Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Heart Bleeds for You Ayodhya

Well, the verdict is out the land will be divided among the three warring parties and hopefully all will be well. The judges have played safe, they have accepted that Ram was born at the very spot where the disputed shrine now stands and they have handed it over to the 'Hindus'. They have declared that the Babri Masjid was not built according to the tenets of Islam and therefore was not a masjid at all...ha ha the 'Muslim' should not be offended and to further pacify the 'Muslims' some land from the disputed site has been given over to the Wakf board. The good thing that has come of the verdict is that the wind has been taken out of the sail of the BJP Rama Mandir campaign...phew! The ball is in the court of the warring parties now and they have to show the nation how they can live in peace and harmony. However the whole sordid saga leaves a bad taste in the mouth, for has justice really been done?? Justice would have been done if certain facts were made clear to the people of this country-
1 The fact that when the Babri masjid was built it was the norm and accepted practice of the victor in battle to demolish structures showing the greatness of the victim and building structures showing their own supremacy over them. There was no law against the destruction of any structure at that time. However when the masjid was demolished the Constitution of India was in place and the law of this country explicitly states that one should not take the law in ones own hand and neither can one just walk up and demolish a structure which they do not like. The act of demolition of the masjid shows gross violation of our Constitution and laws and a shameful lack of faith in our system of justice and redressal.
2 Everyone knows that Rama and Krishna are mythological characters and not historical ones. There are no lessons on either in History books ...I do not know what the Archeological Survey of India has found underneath the rubble but if it had been any concrete proof then Ancient History scholars would be abuzz with the news texts would be re-written. Therefore the proof must have consisted of secondary sources, along with the some material finds that indicated settelements in the area, which would have been found at any area in Ayodhya given the antiquity of the city. Indian people must learn to differentiate between mythology and history. If Rama and Krishna and all the others are part of mythology, it will not detract from their importance in indian culture and world view and ofcourse religious belief. The Greeks have an extensive mythological tradition and that is an impoortant part of their belief system...they do not mix it up with their history although many locations of their myths are historical locations too.
3 In Independent India all land and all structures upon it (specially if disputed by two religious groups) belong to the people and neither BJP- Sangh Parivar- Hindu Mahasabha nor the Wakf Board can claim to represent all Hindus and Muslims, leave alone all the people of India- this fact has to be driven home. The majority of the hindus and muslims of India do not care two hoots about this dispute, they care for safety, security, peace for all. Food, shelter, clothes, opportunities, healthcare, safe drinking water and a bright prospect for their children. That is what we care about.
It was nauseating to see grown men carrying on about the sthapana of 'Ram lalla' and Sita's kitchen, women like Uma Bharti waxing eloquent about the coming of Sat yuga and all that jazz!! Pompous BJP spokes persons declaring that a meeting will be held at Advani's residence and then there will be a declaration by the party. Hello? who wants to hear your declaration, you can shove it up your ---- for what I care. Have you looked at the city of Ram's birth?? Because of your desire for political milage it will be for ever remembered as a place where communal tensions were born. For what I have seen and read about the city of Ayodhya, it is one of those small dusty towns inhabited by poor ordinary Indian people, and it has only one proper hospital. If I were to pass judgement on this case I would have booted everyone out of the land and had a state of the art government hospital established on the spot, I am sure that Ram would be pleased with that. I would have got Kar sevaks to clean up the city.....that would make us a true believer and follower of Ram. These blokes who have ravaged the city and filled it with communal tension will have to answer to Ram (if they believe in Him at all) one day, and I am sure they will be squarely told off, something that our judges have not managed to do. I would like to see their faces then, the smug asses!
For now, my heart bleeds for Ayodhya...a land known for its glory now made murky and tainted with blood....may you see peace, if not prosperity, may you now witness the unity of the two faiths in India...Jai Hind!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pujor Gondho Eshechhe ( The Fragrance of Puja is Here)

The other day, I was delighted to find a few 'shiuli' flowers underneath a tree near the mite's school. I had been eyeing the tree for sometime, it did look like a shiuli tree, but here, so far down south, so remote from West Bengal and even Delhi (which has its fair share of shiuli trees), I was not sure... Thereafter it sprouted massive buds...'no, no' I thought in my mind, it cannot be shiuli...But finally the tree got tired of all this speculation and deposited some flowers on the ground as the last and final proof, whereby it rested its case, leaving me both shocked and surprised and humbled too in good measure. As all Bengalis know, the shiuli flower blooms just before the Durga Puja festival and symbolically announces the arrival of the Goddess Durga in our midst. It has beautiful curved white petals on a quaint orange stalk and has a fragrance that is almost intoxicating if inhaled in great measure. Anyhow, I swooped down upon my find with great gusto while the mite stared cluelessly at me wondering what the fuss was all about. However, since he is used to the moronic and often eccentric behaviour of this parent of his, he let it pass. After slipping him in through the school gate, I returned to the shiuli tree and picked some more flowers and inhaled the beautiful and oh so familiar smell. I thanked the Goddess for sending her messenger here to me in such a remote land. Here in Bangalore there are so many pujas, the Varamahalshmi festival went by and the Gowri Ganesha festival took place a few days ago...we are invited to many houses in the building and the women offer the traditional haldi and kumkum and give us coconuts and betel leaves.I have just been attending one puja after another, but have not invited anyone for a puja in my house! The ladies have begun asking, "don't you have any pujas?" Well, I inform them that the only puja Bengalis are excited about is Durga Puja and all we have to do is wear new clothes and eat out!! Of all the communities in India, I feel, the Bengalis have the least ceremony and the most enjoyment during their grand festival! After all what is there in life other than eating, drinking and making merry, folks?!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What Freedom Means to Us

