A space odyssey

This has nothing in common with the famous Clarke novel and any resemblance is entirely your figment of imagination.

I suffer from what I call a space-o-phobia, which starts by me being uncomfortable at the beginning, quickly feeling miserable and ultimately in a rage, when my personal space is violated, ah that is a strong word, let me say, invaded by general junta.

We, Indians don’t understand the concept of space- literally or figuratively. Let me give you some everyday examples.

There are always people at the railway station, and airports and temples and parks and other places of common interest in India, who love to sit heavily down so close to you that you can tell what they ate last summer, and if you had a bio-sensor, you could tell their blood pressure by the stench of sweat. Sometimes they lean over you to reach the dustbin, ugh, I mean, it is ok you did not take a bath, or even that you consumed garlic bread, but the bench is 5 ft long and there are only three people sitting and mathematically we can leave at least 6 inches between when I end and where you begin. But they don’t get it even when you make the inward move-meant-to-move-away to avoid the edge of the bag they are holding on their knees, which is digging into my thighs without permission. And then a finger rummages inside a nostril, comes out and wipes itself on the bag, and I quickly get up and leave, running away from the invisible germs chasing me.

Then of course, our famous q culture, and we are clueless, ruthless and queue-less around it. In a bus q (which I haven’t tried for decades now), or an airport q (the most recent encounter) or a q in a washroom or a q to exit from a plane, the people behind stick to me actually, all their protruding parts trying to fit seamlessly into me and me moving forward instinctively only to be dissuaded by the vast bottom and the backpack of the person in front. Saying “excuse me” believing that it will miraculously create space in the mass of humanity, fails. My awkward motion to create some gap, only results in others moving forward to occupy all the space available, quite like the definition of gaseous material, which by the way, is available in abundance in all such locations, and you feel suffocated. No, keep your bosom away, pls and then being hit by the whack of the backpack being slung over the shoulder, or a boot stepping on my toe and my screams drowned in the giggles of the uncaring children around- don’t you have eyes at the back of your head, or a mouth that can mouth sorry! By the time I reach home, I feel quite like having passed through a sugarcane juicer.

I sometimes wish someone should invent a space-ial invisible magnetic wall around me, so as soon as an ass tries to come within the no-man’s-land, they get a shock of their lives and are forced to back off. I mean I do have a right to my personal space- including my bruised toe, and any attempt invasion should be legally prohibited. Maybe there can be a restraining order by default, nobody comes within 1 ft of another human being. Look at Norway, country with basic minimal set of people and abundance of personal space.

The third kind who make a space-tacle of themselves is the nosey public- typically the elderly auntie whose only interest in life is to ensure they get to see all the dirty linen before it is washed. They have to know when is x getting married, and when are y having their kid (with graphic details), what is my salary, where do I live, who ran away with whom and why am my travelling and more. And that is after I am trying to hide behind the large spectacles having suddenly developed an wild interest in a book, or pretending to be asleep and only responding in monosyllables. They would size me up and down and come to conclusion about how cheap my clothes are and what parlour I go to, and that my Gucci watch is a fake, quite like the robot reading my vital statistics – “Caucasian female, ht 160 cm…”, in that monotonous intonation. They are also the ones who always know why India played badly in the last match, or what Trump should do differently, what is Kareena doing these days and they insist on giving me all the gyan, uninvited and unwelcome. Come on, give me some space! Oh, why didn’t God say, Let there be space! I need air!

Another group of people who I find utterly cringeworthy are the ones who talk extra loud on the phone or listen to the infamous videos on speaker in public places and then laugh even louder. Gone are the days when you needed to shout on the phone. If you have detective instincts, you will soon know what goods the fellow sells and at what rate, why his son failed in exams, his wife is cooking brinjals tonight and that he loves Kapil jokes. I am really trying hard to respect your privacy; now do I need to wear earphones in order to avoid hearing you. I mean the damn thing was invented so you could listen to your shit while I listened to mine and the waves don’t cross each other’s path and mutual interference could be avoided. I am totally disinterested in the menu of the last wedding you attended or what is the latest in the soap- Nagiin.

Ah, at such times, I so prefer the younger generation, who with their headphones and heads down into their mobiles are fully occupied in a room full of strangers or family and our communication is limited to “food?” “yeah” and “all good?”. Likes are the most impersonal means of communication, you declare your presence and leave it at that, comments are good too, you can choose to respond if and when you want. And since people do not get their fingers up their noses on media, it is quite tolerable.  Sometimes cyber space is best crafted to get away and really get some space! I mean, I have heard from solid sources that giving “the look” makes people respect your space, but whenever I have tried that, it fails miserably and I normally get worse looks or the finger or a blasphemy back. That takes me into an introspective mode trying to determine why my looks don’t kill with a laser beam! Would getting into my shell work? Or do I need a space suit suitable for my space?

