Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Missed Reunion




           It's the year end and there are nostalgic trips galore of the days gone by. The dailies look back at the year's 'moving' and 'shaking' events and the FB  is flooded with updates on small reunions, big reunions, silver jubilee reunions, close friends reunions, long lost neighbour reunions, window -to - window- unrequited- romance reunions( now with brats, fats and wider statistics), school reunions, chaddy buddy reunions...

       And here I am looking at all those updates and uploads wistfully. Yes, I missed one of those. I missed our school batch's  25th year of passing out. Why I missed it is a different sob story altogether. So miles away I was sitting and visualising the squeals and the guffaws, waiting for the updates to stream in, resigned to my fate in a typically Nirupa Roy fashion. 

     But trust your friends to prick that  wallowing-in-self-pity-balloon. Just when I was going from Nirupa Roy to Meena Kumari, there's a call from a friend ( last seen more than two decades back)  who was making all efforts to  come and meet me in Delhi prior to the reunion. And how we talked is unbelievable considering we barely spoke, by her own admission, in school! Then another one calls up having travelled from UK  for the event as did a couple more. He was making calls to all of us who  couldn't make it to Samitra. 
   Each time the mobile pinged, I pulled my kids closer to point at the snaps uploaded and took great pains to explain each of those smiling faces, the back ground and the anecdotes. I think, I overdid it. Every ping after this, the kids were seen scuttling off to other rooms and even to the balcony in the morbid cold weather. The better half of course made the appropriate sounds at the right intervals thereby absolving himself of all crimes. And all was peaceful in the home front. 

   Like a sentimental fool, the eyes went misty looking at those now grown ups barely managing to fit into the benches; the deer still doing the rounds near the class rooms; the bus stop; the tamarind trees; PT sir (  fresh from a course Down Under) who was hell bent on getting us to like the morning drills with music; the English teacher under whose look we would still squirm enough to mind our p's and q' s... How nothing had changed, only the years had added on physically!

    I don't know if it was true in the rest of the country but growing up in conservative Madras in the 80s, we behaved quite strangely with the opposite sex... treating them like untouchables. That lasted till junior school. Then we moved on to middle school and discovered they were not so bad after all. This was till the Reproductive System lesson came up in eighth standard, if I am not mistaken. All of us sat still with sheepish looks on our face, giggling nervously and trying hard to behave normally. The biology teacher walks into the class in a stiffly starched cotton sari looking sterner than usual. The lesson proceeds without any mishaps and as the details are delved into we dig our nose deeper into the pages going redder in a desperate bid to muffle the giggles. And then the cheekiest of the lot raises his hand! Good Lord! He has a doubt! And he is going to ask! We were astounded! I don't remember his 'innocent' doubt but I do remember the ice cold response.
"One more smart question from you, young man, and I'll have you right here in front of the entire class for a demo of all the parts involved..."  Needless to say, that had all of us behaving till the lesson ended.

   Twentyfive years later, the anecdotes are gems that each of us treasure. When friends sit together one recollection often triggers another and very soon all of us are rolling mirthfully. Strangely, it makes all those barriers of distance and years disappear.  So it did for me as the smiling faces looked back from the monitor. Tagging some of us ( couldn't - make - it lot), certainly had us inclusive to the reunion party.

 


Friday, 19 December 2014

The Tortoise's Journey

                                                 


  There was a  tortoise but no hare. It had to reach the first of the many finishing lines that others had crossed long time back. There were too many stops, diversions and distractions. Nevertheless, the tortoise resumed it's journey. For that's what it was essentially. A journey and not a race.

    And so has been my foray into the blog world. Why am I getting so reflective about this today ? With this post I reach the first milestone. Not sailing into it exactly but managing to crawl to the hundredth post. Like the last athlete who stumbles in long after the winners have started their victory lap. But then again this is not a race.

   For all my blogger friends, thank you for hearing me out through my reminisces, coherent or incoherent stringing together of ideas, little stories and travel tales, which I've loved sharing with you. Each time I have tapped the 'publish' button, it's been hard to keep away from the monitor pretending that 'visits' don't really bother me. When the first comment appears, all that 'cool' attitude evaporates and a gleeful child, little short of jumping and clapping hands, takes it's place.

   My hundredth post combined with the festive warmth of aromatic plum cakes, christmas trees, tiny jingling bells at the kirana shop,  the lure of the christmassy malls, the warm pretty woollens; the hastily put together little bonfires at the corner of the road to soak in the heat, is a thank you note for all the little things in life. In this journey, the first step is all that is needed to reach the many milestones. That is what I gathered from the wise old tortoise. And along the way I have discovered new windows, sights, thoughts, different worlds within this big wide world, realising there is so much yet to be done.

  But for starters, the hundredth post will do. And with the New Year quietly making it's way round the corner, there is more to look forward to, personally.

     

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

For All The Children

    This cold foggy morning, my daughters also left for school like million others around the world. I dropped them off at the bus stop in the dark. The tail lights of the school bus melted into the hazy darkness. They were warm with hopes in their hearts and the joy of meeting their friends, looking forward to their many activities. So did those kids in Peshawar. So did their mothers send them off that morning. And then got busy getting the lunch ready keeping in mind what the children prefer.

  But the lunch never got cooked. The hearth remained cold. For the mothers ran towards the school only to bring back the bodies after what seemed an eternity of nightmare. The cold little bodies. Cold bodies that had hugged them warm just a little while ago.

   How did they pull the first trigger? How did they hunt down the innocent ruffled heads? How did they shoot down the pair of pleading young eyes? How did they bore down on those tender limbs? Are they so stoned with fanaticism and brain washed that they failed to see what lay before them? Why come as fidayeens?  Is it because they knew they could never ever live with the cries of the hundreds, the red spraying all around? And those who thump their chest proudly to say it was a revenge well taken? A revenge  taken on children who were taking exams, first aid sessions and career counselling? A revenge taken on children who were preparing for a life ahead?
 
