This is the time for many a change, including that of changing the calendars on the walls and on desktops.
Calendars come in two basic categories, the USEFUL (use and throw) and the INTERESTING (display and then keep).
The useful ones are no-frills-only-numbers-in-bold-type (which I can see from a distance without squinting), with the holidays generously marked out in red. These are usually gifted by various publishers (being a teacher has its perks) or bought for Rs 25 (for the Hindi version of Kalnirnay – ‘time-determination’). The Kalnirnay has detailed information on moon-phases and festivals and fasting-feasting dates, all in fine print my maid loves to pore over.
I, however, love getting my hands on interesting calendars, though not of the Kingfisher lean-mean-unclothed-supermodels-variety (maybe I’m envious of the monthly parade of hourglass figures). I like calendars with interesting concepts, not just nice photos but read-worthy texts as well.
In 1997, HSBC, my then-employer then called HONGKONGBANK, brought out a calendar showcasing different traditional trades and crafts of colonized India, with authentic portraits of the craftsmen and brief write-ups. A museum-piece.
The next year, they had a calendar with photos of different instruments used to measure time, chronicling the journey of time from sun-dials to modern nanosecond-measuring digital clocks. A calendar which will definitely last the test of time.
Three years ago, the spouse got a desktop calendar from an association of Bengali book publishers, which had rare photographs of Satyajit Ray and his films. A fine display of the master’s art, for all Bengalis to cherish.
I also love the PETA calendar, which has heart-warming tales (and totally-lovable photos with cute names) of various animals and birds rescued by PETA during the previous year. Each month tells a Janus-faced story of human cruelty and human charity, reminding us of the good and the bad that make up our world.
And on that note, I would like to say HAPPY NEW YEAR in hope and prayer.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
This is the time for many a change, including that of changing the calendars on the walls and on desktops.
Monday, December 22, 2008
20th December was a SPECIAL DAY - a day when names took on faces, shadowy outlines in profile pictures took three-dimensional shape and the virtual became real. On the initiative and invitation of Suranga Date of Gappa, five of us bloggers met at a restaurant in Mumbai to interact outside the internet.
My road to reality was full of bumps and halts (courtesy Mumbai’s infamous S V Road –traffic) and when I reached the designated meeting-place half-an-hour late, the ice had already been broken.
Not that we were strangers, reading a person's blog is getting to know that person's views/opinions/raves/rants quite well, but FACE-to-FACE has a different IMPACT. We talked and ate and got to know each other better.
There was Suranga, with her storehouse of interesting experiences and wonderful conversational skills, the very sweet and serious Priyadarshan or Harekrishnaji, the suave and witty Vivek and the tech-savvy and multi-talented Kavi. And of course, me.
We talked about how we began blogging, how blogging became an integral and indispensable part of our lives, how and when we find time to blog, how our spouses (mostly) are not really too interested in what we are up to (in our blogs, that is). We discussed blog tricks like Twitter, common blog-friends and how comments on our posts really help us to reach out to others. Outside the blogosphere, we discussed weight-loss (but of course!), diets and vegan-ism (Priyadarshanji's exemplary account was motivating), gymming or the lack of it (slipped discs and slipped endeavours sustained in our battles with the bulge), our jobs, families, and backgrounds.
It was an animated discussion (with plenty of food - eating adds the charm, and calories, to any meeting) and I enjoyed myself a lot, listening to people whose views I love to read on their blogs.
Thank you, Suranga, for thinking of this meeting and making it happen, and thank you, all the others for your company and for the lovely memento (a china mug with the names of all our blogs inscribed on it). I’ll cherish both the mug and the memories, and I do really hope to meet again. And a special thanks for the absent Rajni Kumar, whose visit to India and desire to meet Suranga was the catalyst behind the meeting.
Up next : Probable pow-wow in Powai. I'm game and I recommend it highly. Wherever, whenever. Just get in touch with the 'whoever's.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
But here in Mumbai, they have already changed and it's not a big thing for any individual (man/woman/third gender) to enter the multiplex and enjoy the movie and one's own company.
I have done it sometimes and enjoyed every moment. For one thing, I get to choose the movie. I am rather picky about movies, especially if they come at multiplex prices. I saw OM SHANTI OM (delightfully kitschy), FASHION (tease-and-gossip lowdown), and, very recently, OYE LUCKY LUCKY OYE (layered rollicking critique of consumerism from a wannabe-at-any-cost's viewpoint). I doubt if the spouse would have sat through the first two.
I could gaze starstuck and plot-awed at the screen, blissfully undisturbed for three hours. I don't feel forced to apologise for my choice (how could you drag me to see this #@it?) or to go into lenghthy critical discussion of subtleties (This part seems borrowed from that prehistoric Hollywood movie - well, who cares? Even Shakespeare copied. If it entertains me, I'm happy). I could read my books (THE WHITE TIGER - which is a more trenchant critique of India Shining and India Struggling and MAUS - I and II - graphic novels exposing unforgettably the horrors of the Holocaust) in the multiplex lobby till the movie started. I could forgo the cola and the popcorn (mandatory when the kids tag along) and chew on my thoughts instead. In peace.
The last time I took the kids along (for TAARE ZAMEEN PAR), taking in the 2 p.m show (because the younger Copy-kitten would sleep through the movie), it was a mini-disaster. The elder Lil Cat refused to cry even when the rest of the audience were sobbing away, because she wanted to have something to eat. Her plaintive demands woke up the Copy-kitten, who went into bawling-overdrive right away. I paced the lobby and missed vital chunks of the secind half, had steamed corn and popcorn dribbling down my T-shirt, and had to stomach all that overpriced-leftover grub at the end of the movie, which I nearly missed.
No more. I now go alone for the 10 a.m shows (after rushing through my classes for that day), and relax and revel in my-time matinee freedom. Long live the Movies.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
India has many winters – and many ways of keeping warm.
I’ve seen red-cheeked cheeky children in the snow-capped Darjeeling hill-slopes running around with hands deep in jacket pockets sucking yak-milk toffees noisily to keep warm while returning from school.
I’ve seen grandfathers in Kolkata wrapped in dark shawls congregating like chattering crows nodding their monkey-capped heads vigorously in debate or discussion to keep warm on morning walks.
I’ve seen beggars in pilgrim-pious Benares stuffing newspapers in shoe-cracks and garment-holes chanting prayers incessantly to keep warm in temple alleys and under shop awnings.
I’ve seen construction-workers living in makeshift tents sitting around fires and singing lustily in their native dialects rubbing palms to ward off the night-chill to keep warm on the roadside.
I’ve seen Mumbai-dwellers welcoming their two weeks of winter with a shiver and a smile, no extra winter clothes for us, thank you, only the autorickshaw-drivers put on woolen headbands and earmuffs to keep warm in the sunless early mornings.
I’ve seen my two daughters spoon into each other in C-shapes, the younger one snuggling inside, the elder one cuddly-protective outside, to keep warm as the moon moves and a chill pre-dawn air wafts in through the window.
As I put the bedclothes back on them (kicked away in the course of bedtime-acrobatics), watching them puts a smile on my face. Enough to keep me warm.
P.S: Winter is on its way, and this post was specifically written for Michelle’s December Write-Away contest at her warm and well-written Scribbit.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The spouse and I went to the bank a few days back to put some money in a fixed deposit. The lady at the counter graciously helped us out with the forms, and then gave us a photocopy of the different rates of interest for fixed deposits.
The chart mentioned the rates for the different TENORS. The spouse and I exchanged bewildered glances (isn’t ‘tenor’ a musical term referring to a high-pitched male voice?), before comprehension (and amusement) dawned. Ah, TENURE! The interest rates were given for different terms/periods of fixed deposits.
Being English Literature students once-upon-a-time, we pounced upon the MALAPROPISM with glee and giggles. Surely unexpected from a posh private bank with an all-India network, where, presumably, the photocopied rate-chart was being circulated all over India?
Or maybe, was it a clever musical symbol for the recent rise-and-fall of various economic indices, including interest rates? Maybe someone at HDFC Bank conceals a musician’s soul under the bland banker’s façade?
Sunday, November 30, 2008
And so, another ordeal has come to an end. The ten terrorists, monstrously rearing up from the sea, have been killed or captured. The freed hostages will pick up the pieces of their life as best as they can. The families of the dead will mourn. There will be body-counts and postmortems, investigations and blame-games, tales of heroism and horror.
Mumbai, which collectively held its breath for three days, has sighed and moved on, grim and mourning, scarred and somber. The hate of a few cannot kill the hope of millions, and Mumbai, or any other city stunned and crippled by horror, will slowly go back to normal. The lust for death cannot defeat the instinct for life.
The fascinated horror with which we sat glued to the TV screens has been replaced by fatigue and a whole lot of confused thoughts and emotions.
