Tuesday, April 28, 2009


My entry below has been shortlisted for the Indusladies.com Mother's Day Blog Contest.
If you did like it, do vote for me here. My name is somewhere down the middle, so scroll down a bit, and when you spot it, hit the button

Even if you didn't, do vote. I'll be checking the ink on your finger, so...
BTW, poll closes May 4, so...
I am a canvassing novice, so I may have got the poll spiel all wrong, but I'd sincerely appreciate your appreciation.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


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Soon after my younger daughter was born, the doctor came and placed a tiny swaddled bundle in my lap. Even through the sedated haze of the anesthesia, I was amazed to look into a pair of startlingly blue eyes. Which were set in a face as fair as ivory.

I was amazed (nobody in both sides of the family-tree has blue eyes). But, more than that, I was anxious and apprehensive. For nine months, the spouse and I had been preparing our elder daughter about this life-changing event. She had been told all about how God was very happy with her for being a good girl and was giving her a very special gift. She had often touched my tummy to feel her sibling kicking merrily in the womb. Every day, she would come back from school and relate the day’s events solemnly to her yet-to-be-born sister, bending over my tummy to whisper ‘secrets’ to her sibling which I was not supposed to hear. In her imaginings, her sibling would be a younger version of herself. She was prepared for the big day, eager to welcome her brand new sibling.

We were prepared, too
. Prepared to understand that occasionally, our elder daughter would feel jealous, or resentful, or left out. That she would need an extra dose of love and attention to cope with the shift in status from ‘only child’ to ‘elder sister’. That we would have to be very careful not to neglect either of our children, nor to compare them in any way. Only, we had not taken into account the ‘fairness factor’ - and the discrimination that breeds in the minds of people.

When our elder daughter sat cross-legged on the hospital bed and took her tiny sister carefully in her ebony arms, our world was complete. The spouse and I fell in equal love with ebony and ivory.

But so many people didn’t. So many people look and do a double take. So many people look at them and say, putting on a wise and circumspect manner, “They look so different from each other, you would hardly think they are sisters.” Some of them look through ebony, altogether. They look at ivory and gush, “Oh, she’s such a doll”. Strangers often bend down to cuddle ivory, “She’s got such unusual eyes.” Ebony waits at a distance with wistful eyes. Well-meaning friends and relations keep on saying, “Your elder one looks so studious, she will grow up to be a doctor. And the younger one should try her luck in modeling.”

I try my best not to flare up. Not to resent such colour-crazy comparisons. To forget those who ignore ebony’s tremulous sweet-shy smiles. To forgive those who categorise fair skin with beauty and dark skin with brains. How stupid can they be? How insensitive to just cuddle one child and overlook another? How ignorant to make value-judgments on the basis of colour?

Of course, children have their own ways of coping. Ebony often says, Maa, my favourite ice-cream is chocolate-flavoured because I am chocolate-coloured. Bonu (sister) likes strawberry ice-cream because she is all pink-and-white like that. Which one do you like best?” I tell her that I love both chocolate and strawberry ice-cream. And I hope that ebony grows up happy and confident, not minding the stupid colour-comparisons so many people invariably make. And I also hope that ivory grows up to learn that inner beauty is much, much more valuable than any outer shell of prettiness. That both of them realise that chocolate and strawberry are both as sweet and as lovely as each other.

The spouse and I try our best to make up for the imbalance in attention. He explains that skin colour is a non-issue, a mere difference of melanin content. Almost-eight ebony nods wisely, and ivory, all of three but wanting-desperately-to-become-as-old-as-her-sister, nods animatedly, keen on copying her sister (which is why we call her copy-kitten).

When I hug, I open both my arms wide, so that both can run to me at the same time, upturned faces glowing with shared glee. I divide my kisses equally. Same with the scoldings, too. Although, to be honest, an average day usually sees more scolding than hugging. But a bedtime hug is a must. For all of us.

And one of my best motherhood moments (from an unending list of countless moments) is when they fall asleep, ebony cuddling ivory, curled together, arms around each other. I look at their sweet sleeping faces, so peaceful, so precious, so alike in their dreams and hopes. They look so similar.

Of course, I know they are different – they have distinct personalities, separate likes and dislikes which will become even more distinct as they grow up. But the superficial skin-deep difference of colour cannot encompass the depth and complexity of their beings. It does not realize the shared mutuality of love which makes them equal.

