Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Getting her started on the journey of her life !

Ruhi's rather elite little Play School has branched out and added a full curriculum school in Greater Noida. The very first session will begin in the April of next year and grudgingly I have resigned to send her to the back of the beyond for the rest of her 12 years of growing up ! I always like to complain that I have no other option except this. But, if I were honest there are probably only a couple of schools in Delhi that I really would have felt happy sending her to. The others I visited were cramped, overcrowded, had teachers who bully kids, gave senseless homework with a mad rigid schedule. Or that is what I felt watching and asking around. Those couple of schools that I wanted - didn't want us. We did not have the right credentials and in retrospect I understand that.

Ruhi's new school had a written exam for Ruhi and ten others in her class who have applied to the new school besides kids from other schools. And they called us today along with Ruhi for an 'interview' the dirty word which in context of school admissions in Delhi means that a few stern and important looking women will grill you with questions aimed at making you feel small and useless. I know everyone in Ruhi's Nursery school. She has been going there since she was two, yet I started getting that same creepy feeling that I used to get while visiting other schools for her Nursery admission.

After a long wait, as Ruhi played on the swings with mad abandon - her brand new white trousers soiled completely at the knees, I sat outside wondering if many years down the line, I would regret my decisions about Ruhi's education.

We were ushered in to meet a tall, fair big lady with light eyes and pleasant features. As soon as we sat she looked at Ruhi and said she was happy to invite her for admission to class 1 in the Step by Step world school.......they started having an adult conversation and I kept wondeing if Ruhi knew what was happening. They spoke about what she likes and laughed and talked. We sat there, Wasi and I, each on one side of Ruhi, feeling and looking quite useless in the context of things. It made me so incredibly happy. It didn't matter who I was, where and what I had studied or where we lived or what we did - the only thing that mattered was the child who they were going to bring up for me.

Ruhi was saying she loves to swim and that she can make a 'roti' but cannot put it on a 'tawa' and that she loves to play with clay but not so much with toys though she loves best the 'Ballerina' Barbie but she doesn't have one yet and that the best thing she likes in the world is to get gifts !.....and that she loves to eat Papaya and all other fruit but doesnt care too much for food except Rajma Chawal and Maggie Noodles !

After their little tete a tete was over Mrs Raina asked me if I'd like to tell her something about the child. I told her Ruhi was a shy, introvert and a sensitive child. I told her that she was growing up too fast and that I was concerned that she may not be able to enjoy the innocence and abandon of childhood like other kids. About her being madly jealous of my attentions to little Rayyan. I told her about her questions about God about poverty, beggars, about the good and the bad. About how she gets bullied and that she was the only one in her class who was not naughty and that I never wanted anything more than for her to be naughty and 'normal' like other kids.

She heard me through and then said to me that the world was becoming an insensitive place because our kids are taught to be tough and aggressive from the start and that in fact what is required today are 'more Ruhis'. She said it will be a painful journey for me because I will have to handhold her much earlier than other kids, through her struggle with life and its understanding, but I must learn to be stronger myself and to let her be. Because she is OK like she is.

In my heart I believe that too. I realize I am only looking for reassurance.

Friday, December 07, 2007

John Holt, How Children Learn

Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing or bullying.We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can... into their lives; give children as much help and guidance as they ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.


Ruhi hardly slept last night in her excitement about her school Play at Kamani. She sprang out of bed and was ready in a jiffy this morning. I must mention here that it is quite a chore to get her up and ready for school on most ordinary mornings. They had the full dress rehearsal today. Ruhi knew all along that she was going to be a clown in the play but when I went to fetch her back this afternoon she had a glum expression and looked quite comical with her cherry red painted nose, dark pink circles on both cheeks and her large sad eyes. I had parked the car quite some distance away and on the way, a bus full of school kids hooted and waved when they saw her and that was the cue for those tears which had just been waiting to pour out. She was inconsolable.

My heart broke when she said she was so upset that all the other kids had such nice costumes but she had to wear a clown's dress. She said she wanted to be a Penguin or a Fairy instead like Rhea and Trisha. She said her teacher had promised to wash the Clown makeup from her face and then forgot to do it and how could she. I told her that everyone loved a Clown and that Clowns make sad people happy but she wouldn't listen. I started speculating in my mind how they could have chosen this shy little sombre child to play a clown ! And then I realised I was once again trying to carry her cross for her. I know she has to learn to accept that that life also offers lemons. But my heart bled when she cried.

I suddenly remembered I had seen her friend Rivan Mehra walking out of the auditorium rather sheepishly with green make up on his face. When I asked she said he was to play a Frog and that in fact Rivan Mehra looked the silliest of them all. I told her was she not glad she wasn't a frog instead of a Clown. She thought for a while and said she was really glad and then asked for some wet tissues from me to scrub off the red paint from her nose.

Tomorrow is the play and as part of the PTA I have to mind the very last rows of the Hall. I cry shamelessly every year when I see her up on stage and I don't know why I cry. I am glad I wouldn't probably be able to see her from back there. But on Sunday I get to mind the first few rows.

God knows I need help to survive her growing up. :)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Kids on TV / Santa Claus - best before ?

About an year ago a Journo friend of mine raised an issue about if it is morally right / wrong to show Kids in Ads. Its one of those so many things that I have never really thought about. But when I did sit down to think, I realised I frankly enjoy watching kids in Ads. They are much more entertaining and convincing than adults. I go cootchie koo each time I see the Huggies Ad. Or that Maruti Ad some time ago where a cute-as-a-button serdy kid goes: papa petrol khatam hi nahin hunda.

I don’t take TV too seriously and I hope my kids will inherit my absolute irreverence for anything ‘advertising’. But I think TV plays a unique role in imparting messages to kids and on my once-in-a-blue-moon TV audience it was truly appalling to watch a program on one of the popular Hindi channels which showed heroic feats like people lifting stuff with eyelids and the like. The episode featured a 4-year boy driving a car with proud papa sitting next to the driver’s seat. This was last year and I noticed my then - five-year-old daughter make intense mental notes. And though she is such a wimp I am sure some other gutsy five yr old would definitely try the heroism if he accidentally found the car keys hanging in mom’s car. Specially since there was such applause from the make believe audience at the show.

The TV also creates stereotypes...I have always wanted Ruhi to have long hair and till a year and half ago, Ruhi had an obsessive crush on Superman ( in his Christopher Reeve avtaar) and wanted a hairstyle just like him with that one lock curled up in the front ! It was an unresolved difference between us until I started showing her all the pretty little girls in television commercials and their long flowing hair. I think it’s conditioned her enough and since then she has kept quiet about her hair thanks to some good old Advertising. Wonder if that’s good or bad ?

To give credit where it is deserved - she learnt milk is good for her from the Bournvita Ad. She is a teeth-brushing champion because of all the toothpaste advertising she watches. I think by and large Indian Advertising around kids is fairly responsible advertising with feel good messages about the girl child etc etc ad infinitum. And I feel gratitude towards any advertising that shows happy kids enjoying eating mommy’s cooking even if it is Maggie noodles! Its more convincing than me telling her the Popeye story night after night.

Except for that "Princess Fairy Barbie' Ad on Cartoon Network that I so absolutely hate because I cant bear to spend another hard earned rupee on YET ANOTHER Barbie doll, I can’t remember feeling unhealthy about kids in Ads. My husband used to go all mushy whenever he saw the last Raymond man with that pretty little thing with blue eyes…I think kids touch chords in everyone’s hearts and by and large they create good advertising.

There may of course be exceptions but then I hardly watch any TV. And yet I am the eternal Ad Cynic. I mistrust ALL advertising. Having worked in ad agencies for a long stretch in my career, the damage is irreversibly done.
But I do not yet teach my children to mistrust advertising messages yet since they are too little to understand that the TV is trying to ‘sell’ something to them. I'd rather Ruhi believes she will become Rupanzel by using X hair oil or Rayyan could become 'Krishh' by drinking Y drink. Its part of the fairytale that I want their chilhood to be. I am sure in a couple of years I will have to handhold them out to the real world !

