Cats, Dogs and other creatures

As a kid I was dead afraid of dogs. Not sure of the reason, we never had any. I still remember an incident where Baba asked me to drop the rent cheque at the owners who stayed couple of houses away. Since walking was a pain for a 10 year old, I ran to their house, delivered the cheque and was running back again, when a dog with four legs decided I looked interesting enough to chase. So, bark, yelp, he followed me to the chase. Not knowing what to do, I ran even faster. The four legged monster enjoyed the fact that I was playing with him and continued the pursuit.

How much more? I screamed for Baba. When terrified, only dad’s can be saviours. He came running and I tripped on a stone and fell. The dog decided the game was over and promptly left. Baba picked me up, crying, scraped and bloodied knees and all, all the while shouting at the unknown owner of the stray dog, swearing as the passers by looked on without interest.

My hatred of the canine species continued.

A few years later, we had gone to Pali for a family wedding. They had big big dogs. At my insistence, they were kept tied up most of the day. One day, I was busy inside बीहड़ वन, carefully following the doings of Phantom and Diana. Once the comic was over, I sighed and looked around to see one canine on my left and one on my right, tongues hanging out, panting away to glory. For one second, I thought I had died and gone to hell, but next moment realised if they had not attacked me all this while, they were pretty unlikely to do so in the next few days I was there. And the fear vanished in thin air. Then onwards I have been able to love all species of canines.

Now cats are different creatures. I have always loved them, even the black ones that cross the street in front of me. My love with cats started when I was very young. Some stray cats come to our home, Maa started feeding them milk and they adopted us. We had a full family, named Singsong, Chunmun, Pingpong and other such catty names. Maa had made a small bed for them in the gallery. Over time they became bold enough to discard their bed and  start climbing up on mine and lying down on my pillow.

There is only one thing about cats that I never liked. They die. Singsong was such a lovely creature, used to spend the evenings on my lap as I studied and would have spent her lifetime with me. But the neighbourhood dogs weren’t quite happy with that. One day she was chased by a horde of dogs and bitten all over. She somehow made it back to our home, all bloodied and mangled, at her deathbed. I came from school and there was this strange stench around her, which I did not quite understand at that time, later realised it was the smell of death. She crawled to my lap and after some time passed away, quietly. My first encounter with death. It was the saddest day of that chapter of my life.

30 years later, I have a family of cats all over again. There is the mom cat, who has adopted us, whose sole purpose in life is to produce progeny every season. She comes to us and हक़ से takes her food 4 times a day. Then she brings her kittens to us and leaves them in my care. The babies, ooh, the pretty white and golden ones, treat me like their surrogate mother and have to play with me with before eating their food. Scratch me all over and overall make my son jealous. Maa, you have more time for them than for me. I now own a family of a very hungry mom cat and four playful kittens in their basket right outside my front door. Anybody care to adopt?

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picture purrfect

जब कुत्ते बिल्ली की बात चली है तो can rats be far behind. My first encounter with the furry creature happened maybe around 25 years back as I was working most focussed on my mechanical drawing in college, angles and elevation and was totally lost in that. Finally after finishing majority of the drawing, looked up and stretched to see a rat on the ground right in front of me. I screamed and I am sure it screamed in its own language too and both of us tried to run away from each other, but got tangled up instead, the fellow under my foot. Ugh, ish, poor fellow died on the spot and I puked all over.

And then recently, a few years back, we discovered that somehow a rat has found its way into my home. Now my philosophy is very clear, rats and I cannot coexist in the same premises. So, it had to be found and exiled and banned from forever entering my nest. Take it from me, catching a rat is only as simple as, can’t find a simile.  Rat prisons did not work, even when lured with chapatis with ghee, potatoes. It was clever enough to come, eat and get away. The only good thing was, it was confined to one room. Then we decided, there was only one way out, we had to poison the fellow. Rat poison was sumptuously spread across the room. Still nothing. What to do? After a few days, the room started to smell and it was the same stench of Singsong times. So, the rat had gone and died somewhere and we had to locate it and dispose off its body as to leave no trace of the heinous crime. Under the bed, almirahs, nowhere was it to be found. After a day, finally discovered the remains of the creature in the loft. My brave maid cleaned up the loft and transferred the remains to a far enough location so as to leave no incriminating evidence behind. The room had to be cleaned and fumigated multiple times before it started feeling normal again. I continue to hate rats.