Cabbie Cabbie

8.15 pm. Land in Mumbai. And let me begin by bragging- from a business class flight, – you know what that means, you have your own bed in the sky and a clean toilet, so no cattle class woes .. (Did I say that too soon?)

8.40 pm. cleared immigration. Fun of coming in business class that you can move forward while the rest commoners have to toil through the long q.

8.45 pm. waiting for luggage.

9.15 pm. Still waiting for luggage.

9.30 pm. Continue waiting for luggage. 45 minutes now. Whatever happened to the “priority” tag? I thought I would get my luggage like this (with a flick of the finger) and head home.

9.45 pm. fuming now. What the blisters are they doing? The entire world is waiting, so it can’t be lost luggage. And my car must be here by now. I had told them to reach by 9.40 pm. There it comes, finally I can see the pink lace, earmarking my suitcase. (thank God, nobody here knew I came from the elitist class!)

9.45 pm. Call driver. Phone busy. Hmmm, why do I have multiple cabbie/ driver numbers?

9.46 pm. Call again. Are you Sharad? Driver says, Yes, but I am not coming, call the other number. What, why? I am in Pune, it is the other guy. Sigh.

9.47 pm. Call the other driver. Phone busy. What is with the phone busy!

9.48 pm. Call once again. Are you Kesar? No, I am Sandeep. Hain? From the cab service? Yes.

Me: where are you?

He: outside the airport.

Me: why aren’t you here?

He: I will come when you land.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. (you idiot)

He: oh ok, have you landed madam?

Me: No, I am calling from mid-flight. (sarcasm drooling)

He: ok, tell me when you have landed.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. Why aren’t you in the parking? By when will you reach?

He: Oh, you have landed madam, good, I will be there in 5 minutes. Please wait next to chai point.

10.00 pm. Call again. Phone busy.

10.01 pm. Call once again.

Me: where are you, 10 minutes gone!

He: coming madam, there is traffic. Will be there in 2 minutes. pls wait near chai point.

Me: !@#$%, Already there for past 10 minutes.

10.15 pm. Call twice again.

Me: It is half an hour! You still have no reached. You had to be here before 9.40.

He: coming madam. 2 minutes only.

10.30 pm. Call thrice again.

Me: 45 minutes over! What happened?

He: in parking madam, will just come and get you.

10.45 pm. Call fourth time again.

Me: will you come or not? It is 15 minutes past when you said you are in the parking.

He: coming madam.

10.50 pm. Call cabbie agency.

Me: your driver is really late. Been saying coming in 2 minutes for the past 45 minutes!

He: Let me check, madam. I will call you back.

Me: chai point beckoning. think maybe I will finally drink chai from chai point since driver will not come for another “2 minutes” at least. Me stands in queue.

10.55 pm.

He calling: madam, where are you?

Me: Where you told me. Chai point.

He: Can’t see you madam.

Me: look at me dancing away!!! (well not really)

Found each other. Gave him an earful. Heard some sorry madam’s. Too much traffic madams. Let us go, madam’s.

Reached the car. Key inserted in boot. Boot refuses to open. Trying left, right, press, pull, shove. Doesn’t work.

Me: forget the boot, we can keep suitcase inside. Let us go.

He:  madam, key is not coming out, I need the key to start the car!

Me: !@#$

Another 20 minutes of push, pull, shove, kick, press. Finally, he jumped on the car boot and jumped on it till, key finally came out. Phew. Let us go to Pune now please.

20 minutes later, car stopped on side.

11.15 pm.

He: Madam, can you give me 1000 rs now and rest when I drop you?

Me: Why the hell should I, you come an hour late and now you want money, will give only when I reach.

He: No madam, can’t go, I have to give some money to him, (pointing at the other guy,) then I can take you.

11.16 pm.

Me calling cabbie agency

Me: I am not giving him money; I am angry and frustrated.

He: madam, please give na. it is the same amount only, before or after, how does it matter?

Me: rubbing my eyes, what choice do I have at 11.15 in the night. Need to get home as I have meetings. Ok, take it.

We move on. He on the phone. Time noted- from about 11.30 pm till about 12.30 am. Man, the guy can talk. Who is on the other side, I wonder?

We reach the ghats. He keeps the phone down. And is suddenly enegrised. Accelerates from Starts 80 to 120 kmph. Twists and turns. I hold on for dear life.

We cross the ghats. He stops at mid-way.

1.45 pm.

He: Madam, 2 minutes only. Bathroom.

Me: ok.

