The Collaborator

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I bring you another one from my journals. This incident also centers in the period of war with Pakistan in 1965. Refer: My Sister Makes A Wish!

We were well into a full-fledged war with Pakistan. And placed where we were; close to an important main road and the railway line that was coming under fire. It was unnerving. Take a seat and come with me to a town in Punjab.

 

1965

It was all about location. We were between two prime targets, the GT Road and the railway line, both of which were the main transit lines for military equipment, troops etc. to reach the northern borders where the fighting was fiercely on. And as mentioned in my earlier post, we weren’t too far from the Air Force base.

For some time we were sitting ducks for stray bombs that missed the target. I didn’t know whether I should applaud or cry… a miss was good for the country but bad for us! Then the bombs began to fall farther away from us but closer to the targets. Fortunately, none caused any major damage.

But this story is not about the fighting. It’s about another side of a war.

One house away from ours lived an elderly couple. The gentleman was known by his sobriquet, Mr. Major. I never learned what his real name was. In fact, I wonder if anyone even remembered it. He liked to be called Major which wasn’t his name, but his rank in the Salvation Army! I’m not sure if anyone ever ‘retires’ from the SA, but he was no longer an active member.

He and his wife, a soft-spoken little lady, lived a quiet life in a small house. They had a patch of green in the front, where they grew flowers and a vegetable patch behind, where he grew amazingly huge snake gourds among other vegetables.

We never met them socially. However, there were cordial exchanges now and then over their garden hedge and our boundary wall. A vacant plot separated our houses.

When the war broke out, the authorities solicited security measures through citizen awareness and participation. Daddy and Uncle Johnny were a part of this special group. They had to inform the people in our residential area about certain things, like how to observe total blackout, and what the “shoot at sight” order meant. This was when we met him and his wife for the first time. 

I remember the day Daddy and Uncle returned from a meeting with the authorities in charge of vigilance, security, law, and order. Both looked serious. Along with a few others, they had been given the authority to challenge suspicious persons and shoot-at-sight, if necessary.

Daddy and uncle had defense service backgrounds, they owned firearms too; including the Carbine; a semi-automatic rifle. So they gave the authority to shoot-at-sight to them.

For the first time, we saw the rifles coming out for a purpose other than ‘shikaar’. It was unnerving. I watched as they checked the rifles and counted the ammunition.

“Will you really shoot a man?” I asked Johnny uncle who had been a gunner on INS Betwa, a Type 41 Leopard-class Frigate; had seen action against the Portuguese in the liberation of Goa, and was a crack-shot in this family that loved shikaar.

“Yes, Bina, if he doesn’t come clean. In war, we shoot the enemy. But you don’t worry your head about it. We’re here and you are safe. Nothing will happen.” He had spoken too soon.

Something did happen.

From then on, Uncle took up position, every night, on the roof of our house with the carbine. Our house had an elevated structure on the roof and this provided a better and farther view of the terrain around us. Sandbags had been placed around as fortification. Daddy patroled the boundary of the two houses; ours and my grandparents’. He carried a 202 rifle. Grandma would also be with him. She refused to get into the trench even when an air attack was on. Except for one occasion (read here)My Sister Makes A Wish!, I never saw either of them in the trench. A few nights passed without incident. Just as I began to relax, it happened.

One night, I heard Uncle loudly challenging someone. I rushed out of the house only to be hastily sent back with stern orders to get inside and stay in and away from the windows and doors. Uncle informed Daddy and Grandma that there was someone in the field behind our house with a lighted cigarette. It was a dark night, and the glow was bright and clearly visible.

He called out a warning. No response.

“If you don’t come out,” he shouted again, “I’m going to shoot.”

There was still no movement or response. As Uncle prepared to shoot, Grandma intervened.

“Wait!” she shouted, “Give him another warning.” 

“I’m counting to three, you have been warned.” He began a slow count… “One… two… ”

NO,” bellowed a voice. A dark shadowy figure rose from the field.

“Raise your hands. Who are you?” shouted Daddy, his rifle cocked and ready.

“Major.”

“Get out here, you bloody S&*%#. And keep your hands up,” swore Uncle.

While Daddy kept his rifle aimed at Major, Uncle made his way down from his lookout post on the roof. By the time Major had walked to a few meters from the rear boundary wall of our house, he was down and ready for him.

Major begged and pleaded with both the men who weren’t satisfied with his explanation of what he was doing in the field with a lighted cigarette when it was a blackout. Twice, Uncle lost his cool and raised the rifle. Twice, Grandma asked him to wait and make doubly sure that he was doing the right thing.

Major had said that he had gone to the field to answer the call of nature! This reason fell flat as their house had an attached toilet. He explained this away with the excuse that his wife was in the bathroom and he had an upset tummy. He kept crying and giving all kinds of silly reasons for not answering when challenged. He was lucky that Grandma was there.

If it hadn’t been for her, he would have been shot that night. But he went home alive. Daddy and Uncle were not convinced that he was innocent; Grandma was not convinced that he was guilty. The jury was divided 2:1.

She kept telling her sons that rural folks differ from city people. They react differently, think differently, and this was a unique situation where one couldn’t expect them to fully comprehend the emergency conditions and the implications of their actions. One should not judge them by a city yardstick, she cautioned.

They resumed their positions on the roof and at the rear boundary wall. But Uncle was on high alert. He suspected something was very wrong. The night wore on. All was quiet. Suddenly, gunshots filled the air as bullets whizzed through the air, barely missing Uncle. He was ever alert and retaliated with a few shots. There was a cry of pain; he had hit someone. The attack stopped as suddenly as it had started. There was the sound of feet thudding through the field.

