Tiny Conversations – Trollers Vs Tongs

There’s always something happening at mealtime it seems.

Myra: Can I have the trollers please?

“What’s that?”

Myra: That’s something that goes like…. (she moves her thumb and fingers together and apart).

I get it but pretend not to.

“What do you want to do with a troller?”

Myra: (impatiently) Pick up the hot dog and put it in the bun, Dadi!

“Oh, I couldn’t understand what it was. You mean tongs, right?

Myra: (Rolling her eyes) What’s that?

I hand her the tongs. “The smaller one is in the dish washer. You can use these kitchen tongs. I think it will do the job for you.”

Myra: Yes! That’s it… trollers, (she stressed the word with relief and a certain amount of triumph). She had imparted some knowledge to me.

She gave me a look that said… ‘hope you learn the right word.’

I had a good laugh behind her back!

Tiny Conversations – Does he miss me?

Some years ago, when Aly, the eldest of my grandkids was about two and a half years old, on a video call she asked me about her grandpa.

Aly – Dadi, do I have a grandpa?

“Yes, you do?”

Aly – Where is he then?

“He’s not here now,” I said, wondering if she had already learned that he had died long ago.

Aly – I know, she said, with wisdom beyond her years shining from her eyes.

“So you know he isn’t here with us, and you know why, yes?”

Aly – Yes, he is in heaven.

“Yes, sweetie. Your grandpa is in heaven.” I was relieved.

Aly – Does he know about me?

“I’m sure he does.”

Aly – Can he see me?

“I believe he can whenever he peeks through the clouds.”

Aly – (Beaming a bright smile) Does he love me?

“Oh, my dear, you cannot imagine how much he loves you. He adores you.”

Aly – (She’s glowing by now) Dadi, does he miss me?

I choked on my words as tears threatened to spill out and said, “Trust me sweetie, he misses you very, very much.”

Her little heart found a lot of comfort in that assurance. She flashed her angelic smile and settled into the couch more comfortably, content in the knowledge that her grandpa knew about her; loved her; missed her.

Sometimes it’s so much better to sugarcoat a bitter pill.

PS: Down the road, in the present time, she’s eleven and asked me about him and wanted me to tell her how he died, how I felt, and how her father and his brother took it.

This time, I didn’t sugarcoat the pill. She was ready to hear about pain and loss.

To My Father…

They say that daughters are always daddy’s darlings. It wouldn’t be right to make such a broad generalization, though, because we know that, that isn’t always the way it is. Not to go off on a tangent pursuing that subject, I’ll just say, I was definitely Daddy’s pet. It’s been a hundred years since he died…allow me the hyperbole…I’m really missing him as I always do but especially on Father’s Day.

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In our day, way back in the 60s – 80’s, in my country, we never observed ‘Father’s Day’ or any of these now popularized and commercialized “Days.” So there was only his Birthday which was, in a way, Father’s Day for us. Now Daddy never made much of his birthday, he wouldn’t invite friends over or want much of a fuss. He wasn’t given to showing emotions. He was the stiff upper lip kind of man for most of his life. I only saw a chink in his armor a year or so before he died.

No, no, I’m not going to say he began hugging his kids or gave in to tears or anything like that. He just allowed himself to speak with more emotion; show regret, sadness, longing not only in his voice but in his eyes as well. These were the emotions he never permitted himself to show earlier…for the greater part of his life.

He had a commanding personality. “Tall, dark, and handsome” in his youth, he retained his handsomeness even with his shock of thick, white, wavy hair through to his early ’80s, when he passed away.

As a boy and through his youth, he had a fiery temper which could become volatile, depending on who did what or what was said or done or not said and not done, but that had simmered down to resignation with the growing years.

He was a man of contrasts.

He also had a happy disposition. He enjoyed a good joke and was a great storyteller. He could add humor to his tales without effort or addition, solely by altering his tone and bringing in nuances that made it funny. He loved to recite poetry, write couplets (in Farsi/Urdu).

He had a good singing voice but rarely sang. He used to play the harmonium and sing when the mood took over. He loved to play the ‘tabla’ on the table or any surface that provided a firm base when he heard some good songs or music.

He loved taking us on picnics. His picnics could also mean driving miles out of our city to some picturesque spot in another town or city. We’ve been on some ‘picnics’ to Agra from Delhi. Our picnic spot: in the gardens of the Taj! And at that time in the 60s, the roads weren’t as they might be today! It was a whole day program. We’d get back at night! Otherwise, we’d be picnicking at the numerous spots in Delhi. In later years, we’d be joining him on fishing-picnics! He and my brother would be fishing and we’d have a great time with our picnic by a river.

He was passionate about learning, teaching, preaching the Bible. He was an excellent orator and it was a pleasure to hear him preach at conventions or in the church. 

He had a flamboyant disregard for conventional things; social courtesies, customs, and such. But he was strict about table manners. It goes without saying, I, the youngest would invariably be checked for reaching across the next person’s plate for a dish or something.

“Ask for the dish to be given to you or ask Mummy to serve you.”  I’d quickly comply.

But then, I’d go again with – “Give me the dish of (whatever).” There’d be a super quick, gentle reprimand.

Please, pass me the dish of (whatever).”

I’d do as told. Take the dish, happy to finally be able to get food on my plate. But that joy and hunger would be put on hold for another minute!

“Thank you!”

“Oh, I forgot!” I’d say a quick ‘thank you’ and finally dig in. 

But that wasn’t my only ‘bad table manners’. It constituted much more… ‘don’t put your elbows on the table,’ ‘don’t talk with your mouth full,’ ‘don’t battle with your fork and spoon (or knife). Cut down the clatter!’ ‘don’t swing your legs under the table’ (this one was really bad because I’d be totally oblivious that I was either kicking someone’s knees on the other side or at the least, brushing them with my feet.

