Thursday, January 24, 2008

sur sangam

(six months back)
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.

(this evening)
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.

of daughters and marriages


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?
me: yes.

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.
me: what?
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

of "poor" people

mithi and i are driving down to her music class. as the car rolls down the ramp, it narrowly avoids touching a family on a cycle. a thin man is riding the cycle; his thin wife is pillion riding behind. from under her pallu stick out a tiny pair of feet in silver paayal. the man pedals hard.

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."

"hmm... "

"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?"

mithi's dream picnic with her family

from left to right: papa, mama, mithi (standing in pink frock), hitankshi's granny, "ma", mithi's ayee, rinki mausi, aja. hitankshi (swimming in the river) and papu mausa (hiding behind the tree)

Mithi's first story

Mithi is just in the process of discovering her writerly imagination. Is writing a book that she calls, " A BIG BOOK OF STOREIS." She hides/keeps it in her chest of drawers like a lockable prized possession.

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

how mothers are

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?
me: what?
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

birthday present for mama


me: hmm, hmm.

(after 10 minutes)

mithi: mama, i want to ask you something. generally. just like that.
me: what?
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.

(thinks deeply)
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

navaratri 2007

how babies are made

mithi: mama, bebo has told me a big secret.
me: what?
mithi: she knows how babies are made.
me: how??
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!

of fathers and daughters

it's 8.30 pm. doorbell rings. mithi evolves from a state of near somnolence to hyper activity. her father's home. now the performance will begin.

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.

a birthday gift for mama

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.
me: what?
mithi: why not give you money? papa spends so much money on all kinds of unnecessary gadgets!
me: gulp!
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

bliss at the park

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:




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

of the postmodern 'vest'

mithi's just had her bath. i have laid out her clothes on the bed. it's winter, so there's a thermal vest and a full sleeved tee shirt among other stuff. mithi looks at the clothes laid out and makes a face. as usual. here's how the conversation goes for the next ten minutes:

"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'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

back home from school

hair askance, pigtails gone awry, sweaty faces, dusty clothes, dusty shoes, shoelaces undone, school bags hanging lopsided from shoulders, waterbottles that have emptied their contents out and are now hanging upside down-- never knew these could make for such a heartwarming sight.

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

of mums and daughters

(2003: mithi at age three)

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 nugget

me: mithi, do you know which bird can fly forwards and backwards both?
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.