Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happy Diwali ... to Goa tomorrow for a week.

Wish you all and your families a very, very Happy Diwali. May it be filled with laughter and light, hope and health.

Happy Diwali.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bombay Diaries – 2: The secret diary of Cynic in Wonderland Aged 13 1/4th

I think I am a bit like a bear. A couple of times in a year, after an protracted time of activity I get this strong urge to go into hibernation – viz. just take off and do some R&R and space out and be incommunicado to everyone except those whom I HAVE to talk to - office folks, my mother (if anyone has managed to successfully go on, and more importantly maintain a maun-vrat with their mother, please give me tips), and sometimes the out-laws. The last one leaves me feeling more than slightly aggrieved. That is the reason when I feel the need to hibernate; I usually skulk off to Bombay where I can go peacefully into my asocial-surly-moody-space cadet mode without being disturbed or suffering annoying guilt pangs.

So anyways, I went last week but this time I wasn’t allowed to pursue my usual policy of going into a state of suspended animation – where I sleep, eat, read, ignore everyone, watch bad movies and occasionally do guilt-propelled exercise (and do NO work).

This time, the mother had an agenda for me – viz. clear out my bookcase. She for some reason has always found my tendency to buy and hoard books a nuisance, nothing moves her to fluent oratory as much as finding some book under the bed or on top of the washing machine. Sigh.

So she put an ultimatum. Either clear out the cupboard or she would clear it out (which basically meant that she would have just called the raddi-wala and told him to take away everything in sight.)

So, very reluctantly I set out to do so.

And I found a whole lot of half-remembered things from bygone eras. Letters from my friends carefully stored away inside books, letters written to my friends which I never got around to mailing, poems (aged 14 -18: serious and deadly earnest philosophies for life and living (ahem)), my friend Goonda’s poems (which I had copied meticulously for some reason. I promptly called her to recite them on phone and she had to bribe me with a gift to shut up) and Goonda + Mine ambitious literally opus – titled the GOLD (er...Gems of Literature and Dramatics. I know. I know. I was fourteen. God help me).

And I found my diaries. Slightly squashed, slightly musty, slightly dog-eared but all there for posterity.

I started writing these diaries – well when I was seven or eight at the behest of my father. I would religiously show it to him, making sure that my mother didn’t see them (I did say I was a Daddy’s girl didn’t I? Although I stopped sharing it from age ten). He would assure me (completely mendaciously) they were particularly well written and that would ensure that I continue this diary for at least three months of the year – even if it was a bland and factual “I didn’t do anything today so nothing to write”.

The early editions of this unfortunately, must have got lost when we shifted countries when I was 11. But I have the diaries from ages 13 to age of 22(which seems to be the last time I attempted it.)

So I have brought along my diary aged 13 1/4th to Pune and have been wading through it, these days. It is written in a scrawl (whatever else might have changed, my handwriting remains as bad as ever) and the text is usually accompanied by illustrations interspersed with dire threats/pathetic pleas to people to refrain from reading. Mostly addressed to my mother . She used to insist on reading the diaries when I hid and locked them. After a point I started leaving them around and she promptly lost interest. I wonder whether this mother-daughter privacy thing always happens in the early teens.

Anyways the entries are full of anecdotes from school and my opinions on class fellows and the process of discovering the world through books such as Anne Frank’s diary through the eyes of a dreamer-introvert that I was.

It’s well, for lack of a better description– quaintly grown up in some cases (“I had to stifle a laugh”. “I went to a temple which had three Goddesses, and I absolutely stuck to Saraswati because exam results are due any day”/”So and so talked for exactly 23 minutes without stopping and 15 minutes after taking a pause. I timed him”) and brutally childish (“XYZ aunty I hate her and her lunch was awful”).

I do remember some of the more memorable incidents such as the time I locked myself in the bathroom (which had two doors, one leading to the bedroom and the other to terrace.) way past the time I was allowed to read books, with “Anne of Green Gables”. I got so engrossed in the story that I completely forgot about getting out until “rudely awakened from my reverie” by my father knocking on the door and asking me whether I was reading a book. Guiltily aware that I would be in quite deep trouble if caught with a book (I was not allowed to read in the bathrooms) I quietly opened the terrace door and left the book outside hoping to retrieve it later – innocently oblivious to the fact that my parents could see the bathroom light and my shadow as I furtively left the book there. I opened the main door and went swaggering out only to be hauled by the coals by my dad and I drily end the entry with “Ma couldn’t scold me, she was laughing so hard at the irony of the situation”

There are some entries which in hindsight are beautifully insightful.

One reads “One of my friends at school is a great artist. Today in free period she started drawing on the board and she drew a man (Mr. Weepy Sing)”. Given what I recall of the aforementioned gentleman, that is not a bad description at all.

And finally my favourite entry...
“I just hope I don’t have to sit with any ninth standard boys they are so STUPID”.
More than a decade and a half later, with many experiences dealing with boys in various shapes and sizes, I still can’t quibble too much with THAT particular sentiment.

Ah. Growing DOES pain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Que Sari Sari

I have always envied women who can wear saris effortlessly and gracefully. I have never been quite able to crack it. I can wear them. After about seven attempts and 41safety pins (a girl’s best friend), it can even look passably elegant. But if truth be told, I have never quite mastered the art and therefore, can never be one of those marvellous super women-types who just get up in the morning and glide into a sari without any fuss or tears.