Long long ago, one day when I was coming back from school in our school bus and we were crossing the Presidency Jail in Alipore, I proudly pointed out the building to my friends and fellow travellers and said- "My grandfather was imprisoned here..." I failed to clarify that he was a freedom fighter and he was held there by the British rulers. One of the kids quipped "was a thief" or something to that affect and the rest burst out in giggles...I smiled weakly, my throat constricted as it does when I am hurt or angry and I could feel the tears close by...I did explian later in a mumbling manner but my moment of pride and glory was marred for the rest of my life. Never again would I point out the building and say those lines. However I was happy for 'Chhobir Dadun', I am sure he would be happy to see that his son resided in splendour in a huge house built by and for the British just opposite to the place in which he was held captive.The thought crossed many times in my mind as I gazed at the high walls of the notorious prison from the gate of our house.I realised that we are not taught properly the importance of the sacrifices thousands of our ordinary countrymen and women made in the freedom struggle. "De di hamen azadi bina kharag bina dhal, Saabarmati ke sant toone kar diya kamaal" says a popular song, speaking of Mahatma if independence was offered in a platter to the people of India, it was some kind of a gift...but was it? I think not, I am not trying to discount the greatness of our leaders but if there had not been thousands to answer their call, then the leaders would have not been in a position to negotiate our independence. Our independence was also a result of the untold sacrifices of hundreds and thousands of very brave Indian people- common and ordinary men and women who sacrificed family, prosperity and even their lives for this dream of freedom. Peasants how refused to pay taxes even after their all was confiscated, and they were tortured, women and children and the youth thronging the streets holding the flag aloft and trying any which way to free their country of its shakles. There is a Bengali film called 'Beallish' (1942) which dealt with the events of the Quit India movement, a movement which was practically leaderless, as all the bigwigs had been put behind bars, and yet it was the most powerful of the various movements initiated by Gandhi. My father saw the film many times and every time he (and many others like him) entered the hall in their shoes and left wthout them as he had chucked it at Bikash Ray who played the Indian villain who sided with the British, in the film. Needless to say, such passions do not exist in us, a generation which grew up 'free', had not seen a relative or friend who had been directly involved in the struggle. What does freedom mean to us then??
This morning my Brat and Mite decorated a tray with orange flowers and green leaves and the Brat made some small flags with a tiny stand that can be stood up on a desk or table, the mite held some flags in his hand. The tray was full of chocolates. They dressed up in salwaar Kameez and kurta pajama and set off from flat to flat in our building wishing everyone on independence day all with the connivance of their which the Mr declared that I had finally lost my marbles! But had I?? If we can celebrate our religious festivals with great fervour why the step motherly treatment to national festivals?? Freedom means a lot to us so we must first teach our children to celebrate it joyously. Thereafter we can dwell on the sacrifices that brought it about, so that they can cherish it for ever afterwards. The challenge for the succeeding generations is to not only cherish and celebrate this hard earned freedom but to also to acknowledge the sacrifices that both the leaders and our ordinary people made.
Perhaps one day I will take the kids to the Presidency jail and tell them about their greatgrandfather, perhaps they will not laugh and giggle but understand the difficult times our previous generations had seen so that we can enjoy our freedom. Perhaps freedom will mean something to celebrate joyously and to value deeply as it means to me today...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Elixir Called Friendship

Sometime back I went to visit my college friend and we had a smashing hour of chatting and catching up. Late in the evening when the Mr and I sat at the table sipping tea he looked at me in a marked manner and said- "you must do this more often"- "what?" said I bewildered, "visit friends, you are looking good today"- "ahhh" I said flapping my hand about, feeling quite happy inside. This is one of the Mr's glorious moments, moments when I feel that all is right with the world if I am around him.What the Mr was observing was the after effects of meeting friends, it was not as if his fat wife had suddenly transformed into a beauty queen, it was the glow of pure joy and excitement after meeting a friend after soooo many years, there was a permanent grin on my face and a bounce in my step and all seemed rose tinted and perfect. I have noticed this about friends, they can light up your life just by being!! leave alone meeting, a simple phone call can transform my state from down in the dumps to high up in the clouds! With school friends you feel as if you are back in school, with college friends it feels as if those glorious days are back. It gives incredible pleasure just to see our kids playing together while we laugh and scream happily. The Brat once said that she could hear us laughing from the ground floor play area, while we were chatting in my friend's house on the third floor!! The years just melt away.... truely, if you want to be happy and feel young, keeping in touch with old pals is the key!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Life Means Change

So much has changed in the last few months that it seems as if I am a completely different person from the Diya who started this blog eons ago. As I write this from a corner of our new flat, I wonder about the various changes that my life has undergone and the great change that is about to come as I complete 40 years on this earth later this year.
I remember as a teenager how impatient I used to be with life. I used to think that there only exists the same old routine of school and home. I remember, the entries in my diary expressing exasperation at the deathly drudgery of life. Ironically this is the same school life that I am so nostalgic about now that I am pushing 40. However, this I can say with great certainty that all the changes in places of residence in my life till now have brought positive results, and one thing I am sure of…nothing is permanent…life means change. I remember all the houses that I have lived in for so many years…my beloved 41/B/1 in Calcutta, Baba’s official quarters in Siliguri where the resident cook Ilias Dada used to warm food in the ‘icmic cooker’ , the lovely ‘Dilara’ Baba’s house cum office in Shillong, our rented house in Green Park in Delhi, the thrilling 2years at Mandir Marg, the fun at Kaka Nagar D-II 188, then the most lovely ‘igaara B’ Portland Park..when I have dreams located at ‘home’ I always see this house, then the heady years at Ritchie Road, then the 7months of pure pleasure at the Pragati Vihaar transit accommodation in Delhi, then freaked out fun at R K Puram, 6months stay at Geetanjali Hostel (DU, South Campus) one big party, then the old “Bhooter Baari’ on Belvedere Road the house from where I got married and then to Delhi again in Sheikh Sarai,and now Bangalore first on Hosur Road and now here near Bannerghatta Road one of my favourite roads in Bangalore. Over the years all the bad memories have dulled and what’s left are bitter sweet memories which flash one after the other in my mind. All in all, it has been a fulfilling experience with lots of friends and relatives who have made life worth living. The only house I have no memories of is the one next to the ‘Bhooter Bari’ which was my father’s official quarters when I was less than a year old. In one of the snaps taken of me in those days the ‘Bhooter Bari’ is clearly visible in the background, in an eerie way my life would come full circle…I began my life in this tiny army quarter and got married in the colossal structure just next to it!!

