry and rice they serve and it's the only place on earth where I opt for a tomato soup. I'd probably want the air conditioned coach and be fussier about the loo, but you put me in there with a good book and make sure the train has a pantry car and I'm good to go!

Travelling by train with the girls is a different ball game altogether. Even before we are on the train they ask twenty times how long it will take to get there. Any answer of more that 12 hours is met with resounding groans....and a grumbling husband, so we ensure we only take short distance trains.  In the first hour, they have eaten all the chips, drunk all the soft drinks and have leafed through all the magazines we bought 'for the train' that no one otherwise reads. The girls watch some movie in the lap-top. No one looks at the trees and fields whizzing by. Only my husband and I follow the stations and the time-table. When the food comes the girls fuss, that is too spicy and this tastes weird. Actually their tummies are full and somewhat crampy (I suspect) from all the junk they had been eating! Then they accompany each other to visit the loo. MANY times. So by the time we reach wherever we are going, I wonder why we didn't just fly!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

'S' is for Solace

That day was my mother-in-law's annual shradh. Or whatever you call that once-a-year ceremony praying for peace for the departed soul. So I was up pretty early getting things ready and organised. By and by other family members dropped in. By and by they left.
The room was quiet and still; the smell of incense and flowers permeated the air. My husband sat at the puja, on his right was the family priest. I chose a spot on the floor where I could lean back on the sofa and yet be of use if required. I had woken early, I guess I was also tense and tired, these occasions have a way of doing that to you. I leaned my head on the sofa, I rested my head on a bony knee. I felt a hand on my head smooth the hair from my face. I almost heard a whisper that everything will be alright.
You see, I then realised, that, unconsciously, the spot I chose to lean on is the spot always occupied by my father-in-law during these pujas. He died in November 2012. But I'm certain he still sits in with us and is nearby at times like these. I like to think that the souls of those who love us never really go away. They wait for us, for when we may need them.
And the thought gives me solace.

Monday, April 21, 2014

'R' is to Remember.

Yeah, yeah, there are memories and there are memories. Most of the ones are happy ones, ones we like to savour now and then , ones which never fade over time. We tell stories based on these memories, we share them with our children.
But those are not the only memories, are they?

Some memories are ugly and they hurt us. So we push them away far into the back of our minds and pretend they do not exist. I know, all the teachers tell us to let go. Surely, we train ourselves to let go but do we really forget? Do we want to forget? Should we forget?

I remember that time I put raw tincture iodine by mistake on a cut my mother had on her hand. She had faith in my first aid skills. How it must have burnt. The cut did not heal and it became a mess. My mom never complained or blamed me but I cringe each time I think how much it must have hurt.
I remember my father's eyes when he was in pain as he suffered from the cancer that had ensured that half his jaw and vocal chords had been removed. I remember him struggling to speak and his eyes flaring up when we could not understand something he was trying to say.
I remember the first time I visited a morgue. The bodies piled up and that stench that still has not left me.
I remember too the first train accident victim I saw. We were returning from Lucknow by train and our train was delayed for hours. I was in my teens, I was travelling with my grand-parents, curiosity got the better of me and I slipped through the crowds to see. My punishment for disobeying my grand-parents was right there.
I remember clearly the face of the dacoit that attacked us on a road trip. We escaped, but I can still shut my eyes and see his face, covered in vermilion paste, black and vile with rage.
I remember guilt. For hurting people I love. And it has made me remember to try not to hurt.
I remember the flames as they rose to devour my father's body the day I cremated him.

And I dare not forget. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

'Q' for Questions

When I was young I remember we had this cousin who came to visit with his family. He was an inquisitive child who was perpetually asking questions. I sympathise somewhat with the parents now but at the time I remember being aghast that the father always, but always told the child to shut up and not ask questions. Having been brought up to ask questions and having had them answered for us, this came as quite a shocker!
So when I had kids of my own, I obviously encouraged them to ask and always replied as honestly or as imaginatively as I could. But some questions have no answers.
Like for instance, when my girls were small they used to watch our wedding video on a loop. I wondered why. I soon knew. "Ma," they shrieked one day, "why did you not take us to your wedding?"
Ah, because then the wedding might not have happened, I am tempted to say.
the younger daughter: "Ma, there are pictures of Didi alone but in my baby pictures SHE is always there, why?"
on seeing their first on-screen kiss. "yeeew, why are they sucking the spit?"
I try to be calm, "that's an expression of love. You see, that's a kiss."
"Does Baba also suck your spit, then?"
One holiday they had sunflower seeds. I told them it's good for them. "So will I have sunflowers in my tummy?"
Of course!
All through the holiday, they would run up to me, open their mouths wide and ask me if I could see the sunflowers!
(Of course, I could!)

