Saturday, June 19, 2021

A DATE WITH DAISY

 "Of course, time moves on ..................but the vacancy left by previous occupants never fills. We keep our loved ones alive through our memories, our conversations and our stories but we don’t necessarily choose to reveal how much they really meant. We don’t have to. Anybody who has ever lost a pet knows".  

A Date with Daisy

As I read these lines in Tom Mitchell's book, The Penguin Lessons, my heart stopped. Tears welled up in my eyes and a lump grew in my throat, memories of our years spent with Daisy rushed to my mind. Daisy was an Alsatian, the best and most loving of all pets,  who as all pet lovers know, become family. She came to us, when both our daughters were in primary school. 

She was our only pet and it's twenty years since she left us, but even today, I can visualise her, curled up on her own special bed, plonked right in front of the air conditioner, opening her eyes at intervals, making sure we were all with her.

"Daisy...I miss you so" I spoke aloud involuntarily. "You know, I think of you often, of all the days we spent together, so full of love and laughter.."

Stretching her chin on her paws and turning away with a smirk, her look seemed to reply, "Of course, I know it! But you struggled with me as a pup, didn't you?? You would tie me to a long leash near your kitchen to keep an eye on me!"

"You haven't forgotten!" I smiled. "Yes, I was so scared those days. You would get entangled and I had to come close to rescue you. And you'd wriggle and lick... but I cared for you all through ok?"

Daisy yawned calmly. "Have I complained! You fed me well! But I know you struggled with your grandkids too on your first visit! And look how much they love you now! It was the same with me".

"Mammas and grandmas need to upgrade too, don't they?" Then turning to her, I said, "Let me tell you something about what happened at home, just before your arrival". 

"I know I know," she hurriedly repeated. "My little Megha fell deep asleep one afternoon and wouldn't open the door for her aunt who got worried.  She called you and Daddy who broke open the bolt only to find my little angel fast asleep with a book."

"How do you know that story?", I asked, aghast.

"How wouldn't I! That's all you spoke about to everyone; that you had got me to be her playmate. But you know, I was her guardian angel and she was mine. My playmate was the older one, my dear friend Varsha. You wicked parents, you wanted to switch me with my brother Bruno! If Varsha hadn't protested, who knows where I might have been......"


"Come on, come on," I said, explaining that the mistake was that of the handlers, as the pups were just a few weeks old. We had asked for Bruno, and he had given Daisy to us by mistake, and he tried to set things right. "Thank God," I continued, "Bruno too found a loving home!"


" Mummy, who named me Daisy? I loved that name." She said.


"I'm sure Varsha and Megha chose your name. You know Daisy, we were so impressed by your intelligence. You were a thinking dog and knew instinctively what was happening! It was Dagwood Bumstead and Blondie's pet or maybe that of the 'Five Findouters', they were the inspiration behind your name!" 


Now, I had to ask her this. "Do you remember, soon after your arrival, thieves broke open the restroom window and camped off with the copper water pipes and you didn't even bark! What if they had entered and robbed us all..?"

"Yes yes, even I found it strange for people to wave out through the window at night, I remember. Were they thieves? How was I to know? But you taught me to be friends with everyone!" she chuckled. 

"Ah yes, you just loved your Daddy blindly. And you were so obedient when he was around! you never cared for any of us," I said, complaining. "OMG, he even promised to bequeath all his property to you! But you thought of me only when you were hungry. Once I forgot to give you your morning milk. You looked at me with painful eyes and I remembered immediately". 

"Most days you made a tasty meal with my favourite potatoes, but on other days..Aw, you were strict. Daddy was fun. And indulgent. He invented new games, full of tricks and surprises.....Mamma, I had the best family any dog could wish for," she said, placatingly.

I was touched. "Daisy, you were so demonstrative in your love. Daddy used to pretend to hit Megha and you would jump up, hold his hand and stop him. And yet you chewed her one and only Barbie doll!"

" You used to leave me alone and go away. I missed you all terribly. What else could I do. I was filled with anger and jealousy. I would pick up the doll and deliberately jump on to your bed where I was not allowed. Some days I would l chew her books, or shoes or what ever I could find!"

"We went on vacations half heartedly..." I continued. 

"And I used to wait for you at the gate. Thank god I had three people for company. Vijaya didi fed me very lovingly. The other stayed longer but uttered only two words, Ka-Ho! The curly haired guy came once in a while to groom me. But I was miserable during the evenings."