    This is the second December that tears have rolled down my cheeks as I opened the morning newspaper. The first time was when Nirbhaya was brutally violated on one such cold dark day. And today Peshawar.

    If  ever there was a convention of all the animals in the world, I would be ashamed to call myself a human being. For we belong right down there in the ladder of all the species. Charles Darwin, did you say we were the most evolved? The most evolved when I, like many other, wait for my children to return safe each day?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Of Putolas, Dolls and Poppenhuis




     One of my warmest memories, is of sitting down on the cool floor of my grandmother's home in Tipling in the summer holidays and watch her put together bits and pieces of left over cloth, to fashion out rag dolls for me. The fan from the false ceiling  whirred to keep the humid air at bay. At times a gentle cool air breezed in through the open wooden doors and windows. She worked on nimbly sewing and stuffing the head, the torso, the limbs, and right before my fascinated eyes putolas (dolls) were created. My eldest mami (aunt chipped in to put together a trousseau for the bride and the groom and also a little mattress with sheets, a quilt and pillows. So much love and ingenuity went into making those rag dolls, giving life to a little girl's world of fantasy! 

   And then came in dolls, the plastic ones whose eye lids closed when in sleeping position and blue eyes revealed when put upright. The talking dolls were the sought after ones, seen only in the neighbour's house. And now, assembly line produced Barbies, Monster dolls and the likes have taken over with politically incorrect and then corrected versions ruling the roost where one damaged doll is immediately replaced by the next available one. That their enticing and coordinated ensembles of kitchen, trousseaus, and other accessories shred the pockets is an understatement.

   That was until we visited the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam and strolling through the galleries absorbing the  masters' creations adorning the walls we came across Petronella Oortman. Well not really Petronella herself but a miniature version of her home in the seventeenth century Netherlands. Doll's houses in those days were no child's play. They were serious hobbies of the rich Dutch ladies often the centerpiece in any living room vying for attention with the men's obsession of curiosity  cabinets. They were reflections of the Golden Age of Netherlands when the economy of the country flourished following the successful tradings across the globe. While the men's curiosity cabinet was the fabled Ali Baba's cave displaying the objects collected from their many travels around the world, the women's doll houses were an example of a perfect Dutch household. They revealed the world of a rich woman who had enough means to commission a home complete with miniature paintings, furniture, crockery and cutlery and abundant leisure time to indulge in them.

 For the last  four centuries Petronella Oortman's doll house, where every detail is made to scale and with materials used in the real world, has been a fine window to the lifestyle of the rich Dutch homes.




 
Petronella Oortman's Doll House



 A rich silk merchant's wife, Petronella Oortman had this doll house commissioned in the year 1686, the year of her marriage with Johannes Brandt. A cabinet of tortoise shell with fine pewter inlay work, it is the most famous of the three other doll houses in the Rijks Museum. There is always a queue to climb up the little stepladder to peer at Oortman's indulgence whose collection for the interiors continued till 1710.  The kind of exquisite detailed work that can be housed within the dimensions of 8.36 ft x 6.23 ft x 2.55 ft, left us gaping with wonder. Let me take you on a room by room tour of this exquisite doll house that could also be a peek into their lives. 


        

The Linen Room


The top left room, on the second floor is the linen room with perfectly crafted wicker baskets, the irons on the ironing table, the curtains, a place where the linen of the house, blankets etc are stored. Please note the linen hung out to dry from the ceiling. 


                                                               

                                                  The Box Room / The Servant's Room

Next to the Linen Room on the second floor is the box room where the servants of the house retired. In the right corner is the spinning wheel. It is said to have a chamber pot and foot warmers.

      The right corner room on the second floor, next to the servant's room is the nursery of the house with gold drapings and parrot painted screens. Perhaps in our excitement or the many people waiting to take a turn  we missed out on taking a snap of this pretty room.




Living Room

        The exquisitely carved furniture with rich upholstery, floor to ceiling murals, the paintings on the wall are all  original artwork of artists commissioned for the purpose. A backgammon table is at the centre and in the corner is a folding table with a colourful parrot painted on a black background. 




                



The central room on the first floor is the main entrance at the street level. You can see the marble flooring and the carved interiors. Don't miss the painting on the ceiling and the framed artwork on the wall! Beyond it, on the other side,  was a garden complete with a working fountain! Sadly with time, these have been lost. The living room is actually to the left of this central entry.



                                                                     Lying In Room



         To the right of this entry is the Lying In room where the lady of the house gave birth. The room is done up in red with a curtained bed tucked in at the back wall and a screen for privacy. To the right of the screen you can see the closet where the linen is stacked neatly. Silver candlestands on the walls, porcelain tea set and a crib complete the picture. This is the only room that has a doll in it whereas all the others have been lost, once again with time.


                   
                                                                 Best Kitchen


                 The house has two kitchens. On the bottom left is the 'Best Kitchen' where the owners entertained  and dined with their guests. This is the room where fine tableware is on display.  In and above the cabinet are fine detailed porcelain, all made to order in China. A pretty bird cage is hung from the ceiling on the left corner of the room. Please note the ceiling, the paintings, the cabinet doors and the floor. Delightful, isn't it?



                     
                               
                                                                   Kitchen

          Next to it is the real kitchen with a fireplace and a sink, where actual cooking was done for the family. It is said that it also had a working water pump once.


                           

                                                          Tapestry Room

         The bottom right corner of the room is the tapestry room. The walls are covered completely with tapestry and comparatively is a sparse room and  soberly done up. This was also the mourning room where friends and relatives gathered to mourn or honour the dead. 

