The girl with the groot tattoo

tattoo

#Bizarre1

She was sitting diagonally across me in the flight.  Adorning a low back gown, quite an unsuitable garment for a flight, of course with a looong slit exposing most of her limb. The gown elegantly showed off a groot-like barren tree tattoo covering the exposed back (hence the backless). She seemed to have a great affinity towards being inked and pierced. I could see another tattoo around her neck extending all the way up to her ears and looking quite like a two headed snake but could not be sure as I could not stare too hard. Couple of more stars were visible on her right wrist. (of what I could see). She had four observable rings, one through her nose, two through her eyebrows and one on her lip. (Maybe more)

Her hair was confusing. Rooted as Brunette, a few centimeters later, became blonde and at the edges turned into a rainbow of greens and pinks. She had several wrist bands, I counted 7. Then she felt cold, and did something pretty funny, took out her jacket and put her arms through it and left the back open, well, (maybe only her arms felt cold, I am just a silent observer). She looked so cult like, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she brought out a dagger and started killing people around. But then this was a United flight and you get dragged out for far less reasons than this. After settling down on her seat, she took out her phone, adjusted her hair, said oats and took a selfie, (seems she had a phone full of selfies as I could see her later watching them narcisstically (the auto-correct insists that I must spell it as sarcastically- which is fine too).

A while before the plane landed, she spent half an hour making up, using a large convex mirror to observe and hide the blemishes better, face, eyes, lips, till she got it done to her satisfaction and certified by a pouting selfie again.

#Bizarre2

On the way to Los Angeles, I had plenty of time to observe the folks around. Wondered who next to choose for #weird

  • The tattooed guy at the metro station, with all four limbs fully tattooed in color.
  • The two guys who walked like one, step in step, one fair and other dark, the white fellow staring at the other in complete adoration, without blinking and without taking eyes away for a second. Unfortunately the duo ran away from the train (in unison) as soon as the guy in uniform came in to check the tickets, so the story ended there, without more ado, or was it duo.
  • The girl driving the sports car on Rodeo drive, wearing nothing save a half open shirt with one leg perched up on the seat, a gymnastic miracle of driving with one foot. Look pretty adventurous, sport.
  • And the award goes to

The big-bad-momma who pulled her child to her knees and gave him four hard spanks, which could be heard several meters away. The howling child, who suddenly stopped howling as he was too scared, and the bad momma held his face hard and shouted at him, scaring him to do her bid and listen to her, whatever the hell she was upset about. My hands itched to give her a similar slap. Nobody at the station objected, the guards around looked away. The platform full of people appeared stunned, everyone looked at her for a bit and then forced themselves to look away, knowing better than to intervene. The train came, they went away, but the resounding echo still lingered and while the child’s bottom may bear the marks for a few hours, his heart will bear the scars forever.

#Bizarre3

This time it was a whole breed. A bunch of people loitering at the airport, with an aura not unlike an Indian railway station. It was the noisiest gate in entire Frankfurt airport. It was a complete cacophony of humanity who insisted on speaking in loud volume at the silent airport and who had to play their whatsapp videos out loud for the world to hear with blasting Bollywood music. And then there was this guy who snored through all this, his torso occupying four chairs, while lot of others were standing, his T shirt well above his swollen torso. We Indians give too hoots about others’ discomfort.

As we boarded the aircraft, I realized, on just how dirty this noisy crowd could be just as I visited the loo. Eieeks, is that how they use it at their homes, tissues thrown all around, basin blocked, loo not flushed, I mean, come on, it is all well documented, well labeled, all you need to do is follow instructions beyond nature’s call as well. But no, Lufthansa is more Indian than India, but still not a part of Swacha Bharat looks like (Microsoft has yet to add the word Swacha in its dictionary, Mr Gates, are you listening?).

By the time the flight landed in India, I deduced that this noisy, dirty crowd was also unruly. The air hostess kept on repeating, please sit down, the plane hasn’t reached its destination yet, please sit down as her voice raised a few decibels, and people just ignored her plea and shouts and displayed their bus-mindset by getting up, and blocking the aisle while the plane was still taxiing in an urgency to get out. I guess we are an overzealous lot, in a hurry to load ourselves and in an equal hurry to unload.

A bunch of 12th standard kids were on the flight and the most laudable and noteworthy joke they cracked was about stuffing a nipple into the mouth of one of the boys as they laughed heartily and loudly at the vision. I just mentally raised my eyebrows, let me forgive them, they know not what they are saying.

The last straw being the Gujju bhai at Delhi immigration just before me, who while waiting suddenly found his voice and shouted to someone standing far away “अरे jignesh bhai, passport तो देते जाओ”.  About 200 people turned and looked at him, while he remained unfazed as he waited for Jignesh Bhai. It is just after I have gone through turbulent and emotional experiences like this when I feel so proud of my fellow countrymen. What a loud covfefe aggressive bunch we are!

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.