Yeah, questions are fun, questions are good.  But they sometimes wring the hell out of you. And often, they give you something to smile about later!

Friday, April 18, 2014

'P' is for Potty-training!

Ah, the joys of motherhood!
Potty-training. Something every mother has to go through. Sometimes more than once. How can we ever forget?  Those endless times we waited for the little darlings to 'go' in the pot and not on the bed. The times we waited and gave up only to have a wet child in our arms. I always said I dreamed of potty-trained new-born babies! When my elder daughter was born, I was told a strategically placed metal bowl would help in the mornings.... I gave up on that soon enough. My daughters, who are only 13 months apart, had minds of their own that told them to poo only when they felt like it and they then lay there smiling and cooing sweetly! I should have known right then that those girls meant trouble! Those were the days when at every party or social gathering all us young mothers would get together and discuss our child-rearing woes.... Diapers, Nappy-rash, Breast-feeding, the works... There were times when I thought I would never get past it! I particularly remember one holiday when we went to Kathmandu. We were staying at this fancy place that served a huge buffet breakfast. How I drooled over it! And spent most of the time running to the loo because one or the other child wanted to 'go'! That's the time I wished I had at least one son so that my husband could do the honours!
Like all things, that stage too, passes. You can actually go out without those bulky diapers stuffed in your handbag once more.It's a sense on accomplishment when your child tugs your hand and says "I've gotta go." and then actually lasts till the loo! You can wish back the dimpled smiles and cuddly morning hugs and tiny feet but I bet no mother wishes back the potty-training days!

So cheers to all the Moms who have been there, done that. As for the rest of you, hang on in there, this too shall pass! 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

'O' is for Outsider

There's this nice little family I know. Mother, father and two adorable young girls. Their lives are not perfect, but all said and done they look happy.
Ah, did you say they have problems, which family doesn't?
Despite it all is where I'm at.
My family, did you say that is my family? Really, how have I been so fortunate?
You see, sometimes, I feel just like an outsider. Only looking in. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

'N' is for Nothing!

Nothing. What a versatile word that is!

When I was newly-wed, I sometimes used to ask my husband what he was thinking. Pat came the same reply every time. "Nothing". It took me quite some time to figure that some men are wired that way, they do not think so much all the time.
That is so unlike me. I am a compulsive thinker and there's no saying where my thoughts will take me. At one point of time I was keen to meditate. All the books told me to clear my mind. Think of nothing in particular, they said. Impossible, just the fact that I was told not to think of anything made me run the list from dinner to summer vacation to Ugandan politics!
When the girls were young and I was home, sometimes, they were unusually quiet. Any parent know that can only mean trouble. I'd enter the room and ask. "What are you doing?" Two guilty faces would look at me. "Nothing."  Of course, that nothing either meant the contents of the toy cupboard were all on the floor, or there was water and paint everywhere or some similar disaster.
As the girls grew older and their educational demands grew, they started studying into the night. I would wake up suddenly and hear strange noises emanating from the kitchen. The lights are blazing. I quietly ask, "what are you doing?" They jump. "Nothing," comes the reply. Of course, nothing means that the cookie box has been raided, the cola is over, the ham and cheese are on the kitchen counter and the girls are happily munching on something!
I get home, the girls are fighting. Right from the staircase I can hear them, just about getting ready to murder one another. I enter through the door and yell. "What the hell is happening. Why are you shouting like that?"
Of course, the silence is immediate. An answer is mumbled, "nothing."