My standard operating practise when confronted with a sari-wearing occasion is to

a) Avoid: Duck the occasion altogether (ah, wishful thinking)

b) Substitute: Give feeble excuses and turn up in a Salwar Kameez.

c) Sulk and comply: Throw tantrums, fret, curse, and then finally wear it (with the help of Ma or any handy female) with a martyred air and totter to whichever function. This, after turning most of the room upside down and getting into at least one spat (with the mother, – “WHY the HELL can’t you drape it properly-you have thirty years of practise?”/ “No I will NOT wear those rib-cracking-circulation-stopping blouses. I don’t care if people call it a tee-shirt. At least I don’t get asphyxiated ”/”Stick a pin there, and there and there as well, you missed that spot, OUCH!!!” or with the husband, “ hope in the next janam you are born an Indian woman and have to wear saris everyday” or the more pithy “Eff off”)

d)In a rare burst of enthusiasm, decide to drape it without any help and do so successfully. Only figure out that it has been arrayed in the mirror image of the more conventional left shouldered way after the mother goes into peals of raucous and unseemly laughter.

My first brush with the sari started somewhere in late school. Till then, I had quite successfully managed to avoid coming within lassoing distance of them despite the occasional traditional /teacher’s day scare.

Let’s forward to Class 9, Hyderabad.

Our much esteemed (!) and very I-know-which-side-my-bread-is-buttered-and-will-do-sell-my-grandmother-let-alone-these-useless-students-for-money Owner/Principal manages to get the school invited for some inter-state- competition. As a gesture of goodwill (to the rich dignitaries) and revenge (on the hapless female students), she mandates that we don costumes of the participating states and sashay down the grounds.

Some evil star prompts the organizer to allocate a Bengali sari to me. The Bengali traditional sari – the one which is the lovely red and white (Think Parineeta) which is distinguished by the fact that it has ABSOLUTELY no pleats in front. The same all-important-pleats which allow the wearer some moving and breathing space. This one is to be worn more like a crepe bandage- viz. just rolled around the wearer. Also as with the crepe, the key focus seems to be to restrict and impede any free movement (the dainty, femininity thing l I assume).

Definitely not the ideal way to initiate a semi-tomboy into the intricacies of the garment.

Somehow I manage to shuffle, waddle, and roll myself to the parade grounds with other similarly suffering schoolmates - accompanied by distressingly forthright commentary from the boys. Once there, we are told, that we need to perambulate the ground (which incidentally are flanked by er..nubile young jawaans).

So we all waddle, shuffle and roll some more, collectively stomping over and crushing yards and yards of silk and satin. During the course of this walk, my sari which seems to have a distinct mind of its own (quite typical of Bengalis?), decides that it has enough of me and valiantly tries to part ways. Fortunately, it meets with only partial success.

The Gujurati sari next to mine, decides to emulate the attempt and is much more successful (again, quite typical of the state? Hmmmm!). About seventy percent manages to sneak away before the wearer realizes that.

I did mention that we were flanked by nubile (?) young jawans didn’t I?

Let us discreetly draw a curtain over the rest of the proceedings.

Incidentally there is still a photograph of me in that damn thing floating around in cyberspace in-spite of all my attempts to destroy it. One of my moronic friends has become the self appointed guardian of my ‘street-urchin’ (as he calls it) look for eternity. Every few years he digs the photo out, sends me a sadistic mail with the photo as an attachment. Hmm, I really need to get new friends.

After this, I firmly stayed away from saris for the next three years until the twelfth standard farewell party. This was quite uneventful, except for the fashion atrocity of wearing puffed LONG sleeved blouse (the ‘in’ (sic) style) with a Guajarati pallu.

Undergrad was relatively simple. Traditional and sari days could just be avoided – as were rose days and friendship days (do they still have them I wonder, the friendship days were particularly nauseating as I recall).

Then we come to B-school. College brochures, presentations, inter-collegiate functions, mug-shots – all in saris, all fraught with much tension. The halcyon sans-sari days seemed definitely over. But on the plus side, I meet like-minded, sari-challenged friends. (Once, after a few nights-out-battling-insane-deadline-for-an-intercollegiate-competitions, we (four females) accompanied the sari-clad-presenter without realizing that it was draped on the wrong shoulder. Fortunately a friend (male!) pointed it out before she went up onto the dais).

After that it’s been a series of saris – cousins’ weddings, engagement, marriage, pujas so on and so forth. I suppose I am better than I was, but I prefer it infinitely more, when it is worn by other people.

This sari post will not be complete, if I don’t end this with an incident with a friend.

Just after she got married, she had to go to the in-laws for the first time as a bride, for a Satyanarayan puja.There she was expected to change into an appropriate sari for the function which she did and since she didn’t have the help of any friendly, known females. She asked her husband to help her pin the sari pallu together – which he did. Only being a male, he wasn’t aware that the pallu is normally ALSO pinned to the blouse – to keep it in place. Then friend goes to the pandal and does the sashtang pranam (prostration before the idol). Gravity of course, played out its part on the thick Kancheepuram pallu.

Apparently a lot of the younger folks of her husband’s family fondly recall her as the bride whose pallu fell down.

Ah well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bombay Diaries – 1:Journey

Conversations between the spouses, one in Bombay the other in Pune. Henceforth known as P and B.

Marriage Year 1:

P: “When are you coming home?”

B: “Why?”

P:” I am bored, I don’t have anyone to talk to”

B (suitably touched and all that): “Ah. OK. Soon”

Marriage Year 2:

P: “When are you coming home?”

B: “Why?”

P:” I don’t have any clean clothes and I don’t know how to operate the washing machine”

B patiently explains the functioning of the same

P: (very gleefully) “Okay great I figured it out. You know, you have become completely redundant now that I can do all of this”

QED: The journey from wife to washing machine takes exactly one year.

To be continued: The secret diary of Cynic in Wonderland Aged 13 1/4th