Incidentally Ruhi announced 2 days ago that she 'knew' there was no Santa Claus and that its me who keeps gifts in her socks every X Mas. I was dumbstruck and heartbroken. How much I was loving my plans for this year's X Mas surprise and it had all already gone down the drain ! I told her that was utter non sense and that if there was a Tooth Fairy and the Ghost who she is convinced comes by her window every night then how dare she say there was no Santa Claus. She said the maid had told her that Mama keeps the gifts under the pillow. I told her that the Maid knew nothing since she never went to school and that I would educate the maid. Ruhi was delighted. She promptly summoned Kirti didi and demanded that I explain to her that Santa Claus was indeed that nice old man with a white beard and a reindeer.....

I wonder if the Fairy Tale expires next Christmas when she turns seven !

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A weekend in the Hills...

I had been planning forever a holiday in the Hills. Ruhi had never seen the mountains...come think of it she has never seen the sea either but the mountains seemed closer by. My friend Sridevi is the quintessential traveller and for years now I have made vivid pictures of her mountain trips in my mind as she recounts her numerous sojourns in the hills. She now lives in Bombay and passes through Delhi whenever she goes up to the Himalayas to visit a piece of mountain land that she has bought to build a house. She always invites me to come along and I always have something more important to do. This time around when she invited me on her yet another trip to Kumaon, I was more than tempted to go along. Sri, Richa, Ruhi and me took a train to Kathgodam late on Friday night. I had no clue where we were going except that it was called 'Sitla'.

I had got our seats reserved at the shortest notice by calling up Manobendra, my childhood friend and now a senior Indian railways dude ! He is always my saviour at every last minute crisis. We took the Ranikhet Express from the dusty 'Old Delhi' Railway station which Richa said was very 'scenic', had 'character' and all that blah !! We reached Kathgodam early next morning - the station is a sweet little place and in anticipation of the hillside chill I tucked Ruhi under 3 layers of clothing and a woolen cap which she stubbornly kept taking off.

There was a white Maruti van waiting for us to take us to Sitla. We passed the Bhimtal lake and after about an hour of driving stopped at a small Tea Stall at Bathuakhan to have our breakfast of hot aloo paranthas and tea. There was a nip in the air and the usual pleasantness of the morning in the hills and i picked up a monkey cap, some vicks vaporab and hair oil (!) on thw way. Ruhi seemed thrilled and she pulled out two tiny plastic buckets disclosing with great earnestness that she had brought those along to carry back some snow from the mountains for her class teacher. I told here there would be no snow and those snow peaks staring at us from afar were thousands of kilometers away. She fought with me bitterly for letting her down - she had promised her friends to bring back the snow.

The rest of the two hour journey was most frightening for me. The road uphill was very narrow and as we moved up, the excuse of a stone railing that I saw also disappeared. each time there was another car coming from the opposite direction, the van would come dangerously close to the edge. I am scared of heights. Escalators, narrow bridges, open staircases frighten me like crazy. I become numb and immobile even if I peer down from the third floor balcony of my brother's house. The ride was crazy. Ruhi was sleeping in my arms and I was wondering what if...we were to fall off into the valley. The road was lined with pine and rhododendrons and Richa said we should take back some local rhododendrons squash, which of course we forgot to.

Sitla Estate turned out to be a 100 years old Apple Orchard ! It had a small and quaint British Bungalow overlooking the orchard which a long Sun facing lawn in front of the 5 cottages that have been added to make it a commercial resort. The lawn is in fact the common room of Sitla Estate since its a place for Breakfast, Lunch, Tea time and everything in between till sunset. In the backdrop is a fabulous view of the snow capped mountains - the legendary Peaks - Nanda Devi, Trishul and Panchauli standing together, almost peering down at you. In between the mountains and you is a very green and forbidding valley.

Two huge dogs got up lazily to greet us and then disappeared again. Tea was served to us right there in the Sun and a very suntanned man who turned out to be the owner and Sri's friend, Vikram Maira came and introduced himself. It was obvious soon enough that Sitla is a one man show. Vikram is the Chef, the housekeeper, The Manager & the accountant here. He lives alone in the main Bunglow and has literally adopted the Sitla village, runs a small school on his estate and employs a dozen of the villagers in his resort. Vikram is kind of a 'Robinhood' of Sitla and everyone we met later on our small trip to Mukteshwar seemed to know him with a sort of an awe. I envied him and his living an utopian dream of running his kingdom in the best of places with most modern amenities. I noticed he had a rather fancy music system in his room and that he had CNN blaring on his TV at night. Another story though that our mobiles deserted us up there.

Our large room with a small sitting area had a fantastic view of the mountains from the large bay window in the bedroom which was like a gigantic TV screen all day except at sunset ! I particularly liked the cowdung plastered floors and it seemed he gives a fresh coat of plaster before the arrival of every guest. There was a sawdust heater in the corner of the room with a chimney built into it to let out the smoke and Ruhi sat at the couch next to the Bay window and took out her Pandora's box of crayons and color pencils to draw mountains, sunsets and houses like always.

Sri and Richa sat in the sun and gave each other head massages with the hair oil we picked on the way. Vikram said he could serve us the elusive drinks in the evening in case he gets a free head massage which Richa promptly obliged with before it was Lunch time !

In the evening we sat around the fireplace in an ancient living room while Vikram conjured up a lip smacking chinese meal for us. The house is a 100 years old and I spotted the tail of a Yak in one corner of the adjoining 'baithak'. Vikram runs treks and expeditions in the Himalays, particularly to Leh during the Monsoons which he said was the lean season at Sitla. Dinner is served in a large dining hall with several big and small tables.

When we came back to our room, the sawdust heater had been lit and the room was very warm and cozy. Richa woke me up early next morning to watch the sunrise from the window. Ruhi woke up as well and lay down against the window staring at the sky with fascination...I love all the sights that I watch through her eyes.

We had breakfast of eggs and freshly baked bread in the lawn and went up a pine scented road for a trek to Mukteshwar. Little Ruhi ran up the mountains without her usual fuss. It was a very exciting trip for her. She gathered wood roses and pine cones on the way and Sri nicknamed her the 'little mountain goat'.

The coal tar road ended near a handpump and we went up the rocky path to Mukteshwar. As I found later, 114 years ago the British had bought 3000 acres of land under the Shiva Temple at Mukteshwar in order to shift the Imperial bacteriology Lab from Pune to the Kumaon Hills. The same Lab was renamed to Indian Veterinary Research Institute or IVRI, post independence. We saw the gate of the IVRI at the round about called Choufil just ahead of the Mukteshwara temple. I noticed 2 Guards in spanking new uniforms sitting at the gate which I later found out is out of bound to the public. Right opposite IVRI was a road leading to the Methodist Church. There is a sleepy little market called the 'Mall' ahead of a quaint hospital and post office. Both were locked - it was a Sunday afternoon.

Sri broker her slipper on the way and dragged it till the Mall where we found a cobbler under a tree. We spotted a local Mithai shop and asked for lunch which he cooked for us promptly. Paranthas and Aaloo baingan with fresh onions, radish and Bal Mithai in the end.

