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Friday, July 25, 2014



15th April 2014

Today afternoon I had been to Wadala Math... a typical community hall.   The husband's uncle had passed away, and today was the thirteenth day  ritual ceremony . Usually it is he who attends such do's.  He  somehow juggles it into his schedule and makes time to be there. And that is one trait I really  admire in him

Today was one such day when he wasn't in town. He knows me well enough .. so he didn't ask me to go. But I knew he would like it if I went... so I did.

I did not know too many people there,  except for one cousin , who was the host. ...and she was busy attending to the other relatives.

I went up to her , spoke to  her,  and then found myself a chair to sink in. 

There was a elderly lady sitting two places away from me .. familiar, yet, I could not place her.

In the meanwhile the cousin was introducing  relatives to each other.... "This is Mrs H.. wife of our Dr H . We call her Mrs Doctor." she said of the elderly woman  It was then that realization dawned..  It was S's mother.  S was a classmate from school


S and me had a strange relationship in school. The girl had given me much grief. As also her mother.

S and me were both good students and  nearly always scored the same marks, especially in primary school. 

 After examinations,  an Open House would  conducted in school, where parents could go through their child's answer papers and could interact with the  teachers . S and her mom had that very competitive streak.  S's mom would grab my answer  sheet from my mum's hand,  compare it with S's and then rush to the teacher..." Both  have written the same answer... why did S get 1/2 a mark less".  On one ocassion , the exasperated teacher warned  my mom.. "Next time you show her your daughter's paper... I am going to minus your marks."


We graduated to secondary school.  In  class 8 ,  once while I was going over my class notes ,  before  the class test, S came and stood in front of me. She waved her palm and fingers in front of my face, contorting them, much like a tantrik would  while mumbling the "O Kali Calcuttey wali",  and  said,  ..."Now you will forget everything you studied. You won't remember a thing."

I was horrified to say the least.

Another time, in class 9, I suffered from a very bad bout of jaundice which caused me to miss nearly a month of school.  A very frail and a weak me, joined school after recuperation. S came in and hopped up and down, "I am so glad you fell ill and missed the classes.. No way will you be able to  beat me now."

All through the years, memories of school would bring this one  memory to fore. I didn't remember much of my school  days (or so I thought) and yet remembered S and  her mother. Every time I thought of S... there would be a heaviness in my chest...made me uncomfortable, very unhappy

S had that killer instinct. She had declared that she would be a doctor.  I used to think of her sometimes.. and I would wonder....., though a part of me would be  sure that  she would have made her dream come true.  

She had.

When we classmates  met on FB, I had made up my mind that  the day S joined the group, I would quit the school group.  I did not think I was up to dealing with such unpleasantness once again.

Today I looked at the elderly woman..  There was  none of the aggression I  had remembered.

I went  up and  introduced myself.    She was surprised... confused. It took her a while to connect the dots.  

She spoke to me very affectionately...for having remembered her... "Yes, you  all were children then and now are grown up... It's natural that you would recognize us,  the parents.  Nice of you to have come and spoken "  .  We talked about S, her siblings, their children and about mine.  We related.. even as mothers.

Throughout the ceremony our eyes met several times and I found her staring at me, and each time , we smiled.  Memories of a long time ago, bound us .  It was a trip down the memory lane for the both of us. 

I was glad I spoke to her... a great weight off my chest. My demon seemed exorcised.. I had held something against this woman.. She had seemingly forgotten everything... while  I had carried the burden for so many years.... A moment,  into our conversation and   all the gloom in that corner of my heart was washed out. Replaced with a warmth.. even affection.


The woman to woman bond is much stronger... especially when there is no burden of expectations

While leaving the hall I said my farewell.  She introduced me to  S's dad... "This is A... our S's classmate... she was a very good student in school.. hushaar... S and she were always in close competition".  And she smiled

That smile  was one without malice.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I think I am an absent minded person.  Forgetful.  I usually do not remember where I have kept the keys, the cheque book, my headphones, telephone diary...  .  In fact every thing which I have stored very carefully , remembering to remember where, are the things which I can never find. 

 I would remember to write down things and forget where I had kept that list.  My father has thoughtfully kept a writing pad near the phone...   He had been horrified to see me scribbling on the  newspapers and then hunting for that newspaper in our "raddi  kapaat" trying hard to remember the headline of that day, piecing together sequences so that I could lay my hands on the correct one.

The scribbling pad is a boon.  I diligently write down the name and the telephone numbers.... yeah,, this is an improvement.  I have been known to write numbers on newspapers, on the back of magazines ... and then trying hard to figure out whom the number belonged to.