Yes, this nothing-ness is everywhere. In the absence of those we love, in the tear drop that we did not allow to escape, in the quiet sigh of another day just before it starts. It fills my life. And  as time passes, I appreciate it more and more, what a lovely place to hide!
In fact, if you ask me why I just looked away and smiled, I too would reply, "nothing."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'M' for Moon!

I've always had a fascination for the moon, that lady and I, we go back a long way. As a child I remember walks with my Dad over the moonlit fields near Kanke and Madhupur...and long moonlit swims with only the moonlight rippling up the waters. It was always magical....And whenever I have been sad, she's been around to give ease and comfort, reminding me that no matter how far or remote she may seem, she's always there.
I specially remember one time when I was hurt and upset and on a whim I took this overnight bus from Pune to Bangalore...throughout the journey the moon followed us and the moon drenched fields and hills winked at by the time I reached Bangalore I was comforted, much more at peace with myself....and maybe a little more ready to face things...
Over the years that beautiful lady has been a mute witness to my life.
Whether I have been savouring the summer breeze on the terrace, or enjoying a drink in the moonlight, or watching the silver beams dancing on the waves or enjoying the quiet chill atop a hill, she's been a constant companion, friend and inspiration for much of my writing, my poetry and my paintings.... So how can M be anything but the moon? 

Monday, April 14, 2014

'L' is for Load-shedding

Ah, load-sheddings.
What on earth is that, did I hear you say?
When I was growing up in Calcutta there used to be electricity crises. These were termed as "load-sheddings" as in the time it took the utility company time to 'shed' the excess 'load' and could last from anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours or more. Load sheddings were the norm in the 70s and 80s in Calcutta. Rare were the days when you had unlimited electricity supply all day AND night. And load-sheddings were especially common in summer. So every household was equipped to deal with power-cuts, we had our kerosene lanterns, candlesticks, hand-held fans etc all handy and on the ready. Generators were rare and inverters unheard of. Many an evening was spent with the whole family at the dining table in a room lit by candles and lamps. Each of us would do our own thing and candlelit dinners held no fascination for us.
But the best evenings were when we had no studies and the whole family would converge to the verandah on a hot summer night. A fresh breeze would blow and we could talk or exchange stories or play word games. And if an ice-cream seller would pass, my Dad would shout out and ask him to stop and we all would gorge on as much as we wanted to....

Now we have generators and machines that kick on as soon as the power goes out so you don't feel the shift. In any case, power-failure is rare. One call to the electric company will ensure technicians get on the job right away..... my daughters have never slept on the terrace or shot the breeze in the dark with me. And ice-creams? You do not gorge on those, you drive to the swanky ice-cream parlor round the corner and chose from umpteen flavors and toppings!
Ah, progress!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

'K' is for Knitting

I really admire people who knit. It's one of those skills I did not acquire. In any case I am all thumbs with all kinds of needlework. 
In school we had Needlework and one of the things we had to do (at the age of 13, that too!) was to knit a set of booties, bonnet and baby sweater. 
Are you kidding me? Firstly I could barely hold two knitting needles together, then the intricacy of those start up stitches had me in knots. All I could do if I tried really hard was a long strip of maybe ten stitches with some holes for dropped stitches (which I pretended was 'design'). If anyone asked me, I was making a hairband. In fact, I was perpetually making a hairband. My grandmother had pity on me. At some point of time she saw me struggle and felt sorry for me. So she made me a baby sweater and booties and a bonnet. I remember it clearly, it was baby blue and very pretty. 
When I saw it, I was delighted. I thought I could pull it off. So I wrapped it in cellophane and submitted 'my' work. 
The teacher was delighted. 'Ah, so beautiful," she exclaimed, "did you make it?" 
"Me?" I said,  "Make this? No way, my grandmother made it."
The teacher sighed deeply. 
I was given passing marks for honesty. 
But I never learned to knit. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

'J' is for Julie and Jackie......

