I am not a film critic.
I am a teacher, with a decade's experience in dealing with students who just want to 'pass'. Rare is the student who loves the subject passionately, but when I do find such gems, the whole teaching-learning process gets transformed into a vital and uplifting exchange.
I was a student, who got 'good marks' in all subjects but always wanted to study 'only English Literature' since I was six-seven years old. I had to face a lot of flak when I abandoned science altogether after my I.C.S.E and chose a 'pure arts' option. At least, my Maa and Baba never questioned my choice. Thank God I was a girl, the pressure to conform is much more for boys (as in the Spouse's case - he spent two unhappy years studying science for his plus-two before coming back to his passion - Literature).
I am a mother, and I deeply, desperately want my daughters to study any subject they really really like and do some work that they enjoy. I am scared of the pressure to perform they will inevitably face and the comparisons that will challenge their individualities, and the race for money-car-club-jet-status that can so easily trip their free souls.
So, when I saw 3 Idiots, I kept feeling, "Yes! This is exactly how I feel. This is exactly what I always wanted to say about our quote-by-rote, madam-please-give-us-notes, madam-please-tell-us-the-IMP-questions, madam-will-this-help-me-to-get-35%, education system.
Thank you, Rajkumar Hirani, Aamir Khan and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, for showing us who the idiots really are.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
I am not a film critic.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
So, it's already mid-December here in Mumbai, and the shops are selling green tinsel Christmas trees and red Santa caps and rich dark plum cakes.
The colourful woollies newly-knitted by my mother are waiting eagerly in the cupboard. Where they are in the competitive company of a stack of other colourful woollies, all knitted by my mother down the years. Enough to warm the cockles of an army, if they felt any cold.
My elder daughter, Lil Cat, has taken out her monogrammed navy-blue school cardigan and has worn it to school for a couple of days, just because it is DECEMBER. Defeated by the clamminess and the sweatiness, she's keeping it off for now.
Her sister, the Copy Kitten, threw a tantrum and managed to get me to buy her a similar-but-smaller monogrammed school cardigan. Which is lying pristine, waiting to be inaugurated.
Our maid has gifted them two lovely bright batik scarves, and even these are hanging forlorn in the cupboard.
And the superpowers and the wannabe-superpowers and the movers and shakers have all hot-footed over to Copenhagen, interfacing and OD-ing on Global Warming and Carbon Footprints, and the Kyoto Protocol, some trying to slip in sly measures, some trying to pull a fast one, some trying to bully the weaker ones, all for their own short-term advantage. I mean, in the long term, it is like cutting off the branch on which we all are sitting, is it not?
And here in muggy Mumbai, we - all the small fry - are still waiting for winter to turn up.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The Copy-Kitten's first experience at the movies proved to be rather traumatic.
The movie was the tear-jerking TAARE ZAMEEN PAR, the moment was the heart-wrenching 'Maa' song when the little boy is about to be separated from his mother and admitted to the hostel. The Copy-Kitten, who was around two years, woke up from her sleep, sensed the tears in the air and decided to join in at full volume.
I missed most of the rest of the movie, pacing outside the auditorium with my daughter on one shoulder, wishing for a hostel.
Now that the Copy-Kitten is nearly four, I tried again. A few weeks back, we went to see the rom-com AJAB PREM KI GAZAB KAHANI, and the Copy-Kitten behaved impeccably. She sipped her soft-drink (do they spike it with sedatives? I am NOT complaining.), munched her pop-corn, fell asleep before the interval, and woke up at the end to ask, "Maa, Jenny aar Prem ki biye korechhey?" (Maa, did Jenny and Prem get married?). Although the question was asked in a voice loud enough for the rest of the audience to turn and stare at us, I cannot deny that she had arrived straight at the heart of the matter.
And today we watched PAA at the theatre, and again the Copy-Kitten enjoyed herself. Piping up questions in a Dolby-Surround Sound kind of voice and scattering popcorn under her seat and over the silently-suffering gentleman in front of her. But she cried when Auro died. Along with me, the spouse, my elder daughter, my maid, and the rest of the audience. I cannot deny that she has her heart in the right place.
Monday, November 30, 2009
The past week everybody was busy about the first anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai. While we remembered those hours which defy ordinary epithets, life went on - before, during, after.
This is about one such ordinary life. Almost every day, while going to college fairly early in the morning, I see a mother escorting her daughter, dressed in her blue-checked uniform, to the school bus. The daughter suffers from cerebral palsy and does not have much control over her limbs. Usually the mother half-pulls, half-carries her, but if they are running late, then the mother has to carry the daughter in her lap, cradling her lolling head on one shoulder, schoolbag slung on the other.
The mother is painfully thin and gaunt, the child is almost a teenager. It is quite a long walk from their chawl (slum) to the Highway, where the bus for that special school comes. I have never seen her lose her temper, even when she is half-running to catch the bus, even when the child is throwing a tantrum.
A daily walk of unsung courage that humbles me every time I witness it.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The teacher in charge of such superfluous entertainment called me and stuck a shiny photograph of Donald, with eyes closed and nose in the air (Donald’s, not the teacher’s), in my unwilling hands. “Make it at home,” she loftily said, “we don’t want cardboard cutouts,” (reading my mind), “You’d better make it with cotton-stuffing. IT MUST LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THE PHOTOGRAPH.” (Or else…)
Meekly I nodded, saving my indignation for later. I am poor even at darning and button-sewing, let alone such ambitious projects like home-sewing the iconic bad-tempered duck.
Donald’s bad temper was rubbing off on me. None of the shops which sold fancy-dress costumes on hire (I got the names off the Net) had anything near an exact replica. One shop (a “high-end” one) had a coming-apart-cardboard-mask you would really have to imagine hard to be DONALD, which they stuck on top of some ubiquitous Charlie Chaplin-type costume with a tailcoat. I wanted a nice stuck-up fluffy white ducktail, not a dirty black coat with a tail.
Wherever I searched, I got a duck (as in cricket, not cartoons).
Finally, when I attended a pre-programme meet organized by the teacher (which, I suspect was to catch hold of laggards like me and push us into getting the costumes done), I met a pair of parents who had brought along a Doremon who looked exactly like his namesake. A tailor, who mercifully happened to be quite close to my college, apparently specialized in such complicated costumes. You just had to give him the photo (and a rather obscene amount of money), and within two days he would give you a 3-D costume.