        
    Petronella Oortman commissioned basket weavers, glass blowers, artists, cabinet makers and the lot to make miniature replicas for her doll house. It was strange that every essential act of life had a dedicated room except the room where the couple of the house retired. There was a room for birth, for the child, the cooking and eating rooms and even one dedicated to the dead. Strangely we did not see a bedroom where the lord and the lady of the house retired for the day. Was it fine sensibility that inhibited the wealthy ladies from displaying a room that could hint at their private lives? Similarly there were no rooms or doors that hinted at the presence of bathrooms or servants entry.   What made women like Petronella Oortman and Petronella Dunois ( another wealthy lady) splurge on doll houses that cost as much as a real house near the canals? Oortman is believed to have spent twenty to thirty thousand guilds on her doll house which was equivalent to the cost of a real house on the canal. Was it time hanging heavy on their hands while their merchant husbands were out travelling to distant places  ? Or was it the necessity to be ostentatious in their display of wealth as a mark of having arrived? Petronella Oortman was so taken in with her passion for the little home that she even had the noted artist Jacob Appel paint a version of it, which hangs next to the real one in the Rijks Museum.

                         

                                  Painting of Petronella Oortman's Doll House by Jacob Appel

         Later, a bit of research led to the fact that the wealthy merchants in the 17th century Amsterdam were at the peak of the social structure having once led the revolt against Spain. From then on, they influenced the government's decisions and policies rooting for those, that would encourage economic progress. These were the families that inhabited the beautiful houses on the elm lined avenues along the newly constructed three semi circular canals and the many of their links, radials and the existing canals. History has it that the Dutch  merchants were extremely enterprising and could trade in almost anything despite Netherlands having limited resources. They bought unfinished woollens from England, grains from Poland and other European countries, salt from Denmark, metal work from Sweden, wool from spanish sheep and sold them wherever needed. This was supported by a strong maritime fleet both in terms of the sturdy ships and their defence. 

      A religion tolerant country, Amsterdam attracted all the persecuted migrants and so thrived the skilled artisans of lace making, artists, intellectuals, glass blowers, jews who contributed with their exquisite work. It was no doubt dubbed as the 'market place of the Northern Europe' as it provided warehouses, insurance agents, wholesale dealers, brokers along with ship building, leasing and docking facilities.


     It is easy to imagine, a whirlwind of commercial activities taking place out side these canal homes pushing the envelope with new found places and colonies. And within the homes the ladies quietly went about managing the business and homes in the long absence of their husbands. So did these doll houses while filling up their vacant time also give flight to their imaginations? 

        Below is yet another doll house curated by Petronella Dunois. Curating doll houses was actually a fad that started in Nuremberg and caught on like wild fire in rest of Germany, Netherlands and England too. 


Doll House of Petronella Dunois
   

  
        These doll houses have let people peer at the lives and the world of the wealthy Dutch for the last four centuries. The tiny step ladder that leads up for a good view is always occupied with visitors. Later, walking along the avenues of Amsterdam by the canals, it was  surprising to see the homes of modern day Amsterdam,  with huge windows either clear of any drapes or lightly covered with sheer curtains. It felt like the owners graciously allowed the passers by to gaze and admire the beautifully done up homes with nothing to hide. They could be  boat houses on the canals or the lovely town houses with similar facades.





 









Monday, 24 November 2014

A Wait In the Salon

                               Woman with Beauty Salon vector 05
                                                           Courtesy Google Image


     I waited patiently for someone to attend to my scraggly hair that was growing independently in every perceivable direction. It was quite an enjoyable wait though, observing the hair being streaked, lips contorting to accommodate the thread neatly plucking out those abominable little hair growing in the wrong places. What business does cilia  have on the upper lips? The look of bliss as another surrendered the feet in the warm soapy water to be cleaned, caressed and plumped up. Tired housewives looking for minutes of succour before the brats of all sizes barged back through the front doors. Stressed out working women probably making the most of a day off. Everyone looked relaxed except the aproned, nimble fingered girls working behind the chairs.The air conditioner hummed discreetly along with the soothing music being played. A faint squeak of the front door gently whispered the entry of another customer. A young bright eyed  mother walked in with a chubby and cute eight year old. The mistress of the parlour turned her chemical blond head from a hair styling she was attending to. With a smile plastered on her face she cooed, "Oh! After such a long time! So, how was your trip?" 
   
" Oh! It was good you know!" the shrill voice of the mother sang along.
" Where did you go? Thailand? " asked the mistress of the parlour taking a few seconds off her work.
" No! No! We went to Kathmandu this time."
" Ya, I have also been to Kathmandu so many times. It is always nice. Did you manage to go to the Temple?" asked the mistress looking over her rimless specs. Her tattooed arms moved expertly over the young girl's hair, snipping away a bit of hair here and there, and gesturing to one of the trainees to offer a glass of water to the young mother and the child, all at the same time.
" The trip was good and we had a good darshan at the Temple. It was only the return that was exasperating!" exclaimed the young mother in a snug pair of jeans and t-shirt, both a size too small. A thick gold chain slung around the neck was clamouring for attention. She tossed her hair back
 
  A raised eyebrow over green shaded eye lids of the mistress was all the cue she needed to spill the words that she was dying to blurt.
" You know how they are at the immigration. 'Are you bringing back any gold?' 'Please, declare any gold.' Oof! There was no respite! Did we look like smugglers or what?" the young mother declared and looked around carefully without seeming to look around, to see the effect.
 The air conditioner hummed on. The other customers were deeply buried in some old issues of the Stardust or Femina. Some had their ear plugs on. A tattoo machine was inking a rose on a supple arm.  I looked out of the floor length window at the traffic jostling by quietly, enjoying every bit of the conversation.
The young mother continued in a voice one notch higher, " I don't have to bring gold from Kathmandu. I have enough here and no place to keep. Pinky! Stop fidgeting with the dryer and jumping around!" she admonished her child who was looking for something to keep her occupied. And Pinky gave one long mournful look to her mother before going through a door to explore the room beyond. Stretched out on two of the beds were  ladies in their forties and sixties, eyes weighed down with cucumber slices over cotton swabs and faces masked in a ghostly greenish layer, in a desperate bid to bring back the glow of the yesteryears.