" I can imagine, your playtime at the park! When you turned into an uncontrollable freak......" I teased. 

"How I enjoyed it. Even on the field my Megha was gentle. But my Varsha...she was the real player, how I missed her when she went off to college. The house used to be so quiet without the MTV channel blaring. And my walks were never the same...although you or daddy accompanied me often."

"You know both of them are so far away.." I said.

"O mummy, only you would say that. Let me tell you, every week Megha goes to the park to meet that Mutty...."

"He's Buddy, Daisy" I corrected her. 

"He's a mutt, a fool, that mountain dog. Often Megha calls him Daisy and he wags his tail. It's me she sees and me she plays with. Even her husband, Arvind has a soft corner for me, I know it! And she's still nearest to my heart! She reminds you every year, of my anniversaries, doesn't she?"

"Daisy I was so grief stricken ..I haven't yet overcome your passing away," I confided.

"Yes, I know, you and Varsha...Varsha has passed on her love for me to her family, her lovely children and husband, Nanu."

"How can you tell?"

"Have a look at the 40 birthday album he created for her. Go to the family page, look at the Ramani family photo!" She declared knowingly.

"Daisy, I wish I could have cared more for you. You know the vets in Jamshedpur were so loving. But here in Chennai, once they made a wrong diagnosis, yet again they prescribed the wrong medicine.

Did you suffer much?" I asked fearfully.

"No, not really" she replied, to my great relief. " I enjoyed my train journey with you all, from Jamshedpur to Nagpur and Nagpur to Chennai. I travelled first class!" She said proudly.

"Always first class for you my dear. Except those 15 days in September.. you were so sick..."

"I lived eleven happy years, don't you forget," she said sharply. "My brother Bruno, he died at eight and he got bow feet too," she added and continued, " That September, I remember Varsha spoke to me on the phone. She asked me to hang on. I regret that was not in my hands."

Then she chided me. "You still don't play with any dog. Why avoid them, mamma? Varsha still mourns me. Share your love like Megha and Daddy. O, my daddy, he sees me in every dog he passes by. He's full of love. He even loves the tiny noisy neighbour's dogs whom you can't stand."

And then turning to me, she asked, "Tell me, why have you started boasting about yourself in your blogs?"

"Who? Me and boasting?"I looked, bewildered.

"Yes, you boast you have learnt a lot from your books. You buried me in Chennai with my favourite toy and sheet. And I know you haven't got a closure. Mummy, death is an eventuality. It is a reality. We were destined to spend so many happy years together. Let's celebrate that unforgettable time. I see you haven't learnt anything from your books. Go out there ..there's so much love to be shared!"

And with these words, Daisy left me again, but this time a little wiser and happier! 




























Tuesday, June 1, 2021

NEVER ALONE!



How reading books saved me!



"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

S├śREN KIERKEGAARD




"Books come into your life for a reason."

From Wild Game by Adrienne Broderick.




I'm fascinated by the world of books! I'm pleasantly surprised when an author arouses in me, a sense of oneness, of how readily I'm able to identify with him or her, where nothing links us except a shared experience. A writer finds any number of stories to write about, driven by a need to express and a need to share. I'm sure such a book will find readers! How I wish, I too could tell a story! Maybe the story of my life! I've already thought of the title - Never Alone! But I know I'll need a wizard of an editor, one who could transform the drab to the dazzling. For I just wonder what I could share, of this, my very ordinary life, so full of human foibles and failings. I believe Writing is a calling! More so, storytelling. A story teller needs to prepare for it. Maintain a diary. Note down agitating experiences. So one can chew the cud at leisure. But I did none of those. Add to it a stock of unreliable memory, rusted and sterile....I find myself thoroughly unfit for the task.




Encouraged by finding a treasure trove of books in our old wooden vault, I started reading as a girl. But then I could never add anything new to that cache. Buying books was never an option. I did try borrowing, but ended up with books I never relished. At that time, I was completely unaware of the genres that existed. Strangely all the books that fell into my hands were fiction and somehow, I didn't much care for them. Even this awareness came very late in life. Because of this ignorance, for a long period of time, I hardly read any book. i remember reading a few short stories in prescribed texts that brought me great joy. the first definitely was Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond, a reader prescribed for my ICSE Board Exams. the other was Jungle Stories by Norah Burke. it contained fascination stories of growing up in the Jungle and that should have given me a cue to the genres i enjoyed, But I guess,  Also, other aspects of life needed attention. Later, I must have simply grown lazy!




