The Runaways!

Bunny In The Cupboard

There is never a dull day when there are kids in the house. There’s always some surprise waiting around the corner. But I’d never encountered any surprises in the kitchen. It’s not a place they frequent unless they are hungry. But with the two younger grandkids, when they were 2 yrs and 3++, I’ve had some lovely discoveries. While we were hunting high and low for some “lost” things upstairs in the bedrooms, family room, and even the dining room, the ‘lost ones’ were up to mischief in the kitchen!

This is what I love about photographs. They dredge up memories and it’s lovely to relive those moments. And if the pics remind you of things like this, it’s so wonderful.

We searched high and low for Myra’s “Bunny bedroom shoes.” We didn’t find them and neither could she. Needless to say, she was quite upset. The next day, I found them cozy and snug on one of the shelves in the (everyday) crockery cupboard. She had no memory of putting it there herself. So we had to agree with her version of how they landed up hobnobbing with the china plates and bowls. “I think they were lost and walked into the cupboard by mistake.”

Reaching Out!

And another day, I walked into the kitchen to see a little glove reaching for an orange. Keen to hear the owner’s explanation, I asked her how it got there or was she trying to reach the oranges, which were out of her reach, using a glove.

“No. Not me Dadi,” she quipped, “it is Zara’s glove! See!”

“I see it, baby. It’s not you at all,” I agreed.

“I told you. Not me,” she beamed.

I enjoyed all five of my little ones to the hilt. And as time passes, the conversations change, and other things draw their time and attention.

They are grown since then… There’s a pre-teen, three eight-year-olds, and the littlest is just five. The conversations have changed. But the love, happiness, and caring just keep growing. They add so much joy and laughter to my days.

Ma Mingalar, Padmini, Peggy – the hidden story

INTRODUCTION…

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 Burma, now known as Myanmar. How did these three people get along with each other? Did they even know each other well? Perhaps, though each lived individually, all 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 then, 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 by my mother. 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 (someone who really knew her, and I mean the truth about her) find it preposterous, just stop reading…and give me the honest facts with proof. 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.

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 – ‘r’ or ‘a’. I can’t recall which one had to stay and which did not! Anyway, to move forward, Ma Mingalar was the granddaughter of U Ba Doon, a prominent member of a political party in Burma. I asked for the parents’ 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 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. 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 and an oval face. She had doe-eyes that slanted, and 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 and ruby merchant who came to India for business. Ma Mingalar was born in the Madras hospital in the city of Madras, now known as Chennai. I think it was renamed: Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital much, much later.

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 she knew. 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 mother found the baby dark-skinned. So what? Why would that matter? It did to the mother, it seems. This seemed so untrue because, in fact, Ma Mingalar was fair, as the story goes. Perhaps not the same skin tone and texture as 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 and learned a bit more about her, many reasons for the given ‘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 attendants caring for Padmini. Yes, she had christened the baby Padmini! This lady was of very high status – the Maharani of a place nearby ruled by her husband, the King. 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 was 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 much older half-sisters were shocked by this kind deed of hers. It was a bit extreme. So, 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. I have no information about her foster father’s reaction. I guess he was okay with it or there would have been something added to the telling of the tale. All I learned was that he was a doctor and he was in Quetta when the big earthquake occurred in 1935. According to what I was told, he died there.

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 – Women’s Royal Indian Navy Service. 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’ll 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 getting bolder in their influence over Peggy.

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 a couple of newfound friends too! It wasn’t a hotel she could afford on her salary. 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 though she didn’t look South Indian. She had a distinct southern accent; gestures and expressions too. 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 discard cutlery to 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 should wear the Indian uniform (a sari) when she joined the WRINS (Women’s Royal Indian Navy).

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 or suspicious about everything. She would find faults before praising. She would even find a tiny spot on a pristine white wall to reject it!

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 with disdain, barring Tamil and Malayalam (both South Indian languages) and she was especially critical of Hindi and Punjabi, both North Indian languages. She’d inform everyone that her mother tongue was English! Some of the everyday terms she’d use were typically Anglo-Indian ones which you’d hear only in those homes. 