That paragraph may sound as if I had a bad time at the table… on the contrary, I had a great time at family meals. These corrections were taken well. I knew I was overlooking the rules. But I was so focussed on enjoying my food and sitting and talking, around the table, with the family, (sobremesa), I hopped-skipped-and-jumped over all the etiquette that was expected at the table.

Even today, when I look back, I love the memories. I also am glad someone took the pains to teach me. Day after day, very patiently, Daddy would check me gently about something I said or something I did that could have been done differently and properly. Most of these would be on how to respond to Mummy’s disciplinary actions! He’d repeat the same things, kindly and softly, to remind me. He knew me very well and he understood that I wasn’t flouting the rules in defiance or rebellion. He also knew that his gentle correction would imprint on my young mind lessons for life. He remained my guide, mentor, and confidante, even when I was a mom myself.

He wasn’t known to write letters to anyone unless necessary. But, I received his letters quite often when I married and moved to another state. I would be thrilled to see his almost illegible (but neat) handwriting on the familiar inland letter he used when he wrote letters. Mummy would use letter paper and envelopes!

There’s so much I’ve profited by having such a father. I would have failed miserably in the biggest test of strength and courage I faced in my life if I didn’t have his teaching to fall back on. I fell many times, but each time his words, lessons would pick me up, give me strength, build up my flagging faith in God, and set me on my way. His counsel to “trust in the Lord, and don’t despair, he is a Friend so true, no matter what your troubles are Jesus will see you through,” has brought me thus far safe and sound. I am blessed to have had him as my ‘Daddy!’

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On this Father’s Day, I celebrate my guide, my mentor, my strength… Daddy, you were the best dad, and I thank God you were mine!

 

 

Nanaji and the Dirty Fellas

A baby has a way of making a man out of his father and a boy out of his grandfather. ~Angie Papadakis

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We have specific names for our relatives, to make it clear how they’re related to each other and from which side of the family they belong. For instance, paternal grandparents are Dada (grandfather) and Dadi (grandmother). So the moment a child refers to someone as Dada or Dadi, everyone knows it’s the son’s child. And if Nana (grandpa) or Nani (grandma) are used, everyone knows it is the daughter’s child.

The same goes for other relations. They are easily recognized as paternal or maternal relatives by the terms used to address them. There is no confusion about any relationship, unlike the common terms uncle and aunt or grandma, grandpa, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, etc. Each of these relatives is referred to by different names that make it clear how they are related to you.

To come back to my father and a few memories of our kids’ interactions with him. When he became a Nana, my kids and my sister’s kids called him Nanaji. The ‘ji’ is suffixed as a sign of respect for elders. As a father, he was a strict disciplinarian and had grown more reserved with the passing years. Everyone was still in awe of this man, who though mellowed with age, yet held a commanding demeanor, and a sarcastic sense of humor. 

My two boys learned to talk rather early, so their interaction with Nanaji began early too. By this time, Daddy had already transitioned to the grandparent level courtesy my elder sister’s son.

Daddy would use all his sarcastic humor on the kids, who just loved it! They were quick to retort and he would have his laugh. They often got into little ‘kiddie’ fights with him, and when we’d hear, “Dirty fella, I’m not talking to you,” we knew we would witness a wonderful, funny incident soon.

The First Grandson: Forgive and forget

One day, Daddy had a falling out with my elder sister’s son Hemant (pet name – Chiku). Chiku was three and a half then.

“Go away, I’m not talking to you, dirty fella!” says Nanaji to the scowling boy. 

Both walk off in a huff to their rooms; the grey-haired one hiding a broad grin and the younger one certainly miffed.

A few minutes later, a chubby face peeked into Nanaji’s room. He was ignored. The second and third attempts to reconcile were also met with a royal ignore! The fourth time, he came with a bunch of grapes as a peace offering. Nanaji refused to accept it, closed his eyes, and appeared to have fallen asleep.

Chiku stood and stared at him for a while. Then he decided it was too much. Enough is enough! He plucked two grapes off the bunch. Kept the bowl on the bedside table. Daddy was observing all this through his eyes that were closed to slits. He did not expect Chiku’s next move and thought the little guy had decided to eat the grapes himself. But his grandson had other plans. Before Nanaji could say, “dirty fella,” he deftly stuffed them into Nanaji’s nostrils and scampered out like a grinning monkey!

Thankfully, the grapes weren’t far in and he could snort them out easily! Then, he was in splits. He laughed so much. I can’t say what the dirty fella had expected, but I’m sure he hadn’t seen this coming. He crept back, confirmed it was a truce, and stepped into the room.

A while later, we saw them sitting together and eating the rest of the grapes.

The Second Grandson: Dirty is not good

Daddy would sit in the back verandah or in the back lawn and write when the weather was cooler in summer or warmer and sunny in winter. On one such day, Nanaji had an encounter with another three-and-a-half-year-old Ranjit (pet name Tintin), the elder son of yours truly.

Nanaji was immersed in his study and writing while Tintin played with his toys. Nanaji had an old, in fact very old, Bible which he loved, and in which he had written many notes on pages specially inserted into the binding. It had a thick, hard leather cover that was faded, well-worn for use, and cracked in places. It was open and lying face down on a table beside him.

Tintin sauntered over and looked at it. Apparently, he didn’t like the look of it. He screwed up his face and asked what book it was. Nanaji answered him without interrupting his work or looking up. A few moments later, he needed to refer to something in the Book, and well, it wasn’t on the table! he looked around and what do you think he saw?