In Siliguri, I remember the small house, it had two rooms and a servant’s quarter where Baba’s peons lived. Ilias dada was my favourite and used to entertain me a lot. In front of the house there was an almost hut like home belonging to a family that had 2 children a boy and a girl. These children used to come to play with me. They had the largest eyes I had ever seen!! I still remember their eyes, jet black with long lashes, I do not remember their names though. I used to play with a flag which was made of a cane stick. I remember, one day Baba got fed up of my flag waving and scared that a splinter would get into my arm he threw the stick out of the window on to the terrace of the next house. I can still see the stick flying off as if it happened yesterday. I was taken to my first Kishore Kumar performance here. I remember Amit Kumar was there too. I remember Baba was very patient with me at that time. I remember him patting me to sleep while Ma was busy cooking. All that was about to change soon and Baba would be completely withdrawn after this as our family was shaken to its foundations with the death of Jethu my fathers elder brother. I remember jethus funeral his photo in the 41/B /1 upstairs drawing room. I did not have a clue about what was actually happening. I was crying for Ma while Shejo mashi (Baba’s aunt) was trying to keep me on her lap. I remember Baba went to get Amma ( my grand mother) from the Calcutta house because she was unable to live there alone after Jethu passed away. Ma and I were looking down from the balcony and Baba and Amma alighted from the car, Amma’s hair resembled that of the matted sadhus…she was in great trauma the extent of which I only understood much much later. I remember Ma combing out the matted hair for her…
Baba got transferred back to Calcutta and there were some quiet days at the Calcutta house…yes, Jethu’s death was slowly tearing our family apart but my life was smooth, I joined school in Calcutta the car used to take me to and from school. There were some other kids also in the car pool. Sachindro Dada, Amma’s driver used to drive us to school, Amma also started office. After some time my brother was born in the wee hours of a morning.
When my brother was two, Baba got transferred to Shillong, Baba’s residence was behind the office and the only thing that separated the two was a spring half door similar to the ones at then entrance of Salons of Western movies. I could creep below there doors and enter the clerks’ room and would be given office paper to doodle on. One day I ventured into the front lawn during office hours and Baba gestured angrily from his office window, I never repeated the mistake! We were in Shillong for 3months or so and we had many visitors in that beautiful house- Dilara…
Thereafter Baba got transferred to Delhi, Amma retired and decided to come with us. At first Baba did not get the official quarters and so we stayed in a rented flat in Green Park. Amma and I used to sleep on a chaarpai. We had shifted from the sprawling house in Shillong to a small flat in the, even then, congested Green Park, but we never felt bad even for a day. There was sooo many new things to see, new people to meet. It was here that we started to play the chor police games toting small guns and going ‘tan ta nan’. There was a boy in the house opposite ours who played with us. My school bus used to arrive at 6:30, some distrance from our house. In the winters when I sat down in the kitchen with my glass of milk the bright moon would be clearly visible in the sky. However, I just loved to journey to school, which was in the cantonment area several kilometers away.
After a year in Green Park Baba was allotted a house in Mandir Marg and thus began a very enjoyable period in my life. The house was walking distance from the Kali temple and the wonderful Kalibari library! That’s when I started reading with Noddy book first and then anything with Enid Blyton written on it. The books then were brand new and sparkling. Years later when I went back to the library to do some research on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose during my M Phil days I stepped with bated breath into the children’s section and was disappointed to see that most of my beloved books no longer had their original covers, but were bound in staid cardboard scarred and stained through use over all these years. We had wonderful neighbours and Durga Puja time was a lot of fun. The children got to wear volunteer badges and distribute bhog. We also got up in the morning and helped to pack the Prasad. I even took part in a Bengali play based on Sukumar Roy’s ‘Hojoborolo’. Sen auntie, our most lovable and enthusiastic neighbour prepared us for the play, she is still directing plays in the housing complex where she lives, God bless her and my she ever be a fountain of inspiration! No. 15 Mandar Marg was an interesting house a relic of the British times, Delhi’s famous ridge ran along the back of these houses. We were visited everyday by a gang of monkeys and one day a huge black ape made an appearance and left some of his poo in the court yard. Amma used to keep a clay bowl of water for the monkeys under the lemon tree. The female monkeys and their clinging babies made the most use of it. The leader of the pack, however, had a great dislike for drumstick trees and every time Amma’s sapling started resembling a tree the fellow managed to uproot it even while Amma beat a stick at him wildly! One day a snake appeared in the dining room as Amma was cutting vegetables and my brother was playing nearby, although the snake met a firey end soon afterwards, Amma decided that we cannot live in the house anymore.
We shifted to Kakanagar- DII 188. It had two huge fields in front of the block where my brother and I spent some very happy moments running about. In the same colony lived father’s second cousin and his family. Jethu and Jethuma , Tatun Dada and Kittu Dada, they were the cousins whom we missed. I remember evening upon evening of the happy times that we spent together. Kittu dada is very good at entertaining kids, and still is, God bless him. He invented the character ‘Poxo the Pig’ for us and would thrill us for hours. Amma got her drumstick tree, it was right outside Baba’s window and we became experts at flinging a fishing rod like contraption which I had made and picking slender drumsticks!
Baba got a deputation transfer to the Calcutta Port Trust and thus we came to stay, next, at the most lovely house of all, 11/B Portland Park. When we went there to see the house, the lawn was being used as a badminton court. The house had 6guava trees, one Bel tree ( I do not know the English word for this very, to my mind, ‘Bengali’ fruit), one falsa (a kind of berry) tree, 1 mehendi bush and a beautiful woodrose or chaaapa tree right at the front of the house forming an arch over the front verandah. I fell in love with the house the moment I saw it. Later we learnt that a foreign gentleman who had lived in the house was so taken by it that he named his house iun his home country ‘igarabee’ the corruption of 11-B which all the repair and maintenance men in the colony called it. The house gave us lots of space a huge lawn to run around in\, walls to climb, fruits to be had from the trees and all sorts of adventures. For the first time we had a resident gardener who worked hard to give us a lovely lawn and five years of delightful flower beds full of beautiful seasonal flowers. We had presented a dance show on the lawns of one of the houses, with Dipu auntie training many of the girls for many days. I think that is the finest cultural show that I will get a chance to be a part of in my entire life!
When we shifted to Ritchie Road, we felt a pang but there was new excitement too as we would get to live in a multi-storied building that too, on the seventh floor. When we went to see the flat what we noticed was that all the fans in the rooms were going round at full speed because of the wind that came from the open window. From the back verandah we could see Baba’s school –Ballygunge Government school, from the front verandah we could see storm clouds approaching and half the city landscape. Next to the building was a huge slum area. It would be the first time in our lives that we’ll get to see a birds eye view of slum life in all its ugly, poignant, tragic, horrifying and heart rending reality. Scenes that I have watched from the Ritchie Road balcony are etched in my memory and I can possibly write a book on them. We discovered later that the force of the wind was so much that it was impossible to open the bathroom doors when a storm is raging outside. Invariably one or other of us would get a call of nature the moment such a storm started. In this situation often, the entire family would be pushing the door open and the person with the urge would slip in from a small opening. The entire family had to help the person get out too! Baba’s friend Dwijen uncle’s house was on Ritchie road too and Bhaiya uncle also lived close by, so there were long adda sessions and Dwijen uncle’s children (two little dolls, bubble and titir) spent many evenings with us. The Maddox Square puja was another attraction in Ritchie Road, it was amazing how a neglected park full of anti-socials throughout the year, could be transformed into one of the most sophisticated pujas of Calcutta frequented by the very elite. We used to amble along from panchami to see the decorations in progress and the idol is always the ‘akchala’ in ‘dakershaaj’ with the traditional features. Dwijen uncle took us in his car to visit many pandals and he even convinced Baba to take the whole night mini bus ride once to visit pandals all over Calcutta. It was the experience of a life time.