Maal-eficient

This started when I was labeled JMMT which I didn’t quite understand at first, hence the clarification “Jhil Mil Maal Thi”. I wondered whether to be angry due to the inappropriate use of the word “Maal” or because of inappropriate use of past tense.  These days, when even “sexy” is considered pornographic and the कमाल माहौल with all feminists around, I wasn’t sure whether a smiley or an angry emoji made sense. The thought lingered and I decided to decode and shred the word that has so many connotations in the great Indian middle class context. Delete middle class, I seem to have a fixation with it. I have not checked whether the word has found its way into the oxford dictionary yet, but even as I count on my fingers, these spring to mind almost immediately.

I think the most traditional use of the word “माल” would be for goods or things. And most frequently used in transportation and businesses where large amounts of goods are moving inward or outward. God, this is beginning to sound like a thesis, which was not the thought I started this with at all, so the antithesis has to begin now.

Directly from things is derived the “expensive माल”.  As the मालदार “Lion” of 70’s Bollywood fame used to say, to his “Mona Darling”, “Mona, हमारा माल कहाँ पंहुचा?” “मालिक, सारा माल पुलिस ने पकड़ लिया”, here, like we all know we are talking about contraband and Pirates of Caribbean and National Treasure and the visualization is that of crates full of gold biscuits and ornaments, stashes of green and pink currency and underground temples when lighted up revealing precious stones and idols and more.

There is also the tasty माल that refers to awesome food, the ones you hog over in great Indian weddings and in hotels only at company expense, (without even burping) like the dry fruits and कचोरी and समोसा and sweets that are smashing but brutal for the तोंद . Which makes me wonder why “maal-nutritioned” means the opposite of what it should mean? All the rich brats are actually well stuffed with माल and not the skinny ones from Sudan.

Now, if you talk to the students of Symbiosis and other NRI-class schools where neo-rich kids with their expensive cars are sent to get a quart of education but instead get a pint of rum and a pinch of the stuff up their nostrils, “yeah, this is good shit, man, ये माल कहाँ से लाया”.  Here the माल, low in quantity, high on quality and has to be stuffed up noses or intra-venous, forever banned dope in Indian homes and can kill Bill too (or two, aaah, doesn’t matter)

And then you have the malls where all the imported माल is displayed, even the Indian माल is displayed in a way to appeal best to फिरंगीs, much to the dismay of the poor and the tired, who can look but not buy; and the rich and the famous who buy without a look, where you and me go to enjoy an afternoon of conditioned air instead of raising the home electricity bill in this scorching heat. A Sunday afternoon well spent on ogling all the stuff you will never need, with a cup of coffee costing three times more than it should, and then spending some bucks in getting worthless things just for the heck of it.

And then of course the maal, from where this whole train started. “A sexy woman” or “hottie babe” as some sites literally translated. Derogatory and anti-feminist. All feminists are advised against reading this blog, to avoid what is almost blasphemy to them. But really they shouldn’t worry. All this no-bra-fad will prevent them from actually being labeled as maal, does anyone really like juggling balls except for jugglers (oops, faux pas).

I read this interesting question on Quora

“My boyfriend in Indian, from UP, and if he is with people he doesn’t know, he tells them that I am his ‘maal’. We have been together for 3 years. Does ‘maal’ mean girlfriend, is it ok to use, or do I need to beat him? 🙂 His English is quite good, but he never uses the word girlfriend…

I am learning Hindi but it takes time, so your thoughts are really helpful. (I am English).”

And one of the interesting responses was

“In fact “MAAL” was an indecent word used earlier, in those days even “SEXY” was indecent word and if any one uses this would be considered equal to rapist. Nowadays in hitech and modern society these words are quite normal and don’t stand the meaning what these earlier used to have. If the guy is good, these don’t matter…. in current fast forward culture.” (Took the liberty of correcting the grammar, but not the lingo)

BTW, the JMMT guy later modified his statement and said “ABMH” meaning अभी भी माल हैं, much to my satisfaction.

Which makes me wonder, when I was sixteen and two, I would have flipped my lid, if someone called me sexy, my middle class upbringing has strict objections to use of such words in public, would have literally felt abused. Today it doesn’t make a difference. Maybe because I am middle class plus, or just plain forty plus. Actually any plus size woman would probably be happy being labeled sexy or maal, yeah, I still have it in me to attract eyes. Is it my tolerance or my experience or my complex talking?

With my latest fad at creating jh-ictionary, I thought since the word could not really be understood without context, and only causes गोलमाल, we could make a different word for each context, so here is an attempt to add few new words, to avoid the confusion in the minds of neo-urban-but-desi folks.

So, to wit,

knormaal: /nor-maal/ Simple and normal goods or things (The k was just to confuse you)

dealmaal:/deel-maal/ a smuggler is a dealer who deals in maal, hence proved (stretch of imagination by far, readers are invited to provide better words)

maalnourish:/ has been explained before, the over-fed, obnoxious, nourished by maal, obese generation

narcomaal:/narco-mal/  narco grade maal that can blow you away and give you highs and lows.