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A bundle of joy

Though technically I had no control over the circumstances, slightly more than 45 years ago, a bundle of trouble and joy came to this world, aka, me. Well, of course, I don’t remember my birth and the circumstances that led to it. Hey, don’t worry, this blog is meant for family audience and I will not talk about the birds and the bees.

This is a story that I learnt from my mother, with her descriptions and art of story-telling. Not having inherited that, I will retell in my own words. My dad, being the nerd he was, was doing research at IIT K, in late 60’s. My mom used to teach at the campus school. We had been staying at the campus for the past 2 years and my mom was expecting, a byproduct of Dad’s research. Mom wanted a daughter, she already had a son, but those days the information was available post birth only. The doctor at the campus hospital regularly looked at her, things were looking steady and good.

And then she got the pox. And badly. In those days, it used to take a long time to heal, could not take too strong medicines, lot of it had to be treated naturally, herbs and leaves. She got blisters all over her body, face, inside the mouth. It was pretty bad and she was in hospital for almost more than a month, just a couple of months before I was due. The doctor was very worried about how it may have impacted the baby. She told my mom not to expect too much, the baby could have been affected in multiple ways, mutilated, some organs not functioning well, at the least pock marks all over.

On the expected date,early evening, she was taken to the hospital, the doctor examiner her and said, you have more than 12 hrs to go, I have a party to attend. So the doctor went out to party saying she will be back in a few hours. Mom fell asleep. Dad went back to feed my bro and put him to sleep, promising to come back soon.

This was a small hospital inside the IITK campus, very few doctors, not like the busy multi specialty ones that are in vogue today. Pretty thinly staffed, few doctors available during day, hardly anyone during night. But mostly everyone stayed close by and easily reachable.

She woke up after an hour and could feel that baby was ready to peep out, and there was nobody around! She broke out in cold sweat. She was getting her pain waves quickly enough and knew from past experience she did not have enough time. She shouted for someone, but there was silence. She was desperate and did not quite know what to do. Even PSTN was not born then.

After a few minutes, the cleaning lady came in to sweep the room. Mom just clutched her hand tightly, My savior! I want the doctor NOW. The cleaning lady was- like what, the doctor will come when she is back, you have to wait. Be patient. She had seen so many patients with jitters before in her career.

My mom would not listen, this one crucial point in life, she held on desperately to the only human in her vicinity and kept repeating like a parrot, get the doctor, baby is coming. So the cleaning lady thought maybe she should take a look, she did and knew mom was right, baby was almost pushing herself out (talk about पूत के पावँ,  this was पूतनी का सर). And then she got busy, by some means called the doctor (even her party would have been close enough), got another staff doctor to come in. The hospital machinery started rolling.

An hour later, I shot into the big bad world with a cry and a yawn. As mom described “a small, white, perfect bundle of joy with no blemishes and imperfections”. The doctor held me up for inspection and said my eyes twinkled and thus my name. Blemishes came later.

As Maa wrote for me much later, once I turned into a brat

I have a pretty little girl

Who is as bright as a pearl

When she is good, she is very very good

But when she is bad, she is horrid!

family

 

Food Food

My relationship with food started when I was very young. Even as a kid, I loved the warmth of the place, the aromas and the dishes my parents cooked up. I vaguely remember sitting on the kitchen floor (our kitchen was huge, you could put a double bed and sleep), my mom making hot chapatis and my bro and I would hog like anything on simple  रोटी and भिंडी की सब्ज़ी. My dad also loved to cook, so when it was a question of specialty dishes, he would shoo mom out of the kitchen, turn his lungi into lambda/2, curse everyone around, and get going. Every couple of weeks, we would have family friends over, my parents would spend the day cooking and those coming would also bring some variety, and we would have a feast. I never knew how eating all that food never fattened me up (in contrast to even water being fattening these days).