Baba was transferred to Delhi next and for the first time the family had two establishments, Ma, Amma and I continued in Ritchie Road as my XII th board exams would begin shortly, Baba and my brother went to Delhi as he had to try for admission in class IX in the new city. It was a strange time with lots of ups and downs. Finally after my exams we joined Baba in Delhi at the Pragati Vihar hostel accommodation. This complex comprised of one bedroom apartments which were partially furnished. It was a legacy of the Asiad times built for the atheletes. Our furniture was stored in the cantonment godown and we were quite delighted to shift into this fun place. The front door opened into a never ending corridor which linked all the blocks of the massive complex. We could walk through the corridors for hours and if the numbers were not written in bold letters outside the flats we would be quite lost! There was a community hall and library in the complex and huge lawns which were put to full use by bands of boys playing cricket. My friend and I went for morning walks at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium! It is from here that I first started going to college in public transport all on my own! It was wonderful! The complex had its own durga puja, kali puja and saraswati puja too! We participated fully! Life could not be better. But no one can stay for long in this accommodation and after 7moinths of heady excitement, we shifted to RK Puram, to start a new phase in our lives.
Sector XIII RK Puram was a picturesque complex and once again we were on the 7th floor. The force of the winds were not as great as Ritchie Road but our huge terrace like verandah was very beautiful and it overlooked the tennis court and we had an excellent view of the greenery around. Our neighbour Chaitali auntie used to say that she is envious of our house as it used to always bustle with people and activity. Truly we always had friends and relatives in the house and there was a joyous atmosphere all the time. When the Mandal Commission unrest happened, all the young people who were studying outside came back home as institutions remained closed for sometime and there were no less than 14 girls in the building . We would chat on the stairs watch films together and have a proper bash on holi! Then my father’s friend’s daughter stayed with us for some months as her parents were shifting to Delhi and she had to begin school before that, and it was as if a sister had been adopted in the household…we even started looking like each other!! In short, we had a blast. It was in RK Puram that Amma was diagnosed with breast cancer and she had to undergo a huge operation and the painful radiotherapy. She fought back valiantly and the turmoil of my final years of BA class gave way to a peaceful year of MA in the South Campus. Baba got transferred to Calcutta again just before my MA final exams and I got to stay at the Gitanjali Hostel in DU south campus which again was 6months of partying with a lot of dance and loud laughter thrown in. However we did put in a lot of studies too. I got very good marks in my MA final exams, the best that I had ever got in my 5years of BA and MA!
After MA it was back in Calcutta at the bhuter bari on Belvedere Road. For some months I taught at the school next doors where my mother was also a teacher. I got experience of teaching toddlers and older children upto class V. Thereafter I joined Bed at Loreto college and again I was off on my own in the public transport of another city!! The bhuter bari had 2 resident gardeners- boro mali and chhoto mali there were betel nut trees lining one side of the house and a nearly 200 year old mango tree. The year after we moved in the mango tree went quite berserk and sprouted millions of mangoes. Boro mali said that if all the mangoes had grown to their full size then the tree would not have been able to bear their weight and would have fallen down. As it happened every day thousands of small green mangoes would fall from the tree and everyone in the vicinity collected them to make pickles. When it was time for ripe mangoes we got baskets full of them and everyone in our house had two mangoes each everyday for days on end. We distributed mango baskets to our relatives and friends. It was amazing. Amma passed away in March 1996, before my Bed exams. There was a strange emptiness about the house. A few months later, my brother joined an MBA course in Delhi and Baba got his last posting in Pune. We decided to continue at the Bhuter Bari for sometime. Baba did not want to move bag and baggage to Pune as he was due to retire soon. When we had gone to Pune for a short visit suddenly my marriage got fixed.
I remember the Pune guest house where Baba was staying. It was huge, and there was cook who was very efficient. From Pune, Ma and I went with Baba in his official car to visit Ajanta and Ellora. It was for the first time that we had traveled without Amma and my brother too could not make it as he had to go back to his classes in Delhi.
On our return to Calcutta, preparations were going on for my wedding. I was busy completing the course for my students ( In Hindi High School Girls’ section). I was working till 2 days before my marriage, I had also joined MPhil at Jadavpur University and in the evening I used to teach a little boy who lived in a nearby building. My days were packed! I got married in the verandah of the bhuter Bari…it looked beautiful on my wedding day. My marriage was attended by all my cousins and many friends only Amma was not there…
The next 10 years of my life was spent in Sheikh Sarai. The colony is beautiful with tree lined lanes and parks. The house is surrounded by birds, parrots in the early morning and pigeons on our window sill. Sparrows, bulbuls and shalik pakhi and ofcourse the crows. My kids were born here and I did my PhD from here. I matured as a person and tried to balance my roles as a wife, a daughter in law and a mother. The memories are bitter sweet but the warmest memories are the strongest and I have chosen to forget (or atleast dull) the times of trial. Over the years I hope I have grown closer to my new family and I have been able to bring smiles on all their faces. In turn my family has accepted me with all my eccentricities and the love that my kids have for everyone is proof of that.
In December 2007 the Mr decided to take up a project in Bangalore. I was happy for the change. This was the first time that I would become a full fleged housewife, and we would run the household without parents. We took up the challenge and shifted. Our little rented flat was small in size but big in heart! We had many friends coming over and spending time with us. Our parents stayed with us, and I had the pleasure of having my parents stay with me for the first time after my marriage. We visited many beautiful places with and without our parents. I think we did a good job of staying on our own. Then came our decision to invest here. We traveled all over Bangalore looking for our flat and finally decided on this one. Now, after shifting here, we are slowly adjusting to the place. The kids are loving it and they have taken keen interest in their room and in the house in general. I pray to God that this house, too, will bring us joy happiness and contentment. May the days spent here leave happy memories.
I remember once, the bell rang in 41/B/1, I, then 5 years old ran down to see who it was, from the glass window on the landing I saw Pishi Pishemoshai Koko and Didi and my heart lept with joy!! I called to the others Pishi eshechhe!! In those days no one called in advance to let people know they were coming, but now, even if I have to visit my mother I have to call in advance and make sure they are free…there is no such thing as a surprise visit, any more. What a pity! I wish someone would surprise me now with a visit…noi phone calls required!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tag Time!!