Incomprehensibility - not how this happened (the security lapses are obvious enough), but why? WHY? Why go into open confrontation for so long, why take hostages, why plan carnage if there are no ideological messages, if no terror-group is gloating openly, if the jihadis made no bargains or demands? And, also, of course, the total incomprehensibility of how a human can metamorphose into a death-spewing terrorist?
Fear – Are there more? Who or where is next? When? Every day is a Friday the 13th. We may do a post-mortem on the terror-trail, but we can never really predict, or pre-empt, where it will flare up next.
Sadness – So so many lives lost. The Jewish rabbi and his wife, dying on their son’s birthday, the young NSG officer, the staff of the hotels dying to fulfil their duty, the wife and children of the GM of the Taj, the policemen and railway employees, the tourists, the people at the long-distance platforms dreaming of their homes….Not just the well-known and the well-heeled, but all of them.
Anger – No punishment is too much for the masterminds of terror. Not even death a million times over. If they are sheltering behind Islamic ideology, if they are indoctrinating impressionable minds with imagined slights and victim-complexes, if they are promising heavenly glory for the murderer-martyrs, they are actually doing irreparable damage not just to their so-called enemies but also to their own religion.
Paranoia – Can you trust any stranger anymore? Can you look at a person carrying a backpack without fear? Can you travel on trains, check in at hotels, walk into restaurants without looking over your shoulder time and again? Can you even look at the sea without suspicion? Terror has tainted us, our streets and buildings and even our sea, the seafront which is the Mumbaikar’s pride and joy.
What do you feel?
Friday, November 28, 2008
Terror has struck again, but using different means and modus operandi. In the 2006 peak-hour serial blasts in the suburban trains (the lifeline of Mumbai), the terrorists hid explosives in the first-class compartments, and were, presumably, absent when the blasts took so many lives. Which is why the subsequent investigations could never really satisfactorily discover who were the masterminds and who were the follower-hands who carried out the plans of ‘maximum destruction with the minimum means’.
But this time it is different. Here the fidayeen (which word has a truly spiritual meaning twisted horribly – as terrorism inevitably destroys whatever it touches) have faces which are being flashed on our TV screens. Snarling baby-faced youths roaming the streets and storming crowded places with guns and grenades, disguising their deadly purpose under jeans-tees-haversacks, the ordinary uniform of young people.
Unmasked and unafraid, after causing carnage in CST (the terminal raiway station) and Leopold Café and Cama Hospital, some of them are dead, and some of them are holed up in two hotels and a highrise, armed with guns and low-intensity explosives, taking hostages and opening fire. This is war – there is no escape but certain death. The only victory for the terrorists will be the number of lives they take and the extent of property they damage.
We might feel that the earlier modus operandi (of placing explosives on the sly) is a dastardly one, where the face of terror remains masked in anonymity. But this is not cowardly, this kind of out-in-the-open attacks exhibit a degree of desperation and dementedness which is so scary because there are no boundaries anymore. The crazy courage of this handful of terrorists is testing the efforts of the best of our security forces – the police, the army, the elite commandos of the NSG. And we are all watching, fascinated, as the forces of order try to fight out the insane insurgents.
Mumbai has been in a state of suspension for the past 40 or so hours. I have a cousin who stays in Colaba, the battlefield of terror, and she has told me of the continuous gunfire, the noise of explosions and of the helicopters flying low.
Her vulnerability is symptomatic of India’s defencelessness under the onslaught of repeated terror attacks. In the USA, 9/11 remains a one-off, here, every year there are various repetitions of the terror-trauma, changing venues, changing faces, changing ways and means and methods, but all succeeding in bleeding the nation and destroying so so many innocent lives, every single time.
The terrorist (who may reside next-door, or who may come across the sea) and the terrorized (always caught unawares) – that seems to be the great divide in India today.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The other day I was invited to the "Zonal Sports Meet" of the Montessori (Nursery) section at my daughter's school. Her school is part of a chain of privately-owned Christian schools. They actively follow a distinctively Christian orientation in their approach, apart from the usual secular curriculum. I have no problems with that at all. I am too much of a sceptic and a pantheist to have any issues with any religion, unless it propagates violence and bloodshed.
What amused me very much was to witness the way in which the little children were taught songs and dances about Jesus, but in a very trendy, rock-n-rollicking, fun-n-frolicking manner - JESUS JAZZED UP, you may say. For instance, there was this song, which the kids performed very enthusiastically, jumping and prancing to rhythmic (and very loud) electronic beats:
Yesu hamey chhuraega paapo ke jaal se
Yesu hame bachaega shaitan ke chal se
(Jesus will save from the web of sin
Jesus will save us from the Devil's din - pardon my translation).
Now this is the kind of hero-and-villain concept that every child can relate to, set to beats which set their tiny feet tapping spontaneously.
There was another song which goes
Better than Superman, better than Spiderman
Better than Barbie...Jesus is a superstar
I like the way this song covers all bases, (Barbie for the girls, of course, and the rest of the hero-pack for all of them), and then pitches Jesus as the biggest superhero of them all.
This was a far cry from my idea of Christianity as a religion celebrated through solemn psalms and lilting carols, sung by serene choirs, resonant with Hebraic holiness and the tolling of church-bells.
But, I guess, any religion is only as good as the effect it has on the mind of the religious. It must appeal to our hearts and souls. And what better way to capture the attention and affection of little children than with thumping music and jumping dances - with NOISE and energy and rhythm and beats? And of course, by making Jesus a dashing crusader who can fight demons and save us from various fearsome devils.
I'd really be interested to have your views on this.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
2008 has been a BAD year for Roger Federer. He began with illness and defeat at the Australian Open and ended similarly with sickness and slump at the recently concluded Masters at Shanghai.
For Federer-fanatics like me, it’s been a year-long low of watching and hoping, and then wincing at each unexpected defeat. You see, defeats were unexpected from Federer, till this year. Oh, there have been flashes of flair and grace of movement, and touches of perfection in shot-making, but the consistency’s been missing for quite a while. Except in the by-now-familiar shake of the downturned head, in defeat after defeat.
I am all admiration for the huffing-hardhitting tenacity of Nadal, and the goofy bang-on mimicry and success of Djokovic, (even Murray’s laidback scruffiness is fine), but Federer is above mere admiration. When in top form, he evokes the jaw-dropping awe and the breath-taking adrenalin rush associated with sheer, supreme, seemingly-effortless perfection. Gliding to victories, soaring into record-books, he made his fans coast along on a heady tide of invincibility for years, minor blips at the French Open notwithstanding. If Agassi could say, grass is for cows, Federer-fans could add, clay is for potters. He was winning everything else, anyway.
Till we came down with a series of thumps this year. From the ritual-humiliation at the French Open, to the agonizing-albeit-classic encounter at Wimbledon. The only bright spot was the US Open, where the Federer-aura was humanized by the underdog-edge and the emotions were as much on display as the sublime skills.
And now, in 2009, will Federer be able to surpass his past? He has both defeat and victory to motivate him. The defeats of 2008 can be avenged to teach the brat pack the lessons of the maestro. Victories will raise the records-bar even higher.
We’ve lucky to witness his rise and his glory. Now if Federer has to fade away, please please please can he do it with a BANG and not with a whimper?
Friday, November 14, 2008
Simple things make me happy. Sure they do – a bar of fruit-and-nut chocolate, a head massage, crisp clothes dried in sunlight, a cuddle from the kids, appreciation from…you get the drift?
But complex things make me happy, too. Especially if they come in small packages. Especially if they click photos/play music/ring alarms/keep reminders and, of course, take and make phonecalls.
I’ve got myself a new phone. Not an extravagance, but an essentiality (both, actually). My last phone, a cute white-and-red Nokia, was ruthlessly kid-handled. You know what kid-handling does to a phone, don’t you? The back cover was cracked, the alarm stopped ringing, the phone would ring only whimsically (this got me into a lot of trouble from the spouse…as many of his calls would go unanswered, simply because the obdurate instrument refused to ring). And, as it was a slide model, my young little copy-kitten would slide and unlock it and merrily send blank calls and sms-es to as many people as possible before I managed to wrestle it away from her.
So my Nokia 5200 had to retire. And perhaps nothing is as devalued and depreciated as a retired mobile phone. Even old newspapers offer better value for money.
But, I’m a heartless employer. I’ve already got over the earlier phone and am now totally in awe of my new Nokia. Ah, the wonders of science…how happy it can make us if it wants to!
Only thing is – technology is also tech-KNOW-logy, and I’m yet to KNOW my new NO-kia. The various daunting extras with the phone (the, er, USB, earphones and another wire which I’ve yet to decipher) and the even-more-daunting literature (at least 5 manuals of various thickness in English and another one in a foreign language – all Greek and gobbledygook to me) are a challenge I’m yet to crack. I can make and take calls and send and read sms-es and also take photos, but that's about it. The higher stages of tech-happiness I've yet to attain.