1.20 pm. Half hour later, I see him standing and drinking chai. If he had to drink chai, I could have done that also, why did he say 2 minutes! @#$ People who make me miss chai are like…

1.25 pm. Driver back. Drives on at 140 kmph. Now I am scared. Is he angry because I showed my anger at Mumbai? Should I call the police?

Me: Bhaiya (in my sugar coated tone), can you pls drive slowly. There is no urgency.

He slows down. To 120 kmph.

After some time, he begins watching whatsapp videos while driving.

Me: !@#$. Which was worse, being on phone, or driving at 140 kmph, or watching videos?

Me: Bhaiya (sweetness personified), pls don’t watch videos while driving.

He complies. Finally lands me home.

2.30 am.

He: madam, see I got you home on time.

Me: (!@#$,) bhaiya, your driving is too rash, but then I am in no state to give you feedback.

5.30 am.

Heart palpitations subside. I drift off to sleep.

6.30 am.

Alarm rings. It is Monday morning. Work day begins.

How to act smart and impress people – by Jhil Velli thi

His eyes had a glazed look. He looked up for a few moments. Then stared down at his fried rice intently. His gaze has the perplexity of the philosopher who was trying to figure out the recipe. I wondered – what happened? He looked at me like I had asked the most innocuous question pertaining to the existence of the universe. And then looked back defiantly at the rice. All ok-?- I was beginning to get worried. No, he nodded the Indian no. and finally said – I am thinking. Wow, like wow. The great man is thinking. His grey cells are working. And what, prey, I asked, frustrated, are you thinking? After a poignant pause, he deigned to look up from the fried rice puzzle, and muttered, I will tell you when I have thought. Man, was I impressed!

And then the corn went pop in my mind, this is a clear-cut technique about how to act smart and impress people. Not all mortals can do it. His utterance with the right pauses and at the right time, made me wonder whether he was thinking of how the stars aligned to have fried rice find its way to his stomach. Now, if anyone ever asked me what I was thinking, I would have the most idiotic mundane reply like what was the name of the actor in that bad last movie we saw, see how common place, nothing impressive at all about it.

Acting smart is about saying the unexpected thing at the unexpected time, not the expected normal response. And then the general feeling is- what a guy (or gal), he thinks out of the box. – The question about where and which box we are talking about somehow is never considered and questioned. Are we all living within this invisible box? The person who thinks out of the box, probably crossed that sacred boundary and thought something, that is a big deal, whatever the hell he thought is completely irrelevant.

Today I am going to tell the world about the art to act smart and impress people, have had decades of practice. I will give you all the tips and knowledge and will not even charge for it. Just make sure you adopt these great innovative ideas in your daily life.

  • Look the part, to act the right part. You have to wear spectacles, the large nerdy round ones. With thick lenses, that makes your eyes look quite like an owl’s. Your hair should be plastered in oil (or you can go bald, the smartest ones are believed to be bald. The clothes you should wear have to be
    1. Out of fashion
    2. Shabby, maybe even torn so people think you are so nerdy you have no idea what you are wearing.
    3. Loose so you look hopelessly shapeless.
    4. Colours you wouldn’t want to look dead in.
    5. A viable alternative- to all of the above is to wear a formal suit in summers when outdoors like on a beach. And glares when indoors. That does the trick too.

 What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you see such a person – this guy must be a genius or someone important. Exactly, that is a feeling you need to be able to generate. The finale effect can be created with odourant that reminds people of rotten apples or maybe dead rats.

(There is this another related species, round face, curly hair, big round stomach, black designer saree, big bindi, big and bold matching jewellery (even temples around the neck), and a strong perfumed attitude, that marks the arrival of the bong pseudo-intellectual- saw several while watching a Bong play, and they all fitted to the T)

  • Never answer a question directly. If asked even the time, you should sigh, look up and down as if wondering about space time travel and NASA, take down your spectacles and clean then with your dirty clothes, wear them again and then say with a resigned look, the times are really bad, my son. The moment has gone, the microsecond when you asked the question is lost in the eon and now after 1/ 23467th eon, do you think that time will come back again, in that fraction you could have achieved so much. Trust me, though the poor fellow may wonder why he ever spoke to you, he will confidently tell the rest of the world, what a guy, his thoughts are out of the world and will send some of his smarter enemies your way. But never, never give a direct response.
  • In a meeting, you can choose an article in the room to focus on, which can be a flower vase, or the aforementioned fried rice plate or maybe your handkerchief. Or maybe close your eyes with a weary look. Let everyone around talk. And in between a heated discussion and a flurry of emotions, suddenly pipe up loud enough- what if ? everyone will stop and look at you. Don’t complete your sentence and go back to the tranced state of detailed examination of the handkerchief. After a while people will go back to their discussion. After five minutes repeat yourself. And after about 5 times of doing this frustrating everyone out of their wits, finally say- what if we now took a break? The brain cells are heating up and the solution is right there, but I can see it only after gulping the coffee. They will all want to hit you, but dare not, in case you do pop out the genius answer of the year, post coffee.
  • Learn some very relevant phrases. Remember that the right phrase at the right time can make a world’s difference between whether you are perceived as a fool or a smart ass.
    1. Do you mean to say that…
    2. I feel what you are saying makes sense but…
    3. There is a saying that explains it all, just that it is eluding me…
    4. Under the given circumstances, can u say with authority that…
    5. My experience of past 20 years says that…
    6. Hmmmm
    7. (sigh) hmmmm
    8. (laugh) hmmmm
    9. (Smirk) hmmmm
    10. (snort) hmmmm