A heavy silence descended. Before anyone could gather their wits, the siren went off and planes zoomed through a night sky that was dotted with red blobs of tracers and the glow of the sporadic anti-aircraft fire. That was a tense night; the biggest concern being, the security of the family.

We had encountered saboteurs!

When had they landed? Where had they landed? Speculation was that it would have been either before Major was spotted in the field or while he was being questioned. Uncle was sure he had hit one of them.

In the morning, a reconnaissance of the place from where the men had fired at us revealed the tracks of four people and signs that someone or something had been dragged. This incident was reported to the police but nothing about Major was mentioned. He had the benefit of the doubt.

As the events of the night were analyzed with police inputs collected from the inspection of the area, it became clear that the saboteurs knew where to shoot. They knew that the more dangerous weapon was on the roof and the lookout provided a better view of the area. Also, the ‘something’ that was dragged was a body. The police had found a bloody trail too. This gave Uncle and Daddy some consolation.

Slowly, some other truths began to trickle in.

We were informed through anonymous sources that Major was a non-smoker and his wife wasn’t at home that night he was caught in the field. In fact, she hadn’t been home since the war broke out. Also, this wasn’t the first time he had gone into the fields with a lighted cigarette. He used different locations. We were shocked to learn that on a previous night, saboteurs had landed quite close to our residential area.

But it was too late. This information was of no use to us. Major had disappeared, and the house remained closed for a long time. They had been private people, and no one knew where their roots lay; family, friends and general information was nil. The police found no clues to their whereabouts.

Grandma felt awful… not because she had saved a traitor, but that her intuition had been so off the mark! Each one had their own takeaways from this incident. She’d keep saying, “How could I have been so wrong in my judgment of character? Mere ko bewakoof bana diya us Major ne aur uski aurat bhi!”

Mine was the intense fear coupled with a sharp sense of adventure. I had clutched my baby brother close while I munched my way through a bottle of dry fruit that my mother had kept in a makeshift shelter in our half-built house. (it was under construction when the war broke out).

My fear manifested itself when I slept, in nightmares. I’d run around wildly shouting things like, “They’re coming… the bombers are coming!” Or “Look… look the sky is full of bombs. They’re falling!”  Then, Grandma would catch hold of me and gently take me to her bed, all the while soothing me with soft talk. That always calmed me down. In the morning, I’d have no recollection of it and would not believe that I had done that in the night! 🙂

Holding my brother protectively made me brave; I forgot my own fear. Eating… I don’t know how that helped!!

When a ceasefire was declared, I welcomed it with mixed feelings. A big relief, no doubt, but now, I’d have to go to school!

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Glossary:

Shikaar…. hunting

Shikaari... hunter 

Bina… Uncle called me by this name. He pronounced ‘i’ with a short vowel sound.

Mere ko bewakoof bana diya us Major ne aur uski aurat bhi!”… The Major and his wife made a fool of me!

GT Road…The Grand Trunk Road (commonly abbreviated to GT Road) is one of South Asia’s oldest and longest major roads. For several centuries, it has linked the eastern and Western regions of the Indian subcontinent, running from Bengal, across north India, into Peshawar in Pakistan. Today, the Grand Trunk remains a continuum that covers a distance of over 2,500 km. Within India, the major portion of the road – the stretch between Kanpur and Kolkata – is known as NH 2 (National Highway 2),  the stretch between Kanpur and Delhi is called NH-91, and that between Delhi and Wagah, at the border with Pakistan, is known as NH-1. Between Delhi and Muzaffarnagar is National Highway 58 which further goes to Dehradoon.

 

 

 

 

 

A Prophecy & A Bowl of Butternut Soup

“When you say something or sing something enough times, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s almost as casting spells. I don’t mean in the necessarily flighty, ‘I’m going to buy a cloak with a hood now, way.'” –Feist

I don’t shush predictions and ‘prophecies’ if they’re made sincerely and by a person whom I trust not to be dramatic or religiously overenthusiastic! My mother-in-law was such a person who wouldn’t make much of hocus-pocus prophecies. But here’s one prophecy that gave me many thoughtful, doubtful moments before I found what to believe.

Once more, I dig up a story from my journal. Meet Rosaline Thomas, my MIL.

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The Prophecy

I discovered two things in the past few days: First, the truth of a prophecy, that’s such a biblical word, but then, I guess it fits in this case and the second, the deliciousness of a butternut squash soup.

To my mind, butternut squash is a variety of ‘kadu’ aka a pumpkin in India. I like kadu as a vegetable, cooked Indian style. I also like the kadu halwa (a dessert) my mother used to make. A laborious task which she’d undertake after I’d begged her almost on my knees! So, when my daughter-in-law said she would make a butternut squash soup for dinner, I balked.

I could imagine a kadu mashed up in a soup, what I just couldn’t imagine was me drinking it. She reassured me it was yummmm… yes, she stretched the yumminess. I thought it was simply to psych me into drooling. Only the night would tell.

But I’ve meandered. To come back to the prophecy.

Once upon a time, as stories began when I was a kid, my mother-in-law, who I shall refer to as Ma Rose going forward, told me about a lady who would visit the family home in Barmer; very often out of the blue.

She was a very religious woman; old but healthy and mobile and with the gift to predict things. These things she predicted were referred to as prophecies because she was anchored in the faith. On one such unexpected visit, she told Ma Rose that she would die when one member of Ma’s family would go into the Lord’s service. She made this prophecy some years before I heard it from Ma.

Both Ma and I contemplated the meaning of this. Not because it was hard to understand the prophecy, but because we couldn’t find more than one promising candidate who qualified as a servant for the Lord’s work in the future.