And so I rushed right out of the meeting into the shop of the tailor with the magic Walt Disney-esque scissors. And two days later, like a conjuror pulling rabbits out of a hat, he pulled out a Donald Duck costume in luxe velvet-with-sponge-stuffing, looking exactly like that da---ned photograph, with gloves, webbed-feet-footwear, mask, right down to the fluffy white ducktail!
Only snag is, the lookalike costume is tailormade…to fit some child three sizes larger than the Copy-Kitten.
So, as she waddles about like an overstuffed inebriated duck, I’ll have to bring out all the large child-safe pins in the house to keep Donald Duck on his feet. And keep my fingers crossed and hope that Donald a.k.a Copy-Kitten does not have a wardrobe malfunction on the stage.
And if anybody mentions how sweet cartoon characters are, especially Disney ones, especially a cantankerous yellow-beaked duck called Donald, I’ll shove an entire roasted Peking Duck down their throats…on second thoughts, down mine. Or maybe Duck with Orange Sauce…and chew all of it down really viciously. Quack! Quack! Quack!!!
Monday, November 9, 2009
We are back from a few weeks vacationing in Kolkata, where the more things change, the more they remain the same. Or seem to, at least.
Kolkata welcomed us with a host of new flyovers and a not-so-new 'aborodh' (obstruction) because of some political agitation when we all got stuck for three hours on these very flyovers and newly swanked-up roads. Red or green, whatever be the colour of West Bengal's political affliation, it seems that the roads are still stuck in the STOP-RED-LIGHT mode, whenever any leader worth his/her weight decides to sulk and scream.
During our stay we were caught in the midst of the GREAT AUTO DIVIDE - that is, the divide between the new-green-and-yellow autorickshaws that have switched to LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) and the old-black-and-yellow autorickshaws that have not. They are environment-unfriendly, and so, have been rudely ostracised by the Kolkata Police and pushed to fringe roads in areas like Haltu. But many people live there, too. Don't they need environment-friendly conveyance, or are they less important that the residents of posher places like Ballygunge and Jodhpur Park?
Any such argument unarguably made us hungry and during the vacation we had a lovely time feasting at many of our old Kolkata favourites like Peter Cat, Bedouin, Coffee House, and Kafulok at Tangra. Food to die for, at prices that do not take your breath away.
The more things change, the more they remain the same? Not such a bad thing, going by our drool-worthy food experiences at Kolkata.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I am visiting my blog after a long, long time.
The reason for the hiatus is WORK. Here goes the list:
- Two daughters - way too much to handle, at least for me. It is fun and frustrating and fulfilling, but it is very definitely WORK.
- Full-time job as teacher in a college - paper correction, tutorial checking, class lectures, and election-duty-whenever-there-are-elections.
- New part-time job as copywriter - now that I have to go twice a week, it is simply not leaving any free time for me. Although I am lovin' it, the deadlines, the thinking from the other point of view, the variety of products we work on...
Earlier, I used to blog about once a week, sometimes twice. I would feel restless and guilty if I did not post anything in a week. But blogging is my stressbuster, something that I love to do. So, why should I get hassled about not being able to blog?
Now, I have made peace with my inner compulsive blogger. Now, the frequency will lessen. It'll have to, if I have to manage two kids, two jobs, one spouse (as of yet) and one self (which needs some amount of sleep).
Maybe once a fortnight, or once a month. Maybe, whenever I feel like. Maybe, if and when I find time. Maybe...
HOW OFTEN DO YOU BLOG?
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Living away from your hometown makes you nostalgic. You yearn for those old familiar favourites – the places you used to hang out (never mind the cribbing about the traffic and the toilets), the home-cooked food that you dissed but slurped over, the bookshops and the boutiques that came alive because of the shopowner you could chat so long with, the movie-watching and eating-out experiences which were always more about the adda, really. And, of course, the language – the familiar cadences and rhythms and syllables you had grown up with.
And so, in Mumbai, when I hear a snatch of Bengali on the streets, in the malls, inside some office, spoken by somebody on a cellphone calling up home a hundred miles away, a mother scolding a child, a wife lilting to her husband, two friends chatting about something…my heart gives an involuntary leap and my head turns to see who and my ears strain to catch a little bit of the conversation.
I love Mumbai – no two ways about that – but my soul still jumps up with a maybe-silly-kind-of-joy when I hear a bit of Bengali. And for a moment, I feel a strange-but-strong bond with some stranger-who-is-somehow-familiar.
Now it is Durga Pujo time, a time for food and festivity, and yes, a time when the stray bits of Bengali I sometimes catch in the breeze will merge and mingle in the Durga Pujo pandals dotting Mumbai. Bengalis praying at anjali, Bengalis greeting and goodbye-ing frenetically while pandal-hopping, Bengalis boasting self-importantly, Bengalis bickering good-naturedly, Bengalis bargaining at the food stalls, Bengalis laughing and bonding at Pujo-special addas.
Have a happy and sonorous Pujo.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
But only five of us turned up for this time’s Bloggers’ meet. At the sylvan settings of IIT, Mumbai. We welcomed our newest entrant who has expanded the Famous Five: Manju. And we missed the amiable and gentle Harekrishnaji, who, however, remembered and called us on the phone during our anecdote-swapping. catching-up-with-what-we-have-been-up-to, dissecting-common-blogfriends talkathon.
And then it was, as one of my daughters’ storybooks puts it, “talk, talk, talk, talk”. With some serious munching and lake-viewing and thoughful-and-interesting gift-giving and not-so-serious banyan-root-swinging in between.
The Internet, as we know, is all about links. Interestingly, at this meet, three of the bloggers (with a shared geography and culture) re-enacted this virtual phenomenon of linking by digging deep into their histories and came up with so many amazing links – people who they all know, common friends and acquaintances. The other two were fascinated witnesses to this linking phenomenon. And we realized that it really is a small world.
Would you not love to link up in reality with your blog-friends, too?
Friday, September 18, 2009
Things have been rather downbeat lately.
The teachers’ strike has been called off, and we have resumed our classes, but bureaucracy has tied a thick red tape around our salaries and is refusing to release it anytime soon.