It became very cold as we started our journey back to Sitla. The clouds had covered the sun and Ruhi was finally tired and cranky. As soon as we reached Mukteshwara Temple an old man came up to me and invited us to see the temple. I was trying to ward him off when he said we should take the shorter way back instead of going down that road. Though Sri stared suspiciously at him, I convinced them to follow him so that he could show us the way. He offered to come half the way with us and even lifted Ruhi on his back which was such a huge relief. It was a scary way down and we slid and toppled over to follow him. On the way like a true Guide he kept telling me tales about every part of the trail and showed us the prom ontory called Chauthi Jaali, and the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam guest house, with the PWD Inspection Bungalow below it. But I was hardly listening and in my mind I was hallucinating about the eventuality that he would take us to a secluded spot where his gang would rape and loot us. I kept staring at that 'no network' sign on my mobile with great despair. Suddenly we reached a small house in the middle of the jungle and a dog barked. A woman shouted a pleasantary to him and I realisded I had a cynical and suspicious city mind and that he was after-all the friendly Hill Man whose Kids went to College in Nainital like he had been telling me. At an open spot where the worst part of the forest seemed over he dropped Ruhi from his back and went his way. I gave him a 100 bucks which he happily accepted.

Ruhi and Me were way ahead of Sri and Richa because of the old man and we reached Sitla a good 20 minutes before them. I rushed up to the room to pack our bags while Ruhi loitered around the lawn showing off her a new found bravado. I smiled to myself as I saw her chatting up the kitchen staff but I was cursing myself minutes later. She petted one of the dogs and then when he whined it seemed she got scared and ran. He clawed her leaving her thigh bruised. Poor thing was numb with fear and I kept cursing myself for leaving her behind.

A chatty young man took us back the Station and I bid adieu to Sitla promising Vikram that I will come back again to watch it snow so that Ruhi can fill her tiny buckets to carry back home !

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tav Prasad - this life, and all it holds, is by thy grace.

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I had been yearning to go to Amritsar ever since Ruhi was born. I have an unexplained emotional connect with the Harmandir Sahib, the sight, the smell, the sound..just the touch of the cold marble stirs my emotions like little else. But thats not surprising since I have noticed people from all kinds of backgrounds mesmerized by the unique experience of the Golden Temple.

My sister in law was returning to her Rajasthan home from Himachal and wanted to make a touristy stop at a Amritsar. I was delighted when she asked me to escort them and took the morning train along with a very excited Ruhi. At the Amritsar Railway Station we got on to a cycle rickshaw with Ruhi perched on it like a tiny bird and on an uphill flyover I knew by cue that I needed to get off as the Rickshawallah pulled the Rickshaw up the road. Ruhi tried to look brave as she balanced herself delicately on her latest adventure ride ! Many years ago on our annual school vacations Dad would take us to the Golden Temple on a Tanga. I looked around desperately but there were none now, and that is such a pity. I remember sitting in the front and shrieking at the touch of the pony's bouncing tail...and the sights and smells of the dusty, crowded city of Amritsar.

The main road leading to the Jalian wallah Bagh was blocked by the traffic cops and we got dropped off with instructions to walk down the road and turn right to reach Darbar Sahib. I slung the air bag on one shoulder and lifted Ruhi in the other arm but it was too crowded and difficult to get along so we took another Rickshaw which took us to what was the 'Sarai' area - a long road adjacent to the golden Temple lined with little white palaces - each called a Niwas . I had been told to go to Arjun Niwas and call up some gentleman who would organise a room for us. On the way was one of the alleys leading to the Sarovar and I couldn't bear to look towards my right as I dragged Ruhi and our bag to Hargobind Niwas where our room was allotted. I did not want to spoil my treat to feast on the most amazing sight in the world. I wanted to be at my own pace as I opened my eyes to the Golden Temple.

The room was basic and there were simple rules like no smoking or drinking, and to keep your head covered at all times. Little Ruhi had carefully wrapped the pink dupatta around her tiny head and was thrilled by the windows in the room. I quickly washed and dressed her before my sister in law, her husband and daughter arrived in a taxi from Mandi. In my mind I could not thank them enough for this trip...

We first went to the Langar Hall - a massive 3 floor building with huge community kitchens on the ground floor where devotees perform seva all day long. The sound of the steel thaalis being collected and cleaned resounds in that area from early in the morning to late at night. The langar is a day long affair and it works with clocklike precision. Someone cleans the halls as people get up to leave and someone serves the plates and spoons a drinking bowl. The 'prasadas' (Rotis) are cooked non stop and we got to eat them with Daal and rice Kheer. Considering that Lakhs of people visit the shrine daily and eat here, the floors and kitchens are spotlessly clean and there is no one barking orders - each one of the sevadars is busy doing their role like in a trance, a prayer on every lips. The Prasadas were hard and I was so proud of my fussy little daughter who put in all her effort to finish every morsel on her plate.

By the time we finished, the sun was preparing to retreat and my guests wanted to visit the Wagah check post ( indo-pak border) at Attari village to watch the daily ceremony of closing the gates between the arch rivals. We had heard so much about the dramatic ceremony and we decided to come back to the Gurudwara after the Retreat. There were hundreds of people at Wagah - tourists from every part of the country. Atleast 5 times the people we saw on the Pakistan side of the gate. There was mad shouting and hooting. Like always it upset Ruhi a great deal to see her mother get publicly excited ! I was shouting 'Vande Mataram' ; 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' with abandon and this embarrassed Ruhi a lot. She gets similarly embarrassed when I dance. It puzzles me, why she has such victorian ideas about public behavior at 5 years ! Specially since her life revolves around me, I would assume that must be a lesson in boisterousness !

She sulked and howled and said she hated the Retreat and that she wanted to go back to the Golden Temple.

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We came back and there it was - like a Jewel in the darkness. One almost gasps as suddenly you spot a magnificent glow in the middle of the dark murky water. May I be the Murky water....I read somewhere today. I showed them the Gurudwara as they marveled at the cleanliness, peace and the awesome discipline...despite thousands of people. The Shabads echo in every corner of the compound...long after you have left Harmandir that echo of the singing follows you around. We ate another quick langar and I rushed them inside again to participate in the 'sukhasan' which is the closing prayer ceremony. We were told that we had missed it unfortunately and that it was as amazing again to participate in the 'prakash' ( opening prayer ceremony) the next morning at 5 AM.

I could not sleep that night. After a couple of hours tossing in the bed I heard the Shabads resume and I got up and went out. it was 3 AM. There were scores of people in the compound - even little children. everyone was busy washing the premises. There were sevadars standing in a row along the sarovar handing over buckets of water to others who took the buckets and poured them on the parikarma floor. Sevadars with brooms, mops and wipers were washing every square inch of the marble. I took a bucket of water and thought I was going to drop it since I didnt imagine how heavy it was. On the second instance I almost slipped on the floor along the bucket. The third time around I got it right and for almost an hour till the whole floor was washed we carried on the seva. Then I sat for some time in my wet clothes on the Parikarma waiting for 'prakash' and listening to the hyms. When it became really chilly I went to sit inside in the warm environs of the golden house. I took the Hindi Sukhmani Sahib Gutka and read till I could not contain my mind from wandering.....I felt full of peace and quietude. There were no more questions in my mind. After many years I felt strong again.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 31, 1984

We were in school when Indira Gandhi was killed on October 31, 1984.

It was just before school closing time and suddenly there seemed to be great panic everywhere and everyone was asked to go home except the few Sikh boys who required to be picked up by parents. We lived in West Delhi in a place called Paschim Vihar near Punjabi Bagh. That was the affluent Punjabi heartland of the City.

I remember feeling terrible that 2 Sikh bodyguards had killed her - she was quite a hero for me till that day. I came home quite oblivious to what was going to follow. My 2 younger brothers studied in a prominent Sikh school in west Delhi. They were home before me and were crying. A mob had set the school to fire. My father worked with RITES in Cannaught Place and my mother wept bitterly till he arrived home safely before it was dark. We lived on the ground floor on rent while the Sindhi Landlords lived on the first floor with their 2 little children. We locked the gate and shut the doors and windows and quietly sat inside wondering what was going on. There was news trickling in of Sikh families being killed, the local Gurudwara had already been attacked and burnt. In the evening my mom and I ventured out to get some milk and groceries from the local market. Everything was shut and there were a few cars fuming on the road. Must have been set to fire earlier that day. I was confused, neurotic and bitter. What the hell was going on.