This person, one of her grandsons, was a teenager then. He was quite keen on listening to Ma Rose’s religious talks and was a regular churchgoer. In short, totally religious unlike all the other youngsters his age. But as time went by, our hope in him diminished. I told Ma Rose that the old lady must have been a bit off the mark this time. She refused to accept that. I shut up. Just my mouth, not my thoughts! 

Then came the day when one of the granddaughters, her daughter’s child, decided to marry a boy who was all set to become a priest. Ah! The prophetic words resurfaced in our conversations with renewed strength. Ma told me, rather triumphantly, that the old girl was not off the mark. We were off the mark! We hadn’t thought of the girls.

Now, one was going into the Lord’s service and the time for the prophecy to come true was drawing near. It made me uncomfortable to discuss Ma’s demise, in the near future with her (she tended to make it nearer than it was) in such an objective manner. So I tried to drill holes in her theory. For quite obvious reasons, it was clear her enthusiasm to prove the old lady right had blinded her to the fact that her grandchild was not going into the Lord’s service. She was only going to marry someone who was going to serve in the church.

But Queen Victoria, as I and my hubby would refer to her in private, could not be influenced or side-tracked so easily.

“It’s the same thing,” she said with regal finality that discouraged all arguments. Again I zipped my lip and only my lip!

Ma Rose passed away a few years later. Her said grandchild’s husband changed direction. The priest moved out of pastoring a flock and became the head of a Bible College instead while she continued her teaching job. Ma Rose had gone, but the prophecy and its veracity remained a point of thought. It didn’t fit in, not to my mind at least. The pieces didn’t fall into place so the picture wasn’t complete. At least not in the way she had thought it was.

Many years later, I learned that the only other granddaughter, her son’s child, had become a pastor! The pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I will have to take the story further to complete the picture.

This grandchild, who I’ll refer to as ‘R’, was a simple girl with no college education. She was brought up, mainly, in a small town. She stayed at home and did the domestic chores. Later, she did a beautician’s course and worked in a cosmopolitan city. But that career was short-lived. She returned to her small town home and domesticity. I remembered ‘R’ as a lively, witty girl but not inclined to intellectual pursuits. So hearing she was heading a church in a big city, came as a huge surprise.

Anyway, this news soon got buried with so many other things piling up, it no longer held my attention. But not for long. For some unknown reason, my thoughts back-tracked to the prophecy again; to Ma Rose and to the many conversations we’d had over the years. And I had a eureka moment! Stay with me a wee bit longer, as even now, I have to catch my breath by the revelation.

On the last night, before she died, Ma Rose was talking to ‘R’. It was getting late, past midnight, so ‘R’ told her to rest and try to sleep. Ma agreed and asked her to put her hand in hers. She held ‘R’s hand and closed her eyes. After some time, ‘R’ went off to sleep with her hand in her grandmother’s hand.

When she awoke, her hand was still in Ma’s hand only Ma’s hand was cold. Very cold. Ma had passed away peacefully in her sleep, and in passing on had also passed on the prophecy to the most unlikely person in her family!

I had been off the mark; disinclined to believe without the shadow of doubt. She had believed implicitly. Five months after Ma Rose died, ‘R’ was married to a widower with two sons. This was the first step towards the fulfillment of the prophecy and building a new relationship with Jesus.

The marriage, from what I heard, became a bit rocky. Whatever happened, it made ‘R’ turn to the church and God in a way she had never dwelt on the Word before. The thing is that the most unlikely person was chosen to do God’s work. She became a pastor.

Now I understand. It was a prophecy… it holds its aura… it holds that strength and firmness… it holds that belief!

Phew! Talk about soup for the soul!

The Butternut Squash Soup

And here comes the butternut squash soup. I peeked into the pan as M, my daughter-in-law, stirred the creamy, lovely, sunshine yellow broth around. I have to admit, it was inviting. Not a reaction I had expected. Soon, I was impatient to taste it.

She took her time cooking it just right, pouring it into the cups, dropping in the croutons… and I took the first spoonful. Yummmmmm…….I went… Had I been psyched?!!

Here’s the picture of the first cup of ‘kadu’ soup that made me a die-hard fan and advocate of its goodness. I am a new butternut squash soup nut! For my Indian friends; it’s just another kind of ‘kadu’ in a soup made with an Indian touch. 🙂

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My Sister Makes A Wish!

“If you are a dreamer come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A hoper, a pray-er, a magic-bean-buyer,

If you’re a pretender come sit by my fire

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin,

Come in!

Come in!”

Shel Silverstein

 

They say, ‘if wishes were horses beggars would ride.’ Not always, I say. Getting a wish sometimes isn’t quite the “beggar’s horse ride.”

My sister made a wish… and she got it! It all started as a game and became a terrifying reality. But I must start at the beginning.

Daddy had decided to put in his papers and take an early, premature retirement. Premature it was; he was only forty-five and had a long way to go. But his heart was set on dedicating his time totally to evangelism.

So in 1965, he left the service and we moved to his hometown in Punjab. He was going home; we were going to Never Land! Of course, the descriptions differed in each of our minds. I am not sure what Never Land signified for my siblings, for me, it was rich in every way: experiences, adventure, fantasy, challenges, and fun.

My eldest sister didn’t fancy it much I guess because as soon as she completed her Senior Cambridge, she came to the “village” from the boarding school in the hills, and dashed off to Delhi to train as a nurse. Daddy wanted her to join the college in Ludhiana and get her Bachelor’s degree. She didn’t want to stay in Punjab. She had mummy’s support and she joined her nurse’s training course in a hospital in the capital city.