Ah, technology – the kingdom of bliss open only to the initiated…unfortunately, at the moment, I’m loitering outside the gates of paradise, waiting for an angel to guide me to the promised N-joyment of the N-series.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
We returned a few hours ago from Kolkata. Mumbai welcomed us back with a glimpse of the still-fresh-faced Juhi Chawla at the airport (reel-life star-gazing) and still-endless-traffic jams all the way to Borivili (real-life tyre-gazing).
Now the children and spouse are fast asleep (real life dream-gazing), the bags are unpacked, the letter-box cleared, and I'm once again in front of my favourite screen, wriggling my fingers experimentally and typing (virtual-life screen-gazing). The sense of upliftment, of excitement, of brain-eye-hand in tandem performing linguistic gymnastics (not of a very high order, though), that sense of relaxation and thrill juxtaposed....
I love writing, I really really do. Don't you?
Friday, October 31, 2008
After sitting on the fence for a very long time, I’ve taken the plunge. Head first, straight into L’Oreal’s Majirel hair colour, shades Mahogony and Dark Brown.
After being henna-headed for decades (to hide the grey), I needed the festive push of Diwali to dive into the bewildering and number-crunching (shades 5.6 and 3.2 in ratios of 20:80, or some such complicated equation) world of hair-colours.
If henna was DIY (Do it Yourself), then hair colour, at least for me, is very definitely GID@P (Get it done at Parlour).
And so I did. My fairy godmother, Kadambari (god bless her), who has been gently nudging me to take the plunge for a very long time, held my head and hand and led me gently into the colour-whirlpool. From where I emerged, all red-tinged hair, a local lady with a global head.
The mirror reflected a disappointingly brown head (though without a hint of grey). It was only when the light falls on it that the red shines, dazzling the eye.
I stepped out of the salon, peering at every passing mirror/glass and preening at my image. Imagine my horror when I peeped into the front-pane of a parked autorickshaw, with the sun in my eyes, hoping to see my own partial reflection and instead gazing into the quizzical eyes of a just-woken-up-from-sleep autorickshawallah (driver), who leered at me, thinking probably that I was soliciting him for unnameable services.
Like Red Riding Hood, I fled.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
We (the spouse, the kid-kittens and I) are off on our annual visit to Kolkata, where there’ll probably be no time to blog, bogged down as we’ll be by festivities, friends, family and food.
I remember being faintly offended when solicitous neighbours asked us, during our maiden year in Mumbai, “Are you going to your gaon (village)?” Kolkata/Calcutta was a big city, a metropolis, I would indignantly reply.
No more. The pace and polish of Mumbai has left Kolkata behind, way behind. It is a city stuck on ‘Pause’, maybe even slowly sliding down to ‘town-status’.
But let me not crib, not now, at least. We go to Kolkata expecting the city to remain the same, the same dusty-delightful bookstalls at College Street, the same decrepit-debate-ful Promodda's canteen at Presidency College, the same cacophonous-crowded Gariahat pavements, the same benign-bespectacled bhaiyya at Tasty's in Dakshinapan, the same affordable-and-mouthwatering restaurants at Park Street and Tangra. Yet we are also elated at every new flyover and mall that comes up (the South City Mall is a must-see this time), thrilled that our beloved "gaon" is keeping up with the Joneses (the IT cities and the biz-hubs). The changes may well be cosmetic, the malaise may well be deep, but the holiday-mood is upbeat and forgiving, so, we tend to look only at the brighter side of the bandwagon.
I’ll be back, with a lighter soul (reconnecting with the roots is therapeutic), and a heavier stomach (all those calorific treats lovingly insisted upon).
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
My mother, who was staying with me for the past month, has gone back to her Bangalore home today. I always feel very mopey and maudlin whenever my ma goes away. It feels as if there’s a little girl trapped inside my undeniably grown-up self, howling and crying copiously, making my eyes prickle with tears at the slightest reason.
I feel so BEREFT, like a boat whose moorings have been washed away. Now no more will I come back from work to see ma sitting hunched up at the table in one of her faded gowns, frowning over her daily quota of sudoku. No more can I just demand that she makes my favourite tangra-machher jhol (tangra fish-curry) or other ma-special dishes that I look forward to for the entire year. No more will I feel that urge to gossip desultorily while working in the kitchen together, lapsing into silence now and then, and picking up any skein of gossip from a familiar pattern. No more of that ma-only feeling of tripti (satisfaction) and shanti (peace). TILL HER NEXT VISIT.
As I folded and kept her sarees and towel (she always has a stock of clothes at my place) back in the cupboard, my eyes welled up and I felt so lost.
And then, later on, when I was taking something out of the fridge, I found a china jar full of a tomato-date-tamarind chutney she had made just the way I like to have. Crying and smiling at the same time, licking the chutney from my fingers, I re-discovered what comfort-food is all about.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I am the optimistic sort, the type of person you can easily call foolish, because I believe that most people are either openly good or have a hidden store of goodness locked inside them. It may take a smile, or a listening ear, or sympathy, or praise, to unlock that store.
But I digress. Today I was lucky to encounter a really good person.
For a long time, I had been searching for a navy blue chiffon dupatta (stole worn over a salwar-kameez). Having done the rounds of all the shops and big departmental stores that I know of, I had encountered dozens of shades of blue (royal, ink, sky, powder, and that rather virulent shade called firoza). When I did meet navy blue, it was either in cotton or georgette (which get crushed too easily) or too expensive (BIBA had a gold-dotted navy chiffon at Rs 600 – which would have been way too heavy a burden for my shoulders).
I had gone down to the crowded basement of Gokul Market opposite the cacophonous Borivili Station to buy something else altogether, when a spirit in my feet led me (as the azure-blue loving poet, Shelley, would have put it) to a small hole-in-the-corner shop which sold only dupattas.
I saw navy-blue in cotton. I asked for it in chiffon. The man in the shop showed a brighter blue chiffon dupatta. I asked if a darker one was possibly there. The man said he’d try from some other shop of his, went up the winding, narrow stairs, and came down soon with the exact navy blue chiffon dupatta that my heart had desired for so long so longingly.
Absolutely delighted, I handed over the VERY reasonable sum of Rs 110 (did not even think of bargaining it down to, say, Rs 100). With a heart as light as the chiffon, I floated up to ground and went in search of the tailor the man had told me about to get the edges of the dupatta stitched (“beaded”, as we call it).
As I was waiting in the tailor’s shop, the dupatta-seller came hurrying. “Sister, here is your ten-rupee note. It was lying on the floor of my shop. It must have fallen out of your bag. I guessed you would have come here to stitch the dupatta, so I came hurrying to return the money.”
I was amazed and humbled. This man had come all the way from his shop (quite a long way, actually), jostling past festival-shopping-mad crowds, on the slim chance that I would be still there in the tailor’s shop, just to return a small amount of money! My smile got wider, my steps got lighter and the sun got brighter, all because of this one unselfish act of honesty.
Angels don’t always descend from the heavens, they also emerge from basements. This unlikely angel just made my day.
Monday, October 6, 2008
The withdrawal of the Nano project from West Bengal is the most depressing and disappointing news I’ve read in a long, long time, more so because I, like so many other hard-working, right-thinking Bengalis, was hoping that the project would somehow be salvaged.
Not that the project was a pristine one. Questions can justifiably be raised as to the way in which some of the land was acquired, and maybe on other policy matters as well. Ms Mamata Banerjee could well have asked for a referendum to be held, or some such other legal and acceptable form of protest.
But then, legal and sane is not what Mamata is all about. She is famous for her histrionics, for rushing in where angels fear to tread and for her pro-people paglami (madness). She has to maintain her brand image, and the image of West Bengal can go take a dive for all she seems to care.
She is such a wrong sort of opposition leader in a state which desperately requires a strong and SENSIBLE opposition. It is simply not healthy for a democracy to have a ruling party, which by hook or crook, has remained in power for donkey’s years.
The CPI(M) is an ugly party, period. In its cynicism, behind its doublespeak, under its smooth manipulation of facts and factions, in its ruthless and systematic mowing down of any protest, in its seeping down and eroding basic services like health/education and basic values like work culture, in its three decades of anti-industry-stance and recent pro-industry ‘won’t you come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly’-attitude, it reeks of ugliness. A little deodorant in the form of a smiling Buddhadev Bhattacharjee is not really enough to hide the stench.
There is something rotten in the state of Denmark (as Hamlet said) and Ms Banerjee is not the person to stem the rot. Instead of offering viable alternatives, she is getting sucked into the very rot which she is supposedly exposing. And caught in the crossfire between UGLY and PAGLI, the Tatas have left Singur, breaking a million hopes.