Ah Jackie. And Julie. I remember them today after such a long time. It's peculiar that the mind will forget so much and yet hold memories to draw upon at the most unexpected corners of our journeys.
How can J belong to anyone else?
J is for Jackie. The mongrel dog I had in our garden house when I was growing up. We found her when she was a tiny pup and she stayed. Her name was Jacqueline, if you please, but everyone just called her Jackie. She was the one who drank my milk each morning till I got caught, she was the one who ran after our car and jumped at me when the car drove in and she is the one who whined woefully when we left. Jackie was my companion in all my hair-brained schemes, I used to drag her to the branches of the tree where I was sitting, I insisted on her swimming with me and even made her test ride the raft I never managed to get to stay afloat! Jackie hated the water, some dogs do, and it was a real test of her devotion when I pulled her along with me into the pond. She tried to run away, but, eventually, she joined me. Ah those were golden days, the pond, the open skies, the trees and Jackie. Jackie died during my school finals. I was told later, after the exams were over and I never got to say goodbye to her. So in my mind Jackie still walks the gardens of my childhood, roams the field with me and tries to hide in the grass when I want to swim.....  The house is gone, those days are gone, but somewhere in my heart, Jackie lives on waiting to lick my face....

J is also for Julie. Julie, my husband's Dalmatian  who was wary of me when we first met. I could see did didn't care for me much but she endured my presence specially after we were married. Slowly I made friends with her and she would occasionally deign to lick my hands and come forward for some petting. Julie was a brilliant strategist. Anyone, I mean anyone could enter the house. She would just lie there in the shade, eyes half-closed and quietly watch you while you entered through the gate and went into the house. Not a sound. Just don't try to leave without a family member present. Specially with something in your hand that was not there when you entered, be it a book or the garbage! I loved it! Julie shifted to Delhi with my in-laws. when my daughter was an infant and I put her to sleep in the sun in winter, Julie would sit there, on guard. I knew my daughter was safe. Julie was diagnosed with Cancer and refused to move from the Delhi residence even when my father-in-law had to move. She would run back from wherever she was! Luckily the new occupant was know to my Father-in-law and he allowed Julie to live there...and that's where Julie stayed, till the day she died, soon thereafter. I've not been to that property since, but if ever in my life I have occasion to, I know I shall see Julie peering from around the house.

J is also for Jed and Jazz, two of the most beautiful Border Collies I know. Zorba, a huge black Labrador who could wrestle you to the floor and cover you with cuddles. Puka, the Golden Lab who silently endured all my 8 year-old daughter's torturing. Frisky, the Alsatian who was more human than most humans I know. And  all the other canine friends I have or had and who will live forever, somewhere, a part of my life and my childhood. I have not forgotten. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

'I' for Inspiration

It's a very busy day today. I have work piled up from here to forever and then I have to take the girls to some classes and pack for the long weekend as we are going to Jamshedpur tomorrow and will not return till Monday night. So today is not a good day to write a post. Then I remembered this poem. Like a true blooded Bengali, when all else fails, I have Rabindranath Tagore to quote from:

"Those who are near me do not know that you are nearer to me than they are.
Those who speak to me do not know that my heart is full with your unspoken words
Those who crowd in my path do not know that I am walking alone with you
Those who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

'H' is for Horror.

Rohit was neither very intelligent nor kind but he was exceptionally good looking. In our society where boys are a premium, my mother took one look at him and declared he would be her son-in-law. My opinion was neither sought nor expected and I found myself saddled with a husband at the age of 17. By 19, my daughter, Neha was born. Of course I was blamed for conceiving a girl and thereafter I conceived seven times and underwent seven abortions till my body gave up and I had to undergo an hysterectomy. Rohit still insisted on having a son and used a surrogate woman. I cannot say I was unhappy when the child was stillborn.
I often thought of leaving home and running away but where could I go with a young daughter? Rohit always assured me he would never leave me, that he would ensure I could not escape him. Three years ago Rohit was in a car accident and went into a coma. Neha is now in college, I have ensured that she will get an education and have created a fund to meet all her expenses for the next eight years of her life. I will not let her be married off as a trophy wife. I can only hope she understands.
Two days ago I brought my husband home from the hospital. Last night he died. Although the doctor expressed surprise at the sudden deterioration no one really checked for bruises near at the throat. Or commented that the eyes had flown open.
It is now 10 pm and I have returned home after the cremation, the smell of flesh burning is so difficult to get rid of. I have sent off my cousins who wanted to stay the night with me and I have Rohit's pistol with me. The same one he used to threaten me with when I refused to have sex with him. I will now walk into my bedroom and I know I will find Rohit there, rotting flesh falling off burnt bones.
I have to put an end to this.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