The forty days’ strike meant an enormous amount of backlog of syllabus-to-be-completed and tutorial-projects-to-be-corrected which now has to be taken up through hectic lung-busting lectures and tedious hours of red-pen-wielding.
And to top it all, all holidays have been cancelled as we have to ‘compensate’ for the strike period absenteeism. That is fair enough, but it does mean getting up early on holidays, which I absolutely abhor.
So, I definitely need a balm for my overworked brain and going-around-in-circles mind.
And for me, the best balm has always been BOOKS.
Books keep my head out of the water.
Books help me float in the mess of this world.
Books are a place I can go when everything else stresses me out.
Fo a change, this time, I put away my Crime Fiction and my Chick Lit (both are my fave escape-routes), and picked up some serious LITERATURE.
William Golding’s THE SPIRE. Toni Morrison’s TAR BABY.
Both Nobel Prize Winners. But so very different from each other. Golding, a white Brit male, very much in the centre of the world. Morrison, a black American woman, very much a marginalized entity. And they write about diverse worlds and different eras in these books.
But in their insight into and compassion about the human condition, in their moulding of language into a thing of beauty and awe, they are somehow similar.
Nothing uplifts me like good literature. Nothing makes me feel so wide-eyed and thankful and amazed. And I keep on adding to my list of great books.
WHICH BOOK/S LIFT YOU OUT OF THE MUDDLE F THIS WORLD?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I am in college, supervising an M.Com exam. The head-bent students are writing feverishly. In the pin-drop silence, a cellphone rings. Mine. Flushing with embarrassment, I pick it up.
“Hello?” (in a distressed whisper)
“HAA –LLO? MAA-A-A?” (high-pitch, full blast, sing song)
It’s the Copy-kitten, my younger daughter, calling to give me the momentous news that she has returned home from school. As I try to cut her off mid-flow because an examinee wants a supplementary sheet, she asks me:
“Bolo toh aami ki korchhi (can you tell me what am I doing)?”
“What are you doing, sweetheart?” (with gritted teeth, in a hissed-out whisper, and barely concealed impatience).
“Tomakey phone korchhi, sillybilly (I am calling you, sillybilly).”
You just can’t win with kids.
Friday, September 4, 2009
This evening we had gone to watch the Ganpati Visarjan at the artificially-created ‘pond’. As scores of Ganpatis, from tiny to tall – but always benign and divine – made their way on the shoulders of devotees down to the final immersion place, as the rotund elephant-god gradually sank into the muddy water, I kept feeling sadder and sadder. I remembered feeling absolutely bereft as a child on Dashami (the day the Durga idol is immersed, after five days of Durga Puja).
I felt sad at the ending of the festivities, at the drowning of the beautiful idols (created with so much passion and patience), at the loss of celebration and beauty. Each Dashami – and today at the Visarjan ground – even as the celebrations reached a crescendo, even as the band/dhaak/drumbeats rose to a manic climax, even as the dancers whirled and twirled in a frenzy, I would cry silently, mourning the passing away of another year, another festival.
I was surprised to see the spouse sharing my tears. He is not the type to be moved my religious emotions (maybe by dogs, Amitabh Bachchan movies and Kolkata memories – not in that order, though). So I whispered to him, “You know why the Visarjan is necessary? Because it teaches us to let go. Because it reminds us that nothing is permanent – not happiness, not beauty. Neither the carefully-crafted idol, nor the week-long joy can be possessed forever. We have to disengage…unclutch our fists and let go.”
And then I looked at my daughters, blissfully unaware of parental philosophizing, happy to be witnessing the noise and colour and dance and statues, happy with their newly-bought balloons and pinwheels. And I felt that the Visarjan also teaches us to have faith – faith that this will all happen again next year – the holiness and the happiness. As the scriptures say, Change is like a cycle: what is, will go, and what will go, will come back.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The Copy Kitten (my younger daughter) desperately wishes to grow up double-quick to catch up with Lil Cat (her elder sister). To hasten this disappointingly slow process (frequent comparisons of height in the mirror reveal very minuscule changes), she tries to use big big words in a grown-up manner. The only snag is that she has not learnt the meanings of all the little little words yet, so the results of her efforts are often quite surprising.
One day, demanding some medicine for a stomach ache (she frequently claims to have this, with accompanying expressive groans and grimaces), she said, “Give me some Harry Potter”. It was only after investigating the medicine box that we realized that she meant “Gripe Water” (which, incidentally, I also loved so much that I would feign stomachaches quite often).
Another day, wanting to try on her Dida’s (grandmother’s) deodorant, she kept on asking for ‘aloevera’. To complicate our confusion, she insisted on pronouncing it as ‘aloe-beral’. Since ‘beral’ means CAT in Bengali, we were all very much amused. But the gutsy little kitten stuck to her guns, saying, “Na, aloe-beral boley aekta jinis hoy” (No, there is something called aloeberal).
Last year, an over-excited Copy-kitten, dressed in her chaniya-choli finery, had announced to the family that she was going to dance the ‘gabra’. Since then, our Navratri celebrations have centred round the ‘gabra’ rather than the ‘garba’.
Sometimes, she mispronounces P as K. So the song about the POSTMAN becomes:
“COASTMAN aaya, COASTMAN aaya/ Kitney letters laya, kitney letters laya?”
(The Coastman has come, how many letters has be brought?)
In her defence, it may be said that since Mumbai is a coastal city, the mailman may be regarded as arriving from the coast.
And, of course, the Pussy Cat who went to visit the queen often becomes the KHUSI CAT (‘Khusi’ means ‘joy’ in Bengali). But that is OK with us, because she is after all a Khusi Kitten. And her big sister, the Lil Cat may laugh at her attempts, but it is all in good sport and fun, like the real kittens under the stairs play.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
- Ganesh worship
- Their new branch shortly to be opened at a conveniently close location.
When we entered to see the rotund and smiling deity, we were also introduced to the slim and smiling Manager of the upcoming branch.
When we were given the peanut-and-nakuldana (small sugar balls) prasad, we were also handed brochures detailing the bank's services.
When we put in coins in the donation box, we were politely requested to also put down our names and phone numbers, presumably for the marketing personnel to pursue us in future.
A rather neat way of dovetailing work and worship, don't you think so?