This hmmmm is a universally understood language depicting a range of emotions- based on the tone and can convey almost anything from – “are you dumb”, to “this is perfect”. This always confuses and when you have successfully confused people around you, they will think you are a direct disciple of Einstein.

  • The last rule, act asshole class confident. If nothing else works, this will. When you walk in, look like you own the place. Signalling people with the flick of finger or a raised eyebrow indicates best in class. Don’t introduce yourself, assume people know you and if they don’t, it is their loss. “You don’t know me” with an incredulous look does wonders. You can follow it with “who is the owner of this godforsaken dump?” If it is a quiet place, shout loudly – maybe at the receptionist. Everyone is sure to notice and wonder who this VIP is. Or if this is too tough, just be downright rude. Profanities can be used to sprinkle flavours. Only mango people are humble and respectful.

Well, if you can’t do any of this, maybe you really aren’t smart, or you can’t act, or just not born to be a class apart. If you are not a smart ass, I guess you are just a dumb ass.

Around the world in 20 days

Why does that remind of the lost Raj Kapoor song “Around the world in 8 dollars”? It all started with my young boy persuading to take a vacation during Diwali. “See, Karnataka day and Diwali, so I get 10 days off if I take 5 days leave”, Not sure of the math, but his persuasion skills worked. We debated from South Korea (who in their right mind takes a vacation in Korea), Japan (hmmm, maybe another time), Australia (spending Diwali in Summer, no) and New Zealand. New Zealand won (not the world cup). A month of planning and discussions and bookings. You guys should drive in NZ, traffic is non-existent and gives you flexibility. Again, the persuasion skill worked and we (I mean I) decided to drive through the country.

Since we are a family spread across the West, East and Southern regions, decided to meet at the capital to embark on the actual journey. Our first stop was the windy city, Auckland. November is supposed to be technically summer in the southern hemisphere but looks like nobody informed Auckland. A blast of cold air greeted us as we landed. Watering eyes, jackets and hoodies in place, we found an Indian Uber driver to drive us to our apartment. After a sumptuous lunch of puri and sabji (vegetarian Indians never travel without their puris and theplas?), wandered to the harbor side to take some pics. All well, except that the hair was in a constant mess, and standing to pose for photos was tough as the wind seemed determined to blow us off (I am thinking Marilyn Monroe for no apparent reason). Auckland proved a very lively city with a young vibrant crowd, beautiful parks and harbors and a nightlife lasting till wee hours.

The famous Auckland Harbor

Couple of days later, we had to pick up our car. Now, I was a trifle apprehensive, not having driven in another country for long many years. Here we are. Ok, now how does it start, where do I insert the key? Not finding a keyhole after a thorough search, realization dawned, it is a button start. Now that engine is purring, why isn’t it moving? You need to release the brake, you silly cow! A few minutes later, Oh hell, slow down, this aint your country, dear. Where the hell is the clutch? It is called automatic gears, idiot. My legs were already stressed out. Fit the GPS, how the hell do you look at the GPS, rear view mirror, and windshield, I can’t rotate my head so many degrees. Where is the nasty fellow who persuaded me? I panic when I encounter drivers following rules and not honking, you can’t believe how stressful peaceful driving can be!

The gaseous volcanic region

 

Following traffic rules was not a big deal, I am one of the few morons who does that in India as well. Except that I was thoroughly confused at the roundabout.  Who has the right of way? (what is right of way, by the way, and by which way?) By Indian standards, there was plenty of room and I entered the roundabout, cutting off an angry lady, who decided to teach me a lesson. She stopped and gave me a stern lecture on “how-to drive in NZ” “do you even know the rules”. Sorry sorry ma’m. Ears burning, I decided to let everyone else in the country takes precedence and was subject to quite a few honks when I went full-stop at every roundabout from irate people behind me.