The second opportunity at reading presented itself when my daughters brought home books during their vacation.The first book I truly enjoyed and read with uncharacteristic glee was Indian Journeys by Dom Moraes. It was a collection of essays on trips to places known and unknown and it kindled my wanderlust. I remember an account of a forest ranger about the elephants of the Dalma Hills, in whose foothills I had been born and raised. The next few books I picked were all about travels in India. Another book, I recall is Without a Doubt- by Marcia Clark. It was my introduction to criminal justice or injustice in this case, on the O J Simpson trial. I added true crime to my repotoire of books.




"Books will change your life," said Margot to me, (from the book Wild Game) "You have no idea how much you can learn about yourself by plunging into someone else’s life, You can read your way into a whole new narrative for yourself!" I agree with Margot wholeheartedly. In every book I read, I learnt how characters coped with adversity, bad choices and life's onslaughts. It began with the book Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. It helped me look at my experience in a better light. And then came the realisation that all along I was looking for. Margot continued speaking to me, " Books come into your life for a reason", she reconfirmed.




Since the Covid lockdown, I'm staying at home, and have all the time in the world for my books. In moments of deep realisation, books become my saviours. I escape into their world and read about gripping stories. I am taking part in a Reading Challenge. I read like one possessed, noting down ideas and thoughts which touch me. I write reviews about them all. I blog about how they affect me. In a sense, these books are nurturing me. They keep me going. I look forward to completing them.




I have been enjoying memoirs, autobiographies and biographies, travel literature and nature diaries, books on families and relationships, cities and wilderness, monuments and wars, love and loss, food and fashion, true crime and law, and so much much more. Once in a way, I do pick up a fiction for old times' sake, but soon see through the story, contrived and realigned to suit a story line. I am almost done with fantasy and wild imagination! I crave for the real! "Non Fiction speaks to the head", says Ellen Hopkins. "You live most of your life inside of your head, make sure it's a nice place to be," reads a quote from Buddhism.




In this journey of finding a genre, one misstep is still fresh in my mind. Once my son in law asked me what book I'd like for my birthday. I was inquisitive about bestsellers and requested the one that year, without checking out the review. He parcelled it dutifully across seas and holding the book in my hand was a joy which has never been replicated. Sadly, I have never completed it, it is a philosophical fantasy fiction-Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and I could not make myself read it. I'm sure, if I had sent a feedback, my son in law would have inundated me with books. Perhaps we're both waiting!




I get lost in book after book I read, but strangely, I also find myself! Books have taught me never to dwell in the past. This is one life I have, it is important to stand tall and move forward. Happiness is a choice that you have to make for yourself. I learnt how stress and pain can manifest themselves in bewildering ways. I also learnt that life is not fair. And everyday, I learnt it is important to stand up to a bully, which may even be inside you! After every book I read, I look at my life with new eyes. And now I can see the romanticism in my life. I'm amused.














Sent from my iPad

Sunday, March 14, 2021

WHAT THE TREE SAID

 This pandemic has restricted our movements and so, on some days,  the distance between us and our grandchildren seems unreachable. I miss them so much. 

 Chumku and Golu,  our grandchildren,  are very special. We are extremely fortunate to be the recipients of their love and care. We love and adore them immeasurably.  

A few lines for my dearest grandchildren from Nani, their grandma. 


What the Tree said! 


I have been standing here, Tall and strong, 

Waiting for you , As you walk along!


You look around , And then you look at me! 

You stop to smile, We're friends, you see! 


The last time you came ,I was flush with leaves, 

Where birds and squirrels, Did nestle their feed.


But this year I feel, All alone and bare

They have returned, But you are not there.


I know you want to hear stories,Of the Bethesda Trail

And meet those who live here, On the Maple Ridge rail. 


They do come here , As wistfully as you

With parents and friends, With bikes and books too


Time chortles by,In laughter and play 

Chasing bunnies and puppies, On a sunny day


It's been two years , I've been waiting for you

your eyes will light up,Maybe well up too! 


For I wait here , A comforting sight

To connect to your loved ones,So far away from sight! 