My friend 2b's mom tagged me to list seven things about myself and tag seven others for the same. I am ashamed to say that I still cannot insert a link and I still do not have seven friends in the blog world who have not already done the tag. Therefore here is my half effort...sorry momma, I am trying....

1. I am completely addicted to Facebook and its many games and at the moment I am playing 5 games actively!

2. I love pottering about in little quaint shops in weekly or local markets which I find more thrilling than going to malls.

3. I can still spend a whole day reading an Agatha Christie mystery book.

4. If I had my own way I would have raw vegetables and fruit every day and spend my time exploring the city I live in.

5. I love watching my babies when they are asleep.

6. I cry while watching the TV serial Jyoti....stories of sacrifice and revolution move me a lot!

7. I love to have people around me all the time...I just cannot bear to be alone!

I tag -nm for the time being and beg for a little time to tag the others...heh heh

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kanyakumari Kollam Kochi

On Ma –Baba’s annual visit this year, we thought we would go to the very tip of India, the southern most point where the three seas meet. Thereafter we planned to throw in a bit of Kerala too with the sleepy town of Kollam (formerly known as Quilon) and the vibrant Cochin (the better part of it now called Ernakulam). We set off the Kanyakumari express which leaves Bangalore at 9: 40 pm to reach Kanyakumari at 6pm the next evening. This train, though headed for Tamil Nadu, (where Kanyakumari is located) travels for most of the morning through the lush green land of Kerala. Acres of coconut trees and banana groves on both sides presented a breath taking sight. We learnt of a new tourist destination, Varkala beach, a group of foreign tourists were headed there. The train also stopped at Ernakulum station.