I feel so, so sad when I hear people talking dismissively and derisively about West Bengal. It’s a place where people talk more and work less, where no business can thrive because people are only interested in politics, where it rains bandhs and strikes…that is what I hear all the time. The red party flag has become synonymous with STOP WORK.
The Singur project was supposed to change all that. It was supposed to herald a new era, a BENGAL SHINING instead of a BENGAL SHIRKING. That is not to be. And the schism between my West Bengal, muddled and riddled with self-destructing Ugly-s and Paglis, and the rest of India, marching ahead with new-found confidence, has widened all that much more.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Durga Puja and Navratri are here, hand in hand with Id this year, and the crisp, suddenly-cooler air is spiced with festive feeling!
Nine random thoughts for the nine festive days and nights :
1. We have arrangements for garba dancing in our housing complex, and I love to see the colourful crowd religiously and rhythmically dance away the evenings. I am your usual sedentary Bengali, more twinkle-eyed than twinkle-toed, but even after three years in Mumbai, I love watching people of all ages dancing in ever-moving but never-breaking circles, clapping their wooden dandiya sticks with perfect timing, talking while dancing but never missing a beat, entering and leaving at will without breaking the undulating pattern.
2. My two daughters share none of my toe-tied-ness, thankfully. They put on their newly acquired chaniya-cholis (long skirts with blouses), and run around the dance venue, eagerly stepping in time with the music. And the dandiya sticks, which have to be hidden for the rest of the year because of their status as potentially-dangerous-weapons, are now wielded in the cause of melody and music.
3. Their behaviour at the dandiya is typical of their essential characters. While my elder one, the Li’l Cat, is diffident and obedient, dancing a little, watching a little more, coming back when we say it’s time, her Copy-kitten sister sways and stamps with all her heart and soul, and bawls lustily when we carry her off, reluctant and refusing to leave.
4. Durga Puja begins on Shasthi (the sixth day of the new moon). Bengalis believe that Durga comes to visit her parents on earth for these five festive days. My mother has come to visit me since September, so my joy started early. I know this is reversing the usual trend of daughters visiting mothers, but what the heck! As long as mothers and daughters meet, it’s reason enough to celebrate.
5. My maa diligently observes fasting on Shasthi, eating nothing all day and breaking her fast at sundown with fruits and a divine-tasting hand-blended mix of sabudana (tapioca)-milk-sugar-banana-and-fresh-grated-coconut. Glutton that I am, I have no intention of fasting and every intention of gorging on that mom-made stuff.
6. I also love the sheer-khurma made and generously shared during Id by my Muslim colleagues at college. This rich milk-custard drips with dryfruits and calories, but the taste is worth waiting all the year for.
7. Apart from eating, the other profane festive activity that I absolutely love is shopping. And this is a time when shopping is totally-god-sanctioned and therefore guilt-free.
8. But I do confess that I have been shopping a bit too devoutly – new clothes for everybody (including myself), new bedcovers for the house, new crockery for the kitchen, new books for everybody, even new groceries for my kitchen-store. I am penitent but ecstatic.
9. To move from self to the world, here’s praying that this festive season brings hope to our strife-torn, terror-tormented planet and happiness to all of you.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Nancy has tagged me, and so has Mystic Margarita. In the true spirit of a teacher and dealer in questions and answers, I take up my tag-tasks:
Nancy’s tag, which, she says, got started at http://annagain66.blogspot.com/ is like a class test. Short, probing but pithy.
1. Where were you 10 years ago?
A decade back, I was a carefree, yet-to-be-a-year-old-blushing-bride, working in a swank bank in Kolkata.
2. What's on your to-do list today?
The usual – rush to work, rush back to kids, cook, teach, feed, clean. And chat with my mom (she’s on her annual month-long trip to my place) and the spouse (when we manage to sit for the 30-minutes post-dinner talk, post-the-kids’-bedtime). Very mundane, very me.
3. What would you do if you were a billionaire?
Travel round the world, get a liposuction, save for later, buy a house in Bandra (but that would take up my billion, I guess, with the sky-busting property prices in Mumbai).
4. Name five places you've lived.
Barrackpore, Kolkata (Kaikhali, Jodhpur Park and Jadavpur), Mumbai (all in India).
5. Name three bad habits of yours.
I forget things; I argue a bit too much, I’m a control freak.
6. What's your favorite snack?
I am trying to diet, so I’ll be pious and say “fruits”. (Snickers bars and jeera/kokum/hing/imli golis, actually).
7. Who will you tag next?
Margarita’s tag is longer, like a Honours Paper. It grills me extensively on various emotional why-s and fantastic what-ifs. My time starts now.
The rules for the tag are:RULE #1 People who have been tagged must write their answers on their blogs and replace any question that they dislike with a new question formulated by themselves.RULE #2 Tag 6 people to do this quiz and those who are tagged cannot refuse. These people must state who they were tagged by and cannot tag the person whom they were tagged by continue this game by sending it to other people.
1. If your lover betrayed you, what will your reaction be?
Tears, idle tears. I’m a leaky tap when heartbroken.
2. If you can have a dream come true, what would it be?
To see myself and my loved ones safe, sane and happy (and rich and famous and slim, is possible).
3. Whose butt would you like to kick?
Anybody who blocks my way when I’m in a hurry.
4. What would you do with a billion dollars?
Though I’ve already done this, let me add, I’d splurge half and save half.
5. Will you fall in love with your best friend?
I did, although he sometimes feels it’s like sleeping with the enemy.
6. Which is more blessed: loving someone or being loved by someone?
I’m greedy, I wanna have both.
7. How long would you wait for someone you loved?
If he loves me back, he’ll come to me ASAP.
8. If the person you secretly like is attached, what will you do?
Mope and move. Triangles are stressful, pointy, troublesome things to be trapped in.
9. If you could root for one social cause, what would it be?
Population control - the snowball effects of overpopulation freak me out.
10. What takes you down the fastest?
Lack of logic.
11. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
I don’t really want to take the fun out of my future by limiting it.
12. What’s your fear?
Losing those I love.
13. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?
A lovely person – very capable mom, very readable writer, and a really sweet long distance blog-friend.
14. Would you rather be single and rich or married and poor?
Since I’m already the second, I’d rather not wonder about the greener grass on the other side of the matrimonial fence.
15. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Wish I could sleep for a few hours more.
16. If you fall in love with two people simultaneously who will you pick?
That’s a ‘loaded’ question!
17. Would you give all in a relationship?
I already have. I also get back a lot, which makes it all worthwhile.
18. Would you forgive and forget someone no matter how horrible a thing he has done?
Forgive perhaps, but not forget.
19. Do you prefer being single or in a relationship?
I love my emotional crutches.
20. List of 6 people to tag:
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Hey, I'm so thrilled it took me 3 attempts to type this out.
Mystic Margarita has so, so graciously given me an award for being a BRILLIANT WEBLOG (I've always thought so, he-he, but I had my doubts). Well, doubt no more shall I because, as Shah Rukh Khan so immodestly sang, "I'm the best, I'm the best, I'm the be-ee-sst" (along with a host of others, but then, it's a lovely feeling, nonetheless.
But with this great reward comes great responsibility.
Here are the rules for this award: This award is for blogs whose content and/or design are brilliant as well as creative. The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.
1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
5. And then we pass it on!
And, this award goes...to...(DRUMROLL)...to...(AGONY OF SUSPENSE STRETCH---ED) ...to... (AFTER A BREAK FOR A ZILLION ADS)...
Sidhubaba - wit and wisdom, a heady cocktail.
Gappa - wit, wisdom, warmth and a woman, another heady cocktail.
Scatterbrain - she writes straight from the heart.
Paul's Daily Postcard - wordsmith with fabulous, fictional ideas.
Jaquanda Rae - skintingling, mindblowing poetry, and great prose, too.
Fleur de Aleta - a lovely warm person and a lovely slice-of-life blog.
Nancy - An afficianado of good food, wine and books - it can't get any better than this.
Sukku - amazing energy, globe-trotting repertoire.
So, let's roll the red carpet and pop the bubbly! Wheee....
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
A week or so to go, and the end of this term is in sight. Being a person of minuscule-Marathi and with my Hindi-full-of-holes, every year I face a new batch with some amount of trepidation. Yes, I know I teach Business Communication, which is supposed to be taught in English, but by public demand I have to teach bilingually, once in English which the students write down laboriously but incomprehensibly, and once again in Hindi with a lot of examples culled from movies and television which they enjoy and understand (hopefully). Wading through the syllabus with my feet in bi-lingual boats, I sometimes flounder if the batch of fish/students is too unruly/noisy/unresponsive.
