Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Still looking for you, Sr Remegia !

A Merut University Teacher is making News these days. She was involved in a murky game of sex, sleaze and money, or so it seems. Her profession as a Teacher seems to everyone my generation a bit incongruous to her end and how it came. I really wish Teachers came with a lifelong guarantee of remaining in that castle full of glory where kids keep them. Yesterday was Christmas and when Ruhi woke up in the morning she laid claim to the gift under her baby brother’s pillow along with her own since the damn gift was kept in the other foot of her own pair of socks. I told Ruhi that Santa couldn’t make out her socks from Rayyan’s since it was so dark in the room. She believed me. She also believes all that Neena Ma’m her Kindergarten teacher tells her. Sometimes she believes Neena ma’m more than she believes me. I wish that would never never change.

I was a child that you could easily not notice in class. And those days when dull and quiet kids went to hell I really didn’t make it to the approval of any of my teachers in school. Except maybe just a few who remained in the fairy tale that I weaved of my own.

As far back as memory takes me I recall my first teacher was Sister Jane. She was short and very thin. Someone who I now would say had ‘malyalee’ looks. She was soft spoken and very kind to me. Though I remember no act of kindness but I do recall my obsession with her and her great importance in my rather unhappy life as a child. She was transferred to another school and it broke my heart more than others. For several years I wrote letter to her which were sometimes replied to in a letter that would be addressed to all of us mentioning every name…I also recall that every morning all 35 of us were inspected for clean nails, polished shoes, neat hair and ironed uniform. The clumsiest 2 kids were made to stand inside the two tin dustbin boxes on either sides of the blackboard in front of the class. I was a regular in that dust bin along with a motherless boy called Andre Simon. He had pointed yellow teeth and hair that looked like hay. He was so dirty always. I think I stood in the other bin since my shoes were never polished and my socks were soiled. Why did mom had to be so ill always.

The other teacher that I remember was the South Indian Maths teacher in Class 4. Her husband was Dad’s boss in his office and I was particularly bad at Maths. I recall accompanying dad to her house and her making filter coffee for us in a dark and bare room. She had told Dad that I was a “Dream Girl’ and that I would be lost in thought through her class always staring out of the window and completely oblivious to what was being taught….her comment stayed with me. I took it as a compliment…being a dreamer was important in my sad, gray world. And there was so much to see out of that huge window overlooking the school playground and the endless fields beyond…

A really big Sri Lankan woman taught us music. And we would stand in a file like prisoners waiting for the gallows and one by one she would summon us to the Piano and off she went ‘ Do Re Me Fa So La Te Do…..” with each and every child. Her house was so bright and full of sunshine. Wonder why I went to her house though…

When I reached the 9th standard, my class teacher was Sr Remegia. She also taught Biology. Tall and graceful with strong features and black rimmed glasses. I think she was taller than all the men. She was the antithesis of all the other nuns who seemed frail and vulnerable even if they were fat and big. Sr Remegia was strong like a man, opinionated, she could hurt with her tongue and she laughed without a care. Not quite a nun’s behavior. Our favorite gossip those days used to be that maybe she had a short bob of a hair cut under her veil. It seemed most nuns tied theirs in a bun. It was said that she joined the order since she had a broken heart and that the man she loved got married to someone else. She fascinated me. I was madly in love with her and pined for her for many months when she left for Nainital. She came back next year as our Principal. What joy it was. We would sit with her and discuss grown up stuff like relationships and skin problems! A lot us had just about started getting pimply then and I remember she used to say: scrub your face with soap and water and do nothing else! She was never a prude like all the other nuns, we could be ourselves with her.

