A license to drive

31-Oct-2017- It is almost 10 pm and my flight to Pune is delayed. Amidst the tantrums thrown by passengers, the tearful attendant, the abusive fellow and a lot of noise, my musings and imagination starts working overtime and the best way to spend my evening- beyond wa and fb is to write. The flight was delayed at 21.10 from 21.10 to 22.10 (a mouthful) and finally took off at 22.50. So, a story I had been meaning to write for some time was born.

Part 1: The beginning

13-Jun-2017 – My driving license expired. I was blissfully unaware.

20-Jun-2017 – I don’t know what made me look at the booklet. It was made in the era when the license used to be a book. In the 20 years I had it, some of its pages were torn off and my photo didn’t look like me, primarily because I had aged and the photo was still in twenties. But it still served its purpose when the guy in white wanted to check, they would look at it disdainfully like it came from another planet and give it back reluctantly. And then phew, it was no more even a saving grace, it died.

I was about to travel to Bikaner and it was earlier renewed in Bikaner, cool, I could get it done in a week. Problem solved.

22-Jun-2017 – Oh no, it was renewed in Barmer. Now where the hell is Barmer on the map? I don’t recall ever having travelled to the godforsaken place. Doesn’t matter, it is still in Rajasthan, I should be able to renew it in Bikaner, it is the digital age, I thought with all the confidence of a person with little experience of sarkaari daftar.

25-Jun-2017 – Back from Bikaner. Laws are laws (and in-laws are by-laws- no relevance, but J). And the law says that once a license is made in Barmer, it can only be renewed in Barmer. And if you want anything different, you require a complicated document called a No-Objection-Certificate. Really? Who and Why should anyone have an objection? I can drive.

I wondered how I ever got it renewed there? Think, think. Am I a time traveler? Of course, my dear mil was posted there hence I got it done in absentia (shhh, proxy used to work in those days)

Now how do I get a NOC now? I am sure mil knows someone who knows someone. Found the “someone”, and went a call, sms, wa, reminders and more.

30-Jun-2017- I am getting fed-up, why am I not getting a simple thing called NOC?  Someone please remind him again.

5-July-2017- I got it, looks like an NOC. Read it with the reverence it deserved. And reread. What was this again? They got my date of birth wrong? (How can someone sitting in an unknown RTO in an unknown city get her highness’s DOB incorrect?) How did they dream up this date? But then I can’t use this. When I go with my id proof which mentions a different date, someone is going to throw this NOC out of the window. I need to start the process all over again.

6-july-2017 – Now I had to find someone really jugaadu, who could undo this atrocity. So found a twisted friend who just happened to be posted at the B city. Told him the whole story. He just said, ho jayega with the nonchalant confidence of a Government officer.

15-jul-2017 – wa- anything happened on DOB. Friend: hold on, I am busy.

18-jul-2017 – wa- a gentle reminder. Friend : kal pucca.

20-jul-2017-  Friend: The RTO guy is adamant. He says his file has this DOB so it must be correct, his file is nothing short of the Bible. hence all the id proofs must have goofed up somehow. That lone guy knows that the world is wrong about when this diva was born. So what next. I told him, I don’t care. Clean up the mess. Twist the tale from the tail. I guess he smiled. And said something like- I must sit with him till he solves it. Will he take money? Maybe, we will find a solution, thus spoke the guy with 6 pack brains.

1-Aug-2017- wa- Friend: yeah, got it done, sending it soon.

16-Aug-2017 – Finally I got the godforsaken paper once again and it was correct this time. Ah bask for a few minutes in the glory of having fought a govt system and having won!

Part 2: The Conclusion

Visited the nearest driving school. Can you get the license made quickly? Yes we can. It will cost. That is fine, my time is costlier. Deal done.

8-sep-2017 – I get a call from the driving school. You need to go down and get a backdate entry done since your license is an alien one. Why is that my responsibility? I am paying you. No mam, you have to do it yourself. Sigh, ok.

11-sep-2017 – drive down to RTO (without a license). Reach the specified window. Nobody there (at 11.30 am, I though office started at 10.00 am) but several folks queued up. Waited for a few minutes twiddling my thumbs and toes. Finally, someone took pity and told me to go to another window, where a harassed looking woman was noisily sipping her cold saucer of tea and doing what looked like sorting papers. After a few minutes of watching this, I looked for the opportunity to tell her, excuse me and parroted the issue to her as she deigned to look up from her busy schedule. She disdainfully took the papers and stowed it away in one of the many piles. Come after a week. Why, should be a minute’s job. She looked at me exasperated look there is something called backlog. I will get to this in due course. Phew. Ok, can I get a receipt? She gave me a what-is-a-receipt-look and decided not to respond to the superfluous and silly query. I was mortally afraid she would lose the holy grail called NOC.

