Thursday, April 3, 2008
we tried calling up the school, but the numbers were all busy. thankfully, i had the cellphone nos. of her class teachers of std one and two. their phones were also busy. finally, got through one of them, and learnt it was bus 45 A. our first reaction was a sigh of relief that it wasn't mithi's bus, but close on its heels was anxiety and empathy for those who were on the ill fated bus and their parents. one news flash said that another school bus following the first one, had stopped to help rescue the kids of the first bus. children in the second bus were traumatised by the sight of the blood and the injured children inside the bus. i called up as many other parents as i could, including some of my colleagues whose children are in the same school informing them about the tragedy.
quickly, we left for the school. in the car, we kept calling mithi's classmates' parents, asking whether we should pick up their children too and bring them home with us. on the way, we learnt that the bus was at an intersection on the highway, when a container truck hurtling in its direction rammed headlong onto it. as a result, the bus spun out of control, flipped two-three times, and skidding a little, ground to a halt after it hit a divider in the middle of the road.
to reach the school we had to pass by the accident site. at home, while mum had panicked and anshuman was tense, i had been calm and collected. but, the sight of the bus being picked up by a crane and towed away in front of our eyes was something else. we could see the smashed bus and some water bottles rattling inside. at the site, there was a lot of blood and again a couple of waterbottles strewn about. how does one even express how one felt at the sight?
the press vultures were feasting on the sight. one huge press van had been thoughtlessly parked in the middle of the road, causing a traffic jam. later, we heard that when the first press people reached the spot, they were busy filming the scene instead of helping in the rescue.
at the school, children were in their respective classrooms with class teachers. a lot of parents were already there to pick up their children and take them home. chaos reigned. we picked up mithi and six other kids from different classrooms. the kids in the car chattered innocently about sundry things--in sharp contrast to how we felt. they told us their teachers were crying in the morning when they learnt of the mishap. they asked the children to pray for the children in the ill-fated bus. we were sitting with composed expressions and hearing them out, trying to talk normally and cheerfully.
at home, all the news channels were flashing this news and reporting the tragedy. even in the office afterwards, events of the morning kept gnawing away at my mind. at night i kept staring at her. as such, looking at your child sleeping peacefully, is one of the most moving sights ever as any parent will vouch for. but in light of the day's happenings, your head has mixed thoughts tickering through it.
read about the news this morning, about the little boy who lost his life with a lump in the throat. read about the teachers whose presence of mind in rushing a profusely bleeding, semi conscious child by car to hospital saved his life. heart is still heavy with the grief of the parents who lost their child; with those whose children were in the bus and are in critical condition in hospital, and those whose kids are traumatised by what happened with them. there is anger-- at the bus driver's carelessness, at the school authorities for being slack about safety guidelines, and at the power up there beyond our control.
as i hug my child countless times in the day, can't help thinking of those who can't hug theirs.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
mithi: mum, why don't we have a manor or castle with a bower in the garden? imagine, how lovely it would be for papa and you to sit in one and sing songs to each other!
woe betide us! calamity has struck the household. a pall of gloom has descended. having to wake up an hour and a half earlier, at 6 am is not something we had foreseen. early morning waking up, sunrise etc. is all well and good, but, not for us. going into a frenzy at such an unearthly hour is just not appealing. even coffee fails to really shake us to action. the system just reverts to auto hibernation mode.
the poor kid and her miserable parents! and now, one hears from class five, it will be another hour earlier!! yesterday, when hubby returned from work, i broke the news to him gently. the poor guy nearly choked on his chappati. " WHAT? " is all he could manage. and then, dramatically, " we shall change her school!" stoically, i interjected, "one has to think of the kid's education, not one's sleep time!"
however, rationalising things is one thing. going through it another! let's see how it goes.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
mithi: look ma, this is the story of a king and a queen and their family and friends(royalty, of the western kind is her new muse to my dismay).
look at their crowns! they vary in size. this king always wears long, blue silk robes. next to him is his queen with long hair and in a long gown. next to the queen is Cruel-princess. The crown on her head has the name written on it. she is always hatching evil plans to kill the queen.
in the left hand corner, this boy is offering a bouquet and a ring to another little princess, and asking her whether she will marry him when they grow up. she is saying 'yes'. so, this other boy prince near them is crying aloud because he also likes her and wants to marry her. he also has a bunch of flowers in his hand, but the little princess does not take them.
the king is angry with the little princess for saying 'yes' to the boy because he does not like the boy. he is not a very nice boy. see, the kings hands are raised up in anger. there are two maids who are watching what's happening.
to the left of the king, this girl in a red gown is crying because she wanted to become the king's queen, but the king made the queen, his queen.
in the painting, only the sun is smiling. the sun wears glasses.
mithi has a ear ache. after putting the necessary ear drops in her ear, i tie a scarf around her head, covering her ears. teamed with her glasses, she looks like red riding hood's granny to me. i tell her that and she sulks. i prod her and cajole her into talking to me. finally,
mithi: mama, you should think about how i'll feel, shouldn't you? what if i were to tell you that you look like the wolf who has become plump with eating young girls like Red Riding Hood?
mithi: mama, let's watch don. i love the old don.
me (pleasantly surprised): but, i thought you liked the new one with your favourite khan in it. why do you like the old one mithi?
mithi is quiet.
mithi: oh ma, you ask too many questions. i just like the old don more.
me: but this don has some elements different from the other one. it has changed things a bit.
mithi: correction mom. the new don has changed things a bit in the old one. the new one is a copy. the old one is ...is...what is the word, 'octagonal'?
me (delighted with this Plato like kid who talks about copies and originals): not 'octagonal' but 'original' ma.
now, mithi's pa, the lawyer, jumps into the fray.
pa: Yes, mits you're right! you are so very right! this is called by law, "copyright infringement."
mithi: poppy, i don't know all that. but, i do know that you should not copy other people's work; else, people will say that you have copied someone else's work and are not 'orthogonal'.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
mithi is playing with her friends downstairs when i drive in. one look at me and her face takes on a concerned expression. grabbing some bags from my hands, she asks with a worried expression on her face, "mama, what's wrong? are you upset about something? please tell me." a hug follows. "mama, are you unwell? come, let's go home."
it's great to have a daughter.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
bebo or vaidehi is mithi's best friend. six months younger than mithi, she is our next door neighbour and hardy to mithi's laurel. interestingly, mithi's first word, uttered at the age of 8 months, was not ma or ba or pa. it was "vaidehi," uttered with sheer gentleness. was blown out of my mind when i heard that.
last evening. 7 pm.
i see the two devils giggling and furiously scribbling something in a lovely sheet of handmade paper. sometimes, bebo chews the end of her soft pencil and looks hard at the distance. mithi keeps laughing and urges her on.
8 pm. they get up and shake hands. bebo hands over the paper to mithi with a conspiratorial smile. the latter rolls it and ties a red thread on it.
9 pm. mithi and her dad settle down on the bed in their usual tangled pose.
she unrolls the sheet of paper and reads out:
"please remember bebo's birthday is on march 31st. do not forget the date or big 'dangers' will happen. you may be eaten up by a bad witch or durvasa may curse you. here is a list of the gifts mithi has promised bebo for her birthday--
1. a barbie doll
2. a barbie comic book
3. a barbie make up set
4. a barbie pencil box
5. barbie hair pins
6. a barbie frock
7. a barbie water bottle
8. a crayon set that has barbie on the cover
9. a barbie drawing set
10. a barbie kitchen set
11. a barbie bathroom set
12. a barbie dressing set
13. barbie's boyfriend
14. barbie hankies
15. barbie cards
16. barbie stickers
if mithi's parents do not get the above, bebo will be sad. so mithi will be sad. as a result, mithi's parents will be sad. family will be sad. so, for the sake of the family's happiness and laughter, do as asked. please. please, please, please?