We reached Kanyakumari at the stipulated time. Our bookings were made at the ‘Tri Sea ‘ hotel named after the confluence of the three seas ( Arabian sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian ocean) at the farthest point of Kanyakumari. There was a bit of confusion when our autorickshaw driver sped off with one of our bags by mistake. Another auto driver who had arrived with other tourists knew him and called him on the mobile phone (jai ho cell revolution!!) and before we could panic further, our bag was brought back. Our rooms faced the sea and thus we had a good view of the Vivekanand Rock which would be our destination on the next day and the gigantic statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar built on an adjacent rock.Ma and Baba called it a day, while we went to explore the sea side. We had missed the sun set by minutes, anyhow we had the whole of next day to experience this quaint town of Kanyakumari! The children went quite berserk at the sight of the sea waves and I had a tough time stopping them from running right into the ocean!! It had grown quite dark by then, however we splashed about for some time before having dinner and finally turning in.
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The next morning we were all up by 5am and we reached the seaside, sun rise point well in advance. The most amazing thing was that half the world had already arrived at the scene. Thousands of people we milling about, waiting to witness the phenomenon. There were many waiting to to take a dip in the confluence of the seas at the auspicious moment of the sun rise. It was cloudy and therefore it was not a picture book sun rise, however the changing colour of the skies presented a spectacular picture. Ma and Baba watched from the balcony of the hotel itself.



After the sun rise show was over we returned to the hotel and quickly got ready and set off for the sea side once again to visit the famous Vivekanand Rock. The young Vivekananda had wandered to this southern most point of the country in search of enlightenment. Gazing at this rock from the shore, he was intrigued by it and yearning for the seclusion it afforded, the young man swam across to it and meditated long on its rocky surface. In the 1970s the then President of India, V V Giri, inaugurated the memorial ‘temple’ that has been built on the rock now. Personally I would have prefferd it if they had left the rock well alone, but I am sure very few among the ‘authorities’ the view. As if this were not enough, a rock beside Vivekanand’s has been usurped by the supporters of Tamil patriotism, who, no doubt resented the predominance of a Bengali (Vivekanand) in these parts. As a result a monstrous statue of the ancient Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar has been erected on a rock right next to Vivekanand’s. Thiruvalluver looms out of the ocean like an ominous genie and dwarfs the Vivekanand rock. The Tamillians have, at least symbolically, established their superiority but unfortunately they have further destroyed the pristine beauty of the place that had so inspired Vivekanand. The place still remains a favourite of the Bengalis scores of them thronged the place. Even though we visited the place on a weekday, there were very large crowds around. Bengalis and Keralites comprised the greatest number among the tourists. It took us half an hour in the long winding queue, to get to the ticket counter . There were two ferry launches taking passengers to and from the rocks. We had to wait for another 15 to 20minutes after buying the tickets. In the waiting room after the ticket counter, there were long cement benches for the passengers. On the walls of this waiting room was scribbled names and phone numbers of our literate and yet uneducated public and most of those who had so desecrated the walls belonged to the north of the country- Pune, Punjab, Delhi- very rarely were they people from the south. There was a proposition saying- 'good looking boys available' (or something to that effect) followed by their names and phone numbers! There was also an admonition written in bright blue across a wall which said “please do not write on the walls”! Finally it was our turn to ride the ferry boat. It is a short ride of about 7-8 minutes. The rock affords a beautiful view of the seas and the pretty town of Kanyakumari. There are two ‘temples’ on the rock, one dedicated to the deity ‘Kumari’ which has her footprint in it, opposite to it is the Vivekanand shrine. Below the shrine is a meditation room. We could see the different colours of the three seas that merged into one, near the rock. The sea breeze was soothing and cool, although the day was very hot. We spent a happy half and hour on the rock. We walked through the meditation room where people were chanting the ‘om’ sound, we also visited the souvenir shops lined along the back of the memorial shrine and bought many interesting knick knacks from there.

