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Saturday, July 27, 2013

It rained and it rained and it rained. Incessantly. Where one could no longer see the raindrops pelting down.. it was more like sheets of rain cascading down.

I love the monsoons. I love the sparkling green trees and plants - washed clean of the dust. I love it when it rains so heavily. I love the sound of the pounding on the awnings, the rooftops. I love looking at the poor boughs of the trees as they bend to the beating rain. I love how the raindrops slide down the leaves in a steady stream... glistening as they catch a bit of light.

I opened the windows and parked myself on the sill. The breeze brought in a spray on to my face.. into the room... oh, I love the monsoons.

The watchman’s cabin is just across my room. . He was probably smoking a bidi. The acrid smell rose up to my window on the first floor. No, I do not have any aversion to the smell or the smoke. In fact I used to find a smoker very attractive . Some blokes do carry the look well . The cigarette smoking kind, not the bidi wielding .

Such drenched , lonely afternoons are the times when the memories "de-lurk"". In any case, wallowing in the past seems to have become an obsession with me. I welcome the memories. I tend to linger there for a long time. Sometimes I feel I glorify the past too much too. Yet I do not seem to do much to curb the habit either.

Memories…….. they have a way of intruding, forcing their way into the thoughts, and then taking over the mind and the senses.

Small triggers take me back in time. Today it was the rains combined with the bidi.

Reminded me of my grandfather who for a long time used to smoke a pipe – cheroot he called it. He had 3 of them. I remember him filling those with tobacco.. from a pouch. Grandmum would light it for him sometimes. His shirt , trouser and his mundu would have at least one burn mark where they were singed, from the errant ember. He later took to chewing on a cigar. That is how I remember him. A thin frail old man, in a silken robe, a whiff of the woody tobacco fragrance around him.

My father used to get him the boxes of cigars. They were roughly assembled wooden boxes. The boxes had a mirror on the inside of the lid. I used to request my grandfather to send me the empty boxes to store my little trinkets. I loved the smell of the tobacco that lingered heavily in those boxes. The smell tickles my nostrils even as i am writing this.

Grandfather . I called him Aajja. He wasn’t my father’s father. Nor my mother’s father. He was the one and only friend my father had. Somebody my father had met at a stage in his life and forged a bond with. He was several decades older to my father. He was my father’s friend philosopher and guide. We belonged to the same community. The families bonded well too and he became the grandfather we never had. He was Aaajja to us and his wife - our aajji. Aajji was different from my grandmothers. This aajji was an educated one, a graduate in her times. spoke fluent English and was much more clued in with the current . There was a feeling of awe and affection.

For us they were the head of our family. They were the ones who had given me and the sibling, our names. A..... , they had named me.

Any major event , milestones, were all communicated and shared with them. Celebrated with them too. They too played out their roles of the responsible seniors in the family.

I was twenty, when i completed my graduation. The mother was keen to marry me off. Copies of my horoscope were made. Copies of my photographs were readied. All to be circulated. The father was livid. NO!... not for a couple of years more. Does she want to study? Yes? Great!! No? , then she better take up a job. Let her move out of the house, let her meet people, let her see the world outside of the 4 walls of home.

Alliances were coming in. Advice was pouring in .. of how the parents were being foolish while they were letting go of the best available catch. “Your daughter is tall. The boy only seeks a girl to complement his height. No other "demands". A good family.. they don't even want a working gal.” Well, well... the mother was attracted. .. known family , a good family background, no demands of the monetary kind, , no pressures on her daughter to slog it out at the work place! Can’t really blame her.

Amma was a typical mother. A simple woman of her times, who was afraid of dreaming too big. She had learnt to limit herself , her dreams, her expectations.

The father however was adamant. He stuck to his stand. The daughter had to hold a job for at least a year.

Enthusiastic relatives kept bringing in alliances and proposals. At that time, the dowry trend was prevalent in the community. A bank clerk was the prize catch for the middle class parents. He came at a tag of a 100 gms of gold, 21,000 in cash and half the marriage expenses. A bank clerk was an attractive proposition - he could avail of bank loans at nominal rates of interest to purchase that all elusive and all pervading dream of buying a house in mumbai. Vasai Virar and Mira Road were the coveted hot spots.

