The Passing Years

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“As the Wheel of Time turns, places wear many names. Men wear many names, many faces. Different faces but always the same man. Yet no one knows the Great Pattern the Wheel weaves or even the Pattern of an Age. We can only watch, and study, and hope.”~Robert Jordan

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Christmas and New Year are the only two major events that spell #festivity to me, besides birthdays, of course. I await these two with great anticipation and joy. As the old year gives way to the new, I record my feelings and experiences of the past year and my #hopes and #aspirations for the new. They were almost the same; the same vein with a bit of variation or degrees of reactions or responses to life’s vagaries. The incoming new ‘decade’, however, brought in an absolutely unexpected, strange feeling.

The build-up to Christmas was like to any weekend – a holiday, yea! And it remained so through the run-up to New year and the start of a new decade. In fact, I went to bed at 10.30 p.m on New Year’s eve. That’s something I’d never do earlier. I’d be waiting excitedly to ring out the old and ring in the new. Then I’d wish everyone a wonderful year before falling into bed an hour or two later!

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“The lives of all people flow through time, and, regardless of how brutal one moment might be, how filled with grief or pain or fear, time flows through all lives equally.”~Orson Scott Card

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Not this time. I was drowsy and had to fight to keep my eyes open. So I flopped into bed. 

I was surprised by my lack of enthusiasm for Christmas too. I had to manufacture my happiness as an actor would slip into character or a called for emotion on stage. #Christmas is my most loved time of the year, and I was sad that I was numb to it inside of me. I went through the motions as required on cue.

I was numb to the celebrations, not in my spirit and worship. My prayer life remained steadfast and strong. My hope and trust in the Lord were firm. I was numb to social festivities. The shopping lacked the usual festive fever, something very not me. I am super elated when I shop on any day; it could be for anything and any time of the year.

I wondered if the changes in my situation were the reason. But I’ve had a major tragedy strike, faced major issues and changes in life, and still not lost the spirit of Christmas celebration. Why now? I found an old post from New Year Eve 2012 when I was uprooted from where I had lived since my birth. And I found the true ‘me’ still kicking and strong.

“Have I died?” I asked myself.¬†

No. not yet! I’m just tired. Very tired. I’m down but not dead.

#immovingon

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“She knew that this day, this feeling couldn’t last forever. Everything passed; that was partly why it was so beautiful. Things would get difficult again. But that was okay too.

The bravery was in moving forward, no matter what.”~Lauren Oliver

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Here’s a part of the post which gives a glimpse of a New Year past before life as I knew it was about to change.

“Unlike previous years, this year did not see me with regrets or longings for what could have been but wasn’t; where I could have gone but didn’t; what I should have done or could have done but gave up a step too soon. I surprised myself a bit, honestly, by the new perspective and the calmness I had as the year softly and silently slipped into my grateful, content, and not-so-perfect life. I was in a place of imperfection with peace, acceptance, happiness, and faith; and this made things good.

No one but God is perfect and in our journey towards that perfect love and light, we learn to appreciate more, to find peace in tumultuous times, to develop better attitudes toward ourselves, and the people we come in contact with. We begin to accept whatever comes our way… the good and the bad… with forbearance and hope.

It all sounds like a dreamer’s utopian musings, doesn’t it? I assure you, it isn’t. This is a seeker’s account of her experience. There is pain, there are disappointments; tears; loneliness; anger; frustration; regrets and all the lows that are a part of life. But once you begin to look through the eyes of steadfast faith, hope, and trust that “this too shall pass,” the cross is lighter. I believe that God is watching out for me and mine. And as we make progress toward our goals, slipping, sliding, falling, He walks along – lifting, carrying, prodding us. I cast my cares on Him and He takes the burden off. So, though my cross is heavy sometimes, the burden is light. My heart is lighter. My mind is less prone to worry, and I can be grateful and enjoy my life even when the chips are down. That’s how I walk into 2013!

The New year is a harbinger of new beginnings. Beginnings in new places; new faces; changed climate and weather patterns; with Christmas in Summer and a Winter birthday in the month of May! New language, different food, and flavors, with new inclusions in my diet. Making new friends. Building a new social circle at this stage, learning conversion of a new currency against a rupee (though I know it is not advisable to compare rates of another currency against the rupee, it’s depressing!), but old habits die hard, and that’s the truth in this respect at least!!

But I raise a toast to new beginnings, to life and its vagaries. Cheers!”

With this, I send out good wishes to all my blog members and hope you have a good year! #2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brief Meeting – Harry & I

“Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between two people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily… and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”~Thomas Mann

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Harry…93 yrs old, is a long time retired lawyer. He walks with the help of a walking stick (no wheelchair or other assistance) doesn’t wear glasses (he can see quite well, short distances) and is as chatty as ever. According to his wife, “He loves to talk!”

I’d seen him many times before, but I met #Harry because he chose to meet me. I’d seen him and his wife with their regular group of friends sitting at the same coffee shop that is my haunt. It’s been over two years since I’ve been going there and that long since I’ve shared public space with them in a very congenial environment.

We’d never even exchanged the general acknowledgment smile one gives a #familiar face at the cafe. This day was different. Harry walked in alone; I didn’t see his wife following him. Nor was there anyone from their group seated at their usual place. I went back to reading my Jack Reacher novel on Kindle.

Instead of turning towards their usual space, he walked straight where I was seated and took the empty seat on the couch at the four-seater table in front of mine. I sensed rather than saw him looking at me over the back of his couch. I looked up and met the #friendliest #smile that beamed through his crinkled eyes too. I was surprised. I smiled back, both pleased and puzzled.

