Friday, March 28, 2008


It was an ill-advised business decision. The western suburbs of Mumbai do not take kindly to bookshops. Here, the only books most people read are self-help books (or chequebooks). Spending money on books is regarded as a frivolous waste of money.
Even the name could not save it. Shree Ganesh Bookshop, named after the god of business who was also the scribe of The Mahabharata, was 'positioned' to fail. In the heart of Kandivili's Thakur Complex, I came across it when it was being set up by its mild-mannered owner. I was its first customer, so the owner informed me, handing me a sacred piece of coconut and a peda. I purchased some storybooks for my daughters at throwaway prices (although the books were new), and an old edition of PEOPLE magazine, documenting Oscar fashions down the years. A collector's item for Rs 100!
Over the next few months, I would often treat myself to a sudden visit to the bookshop. Whenever I would visit my daughter's school, which was nearby. Whenever I had some ice-cream from the next-door Natural's outlet (a double treat - books + food!). It was not an ordinary bookshop. The books (and the huge variety of magazines) were all by foreign publishers; new but often scruffed. I wondered whether they were smuggled/contraband goods, or discarded by the publishers for some reason. The mystery of the transit-history of the books was enhanced by the physical adventure of actually finding ones that I liked. It was a back-breaking treasure hunt to dig around in the narrow shelves and unpacked crates in that cramped space.
Here are some of my 'finds', all at ridiculously inexpensive prices:

  • Mixed-up Fairy Tales - a DIY mix-and-match book for children where it is great fun to find the correct/jumbled-up sequence in the fairytales.
  • Treasury for Children - a collection of heart-warmingly illustrated animal tales by James Herriot, who was a vet.
  • a Parragon illustrated encyclopedia of World History - very useful and succint.
  • the very well-written, superbly illustrated-and-produced Orchard Series, on Greek Myths, Viking Stories (for my elder daughter) and Nursery Rhymes (for the younger one).
  • a Book of Virtues, where well-known children's folk-and-fairy tales are used to exemplify a human virtue (for my niece).
  • two not-so-critically-acclaimed-but readable-nonetheless books by Salman Rushdie: Shame and The Ground Beneath Her Feet (for me and the spouse).
  • many many brightly-coloured, boldly-lettered, age-appropriate books as gifts for the children whose birthdays we regularly attend (one of the occupational hazards of motherhood).

These books will remain, some with me, some in the houses and hearts of other people. But the quaintly-named bookshop has closed down. The ruefully-smiling owner took my phone number, promising to inform me of the new address when they re-opened. He hasn't kept his promise.

In always-moving Mumbai, not many people had the time (or inclination) to browse and buy from Shree Ganesh Bookshop.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I have just finished checking my half-yearly bundle of examination scripts and this post is just to let off steam. So many of us feel (and/or know) that our education system is merely a front for a graduate-manufacturing-racket, that it's a wonder that they still allow stumbling-blocks like examinations to exist within the system. The students write various kinds of nonsense, we teachers skim and suffer through the (mostly) rubbish-littered papers, and then the authorities perform their annual ritual of "grace" to ensure that the correct QUANTITY of students get promoted to fill up all available benches and coffers.
Some students write what they know, and only that. Some don't know much and don't write much. But some devious ones write pages after pages of perfectly formed words (with headings and sub-headings neatly underlined) which elicit no meaning whatsoever. It is like coming up against an optical illusion. Your eyes sees words, so your brain assumes that there must be meaning in the written matter. Until you actually try to enter that deceptive pool of words. Then it is like being sucked into a quagmire of nonsense-posing-as-sense.
Words, in spite of what Saussure and semiotics have taught us, are not always signposts of meaning. They are opaque: deceptive decoys to hide IGNORANCE, to fool the already be-fuddled-with-a-deluge-of-nonsense teacher.
Here, words are also worth MONEY. Only the students who leave their papers blank are to be chastised. For the others, the unwritten rule is 'Thou hast WRITTEN , therefore thou shalt PASS in the examination'. Because unless they are promoted, who will pay the fees for the next year's class?