We gave the Thiruvalluvar rock a miss because there were a lot of steps to climb and we were weary after the day in the scorching sun. We returned to the mainland and headed for the seaside shops to buy shells and dry fruits. There was some delightful stuff at these shops. Then we went to the rocky beach which we had visited last evening. The children immediately dived in! There was a sign board saying that it was a ‘deep and dangerous’ sea-they did not care whether the sea was deep or dangerous, they were ecstatic! The little one chanted ‘deep and dangerous sea’ every time the waves hit him, however the next moment he went further in! I spent half the fishing the kids out of the water. In the evening we witnessed a quiet and beautiful sun set at the ‘sun set point’. In sharp contrast to the sun rise, this was a perfect affair with the round orange sun dipping smoothly into the sea. Later in the evening we set off for Kollam ( the hotel arranged for the taxi which took Rs 2000 for the four hour drive). Kollam along with Alleppy a little further down are the centers from where the famous backwater trips are organized in Kerala. On our way we had our first taste of Kerala cuisine at a restaurant in Trivandrum where we stopped for dinner. It was appam and idiappam all the way- lip smacking! We reached Kollam at 10: 30 pm and there was nothing much to do than to go to sleep. We got up next morning to see a beautiful town, covered in coconut trees. From the balcony at one of the rooms we could catch a glimpse of the backwater trail, with a small houseboat parked in it. Out of the various trips in the backwaters and canals we chose the traditional boat ride which included a 2 hour tour of the canals through villages, with stoppages at a coir rope making unit, lakes where fish are cultivated and coconut oil making units. The boat ride was preceded by a 45 minute bus ride to Munroe Island from where we boarded the boat. Thereafter we quietly floated down the winding canals. There were several low bamboo and even concrete bridges over the canals under which we had to duck, apart from that exertion, the trip went off smoothly. It was fun to glide down the tree lined canal way looking out for birds and tadpoles in the water. The most familiar bird for us was the snake bird (apart from the crow!), kingfishers, eagles and egrets. After doing some leisurely wandering we were treated to some tea at a tea stall cum coir making unit. The lady who made tea for us also demonstrated later the art of making the coir ropes at a spinning wheel behind her shop. The ‘husk’ of the coconut is first immersed in water for a stipulated period of time and then dried and separated into a threadlike mass. Next, this mass is slowly and skilfully wound into the wheel to make the ropes. It was thrilling to watch the rope appear from a mass of thread as if by magic!
During our meanderings we also saw great lakes/ ponds where fish, including the popular tiger prawn is ‘grown’. Large nets have been used to cover the ponds so that the birds do not make off with the fish. For the first time I saw nets being used to save and not to catch fish! Our final stop was at a coconut oil making unit where we also saw a cashew tree in fruit a pineapple shrub. Finally we were treated to sweet tender coconut water, fresh from the tree! We were on the boat with a group of foreigners (one of them had a Bengali grandfather…hail to the adventurous spirit of the Bengali!). During our ride we saw a foreigner couple on a boat by themselves and a Sikh gentleman with his family in another. At the tea shop we saw another group which also had mostly foreigners in it. Thus I concluded that this beautiful ride is more popular among the foreigners than us Indians, who would rather avoid the glaring rays of the sun! I rate this tour better than the launch ride of eight hours between Kollam and Alleppy (which we did 13 years ago) because it is far more adventurous and more fun. During the earlier trip we almost dozed off in the latter part of the journey! This trip did not have a single dull moment….I recommend this mesmerising trip for anyone who chooses to visit Kollam. After returning back to Kollam town, we had a quick lunch and rested for an hour before catching the bus for Ernakulum. These buses are quite frequent from the Kollam bus depot. After one and a half hours of the journey, we hopped off at Alleppy to try and catch the last backwater ride, but unfortunately missed it. We took an autorickshaw to Ernakulum from Alleppy, which is a journey of another one and a half hours. Now, this auto fellow decided that he should take us to the heart of Fort Kochi because I had said that we wanted to stay at a place from where the Chinese fishing nets were easily accessible. What we did not know was that whereas earlier the only way to get to the fort side was by ferry boats, now the powers that be have built bridges connecting the town with the Fort Kochi area and half the islands, making the ferry system nearly redundant. What a shame, the charm of the place has diminished considerably due to this. In any case, we managed to get a good hotel at Fort Kochi and after a hearty dinner with Kerala parotha and curry washed down with some lemon tea, we fell fast asleep looking forward to a bright day ahead.
The next day, after breakfast we first went to the Synagogue in the heart of Jew town at the Fort. This place also has the famous spice market of Cochin. Thirteen years ago we had breezed into the synagogue and taken a photo of the inner sanctum. Now it presented a forbidding picture- no bags allowed inside, photography prohibited, there was also an elaborate instruction regarding the proper dress that should be worn at the place of worship. People are instructed to wear no sleeveless tops or shorts- long pants and scarves were made available so that those who were ‘improperly’ dressed did not miss the chance to visit the place. We entered in batches, one group keeping guard over the bags by turns. When we visited the place so many years ago, there were hardly any visitors, however now there was a huge crowd gathered around the place. People from all over the world were here to see this little synagogue! The heightened security ( there were armed police lolling about the place), was perhaps due to the attack on Jews in Bombay on 26/11. After visiting the synagogue we wandered about in the long winding lanes in ‘Jew Town’ looking at various artefacts and spices which were on display. We ambled along to the ‘Dutch Palace’ which houses a museum which has many art works and costumes etc of the royal family of Travancore. Afterwards we took the ferry boat to Ernakulum town, planning to take another ferry to Bolghatty Island. They have built so many bridges across the sea that there is no need to take the ferry at all, the tickets are only Rs. 4 per head and the service is used by tourists in the main. Previously, the boats used to be full of office goers, in lungis and crisp shirts with the mandatory leather briefcases. At Ernakulum we learnt, to our dismay that the ferry to Bolghatty island has been scrapped because the island can now be reached by a 3 kilometer long bridge. The Bolghatty island has a palace which has been converted into a 5 star hotel, we had not planned to enter the hotel, we just wanted to enjoy the joy ride to the island and catch the next ferry back, but that was not to be…We had a hearty lunch in the town and took the ferry back to Fort Kochi and headed straight for the Chinese fishing nets. The sea shore where the nets are located is now filled with stalls selling trinkets and t-shirts and one can hardly see the shoreline. This area was once open and unpaved with only a few fish shops with boards saying ‘You Choose, We Cook’ where fish freshly caught at the nets was fried for eager visitors. Now there were no such shops in sight. We observed the complicated process of fishing with the help of the nets for some time. After wandering at the sea side stalls for a bit, we returned to the hotel for some rest.
In the evening we left the sleeping kids with Ma and Baba and went to explore the place around the hotel for the last time. We found the ‘you choose, we cook’ shops at a place very near our hotel, however they just sold the fish. The fish would have to be fried by various ‘seafood’ restaurants which have sprung up around the place. We had the fish fried and packed at one of these places and headed off to the station as we were taking the 9 o’clock train back to Bangalore. Finally we ate the fish with our dinner of doas in the train. A delicious ending to a delightful holiday!!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Being a Woman in India