18- sep-2017 Went back and lo and behold, she had got it done. Promise was a promise. I got a 12 digit number. Wow, looked at it with even more reverence, a number after a week of effort (more than a month, but what the hell).  Went and gave it back to the driving school. Ok, that out of the way, we will submit everything and call you if needed.

29-sep-2017 It is needed. I got a call. Please show yourself for the biometrics. Third visit to the RTO and got my thumb printed and mug shot taken. When do I get the license now?

Soon, he promised. (No driving test, do note)

29 Sep-2017 Called up the driving school. Where is the license? Oh, you don’t have it yet, we will check and revert.

Two days later, I hear some music. It is processed, will come by speed post, Can’t I collect it? No madam, that is the process, the driving school receptionist was also exasperated by this time.

23 Oct-2017 Got a tried-to-deliver note at the door.

24-Oct 2017 – went to the Post office and got what is finally looking like a license to drive.  Just in about 3 months and a few days later. Man, aren’t we efficient.

PS: An intermediate visit to the RTO on a working Saturday revealed locked doors. Maybe it was a achcha din.

 

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What I don’t like about US of A

Travelling to US is always a matter of pleasure. I love being driven around in limos, friends making time to take you out in their shining cars and helping you shop (though they may never do that with their wives, but when you land in US, they consider it their sacred duty to show you all the local attractions), no need to clean and cook, and the flights with free booze.

But there are a few things I am totally pissed with. And someone with yellow hair and a grumpy face should listen and act upon it.

I can’t figure out why they must use tissues. I mean, wastage of paper, environment and all that shit apart, you hate the feel of it, butt. In fact, it feels shit hole hard! (pun intended) There is water everywhere, in the taps, shower, tub, bottles, fountains, but not a drop to jet wash the most vulnerable part of your anatomy. Being a जुगाड़ू Indian, water bottles come to the rescue, somehow reminding me of the times of toilet an old katha.

Why does everything have to be in dollars? In the world of Uber, Google maps and Amazon delivery, data is a basic necessity. But being the बनिया that you are, you don’t turn it on as every time you do, you can hear the meter turning nickels into quarters. and quickly turn it off again. And how do you shop? I mean everything gets totally multiplied by the cheap Indian mind-set and then you expostulate, 30$ (in disbelief), you mean 2000 Rs, soooo expensive, and refuse to buy it, (But then go to India and pay 5000 Rs for something worse). It is called misplaced patriotism.

Breakfast not included! Any self-respecting Indian always desires to chooses a hotel that provides free wifi and breakfast while paying no more than 120$ per night and if he finds one, Eureka! I mean, who on earth would pay 12$ (plus taxes plus gratuity) for toast and cornflakes and potatoes which is what a typical vegetarian ends up eating. Hence you skip breakfast (unless of course the company is paying for it).

These long flights are so cramped. Normally everything long is good, long legs, long.. oops, change the topic. but flights – when in cattle class, isn’t the best for your back and your legs, specially in your late forties. You can’t catch a wink; it is smelly all around with people releasing odours and socks which have no means to get out of the aircraft pores, and it is cold, the thin blanket is mostly useless. Your neck keeps rolling off, literally, and the foot starts swelling. So, though you intended to work, you end up watching worthless movies fiddling with earphones that don’t work very well and a screen that needs you to tap thrice to achieve any result (much like are you sure, are you very sure of the Microsoft fame). The only saving grace are when she asks you “and what would you like to drink, madam”.

This is followed by the lag of the jet. Sleepy in Seattle at 3 in the afternoon bang in the middle of a meeting doesn’t send the right message though everyone is looking at you in amazement, you survived 10+10 hours of flight, you are a hero. Interestingly you will find, for most folks here, Hawaii is the biggest adventure of their life. You drink some water, doesn’t work, and you hardly listen to the discussion around, focussing on fighting the deadly sleep, which finally you get rid of as soon as the meeting is over. Phew! By that time sleep is so upset with you, she refuses to come back when you need her. So, you are wide awake watching whatever it is ABC is telecasting at midnight. After a lot of cajoling, you manage to land into a slumber only to feel roaring awake at 3 am.

Who imagined getting a nice warm cuppa tea can be such a pain in the same body part discussed above. One would tend to believe that chai latte is the easiest thing to make other than Maggi. But you know, these guys have no bloody idea. They think dipping a porous bag in warm water and pointing you towards sugar sachet is the definition of making tea. And they charge you bloody 3$ (and some cents) for something which is barely lukewarm. So, in mutiny, I carry my own tea bags from desh. But my hotel refuses to provide milk powder (or creamer as they call it here, Americans are probably the ones who would call Rose by the name of crimson and get away with it). Since I have not developed the taste for black tea so far. I called and asked for it, and the girl refused to understand me, maybe it is my hinglish, i was tempted to resort to साली, दूध माँगा था, but resisted. So, black tea it is. Next time I resolved to carry my own Nestle dairy whitener.

