The noisy Banerjee family travelled

As kids when travelling by train, I remember Baba carrying his aluminium 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, another- 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 several water bottles and vacuum flasks. Over time the suitcase converted to a trolley, the train journey became a flight but the count of  झोलाs of थोले Banerjee as he was known did not reduce.

Since he was the neighbourhood traino-pedia, he had his own system of booking tickets in those days when there was no चिड़िया called online. He always had his own copy of railway timetables at home (he would go and get one the day it was released), along with reservation forms. Whenever there was a hint of any journey in the distant future, he would wear his specs, sit down surrounded by the timetables and forms and perform a detailed analysis of all possible permutations of how to reach point B from point A, including the amount of wait, in-between stations, long and short routes and more. Then he would fill several forms, various options that he would have shortlisted, with variations across trains, dates and classes, and berth options. Finally it was time to go visiting the reservation office.  He would hand me a couple of forms, my brother a couple and all of us would stand in different queues and talk to each other, how else, by shouting. Now this was a complex algorithm. The options had to be tried in order of priority. So if a low priority form holder reached the window first, he would have to relent his position. Once a form was presented and if we got confirmed berths and the kind of berths he wanted, work would be over; else it would fall back to next option and so on ad infinitum. The clerks sitting behind the desk looked on with exasperation as we presented one form after other and never even said thanks. Sometimes, we would run out of forms or none of the options would work and then we would choose another destination and the whole episode would start all over again. Spending a day at the reservation office from breakfast to lunch was a common occurrence for us, till our travel plan was frozen. Just imagine the situation if we finally did manage to make a booking and then the plan had to be changed. Baba definitely didn’t believe in agility.

A couple of days before travel, the packing ritual would start. My and Maa’s packing would be done quite easily, but Baba, loved the chaos of home in utter disarray. Our home, normally a mess, would turn just a level messier with no place to sit on any of the beds, sofas or chairs. Everywhere would be spread stuff that he needed to take, clothes, नाड़ा, batteries, डब्बा, hankies, keys, cups, flasks, लुंगी, chains, medicines, spoons and of course polythene bags. Every single item had to be inside a polythene bag. If I dared remove something, he would get upset, No, no, don’t remove that, if I forget that, there will be big मुसीबत.

If I offered to pack, it meant, getting a lesson in how to pack and then anything I did would eventually be moved to a different location without any clear explanation except that the original place wasn’t right. And that would continue till the time we had to leave. Finally everything would find its place in a suitcase or a bag or in one of the many थैला he would carry. But we promptly forgot where we packed what and we were forever looking for things during the entire journey. And the essential was almost always left behind despite the long (un)planning. Murphy also probably decided, enough is enough, if they want chaos, let me shower my blessings.

Once we would settle in the train with everything finding its place below the berths and rest spread around us, Baba would suddenly want to drink tea. And of course we would have forgotten where the cup was packed. So imagine us opening one suitcase after another in the train, rummaging through under-wears and लुंगी, and नाड़ा to find a plastic cup to drink tea in. Much to the amusement of other passengers, we were a noisy family, everyone had a different memory of our higgledy-piggledy packing, we would openly fight, and we had to rummage through at least three bags, before we found the blasted cup. Then we would settle down again, half of the bags left open- who knows what we may have to search for again, might as well leave it open.

Then would begin the अड्डा session where Baba would make friends with everyone around, with of course the loudest laugh and share all details about himself including his address, salary and his children’s marks. He would also borrow their newspapers and remember to keep it in his own थैला after finishing it.

Baba had an annoying habit of getting down at every station and climb the train only after the train started moving. Maa always fretted he would be left behind and he carried all the money and tickets and address. Just to worry her further, Baba would move out of sight and climb into a different compartment. Now Maa would be almost out of her wits, where is he, did he get on, keep looking out for him fearfully. Till the next station and Baba would come strolling in, would get an earful from Maa and we all just looked away, For every male reaction, there is a female overreaction; just another day in the life of us noisy Banerjee family.

Equally Unsafe

One of the best things about the family I was born in, was that there was no gender discrimination of any sort. In fact, I only realised after studying class 8 Anatomy that boys and girls are supposed to be different. Call me dumb, but that is the way it was. But soon after that, in the next two years or so, I suddenly grew up. In fact I was forced to grow up and realise the world is not as beautiful as it looked before the apple. There were many people around who looked at this young bubbly chirpy tomboy girl as an object of desire and pawing and who just left a feeling of loathing in my mind.

When you are 13-14, with all the hormonal changes in the body,  girls are already struggling. Dealing with studies, teenage issues, boys, parents and lechs. I was travelling in a train, sleeper class with Maa. It was an overnight journey and we both had lower berths. Maa fell asleep on one and so did I. I was 13 years old, wearing a frock, covered with a thin sheet.

In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling spiders crawling over my legs. I grew wide awake and saw a guy sitting near my feet and his hands moving over my legs. Though nobody had really told me about good touch and bad touch, instinctively, I knew this was not right. I sat up suddenly and moved to the other end of the berth. The guy reassured me, don’t worry, all is well, lie down and go back to sleep. But I could not. I was wide awake, trembling and sitting with my arms wrapped around myself curled up near the window. I thought of waking up Maa but my mind told me not to, no, don’t wake her up, she may think it is your fault. (She wasn’t like that, but the mind of a 13 year old can play tricks, maybe it was the 70’s Bollywood effect, who knows). So I sat through the night, wide awake, at the corner of the berth, sometimes falling asleep, but waking myself up the next instant. The guy became tired after waiting for a while, and finally left. But I could not sleep again. Since then I have ensured I always book the upper berth and cover myself head to toe with a sheet, safely tucked under me from all sides, or not travel by train at all.