Friday, March 14, 2008
me: why didn't you?
mithi: arre, how could i have been present? i wasn't around then.
pa: where were you?
mithi: i was in mama's tummy, silly!
me: so why did you not come visiting?
mithi: offo, i was in this pouch in your tum, okay? to come out i'd have to tear out the pouch and your tum. what kind of dulhan would you have been? hee.hee.
i wake up bleary eyed, somehow make myself a cup of coffee to really wake up, and get into action mode. Dodaa dodaa bhaagaa bhagaa saa...dodaa dodaa bhagaa bhaaga saa...keeps playing over and over in my head. slowly the battle of algiers unfolds itself at home.
i start off by huskily crooning to mithi to wake up..." mithu, get up ma."... 'mithi, look at the time puchu, it's 7.30. come on, get up."... " mithee, uth na ma. get up. " mithi opens one eye fractionally, looks at me, turns over on her tummy and lies there as still as a statue. as the minute hand on the clock surges ahead, all sweetness abandons me, until finally............. i screech,
"MITHEE! GET UP! GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH! LOOK AT THE TIME! YOU'LL MISS YOUR BUS AGAIN! THEN PAPA WILL HAVE TO DRIVE YOU ALL 18 KMS TO SCHOOL LIKE A MANIAC ! WHEN WILL YOU STOP TROUBLING ME? GAWD!!!!!"
when she doesn't respond, i drag her out of bed, yank the bedsheets off her, try to push her towards the bathroom, put the toothpaste on her toothbrush, switch on the geyser, all at the same time. the moment i release my grip on her, she runs back to the bed and flops on it.
now i get into dramatic, filmy mom mode. sometimes, for effect, squeeze out a few tears also, " why do you do this to me everyday? i need to go to work too. every morning you trouble me like this. you are not a 3 year old anymore... i have to do things like a maniac to get you to the bus stop on time. .. " but, am out for a duck.
sometimes, the drama works--when the tears are genuine out-of-vexation tears. at such times, she hugs me and obliges by rushing to brush her teeth. at other times, she just laughs or giggles at the sight of me wailing like a banshee. she may even run around in circles in the room, or throw a, "mumm, don't do emotional blackmail, okay?" (where did she pick up the phrase from?)
the wrath and tirade, after a point, becomes a scud missile and is now aimed at hubby, who may sometimes be reclining on the bed in a matsyagandha pose and gazing at the scene in the room with a half smile on his lips in the worst case, or a compassionate glance thrown my way at best. i bellow, " look what you have done to her! you spoil her rotten and i have to put up with such... such...behaviour, indifference.... and such... utter disregard for punctuality or discipline!" hubby sometimes ducks behind his newspaper or sips his coffee regally. once in a blue moon, he allies himself with me against such brats of the world and thunders, "MITHI! DON'T TRY YOUR LUCK TOO HARD! STOP TROUBLING MAMA. " he may even say things such as, " mithi, don't do such badmaashi. you may do it tommorow again...." or chant, "duniya ka naara, jame raho, masti ka ishaara, jamein raho!" and both chortle and giggle or guffaw.
what does this mum do? she tries out her last bits of arsenal, " alright then. i'm going to write to swati mam, and tell her that this seemingly good girl in class is a devil at home, with no discipline, or manners or sense of time. wait and watch i WILL do it now." success at last. the child pleads with me and hovers around me to not do it. i may or may not smirk. game, set, match.
if, by chance, this does not work, at times, i lock myself in the bathroom, bawl my eyes out, or take a brisk shower myself like a major general. come out, put my nose up, refuse to look at anyone in the eye, get dressed and pretend to leave for work.
if by chance, any of the other ruses have worked, then mithi and i work in tandem, we brush our teeth together, i scrub her and scrub her dry, get her dressed in --vest, shirt, bicycle shorts, trouser, socks, tie, belt, e band, blazer, cap, et al. so many buttons! so many darned buttons! where are her glasses? where are her school hair clips? push her to dining table. while i sharpen her pencils, check her pencil box, and school bag, sign her almanac, mum sets her breakfast on the table--chyawanprash, paranthaas, milk, whatever. by now am under the table, pushing her feet into the shoes. usually it's a struggle, a tug of war between feet and shoes-- black on mondays and tuesdays, white on wednesdays, thursdays and fridays. mithi calls out, " papa, get up. get dressed. it's time to go."
breakfast is propelled into her mouth periodically. when it's over, there is her hair to attend to. the more you try to comb, directly proportional will be the distance she'll move away from you. all this will be punctuated by " aah, ouch, ...mama, stop it." and " how do i comb your hair otherwise?" "It's already 8.20. your bus will leave. " i keep repeating periodically even as we are moving in simple harmonic motion.
by now hubby has picked up her bag and waterbag and is searching for the car keys. i join him in the hunt, muttering under my breath or quietly depending on my mood. it's amazing how he finds the most unusual places to lose them everyday. really original. he manages to retrieve them this time from the shoe rack. hey viola! the duo finally leave and leave me gasping for air.
not quite. in precisely 6 seconds, mithi comes back with a sheepish expression on her face. heavens! it can only mean one thing. the call of nature is too strong. duniya kaa naaraa, jame raho! rush. take off half her clothes. help her, but today, it's a false alarm.
she finally runs down the stairs. father and daughter will chase the bus as usual, honking wildly, and catch up with it after 2-3 stops, if lucky.
i am a dead rag. i get dressed in precisely 15 minutes and leave for work. duniyaa kaa naara, jamein raho!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
me: but she is the older child so parents naturally (unfortunately) tend to question the older child and not the younger one.
mithi: that's not fair. why should one child be scolded for everything? mama, this makes bittudidi sad.
me: but this is something that happens in every family....
conversation veers to siblings and families.
me: do you wish you had a sibling?
mithi: no. i have so many friends to play with all the time. besides, if i did have a younger sibling, papa and you will love me less.
the television is on all this time. with the lull, everyone now 'hears' what music the cable guy is playing. first to come up is mohammed rafi charging through dilip kumar in Leader, "apni aazadi ko hum hargiz mita sakte nahin...sar kata sakte hain lekin sar jhuka sakte nahin." hubby immediately quips, "hey mithi, this is mama's anthem! " next in line is, "aa dekhein zaraa, kismein kitna hai dum..." hubby is quick to comment, " this is MY song !"
Mithi, our all time peacekeeper, jumps up when the next one comes along and claps her hands as usual. The song is, "tum se milke aisa laga tum se milke..armaan hue pure dilke..." "Mum and Pops" she cheers excitedly, "this is YOUR song!"
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
boy: ae aunty! chashmish!
mithi: kyun, mujhe aunty bulata hai? ek maarungi na!
boy: tu bhi aunty aur shivangni bhi aunty.
mithi: le bhusa kha!
later at night i speak to her.
me: mithu, why did you hit that boy?
mithi: mama, he called Shivangni and me aunties.
me: so, what difference does it make? maybe he called you aunty because you both are tall and well built.
mithi: but no one should laugh at anyone na.
me: just ignore people who make fun of you for any reason. if you ignore them, they will be really irritated and will not persist in their behaviour. you don't need to start beating people up.
mithi: who will teach these badmaash boys a lesson if we keep quiet?
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
everytime they show the film on cable tv, mithi urges me to watch the film again. not that i need any nudging or urging from her. but, she glares at me if i dilly dally. once she said, " watch this film about parents mama. don't you just love the boy who has to deal with them?" huh?
the scene where ishaan bunks school. the shot where he eats a "baraf ka gola."
mithi: mama, he is as old as me. where did he get the money from? did he steal the money from home? maybe that's why he suffers so much later on...
me: (wanting to smoothen the creases and give her the 'right'picture): maybe his mother gave him the money at some point. a rupee or so. that's not much money, mithu.
mithi: but mama, he is my age. MY age. i do not carry any money with me to school or anywhere. (looks at me accusingly. hands on her waist)
mithi: btw, mama, what is the meaning of bunk?
me: when you go/run away from school without informing your teacher or parents, during school hours.
mithi: oh! do children do that? (gleefully)
mithi's dad interjects: but, that is a BAD thing to do!
me: he could have gotten into trouble mithu. he could have wandered somewhere and be lost. he could have met with an accident. somebody could have kidnapped him...
mithi: but, he was happy for sometime, away from all those people troubling him and tormenting him.