This left four of us kids (my younger brother had arrived by then) with Grandpa, Grandma, Mummy, Daddy, the cattle; cow and buffalo, chickens, rabbits and a dog named Tommy; fruit trees, open spaces, and rolling fields around us.

It was a marvelous new life for my elder brother and me because we had no school to attend (the new session and admissions would start in two months), and we spent the whole day exploring the surroundings. Shooting at pigeons and whatever flew or ran or crawled with our catapults!

I don’t remember how my elder sister spent most of her time, but there were rare occasions when she would join us to spend the afternoons in our treetop getaway. We would carry up some books, a few munchies with lemonade, and while away the lazy afternoons swaying gently in our hammocks that were way up the tree! We had to climb up a ladder placed against the trunk of the Tali tree to get to the hammocks.

Looking back, I admit, it was dicey! Climbing from the ladder into a swaying hammock more than eight feet from the ground wasn’t safe. I was barely ten years old then. Anyway, life was different then. Kids played and survived many outdoor games and activities; things parents wouldn’t allow their kids to do now.

To get back to the story, on one such rare day, the three of us were sitting around in the vegetable garden behind our house and sharing our wildest dreams, wishes, and fantasies. As we tried to outdo ourselves in our imaginings; she blurted out that she would love to see two planes right above us in active combat. My brother and I guffawed. We knew she was right off her track because she wasn’t into these sorts of imaginings. She was very ‘girlie-girlie’ and didn’t dream of such stuff. Besides, we were not at war with anyone. However, we agreed that she had indeed outdone us in ‘bizarre’.

Not much later, we heard the roar of planes and looked up. It wasn’t unusual to see these fighter planes in practice sorties, as the Air Force base wasn’t far in airspace terms. There were two Gnats chasing a plane we couldn’t identify. It was bigger than the Gnats. My brother and I were intrigued. By then, they were almost over us and he yelled.

“It’s an attack! Run! That’s a Pakistani plane. Look at the insignia.”

It happened in the twinkling of an eye. Before we could even digest what he was saying. The air was rent with staccato gunshots. I ran and hid behind a Jasmine bush nearby and watched. The other two stood transfixed and watched. There was a dogfight raging in the sky above us.

I can recall the feeling even today. It was all in the extreme… the fear, the excitement, and the amazement. Then, in front of our eyes, the Pakistani plane took a fatal shot and burst into flames. It careened wildly and began a wobbly descent, thankfully, away from ‘our’ airspace and crashed in a field close to where we were.

Our yelling had brought out my uncle who was on one of his breaks between joining ship again. He wouldn’t believe us because by then the plane had gone down, but the trail of black smoke convinced him. He ran out with the others who appeared from nowhere in an instant. We followed; my brother and I.

I was slower and lagged behind. My uncle who was way ahead, saw me coming and stopped me at a distance. All I saw was the plane burning with huge, angry flames, and a mob shouting and yelling curses and abuses at the dead pilot. It was a terrible sight. But not as terrible as what was to follow. We were at war with Pakistan.

I peered at my sister, later that night, when we were huddled in the trench and our town lay trembling as some flak from attacks on the Air Force base and the G.T highway strayed and fell around us. She smiled wanly. I knew she was thinking what I was thinking but I had to say it.

“Couldn’t you wish for something better,” I shouted to be heard through the cotton plugs in her ears.

She wouldn’t reply. Her teeth were clenched on the handkerchief in her mouth. I stuffed mine back into my mouth as Daddy yelled a warning. A bomb exploded two-hundred and fifty meters away.

This was just the beginning… 

 

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Chile Diary- 11

“Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is “timing,” it waits on the right time to act; for the right principles and in the right way.”-Fulton J. Sheen

Chapter 11 brought back the mixed feelings of that time when all plans began to fall apart. Hopelessness enshrouded me and I was at an all-time low. It also brings home the truth that although the plans were right, the timing was not! That’s why I had been not just nervous but “scared” too about moving.

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The building in the background is where the Company Guesthouse was.

 

The Chile Diary Chapter 11

Hitches and Glitches

I had many apprehensions about coming to live in Chile. I even recall repeating that I was scared. Unfortunately, the people I spoke to think in narrow grooves or are eager for fresh gossip. So everyone, without exception, wanted to know why I was “scared” to live with my son. I had not mentioned my son! The inference was wrong and born of deliberate misinterpretations.

I shook my head and smiled wondering how could they dig for gossip and create mountains out of non-existent mole-hills endlessly; year after year. But many people thrive on malicious, irresponsible natter.

I wanted to answer their queries but I could not understand why I was using such a strong term for my apprehensions. I wasn’t able to put my finger on the reason for my fear.

Why was I scared?

It isn’t in my nature to be scared of traveling to a new, unknown territory. Nervous, perhaps, but frightened? No! It was definitely too strong a word to describe what I was feeling about my pending travel.

I made sure to shoot down the insinuations and gave all the practical reasons I had to feel nervous about.

I was closing home in India. Everything I had worked for and built laboriously and lovingly through the years was gone. I would have no home to return to. No place to call my own. I had left myself bereft of all options. Wasn’t that a scary situation? It certainly did sound like one to some who agreed while others directed their minds elsewhere. But here’s the thing… I still wasn’t sure if this was the reason why I was scared!

One month later, with the benefit of hindsight, I realized it must have been intuition. (You can read about it here.) I had been begging Ranjit to let me stay in India for three or four months more. I wasn’t comfortable with the haste. There were many questions that were either not being answered to my satisfaction or answered too soon.

Four weeks later, of which three I’ve spent being in a refugee status, stressed and in nervous tension, I know why I was positively scared to come here. I’m isolated; physically, emotionally, spiritually… I cannot get through to my own.