In the same year, there was another incident as I was staying with my extended family. One would assume that a young girl would be very safe with family, brothers, cousins and uncles. But in the repressed Indian households, that is seldom the case. Summer holidays, too many people in the house, you did not get individual rooms to sleep, all growing up “kids” slept in a giant drawing room, brothers and sisters and young unmarried uncles one after the other. I have come to the conclusion that night’s wake up the animal in boys who are not yet mature enough to be called men. And I woke up again with hands pawing me. Talk about being despo. 20 people sleeping one after the other and this guy is pawing his cousin sister who has just entered puberty. Woke up, removed the hands once, tried to go off to sleep again, hoping he would get the hint, but it insisted on coming back again and again. At that age, girls don’t like creating a scene, they don’t want all eyes on them and looking at them as if they have done something wrong by growing up. I warded off the hands a number of times, but they always returned back so finally I woke up another cousin and told him what was happening. And then the fellow got beaten up surreptitiously but squarely, without the rest of the family being aware of the fact. And the guy had the audacity to claim because my knees touched his once in an overfilled car on a bumpy road, he assumed I was leading him on.

Those two years were the most troublesome for me as a lot of people around thought I was too young to resist, an easy prey. I feel so sad for the girls who have succumbed to the carnal desires of the men with no sense of right and wrong. This guy had come to Jodhpur to “see” a girl, for marriage prospects, a standard Indian practise along with his foreign returned brother. Being a distant relative, they stayed at our home. This was a school day but for some reason, I had not gone to school, maybe I was sick or something. Maa had gone to her school and Dad had gone out to the market for something. Hence, it so happened that for about an hour I was alone at home with the foreign (returned) brother who believed Indian girls were as easy. I was reading a book sitting on the sofa and this guy came and sat next to me suddenly and started talking. I hardly remember what he said, but I remember every detail of what he tried to do, how he tried to touch me, how I tried to move away, how he came closer and closer and tried to manoeuvre himself in a way that he could touch me anywhere and everywhere. I was sick, I was stuck, I was alone at home. I told him I will shout, he said, there is nobody here. I was in real trouble.

Finally I had a brainwave. I got up and walked out to our roof and went and sat at the parapet edge, which was visible from the street and the shops. The guy followed me and started insisting I come inside. I refused and said, if you try anything I will jump. By that time the people from the street had started looking up. They could see a young girl sitting on the edge and a man standing behind. Now this guy could really not do much, so after some futile attempts at persuasion, he went back inside and I stayed there, on the edge, in the harsh sun, till Baba came back home. I told Maa this story later, once the guy had gone back and though she was very upset, at the end she did nothing, nobody told the guy what he did was wrong, nobody slapped him or kicked him. I continued with my life and he with his.

It is not that my life has been shattered because of these incidents, or I sit every day and curse these people. No, we move on. But the mind of a young teenage girl, changes. She grows up, her childhood is suddenly over. And what if more had happened? What if I had been raped, scarred for life? I was “lucky” enough not to be. It is really ironical that I consider myself lucky because though I was pawed, molested, but I was not raped. But, if there is me, there are thousands who are not so “lucky”. This blog is for all those girls, telling them to be careful, don’t trust people blindly, you have the freedom to decide who is allowed to touch you, keep your presence of mind, find your way out of tricky situations, raise hell if you have to. On this independence day, I wish the world to be free from perverts and dirty minds, I wish for a hassle free life for women, I wish for us to be equally safe.

Cats, Dogs and other creatures

As a kid I was dead afraid of dogs. Not sure of the reason, we never had any. I still remember an incident where Baba asked me to drop the rent cheque at the owners who stayed couple of houses away. Since walking was a pain for a 10 year old, I ran to their house, delivered the cheque and was running back again, when a dog with four legs decided I looked interesting enough to chase. So, bark, yelp, he followed me to the chase. Not knowing what to do, I ran even faster. The four legged monster enjoyed the fact that I was playing with him and continued the pursuit.

How much more? I screamed for Baba. When terrified, only dad’s can be saviours. He came running and I tripped on a stone and fell. The dog decided the game was over and promptly left. Baba picked me up, crying, scraped and bloodied knees and all, all the while shouting at the unknown owner of the stray dog, swearing as the passers by looked on without interest.

My hatred of the canine species continued.

A few years later, we had gone to Pali for a family wedding. They had big big dogs. At my insistence, they were kept tied up most of the day. One day, I was busy inside बीहड़ वन, carefully following the doings of Phantom and Diana. Once the comic was over, I sighed and looked around to see one canine on my left and one on my right, tongues hanging out, panting away to glory. For one second, I thought I had died and gone to hell, but next moment realised if they had not attacked me all this while, they were pretty unlikely to do so in the next few days I was there. And the fear vanished in thin air. Then onwards I have been able to love all species of canines.

Now cats are different creatures. I have always loved them, even the black ones that cross the street in front of me. My love with cats started when I was very young. Some stray cats come to our home, Maa started feeding them milk and they adopted us. We had a full family, named Singsong, Chunmun, Pingpong and other such catty names. Maa had made a small bed for them in the gallery. Over time they became bold enough to discard their bed and  start climbing up on mine and lying down on my pillow.

There is only one thing about cats that I never liked. They die. Singsong was such a lovely creature, used to spend the evenings on my lap as I studied and would have spent her lifetime with me. But the neighbourhood dogs weren’t quite happy with that. One day she was chased by a horde of dogs and bitten all over. She somehow made it back to our home, all bloodied and mangled, at her deathbed. I came from school and there was this strange stench around her, which I did not quite understand at that time, later realised it was the smell of death. She crawled to my lap and after some time passed away, quietly. My first encounter with death. It was the saddest day of that chapter of my life.

30 years later, I have a family of cats all over again. There is the mom cat, who has adopted us, whose sole purpose in life is to produce progeny every season. She comes to us and हक़ से takes her food 4 times a day. Then she brings her kittens to us and leaves them in my care. The babies, ooh, the pretty white and golden ones, treat me like their surrogate mother and have to play with me with before eating their food. Scratch me all over and overall make my son jealous. Maa, you have more time for them than for me. I now own a family of a very hungry mom cat and four playful kittens in their basket right outside my front door. Anybody care to adopt?