Friday, February 15, 2008
mithi and her dad are snuggled under quilts on the bed.
"family time!" she announces and we smile. i get under the quilt with them. here's what happens next:
mithi: poppy, it's valentines day today.
mithi's dad: hmmm...
mithi: so what are you both doing about it?
dad: we are here cuddling up with our darling chingudi.
mithi: why don't the two of you go and 'do' dating?
i look at her. her dad looks at me.
me: mithu, what is dating ma?
mithi: arre baba, go somewhere and do some dhamaal masti.
me: what dhamaal masti?
mithi: like have fun. have a good time. you can also go on a long drive you know.
me: (ulp), a long drive? what's that?
mithi: you people don't know a thing. arre, means go on a long drive in the car. listen to music.
me: what does dating mean mithi ? (am trying to probe where she picked up the word from. also trying to investigate what it means to her)
mithi: i don't know what people do, but i know they 'do' dating.
dad: see, this is all a result of watching those Disney programmes meant for adolescents. mama's right. you are not supposed to watch these programmes. they are for older children. you should watch cartoon network or pogo mithi.
mithi: you know, once Shinchang's teacher went on a date with someone. that's how i know dating.
me (mutturing under my breath): this Shinchang is really a strange one. teaches kids to be naughty, and not listen to grown ups and now all this!
mithi: mum, have a heart. grow up. what i see is not bad. when you ask me these questions, you are bad.
Monday, February 11, 2008
mithi: ma, i should not see this film.
mithi: because on the screen they wrote "to be seen under adult supravision"
me: 'supervision' mithi. hey, do you know what that word means?
mithi: they are saying that adults have 'super' or better vision than children and so, children must watch the films with their parents.
mithi: mama, look at this one i have done. the one with flowers in a pot.
me: hmm, nice.
mithi: mama, you know i had coloured the petals of this flower, green. but, at school, sir told me i should change it to some other colour. he made me change it to purple. sir said, "anusha, have you ever seen green flowers?"
me: so, you changed the colour?
mithi: no mama. i told sir that in the world of my mind, in drawing as in stories, anything is possible. it is like magic. you can have green flowers in that world. but, mama, sir still asked me to change the colour.
Friday, February 8, 2008
mithi, her dad and me.
Conversation veers to beauty blah.....
hubby: so mithi, what is beauty?
mithi: papa, beauty is being good. if you are good, you will be beautiful, and if you are bad, you will be ugly.
hubby and me look at each other. amazed.
next moment my cynical mind wonders where she heard it.
me: so, is it important to be "beautiful" (the way she understands it)?
mithi: no. but, (looking at her dad apprasingly)...papa, you must be slim and tim.
both of us: what? tim?
mithi: yes, t.i.m. you must be healthy. so, when will you start going to the gym, huh?
mithi, her father and me are driving to the park again for our by now habitual sunday afternoon tryst.
mithi says something and i listen intently.
mithi's father: mithi, be careful. don't say anything witty, funny or intelligent. your mama will immediately put up a post in her blog.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
mithi enrols in music class at Saptak to learn hindustani vocal.
(a couple of weeks later)
mithi is distraught after class one day.
mithi: mama, whenever we sing in class, khan sir tells me, 'anusha, sur kahan hai? sur mein gaao.'mama, what is this suro? what does it look like? i don't know where to find it.
on our way to music class, i ask mithi how she finds her music class, what her sir says, etc.
mithi: mama, remember you told me the other day that i should sing unafraid of anything? that i should concentrate? i thought hard about it. and well, am doing just that. now sir doesn't tell me sur mein gao.
notes of a shehnai waft into our bedroom from the party plot behind our house.
mithi: what's that music for, mama?
me: someone's getting married mithi.
mithi: like people do in films? a boy and a girl?
me: hmm, something like that.
mithi: like papa and you? you have "done marriage" haven't you?
some wedding music blares at alarming decibels in the party plot.
mithi: mama, one day i have to "do marriage" too? with a boy?
me: yes, mithi.
mithi: mama, then i will marry papa so i can always stay with you.
again some music wafts in.
me: mithi, come look at the mandap from the window. a wedding's on.
mithi: mama, it's so well decorated.
me: so, you will marry papa one day?
mithi: WHY? why should i marry papa? i will also marry a boy and go away somewhere else.
me: where will you go?
mithi: why, like bombay, delhi, calcutta!
mithi's dad: i will make a bakra of some junior so you can always live with us.
mithi: why? i will live in my own house. like cinderella and her prince.
mithi: mama, bittu didi and i have made a strong resolve.
mithi: we have decided that...we shan't get married!
me: but, why?
mithi: it's a very silly thing to do that's why.
me: so what have you decided to do?
mithi: we have decided to live with our parents and take care of them for the rest of our lives.
Monday, January 21, 2008
mithi glares at me. i look sideways at her and ask, "what?"
mithi's words are like tadka to kadhi, "had i been in your place mama, i 'd have given my car to them."
i try not to show my surprise at her reaction not at her words. try to prise more out of her. "why would you give your car away mithu?"
"they are so poor, mama, and it's such a windy day. they must be feeling cold. we are fat from eating and they are so thin! if they had our car, they could travel comfortably."
"and mama, why don't you ever give money to children who beg near traffic lights?"
"mithu, they should be at school. their parents are teaching them to beg instead of work."
mithi turns around and immediately says, "but mama, how can they go to school if they don't have money?"
here's the first story (incomplete) that is illustrated as well. the story is titled, "the doll and the children":
Once upon A time in A nice house lived Two.children named Diya And Rahul they were twins. The both were good children.
Diya loved pusles, dolls, books, flowers and soft toys and other toys ECT. Rahul loved his Toy train, his toy spider man, pusles, his spiderman set and his toy batman.
One Day when the both were sitting in the table to eat the lunch, the saw a doll sitting beside Diya's chair.
The doll was very beaudiful. They thought that she was very nice doll...."
She plans to complete her book by the end of the year and to not show it to anyone, except, mama, papa, ayee, dadababu, bamaa, hitankshi, bebo, aastha, mehek, muskaan, vedaant, aditi, riya mathur, anjana, shivangni, aneri, khushi, aishwarya and mudita only.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
mithi: (returns from aastha's house) mama, you know at aastha's place, i stepped on a clothes hanger accidentally and broke it.
me: oh, really? did you apologise for it?
mithi: i started crying because i thought aunty will scold me. aastha told her mother that i was crying. and you know what aunty did?
mithi: she laughed! she laughed mama, she just laughed. do you know what she said next?
me (half sleepy): what ?
mithi: she said, " why are you crying? you can break as many more as you want." (mithi stares at me for three seconds. gives me a withering look) she is so nice. such a nice mother!
Friday, January 18, 2008
mithi: suppose god gave you a choice of birthday present. what would you like?
me: a book.
mithi: suppose you were walking and you found a book lying on a tray. would you pick it up? which book would you like mama?
me: india after gandhi. by ramachandra guha.
mithi:oh, gua? mama, how does one spell the name? am just asking.
mithi pretends to be looking at the photos on the softboard. but actually is writing down the spelling. the doorbell rings and she runs to open the door. her father tells me she wants to buy me something for my birthday with her piggy bank savings. mithi returns.
me: actually mithi. i think i don't want that book. i'd rather have an amar chitrakatha comic that we don't have.
mithi: which one mama?
me: maybe, mirabai? or chattrasaal?
mithi: ma, we have mirabai in our school library. i'll get it for you.
mama, how do you spell chattrasaa? just asking. for my spelling bee at the end of the month.
why doesn't santa bring birthday presents for grown ups?
