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).

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Spec-tacular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.