The food would be South Indian preparations or continental or Chinese or Goan dishes. Peggy could be shy and took offense easily. She loved to sing and write poetry. Peggy could be quite immature, at times, and even as a grown woman she would compete with women much younger than her or be envious of them. Often considering them as adversaries when they didn’t even have the tiniest thought about competition in their minds.

As life took them 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 down the years 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. The three-in-one tale of Ma Mingalar, Padmini, and Peggy.

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. And I say that because I know, she never divulged any details to anyone for the simple reason that no one asked. No one was interested in her life to the point that they’d pester her with questions and facts, except my father, I suppose. I was the only one as curious as ever and wanted to know more.

I had 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 more than what she’d already told me. She didn’t tell much to anyone. My pestering exasperated her so much that I got scraps of the truth which I have presented here.

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 so took us along. At that time the Maharani was the Raj Mata or Rani Ma (queen-mother), the king had passed away and her son was the King. 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.”

“Even after so many years?”

“Yes,” was her firm reply.

“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 which 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 was 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 pain, and she could’ve owned her true identity and lived her life as the person she knew she was.

PS: Daddy had described her mother to me. Mrs. D’Sylva, her foster mother, had shown him a photograph of her. Daddy also tried to find out more about her grandfather and had made a trip to Rangoon. But he was advised not to pursue the matter and to go back. According to him there seemed to be a veiled threat under that seemingly mild advice. He even told me that my elder sister resembled my mother’s real mother quite a bit.

Across The Bridge – very short stories

From the archives! This one is loosely based on a true story told to me by a colleague. I’ve added some and embellished it with my own imagination.

Anna awoke from her sleep with a start. She sat up in bed. She was drenched in perspiration and her breathing was heavy. The dream was recurring more frequently these days. Teresa was by her side in an instant.

“What is it memsahib” she asked. “Is it the dream?”

“Yes, the same bridge with turbulent waters flowing beneath, and I stood looking longingly at the dreamland on the other side, but was too scared to go across. I was trembling all over.

Pic: Ronaldo de Oliveira. Unsplash

“Don’t worry memsahib,” Teresa said, and gave her a glass of water and tucked her in.

The next day, Anna woke up to exceedingly good news. Rhea, her granddaughter, was coming from Singapore. She had met Rhea for the first time the previous year. She was twenty-three, bright and vivacious. Anna’s son had married and settled in Singapore. She had met her daughter-in-law just once, when Deepak brought his newly wedded wife to meet his family. After that Deepak too was an infrequent visitor.

Anna was ecstatic. She flitted around tidying up her little room and even took extra care in choosing her clothes and doing her hair. Teresa was happy to see her memsahib looking so nice. It had been a long time since Anna had taken interest in herself.

Anna was born into an affluent family. She was the only child and her parents doted on her. Every little wish of hers became their command, till she turned seventeen. Anna fell in love with a boy her parents didn’t approve of, but she stubbornly stood her ground, and they relented quite reluctantly. Anna’s hopes of continuing her college education were cut short when she became pregnant a month after the wedding. By eighteen she was a mother; at twenty-one, she lost both her parents in an accident, and on her twenty-fifth birthday, she became a widow.

According to the custom of her in-laws’ community, she was forbidden to wear bright colors or jewelry, and she could not participate in any celebrations. And according to superstition, she was considered unlucky. Her husband dying on her birthday made things worse. There was talk about it being a punishment for this ‘interfaith’ marriage. “Manhoos” (bad luck) was what they branded her. She was shifted to two small rooms in the outhouse attached to the servant’s quarters. However, Deepak, her son, was made to stay in the main house and was brought up by his uncle.

This was when Anna realized her folly in not paying heed to her parents’ objections to her marriage outside their religion and culture. Deepak grew apart from his mother and the chasm widened when he was sent to study abroad. If it hadn’t been for Teresa, Anna would have landed up in an asylum. Teresa had been sent to her by her parents, to look after Deepak. But God had other plans and Teresa became Anna’s caregiver.