Only, instead of the usual commercialising of religion, maybe this is a case of religionising of commerce.
The only spanner in the works? A rival bank stole the idea, and put up a banner at a Ganpati mandal ten meters away, also proudly welcoming all devotees to the dual business of worship and banking.
The Divine Belly must be rumbling with glee at witnessing this industrious fight between enterprising devotees. But if we cannot bank on Divine Benevolence, then what can we bank on?
Monday, August 24, 2009
The media has been pessimistically predicting a lack-lustre Ganeshotsav this year because of the swine-flu scare. My mother-in-law (who keenly follows each and every TV news report directly or remotely connected to Mumbai, or Maharashtra, or Western India, ever since we shifted here) has been frantically calling us up almost daily with swine-flu updates, trying to persuade us not to venture out among the vast crowds teeming with germs, because we might all catch the dreaded disease. Or, of course, in case somehow the germs miss us, there are terrorists lurking in nooks and corners, hoping for some target-practice. Mind it!
My M-I-L is single-handedly responsible for pushing up the TRPs of all news programmes which showcase Mumbai-related “sansani tazaa khabar” (breaking news).
But although many seemed scared of venturing out, there are other people who are welcoming the elephant-headed God of enterprise through their own, surprisingly original ventures.
There is a fairly newly-opened soda pub near our home, you know the kind that sells 50 or so flavours of soda for ten rupees each. Since I never soar beyond the SOUR-5 (imli/kokum/kachchi kairi/kala-khatta/jeera-masala), I cannot vouch for all the flavours, but there is often quite a crowd in front of the shop.
That day, in honour of the festive season, my mother and I took our daughters for a soda-treat (I can almost see my M-I-L becoming all pale and panicky about their health, so please do not tell her this, she is a sweet soul actually). As we were sipping our cold, coloured and contraband sodas (Me-imli, Maa-kokum, Lil cat-orange, Copy kitten- lime-n-lemon), the smiling man serving us said,
“Madam, naya flavour aanewala hai kal, Ganpati ke liye.” (Madam, a new flavour will be introduced tomorrow, in honour of Ganpati).
In answer to our obvious curiosity, he said with a flourish and a proud smile, “Swine-flu flavour.”
My first horrified and sick-making thought was that it would taste of blocked noses and phlegm. But Maa made a better, and closer, guess. “Maybe they will put tulsi (basil) and haldi (turmeric) and other such natural remedies for coughs and colds.”
A panacea for swine-flu-panic at ten rupees? Should sell like hot cakes, or at least like the masks dotting/clotting the cityscape.
Remember the much-publicised 1995 miracle when the Ganesha drank up gallons of milk in front of millions of astonished devotees all over the world? Maybe we need another miracle. Will the Divine Trunk sip a swine-flu soda this time around?
P.S: What with the Vighna-vinashak (God who destroys all obstacles) teaming up with indefatigable human innovativeness, looks like we can beat the H1N1-demon. Till then, enjoy the drumbeats. Have a happy and safe festive season.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Somewhere in the middle of a busy schedule of sudoku (in the newspapers) and minesweeper (on the comp), she plans to knit a few sweaters for my two daughters.
Now, knitting is not something I have ever managed to master (I usually end up knotting more than knitting). My daughters are extremely scornful about my (lack of) knitting skills and have already complained to my mother that “Maa toh amader kichhu i buney deye naa” (Maa never knits us anything).
As if we are all dying of cold in hot-and-humid Mumbai because I have not knitted sufficient quantities of warm woollens! Anyway, my daughters have already placed their orders with their Dida (grandmother), choosing complicated patterns from two dog-eared pattern books, and colour-schemes from the available stock of wool.
And although I should feel disgruntled, I am actually feeling kind of meltingly-warm inside, watching the three of them discuss pattern and colour solemnly, two smaller black heads nodding wisely to suggestions made by the older/whiter one. And I am not even wearing a sweater!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
There is a thief on the prowl at Blogger.com.
And that nasty, nameless fellow has stolen my entire library. Tonight when I sat down at my dashboard, ready to scroll down my reading list and catch up the latest posts, there was NOTHING there. Except this AUDACIOUS, BLATANT, BOLD LIE:
"You are not currently following any blogs. Use the "add" button below to enter blogs you'd like to follow in your Reading List."
EXCUSE ME? Of course I am following a lot of blogs. I collect readable blogs like I buy readable books - after a lot of browsing, and with a lot of anticipation that I will spend many happy hours reading and recolleceting. I have (had?) painstakingly acquired and added to my library of blogs (and books - but that is in the real world) over the months.
And now there's nothing there? Virtual emptiness? All that hard work and copy-paste urls and clicking-of-follow-publicly-button down the drain? WHY and HOW? Can anyone please explain? Where do I go to file an FIR? Report the theft? Waaaah!!! Or should I just bawl my lungs out???
Once bitten, twice shy. Now, this time, I am keeping a back-up. It will take me some time before I will be able to trace all the urls of the blogs I was following and 'add' them to my list again. (HOW BLOODY TIME-CONSUMING AND UNFAIR!). But I will write them down in my good old-fashioned real-world pen-and-paper diary, a precaution against future virtual theft.
HAS THIS HAPPENED TO YOU, TOO?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
On learning that ‘swine’ mean PIGS, and obviously mixing-up ‘flu’ with FLEW, the Copy Kitten (my younger daughter) asked, “But can pigs fly, Maa? And where did they fly?”
Mentally suppressing an image of fat pink pigs flying and ‘oinking’ all over the place, I explained that pigs cannot fly.
My daughters are fond of pigs. They like the Three Little Pigs, especially the gutsy pig who lived in the house-made-of-bricks and who vanquished the big bad wolf. They like the small, unassuming Piglet, who is very loyal towards Winnie the Pooh and unexpectedly brave when it matters. They are especially fond of Babe, the adorable piglet who proves that he is a worthy sheep-pig by winning a sheep-dog competition and the trust and heart of his farmer-owner. And a few years down the line, I am sure they will like the book ANIMAL FARM, written by George Orwell – although the dystopic pigs in that book may not be all that likeable, because they try to boss over the other farm animals, believing “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. But, no, none of these pigs can fly.