It became obvious that he had wanted to meet me; that he had noticed me here as I had noticed their group and was interested to know more about this non-local woman who, unlike others, comes here and sits reading or then writing and if not these, then she’s playing #tabletop #games with her granddaughter/s! And unlike others of her kind and race, sits here for hours and hours even when she’s alone. My #curiosity was piqued too. I wanted to know a bit more about this group of men and women. But I didn’t start a conversation beyond returning a warm smile.

A minute or so later, I heard a chuckle and a voice saying, “I’ve been abandoned!”

I looked up to see that he had turned sideways to be more comfortable. He had stretched out one leg on the couch and the other hung down giving him a more comfortable position to turn his head, look at me, and talk.

“You mean your group has #abandoned you?” I asked.

“No, they’re not here yet. We’re early. My wife’s left me.” He said laughing. Then he saw my face and raised eyebrows and added quickly… “She’s out there,” he pointed to their car that was parked outside our window.

I looked out and saw her sitting in the car. Her head was bowed.

“Squabble?”

“No, no,” he answered and his body shook with #laughter as his head moved from side to side emphasizing that a fight could not be the reason for abandonment.

“It’s the phone! She’s #addicted to it like everybody. She’s chatting with someone! I don’t count as much as that!”¬†

“Ah! No, you don’t,” and I laughed with him.

I went back to reading my book eager to know more about the situation Jack was in and what would happen next.

But Harry hadn’t come to sit within talking distance just like that. He had an agenda. He was curious and wanted to know who I was. So the conversation began with him telling me all about himself without me asking him anything. I guessed he thought that a woman who was apparently non-western would be reluctant to start divulging personal information to a total stranger. He wasn’t wrong in his surmise, generally speaking.

The account of his life, the stories of his youth; the shenanigans he and his friend, who was his partner in crime, had had were very amusing and interesting. I asked questions and got to know more about his family. Why he never left this city where he has lived since he was a boy. How others, even his best friend, moved out to bigger places or a different country. 

Seeing my interest, he felt he could ask me something about myself. After a brief lull in our conversation, he turned back to me and said, “What about you? Where are you from?”

“Where do you think I’m from?”

“China,” came his quick reply.

“Hmm…China?”

“I’d say Shanghai. Am I right?”

“Um, no. Try again,” I coaxed.¬†

“Oh, yes, I got it. Hong Kong!” He was as pleased as punch because he thought he was right this time.

I burst his balloon.

“Then, where are you from?”

“Well, you’ve got the continent right, just the wrong country. I’m from India.”

He looked surprised, “I should have guessed, but you are quite different from the Indians I’ve seen.”

“You haven’t seen all the Indians from every region. You’ll be surprised,” I said gently. “We come in all skin colors and tones, different color of eyes, hair, features, ” I added, “so you couldn’t have known.” He nodded his sage head.

“Do you know Bhopal?”

“Sorry, I didn’t get that.”

“Bhopal,” he repeated. I still couldn’t get the name. So I asked him what he was asking about… a person or place?

“It’s a place in India.”

Comprehension dawned!

“Oh, you mean Bhopal,” I said enunciating the word slowly and with the right phonetic sounds. “Yes, I do know of it though I’ve never been there. How do you know Bhopal?”¬†

He answered with another question.

“Is the name Warren Anderson familiar?”

“No. Can’t recollect any name like that. Why? What’s it got to do with Bhopal?”

“He was the Head of Union Carbide.”

It all came back. “You’re referring to the Gas tragedy in Bhopal!”¬†

“Yes,” he replied.

“He was the friend I was talking about. We’ve been friends for years…close friends. He was a Canadian before he moved to the States. He died five years back.” (this conversation took place in November 2019)

I didn’t know how to respond. The shocking news of the gas leak, the deaths, and the effects of that gas leak came to mind. It had caused children to be born with deformities and other abnormalities; it all came back. I kept quiet. He was quiet too.

I turned to my kindle and tried to catch up with the action, but my mind wasn’t in it any longer.¬†

He broke the silence.

“It was a terrible #tragedy.”

“Yes. Horrifying.

“It’s cold comfort, but I’d like you to know, he was burdened with the grief of this tragedy. He was genuinely grieved. He never forgot and it was a #heavy #burden on his heart.”

“Do you think he was at fault?” I asked.

“I can’t say. The Plant was being operated by the people there. He wasn’t directly responsible for any error in the functioning. He wasn’t at the plant nor supervising it. Those who were there are responsible. But he did take the responsibility to heart because he was the head of the company.”

“He was wanted in India,” I said.

“I know. Do you hold him responsible for the tragedy?”

“Not directly. No. It’s not like he was negligent or irresponsible in operating the plant. But as the head of the company, he should be concerned about what happened.”

“Trust me he was,” said Harry. “He was always carrying that burden with him. He suffered a great feeling of loss and helplessness. You know what he would say? He’d say that he’d have to struggle with this always. And he did go to Bhopal because he felt responsible.”

“I guess, it would be a very big burden to carry. A big punishment in its own way…” I was moved. To hear about something like this from a friend had a different impact than what one reads in the news.¬† “I can’t see why they wanted to arrest him? You know they wanted to arrest him?” I continued. “There are planes that go down due to malfunctioning, there are cars that burst into flames while one is driving… People die. It’s very sad…tragic. But the car company Head or the designers of these machines can’t be hauled into prison. He could be penalized in some way but not incarcerated unless he was directly responsible. He’s not responsible directly”

“That’s what we told him but it wouldn’t help,” he said.

