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!


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. 



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)


“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

Doodles (8)

“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


Doodles (2)



Doodles (3)



Doodles (4)



Doodles (5)



Doodles (6)






Doodles (7)

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






Miriam James


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!



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



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.”


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!