That night the landlord requested us to vacate the house as soon as possible since they were scared that their building could be damaged. Today I can understand the fear but that day I thought he was insensitive and cruel. We moved to my father's elder brother's house, they lived close by. The next day onwards, neighbours and friends would come and stand on vigil outside the house. But the maids and the milkman and others stopped coming. The schools were closed indefinitely. One of my closest school friend called to ask about us and then made a seemingly innocent comment about Sikhs deserving what they got. I got furious and slammed the phone on him. My young brothers would not stop talking with hatred and anger of wanting to do the same to the 'Hindus' one day. They had to be kept hidden inside the house for days - their 'patkas' made them easy targets. All of us children grew up overnight.

23 years down the line I still shudder at the dim thoughts of that day. Memories of that large house on the main road keep flashing as do those burning cars on the main road. That house was one of the largest on that road. The owners had fled and the house was burnt down. They never got the house repaired for many years and they never came back. My father would say that the burnt house served a reminder to all Sikhs about what had happened and should always be left like that. Thank God that was not to be and a fabulous building came up in its place a few years down the line. But each time I went past that building for those years that it stood in ruins, an eerie chill would go down my spine.

I still hear stories from my current household help about how they got their TV and Fridge for free in the November of 1984. My stomach churns as I write this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A leaf from the past

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As little kids in Lucknow in the heart of UP, Ramlila culminating into Dussehra was a high-point of our lives. We lived in a sleepy Railway Colony called RDSO in the outskirts of the city. There was a small children's park opposite our house adjoining a large government building with wide open space and a platform outside the building where the Ramlila used to be held every year. There were rows of 2 storey railways flats on either side of this building and the terrace of these buildings would be packed with audience. Ramlila would be a week-long affair that would start after dinner time every day and each day would be a sequel to the other. There would be an anchor at the show and each break was filled by jokes and entertainment ! Ram would be played by this very good good looking boy who used to get a great fan following by the end of the show. Sita was played by a boy dressed up like a girl though once they found a girl to play Sita and she promptly eloped with the guy who had played Lakshman after the Ramlila!! It was so exciting to get a front row audience to the Ramlila and us kids would grab the seats hours before it actually began. We clapped at the scenes and wept when Sita was abducted, it almost seemed real. Year after year, the same show was never tiring and when we became older Ramlila became an excuse to celebrate a late night out with friends. Everyone from the Director General to the junior clerk from RDSO came to watch the Ramlila.

After high school we came to Delhi. Going to watch Ramlila was not 'cool' at all in Delhi. I realized with great disappointment that only the maids and the drivers and the like went out to watch the Ramlila, if at all it was held anywhere. There was the upmarket Lal Quila Ramlila that one needed to buy tickets for ! A lot of kids in my class had never seen a Ramlila. This was a big, modern city. This was the capital of India. Never mind India.

A few years further I stopped missing Ramlila though stubbornly enough I continued my small town childhood ritual of watching the effigies of Ravan and cronies being burnt on Dussehra.

Ruhi came along on the Diwali of 2001. She was almost a year old on Dussehra and I took her to watch the bad man die ! She was absolutely frightened and for every year after that she was not to be amused or entertained a bit by Dussehra - much to my disappointment.

This year she is nearly six years old and thanks to her school she knows the story of the Ramayan. She also has a baby brother who at 2 years had the time of his life at Dussehra this year. He pointed a toy gun at the Ravan. Threw arrows and cheered when Ravan went ablaze. Though he asked me later if Ravan was hurt and if we should take him to the doctor !!! LOL

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I still miss Ramlila and I wish I could replicate that experience for my kids. Its one of those things that I know is going to disappear into TV screens in the next few years. Maybe next year I will buy tickets to the upmarket Red Fort Ramlila.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

No one reads my blog..

A friend called to say that he thinks no one reads my blog. I thought that was very reassuring, only until I realized that he was laughing at me !!

It also confirms my doubt that most people feel that blogs are written to an 'audience'.

I read an article on blogging in the times of India that said that 'if one cant be candid, urgent, timely, pithy, controversial or utilitarian then one cant be a blogger'. I kept wondering...of course I am candid, maybe controversial but urgent, utilitarian, timely and pithy ?! What the hell is pithy anyway! But I am so so glad that I don't write for anyone but myself, so there !

What hypocricy though, since the above is actually addressed to the 'friend' in some way !!This 'Friend' ( obviosuly i cannot name him on the big bad world wide etc) is the most private human being that I know. I doubt he even has an e mail id. If anyone ever asked him his name, he would want to know their objective in knowing his name ! He will not look into the eye of a person he does not feel like getting acquainted with. ...and not so many years ago he opened the window to the world of internet for me. He would be huddled in front of the monitor with a million browser windows open downloading the universe from the net ! I would watch in fascination - he was almost like a scientist. From there on I got hooked on to the net in its early days in India and then I went berserk.

He is still there with a million browser windows, peeping into everyone's world and i wonder if his brain can take any more information that he has already downloaded in it ! But he won't ever be seen on the net - not even through a mail id. I also read recently that a woman deleted every single e mail that she had received to get rid of the e mail pressure. And that people are now observing 'internet free' days. I am beginning to understand that feeling. I myself observed an 'internet free' evening yesterday. Is it just coincidence that I woke up with a headache this morning ?! Hmmm

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What a Match !

Monday night the Indians won the first 20-20 World Cup ! I knew I wouldnt get either of the TVs at home to watch all the match so I made do with Indiatimes and the mad hoots from next door Nirula's in basant Lok till they reached half way after 20 overs at 157 runs. I had to swear, abuse and cause injury ( nearly ) to get out of the office parking. The whole country and their sister had come to Basant Lok to buy tickets and see the match on PVR large screen ! The TV crew from every conceivable channel were parked around the complex and it was a feat to get out on the road. At home my mother and my grandmother were waiting for me. My mom always plans these surprises on the absolutely wrong days and I just couldn't believe my luck since she would rather be buried than watch cricket ! I made some disoriented conversation and then started bargaining with Ruhi to let me watch the match and let go of the damn cartoons ! She relented when offered the sketch book and paints and a theme to paint ! My most original idea was to tell her to paint an Umbrella !! with rain drops falling over it and grass and flowers growing under it. And just to stretch her session I told her maybe she could consider some mountains in the background with a rising sun and a rainbow !!! LOL. It was a crazy match and I chewed away my finger nails and sat there shaking my leg with nervousness with Ruhi prompting me every few minutes to relax ! When Misbah Ul Haq started hitting the sixes on Harbhajan's bowling I almost started howling. Ruhi gave me a long disapproving look and said ' OK let me pray to God for you'. She folded her tiny hands then scowled hard with closed eyes and Misbah's Godamned wicket fell just then ! I lifted her in my arms and called her 'my magic' and danced on the bed while she looked absolutely delighted that her prayers had worked. After that each time she did her ceremony there was more good news and the match finished with a hit that was going to be a six but fell into the hands of Sreesnath for a catch ! What a match !

Monday, September 24, 2007

Daughter's Day !

Yesterday, September 23rd was Daughter's Day. I didn't know till this year that there was something called the Daughter's Day and for a week I would stare wryly at those cheesy Ads in the papers selling Jewelry, holidays, air-conditioners, all in the name of Daughter's Day. I would wonder if my 5 year old girl would understand what it meant. What did it mean actually ? For me every day is Daughter's Day. Ruhi is the centre of my existence. She is the dearest thing that I possess and my biggest weakness. And every damn day of my life I got to prove to her that she is special so what the heck ! I stayed quiet and I am glad the school kept quiet too, since I am convinced that there is no way I was going to buy yet another Barbie doll ! It would have been difficult to refuse the ransom if she knew !!!