Anna couldn’t forgive her in-laws for what they had done. She was angry and thought God had given up on her too. The only person she met or spoke to was Teresa. Sometimes someone from the house would come to meet her, but she wouldn’t talk to them. Soon even these visits stopped. Then Rhea came into her life like a bright ray of sunshine. Whenever she came on business trips, she visited her and she’d spend most of her time with Anna whom she called Dadi (father’s mother). She was pained to see how Anna had been treated by the other relatives and couldn’t understand why her father did not take his mother out of this pathetic living condition. She had left with promises that she would do something if no one else did.

Anna kept looking at the clock on the wall. Time was dragging its feet! She was annoyed. She was excited. She was waiting eagerly for her beloved granddaughter. What if she didn’t show up?

The sound of a car, a honk, followed by the sound of footsteps, perked her up.

“Dadi, I’m back,” announced Rhea hugging Anna tightly. Wasting no time in further chit chat or pleasantries, she turned to Teresa, “Pack up Dadi’s things. Oh, and yours too,” she added.

“Why missy baby?” asked Teresa.

“Because you are coming to live with me too. I’ve joined a firm here and shifted base and I’m taking my darling Dadi with me.”

There was hardly anything to pack so it wasn’t long before they were in the car and speeding along to their new home. Anna closed her eyes and relaxed. And once again she was at the bridge, but this time she was not alone. Boldly she put her hand into her Maker’s hand and crossed the bridge.

“Dadi, wake up. We’ve arrived.”

Anna opened her eyes and smiled, Yes my child we have indeed, she said. What’s that line you quoted the last time you were here?

“If you hug to yourself any resentment against anybody else, you destroy the bridge by which God would come to you,” repeated Rhea.

“Ah, a wise head on such young shoulders,” and she kissed Rhea tenderly.

Joy Clarkson

(This was first published on FaithWriters.com in a series of stories between 2006-2009)

The White Charade – very short stories

Pic by FotoSleuth;cropped and plates blurred by uploader Mr.choppers – Daihatsu Charade CX G11, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=150386

Another one from the archives. The idea for this one came about when I saw a Charade on the road and someone commented on the choice of name; what it meant and why on earth would a car company give it to their car! I clubbed it with news that I had read about some time back. I’ve edited it a bit.

The white car turned the corner at break-neck speed with a screech of tires. The two young men inside guffawed as people walking on the road jumped to the side, in a reflex action of safety. A dog scooted out of the path of that speeding machine saving itself by a hair’s breadth. This remote village seemed to have been shaken out of a stupor, as some people came out and others peeked through barred windows and half-open doors. It took exactly five seconds for the cacophony to erupt.

Abuses, opinions, comments, observations, laughter, dog barks all vying to be heard one above the other. And as suddenly as it started it stopped, and the village returned to its torpid life. Two weeks later, the car drove through the village again, and there was a middle-aged woman beside the young man who was driving. They didn’t seem to be in a hurry as they drove along surveying the houses and the occupants who were curiously and unashamedly staring at them. This time however the vehicle failed to draw much attention and except for a few children who ran alongside grinning at the occupants, there was no stir.

And then they were gone. Sitting inside the car, Bibi looked back at the receding village and said to the young man at the wheel, “Darsheel, it’s perfect for what I have in mind.”

It wasn’t long before Bibi, Darsheel, and the white car became a common sight in the village. So why would two slick, seemingly sophisticated, and obviously rich people come to this god-forsaken village? That was soon revealed when Bibi took a small place on rent and set up an employment agency for domestic help called, Mercy Domestic Solutions ( MDS). She also had a small training center, where she taught the girls and women, who had registered with her, how to speak, behave, and how to handle housework in a city.

The first batch of workers was ready in three months, and they were taken away to a city very far from their homes. But there was no apprehension as Bibi and Darsheel were a constant presence in the village and they had earned the trust of the people. Soon money began to pour into the homes of those who had gone out. The poor sleepy hamlet was fast becoming a busy place as proper stone houses replaced the mud huts and shops and other small businesses mushroomed.