Thursday, January 17, 2008
mithi: she knows how babies are made.
mithi: you know, god makes babies and then he sets them free. the babies walk in tiny steps towards earth. the first big, round woman who meets the baby becomes the baby's mummy.
me: is that so?
mithi: mama, i want to tell all these babies that they should come to earth on kite flying day. this way, they can float down on kites. what a lovely trip it would be for them! softly flying through the skies!
father showers. has dinner. the stage is set. the door shut. the bed cleared of all debris. the music's turned on. loud. aankhon mein teri ajab si ajab si adaayen hain. mithi's standing on the bed. her father stands next to the bed. this enables their heights to match.
mithi starts swaying to the music at first, and then dancing. her father matches her steps. good timing between them. expressions are perfect. they don't lose eye contact. dil mein mere hai darde disco resonates in the room. at punctuated intervals, mithi twirls and pirouettes towards her father at top speed. years of doing this together and they both can predict each other's movements. mithi falls off the bed into space... and right into her father's arms. first to the left, and then to the right. at other times, she jumps slightly in the air, crooks her arms around his neck, he holds her by the waist, and turns full circle. never missing a beat.
there's a circle of magic around them i can't touch. am a mute spectator who watches everyday. spellbound. sometimes father says, " dance with mama today." mama can't recreate the magic.
mithi's dancing more and more and better and better each day. self-taught. observation at work here. a dozen thoughts crop up in my head sometimes: this is what she loves doing the most; what if she wants to take up dance as a career? that's nice. she likes all these item girl numbers and does them so well. heavens, that's not so nice. to my small town sensibilities. we should gradually guide her towards classical dance. kathak? she talks about it sometimes. maybe salsa and all that jalsa.
shouldn't push her. don't want to morph into one of those pushy parents. on second thoughts, when have parents really been able to influence their children? does it work in our day and age? i think parents are more confused than children today. confused between being a disciplinarian and letting children grow in an organic way kind of attitude. confused about where to draw the line. helpless sometimes in the face of a generation that increasingly seems so sorted out. twiddledads and twiddlemums.
mithi: mama, i want to tell you something important.
me (encouragingly): hmm, tell me.
mithi: you know we have a story in our english textbook called, "Chandrika's beads". as one of the exercises, we're asked a question, " what will you give your mother on her birthday?" since your birthday is coming up, i really enjoyed answering that. at first, i thought i'd like to give you a necklace. then, i thought, " mama, doesn't wear jewellry much." next, i thought of gifting you a new dress. but, you have so many already. then i hit upon a brilliant idea.
mithi: why not give you money? papa spends so much money on all kinds of unnecessary gadgets!
mithi: but, finally i knew what i must give you.
me: what mithum?
mithi: ( hugs me) a book! you love reading. you read all the time! i know you'd love a book!
Saturday, January 12, 2008
am snuggled in bed under the razai engrossed in shashi deshpande's "writing from the margin and other essays." a luxury earned after many weeks, after many saturdays working at nid. hubby nudges me out of razai and urges me to accompany him to the park for a 3 pm walk. at first i think he’s lost his mind. the next moment i see myself reading the book under the winter sun on a park bench or lying on the grass. super.
there is a catch here. we would be taking mithi along he says. “awright”, i mutter, “as long as she lets me read.” hubby takes mithi’s hand and they go down first—to the basement to take the car out. i follow them five minutes later. car eases up the ramp and glides to a halt. great. i plonk myself on the front seat with my book and a big mug of coffee.
hear giggling. turn around. there’s mithi. and aastha. and bebo. and mehek. and muskaan. and kathan. they grin at me. pigtails, plaits, glasses, scarves and big toothie smiles. i see my rosy picture of a quiet afternoon under the sun dissolve in a fancy powerpoint option.
we reach the park and i find my favourite corner bench. sun’s just right. half of the bench is in the sun, the other half in the shade. children run all over the place. i slide down the bench and sit on the grass. coffee’s frothy and bitter sweet. umm.. lose myself in bookopia.
for precisely 47 seconds. here’s what happens next:
3.20 pm. park. far end of the grass: EIIIIIAAA! AUNTY, KATHAN SNATCHED MY WATERBOTTLE AND THREW IT IN A PUDDLE!
3.20 pm. park. near the fountain: AUNTY! MITHI’S RUNNING ROUND AND ROUND THE FOUNTAIN AND THE WATER’S FOLLOWING HER! AUNTY. I WANT TO PEE!
3.20 pm. park. Jogger’s path: ROSY! THESE TWO KIDS AREN’T LETTING ME WALK! THEY ARE TUGGING AT MY TRACK PANTS! DO SOMETHING!
my head spins from 90 degrees to 25 and then to 120.
next two hours have me run from one pair to another. screaming my head off. wailing like enya. or was it sheryl crow? cajole one child to quietly pee behind some bushes on the periphery. she protests, “i do not know how to do it while squatting on grass. insects will bite me.” screech at another to not bully his sister. manage to save a third from falling into the fountain. run behind mithi who is running behind bebo who is chasing kathan who has his eyes set on grabbing a kite that’s careening to the ground. crashh into a tree instead and sprawl on the ground like goofy in those disney capers. have a purple bump on my nose. look up to find all six devils laughing at me. wish the gooly gooly witch could smack them with her broomstick. walk wonkily to the bench. spill water from a water bottle onto the book. great! now swadhaben will put me on the electric chair.
children come and tug at my sleeves. we are hungry. we want to eat something (look at my face. feel sorry). okay. we will eat at home. so, play hide and seek with us. you be IT. i run around like a maniac looking for six kids everywhere. after 20 minutes find them playing oranges and lemons at the far end of the park.
hubby’s walking like a well oiled wrestler in the ring all this while. comes and settles himself majestically on the bench next to me. “ gorgeous afternoon, nahin?" i am ready to clobber him. or grind him to dust.
back into the car. all the kids are shreiking. aastha, bebo and mithi yank, "Chak de o chak de india" from inside their bowels and dangerously close to my ears. i shake my head like zeenat aman lip synching 'dum maaro dum' in hare rama hare krishna. kids are happy. hubby is happy. where's my disprin?
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
"mama, do i have to wear these clothes? i want to wear something else. "
"mithi, it's cold. you have to wear this thermal vest inside. "
"but, mama, this is so boring. why can't i be a little smartly dressed?'
"what do you mean?"
"let me wear a half sleeved t shirt. please? please,please,please!"
" what about the vest. that's a full sleeved one!"
"mama, i'll wear that too."
"but, but" I sputter, " the sleeves of the vest will show!"
" mama, you are so behind the times...it's meant to show. the sleeves of the vest will peek out of the sleeves of the t shirt. that's really SMART!!!"
" i thought vest are meant to be hidden mithu. is there an alternative?" (i am about to give up)
" i could wear my denim skirt and team it up with slacks underneath and a t shirt."