“You dirty fella, what are you doing?” he exclaimed and jumped out of his chair to rescue his precious Bible from a washing.

Tintin had carried off the heavy, thick Bible and dunked it into a tub full of water, that was kept for two small tortoises Nanaji had bought for him. He was just getting into the washing part when it was retrieved.

“What are you doing, you dirty fella? Why did you put it in the water?”

“It was dirty so I was washing it,” replied the “dirty fella” blissfully unaware of the damage he could have caused.

Nanaji found the explanation quite plausible, and though he was worried about the Bible, he couldn’t stop laughing.

Once again, this little escapade didn’t cause major damage. Except for some notes pages getting smudged with ink (he used fountain pens which had to be refilled with ink poured out from a bottle!), so a wet page meant the ink would smudge. And, of course, a loss of Daddy’s personal notes. Apart from this, the Bible was not irretrievably damaged. We just needed to dry it out. This took a long time given the volume of pages! Thankfully, we had a few sunny days!

This was one time when the grandson antics got me a bit worried. I knew how much that antique Bible meant to Daddy. Besides its worthiness in its antiquity, it had been his companion and guide for many years. I thought that this time, the ‘dirty fella’ and his mom would have to bear the brunt of some annoyance if not anger!

I shouldn’t have worried and trusted the Daddy I’ve known since I was a girl. 

Though some note pages and notes had gone, Daddy didn’t worry much about that. He could rewrite them. But after drying out, a few of the pages were a bit crinkled like an unironed shirt and the cover looked more thumped and weary than it did before!

The third Grandson: A Lesson in Etiquette

Nanaji got a lesson in etiquette and right practice from yet another of his dirty fellas when he came on a holiday to Rajasthan. This time, it was Vineet (pet name Viny), not quite three yet. He is my younger son.

The days passed off fast, and Nanaji and the boys had a rollicking time. Then, it was time to leave. Our little one was over-eager to help. He tried to push and tug bags to a waiting taxi. Everyone was mightily impressed by the offer of help, as all the bags were too big and too heavy for him to even budge a centimeter.

Yet, he was lending the proverbial helping hand. He’d place his little hand on a bag being carried or rolled out! He hung around Nanaji, who once again saw through all the show, and was waiting to get his last laugh before leaving.

All the bags were stowed in the trunk. Mum was in the taxi and it was time to say the G’byes. Nanaji got into the taxi, but he didn’t close the door. Instead, he kept making small talk with his “dirty fellas.” We tried to hurry him but he kept stalling. Finally, what he was waiting for happened. Afraid that it would be too late, Viny took the initiative to inform his Nanaji about Rajasthani customs.

“Nanaji,” he said seriously, “jab koi jaata hai na, woh kuch de kar jaata hai.” (Trans: Nanaji, when someone leaves, he gives something and goes.)

Nanaji was thrilled. He got his laughs. He dug into his pockets and handed both the boys some money. It was customary, in those days, for elderly relatives to give the kids some money before they left. Needless to describe the glee with which the cash was handed over to mother dear (me!) as Viny rattled off all that he would buy with it, including a car.

I didn’t spoil his joy by telling him that he would fall a bit short of cash for a car!

Just for the record, he was thinking of buying a real-life size car… LOL

So #grateful for the memories.

“Love is the greatest gift that one generation can leave another.”~Richard Garnett

 

 

 

Did I lose My Identity?

Many years back, around 1987-88, I realized, I was better known as Viny’s mom, around the neighborhood we had moved to in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Later on, at the school where I taught and in which both my kids studied, I was addressed as “Joy Ma’am” in class but identified as Ranjit and Vineet’s mother. I found it amusing and people often commented on how I had lost my identity to my two little rascals!

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It was all in good humor and taken as such. But, in later years, it ceased to be a humorous comment. Losing one’s identity when one got married etc. etc. became an ego issue and people assertively professed – “I have my own identity.” “I am ME.” 

I didn’t quite get how a humorous quip like that became a serious issue. Even if someone had meant it seriously, it wouldn’t have bothered me a bit. 

Putting this into a simple, everyday situation, I believe each family and home rejoices in the worthy achievements of its children because they do contribute to them in many ways. Yes, I feel blessed, proud, grateful, and honored to be known as R & V’s mom. And I am further blessed to be known as this one’s grandmother or that one’s grandmother; that’s who I am to five lovely children.

So, years later, when someone said that I had now lost my identity to my grandkids, I wasn’t surprised. She went on to lament about how women had to lose their “identity” but men continued to be who they are. I didn’t bother to contradict her and let her be happy in her misery.

I don’t lose my identity if people recognize me as someone’s mother or grandmother or daughter just as a tree doesn’t lose its identity if it doesn’t bear fruit. Good fruit or bad, little fruit or an abundance… It owns its identity even though it may not be recognized by some.

I belong to the people I love, and they belong to me — they, and the love and loyalty I give them form my identity far more than any word or group ever could.~Veronica Roth

A changed surname didn’t rob me of my identity… of who I was. My inherent qualities, values remained. I didn’t become a stranger to myself. I was who I was before the name changed or the kids were born. The changes that came in added new roles and relationships; it taught me new things and helped me develop and grow in practical knowledge and in wisdom. Through it all, I was the same person; I didn’t lose ‘me’.

As a family, we connect to each other with love and bonding. How I conducted my relationship in this fold, in relation to the others, and my own values and beliefs formed my identity. This stretched to form my identity in my extended family; my husband’s family. But I didn’t lose my identity at all.