'G' is for Girlfriends

Ah girlfriends! What would life be without them? For at the end of the day, only a girlfriend will understand why you are upset that the pudding has not set or why watching the advertisement with that sweet chubby kid brings a lump to your throat! You can share your angst your joy and your pain and the girlfriend will be there to help you laugh it off, giggle at what you cannot change and give a fresh perspective on who you are. They are the cornerstones of your existence; they sit and listen to your ranting AND they come back for more! That’s more than one can say about most men!
I do not have too may friends but they are all special for more reasons than one. It does not matter that there is almost a decade between us, it does not matter that oceans divide us or that the last time I spoke to her was over a year ago on her birthday and this year I didn't get round to calling. Who needs a reason? I can call now, meet after days or months or years and we slip back into the friendship like that old slipper one never forgets!
So here’s to all my girlfriends, the ones we giggled about boys with, the ones who laughed at us because we were stupid or stood by us when we were hopelessly wrong, the ones who understand that the husband is being crabby so we have to cancel that lunch appointment, the ones who know kids can be so demanding at times they won’t let you talk on the phone in peace, the ones with who nothing is taboo and you are not judged or patronized, the ones who will agree to go on a bike ride with you at two in the morning “just because’, the one who will wear a swimsuit and get into the water with you even though she does not know swimming, the one who will take the blame when your father frowns at you for being late, the one who will take responsibility for she is the teachers pet, the one you can wake up at any hour of the night by honking loudly outside her door (never mind the neighbours!), the one who will agree to go “paaaarp” in a loud voice because your bike horn is not working, the ones who will sit with you in the moonlight on the top of a hill and let you shout into the darkness and then laugh herself and you silly afterwards, the ones who insist on writing your paper for you for otherwise you are not ready for that exam and might flunk, the ones who will share their last drink and last drag with you because you’re feeling like a lost kitten, the ones who will bring you in out of the cold and make you warm again, the ones you who soothe you when you are hurting so badly you cannot think, the ones who pick up the phone and instantly know that something is wrong, the ones that laugh with you and cry with you, the ones for whom a little silence is enough, the ones for who words are not necessary......
I love you. I just don't say it enough.

Monday, April 7, 2014

'F' is for Father.

My father was a simple man. He loved life and living and he taught us to do the same. He gave me the secret recipe to happiness: it did not matter what you did, he used to say, as long as you gave it your best shot. He taught me never to run away from my duties or responsibilities and to face things as they are. 
My father never gave me dancing or singing lessons but he taught me real-life skills like first-aid and driving. When I was struggling with embroidery in school, he told me the only thing I needed to know was to sew a button. When I wanted to make gourmet meals at home he ensured I knew how to make a basic roti so I could feed myself when I was hungry. 
My father taught me to dream. And he taught me that anything is possible. 
But the most important lesson of all he saved for the last.  He taught me to be strong. He battled cancer for over a year. I was all of 21. I never heard him scream in pain or feel sorry for himself. Even as he was dying he would tell us of his plans for his next life when he would get to do all the things he could not do in this! 

As I grew into womanhood, my father was the person I missed the most. I never got to speak to him as an adult, discuss plans for my future or toss my ideas at him and have them be thrown back at me. My father knew me first a s a errant child, a difficult teenager and then a rebellious college student, never as an adult or a woman or a mother. 
But I like to believe he believed in me. 

I have often heard it said that I am strong. 
It's only my father's spirit that lives in me. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

'E' is for Examinations!

With two school-going teenage girls in the house, every now and then, we have to undergo this ordeal called examinations.
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!"
I've tried separating them but they gravitate to each other. I try to 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 Archie's Digests, story books and the PSP that have been shoved under some papers as soon as they heard me approach. I lecture them about responsibilities and that it's high time they knew what was good for them. I refuse to nursemaid them, I say 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 whatever I am doing.
One daughter strolls in,"I don't understand this."
"This", of course, is the whole Physics book.
"But you have Physics 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 the Physics 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 in school?"
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 unprintable 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. The schools I understand have their schedules to keep and standards to maintain but all these examinations make my skin crawl and take a toll on my mental well being.
But, we'll have to discuss that some other time. I have to go now.