" what? what bizarre combinations are these?
hubby is sprawled on the bed like the maharaja of mayurbhanj. he looks up in slow motion, " this is postmodern clothing. remember you were going on about that two years ago?" (slam dunk)
Monday, January 7, 2008
nothing like going to pick up your child at the bus stop when she returns from school. even as the bus grinds to a halt, you can hear all the chatter and laughter from within its bowels come rushing out. "devansh, don't forget the maths assignment submission tomorrow," or "adel, give me back my flip book," or even, " bus uncle (the driver), karan mmere kaan khinch raha hai. main meri mummy se keh doonga" sometimes, several discordant voices in unison, "dil mein mere hai darde disco" accompanied with several thumps, claps and banging pencil boxes on the bars of the bus windows.
they tumble out of the bus or drop down tired, almost darkened by the day's sojourn, dragging their school bags, dragging their blazers. your bachha emerges too. and gives you a wide grin. three front upper teeth and two alternate lower teeth missing. the lenses of her glasses so dirty it's a marvel she can see. her shoes are a mess. a button's undone again. her schoolbag looks like a straycow mistook it for dinner.
she chatters endlessly as you walk home together. swati mam this and swati mam that. how she loves her english textbook (bell rings in her mother's head), and enjoys dance class. how her 'best friend' riya shroff made her a 'best friend' card. how dipayan eats up everyone's sandwiches in the break. and saminder mam is really the best teacher in the whole world, etc. if 3 x 5 is 15, how can 5 x 3 also be 15? her favourite table is the table of 1. close on its heels is the table of 10.
you relive your childhood again. a proxy childhood. recall how you used to come home, sit atop the kitchen counter and rattle off the day's happenings to your mum in a bygone era.
mithi goes on. you keep listening. you prize the few occasions you pick her up because her naani picks her up daily. you cherish what she is saying even if you cannot remember it all a half hour later. you know these years will fly past in the blink of a lifetime. one day she will not take the school bus or return by it. she will finish school. have her own kids. pick them up. you come full circle.
you remove her shoes. and realise soon you will not be needed to do that. there's a lump in your throat. "what's for lunch mama?" she asks. her favourite rajma you answer. "yay!" she rejoices. usual remarks. questions. changing into fresh clothes. having lunch together. an ordinary day. extraordinary moments. how do you retain them?
Saturday, January 5, 2008
mithi: mama, you are so beautiful! you are my cinderella, my snow white. my miss universe. your hair is so silky. your skin is so silky. you are so intelligent. ( i receive big fat kisses all over my face). you are the best mama in the whole world.
(2008: mithi at age eight)
mithi: err, mama, your hair has no style. actually, it looks like a mop! your nails are so uneven. (i know you chew them secretly!) your nose is round and spotted. you need to wear high heels to look smart.
(looks at herself in the mirror with a faraway doe-eyed expression. expression slowly changes to a dejected one)
mama, do you think i will look like you when i grow up?
mithi: is it a falcon?
me: a hummingbird, mithu.
(mithi is deep in thought. her eyebrows are furrowed)
mithi: mama, do you know who Benazir Bhutto is?
me (happily surprised with her 'awareness' level): a former prime minister of Pakistan who was killed recently!
mithi: no, mama, no. she is the daughter of tragedy ( 'g' pronounced as 'g' in goat).
(hubby and I look like Mike Tyson hit us in the solar plexus)
mithi: offo baba, i said tra-gaddi. look the cover page of India Today says this. very bad. both of you. you need to improve your general knowledge.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
mithi: mama, hurray for 2008. my happy birthday will come again.
me: but mithi, your birthday is in september. that is 9 months from now.
mithi: mama, you need to polish up your english. very bad. how can an english teacher make mistakes? what if your students were to know hmm? very bad.
me: huh? what did i do?
mithi: don't you know that you should always say happy birthday? you should have said, "but mithi, your happy birthday is in september. " be precise mama, be precise.
talking of happy birthday parties of our kids nowadays, the thought of organising one more or sending mithi to one more in macdarlings (that is mithispeak for mac donalds) gives me the heebiejeebies. let me clarify that further. organising one more or sending her to one more in
macdarlingspizzahutunclesam'spizzaUSpizzaspinozapizzaarspoeticapizzapizzapizza gives me the heebiejeebies.
history repeats itself everytime at all these outlets. the same boring pattern follows each time. 25-45 kids assemble, run amock, make a lot of noise, burst the few miniscule wobbly balloons pasted on the walls like poor cousins, scream all over the place, guzzle chilled, near frozen coke (of the cola variety, dahling!), chomp away on pizzas, touch everything around with cheesy sticky fingers, fight over nearly everything--from sitting with one's best friend, to wanting that slice of cake with three orange gems on it just like Riya's got.
the guys at the pizza place make them play the same passing the parcel and musical chairs as though these have high brand value and came with Marco Polo to town. sometimes if the "package" is good enough, they throw in ice cream for good measure. wonderful really. because i am sure most kids are croaking painfully hoarsely at home just as mine is. if you're luckier, your kid will also come down with fever, and whoop like a baboon for the next ten days.
impersonal. commercial. commoditising birthday parties. clinical. monotonous.
yet, people prefer it this way. for three-four big currency notes, they think they can hover around like graceful and composed flamingoes instead of going beserk like plucked hens. (how do they do it? the best i can do to avoid being a wailing banshee is a mick jagger).
whatever happened to homegrown birthday parties where 7-10 children got together at home, ate chole puri or pav bhaji or bhelpuri (made at home) and played indigenous ingenuous games such as hotch potch or treasure trove, etc. [hell! i never had a birthday party till i turned 21 and diane threw a party at Alliance for me much to my "embracement" (as she put it)].
i want to do this each year, and scream myself hoarse trying to advocate such personalised, "motherlyised" parties each year. and lose the battle. fort.troops. cavalry. infantry, everything demolished. the thought of having about 35 boisterous kids at home and some portly mothers drives hubby nuts 2 months in advance. so we are back to square one.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
christmas eve. the mother- with -a strong -motherhood conscience once again decorates the christmas tree at home. not one but two. A real tree of medium height in a garden pot, and another faux paper one. meticulously hangs the decorations--plenty of balls, and stars, and chocolate look alikes, and snowmen, and their little sticks, and plenty of giftwrapped boxes (with nothing inside them). stands back and surveys the scene. tree looks quite bare still. brings out plenty of cotton wool and pulling it over the children's eyes, says, " Ahem! here's the snow. plenty of it. yay yay." children repeat ( the yay yipee yay bit). tree still looks bare. takes out some birthday buntings left over from last to last year and lays it all over the tree. good. tree looks like a hara bhara kebab. hang a big paper star with lamp inside that makes the drawing room look like a million bucks when lit up. hmm...
that is the easy part. both mithi and my neice hitankshi are shreiking like banshees about hanging their socks (not stockings, mind you). till last year i only decorated the tree. now rinki and hitankshi have introduced mithi to the idea of santa claus and his presents for kids. so now, i am stuck for life with magical santa gifts too. mithi dances about with glee like a baby hannibal.
hey, there's a good thing here after all. lovely way to be rid of the noisy twosome for a change and pack them off to bed. announce that santa comes on his sleigh around 8 pm and only visits those homes where the children are fast asleep. he positively frowns upon late nights for children.
the two hannibals hover around. blue blooded doubting thomases. mother praying desperately as never before in life that her ruse works. gambit pays off. but not before hitankshi calls up her dad long distance to tell him to hang another huge "socks" for her at home. double whammy for her indeed.
mithi has a brainwave. why not hang papa's socks to accomodate more things? when one tidal wave recedes, another occurs with precise timing.
mithi throws open the main door. runs out at top speed. muffled voices....approaching footsteps.
am done with my work. look forward to peaceful night with my favourite novel. there's mithi. back.
with five of her neighbourhood friends, each holding out their dad's socks.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
you were there.
we waved to you with joy
in the landing
as you kickstarted the scooter
and sped away.
and then we ran
to the kitchen balcony
and waited for eight minutes
before you emerged
from the underbridge
across the railway tracks
across the clump of trees lining the road
on which you travelled to work
we waved at you and called out
and across the distance
we saw your hand go up
and wave back.
double decker bus ride
pink icecream cone
papa, you gave me
a little white gas balloon.
a blue polka dotted balloon
that slipped out of my three year old fingers
and flew up up away
a speck in the sky
gulped by clouds.
now that you are there papa
have you found my little white gas balloon?
unfailingly crawl through the fog
of other months
in muffled thickness.