So, when I got married changing my surname didn’t present any issue at all. I didn’t feel isolated or cut off from my parents and roots, or different in my skin or have personality changes just because I had a new surname. 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

The other, the reverse of losing one’s identity, was gaining an illogical one! At our time, people discredited parents whose kids turned out as rotten apples. One cannot generalize these things. Worthy parents have unworthy children and vice versa. Most of us know someone or the other who are outstanding human beings in every way, but whose kid turns out just the opposite. And the other way round too.

I do not accept that one’s identity or worthiness, for that matter, is established only by the quality of one’s offspring or the other way round. And as for identity, I am someone’s daughter, wife, mother, sister, daughter-in-law, and grandma. I am all those even as I am my unique self. Each role I play has a unique part of me.

My identity is embellished by such references and it endorses the fact that our tree has grown and branched out, reaching for The Light; the most important and magical thing a tree needs to nurture and enrich its roots and fruit. I am blessed abundantly and may you also be gladdened when you “lose” your identity to your children!

 

 

Hidden Talents – Poetry and Music

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

Poocho kyun? (ask why?)

Well, it goes like this…

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

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

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

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

He surprised me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it? What’s troubling you?”

“Everyone will laugh at me,” I blurted.

“We won’t tell anyone.”

“But Jasper and Mummy will.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what could I do?

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

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

 

Glossary

shayari…couplets in Urdu

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

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

Cattyabbreviation for catapult

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

Ma Mingalar, Padmini, Peggy

“This was a new skill she’d acquired, the ability to look, to the outside world, utterly serene, and even cheerful, while, in her skull, all was chaos.”~Dave Eggers
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Introduction…

Ever since I was a little girl and heard about Ma Minglar (I’m not sure if it was Minglar 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 theyeven know each other well? Perhaps, each lived individually, but 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 but whatever was, fascinated me and still does to this day. I wish I could find someone who would tell me more; someone who knew the truth.

 

In the meantime, I spin my tale around the existing facts, as they were told to me. I do not hold myself to speak only of facts because I must build the story based on my premises and surmises. I’ve tried to be logical and rational in my imaginings, but if you find it preposterous, just stop reading… I’m not going to stop writing this. It’s too haunting and I have to get it out of my system. Hopefully, it will give me some inner peace.

Ma Mingalar… 

I’m not sure whether the name was Ma ‘Mingalar’ or Ma ‘Mingala’.  I can only remember being corrected when I repeated the name as one whole – Mamingala. I was told that it was said as two separate words. I faintly recall being checked for the ending too. Anyway, to move forward, Ma Mingalar was the grand-daughter of U Ba Doon, a prominent member of a political party in Burma. I asked for the parent’s names but never got that information and not much else. It was a sketchy biodata. This was one of the main reasons for me to suspect that something or possibly everything was not quite right in Ma Mingalar’s world.

Ma Mingalar’s mother’s name was kept secret but her beauty was extolled. It seems she was extremely beautiful and had a complexion like exquisite porcelain. Her hair was very long and black and fell like a cascade to her calves; when it was not bundled up into a bun on her head. She lived a lavish and luxurious life, waited on hand and foot by maids. She loved her cigarettes, which she smoked in slender holders, and chocolates were never far from her. There would always be a box kept within arm’s reach.

Besides her hair, she had captivating eyes in an oval face. She had doe-eyes which slanted, her eyelids were ringed with long curling lashes. She loved jewelry and had a large collection of diamonds and Noga rubies. Not much was divulged about her father except that he was a diamond merchant who came to India for business. Ma Mingalar was born in the Madras hospital in the city of Madras, now known as Chennai.

Ma Mingalar’s story ends soon, with her mother abandoning her. Her mother left her in the care of the Matron of the hospital, who was her friend. Whether theirs was a patient-nurse relationship or they were friends before Ma Mingalar was born is not clear. But the Matron, a Mrs. D’Sylva, took the abandoned baby under her wing. Initially, the baby was in the nursery and taken care of by the staff.

“But why would she abandon her baby? It’s cruel!” I exploded.

The reason, I was told, was that the baby was dark-skinned. This seemed so untrue because, in fact, Ma Mingalar was fair. Perhaps not the skin tone of her mother but definitely fair-skinned. I would protest at this and remark at the frivolity of the reason. However, later on, as I grew, many reasons for the ‘Reason’ popped into my head. My speculations were logical but cannot be substantiated.

Padmini…

They called Padmini a very lucky baby. No, she had no near-death situations preceding her birth nor any infections or disease that she had overcome. She was a small, little bundle lying in the nursery with all the other new-born babies, and looked much like them, except she was the fairest of the lot.

So what separated her from the other babies that she was tagged ‘lucky’? It was a distinguished visitor who came to see her almost every other day. The lady would be accompanied by her woman attendant. She never stayed long but gave generously to the nurses and servants caring for Padmini. Yes, she had christened the baby Padmini! This lady was of very high status and the Maharani of a place nearby. How she got to know about this baby and why she was so concerned about her is a mystery. She loved the baby so much that she wanted to adopt her, and she conveyed this to Matron D’Sylva.

“Your Highness, I love the child too. Besides, her mother left her in my care. please don’t take her away.” Mrs. D’Sylva was distraught.

“Think over it. I will not insist if it means so much to you. But give it a thought. She is my child already, my little Padmini,” she said looking lovingly at the child who lay oblivious of the manner in which her fate lay in the balance… between a life in the palace with a Maharani and a not so opulent but very comfortable life with a Matron.

Mrs. D’Sylva, the Matron, looked at the Maharani as she made her regal exit. She was worried. Baby Padmini slept peacefully.

Padmini’s fate was decided. The Matron took her home!

She was a well-to-do lady of ample means. Her husband had been a doctor and they owned a big bungalow with a lot of land sprawling all around it. She had grown-up children of her own but she did not believe that Padmini would have a secure and happy life in the palace. So she adopted her. The Maharani would be the only one who’d care for Padmini she thought; and who knew the ways of the palace and royalty. Their whims and fancies were as changeable and unpredictable as the weather. And here ends Padmini’s story.