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picture purrfect

जब कुत्ते बिल्ली की बात चली है तो can rats be far behind. My first encounter with the furry creature happened maybe around 25 years back as I was working most focussed on my mechanical drawing in college, angles and elevation and was totally lost in that. Finally after finishing majority of the drawing, looked up and stretched to see a rat on the ground right in front of me. I screamed and I am sure it screamed in its own language too and both of us tried to run away from each other, but got tangled up instead, the fellow under my foot. Ugh, ish, poor fellow died on the spot and I puked all over.

And then recently, a few years back, we discovered that somehow a rat has found its way into my home. Now my philosophy is very clear, rats and I cannot coexist in the same premises. So, it had to be found and exiled and banned from forever entering my nest. Take it from me, catching a rat is only as simple as, can’t find a simile.  Rat prisons did not work, even when lured with chapatis with ghee, potatoes. It was clever enough to come, eat and get away. The only good thing was, it was confined to one room. Then we decided, there was only one way out, we had to poison the fellow. Rat poison was sumptuously spread across the room. Still nothing. What to do? After a few days, the room started to smell and it was the same stench of Singsong times. So, the rat had gone and died somewhere and we had to locate it and dispose off its body as to leave no trace of the heinous crime. Under the bed, almirahs, nowhere was it to be found. After a day, finally discovered the remains of the creature in the loft. My brave maid cleaned up the loft and transferred the remains to a far enough location so as to leave no incriminating evidence behind. The room had to be cleaned and fumigated multiple times before it started feeling normal again. I continue to hate rats.

A bundle of joy

Though technically I had no control over the circumstances, slightly more than 45 years ago, a bundle of trouble and joy came to this world, aka, me. Well, of course, I don’t remember my birth and the circumstances that led to it. Hey, don’t worry, this blog is meant for family audience and I will not talk about the birds and the bees.

This is a story that I learnt from my mother, with her descriptions and art of story-telling. Not having inherited that, I will retell in my own words. My dad, being the nerd he was, was doing research at IIT K, in late 60’s. My mom used to teach at the campus school. We had been staying at the campus for the past 2 years and my mom was expecting, a byproduct of Dad’s research. Mom wanted a daughter, she already had a son, but those days the information was available post birth only. The doctor at the campus hospital regularly looked at her, things were looking steady and good.

And then she got the pox. And badly. In those days, it used to take a long time to heal, could not take too strong medicines, lot of it had to be treated naturally, herbs and leaves. She got blisters all over her body, face, inside the mouth. It was pretty bad and she was in hospital for almost more than a month, just a couple of months before I was due. The doctor was very worried about how it may have impacted the baby. She told my mom not to expect too much, the baby could have been affected in multiple ways, mutilated, some organs not functioning well, at the least pock marks all over.

On the expected date,early evening, she was taken to the hospital, the doctor examiner her and said, you have more than 12 hrs to go, I have a party to attend. So the doctor went out to party saying she will be back in a few hours. Mom fell asleep. Dad went back to feed my bro and put him to sleep, promising to come back soon.

This was a small hospital inside the IITK campus, very few doctors, not like the busy multi specialty ones that are in vogue today. Pretty thinly staffed, few doctors available during day, hardly anyone during night. But mostly everyone stayed close by and easily reachable.

She woke up after an hour and could feel that baby was ready to peep out, and there was nobody around! She broke out in cold sweat. She was getting her pain waves quickly enough and knew from past experience she did not have enough time. She shouted for someone, but there was silence. She was desperate and did not quite know what to do. Even PSTN was not born then.

After a few minutes, the cleaning lady came in to sweep the room. Mom just clutched her hand tightly, My savior! I want the doctor NOW. The cleaning lady was- like what, the doctor will come when she is back, you have to wait. Be patient. She had seen so many patients with jitters before in her career.

My mom would not listen, this one crucial point in life, she held on desperately to the only human in her vicinity and kept repeating like a parrot, get the doctor, baby is coming. So the cleaning lady thought maybe she should take a look, she did and knew mom was right, baby was almost pushing herself out (talk about पूत के पावँ,  this was पूतनी का सर). And then she got busy, by some means called the doctor (even her party would have been close enough), got another staff doctor to come in. The hospital machinery started rolling.

An hour later, I shot into the big bad world with a cry and a yawn. As mom described “a small, white, perfect bundle of joy with no blemishes and imperfections”. The doctor held me up for inspection and said my eyes twinkled and thus my name. Blemishes came later.

As Maa wrote for me much later, once I turned into a brat

I have a pretty little girl

Who is as bright as a pearl

When she is good, she is very very good

But when she is bad, she is horrid!

family

 

The big fat sleepy Indian travels

A ten hour long flight is a great time to introspect, come a wee bit closer to your inner goddess ( courtesy 50 shades of whatever), catch up with some cramped sections of sleep, watch the latest movies you have missed, or write a blog, which I did. In fact I had absolutely no such intention, but I could not sleep. The flight was half empty, I was pretty tired, hence found a group of three empty seats together, which I occupied before anyone else got a similar idea.

I was feeling decidedly cold so decided to keep my long jacket on, fully zipped as I tried to make myself comfortable. After several moments of counting the sheep I had seen in Scottish highlands, when I still could not catch a couple of winks, my mind started wandering and I thought it might have been so great if the knee length coat had a gadget build in, where, if I pressed a button, the overcoat would open up from the bottom, another inner layer would come out, all the way down to the foot, and lo and behold, I would have a sleeping bag. Wouldn’t that be like cool? Then I could flop down anywhere on the floor and catch my winks, instead of trying to make a bed out of the cramped uneven too small seats.

Last two weeks, we spent going around the beautiful cities and countryside of the British Isles. As we roamed around UK, sometimes in buses, trains, tubes and flights, I noticed my entire family, and extended family nodding off in their seats. In unison, everyone’s head would drop and bob up and down with the uneven roads ( uneven roads and UK, not really), reminded me of the head bobbing dolls you place on the car dashboard. Once upon a time, I could not imagine myself sleeping on a bus, but in the current dowager status, anything is possible. Except my quiet niece, who would put her head against the window pane and go off to sleep as soon as she boarded a vehicle. Maybe to avoid talking to us mere mortals, or maybe just to sleep.