Saturday, March 22, 2008


In India, religion is often an excuse for other things. It may be muscle-display (political) or it may be merry-making (social). But in the backdrop of Hindu religious festivals there is usually some deity to whom we pay token obesience.
Holi is refreshing, because the deity is dispensed with altogether, and the merry-making needs no excuse. In fact, the children in my neighbourhood have been rehearsing with water and water-balloons and water-guns for the past one week, so that the real Holi-day is different only in being more colourful, though as wet as the previous few days.
So Happy (happier than the rehearsals) Holi! Get drenched, get some colour on your face (but hopefully not in your eyes), get high (on booze or bhang), get close to that sexy neighbour you have been illicitly coveting... it's all licensed for a day.

Friday, March 21, 2008


I was reading a Bengali nursery rhyme to my younger daughter today (from HASHIKHUSHI by Jogindranath Sarkar), when a particular rhyme made me feel very smiley-weepy nostalgic.
"Gour majhhi haal dhorechhey
Choudiketey paal,
Ei nouka chorey dada
Bou aanbey kaal."
A rough translation (with a few embellishments) would be:
"The boatsman Gour is pulling the oars,
The wind-blown sail moves with the tide,
This very boat will bring back tomorrow
My brother and his lovely new bride."
When my father was young, he used to live with his huge extended family in a town called Naogaon in what is now Bangladesh. During the summer and Durga Puja vacations, they would travel by boat to their native village, Balubhara ('place full of sand' - such an unpolluted, evocative name).
These journeys were long and unhurried and often took several days to complete. The large boat would meander down the river, often stopping to talk to people in other boats, to cook freshly-caught fish bought from passing fishermen, or just to watch something - a sunset/sunrise, the hub-bub of a riverside haat (weekly market).
My father enjoyed these journeys as much as he did reaching the destination. He and his cousins would dive off the prow of the boat, swim alongside it in the glistening water, and get up on it to dry themselves on the deck. And so the journey would continue till they reached Balubhara, sometimes accompanied by a newly- married uncle and his wife.
Those leisurely boat journeys are lost forever. For us, they were second-hand memories recreated through my father's storytelling. For my daughters, they are just hoary old rhymes in yellowing pages. We no longer travel along a river, ebbing and flowing with the tides and the winds. We just hurry across it in motorised-boats, or drive over it via bridges.
The rivers now are full of silt and chemicals. And no amount of dredging can bring back the unspoilt double-joy (of the journey and the journey's end) that my father felt when drifting along the river on the way to his beloved Balubhara.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


If you travel from Borivili to Malad via the Western Express Highway in the morning around 7 o'clock, while crossing a place called Bandongri, you will be treated to a peculiar sight. Dotting the hilly terrain on the left of the highway, half-hidden by sundry scraggly bushes and rocks, are over a score of men, squatting and ...shitting (sorry, any euphemism cannot recreate the visual impact of the sight). Nothing unusual in sanitarily-challenged India, but what seems strange to me is the fact that all the men face the highway, with their privates blowin' in the wind. Back in West Bengal men shitting beside railway tracks coyly display their behinds (or rather, 'backsides' in Indian English).
Mumbai is more 'upfront' in all respects. These people live in chawls, where three/four toilets are shared by all the men and women. As a mark of chivalry the men let the women use the toilets during the morning peak-hour toilet-traffic and gallantly take to the hillside to answer nature's call.
The sight is a surefire wake-me-up to still-sleepy travellers on the highway. It is not just the variety of private parts in action on display that boggles the mind; an interesting sideshow is formed by the different utensils used by the men to carry water (to wash up after the act). There are aluminium and multi-coloured plastic mugs (for those who believe in conserving water) and buckets (for the finicky ones, I guess). There are a few traditional lotas. The modern chappies usually bring two-litre Pepsi bottles.
To replay the action: the men usually come jauntily, swinging their... water-containers. Then they select a particular spot (or maybe they have alloted spaces - all equally visible from the highway), paw the ground for insects and vermin, look furtively while disrobing and then squat, heads down, and the real action starts.
Some wear patterned lungis, some white pajamas, some denim bermudas. But when these are discarded, there is a homogeneity in all that variety. United colours of India!