“It’s a tragedy on both sides. Someone was responsible, directly, for some negligence that occurred… I forget what it was now. There was a sabotage theory going around too. Whatever it was, it was the fault of those who were right there, directly in charge of the operations. It’s a heart-rending accident.”

I didn’t want to discuss this any further.

I thought it was time to change the subject. It was getting heavy. So I veered it away to him. I asked him questions about how he managed to keep himself going even at the age of 93.

He beamed and gave all the credit to his wife who was a nurse. Her expert care and company! His group had long since come and settled in. They had even gestured to him to come over but he had refused. Said he liked it where he was.

I was eager to get back to my book. So I thought I should give a hint. Just as I was going to tell him it was nice talking to him, he turned and looked at me.

I zipped my lip and waited for him to speak.

“You know I’m glad I’ve lived so long, thanks to my wife, but it’s very sad for me sometimes.”

“How so?”

“I’ve outlived everyone. My friends and many family members younger than I. It’s not really nice when I see them go.”

He looked crestfallen and the glint in his eye had faded a bit, and his smile was sad on his lips. I waited a while and let him have a quiet moment.

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Then I said, “Your wife and your friend have been signaling you to join them. I think you should. It’s been very nice talking to you but I don’t want to steal all your attention and time. Save some for them too.”¬†

He gave a broad grin and said, “Yes, I think I better. I love to talk and can go on and on!”

With that, he moved to where his group was and I went back to Jack Reacher, a little wiser, and with a bit more knowledge. And I stress the “bit” part because only when I got home, I realized I hadn’t asked his name nor he mine. But, since then, when his wife sees me she waves a ‘Hi’. Harry does so only when he’s close enough to see me clearly ūüôā

Later, much later, a month or more, my granddaughter who had heard me relating this meeting to my son, overheard his friends call him, “Harry.” Excitedly, she informed me that the “93-year-old” stranger’s name is Harry!

He’s now on my list of Tim Hortons’ friends. These are my ‘stranger’ friends. We smile at each other and maybe exchange a word or two about the weather or a titbit about their health or any such everyday occurrences. I don’t sit with them, we don’t go out together, nor do we know where the other lives. We don’t even know each other’s names. And, in a rare instance, if I get a name, it promptly goes out of my mind leaving just the face behind. So it’s their faces I remember more than their names.

“I am a free soul, singing my heart out by myself no matter where I go and I call strangers my friends because I learn things and find ways to fit them into my own world. I hear what people say, rearrange it, take away and tear apart until it finds value in my reality and there I make it work. I find spaces in between the cracks and cuts where it feels empty, and there I make it work.”~ Charlotte Eriksson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grey Matters

Grey is the dominant color of winter these days. I wake up to grey mornings and peek through the curtains, desperate to see a chink in the clouds and a stray, struggling ray of sunshine yellow pushing its way through.

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I have nothing against the color grey. It makes up a large part of my winter wardrobe!¬† I also like the grey of rainy days. But when it gets cold and grey, I’d rather have yellow, red, salmon, orange… anything but grey. That being said, I must add I like winter rains; the drizzles as well as the downpours… I seem to be contradicting myself. But it’s not a contradiction, I just can’t stand the dip in temperature. But both go hand in hand here… with droplets becoming ‘ice rain’; it’s something I’m still not used to after over two years in this country.

There’s something about rain and me. Perhaps, it’s not only me… I find it romantic. These days that translates to #nostalgia. So here, in my little room, I’m all by myself and I play old numbers, gaze at the changing shades of grey outside, hoping for the sunshine tomorrow.

Gone are my days of walks in the rain. I loved that. Or frolicking under a downpour on the rooftop (terrace) of our house, drenching myself under the first shower of the monsoon season. Gone. Gone. Gone. So, I keep myself happy with cooking rainy day foods! Yes, you heard that right… rainy day foods.

We have many such assorted foods for wet, cold, and dull days that cheer up a sagging spirit. I guess there is a way that leads from the tummy to the heart after all, and it doesn’t apply only to the male species!

More days locked in due to inclement weather leads to me dreaming. I have a #dream, an #aspiration. I intend to pursue it, but right now, I’ve barely done half the spadework and I’m already #intimidated. Needless to ask why. It’s my boogeyman – technical and internetwork! They always bare their fangs and send me scuttling into a corner. However, I’ve decided not to give up.

That sounds so good… but braver than I feel, by the way! Still, I’m going to go through with it, my physical limitations and circumstances notwithstanding, even if it takes me some years. At times like these, I wish elves didn’t just dwell in fairy tales and were available at the drop of a sigh!

It surprises me how the #yearnings and #wishes pile up in direct proportion to the years I notch up on my birthdays and the amount of grey I have in my hair! Right now, I wish I were closer to my native land and all my friends, relations, and things familiar. Two decades ago, I’d not be so bothered about distances. Not for want of love but because the distance would not rise as an insurmountable obstacle.

There is more I don’t take for granted today than I did earlier. Times and people have changed and things are no longer as they used to be. I have learned more in the past decade. I take more trips down memory lane than I ever have, but I don’t dwell there.

The present may not be all that I’d dreamed of or hoped for, but what I have is far more than my expectations, given the tragedies, circumstances, and difficult times that have come my way. I’d rather live in it and learn new things and move on. And while I’m on my way, I might as well kick my heels and do a song and dance even if it’s only in my mind.

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The besieged sun rays!

On a lighter note, among all the new things I learn, I sometimes stumble upon newfangled words like “pizzled”. I learned that it describes, quite aptly, a situation which leaves one ‘#puzzled’ and ‘#pissed off’.

In other words, #confused and #annoyed. 