And the food. I love the cuisines, trying various veggies and fruits and breads and chutneys and salads. But why do we say only Gujjus make food that is sweet, everything here is either cheesy or sweet, sometimes both. After a week, I am so missing, दाल चावल, curries and the spices. I almost salivate when I check out the Indian food available online, but I take one look at the price and realise that delivery charge is more than the cost of the dish, so swallow my saliva and pride and survive on my cold storage पूरीs. Yeah, पूरी and भुजिया is heaven when in the Americas.

The next time you travel to this part of the world, all fellow desi travellers are advised to add as a necessary part of their survival kit

  • A mug (or spare water bottles)
  • Tea bags and creamer
  • पूरी and भुजिया

And definitely leave behind your mental calculator.

But what happens only in America is having an ex-marine, future SeattlePD, muscular, tanned, girl in shorts driving your cab.

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Gym-nasty

Like I always say, once you enter the fourth decade of mortal existence, life takes on a whole new meaning.  You stop worrying about wearing the most unsuitable clothes and show off creaky venous old knees; you color hair not to hide the white showing through, but to get a brunette look.  And among some of the other weird things I have no wish to expose just yet; I also enrolled myself into a gym.

Yeah, so I did. I can’t fathom what on earth prompted me, after successfully giving it a miss for all of my forty and five years and suddenly here I was, struggling into tights and t-shirt and trying to get rid of my belly fat and other protruding anatomical juxtapositions which don’t look right (yeah, the fat would have looked better a few inches above). I guess too much time on my hands and a desire not to feel totally lethargic and waste yet. So, lo and behold, I was ready to take a swing at things I had not attempted before.

The gym is pretty close to where I stay, so walked over. Went inside to ear blasting music and a plethora of machines all around. I with my weary eyes had to look where I walked else I would be the first to fall flat on a dumbbell thrown carelessly around, or the jutting leg of a legpress. I was given a tour of all the contraptions and re-learnt all the muscle names forgotten in class VIII, triceps and biceps and hamstrings and which one is smaller and larger. I also got an overloaded with names of machines and exercises which I didn’t remember five minutes beyond. I could see several trainers repeating basic math- one, two, three, buck up, back straight and I fondly remembered my PT instructor.

Since I was not put off the place during my first visit, I decided to pay the fees and hoped that would prompt me to continue. Day 1. A baldy instructor confronted – why does everyone I encounter have to be bald?? Gods have something seriously against me. At least my gym instructor could have been a treat to the eyes. Sigh, he isn’t, doesn’t look a hunk from any direction (including upside down), looks more like a soft spoken teacher or a government servant. He started off rattling something in Marathi and I had to stop him mid way through his monologue, Hindi please, or English, I asked doubtfully. Yes madam. Then he started my routine. By the time he finished with me, I was almost dead, all limbs creaking and trembling, wondering whether I needed a stretcher to go home.

In my dotage, the way I exercise is my break time is almost equal to my exercise time. The fun during the breaks while I struggle to get my breath back is to look around and see the blatant display of chiseled torsos and muscular wealth. The day I joined, all the folks turned and glanced at the old woman gone crazy, took one look and disdainfully went back to their routines. So much so for my hotness! At least I can see a hot Dwayne smiling or a desi Hrithik looking at me sideways from the wall, and a surly looking uninspiring female body builder who gives a smirk.

Over a period of time, I learnt to use some of the machines, lift some weights, and perform some basic workout though it pains me to see guys lifting so much weight while I was struggling with the lightest dumbbell. Going overboard and trying extra would cause a “sweet and sour pain” in my glutes for the next two days as my instructor keeps repeating. He hurts my muscles more than my sentiments, and I walk out in a weird gait (resembling a three-legged-walk) since everything was sore, feeling distinctly old and in need for oiling.

Over a period of time, as I interestingly watched the steamy sweaty bodies and listened to Mika screaming “shake that booty” at the top of his voice, I realized there are basically five kinds of creatures infesting the gym.