But, surprisingly, the Chileans can feel my anxiety. They have been warm and supportive. Friends and strangers alike have extended encouraging moral support. Yet, Chile has been scary and terrifying in spite of the warmth and help extended by the hospitable people in Viña del Mar.

I want to fly out to Canada where my other son lives! That had been a part of my travel plans. In fact, I wanted to stay back longer in India to apply for my visa.

The latest information that was conveyed to me yesterday was that I wouldn’t be able to go to Canada from here. My return ticket had been booked by the company. So if I did not use it, my son would have to bear the cost of the same! He asked if the destination could be changed to Canada. They said it couldn’t.

Both my boys were okay with that thinking they would get my visa and I could meet my first and only grandchild in Canada. So bearing the cost of the cancellation didn’t seem to matter.

Before they conveyed their decision to the company, we found out that a particular document, necessary for my Canadian visa, was in the vernacular. We had to translate it in English and get it notarized by a government-certified notary. As luck would have it, I hadn’t submitted my visa application, yet. Thank God for that!

Getting a document translated from Hindi to English in Chile would have been impossible. At least now, I can think of returning to India! I’ll present my documents to the embassy there.

Many important details were not checked earlier making things difficult not only for me but the others too! I was to come here to settle for good as a dependent. Now, my son finds out that will not be possible as birth certificates of both mother and child must prove the biological relationship. This means that both the certificates must have the child’s name too.

Well, at the time of my birth and that of my sons, birth certificates did not carry the name of the child. Children, in India, were named formally only after a month or two. So it would mention a girl child or boy child born to so-and-so at such-and-such place, on such-and-such date and time. And this is how ours were too!

I’m sure I’ve made my point clear about my intuition of “scary” situations turning up with all the haste. I remember telling my son that they were “jumping to X, Y, Z before going through A, B, C.” Well, short-sightedness has taken its toll.

Granted the earthquake of this magnitude could not have been anticipated, but the quakes and tremors situation is constant. Problems coming up concerning me being left alone almost all the time should have been anticipated. The problem of language and communication should have been considered. My need for entertainment and company is real and should have been thought about. That I’d be a part of their outings, if not all the time, then quite often until I settled in properly was also an obvious given; a situation that should have been anticipated. These are predictable situations. Previous knowledge grants that this isn’t the best place to leave me alone at this time.

That’s the mood Saturday sees me in; despondent and disappointed. But one must go with the flow… always. I’m in God’s hands and though I might feel let down at times, that’s not the permanent attitude. My sons are trying to do the best they can and I appreciate all that they are doing. It’s just that they are too headstrong to listen to reason at times. I still have hope. God will show us the way where there seems to be no way… it’s only ten past one in the afternoon. I have a long day ahead of me!

That’s me venting and I’m done.

Early morning, Ranjit and I went to see the house on 15 Norte. It is beautiful. The houses here are on a rocky hill and made in the terraced style where the houses are built along the slope of the hill and do not rise up in one perpendicular block. So it seems to be a hill of jutting terraces and the terrace gardens add to the beauty.

Although it is smaller than the present apartment, it is well-planned to provide sufficient space for a neat living-dining room, a small but adequately-planned kitchen, two bedrooms, bathrooms, and a good-sized walk-in wardrobe. They have selected the furniture with taste keeping the limited space in mind. The best part of the house is the terrace in front. Location is also great; sea-facing, the view is simply amazing. But there are some hitches.

Like most rented apartments in this area, the apartment is on rent for only ten months; from March to December. This means another change of house at the end of the year. That’s the minor snag.

The major issue is, it’s on the 4th level. Being built on an incline, each level has more steps and more flights of stairs than the previous one, according to the floor they’re on; less on level one and more added as you progress to the higher levels. So this one is ruled out.

Back in the guesthouse, the other mom staying here was trying to ask me something. The only word I could comprehend was “problema.” 

What now, I thought while I threw up my hands and shook my head and smiled a helpless smile, hoping she’d understand that the only problem was that I couldn’t get a word of what she was saying.

She caught on and indicated that I should wait until she got her son, Mauricio, on the phone. Now I was sure she had a major problem and was keen to know if it involved me.

As it turned out, she was getting her friends over for lunch and wanted to know if that would be a problem for me. And, if necessary, she would call off the lunch. How considerate and kind of her to make that offer!

I told her son that since I was, at the time of speaking, a permanent fixture at the dining table, I’d be the problem to his mother and her friends. And since I was in the mood to write, I had no time limits. I could close shop in ten minutes or continue till the evening. So, if the group could carry on around me, it was fine with me. This brought an overly demonstrative response of gratitude from the mom who hugged and kissed me profusely!

Anyway, neither of us had to bother about it. The Indian group, comprising us, had a lunch of rajma-chawal and after a short nap left to pick up my track pants and buy some stuff for the house. The other mom’s guests hadn’t arrived until then! That’s when I learned that lunch ‘parties’ in Chile started very late… late afternoon; actually early evening! By the time I returned to the guesthouse at six in the evening the guests were leaving. What a relief!

I thought it had worked out fine for all concerned. But that was the forethought. Once again I have to remind you that ‘relief’ isn’t a long-term companion in Chile. I walked into the apartment to find there were still more people in the house and although I hoped against hope they would leave, they didn’t. 🙂 

But I didn’t mind that… much! (Read more about that here Chile Diary-12)

 

Glossary

Rajma…………… Rajma is red kidney beans. It’s cooked with spices and tomatoes to make a thick gravy dish which is usually eaten with rice.

Chawal………… rice.

