Monday, March 28, 2011

Hurray! Puppet Day!

On Sunday we had a smashing time at Ranga Shankara on 'World Puppetry day'. An international organisation of puppeteers called UNIMA Union International de la Marionette had declared 21st March to be the World Puppetry Day. In Bangalore this day was celebrated by Dhaatu Puppet Theatre at Ranga Shankara . The Dhaatu theatre was started by a husband and wife duo the Hoskeres. We reached Ranga Shankara at around 11 am to find a group of expectant children and their parents already seated in the foyer in front of a puppet performance stage. The kids and I immediately made ourselves comfortable on the floor. as the show began we were asked to get puppets for the kids.I had noticed that most of the kids were brandishing puppets in their hands I had thought that they'd got it from home/were part of the performers. Anyhow, I rushed to get two puppets for my babies, by that time all the elaborate puppets were gone. The mite was delighted by a smiling flower puppet,the Brat got one of the papier mache ones made by the Dhaatu puppeteers themselves, it was a bit heavy for her.
Anupama Hoskere founder of Dhaatu began the show/celebration with an introduction to the international organisation UNIMA and her husband and cofounder of Dhaatu read out an email sent by the head of UNIMA related to the celebration of World Puppetry Day. Anupama Hoskere is a very articulate lady and I am sure she is a great teacher because she managed to hold the attention of the very restless population of fidgetty children and their equally restless parents who just wanted to see a puppet performance rather than learn something fascinating about puppetry in India. We were informed that there are mainly 4 kinds of puppets in India - string puppets, rod puppets, hand puppets and shadow puppets. We also discovered that Karnataka has its own contribution to puppet making in India and the master puppeteer in the state, from whom nearly all the experts have recieved their training is a gentleman called M R Ranganatha Rao. In fact the Master was there to celebrate the day with us. Mr Rao is now in his 70s but full of spirit, he gave the audience an account of how difficult it was to make a start with a handfull of puppeteers and recounted his experiences. The speech was in Kannada but I could make out from his expressions how much sincere effort it took for him to get where he is. Mr Rao was also gave us a small demonstration of the traditional Kannada style puppet which was very elaborate and the strings from its head and shoulders is attached to the puppeteer's head by a wooden band. As the puppets are made of pure wood and wear heavy clothes and jewellery, it must have been a tough task to manouvre them in those times. Mr Rao was followed by 2 of his disciples who also explained and demonstrated their efforts in the furtherance of this craft. A lady puppeteer from basavanagudi who has done pioneering work in disemanating this art in schools also displayed her work. Mr Rao's wife is also contributing in her own way by making dolls modelled on the various puppets which are sold at an outlet, this dolls also have strings and can be used as puppets along with being a beautiful wall hanging in the manner of the popular Rajasthani puppets.
There were a few short puppet performances in between these demonstrations. The first one was an all out filmy song and dance number with puppets dancing to Bum Bum Bole, the popular kiddies number from the film Taare Zameen Par. This performance used both traditional rajasthani and a sneaker wearing cartoon character type puppets. Then there was a parade of traditional Karnataka puppets, dancers, demons with detachable heads performing to various songs. There was a cluster of puppets strung to a wooden band which appeared like a group of women performing a dandia type dance and this cluster could be controlled by a single puppeteer.
The Dhaatu group also displayed a dancer puppet modelled on a famous court dancer which can, to a great extent, copy the actions of real classical dancers. The final and grandest display was of the innovative metal puppets developed by a young puppeteer of Dhaatu, Kaushik, who is also an engineering student. These metal puppets move with the help of a mechanical device which the puppeteer operates by rotating a wheel. There was a lively performance by 'Charlie and Mrs Charlie' the two metal puppets.
Arundhati Nag (founder of Ranga Shankara and a renowned theatre personality) unveiled the metal puppets and she was present almost throughout the programme.
Finally came the most entertaining and exciting part of the celebrations- the puppet parade. All the kids and their enthusiastic parents headed off for a 1.2 km walk in a procession of puppets. We took a circular path on the road and lanes near the Theatre. The procession was lead by Anupama Hoskere and the Master puppeteer and his pupils were solidly behind her. The procession attacted a lot of attention with people asking us what we were upto.