  • The “hen-pecked-husband” whose wife doesn’t let him sit along with his pot belly in front of the idiot box, and packs him off to get a six pack. Poor harassed fellow, he finds it so tough to slide into most of the machines, which are really designed for human size. Huffing and puffing, his painstaking attempts at lifting weights and then taking half an hour of break with open mouth struggling to breathe in air right in front of the TV.
  • The “self-obsessed-and-proclaimed-hunk” wearing tight shorts who spends fifteen minutes lifting weights making alien guttural sounds and faces and then walks with a forced swagger and spends next fifteen in front of the wall length mirror looking at his jutting muscles from all possible angles and showing (off) to all the trainers around and measuring the micrometer change in his biceps. The mindless body and his gymfies on Instagram and Facebook lives. God save him!
  • The “I-have-time-and-clothes” girl who adorns yoga pants and sports bra (only thing everyone noticed) and something insignificant on top which is completely superfluous, with a ponytail and a mouth that can literally move mountains, and a magnetic personality, pulling all sweaty bodies towards it. With bobbing boobs and behind as she treads the mill, all trainers (including mine) fall all over themselves to train her and look at her with gaping mouths and rising heart rate.
  • The “exceptionally athletic Superman” who is actually focused on just building muscles and totally oblivious to the rest of the world around him. The guy who pushes every machine to its limits and cribs that they were not strong enough, and who spends daily 2-3 hours just exercising. And the walk, reeking of self confidence! But I wonder, he is already there, then why make the rest of us all look and feel nobodies.
  • The “aiming-to-impress-girlfriend” sweaty smelly thin fellow, the pea-brained nincompoop who wants to build brawns and not brains, with silky hair, big phone and glares and thin spidery legs, squatting away to glory, face straining hard to avoid the gaseous excretions towards his fellow folks.

Ideally I should qualify myself into a sixth category, who last squat was only during the last Indian style loo visit, but then being a unique specimen, I am not sure there are many like me around. In the past year, I have started enjoying the one hour stint at the gym every day (well, almost). And my top three reasons of visiting the same place regularly happen to be

  • After working out, I don’t feel guilty about not working out and the cake tastes so much better, especially with the icing (and I wonder why I am still putting on weight?)
  • That hot dapper who always comes in at the same time and is a temptation of magnificent proportions.
  • Enjoying my favorite mind exercise of judging and categorizing people.

Spec-tacular

As a kid I never saw anyone (I mean people in the grown-ups class) without glasses. Everyone had that thing on their noses and used that as an excuse to look down it on others (literally, only thing being I did not quite understand why). Since I always want to appear more grown up than I was, what better way to do it than adorn the same.

I developed a fascination for prescription glasses. My home had plenty of them, reading glasses of various shapes and sizes and frames and power, long distance ones and the bi-focal ones which had that strange semi circle in the middle and always made the floor swing wildly, when tried. Spectacles for Maa, Baba and bro, a shelf full of them. I was the only visionary in my household and only solace was to try them till I got a headache.

I had this blasphemous idea that wearing specs would make me look intellectual (a classy synonym for nerdy). Since my eyesight refused to give any results other than 6/6 (however frequently I was tested), I had no option but to resort to plain glasses with thick frames, resulting in a spinster school teacher look, all that was missing was a tight bun, flat shoes and a “midi” to complete the dazzling look. I would then hold a scale in my hand and play “Teacher, teacher” with unsuspecting kids in the block.

And then came the big day. In my thirties. (It is elegant to say thirties rather than share the exact age, no lady does that). (wow, doesn’t sound like me at all !!!) I started getting headaches. One day, two days, a week. My husband-who-knows-everything told me to see an ophthalmologist (phew, got the spelling right after three attempts). No way, I argued, my eye sight is perfect (I-need-glasses-symptoms had disappeared long back.) He smiled indulgently, so I did. Lo and behold, the doctor ruled, I needed long distance vision with cylindrical lenses. Hain??? Trigonometry married with Optics?? I always knew I had far-sighted vision, and the far sighted lenses clinched it. So finally the childhood dream came true, I had glasses on my nose and I could look down on some. I had arrived.

Now that I needed to, I hated wearing them. I would use every excuse to take them off all the while. I will get dark circles, it feels heavy, I can’t wear them when I am cooking were most frequented reasons. Needless to say I made quite a spectacle of myself, pun intended.

Time flew. Power play increased. The spectacle cases started piling up. I learnt the vocabulary, rimless, half rim and started noticing the “brands”. Then I got a brainwave, why not use lenses. Alladin appeared again and I got myself a pair of Bausch and Lomb lenses. Day I, tried wearing them, lens on one eye fitted perfectly, other wouldn’t fit somehow, after 10 attempts. I gave up. I will try tomorrow. Day 2, same result. Day 3, I didn’t try.  After a couple of weeks of this effort, I realized some people are not meant to achieve the greater things in life, and quietly resorted back to my middle class chashma.