I was curious about the queen who’d visit her. But although her visits were spoken about, I was made to believe that no one knew why she came or why she named the child or even why she wanted to adopt her. I never did believe that!

Peggy…

“I don’t want to go to boarding school,” wailed Peggy as her mother petted and consoled her. She was older now and her mother wanted to send her to Goodwills Boarding School in Bangalore. Once again she repeated all the pros of a residential school, hoping that Peggy would calm down.

Peggy was an adopted child. Her foster mother had brought her home one day. Her half-sisters who were much older were shocked by this kind deed of hers. It was a bit extreme. Peggy was accepted as one of their mother’s whimsical, philanthropic gestures. One they would have to live with and tolerate. Although they weren’t mean to her or anything of that sort, there was no bonding either. They were so much older than her.

Boarding school was the best option under the circumstances as Peggy was growing up and beginning to notice and resent the way she was isolated from the older children in the house. So, finally, she was packed off to Bangalore with promises of frequent visits. She found that her stay at school was not as bad as she had expected it to be. She had a headmistress named Ms. Roper. The girls would often pronounce it as “rope her” for laughs!

The day came when Peggy passed out of school and returned home. Her mother had selected a college for her and had even registered her name, but Peggy had other plans. She was going to join the WRINS as a stenographer. Her mother was shocked.

“What are you going to do there Peggy?”

“Work, of course,” answered Peggy matter-of-factly.

“Yes, that’s clear to me, young lady. But what do you intend to work as? You go to college and then join the Force.”
“No. I don’t want to go to college. I’ve already applied for a secretarial course with Pittmans. I’ll be a stenographer!” 
“Do you know how much they pay stenos? You silly girl, you spend more in a month than they’ll pay you in two.”
Peggy stood her ground. She was as stubborn as the proverbial mule.

Peggy D’Sylva joined the Navy. She moved to Bombay now known as Mumbai. Along with her went Ma Mingalar and Padmini. She never left them behind. Over the years you could see the traces of each personality.

Ma Mingalar was a snob and very fastidious. She was also stubborn, wanted a lot of attention and was self-absorbed. She was fashionable and loved to dress well. She liked jewelry too. Her favorite haunt was The Taj Mahal Hotel. This is where she would go for breakfast, many a time, or even when she wanted a cup of coffee. She’d take along her friends sometimes! It wasn’t a hotel she could afford. But her mother sent her an ample allowance every month. Her mother knew her love for the good life. This was Ma Mingalar’s strongest phase.

Padmini was very much a South Indian. She had a distinct southern accent. Her gestures and expressions would be different. She’d tell everyone she was a Tamilian, and look directly at them defying them to disagree. No one dared to, even though they’d carry big question marks in their eyes. Padmini could pass off as a Burmese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean or any such race but certainly not a Tamilian!

The food she’d eat or serve would be South Indian fare and she’d discard her airs and dig into rice with her hands. Padmini’s influence grew stronger than Ma Mingalar’s over the years. She even decided the people Peggy should befriend. Needs no saying, all were from South India. She even decided that Peggy would wear the Indian uniform (a sari) when she joined the WRINS.

Padmini was defiant. She was rigid and had a smoldering temper. She could be mean and even unscrupulous on rare occasions. Padmini was also a doomsday prophet. She was negative about everything.

Peggy was the jovial, giggly, Anglo-Indian girl. Her foster parents were of Portuguese descent and their way of living was westernized. She’d be free with her expressions and speak only English and treat every other language, especially Hindi and Punjabi with disdain. She’d inform everyone that her mother tongue was English. Some of the everyday terms she’d use were typically Anglo-Indian ones and you’d hear them used only in these homes. 

The food would be continental or Chinese or Goan in flavor. Peggy could be shy and took offence easily. She loved to sing and write poetry. Peggy could be quite immature at times and would even compete with youngsters.

As life took her on a roller-coaster ride, the first casualty was Ma Mingalar. I was sad to see her go. She was the one who added a bit of style and spice to Peggy’s life. Padmini held on tenaciously. I think Peggy liked her a lot. But she succumbed to ill-health. Padmini departed leaving behind Peggy. 

When Peggy died, she died alone.

The only real part of the story had gone taking with her all the secrets of her birth and parentage. My mother had left me to figure it out if I could. I have theories about my mother’s birth and parentage, but these are not based on proof. I’m sure each one of you who knew her will draw your own conclusions from existing facts if you have any. I too have been doing that for years; trying to complete the jigsaw puzzle. But it remains incomplete. I kept asking my mother for the truth but she wouldn’t tell me. She didn’t tell much to anyone. I was the only one pestering her for the truth! However, I know for a fact that the Maharani part was true. My mother had picked up the courage once, to visit her when we were in Madras for a short holiday because Daddy was there on Ty Duty and he thought we’d enjoy the break. At that time the Maharani was the queen mother, the king had passed away. But mummy’s courage slipped away right outside the gates of the queen mother’s palace.

She sat in the car and gazed at the gates but lacked the will to go in… she longed to go but hesitation held her back. I asked her if she thought they wouldn’t know her.

Her reply was quick, sure, and confident, “She will remember me.”

 

“Then let’s go in,” I said excitedly opening the door.

“What’s the use? What difference will it make?” 

Though I was only seven then, I still remember the look on her face. She sat back in the seat, her eyes still on those big gates. There was a gamut of emotions reflected there… longing, sadness, regret, resignation, and the futility of trying to reconnect. Then she asked the driver to drive on.