This year, I am pleasantly surprised as I seem to have bonded really well with all four divisions of my students (usually I have a jinx with students of ‘B division’, as they call themselves). Of course, there are the rowdy back-benchers who sometimes hoot and hiss when my back is turned. But I’ve managed not to get ruffled even once this year.
This year, I’ve enjoyed teaching (like I enjoyed teaching Literature back in Kolkata) to a section of students who are interested (they even wait till the final lecture for my classes) and responsive (they answer, and correctly, when I quiz them). Even a handful of such students make a world of difference to a teacher, and this year has been wonderfully different so far.
It’s nearing term-end now and it’s been a term well-spent. Thank you, students. I'll cross my fingers and hope for a repeat next term.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
To find a Bengali, one just has to find the nearest fish-market. The fish-stalls, or the non-veg section of supermarkets selling fish, are converging points for Bengalis. You can identify them (the Bengalis, that is) by the over-loud debating voices, just like you can identify the fish-stall by the smell (so dear to us, so detested by non-fish-lovers).
A Bengali without fish is like a fish without water. It is essential to his innate sense of well-being. The intricate springs and coils of the fabled Bengali brain run smoothly only when they are adquately fish-oiled (Omega 3 and all that are very good, but it has to be blended with pure mustard oil).
Bengalis will congregate over fish and debate endlessly on the virtues of rui over katla, peti (oilier portions from around the stomach) over gada (bonier portions from the back of the fish), galda over bagda (lobsters over tiger-prawns), anything over anything-else. The fish-sellers and their assistants (who are also, often, Bengali) chip in with their bits of advice, usually supporting the Bengali with the heavier wallet.
But there are two immutable, uncontestable truths :
1. The sweet Bengali river-fish is the only edible fish in whole wide world (a grudging exception is made for pomfret, because the less-bony easily-fry-able fish is an inexplicable favourite with children). Any Bengali worth his mustard oil will turn up his nose at the salty sea-fish like bangda (found in shiny silver abundance in Mumbai) as an inferior sub-genre, not fit to be called fish.
2. Hilsa is the KING (or to be politically-correct, the QUEEN) of fishes. And all bespectacled-Bengalis will glare you down if you dare to suggest otherwise.
Other people are unperturbed by their choice of fish. My maid (who is from Maharashtra) happily cooks surmai/halwa/anything else with the same onion-garlic-chilli-coconut-tomato-coriander masala combination. But we Bengalis are thrown into a tizzy by our choice of fish. The other day I was extremely amused to overhear a phone conversation where the hapless husband was getting severely scolded by his wife because he had purchased rui when she had apparently made a mustard-coconut paste ready to cook prawns. Of course, rui with this same paste would be a blasphemously-unBengali concoction. So the poor husband was summarily ordered to buy some degenerate frozen shrimps to salvage the masala, and a tub of yogurt to grace the rui-curry.
I am a shame on bona fide Bengalis, I guess. I love fish, but am completely undiscriminating when it comes to choosing between betki and rawas, bombil and pabda. I don't even care if the oil is mustard or sunflower. As long it is fish, I love it. More of a Piscean and less of a Bengali, I guess.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
It's visarjan (immersion) time for the lovable elephant-god. As his annual sojourn ends, suddenly eco-friendly Mumbaikars are busy taking out processions carrying their favourite deity to his watery bed - from where he will ascend to his true home, the Heavens - with much pomp and revelry.
This revelry is one of my favourite sights of the festival, because it still delights and amazes me to see women, of all ages, apparel and girth, taking part energetically in the farewell procession - dancing away uninhibitedly. Visarjan dancing is the joyous, free-spirited dance-as-you-like which cheers the dancer and the bystander alike.
In culture-conscious Kolkata, dancing is frowned upon as a slightly delinquent pastime (unless it is the attenuated, affected, discipline-bound formal dances). Dancing at festivals and weddings is the prerogative of youths, inevitably male and usually drunk. To break this male bastion, a woman has to risk ogling stares, whistling catcalls and bottom-pinching pests.
But here in egalitarian Mumbai, my heart thrills everytime I watch a group where women are dancing freely and happily, with enthusiasm and without fear. My shoulders twitch and my feet tap out the drum-rhythms as my daughters clap and dance-as-they-like, shouting full-throated, whole-hearted and free-soled, "Ganpati Bappa Mourya!!!"
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Well, once again it’s Ganpati-season in Mumbai. Festive notes waft briskly (is that an oxymoron?) in the air, both the musical kind and the monetary kind, because most Indian religious festivals are all about display. And then, Ganesha is THE GOD OF ENTERPRISE, be it FINANCIAL (ALL CAPS AND IN BOLD PLEASE, WE’RE IN MUMBAI – COMMERCE CAPITAL OF INDIA) or otherwise (fine print only, please, for those foolish enough to have non-financial ideals and enterprises…or should that be enter-prices?).
Back in Kolkata, the main festival is the four-day Durga Puja, which means a four-day long holiday. No work (except to eat, talk, roam and dress up to your heart’s content), and all play (in all its different connotations, including the flower-fragrance-redolent, goddess-blessed, drumbeats-in-the-backdrop pandal-flirtations).
But in rushed-and-ready brisk-and-busy Mumbai, though Ganesha visits us for over ten days, we have a measly two-days off. I guess that’s how it should be, because the portly deity is a shrewd business-fellow, and would perhaps only bless the industrious. So it’s work as usual, with a holiday at each end, fitting in a hectic twirl of mandal-hopping in the evenings between frantic-work-day and exhausted-night-sleep.
So different from indolent, lotus-eating (and currently Singur-shamed) Kolkata! Where there are potbellies (and potholes) galore (well, that is also the case in Mumbai), but which seems to have been sadly neglected by the otherwise-benign Gajanana and his devotees.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Books have two lives - a HAPPY LIFE and a SAD LIFE.
When a book has its HAPPY LIFE, it is much in demand, pulled out daily from its alloted place on the bookshelf, flipped through eagerly, dog-eared and remoulded by over-enthusiastic fans, and read over and over (and over and over...) again (sometimes twice/thrice in a single sitting) and getting tattooed with enthusiastic comments in various coloured crayons and pencils by appreciative readers (or listeners, depending on their age - the human's not the book's).
Right now, in our home, a few lucky books are leading the happy life. Topping the popularity polls is PD Eastman's GO , DOG, GO, which the Copy-Kitten has near-memorised and where many of the dogs are decorated with add-on squiggles. Behind the dog-eared dogs, there is a haphazard list of second-bests like a sweet little book called BEEF STEW where Nicky has a surprise visitor for dinner, which is (the dinner, that is) obviously beef stew; the toils of the LITTLE RED HEN who baked and ate the bread all by herself giving nothing to her lazy friends, and some from the very active DICK and JANE series (those children who seem to endlessly jump and run and play and work).
The Lil Cat, too, is fickle with her favourites (as it the feline nature). Her Famous Fives are languishing while Junie B Jones, that funny opinionated little girl, is best book-friends with my elder daughter at the moment, the friendship threatened only by Sophie, the clever, and equally funny, little farm girl created by Dick King-Smith.
Once these favourites are replaced by new ones, these books will retire to their bookshelf-homes to lead THE SAD LIFE, relegated to dust and neglect, with nobody to open them and close them (as the Copy Kitten over-eagerly does, much to the detriment of the bindings of the books), and only the occasional flicker of the dust-cloth reminding them of the touch of little warm hands and grubby fingers.
The good thing is that re-reading is a frequent phenomenon and so the BOOKS have a REVIVAL of the HAPPY LIFE quite often.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The past week has been a hectic one, for me as well as my daughters.
First, there was Unity in Diversity day celebrated as the Little Cat’s (my elder one’s) school, where she had to dress up as a Bengali bou (lady) in red-bordered white-saree with a box of sandesh (a specifically Bengali sweet).
The same saree did double-duty under a sober shawl a few days later when the Li’l Cat pretended to be Indira Gandhi at her school’s National Leader fancy dress day.
Then we had to nip and tuck a rather large green salwar-kameez for the Independence Day patriotic song-and-dance competition, “Aao bachcho tumhe dikhayein jhaanki Hindustaan ki” (Come children let us see glimpses of India…).
The lyrics be damned (or, in this case, hummed), there was much enthusiastic dance practice on the bed and elsewhere for days (with the copy-kitten, my younger one, dutifully imitating). “Vande mataram” (Hail motherland), especially, is a very acrobatic dance-step, involving a simultaneous raising of one fist with the stamping of the other foot. The copy-kitten is just two-and-half, so the complicated fist-foot co-ordination would fox her at times and she’d topple over, only to get up gamely and continue, much in the true revolutionary spirit.