And a day arrived when I realized the words in the book I was reading had become blurry. I shook the book vigorously, used to be all right a few days back. Even after a good shake, the words were swimming. Moved the book away half a foot and they settled down. Cool, forgot all about it. After a few days, half foot became a foot and then I realized I could not read the newspaper, no matter where I held it (I really needed a selfie stick). By this time, my optics had been well revised and I knew it was time to get the reading glasses as well. The world had advanced by this time and the semi circle in bi-focal lenses had progressed.

My eyes, though could never have been compared with the beautiful doe, used to be decently big, once upon a time, only nice adjective I heard about them. Otherwise they mostly figured around bulbous, button-like and some others I wouldn’t care to repeat. Once I asked Maa, (school time), how are my eyes, can you call them beautiful. She took a careful look and said, I can, but I have to try really hard. Couldn’t she have been a tad tactful? The saving grace was, they were functional.

Now that I am bespectacled, for some vague reason, I have started noticing other things, the wrinkles at the corners of the eyes, the darkness under them and a new development, white spots on the lids. Hain? Nobody ever told me that my eyes would become so insignificant, that the surrounding areas would take prominence and how! I would not have noticed the white spots but it was literally thrust upon me. And he said in all seriousness, you should get your cholesterol checked. Really? Chasma causes cholesterol? Ok, forget it, 2 +2 isn’t always 5. To cut the long story short, the cholesterol problem was solved but the white spots had found their abode to reside forever. And now I have a wart too. Maybe wearing the glasses is better, the thicker the frame, the blemishes stay out of sight.

Unlike twins, my disagreeable eyes have refused to agree on various axes, including spherical and cylindrical, they are power hungry, vying with each other on “I am high on positivity” and “I am supremely negative, beat it!” I wonder how the lens manufacturer ever gets it all crammed into the thin, light on eyes and heavy on pocket, Vogue frames and gives it a tan too.  I have to admit, I am like literally blind without them.

The day I leave home without my glasses, I need help for the smallest thing including reading the zero at petrol pump and the price on the tag. The biggest problem is when I have to read the small print, only way out is to take a photo and zoom it (Thank whoever for digital technology), how would the virtually visually impaired like me survive. But I wonder, how the hot handsome hunks that I bump into without my glasses, change into middle aged, pot-bellied, bald ogling men, as soon as I apply the glazed glassy look to see them better. The blurry illusion shatters into the harsh reality!

www: wine, wifi and wagina

There is a distinct advantage of using the letter W here. It will not hit the filter for malicious and harmful content and will be definite read because of the atrocious title and will help me poison the mind of the unsuspecting population. I should probably say something about Republic day here (wrote on 26th) but beyond the parade which became boring two years after TV was launched in India, all it reminds me of is re-do-public which is what they do to public every year and it is time public does unto them. I am un-cultured, period. I have it on good authority that I neither understand nor respect culture. That tune, ah, that tune puts me off to sleep at 9 am in the morning. Reminds me of fervently gesticulating aunts with no voice and me trying to turn the volume up only to hear the wailing tone louder.

Whatsapp reminded early morning that it was a dry day, so all my wine loving friends were sober for a change and probably bathed and freshened up, sitting with their wives of 25 years odd, sipping a cup of Tulsi tea and thinking, WTF, I get to watch a parade today and not my painstakingly assembled hard disk worth Gigabytes (quite unpatriotic, so to say). So everyone decided to become nauseously  patriotic and send tricolor messages, gifs and videos, and my mind went back to the tricolor on the slipper that created a big hullaballoo for Amazon. We were discussing about it yesterday and as I defended the concept, wondering aloud as why should it matter, my argument was unilaterally branded as “कुतर्क”. So tri color messages are ok, clothes are fine, but not tricolor chappals, because “हमारी भी भावनाये हैं ”. We are a nation that can riot if a guy doesn’t stand up during National Anthem recitation in a movie theatre, but we can coolly stand and snigger (probably record too) while a girl is being molested by a group in public. So up yours for भावनाये, BTW, Did anyone happen to notice the flag of “Republic day अमर रहे”. Somebody get your facts right, man!

Continuing on the charade of patriotism, I want to implore all of ye, to actively take part in स्वच्छ Bharat. Which is an oxymoron, as clarified by a standup guy, and I agree, we Indians are not clean by culture, our cleanliness is making the maid clean our home and dump the dirt in neighbor’s yard. See we have traditionally never believed in love thy neighbor (loving thy neighbor’s wife, or daughter, now that is a different story). I have had a hard time explaining my BMW (Bartan maanjne wali) to keep dry and wet कचरा separate, and when finally I got through their blocked minds, I realised that the colony cleaner anyway mixes it all up, so, there went my futile attempt down the dustbin literally. But if the littering of the country wasn’t enough, we have also learnt to litter in mailboxes and WA accounts simply by posting messages of utter stupidity, which they could broom away if they could but they can’t so they won’t. They simply dump to another group. Sometimes it feels that they do it deliberately, I saw this shit, let me shove it down your throat too. But what I really felt bad is about people like Fawad being unceremoniously thrown back to the neighbor country. He is cute. Even Karan liked him. Why treat him like dirt? I can think of several other folks we could be much better off without, and could be hurled across the border, but why Fawad!