Yesterday morning I had barely woken up when my dad called up. An early morning call from Dad almost always means bad news and my heart sank. I conjured up all the many possibilities - maybe mom had another accident, maybe my brother had a fit again, maybe.... My Dad said he had called to wish me a happy Daughter's day and God bless. I burst into tears and cried my heart out. My poor husband and bewildered kids stood in silence around me, wondering what the call was about. My father sounded so sweet in his defeated voice, wishing me a day I had forgotten about. My whole childhood came alive at that moment - how much he must have loved me and how much I have failed him. And how much I fail him even today.

In the afternoon when we went to watch the movie, they gave all the women a flower at the gate and said Happy Daughter's Day ! Ruhi raised one inquisitive eyebrow and asked "Is it Doctor's day ?' I clarified that it was Daughter's day and that since she was my daughter so it was also her day ! She looked most engrossed in thought. Back home in the evening she asked me how come I had not said earlier that it was Daughter's day. I was put to severe questioning and had to give every explanation in the book to tell her why I had forgotten to wish her and buy gifts for her on Daughter's day !!!

From the Loins of Punjab !

Saw a hilarous movie yesterday called the 'Loins of Punjab'. I have still to figure out the context of the title but one of the things that comically stand out is a pair of guys who by inference were Sikhs. Only by inference since they are intoduced with a misleading 'Gupta' surname ( which for the uninitiated means they are non sikhs). A unique interpretation of 'Punjabi' bhangra in rap, language punctuated by the *F* word, the turban and the kick ass in your face attitude - and there you have it - makes them who the world loves to laugh at - sardars !

Kind of brings me to my own crisis of identity. Most people who qualify to give me a pet name call me a 'sardar' which is a unisex way of calling anyone from the north of the country, with a challenged left brain ! I myself completely identify with the popular interpretation of what 'Sardar' means in the Indian contex and I love the Punjabi language after some painful years of adolescence of being acutely embarassed of what is my mother tongue. Yet in my heart I know that I am hardly a Sikh. And I also know that I have visted this topic before... but I love to ramble...

I was born into a middle class sikh family. I did not get any formal education in sikhism. My maternal grandmother probably ( since I dont exactly remember) taught me 2 paudis of Japji Sahab and the odd saakhis from the Sikh scriptures. What it meant to be a Sikh kid was to keep long unshorn hair, never to touch a packet of ciggerettes or tobbacco and to go to the gurudwara on gurupurabs. The gurudwara visits were engaging of course. The concept of seva ( community service like polishing shoes, cleaning the floors of the Gurudwara, cooking...) and my fine ear for good music made it a blissful experience.

But growing up as a sikh child in the Uttar Pradesh heartland was tough for me and my younger siblings. There were not many others around and I think I was the only sikh child in my class for years. The standard jokes about the eggs in the sardar's joodi, the 'barah baj gaye' jokes didnt make it any easy, nor did the lack of any relegious education or reinforcement of our special and unique identity.

Dad would occassionaly tell us about Guru Nanak who is the founder saint of Sikhisim and Guru Gobind Singh, the last of them all. There were these two huge Sobha Singh paintings of both these Gurus in our living room. Often mom would mumble the Ardas standing with folded hands in front of these. I would endlessly stare at Sobha Singh's Guru Nanak Dev ji. The picture would speak to me and benovelence and love would leap out. Guru Gobind Singh ji was always intimidating...all in my imaginary world of those tender years.

I picked up the 'Ardas' which is the main prayer before the start and the end of any prayer service and the 'Anand Sahib' ( the concluding hym ) while going to Gurudwaras but beyond that strange pride in being part of a unique community, there was much left wanting in me.

My mom was a regular at the local Gurudwara. She was always also very enthusiastic about the annual visit to the Harmandir Sahib popularly called the Golden Tepmple in Amritsar. But I think it was part of her social set up more than anything else. The gurudwara politics, the elections, seva for the langar were a very important part of the routine. I wish she had instead been educated in 'sikhi' and that she would have imparted that gift to her children. But that was not to be.

My father never really enjoyed going to the Gurudwara and I never saw him ever read the 'path' all my life. He stubbornly believed that being Sikh meant not cutting one's hair and to wear the turban or the 'Pag'. Though he belonged to a devoutly relegious family and atleast three of his elder sisters had taken the vow of Amrit at Harmandir sahib, wore the kirpan and were staunch practising sikhs but he was untouched by all that. He just liked being part of the community, indulge himself in the feeling of being marginalised by the government and the Hindus and believing that being Sikhs was a natural equivalent to being anti Hindu.

As I grew up, I drew my own interpretation of my 'sikhi'. It is also a convenient interpretation since it allows me to live a life that I like. My hypocricy troubles me more often than not. But my God is in a Gurudwara. Ironically my husband's God is in a Mosque. And for the moment my daughter's God lives in the sky and she is most worried he/she may be very uncomfortable with global warming.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mommy musings again...

Have I actually evolved into a 'Mommy Blogger' ? Or is there nothing else left in life to talk about ? Hmmm food for thought ! Anyway, this morning I was frantically rummaging through my wardrobe looking for a pair of Salwar Kameez to wear to work since I had a morning meeting of the formal kinds. Over the years my attempts at the Salwar Kameez have evolved into a Kurta over jeans kitsch since it became too much of a pain to get the 3 piece act together ! I live in jeans and now very happily so. Every now and then when my in laws come visiting, subtle hints are dropped that I should perhaps keep a few Salwar Kameez Dupatta sets ready for contingencies like conservative relatives visiting from the wrong side of the country, religious ceremonies, festivals, mourning ceremonies...etc. Anyways coming back to the point I was wearing a maroon tunic and a black dupatta and I couldn't find the damn churidar. Ruhi as usual was lying down on the bed reflectively analyzing every action of mine and I thought she could perhaps be contemplating the best tantrum to throw just as I would step out of the door to leave for work ! I finally found a pair of black palazzo pants and was jumping into them when she screamed " Mama you look like Shit". I was shocked beyond words and I asked her why would she say that. It wasn't as much the shock of her using the forbidden word but the realisation that now she even had an opinion about what I wear !! She said it was too hot for me to be wearing black ! I stood there in complete awe of her and then I sheepishly pulled out a pair of jeans with a white shirt and asked her if that was OK. She nodded vehemently in consent then she said my hair looked "Evil" but I couldn't be evil because I was too nice to be evil. At this point I reminded her about some ice-cream cake in the fridge and she vanished...hmmm

Friday, May 25, 2007

My doing !

Ruhi loves to doll up - maybe something to do with the fact that I keep telling her that she looks like a doll and perhaps she actually believes it ! Come think of it my mom always said i looked like a scarecrow and I grew up severely complexed about my skinny built so maybe it does work. But its getting completely out of hand with Ruhi and this morning we had a loud argument over her refusing to wear the cute little sensible sundress that I took out for her. Ultimately I gave up, stomped off and told her she was badly behaved. She came running after me, tears streaming down her face saying 'please hug me, please hug me' and clung to me while I thought I had been unnecessarily harsh. I hugged her tight and she immediately transformed into her same self of ten minutes ago and said she hates the clothes I chose for her maybe she could think of wearing that dress if I took her out for a movie on Sunday !!!!!! Then she went away and came back wearing a vest and a pair of printed shorts that were too large or her. She had tied them up on her waist with a ribbon, her long hair all open and all over her tiny face. She said she was dressed up for the morning and needed to borrow lipgloss from me ! I felt like i was going to have a nervous breakdown so I called Wasi and said if he could take her away since I couldn't take it. He loves it when he can play 'saviour' to his daughter so he came promptly and one look at her and he went 'Cant you atleast even dress her up properly ?' . She is 5 years old and I do not know if I could have done any better in bringing her up. I think its a preview of the times to come and that at the end of the day we all blame our mothers !