The gloomy deserted beaches

Drove through live volcanic regions and waterfalls, empty windy beaches and desert, curvy and straight roads, the length of north island all the way down to Wellington. The beauty of the country can’t be described in words or captured in photos. You have to see with your own eyes. The cleanest country I have ever seen, (so clean, dustbins are rare too) sparsely populated and ever-changing landscape. Felt like Britain of the South, strong European influence, with Westminster and Windsor, even a Stonehenge.

Mapping the location

Enjoyed staying on the beachfront at Wellington. Most people seemed very health conscious running the length of harbor in the middle of the day. Typical Airbnb apartments in the country are tiny, one bedroom and living area converted to three- four people living space and quite expensive in city centers. Some of them so crowded, you could hardly move without falling on the beanbags which seems to be a trend. Apartments, hotels, cafes, airports, you can find beanbags thrown around everywhere.

A view to kill

Flew to the heart of South Island- Queenstown. It was literally touch and go. The plane touched (almost) the runway thrice and went back twice. Landed in the third attempt. The gale was too strong and the runway too small. But man, what a view. Drastic change from North island, flying through southern Alps with snow peaked tops and glaciers was breathtaking. Queenstown is a tiny tourist town filled only with pubs and adventure sports.  With a breathless husband struggling to trot uphill and rains all the time (and snowing a few kilometers away), we ziplined with soaking shoes through the massive trees and waited for the weather to clear to fly to Milford Sound. A cool cruise through the fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains and waterfalls, watching dolphins and seals, (and listening to gujus chirping on the deck); flying to the location in our very own private plane was the highlight of the whole tour, with a pilot who looked every inch the twin of Owen Wilson.

The Eighth Wonder

 

Vacations don’t last forever. A day in Christchurch and its parks and it was time to fly back. Hold on. The story isn’t done yet.

I had to travel to San Diego in the US of A. Off-line to Off-site. Crossing the Pacific, and the date line. I was massively thrilled with the idea of living two complete Sundays, one while flying, and another in US, because I was going to land before I flew off. Crazy, isn’t it? I kept waiting for the time machine whrrr sound and the bump and motion that would indicate I had gone back in time. What I still have not figured out is whether getting two back to back Sundays made me a day older or stopped my ageing for a day.

The falls in the Fiord

Walking is the best way to absorb new places and take in its culture. Every day we walked almost 10-12 kilometers easily. But the airports felt I did not get enough exercise and made me run. Flight delays, fear of missing an international connection, run run, huffing and puffing, luggage and all. Happened towards US and from US. Lesson learnt, 2 hours transit time is never enough, not when I am on the flight.

San Diego, Del Coronado hotel, one of the oldest in the city, home to many celebrities across decades, supposedly haunted, with miles of beach and enough of Sun to recover from the cold damp weather of previous week. A week of Sun and beach (a little work) and visits to downtown was a perfect finale to the journey. Some minor hiccups when one night my air conditioning gave way (the nights were still cold) and I needed to wear my jacket and socks to sleep, and another day a belt mysteriously appeared in my room (maybe it was the ghost’s gift, or the housekeeping’s tryst).

IMG-5624
The Del Coronado beach

Finally flew back to India, amidst flight delays and traffic jams to land back at home 20 days hence. Since I got two Sundays, should that be 21 days? With tired knees, swollen shins, confused stomach, gigabytes of media and unforgettable memories.

Maa- Few memories

My first memories of Maa are of a woman in a Taant saree, wrapped in Bong style, fussing around the home. Always associated delicious aromas with her. Cooking up a warm meal for us in the cold Jodhpur evenings, Dadabhai and I would finish the chapatis before the next one came down from the stove. She was not a great cook in the strict sense of the word, but she fed us enough and proper, home cooked, rice in the day, chapati in the night, even when I try I still can’t get the same taste. I guess she poured a dose full of love in her creations.

Maa 1
The beauty of the youth

Maa, beautiful and declared incompetent, mostly because she bore the brunt of Baba’s wrath, was a philosopher and quiet personality. Her passions in life were literature, drama, music and God. A person who went about her tasks quietly, unlike most other Indian females of that generation, but who was mentally strong enough to fight with her husband for her rights and later with Cancer. A person of few words, she could act, write, recite, direct and sing beautifully in multiple languages. Quite an opposite personality to the extrovert Baba, she would be mostly found immersed in a book or smiling indulgently at his loud bong jokes. As I grew into my primary school days, I adored her multiple facets. She was a fantastic storyteller. Her recitation of Tagore had me mesmerised and at times I would cry uncontrollably as the story ended, feeling the pain of the characters along with the undulations of her voice. I wish I had recorded that treasure house. The next generation in our family was equally blessed with her stories of “Ek Haath lamba Aadmi” (The man as tall as the arm) and so many others.