Even after coming back from the hectic weeks, my sleep starved body is still creaking and groaning. Why, why did the two weeks have to be all run and no sleep, I am so dog tired, all I want to do is lift up my legs, and die. My ageing, creaking bones, do not have the energy of my 20 yr old prodigal son, and I have hitherto refused to accept the fact. As I ran huffing and puffing, filling my days with oodles of touristy things that all Indian tourists must do when in England and other countries of similar nature. As soon as you reach the spots of the picture postcards, out come the phones and cameras, and everyone must take a independent selfie with the iconic background and then we also must remember to take pictures together, with everyone saying cheese, and my bro-in-law has to take all the random clicks where u may see the family or, maybe a finger or back or a cow or some other piece of anatomy that proves you were there when the random click was being taken. Amidst all this rigmarole, we forget to actually see the place with bare eyes, but then we middle class Indian tourists are like that only. We have to fill one moment with hundreds, never mind the quality, so long as the quantity is enough, the purpose is achieved.

And I have to tell you this one more well known fact about us, we eat, everywhere, we have to eat on the bus where the guide has explicitly told us not to, right in front of him, and he has no option but to look away as we happily munch on all the puri bhujiya, sandwiches, chips and nuts, that our backpacks are able to carry. Having hoarded all that could possibly be taken from flight and hotels, we made most optimal use of the salt and pepper sachets and coffee pouches and fruits. Since we feel hungry as soon as we board the bus, or train, our hunger pangs are directly tied to the bus engine starting, and if we are hungry, our frustrated half anglicized kids have to be hungry too. And we just don’t eat quietly, we have to ask everyone on what they want, in our usual loud voice, drowning down the guide as he tries in vain to tell us about the Vikings and the Normans. And once that is satisfied, we go back to nodding. And we have to use the wifi, wherever available, which is bloody well, almost everywhere, just in case, we don’t find it further ahead. Saying Hi all the friends who have no interest in knowing where we are, but telling them that we are touring UK, has a charm of its own, specially when you know they are sweating it out in the Indian summer.

You can make out Indian tourists from afar. They are the ones with the biggest backpacks full of Indian snacks, they have the biggest cameras and they talk loudest and they are the first to reach a spot for the selfie moment, followed by the remaining 15 in the family immediately queued up, while others wait patiently for the party to finish. We love taking the hop on hop off buses, and talking all the while, never listening to the painstakingly recorded commentary. And of course, every stop, we have to visit the toilet, कल हो न हो, except when it is a paid one, then our uretary muscles suddenly develop the courage to wait till the next stop. Which self respecting Indian is going to pay 20 Rs for a washroom visit! We are the first to leave the bus, hustling and bustling, and the last ones to come back with the self assurance of the back benchers- nobody can leave us behind.

When we are any headcount more than one, crossing the road is a project. In India, you know you can’t trust the drivers or the lights and you make a dash for dear life when you need to cross. But in UK, you cross like civilized people. Invariably we would find that 1/2 of us have crossed and gone ahead, albeit in the wrong direction, one group is waiting for the right to walk while the rest have given up on the UK road crossing system and crossed without the zebra fellow around without worrying about the buses and taxis. And then we have to use our God gifted tremendous lung power, to collect and count all of us, before repeating the scenario. By the time the trip ended, we had mastered the art of crossing with the masses.

And as soon as we feel cold, we start zipping up the jackets and blazers of our 20 yr old adult children, amidst complaints and frantic cries of Maa, it ain’t cold, falling on deaf ears. Out comes the fluffy caps with the फुन्दा and continuous muttering of, uff, why does it have to be so cold. God forbid, if we enter into a restaurant, we have to visit the loo, before, during and after the dinner, everyone has to order different food, completely confusing the waiter, as we try to pronounce the unpronounceable dishes with our Indian tongues, finally giving up, just pointing towards the dish works most of the time.

A 12 yr old, who wanted to spend money wherever possible, just because he wanted to, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat unless allowed to hug his sister anywhere on the road, a 20 yr old fully excited and charged son, who was always full of energy at the end of the day also, and his opposite, 20 yr old, perennially sleep infused daughter, who favorite pastime was nodding off, we were a varied bunch.

From the land of Oscar Wilde to the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, to the hustle and bustle of the London streets. A weather that would vary from quite cold to very cold, dry to rainy in a matter of minutes, winds that made you want to run indoors, when there is nothing but open spaces and a few pieces of stones. Walking tours to hoho buses, meeting big Rex, Scottish humor to whisky, ( why did the farmer not know how many sheep he had, because he fell asleep every time he started counting). Making sure we don’t miss anything remotely free, and flopping down on the broken spring bed back at the room. Lack of sleep, but no lack of enthusiasm for the gardens and the castles, somebody needs to tell the Scottish that 4 walls and a roof do not a castle make. Peering inside 10, Downing Street and Windsor castle to catch a glimpse of the high and mighty, fighting at the tube station when confused with which line to take, UK must be glad to see the last of us leave.

Book (ed)

My childhood home used to be full of books. Majority of my memories are of that musty store and reading the books we had. And it used to take me to the world of wonderland along with Alice. I was in love with books, I would not only read them, live with them, daydream about the characters and their lives, but also, maintain the books, cover them up neatly with brown sheets, label them. I also created an internal library indexing system to maintain the 100s of books we had. Comics, novels, magazines, classics, and my dad’s Physics and my mom’s English literature ones.