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I have been living in Mumbai for almost three years, yet I never cease to be amazed by the architectural and anthropological marvel called the chawl. Films like KATHA (by Sai Paranjpe) familiarised us with the multi-storeyed, one- room-per-family, two-bathrooms-for-n-number-of-families chawls where life is lived as an extended family. I don't live in a chawl. But I am surrounded by two sprawling chawls (Kajupada and Devipada); and when I go to work, I have to walk across Ambewadi chawl.

Whenever I do so, I unashamedly peep and listen into the lives of the people who have sacrificed all hopes of any 'private space'. The chawls are teeming with people from various communities - Maharashtrians (but of course), some Gujaratis and Marwaris, Bengalis, UP-ites, Biharis, some people from the southern states. Each room houses a family of 4 to 10 people, along with a floating population of visiting relations and friends. The rooms are small (around 12 ft x 8 ft) and they are set cheek by jowl.

As far as my visits tell me, each room is partitioned into two sections. The front section has a narrow bed, table, storage for clothes, the ubiquitous TV set and the other almost equally must-have : a fish tank. Behind the partition, there is the kitchen (with a huge number of shining stainless steel utensils hanging from all available headspace) and, cordoned off by large steel/plastic jars (for storing water), a tiny space where people take their baths. All available floor space is used for sleeping. Many room-owners have vertically partitioned the rooms to create further sleeping space above ground. The whole dimensions (space used per person per room) is a miracle which has to be seen to be believed!

The rooms are usually quite spick and span. Most are whitewashed annually. The ladies of the house (sorry, room) decorate the walls with a variety of calendar art (gods and filmstars being especially popular). Little wooden shelves carry plastic vases with flowers and the latest made-in-China novelties. There is a corner dedicated to worship (Ganpati usually being the chosen one, along with Lakshmi, goddess of wealth). All rooms have televisions and mobile phones, many have refrigerators and washing machines, some have computers. Each time a new possession arrives (be it a new gadget or some old- juna - furniture), the people stoically, and proudly, rearrange the available space and carry on with their lives.

Each family contributes to saving the environment by keeping potted plants outside their rooms. Not all the plants are potted; many are set in plastic jars or bags. Money plant is the most common, followed by aloe vera (regarded as a panacea by many). Clothes are dried on lines set along the walls and on the tiled/asbestos roofs. Since garments are mostly of polyester, drying them indoors during the four-month-long monsoon is not too difficult. But in the dry months, my daily trip across the chawls is enlivened by guessing the age and gender of the inhabitants by looking at the not-so-dirty linen hanging in public!

There are small (really small - as in 4' x 6') shops selling everything from groceries, vegetables, milk and mobile recharge cards. There are PCOs where, if you stand for half an hour, you will be able to hear at least six different Indian languages.

The chawls are crawling with people. There is always a queue (and a smell) in front of the toilets. The space between two rows of rooms is sometimes wide enough to let two bikes pass side-by-side, sometimes so narrow that two people have to jostle each other.

Nobody cribs. Everybody is too busy to do so. Many of my students say that they come to college early and go home late after work so as to have more space to themselves. The spatial dynamics (or rather, the very lack of space for much movement) forces people to be occupied elsewhere for the major part of the day. When they come back to the chawl, they usually spend time in the common spaces like the temples and clubs which celebrate different religious festivals all year round (having a variety of communities help - hardly a week passes without the blaring of microphones). Weddings and other social occasions are celebrated with gusto and involve everybody coming out of their own rooms. Home (whatever little there is of it) is for eating(not always), sleep (almost always) and sex (definitely always, unless you want to risk the ire of the moral police).