The writing pad has made things easy.  Did I say,  'easy' ?  I write down grocery lists before hitting the mall, or the Sahakari Bhandar...and I forget to take it along.   I write down telephone numbers only to  find that the diligent ones at home would have torn and junked that page, leaving a fresh one  for the day's scribbling and that too,  just a  couple of minutes ahead of when I needed it most.  I would have forgotten to update the telephone diary, you see.

I am forgetful.  But I think my long term memory is better than my short term one.   There are some incidents that are so so clearly etched  in my mind, I can picture them in every detail.   Probably, I lived that moment to the fullest and that could be the reason I remember them so vividly. 

When my school mates bonded through Facebook in 2011, after nearly 28 years, I could remember but a few of them.  Yet I realized there were some memories that were crystal clear...My first memory from the school days  was one of the class  picnic .. when we were in Junior KG.

I remember wearing my red checked uniform, waiting for the school bus outside my building in the morning... my father waiting with me to put me on the bus.  The picnic was to be at Juhu Garden.

I remember the concrete aeroplane  - the highlight of the park,  the train -   which was just a  couple of concrete cylinders with largish portholes- we four year olds could negotiate them comfortably. I remember the taste of the sweetish tangy red coloured sherbet that was served to us by Benny and Mehroo , our school helpers, that day.

Several years later, when we were in primary school, my  maternal uncle shifted residence from Naigaon to Juhu.  I used to spend a couple of days at his place during my vacations.  I had my cousins who were all older to me.  The youngest of my six cousins was older to me by 6 years and the eldest .. by 20  years.    They were a fun bunch and vacationing with them meant I could be away from the strict rules and regulations which were enforced at home.

They humored me , took care of me and it was a crazy time at their place when my maternal aunt's children joined us as well.  We would be 9 of us cousins in that 4 bedroom apartment.  At night , the mattresses would be laid on the floor in one of the rooms, with  us  sprawled out.   We laughed ourselves to sleep  playing antakshari , mixing up and making up new lyrics.  The trees outside would cast shadows on the walls through the open windows of their ground floor apartment scaring me.  There used to be a small roundish  flowerpot on the window sill... the shadow which was cast would appear like a face at the window. and I would be scared.  "khidkit chor dislaa tar kaay karshil?, they would tease me.  "ghaabraycha nahii... gaana mhanayacha..-  "disla ga bai disla" .  from the marathi movie Pinzara. and we would burst out in giggles

Hide and seek was best enjoyed in their home, as we hid in any of the 4 rooms, in closets or under the beds.  The cousins would even pull  a table cloth over themselves and crouch underneath pretending to be a small stool.

Evenings would  see us playing lagori along with the other kids in the building.  On some evenings my cousins would take  me to  the Juhu Garden. I loved that  aeroplane out there.  Jumbo Jet, I would call it then... I even remember  referring to the garden as the aeroplane garden.  There would always be at least  7 to 8 children ahead of me in the queue to board the plane.  I would rush in, and make a dash for  a window seat, from where I could wave out to my cousin standing below.  Some days I would pretend to be the pilot.   Later when I had grown up and the  aeroplane was out of bounds, it would still fascinate,  as   we walked  past  the Juhu Garden with the cousins ,  to the  SV Road , for the bus which would take us to my home.   By then we were hearing stories of vagrants making the aircraft , their home for the night. ..

Several years have passed by now, my  Uncle has passed away, so has my aunt.  The cousins are married and so am I.  One year, there was a Kid's exhibition held on an open ground next to the Juhu Garden.  Children's books, story books, craft books. puzzles, toys, drawing and craft activities .   I was there with my four year old

After we had done the rounds of that one, while  we were waiting for the car to arrive, I happened to stroll on the pavement and  found myself outside the gates of the Juhu Garden.  There was a uniformed security guard,  at the gate.  There was also an engraved board on the compound wall.   Raheja garden it announced.    And I also understood that there was charge for entry to the garden.

I was offended.  An entry fee??  Yeah, I realized it was for a better maintenance of the park. The entry fee keeps away offenders who otherwise loitered around and were a nuisance to the children and others who loved the space. Yet, there was the distinct feeling that things had changed .    Anyway , by then the car had come in  and we returned home.

Some years later  I read in the newspapers about the mishap in the garden, with the wings of the aeroplane collapsing and killing a young boy.  The plane too was demolished soon after.   Pained as   I was,  when I heard of the freak accident and the loss of a life, the demolition had hurt too.