It seems that everyone has a #word #mint at their disposal. If the word gains currency, it will soon find its way into a dictionary. That’s language – dynamic and ever-evolving. Though, I’d rather say I am #confoyed if I had to coin a new word to describe how I felt in a similar situation.

I’d like to hear of some more of these new compound words.¬†

With this quote ringing in my ears, I sign off for today.

“You can’t beat a person who never gives up.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Ruled The Skies

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Daddy was a great kite flyer. His passion for kites was so strong that to tell him to fly a readymade kite was akin to blasphemy. So as soon as #kite-flying #season would come around, there would be rolls of ‘manjha’ string, a couple of ‘phirkis,’ supple bamboo sticks, which he’d cut finer to make the frame of the kite. There’d be sheets of glazed paper (or china paper as some would call it because Chinese lanterns were made out of it) lying around the house. He would ask Mummy to make a pot of ‘layee’ (an adhesive made by cooking refined flour). Daddy didn’t believe in using the prepared glue available in the markets!

There would also be pieces of glass, which he would very strictly forbid us from even looking at forget touching it! These had to be ground and powdered and then, the manjha would be coated with it, making it lethal, literally.

Now, the entire process of making kites for the season would begin. What made it so exciting was the involvement of imagination… no ordinary kites for us.¬†

“Aur phir, Chakotri,”¬†he’d address me, smiling delightedly,¬†“what kind of kite do you want?”

The question would go to my brother too.

But my brother was more thoughtful about the kind of flying object he desired. Obviously, he was taking in other “technical aspects.” I’d let my imagination fly. I think I must have made some very impossible demands, in fact, I’m sure I did, but none would be brushed aside with a flat, “NO.” Daddy would work around my original design, changing it a bit here a bit there, giving me reasons how it would be a better kite with a little this here and little that taken off there. So he’d keep me happy believing that the design was mine and also produce something that would take off. Something that was nothing like what I had asked for!

The manjha was the most difficult part. I can’t recall the exact process but I know the glass would be powdered very fine. A difficult task and the male domestic help would be requisitioned for this, much to Mummy’s annoyance, because the only male help was also her kitchen helping hand. To get back to the¬†manjha,¬†the string would be dipped in some sort of gooey stuff and drawn through the powdered glass. This needed space so it was done in the backyard which was very big.

But, I’m drawing out this narration too much. Let’s come to the day we became the rulers of the sky.

So it goes that one day, my brother and I decided that our¬†‘pecha’¬†wins were not very impressive. Our kite flying sorties weren’t notching up as many kills as we wanted. So I went to Daddy with our laments. He listened patiently. If I had his ears, initially, now I had his total commitment to helping us to win the ‘pecha’¬†war!

“Abhi dikhate hain unko patang kya cheez hai. Arre, I’ll make you such a kite that they’ll run with their tail between their legs.”

Thus was fashioned a kite that was taller than I was, so it would’ve been over four feet. A lot of thought went into the dynamics of this monster. It looked like one to me. Then the question of¬†manjha¬†was raised by my brother and Daddy agreed that we needed string much stronger but not too heavy either.

Now don’t ask me what he did to get the right manjha, I don’t remember anything about that. I wasn’t included in the procuring or making of the string that would fly our champion kite. All I can recall with absolute detail and delight, even to this day, is the pride I felt as the kite soared majestically into the sky.

The first day we took it for its maiden launch, Daddy had in true ‘Daddy’ nature made it a picnic. He got Mummy to pack the picnic basket. In those days, I doubt if there was any home without the #wicker #picnic #basket. Our destination, a twelve-minute walk from home, was a small hillock. My job was to lug the picnic basket which, given my diminutive size, was big for me. Not one to complain, I managed to keep it an inch above the ground.

And then, I waited with bated breath for the take-off.

Smooth! 

It climbed against the wind like a dream.

As it made its way upward and onward, Daddy brought it into combat with every kite in ‘pechable’¬†distance. Annihilation was swift and sure. Our granddaddy of all kites dominated the blue expanse as it held steady, a tiny speck in the sky.

By the third day, word had spread and the regulars who flew their kites in this spot vanished, kite et al, as soon as they saw us coming up the hill with our giant. After the initial egoistic boost, I felt a bit deflated as we watched our kite do a drunken swoon as it sailed unchallenged and uninterrupted. It wasn’t fun.

We had taken away the fun from the entire activity. What should have been pure enjoyment and fun and games had turned into a battle of supremacy. Of course, I couldn’t elucidate all this, but I did comment on it.

“They’ve all gone away,” I said quietly. They’re scared of us,” I added with undisguised disappointment.

“Yes, daud gaye sare.¬†Your kite is the king.”

Daddy had failed to notice that I wasn’t quite pleased with this dubious entitlement.

“But it’s not so nice without any other kites. It was so much fun on the first day,” I insisted in an effort to make my point. No one sensed how I was feeling. They were too elated with the momentary thrill of being the rulers of that small patch of blue.¬†

I had learned a lesson.

Later on, the realization would imprint on my mind that there is a fine line between healthy and unhealthy competition, and we must remember never to cross this boundary. Ever since then,¬† I have gauged the level of competition to set my standards and then I’ve competed with myself alone. In the bargain, if I outdid the others, it would be a bonus for me! If I didn’t, I knew I had to work on the weak areas and up my efforts. It was always a win-win situation. I either added to my wins and grew or I added to my learning experience and grew! I kept moving forward.

 

A bit of information about the practice of Kite Flying in India.