My definition of 'home' is so very different from this claustrophobic-yet-peculiarly-fascinating chawl life. I find people either calmly accepting chawl-life (those who are living it now) or being nostalgic about the camaraderie and sharing-caring-warmth (usually those who have moved up in life and into highrises) (For eg. you may see the post CHAWLS OF MUMBAI in ). I feel bad about the push-shove-dhakka maar, but I also feel that this extreme proximity gives chawl-residents a survival-support-network not available in more spacious but lonelier surroundings.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


This is about a really sweet little book I recently rediscovered - THE BLOOMSBURY BOOK OF MOTHER AND DAUGHTER POEMS. I had first come across it in the British Council Library in Kolkata, when I was a new mother of one. I wanted to share some of the treasures in this book - which actually hold true for any parent-child relationship.
The ancient Greek poetess is simple, wise and oh-so-true:
"I have a small
daughter called
Cleis, who is
like a golden
I wouldn't
take all Croesus'
kingdom, with love
thrown in, for her."
(by Sappho)
Here's a favourite poet, lying beside her new-born baby:
"All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear."
(by Sylvia Plath)
This poem tries to grasp the miracle of birth, of what it does to us...
"Why does a mother need a daughter?....
Nothing's more perfect
Than that bleating, razor-shaped cry
That delivers a mother to her baby....
The child,
tiny and alone, creates the mother."
(by Anne Stevenson)
Here's a half-practical, fully-humorous take on how life changes completely post-baby's arrival:
"A few tips for the first-time mum,
There's great joy, heaven knows,
But some adjustments must be made
When it comes to clothes....
It's time to say goodbye
To linen and to silk
Hello to fabrics that hold their own
With regurgitated milk...."
(by Judy Rose)
Haven't we all felt the sheer heart-tugging strength of this bond?
"Mother, I love you so
Said the child, I love you more than I know.
She laid her head on her mother's arm
And the love between them kept them warm."
(by Stevie Smith)
Here's another perspective (which we often forget) - we are not just mothers, but daughters, too. And we feel the love and thankfulness within us for our own mothers, though we might not always express it.
"You were
water to me
deep and bold and fathoming....
You were
sunrise to me
rise and warm and streaming....
Go to your wide futures, you said."
That's what a being/having a parent is all about, isn't it - caring enough to shelter and daring enough to let go. Poetry says so much in so little.


WHY DO WE BLOG? The obvious answer is, SELF-EXPRESSION. As the title of my blog says, if you've got it inside you, why not bring it out? In this way, we COMMUNICATE, not just with others, but also with ourselves, with our latent confidence.

WHAT DO WE BLOG ABOUT? As far as I can see, there are two broad categories: CONFESSIONS and OPINIONS.

By CONFESSIONS, I don't mean only the head-bowed-in-front-of-priest kind of confession of guilts and grudges. Any kind of auto-biographical revealing of the self - our feelings, our history, our very personal hopes and hates - is a confession. Such blogs are like diaries - a heartfelt, genuine attempt to reveal the PERSON within us. Such HONESTY has its own appeal to the viewer of the blog.

By OPINIONS, I mean a kind of commentary on the world around us. What we think about incidents, ideas, concepts and causes. Our interests, wishlists, cribsheets. They project the PERSONA we construct for ourselves. And it's the WIT (in the older sense of 'intelligence') that appeals to a viewer.

The title of an old book, THE MIRROR AND THE LAMP (by M H Abrams), sums up the difference. CONFESSIONS are like LAMPS to illuminate the self within; OPINIONS are the MIRRORS with which we view the world outside.

As for me, I am still too Web-wary to CONFESS. My Posts are usually OPINIONS. But our OPINIONS also inadvertently reveal parts of our hidden self, and our CONFESSIONS are part of our self-fashioning. But that's another story....

Saturday, March 8, 2008


  • Fatter paycheque (ha! ha! ha!)
  • Slimmer waistline (fat chance, I am a wrong-type-of-food-addict + can't bear to waste kids' leftovers)
  • Uninterrupted sleep for seven hours at night (OK, since this is a fantasy, make that eight)
  • Obedient daughters (as in not-always-having-to-shout-at-them-and-separate-them-when-they-are-at-each-other's-throats)
  • Peace at home (will automatically follow the above)
  • Strangers not calling me Aunty
  • Starting on some serious ACADEMIC reading and writing and getting noticed in "the right circles" (The ACADEMIC world depends on the 3 Ps - Ph.Ds, Publications and PR)