But the copy-kitten had her own set of school activities, too. One day for pretend-rakhi festivities in a hand-me-down salwar-kurta, the next for independence-dance-jump-prance-stomp in white kurta-pajama with tricolour dupatta (stole) and Gandhi topi (cap).
Coming up next is Janmasthami Day when the copy-kitten will be copying Radha, the eternal beloved. The blue/orange chaniya-choli is awaiting its turn.
Only problem is the copy-kitten insists that all her school dances be performed to the tune of “Sare jahan se achchha, Hindustan hamara hamara” (India is the best), ad infinitum. She keeps on re-cycling this same line over and over again. After half-a-dozen repetitions, she pauses, realizing that something is amiss, and says “What?” That is my cue to step in and complete the song, which ends on the same line, which starts her parroting and prancing all over again.
As I said, it’s been a hectic Independence week.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Well, that’s what it feels like, for the past few days. Either the net connection mysteriously disconnects, OR the page I seek cannot be found OR Blogger chickens out before I can publish my post (but after I’ve made all my corrections and decorations, which mean that all the hard work has to be done again…and again…).Internet? Hah! INTER – NOT, more likely. Or INTER – KNOT. Or, more likely, INTER - NAUGHTs and CROSSES, going by the amount of attempts I've made to publish posts. Then again, INTER - NIGHT would correctly define my state of being INTERRUPTED all through the NIGHT.
Blogger.com, are you listening? Isn’t it time that the knots were unraveled and the journey made smoother sailing?
Saturday, August 16, 2008
…as ancient as the mountains and oceans which embrace it; as recent as the latest bomb-blast (that attempts to explode the notion of India as a nation).
…as convenient as a spittoon for cynical outbursts (against the government/population/pollution/corruption/roads/traffic/you get the drift?); as luminescent as Lata Mangeshkar’s “Aye mere pyaare watan” (O my beloved nation).
…as preciously-begotten as our independence and the centuries of sacrifice and struggle that made that magical midnight tryst with destiny possible; as carelessly-frittered as sand through our fingers as we rush, blinkered-blinded, towards self-oriented goals, denying/devaluing/destroying everything else.
…as fragmented as shattered windowpanes (after yet another bout of public-fuelled arson) by divisions of class, caste, religion, language, even food habits; as united as the spontaneous eruption of unanimous joy at any sports-victory (the latest superhero being Abhinav Bindra).
…as frantic-fast as the rush-hour sprint of passengers to catch the local trains; as silted-slow as the bullocks who sit down (with their cart) and chew cud (their driver chews tobacco instead) to block traffic on highways.
…as sentimentalized as the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes whenever I hear the national anthem; as soppy as the television-serials and the tear-jerking movies watched by us be-sniffling billions; as soaring as the tri-colour fluttering high; and as supremely variegated as the peacock’s proud-tailed display or the tiger’s arched-striped back.
India accepts, absorbs, praises, pushes, moves, immobilizes, mystifies and de-constructs…all in the same day and also all down the decades and centuries.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I’m the kind of person who watches ads on TV (and reads them in newspapers and magazines) with avid interest.
Recently, two ads for Cadbury’s Chocolates caught my interest, although for totally opposing reasons.
The TVC for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk showing a crowd of people on a railway station intently watching a nail-biting cricket match is really, really funny and bang-on observant:
It pokes fun at our cricket-obsession. Only a sari-clad woman in a tea-stall is unaffected by the match. All the others are glued to the TV, including the seller hawking Dairy Milk bars in a tray – he foolishly, if magnanimously, offers free bars if India wins.
India doesn’t, as happens so very often (in real life, that is). They lose in the very last ball to the unfancied Kenyans. Again, a wonderfully satiric take-off on the irresistible, if irritating, predilection of the Indian team to lose almost-won matches with monotonous regularity.
After the deflating defeat, the crestfallen crowd is cheered by a young boy, determined not to miss out on the free-chocolate offer. He asks the vendor to give the promised treat because “koi toh jeet gaya” (at least somebody has won). Accurate child psychology and karmic philosophy, that.
And finally the hilarious exit lines – the bewildered vendor, finding his chocolates disappearing at an alarmimg rate (Indians love freebies) amidst much cheering and shouting of “Kenya jeet gaya” (Kenya has won - Indians celebrate at any and every excuse), timidly asks “Yeh Kenya hai kidhar?” (Where is this Kenya?). And the self-satisfied, smug-ly ignorant average monkey-capped middleclass Indian (for whom Kenya is a name that rhymes with Babua and his ilk, common nicknames in INDIA) answers, “Idhar hi toh tha…gaya hoga kidhar” (He was here only…must have gone somewhere). Totally brilliantly ridiculously witty.
NOW, can anybody tell me how this same company can come up with the extremely INANE and sick-making ad about their Celebrations range of chocolates, where a precocious young boy offers his sister a box of gift-wrapped chocolates, saying it is a book. And the girl – the ASININE, BIRD-BRAINED TWIT – actually turns down her mouth in disappointment! How SILLY is that? I do realize that many young children do feel that books are useless, but does the ad (and the company, and the agency, and, by extension, the viewer) really have to endorse that view?
I felt so, so disappointed and disgusted, especially since my expectations were raised by the terrific Dairy Milk ad.
Friday, August 8, 2008
For those of us living in sub-urban Mumbai, autorickshaw-travel is automatic, so to say. And, in my few years in this crazy city, I've had quite a few interesting conversations with autorickshaw-drivers.
One such memorable man had a book-shelf attached behind the driver's seat, displaying various booklets on religion and self-help by a charitable organisation called the Gayatri Sangathan. To cater to the multilingual client-base of his vehicle, the driver had thoughtfully arranged the booklets language-wise: English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati.
Impressed by his devotion (to religion and to books) as well as by his marketing initiative, I chatted with him about the organisation, to which he also belonged. And ended up paying four rupees over and above my fare for a copy (in English) of The Law of Karma.
Since most Mumbaikars, at least in my corner of the city, hardly regard reading as worthwhile karma (action), so this driver seemed to be an exception worth remembering.
Monday, August 4, 2008
How times have changed. Now we have Friendship Day thrust upon us, whether we need it or not. On 4th August (3rd being a Sunday), when I go to college, I will be overrun by hordes of students tying ‘friendship ribbons’ on both my arms (thankfully, one arm at a time). The same fate will befall every single denizen of the campus. Masses of yellow roses will be exchanged, admired and agonized over (by those who wanted to be ‘more than friends’). And the next day, we will return to gossiping with our ‘real’ friends and bitching about the ones who are not.
But anyway, over and above the media-and-market created Friendship Day frenzy, here’s wishing my friends (here and out there) a happy day and year – thanks for being a cushion, a sounding-board, an alarm-clock and a screw-driver, as and when I needed them.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
A few weeks ago, I blogged about hating the rains. This was followed by an inexplicable, and insufferable, hot and dry spell.
Feeling like a chastised Cassandra, I vowed not to blog about rain again till it, er, rained again, a lot, that is. I began to have visions of sweaty summers acutely panting for water, and, of course, I blamed myself for the drought-ful catastrophe. (When I was young I would always blame myself if I watched a match on TV and the team I supported lost – as they inevitably seemed to do. I guess this was a similar impulse.) I kept feeling horribly gulity, imagining accusing fingers pointing at me, raining insults, ra(i)nting and raving, "How dare you demean the rain-gods with your scurrilous posts? Begone, you scum of the (dry) earth, we banish you and your parchments to the parched rainless desert. That will be your just deserts."
Well, now it’s raining again, and I’m too thankful to crib, at least for the moment.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Just a while ago, I was watching a re-run of a Tom and Jerry cartoon where, in a rare instance of camaraderie, Tom and Jerry together take care of a crawling baby while the parents are away and the oblivious baby-sitter is chatting on the phone (can anybody tell me why all fictional babysitters are like this, be it here, or in Calvin and Hobbes, or elsewhere?).
I just love the fluidity of motion in the Tom and Jerry shorts, and the baby shown in this particular cartoon is one heck of a smooth mover. It just crawls everywhere – over baby-cots, under carpets, through chutes, into mailboxes, around table-legs, and even underneath a sink full of dirty water. And all this in angelic silence (or devilish determination, depending on your point of view) with a beatific smile pasted on its face.
Reminded me of the times when my li’l cat (the elder one) and the copy-kitten (her younger sister) were in their creepy-crawly stages. Every surface was crawl-able, and every object was put-in-the-mouth-able! They were absolutely unstoppable when awake, till they thankfully fell asleep at the end of another exciting (for them) and exhausting (for me) day. Sure gave me a lot of heart-in-the-mouth moments and grey hairs.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
The other day I went to the bank where our salaries are deposited. It's a goverment-owned bank, unlike my usual preferred private/multi-national banks, with their swank counters and posh staff and people-like-us customers.