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Glossary 

Rajma-chawal………….Rajma is red kidney beans cooked with spices and tomatoes to make a thick gravy which is usually eaten with rice (Chawal)

Chile Diary- 4

This day was as scary as the day of the big terremoto in Feb., even though it was lower on the Richter scale. It was bad because it came with warnings of a possible tsunami. What was worse… I was alone in the guesthouse and the kids were at their office in another town. It was not very far about twenty-five or thirty-minute drive away. But given the circumstances, the drive back took longer.

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Beautiful Viña del Mar

The Chile Diary… chapter 4, March 11-12

 

Terremoto y Tsunami

Two earthquakes in quick succession; first a 7.2 followed by a slightly smaller one measuring 6.9, sent me scurrying out of the guesthouse. With me were the other residents from the apartments above us. We stood gathered on the stairs not knowing whether to walk out of the swaying building or wait it out. The decision was taken out of our hands! 

Within minutes, the public address system blared out a tsunami alert! EVACUATE.

I didn’t know what to do. People began running, and all in one direction. I didn’t know why because I didn’t understand the announcements. I began walking down the sidewalk. It was a painful and slow walk. I was strapped with my back support. The collar supporting my neck was firmly in place as was the knee support around my right knee. The ’emergency bag’ which was rather heavy with; a change of clothes, passport and other documents, plus all my meds weighed me down. This emergency bag was always packed and ready and stood by the front door ever since the big one struck.

A young mother with her baby clutched tightly to her bosom spoke to me in rapid Spanish. I shook my head and said, “No español.”

She pointed in the direction of the sea, then to the people, and waved her hand indicating that I should run in the same direction. I only had time to ask, “Tsunami?” before she got into her car. She nodded and I began to walk as fast as I could without hurting my knees and back.

There was pandemonium in the streets. People were making a dash for it on foot and in cars. The roads and pavements were overflowing with panic-stricken folk.

My cell phone rang. It was Tintin, my son. His voice brought some relief. I told him what was happening and that I was clueless about where to go. So he told me to look for his friend Reggie at the pub. I brightened up a bit.

I made my way, huffing and puffing, to the pub – disappointment awaited. The pub was locked and deserted. By now my throat was parched and I was almost gasping for breath. I called back to inform my son.

“Stand there Mama, I’m on my way.”

“I’m not standing here,” I said. “The roads are swarming with people and cars on the move. Noone’s standing. I’m not going to either.”

Although I said that so firmly and decisively, I was not so sure where to move… where was this sea of people headed?

“Please, Mama, stay put in one spot. How will I find you if you move around?”

I could understand the panic my son felt by my decision and decided to stay put. But, once again, the decision was taken out of my hands. A carabinero on a bike called out to me to keep walking. That’s when I noticed the bike-borne policemen on the roads getting people to move and not stand. All in one direction! Highground; further away from the coastline.

I started walking down the street in the direction the whole world seemed to be going.

“I’m walking down 8 Norte,” is all I could say before we lost contact. I tried to call back but there was no network coverage. Now I was really alone. I could feel the tears welling up; not of fear, neither of self-pity, but of sheer frustration and helplessness.

I began to catch hold of people to inquire if any spoke English. Their negative replies only made it worse. I began to talk myself out of the mental state I was in. I repeated portions of Psalms 91, especially the parts that speak about God protecting us from “sudden disasters at noon,” and reminded myself that He “is my fortress, my place of safety” and He would “send His angels to protect me.”

It was reassuring, but the tears were already perched on the edge and I couldn’t blink them back. I kept up my slow, painful trudge. I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned to find a young girl, perhaps twenty-one or so. She handed me a small bright yellow card. I took it without bothering to read it. I was keen to know if she knew English.

“Very leetle,” she smiled and I was so relieved that the tears which hung precariously on the edge tumbled down.

“Tranquila, tranquila,” she said softly, over and over again, as she gently stroked my arm. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand what she was saying. It sounded like ‘tranquil’ and the look on her face and her actions made it quite obvious.

“Yes,” I replied drying my eyes.

“Yehwah is there,” she assured me in her faltering English and her hand pointed to the heavens above.

“No, Jesus is here,” I emphasized the “here” with my pointer and managed a smile. Sub-consciously, I had corrected here. Once a teacher always a teacher was the vague thought at the back of my mind.

“Okay. Now I going.”

“Where? Please stay,” I was almost begging.

“I have…go to… umm… my room friend,” I nodded to convey that I understood and thanked her.

I carried on walking down 8 Norte and she turned off right. I was feeling a bit calmer now. But, the tears didn’t stop and my throat was still parched. My mouth was dry and I was choking and try as I might there was no saliva to wet it. This set off coughing spells. My heart was pounding.

All of a sudden, I realized I had come to the end of the road, and it was a long road indeed. I could either turn right or left. I decided to stick with 8 Norte so I crossed the main road it joined and stood at the traffic light on the divider of the two main roads. I was tired and wanted to sit, but there was nowhere I could rest my aching back and legs. So I continued to stand and watch the tsunami of cars and people flow past me. The noise on the roads was loud and irritating.

I was wondering what it was about the honking horns that bothered me. It happens a lot and all the time in India; the noise pollution on the roads! Then it struck me; one doesn’t hear car horns on Viña’s roads. An occasional honk of an impatient driver would make people turn and stare at the driver disapprovingly. Today was an exception. Just then, I turned and lo and behold, there was the young Christian walking toward my traffic light!

“Hola,” she beamed.

“Hola,” I responded, surprised to see her return to find me. But thankfulness, more than courtesy, kept me from asking. She joined me and a few others who were standing there as well.

“You know… where you stay?”

“Yes.”

“I stay with you.” 