Our nation is doing so much for females in terms of making men aware of how to behave with them, running scripted short films and advertisements around लड़की बचाओ, लड़की पढ़ाओ   (my autocorrect is working overtime, it was actually writing लड़की भगाओ and my google search on लड़की showed me “पटाने का तरीका ”). I personally think the whole concept works out in men’s favor, Save the girl child, she is the one who will become a woman later. Get it, you dirty mind! But at times these shows are so utterly unreal and I am nostalgic for Nirupa Rai and I distinctly feel the only way to solve this problem is, every woman should aim at looking like Nirupa Rai. (No offence) but men will have a real problem feeling anything but brotherly  or son-ly towards this species. For us in the 40’s (It is better to say forties that specify the exact year, except that I keep my email id as jhilmil_1970), looking motherly and elder sisterly is default, but for the beauties in their 20’s, it may be a good idea to take a crash course in how-to-look-like-an-aunt-and-save-yourself.

It is very difficult to find anything to say these days, every word is twisted and misrepresented. And it is getting tougher day by day to understand the difference between truth and falsehood, or rather alternate truth, as coined by a yellow haired person of current importance. All that is written on Internet is not the whole truth, so help me God. Can someone make an app, or create a marker that tells me whether a statement supposedly attributed to Meryl Streep was actually penned by her, or Obama’s hand on Melanie’s derriere was photo-shopped. Or why the recipe that looks so endearing in your food lab looks unfabulously different when tried at home. And other conspiracy theories around how-raga-is smarter-than-donkey or who-killed-ajay-lolita. But मेरे अच्छे दिन आएंगे ! I like the word अच्छा. Spoken in different tones, it can take on a whole new meaning or de-meaning. It is not a word, it is a sentence. So, repeating myself मेरे अच्छे दिन आएंगे.

How can my patriotism bladder be empty without discussing de-money-tisation. It is an unprece-dent-ed move that put a dent in everyone’s wallet and asked to move to e-wallet. The management philosophy behind this is the ardent belief that we are all morons. You spend Rs 30 once (I am staunch middle class and the last wallet I bought cost me all of Rs 30), when you buy a wallet and then you can put money and take out money and none would be wiser. You use a digital wallet and you are paying (every time to those who are wiser) to spend your money as well. Of course, goes without saying when you are de-monied, digital is the way to go. Better than begging any day. I asked an autowallah as to why he doesn’t use paytm, he said, madam, उसके लिए नेट पैक लेना पड़ेगा .  Valid point. I personally think this whole आंदोलन was a move to teach Indians the culture of standing in queue. Till now, having been only focused on art of living, now we know the art of queuing.

P.S. Please note that the blog title had nothing to do with the blog content, a fact that you must have realised by now, unless you belong to the #StupidIndia club but it sure enticed you to read all the way till the end, hoping to find a glimpse of the wagina. Maybe I should have called it The year that was, or My unpatriotism, but decided not to. Now that is pretty successful marketing.

Bikaner Bahu

 

The first time I entered the beautiful city of Bikaner, it was as a new bride, some 23 years ago into a culture I didn’t understand, where the folks spoke a language I couldn’t make head or tail of and to a city I had never been before.

With all the unknowns and with trepidation, that new brides of yesteryears will understand, I stepped into the city, complete with a bowed head, armful of jewellery, and no voice.

Draped in a heavy जरी साड़ी, loaded with jewellery from head to toe, (yes actually), wearing heels, I followed my MIL into those city roads where no four-wheeler had gone before. Now these lanes are small (stretch your arms and you can probably touch the boundary), pot-holed, like all lanes across the country, disgustingly smelly with open drains and overflowing with cow dung. Amidst the dung, move the two and three wheelers, and alongside walk the Homo sapiens (at their own risk) and dogs and cows and bulls and carts and more, coexisting on the treacherous roads. A person like me needs to be insured just to walk there.