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wannabe Mommy

Rayyan's started school. He is not even two and I wasn't
particularly keen that he should start so early but after refusing
admission to him for being 'underage' the school called me a few
weeks ago that under pressure from parents they had decided to start
a new section for the 'underage' siblings ! Ruhi studies in the same
school...so all the 26 in his class were yet to be 2 years on the
first day of school ! All kids have to be accompanied by their moms
for a week before they are 'weaned' off ! Rayyan began by looking
petrified of such large social company, after which he has decided to
look permanently lost. When I see some other kids dancing and pushing
and looking like they'd been coming to school all their lives, I
wonder why little Rayyan looks so frightened...he choses the corner
where there is no one at all and likes to play alone. He stares
suspiciously at little girls who give him friendly looks. But of
course there are others who are bawling and creating a fuss and I am
glad for myself...I think back of Ruhi's first few day's in school 3
years ago and I remember my own nervous excitement and also that I
never really cared to make friends with the other mothers who
exchanged notes on clothes and lipsticks every day they met in
school ! I had a job to take care of and I didn't think I fitted
in....it was entirely my loss as I later realised. Over the years, I
had no one to talk with each time I need to clarify time tables or
even work out a car pool may be. I am sure there was a lot these moms
were doing together like taking the kids out to a movie or a
picnic...but I just didn't know anyone at all ! This time around I
smiled at everyone I saw. On the first day itself, I saw little
groups being formed, the ones with the large solitaires got attracted
like magnets, the salwar kameez moms formed their own little group,
dont know if I imagined it but I saw the really fat moms get getting
rather cosy with each other also ! The first day I broke ice with
the mom who sat next to me. I knew I had seen her at the Salon where
I get my hair cut since I nolticed she was wearing the same shoes ! I
thought she would think I was really weird if I told her I recognized
her silver pink shoes from the salon so I let it be. But I guess she
noticed my interest in her shoes, so the conversation went :

Pink shoes : What's his Name
Me : Rayyan
Pink Shoes : Oh ! Mine is Ayyan!
Me : Oh ! How nice!
Silence ( After that mortally scared of losing the thread of
conversation with the very first target mom since I couldnt do a Ruhi
to Rayyan! )
I said : You know mine is not even 2 years yet...
Pink shoes : Ok, when is his Second birthday ?
Me : 18th of April
Pink Shoes : OH ! Mine's is also 18th April !

Now that was rather amazing coincidence ! No such luck with other
moms though. On the drive back home I kept wondering if I looked
ugly ? snooty ? What ? Why don't the other moms chat up with me like
they seem to do so with everyone else ! The next day, I persisted in
smiling at everyone again...it got better. The next day I decided to
say an inane meaningless dialogue along with the smile. Like I smiled
and I said "as usual I am late again" or Smile and " Your daughter
has lovely hair". That worked like a charm ! Most moms said hi to me
today and I think I am going to be part of the clothes and lipstick
group ! Sigh !

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Everyone can sing God, why can't I ??

I think I should soon be planning to rename my Blog - Mehfil Diary ! So we had another one last Saturday. I supposedly put it it together for someone who I didn't know from Adam but have been bantering with on Ryze for many months now. Hanu Singh ! Wasi was a bit shocked when I informed him that I was planning another late night with the same folks ! He thinks I am having a mid life crisis and it helped to agree with him. Actually I was looking forward to a quieter evening than last, and some good wine ! But some things are not to be !

Escaping Ruhi in the evenings is an impossibility but this time around I was more prepared. Some pillows under a blanket, the night lamp on and the door just a bit open did the trick ! She was playing in her room when I left and I am told that she peeped in a few times and it satisfied her immensely that I was confined to bed and in her absolute captivity for the evening ! En route I picked up a' gainde ka garland' and while I sat outside Anu's house in the car digging out CDs of raunchy hindi songs I thought a chowkidar knocked on the window since of course I was blocking the damn road! I think I jumped out to discover a rather dapper looking chowkidar wearing a funky blue Fab India table cloth for a shirt ! I am glad i noticed the pretty thing ( Smita) with him fast enough to know that this was Hanu!

My 'gainde ke garland' was just in time and Kunal did the honors.

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.

I met Vikas Sahay my Ryze best buddy in the midst of all this action - very unlike what I had always thought he would be. Quieter, more his own person than I thought he would be ! Anu has a cute little pad that opens out to a small narrow backyard where she had put some candles and created the perfect setting for some romantic singing ! Besides other familiar faces, met some new people - Akshay Mehta, who looks so completely different from that guy at Tussauds on his page ! , Bhuvnesh Kalra - Mr Pilot, Jatin Madan - very slapstick, very me!, Sanjay, Anu's flat mate with short hair and dimples !, Shubra the girl with big eyes and a nose ring !, Mridula....

Ankur was supposed to be getting the wine I wanted but he forgot !! That was really dampening but Ishan that darling boy got 'bam bhole' and Kunal sneaked me out where this guy had rolled something as big as a chana garam packet and was furiously puffing away ! I tried to help myself but that contraption was rather tragic and Hanu the master of vices was called to help! I lost track after that and I wonder if he helped !

Here are both the Ryze 'kidos', living it up!

Jatin Ka Bum, Bahut Kam!
Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.

The singing started with Ritu and Venkat and later joined by Smita, Shashi, Vijay and even Kunal who sang punjabi folk ! The usual Bakra, Ishan did some chest thrusting for Hanu ! He always very sportingly stands in the middle of the group almost seeming that he will shake ! But most of his moments of glory are spent smiling coyly at everyone and suddenly you spot a small spasm in his upper body !

Sonali in a pretty pink blouse with ruffles was happy and high and while she wasn't pinching bottoms of women, she was measuring other 'bums' around !

Jatin Ka Bum, Bahut Kam!
Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.

While Ishan Dubey was as usual the great sport for all ragging and what-you-want ! The other Dubey - Richa, sat glued to her chair posing for Venkat who was quite taken in by her 'ethnic face' ! She also kept giggling and smiling and looking generally happy till she ended up being sick ! And while she was being sick, fag in the end Vikas also sang...baat nikelegi to bahut dur talak jaygi ! He sings so well ! Everyone can sing God, why can't I ? Good question.....

Some random things I remember ...that Amrit had come and left early and I couldnt meet her !...Venkat got kheer and kebabs all the way from Lucknow...Vijay remained so behind the scenes yet was always there to help me so dexterously whenever I needed to ask anything...that I dont know the name of atleast one guy in the khaki cream Kurta at the party.......that I also broke one of the many glasses that broke that night.....that I thought Anu and I share a common hobby of collecting shoes - I saw so many !......that I missed Ashwath's flute.....

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A very musical Saturday !

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
It was with great deliberation that I finally decided to go all the way to Noida for the 'Ryze Mehfil'. One reason was of course that I wanted to meet up with Vikas and Kunal, who have been my www buddies but I guess it still matters to meet a person to actually make their aquaintaince ! or does it ! Also, that Amrit had called me over sometime back and I had said I would try to come but finally could not. And lastly because Vijay said 'please please'...now if it had been only one please it was alright to not make too much effort. I am a house worm really and since its my blog and I can ramble on - I quite hate the idea of socialising with people I dont know too much ...

We left home after a phenomenal performance of a tantrum by Ruhi and then lost our way in Noida and after going around a few circles around Amrit's house - we reached with Richa walking in like some pro with the biggest, most conspicuous Violin case slung on her arm. I realised I only knew Venkat in the room that we had entered and I managed to 'not recognise' Asheeth who used to be my ex colleague at Lacoste ! Richa reminded me later that I thrust my hand at Asheeth and said ' Hi I am Gurpreet ' !!!!!