But PANIC can. Helped by an over-eager media, especially TV channels which keep showing the same footage and headlines over and over again. Helped by contradictory reports on the lists of Do’s and Don’ts. And most of all, given wings by rumour and by fear.
I am scared, too. Scared enough to tie a scarf around my nose and mouth when I go to the crowded marketplace. Scared enough to urge my kids and our maid to do the same when they go down in the evening to play with their friends. Scared enough to cross my fingers everytime I see somebody with a running nose or hear a sneeze or a cough. Scared enough to childishly wish that this H1N1 virus would fly, far, far away.
Are you scared?
Saturday, August 8, 2009
The other day my daughters were playing together at home (harmoniously – which is a pretty rare occasion). Apart from ‘teacher-teacher’, one of their favourite role-plays is ‘mother-offspring’, with the elder Lil Cat enacting the ‘mother’ and the younger Copy Kitten being the impossibly obedient ‘daughter’.
Busy as I was in doing housework (you know, the usual stuff like folding washed clothes, dusting bookshelves, straightening the bedcover for the umpteenth time, etc,etc), one snatch of their dialogue was repeated so often that it caught my attention.
“Taratari, taratari, deri hoye jabey” (Hurry, hurry, you’ll be late). The Lil Cat would pretend to hold a glass of milk in front of the Copy Kitten and say this. When the Copy Kitten finished gulping down this imaginary glass of milk, the Lil Cat would pretend to button-up an imaginary school uniform, all the while repeating this sentence. Then she would give a hurried kiss to her pretend-daughter and, giving her a small push at her back, say again the same thing, while waving good-bye as the Copy-Kitten rushed to pick up her pretend-schoolbag and ran to catch her pretend-bus.
Then, within a few seconds, she would be back again from her pretend-school. And her pretend-mom, the Lil Cat, would start rushing and fussing all over again, undressing her sister, hurriedly feeding her some pretend-lunch and then urging her to go to sleep. All the while repeating like a mantra, “Taratari, taratari, deri hoye jabey” (Hurry, hurry, you’ll be late).
Feeling rather indignant, I asked them why they were hurrying through their game. In an exasperated way, they said, “But Ma, this is what you keep saying to us.”
“What? And what about the time when I read all those endless books with you and make you sit on the kitchen counter when we all bake cakes and cook noodles and stuff?” I accused, feeling hurt and absolutely horrified at this image of myself as a hurrying harridan, forever pushing my children from one task to another - wake up, get ready, have breakfast, go to school, have lunch, have nap, do homework/study, gulp down milk, go to play, have dinner, go to sleep.
“Oh, but that is only on Sundays and holidays. And we are playing Monday to Friday mummy-mummy now,” and they shooed me away.
So, am I like this only? Caught in a fast forward loop throughout the week, giving no time to stand and stare to either myself or my family. And then, pushing the pause button only on ‘Sundays and holidays’, to rest, relax and revel in the joys of family-life? Time to chill?
Monday, August 3, 2009
Having recently purchased a black leather belt, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it was too loose for my waist. The goody-goody guardian angel in my mind praised, “Maybe the tummy tyres have deflated a bit.” But the nasty devil in my subconscious said with a sneer, “Must have been an oversized man’s belt. Or a belt with manufacturing defects. Which explains why it was on sale. And what with the amount of ice cream you are hogging (during the break from work because of the ongoing teachers’ strike), fat chance you have of reducing all that tummy fat.”
I shooed the horned horror away and went to the friendly neighbourhood mochi (shoe-repairer) to get an extra hole drilled into the belt. The gentleman in question knows me quite well, courtesy my umbrellas with the broken sticks and my shoes with the broken straps. He asked me, “Kitney holes chahiye?” (How many holes do you want in the belt?).
Hesitatingly ambitious, I said, “Do bana dijiye.” (Make two extra holes).
Deftly poking new holes in the black leather, he aked, “Aur ek bana doon?” (Shall I make one more hole?).
Banishing a wildly improbable vision of myself with a clinched hourglass waist, I despairingly said, “Kya fayda? Do se zyada to lagnewala nahi hai kabhi.” (What’s the use? There is hardly any chance of me ever needing more than two extra holes in the belt).
Lifting his head from his work with a huge encouraging smile, the man urged, “Aas rakhney mey kya harj haye?” (What’s the problem in hoping?).
And so I agreed. And purchased MOTIVATION for the minuscule sum of two rupees. And returned home with a belt that has three extra holes to tighten around my waist. Three extra notches of hope that “YES I CAN...trim the tummy" (Sorry, Obama, for frivolously misapplying your slogan).
Saturday, July 25, 2009
There is a small temple near our apartment, within the compound walls. Till a few months back, it was a non-descript semi-circular structure under the shade of a tree, which provided a convenient canopy to many parents who would sit at that spot and wait for their children’s school-buses to come.
Apart from this philanthropic subsidiary activity, the temple is frequented by many devotees (who come to pray) and by many children (who come to play) and who usually love to ring the bells and put a bit of vermilion tikka on their foreheads.
One such moneyed devotee, living in the building next to the temple, decided this year to repay God’s bounty by giving the mandir a makeover. Masons and marble came, and soon the courtyard was paved with white marble, and the semicircular structure was plated with yellow granite. The tree next to the mandir, from which the bells hung, was surrounded by a raised marble platform.
Mothers were very happy, because now they had a place to sit while waiting for the school-bus. Sometimes, the wait is rather long, and a place to rest seemed a lovely idea.
But not for long. The watchmen shooed away anybody resting under the tree, saying that “Sahib would not approve.” (“Sahib” obviously referring to the businessman who jazzed up the mandir). Soon, they put up a number of heavy potted plants on the platform around the tree trunk, making it impossible for anyone to sit there. When I asked why, they said it was to discourage dogs who apparently rested on the cool marble.
Long ago, I had been much impressed by Swami Vivekananda’s teaching that to serve man is to serve God. Our godly neighbourhood businessman has apparently decided that this is not so. By splurging on marble and granite and fancy lights, he has extended his proprietorial claim over the temple, trying to earn bonus credit points with God. But can we buy a ticket to heaven? Does piety overrule meanness? Can the divine truly be served at the cost of neglecting and inconveniencing our fellow humans and other beings?