Maa 3
In her college days

A few years later I started taking advantage of her gullible nature. She could never say no to me, I would play for ever, lie to her face, did whatever I wanted and she indulged me. But at times influenced by the interfering neighbours, she had this incredible vision of a docile daughter. One day, she stated, today you are not going to play with the boys, sit at home like a girl. I fell from the seventh heaven, what happened to my docile Maa, what’s wrong with you?  I begged, cried, please, I must go; my friends are waiting. But she was determined. Finally, when all means of persuasion failed, I was dramatic enough to fall on her feet (actually) and begged her to let me go, today is the last day of my happiness, I am ready to stay a prisoner for the rest of my childhood. She just laughed her hyena laugh (at least that is what It felt that time) and proclaimed, No. To hell with all niceties, I got up, opened the front door and walked out to play. She still never said anything. I sometimes think she was incapable of scolding us kids. When Dadabhai and I used to fight, she would come and make a feeble attempt at scolding us and we would start laughing and forgot the reason why we were fighting in the first place.

Maa 2
Playing an old woman in her thirties

The Banerjee family had the tradition of falling ill one after another, first I would start with the cough, followed by Dadabhai running away with his nose. Interestingly, when we got the flu, as they say, we would be firmly put in bed, covered with three blankets up to the neck, temperature measured every 3 hours with the thermometer stuck into the mouth between coughs and sneezes; while Maa would be coughing away, cover herself with a thick shawl and stagger to the kitchen to cook up something bland for us. And then my dear Baba, would fall sick, all he would do is hold Maa’s hand and cry that this time he was definitely dying and he wanted his entire family around him for his last few precious moments. I guess he got the man-flu that made him sicker than the rest of us mere mortals. But finally when Maa succumbed, we all would have recovered and just left her to tend for herself. What a selfish family we were!

Maa 8
The Banerjee’s in the 70’s

I used to share everything with her. The bond that we had can’t be explained. We spoke about sex, love, philosophy, books, life, anything under the sun, no taboos. In the 70’s and 80’s, where majority of India was so prude, I had such a great thing going where I could ask my questions to my friend, philosopher and guide. I learnt compassion from her, the caring nature that she implicitly had, I got in my genes. Now people say I also look like her, that is probably the best compliment I can get. There are times when we did not need words to communicate. We just understood and the eyes would twinkle, and lips slightly curl.

Of course she had her weaknesses. She was hopelessly inadept in household work, couldn’t see dust under her nose. Had no idea of how to manage money, having been patriarchally shielded by my grandfather earlier and later by Baba. A working woman throughout her life, first as an English teacher in school and later in a college. M.A twice over, she never knew how much she earned, never bought jewellery in her entire life and rarely bought expensive sarees. As I grew older, she started relying on me to manage gifts for relations, buying a bra for her, getting household items, because she would not go to the market to buy for herself. She was superstitious to the S, sit down, if you have sneezed, black cat crossing types. Any gift had to be vetted for a week. If anything, even slightly negative happened, the gift would be wrapped up and go into the extreme gut of the almirah, never to be seen again.

Maa 4
An epitome of simplicity- even on her daughter’s wedding day

She was so into culture and literature, I gave her a rude shock when I declared I wanted to marry my now husband. Her first and strongest reaction was “How can you marry a non-Bengali?” In her mind it was clear that there were only two classes- Bongs and the rest of the world. And of course, Bengalis are the elite ones, how can anyone even think of competing with Rabindra Nath Tagore and Uttam Kumar, Shuchitra Sen, the literature and एकला चोलो रे and the rich history? How could I stoop low enough to give up the cultural heritage and other such blahs for matters of the heart? When I said it doesn’t matter to me- she could not believe her ears- are you my daughter? Is this the संस्कार that I taught you?  Her next problem was “he is so dark; your kids will not be fair”. Long story short, she relented after a long time and was quite happy with the prodigy produced.

Maa 5
One of my most treasured moments- smiling away

Oh, I love her so much. When she looked after me, and when I looked after her. When I lived with her and when she lived with me. When I was her child, and when she was my child. I don’t want to talk about her later years. She lost interest in God after multiple illnesses that ate her away. She would say, if God did this to me, enough though I prayed all my life, I am denouncing God. And she did. She stopped praying, looking at the idols. She stopped crying. But she felt, how she felt, her looks said it, her writing said it, she was strong enough never to break down. She lived on and fought on for almost a decade. Fought on till her last breath. Then she gave in. Last year. The morning after Dusshera. But never once did she say I am in pain, always “bhalo achi” (I am good).