"... If I have to buy gold I will bring it from Dubai during that Dubai Shopping festival" the young mother continued her supposed indignant conversation with the immigration officials whom she had left behind at the Nepal border a month back.
" Hmmm, the next time  wear an imitation chain while going to Dubai and wear the real one on your return. That way they will not say anything" suggested the green lidded mistress. " So, what will you get done today?" she finally asked getting down to business.
" Oh! Today let it be only a hair wash and a body polish and massage. It is so difficult to wash and manage the hair at home. People do lose weight with the massage, don't they?" queried the young mother.
" Oh yes, they do! Only you have to be regular with it. If you stop in between, it all comes back, you know!" said the mistress taking a long hard look at the young mother, over her rimless specs, before going back to the last few strokes of blow drying the newly stylised hair.

 The young mother settled herself into a plush chair  next to the floor length window with an old issue of Women's Era. Pulling down her T shirt that kept riding up and stretching out her legs in the too tight jeans she called out " Pinky! Pinky!! Come and let aunty wash your hair and give you a massage!"
    

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Trip To Tukreswari

                                                 
                                         

     It took me fourteen years to set foot on this place although I whizzed past it every year with the same refrain coming from the driver's seat.
 " This is where the king of the monkeys lives!"
Ever since I went past this hauntingly beautiful hillock as a bride, Tukreshwari was just a name tagged with the same story of monkeys. It was made out to be the land of monkeys as many places of worship tend to be. And the image I conjured up was a hillock teeming with the simian lot at every step. Anecdotes abounded of the many antics of our four legged ancestors. But strangely very few of those people, from whom I heard these, had actually ventured up there for a first hand experience.

                               
A view of a distant hillock 

    And so one sultry afternoon, we set out from Goalpara town for Tukreswari which is about 25km away on the NH 37. Yes, it was that close and yet it took me 14 years to finally reach that place. From afar the hillock looked formidable with dark hued rocks and boulders jutting out from dense foliage. I was always under the impression that this rocky hillock probably had no trail that would take one to the top. Influenced by the stories and a far away perspective can so hamper the reality. Right at the foothill was a temple dedicated to Lord shiva and his consort Parvati. The doors of this temple are kept locked and there is a grill enclosed verandah that gives respite to the devotees from the simian pranks and snatchings.

                               
View from one of the resting spots

    A path beside the temple leads to the stairs that winds up the Tukreswari hill to the top. And that is where the main temple is. And here I was thinking I would have to trudge the way up following a dirt track. Climbing up I could see the steps disappearing behind huge boulders dotted with ferns and other foliage. Trees grew from under them, around them and also sprouted from them. Huffing and puffing my way up with sweat making rivulets down my forehead, we stopped at the little bends to catch our breath. Peeking through the foliage, the branches and half obstructed by the boulders was a stretch of lush paddy fields all around dotted with more hillocks in between. The NH 37 snaked through in bits and pieces from my view point.

                               
The Assamese Macaque

     A place not frequented by many at this time of the year, it felt like intruding on the silence. I was surprised not to have come across any  monkeys in our climb so far. Just one odd loitering around. Must be a young one out to have fun while his mamma was enjoying a siesta on one of the branches. This is the abode of the Assamese macaque. And whenever an offering is being made, especially in the morning and in the evening at the temple, all of them congregate on the branches, the rocks jutting out, the steps. And wait. They wait for their king to come and partake the offering first. It is only once the king has had his share, that the minions come forward. So we were told by our guide who accompanied us with a long staff to ward off the macaques.

                             
Statue of Joy or Bijoy

    The steps are a new construction and fairly in a steep incline. They say the dirt track was a better climb. On the way, in the nooks and bends are few more recently installed statues of deities. Flanked by the carvings of Joy and Bijoy, the two gate keepers to the temple on the top, an iron ladder hanging from the huge rock that is crowned with the temple, is to be negotiated for the final climb.  A beautiful and serene panoramic view of the surrounding green paddy fields interspersed with hillocks and the distant rolling blue Garo hills greeted us. We just sat there for a few minutes soaking in the serenity sans the simian natives.
                                 
Tukreswari Temple In The Right Corner

    There was a small temple, said to have come up when a small piece of Sati fell on this part. Hence the temple of Tukreswari, in the place called Tukura. The temple below was constructed so as to make it accessible to all without having to trek uphill. A very simple temple on the hill top at the edge of rock, enshrining the spot of the fallen piece,  looked out at the highway and all the villages, mostly of the Rabha community. It looked more like a shed of iron and tin sheet. The door to the temple is kept latched mostly and opened only for visitors.

                           
Another View In The Fading Light

   We did not get to meet the King since it was not the offering time. We spent a good amount of time just sitting there on the flat top of the huge rock and gazing out. After a while it was time for the descent though we would have liked to absorb a bit more of the tranquility. Tukreswari did not let me down. The sun was slipping down in the horizon. Very soon it would be dark. It is an effort to tear oneself away from such peaceful places. I have often thought of how trivial all our worries seem and how many things gain clarity when some time is spent in these places. Climbing down the steps as the evening light faded, my mind was at peace of finally having made this trip. After all these years.

 

 

 

 


Friday, 14 November 2014

A Child's Play

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        The last few days I have driven half across the city looking for a boy who stopped smiling; waiting to buy a song so it could be sent to a village or to watch man take flight to distant planets from the caves. Usually all that driving makes me nuts going round and round in circles. If you have been in Lutyen's Delhi with a faulty in built GPS in me, you will know what I am talking about. But this once I did not mind being behind the wheels. 

     For that matter, winters makes the city of Delhi come alive with a kaleidoscope of events  happening simultaneously. And for the greedy like me who want to soak in every bit of it, it is cruel to have to choose from! This year, I was determined to let the child in me peep out for sixty to ninety minutes. For that's how long the plays lasted at NSD's Jashnebachpan. The National Children's Theatre Festival organised by the TIE ( Theatre In Education),  also known as Sanskaar Rang Toli, segment of NSD, put together around twenty six plays from theatre groups across the country. Walking in through the colourfully done up gate filled us with the thrill of anticipation. And once inside the building we were flanked with photo exhibits of the participating directors with glimpses of the plays being presented.