I wish I had willed myself to pass through the gates of Raheja Garden that day... I wish I had taken the son along ..... guiding him through the train... taking him into that aeroplane  - the Jumbo Jet - and sat on those red concrete seats.   He would have laughed at his mother , having had flown on a real aircraft .  But  years later, he would have thought of his mother, fondly, for having included  him into a part of her childhood.  Perhaps  when he had children of his own??





Sunday, July 13, 2014

N Kaaku



February 10 2014


Today , I strike out a name and number from my contact list.  I lost a  friend  today. 

N Kaaku was a little younger than  my mother....in her early seventies.  She and another neighbour, Rao Kaaku,   a 80 year old , were my closest friends.........friendships , relationships, attachments...they are rarely limited by  contraints of age.

Every day, the three of us would exchange a couple of phone calls.   " काय केल , काय खाल्ल  ... काय स्वयपाक , कुठे  गेली होतीस .. एक संपूर्ण    दिवस फोन नाही तुझा  .. कारण दाखवा..."  I was expected to report to the two , everyday. They expected because they cared. I was only too glad to. I  love sharing, I love listeners. Their age and experience made them a calming influence on me. 



I had met N Kaaku for the first time,  when my son was born.  That would be   a good 21 years ago. She was a neighbour I had not known existed. It turned out that her husband and mine, belonged to the same village in Udupi.

She was not a beautiful woman, in appearance. But she was a beautiful person, full of life.  At 52, she sported huge golden rings  in her ears.  Sometimes they were replaced by jhoomkas. She wore 2 bindis on her forehead. a round 'tikli' and a vertical arrow above it, arrow head and all.  She was always well turned out. 


Over the years, I got to know her better, and got to love her too. She was a fantastic cook. She was born a maharashtrian.. CKP to be precise. The community is known for its love for food , food which looks as good as it tastes. A casual mention of a favourite dish and the next day a dabba full of the goody would be sent over.

She loved conversation.... "बोल ना … सांग  ना काही मजा मजा".    She was  the life of the women's group in the building.


She shared recipes … and was encouraging when they bombed as I tried to replicate them. Summers would see her buying whole spices, roasting them, getting them ground to specification in the mill... washing the glass 'barnis'.. drying them in the sun and burning an incense stick inside them…" आमची आई अस करायची  ", she would explain.   Little packets  of the masala would reach me in a few days.

वडी च  सांबार ,  वालाचे भीर्डे ,  खव्याच्या  तिरंगी करंज्या , उकडीचे मोदक, मेथीच्या दाण्याची उसळ … all CKP specialties which I had relished as a child , I got to dig into them once again, thanks to her.

And one day all of a sudden her husband passed away. It was a Tuesday.. September 12 2006. He had been a little unwell with diabetes issues. In the afternoon she called in a panicky voice…" घरी  ये पटकन ..  Kaka is not feeling well.. I don’t know what's happening… send for your husband".

 I rushed to her .  Kaka was very ill.  He was doused in sweat, unable to communicate.  He was only huffing, unable to get a word out of his mouth.. his eyes widened in panic.  We called up the doctor, he asked me  to pop a spoonful of sugar into his mouth… I did it and kaka pursed his lips tight.. I was cradling him in my arms.  He was foaming at the mouth.  Their son and other neighbours had arrived by then.  Kaka  was suffering, probably in pain… tossing his head here and there .. and suddenly in one instant his eyes rolled upwards, one hiccup and then there was silence.


CPR  was tried… mouth to mouth resuscitation too… and then he was taken to the hospital where he was declared dead before admission. 

I sat with her.. for the next 3 hours… I had not known of Kaka's passing away.  I kept reassuring her that everything would be all right. When relatives started assembling at her home, she knew something was seriously wrong. 

From then on  she was a different person.  Managing to sound happy in company, she gave up on herself.  Later , a fall at home,  made her lose whatever little confidence she had in her. Between us friends we took turns being around her.  Soon she assured us that she would be fine. 


Cooking had been  therapeutic for her. Now that she was home-bound and her movements restricted, after a fall in the bathroom, she would only reminiscence of the good old times when she reigned in the kitchen.  She would talk about the stream of guests who arrived at her home and loved their stay with her family.   She would tell me how she slowly and surely, mastered the Konkani cuisine.  She would talk about the food her mother cooked.   In the monsoons, she would long for the  fare, the rains brought in....pausalyatlya bhajya  - shevli, phodshi.....  Whenever I went to Vile Parle market for my veggies,  and spotted a vasaiwala I would call her up .  With instructions from her on the phone,  I would select a couple of bunches for her. Those would be duly cooked and packed for us -" सॅंपल आहे , चाखून  बघा " she would say.
  