Ossum Assam

Yes, as on this Independence Day, I have to go back home, back to routine and to my work, which eagerly awaits me, and since the lounge was closed at Guwahati airport (the folks took freedom from work I guess), I picked up a coffee and sat down to pour my wrath on paper once again.

Let me start backwards this time. The lows followed by the highs. Maybe the irritation of seeing people misuse freedom still persists. Came to Assam for a flying visit.

Yesterday I was in the mood for some fine wine and dine. But since the other half was a little under the weather, we thought maybe we could just get something delivered. Between us, finding a choice that we both enjoy equally is anyway tough. After some discussion,  (read fight) we zeroed on pizza, that he relishes, and I find blemishes in. Over the course of the next hour, I figured why Guwahati is not Pune. Because things we consider normal just don’t work here. Full of matriotism (why does it have to be patriarchal), also having told the cook also to take a break, 8.00 pm when the hunger pangs started, we thought let us order (Domino’s, half hour, you see where this is going). For some reason could not find the 1800 number for Domino’s, that is fine, let me order online. Went to their site and was trying to specify the location, and then the system went crazy, it refused to recognise my location, whatever way we tried, it refused to deliver at our location. Disappointed, forget dominos’, we will try pizza hut. Fifteen minutes later, we are looking at each other. Pizza hut does not deliver at our location as well. Is there a conspiracy? True nationalism surfaced, I will try KFC. Luck had a day off too, they did not deliver either. How can that be, how is it possible that all these food joints had a special aversion against my location, would deliver 1 km away, but not where I was, in the heart of the city. By this time, I was ready to climb the wall. And I was hungry.

With the hubby’s pressure already high, I took few deep breaths to control mine. Let us order some local stuff from some local shop and drown the sorrow with the Glen. Looked at Zomato, Swiggy , ubereats and the likes of it for food delivery options. After eliminating the clowns mentioned above, very few choices remained, mostly places that looked quite dubious. Ok, let me order some Chinese north eastern variety, being the unpatriotic I was. I chose the first restaurant on the list (was too tired to really care), now where is the order button and the selection button for items, after a microscopic search, could not find anything using which I could order online. Sigh, so decided to fall back to the prehistoric method of calling the restaurant. First number, nobody picked up the phone. Second number, the line was down. All our options gone, I declared tearfully that I did not want dinner any more. (My language being a trifle more powerful like- I won’t die if I don’t eat today)

Thankfully I was convinced otherwise, and we walked to the nearest restaurant and got home something to eat, drowned it in with the aforementioned glen. Solace is, we did not go hungry.

Just two days earlier we went to a very interesting place in the heart of the tea estates- a place called Wild Mahseer. A pre-independence tea estate established in 1875, today converted to a luxurious boutique hotel. A few kilometers off Tezpur, the city with very colourful houses, and too much construction. As a side note, Assam houses are a variety of colour, you can find pinks and blues and purples and greens and various shades of yellow and brown, pretty interesting to see.  Driving through the city, which looked completely under construction with bamboo stuck all around, we reached just around lunchtime.

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our home

Our room was massive with a huge bed, that could tolerate 4 people easily and colonial furniture thrown all around. With a quaint washroom which was large enough to serve as a small bedroom. Feeling quite upbeat, we went down the narrow lane shrouded with greenery to the glasshouse where piping hot lunch was served. The spice just about right, food was not typical oily “hotely” stuff, more like home cooked but with the nice aromas and a solid variety.

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The glasshouse and lunch area

After a nap, the estate manager took us for a tour and showed us the place where “Aamir Khan” had spent a week, we Indians are star struck, we had to go sit where Amir did, take the selfie with the bungalow just to show off. But the place was big and beautiful and spotless clean, with a small golf course outside. it was like we were in a large country manor, somewhere in the highlands. Picturesque!

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The Amir bungalow, literally

Took a walk amidst the sprawling hectares of tea bagaans behind the estate, learnt all the art of how tea is made from the over-zealous manager, who was giving us a crash course in “Tea estate primer for dummies”. After a couple of hours of this, all I needed was a finished product, a cup of hot tea, which was served (yes, believe me) complete with a vintage tea cozy.

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The sprawling tea gardens

Couple of days of being spoilt rotten with the good food and drinks, long walks, with extra doses of sight-seeing, no TV and a backdrop of cheerful green, whichever direction you turn. The weather was far from perfect, humid and sultry. It was not a “doing” holiday, where we had to be constantly on the move, just a “chill” time.

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miles to go

But good times have to come to an end and we had to come back and face the pizza crisis in the noisy city of Guwahati. As luck would have it, the weather was hot and we could not spend too much time in the exploring the history of Tezpur, the bloodied city with its own story of war of Gods and a beautiful princess at the centre of it all.