Monday, July 20, 2009
You are sitting-sweating in a BEST bus, caught in a traffic jam on the Western Express Highway. You fidget, wiggling your toes encased in ‘rainy-season sandals’, grimacing at the feel of dirty wetness and street slime. The ‘synthetic-material’ kurta (another monsoon-must) is damp and uncomfortable against your back and your lap is clammy with the wet umbrella. Squinting against the drizzle you look out of the window, looking at the sad scattered mounds of plastic and debris - the dirty suburban underbelly of the city exposed by the rains. Nothing new.
And then, you raise your eyes beyond the bedraggled bulidings, and you are suddenly transported. The grey clouds have descended low, partly hiding the green peaks of the small hills of the Western Ghats in the distance. The grey softly drifts across the green, merging, separating, creating misty patterns like a child’s watercolour. You never noticed that dull grey and drab green could offer such luminous variety. And even as you look, the hazy-breathtakingly-lovely horizon is obliterated as the rain fastracks from drizzle to downpour. Nothing new.
But, your feet sliding in the Mumbai muck, shrugging your shoulders into your already-dripping raincoat, you feel blessed by this sudden surprise gift of monsoon beauty.
Friday, July 17, 2009
As an ‘aided’ college teacher in Maharashtra (‘aided’ means we get our salary from the state government coffers), I am ON STRIKE at the moment, along with the majority of my colleagues across the state, for the selfish-selfless cause of implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission pay-scales for teachers. To coin a slogan:
WE ARE ON INDEFINITE STRIKE
DEMANDING A DEFINITE PAY HIKE.
This has been a striking week for Mumbai. The overworked and underpaid government doctors went on an eight day strike, demanding better pay (but of course), and resumed work only after ministerial promises and some unfortunate deaths.
School and Junior College teachers went on a one-day strike demanding (guess what) implementation of revised pay-scales.
The bus-drivers and helpers and Group-D staff of my daughter’s school were on strike for a day, followed by the teachers the next day, in protest against the private management’s high-handedness.
All in all, a week of disruption, deviation and demands.
What ‘strikes’ me most, however, is the difference between Mumbai and Kolkata in the approach to strikes .
In Kolkata, we take strikes in our stride. In fact, the right to strike is regarded as the second most important fundamental right by most Bengalis (the first being the right to speak – wherever, whenever, on whatever topic whether we know about it or not, and preferably in a public platform like an adda). Whenever strikes are announced (and they are usually thoughtfully scheduled on Mondays or Fridays to give us the benefit of a long weekend) we cheerfully start making plans for the ‘forced vacation’. Everybody is happy, and a festive mood prevails, with boys playing cricket on empty streets and only the businessmen-types and newspaper-wallahs and TV channel people getting hyper about the erosion of work culture. Don’t they know that the term itself is contradictory – if you work, when will you have time for culture? Bengalis have ‘THE BEST CULTURE’ (you know Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, and, er, Bappi Lahiri?), so, obviously, dada, we don’t need to work.
In fact, protest is second nature to us (we will always remind the rest of you how we protested against British imperialism long ago). Protest is ‘in the Bengali blood’, much more than work is.
So it was a kind of a ‘culture shock’ for me to see the reluctance of my Mumbai collegues when the teachers' union decided to go on strike. Everybody was upset and worried that the students would face problems, that the syllabus would not be completed on time. Everybody willingly agreed to give up the Diwali vacation to teach extra classes should the need arise. They accept the strike as a measure to achieve certain ends, but are eager to resume work ASAP.
What a change from Kolkata, where we accept strikes as a pleasure to achieve an extra holiday or two till the next call for another strike? And with two obliging political parties trying to break each other's record for maximum strikes and bandhs called in an year, strikes are party time. Literally.
And me? I am caught between deep admiration for Mumbai’s work-ethics and a deeper genetic laziness which is making me enjoy a few days of unemployment. Blame my Bengali blood for that.
Monday, July 13, 2009
But this century manufactures attitude along with Yankee baseball caps (worn wrong way around), low-slung jeans (worn with chaddi compulsorily showing), and cheeky-slogan T-shirts. And so, we have a serious case of DUDE-CLONING. Every male under the age of twenty-five is either a cool dude or trying to be one. And the funny thing is, these clones do not appear to have distinctive names of their own, they are all called, you guessed it, DUDE.
Sample this: standing at a slow-moving queue at an up-market garment store, I observed two such clones talking to each other. They were carrying shopping bags full of, presumably, even more slogan-tees, low-waist jeans and baseball caps.
“Hey, dude, didja get good stuff?”
“Not really, dude, these sales are a total rip-off.”
“Y’know, dude, you’re right, dude.” And so on and so on …blah…blah…blah…Dude…blah…blah..Dude. Period. Dude.
Till they came to the payment counter. Then the smartly-dressed shop assistant suddenly became a clone as well, because these young dudes called out, “Lemme take my card out. Dude. Why’s the line so slow today? Dude? Can you pack that separately, Dude?”
The dictionary tells me that the earliest Dude was spotted in 1883 in New York. That limited-edition dude was a “man extremely fastidious in dress and manner.” Well, today’s dude has made fastidious sloppiness his fashion statement. And, he has two more added qualifications – an extremely limited vocabulary (consisting mainly of dude, and a dozen or so words like, cool, yeah, chill, and the like), and a tendency to forget first names (otherwise why will all the Raj-s and Rahuls call each other Dude?). In fact, so linguistically-challenged are they that I was almost convinced that the dude-species must have evolved from Dud. Or D-u-h?
P.S: Any Dude reading this post can dismiss it as the rant of a typical Aunty. Aunties and Dudes, divided by gender and generation, have always been on opposing sides, and never the twain shall meet. Hopefully.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Consider this: It was the longest fifth-set in Wimbledon history. Andy Roddick, who has saved 6 out of 6 breakpoints in this match is serving at Deuce at 14-15. He makes a mis-hit. It's Advantage Federer - the first Championship Point of the match. It has been over 4 hours of see-sawing and brilliant serving bothways and big returns and enough of classic moments. It is late, past 11 at night, and you WANT A RESULT. You move forward on the edge of your chair, biting your nails, praying, as conflicting thoughts scuttle around in your mind late. (NOTE: The kids have obligingly gone to sleep on their own. Story-reading session postponed in view of his-STORY-making session on TV).