how should i go through the day
that took my dad away?
the man still talks to me
through the mist of time.
in the inimitable cheerful way
that will always be to me, my dad.
why do i recall the final few days
and flog the insides of my head?
this month entombs me some more
Friday, December 21, 2007
it is so difficult to explain how one feels at the sight of all the little ones confidently performing on stage. it is not just the sight of one's own child on stage, but all the children put together. i couldn't but marvel how these little ones performed with such panache. even when they made mistakes they just moved on quickly, smoothly, without being ruffled at all. parents were cheering and clapping for all the kids i am sure, just as i was. there's always a lump in the throat when some child, any child does exceptionally well. one cannot but be misty-eyed, even the die-hard cynical adults.
as usual, i missed out looking at mithi's performance, forget soaking it in, because i was fumbling with the camera in trying to record the skit. in all the fluster, forgot to press the darned button to start the recording. the net result? i do not even have photographs. thank goodness the school's taken care of such things.
mithi's character was that of a stylishly dressed patient at a doctor's clinic who speaks English with a put on accent. everything went smoothly except that the leather purse she was to clutch kept slipping and she was holding on to it as one would an umbrella in the rain!
Friday, December 14, 2007
It is surely a momentous occasion for students; an occasion, that one is sure, necessitates mixed feelings in the minds of students who are passing out of an institute. This is an occasion when they are on multiple thresholds at the same time: they are looking back and yet looking ahead; taking a walk down memory lane and yet forging ahead with a spring in their step. This is also the time when they straddle two worlds: they are out of their alma mater, but not quite; into the indusatry, and just about in there. These are selves looking at themselves through dual lenses, occupying both liminal and mainstream spaces, these are people that are gifted and forward looking. Convocation day is a day when the mood is upbeat, enthusiasm and energy reign supreme, and celebrations are the calling of the day.
This is also the time when the Institute is at its sprightliest and attention-grabbing best. Design is celebrated, feted, mulled over, legitimized, and design that has been done in the various small and big studios, workshops, hostel rooms, spills over to the displays on Design Street, the Gautam Gira Sarabhai Square, the myriad other small and big spaces in NID that proclaim their pride in the students even as they joyfully pay tributes to their work.
Every year when I work on the Young Designers book, I can't help but be drawn into the spell much before it has caught on in the institute. When I look at the portrait photos of students, their work, am always somehow suffused with emotion. These happy faces are those one has taught, talked to, laughed with, played agony aunt to, and cried with. It feels good to work for them in a strange way.
The publication usually showcases the diploma work of the graduating students. Students at NID undertake diploma projects as part of the curriculum at the end of the graduate or postgraduate programme in every discipline. They work on a chosen project for six months, understanding the industry from close quarters, demonstrating their capability to perform as design professionals. The project, an integral part of the educational system, aims at providing industrial experience to enhance the education given at NID. It seeks to bridge the gap between the worlds of theory and praxis, making students undertake live projects in the industry and showcase their learning to the institute thereafter.
I am always struck with the vibrancy and wide terrain covered by the diploma projects. The array of diploma projects is astounding in its variety, vim and vigour, its commitment to different sectors requiring design intervention, and in the passion for their work exhibited by our young designers. So we have a dizzying line up of projects engaged with traditional crafts, education, entertainment, promotional design, exhibition and selected spaces, social concerns, developmental communication, conservation of heritage and culture, information design, medical concerns, public amenities, retail, and export.
While passion for design is a shared experience among the eclectic bunch of young designers, the approaches to design and the outcomes are intrinsically distinct and different. Some of the design products, by their very nature, probe design processes, and radically change them; while others tease the very definitions of design: from expressing artistic insights to ethical concerns, from problem-solving to humanizing technologies.
Many projects assuage us that design is not just an elitist profession, and does not shy away from grassroots level concerns. It was not for nothing that someone said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
It is heartwarming to see that what our young designers lack in experience, they more than make up for it in talent. I feel privileged each year when I work on Young Designers because it gives me a vantage point from which to read and look at all the diploma projects done that year. In spite of the time bound and inevitable stress factor built into such an exercise, knowing why and in which way the different minds work is a refreshing experience. It’s easy to see that the diploma work is a function of sound guidance and experience on the part of the faculty, and enterprise, ingenuity, and diligence on the part of students.
And then there are the few students who walk into my office every year and out of sheer goodwill and affection proffer their unstinting support, encouragement and help in various ways for a few hours, a day, in their free time, or just when we need it the most. They come just when we are facing panic attacks about this and that, and bring smiles back to our faces.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
( 2003 : 4 years back)
me (to hubby): listen, mithi's getting to be too difficult to handle...doesn't listen to me....stubborn...tantrums....DO SOMETHING! [ i am a loser mom, (full sobbing works)]
anshuman (to 3 year old mithi): storytime! settle down! (plumps up the pillow)...once upon a time there was a lion, and he was a really really naughty lion. all the animals in the jungle were fed up with his antics, and they decided to teach him a big lesson.... they threw him into a deep dark well and told him that if he did not behave they would not take him out of the well, but let him remain there forever.... lion starts crying and says sorry...yada yada yada...so, mithi what is the moral of the story?
mithi turns around, fixes her father with a piercing gaze for a moment, and says, " you know papa, you should always listen to mama."
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
the scene struck a chord. there was papa riding his green lambretta first, in the early seventies, and later in the eighties, his grey bajaj vespa. Mummy in her silk saree, maroon lipstick and high heels perched behind him with Rinky on her lap, and me oiled plaited hair, black rimmed plastic glasses, in a polka dotted maxi sandwiched between them. india works on memories; it is hard wired into our brains.
we were a family of avid movie goers averaging one or two movies a week. after the phase of scooters, came a phase when Rinky and I were too big to fit in a scooter with mummy and papa. So, we travelled by autorickshaws. i remember all those nights of returning in an auto after a late night movie, sometimes in the dead of winter, snuggling close together in the space, feeling drowsy and sleepy, sometimes dozing off but, always always wishing we had a car (premier padmini being the only option in the pre-maruti days). What bliss it would be to stretch oneself out and sleep in the back seat, and be woken up when we reached home...
we did buy a car finally, but by that time i was in class nine and too old to doze off in the car.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
emerging head first from the cocoon;
for the past is dead,
the future yet to be conceived.
pick out this worm
let it weave its silk:
delicate, silver threads
best for soft, fluffy pillows and eiderdowns
where we can lay our heads and rest.
mithi in april this year: why aren't my teeth falling? three of hitankshi's teeth have already fallen! how long will i have to wait for toothfairy to visit me? (sob...sob...muffle, sniff)
mithi mid-june: MAMA!!! LOOK, BOTH MY FRONT TEETH ARE SHAKERING!
me: shakering? (mithi's already out of the door, calling her father to deliver the happy news)
mithi 10 days later: mama, megha tells me that if i throw my tooth on a tin roof, tooth fairy will give me a baby brother, and if i bury it in the ground, she'll give me a baby sister.
me: (croaking) huh?
mithi: yes, can you believe it? listen mama, we really should plan this to the last detail.
me: how? (still dazed)
mithi: let's decide what we want, when we want and how we want, and leave an application for tooth fairy. actually, i want a brother, then he can teach me how to pee standing up.
mithi: MA!!! MY TOOTH HAS FALLEN. AT LAST GOD HAS ANSWERED MY PRAYERS!
when do you think tooth fairy will come with my gift?
me: you've to sleep first darling because tooth fairy only visits at night.
thankfully, mithi's forgotten about roof top and ground and keeps the tooth under her pillow very carefully, intending to display its best side and colour.
mithi: mama, guess what tooth fairy has given me? a box of colour pencils, some stickers and a book. lowely, lowely. but, why didn't she gimme a choice?
mithi: what will tooth fairy give me now that my sixth tooth has fallen? i want a barbie doll and a dress. also, a dvd of the little mermaid.
me: mithu, tooth fairy comes only five times--when you lose your first five teeth. after that she stops coming and goes to other children.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
There they all were-- my childhood companions in neat rows just as I had left them last a year ago. The warm comfort of looking at them, my gaze lingering over each of them, and fingers greedily reaching out to caress them, one by one as many as I could.