                                             


      The first play we managed to catch was the non verbal  "Bharari"  by Natyashala Charity Trust  from  Mumbai directed by Bharat More and Anvay Ashtivkar. As expected the audience comprised of children of all ages,  many in  uniforms from different schools coming from as far as Doon School, and children from NGOs with shining expectant faces chaperoned by the patient sirs and madams and then of course there were grown up children like us. Under a fragment of the winter evening sky edged with the stray canopies of the surrounding trees, the play began on the Open Lawns of NSD. Through miming technique, catchy rhyming sutradhars, the non verbal Bharari traced the beginning and evolution of life stage by stage, leading to applauses from the audience. Humour and colourful laser images of butterflies and planets, the lyrical narrative delighted the audience. Bharari ended with man taking flight from the earth in search of more challenging frontiers! This fine balance of history of evolution and flight of fantasy delighted us enough to make us give a standing ovation. Only we did not applaud. Instead we raised our arms and shook our hands in the air. Of the 26 performers 18 were hearing impaired.

                                                   


    The next time we went rushing through the traffic was to figure out the lost smile of a boy. This time we had to walk through a passage skirting the Open Lawns to Abhimanch at NSD where the play  Jaimini Pathak's "The Boy Who Stopped Smiling"  was to be staged. A chanced glimpse at the ceiling revealed a continuous stretch of montage of the many plays staged at NSD. It felt hallowed to be walking under the frozen moments of creativity. While we waited for the entry, colourful suspended butterflies, smiling snails and bright caterpillars kept us company.  Squashed between the myriad expectations of his parents, the boy, a chess prodigy who dreams of beating Vishy Anand, stops smiling while groping with the changed equations in his environment. A play that addressed the vagaries of growing up as well as the tight rope walk of parenting.

                                               


    Lost in the urban chaos is our connect with nature and the joy of finding pleasures in the simple things of life. The old woman in the village sends her old man to the city to buy a song for her so she can sing it near the well where all the other women of the village sing as they continue with their daily chores. A simple play with some great sets and a profound theme. " Geete Gaathe Milan Mala" by Seagull and directed by Bhagirathi came all the way from Guwahati to prod the audience with a simple message that left most of us thinking. Folk songs from across the communities of the state were beaded in to bring this out.

    There were some great plays from Manipur, Kerala, UP and other places which we couldn't make it to. The festival held up a mirror for all of us, to realise our follies and foibles and also to emphasise how theatre can be utilised to impart education and help put on the thinking cap. The lessons taken came in much later. It was the sheer pleasure of watching a play with the children that mattered the most. In retrospect I realise we were laughing along with the children shedding our grown up garb somewhere along the way.

                                               

Monday, 20 October 2014

Crisis Angel

                                         



                                                   


                 He was perched on the roof of his half constructed house. The ground floor was the only one that had been inhabited so far. The first and the second wall-less floors above had just the support beams and the roofs. Keeping him company were hundreds of other men, women and children of the neighbourhood. He didn't know exactly how many. After a point he had stopped counting. From where he sat, he could see a mother and a child clinging to each other on a tin roof surrounded by the swirling waters across what was once a road. The tin roof  was all that could be seen of the twelve feet high structure. He looked on helplessly.

           It was a little before the year's Durga Puja festivities. It had been raining incessantly for the past few days. That was nothing new. The sky didn't seem like it was in a mood to relent. He would have to take his car to the local primary health center. He generally preferred walking to his work place or taking the rickshaw. With the rains, it most often got a tad bit difficult to get one. He didn't like to keep his patients waiting, most of whom came from the villages around Dudhnoi. Reversing the car out of the gate onto the road that had ankle deep water, he reached out for the ringing mobile. 

"Doctor saab, where are you? "
"I am on my way. I will be at the hospital in ten minutes. Is it an emergency?" he answered.
"Saar, don't come!" his assistant shouted wildly down the phone, " they are announcing that within an hour the water will drown  Dudhnoi ! Saar, stay at home!"
" Who asked you to drink early in the morning? What's wrong with you?" he thundered back at his assistant.
"Saar, I am not drunk! Listen to me! Go back! "

Getting out of the car he concentrated on the road. On the water. It was more than ankle deep now. It was rising. And fast. He quickly took his car back into the compound and rushed into the house yelling for his wife. His mind was in a spin assessing his sparsely furnished new home. A few phone calls had confirmed his assistant's warning. He rushed around stuffing the important papers and documents in a briefcase, some which seemed to elude his muddled brain.The water had reached his top door step.  Next he tried to pack his medical books, kit and case studies. He stashed his laptop, chargers and other gadgets and dashed them all to the roof of the half constructed first floor  with a polythene sheet trailing behind him. When he came down, the water was playing at his feet. His wife was rushing around to salvage as much as she could . They carried up whatever food they could take and all the medicines they had in the house.  The rains continued to lash in a dance of madness.

      The cloud burst over the Garo hills had washed away  many villages in the furious flash floods. In it's wrath the water was filling up in all places that it spread to. From the first floor, he could see the water submerging half of his ground floor home. And then they came. Wading through the rising water, carrying whatever they could in little bundles. Men, women, young lads, old people looking up at the owners of the house in apology. He beckoned them all in directing them to the stairs. People continued to stream in and soon the first floor was full. The new people who came in now moved to the second floor. People shifted and  sat on their haunches to make space for all. Weary mothers soothing the frightened children. Wisened old people looking on in acceptance, of what fate had in store. Looking down at the rising water, the men were trying to fathom the grim future, now with their homes submerged. All through the night they kept vigil and at the same time  trying to call for rescue. 

    It was in the wee hours of the morning that he saw them from where he was perched. The mother and child clinging to each other on what now looked like a tin float, what was once a roof. It was a matter of minutes  before the hungry water swallowed this island of hope and the two refugees. Just then a rescue dinghy appeared swiftly making it's way towards the duo and pulled them on. Minutes later the tin roof submerged in the water just as his own ground floor home was lapped up. 

