The early bird

I hate worms. And I am happy being a late bird- I can handle leftovers. Early mornings are a big no-no for me. My favorite hour to leave the comfort of my bed is after 9 am. The feeling of laziness, getting a cup of tea (hopefully prepared by someone else), thinking naughty stuff, relaxed stretches.. दिल ढूंढता हैं फिर वही फुर्सत के रात दिन. But most of my life I have woken up to screaming alarms, fear of missing the rickshaw or bus, facing traffic, wondering what to make for breakfast and other such mundane things.

School started at 7.30 am and my तांगा वाला picked me up at 7 (crying “hilmil” with the J silent).  In the brrr cold Jodhpur weather, moving out from under the warmth of 3 blankets, and wearing the cold school uniform, felt horrible every day. The terrible weather forced me to learn the art of changing under the blanket, which I mastered. I just wish you could brush your teeth there, or maybe not brush at all.

Even college started at an indecent hour- 8 am. Having moved to driving myself on my purple Luna, braving the cold or the heat, I learnt to reach college on time.  For the first two classes, I was deadly silent, probably still in waking up mode and could only start blabbering after that. (Even today I don’t speak unless I have had my morning cuppa)

At least I could hope to sleep to my heart’s desire during holidays. But how could my Dad let that happen! He loved getting up early and liked everyone else to follow suit. He would make so much noise moving around at 6 am, his lean frame stomping around the house, running taps and flushes, banging cups and saucers, making his morning cup of tea (and at times waking me up to ask if I wanted some). Grrr. One day he woke me up at 5.30 am. What happened? Why are you waking me up at this unearthly hour? Come with me, I want to show you something. Rubbing my sleepy eyes and cursing him under my breath, I followed. “Do you hear this sound?” “Yes, it is a train.” “This is the superfast train that goes from x to y and has so many bogeys and this new feature and. ..” Did I tell you he was a train junky and would read railway timetables like Sherlock Holmes novels and loved to enlighten us dumb people. In fact he served as a railway enquiry for most neighbors and Bengali community.

When I started my career, office did start at 9 but my dear bus would arrive to pick me up at 7.30 am, thanks to the commute distances in Delhi. Back to the same old grind. Now I had to think of what to make, make breakfast, feed my husband and bro-in-law and myself all while making a dash to catch the bus. Then there was the time just before my son was born, where the hunger pangs would wake me up- the biscuits felt heavenly at 4 am.

So far so good. The situation came to a peak when my son was born. First couple of years, he firmly believed he was in the States and would sleep during the day and wanted to play in the night. After a full day at office, you are looking forward to a restful night. My husband would peacefully sleep through the night while I struggled to stay awake trying to put my wide awake son to sleep. Both of us did not enjoy the situation and my irritated self would force awake my husband, why don’t you play with him for a while? Forget getting up early, I used to be awake most of the night dragging myself out of the bed at 6.30 again to start getting ready for a sleepy day at office. Once my boss was giving a presentation post lunch and I promptly fell asleep through it sitting in the first row. Woke up only when he remarked- all those who wish to sleep can please leave. I had to appeal to his paternal sense to forgive me (and he did since he had a kid a month before and knew the pains).

And suddenly it was time for my baby to go to school. The routine turned topsy-turvy. Get up at 6, try to wake him up once, run to the kitchen to make his mid-day meal, try to wake him up second time, run back to kitchen to warm the milk, drag him out of bed third time, push him inside the washroom, stand outside and shout- Hurry up, you will miss the bus, finally open the washroom door and find him sleeping on the loo, force the brush into his mouth, run to the kitchen to fill the water bottle, come back and move the brush up and down, left and right, unclothe and push his shirt and knickers on while holding the glass of milk to his lips, run to get his school bag and locate his homework which had gone mysteriously missing (and which had to be submitted today), all the while muttering- we are going to miss the bus. Finally manage to shove him into the bus at 6.45, (we never actually missed the bus) come back exhausted, wanting to crawl back to bed again. But the day had already begun. If I did not leave home by 7.30, I would get caught in the Delhi traffic and would spend 2-3 hours on the road. My sis-in-law took a novel approach. She would get her son dressed up in school uniform in the night before going to bed. This was about 8 years later so could not reuse the idea.

Why can’t they have schools at a more decent hour like 10 am or so? Unfortunately the schools had their own way and never listened to my grumblings of annoyance.

Now my son is all grown up and at College and my office is about 10 minutes’ drive, I thought maybe now I will have that respite in my middle age. But no, either I have a 6 am flight to catch, or my FIL comes back from an early morning walk and decides to ring the bell because he forgot the key, or the phone rings because someone thought 6.30 is a lovely time to talk. (Not to forget the “Good morning” WhatsApp messages that make your morning worse) And if there is no external trigger, my bladder does the needful leaving me with no option but to rush and then sleep eludes and I toss and turn and finally decide to get up and look at the uninteresting emails flashing on the cell. What man!

They say- सुबह का सपना सच होता हैं. But then let me sleep and watch some सपने, my desire to sleep in the wee hours of the morning has remained a सपना only.