They smell the same--that old comforting and familiar smell; a smell of decades, years and months and special times of togetherness--that will always always remain with me through the greyness of the years ahead. They smell of lazy and indulging carefree Saturday afternoons when you returned from morning school, freed your plaited hair of those darned white ribbons and delighted in the weekend ahead. Of talkative lunches with Papa, mummy and Rinky. Of postoboda and macho bhoja. Of shrieking and shouting and yelling for mummy when Papa pinned you under the quilt with his leg. Of munching away on fresh cucumber sprinkled with salt and red chilli powder, or biting into crisp apples, succulent alphonsoes, tearing away at sugarcane strips or spitting out the seeds of gooseberries at the wall opposite. Of long afternoon naps that have swirled away in the fog of the past. Waking up to find papa and mummy having their tea, talking of this and that while shelling peas or cleaning the methi saag together for the dinner ahead.
My friends and companions, always ready with solace, joy, dreams to share, ensnaring and transporting me to another world at my bidding. At crowded get- togethers while friends squealed all over the place, and in the din of cutlery and the clink of adult banter, I needed no one and nothing. I knew what I wanted and I had what I wanted.
They have seen me through childhood mazes, and adolescent heartaches-- my books. Stacked up high in row after row. Amar Chitra Kathas and Chandamamas, Beetle Baileys and Archies, Targets and Phantoms, Nancy Drews and Malory Towers, C. Rajagoplacharis and Tolstoys, Tintins and Alfred Hitchcocks, Readers Digests, Mirror magazines and Illustrated Weekly of India from the seventies, all jampacked and jamming in harmony. A universe in itself. Each book or issue, packed with memories.
Here I see "Letters from a Father to his Daughter" that Papa got me after one Orissa trip on his return. The Wheelers stamp resplendent still. Or "The Rainbow Prince" that he took out from under his mattress once the guests had departed after dinner one night and wide eyed I whooped in joy and snatched it from his outstretched hand in a flash. Or the Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan that he and I spent one winter evening to find in the few book shops of Ahmedabad at the time (1983 I think). Papa driving the scooter and me pillion riding behind thinking of the elocution competition next morning for which I desperately needed the book.
Unfortunately, an apartment has its own space constraints and now even our modest study is chockablock with books. Books of my adulthood years. Philosophy and mythology, sociology and art, fiction and literary theory rubbing spines with one another. Books I believe I need to read for work. In short, the books of my childhood have been relegated to the lofts. And yet, they are cared for better because they are not thumbed through all the while. No dog ears on them anymore. They are precious and require care.
The first ones to come down are the Amar Chitra Kathas--most bound neatly in groups of five or six-- since Mithi has started reading them. I watch her excitedly as she flips the pages. I read them too now and then and feel the same unadulterated joy of childhood coursing through my veins. I hold these books in my hand and the years melt away. They envelope me in a cloud of happiness and nostalgia. I hope Mithi feels the same surge of emotion, and her fingers touch the imprints her mother and aunt left on them decades ago.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
There are places you remember: some for serpentine, narrow lanes to the holy rivers; some for the mist, and the thousand night lights you see from atop hills. And there are places you remember for the people in them, for the shared memories of shared pasts.
Ahmedabad, is hardly a lonesome poet’s muse. But, there is a tug at your heart-strings because you grew up here— you smelt its smells, you spent your childhood in its nooks and crannies, and you saw it change in form and dimension. The one constant has been the ethos of the people here.
The Gujarati ethos has been a simple one—work and let work, and share a community life. People are unafraid to work hard, to make humble beginnings, and slowly build empires. So many current titans of corporate India started out on the simple bicycle in by-lanes of Ahmedabad. Some sold detergent, some cloth. People do not hesitate to do the most menial of tasks. That is greatness. That is the true Gandhian work ethic. The doors of industry here are open to all. A forlorn Oriya from nine hundred kilometres away can come here and build a decent life. That is acceptance.
Acceptance, not just in terms of work, but such that your psyche is woven into the rich social fabric and made its own. Neighbours help you right from the day you move into a new neighbourhood. They tend you in sickness, they mingle with you in health. They even do your dirty dishes for you when you need help. Concern, cooperation, communication, help—tough things to find in urban jungles. But you always found it here, irrespective of the neighbourhood you lived in. You were easily and naturally drawn into the garba nights, the laughter and camaraderie in making ghughris and mathiyas before Diwali, and the singing of wedding songs. The joie de vivre, the zest for life of the Gujarati is matchless—you find people out in the city, at night everywhere. From the kulfi carts at Manekchowk to the ambience of the mushrooming multiplexes, from Wankhede to Winchester, the Gujarati is everywhere.
For a girl there is no place like Ahmedabad to grow up in. Eve teasing? What is it? No one paws you furtively in crowded AMTS buses as in DTC or BEST buses. Where else can you go out alone at late hours of the night and not be stared at?
When the earth shook and fires burned, you saw the resilience of the Gujarati. These straws did not break their backs. They picked up the shattered pieces and mosaiced their lives. Bit by bit, and day by day. Normalcy came at a price but it always bounded in. Generosity poured in from all sides.
I grew up here happy and carefree. The singular song my heart sang and that is my signature memory is that it is love that makes the world go round.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
seconds and minutes, hours and months,
years--oh heck! i have infinity
nestling against my bosom.
i am feeling vindictive today.
time thinks he can outwit me.
time thinks he can empower me.
time thinks he can rule me.
but i am lord and master.
i find a way out.
the whirring blades of my ceiling fan
whip up time into tiny chopped fragments;
too powerless to even touch me.
I traipsed jauntily down the drive way and past the oblong rose garden in red bell bottoms and a tight parrot green and brown checked shirt— a loquacious, pony tailed five year old with two missing front teeth— past the guava and custard apple orchard, the low orange and sweet lime bushes, out of the tall iron gates, along the long winding road and towards the Birmitrapur Officers’ Club. Vikram mama, whose finger I clutched, always pointed out the fireflies in the dark foliage, and then I’d walk with my head thrown backwards facing the myriad stars in the inky black December sky; a breathtaking sight seen only in such far flung places in India’s interiors. Even before we reached the top of the hill and caught a glimpse of the imposing faux colonial structure, we usually caught the strains of Cliff Richards’, “Theme for a Dream” or a Peter, Paul and Mary number or even some 1970s vintage Jagjit and Chitra Singh wafting with the breeze.
Every Thursday and Sunday, of those glorious six months of 1976 and every subsequent annual trip to Orissa that I went to my grandfather’s place in Birmitrapur, Orissa, all of us from the Patnaik clan and the other families— from the houses dotting the hills— would descend in a sizeable number for those magical film screenings at the club. Birmitrapur, in northern Orissa, has one of Asia’s biggest limestone mines, an offshoot of the Bird Company (where Amitabh Bachchan began his career as an accountant); it is a small hill station, and the club and the officer’s bungalows are nestled in the hills and their crests and troughs.
There were actually two clubs in Birmitrapur adhering to a certain hierarchy of officers and staff and workers. The Officers club was for officers of a certain standing and rank, a more elitist affair; while the other, the more popular Bisra Club, was for all staff members. Films were screened there as well, but only once a week. As for the workers in the mines and other junior staff, films were screened at a vast maidan twice a month. Many people with film watching experiences at such clubs in other parts of the country have similar tales to tell of class distinctions that existed. More often than not, the hoi polloi had to rest content with sitting behind the screen and watching the movie the reverse way, akin to the now-made-famous sequence from the recent Swades.