1. People fly kites on Makar Sankranti. This festival is dedicated to the Sun God, Surya and is celebrated by Hindus.

It is also celebrated to welcome Spring. Among many traditions and practices involved in the celebrations, flying kites is one of them. It is not clear why kite flying has become an integral part of the festivities.

2.Political…The first time kites were used in a protest was during the ‘GO BACK SIMON’ protest against the Simon Commission in 1927. The words ‘Go Back Simon’ were written on the kites which were then flown in the sky by the protestors. This could have possibly led to the practice of flying kites on 15th August, Independence Day, every year.

Kites are flown at Red Fort in old Delhi. This is where Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the Indian national flag of Independent India, in 1947, and the tradition continues even today to commemorate it.

Lately, this tradition of kite flying on Independence Day, in India, has begun at India Gate too. Perhaps the activity has more to do with enjoying the holiday and adding fun to being outdoors. Many kites flown on the 15th of August, these days, do evoke the feeling of patriotism as they carry the tricolor of the national flag.

Since kite flying takes place as serious challenges too, apart from fun and frolic, PETA has been active in asking people to use safer string for their kites. I do agree with the use of a safe cotton string instead of the manjha.

PETA’s request:¬†PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has put in a serious request for kite flyers to stop using¬†manjha which has finely crushed glass over it. this is dangerous for birds when they get entangled in the bit of manjha that are scattered when a kite gets cut and falls out of range or reach of the retrievers. It could even injure people seriously, especially unwary especially children.

 

 

 Glossary:

Manjha…the twine used to fly the kite. In those days it was reinforced string.

Phirkia kind of spool on which the twine is wrapped. It has elongated handles on either side which rest between the thumbs and forefingers.

Aur phir ChakotriWhat now Chakotri (Chakotri was one of the nicknames he used for me)

Pechathe act of engaging and cutting free an opponent’s kite¬†

Abhi dikhate hain unko patang kya cheez hoti haiWe’ll show them right now what a kite really is.

Daud gaye sareThey’ve all run away.

Pechable…a combination of ‘pecha’ and ‘able’. Coined by me to mean within striking distance in kite combat!

 

Hidden Talents – Poetry and Music

I doubt there’s anyone outside our family circle who knows that Daddy used to write beautiful shayari and that he could play the harmonium very well, and he could sing equally well too. But trust me to know this better than anyone within the family!

Poocho kyun? (ask why?)

Well, it goes like this…

One day, Mummy saw me dancing away to glory, Indian film style, to some Hindi film song playing on the radio. I had taken a¬†dupatta¬†of hers, and I had pinned it on my head. I was so engrossed in swirling and twirling, I didn’t realize I had an #audience. It was only when she couldn’t suppress her laughter any longer and it burst out loud that I knew she had been watching me.

I came to an abrupt halt, and oh! boy, did I feel embarrassed or what! The whole world will get to know! She would make it into a comic headline!

Joy, the girl who played Robbers & Coppers, Cowboys & Red Indians with the boys; the catty-toting Joy was dancing like a “sissy”! It dawned on me that I’d have a few fights on my hands to re-establish my reputation as a tough girl with the band of boys (my brother and his friends) I played with more often than I did with the girls. Especially so because at the age of seven, I still managed to hold my ground with our group of boys, most of whom were older than I was!

That evening, when Daddy came home, this was the #breaking #news. I looked on with trepidation. How would he react? Would he find it hilarious and #laugh out loud? Would he think I was doing something not quite ‘Christian’? That last thought cropped up because of our Sunday School teacher. She thought dancing, especially to film songs, was not a thing ‘good’ girls or boys should do. I didn’t want her to know about this either.

He surprised me.

Ah! Once again, bless him, he was overjoyed and full of praise. No joking, no teasing… and to everyone’s surprise, he announced that now, he’d have to buy me a pair of ghungroos!¬†This was received with mixed reactions.

Mummy was flabbergasted. I was stumped. Ghungroos for me! My reputation was doomed. Later that day, after dinner, Daddy and I had a conversation. I sat in his lap as he relaxed on the couch.

“You don’t have to buy me #ghungroos?”

“Why not? You like to dance, and ghungroos help to keep the beat and rhythm.”

“Oh, but I can keep the beat without them. I have it in my head, Daddy.”

He insisted. I desisted. He saw that there was something else on my mind.

“What is it? What’s troubling you?”

“Everyone will laugh at me,” I blurted.

“We won’t tell anyone.”

“But Jasper and Mummy will.”

“I will tell them not to,” he reassured me.

“Then, it’s ok,” I said happily. Truth is I really wanted to wear ghungroos and dance. I was smitten by the Indian #heroines on screen!

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The bells, aka ghungroo, which classical dancers tie around their ankles. Some folk dancers might also wear bells.  (Pic: Saksham Gangwar on Unsplash)        

One Sunday, in the afternoon, Daddy called me. He was sitting in the drawing room with the harmonium and beside it, on the table, lay the bells dancers used to tie around their ankles! He told me to get a dupatta. A few minutes later, with the odhni on my head and the bells around my ankles, I was dancing with gay abandon. Daddy played and sang with a spirit that matched my own.

What can I say about such a man who understood not only the latent love of music, rhythm, and dance but also the spirit that longed to be free in the heart of his little girl, and he gave her these #precious #moments.

“Panchchi banun, udti phirun mast gagan mein, aaj main azad hoon duniya ke chaman mein.”

Translation:¬†I’ll be a bird and fly around in the awesome sky. Today I am free in the garden of this world.

Always nurture the talents you have. Give in to the creative urges of your faculty.