This bank was dilapidated (but bravely polished and computerised), and so were its customers. In the half-hour I spent there to collect my cheque-book, I helped two women who had come to the bank to withdraw money but who could not read or write. And this in Mumbai - perhaps the largest city in India!
The front-office staff shooed away an elderly lady who was puzzling over the entries in her pass-book. I helped her to make sense of the debits and credits and reassured her that she had a credit balance of Rs 25,000. Her repeated seeking of reassurance (Aap saahi bol rahe ho na? - Are you sure you're right?) was so pathetic and revealing of her insecurity in an alien world.
The other lady came to me, with a baby tucked in one arm, requesting me to fill up a withdrawal form for Rs 2,200 (she wanted to keep Rs 300 for emergencies). Unthinkingly, I asked her to sign after I'd filled up the form. Embarrassed, she said she was angutha chhaap (illiterate who would have to put her thumb impression instead of her signature).
Yeah, India is Shining all right! Shining with the unshed tears of mortification these women face everytime they step into a place which exposes their illiteracy. But who or what to blame? Their gender? Their poverty? Their religion? Do you have any answers?
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Recently, I’ve taken up copy-writing, after a very long hiatus. I’ve always liked writing ads and stuff, and now that I’ve got the chance to freelance for a design company, I’m all eager and excited. Only catch is that I’ve cut down on my sleeping and blogging time, because I always tell the designers and the client that, “I’ll work on it tonight (as in post-midnight) and send it to you by moon-set.” They usually agree, because then they can wake up to fresh-coffee and fresh-copy in the morning.
But then, sometimes there are can-you-do-this-at-this-very-nanosecond deadlines. And you can cry foul but you can’t say no.
Picture this. It’s almost eight in the evening. I’m frying fish in mustard oil prior to making fish curry (the ‘proper Bengali way’). Inevitably, the hot oil splatters my arm (maybe I’m an ‘improper’ Bengali). Phone rings. Rush to pick it up, and balance it on a hunched shoulder while talking and cooking (My right hand has the ladle – my left hand has the lid of the wok/kadhai – I fry fish in the attack-cum-defence mode – slide a fish in oil with the ladle and immediately cover with lid).
Client wants new taglines for partywear lingerie, pronto. Huh? My mind’s blank, then groping. Rush to comp, open mail inbox, search client folder, and go through visual material sent by designer. Come up with matching lines as the fish come out of the wok, slightly more fried than my brains. Heat oil for curry and mail new lines to client. Woooh!
Not quite. Designer calls, more options requested by client. Bloody hell. These taglines are for the lingerie packages…who’s gonna read them anyway? (The next time you buy a bra or a brief, please please read every bit of text printed on the package, just to make some poor overworked copywriter feel good.)
As the mustard paste, chillies and tomatoes sizzle and fuse in the wok, my brain-cells are fizzing with lingering lines: “Turn heads behind your back” (for a backless bra), “Push-up the glamour quotient” (for, you guessed it, a push-up bra). If this is what makes the client happy, then dish it to him.
I call up the designer and dictate the lines (a dozen or so, actually) as I ease the fish into the boiling gravy. The comp would have taken longer. That done, I lower the knob of the gas-oven, and my brain, to sim.
Even as I’m pouring the fish-curry into the serving bowl, designer calls up to say that the required lines have been “frozen” (i.e finalized). Great!
Thank you, God, for the curry and the fish,
Thank you, God, for satisfying the client’s wish.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Sukku, the multi-faceted, globe-trotting, corporate honcho who can cook a mean rasam/sambal/omlette, has tagged me with a meme which required some amount of soul-searching and number-crunching. Thanks Sukku, and here goes:
5 Annoying Things (as in things that annoy ME):
The inevitable wait as my obsolete dial-up net connection blinks and flashes and STRUGGLES to open and move from one site to another
Getting mud-splashed by thoughtless cars while going to work during the rainy season
The didn’t-dry-properly smell of clothes inadequately dried under fans on sunless, rainy days
Going to my fourth class of the day with a mouthful of lectures, only to find that the students have run away after the tiffin break
Being refused by autorickshaw drivers when I’m pressed for time.
8 Habits (that I have):
Waking up reasonably early even on holidays (The Pavlov-effect of weekday alarms at 5.30 a.m)
Snacking on sour/sweet stuff in the staffroom when I’m not taking classes
Sleeping even later
Opening the refrigerator door and wondering what on earth I wanted to take out from there
Packing more clothes (in the suitcase) than I end up wearing (in the holidays)
Buying loads of stuff that is on sale to ‘stock up on kitchen-essentials’ (my kitchen is a hoarder’s delight)
Working best under pressure (which I self-create by leaving many things for the proverbial last minute)
6 Quirks (of Myself):
I always play Microsoft Solitaire when I open my PC before moving to worthier pursuits
I always carry two bags when I go out
I compulsively straighten bedcovers which are not laid neatly
I love to sprinkle salt on my cola
I cannot stand the sight of unwashed utensils in the kitchen sink piled untidily and always pile them neatly or wash them immediately
I always read books when I’m eating out alone.
That’s it. A whole lot of info about I-Me-Myself. Please feel free to help yourself to this meme if you want to dig deep into yourself. I enjoyed the self-dissection and the dissertation!
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Thanks to Mystic Margarita, the many characters who leap off the pages of books and take up residence in my head and heart, now have a reason to display themselves. And so here are ten random characters I have long-loved, straight off my memory-wall:
Hercule Poirot: Agatha Christie is one author I never get tired of re-reading and I just adore the pompous and poised Poirot – from his egg-shaped head with the genius grey-cells, to his shiny-patent shoes; from the dapper-waxed moustache to the heart which conceals a sneaky fondness for robust, overdressed femme fatales.
Rhett Butler: Another hirsute hero, though with a completely different appeal. Since Mystic Margarita has appropriated Heathcliff, I lay quick claim to Rhett – his swagger, his swarthy-manliness and his persistent passion for the fiesty Scarlett. The impact on my swooning senses was all the stronger because of Clark Gable’s dashing portrayal – it was the first time I realized that mustaches could be so sexy!
Bridget Jones: Totally feckless, totally madcap-romantic, obsessed with weight-issues, and a wholly freaky-funny peril-prone thirty-something damsel like you and me. What’s not to love? And to top it all, she gets to bed and wed a reincarnated Darcy (another fave-figure appropriated by Mystic…Gaaah!)
Precious Ramotswe: The founder of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency – the first of its kind in sunny-sinful Botswana. I love her weight (she is ‘traditionally built’) and her wisdom (she solves her cases through observation, intuition, common sense aided by endless cups of bush tea and by diligently referring to her detection-guide-bible) and her wide, all-encompassing, placid acceptance of life.
Karna: The Mahabharata’s anti-hero is my favourite underdog: forever strong, unshakably brave, fiercely loyal, but always dealt a cruel hand by the Fates. I cannot stand Arjun, Righteousness’s poster-boy, and I always root for Karna, although he is Fortune’s eyesore and always at the wrong place at the wrong time – right down to his death when his chariot wheel gets stuck in the battlefield.
Seymour: Seymour was the unnamed narrator’s elder brother in J D Salinger’s short story, Seymour: An Introduction. He had an enormous impact on his brother’s (and my) psyche and he killed himself almost before (or because?) he was thirty. Way out!
Charlie Brown: It’s impossible not to love the round-headed kid, eternally optimistic at baseball, eternally incapable of expressing his feelings to the red-haired girl, and eternally heckled by the crabby Lucy and by his kid-sister. I chose him over Calvin (him and his tiger Hobbes), because I’m a sucker for wistful losers!
King Lear: Another loser who has impacted me greatly (sorry for the irreverence in placing him next to Peanuts). Lear’s impetuosity, his royal arrogance and ignorance, his very human foibles and hamartia, his ability to forgive, accept and embrace and his free-fall into unplumbed depths of suffering – this is the only Shakespearean play which ACTUALLY moves me to tears.
Harry Potter: I’m unashamedly Potter-maniacal. Brave and balanced but not boring, smart and sensible but not smart-alecky, I loved the whole trajectory of his growth through the seven Potter-books. And he is not a loser. He is the boy who lives. And wins.
Winnie-the-Pooh: So what if he’s not human? I love the Bear of Little Brain and the Big Stomach always rumbling for honey. I love his winsome-ness and his wonder-at-such-simple-things and his whole-new-perspective-on-things. Once he entered Rabbit’s hole, ate too much honey and got stuck while coming out of the hole. That’s the way he is, forever stuck in my heart.