     All the people on the two floors above, kept an eye on the water level with  bated breath. If this continued, where were they to go? By a stroke of luck, the water had stopped rising after devouring his ground floor home. There was nothing anyone could do except wait and watch. Gradually some of them were rescued. The swollen waters also relented and gradually  receded after showing it's might. What was left behind was soiled, ravaged homes, scarred people with an uncertain future. And yet they did not forget to thank the doctor and his wife for offering them their home to save their lives and keeping their families intact. Life limped back to a semblance of normalcy as people went about picking up the threads, sorting out their own bewildered thoughts and also what was left of their belongings.

   "You know, I feel blessed despite the losses" the doctor said to his wife as she pulled out her soggy silk mekhela sadors from the bed box.
  "Yes, at least we had space for all those people" she observed tossing away the unusable children's sweaters stowed away from last winters. She couldn't bring herself to discard the tiny pink frock from her daughter's first birthday.

" We have never had a house warming because we didn't believe in it. But I think we could never have had a better house warming than this. All of us together over coming the perilous times and sharing the grief of our losses...They came like angels in the hour of crisis."




This post is inspired by a true incident in the recent Assam Meghalaya flood fury and written for http://incrisisrelief.org. In my recent visit to Assam, I was told of this incident of hope and brotherhood. Wish more stories of #MyCrisisAngel are told.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Game Of Blogs - Siege Saga - Chapter 23



Team Name: Story Weavers
Read the first part of the story here.
Read the previous part here.



      Jennifer knew she would eventually get around Kareem's directives. She just had to get into  the hotel now. This was  payback time for the little goodness that life had shown her. She shut her eyes for a few minutes to steady her heart. It was a decision she would have to live with all through her life. If she survived this madness, that is. There were two results she could foresee. Either Kareem would be sacrificed or both would be sacrificed. In the past few minutes, Jennifer had realised how the promise of heaven had been a lure for promising jihadis. Would Allah, or any God for that matter , ever be happy with this blood bath? Which God would ask for children to be slaughtered ? Which God would demand it's pound of flesh in return for a seat in heaven. She had caught herself pondering  over those words in her college text book. 

         'The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..',

 Good Lord! Was she nuts? Taking the crutch of the blind poet, Milton, long dead centuries back? Steeling herself with this rediscovered wisdom, Jennifer approached the platoon that was preparing to move in. Suraj indicated Jennifer to join them with a slight tilt of his head. Jennifer knew she would be watched like a hawk from now on. It was going to get extremely difficult to get to convince Kareem and at the same time help the hostages in her own way. A faraway  vision from childhood danced in front of her eyes. She had seen a little girl in a long, frayed cotton skirt balancing her self on a two edged sword...

        She trooped in with the soldiers, ducking and stealthily moving from one point to the other. The moment they were inside the premises, she side stepped towards the fire escape. She slithered up the iron rungs one by one, the metal grating against her bare skin. She had just one thought in mind. To reach Kareem before the troops did. To convince him to give it all up. 5th floor was a long way to go. And the rate at which she was moving seemed like ages. Unknown to her, she was covered by  a squad of soldiers under orders, who followed her from two spirals down. Jennifer was under the delusion that they were sent to keep an eye on her. How was she to get a few minutes with Kareem alone with them following? She had to think of a way fast to give them the slip. She crawled on her fours and opened the door to the third floor. Kareem had mentioned that they had the fourth floor to the eighth floor covered. She very well couldn't walk into the fifth floor with those following and be a witness to the weepy melodrama between Kareem and her. The moment she let herself in, she made a dash for the service room holding her hands over her ears in an act of shutting out the noise. She was in reality allowing herself the lag of few minutes before those soldiers turned up to shake them off. She had to think of the camera in her ear ring too. 

        She hid herself between the aprons, mops and array of other cleaning equipments, holding her breath in the darkness. She could hear the thudding of the boots out in the corridor. She waited for a few more minutes trying to discern footsteps amidst all the din. there was only the staccato of the automatics and reports of the single barrels. Could she take a chance with the service elevator? It was just a few strides down her corridor, built away from the view of hotel guests. She knew Shekhar's men were alerted about her disappearance from the group. But she had to find Kareem. She peeped out of the room. The corridor ran all around the cavernous space that rose up from the reception lobby of the ground floor. Soldiers were stationed around the corridor. She slipped out and gingerly slid along the wall to the service elevator. Thank God for small mercies! She didn't have to wait for the elevator to come up. It was already on the third floor waiting for her with open arms. She slid in and went up to the fifth floor. This was one thing she liked about posh hotels. The noiseless elevators. She loved it even more today! 

     At the fifth floor, the door opened softly. She peeped out. There were more gun shots mostly coming from the floors above and below. Where was Kareem? She couldn't call him unless she wanted all the others to know. The cavernous well of the floors below had solidified into a huge conference hall on this floor that stretched out into a terraced garden outside. This was the space where the hotel organised the huge parties. She had to find him fast! Just then she heard some footsteps and almost whirled around. A large hand clapped over her mouth almost stopping her breath. She struggled to free herself from the tight grip of Kareem's. She would know those hands and skin even if she was blind. He pulled her to the terrace outside. Now they would know where she was. She couldn't hold her hands over her ears without Kareem getting suspicious. 

  " Kareem! Look, don't you think we have had enough of this! We don't have much time" Jennifer said with as much composure as she could muster.

" Ahana, we have no other life now. It's this way or that now," he smiled wryly.
" We can help the Forces to free the hostages and they will be lenient with us," Jennifer tried reasoning.
" And we will live happily ever after in this beautiful world, is it? Where will you hide, Ahana, from 'them'? You know it is not possible!" Kareem barked sarcastically.
" You know it yourself how they hunt the traitors and bleed them to death. Either we die fighting now or live with fear and die brutally eventually" he continued. 
" It is not easy. Who knows it better than us... We could try at least. I've had enough of this cat and mouse game. Enough! I am tired...Don't you see how wrong we have been?" Jennifer tried again. 
" Don't weaken me now, Ahana! You think I haven't thought of it? It's late! Too late! All those hostages on the sixth floor have lived with fear ever since this drama began. Some have been shot while too smart for their own good. And a few oldies have died because their weak hearts couldn't take it. And behind those menacing looks of six of our friends up there, there is fear lurking. Fear of being blown away! The only fanatic idea that keeps them hooked is that damned place in heaven!" raged Kareem.