My earliest memory of a hero was a guy with superhuman powers wearing a chaddi over a purple suit, none other than Phantom. Every fortnight, the newspaper delivery man would drop an Indrajal comic at our doorstep.  All four of us would fight over who would read it first and invariably my brother won. I would get it only after he was through with it, which was 15 minutes later. And my rest of the day would go immersed in the बीहड़ बन, amidst शेरा, and the animals and गुर्रन and of course, Diana. I would walk along with the ghost who walks in an overcoat and hat in the city. I would daydream that I was kidnapped and Phantom rescued me, carried me through the jungle and under the waterfall to his cave and eventually, ( the whole crux of the dream) I replace Diana. My version of the dream, of course. As I pored for hours over every picture in the comic, I would be a part of the magical world and could close my eyes and feel phantom with his strong muscles holding my tightly to his chest as he rode his horse, Shera by his side as he traversed mountains and put me down gently on his bed. A girl has a right to her fantasies, doesn’t she. Don’t judge!

As I grew slightly older, I used to read detective novels about “आशु, निशा and बंटी “. Not sure how many of you read it, but the focus of my daydream became Ashu, and I was Nisha and we  chased the bad guys together holding hands. Later it was राजन इक़बाल series. By the time I was in class VI, Fatty had replaced all of them, and the “five find-outers and dog” had become six. Though I always wished for fatty, not to be fatty and as I read the series, and hoped to see some book where he would turn smart and slim. I even started writing my own book, after giving up on Enid Blyton, which lasted for a few chapters before I know I would never complete it. But when it came to fantasies, it always kept going back to phantom, and grew naughtier.

Our school library used to lend us one book a week, which was too less for someone who ate a book for lunch and dinner. After a lot of cajoling the librarian agreed to give me 2 books a week. In return I had to clean the library shelves and put the books back in the right places. Which was awesome because I could spend more time with books. School days were still ok, you had homework and I also needed time to play with the colony ruffian boys every day. But what to do in the two month long summer holidays. I then had to persuade my parents to take me visiting other local bong families with kids my age who were also into books, for the sole purpose of lending and borrowing books. I would also religiously note down what was lent to whom and would ensure they were returned in the next visit with severe admonishment for whoever dared tear the brown cover put so lovingly.

Growing up with the Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and later Poirot and Miss Marple, one of my ardent desires was to become a detective. My day dreams graduated to my solving all crimes in London and becoming Jhilmil Holmes. We were a household where books were treasured and every time anyone asked me what gift I wanted, there was only one response. Every time we visited some relative who had books, I would find my way to their book room and spend my days there, going through all the Tintin and Asterix comics I could lay my hands upon. Who wanted to small talk when you could read! I remember my mom tearing me away from a book to get up and leave as we had to catch a train and I would keep turning the pages up to the door till someone snatched the book away from me.

My mom also had strict categorization of books that I could read and those I could not. Chase was a strict no-no. Class VIII holidays and I started persuading her, I have already seen the covers, how bad can it be, I am a grown up, I can read it. I guess I my persuasion skills were reasonable as she relented and a new world of thrillers opened up for me. Then there was no stopping me, Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Irving Wallace and so many others became my new world.

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In tatters now, once a part of my library

We used to read Hindi as much as English. Hordes of magazines from चम्पक, पराग, लोटपोट to सरिता, धर्मयुग and कादम्बिनी. I was also reluctantly introduced to something called सत्यकथा which was probably a predecessor to today’s सावधान India. It was also in boycott list, but I was unstoppable. But trust me, my young and naive mind got a shock after reading it, I could not imagine the grotesque reality of crimes so graphically described. When you read a murder mystery described by Christie, and you have been as involved in the detective work along with Poirot, you feel quite proud after you have solved it together, here I just felt sick and afraid and stopped reading this genre.

That was the time when time was unlimited and books were limited and I would probably have read every book at least 20 times, and could not stop till I finished the book, doesn’t matter what hour it was. These days I open a book and after 10 pages, I get distracted and have to put it down as I lose track. Is it me or is it the books? Even till last year, every visit to Jodhpur, and I would re-read anything starting from the St. Claire’s to the Guns of Navarone.

Let me fly

Just reminiscing, thinking. Yes I do this seemingly impossible task as well, specially when I am free and alone. You would probably not believe it if you have read my writing, you must think, this female just vomits words, doesn’t waste a precious moment doing the incredible task of using her grey cells. I have been told to ensure sufficient exercise of my brain since my knees started aching. So, I was thinking that once upon a time, like every other young person, I wanted to literally fly. अरमानों के तो पँख होते है। who doesn’t? The good part of my life was, my parents let me. They did not ask me to fold my wings and put them in the almirah and lock it. Yes, there were struggles but minor ones as compared to what some others go through.

I believe our Indian minds are conditioned to think that the sole aim of life is get married, reproduce immediately after and then get your children married and then your grandchildren. ( like one of those TV soaps whose sole purpose is to show parties and functions one after the other) Follow the rules set by the elders in the family, study, get good marks, become a graduate and post graduate, to better the marriage prospects, but NOT to work. Learn to sing and dance to the latest Bollywood songs, only to show the art in family sangeets. Learn to cook, sew, embroider, so that the creations can be showed off to prospective grooms. Learn to speak but not have your own voice, then what, then get married and make rotis for your newly acquired family. This is not really a feminine-centric blog, it applies to both genders. Are boys treated differently? They are brainwashed into submission by – Be good, get good marks, get into the engineering college, then get a good job with a salary your parents can show off. Never drink, party or go out with girls unless u are engaged to her and have been granted permission. Don’t have any life outside family. Get engaged and then married to a girl with impeccable credentials chosen by your parents and start producing your progeny. And if you dare to be different , you will be crushed mercilessly by the emotional अत्याचार by your own family.

Recently a colleague told me that she was very worried about getting her son married as he was already 28. She said I have asked him if he has someone in mind but he doesn’t, and he wants her to choose. Tell me one good reason why a person who has been an adult for 10 years straight wants his parents to take the life’s most important decision for him or her. My maid, her daughter being of “marriageable age” is still open to letting her work, but is facing family pressure “he is a good boy, you will not find a good match for later, why does she need to work”. I have been trying to brainwash her. Let her work. Let her stand on her feet and gain some self confidence, she is just 17, wait for a few years, it will help your family, let her be ready to face the battles of life. She gets convinced to some extent and then she goes home and comes back in the morning again full of apprehensions.