This list can actually go on and on and on…Thanks MM. Anybody who wishes to make their own list, please consider yourself tagged. The pleasure of reading will be mine.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I know this may sound preposterous and pre-historic to anybody who does not live in our part of the world. But for those who do, especially those with kids or jobs or both, will understand how our entire life is maid-dependent. That’s to say, the peace and pattern of our existence (and many times, the progress of our careers) depend upon the ifs and buts, express-arrivals and explanation-less-absences of our maids.
As of this present moment, my sister-in-law is in a soup because one of her maids (they have a complicated system of checks and balances comprising ‘many maids, all-in-a-row’, devised in part by my mother) has upped and left, without any notice and with many lies and excuses. She has recently joined a new job (six-day week) and has two small kids (three and one year old), so obviously the domestic disarray has demolished the carefully built maths of her existence.
My neighbour, who has to leave for her teaching job at 6 in the morning (and whose live-in maid has also left without a bye-your-leave), is having sleepless nights and pre-dawn hysterics, waiting for the stand-in help to arrive before sunrise so that she can run to catch the train to reach her school by the morning bell.
Maids rule, period. Eavesdrop on any conversation involving working moms, and you are sure to listen to complaints about their maids (when they are there) or condolences (when they have left). Maids do not come on time, maids do not come at all, maids go AWOL interminably, yet mysteriously and quarrelsomely turn up when you optimistically try to replace them. They are often tardy, oftener temperamental and, a few times (very few, to be honest) thieving. And if they do deign to come somewhat regularly, you’d better count your lucky stars and stop counting flaws and faults in their housework.
Some women are maid-lucky, they have trusted maids who are paragons of perfection and punctuality. Some are plain maid-unlucky, and spend a major portion of lives searching for, or training, or waiting for, or agonizing over, or searching again for…you get the drift? But maid-luck is as fickle as maid-mood (i.e. whether your maid is chirpy or grumpy) and all we can do is hope and pray that we are maid-for-each-other…and do the housework when they are AWOL. There is no maid-to-order solution, is there?
Monday, June 23, 2008
A few days back I was walking with a friend when we both noticed the very long, oiled, braided and flower-bedecked hair of two women walking in front of us. This is a fairly common sight in our part of the world, where many women still find the time (and have the inclination) to oil and be-flower their tresses. Unlike me, whose shoulder-length tresses are always falling out or turning alarmingly-greybeneath their hennaed-hideout under a hastily put-up perpetual-ponytail (Because of stress? Genetics? What is the bald truth?).
When I was young, my unruly-curly locks were tamed by a succession of severe ‘boys’ cuts’, and it was my secret, rebellious desire to grow-up and grow down my hair till my waist at least, sometimes to be demurely plaited (without the dodgy scent of hair-oil, though), sometimes to be left free (but miraculously tangle-free).
Alas, that was not to be. I have never had the fortune or the fortitude to grow my hair really long. And though I once shocked my family and erstwhile colleagues back in Kolkata when I appeared with temporarily truncated-to-my-ear-length tresses (somebody amiably compared me to a hen shorn of its neck-feathers), my usual hair-length varies, through steps and layers, from neck to shoulder. Rapunzel remains a distant, gradually-turning-grey, dream – to modify Shel Silverstein’s ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’:
“At the age of 35 – (long ago, actually)
I realized I’d never ride –
Though Mumbai –
In a Mercedes –
With the sea-wind in my waist-length hair.”
PRAGMATIC P.S: Can anyone tell me why all the hair that falls with monotonous regularity from my head are always black, and the ones that determinedly cling on are grey?
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Our Copy-Kitten is off to school. Well, actually, playschool. She was not too happy about the fact that there would be no beige-checked uniform, no brown-paper-covered books, no bright-yellow school-bus, nothing like her didi’s (elder sister) proper school.. In fact, she is yet to be convinced that her playgroup should be accorded the status of SCHOOL at all. It seems all play and no school to her.
But though it was a compromise, she was all set with her blue Mickey-bag (which had the coveted tiffin-box inside), her all-new waterbottle, pink raincoat and red umbrella (with the bees and the butterflies - she chose it herself, don't you know?).
The first two days have passed smoothly. In a blur of toys and rhymes, puppet-shows and songs. She has been happily chalk-scribbling all over the walls and rushing down the plastic slide in the playroom (both taboo at home), secure in the knowledge that ma and Babydidi (my trusted maid) were in the room, too.
The bawling may begin next week, when she’ll be ON HER OWN. I’m hoping she won’t cry, at least not too much. Here’s wishing her a great growing-up journey ahead. To echo Erica Jong, “May Goddess bless and Goddess keep” our little copy-kitten happy and safe and curious.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Mumbai has two seasons – sweat and wet. In summer, people sweat it out; in winter (that’s a joke) people sweat it out a little less; and in monsoon, people wet it out (as well as sweat it out under their raincoats).
It’s been raining for the past one week, with no sign of ever stopping, and already I’ve forgotten what the sun looks like. On some days a pale sun peeps out timidly, like a sick child wanting to get out of bed, before dark thunderous looking clouds (like an angry scowling nurse) chase it back under the covers.
Back in Kolkata, a day or two of heavy rain would mean that schools and colleges would declare rainy-day holidays and we could all sit cosily watching the rain from our windows or balconies.
But in Mumbai, nobody has the time to stand and stare, or sit cosily in an armchair. Everybody’s up and running: people going to work armed with umbrellas, women in trendy transparent raincoats and waterproof make-up, plastic-coated children bending under the combined weight of books and raindrops.
Rain is a fact of life from June to September, and everybody in Mumbai faces it matter-of-factly. Many, incredibly, claim to love the rainy season.
I, however, just CAN NOT. I have many many cribs about monsoon and wet clothes and wet smells, but there are four monsoon-months’ worth of blogposts left, so I’ll save my cribs for another rainy day.
And so, the rains go on, endlessly….
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
My younger daughter lives in hand-me-downs and hope. Hoping that she will soon be as big as her elder sibling. The word ‘small’ is absent from her vocabulary (she pronounces it as ‘malls’ – a fallout of living in mall-infested Mumbai).
She is always frantically imitating her sister (when she is not fighting with her):
sitting like her(often with a book which she flips through importantly),
studying like her (she’s put all her elder sister’s old school-books in an old school bag, which she takes to ‘school’ daily and does her scribbly-homework in),
talking like her (like an echoing-miniature, sometimes with hilarious results),
dressing like her (or insisting to – to keep peace I try to buy co-ordinated clothing),
playing like her (this begins well but ends badly, usually in a fight, because toys not shared are snatched),
…even sometimes sleeping like her.
We call her copy-kitten, a sobriquet which suits her purr-fectly.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
It’s official. My and my elder daughter’s summer vacation ends tomorrow. Mumbai’s summer of 2008 ends the day after; the weather department has declared the arrival-date of the monsoon (give or take a few days; weather and weathermen are not very reliable). In fact, it has raining gustily for the past few days, but that's the PRE-MONSOON downpours, insist the weathermen (as if that made any difference - Wet is WET is WET).
Though I always look forward to regaining my working-mom status (being a stay-at-home mom stresses me out totally - it's too much of hard work) and spending a few hours away from my demanding duo, I also love the summer holidays.
Here are a few random reasons why:
I can spend the whole day with my daughters (a mixed blessing, though!). We eat together, I tell them stories, watch stuff together, feed them when they are busy playing, build tents for them to play house-house in, take them to the park to play, take them to the shops to shop, sit them on the kitchen counter when I'm cooking and allow them to shell eggs and stir mixtures. I so tired at the end of the day that I usually fall asleep while putting them to sleep. BUT I WOULDN'T HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY!
I can have countless, endless hug-athons with my daughters.
I can ditch my contact lenses (for professional use only) for geeky glasses.
I can cook to my heart’s content (I have to: the maid goes on leave – another mixed blessing!). Out comes the cook-books, my brain goes on overdrive planning menus, shopping for the ingredients and my daughters excitedly accompany me in these culinary adventures, from the market to the kitchen-counter to the dining table.
I can gorge on mangoes and black jamuns, my fave fruits! My daughters love picking up raw mangoes which fall unheeded from the many mango trees in the neighbourhood, and I love pickling them.
From our bedroom window, I can watch (with the spouse and kids) the green hills of the National Park come alive with the flame-red flowers of the krishnachura (gulmohar) - surely the loveliest of all summer-sights?
I can read/surf/blog past midnight without worrying about getting up early in the mornings…
…but that’s about to end. With the coming of a new season (monsoon) and a new session (at school and college), this summer is over.
- Sucharita Sarkar
- I am a harried 24 x 7 mother-of-two as well as a daytime college teacher (which is an underpaid job with lots of free time)as well as a moonlighting freelance copywriter. The ease of my job (s?) offsets the mad rush of the rest of my life...An overgrown Alice in a maddening wonderland?
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