By this time Bibi and Darsheel had left the village after having appointed a local boy named Gulaba, whom they had trained, to carry on the work. Once every month Darsheel would visit to check on the work and deliver the cash to the families.

Bicycles had been replaced with scooters or motorbikes and the village even boasted of two cars! They were progressing very fast in material terms and the simple folk were not as apathetic as they used to be. They had established a link with the outside world through their people and knew a lot more about where the rest of the world was going and they liked what they heard.

The morning was breaking and the silence of slumber was broken by the chirping of birds and sounds of human activity. The village was slowly stirring to life. But today’s awakening was not to be a slow surfacing to consciousness as the roar of jeeps shattered the pastoral quietude. In a moment policemen were crawling all over the place. A loud banging on Gulaba’s door brought a bleary-eyed youngster out.

“Are you the Manager of Mercy Domestic Solutions?” they asked him.

“Yes Sir, I am,” said a flustered Gulaba. In answer, handcuffs were slapped on his wrists.

“What’s wrong? Why are you handcuffing me? What have I done?”

His queries were cut short as a constable dealt him a blow on his calves, with a baton. At the Police Station, based on Gulabas’s statement and those of the families whose children were employed by MDS, inquiries were underway for a white car, a Charade, that fit the description and carried the number plate of the one that was used by Bibi.

“What has happened?” asked an old villager.

“Don’t pretend old one,.” hissed a constable.

“From where has all this wealth come from?” queried another. “Your grandfather didn’t leave it to you!”

“Your children are sex workers in the city,” sneered a constable. “You should not trust outsiders you do not know. Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing!

Just then another picks up the ringing phone and shouts out, “Sir! They’ve found Bibi and Darsheel, and the car. It’s a white Charade.”

——————————————————————————————————————–

Joy Clarkson. (This story was first published on FaithWriters.com in 2006-2009)

Charade: an empty or deceptive act or pretense

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!

saksham-gangwar-sTp-dDBc4Xw-unsplash

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)

Doodling

“Do you have hands? Excellent. That’s a good start. Can you hold a pencil? Great. If you have a sketchbook, open it and start by making a line, a mark, wherever. Doodle.”~Chris Riddell

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“Why do you carry such a big handbag when you go for a walk?” said my son rather disapprovingly.

“Why? What’s wrong if I do?” I countered, a bit surprised.

“Just saying,” he replied shrugging his shoulders and raising his eyebrows.

“I carry some things with me when I go for a walk. I need a roomy bag to accommodate them” was my matter-of-fact answer.

My bag gets a bit heavier when I take along one or two of my #granddaughters with me. Added to my diary/journal, pen, iPad, and other knick-knacks, I also carry a game or two that we play: Spot It! and Caterpillar, and loose notepapers and pencils (even a few color pencils) because I make up writing games with the elder one, Aly. Our walks usually have a break at Tim Hortons. I love the place and can while away hours writing or reading if I’m alone and not having #funwiththekids.

“A part of my design and inspiration ethos is that I carry around a leather notebook and I sketch in it, doodle in it, write notes in it, and I put pictures in it.”~John Varvatos

One of the activities Aly loves is #doodling. At times, unintentionally, it becomes specific and more about designing. I set the timer to 1 minute and 15 seconds, and one of us chooses a word and we start doodling to make the word an attractive design. She’s nine and very good with her drawing and imagination.

Here are some of the ones we’ve done. All were done within the time limit and some even before the timer alarm went off. After comparing and complimenting each other, we shaded in some undone areas, but there was no addition or subtraction to the basic drawing.

She’s really amazing. Considering she had no time to think up something and she completed each one in time, she certainly has talent. I’m not saying that because she’s my granddaughter! See for yourself, I’ve added names so you can tell Alyssa’s from mine.