"Roddick will hit another ace and get himself out of this 7th break point." "C'mon Federer, hit back, go into a rally, give it one of your amazing running forehands/ sliced backhands/cleverly-disguised dinky lobs, anything, man. Just get it back and in there."
And Federer does. He gets it back at Roddick and readies himself for the rally. You are with him totally, egging Federer on to hit a winner. And Roddick, brave and brilliant till this point, hits the MOST IMPORTANT SHOT OF THIS MATCH
w-i-d-e. It is the pressure of history, the weight of destiny, of the sheer expectations and importance of the moment that does it. Federer does not have to hit the anticipated winner. So with all the pent-up energy and the won't-give-up focus and give-it-my-best adrenalin, he leaps into the air. And screams. Echoing the screams of all us Federer-fanatics around the world. Primal, relieved, exultant.
As the spouse (sharing, among other things, a love for Federer) said, "When you are witnessing history being made, it sure feels good to support the winning side."
I still feel too overjoyed for originality, so I'll just mention these:
As SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE fatefully prophesied, "IT WAS WRITTEN."
And, as the SAMSUNG MOBILE advertisement wonderingly predicts, "NEXT IS WHAT?"
Monday, June 29, 2009
That was the magic of MJ. Millions of people, across genders, across nations, across class or colour or creed, many who had never before or since shown any inclination for ‘English muzik’ knew him, knew his dance moves, knew his status as the ‘King of Pop’. Like my ‘bai’ (the lady who looks after my children and home). She has never heard of Madonna, or the Beatles, or Presley. She does not know English. But she has heard about MJ.
When we were schoolgirls, in the long ago 1980s, whenever we wore jeans in our Bengali backwater-suburb of Barrackpore, we risked being eve-teased by the local parar dadas (neighbourhood rowdies), who would catcall, “Oi jachchhe Michael Jackson sheje (There she goes, dressed as Michael Jackson)”. Jackson’s post-plastic-surgery androgynous looks and high-pitched signature ‘Aooww’ shriek had them confused about his gender. But they identified him with all that was posh and westernized. He was their reference point for American popular culture.
The first MJ-album that I saw was BAD, when Doordarshan aired the Grammy nominees for that particular year. I saw the THRILLER video long after 1982. The never-seen-before dance moves blew my mind, and I liked the foot-tapping music, although, not being too tuned to American accents, I could not make out much of the lyrics. It didn’t matter, actually. The dance, for me, made up for all that.
Over the years, as the newspapers and videos showcased the facial changes and the court cases and the weird lifestyle, I wondered. Why a man, who could make millions feel so happy just by performing his moves and music, would obviously be so unhappy about his self-image as to keep on attempting to obliterate and recreate his own face? Why a man who had the world at his feet since he was a kid, refuse resolutely to grow up? Why a man who sang ‘Heal the world’ continue to exhibit bizarre behaviour in public and private? Why a man who was so confident on stage, be so bewildered and confused off it?
In an interview with Martin Bashir, MJ had said, “All I know of people is the applause.” Just goes to reveal how completely lonely and cut off from reality he was. For him, the stage was the reality. And now, the show is over. The eulogies have been written, the net has crashed, fans have mourned, the songs are being re-played, the mystery of the debts and death is being discussed and debated. But the wide-eyed, lost-misunderstood, tragic-pathetic, vain-pained, talented-tormented Peter Pan has forever left his Neverland to go and moonwalk among the stars.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Once upon a time, long ago, I had tried heels. Drastically high platform heels. Wooden ones making a horse-like racket on the hard cement floor. It had not been a successful stride. In fact, it had not been a stride at all. After a failed falter, heels became another one of those allergy-inducing objects which I could see, but could not use.
So I know all about the platform, the wedge and the vicious/vertiginous stiletto (the lady-boss of all heels). I even know about the non-threatening kitten heels, which are less than 1.5 inches in height. These innocuous-looking low-heels are treacherous creatures, because they can tempt heel-allergic flat-footers like me. But I am, and sadly will always be, a full-grown tabby cat, and no longer anything like a kitten. And so, even kitten heels trip me up.
Any heel, and my ankle rebels. A self-defeating rebellion, as it ends up getting twisted in the bargain. But I end up all in a tumble. Embarrassing!
Any heel-thy person will diagnose my disease as vertigo. For me, heel-thy is definitely not well-thy. I am scared of heights. Not on a rollercoaster (I love them on an empty stomach). But on my heels. I prefer facing life with my feet planted solidly on the ground.
There are distinct disadvantages. Shoe shops are apparently meant for the well-heeled, as most of the shelves are devoted to the sky-high variety of shoes. Whenever I enter a shoe-shop and say, "Flat sandals only, please", I am directed to some obscure corner where a shelf and a half displays the frumpiest of designs in the most boring of colours.
Even when flat shoes are 'in', like they were 'last season' with ballerina-flats, this is usually a passing fad, and women soon abandon their firm-on-the-ground-walk for a balancing-totter. Even the once-flat Kolhapuri chappals have turned traitor and sprouted heels.
I can be the darling of feminists (who rage against the tyranny of heels and the consequent commoditisation of body-image) and the podiarists (who rage against the foot and tendon problems caused by heels). But that is a limited appeal.
Alas, I can never be a Posh Spice, who apparently even goes gymming in stilettoes (I hardly ever go gymming, so I do not wear stilettoes). All heel-addicts will rave about the sex-appeal of heels. How a shoe has to have a 'defined heel' to be in the 'sexy shoe' category. How heels transform us into objects of lust and desirability (check out any heel-vocabulary: 'stripper shoes' have 3" platform heels, 'hooker heels' are at least 3-4",'slut shoes' have 5-5 3/4 " heel...). My head is reeling after all those vertical stats.
To come back to the issue of sex-symbols and heels, I had once read that the legendary Greta Garbo (the reclusive and unattainable silent-era Hollywood beauty) always used to wear a pair of flat and comfy men's bedroom slippers (size 10 or thereabouts) under the long, trailing, lovely ballgowns she wore while filming.