Friday, April 4, 2014

'D" is for Dreams

I've always been a dreamer. And I'm not just talking about the waking ones. I'm talking about the ones I cannot control, the ones that take me to new and often uncharted territories at night. In my late teens I had acquired a dream dictionary and off and on tried to maintain a dream diary in an effort to decipher what my dreams meant. I was heavily into symbolism and the like.
Recently I've been having these dreams. My father-in-law (sometimes with my mother-in-law, sometimes alone) has regularly been featuring in my dreams. I was very fond of him and he passed away 18 months ago. So it wasn't exactly unpleasant to have him around in my dreams. Usually the scenario was in an old house, often the house of my childhood. Sometimes the theme changed, we were all on vacation. or sitting down for a meal together. Always, there was something he was trying to say, something that eluded me. I used to wake up disturbed, often commenting about these dreams to my husband. But I also got used to seeing them every night.
Ten days ago my husband fell sick while in Delhi for an outstation case. He returned to Calcutta and visited the doctor. The day we admitted him I was nervous and worried. By nightfall three stents had been placed in his heart and the doctor was happy with the prognosis. I returned home late and fell asleep, shattered by the day's events.
For the first time in weeks I did not dream of my father-in-law.
I haven't since.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

'C' is for CALCUTTA.

It had to be Calcutta, albeit the fact that it has recently been renamed with an ugly K. At the heart of every Calcuttan, Calcutta will always be Calcutta.
The city of my birth, the city that is my home.
So what is Calcutta like? Hot, crowded, dusty, humid, loud, dirty and full of people who think it's their birthright to spit and abuse. Tempers run high, the traffic will drive you mad and the decibel levels on the streets will surely have you moaning in agony. There are a hundred and one reasons to hate the city, to declare that living here is an utter pain. 
Yet, I love it.
Here's ten reasons why:
  1.  It's home. I am utterly and totally comfortable in its arms. From the narrow alleys in the North to the lakes in the South. From the Strand in the West to the wetlands in the East, there is no place like home.
  2. The street food. Whether you are in the mood for a light snack or a heavier something, there's something for everyone. Jhalmuri to Chaat to rolls to phuchkas to Coolfis. It's all here.
  3. The Southern breeze. No matter how hot or humid it, gets. No matter how much you have been sweltering or sweating in the day, every evening a cool Southern breeze will caress the tiredness off your limbs. That's why South facing housing is so important in Calcutta.
  4.  The connectivity. You don't have a car? No sweat. There are buses, trams, taxis, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and even a metro to whisk you to your destination. Yes, you may be stuck in traffic sometimes, and you may feel like you almost died but you'll get there with little trouble. Usually.
  5.  The riverfront. It's a rather nice walk down the riverside all the way from Princep Ghat to the Millenium Park and beyond. And they are proposing to stretch it further. And there are street food stalls nicely interspersed along the way to make the walk more interesting. And if you are really in the mood, a ride on a dinghy on the Hoogly river at sunset might be just what the doctor ordered!
  6. The fine dining. Well Calcutta is not New York or London when it comes to food destinations but the food that is served in the restaurants are certainly top class. The Chinese, especially, which is borrowed from China and spiced in Bengal has no substitute in the world!
  7. The heritage buildings. Take a tour of the High Court , the GPO and the Raj Bhavan area. If historic buildings are your thing there's a world waiting to be discovered. Just take a walk in the narrow lanes and by lanes of the North. Amid the squalor and the haphazard new concrete blocks, you'll be surprised at the lovely old bungalows! Yes, and people still live there!
  8. The cosmopolitan-ness: Yes, that quiet Christian lady lives next to the Sindhi who blasts music every weekend who lives next to the devout Madrasi who lives above the Bong who hates Dings but learns where to get a good pork curry from them along with the fat Marwari lady who hates the smell of fish frying but loves to share gossip and the occasional chicken kabab with the Muslim family across the street who's father officially does not drink but enjoys a tipple with his friend the Punjabi round the corner. It goes on. They are the butt of each other's jokes. They have the bitterest fights but in the end they all live together. It works. 
  9. The humour: Yes, the intrinsic nature of Calcuttans to "tell you a jokes" and to laugh at everything and anything and specially themselves!
  10.  The Winters: Calcutta winters are perfect although they last for barely 6 weeks in December and January. The temperature hovers around 10,11 degrees C and the sun feels good on the back. Ideal for sitting in the sun and sipping on that glass of chilled beer or whatever. For a game of cricket or badminton in the lawn. To head to the Maidan or the riverside or further from the city for that idyllic picnic. Yes, had I not been living here, surely I would hanker to return to Calcutta every winter.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Oh, Calcutta!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