A few months after we passed out of school and I had come to Delhi since Dad took a transfer, I was told that she eloped with her childhood sweetheart and that the school forbids any enquiries about her. We never again heard of her. Every now and then I google for her. She is never quite off my mind yet…

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Someone asked if it was OK for some countries to impose the veil on women. I also used to think that the veil is maybe forced on women but I guess I was lucky to get a closer look and discover that the veil is often a happy choice for some women. I married into a traditional muslim family from a gregaroius Punjabi one ! My mom in law comes from a very conservative, devoutly religious family based in Lucknow. She was married at 16 years to a modern forward thinking muslim husband who made her drop her veil and snipped off her long braided hair as she was sleeping one afternoon and made her wear cotton saris and get an education. She has a Ph.D. in Psychology today, thanks to her marriage but she grudgingly gave up the veil in the beginning but as soon as she could assert herself she improvised the veil into a loose jacket and a scarf to cover her head over her saris. Except for social situations, she still goes out wearing the same armor till this date and when her children question it she says she feels secure behind the clothes of her choice. They provide her an identity and she would feel awkward if she dropped that attire. Obviously, there seems to be very little religion attached to her choice though she wouldn't admit it.

I went visiting extended family in the UAE after getting married and found it very exciting that the women would lounge around at home in shorts and skirts and as soon as you need to go out, they'd wrap an 'Abaya' and a scarf and bingo you are dressed ! I also got myself the Abaya and romped around my new found avatar for a bit of fun, it was cool stuff. I mean all the pity that you feel for those scared looked creatures behind the burqqa is entirely wasted, trust me. The babes have a lot of fun with the veil ! In a Dubai Mall there is special staff to keep an eye on the 'veiled' customers since they are expert shoplifters ! Also, the veil helps one move around incognito so you wouldn't know if that was yr wife who just cruised by that dude ! I think I am digressing ?! Coming back to the question of branding vs no branding, me thinks it will be a rather boring planet to live without some interesting idiosyncrasies even if they are of the religious kind.

I read a news snippet which said that a veiled teacher was banned from covering her face while teaching since it hampered communication with the children since they could only see her eyes. All my life I have had friends tell me that they couldn't differentiate one bearded turbaned sardar to the other ! Thats also kind of 'covering' yr face isn't it so I guess bad for communication in certain countries ! And what if Tom Ford launches a fall winter veiled collection the next London fashion week ! That may help British kids communicate better with veiled teachers !

On a different note, my sikh father proudly wears his 'pug' as a definite part of his identity. When my brother cut his hair, my dad was more distressed of the fact that he would not now wear a pagri and look so common place since my dad thinks the pagri adds grandeur to a man's personality ! Its like wearing the Kirk O'Bane T shirt in 'About a Boy' !

Religion is a cult and let me be the rock-star !! ..... PLEASE ( I saw Don yesterday ! )

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Hutch Half Marathon 2006

Yup ! ran. And I finished 71st among women in some not too impressive timing. It was killing and I know I should have bought new shoes. I think I have destroyed my feet for good.
Wordmasters Challenge !

October1, 2006 : I am never lucky ! I mean if I have never won a lottery, never been selected out of a group if the choice was random etc etc....but i am also a die hard optimist. So when a few days ago I heard that Google was going to have a writing competetion and only the first 300 who apply could participate I jumped off the bed, logged on and BINGO ! I was selected to participate and this morning I went and sat through the essay writing competetion at Gandhi memorial hall at ITO. As usual I was running late and I knew that Ruhi and the folks were on their way back home from Faridabad. They had all been gone for 3 days and it was like heaven. slow, peaceful and very nice.

However I missed Ruhi but I also knew that if she landed up just when I was leaving I could forget making it to the place at all. And predictably enough, she landed up just as I was stepping out and that oh so familiar chaos descended.

Ruhi threw a tantrum right on the road and I had no option but to quickly pack her off to a friend's house with Ruby the maid. I had no idea who this friend was but Ruhi looked appropriately distracted and Ruby ran away eagerly with Ruhi perched in front of her chest with her legs akimbo.

Simultaneously, I also started screaming at W standing in the middle of the road with atleast 4 drivers as audience. I dont know why I was angry but I know it started when he commented that I was dressed like a tramp and I started yelling incoherent stuff and asking him and his family to take a collective ride ( no clue what that meant ) but it sounded angry enough. The driver got completely psyched and I felt very bad at my behaviour, but I could justify it so I shed a few tears of helplessness and even before I was composed we had arrived at the Wordmasters Venue.