A few days back, on one of our regular hunts at a second-hand bookstall near our house, my husband discovered a copy of The House at Pooh Corner by A A Milne. We have the first book of the series, Winnie-The-Pooh, and I had searched and searched for the other three. I was absolutely thrilled to buy this treasure for Rs 30 and I devoured it as soon as my elder daughter finished reading the book. Winnie-the-Pooh, the Bear of Very Little Brain, his human friend Christopher Robin, and their various other oddball friends like Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga and Roo, inhabit a world (the Hundred Acre Wood) where normal concepts of space, time and causality are all suspended. Not a single question gets a predictable answer, yet the animals all behave true-to-type. It is like an alternate reality which gives us insights into many human traits. Most of all, they are funny and nostalgic and make you a child again. The books always bring bring a smile on my face and a lump in my throat. The Disney-fication of Pooh and his friends have made the characters brightly-painted one-dimensional goody-two-shoes. The orginal books are much more interesting, including the quirky illustrations (by E H Shepard) and spellings. If anybody can tell me where to get the other two books (When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six), I shall be eternally grateful.

Woe-men's Day Again

Harping on the previous post's theme... what I, as a woman, have today is CHOICE. I can CHOOSE not to bite (the Bait?) at all (i.e. become a homemaker) OR to bite off more than I can chew (home + career + kids). The right-sized bite eludes us.... And we swallow the invariably wrong-sized bite of our CHOICE with a swig of GUILT ( helped by the gilt of our paycheques). GUILT's our favourite tipple. If we stay at home, we feel guilty about not working despite our education. If we work without marrying, we are made to feel guilty by well-meaning family members breathing down our neck with biological-clock-and-ideal woman-as-mother/wife issues. If we are doing (or trying to do) both, then we feel guilty about not being able to prioritise properly. So, till next Women's Day, let's say cheers to our CHOICE with a drink of GUILT ... that's the feminine/feminist/womanly spirit!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hurrah for WOMEN'S DAY?

March 8 is supposedly Women's Day. In an age of tokenism, where fathers, mothers, friendship, love, etc are all allocated slots and shelf lives, why not us? I am a woman: on 8 March, I will get up at 5.30, prepare breakfast for self and family, rush to workplace, get some work done, rush back, tend to the kids, prepare, feed and gulp down dinner and crash into bed. With two time-outs : read a book when I get some time off in between chores, and chat with spouse when he returns home. Life's not a party, but it's not the pits either... so my Women's Day will probably be like any other day. So much for the capital letters then, or should we spend a minute in silence on that day appreciating the feminist struggle of the previous century which has given us a choice - home, career or both?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Film"fair (?)" Awards

The 2008 chapter of a popular Hindi fim awards show was telecast on 2/3/08 (on Sony channel). The humorous, if rather 'unfair', digs of the polished and brash anchors, Shahrukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan, teetered on the edge of libel. The awards tried to be 'fair' (even the main sponsor was a 'fairness' cream) - honouring both the everpresent Shahrukh Khan (best actor for Chak De India) and the never-present Aamir Khan (best director/ best film for Taare Zameen Par).

But why do Hindi film awards never really have the suspense and anticipation of the Oscars? The popular winners are as predictable as a typical Hindi movie storyline. Though, with storylines in Hindi movies moving away from the tried-and-tested, can we also hope that the awards, too, will become more innovative and 'fair' (and less an appeasing of coteries and cliques)? Or am I being 'unfairly' harsh?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Two For Joy

Since I have two daughters, I thought I should have two posts on the first day of my blog... if only to complete the family and make my initial single post less lonely. The budget is out and what a relief for salary-earners like me (and my spouse)! Less income tax is the best thing the FM could have done for us.

my blog is born!

Finally, I've done it. I have my own blog...I, who have never kept a diary, have a blog. The name chose me, rather than me choosing the name. My life has often been like that. My most common response to life's questions is "Why not?" And then obviously I end up giving a thousand good (and bad) reasons for both why and why not. If you are like me and like tying yourself in knots, if you feel that both sides of the coin have to be seen (and cross-checked) before tossing.. then welcome to my blog.