Sunday, February 28, 2021

ON TURNING SIXTY

ON TURNING SIXTY

The first realisation to dawn on me when I turned 60 was a realigning of roles in the family. Our two daughters had planned a family trip, just the four of us, to Las Vegas to celebrate the occasion. They pretty much did everything themselves, budgeting and booking, planning and packing.  We tagged along, my husband and I, just like they had done, as kids. For me, it was a comfortable shift, they dealt with the delays, they led the way. This change in the pecking order, from the drivers seat to the back seat was, for me, very welcome. I neither had to worry about the expenditure nor about the next meal. It was an exciting time to  be a mom! 


 This also brought home the point that dealing with adult children was way different from dealing with them as kids.  It was easier to be a parent, now, we are learning to be friends. This is accompanied by a deep sense of gratitude.  I know that every parent tries to do the very best and more for the children, and that is all that we also did. And the almighty ensured that our children lived up to our dreams and also their own. They have built loving homes and we are very fortunate to be a part of it. Now I have come to truly understand what unconditional love is, thanks to my loving grandchildren. How much I enjoy their very presence! As a working mother, there were many precious moments I had missed. But again, God has been kind, I get to relive my children's childhood through my grand children.


I rarely dwell on death, now more than ever before, it's a reality. My husband says, as always, his turn will come first. I tell him, I could still spring a surprise. I resigned from service at 59, my husband had retired  ten years ago. We had some savings to our name, a comfortable home in a city and my salary to spend until then. For the first time, I stared into a future without a fixed income, or pension. But I found an unlikely ally those days, the covid 19. It forced me to stay indoors. Due to limited expenditures, my savings didn't melt as I feared it would. It helped me develop confidence and pride in the minimalist way of life that I choose to lead.


Today, I am more appreciative of the effort of friends and family, and join in the medley more often. Being an introvert and a private person, mingling with people has always been stressful, but I'm learning to over come it. Whatever little grudges or acts of slight I had perceived, have receded to the background. Never again would my words and actions, thoughts and emotions ever think anything but the best for others. This attitude has helped me in all my relationships and happiness has followed as a natural corollary. 


 But I'm still, pretty much the same person I used to be. Except for a few edges, which are still getting smoothed out, and the dents getting evened out. For sometime, the issue regarding my weight has been troubling me. I have come to accept it and now, I have started working constructively but with confidence and do not allow it to affect my self esteem anymore. Without seeking, I found them all  -  friend and mentor, beauty and bonhomie, destinations and dreams (even desires!) fulfilled through my books. So I pursue reading and writing with a gusto, and all forms of art for which I had no time. Life is good! And as I write these lines, Charles M Blow, whispers into my ears and I share it with you all, " I would harness the truths that had been trapped in me like a fire shut up in my bones. I would give my life over to my passions, my writing, and my children, and they would breathe life back into me". ( Excerpt From: Charles M. Blow. “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” )





Thursday, February 18, 2021

Bihar is in the Eye of the beholder

 Bihar is in the Eye of the beholder. 

(Vijay Nambisan, poet and writer) 


For the prompt, 'includes an exotic animal', for a reading challenge, I picked 'Travels on my Elephant' by Mark Shand, a book that had won the Travel Writer of the Year Award at the British Book Awards in 1992. The book was a pleasure to read, it was very interesting and informative. At the same time it affected me deeply. Mark Shand, the British wild life enthusiast and travel writer, decided  to travel in India on an elephant.  For this purpose, he acquired an elephant whom he christened Tara, but who was always referred to as Mummy. He planned to end his rendezvous in Bihar at the Sonepur Animal Fair where he hoped to sell off his elephant, before heading home to England.

His remarkable journey begins in the eastern state of Odisha.  As he rides through the rural countryside, Mark Shand brings to life the incomparable beauty and ancient history of these hidden regions. He takes us on a tour of the ancient palaces which now lie in ruins. He speaks about the great kingdoms that held sway in these regions, a history lost to time as they do not find a place in the history books of Modern India's school children. I was elated to read about it, albeit briefly, in the sojorns of a modern British traveller, who much like his ancient compatriots, wrote them down in his travelogue.

For me, the best part of his travel was through the state of Bihar, the state where I was born and lived, for a considerable part of my life. His journey takes him through familiar terrain, through Chaibasa, whose outskirts reminded him of an English country village. At Sariekela and Kharsawan, he was fortunate to witness the traditional Chhau and Peacock dance. From there he travels to Ranchi, McCluskiegunj and Hazaribagh. He takes Tara to the river Kharkai for a bath, the same river that flows through Jamshedpur, my hometown.