He turned around to face Jennifer, his Ahana and looked into her eyes for a moment,
" Either we are dead or we are living dead..." he said quietly.

      Shekhar and his men got the information they needed, thought Jennifer. She hoped they got to see the desperation in Kareem's voice too. Just then there was a renewed burst of shooting. Kareem and Jennifer ran and ducked behind the out door bar. 



Read the next part of the story here.

Me and my team are participating in Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com.#CelebrateBlogging with us.”

       

     

                           

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Ma Durga In Mekhela





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                                 Navratri-Maa-Durga-wallpaper-Free-Download
                                                        Courtesy Google Images


      

               It is that time of the year when the slant of the sun's rays goes down a few notches.The memories in the mellowing sunshine stir up images of celebrations from childhood. At this time we invariably fall back on the Durga Puja celebrations of the places we grew up in. The little  metallic pistols, the tiny paper cases with red ammunition roll coiled in; the tik tiki that made a clackety sound when pressed between the thumb and the forefinger; the plastic wrist watches where time literally stood still; the array of bangles and beaded necklaces...

                        Decades back, in the 70s, while going to Dibrugarh for the Durga Puja holidays,  we crossed many tea gardens by the highway. The towns and villages came alive with the local Puja fairs. The bright pin wheels, the balloons twisted into animals and flowers, the pretty girls of the tea tribes attired in bright sarees and frocks,  adorned with coloured ribbons giggling along the roads. They were such a delightful sight building up anticipation for what awaited  at the end of the journey. It gave a sense of homecoming to us, the three hour long weary travellers from Nazira. 

                       The moment we entered Khalihamari in Dibrugarh, we were infused with a renewed sense of vigour and pride. Although we tried not to make an ado of the many relatives who dropped in to see how much we had grown, secretly we delighted in the attention. Happy to be in the middle of his kith and kin, my father's dialect changed and took on the drawl characteristic of Khalihamari lingo. While the grown ups were busy exchanging notes and some robust camaraderie, we rushed out through the driveway to take the best possible place near  the gate. It also happened to be an advertisement of our arrival. Nobody was a stranger here. 
"Aren't you Dulu's daughter? When did you come? Let me go and say a hello to him." 
And in they walked. Our interest was, however, on the other side of the road.  Right across the gate was the Khalihamari Puja pandal. It wasn't exactly the grandest one in Dibrugarh but it was unique for many reasons which was revealed over the years. In our growing years, it was the perfect place to strut around since the members of the organizing committee were family. The excitement of the Devi's arrival and her pratishthan reverberated with the dhak beats and the grace of the arati with wafting smoke from  the dhunadani. The nip in the morning air fragrant with the little orange stalked white xewali flowers is synonymous with Durga Puja. Even now in Delhi, the fragrance of the xewali takes me back to Khalihamari. It was the many fashionable new clothes that Puja pandal hopping crowd attired in, that caught our attention. Sitting by the gate with morahs and folding chairs, we scrutinized the crowd turning out in locally tailored copies of their favourite Bollywood stars. If one year it was the Ashiqui style, the next year it was reminiscent of Tridev with the loud accompanying Bollywood music from the pandals adding to the feel. The girls limped braving the  bite from the new sandals chaperoned by the matrons in starched new saris. 

       
                        As I look back now, I notice a unique feature of the Khalihamari Puja. And on further query it is affirmed that I am not mistaken. Khalihamari Durga Puja that started in 1947, claims to have been  the only one, where Ma Durga was seen vanquishing Mahishasura, attired in either Muga mekhela and riha or muga mekhela sador. Flanking her were Ganesha and Kartik in dhuti and muga or paat (Assam silk) kurta with gamusas. Now of course, there are many pandals where the Devi has shown a penchant for the Assamese mekhela sador in place of her usual  brightly coloured embellished sari. Nobody remembers who thought of it in the late 1950s but the tradition stayed on and also spread to other Puja pandals much later. At present I believe, there are atleast four to five such idols in Dibrugarh alone.  Back then it came as a surprise for the Bengali people of Dibrugarh drawing them to Khalihamari to pay their obeisance to the mekhela -pora -Ma ( mekhela attired Ma).  

                  You may ask what  is the big deal about it? It is the same as seeing Jesus Christ in a dhoti kurta and Lord Muruga in shalwar. The big deal is  when some festivals go beyond religion to embrace a community and share it's identity. Here in Khalihamari, the residents are mostly followers of Srimonto Sankardev who was a Vaishnavite saint. But when it came to celebrations, religious leanings were not the yardstick. Or maybe it was the other way round. To accept and assimilate the 'different ', it was essential to lend it a familiarity. It could  have been an offshoot of the political turmoil simmering with the Language Agitation when most Assamese scoffed at Bengali affiliations. But then Devi Puja was not a novelty in the land of Kamakhya temple.  Only, the Brahmin stronghold had dwindled with Srimonto Sankardev's ideologies sweeping the state veering off many from the exploitative  clutches of the priest class.

       Or maybe I read too much between the lines. In this case, reading too much between the folds of the garment.  The reason behind mekhela-pora-Ma  of Khalihamari could also have been a bright spark of a brain storming session to figure out a way to hold the Puja innovatively.  Through the generations now, the ladies of Khalihamari, clad in mekhela sadors seek 'their' Ma's blessings. That we have a mekhela wearing Durga shouldn't come as a surprise when the Sikhs of Morigaon celebrate Bihu with pithas and the Guru Parav with equal √©lan. After all, don't they say, that happiness doubles when you share it? On this day of Shashthi, as I key in my musings, Ma Durga takes her place on the pedestal in Khalihamari,  resplendent in her mekhela sador while Ganesha and Kartik look on with gamusas adorning their shoulder.