A mediocre child

Since the day I was born, I was compared. Since I was thin, I was compared with the chubby baby next door and they said “ tch, tch, बेचारे को  खाना लगता नहीं”. (Had I been fat, the thinner one would have been right size, I am guessing). As I started talking, I was asked to stand to attention and recite the meaningless poems of stars that twinkled and three pigs and fat hens in front of people who had no interest in rhymes or animals or me but my parents had to show me off anyway. So I pee’d in front of them, was given a tight slap for damaging the threadbare carpet and whisked away from the presence of adults as if they had never seen themselves pee.  It wasn’t my problem that my mom forgot my routine, was it? Once I dared say no to the whole “Show uncle, where is your nosey, and your cheeks” rigamarole- I’m sure after 50 years everyone knows where their cheeks and noses are and don’t need me to show them. The consequences of the denial ached my bottom for the next few days.

School was another ball game. Peer pressure started right there. You had to gain admission to the school, where mom’s best friends daughter had gotten into, just because the best friend was the arch rival too. The grill started. Learn all the poems, alphabets, know your manners and so on, if I had to learn everything before going to school, what was the school supposed to do? I managed to not get admission to the-school-where-mom’s-friends-kids-went- I think I know why- I told the teacher about her nose looking like that of a pig. She should have been happy I knew pigs existed and was a keen observer of that anatomical fact.  But I would like to believe that my mom failed the test, not me. That reduced one reason for my parents to brag about, and I never heard the end of it.

As I started primary school, it was the marks. Why did I lose ½ mark in Hindi was a big debate just before dinner. How do I know that “मेरे बाबा मुझे भैंस कहते हैं” isnt the right sentence for भैंस. And if I don’t get the theorem, well, the earth isn’t going to fall, which will anyway not because it is attracted to the Sun, but then I wasn’t so good in Geography either. Specially when it came to memorizing my maps, which resembled my mom’s chapaties, you could never tell an Australia from an Africa no matter what direction you looked at it. And God forbid, history! Remembering the dates and the years was plain painful. Hence I always wrote my answers vaguely as “Sometime during middle ages” instead of “In 1757 AD”. A child that is expected to remember the date when the Hunans invaded and the shape of the continent and the 3 ways of solving simultaneous equations – when does the poor kid ever get to play? Everytime I studied history, I had nightmares- big fat numbers- imagine a 1856 and 1789 on top of me, crushing me to history!

And of course you had to write the godforsaken essays, whoever discovered the torture ought to be shot. My teachers could not relate to what I wrote because my “cow” essay would be “A cow has 4 legs and udders” and the marks vanished. Once I had to write an essay on the school principal. The title was “मेरे प्रधान अध्यापक”. And I did not know how to start. So I did not. Should one start with “मेरे प्रधान अध्यापक आदमी हैं” or “he wears unpressed clothes to school”. I could not think of 5 interesting facts to write about the principal. He was like any other grown up. Should I write that he caned me on Monday because my hair was too long. Any way, I lost those 10 marks. Even my funny essays were probably not that funny cause my teacher was never impressed with my sense of humor, (probably since I drew her cartoons in class and showed them to her at the end- all kids laughed, she just glared).

I was sent to a tutor to learn simultaneous equations and she spent 10 days trying to get the x’s and y’s into my head and hoping I could somehow just get it, but it was not destined to be. I could solve some of them but more as a matter of chance than logic. (Like you know you have 25% probability of getting the right answer for a multi-choice question). I would sit and dream of playing in the mud with dogs and my friends, really getting dirty while my teacher would wave her hands and move her mouth and utter some syllables which I could easily shut off even while simultaneously nodding my head at appropriate times. My family had this uncanny habit of arranging competitions between kids which they knew I would lose- like who can drink a glass of milk faster. They told me some soap about motivation and stuff, but at the end I did not even try because I knew I would lose- who wants to drink milk anyway.

Sometimes it was subtle. They would casually discuss “Mr Patel’s daughter can draw so well” while I was sitting right there. They knew my attempt at drawing was a series of curved lines which not be construed to look like anything earthly. They would not even look at me when saying that, maybe they hoped I would take the hint. I acknowledge being a mediocre kid. But throughout my growing up period, I was made to realize at all possible occasions that I was not as good as the kid next door, because he won the baby show, or because he came 1st in class or because he got admission in a better college. I did learn how to ignore such tactics and pretended to develop a sudden interest in the book that I was holding upside down. In fact I grew so good at it, at times, my parents would lecture me and I would go to sleep with eyes wide open and an expression of rapt attention.

Problem is, now that I am a father of a similar brat, who gives me a sweetly innocent expression when I tell him to pick up the newspaper and asks me “Dad, do you have a back problem or what?” why does that give me a feeling of déjà vu? Yesterday he told me he had failed in German despite cheating and he conveniently lost the paper some 6 months back!!! Maybe mediocrity runs in the family.