There was a huge crowd and it certainly looked like much more than 300 people! They were of all kinds -oldies, important looking ladies, south Indians, housewives ( they looked it ), students, tramps ( me? )..you name it.

I was told that my code was 189 and as is so usual with me, I got to sit on the second last seat of the very last row in the hall. After which a woman who spoke strange English explained the competetion and invited a white guy to do some sales talk about google. It all looked like a very large scale recruitment drive and the white man went on to make a presentation on google. God bless google. The test was a choice of 2 sets of random words out of which one had to write a hopefuly coherent essay ! I think I did fine ! The results will be out end of the month and I think I am going to win !!!! ha

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

POLITICS OF MY HAIR : I think I must have been born out of my mother’s womb with long hair – 2 neatly oiled plaits in tact. My earliest memories of my hair are of those dreaded Sundays when my mother would perform the ritual of washing my long hair. Do you think my vertigo could be a result of those horrifying Sundays? She would cruelly pull and tug at my hair and make me bring all my hair forward so that it was easier for her to soap and clean them as fast as possible. With two other small children and no help at home I am sure she was coping as best as she could. The Sunday bath was a nightmare for me. The mess of my hair over my tiny face suffocated me. I could not breathe. I was scared to close my eyes when she poured water over my head but she would not stop and I would feel like death. Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see and I would shriek and howl till the neighbors raised an alarm. I was four years old.

And whenever I needed a thrashing, my hair was attacked first. I guess pulling my long pigtails was more convenient than pulling my ears!

As I grew up I learnt that my long hair had religious meaning. And that if I cut my hair (or even as much as let a pair of scissors touch my hair) I would face the wrath of an angry God. I dare not ask why my dad dutifuly trimmed his beard and moustaches every other day. I grew up gathering up for myself that long hair meant that I was good and god fearing and therefore approved by the society my parents lived in.

Adolescence and self-consciousness came together. I did not forever want to wear those two long plaits. But there wasn’t much I could experiment with, without getting into serious trouble. Except that one day after much deliberation, I cut the thinnest strands to fall on my face despite my two plaits, but long enough to tuck behind my ears whenever I thought anyone could find out. That must have been the sneakiest thing I had ever done and when I let those strands fall on my face I felt like a princess. Sure enough I was found out and all hell broke loose. I had not only ‘sinned’ since what I had done was a religious taboo but also shown that I would bring shame to the family one day. I wonder why it was so obvious to my mother that I cut those strands to attract the boys!!!

Letting my hair open was the most fashionable thing for me and I remember going for my school ending party in my open hair neatly pinned on the sides. It was one of those rare exceptions that my father allowed it and how I loved it. But my two plaits stayed in place even when I began college. Often in the privacy of the bathroom I would fold my hair and imagine how I would look in short hair. It became a fantasy of sorts for me. Slowly the two plaits became a neat little bun that made me look so much older than I was but it was also very convenient to let it unfold as soon as I was out of watchful eyes.

The first time I cut my hair was with a boyfriend who encouraged me to do it. We went to Habibs at the Lodhi Hotel. Javed Habib did the honors and he asked me what I wanted. My only requirement was that my hair be left long enough to be tied up to delude folks at home.

My friend later confessed that he was mortified when Javed’s scissors touched my virgin locks as he had been told in all somberness by his Sikh primary school best friend that God punishes in the meanest ways if anyone would cut a Sardar’s hair!

Short hair lifted many years off my grown up head. I was suddenly a new person. I felt free like air…. it was suddenly as I had found myself after years of nervous groping around within. There was a huge emotional scene at home once my parents found that I had finally done the unthinkable. I was no longer sikh but an identity less nomad. I felt no remorse. The God who lived in my head did not judge me by these standards. I was still as much Sikh as any of them.