So, was it surprising that I wanted to cook too? And my mom would not let me. See, in very early days, we had a kerosene stove, and she was not comfortable with me going close to it. When I was in about class VII, we got our first gas stove and suddenly I had access.. Still she would not let me. “You worry about your studies, you have your whole life ahead, ज़िन्दगी भर खाना तो बनाना ही है”. So what would a persistent brat like me do? I would wait for her to leave home and then I would do whatever the hell I wanted. The first vegetable I ever made was आलू की सब्ज़ी, when my parents were not at home. And it turned out to be somewhat edible, my parents ate it, with complaints, but finished it. And then there was no more stopping me.

Unlike a lot of educated girls in my generation, I knew the basic art and science of Indian cooking, all my spices and oils and what goes with what, several years before marriage. Yet, when I got married, my first kitchen experience with traditional “पापड़ सेकना आता है?”, was as tough as it goes. I passed, but barely. See, the papad turned out, not 100% flat, a little too much burnt in a few places, some pieces chipped off as I used a चिमटा and held it too tight. (I still do that, I can’t hold a papad with my bare fingers near the flames). Even after 20 odd years, I have only marginally improved. My bong food experience of yesteryear’s did not teach me “how to  सेकोfy a papad perfectly and impress your mil”.

Cooking after a full work day was not something to look forward to, but early days, I had the enthusiasm. And with practice, the daily bread churned out in one hr flat, with one curry, daal, rice and chapatis, thanks to the great invention called the pressure cooker and its separators. And once in awhile, we had friends over and I figured out quite a few things to cook, that wasn’t time consuming and went well with folks, including reusing leftovers.

These days, the biggest bottleneck with cooking is, the fellow who eats it. He will not have anything to do with pastas, but he loves Pizza; any kind of noodles is completely no, no. So most non-indian cuisines are ruled out. And he has a hate hate relationship with the most coveted spices like cloves and cinnamon. Any whiff of that and.. You end up hearing remarks like “ दाल में आज कुछ problem है” ,“सब्ज़ी hostel वाली लग रही है”, “इसमें गरम मसाला डाला है”. Talk of paranoia. The spice is not there in the house, and he can smell it. So, working with such restrictions, it is best to let the maid handle it and pass on the comments to her. In my home, you eat what the maid cooks up, or starve. Maybe he will be happy the day he can download food.

The interesting fact about cooking, my cooking, is that when I put a lot of effort into this art, the dish is typically a flop and I have had the pleasure to throw away stone cakes (cakes as hard as the adjective) which even insects refused to touch, creating food that people could barely eat and I had to finish it across three days.

The day I know my maid is going to be missing in action for the next seven (unbelievable) days, my temper starts soaring higher at the thought of being made to cook by maid. It doesn’t matter that I love cooking and it hardly takes me an hour to cook up an interesting meal from scratch (or a story like this one). My husband is content with खिचड़ी also, but when I decide to get worked up, I really work at it.

So day 1 is really, oh well, just दाल चावल. Excuse me, it does qualify as meal. And I have excuses, several of them eg, coming home tired after a hard day’s work (can you hear the dripping पसीना), followed by multiple calls and a long 3 ½ km brisk walk. Day 2 is more normal (the undying guilt of feeding दाल चावल to hubby) with रोटी and my special culinary delight called पत्तागोभी मटर (ugh, even I could barely ingest it).