While we were nearing the end of our walk I noticed that two very young boys were struggling with a giant puppet and they had fallen back even behind the Dhaatu truck which was bringing up the rear of the parade and was giving a lift to those who could not walk the whole distance. They were also holding onto some string puppets while pushing the giant one. The giant puppet seemed to have a mind of its own and was constantly sliding into the drain like indnt at the side of the road. At first I offered to hold the boys' stick puppets while they struggled with the giant. Finally they gave up and scooted with the stick puppets leaving the giant with me. I began pushing the giant and was quite enjoying it when the Mr took matters into his own hands. While he was trying to wrest the giant from me, a man with a fat notebook approached us and started asking us about the puppet and the parade, the entire parade had, meanwhile turned the corner and was pretty much out of sight! So here we were the Mr trying to pry away the giant puppet from me with a guy asking him questions and making furious notes in his diary and the kids standing calmly by on a busy JP Nagar road!! Finally, we extricated ourselves from the questioner and the Mr wheeled the giant home smoothly. We chatted with the inventer of the metal puppet who was enveloped in a wooden cow puppet. Darshana had meanwhile exchanged her heavy rod puppet for a furry string puppet and was very happy at accomplishing that feat. The entire parade stood together and clicked many snaps.
We finally had lunch at the Ranga Shankara eatery sitting next to the Master puppeteer and his family. The kids had pasta and we shared an egg biriyani washed down with iced tea.
The Mr couldn't get over the puppet pushing incident " If you go anywhere with Diya," he observed wisely, " you have to be prepared to run after a thief if someone's purse is stolen, if there is an accident you have to transport the victim to the hospital, if little boys are unable to steer a giant puppet, you have to push it home...and indulge in all kinds of social service", I smiled knowingly and was glad that the Mr got the picture! heh heh

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Concerns for the Brat Girl

The other day I read in the papers that an eleven year old girl committed suicide because her mother read her diary and found out about her romance with her classmate and came to her school to complain to the principal! Now here was a setting that looked all wrong, and the romance betwen the 11year olds is the least of the worries. Firstly, Momma had no right to read the girl's diary. I mean, there is serious counselling required here! Where is the child's privacy?? Secondly, the mother after reading the stuff goes huffing and puffing to the principal, who was busy and couldn't meet her, and yet she continued making a scene in school, inspite of the fact that her daughter kept pleading with her not to. Now, even if a mother finds out about such a relationship, shouldn't she first discuss it with her daughter and try to find out her state of mind before broadcasting it all over her school?? What can the principal do in such matters, when the lack of communication between mother and daughter is the issue?? After pleading with her mother to no avail, the daughter went home (her mother remained in school, waiting for the principal whom she finally could not meet). The girl reached home and hung herself, the mother returned too late to save her.Nowadays kids as yound as 11 (which is my little Brat Girls age) think nothing of hanging themselves and I am sure we adults are to blame. A few months ago there was great consternation among parents and teachers at the death of Rowanjit Rawla an 11 year old boy studying in a reputed Calcutta school, after he had been caned by his teacher. There was an opinion which said that the master had done nothing wrong and caning was an established punishment which all boys in the past have faced and were none the worse for it. Parents were blamed for sheltering their kids from the rough ways of the world and thus making them incapable of accepting these harsh punishments and bcoming very sensitive. In this case also the fault lies with us adults.
The fact is that we have no inkling about the trials and travails of the adolescent minds. We must accept that adolescence sents in much earlier than the teens now and parents should make an effort to keep channels of communication open, no matter what. If such matters come to light ( regarding something that they did not expect their child to do) there is a better chance to change the child's behaviour by reasoning with him or her rather than freaking out in front of him or her. Our kids deserve our love and understanding and it should be unconditional.