He traverses through the open coal mines of Ramgarh, of which I had never heard and the Damodar River Valley, of which I knew because I had to learn it for my General Knowledge test. What my study didn't tell me was that "diamonds were to be found in these rivers that criss-crossed the Chota Nagpur plateau. In fact, there is a legend that the Koh-i-noor diamond was discovered in the River Koel". Of the Hazaribagh plateau, Mark writes that, "with its tall cypress-like trees this terracotta landscape reminded me of the rolling hills of Tuscany.” From there, he takes the Grand Trunk Road then heads North to Bodh Gaya, Gaya, Nalanda and Rajgir, the great centres of Buddhism.

Memories of my days spent in Jamshedpur, in the heart of the Chota Nagpur plateau,  have so far, always been one of joyful reminisces. But this account filled my heart, for the first time, with regret! How I had missed the opportunity to travel in my home state and discover the gems hidden there in. The beauty of the English countryside, the sunny Mediterranean Tuscany, were for me, stuff of the imagination, found only in Enid Blyton books and in other novels I chose to read. How mistaken I was! They lay around me, but my eyes were blind to such beauties! 

This was a trevelogue like no other. Until then, I had only travelled by trains, Mail, Express, even the  Passenger. And some exotic rides on a tram in Calcutta, and on my father's Vespa Scooter, back home. I had only seen horse carts and bullock carts!  Now, long distance travel is limited to aeroplanes, the king of the skies. Travel on an elephant- how exciting and thrilling it must have been! Mark shares the joy of his friendship and company with Tara. "Elephants are like human beings, " he tells us, "They like companionship". Under his watchful care, Tara transforms from a beggar to a princess and the Mahaout observes that Tara has acquired all the mannerisms of a Lady,  by virtue of her association with Mark. 

Finally, Mark heads towards Patna, and witnesses the Chhath festival on the banks of the Ganga, from where he heads to Sonepur.  As I continued to read, memories of the annual Durga Puja Mela held in the Maidan at Jamshedpur flashed through- the giant rides, the mini circus, the trinkets and fancy items on sale, the street food and the general noisy revelry, before worshipping the deity in the pandal, amidst the chaos and the crowd. The Sonepur Mela was something like this and much more, where animals were bought and sold- Elephants, horses, cows, bulls, birds, and snakes. By now, Tara had made a place for herself  in all our hearts and Mark is unable to negotiate a price for her. Finally, he gifts Tara to Kipling – a jungle camp in the buffer zone of Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, where she will take the guests for rides. Mark had found a comfortable home for his beloved Tara. 

The author pays a final tribute to Tara: "I did not save her. She saved me". He established the Elephant Family,  a London based charity to work towards the preservation of Asian elephants. Mark Shand had found his calling in India, in Odisha and Bihar. I was shocked to discover that an outsider could tell me so much more about my home.  My longing to go back increased manifold.  I am overwhelmed by his moving account. For now, I can only go back as a tourist,  on Tara's Trail! 






Sent from my iPad


Sunday, January 24, 2021

RIP. Larry King.


Today I feel the need to pay a personal tribute to Larry King,  the TV host, who sadly passed away on January 23rd, 2021.


I was introduced to Larry King through his show of the same name on CNN. Years ago, when we were in Jamshedpur, the cable TV (with antenna) came to our town around 1988 and ours was one of the first few homes to get a connection. My husband had already made up his mind, finally, here was an opportunity to watch all international sports events. As a family, we enjoyed the Tennis Grand Slams, the Olympics and the World Cup football games. Our daily must watch included the 9 pm news and the Australian soap opera, Neighbours. Our daughters had their personal favourites too. On returning from school, they would tune in to Jen and the hologram or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They enjoyed the Crystal Maze and Remington Steele. Over the years, they watched the music channels and other soap operas too. 


My absolute favourite was Larry King Live, telecast in the afternoon on CNN International. I looked forward to  his interviews, in his clear crisp voice, with celebrity guests, prominent politicians, film stars, rock legends, authors and international icons. Sometimes there were sensationalists too. But I can recall, effortlessly, my most favourite American guests who discussed the current crime scene in America. I heard the famous forensic scientist , Dr. Henry Lee, the investigative journalist, Dominick Dunne and the legal commentator and television lawyer Nancy Grace.