Third day I decide to go experimental with अचारी दही वाली भिण्डी and when I hopefully look at my dear husband for an encouraging feedback, all I get was “ये कड़वी क्यों है?” How do I know, ask Sanjeev Kapoor. Embittered but emboldened, relentless search on the internet for the next designer dish from my exclusive boutique results in पनीर पुदीने काली मिर्च the next day (except that I forget the kalimirch part of it), but it is still a hit. Again my hopeful look (why don’t husbands get it, you are supposed to say it is awesome, to get something edible next day), and this time I got “अच्छी है”. Mere 2 words for an hours work! Wonder what I’ll try the next day? With all the encouragement I get, I would probably stick to safe खिचडी.

 

Book (ed)

My childhood home used to be full of books. Majority of my memories are of that musty store and reading the books we had. And it used to take me to the world of wonderland along with Alice. I was in love with books, I would not only read them, live with them, daydream about the characters and their lives, but also, maintain the books, cover them up neatly with brown sheets, label them. I also created an internal library indexing system to maintain the 100s of books we had. Comics, novels, magazines, classics, and my dad’s Physics and my mom’s English literature ones.

My earliest memory of a hero was a guy with superhuman powers wearing a chaddi over a purple suit, none other than Phantom. Every fortnight, the newspaper delivery man would drop an Indrajal comic at our doorstep.  All four of us would fight over who would read it first and invariably my brother won. I would get it only after he was through with it, which was 15 minutes later. And my rest of the day would go immersed in the बीहड़ बन, amidst शेरा, and the animals and गुर्रन and of course, Diana. I would walk along with the ghost who walks in an overcoat and hat in the city. I would daydream that I was kidnapped and Phantom rescued me, carried me through the jungle and under the waterfall to his cave and eventually, ( the whole crux of the dream) I replace Diana. My version of the dream, of course. As I pored for hours over every picture in the comic, I would be a part of the magical world and could close my eyes and feel phantom with his strong muscles holding my tightly to his chest as he rode his horse, Shera by his side as he traversed mountains and put me down gently on his bed. A girl has a right to her fantasies, doesn’t she. Don’t judge!

As I grew slightly older, I used to read detective novels about “आशु, निशा and बंटी “. Not sure how many of you read it, but the focus of my daydream became Ashu, and I was Nisha and we  chased the bad guys together holding hands. Later it was राजन इक़बाल series. By the time I was in class VI, Fatty had replaced all of them, and the “five find-outers and dog” had become six. Though I always wished for fatty, not to be fatty and as I read the series, and hoped to see some book where he would turn smart and slim. I even started writing my own book, after giving up on Enid Blyton, which lasted for a few chapters before I know I would never complete it. But when it came to fantasies, it always kept going back to phantom, and grew naughtier.

Our school library used to lend us one book a week, which was too less for someone who ate a book for lunch and dinner. After a lot of cajoling the librarian agreed to give me 2 books a week. In return I had to clean the library shelves and put the books back in the right places. Which was awesome because I could spend more time with books. School days were still ok, you had homework and I also needed time to play with the colony ruffian boys every day. But what to do in the two month long summer holidays. I then had to persuade my parents to take me visiting other local bong families with kids my age who were also into books, for the sole purpose of lending and borrowing books. I would also religiously note down what was lent to whom and would ensure they were returned in the next visit with severe admonishment for whoever dared tear the brown cover put so lovingly.

Growing up with the Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and later Poirot and Miss Marple, one of my ardent desires was to become a detective. My day dreams graduated to my solving all crimes in London and becoming Jhilmil Holmes. We were a household where books were treasured and every time anyone asked me what gift I wanted, there was only one response. Every time we visited some relative who had books, I would find my way to their book room and spend my days there, going through all the Tintin and Asterix comics I could lay my hands upon. Who wanted to small talk when you could read! I remember my mom tearing me away from a book to get up and leave as we had to catch a train and I would keep turning the pages up to the door till someone snatched the book away from me.