Trust me, I am not saying arranged marriage is bad, or that our parents don’t want the best for us. I am talking about a different problem. I think we don’t let our children grow up and become independent in thought, take their life decisions, we don’t want them to grow up. We don’t prepare them for the challenges of the world. And if by some miracle, they are able to voice their thoughts and their wishes, we don’t listen, we don’t want to listen, because our mind conditioning says that children are the ones who should listen. We don’t discuss things, we announce decisions. Children do not have a say, and cannot question. If they do, ” अब तू इतना बड़ा हो गया कि मुझसे सवाल करेगा?” And here I am talking not of children, but adults masquerading as children. Supposedly grown ups 20 years, 30 years, 40 years old who are being treated thus.

Starting from what they will wear, to who they should befriend, and what they should study and when, we are used to taking decisions for our children. Is it because we were treated thus and we want to carry the tradition along? Because we could not take those decisions for ourselves, we take it out on our unsuspecting children and this will continue ad infinitum. Some generation has to change and give in. Some generation needs to let their children take their own decisions, make their own mistakes, grow up and not just literally and support them as they stumble, pick themselves up and start anew. Hopefully it will be our generation.

What if the kid wants to pursue art and painting instead of engineering. I had a team member who dared to go against his entire extended family to pursue a career in fine arts and animation and wanted a job to prove to his parents his decision was right. What if the kid doesn’t want to get married? Big deal. Why does it become “जवान लड़की छाती पर पत्थर की तरह होती है।”. Maybe he or she will find love at 40. So long as he is independent, happy and able to take care of himself or herself, why should it matter? What if the person wants to get married to a person of his own choice, maybe of the same gender, maybe a widow(er), divorcee, a much younger/ older person/ a different caste, or wants to lead a life of chastity. In the Indian context, these are taboo. We clap when we hear of such news items, but have a major problem when something like this happens in our family.

What is needed to to help our children grow independent in thought, be consulted in important decisions, help their thought process mature, and enable them take their life decisions. Important aspect is to let them do it, instead of doing it for them. Support them, guide them, help them understand the difference between right and wrong. They will make mistakes, and will learn from it. These fb quotes that we see every day, don’t just forward them blindly, apply them to your life.

Some of us are not born to be engineers and doctors, some of us will fail in class, some will try drugs. Not everything is right but then are we the epitome of what is right? Do we give support when it is needed most? A lot of engineers I know, force their children into the same discipline just because that is all they know. Give your children the confidence to speak in front of you and put their opinion, not just nod to whatever you say. Respect their opinion and have a healthy discussion before a decision is taken with mutual consent.

Wives whose husbands are categorized as mama’s boys, trust me, their kids turn out to be the same. वदला ! You don’t need anyone to yes,mama, as you say, mama, you. Again, I am not saying, taking your parents opinion is bad, but love can be smothering. ( बोलना पड़ता है, various generations are going to read this and I have to try to be politically correct while I say what I think is right), and then taking your children’s opinion can’t be wrong either. Love should not be restraining and restrictive. Your kid will respect you more if you show respect to him. Let them be, let them grow, let them fly, don’t clip their wings before they take off. 

My baby

My beautiful colicky baby, aka, the “अंग्रेज़ बच्चा” was born after a long wait as you may have read in my earlier blog ( https://myhumerousbone.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/the-pre-natal-era/ )

From the day he was born he was tuned to US timings, sleep in the day, play in the night. I remember my days in a haze, get up after a sleepless night, go to office, sleep whenever possible, especially if there was a presentation ( sorry boss). I figured quite early that lectures and meetings are a great place to take a nap. Came home tired to a more tired mom or mil who had been looking after my baby and now needed a break, so played with kiddo, while the man of the house watched TV. His diet was small, he would eat very little, sleep for an hour, then was refreshed enough to want to play. At 11 pm in the night, all I wanted was a bed and a pillow, and my baby used to be wide awake. In wee hours after midnight, I would be irritated enough to wake up the husband sleeping like a baby to help the baby sleep. I had this fundamental issue of not being able to sleep while my son was awake ( which occurred till he was almost 18), and after catching a few winks, it was time to take my tired bones to the next grueling day.

One night he started crying and just would not stop. With no prior experience we had no idea what was wrong, tried walking him around on the shoulder, taking turns, but he refused to cease his howling. Hungry, stomach ache, rashes, no. Finally we were out on the road in front of the house along with the startled dogs who till then had एकछत्र राज of the lonely streets. The dogs and the baby wailed in unison, till the opera reached its crescendo and we knocked on the friendly neighborhood doctors home at 2 am in the night. He diagnosed the problem as an aching ear, a few drops of the magic potion and he was fit as a fiddle, went off to sleep and we left the sleepy dogs lie.

We actually had two babies growing up together, my son and my sil’s daughter who was a few months junior. With both kids in the same pram, looking almost twin-like since my son, though was older, was thinner. All ladies coochie-cood the babies and would invariably ask whether they were twins. We had fun answering, no, 4 months apart, and leaving them with their open mouths and feverishly working brains on how that was scientifically possible.

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The pseudo twins

90’s was pre diaper era when American products were not so easily available and of course the moms and mils were firmly against the use of any such contraption. Delhi being pretty cold in winters, and without diapers and no central heating, all we did through the night was change pants. By the time it was morning, there wasn’t a place to walk at home where a wet pant wasn’t unsuccessfully trying to dry.

Coming home from office, he would be on the bed mostly wearing nothing more than a shirt on, feverishly cycling away with his hands and feet and giggling away only to gurgle when food was stuffed in his mouth, breathe, swallow and giggle again. I can close my eyes and see the sight again, that made my days so wonderful, despite wet pants and tired bones and sleep deprivation.

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The coming home hug

As he learnt walking, the world developed a different set of problems. He walked with his head held high and invariably tripped over every obstacle in his path and his chin, knees and palms were constantly grazed and red. Till I decided to get him a helmet and knee pads.