After introductions, as was obvious, Richa was invited to start the 'Mehfil' with some violin. She gladly announced that she couldnt play anything since the violin wasnt tuned. It seemed we had slugged the Violin only as prop to decorate the party, but much to her dismay this very pretty girl in a blue top said she could tune violins ( and guitars, and whatever else comes with strings) but couldn't play them ! As it turned out, she was Smita. the German embassy ' cop' and that I had been chatting her on Ryze. Small world !

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.

Ishan, Ankur, Kunal
Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
That's Richa's audience - Ishan, a friend of Kunal's who is training to be a CA with Ankur and Kunal !

She played some 'raag' I think and it sounded quite nice though she suddenly gave up playing without a warning saying that she was done ! After that Ashwath started playing the flute and kept playing right till the end. He played amazingly well to all the requests of old hindi film songs, most of them from Richa !

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
I loved the way he kept moving around the room playing his music. Obviously he loves to play the flute and has taught himself the instrument quite by chance !

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
Mukul lost in Ashwath's 'main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya'...

Shashi was the quiet one who sat fixed on his bean bag ( like Anu ) and got up only to occupy Anu's vacant seat! I noticed he was so completely engrossed in the music, often singing along with eyes shut tight !

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
While Aswath hogged the ladies' attention, Venkat sat there quietly, looking a bit edgy I thought. From his posts on Ryze, I had always though he would be a gregarious kind of a guy but he seemed very different...Vijay kept insisting that he had prepared some songs to sing but I guess, he was waiting to be invited. I tried to announce his performance a couple of times but just when he would get into the gear, someone else would start singing either that same song or some other. We were a loud rowdy bunch, compared to him and it was perhaps difficult for him to get heard untill finally he sang....and he sings very well !

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
Thats the gracious hostess ! I think it was very sweet of her to have us in her house, with two young boys to take care of. When I peeped into their room from the balcony, the kids looked quite perplexed by a bunch of juvenile grown ups ( I am sure that's how we must have sounded to them ).

It seemed that I had known Amrit for years...something was so familiar about her....

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
That's Vijay showing off his baritone !

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
Anu Sharma...

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
Ishan doing a Bipasha Basu to an Umraon Jaan song !

Richa, Smita & Anu
Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
Richa, Smita & Anu...

K L Sehgal
Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
Kunal after a trip to the 'Bam Bhole' balcony !

Sitara Devi
Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
I was feeling a bit left out since just about everybody except perhaps the exception of me and Amrit were crooning like rockstars ! So just a bit of posing and I qualify too !

Originally uploaded by Inexplicably.
It was well past midnight while everybody was catching a bite with Ashwath still playing his melodious flute.... I requested my favourite Lata number 'yeh dil aur ye unki, nigahon ke saye..'...and while Aswhath was discovering the tune, Smita started humming it.

At the fag end of the party we realised that we actually had a trained singer among us. It was a pity she didnt remember the lyrics so she sang 'kis mod pe jaate hain...' along with Ashwath...it was truly beautiful.
I recorded her on my phone ( also Venkat) and insisted that Wasi listen to them at 2 AM when I came back home !

It was a truly wonderful evening after a long time.

Life never fails to surprise...as usual.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rambling on

I hardly have time to watch any movies so I guess the next best thing thats happening to me is that I read the morning papers and howl ! Its actually not a bit funny but I am surprising myself every day by how close I am to blowing my lid. The 'Peace train' from Delhi to Islamabad got blown up on the 19th by a suitcase full of death that went off near Panipat. Some 68 people died, most were Pakis. Yup, I really do hate that word and all that it stands for but I cried when I read about the despair and heartbreak of families who were waiting for a son, a husband or a mother to come back home ! And the abject poverty of some and the situation where some may even not get to see the dead bodies. I watched on TV, next day the Paki Foreign minister Kasuri with wife in tow, arrive to grieve the dead and console the injured. I saw TV bytes of him visiting Safdarjung Hospital and praising the Indian Doctors. I wondered what he felt like to see his poor country men suffer and I felt reassured that he would facilitate those who were still looking for their lost ones. All that forgotten of course under piles of work, household chores, Rayyan's sickness, my own familiar head aches till yesterday afternoon I arrived to catch a meeting at the Taj with a couple of eager 'gora's' who were just back from a very stimulating visit to the Reliance Retail outlet. I have a rather weird way of traveling from the most engaging conversations to anything else that catches my fancy - on the next table, or out of the window, or on the carpet. I need to make quite an effort to bring myself back to where I am supposed to be...but the point is that over enthusiastic discussions about how many crates of onions they saw being taken inside the Reliance Store, I suddenly noticed Mr Kasuri and wife on the next table with their entourage. They seemed waiting for someone and it may have been the merriest group in the lobby ! Mrs Kasuri would admire her manicure, adjust her pashmina and then walk importantly around the lobby making loud noises while Mr Kasuri sat fixed to his seat almost as if he was taking a nap after a heavy meal. She would occasionally whisper things to him and laugh and then again get up for some more kissing in the air to some 'TV anchorish' looking women who probably were setting up an interview. They were all a vulgar bunch of indifference. A few looked bored and sleepy while Mrs Kasuri looked as if she was about burst into a song and a dance ! Maybe I was being judgmental as usual. ....On another table was a large collection of a sikh family sitting quietly staring at everybody else. I saw a short plump girl in a tight sleeveless kurta and a plump sikh boy, looking very pleased with himself sitting next to her on a large table under the canopy. The other women with them looked pensive while 2 old men were huddled in one corner in a secret dialogue. Obviously there was some match making happening here. I looked at the plump girl again. She was staring down at her red shoes. Even Mrs Kasuri was wearing Red stilettos. When I glanced back at the Paki table they were all gone towards the lifts with the camera crew following them. The goras were asking us which other market in the world would draw a parallel to the Indian retail market. We started explaining to them that India was not just one country but many...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Am I spiritual ?

It started many years ago when I first filled in the 'interests' section of some questionnaire at some place thats too far back to remember. After the standard 'interests' i.e. reading, writing, painting, travel, music, ( no one wrote 'cooking' those days - just wasn't fashionable enough)..I paused for a moment and it seemed I had left out something important and then I wrote 'spirituality'. My list of interests has grown longer since and I religiously mention 'spirituality' each time that the occasion arises. I Never paused to think what that meant really, its one of those words that perfectly describe what engages my mind and makes me happy and calm.

I was born in a sikh family but unfortunately without any formal education or introduction to sikhism. Going to the Gurudwara was a ritual that I associated with having done something 'good' but somewhere beyond that it gave me a sense of calmness to sit and listen to the the hymns I didn't understand. I really enjoyed that experience and the music. If i had the time and opportunity I wanted to weave that experience into my daily life since just that little bit made me a nicer person to know. Does that make me spiritual ?

And then some years ago I found myself at an Art of Living workshop quite by accident and while my two companions quite enjoyed the workshop, I was devastated by it. Something about the music, the meditation and the talk opened a sea of emotion within me and I felt like a nervous wreck, wasted on life and going nowhere. Was that a spiritual experience ?

And closer to just now, motherhood has changed me beyond repair. I cry with my babies and I feel love multiplies within my heart every moment and that I am going to burst each time I see a pair of sad eyes staring into my car at a traffic signal. I feel uplifted, I have a mission, My own importance in my life has diminished, I just cant explain that state of being except that it feels 'Spiritual'.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Peep into another world ! Banswara / Udaipur

It was a visit due for many long years ! Even longer than I have been around the house and I dont think Guddan ever really believed that one day 'chotey' bhai would actually come trooping down her beautiful but sleepy little town. She called us a dozen times before we finally boarded the train to ensure that the trip was actually happening !