My mom also had strict categorization of books that I could read and those I could not. Chase was a strict no-no. Class VIII holidays and I started persuading her, I have already seen the covers, how bad can it be, I am a grown up, I can read it. I guess I my persuasion skills were reasonable as she relented and a new world of thrillers opened up for me. Then there was no stopping me, Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Irving Wallace and so many others became my new world.

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In tatters now, once a part of my library

We used to read Hindi as much as English. Hordes of magazines from चम्पक, पराग, लोटपोट to सरिता, धर्मयुग and कादम्बिनी. I was also reluctantly introduced to something called सत्यकथा which was probably a predecessor to today’s सावधान India. It was also in boycott list, but I was unstoppable. But trust me, my young and naive mind got a shock after reading it, I could not imagine the grotesque reality of crimes so graphically described. When you read a murder mystery described by Christie, and you have been as involved in the detective work along with Poirot, you feel quite proud after you have solved it together, here I just felt sick and afraid and stopped reading this genre.

That was the time when time was unlimited and books were limited and I would probably have read every book at least 20 times, and could not stop till I finished the book, doesn’t matter what hour it was. These days I open a book and after 10 pages, I get distracted and have to put it down as I lose track. Is it me or is it the books? Even till last year, every visit to Jodhpur, and I would re-read anything starting from the St. Claire’s to the Guns of Navarone.

My baby

My beautiful colicky baby, aka, the “अंग्रेज़ बच्चा” was born after a long wait as you may have read in my earlier blog ( https://myhumerousbone.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/the-pre-natal-era/ )

From the day he was born he was tuned to US timings, sleep in the day, play in the night. I remember my days in a haze, get up after a sleepless night, go to office, sleep whenever possible, especially if there was a presentation ( sorry boss). I figured quite early that lectures and meetings are a great place to take a nap. Came home tired to a more tired mom or mil who had been looking after my baby and now needed a break, so played with kiddo, while the man of the house watched TV. His diet was small, he would eat very little, sleep for an hour, then was refreshed enough to want to play. At 11 pm in the night, all I wanted was a bed and a pillow, and my baby used to be wide awake. In wee hours after midnight, I would be irritated enough to wake up the husband sleeping like a baby to help the baby sleep. I had this fundamental issue of not being able to sleep while my son was awake ( which occurred till he was almost 18), and after catching a few winks, it was time to take my tired bones to the next grueling day.

One night he started crying and just would not stop. With no prior experience we had no idea what was wrong, tried walking him around on the shoulder, taking turns, but he refused to cease his howling. Hungry, stomach ache, rashes, no. Finally we were out on the road in front of the house along with the startled dogs who till then had एकछत्र राज of the lonely streets. The dogs and the baby wailed in unison, till the opera reached its crescendo and we knocked on the friendly neighborhood doctors home at 2 am in the night. He diagnosed the problem as an aching ear, a few drops of the magic potion and he was fit as a fiddle, went off to sleep and we left the sleepy dogs lie.

We actually had two babies growing up together, my son and my sil’s daughter who was a few months junior. With both kids in the same pram, looking almost twin-like since my son, though was older, was thinner. All ladies coochie-cood the babies and would invariably ask whether they were twins. We had fun answering, no, 4 months apart, and leaving them with their open mouths and feverishly working brains on how that was scientifically possible.

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The pseudo twins

90’s was pre diaper era when American products were not so easily available and of course the moms and mils were firmly against the use of any such contraption. Delhi being pretty cold in winters, and without diapers and no central heating, all we did through the night was change pants. By the time it was morning, there wasn’t a place to walk at home where a wet pant wasn’t unsuccessfully trying to dry.

Coming home from office, he would be on the bed mostly wearing nothing more than a shirt on, feverishly cycling away with his hands and feet and giggling away only to gurgle when food was stuffed in his mouth, breathe, swallow and giggle again. I can close my eyes and see the sight again, that made my days so wonderful, despite wet pants and tired bones and sleep deprivation.