As Woman's Day approaches,I reflect on the moments that made me aware of my 'woman-ness',and the feelings are mixed. There is according to me only one thing that makes me thankful that I am a woman and that is the privilege of giving birth and the awakening of the feeling of motherhood. It is a feeling akin to having your insides melt down and flow about in your body at the sight of that little creature that came from inside you- never mind if the little creature has grown up and is now bigger than you, such small attention to detail just does not count!! I have seen my mother in law gazing in the same tender way at the fully grown Mr as I look at mite and Brat! At almost all other times that I have been aware of my womanhood, I have felt nothing but disgust!!
Consider this, while walking to the beach at Kanyakumari with the mite's hand in mine, two fellows in a motorbike whizzed past and the pillion rider made a grab at me!!! Imagine, here I am an elderly lady nearing 40, with a baby holding my hand and yet some sick fellow has the teremity to make a grab at me. I gave a shout and looked viciously at him, but I was completely helpless. Later, I thought of a hundred things I could have done- picked up a stone and hurled at him, shouted 'chor chor' at the top of my lungs to attract attention, run after him shouting insults...anything...but at that moment I was a totally intimidated creature. It was evening time, but there were a lot of people around, the Mr and my Brat Girl had gone a little ahead, none of the people around noticed the incident, or maybe if they did, they did not react. I could only feel sick and disgusted inside....When I told the Mr about it I could not speak about the groping part...I said, "maybe he was after my camera" (which I was holding in my hand), whereas in my heart of hearts I knew what the fellow was upto. Now, I have had to face many such situations before as a college student in the buses of Delhi, but I had expected that marriage and motherhood would save me from such cheap affronts, but alas a woman is always prey to such filthy acts. A few months ago I was shopping at a nearby mall when I saw a man and several women talking about the fish in the non-veg section. I assumed they were together. I was waiting for my fish to be cut when the man started talking to me. He said he was in the army ( I assumed that the ladies were army wives whom he had brought here). He said he went to Russel market for fish and it was much cheaper and fresh there. He offered to take me there someday when I chose to go there, he gave me his number and asked me to give a missed call to him. By this time my fish was ready, now, I never give my number to strangers but I don't know what folly came upon me that I gave him a missed call, just so he would leave me alone. Meanwhile, I noticed that the ladies had disappeared and the man seemed in no hurry to accompany them. Anyhow, I completed my shopping and came home. From that evening the trouble started, the man started giving me blank calls. I felt totally intimidated, what if he stalked me and found my daughter? what if he is a rapist?? I felt complete helplessness, disgust and very sorry for myself. How could I make myself so vulnerable so easily? I am a nearly middle aged mother of two, yet one silly lapse renders me totally helpless. I started keeping an eagle eye out for my daughter. I did not ever wear the dress I had worn that day, neither did I go to that mall again in the morning or with my kids. Meanwhile the calls kept coming. I cancelled the calls without taking them. I told the Mr and my landlord. I thought if I had a male voice answer the phone once or twice then the fellow would be discouraged. At last the calls stopped...he must have found some other pray. Indeed, a few months later, when I was relating this incident to a young friend of mine she grabbed hold of me and said, "Didi, the same guy took my number in almost the same manner and kept calling me and turning up at places where I was buying stuff and later even proposing marriage!", my young friend did not tell me about the incident because she thought I would not believe her or I might think that she is silly to have given her number to a stranger! So what is the result of this? A man who is a potential danger to God knows how many women is roaming free in the malls and 2 women who know him for what he is cannot prevent him from spreading his perversity around.
This same young friend was attacked by a burgler in her own house a couple of months ago. She had been living in Bangalore for the past 5-6 years on her own. The burgler apparently stalked her for sometime and one morning when she went down to start the water pump he slipped into her room and when she came in he nearly strngled her and beat her up badly before running off with her valuables. The police arrived and started asking questions of her about the minutest detail of the attack, their questions became unbearable to my friend, it was almost as if they wanted to hear something more sensational than a mere robbery. My friend felt very uncomfortable and later refused to lodge a complaint for fear of further harassment at the hands of the police.
These incidents made something very clear to me. We just do not have the mechanism to afford relief to women victims in cases of assault against women. The first person we can turn to i.e. the police itself has a dubious record in these matters. Is it not important that women should get a chance to report such cases in a place where she herself does not feel threatened? The woman should get proper training so that she can face such attacks...what does she do in case this happens to her?? There is no agency apart from the police to deal with these cases, atleast nothing that might be freely available to all women.
Now I believe that the Indian woman is more intelligent, more focused, more hard working, more caring and in every way more superior than the male of the species. In spite of anti-social elements strewn all over the place, inspite of socio-religious restrictions, inspite of unfair cultural dictats, inspite of every kind of deterrent she has emerged with great courage to persue her dreams. She walks the hostile streets, scales corporate ladders, excels everywhere, nurtures her family with super human effort and I think she deserves a much better deal than she is getting. What we do not have and require desperately is a sisterhood of sorts. Maybe we can carry whistles and when someone blows it women within hearing distance can rally around. What is required is a revolution among the women so that they can support each other in case they are targeted due to their sex. Any suggestions??

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Season's Greetings and Best Wishes for a Happy and Prosperous New Year!!

These were the words that were printed on the majority of the cards that came to my father at around this time of the year. I spent long hours hanging them one after the other on strings tied to a window or across a doorway. The pictures on top ranged from birds and flowers to the staid army shield symbols. I loved them all. I preserved some of the ones that were strikingly beautiful or funny. The Mr is an expert in buying cards but hopelessly inefficient at sending them. So we have a set of beautiful Christmas cards sitting on top of our small TV set in the bedroom which will be sent only next year (hopefully). There are all manner of cards stashed away in the various nooks and cranies of our house which never got sent!! My father is worse than the Mr, not only does he not send any cards, he does not even bother to buy any!! Even in his hay days he used to buy only a few cards and sent it to a select group of his friends. This time I was in Calcutta during the new year and I found that his friends are still sending Baba new year cards (regardless of his inability to reply to them). The first card to arrive always used to be that of Bony uncle, for as long as I can remember, so it was even this time. Baba and uncle are don't meet very often now a days but he still thinks of Baba. It is so heart warming to see this kind of friendship.
On my visit to Calcutta this time I met a few of my old school and college friends some after many many years and it was a wonderful treat!! We talked and talked and talked. We watched our kids play together, we relived all the moments we had spent was miraculous...Nita, Prakriti, Anjana, Urbashi...thank you dear friends for making my trip so special this time!!