Diabetes was her bane.  She would visit her doctor each month, and while returning, she would gorge on a Bhelpuri, or a South Indian meal, or even a Kolhapuri thali, in Vile Parle.    " आज आम्ही एक मजा  केली... शर्माजी कडची  भेळ खाऊन  आलो", she would begin enthusiastically as she told  us of her exploit.  Little thrills of having broken rules....childlike.


N Kaaku had passed away after a brief illness. She had been hospitalized .  It was for a cough and a  fever which did not subside, and then her sugar levels had spiked up too.  Chest infection set in soon.  The lungs too were affected.  Things did not look promising for her and her  condition deteriorated rapidly.  I had had a feeling that she would not survive this round of hospitalization.

She did not.

 
I was at her home today, with her family, waiting for her to be brought to her home from the hospital, one last time. 

The ambulance arrived and she was carried in to the drawing room, wrapped up in the white shroud.

Her face was then uncovered. It was a sight I knew I would never forget. This was not the woman I had known. This was not the friend I had known , loved and now lost.  The hair knotted in a bun on top of her head, - a style she would never have approved of.  Her jaws closed shut and  secured with a bandage which went around her face and tied in a knot above her head.

Death had taken away her breath, her life.... she would never smile now, never speak... that mouth forever shut now.  The eventuality, the finality of death, of her death,  came to me.   It was then that I broke down.

A revulsion...for life…. after everything, if it was going to end like this,  then why the incessant quest for all things beautiful. Death sure was not. ……….Why?    living itself was futile if everything simply  ended like this. 


I listlessly scroll  through my contact list on the phone , my fingers automatically resting at her name on the list.  It is  her lifeless form ....that image of her in the shroud , that came to my mind's eye. Every moment I thought of her, it would be that face which haunted me.

I long to hear her voice, her words, her reprimands.. her complaints that I don't visit her often enough, her lament that she was unable to cook my favourite dishes....

There are no conversations amongst us friends today.. phone calls that used to happen every 2 hours.. to ask about her, to talk about her, to pass on news of the progress she was  making on the health front...... our phones are silent.  The few calls made - to check on each other - were mostly silent too... 

Today I have nothing to do..... no prayers to a God, to take care of her , no pleas to get her  to recover...

देव स्वतः वर काही घेत नाही ग, ना जन्म.... आणि मरण तर कधीच नाही. ती रुख रुख तो आपल्याला  देतो . मन  चाचपडत  बसतो  आपण फक्त, Rao Kaku  said..... her frail hands  holding mine... tightly.


21st February

It was the day of her Vaikuntha... when she ascends to Vaikuntha,,, the 12th day of her having passed away. The rites and rituals were being performed at her home. Her family and friends were around.  She had touched  many lives and they were all there..recounting anecdotes.  It was then that my gaze fell on a large framed picture of hers. It was a beautiful picture of her.  Her smiling face stared back at me. It was probably clicked at a wedding... she had her finery on.  " Houshi" was an adjective everybody who knew her had applied to her.  She had had  a zeal and a lust for life.   Here she was,  just as I had known her.  I could not but smile back at her , at her picture. 

Now when I think of her,  it is her smiling countenance , like the one in that picture in the photo frame, like how I had always seen her , which comes to my mind.   A smiling face, a happy face.

I understood now, my family’s displeasure with me when we had posted an obituary for my father in law. He was 76 when he passed away. He had been a handsome young man, and one with an imposing personality even at 65 when I had joined his clan. In the last one year of his life, I had seen him ageing... daily....wasting away , bit by bit,  with Parkinson's.  The photograph I had sent to the newspapers was taken at a family function,  just a couple of months before his death . His face had looked gaunt  .... a sad  caricature of his former handsome self. 

The family was unhappy with my choice of the photograph and I had wondered what difference  a mere picture could make, when the person himself is no more… Aren't his memories. intact within you?  So what is is the issue with a photograph? 

All of us   carry memories....impressions, related to the people around us .  We carry a mental picture of them in our mind  and in our heart. Those pictures do not age, while we all do.

The mismatch is there.




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

“What screws us up the most in life is the picture in our head of what it's supposed to be.”


Socrates

Thursday, July 3, 2014

can you draw apart,
the veils that shroud me.

patiently?
every time i think of you
a tear slides down my face

i hope i am able to wash away  a memory of you

cleansing the heart
cleansing the mind of every vestige of you

emptying them.