So there I was, all decked up, one hand holding up the साड़ी all the way up to my ankles, (Ha, what did you think), other hand fiercely holding the पल्लू on my head, which I was told never to let go, (hence no hands free to hold a purse and thus I learnt how the art of storing money in twin lockers beyond purses originated. And no, I am not explaining this further) looking at the road for spots where the foot could be placed safely without being soiled, and looking out for dangers lurking around nooks namely four legged creatures and motorised vehicles. Vehicles were the easy ones, in Bikaner, they are quite used to blind people like me walking around. And I always thought people coming to big cities from small towns faced hurdles! But the real menace were the bulls and cows, who are around in plenty, all seemingly eyeing me disdainfully, and being dead afraid of them, I was forever ready to flee in the most unladylike manner, with no regard for the erstwhile stated पल्लू. Many a times I was saved by the folks used to saving damsels in distress in those lanes.

And what was I doing there? I was being led to meet my husband’s extended family that resided in such locations and I was paraded around being the latest acquisition. Some of the older generation ladies would make me sit next to them, take my arm and minutely examine every piece of jewellery I wore. Ask me details about who gave it, how much it was worth and I was completely lost. But my MIL passed with flying colors; she had done a good job. And they would utter in their local tone “छोरी पुटरो से” meaning girl is good looking (experience gaveth the verdict).

Some of the more experienced बहूs I met on these trips were tired looking girls with covered head forever looking downwards, following their सासु around, obeying instructions and getting rid of their घूँघट as soon as they were out of surveillance. I asked them why did they cover their head if they had such a big issue with it and they looked at me like I had descended from Mars, you don’t know nothing, you come from a different culture, we will see how you fare in a couple of years (the last with a knowing smirk). I wondered what their life was like, being stuck forever beneath the covered head and small town mentality, with no hope or desire to do anything beyond cook, clean and obey. And snapping at their snotty kids with one finger up the nostril and one scratching the bottom.

And then there also exists that class of people who took offence with me simply because (as far as I can make out) I was born in a different caste, was educated and didn’t understand the traditions. They always tell me (even today), I am too focused on earning (नोट गिनती as they call it), not on family, I never make time for relatives, never call them and generally pull me down by what is termed as ओलबा in the local dialect.  And not breaking the घूँघट clad बहू genre, I listen, feebly protest and finally shut up, I cannot win the argument anyway, and leave teary eyed at times.

When I got married, I was made to sit with a hall full of Marwari women, all dressed in bright red, head covered, stomach visible (which reminded me of a term we had coined in college O-cube-C, which meant, now don’t laugh, one open one covered, and you can easily guess what I mean in the context of a साड़ी), singing the local lullaby called गीत, whose words were difficult for me to decipher, laughing, touching my clothes and jewelry and doing what most females do when in a group, talk. Since my Marwari vocabulary was close to nil, I sat with a permanent smile pasted on my face as folks took off my घूँघट, looked at me, made some remarks I didn’t quite get, laughed and fed me लड्डूs, one after other, till I was in bursting and ready to puke. Much later I learnt that you were not supposed to eat them, just take the smallest bite and keep it down again. Or take a bite and feed the rest to the fellow torturing you thus. Nobody told me that at the right time.

Bikaneri food is the probably among the most awesome in the world, but not when it is stuffed in your mouth. In this city, people show their love for you is by force feeding you; they believe in the past 24 years of your life, you have not mastered the art of eating. You cannot do “अन्न का अपमान” and you have to devour around 6 meals a day, breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, high tea, evening snacks and dinner, all at different relatives abode, who felt I had come completely undernourished and unfed from my पीहर and they had to funnel stuff in my mouth till my पेटीकोट नाडा was about to break. My MIL taught me, don’t eat anything on your own, just eat what you are being fed and you’ll survive to tell the tale.

Funny incidents apart, I was welcomed with open arms by people who lived in this small town and had hearts big enough to shower love and blessings on this bong girl without bias. Even after couple of decades, I continue to be surprised at the way this place strives to maintain the traditions as the next generation gets married while I still struggle to speak the local language and get a handle on expectations.

 

 

 

From Two to Four – wheels

Learning a bicycle is piece of cake, once you have digested it. I remember I was at my ननिहाल, for an extended family gathering having fun. And I wanted to learn to cycle. So my मामा decided to help me out. I was nonchalant 13. The first time you get up and sit on that thin seat and ensure your frock covers your vitals, you wonder how on earth can anyone balance on such thin tyres (observe the oxymoron – thin tyres). The bicycle just insists on falling towards one side, and even if you use Physics to balance, it almost always fails and you end up falling on your rump. My मामा did try his best to help by holding the carrier, but the bicycle handle refused to stay straight, it insisted on swinging in the direction opposite my fall. Murphy or whoever wrote the law of how many times you fall when learning to cycle, I proved it true every 5 seconds, till I had bruises all over and my ego was hurt beyond repair. Three days of tenacity, and I could manage to hold the wheels steady for about 10 meters, and then the law had its way. Fourth day, I managed just about not to fall off, but driving in a straight line was still miles away. I was mostly cycling like a drunk, weeing from one end of the road to the other and at times when I knew the forces driving me to the ground were winning, I chose instead to land on my two left feet. A week into it, and I was under the delusion that I was master of the game.