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The coming home hug

As he learnt walking, the world developed a different set of problems. He walked with his head held high and invariably tripped over every obstacle in his path and his chin, knees and palms were constantly grazed and red. Till I decided to get him a helmet and knee pads.

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I can do it too

My baby did not like meeting strangers. Once I took him to office and as expected everyone wanted to carry him and he responded by shouting at the top of his voice for the rest of the day. At home he marked his boundaries. If we had visitors, he would remain in the bedroom and not venture out while he stared unblinking at the aliens who dared set foot in his space. No amount of cajoling would pull him out of his लक्ष्मण रेखा. Strong attempts just resulted in further howling so.. Take him to any crowded place, and he would cling to me or his Dad and cry.

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Time to howl

He learnt his tantrums from his parents. When he wanted a toy or book in the shop, ( this was once or twice), and I said no, he lay down on the road and raised hell in order to get me to buy it. But me being me, I would pull him back home, gave him a strong lecture on how a child should behave and generally pulled him up for the childish behaviour that a child should not be doing. He would stare at me with big doleful teary eyes during such sessions or व्यथित eyes as my dad would say. Needless to say, he did not repeat it too often, who wants a hiding from a strict parent. He soon learnt that the way to get anything is via his dad, who would melt easily.

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The divine tantrum

His first day at the creche, he was flabbergasted to be left alone and cried for the whole 3 hrs, he at the creche and my mom at home. When she went back to pick him up, he was standing precisely where she had left him, with a teary wet face, holding his bag and bottle firmly. Both laughed and cried after the reunion and held on to each other tightly. Next day, when he was being left, the look on his face said- what you are betraying me again? and turned his back to my mom and slowly started adjusting. It took my mom more time to adjust than him. The first new slang he learnt from his toddler friends was “कुत्ते का पित्ता” as he proudly kept repeating at home.

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dance or look?

The love, the hugs, the playing with almost everything, be it vegetable peels, waste papers, clothes in the cupboard or while washing, kitchen utensils, the jumping to the lap, pulling my ears, learning to walk and then run, falling down, crying, picking himself up and walking again. The hiding in the clothes cupboard or in the washing machine tub and the “boo” on being discovered, the forever unkempt house with nothing at its designated place. The first words, “dadadada” and then the अनर्गल प्रलाप at the top of his voice. His own created vocabulary, spoon was “tinta” and curd was “din-din”, camel- ऊँट  being टून्, and Aarti, my sil, was “तेते”. The sicknesses, the cough and the vomiting, the looking at me with “when will I feel better” expression, but being brave during the injections. I can go on and on, but I have crossed my self imposed word limit, so more later..

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Boo

The two-frock childhood

My childhood was awesome, and then some. We were a piece of the big mass of the great Indian middle class. But the two frocks was more my Dad’s idea of what girls should be wearing in the 70’s. We were not poor, we always had plenty to eat, a roomful of books ( a household where books were a preferred choice than any other gift), holidays ( no, not to Singapore and Malaysia, but more like Bhopal, Osiaji and more local flavored places). Bengalis buy their new clothes during the once-in-the-year phenomenon called Puja. My mom, as usual, never had a say in the important matters of the family like what should I wear during the 5 days.

So, our standard process started with me sitting pillion on the cycle, and my dad, driving laboriously to our favorite seamstress, somewhere between B road and A road. He would stop outside her home and shout, Seemaji! at the top of his voice. She would come out looking terrified. Now, I must tell you something about her. She was very prim and proper, hair tightly wound in a bun, possibly widow or unmarried, never smiled, wearing faded cotton salwaar kamiz. You get the drift. Once she came outside, dad would ask her, pointing to me, how much material for her frock, she would look up and down at me and mutter some meters and then we would cycle down to NTC shop.