Later on, at the age of nine, I joined Mohiniyattam dance classes in Delhi, but unfortunately, I couldn’t continue with it because we moved away to another part of the city. If I had any hopes of continuing with dance classes,, it was all laid to rest with Daddy’s decision to put in his papers and take early retirement and move to his hometown. No chance of dance classes here. This one-horse town didn’t have any classical dance options. It was rural and the only dances one saw were folk dances.

So what could I do?

I took every opportunity, I got in school, to learn the #folk #dance¬†Gidda’ and participated in every cultural performance that was put on stage! It was so much fun. I just loved it.

I owe the joy of this #experience to my father. He showed me the way to accept art, in its pure form and remove the shackles I had placed on my little-girl mind. 

 

Glossary

shayari…couplets in Urdu

Dupatta, Odhni…a piece of cloth used to cover the head. Usually made of fine, thin material.

Ghoongroo...small bells made of brass, attached in rows on a thick cloth band which is strapped onto the ankles of a dancer.

Cattyabbreviation for catapult

Mohiniyattama classical dance from Kerala (a southern state in India)

Forty-five Minutes Make An Hour

Being a grandma is great, but at times, it gives you flashbacks just when you’re trying to explain how important Mathematics is to your young grandkids!

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“Some advice: Keep the flame of curiosity and wonderment alive, even when studying for boring exams. That is the well from where we scientists draw our nourishment and energy. And also, learn the math. Math is the language of nature, so we have to learn this language.” ~Michio Kaku

As a child, growing up in Cochin (now known as Kochi), I was introduced to numbers in Lower KG and got to know them better in Upper KG. It wasn’t so bad. I didn’t mind them but I liked the alphabet better. Then came Class 1 or Grade 1, as it is called these days. Now I was introduced to single-digit addition sums! Cool! I had ten fingers to count on and it was fun though it would get tricky when the total ran beyond the digits I had on my hands! That’s when it got my goat!

If I found that exasperating, Class 2 taught me something more… double digit addition and single-digit subtraction and Multiplication Tables! We were introduced to number 1 & number 2 tables. I thought it was a breeze when I was on the 1 table. With the number 2 table, I struggled a bit but got the hang of it. It was easy while writing, “Simple, add two to the previous answer”, said my bro. Just when I thought I was a whiz at it, they started the oral test at the end of the term; we were quizzed in the oral tests in the class!

I thought the teachers were cruel. My mother thought I was being stupid because she feared I’d lose marks and my rank with my low arithmetic scores in the final¬†examination.

 

So, after HW (homework), I’d have to revise arithmetic. This meant, my brother would go out to play an hour before I did. Not fair! The best part is, after a day or two, he felt bad about it too.

Study time was usually an hour for both of us, my brother and me, except when I had to revise Arithmetic. Then it would extend to an hour more.

We were never supervised. You see, we were Christian children and so my mother expected us to be “obedient and good.” Well, I must mention that we were obedient and good kids. I must also reiterate, we were just kids too, minus the adjectives!

There were days when math was too tough to tackle and the games the kids were playing outside a lot more fun. So the devil on my shoulder would start whispering in my ear… and hey presto! the hour would have only forty-five minutes.

 

Now, I didn’t know how to read the time on the clock beyond the hours because minutes and seconds confused me, but my brother could tell the time. So, I’d use all my kid sister wiles, emotional blackmail et al, and get him to put the clock ahead. Of course, I’d want it bucking ahead by a bigger margin but he warned me that it would be obvious.

It was all I could do to keep a straight face when mummy would re-set the time on the clock and grumble about it running ahead and rant at the poor quality of things.

All this was fun until I grew up and lost precious percentage on marks due to poor grades in Mathematics. If only I had put myself to it more seriously at the start; if only folks had been more patient with my Math problems; if only I hadn’t put the clock ahead. So many ifs and buts. So much regret.

I was good with my Math scores in the primary classes, then on, it became difficult and the Math teachers were extra strict, short on patience, and quick with punishments; even corporal punishments were permitted!

Although, I was never punished, I was scared to death when anyone got it. This made it not only difficult for me to learn the subject but it also served to heighten my hatred for it. I scraped through my exams but my low scores brought down my overall grades and percentage. Needless to say what it did to my rank! Mummy had been right.

From being a contender for the first three ranks in class, I was sliding down to the 7th or 8th, and then to the 10th. It didn’t matter that we had over forty children in the class, I had lost my position. Mummy was not at all happy and told me so in as many words. This was a big blow to my self-esteem as ranks mattered a lot in our day. Mummy would berate me and I would rather show my report card to Daddy than her.

If I kept myself going, it was only because of Daddy. I couldn’t drop Math.¬†

It was a compulsory subject up to grade 9. I could drop it in the next grade. For that, I had to pass this subject, or repeat the same class… no promotion to grade 10. He said my rank didn’t matter. What would matter was if I didn’t try. If I gave up. I assured him I wasn’t going to. Giving up wasn’t an option for me. Mathematics was never my subject anyway and I wanted to get rid of it even more now. That fueled my #determination!

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I studied #Mathematics, right up to the pre-secondary level (Class 9) when I had to pass Mathematics, i.e. Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry in a Board Exam! Well, I flunked in two and had to appear for Math again if I wanted to go ahead. Thankfully I got through. But I disliked the subject even more.

Then, I had reached the secondary classes and could select my subjects… three electives plus two compulsory languages. Mathematics was not one of my elected subjects. What a relief!