Came back to Jodhpur and decided to try my skills on Baba’s bicycle. Problem, it had a hard rod, so climbing on to the fellow was a project it itself and then climbing down was another. (Just reread what I had written and trust me, that was not the intent, whatever you may think ) And the Jodhpur lanes, if you could call them that, full of gravel and sand. Anyway, as I said, I believed I had wings (even without red bull), and the supreme arrogance of a beginner. So went full swing, round and round across lanes at full speed. Second round and I was coming down a lane which was an inclined plane. Now physics was far away from mind and my speed tried to defy the still unfamiliar laws and of course, I slipped and went straight into the ditch. A visit to my favourite doctor where he had to tch tch and scrape off all sand and gravel stuck into my घायल legs. He probably wondered whether I did it deliberately to have an excuse to go see him every now and then. Did I? Even though I have now cycled for years, the art of holding my skirt down against the wind with one hand, while trying to keep the handle straight with the other and using my mouth to shoo away the traffic, it is tough to say the least. These days I prefer the one that you can pedal, but which doesn’t go anywhere.

I learnt to drive four wheels in my late 20s, during the forced relaxation period after popping out my baby. The Maruti driving school was good and while in the learner car, my beginner confidence was back with a big bang. Except that I lacked the ol’ fella called courage. We even bought a car, which was kept safely parked outside the home gathering dust while I went to office on a rickshaw. One day I was encouraged a lot, you can do it you know, Is there anything you can’t do? Now, I am a sucker for motivation. And my dear husband took me and the car to a road and literally pushed me to the driver seat. I knew the ABC yes, had read the user manual and done test drives but driving on Noida road alone for the first time with no safety break on the co-passenger seat was perilous. Anyway, started the car with shaking hands. First 20 times, it stalled. Wasn’t giving enough raise (Same problem with us salaried people, when we don’t get enough raise, we stall). So pushed the accelerator, created some noise and moved ahead a few feet, hit the first speed-breaker, and stalled again. After a few feet of this, I got the hang of ensuring, car didn’t shut down, (though the unnatural noises emanating from the sudden pushes and jerks did nothing to calm my nerves, remember I am talking about the car).  There after I started looking at the road and other vehicles around me and realised I had too many cars crowding me, I screamed, “what to do”, froze with horror, panicked, shut down the car in the middle of the road and came out trembling, I can’t do it. And refused to take the wheel after that. Thus ended my first day on road on a four wheeler.

Then came a day when again I was challenged, you can take out the car yourself from the narrow lane where we lived, why should we take a three-wheeler. We should take our car. No, too many cars around, I can’t handle reverse. Yes you can. Three times, she said it and I was persuaded. So I started the engine, reversed, bang, hit the car parked on the other side of the lane, changed gear and curved right, didn’t cut enough, scratched the car on the left, full body length, recovered, swerved right, I guess too much, went into the car on the right, and there I was, driving steadily down the lane. (Well, I did better than a certain someone I know who drove the car right into the boundary of the house across the lane) Poor car owners, never came to know what hit them, by the time I came back, I was already a pro. Once you have dented a car on Delhi roads, you are virtuoso.

This was a WagonR. Few years later, we went hunting for an SUV, as we upgraded ourselves from middle class to middle class+. ( And also I had a fervent desire to look down on some people and what better way to do it than sitting on the tall seats) The Tata sales guy was more than willing to let us test drive the Safari, as he handed over the keys to my husband, who forwarded them to me, his face paled. But his job was at stake, there was no way he could say no. (He asked to see my licence though). I could literally smell his fear as he watched me turn the keys in the ignition. Blimey, ‘Tis the end of the world if ladies started driving what has so forth been exclusively for the gentleman. Disgraced in my eyes, he survived, didn’t wet his pants, to give him due credit, but did not make the sale. At the end of the drive he meekly managed, मैडम आप तो अच्छा चला लेती हैं. We chose a Scorpio instead. I caused two accidents while driving the Scorpio. All because I was driving an SUV on Noida roads, quite unheard of in 2005. A fellow on a cycle came from the front, looked at me, opened his mouth and fell off as I passed by and looked down on him on the other side of the road. It was such fun to be the first to drive off as the light turned green, being the fastest on the road had its own charm. Then there were these two fellows on a bike, who went and hit an autorickshaw since they stared agape so hard at me, they forgot to look at the rest of the traffic. I enjoyed the attention unashamedly. The moral being that a woman driving an SUV with undisguised confidence is still a visual hallucination so people either give a wide berth or have accidents.