Since the story is being completed a few days later, all is well that ended well, and I did get a something that looked like a pizza on the flight back.

In the Ghats for a day

When you live in Pune and it rains and you want to get away, there is a beautiful getaway called Lonavala that beckons you. Problem is, it beckons majority of the population around. Net result is chaos.

Last week I got an invite to spend the weekend in a resort at the very top, somewhere in that city and I jumped at the offer. Already dreaming about the rain and clouds and waterfalls and cool breeze, I wondered how to go, since taking the car was not an option. Well, driving on winding broken single lane mountain roads is not something I do very often, but the excuse I have is better- my car was being used by family so…So. I decided to take a train. Not having ridden in a train for quite a few years now, my first thought was, how difficult can it be, it is just about an hour and a few minutes away, with trains almost every hour, all I need to do is reach the station and board the next one.

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A view from the train

But then wiser and saner thoughts prevailed, maybe I should get a reservation. A dialogue with the hubby resolved the situation and he booked a ticket for me. So far so good. Reached the station almost 45 minutes in advance, years of non-practice does that to you. Waited with stamping legs and straining ears at the entrance for about half hour till the platform was announced. Managed to board without any incidents, just observing that the platform was decidedly cleaner than what I was used to in the yesteryears. Provided you don’t look out when the platform ends.

The train was cleaned twice in that small journey- nice. It was decidedly hard to resist the constant chant of “sabudana vada, veg cutlet, sandwich”, but the most interesting was “water pani” which I realised meant plain water and not “chilled pani”. Now, not having travelled this route before, I wondered how I would know my station was arriving and how long would it stop for and will there be enough time to get down. Yeah, I know, I am a totally inexperienced traveler. But outwardly, I was cool, even though I was doing the math in the mind, so many minutes from Pune, shall I ask Siri, what was the last station that went by and so on.., I did manage to get down at the right station quite safely. It is a different matter that after that, I had to climb up and down the bridge multiple times to find the driver. I mean how was I supposed to know “towards the city” didn’t imply towards the platform no 1.

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It is gonna pour

Sitting in the cab, with cool breeze blowing my hair, and rain drops down my cheeks, well, I was smiling away, I had arrived, and the rest was going to be a cool breeze (literally). Till I found traffic jam and jam and crowd and hawkers and no one following traffic rules. Well, this feels just like Pune, I thought with a grimace. Small congested roads, directionless people and honking all around. A little more than an hour, a packet of chips and several bumps and potholes later, I reached the resort.

It was as beautiful and serene as expected. Ah the beauty of a hill top resort when it is raining is beyond compare. Gorging on good food, good company, love and laughter. Even in 45 acres of property, we could find hordes of people coming from the dry state and debating whether to be upgraded to purple from white and other such nonsense. No, this is not a gyan session on Club Mahindra.

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6 am from the balcony
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Ah the colours

A day of relaxation, chai in the balcony, long morning walk, lot of selfies and a huge breakfast spread. We hogged so much, needed to lie down awhile. But then finally it was time to leave. The lime water in the tummy kept bubbling up and down as we encountered the familiar potholes again, somehow kept it from overflowing.

We stopped at the tiger’s point, or was it lion, or jackal, not sure. Some animal, definitely. Any self-respecting hill station in India has to have a Lion or Tiger’s point, and a sunset and sunrise point. Amidst a mass of humanity and cars and a breathtaking view, we too decided to do what the tourists do, walk, eat and click pictures. All around us were couple with the girlfriend perched on the boyfriend’s back, posing away, and few I-am-a-cool-dude guys posing on the cliff edges. Thankfully nobody fell off during our watch. After about an hour of touristy thingy, we followed the bro, the leader, who kept going in weird directions till we realised he was looking for relief and so we hastily retreated and went back to the car, relieved.

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At the animal point

Next stop was Bhushi ghat. Now that is a place, I would absolutely not recommend unless you are drunk and rowdy and enjoy sitting in dirty slimy water and throwing it around on yourself and others. The walk is long and bad, uneven stones does wonders for your back, the place has some broken steps with no railing and a sure chance of falling on the rocks, stairs that lead nowhere and a lot of smelly people sitting in smellier water, on the steps and throwing it around. Just not worth the time. The river on the other side that overflows at times. Not for me.

Came back to downtown, tired and happy and in dire need of ginger chai. Unfortunately, my train mode of transport did not work this time, simply because I did not get a reservation. Too many people, too little time. How will you go back, maybe come to Mumbai with us and then go back Monday. No way, I want to be back tonight. So, a cab, me and a 60 km drive back to home. With memories. And an agreement to go back again, with kids.

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The memory