Needless to say, I still need my fingers to count beyond a certain number! Ok, that’s an exaggeration. But I am awful at math and anything technical. And that’s not funny but it’s ok!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ma Mingalar, Padmini, Peggy

“This was a new skill she’d acquired, the ability to look, to the outside world, utterly serene, and even cheerful, while, in her skull, all was chaos.”~Dave Eggers
Ever since I was a little girl and heard about Ma Mingalar (I’m not sure if it was Mingalar or Mingala!), Padmini, and Peggy, I’ve been intrigued by the story that crosses over the borders of two countries; India and erstwhile Burma now known as Myanmar. How did these three people get along with each other? Did they even know each other well? Perhaps each lived individually but all together in one house? Intriguing, I must say.¬†
Before I go any further, let me remind you, my mind has been weaving tales in and around these three ever since I was introduced to them at the age of seven. I still wonder about these girls who grew into women together. There wasn’t much divulged to me but whatever was, fascinated me and still does to this day. I wish I could find someone who would tell me more; someone who knew the truth.
In the meantime, I spin my tale around the existing facts, as they were told to me. I do not hold myself to speak only of facts because I must build the story based on my premises and surmises. I’ve tried to be logical and rational in my imaginings, but if you find it preposterous, just stop reading… I’m not going to stop writing this. It’s too haunting and I have to get it out of my system. Hopefully, it will give me some inner peace.
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Ma Mingalar…¬†I’m not sure whether the name was Ma ‘Mingalar’ or Ma ‘Mingala’.¬† I can only remember being corrected when I repeated the name as one whole – Mamingala. I was told that it was said as two separate words. I faintly recall being checked for the ending too. Anyway, to move forward, Ma Mingalar was the grand-daughter of U Ba Doon, a prominent member of a political party in Burma. I asked for the parent’s names but never got that information and not much else. It was a sketchy biodata. This was one of the main reasons for me to suspect that something or possibly everything was not quite right in Ma Mingalar’s world.
Ma Mingalar’s mother’s name was kept secret but her beauty was extolled. It seems she was extremely beautiful and had a complexion like exquisite porcelain. Her hair was very long and black and fell like a cascade to her calves; when it was not bundled up into a bun on her head. She lived a lavish and luxurious life, waited on hand and foot by maids. She loved her cigarettes, which she smoked in slender holders, and chocolates were never far from her. There would always be a box kept within arm’s reach. Besides her hair, she had captivating eyes in an oval face. She had doe-eyes which slanted, her eyelids were ringed with long curling lashes. She loved jewelry and had a large collection of diamonds and Noga rubies. Not much was divulged about her father except that he was a diamond merchant who came to India for business. Ma Mingalar was born in the Madras hospital in the city of Madras, now known as Chennai.
Ma Mingalar’s story ends soon, with her mother abandoning her. Her mother left her in the care of the Matron of the hospital, who was her friend. Whether theirs was a patient-nurse relationship or they were friends before Ma Mingalar was born is not clear. But the Matron, a Mrs. D’Sylva, took the abandoned baby under her wing. Initially, the baby was in the nursery and taken care of by the staff.
“But why would she abandon her baby? It’s cruel!” I exploded.
The reason, I was told, was that the baby was dark-skinned. This seemed so untrue because, in fact, Ma Mingalar was fair. Perhaps not the skin tone of her mother but definitely fair-skinned. I would protest at this and remark at the frivolity of the reason. However, later on, as I grew, many reasons for the ‘Reason’ popped into my head. My speculations were logical but cannot be substantiated.
Padmini… They called Padmini a very lucky baby. No, she had no near-death situations preceding her birth nor any infections or disease that she had overcome. She was a small, little bundle lying in the nursery with all the other new-born babies, and looked much like them, except she was the fairest of the lot. So what separated her from the other babies that she was tagged ‘lucky’? It was a distinguished visitor who came to see her almost every other day. The lady would be accompanied by her woman attendant. She never stayed long but gave generously to the nurses and servants caring for Padmini. Yes, she had christened the baby Padmini! This lady was of very high status and the Maharani of a place nearby. How she got to know about this baby and why she was so concerned about her is a mystery. She loved the baby so much that she wanted to adopt her, and she conveyed this to Matron D’Sylva.
“Your Highness, I love the child too. Besides, her mother left her in my care. please don’t take her away.” Mrs. D’Sylva was distraught.
“Think over it. I will not insist if it means so much to you. But give it a thought. She is my child already, my little Padmini,” she said looking lovingly at the child who lay oblivious of the manner in which her fate lay in the balance… between a life in the palace with a Maharani and a not so opulent but very comfortable life with a Matron.
Mrs. D’Sylva, the Matron, looked at the Maharani as she made her regal exit. She was worried. Baby Padmini slept peacefully.
Padmini’s fate was decided. The Matron took her home!
She was a well-to-do lady of ample means. Her husband had been a doctor and they owned a big bungalow with a lot of land sprawling all around it. She had grown-up children of her own but she did not believe that Padmini would have a secure and happy life in the palace. So she adopted her. The Maharani would be the only one who’d care for Padmini she thought; and who knew the ways of the palace and royalty. Their whims and fancies were as changeable and unpredictable as the weather. And here ends Padmini’s story.
I was curious about the queen who’d visit her. But although her visits were spoken about, I was made to believe that no one knew why she came or why she named the child or even why she wanted to adopt her. I never did believe that!
Peggy… “I don’t want to go to boarding school,” wailed Peggy as her mother petted and consoled her. She was older now and her mother wanted to send her to Goodwills Boarding School in Bangalore. Once again she repeated all the pros of a residential school, hoping that Peggy would calm down.