I am told now that in the 1950s and 1960s, films were screened only at the antediluvian but grand Director’s Bungalow, twice a month. These were English films mainly catering to the tastes of the top officers and the sizeable Anglo Indian community at Birmitrapur. The Director himself lived in Calcutta and showed up in Birmitrapur only once in a while. The film reels were always brought to Birmitrapur from Calcutta, sometimes routed through Rourkela to be screened at the local Community centre. Later, in the seventies, on popular demand, the Officers’ Club started screening home-grown Hindi movies as well. The movies were usually ones that had been released a couple of years ago, but considered recent enough by the community to generate a great deal of excitement.
Even as I shake those sepia tinted memories out of my head, I hear the clinking of ice in slender Belgium glasses, and the soft murmur of conversation, smell the smoke of Davidolf cigars and the succulent seekh kebabs from all those years back. I see Akhtar, tall and imposing, behind the counter serving drinks to all—Fanta and Coca Cola were the fashionable succour of the young and the terribly young those days before they were unceremoniously banned sometime in the ‘70s.
Soon, everyone except the uninterested would drift toward the room where films were screened on a white portable screen. The latter would sit at the bridge tables with their cognacs or coffees; occasionally, deliberating upon national politics, always munching thoughtfully over the ambrosial fare that Akhtar churned out periodically from the inner recesses of the kitchen. Some intrepid from the ‘60s generation who crinkled their aquiline noses at the ‘banal’ and ‘silly’ Hindi cinema preferred to assemble in the lounge playing chess, or table tennis or listening to the then current rage, Come September.
The room, where films were screened, was a large room with wooden chairs— not the kinds to recline on. Children sprawled, usually, on a rug in front. Sundays were for English films and Thursdays for Hindi ones. There was always a full house on Sundays when people assembled, all agog, at around 7.30 pm. Those were times before Doordarshan made film watching at home, at first, a unique novelty and then a matter of weekly routine; long before cable television reduced it to a rubble of pedestrian mendacity.
Even as the reel was loaded on the huge 1950’s Bell and Howell 16 mm film projector, that the club owned, the Mrs. Shastrys, Mrs. Rastogis, Mrs. Agrawals and Mrs. Roys would swap guava jam recipes, extrapolate on how adding a little salt to the oil on the pan prevented dosas from sticking to the pan, how Mrs. Raju had added two more rare partridges and one more Cheetal deer to her burgeoning wildlife family, how Mr. Patnaik had again bagged the first prize for gardening for his grafting of many differently coloured roses on the same shrub, and how so and so’s second son was not doing well at the REC, Rourkela. Mrs. Whiggs and Mrs. Rodericks would discuss, in low tones, the possibility of moving to London in a few years, or sending the Loilas and Lindas or Melvins away for higher education. The children munched away at sandwiches, chattering endlessly about the new Games Master at school or about Rai’s or Runa’s upcoming birthday party. It was a small world; everyone knew the goings on in everybody’s house.
When the lights were turned off and magic unwound on the silver screen, there was always a sudden hush and very palpable excitement. It was nothing short of sorcery at work and everyone was simply bewitched, lapping up even the casting score. Every time, the reel was changed, there would be a three or four minute blackout but no one minded; people, usually, were patiently riveted to their seats.
The films we saw were an eclectic lot —Zanjeer, Pyaasa, Dost, Five Rifles, Enter the Dragon, Yaadon ki Baraat, Casablanca, Laurel and Hardy. Guru Dutt, and Chaplin, Hrishikesh Mukerjee and Nasir Hussain, all hobnobbed with one another in that small space.
The famous family murder scene in Zanjeer with the child watching from inside the closet is still imprinted in my mind from that year; not all childhood cobwebs are easy to shake out.
Again, for some reason, Kishore’s gadi bula rahi hai, seeti baja rahi hai song from Dost makes me feel, even today, like someone just walked over my grave. I saw the same film with some amount of disinterest nearly 27 years later, and although the movie did not have me particularly excited this time, the haunting quality of Kishore’s voice unerringly sent tingles down my spine. Kishore has many far superior songs to his credit but this song strangely enough rings a special bell to me and transports me back in time to Birmitrapur.
I can also not forget Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa seen the same year. To me, at the time, Waheeda Rahman was the most beautiful woman in the world. Period. Who can forget her in the Jaane Kya Tune Kahi song where she leads the poet along dark alleyways or the poignant aaj sajan mohe ang lagaa lo and the countless expressions that flit across her face—the unfulfilled longing and unrequited love? Her eyes wreak havoc and I strongly believe that women look nowhere as beautiful as they do on black and white celluloid.
To get back to that room in Birmitrapur, if per chance, there was a problem say, with the spool assembly of the projector or with the reel, and a forced interruption, the collective groan that rose up and the unease that settled in the room would be dispelled only when the film started again. Then, the bodies would slouch blissfully in their seats again till the next break.
Sometimes, my adult mind suspects, many a romance was born or snuffed out in that room, many a friendship forged or cast out. I distinctly remember a very handsome young pair, ostensibly “just friends”, mouth unabashedly the lyrics of romantic songs from the films across the room at each other or sneak out at the short breaks in seemingly inconspicuous ways. These were just staccato moments, too brief to be noticed, but I filed some such moments away in my mind, not of my own volition, and understood their relevance years later.
For us children, Sanju, Tunu, Poonam, Appu, Chitradidi, Rai, Runa, Rinamausi, and me, the best film watching days were the ones when the movies were screened at the end of a festive day. Such fun to collectively and boisterously play Holi in the club in the morning and watch a movie in the evening—good for boosting a community’s sense of camaraderie. To chant “Sar jo tera chakraye ya dil dooba jaye, aaja pyare paas hamare, kaahe ghabraye, kaahe ghabraye” in unison with our darling Johnnie Walker on screen and attempt to play tabla on our neighbour’s head in tandem, was the epitome of fun. Or celebrate Christmas with full Santa Claus regalia one night and top up with a blockbuster movie the next day; the balloons, and the streamers from the previous night still stuck to the walls as remnants of the extended good cheer. On other occasions, to watch the large lounge being cleared for the next evening’s ‘ball dance’ (waltz, what’s that?) which only the married couples were privy to. There was some amount of pique in the ‘lower ranks’ about having separate celebrations at the Officers’ Club and the Bisra Club, but it never snowballed into rabble rousing and was nixed. So, we all lived in our own worlds and wore our own rose tinted glasses.
The walk or the drive back home was naturally, a happy one with praise being heaped on the movie seen, always for its plot or the histrionics of its lead actors, never, and sadly so, for the director or film maker. That was enough for the moment; no further intellectual pontificating was expected. It was a rarity for the reputation of a film to be murdered; films were scarce and, hence, to be prized. The happy feeling stayed through the piping hot dinner that awaited us at home, thanks to our outstanding cook and housekeeper, the patriarchal Samuel (called Saamal by the family); the cloud lingered when I cuddled in my grandfather’s, Aja’s lap by the fireplace after dinner, and finally dissipated when I wedged my thin frame between Aja and Ayee later at night.
Through the snaking mists of childhood memory, I recall many different cinema watching experiences—some funny, some weird, others unbelievable—but, none romanticised by my adult mind as much as the one at Birmitrapur. I do not know whether it was the place with its unique old world charm, the quaint set of people there, or just the fact that I am here now—a 34 old year old looking back through the faint haziness of childhood nostalgia and walking down memory lane, that makes the cinema watching experience there evocative to me. Or, perhaps there is a simpler explanation. Reflecting on that phase of life reminds me of a long gone time of delight, of the cozy childhood haven of being loved by grandparents, aunts and uncles, and sundry other people loved but gone.
The Beatles give me a rationale for my eulogising of Birmitrapur so much:
There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I have loved them all.