All brands, as per dad, were चोर and bigger brands महाचोर. So it was always NTC. He asked me to choose the cloth for my frocks, and I would pick from whatever little options I had. Then back to the seamstress. She would take measurements and then ask me for what kind of design I wanted. Now I was pretty unimaginative where fashion was concerned. Not having any access to magazines, no TV at that time, only idea I had was by reading books, Victorian books. So my choices were typically over sized, high neck, full sleeves, a lace here and a lace there, at least 4 inches below the knees, belts and frills in weird places. She also added some ideas from her minimal small town marwari experience and what evolved was something pretty OK, but then there was no other choice. And those few dresses had to last me for the full year till it was time for the next Puja again.

Now, since I had limited wardrobe, my attire at home was mostly a गंजी and bloomers, or frocks from past years which had moved above the knees and therefore, not suitable for public viewing.

I was into Athletics in school and was expected to wear something called shorts, which my dad would never never buy for me. When my sports sir told me, wear shorts and come to the ground, I went in my bloomers and he promptly sent me back home, he was more shy than I was. So, to find a jugaad solution, my brother’s old faded Mahesh school trousers came to the rescue, which fitted me perfectly and just needed to be made short enough to qualify as shorts.

As I grew older and started getting a monthly allowance, I started exploring other avenues like Bombay dyeing. And a tailor called Verma tailors who was the one person everyone went to in our town.

I had no exposure to readymades, jeans or trousers, national or international fashion, something which you may find hard to believe. Thanks to my bro, when he started working in Bombay, that is what it was called then, he started bringing me back stuff from fashion street. So in high school and college, I had a wardrobe with little more variations. I still remember my first and only vanilla jeans, that lasted all through my college years. I had a dreadful time with the zip that insisted on opening every time I would sit till I learnt by accident how to lock it. That was a problem that could not be shared with anyone, save my dad, who just told me I was too fat to fit into it.

In school, I also learnt to sew as part of the optionals and enjoyed it so much that I started experimenting on myself. Yes, I sewed my own clothes for a few years, frocks, tops and the likes. I was absolutely not great at it, just about passably ok. But I did get a little more variety, my own designs, now with buttons, and elastics, and embroidery, which was the fundamental idea.

My best friend gave me some exposure as she had relatives in Australia and my God, when I saw some of her stuff, carelessly thrown in the almirah. The material, the fall of the frocks, with my eyes wide open I would try some of her stuff, close my eyes, and feel like a fairy.

Before we lived happily ever after

Logically speaking, I should start with how I met and started flirting with my current husband. But that is for another time. Today I want to talk about some of the hilarious events leading to the inter-caste-marriage that we had. Remember that 90’s was a conservative period for the smaller towns in India and divorces and love-marriages were spoken in shushed-tones.

Once upon a time in 1988-89, Anuraag and I decided, we will get married. To each other. Some day. We did not talk about it at home, of course. Who does that? My mom, being a die-hard Bengali and strongly influenced by her peer group, when I was in III year, decided that it was time for some prospective grooms to meet me. I know there were people who helped influence her judgment about the girls-growing-up-and-getting-out-of-hand (and whose daughters wanted to do nothing in life except marry and settle down).  I thank such interfering bees from the bottom of my shoe, who have nothing better to do than match-making for all kids in the block.

Well, to continue the story, some ill-meaning neighbor brought a “रिश्ता” and I was asked to meet the guy. I, as expected, said NO. But maybe not loudly enough, because the family turned up officially to “see me” one evening. My mom begged me not to create a scene so I complied. This guy was tall and broad, his wrist was probably twice mine (remember you are supposed to keep your eyes demurely down- all you get to see is the hands and the lower anatomy of the fellow). Having decided his fate a priori, I went and say Hello and sat down to talk to him. No, I did not wear a sari, or take a tray-full of samosas and tea. My parents and his parents, delicately left us alone and went to the bedroom to talk. Though I could bore anyone with my incessant conversation, I was tongue-tied for a while and we made some formal talk, what do you do, where do you study, what are your hobbies kind. Then he asked me what do you want to do. And I saw light. I told him I wanted to be the prime minister of India followed by an 5 minute extempore of why I believed  I was right for the job (the gift of glib came handy).  After my nonstop nonsense, I never quite figured out why he was in such a hurry to leave.  My parents were so happy that we had so much in common to talk about- little did they know how I scared him away.