I know the kingdom too, but I shall not speak it because as mummy said, “What’s the use?”

I understand now why she wouldn’t tell me more. What I can recall of that day when she was so close to taking me to the source of the truth 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 confusion about her identity, and living her life as the person she believed she was.

PS: Daddy had described her mother to me. Mrs. D’Sylva had shown him a photograph of her. Daddy also tried to find out more about her father or grandfather and had made a trip to Rangoon. But he was advised not to pursue the matter and to go back. He even told me that my elder sister resembled her a bit.

 

 

 

 

 

Happily, Everafter is a Choice

“Tell your children some good family stories, and you’ll be remembered for generations. Be the story, and you will live forever.”~Joy Clarkson

I trawled through my memories for stories, incidents, and anecdotes I could add to my collection of ‘paans’ and ‘giloris’ (tidbits) for my ‘#khaandaan ka paandaan, (the family cache of differently flavored ‘paans’), and as I did, I wondered about my need to recount little snippets and snapshots of our family life. I believe it is very important to know, if not all, then, most of the people (nuts too!) of one’s family tree.

But what’s more important to know is how they lived, and what ingredients were stirred into their lives that produced characters and lives so varied and diverse that one wouldn’t even know they were related if the family tree didn’t join them. It also helps to know which ancestor to blame for all the quirks you have!

I enjoyed listening to the yarns about my parents and older siblings. I also learned a few things; some ‘what to do’ things and some ‘what not to do’, and a bit of ‘left to do’ stuff. So was this the reason why I was going down the tunnel to the past? I mulled a while, and the outcome was the quote which opens this chapter!

Once again, I go back to where my story starts, with my mother and father.

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The Royal Indian Navy and the WRINS

“A great #marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ come together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”~Dave Meurer

Daddy decided to join the Navy as a sailor to fight the war – WWII. He was only seventeen when he made this momentous decision, but more on that later. The British were ruling India so the Naval Force in India was called the Royal Indian Navy. The women’s division was known as the Women’s Royal Indian Navy Services, and the recruits to this wing were referred to as WRINS.

Having earned his commission in the UK, Daddy returned to India. He was in the signals division, posted at Bombay, now known as Mumbai. He bossed over some WRINS who were stenographers and made up his department. My story revolves around only this group in his office because it is important to the development of this narrative.

Daddy was a youth from rural Punjab, with an excellent physique and handsome face. Tall and dark, he fitted the bill to be a Barbara Cartland hero… “tall, dark, and handsome.” Needless to say, he was much sought after by women, including those in his office. He was quite aware of the effect he had on them and enjoyed the attention they lavished on him. The drawer of his table would be filled with chocolates; just one of the bribes to ensure they didn’t get a rough day at work! Daddy was a strict disciplinarian and low on patience if things didn’t go accordingly.

No matter how many times I heard this story, I never failed to marvel at the stupidity of these WRINS. Why on earth were they giving Daddy chocolates! They should have been receiving them from him!

“Ab woh laakar rakhte the meri drawer mein, toh main kha leta tha. Unko bola thodi na tha ki mujhe chocolate achchi lagti hai” (“They’d bring them and put them in my drawer, and I’d eat them. I never told them that I liked chocolates.), he would laugh off my childish contempt. I guess these WRINS knew the ‘mellowing’ quality of chocolate!

“Of course, you used to ask them to get you chocolates. And when they wouldn’t, you’d get angry.” Mummy was quick to correct him. The jealousy apparently still lurked within.

Daddy would refute that with a silent nod of his head.

This was the cue for someone to ask if everyone, without exception, gave in to this extortion. And I promptly did!

“Oh no, everyone wouldn’t. There was this small Burmese who refused to comply,” he’d say, his eyes twinkling.

We’d all turn to look at Mummy who’d be blushing and smiling shyly; another cue for more questions, and I’d shoot them.

“Why didn’t you bring chocolates?”

“Did you get a rough day at work”

“Didn’t you like Daddy?”

How many girlfriends did he have?

“Were you jealous?”

Whenever these #conversations took place, I sought the same information in different ways;  but the answers were always the same as was the accompanying bashfulness. Despite the well-worn, oft-told anecdotes, the interest remained fresh on both sides of the table; just as Mum and Dad retained the #timeless #joy of their courtship even though they had been married for donkey’s years.

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I listened and marveled, at the love that had bound these two very different people, with renewed interest. For every wrinkle, every gray hair that got added, with the passing of time, made it more amazing that the story could still evoke the same feelings which #youthful #romance had embedded in their hearts forever.

“Love me when I least deserve it because that’s when I really need it.” `Swedish Proverb

I’m not even remotely suggesting their life was Utopian bliss for them. They had their squabbles and bitter fights. As I mentioned earlier, they were poles apart in all things. And that’s what makes it unbelievable. Daddy doted on Mummy even though she drove him mad at times… most times. And she remained forever jealous and possessive of him till she died.

Theirs might not be an ideal love story as love stories go, but it had all the ingredients of which legendary romances are made. Boss and steno; rich-poor divide; North-South chasm; urban-rural culture chasm; language barriers (with in-laws), whirlwind courtship, parental objection, elopement, alienation; they went through it all and survived the tests! Taken in the time that they did all this, it is commendable. I’m talking about a long time back. They married in July 1947, in a small, conservative town in Punjab!

“Love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is the fruit of love the verb or our loving actions. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her.”~Stephen R. Covey

I still smile when I picture Daddy teasing Mum, obviously savoring those long-gone moments. He’d look lovingly at Mummy who’d be as shy as a new bride as she smiled and glanced at him with apparent adulation. Yes, they sure had something special between them.