“Okay,” I said not very sure what she meant. But, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and took it to mean that she’d stand with me. Since she continued to stand with me and also gather the latest information about the situation, I was pleased that I was right. She laboriously translated the important parts for me. The alert had not been called off but the emergency situation had passed. That was something to be happy about.

“Come, I go with you,” and she caught my hand and took me across the road and we walked back the way we had come. I was walking even slower now.

She realized I was exhausted and would stop at every traffic light for a while to give me time to rest. Later, I understood how wise it had been for us to keep stopping at the traffic lights. It was the best way to get seen by the people looking for you.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that I didn’t even know her name and asked her.

“Magdalena.”

“Joy,” I answered and we shook hands and in true Chilean fashion, she hugged me and kissed me on my cheek while I kissed the air around hers!

“I’m sorry, I’m being such a pain,” I said enunciating every word as slowly as I thought would be easy for her to understand. “I have a back and knee problem,” I continued and pointed to my lumbar support around my waist.

“I know. I see it. I am… a… a physiotherapist.”

OMGosh! I stared at her surprised. “Your angel?” my incredulous mind queried. I shushed it.

We had moved on to another traffic light and she struck up a conversation with a youth who had walked up and was waiting to cross the road. She wanted to know if he knew English. Fortunately, he did and better than hers.

She asked him to tell me that I shouldn’t worry as she would take me to my residence. I wondered why she kept telling me that. It made me uncomfortable. But I thanked her once again and added that I knew my way home. I was also uncomfortable that the boy, who she had shown she didn’t know, didn’t seem like a stranger she’d just met. So I told him that I could make my way back home now and didn’t need them to walk me home.

Before she could say anything, Reggie, my son’s pub owner friend who was driving someone to a safe place, spotted me and called out. He told me to wait and he’d be back for me in a few minutes. Magdalena didn’t seem too pleased with this. She shouted out something to him in Spanish and he retorted brusquely. And once again, Reggie told me to wait where I was. She asked me if I knew the man and how well I knew him. After she learned who he was and that he was a-okay, she dropped the topic. I was relieved.

We exchanged email Ids, phone numbers, and she wanted my home address. Once more it unsettled me, however, reluctantly I gave her my ‘home’ address; the guesthouse add. and we parted when Reggie returned.

This was a strange encounter! A total stranger picks me out of a milling crowd and gives me the moral support I need. Stranger still was the fact that she stopped handing out the little yellow ‘Jesus’ cards after she found me. Whoever she was, whatever her intentions, she provided me with the support I needed at a very difficult time. And no harm was done. I was grateful then and I remain grateful to date. Besides, when I didn’t require her assistance anymore, a friend appeared to help. Strange are the ways of God!

I didn’t see her again and neither of us called up or emailed each other. If she visited the guesthouse, she’d have known it wasn’t my home! Reggie told my son that he was glad he found me when he did. It seems that during times like these, a lot of petty thieves are on the prowl. That boy we chanced upon midway who without my permission joined us, didn’t augur well, according to him.

We waited at a prominent place where my son found us a short while later. He was with a colleague, Gabriel, who suggested I stay at his home till the evening. For a split second, I thought I should turn down the invitation as I didn’t know how I’d communicate with the family. They were going back to the office. But, I’m glad I went to his home.

The home was warm and hospitable. Besides, it was full of people so I wasn’t jumpy. The evening saw me leaving rather reluctantly because I was loath to stay the night alone at the guesthouse. But as things turned out, Tintin and Manu stayed with me. Though I did jump out of my bed in the middle of the night or perhaps the wee hours of the morning when my bed was rattled, I did get some necessary sleep.

My body was aching in the morning. The previous day, I was in shock and didn’t realize the wear and tear my body had taken. But today is another story… it hurts.

I’m spending the day at Gabriel’s house in Miraflores. It’s a reprieve from the scary ‘home alone’ situation. I must tell you all about my day stays in the Segura’s casa in Miraflores; the lovely family and pets. But tea beckons and I must go. Ciao.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Messenger

This is an old article and I’m reposting it here after an interesting conversation with a friend about intuition, telepathy, sixth sense, spirits, superstitions etc, reminded me of this experience.

It was the month of September 1991, and the clock chimed eleven times to tell me it was an hour to mid-night and I better hurry. The house was shrouded in the blessed silence that comes with slumber. I was the only one awake. I usually did my baking at night as I struggled to juggle my time between home chores and a career.

In order to understand what occurred next, I must explain how the kitchen was built. A long corridor led from the dining room, past the children’s room, staircase and ended in a little cul-de-sac, which had ample storing facilities. I used it to keep all the crockery. From this little store a door opened into the beautiful, large kitchen where I was working, softly humming to myself. Then I experienced the strangest of sensations! I stopped humming, stopped what I was doing and stood stock still.

My back, down the entire backbone, was tingling and slight shivers ran down my spine. I sensed someone staring at me from the store area, which was behind me. My heart was pounding wildly while my ears strained for some sound. I couldn’t stand the tension any longer and turned around. Nothing! No one! I was puzzled. I brushed it off without dwelling on it too long. I had a cake to bake and I had to be up early the next day. Picking up the tune I had left off, I happily popped the cake into the oven.

Then it happened again! Once again tingling, shivers, turn around – no one! I was beginning to get a bit uneasy now. I switched to singing hymns for good measure, and a bit loud too, as I mustered all the courage I had, to make my way through the store, down the corridor and into our bedroom, where I felt safer. I thought of waking my husband, but decided against it, knowing he wouldn’t believe me and I’d be the new drawing-room joke. Instead, I sat it out till the cake was done. Now I had to go back. I switched on all the extra lights and finding myself in a better shape to face my ‘demons,’ ventured into the kitchen, making sure I zipped through the store. Nothing happened. I took out the cake, left it to cool and went to bed.