Hearing all these harrowing tales, I am really concerned about my Brat who, at eleven, is knocking at the teens and has been displaying adolescent behaviour patterns from age 5!! Will I be able to do the right thing when trying times arrive. Upto now, I think communication lines between us are opened but can she really confide in me completely?? What is going on in her little mind now?? I cannot say... I just hope I do not fail you, my little one, when the time comes I hope you will find your mother standing strong behind you...may you have a happy and stress free growiung up time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Of Quakes and Related Fears

I have not been sleeping well these few nights, the scenes of devastation of the quake in Japan have brought about some quakes and fears in my heart. Homes and ships and airplanes swept away like plastic toys in a tidal wave, cars floating near cracked highways. It is difficult to imagine that people inhabited those houses, people drove those cars off to office every morning, people flew those planes...all washed away in hours, minutes, seconds...Lives of thousands of people ravaged for ever.All this in a land which is prone to quakes and which has state of the art warning systems in place and has shown resilience in years of combat with the natural forces. It shows that no matter how smart we are the forces of nature can, at any moment, catch us unawares. These thoughts dive me now, even more, to cling to the mundane and store every moment of peace and quiet and every ordinary experience in my brain. My Brat Girl's even breathing as she sleeps soundly across the room; my mite lost in his dreams, one little foot emerging from under the covers, the Mr in the other room watching one of those off beat Hindi movies (which I couldn't watch due to my muddle headed thoughts)...all these things seemed so perfect, peaceful and full of joy. What of those families whose houses have been swept away, whose near and dear ones are missing, whose life, as they know it will never be the same again. How unfortunate are they and how blessed am I that I have been spared this tremendous test. What have these poeple done to dserve this? Does that supernatural power, whom we call God really exist? Is this power really looking over us? What is the rationale behind such devastation? All the answers elude me and I fail to find the reason for such suffering. All I know and feel is that we are safe for now, my loved ones are around me, I can hold and touch them, love them a little more...and pray like crazy that the ones who have not been that lucky find strength. May those missing be found, may they find some hope to cling onto and may our scientists expend more efforts to avert such devastation in future.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Being a Woman...

On this day, the 100th in the string of special days dedicated to women, I reflect upon what it means to be a woman, for me.When I was around 6years old, I wanted to be a boy because I liked the stuff which they did, playing cricket, climbing trees, whistling tunes, wearing pants and generally going boldly about. Little girls in frilly frocks and dolls who shrank from cockroaches and spiders used to make me quite sick! I played with dolls and kitchen sets but I hated all things 'girly'. I could whistle a mean tune even as early as that, I played cricket with the little boys in my colony,I pulled my socks over my pants (like princes in the fairy stories) and swung about whistling a tune, all carefree and happy when adolescence struck! I was more aware of being a woman, it dampened my style, I became more conscious of myself. I learnt music and dance, I gave up wearing pants and playing cricket. I still climbed walls when no one was looking, but things had changed...
I wanted to go out and play cricket, but something pulled me back! It was the first time I had encountered gender stereotypes. I believe that it is a great detering force more for women but in some measure for men too.
Then what is the essence of being a woman if you take away the gender stereotypes completely? I became the victim of my own inhibitions but my mother didn't, she was the quintessential tom boy, flying kites with the boys in the neighbourhood, a champion in short put and javelin in school and generally oblivious of what adolescent girls can or cannot do! Now what is it that makes us, two such different people, women? I wondered....
Then I hit upon it, ofcourse, this must be it! As women, I feel, we give much more importance to relationships. I have spent years listening to my grandmother chatting with all kinds of women, from her own mother to the neighbourhood women to our friends. She would start by asking someone whom she had met for the first time what the name of her grandfather was! Now if the person belonged to East bengal (what is now Bangladesh) there would be a glint in her eye and she would ask for the whole family tree ands end up finding some relation with the person with us with someone we know. A typical session with Didima, her mother would start with a premise like "Orur deorer bhairabhai akhon kemon aachhe?" ( How is the brother in law of the brother in law of Oru?) going on to a 2 hour analysis and deconstruction of the said persons family both paternal and was fascinating! They were genuinely interested in all these people and I was genuinely interested in the conversations! My mother was never a great conversationalist but this understanding of relationships was expressed by her in another manner, she remembered who gave which piece of jewellery to her and in what occassion down to the last earing!! What's more, she can even remember those things about my pishi's jewellery! Now my pishi, though not one for remembering the origins of her jewellery, was keenly interested in women's position in and the nature of her relationships in society. I remember our debates on the dining table which ranged from 'do women with dark skin face a disadvantage in society' to 'impact of divorce on women'and they were very heated. Now, the manifestations might be different, but women have a deeper understanding of and responsibility towards all the relationships she has and those of all women around her. She is the epitome of empathy and duty. She jealously guards and cherishes her relationships, she is swayed by then, she derives strength from them...She takes her roles very seriously and she can make great sacrifices for her relationships. I am not saying that men can't do all these things, for women, the intensity is much more. I have seen the eyes of most of the men I know glaze over while women are discussing the exact relationship of one person to another in their extended family. Some are not sure about the relationships of people within their own families, but it is rare to find women with the same predicament. So be it a tomboy or a docile meiden, relationships will always remain prime in a woman's existence and she will try to honour them to the best of her ability.
