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.

I, me #selfie

Long back during school time, there was this short story that spoke about the world of photographs. That alternate world, where everyone was always happy and smiling and never grew old. That story still strikes a chord somewhere except that now you make an extra effort at looking like Donald duck.

For those of us who are blessed to be born in the 70’s in middle class households, we had the luxury of never owning a camera for many years. And finally when we did, it was kept locked in the Godrej, gathered dust, and only came out on special occasions like weddings and could only be operated by people-who-would-never-drop-it aka adults. So, if you wanted to have your memories cast in print, while growing up, you had to rely upon

  • uncles less miserly
  • school friends whose parents doted upon them and would take your photos if you behaved as their best friend
  • school official photos during annual days
  • and find an important enough occasion so that Baba took that contraption out finally

After marriage the jinx was broken and we finally had a Kodak at our disposal. Imagine having your very own camera to carry while holidaying. But we remained staunchly middle class with just 36 possible photos in a reel and with 2 reels that needed to last a 10 day vacation. Somehow this middle class thingy has been following me all my life. Every photo had to be planned, ensuring smiling countenance even when you were upset, right direction, exposure blah blah because world of photographs was forever, it couldn’t be undone, at least not then. Your vacation budget had to include reels and the worst thing was, you could not see the results for several days after the vacation. I remember a reel that we got washed after a couple of years because it got lost in a drawer which was overflowing, we were busy with office and kids growing up and just plain forgot. What a pleasure to find it and develop it and what a pain to find it was overexposed.

I also learnt meanwhile that when it comes to saving your tooth (and nail) or camera, camera has the upper hand literally. College time, borrowed an expensive camera from a friend and was figuring out all its nuances, pretending to learn photography just because it was decidedly upper class in a hostel full of girls who barely made ends meet. Walked back to my hostel room, tripped over something and fell face flat. The hand automatically moved up saving the camera, and my dignity but breaking two of my front teeth partially. I lived to tell the tale.

As we graduated to upper middle class, we dared to buy a SLR, all the way from अमरीका. Again, a legacy of my family, it found a permanent spot inside my Godrej and was taken out on rarest of occasions. Our first vacation with the SLR, we could not get in the beach water because, come on, you had a 300$ SLR in your hand which was more precious than mere enjoyment. One day we discovered dear SLR wasn’t working. It was a whole project to figure out who in Lajpat nagar could repair it. And finally when we did manage to get it repaired, it went plain out of fashion as digital had taken birth.

Life is so bloody easy now with megapixels increasing day by day and camera phones. You don’t need to count how many you click, you have a choice to delete them if you don’t like. Though we hardly ever (delete), we like to clog the memory. The good thing about digital memory is that it isn’t like the almirah, here the photos don’t gather dust, and there is always more space than you can imagine, and you can play tricks with all apps floating around. And the biggest advantage, you can clutter all you want, your mom will not ask you to clean it.

The front camera was added as an afterthought. Nobody in his or her wildest dream felt the need of a camera for taking self image with a contorted face. Talk about narcissism! Probably stemmed from the aversion of handing over your expensive phone to the nearest passerby for clicking you. Well, these days narcissism is probably measured as the number of selfies a day. I, me, #selfie. BTW I have not been able to fathom why the name “selfie”. Wouldn’t selfick or selfoto have been better suited?

And now wherever you go, you find people clicking themselves away everywhere, at malls, concerts, theaters, hospitals, cliff edges, highways and some of them falling, hurting, drowning, such is the craze. The way things are going, you can expect “no selfie” zones coming up soon next to the “no smoking” signs. Yeah, both kill.

selfie

Personally I have not been able to master the art of selfie taking, thanks to my short arms, clumsy hold and lack of desire to learn. Or maybe the camera has taken a dislike to me. Every time I try it, I face one or more of the following issues

  • I am looking somewhere totally weird
  • My arm and fingers occupy a major part of the image
  • The image is blurred, or is it my vision?
  • I don’t like my face, which is most of the time. (or maybe I am looking fat) (maybe the pout backfired)
20160904_085001
fingers occupying half the screen 😦 and you can see the broken teeth too 🙂

 

Ps. My habit of using numbered lists stems from my childhood where Baba taught me to write in points always saying, science students only get marks if they write in points. So now you know why I never scored in English essays (other than the fact that I could not write).

I can think of several apps to be developed around the art and science of selfie (and not the ones that make you look better than you are). Like the one that defines and enforces an upper limit on how many selfies you can take a day. Just imagine the camera shutting down and going to sleep just because it is so tired of looking at you. Or vrrr, camera direction changing to focus on a flower or anything except your face. Or a robot hand that comes and punches you and gives you a real swollen pout.