“It just comes out of my subconscious. If you asked me to draw you a doodle, I couldn’t do it.”~Lois Frankel

 WIN

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LOVE

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VIBES

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CHILL

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 KIDS

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 HOPE

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 CARE

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This one wasn’t a part of our timed #challenges, although we did them just as quickly as we did the others. This was done recently after we finished many different forms of word games and were relaxing with ‘doodh chai’ (extra milky tea) for her and a regular tea for me. Oatmeal raisin cookies boosted our energy 🙂

“I love jotting down ideas for my blog, so I doodle or take notes of all kinds of stuff that inspires me: the people I meet, boutiques I visit, a florist that just gave me a great idea for an interior design project, things like that.”~Maria Sharapova

 

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Miriam James

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Miriam was born in 1900, in a small town in Punjab. Her mother, a widow, had converted to Christianity before her birth. I do not recall her mother’s name, but since Miriam went as Miriam Shaw, I guess I’ll just call her mother Mrs. Shaw!

Mrs. Shaw must have been a forward-thinking woman, an exception in that era when girls, in India, in most cases, were not allowed a formal education. Although she was illiterate, she was intelligent. She had a family to support and while she wasn’t poor; she was not a lady of ample means either.

To augment her income, she lent out money; loaning money at a fixed interest. She kept meticulous accounts although she had never been to school. Miriam was fortunate to be born to such a woman.

Mrs. Shaw decided that her daughter would have a good education. She sent her to study at a boarding school in Andrew’s Ganj in Delhi. Miriam completed her Matriculation there. Having studied in Delhi, she learned English too. This was an asset as her children learned the language even though they studied in small town Government Schools in Punjab.

Miriam’s education also served in getting her an educated husband. She married Bernard James, a teacher in a government school. Teachers, in those days, were highly respected members of society, especially in small towns. (And Bernard went on to become a senior teacher).

Their position as teachers also ensured that their larders always overflowed with the offerings and gifts of grateful parents and students. It would have been very rude to refuse the gifts of grain, ghee (clarified butter), fruit, farm-fresh vegetables which they brought to the home of the teacher. This was “Guru Dakshina,” a gift of gratitude from a student to a teacher and not a bribe for favors of any kind. It was unthinkable to attribute any such base motive to these gifts.

Miriam and Bernard had ten children; five boys and five girls. Owing to her mother’s precedent of not discriminating against the girl child, all of Miriam’s daughters had a sound education too along with their brothers. The eldest daughter joined the Army; Women’s Auxiliary Corps – India (WACI) in the forties. Two younger ones became teachers, and both retired as Headmistresses. One died young, and the fifth didn’t work opting to marry a Naval officer and be a housewife.

After Bernard became a senior teacher in the Government High School, he moved to Mission Schools. He rose to the post of Inspector of Schools (mission schools). Their second child, Jason, was my father.

Miriam was a woman of substance. She had grit, determination, strength, perseverance, and all this coupled with her pragmatism made her one formidable force. To understand how progressive she was and how adept at adapting, I will have to recount this story I would make her tell me over and over again when I was a little girl.

Grandpa would be out of town often when he was on an inspection tour. This left Grandma alone with the children, and not safe and secure as their house stood by an orchard on one side and fields on the other. Times were a-changing and petty crimes like thefts were on the rise. Grandpa had already dealt with a few attempts of thieves to scale the boundary wall on the orchard side. But Grandma didn’t scare easy. She didn’t fret and rose to the occasion.

To protect the home and family, she devised a plan to have Grandpa always at home! Since keeping him back physically was not possible, it had to be a ruse. Whenever he went on a tour, that night, Grandma would wear his “pagri” (turban), light the “hookah” (hubble-bubble) and sit up through the night until daybreak, smoking the hookah.

She hoped that the glow of the embers and the silhouette of a turbaned person would mislead anyone peering over the wall into believing it was a man. However, one day, some daring men decided to take on the ‘lone man’. Bad idea!

Grandma, ever alert, heard the sounds of furtive movement and whispered voices behind the wall. Thieves! Before they could get a hold on the top of the wall and heave themselves up, she was waiting and ready, armed with a big, thick “lathi.” The moment the first head appeared over the edge of the wall, she struck with all her strength and let out a full-throttled war cry! This sudden, ferocious attack not only took the men by surprise but also woke up my father and his elder brother.