On women's day I congratulate all the mothers who have diligently woken up with the alarm clock at ungodly hours in the morning to get their kids ready for school for years inspite of not being a morning person, I congratulate all the sisters who have given immense support to their siblings and stood by them through thick and thin, I congratulate the wives who have given up jobs to be with their husbands and kids, I congratulate daughters who have not forgotten or forsaken their parents, I congratulate grandmoms who have raised their grandchildren allowing their daughters and daughters in law to persue their careers, I congratualte mothers in law and daughters in law who have sorted out their relationship and succeeded in becoming friends. I continue to be amazed by the incresing number of women, who inspite of all hinderances continue to make a mark for themselves in the world. Happy women's day!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Lifetime on a Journey

On the Pondicherry trip, there was so much activity, so much joy, so much togetherness, there were fights and laughter, a reunion after 14 years, there was disappointment and the sense of loss too, there were prayers and reflection, there were long walks and fervent bargaining, there were surprises and sudden decisions…there was everything that one experiences in life…it felt as if I have lived a whole life in these 3 days…. The Mr had been planning a trip to Pondicherry for a long time, this time when my parents in law arrived we were ready with our booking of tickets to Chennai for 23rd December night. At Bangalore Central Railway station, we observed something that I have never seen before- the adding of four coaches to the train. Ofcourse our coach was one of them so we stood out in the cold till 11: 45 pm waiting for the coaches to arrive!! We reached Chennai bright and early the next morning and had breakfast at a railway station restaurant. The food was good but over priced. For the first time in South India we had a 300bucks breakfast!! We thereafter went to the Chennai bus stand and took the early morning Volvo bus to Pondicherry. The ride took us 3 hours via Mahabalipuram. The road was good and the bus was excellent, however Ma had a bout of stomach churning after the heavy breakfast. I found that I was totally unprepared for the event, no napkin, plastic bag, no lozenges, absolutely nothing, I felt ashamed and helpless. A lady in the bus kindly offered a plastic bag, so Ma got some relief. Another lesson learnt- do not board a bus for a 3 hour trip after a heavy breakfast, and if that is unavoidable, kindly carry barf bag, lozenges, napkin, hand sanitizer, perfume, smelling salt , avomin tablet, nimbu paani, ginger, clove, wet wipes and any other thing you can lay your hands on in your hand bag! The journey took us half way around Chennai town and around the whole of Pudduchheri town besides giving us a smashing view of the coastline and the sculpture shops along the way near Mahabalipuram. Infact I had the strong urge to jump off the bus when I saw the beautiful sculptures strewn along the road. One of them, that of an elderly lady, stood under a tree and looked so real that at first sight I thought it was a real person! We reached Pondicherry town at about 12pm, we moved into our hotel and freshened up and set off right away for Chunnambar backwaters and beach which was about a half hour auto ride from the hotel. We had a hearty lunch before boarding the ferry to the beach some distance down the back waters. It is a wonderful ride with coconut palm lined banks down a backwater stretch that was wide enough to be a large river! We were rejuvenated to see the magnificent sea….the beach had a steep slant and therefore the beach was a bit dangerous for non swimmers like us, there was a man walking to and fro with a whistle and a stick warning people if they ventured too far. There were a lot of shells very interesting shells, however, and the kids and I had a great time rushing about collecting them. While returning it was nearly evening and we had the auto drop us off at the Promenade which is the sea front at the heart of Pondicherry town. We walked down till the Mahatma Gandhi statue. The place reminded me of Bombay’s Marine Drive, there were huge boulders bordering the sea and it cut a cemented arch along a kilometre or two by the sea. There was a lot of activity near the Gandhi Statue with stalls selling shell items and a crafts mela in full swing. We breezed about the place for sometime…while coming away from the Promenade the children spotted a man dress as Santa Claus in one of those pre-Christmas rituals, it was Christmas Eve. After an eventful day, Ma Baba and the mite rested in the hotel while the Mr , the Brat and I proceeded to explore the place for a good place to eat. We found only one Udipi style eatery nearby and after surmounting the language problem, (The Menu was in Tamil, even the prices!), we managed to get what we wanted. Now the remotest of places in Karnataka have decent eateries and a menu