                     

Sunday, 28 September 2014

By The Window


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          The  afternoon sun filtered through  the neem tree  that grew by the window and sidled into her room. Little particles floated in the beam tossing about in the warm space. I often saw her sitting on the chair in front of the  brand new mirror that was pushed against the wall next to the window. The dancing leaves flitted across her face.  I caught her many a times looking forlornly out of the  window. Despair seeking a sliver of hope. Everyday reflected the same story. No changes. Except maybe, the intensity. There were days when she looked drained out. Spent with pain. I watched her helplessly  from the other side.  And then again there were days, when I thought she would end it all one day. Release herself from the drudgery.

          There were days also when she did not come by the window. And when she did after the absence, it might as well have been the dark moonless, starless night. But it was always at this time that she came. Late in the afternoon, when the rest of the house retired for a siesta. This was her only time. It was funny how one lay claim to something as elusive as time. Milch time, dung cake time, cooking time, cleaning time, vomit cleaning time, in-laws time, beating time, untouchable time, lying silently time while the job was being done... savagely...

          Every day was the same. Only the earth continued to move as people went about their daily lives. Nights changed to days and back to nights in a never ending cycle. Relentless summers changed to the mild autumn, cool winters and the colourful boisterous spring. And one day,  she sat in her place by the window, in the tell- tale white sari with a blank ebony forehead. Like a blank slate. The despair had given way to a calm. A calm that descends when the storm has passed. And this was where I saw the changes that take place in a life. Little printed floral patterns took up the white canvas of her sari. The patterns became bolder with passing days. Colours crept in to fill up the gaps within the patterns. A hint of a smile now lurked around her lips. The dark eyes shone with a zeal.

          One morning she sat on her chair, looking out at the chirping birds and rustling leaves. Suddenly a voice called out," Arrey! You are not late? The school bell will ring in five minutes! "
"Coming, Maji!" she jolted out of her reverie casting one last glance at the mirror before grabbing her bag. I smiled  at the happy stranger that beamed back.




This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

         
          

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Game Of Blogs - Part 14- Unfolding



Team Name: Story Weavers
Read the first part of the story here.
Read the previous part here
                                                  


             The events did not quite unfold as planned. Or did it? Jennifer kept close to Tara for more than one reason. The attack at the New Delhi railway station was foiled. Thankfully. Ever since she could remember, all of Jennifer's actions were propelled by her staking her claim for survival. Even if it meant selling her soul to Ibrahim Rehman. Being beautiful and alone in the world attracted all the wolves. Even those in the sheep's skin. By the time she had the world figured out, Jennifer had none less than Ibrahim Rehman as her mentor. It was in the orphanage that she had met him first. It was the feeder for all the jihadis in the making. There were many such centers from where the terrorist organisations recruited. Only the brightest and the most lonely were marked for training. Jennifer was then sent to a college to live a dual life. They were to lie low till the clarion call came to prove their worth. 

         She had been a part  of the outfit ever since. And Ibrahim Rehman was her abba. For that matter, he was every orphan's abba. It was strange that this abba managed to keep the identities of his children to himself. For how could one explain that Jennifer never had an inkling of Kareem being a full fledged terrorist! To think that she was so close to him! She thought she knew him like the back of her hand. Technically, she was also one. But at least she didn't go around spraying people with bullets. Being trained as one and actually being one, there was a difference. The difference was in the   first  pull of the trigger. Coming  face to face with Kareem by that yanked door was a shock to her. And Tara. Could she make Tara her sacrificial lamb for the assured ticket to heaven? Tara had introduced her to a world, she never knew existed. A world where people bonded, loved and lived without Machiavellian designs. Despite her indoctrination, she was drawn to this warmth. She remembered the couple of diwalis and christmas celebrated with her family.  She had almost forgotten what it was like to be in a family. It was like the butterfly in her tattoo had come alive drinking in from the colours around. Tara had literally dragged her for these occassions, during their college days, refusing to let her stay alone in the hostel. 

    She was torn between the two worlds, a world of ruthless allegiance where the price was death and the other, a world that beckoned with life. And so Ahana, with the pen drive tucked in her pocket sought out Inspector Arjun. There were too many amendments to be made. Just then her phone vibrated. She recognized the number.

           Ji huzoor. Agar yahaan par kuch gad bad hui toh aap ke pass toh Rani hai. You have the main chess piece in the game, Ahana. Usko apne muththi main jakkad ke rakhiyega. We both know that hamare shattir dost Shekhar koh sabse zyaada dard kaise pahunchaya jaa sakta hai.”

"Who is it, Jenny? Is it your fiance checking on you?" asked Tara without turning her head  from the hotel in her vision line.
"Yeah..." nodded Jennifer thoughtfully keeping her camera trained on the scene in front.  
"You know, you were lucky with Roohi. I still can't get over it that it was her...You should be home with her. She must be shaken..."said Jennifer cautiously. 
"I know how  you feel, Jenny, but she will be fine with my parents. She's safer  there" assured  Tara. 

  Just then a shot rang out.
It was like someone had frozen the entire scenario and captured it in a frame for a second. All hell broke loose. And then there was a volley of bullets from both directions for what seemed like ages.  Glasses erupted in splinters sending out showers of  shards. Columns of the NSG were closing in taking advantage of the confusion. It stopped as suddenly as it had started. There was a sepulchral silence. Tara peeped out from behind their crew van. Inch by inch. They were at a safe distance behind the men in uniform taking position. But the scene in front looked like it was hit by a cyclone. She thought she was dreaming. She heard it again.

    “Mummy. MUMMY!!!Red Riding Hood! RED RIDING HOOD!” 
"What the f...!"  she wheeled around to see two pigtails bobbing over a flurry of a frock running towards the barricaded area. 



Read  the next part here.
“Me and my team are participating in the ‘Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com.#CelebrateBlogging with us.”