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I can do it too

My baby did not like meeting strangers. Once I took him to office and as expected everyone wanted to carry him and he responded by shouting at the top of his voice for the rest of the day. At home he marked his boundaries. If we had visitors, he would remain in the bedroom and not venture out while he stared unblinking at the aliens who dared set foot in his space. No amount of cajoling would pull him out of his लक्ष्मण रेखा. Strong attempts just resulted in further howling so.. Take him to any crowded place, and he would cling to me or his Dad and cry.

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Time to howl

He learnt his tantrums from his parents. When he wanted a toy or book in the shop, ( this was once or twice), and I said no, he lay down on the road and raised hell in order to get me to buy it. But me being me, I would pull him back home, gave him a strong lecture on how a child should behave and generally pulled him up for the childish behaviour that a child should not be doing. He would stare at me with big doleful teary eyes during such sessions or व्यथित eyes as my dad would say. Needless to say, he did not repeat it too often, who wants a hiding from a strict parent. He soon learnt that the way to get anything is via his dad, who would melt easily.

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The divine tantrum

His first day at the creche, he was flabbergasted to be left alone and cried for the whole 3 hrs, he at the creche and my mom at home. When she went back to pick him up, he was standing precisely where she had left him, with a teary wet face, holding his bag and bottle firmly. Both laughed and cried after the reunion and held on to each other tightly. Next day, when he was being left, the look on his face said- what you are betraying me again? and turned his back to my mom and slowly started adjusting. It took my mom more time to adjust than him. The first new slang he learnt from his toddler friends was “कुत्ते का पित्ता” as he proudly kept repeating at home.

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dance or look?

The love, the hugs, the playing with almost everything, be it vegetable peels, waste papers, clothes in the cupboard or while washing, kitchen utensils, the jumping to the lap, pulling my ears, learning to walk and then run, falling down, crying, picking himself up and walking again. The hiding in the clothes cupboard or in the washing machine tub and the “boo” on being discovered, the forever unkempt house with nothing at its designated place. The first words, “dadadada” and then the अनर्गल प्रलाप at the top of his voice. His own created vocabulary, spoon was “tinta” and curd was “din-din”, camel- ऊँट  being टून्, and Aarti, my sil, was “तेते”. The sicknesses, the cough and the vomiting, the looking at me with “when will I feel better” expression, but being brave during the injections. I can go on and on, but I have crossed my self imposed word limit, so more later..

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Boo

Sanyam- the one who tolerates

He was born almost 18 years ago. A bundle of joy for the young parents. At a small nursing home in Kolkata. A nursing home that was ill equipped to handle complications.

Sleeping baby
Sleeping baby

The parents were married just 7 months previously. They had never heard about birth control. Like a lot of families in the conservative community she was married as soon as she completed graduation, where her parents only worried about a good ख़ानदान  for the daughter, she was married into a भरा- पूरा business family. She was 22, naive and had a big joint family around her. Sounds like bliss. She had a mom in law, a ज़ेठानी and other family members to look after her through the phase of pregnancy. It did not matter that she did not get enough rest, she had high blood pressure, she had no voice to ask for any special treatment just because she was carrying, and she did not even have a room to call her own. All the family babies were born in the neighborhood nursing home. What was good enough for others was good for her too.

Coming back to the present. Sanyam is almost an adult today. He is a fun-loving boy who is always super excited. Life has given him so much. He loves to talk and how he talks! He has to be literally shut up as he starts getting on your nerves. He has a great sense of humor, a quick repartee for anything you say. He needs company, anyone will do, my mom, who barely speaks also works for him, he is still not sure why she doesn’t communicate though and keeps trying. Her assistant will also do, currently he is learning Marathi from her. Already fluent in Hindi and Bangla, Has a Facebook account and regularly posts pictures and likes what his friends post. Loves celebrating all festivals, wearing new clothes, travelling. Of course he hates studies, like everyone else his age. Idyllic life.

But he is different from other boys his age. He does not go to a school, he does not play and run or read books or watch TV. At a very early age, his parents knew something was wrong. He did not move on his own, he did not turn, he did not crawl. When he was a year and a half, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The lack of oxygen at the nursing home turned out to be a curse for him. Delivery in 7 months, complications and lack of oxygen, need to rush to a bigger hospital with a life support system, which took almost an hour in Kolkata traffic. It was enough to damage a lot of his nerves and change his life and that of others around him forever.

Growing up with the pain
Growing up with the pain

Life is all about physiotherapists for this young man. From a toddler to a teenager, he has been rushed from one doctor to another, from one temple to another, with hope and prayers, from Mumbai to Hyderabad to Delhi. His mother is a fighter. She has found the money and the guts, to take him, carry him wherever needed, up and down 4 floors in Mumbai, whenever she thought there was some hope. From the quack in Delhi who pulled his legs till he screamed, to the biggest surgeon in India, she took him everywhere, in the hope that he would walk one day. That he would be able to do his basic tasks on his own.

Enjoying the simple gifts
Enjoying the simple gifts
life from a wheelchair
enjoying life from the wheelchair

His optic nerves are damaged beyond repair, he can barely see with a -11 power. His eyeballs are not stable but twinkle behind the heavy glasses. If he stands up, the floor swims before him. His legs are too weak to carry his weight. His back is curved. But his mind is alive. After multiple surgeries, he is able to walk aided with a walker. He can eat on his own. He has a mobile which he uses to listen to the radio. And you should hear him laugh. He always laughs the loudest in the house, unashamedly drooling away, always super excited about the smallest pleasures of life. His ears and nose work overtime to cover up for the weakness of his other organs. He hears you before he sees you and recognizes you by your voice. Every time the doorbell or the phone rings, he pipes up- will someone answer that? He loves to listen to music and sings loudly in his harsh broken voice along with the singers. His favorite TV show is Tarak Mehta which he mostly listens to.