 

Glossary: 

Paans and Giloris: Paan is betel leaf with supari (areca nut) and other things added to it. Chewing paan is an age-old practice deeply rooted in India. A Gilori is also a paan, but smaller in size.

Khaandan: Family. Earlier it meant the whole extended family… a joint family… grandparents, mom-dad, including boys of the family (brothers) and their families.

Paandaan: A container that had the betel leaves and all the other things that would go into a paan. These were usually ornate; they could even be in silver and decorated beautifully. Families that chewed paan (especially the women) habitually kept these paandaans. They were usually found in the homes of affluent families.

 

 

 

 

Stolen Verses

I’ve taken the liberty to write about my parents; some of the stories they told us. I remember them because I love a good story and if it’s about someone I know… I seldom forget them. This one was retold many a time by my mother, in bits and pieces, because I’d ask many questions and she’d give me answers that made the story clearer to my young mind.

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Mummy at eighteen, a stenographer in the Navy, in Bombay (now known as Mumbai)

 

My parents were poles apart and had different ways of remembering their courtship. It brings the much-quoted line: ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus’ into sharp focus.

Daddy’s way was to tease; humorous, sweet and loving. Mummy’s retelling would be a sharp contrast.

She would recall all the old squabbles, grouses, and peeves, and then she would pout. I imagine the same way she must have done a long time back! One of her major discontents emerged from an incident involving her book of poems.

According to both of them, he got a lot of chocolates (which he liked so much) in his desk drawer from some girls working under him. It was more to placate him I guess; he was a stickler for perfection and discipline than any sort of romantic overture. However, as I told you, she thought otherwise! It did his ego good so he let it pass.

The only one who didn’t bribe him with chocolates or any kind of attention was Peggy D’sylva. But one day she “lent” him her book of poems. She loved to write poetry. That was the only thing she slipped into his draw because he’d “asked to read” it. This was her account. Daddy said he did no such thing! I’ll digress here to give you some background to the story and how they were together in an office.

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Daddy with his elder brother at Chatham

In 1945, Daddy got commissioned and was transferred from HMIS Llanstephen Castle to join Bombay as CCO (Commissioned Communications Officer). They called him Jimmy. This is where he met Peggy, a stenographer in the Navy. Women working in the Navy in those days were called WRINS (Women’s Royal Indian Navy Service).

When all Jimmy’s efforts to break the ice failed, he gave up and left Peggy to her own world which, in the office, was a small New Testament.

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The WRINS. The red arrow marks Mummy

Every minute of spare time would see the little book in her hands. She would devour every line and word. She was on her way to “being saved”, as they say. However, Peggy outside the office was another person! Anyway, this quite impressed Jimmy and he noted her “good character” even though her “holy” act didn’t appeal to his macho image.

In the meantime, a particular Ms. Cutting made her move and caught Jimmy’s fancy. Although Peggy wouldn’t admit it, Ms. Cutting had ignited a spark of jealousy and Peggy decided to show another side of herself to the boss.

One morning, Jimmy was surprised to find a diary in his desk drawer. It was Peggy’s offering to him. He was taken by surprise and as he read the beautiful verses she had penned, he was impressed.

There was an assortment of poems. Some funny, some serious and deep, many sad or pining and some light, happy ones with tones of romance. Peggy had given her heart and soul in that book of poems. If she thought she had executed a coup, she was mistaken. Ms. Cutting had the boss’ total attention.

Jimmy thanked Peggy for allowing him to read it and returned it to her with a word of praise for her talent.

Peggy was fuming. Country bumpkin, she thought to herself. Then, she decided to put it back on his desk hoping the message would be clearer this time.

The next day, she was in early and the book was lying on his desk instead of in the drawer. She waited impatiently for Jimmy but he didn’t come in. Finally, she couldn’t stand the waiting and got up in a huff, walked across the room intending to take back her precious book. Before she reached the desk, Jimmy and Ms. Cutting walked in.

“Good Morning, Peggy,” said Jimmy and sat at his desk. “Did you want something?”

“Yes, Sir… N…No Sir,” Peggy stuttered. Just as she turned to leave, Ms. Cutting picked up the diary and flipped the pages.

“You write poetry too? How wonderful! I love poetry and I’m sure you’ve written this for me, Jimmy. This is for me, right? This is the surprise you wanted to give me, isn’t it?”

Jimmy looked at Peggy. They stared at each other and the silence was ominous. Ms. Cutting also glared at Peggy.

Then the silence was shattered as Jimmy said, “Yes, of course, this is what I wanted to show you but it’s not…” Jimmy hesitated a moment then added, “it’s not yet typed out. I just wanted you to read it that’s all.”

“It’s beautiful as it is in its original form. Thank you so much for the gift, Jimmy. I’ll treasure it always.” Ms. Cutting took the book with her as she walked out the door. That left Jimmy alone with Peggy, to sort out the mess.

“Look, I didn’t want to give it to her. I brought her here to show her your book. Why did you have to put it on my table, right now? I just wanted her to read your verses. You write so well, Peggy.” He could have been telling it to the walls.

Peggy did not wait to hear the whole explanation. She was already back to work with deaf ears!

The rest, as they say, is history.

Jimmy took it upon himself to make up for his cowardice and “cheapness” in gaining brownie points from stolen verses. He even joined the Christian group Peggy had recently joined. As a result, he even got “saved!”

Before long, Ms. Cutting was out but not forgotten because Peggy was in and she never let Jimmy forget her or the stolen verses!

This incident became a funny story (in a sweet way) for me, but for Mummy, it wasn’t funny. She never accepted Daddy’s explanation for what transpired that day back in 1945-46. Her argument being…

“You didn’t take the book back from her. You were more concerned about how she would feel. Why should I believe you?” she’d pout.