That settled the matter for me. I chose the classic Greta Garbo over the upstart Posh Spice. And I'll stick to my slides and mules and unsexy-but-safe flat Dr Scholl's-type foowear. And my lovely red mojris from Mochi's, which make me feel like royalty. Even when I am not on a pedestal.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
…WAS (once upon a time, circa 1990s) asking the (yet-to-be-) spouse, “Have you taken the class-notes properly?”
(Both of us studied English Honours, so being together in Honours classes was not the problem, but I had Philosophy as a ‘Pass’ subject, while he had ‘History’, and he would shrug his shoulders at my anxious query after the very few History classes he actually attended without me, and state philosophically that ‘History’ was past, so it was better to forget about it.)
…IS (now, circa 2009) asking the spouse (-since-decades), “Have you taken your cholesterol medicines properly?" (I have a job where I leave the home early, and he has a job where he comes back very late, so marital communication, and romantic conversation, is chiefly via a series of questions over the phone - asked anxiously, answered with philosophical calmness and assurance).
As the great philosophers said, "The more things change, the more they remain the same". Class-notes, or cholesterol, I seem to have been in worrying-Mother-mode for the past (nearly) two decades. Pscho-analyse that, if you will.
Love, actually = worry! (Thank God, I don't chew my nails when I am worried, or I would not have been able to write this post.)
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Mumbai media has been all agog at the arrest (and, of course, subsequent bail and release) of Sheetal Mafatlal (of the multimillionaire-multiple-chinned-husband and looking-very-trashy-in-Versace/Valentino-togs fame) for attempting to breeze in through Customs without thinking it necessary to declare gold and diamond jewellery worth around Rs 50 lakh.
While we, in our strictly-suburban college staffroom, were poring, and ooh-ing and aah-ing (only the 'ladies'), over the list (and intricate details) of the ornaments allegedly smuggled in by her, the South Bombay socialites were making the most of the photo-op by giving incredibly inane soundbytes. One Haseena Jethmalani (wife of political-defeated-debutant and high-end-lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani) apparently said (and conveniently later denied) that Rs 50 lakh was too piddly an amount for the likes of Sheetal Mafatlal (and the rest of the So-Bo brunch-packers) to bother about, and that women frequenting a salon owned by her (the fair Haseena) regularly strolled in wearing jewellery worth more than 50 lakh.
Just a few questions: if Rs 50 lakh is a paltry sum to the likes of Mafatlal (as it obviously is), shouldn’t the Customs Duty (which would be a certain small percentage of this puny amount) be like small change to her (as it obviously is NOT)? So, why not declare and pay it upfront and straightforward, honey? Or is the small change too difficult to see (and the fine print too difficult to read) through those oversized Dior shades?
Just another point: Today I went to Bank of Maharashtra’s Malad (West) branch, where most of the customers were dealing in amounts ranging from Rs 300 to a few thousands. There were old and limping pensioners, peering shortsightedly at a fistful of currency. There were illiterate women, putting their thumb impressions on withdrawal slips for a thousand rupees. There were hardworking men, whose sweat-beaded brows remained knitted into frowns under the blast of the AC, and whose grimy hands clutched at worse-for-wear passbooks containing details of minuscule savings accounts.
To these people, residing in the vast and teeming suburbs of Mumbai, far far away from snooty-snobbery of So-Bo (that's South Bombay's snob-abbreviation), Rs 50 lakh would, perhaps, be a big amount, an amount to aspire to through honest blood-sweat-tears, not an amount that can be sneered at with a shrug of couture-clad shoulders. Or carried in casually (and illegally) in alligator-skin designer luggage.
Monday, June 8, 2009
I AM ECSTATIC. Because ROGER FEDERER has won this year's FRENCH OPEN.
- Equalling Sampras (another fave)' s record of 14 Grand Slams.
- Becoming a champ on all four surfaces, a long ten years after Agassi.
- Settling the debate on who is the greatest player of all time (in my mind, though, there was no debate, it was only a matter of numbers).
I know, there are the nitpicking-Nadal-naysayers who will smirk about his huge deficit against his Spanish-nemesis. It WAS a stroke of luck that Nadal got eliminated early on in this year's French Open. But then, champions are made of talent, hard work, determination, and a generous dose of luck-by-chance. And who cares, actually? The records books will write down his name as the winner, and that is enough for me.
Actually, I am not just a Federer-fan, but a Federer-fanatic. You may wonder at a sedate 36-year-old college-teacher behaving in such an uncharacteristically juvenile manner, but even I was surprised, a few years back, when I started following Federer's matches regularly, by my passionate involvement with his game and with his destiny as a tennis player. I had thought that kind of nail-chewing intensity of tension (while he played), that kind of euphoria of elation (when he won) and, yes, that kind of broken-hearted agony of depression (whenever he lost) was a thing of my volatile teenage past.
But then that is what Federer is all about. He has made me revisit my adolescence. He has made me feel again the pure see-saw of emotions that the best of sports can kindle in the spectator. During the French Open final, there was a fan in the stands carrying a banner which said ROGER and MAGIC, with the words written like a + sign, intersecting at the G.
That's Federer for me.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
A few days back, my daughters and I had gone to Hypercity in Malad to pick up a few things (one of our last jaunts before summer vacation ends). As always happens when the kids come along, we strolled along the aisles picking up unnecessary things from the shelves. Things like lollipops (the sweet kind), easy-to-make crème brulee and vanilla pudding mixes (the very sweet kind) and chocolate donuts (the very very sweet kind) – you get the drift?
And, with our trolley groaning under all those superbly superfluous calories, we waited in the check-out line, using our time to pick up a few more mama-please-I-want-them-so-much-otherwise-I-will-bawl-my-lungs-out stuff like bubblegum and chocolate-bars.
In front of us in the queue stood a lean and muscled television actor (Gaurav Chopra? I have a BAD TV-celebrity-quotient) accompanied, presumably, by his slim and pretty girlfriend and two overloaded trolleys. I STARED – at them and at the trolleys:
Dozens of Sofit soymilk tetrapacks – check
Tubs of low-cal yogurt – check
Countless tetrapacks of Real Active fruit juice – check
Kilos of cucumbers – check
Quite a few watermelons – check
One tiny bottle of olive oil – check.
I looked from their calorie-low shopping trolleys to the six-pack abs and the sixteen-inch waist. Then, with a sigh, I looked at my calorie-flow trolley and my tummy-tyres (spares).