with casts and bed sores
with casts and bed sores

He is also a foodie. Loves to eat Maggi and pizza and all kinds of spicy and tasty food, and his mom indulges him. His favorite pastime is tearing up paper into small bits and pieces which is a good exercise for him as well. His facebook world is a gift from his mother who wants for him for every mother wants for her child. In real life, Cerebral palsy is not as glamorous as Kalki would make you believe. Not when you need to clean him, bathe him and tend to all his basic necessities in life, deal with bed sores and pull his pants down when needed. Not when you don’t know how long you can continue that, he is growing taller and heavier, and you are growing older and frailer. Not when you wanted a life too, and your life turned out to be all about him. With just financial support from family, this gutsy female and her beautiful son duo struggle every day of their lives, with physical and emotional crutches.

learning to walk
learning to walk

The social stigma never goes away. She is still asked- why did you spend so much money on him, he still can’t walk. क्या फ़ायदा हुआ? And she looks away. They never understand or even try to.  She gets sympathetic looks but the world needs her to be the normal wife and बहू to cook and look after her spouse and family as is expected of any well-bred married female in India. She continues to do that and she fights for him and somewhere in the journey, she has lost her youth and naivety.

This is his life
making the best of life

But Sanyam is her strength. His vocal energy and enthusiasm for life is so infectious, he puts ‘Anand’ to shame. Every time she calls out his name, she knows she has to be tolerant, the way he is. Patience is a virtue she has learnt dealing with the struggles. I often wonder what goes on in his mind, behind the happy-go-lucky facade, in that active brain of his. He prays every day, thanking God for the blessings showered on him and is every bit as normal as you and me. Sometimes more so, we worry about a small cut and a headache, I have never heard him complain about his disability or the fact that he is dependent. His mom never made him feel that, just made him feel loved. Sanyam is special.

Celebrating life
Celebrating life

Hair, Hair

The problem with haircuts is that it never turns out the way it is expected. You look at various weird hairdo’s on the Internet ( type haircuts for 40+ females on Google), choose a few, use your phone’s 8 mega pixel camera to click and then land at the salon. Then you tell the guy with the scissors, I want a change. He looks a little stumped. What kind of change? Cautious question. I want to look different. He looks perplexed. Probably wondering what has got into her and how to best appease her. My thin straggling shoulder length hair does not give him too many ideas or options.

I close my eyes and all my past hairdo’s flashed before me one by one. I always had thin hair, when I was small, they were oiled well with mustard oil or heated coconut oil, tightly combed and finally tied into two tight tails with black or red ribbons. My dad would take me to the same roadside barber who used to cut his hair. The wooden chair on the side of the road, and a small shaving mirror hanging from the tree in the front, he had to put a plank on top of the chair for me to reach the mirror. For many years, I only went to him but slowly as I grew older, I realized this was totally down-market and I started insisting to be taken to a proper hairdresser.

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The oiled baby
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pigtailed in school

My hair grew in length with my age and the pigtail became thin braids. The ribbons remained in their place. My school uniform demanded red ribbons ( and red socks too). I never figured out how some girls always has great looking hair, polished, suited them, perfectly in place even in the windy city. And mine, even after the oiling and ribboning, a few strays would find their way out and I would end up looking as messy.. And when some girl would flick her hair so, ufff, why could I not have hair like that, how can Gods be so unkind to me. My dad discovered a hairdresser, a unisex salon for me on the station road. Considering my awesome knowledge about hair styles, I found him reasonably ok.

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the thin braids sans the ribbons

I loved Buns, loose buns ( Rekha kind) or top of the head kind but could never achieve similar results unlike some of my friends despite hours of efforts. My bun would look like a small black woolen ball tied with a rubber which would keep opening every few seconds and finally, getting tired of it, I would tie it so tightly, my head would start aching. In class XI, I suffered from typhoid. And my lovely hair started falling. A great excuse for cutting it really short. And I did. It actually looked good for a while, you know any Sheela, Rekha, Jaya or Sushma would look good at that age.

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the extremely short look right after typhoid
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the post marriage short hair

My illusion about the hairdresser was shattered in college, when a girl from Jaipur joined our college. Now, for the ugly ducklings in Jodhpur, Jaipur was where all style divas existed. She asked me for a place to cut her hair and I recommended my unisex fellow. Disaster struck. She came back and told me, you go to HIM for your HAIRCUT???. He doesn’t EVEN know how to HOLD hair. With all capitals emphasized! I was ready to sink into the ground as I stood looking guilty in front of the girl-who-came-from-Jaipur. Finally she discovered a better and costlier place for me. To be honest, there did exist some girls who would also fall into the category of my-hair-is-like-this-only with whom it was always easier to form a kinship.

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messing with ponies

When I came to Delhi, my eyes popped open at the beautiful hair of some of the hostel inmates. I learnt you could press your hair, curl your hair, perm it, and get gorgeous styles. I experimented. For some reason my hard perms looked good after 3 months only. The first time I permed my hair, my son ( must have been 2-3 years old) refused to recognize me and howled loudly when I tried to hold him. He stayed away from me for 2 full days and when he came hesitantly towards me, he sat in my lap and kept looking at my hair like an alien creature had taken hold of my head.

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permed

My husband always supported all my weirdos hairdo, every time I came home and look expectantly at him, he would look at me and say, looking good. What choice did he have anyway? A different response to a different style would have made any conversation with me impossible for a few days.

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when I don’t comb

But then I opened my eyes and came back to the present. I showed the-guy-with-the-scissors the photos of what I wanted. He looked at the photo and looked at me. I won’t be exactly like this, he was still hesitating. No, I want this only, I was firm. Ok, I will try and then he started on the journey with his scissors. Twenty minutes later, he flicked the comb, stepped back and said, done. It looks ok, with confidence. I looked at the photo, and looked at me, it doesn’t look like this? I said hesitatingly. No it does, my confidence seem to have migrated to him. I looked at it for a while before finally realizing what was different, the face. The photo has a beautiful face and the mirror showed mine. Well, gotta deal with the same face for this life, might as well smile at it.