'B' for boredom, blogs and books!

When I was 10 my dad gave me a diary and asked me to scribble in it…any old nonsense, he said and I wouldn't have to show it to anyone. That idea really grabbed me, that secrecy bit. So day by day I started. At first it was drawings, doodles, even pictures I liked. Then each year got a little complicated. Growing up, secrets shared, first crushes, giggly school friends, the first Harold Robbins (OMG they actually write this stuff!!!), boys, dreams, heroes, nightmares, fantasies, fears, anger, resentment, joys…everything came to be chronicled and by the time I left college I could give you a little detail about each day of my life from age ten…..Amazing. And crazy. I had this little cupboard (locked, of course) in my room at home where I stored these diaries….and I would guard it with my life….the keys were well hidden and in my custody even when I was away in college.
Then, one day before I got married I opened that cupboard and spent the better part of the day sitting in front of it. Some of it made me laugh, some made me cry and a lot made me shudder at my own naiveté and idiocy!!! So I burned it all. Dragged out every last bit of loose paper and let it burn. Today I sometimes wonder why I didn’t just seal it all in a carton and bring it with me……but years of my life were gone. I do not know why I did it. Was it to safeguard my own privacy or was it just a ploy to hide what a jackass I could be? And now that I’m older and it has ceased to matter what people think, those are the pages of my life I miss…the humdrum days of a girl growing up slightly confused, slightly crazy and more than slightly rebellious.
No, I don’t think I was either unique or newsworthy but that life was mine.
          And later, much later, when I sat with a pen in hand I often found my uninspired writing: “…..went to court and came home…clients in the evening…conference at 8” and wondered why I wrote. Wasn’t all of that in my Court diary anyway, and who the hell cared? Years later if I read that diary would I enjoy sifting thorough pages of a routine existence? Ah but that’s it. It’s our monotony that makes us who we are. And more often than not, back then, it made me bored and crabby and difficult to live with.
          So I started writing. On this blog for friends and any stranger who cared to pass that way. And that is what inspired my first book, "A SLIVER OF MOONBEAM".

             Boredom can be very creative, don't you think? 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

'A' is for Awesome.

Ever since I decided I would participate in the A to Z challenge this morning, I've been thinking of words with A. I ran the gamut from Apple (predictably) to Adhd (don't even ask!) and got to the club from Court with little else on my mind. Met my daughters after their swim and there it was, the word I had been searching for all day: AWESOME!
No, no, don't get me wrong. My daughters do not inspire the thought on sight. It's just that they use the darn word ALL the time. Anything they like, is, alternatively, 'awesome' or 'cool'. I mean anything. Right from the stir-fry you made for dinner to the old shoe that finally emerged from under the bed....only one word describes it all.
Right now in Calcutta it is 39 degrees C. The heat is stifling. The spouse has been unwell and is at home so he gets to spend the day being entertained by two teenage girls who are on holiday right now and believe that life begins and ends with the TV. Unfortunately since Dad is home, they are now subject to strict disciplining which is otherwise missing as we both are at work. They are unable to grow roots in front of the TV or the computer and even restrained in their squabbling! Their daily diet of coke and chips have been replaced with home-cooked meals eaten with their Dad. 
The school reopens next week which coincides nicely with when their Dad too goes back to work....... 
Me? I go out to work and shut the door quietly on the home front. Its like being on vacation.
What's the word for it now? Ah. There it is: Awesome.