The mother kept hearing stories of how fellow anxious mothers would smoke out info about "deals'' in the marriage market, up it with double the gold, double the cash, making the offer highly irresistible and land a son-in-law...

Amma was getting paranoid and frantic. She had heard tales of anxious fathers having to undergo the "dar dar ki thokarein" routine. For over a year, our home had been the Collection Centre for horoscopes and photographs when my cousin brother from another metro was to be married. The prospective brides' fathers used to thank us profusely for simply being welcomed into the house and offered a glass of water, a cup of coffee and a warm conversation. They would be in shock at this welcome routine at our home , At most other places they wouldn’t even be invited inside the house. They would be treated like a handy man delivering a parcel and would be unceremoniously packed off from the doorstep itself.

My mother hoped that her husband wouldn’t be subjected to such humiliation..She spoke of oft repeated stories about hapless fathers of the bride who went through several pairs of chappals as they went out each weekend in search of the elusive but perfect match for their beloved daughter.

Advice... I wasn't spared either. there was a lot of advice from well-wishers for me too. How i shouldn't be too picky, too choosy... Not to have many unrealistic expectations... how i should be considerate towards my parents.... not make things too difficult for them... yada yadaaa....

and then there was one more. a strangest bit of advice, words which always amaze me.

When I finished my graduation, aajji too was looking out for a perfect partner for me. She had already taken charge of getting ready my wedding jewellery when the groom was yet to be found !

It was one such rainy afternoon when we had been over to their place for lunch. The topic of discussion - ME, My marriage.. how matters would have eased if i had been a wee bit shorter - this from my mother...

Aajja called me into his study and sat me beside him. “You are twenty now. your father has shielded you from the world, the knocks of life. You will soon be married , stepping into a new family with new people. Life will be different from the one you have always known. Adjustments will have to be made.. They might be difficult too. I want you to know that we will always be around for you. Your ajji , she is not just a grandmother. you can treat her as your best friend. She has always been the Indira Gandhi to all the young girls in the neighbourhood, nurturing, understanding and taking up cudgels on their behalf. Any time you are unable to handle a situation, want somebody to hear you , you know where to look.”

“another piece of advice from me. you might not like the sound of it now. but it is a sound piece of advice. Do not give up your friends after you get married. Especially the "boy" friend. Hold on to the male friend at all times. And in a strictly platonic relationship.” He smiled and continued . ” the husband has his place in your life. as also your friend. “ .

Ajja passed away soon after. 2 yrs later, i got married. I remember his words often. every one of it.

Looking back, that was one bold statement he had made – “hold on to the boyfriend, the male friend”. The platonic bit didn't shock me then. The upbringing and the times were such that any relationship oustide of the marital one, was bound to be platonic only.

That was a strange conversation we had had in times where most would warn daughters, to keep away from male company. Or would prefer to pretend there weren’t any in their daughter’s life. The refrain would often be “dont clutter yr space with friends. your husband your family takes priority. friends are important. but family first." And the male friends … well well ! they wouldn't even be acknowledged.. Accepting them was too far fetched a thought

Parents weren't being entirely wrong when they were being concerned or even voicing their concerns.

Yet my ajja's advice to me was heartwarming.

Friends. I have been blessed to have a good bunch around me .

Friends. The male friends as much as the female friends. The male friends have often outnumbered the female friends.

Friends. They have been pillars of strength, sounding boards when i have been in doubt, a source of succour to the troubled mind.... their presence around me has been comforting.

Friends. I have only had to reach out and i have found one to clutch my hand.

Friends. The distinction between the male friend and the female friend has been wiped out too. To me they all are simply Very Good Friends !

Friends,  They have only added rather than taken away from my equations with everybody in the family. Having them around has made me more sensitive, empathizing. I have only come out richer.

If two is company and three is a crowd, I love the crowded relationship I am in !

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