With that safely out-of-the-way, life continued sedately for a while. A few days later, I heard another name, someone else was again coming for the same ritual. The day is etched in my mind. My dad was shaving. Mom was laying out breakfast and said they were going to come in the evening. And I burst out- I am not interested. I don’t want to meet anyone. And she asked- why? In 80’s 90’s the standard question was whether I had a boyfriend and not if I was gay. I said I have someone else in mind.  My mom asked- who, Anuraag? So I said yes. And then the slow motion B rated Hindi movie scene started.

Dad paused his shaving for an instant and continued as if nothing had happened. My mom, sat down heavily, not knowing what to say. I left for college. By the time I came back, mom was in कोप भवन. 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- Bengalis and the rest of them. 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” Really ! She refused to eat for 3 days, I was crying in my room, she was crying in hers. My dad was mediating and cooking dishes trying to cool and feed both of us. Mom actually told my dad- she can’t go to college any more. And my dad laughed- you can’t do that, she is studying engineering. In next 3 days I tried several ways to get her to see reason- listing all the pros of my to-be-husband, why Bengali-panti was irrelevant to me, how I intended to survive without माछेर झोल, finally the only thing that worked was – I promise I am not going to run away to get married. I will only marry with your blessings and then she broke her fast-unto-whatever and started eating. After a few days, things became quite normal at home, except for some taunts that came out of nowhere, which I did my best to ignore. Little did I know what was brewing in her mind.

When Anuraag broke the news at his home, his mom’s reaction was even more lame “नमक लाना हैं तो माँ से पूछता हैं कौन सा , चला हैं लड़की पसंद करने” and finally- right now focus on studies, we will worry about these things later- which was probably the sanest thing to say.  Her only issue with me was thatI came from a non-vegetarian family. Interestingly the fathers on the both the sides were very pleased with the liaison from day one – maybe it saved them some hard work of finding a suitor.

This episode I came to know much later – few years post marriage. My bro had come home for a week. He got all the juicy details from my mom, with her local flavor added. The whole family conspired behind my back and my big bro – decided to intervene to save the इज़्ज़त of his younger sister and मान-मर्यादा of the family. He went over to the Jodhpur court to meet Anuraag’s mom. (She was working as a judge). Her version of the story.  She got a note that Jhilmil’s brother wants to meet her. She came out, a trifle apprehensive. And my bro gave it to her straight “आपके बेटे ने मेरी भोली-भाली बहन को फसाया हैं”. She responded in kind – “तुम्हारी बहन ने मेरे बेटे को फासा हैं” Corny dialogues of the same genre flew back and forth till they did not have anything more to throw. Finally they mutually agreed to find ways to keep us away from each other (the fact that we were classmates in college did not help them at all). My bro came home, exhausted with the outburst, but since they were fellow conspirators, he also added “But they are a pretty decent and educated family. Maybe we should really think this through.”

It took the families next two-three years to think things through. I left for my post grad. Anuraag took up a job somewhere in Rewari. Both parties were perversely  delighted- now that the kids are away from each other- the infatuation will go away. They don’t know till date that Anuraag came every weekend to meet me at Delhi. After waiting unsuccessfully for a year for us to have a breakup, they finally yielded and the rest is history. Polite perseverance and determination worked wonders.

Ps. Some expressions only make sense in the mother tongue, hence I resort to it from time to time. Like आपके बेटे ने मेरी भोली-भाली बहन को फसाया हैं- is not at all the same as- your son is luring my innocent sister. Qed.

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