Playing Devil’s advocate I’d side with her telling Daddy that he was mean.

“I’m here so where’s the lie?” he would counter.

I’d nod my head wisely with a smile plastered across my face and ask Mummy what was her problem. She’d pretend to be annoyed but the laughter bubbling inside would break through.

Yes, women are from Venus… they’re love personified with all the add-ons… jealousy, possessiveness, martyrdom, and phenomenal memories included! They never forget and don’t let you forget either.

This excerpt sits well on their story except for the “clumsy, balding fellow” bit!

“I squeezed her hand and said nothing. I knew little about Keats or his poetry, but I thought it possible that in his hopeless situation he would not have wanted to write precisely because he loved her so much. Lately, I’d had the idea that Clarissa’s interest in these hypothetical letters had something to do with our own situation, and with her conviction that love that did not find its expression in a letter was not perfect. In the months after we’d met, and before we’d bought the apartment, she had written me some beauties, passionately abstract in the ways our love was different from and superior to any that had ever existed. Perhaps that’s the essence of a love letter, to celebrate the unique. I had tried to match her, but all that sincerity would permit me were the facts, and they seemed miraculous enough to me: a beautiful woman loved and wanted to be loved by a large, clumsy, balding fellow who could hardly believe his luck.”

― Ian McEwan, Enduring Love

 

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Chile Diary- 10

As I read this entry, I realize how awful it was for me; hampered by not only my physical problems but also with my own feelings of not wanting to be a burden on anyone and dependent too, for each little thing.
 

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The beautiful streets of Viña del Mar

The everyday activities we take for granted were either very difficult and painful for me to accomplish or then impossible and not advisable that I even try to do so. I learned this the hard and excruciatingly painful way when I ruptured a disc or developed tears in them.

I would get irritated and often angry with myself. My inability to perform the simple, normal day-to-day things or even walk at a normal pace and for a good distance frustrated me.

My fastest pace was ‘tortoise’ and I had to stop after every 10-15 steps to catch my breath and get relief from the pain. Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis aren’t great companions. I am so grateful and thankful that I am so much better now.

By the grace of God, I found an orthopedic surgeon in 2007 who helped me get back to a normal life. It took a long time, 8 years, for the quality of my life to improve, but it did. And then a doctor of alternative medicine in Chile,  one who prescribed diets and herbal medicines, took it further and all I can say is, “Thank you, Lord, for leading me to them.”

I also understand how difficult it must have been for my son and DIL. I needed assistance in everything and in the kind of situation we were in at this time, it could be trying; very trying.

March 20th, 2010

The Fishbone In The Throat

Yesterday marked one month of my stay to the day. I landed in Santiago on a Friday, the 19th of February. Yesterday was also a Friday. The bonus was… Ranjit had taken leave and we had lunch at SixBar, a restaurant specializing in Peruvian and Japanese cuisine. It’s close-by so we walked down.

It took longer than it should have but I needed to exercise my legs; my body, even if it was a tortoise walk! And I must have looked like one with this rather big lumbar support belt. It has three rods in it and wrapped around my lower back and waist it looked like protective armor!

It was a celebration of sorts. We munched on starters; roasted crunchy maize and salmon tempura as we waited for the camarone (shrimp) tempura to arrive. Delicious! We walloped it down and waited patiently for the main course of roast pork accompanied by ‘terrine papa y chutney de mango’. I enjoyed it with two glasses of fresh ‘pina’ juice.

Terrine papa is a dish made with slices of potato (papa) wrapped in bacon rashers and baked. This is eaten with a mango chutney. Now it was time for dessert.

Ranjit chose one that translated to ‘Volcano of Chocolate’ but changed the order when they informed him that it would take fifteen minutes and opted for the trilogy of chocolate. What no one told him was that this would take twenty minutes!! I asked for a plate of fresh fruits. Boy! That was a meal!

The cab had arrived and was waiting. We drove to Lider, a huge market which would be called a mall in India. It’s a lot like Spencer’s in Gurgaon, only three times the size. The only reason we made the trip was to get my track pants altered and that got done quick enough. We had nothing else to do but window shopping which I couldn’t do much of as my back and legs didn’t hold up and I needed to sit. There was nowhere I could sit so I leaned against a pillar and waited for Ranjit to finish his window shopping. Then it was back to the guesthouse.

I was tired and lay down. Ranjit, promptly went off to sleep. The rest of the evening went off dozing and waking till I got quite fed-up with staring at the ceiling and walls.

It was 10.30 pm when Manu walked in with the dinner she had prepared at the apartment. We ate. We talked a bit. At about midnight, she felt like eating ice cream. Since it meant a long walk, for me, to 5 Norte, I was obviously not included in the midnight jaunt. But I was too nervous to be left alone at the guesthouse for two reasons; first, I wasn’t sleepy and with no TV or internet, I had nothing to take my mind off tremors and quakes. The second, the other mom ( Mauricio’s) wasn’t in and I didn’t want to be alone.

This didn’t please one, evidently, so I suggested they drop me at Manchester where I could drink some coffee, plug-in the laptop and check my mail and chat with some friends. This didn’t please the other!

Anyway, with no alternative being decided on, I was hovering in the living room wondering how I was going to deal with the situation when both of them herded me out of the house. I tagged along.

To cut a long story short, I couldn’t walk the distance. Manu was upset, and I can understand that. She walked yards ahead in a silent protest. Ranjit had to bear the brunt indirectly while I felt as unwanted as a fishbone in the throat. I don’t blame either for feeling the way they felt about me at that moment.

The day ended on a sour note and it doesn’t make me happy because I know it was I and not my son who was the irritant.

 

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