Our overnight train to Ratlam from New Delhi was 3.5 hours delayed due to dense fog and we spent a couple of shivering hours on the New Delhi Railway Platform ! At Ratlam, Brother in Law was already waiting for us in a Tavera and off we went down the MP country side for a three hour long journey to Banswara in Rajasthan. From the freezing chill of Delhi, the scorching sunny temperature of Ratlam was quite a shock, even though Guddan had warned me beforehand. Layer after layer the clothes came off ...Ruhi's back got so itchy with sweat that she had to be stripped to her bony little frame and given a wet sponging !

Our journey was strewn with hills and lush greenary, lakes and ponds and of course the Mahi river in its various forms. It was incredibly beautiful to see a lanscape so virgin and pure. Thank God the tourists have not yet commercially discovered this part of Rajasthan. I had fallen asleep several times during the car ride only to be woken up by Wasi to show me wonderful sights !

We reached Banswara mid afternoon to a cheerful and sunny first floor house of Guddan...

We found a quaint little Catus garden and a Palace on the way...

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The Cactus Garden at Mahraha of Sailana's Palace in Sailana, MP. The Palace looked very European in some parts & is owned by Maharaja Bikramjit Singh who lives @ Indore He sells these rare cactuses as medicinal plants for lakhs according to the keeper of the garden !

Kanhaiya Singh was the keeper of the garden, and he complained endlessly about his miser employer while also insisting in the same breath that he would never make a hole in the thali he eats in !

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GUDDAN"S NEST : Guddan's flat has a very green balcony and the house full of the sun. It reminded me of the Jodhpur house in many ways and the magazine cutouts on the bedroom doors were ever so familiar. We lazed around enjoying the sun all afternoon ( i have finally realised why the Goras are so crazy about the sun ! Ask me ) and then left for a place called KAGDI to watch the sunset. Guddan parked her Wagon R at the gate and we walked across a long bridge to landscaped garden terraces overlooking the stream. The sunset was deep red and awesome in its quietness.

Came back home to hot jalebis!

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TRIP TO UDAIPUR...BIL is ever so enthusiastic about everything ! He managed to convince Wasi to drive down to Udaipur which was about 3 hours away from Banswara. Also managed to get rooms in the University Guest House and the next morning on Jan 30th the kids got onto the boot of the Tavera and off we drove down the Aravali mountains to reach Udaipur. About 50 Kms short of Udaipur we stopped for Tea at a 17th century second largest artificial lake in Asia called Jaisamand with a island resort in the middle & 2 summer palaces of the Queens of Udaipur on either side. While sitting on the embankment feeding fish, BIL decided impromptu to take a boat ride to the Island Resort and back. Wasi was paranoid and did all he could to resist stepping into water but before he knew it, we had all jumped on to the boat ! He stepped in grudgingly & then gingerly sat in the middle of the steamer....what fun it was !

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We reached Udaipur early afternoon. We dumped our bags at the Guest house and drove to the Sukhadiya Circle which has a fountain & a water body around it. I was feeling terribly sick with a bad sinus attack so I chose to relax on a bench in the park while the kids went boating yet again.

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There was a roadside Photo shoot set up in the lawn and I saw Wasi intently looking into a album full of people dressed in garish Rajasthani costumes. In a minute my worst fears came true and he was changing into a yellow bell pants and frock while summoning me to get into the ghaghra ! I could have died laughing but we did that stunt and I have never seen him more excited about anything in life ! I think I discovered a secret ambition in him to be a Rajasthani villager ! Not to miss his Gray Adidas shoes under the Salwar and black frames !!!

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Udaipur was lovely, clean and pristine and so full of the Mewar history in every nook and corner...

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We were now headed towards Shilpgram to see the annual mela and reached there after driving past Fateh Sagar Lake & Nehru Gardens ! It houses 26 huts for artisans in 70 acres of land and a open air auditorium. Its like a very very large scale Dilli Hat and Ruhi bought a bow and arrow & Wasi bought swords & dhal, gulels...we also saw a brilliant mime performance by Oasis...the kids went on a camel ride...the mela was awesome ! Ruhi also drove a mock jeep, did some shopping of her own and watched a puppet show while I went crazy clicking the rajasthani Belles in their low neck cholis and low waist ghagras...Each one of them would flash a 1000 watt smile without a trace of shyness whenever I asked them for a picture. One even complained that the firangis give them expensive gifts for a pic ! lol

We had vegetarian rajasthani dinner at a must visit 'thali' place and crashed in our very basic rooms at the Guest house...

The next day after enjoying some brilliant sun at the Guest house our first stop was at the Rana Pratap Memorial atop the Moti Margi Hill with a majestic bronze statue of the Mewar Hero at one end. You can watch the city from the hill though there isnt much except that and there was another of that familar photo set up, this time with kids' costumes ! All of us got dressed in traditional finery including little Rayyan who flung off his enormous pagri twice after bawling angrily at our crazy antics !

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Udaipur is all so starkly white that it has a very European appeal...can't put a finger on it though but sometimes also Moroccon in its visual appeal. I loved that...we moved next through a maze of gullis to reach the 1651 Jagdish Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu where we saw a Catholic Priest sitting with a Pujari on the temple steps ! I also saw a Sadhu most probably engrossed in a charas trip ! The temple walls are intricately carved with images of goddesses and elephants..perhaps there is a story to tell.

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We walked down a lane strewn with Jap and French tourists, ending in very french white cafe with yellow sunfloers painted on the walls. Starkly contrasting a majestic gate leading to the Gangaur Ghat located on the picturesque lake Pichola.... You can see the Lake Palace from the ghat and there were women doing their laundry on the ghat and several buffalos sleepy eyed in the diminishing sun ! We now walked our way to the absolutely phenomenal City palace stopping on the way at a secret alley with a brilliant view of the lake Palace hotel where Wasi and the kids were waiting for us in the parking.

I was stunned by the beauty of the palace and I knew that I would come here again...

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DEC 31, 2006 : We drove back to Banswara late afternoon on the 31st and reached just after sunset. The kids were tired with the excitement and soon fell asleep. As midnight came closer the sleepy little town came alive with vibrant music and lights. There were parties organised with belly dancers et all ! I guess the locals really believed in living it up ! We chatted and watched some TV till midnight though BIL and I were enthusiasticaly awake till the new year announced itself. Guddan was nearly asleep and Wasi was just about ! The next morning was Bakried and Guddan cooked Sewayin while BIL took Wasi to the Idgah for Namaaz. We had a lovely lunch and left to see the Mahi Dam. Saw fantastic sights on the way and the Dam was awesome. The river was quiet and serene but I could imagine its fury in the Monsoons.

There was a quaint little Guesthouse atop the dam and you could savour the river from its lawns. We climbed almost 200 steps to reach the top and I was impressed that Wasi actually climbed up all the way without a complaint ! I had been told that this was the land of tribals and had been yearning to get to know them but everyone just laughed me off as usual. On the way up the dam I met 3 Tribal babes and requested them for a photo op ! They went crazy giggling and making fun of me !

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The Guest House perched at the center of a small lawn which overlooked the river and the landscape....while we sat there watching the river, Ruhi plucked flowers and Rayyan learnt a new word ' Filawer'. Like a parrot he kept chanting Filawer... Filawer while I felt peace creeping into my eyes...what a balm it would be to my tortured city senses to spend a few stolen days here....wishful thinking !

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We visited the 2 Kalpvrikshas on the way back home and took 3 rounds of each and asked for mannats. Kalpvrikshas are considered to be one of the 14 gems that came out of the samudra manthan are wish fulfilling trees. I was surprised Wasi could guess half of what I had asked....Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We then drove to Ratlam to board the train to Delhi ! Taking with us some brilliant memories and images that will forever be eyecandy for my mind ! Not to forget the warmth of Guddan's home !