Although they were in their early teens, both were tall and had robust physiques. They were quick to gauge the scene. Both were on top of the wall in a jiffy with lathis (stout sticks used for self-defence in India) hurling warnings and threats of dire consequences at the retreating backs of the thieves.

There were two outcomes from this strategy: There were no more attempts at theft and, Grandma became a regular hookah smoker!

 

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This is an Arabic hookah and not the kind my grandparents smoked. Theirs had a clay cup for tobacco and a brass water compartment at the bottom to hold the water. I couldn’t find a pic of the ones that were in Punjab at the time.

 

From then on, it became a common sight to see her puffing away at her hubble-bubble, not only in the night but in broad daylight too. She and Grandpa always had their lighted hookah between them and would take puffs alternately while they chit-chatted or shared their silences. I had the privilege to see them like this when we moved from the city and returned to our town. I was just a girl, but it impacted me.

It was such a wonderful sight to see. So much of togetherness oozed out of these moments. That grandma never felt the need to smoke the hookah in hiding and indulged in her newly formed habit with undisguised enjoyment, speaks volumes about her zest for life.

In pre-independence, rural India, Miriam was a rare gem in her class.

“To all those who care, You can’t forever. 
Time steals the years, And your reflection in the mirror.
But I can still see the story in your eyes, And your timeless passion that’s never died.
While your skin became tired, Your heart became strong,
The present became the past, And your memories like a song.
And though the moment at hand is all that we have, 
You’ve taught me to live it like it is our last.
Since two words don’t say ‘thank you’ the way they are meant to,
I’ll try all my life to be something like you.” -Crystal Woods

 

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Just A Girl

Mother, Oh ! Mother, please send me to school

With books, bag and pencils and a wooden footrule .

Then I too like brother shall add two and two-

And read all your letters

Like the village Postmen do.

I’m tired of rolling out flour every day

Of milking the cow and cutting the hay.

Oh ! daughter, my daughter, I would send you there

If you were a boy, my son and an heir

Stay shut in your oyster, hush bridegroom’s pearl-

Because oh ! my daughter you are only a girl.

 

 

NOTE: In India, even today, in the remote areas and villages girls face discrimination. They are not educated and often malnourished . Child marriages are still a reality in some states. This poem speaks of this.

*I wrote this many years ago when ‘snail mail’ was the only sort of mail we had and postmen delivered mail at the door. Hence the mention of a “Postman.” They are a rarity these days.

The Little Joys of Grannyhood

I have always enjoyed my conversations with my grand-daughter, who is now four. The other day she wanted to Face Time with me and she sat down and talked about many things: her best friend, her baby sister who will be born next month and so on and so forth. She calls me Daadi. All of a sudden she changed course and asked me:

“Where is my Papa’s papa?”
“He’s in heaven, Aly.”
“Is he with Jesus papa?” She refers to Jesus that way quite often.
“Yes, he’s in heaven with Jesus papa.”
“But why did he have to go to heaven?” Aly hasn’t seen her grandfather (Daada)
I wasn’t sure how I should answer that. She knows he died when her papa was a boy. So I wasn’t sure about what she wanted to know. I guessed she was asking why he had to go so soon.
“I think Jesus wanted him in heaven for a reason. So he had to go.”
“He did? So, now is my papa’s papa my Jesus papa?”

Where did that come from? I wondered. I guessed she must have seen garlanded photographs of parents who’ve passed away, in her Hindu friends’ homes, where the family pays obeisance to them and presumed that dead parents become gods.

“No Aly, he’s still your papa’s papa, your Dada, who’s in heaven with Jesus.”
“Okay,” she said thoughtfully, then added, “Does he miss me?”

Oh! that wrenched my heart. I wanted to hug her, she looked so sweet, as she gazed at me on the screen, waiting anxiously for an answer.

“Sweetheart, he does. He misses you a lot and is so happy when he looks down and sees you.”

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Her face lit up and she beamed a 1000 watt smile across the miles that lit up my heart and soul.
The joys of being a grandma are indescribable. Ever so often Aly says or does something that bursts upon me with the joy of life; of living: the joy of inexplicable blessings!

 

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