How Indians सफर

I can’t help it, whenever I travel, I find stories. Either they follow me or I eavesdrop too much. Sitting at Jodhpur airport as I looked at some of my fellow passengers ( and for want of stories, I do stare) I realized they can be easily classified as

  • the normal class like me and you, jeans and shirts types, who pack their bags with Jodhpur goodies like कचोरी and घेवर and then huff and puff with their luggage ( but who forget the glares even when travelling to the sun city in May).
  • then there is a local class ( no offence- they are the locals of Jodhpur) easily identified by their paunches, distinct gait, accent and clothes. Men typically wear white pants, white shirt, gold chain and earrings, black shoes and black glares (even in the shade). Women in their synthetic saris and heavy gold jewelry with their head respectfully covered and carrying varieties of printed and embroidered थैले and kids.
  • there is the tourist class who go for the express reason of visiting the fort and because it is en route to Jaisalmer. They insist on wearing thin and frayed ethnic ensemble with multiple layers, headgear, scarves, inner shirts and outer shirts, all of different but indistinguishable colors and still manage to look paper-thin. ( even they remember the glares)
  • finally the elite class, who wear the designer बंधेज suits and their glares are always perched on top of their puffed hair ( how they manage that, I fail to fathom, when I try that, my glasses insist on falling off- maybe my head is the wrong shape) and their obnoxiously big flashing diamond rings on multiple fingers, designer looking bags, the western accent and oh the arrogance, returning from a destination wedding.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to an elite family yesterday who were discussing loudly about the wedding they just came from. In the 10 minutes, I felt almost as if I had been there. Catered by the Taj group, 1000-1200 people invited, family in diamonds business worth few thousand crores (gulp), had invited Shahrukh Khan ( who probably did not do the honors) .  The big fat Indian wedding dinner was a 7 course meal costing 7000-8000 Rs per plate. Thank God, the menu was not elaborated upon. The 7 day festivities with polo match and cricket match and bachelors party and couples dinner and संगीत and of course, the wedding.  The 2 couples discussing this were related and the better halves suitably waved their diamond glittered hands every once in a while. I was feeling decidedly poor on hearing and seeing the display of wealth. Had I taken a selfie, you would probably see my mouth hanging open ( maybe even drooling). Jodhpur airport does not have a lounge so even the elitists have to sit with us normal class and we are exposed to the world we know close to nothing about. But I always enjoy sitting next to people who can talk of thousands of crores as a matter of complete insignificance.

Another old episode I remember vaguely concerned a गुज्जु family ( again, this is not a racist post, they were from Gujarat, so ). This was an international flight and I had an aisle seat and people were still walking in. This military looking husband walked in with a frail bird-like wife hovering behind carrying loads of luggage. I realized their seats were in my row so I got up so they could move in. I had to stand for about 10-15 minutes as husband dear tried to find space for the number of items they were carrying- opening every overhead compartment, moving everything around, all the while cursing loudly. Finally they settled in with some pieces of the luggage on and around them (if you have been on a train before in India, you can visualize the scene). And then the overbearing husband had to point out his “ज्ञान” to his ever suffering dutiful wife of forty years- about aircrafts, about runaways and what not.  When she could not tie her seatbelt, he had to do it for her. When she fumbled with the TV screen, he leaned forward aggressively to help but could not even after multiple finger pokes, finally I had to pitch in to get it working for her. And when the tea was served- the wife promptly took out the Marie biscuits from one of the numerous bags and served it. Had they offered the थेपला, I would probably have taken it. The long flight with the अचारी smells and other aromas of dubious origin coming from right next seat kept me company throughout. (I thought I had posted this story sometime back, but could not find it).

As kids when travelling by train, I remember my dad carrying his aluminum suitcase and 5-6 थैला around his neck, one carrying medicines for all possible ailments (but if you needed a Crocin, that may have been forgotten) , one carrying food and biscuits, one- a towel and chain complete with lock and key and a few handkerchiefs , bowl and spoons, coins, nail-cutter and  also some cleaning clothes- just in case (and rest I never really got around to- since I was not allowed to peek inside them). And of course multiple water bottles and vacuum flasks. Over time the suitcase became a trolley, the  train journey became a flight but the count of  झोलाs of थोले Banerjee as he was named did not reduce.

My bro is another unique piece. Once he was planning to visit Pune during November and asked me whether it was going to be cold. Pune and cold? When he turned up for a 2 day visit, he had a big suitcase and a bag along with an overnighter. When I tried to enquire about the too much luggage- he told he has a set of clothes for summer, a set of clothes for mild winter and a set of clothes for extreme winter. !!! and of course it could rain, and there has to be a change of wear for every season. I am only glad he did not bring along a Parka and snow boots and bandana. And his overnighter can only carry his vanity case with all his creams for the face and foot and fingers and arms and other anatomical parts. (not to forget the Boroline without which our family never moves an inch).

When I send my son back to college after a vacation, I pack all possible foodstuff I can lay hands on and that would fit in his reasonably big suitcase bursting at the seams even though he has to pay excess luggage. But the काजू and बादाम and मसालाs and ready-to-eats and cooked सब्जीs and रोटीs and पराठाs have to go. After all, the genes and the baggage crosses over the generation boundary.