Coming back to the point, literally, my clumsy attempts at taking selfies, should I angle it from bottom to top, or vice versa, hold it in left or right hand, and how to use the thumb properly, where to look, how to pout, how to get everyone in the frame. I have tried really, and my results have been far from encouraging and I strongly feel like Taking The Perfect Selfie course at London.

 

 

Tears, funny tears..

The best thing about showers is that they make you think. As water flows all over you, washing off the grime of everyday roughness, you realise there is more to life than merely earning your bread and butter. You, at least I, feel moronic and philosophical under a shower and get insane ideas and, for want of a better word, thoughts. I am sure if Newton had stood under a shower, he would not have needed the apple, and I don’t mean the half eaten one.

Some of my more poignant musings have been around why do I have to adjust the thermostat every time I go under it; what it Psycho started here and now and blood came down the shower instead of water; maybe if Archimedes had decided to take a shower on that fateful eureka day, I might have drowned in my buoyant thoughts; can I somehow get rain water to come down the shower since I am wasting so much of it; rain is God crying his heart out, tears idle tears..

Tears remind me, my family has always had people who could drop tears at the drop of a hat, including yours truly. I remember a नानी, a very favourite one, who we would meet during summer vacations and family reunions. She would cook up our favourite food sitting in front of the अंगीठी for hours. And while licking your fingers, if you said the food was good, she would start hollering, hug and drown you into her huge heaving bosom and crush you till you suffocate. She could cry when she was happy, when she was sad, in suffering, when she was alone and when surrounded by people. I never discovered a time and situation when she could not shed tears. God had given her a tanker full whose tap could be turned on by almost anything.

And she was not alone in this. Once she started, all my other नानीs joined force and we had a howling hullaballoo that lasted long enough to give everyone else a headache.

I also had a buxom aunt, who had a special way of crying; when she cried, her saree पल्लू would drop off automatically on to whoever was in front of her, and trust me, she got plenty of admirers who loved to comfort her. Typically always her male extended family members who were looking for the opportunity to appease her and bring her their kerchiefs and wipe her tears off her face and other semi-exposed anatomical parts.

My son, my baby could wail bucketful’s when he was a kid. I never discovered his reason for crying except when he did not get his own way, which was pretty often, and even when he did get his own way, he would cry imagining the situation, what if he had not got his own way. His way of crying was lying down on the ground, kick his legs and howl. For him, I was a witch, with horns and anything I said was used against me along with a squeeze of tear glands. Whether to comfort him or laugh was a dilemma that I had to overcome and well, the mother in me won.

I also have this strange affliction of being too emotional and tears somehow manage to find their way out even when I don’t want them around. When I am trying to ward off tears and yet the tap starts leaking, especially in front of strangers or acquaintances, I feel so terrible and then I am most distressed by my weakness. The worst is when I am fighting with my husband and winning, which is normally the case, but the glands overflow, my dear husband gives in not because I was right, but because I was crying. But I had almost won!

Much has been said about female tears resembling those of alligators, not that I have seen any crying. But I can confidently say about the female species that 1) For us crying is as natural as as.. you know other bodily functions. 2) a good cry is a feel good factor 3) we don’t need a reason to cry or fight 4) whoever said that tears are a weapon, is about as right as she can get and 5) we only use pms as an excuse.

One of the funniest cry-uncle I witnessed was this team member, who was getting a firing from me, (of course, I don’t remember the reason) and suddenly tears started rolling down his face. I wasn’t sure of what to do. Normally if a female cries, you hand over tissues, or comfort her, what was I supposed to do when this fat fellow across the table with his big belly is heaving up and down and tears are rolling down his pudgy cheeks and thick moustache. And I wanted to laugh so badly. Yeah, I am actually that horrible. But trust me, it was like one of those “funniest videos” that you see. Come on, I really didn’t intend that. Handing over the tissue box, I ended the discussion right there. Having won several debates exclusively on the basis on tear glands, I knew I had lost this one.

And then I woke up, the water was getting cold and I needed to get out of the shower before the colony faced water crisis, hence an abrupt stop to my exclusive pondering train.

Just before I end, remember, tears do not improve your face value, they only run the mascara down.

By Sweta Ojha

In your little black dress, In your company of male friends, In your fearless moves, In you leaving the house at hours abused. In your independent tours, In your house of bachelors aloof. In you and in me , provocation strives. Yet a one year old is victimized. Perhaps , the diaper used is wrong […]

via You and I provoke his mind. — Sweta Ojha