Thursday, December 27, 2007

happy birthday

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

of santa claus and stockings

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

bye bye blackbird

we were here.
you were there.

we waved to you with joy
every morning
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
far away
across the railway tracks
across the clump of trees lining the road
on which you travelled to work
each day.

we waved at you and called out
"papa! papa!"
and across the distance
we saw your hand go up
and wave back.

the white gas balloon

winter sunday afternoon
Kankaria lake
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?

these dark days of december

these dark days of december
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
each year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

annual day function at mithi's school

for parents their children's annual day fuction can be a very moving event. Mithi's school had its annual day function, "Orukalli" on Tuesday evening. The overarching theme was seasons, with a staggering 365 children participating in all the sundry dances and the skit.

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


Convocation is upon us again this year. Tomorrow's D-day and students are trooping in. This is a time when every pebble at NID shines, the greenery looks a little more verdant, everyone on campus bustles about putting up displays and exhibitions, and showcasing their disciplines to the hilt.

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

spelling bee with mithi at age three

me: apple
hubby: egg
me: goat
hubby: table
me: elephant
hubby: thumb
me: ball
mithi do you follow what you have to do? play with us now.
hubby: lion. mithi, your turn.
mithi: nauseating!

of parents and kids

( 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, 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

memory chip

on my way home from work today, a family passed by on a scooter. the couple was in its late twenties. the woman was holding a child who was fast asleep on her lap. to my surprise, i saw that wedged between the man driving the scooter and the handlebar was a little boy the same age as the girl, and --he too was sprawled out, arms and legs akimbo, fast asleep!

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

the present matters

snatch the living present
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.

toothfairy travails

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)
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.


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

saturday morning

Once again I clambered up the window railings, this morning, stretched my feet and raising my hand high tugged the knob on the loft door open. Gingerly manouvering the way higher managed to balance myself on the cold metallic rod of the railing under my feet. The door opened easily.

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

The Gujarati ethos

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.