card that all can read, so that was a revelation! We took some food for the others. We also bought a plum cake for Christmas Day! The next day we were up early, and ready to go!! We had hired an auto for touring the Aurobindo Ashram, the Auro beach and Auroville. The aurobindo Ashram was near the heart of the city. This building has the ‘samadhi’ of Sri Aurobindo under a majestic tree. The place is run by elderly Bengali gentlemen who were headmasters of Government schools, for sure, before they retired and came here to throw their weight around!! No cameras are allowed inside the building, and we were herded about like sheep. Half the place is out of bounds for visitors, there is a cramped bookshop selling books on spirituality of Sri Aurobindo and his most famous disciple, the Mother. Among the books, I found an interesting pamphlet- a collection of poems by Sri Aurobindo. We sat near the ‘samadhi’ of Sri aurobindo for sometime, a massive tree provides shade to him in the peaceful courtyard of the Ashram. The ‘headmasters’ ensure that there is no noise and no crowding by gesticulating madly at the erring party. We sat there for sometime and then made our way out of the building. If I were running the place, I would have allowed the visitors into some other rooms too. I wonder what the headmasters are upto in the rest of the house. I learnt later that much of how you are received and how much you can see in Aurobindo sites depends on your ability to get ‘permission’ from a coterie of these ‘Headmasters’ who call themselves the ‘governing body’ or something…. The place was full of Bengalis and I felt we were transported to one of those ancient joint family homes in Calcutta. After the Ashram we set off for the prime attraction of the morning- the Serenity beach, also known as the Auro beach which is close to the township Auroville established by the Mother. This beach, unlike the one the previous day was very safe and mild and reminded us of the beaches of Goa. There was another bout of playing about in the water and sand. The kids could not figure out why we had to visit Auroville after this…according to them the beach was the ultimate destination!! Reluctantly we dragged ourselves out of the sea and headed to the township nearby. It is a serene spot surrounded by wooded lands. First we had to get passes to view the ‘Matri Mandir’. The person giving out the passes, doubtless well tutored by the headmasters first demands in a gruff tone-“have you seen the film”, when we say a clueless “no”, he orders us “go and see it first, only then will I issue passes”!! We spent some time arguing with the fellow that we have kids and elderly people and we would rather see the real Mandir than a film. At this the fellow became more adamant and added “…you have to see the film, we have made it with a lot of effort…” or something to that affect. There was nothing to it, we were forced to enter the projection room and hear a ten minute documentary on the thoughts behind the construction of the Matri Mandir and its architectural design, with the children fidgeting and protesting, for who wants to sit in a dark room when the outdoors beckon? Little did we know that this film was a compensation for not letting the public come anywhere near the structure! We were shown the way to the Mandir, there is a solar car service to it but we thought “how far can it be’, and decided to walk. Then began the long walk down a wooded area, there was a road on the way but no electric car stopped there for us even though they had place for atleast the 2 elderly people and children with us. Baba had some difficulty in walking so much, but his will power pulled us through. Finally, after a tiring walk we arrived at the ‘great Banyan tree’. This amazing tree spanned a huge area and its hanging roots had grown right into the ground and looked like trees themselves! We sat under its shade for sometime. The tree has an aura, it is possible to sit under it for ages and stare in wonder at its roots which have become tree trunks in their own right. Thereafter we entered the gate leading to the Matri Mandir. The Matri Mandir is Globe Shaped structure made up of golden disc like objects. It is a prayer hall that incorporates the various representations of the Mother-goddess with each direction representing an aspect of her , eg the ‘hibiscus’ section representing goddess Kali, ‘lotus’ laxmi and such like with the Mother holding central position. We could only see the structure from 100 ft (or more) distance, so the film we saw would be our only source of information of what is to be found inside. The gardens around it are still being laid . The Amphi theatre was visible but on the whole it was very unsatisfying. We heard there that you have to get ‘permission’ two days in advance to enter the prayer hall that is the Mandir itself…While returning we managed a seat for Ma Baba and the kids in the free solar car service after much scrambling and jostling, and we took an auto rickshaw back. There was another building that was accessible for