And when they get up in the morning, they again look alike with their tousled sleepy-eyed yawns. Then we (the maid, the spouse and I) get them ready. Their reluctance to bathe in the mornings is similar, as is the dilly-dallying over breakfast. Once these initial hurdles are crossed, however, they are ready for school, which both of them love equally. Off to school they go, bright and eager, with identical ear-to-ear grins and matching steps, hand in hand; ebony taking care of ivory like a good elder sister, ivory looking up to ebony like all younger siblings do. Another day begins, full of the promise of exciting, and exhausting, motherhood moments – some to cherish, stamped-forever in memory’s album, some to bear with fraying-patience and gritted-teeth. Through the ups and downs and roundabouts that comprise a mother’s journey, I’ve learnt to embrace both ebony and ivory. And all the shades in-between. A mother cannot discriminate. She would rather rejoice in the rainbow of variety that life offers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


In this election, I have a new role. Like thousands of other ‘gormint’ servants, I have been given ‘election duty’. We are attending training sessions organized by the Election Commission to prepare ourselves for V-day (voting day). These sessions (two so far, more to come) are exhaustive. And exhausting. Our instructors have been lecturing us about our duties, and demonstrating how to successfully operate that Extremely Very-confusing Machine (a.k.a the Electronic Voting Machine).

Only, there’s a snag. The whole training exercise is being done in Marathi. And there are a substantial number of hapless would-be presiding/assistant/polling officers who are looking more and more goggle-eyed, unable to understand most of what is going on.

Including me. On the first day, I tried earnestly to follow the lecture, grasping at a word here and there, asking my colleague (who is a daughter of this soil) to explain the I-M-P (studentspeak for ‘important points’). Today, faced with an instructor who rattled off instructions from a written sheet at breakneck speed in chaste Marathi, I gave up the struggle.

Repeated requests to the instructors to either explain in both Hindi and Marathi or arrange for alternative training for us unfortunate non-Marathi types were met with refusal, either point-blank or polite. One instructor asked the Maharashtrians in the class to raise their hands. Satisfied that at least 70% were ‘from here only’, he smugly said that lectures would continue in Marathi. Some of the Maharashtrian trainees seconded them vociferously. Nobody bothered to apply the reverse logic: since everybody, even the Maharashtrians, understands Hindi/English, why not ALSO explain in Hindi/English, along with Marathi? One brilliant person turned on me and asked: “If this was in YOUR Kolkata, wouldn’t the training be in Bengali?”

Maybe it would. Maybe over there, too, boorish guardians of Bengali would speak only in their mother tongue, ignoring requests for co-operation from non-Bengali attendees. But that would have been wrong, too. And two wrongs can never make a right. And excuse me, why are you pushing me to a corner of the country? I am an Indian, free to live in any part of the nation. Learning the local language and respecting the local culture will obviously help me to assimilate better. But since I (and many of the others) haven’t grasped all the technical fine points of the language yet, wouldn’t co-operation been a more generous and sensible thing to offer than refusal? After all, the purpose of these sessions is to train all of us adequately for the job-at-hand? Will that purpose be served if the language is Marathi-only?

The questions remain un-discussed owing to the language barrier. And the barrier left us floundering, till somebody threw us lifelines in the shape of thick yellow handbooks in English. There was also a young instructor, our linguistic saviour, who finally came and explained the intricacies of the EVM in Marathi, Hindi and English. Dexterously alternating between the three ‘tongues’, he used language as it should be: to communicate, to build bridges and to bring smiles of comprehension in the faces of his listeners.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


The ink on your index finger is suddenly IN. Because it IN-dicates that you have exercised your right to vote. Because it shows your IN-clination: you care for the future of this nation. Because it is an assertion of your citizenship – your identity as an IN-dian.

In the elections this time, because of the model code of conduct enforced by the Election Commission, there has a marked absence of posters, pamphlets, wall-paintings, sloganeering; all the loud and colourful accompaniments to the political juggernaut.

Instead, there has been a lot of visibility given to citizen groups and NGOs like Jaago Re, groups of people asking other people to come and vote. Celebrities are urging us to use the finger (not oily-smiley politicians mock-humbly begging for votes with folded hands). The inky finger has become the hottest fashion accessory.

The first round voting turnout was 58-62% - not bad. The rural populace, stoical, suffering, yet upright, has always exercised its franchise. It is the urban upwardly-mobile class that was accused of distancing itself from the democratic duty of voting. The designer sunglasses and the headphones clamped to the ears blocked the sights and sounds of the Real India. Now that the upward mobility has been halted in the tracks somewhat, perhaps there is time to look at the bigger picture.

The picture that includes all of India – the hut and the high-rise, the yuppy and the yokel. We will not be able to change this picture substantially, but, if we vote, we will be able to put our own mark on it.

So, let’s go vote. But let us think before we ink. And let us not forget that voting should be a matter of INFORMED CHOICE. Therein lies the true worth and power of that tiny dot of ink.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


We Indians are a clever lot. Long, long ago, when the Divine Creator was chalking out the human calendar, Indians said, “O Mighty One, please do not give us only one new year’s day like you have to the Western World. They usher in the New Year on 1st January, and wait 364 days for the next one to come along. We are an impatient lot. We don’t want to wait so long. Also, we like to celebrate and we need excuses for that. So, can you please give us a dozen New Years each year?”