Peggy was an adopted child. Her foster mother had brought her home one day. Her half-sisters who were much older were shocked by this kind deed of hers. It was a bit extreme. Peggy was accepted as one of their mother’s whimsical, philanthropic gestures. One they would have to live with and tolerate. Although they weren’t mean to her or anything of that sort, there was no bonding either. They were so much older than her.
Boarding school was the best option under the circumstances as Peggy was growing up and beginning to notice and resent the way she was isolated from the older children in the house. So, finally, she was packed off to Bangalore with promises of frequent visits. She found that her stay at school was not as bad as she had expected it to be. She had a headmistress named Ms. Roper. The girls would often pronounce it as “rope her” for laughs!
The day came when Peggy passed out of school and returned home. Her mother had selected a college for her and had even registered her name, but Peggy had other plans. She was going to join the WRINS as a stenographer. Her mother was shocked.
“What are you going to do there Peggy?”
“Work, of course,” answered Peggy matter-of-factly.
“Yes, that’s clear to me, young lady. But what do you intend to work as? You go to college and then join the Force.”
“No. I don’t want to go to college. I’ve already applied for a secretarial course with Pittmans. I’ll be a stenographer!”¬†
“Do you know how much they pay stenos? You silly girl, you spend more in a month than they’ll pay you in two.”
Peggy stood her ground. She was as stubborn as the proverbial mule.
Peggy D’Sylva joined the Navy. She moved to Bombay now known as Mumbai. Along with her went Ma Mingalar and Padmini. She never left them behind. Over the years you could see the traces of each personality.
Ma Mingalar was a snob and very fastidious. She was also stubborn, wanted a lot of attention and was self-absorbed. She was fashionable and loved to dress well. She liked jewelry too. Her favorite haunt was The Taj Mahal Hotel. This is where she would go for breakfast, many a time, or even when she wanted a cup of coffee. She’d take along her friends sometimes! It wasn’t a hotel she could afford. But her mother sent her an ample allowance every month. Her mother knew her love for the good life. This was Ma Mingalar’s strongest phase.
Padmini was very much a South Indian. She had a distinct southern accent. Her gestures and expressions would be different. She’d tell everyone she was a Tamilian, and look directly at them defying them to disagree. No one dared to, even though they’d carry big question marks in their eyes. Padmini could pass off as a Burmese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean or any such race but certainly not a Tamilian!
The food she’d eat or serve would be South Indian fare and she’d discard her airs and dig into rice with her hands. Padmini’s influence grew stronger than Ma Mingalar’s over the years. She even decided the people Peggy should befriend. Needs no saying, all were from South India. She even decided that Peggy would wear the Indian uniform (a sari) when she joined the WRINS.
Padmini was defiant. She was rigid and had a smoldering temper. She could be mean and even unscrupulous on rare occasions. Padmini was also a doomsday prophet. She was negative about everything.
Peggy was the jovial, giggly, Anglo-Indian girl. Her foster parents were of Portuguese descent and their way of living was westernized. She’d be free with her expressions and speak only English and treat every other language, especially Hindi and Punjabi with disdain. She’d inform everyone that her mother tongue was English. Some of the everyday terms she’d use were typically Anglo-Indian ones and you’d hear them used only in these homes.¬†
The food would be continental or Chinese or Goan in flavor. Peggy could be shy and took offence easily. She loved to sing and write poetry. Peggy could be quite immature at times and would even compete with youngsters.
As life took her on a roller-coaster ride, the first casualty was Ma Mingalar. I was sad to see her go. She was the one who added a bit of style and spice to Peggy’s life. Padmini held on tenaciously. I think Peggy liked her a lot. But she succumbed to ill-health. Padmini departed leaving behind Peggy.¬†
When Peggy died, she died alone.
The only real part of the story had gone taking with her all the secrets of her birth and parentage. My mother had left me to figure it out if I could. 
I have theories about my mother’s birth and parentage, but these are not based on proof. I’m sure each one of you who knew her will draw your own conclusions from existing facts if you have any. I too have been doing that for years; trying to complete the jigsaw puzzle. But it remains incomplete. I kept asking my mother for the truth but she wouldn’t tell me. She didn’t tell much to anyone. I was the only one pestering her for the truth!
However, I know for a fact that the Maharani part was true. My mother had picked up the courage once, to visit her when we were in Madras for a short holiday because Daddy was there on Ty Duty and he thought we’d enjoy the break. At that time the Maharani was the queen mother, the king had passed away. But mummy’s courage slipped away right outside the gates of the queen mother’s palace.
She sat in the car and gazed at the gates but lacked the will to go in… she longed to go but hesitation held her back. I asked her if she thought they wouldn’t know her.
Her reply was quick, sure, and confident, “She will remember me.”
“Then let’s go in,” I said excitedly opening the door.
“What’s the use? What difference will it make?”¬†
Though I was only seven then, I still remember the look on her face. She sat back in the seat, her eyes still on those big gates. There was a gamut of emotions reflected there… longing, sadness, regret, resignation, and the futility of trying to reconnect. Then she asked the driver to drive on.
I know the kingdom too, but I shall not speak it because as mummy said, “What’s the use?”
I understand now why she wouldn’t tell me more. What I can recall of that day when she was so close to taking me to the source of the truth, I saw her pain. Probably, it hurt her too much, or the resentment and anger hadn’t died and she couldn’t reconcile herself to the abandonment. My heart has always been heavy with her concealed pain. I wish she had spoken about it and released the agony thus saving herself the confusion about her identity, and living her life as the person she believed she was.
PS: Daddy had described her mother to me. Mrs. D’Sylva had shown him a photograph. Daddy also tried to find out more about her father or grandfather and had made a trip to Rangoon. But he was advised not to pursue the matter and to go back. He even told me that my elder sister resembled her a bit.
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