us lesser mortals but we weren’t in the mood! We entered the canteen and found that chicken was freely available , contrary to what we had heard about the vegetarianism of the aurobindo settlement. We however, opted for the simple vegetarian lunch. Here too there was a scramble for the tables . Lunch was largely peaceful under a huge tree. Thereafter we visited the two boutiques near the canteen and bought some candles and agarbattis. The Mr and Ma with the Brat also visited the information centre and bought some postcards etc. however, wonder of wonders, Ma could not find a single decent picture postcard sized photograph of Sri Aurobindo anywhere! While walking back to our auto through the surrounding woods, I heard a Bengali gentleman observe to another “ the British have oppressed us and taken from us for many years but they have also given so much here…” . This is the level of understanding of our own history by us, I thought, this is the reason that I recommend history classes for all Indians!! Just as all Muslim rulers are not Mughals, similarly all Europeans are not British! If we can give credit to the British for Auroville, we can do so in a convoluted way- British oppressed our people, Sri Aurobindo suffered in their hands and fled to French occupied Pondicherry where he found peace and spirituality….So the funds mainly came from France and some other European countries and the movement has precious little ‘British’ support, I am sure. Out of the total 1500 imates at Auroville there are more than 200 French and another 200 German whereas there are about 30-40 Britishers, today. I wish I could stop the gentleman and clear his ideas, but I was too tired to do so. Live in ignorance, gentleman, ‘ki farak painda?’(what difference does it make). After this hectic excursion the kids and Ma Baba took a rest, while the Mr and I took to the streets in the late evening to catch the Christmas Day festivities and a feel of the French section of Pondicherry town with its various “Rues’. We went to The Church of Immaculate Conception on Mission Street and from there headed on foot to the Promenade side crossing several Rues like the Rue de la Marine, Rue Dupliex etc Meandering through the lanes we passed the Lycee Francaise or the only French School in India. A few tourists were walking by beating a drum bought from the fair near the beach. It was a lazy leisurely walk and the Mr and I could be alone together in this discovery thanks to Ma and Baba. We bought more mementos from a shop near the Promenade. Thereafter we rushed off to bring Ma Baba and the kids out for dinner at Sarguru restaurant which was in Mission Street. There was a great rush at the restaurant too with half an hour’s waiting time. We ambled about on Mission street and Mahatma Gandhi Street for some time before sitting for dinner. We were famished and the portions were less ( we had never seen such small Kerala parothas in our three years in the south!) The service was also very slow, clearly, Sarguru does not live upto its reputation…. After a packed day we at last retired, but not before making plans to visit the Pondicherry Museum the next day. We would be leaving Pondi on the 26th for Chennai from where we had a train to catch for Bangalore at night. In the morning we got ready as early as possible and set off for the museum which was near Mission Street too. The museum building was a stately old building which displayed some rare finds from the archaeological sites around Pondicherry in the ground floor. Remarkable among them was a huge bronze ‘Nataraj’ and several other beautiful bronzes, some coins and fire arms. Photography is prohibited inside the building but we could take photos of some excellent stone cut sculptures displayed outside. In the first floor the museum has some interesting French furniture of colonial times and samples of rocks and other materials available in the area. Next, we walked down Mission Street and bought some paper products and scented candles. We had breakfast at a shop run by Gujaratis but again we were disappointed, there was no breakfast menu like pooris , only samosa, kachori and dhokla was available and everything was overpriced! On our way back to the hotel we finally found a decent photo of Sri Aurobindo and the mother from a roadside shop. We arrived at the hotel and completed our packing and set off for the bus stand. At the stand we found that the one o’clock Volvo had no seats left. By this time the Mr and I had decided that we would stop over at Mahabalipuram and catch some sights there before going to Chennai which is an hour’s drive from there. We boarded one of the local buses. The conductor (all conductors, drivers, persons giving information are in a perpetual bad mood, a mark of Chennai culture!) informed us that we will have to buy tickets upto Chennai even if we get off at Mahabalipuram, otherwise he would suffer losses! We agreed and settled in two long seats. The bus started off nearly empty but slowly began filling up. The conductor finally did not take the fare