Mall-a-maal:/mal-a-mal/ Mall of the maal. The over-priced, over hyped buildings housing stuff that you buy, don’t use for six months and then olx them away.

Desimaal:/deci-mal/ literally meaning you know exactly what), but she is sure to get confused, you can always explain she is petite and simple J. Trust me, she will go out on the date with you.

 

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.

RESURGENCE – by Madhumita Banerjee

Foreword:

Dear readers, 

This is a different genre that I normally write and publish. This short story, a 15 minute read, written in almost the same time by my Bhabhi, Madhumita, for the Puja souvenir last year, is a quick and inspiring read for us and a determined reminder that times are changing. Enjoy.

“A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown”

Flashback #1: “Ria get back here”, yelled her hassled mom, “help with the dishes.” Ria looked in longing at her brothers, rushing out in glee to enroll themselves at the fun and games at the local Diwali Mela.. She knew she could win most of the events with ease but…….

Flashback #2 : Ria stared in dismay at her Report Card, 56% in Maths! The rest of the marks were above 80%. If only her Maths teacher would explain the concepts clearly instead of rambling on. Most of her classmates had Maths tutors. But her dad believed that girls anyway understood Maths less, no matter what. Moreover, he had to think of the future of his sons, they had to become engineers, therefore, needed tutors, she could settle for Humanities.

Flashback#3 : Ria tried focusing on her Chemistry notes, her BSc Final Year exams were going on but the raised voices of her parents distracted her. She heard her mother’s pleading voice,   “You don’t know the antecedents of the boy, how could you agree to the proposal? Moreover, Ria is keen on doing her postgraduation.”. Her father’s irritated voice said, “ Let that be her husband’s and in law’s headache. No matter what, we have to get her married one day. It’s a responsibility, let’s get it over and done with. The alliance seems good, a well established family, they have their own house and family business…….

Flashback #4 : Every morning was the same scenario, a whirlwind of activities— hollering husband who refused to take even a glass of water by himself, complaining mother-in-law who said Ria was never on time with her bed tea, her squealing baby son who always woke up with the rest and her school going daughter who slept on in spite of the many attempts in waking her. After pacifying one and all, Ria emerged form the kitchen and in the nick of time remembered to ask her husband Ronen, about the Computer Classes which had just begun in the vicinity. “What will you do with Computers? Keep the Accounts or store your recipes?” he guffawed. “When will you go? You can’t expect my mother to manage the kitchen and the baby at this age? Why waste money?”. Ria assured him that all ends would be taken care of and she had saved some money from the tuitions she conducted.

Flashback #5 : Ria adjusted the spectacles on her nose, scanned the papers carefully and signed on the dotted line. She was now the owner of the Computer Institute. It took her 3 degrees, eight long years, a bank loan and innumerable adjustments and appeasements with her family to reach her goal.

Flashback #6 : “ Ria you have always been stubborn, Ritu needs to settle down, what is your excuse now? My friend’s son is a qualified Engineer working in the US, can there be a better match?” Ria calmly looked up from the newspaper and said, “ Ritu is passionate about her Course and wishes to go abroad to pursue it further. Your son’s friend isn’t the last eligible male on earth. Moreover you ought to focus more on our son now. His grades are dropping and his late hours and drinking seems to be on the rise.”

PRESENT DAY: “ Hello, hello Ritu….. That’s great news dear, Congratulations! …..Of course all of us are coming for the convocation. You take care…….Of course would love to meet Parmeet’s parents.” Ria disconnected the mobile, smiled at her husband and daughter-in-law and shared the good news. “That Punjabi boy?” scoffed Ronen, “ It’s all your doing, trying to make your daughter modern, eh? ” Before Ria could say anything, her daughter-in-law, Nupur said, “ Baba, aren’t you overlooking something important? Ritu Didi has completed her Masters with distinction and has acquired a job in a reputed Company. Parmeet is a good friend and am sure will turn out to be an ideal life partner.”

Nupur’s face paled as she heard the banging on the door. She opened the door only to be roughly pushed aside, she could smell the liquor and the strong feminine perfume on her husband. “Not again Rahul, why did you marry me if this is what you wanted?”. Rahul twisted her arm while she writhed in silent agony. The stinging slap shook him out of his drunken stupor. It was his mother!

“ How dare you? She’s your wife. Just because the poor girl has not uttered a word to us and is constantly putting up with your misbehaviour does not mean that I will tolerate the same”, said Ria, her eyes blazing. Ronen said in a placating tone, “ Ria, it’s their problem, let them sort it out”

“No Ronen, a woman being abused and disrespected in my house becomes my…our problem too. Do not forget Rahul, you have lost your job as well and living off your parents’and wife’s earnings. If you do not mend your ways soon dear son, I will personally help Nupur file a divorce against you and get back on her feet.”

Ronen stared open mouthed at his wife. Rahul looked up in fear at his mother whose piercing stare meant every word she said. The tears rolled down Nupur’s eyes, she could only only cry out, “Maa…..” as Ria put her protective arms around her.

“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”

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.