The Divine Creator thoughtfully stroked his long white beard (make that “the day-old stubble in the cleft of his chin”, if you want an image-makeover for the old chap), gave his trademark benign smile and came up with a SMART SOLUTION to this somewhat bizarre request: each community would have a separate new year’s day, separated from each other by weeks or months, so that there would be valid excuses for celebrating. Which means declaring government holidays, shopping for new clothes, visiting and gossiping with family and friends, and eating a lot of sweets and other calorie-rich food. Along with other activities like playing the latest Bollywood hit-songs very loudly on the loudspeaker (for the entire community to hear, of course).

The Gujaratis and the Marwaris bring in their new year a day after Diwali (being business-minded, they combine the two festivals to make the whole affair costly but cost-effective). The Parsis have their Pateti in August, and the Maharashtrians celebrated Gudi Padwa a few weeks back (along with the Sindhi Cheti Chand, Manipuri Cheiraaba, Kashmiri Navreh and the Ugadi of the Telugus and Kannadigas).

As is quite evident, the allocation of new year dates reflects a certain bureaucratic bungling on the part of the Divine Creator’s minions (a trait which has been inherited by the public sector in India). For instance, certain dates got mixed up, and the Punjabi Baisakhi, Tamil Puthnadu, Malayali Vishu, Oriya Mahabishuba Sankranti and Bengali Poila Baisakh all fall on the same day, or on consecutive days in April. Instead of breathing down each other’s necks, they could have better spaced out. Of course, our Indian indefatigible officials are trying to rectify the error by attempting to relocate some of the new years. Wikipedia informs me that the "OFFICIAL" Malayali New Year comes in August, and that certain sections in Tamil Nadu are also campaigning to shift their New Year to another date. But change, as always in India, is a slow and laborious process, fraught with debate, discussion and delays.

And so, we have a whole bunch of New Years coming up. Since I do not know how to speak either Punjabi or Tamil or Malayalam or Oriya, here’s wishing SHUBHO POILA BAISAKH and a better new year to all of you. Like every year, let us crib and cheer, embrace and jeer. What to do, we are like this only.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


A new storey is being added to the college-building I work in. One spanking new floor atop the existing five floors. Which means more classrooms, more students, more revenue for the college. More comfort for the management.

What it DOES NOT MEAN is more comfort for the workers slogging in the April heat to build this storey before June, when the new session starts. Their story remains unchanged, though the change the cityscape ever so often.

The volleyball ground is overrun with snotty-nosed little children running about butt-naked and dusty. Their dishevelled over-burdened mothers peep out from temporarily-erected asbestos shelters with makeshift doors creaking on their hinges. Some of the broken bits of wood and board are used to light fires on which food is cooked. Actually, food is a euphemism, because what is being cooked would perhaps not go down our pampered-priveleged throats. Raggedy clothes hang in drooping washing-lines strung between the trees. Clothes that would have abandoned by us in dustbins long back. And a line of gaunt, sun-darkened workers, men and women, trudge up and down balancing loads on their heads, making a brick-cement-mortar building they themselves will never be able to live in.

History tells us that exploited slaves built the Pyramids. That the poor workers who built the lavish Taj Mahal had their hands cut off. But that terrible irony is not just history, it is also continuing reality we witness everyday. Only now we do not cut off their hands. Because we need a new Taj Mahal everyday, in every part of every metropolis. And we need a steady stream of hungry, hollow-eyed, , hard-working workers to build for us our highrises where we can eat and sleep and chill-out.

Friday, April 3, 2009


…has begun in the lives of my daughters. It is April and a new school-year has started.

For the Lil Cat, entering her third standard, it means a whole lot of new books (all warm and toasty-brown-paper-covered). It means a whole lot of new things to learn – from Marathi (she begins her ‘third’ language this year, after First Language English and Second Language Hindi – of course, Bengali is her mother tongue, so it is actually a FOURTH language), to Magellan (in Social Studies – he was the man who discovered that the earth was round), to complicated and l-e-n-g-t-h-y multiplications and divisions. But she is not too daunted, only excited and happy, diving into her pile of books with shiny-spectacled eyes.

For the Copy-Kitten, entering her first year in a proper school, it means new blue and white uniforms, a blue water-bottle and proper black school-shoes. Not really new anymore, because she has ‘practising’ drinking from the waterbottle for the past few days and clomping all over the house in her new shoes (never mind that she is clad only in a pair of bloomers above the pair of shoes and socks). She is all excited about the big yellow bus that will take her to school. Now, the only part missing is her new books, which will come next week.

The buzz of excitement is almost palpable and I am shamelessly exploiting the situation. Whenever the Copy-kitten is being naughty and disobedient (which she almost always is, except when she is sleeping), I am threatening her with dire consequences like her teacher not allowing bad girls in the class, etc. I know I should not hold her happiness to ransom like this, but as a long-suffering-from-tantrums mother I cannot help but make hay as the April sun shines.

I hope they stay as excited and eager to learn throughout their school lives.