As expected, husband dear pooh-poohed the whole thing as the result of an over-imaginative mind, fuelled by the horror movies I watched.

“You had better not talk about it. And especially not in front of the kids, you’ll only scare them,” he laughed.

“You’ve got to believe me Nanan. I’m not a loony. This was real,” I said emphatically. But who was listening.

My husband was often out on tours, so I was quite used to living alone with the kids and was never scared or nervous about it. However, after a month or so when the incident occurred again, I wasn’t very comfortable any more. This time it was a bit different, I sensed the presence of a person or thing or whatever it may be called. I could see nothing, but I could tell where the person was and also that it was a male. I still can’t explain this but I felt it as strongly and surely as if I could see him. I also sensed that he was on the advanced side of ‘middle-age’. Once again, my husband laughed it off. As the ‘being’ didn’t visit in the next few days, the topic was closed.

A month later, it happened again and it became a frequent occurrence. Almost every day….afternoons, evenings….and always it stood in the same place. The most unimaginable thing was that all fear had dissipated. I sensed that I was in no danger. Once my comfort level had been restored, I began to feel that ‘ It’ was trying to tell me something. When it started or how I do not know, but I was communicating without words or any visible signs with my invisible visitor. I became aware of a deep sympathy flowing from it. As if it was feeling sorry I wondered why. “Why, why, why,”…my mind cried out. The answer I got knocked the air out of my lungs. “I’m going to die? When? How?”… I was in total shock.

I can still recall how I felt. I went about my chores in a trance. In the evening, as I passed the children’s room, something snapped. I stood and watched them as they waged a pillow fight and I was swept with grief and pain. That day I communicated a lot with God. I begged Him not to take me away just yet, as my children needed me. I reminded Him that they were His gifts to me. I knew that my husband would never be capable of looking after them by himself. He would pack them off to his relatives. Where would they study and how would they adjust to life in a remote village in Rajasthan? I also knew that my husband would be married off before a year had even passed. The thought of my children’s plight wrenched my heart and I cried. All that I prayed for at the end was, “If it is possible, for the sake of my children, spare me. Otherwise help me to accept your will, Lord.” I was exhausted and I slept very deeply that night.

After carrying this burden within and no one to share it with, this prayer released me of all anguish and I felt, strangely, very relaxed. It was the first week of January 1992, and after this encounter I never felt the presence again. Life went on as usual. Sometimes I wondered what fate had been decided for me – but these were fleeting thoughts. Republic Day (1992) was approaching, and the preparation for the parade and cultural function took up a major part of both time and energy, leaving me with very little scope for reflections on my life.

On a beautiful, sunny winter morning, I sat in the lawn drinking my coffee, planning and listing all the jobs that my husband would have to see to, when he came back from his tour.

Suddenly I was cut off from reality – out of nowhere, a picture flashed across the screen of my mind – I saw Mr Singh, a friend, telling me that my husband had met with a fatal accident. Then the frame changed to a picture of me dressed in white, looking bewildered at a number of women wailing around me. It ended abruptly and I was back in my beautiful garden with an empty coffee mug in my hand.

I shook myself and got up immediately, immersing myself in work lest my mind painted any more horrifying pictures. My husband was right; I did have an over-imaginative mind. Still I was on tenterhooks the whole day. In the evening, the familiar honk of the car sent me dashing out, and I was more ecstatic than usual to see hubby dear. He kept trying to figure it out, but I passed it off as the end to an unusually hard week. The next day was Republic Day. Nanan had to leave on yet another tour in the evening. He found it odd that I should be a bit put out by his tour.

” It’s only a two day tour. I’ll be back on the twenty-ninth,” he said consolingly. He had been out a lot lately.

On the twenty-seventh night, while the kids and I were watching TV, the doorbell rang. Mr Singh stood there with tears in his eyes, “He’s not coming back Bhabi, he has succumbed to a major heart attack,” he said and broke down.

Two days later, on the day of his funeral, I was dressed in white and I was bewildered as I looked at the women crying around me. “Why are they crying?” I thought to myself. “Why are they asking me to be strong for the kids? What do they mean he’s gone…of course he’s gone on tour. I hope they stop crying, they’re making me cry too. Don’t they know I can’t see any one cry? What do they mean that he was so young…he is young. Thirty-nine is young.” I was in shock and denial.

Prior to this, I would take such a narrative with a huge pinch of salt and scepticism. To me these things oozed of superstition, ignorance and misplaced faith. Even today, I often ponder over this event, wondering what to make of it. I have no definite opinion. Was it imagination running wild? Then how does one explain the events that followed? Or was it mere coincidence? I’m torn between unbelief and credulity.

Later I confided to Sudhaji, an elderly neighbour, about the presence I had felt and all that had happened. She listened quietly and patiently, and then asked who I thought the presence was.

“I’m not sure,” I said, “but I did feel it was my Father-in-law, which is very strange because I have never seen him. He expired many years before our marriage.”

She nodded her sage head and said, “It could be. Yes, it’s possible. Lekin, there’s something I must tell you. Some years back the landlady rented out this house, for the first time, to a Mathur family. Mr Mathur was near retiring.The place you store the crockery didn’t exist at the time. Mr Mathur got it made at his own expense because he wanted it so much. He died a few months later of cardiac arrest.”

You could hear a pin drop in the silence.

Glossary:

Bhabi….a term of respect used for a brother’s wife. It is also used by a man’s friends to address his wife, in small towns or orthodox families.

Lekin….a Hindi word meaning ‘but’

Nanan….David’s pet name