My hair only got shorter after that in rebellion. Friends who had known me in my teens felt I was a younger person now than I was in my twenties. I felt liberated and I realized I had finally found a skin I was comfortable in. Whenever I ever felt low, all I needed was a haircut to lift me up in an instant.

Many people could never recognize me again and I did not regret it one bit. My only guilt was towards my helpless middle class parents who were still fighting a losing battle with the alien values of their children. My long hair gave them comfort of knowing that I was still their own. I realized with the greatest pain how much the length of my hair mattered in my relationship with them. Of course it also drove me to ridiculous heights. On my wedding reception I struggled for hours getting my very short hair fixed into a bun since I did not want to hurt my family more than I had already done with my choice of a Muslim husband. I wince whenever I look at my wedding album since I don’t recognize my face in those pictures. Yet such is the politics of hair.

A few more short hair years down the years, my lovely daughter was born. I never cut her hair even once andI think she looks like a princess with her lovely brown hair covering most of her tiny four-year-old frame. Its another story that she hates her long hair and wants a ‘Superman’ hair cut (I think she has a gender identity crisis !). Yesterday she chopped off some of her hair on the sly and I cried for an hour afterwards. I cannot bring myself to get her a haircut. I bask in glory for days when people say that she looks like a doll with that hair. The story turns full circle and I indulge my ego like my parents indulged theirs…

Somewhere along the way I didn’t even notice that my hair had grown longer or that I no longer felt the urge to cut it. I am in fact beginning to like that soft feminine feel of long hair against my face. I guess I am once again discovering myself through my hair.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Last night Richa and I decided to grab a quick drink at PVR, Saket which is at a stone's throw from home. Well you cant actually throw a stone but but maybe its an air gun shot from home? The point is that it wasnt as if we went for a drive drive and almost as we stepped out - at the sole red light between home and PVR one blue Wagon R (UP number 6890) drove right into my bumper and Richa immediately jumped out of the car to "fix the moron"!!! I was still struggling with my seat belt when the guy sneaked his car almost through my open car door and ran away. Now that was enough to ignite my north Indian fighting spirit. Richa promptly jumped back in and I almost stood upon the accelarator to catch up with him and we gave him the chase of his life for the next 20 minutes.

The guy must be about 35 (can't even blame adolescence and the blah )and his eyes were glued right in front of him as it was his mission to pierce through all that came his way that night and he would intermittently raise his right arm at right angles as if to say that he was going to stop. And then he would promptly and predictably take the next turn he could find. Like if the traffic was going right he would turn left as if he actually thought I was IQ challenged ! Richa was shouting profanities and I was doing mental math's to arrive at the approximate denting and painting cost of my brand new red Swift since I was itching to bang my front bumper into the back of his car. We were back to back and side to side most of the time and I think I could have broken his side glass with a hammer if I had one ( Wasi told me later that he keeps a hammer under my seat just in case I needed it !!!)

For others on the road it must have been quite a spectacle since he was speeding like crazy and I was right behind him with one hand blaring the horn non stop. At one dark corner at Jia Sarai we spotted a sleepy looking cop resting on his baton. Richa started yelling " POLICE POLICE" and the cop got completely startled and he jumped a few times since he could nothing else and he waived his baton in the air but we were gone by then. A few meters ahead there was another of his tribe slouching like a fat lazy dog on a chair at an imposing police barricade near Qutub Hotel. I thought we had finally got the evil Wagon R but the UP Champ nearly drove through the barricade, almost knocked a scooterist dead and Richa was half out of the window shouting "CATCH THAT MAN" and I was honking non stop driving like a maniac. The cop kept slouching like he was and looked so bored that I decided that the chase wasn't really worth the effort since not only did no one including the cops, seem to care but it wasn't entertaining enough for anyone either! I turned back to go grab that quick drink at PVR.By then we really needed it. On the way back we both wondered what would happen if a woman screamed rape in a moving car on these same roads, or if someone just went berserk with their car killing people, like this guy seemed close to be doing....Delhi would probably not even bother to look the other way. Too much effort. Easier to just stare.