uptill Chennai. One of our fellow passengers said knowingly “oh, they always say that you have to pay full fare, and then they’ll take only till the place you get off!” Apparently, they will never let a chance to be rude and difficult go by! At Mahabalipuram, the bus had become so crowded that we had to fight our way out and were nearly thrown off the bus with our luggage! The Brat had started feeling quite ill by that time. Two days of uninhibited play in the sea and the strain of all the walking and exploring were taking its toll. There was utter chaos in Mahabalipuram and the traffic was unimaginable! We somehow managed to get to a restaurant and had a hearty meal. Then we hired an auto to take us to the 2 main spots the panch pandava temples and the Arjuna’s penance rock cut cave like structure. The auto driver was very uncooperative and kept on telling us to hurry up. We saw the temples in turn and the whole majesty and beauty of the place was ruined because of the behaviour of the auto fellow! Delhi auto guys and the worst of the Bangalore autowallahs would appear like saints before this guy! Anyhow the man just returned from the pandava temples with us and plonked us near ‘arjuna’s penance’ which, as it happens, was a stone’s throw from the place where we had hired him! Then he demanded more money and we had a big altercation with him. He quickly disappeared when I shouted that I will call the police! Clearly, the police are a more dangerous species here, to have awakened such fear in the heart of such a remorseless and sympathy less man. We took turns to see the famous structure “Arjuna’s Penance’ which has the familiar sculpture of the ‘elephant procession, which I had seen in many a history book. Thereafter we booked a taxi to Chennai. It took us 2 hours to get to Baba’s friend Mallya uncle’s elder son’s house in Nungumbakkam. There was heavy traffic on the city roads, we reached the city limits in an hour, but negotiating the traffic took us another. During the journey, the taxi driver got on our nerves, we (the uninitiated folks ) were pronouncing Nungumbakkam –‘none-gum-bakam’ when it should be ‘noon- gum-bakkam’, which got this fellow’s goat. He started to give a crash course in Tamil to the Mr and said- now repeat after me…noon-gum- ba-kkam, and the Mr started repeating after him. Now this got my goat – I said to the man ‘why don’t you repeat after me- Rashbehari Avenue, Prince Anwarshah Road’. I must say that this man was of a milder variety, for he actually smiled! To which I said ‘you guys have no understanding of the difficulties an outsider can face with the language..’ or something to that affect. The rest of the journey was quiet and peaceful!! At the Mallya residence there were a lot of people were waiting for us. The most tragic thing was that Mallya uncle, Baba’s friend , was no more. He had shifted to Chennai after retirement and that’s when Baba and Ma saw him and auntie last. Since then they were in touch through the detailed letters Uncle used to send Baba. A postcard arrived almost every week giving us in minute detail all that was happening in the Mallya household and in the lives of uncle’s 2 sons Gopinath bhaiya and Pappu Bhaiya. The Mr and I had come to Chennai on our honeymoon and we stayed at Pappu Bhaiya’s place for a day. Mallya uncle was there but aunty was in their native place attending a function. It felt we had come to our own house. Uncle and Jayanti Bhabhi (Pappu bhaiya’s wife) had taken great care of us. Uncle had himself brought warm water in buckets to the bathroom for us to bathe in (although the weather was hot, he advised us to bathe in lukewarm water). I was completely overwhelmed with the love and care he showered in that one day we spent with them. Now after so many years I saw auntie for the first time but it seemed as if I have known her for ages, thanks to uncle’s letters which Baba often read out to us and let me read. It was an emotional moment for all of us, mostly Baba who came after so many years …after his dear friend passed away. Mallya auntie, Pappu bhaiya, Jayanthi bhabhi, Gopinath Bhaiya and his wife and even his in laws were waiting for us! We spent a wonderful, warm and emotionally charged evening together, watching the amazing photo album of the upanayana ceremony of Gopinath Bhaiya’s son. It looked like a glossy magazine in which the photos are printed, auntie was as eager as a child to show it to her friend, and Ma had a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye. Dinner was a lovely spread prepared by Jayanthi bhabhi and Mallya uncle’s sister. All the frayed nerves of our Mahabalipuram expedition were smoothened. The Brat, now running fever took refuge in their bedroom, however she was up and about after some time marvelling at the wonderful Madhubani paintings made by Jayanthi Bhabhi. We left for the station, feeling happy and contented. Lying in the berth, I contemplated upon our trip, it seemed as if a lifetime had been experienced in these few days and we all had changed and were richer by our experiences…