These crimes, always got my attention, and they popped up with a frightening regularity - missing persons, kidnapping, shooting and homicides. There were several high profile crime cases too. These were never reported in our news papers in India and the only way I could follow them was on Larry king Live - that of OJ Simpson, Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, the Mendez Brothers and Patty Hearst.  I also remember a few family members, parents, aunts and uncles of some of the victims who came on to his Live programme to make their voices heard. 


The world of true crime lay open before me. I remember the parents of Chandra Levy, an intern, who disappeared in Washington DC in May, 2001. From his aunt, I heard the sad story of young Lee Boyd Malvo, who had been arrested in the DC Sniper attacks. 

The parents of Laci Peterson, who had been killed by her husband in an advanced stage of pregnancy, shared a moving account of their daughter. I came to meet John Walsh, the creator of Americas Most Wanted following the murder of his son Adam. I also learnt about Mr.Richard Hagerman, who rallied for the Amber Alert, in memory of his daughter, Amber, who was abducted and murdered. 


Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that I would one day set foot in Washington DC. Decades later, on a visit to meet my daughter, I walked through Rock Creek Park where Chandra Levy's skeletal remains were found. I happened to drive by some of the landmarks where the DC sniper attacks resulted in the death of ten people. One fine day, the Amber Alert System sounded in all our mobile phones, alerting people of a potential victim and suspected perpetrator. In my mind, places like Modesto came to be associated with true crime. And I was to learn later about more unsolved crimes, in almost every district of America. 


I've read several True Crime Best Sellers and am waiting to read My Story by Elizabeth Smart and A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped victims who were miraculously rescued. My first and favourite genre of reading remains True Crime. I don't know what it is about this genre, I never speak it out loud, wondering how my interest would be perceived, by my family and friends. But as the news of the passing away of Larry King was conveyed to me by my daughter, I recollected all these names effortlessly. That's my tribute to Larry King, without whom, I would never have enjoyed reading in my most precious moments.


I was greatly touched by his comfortable and easy style of questioning which put his guests at ease. In spite of it being his programme, it was never about him. Reed thin and dressed in his signature suspenders , Larry King's style was absolutely admirable, he always allowed his guests to tell their stories. To me, he was the quintessential American, a high school dropout who made it big in the land of opportunities. One who married eight times and who fathered children in his sixties! Larry King, who worked till his very last breath. God in heaven finally decided he could use some of his charm! 


Larry King, from an admirer, Rest in Peace. 





Thursday, December 31, 2020

A TIME FOR GRATITUDE

 

Celebrate endings - for they precede new beginnings! 


This year has been like no other, in more ways than one. As the year comes to a close, it seems to be a good time for reflection and introspection. The corona lockdown was an unavoidable measure to fight the onslaught of the virus and arrest its spread. At first, I found it suffocating, I didn't know how to spend my time indoors. I was terribly saddened by the cancellation of my visit to be with my grand children. Time, as they say, is a great healer and now I have come to enjoy the slow and relaxed pace of life, doing especially all that I enjoy the most.

My childhood was marked by an absence of story reading, not story telling. Every night, my grandmother would narrate stories and like the proverbial thousand nights, they would continue the next day. This is how I learnt the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. I loved to read my school text books. I also remember the two books I received as gifts as a child, Life with Grandfather and Karna. I might have been in class 7 or class 8 when an elder cousin whom I really adored, got me a gift for my birthday. Looking forward to an Agatha Christie, I unwrapped the gift to find : Autobiography of a Yogi. To a twelve year old, there was no greater disappointment and that one book almost erased all my affection for him. In high school, my history text books were a delight; History of India by N Mukherji and History of India by V. D. Mahajan where Political and Cultural history was interspersed with anecdotes and interesting asides.

I had really very few ways of getting books. Buying them was a luxury those days. I read my father's old collection of books. And then, I used to borrow from the school library or from friends. However, I was very eager that my children should read books. Although reading was never his hobby, their father got them the best and choicest fairy tales, from all over the world, all of which I have preserved till today. As they grew older, I took them, every Friday to the Devanand Lending  Library, an iconic second hand book shop in Bistupur, Jamshedpur. And my children really enjoyed reading the books they got there. They remain ardent readers till today. I still remember the little impromptu jig my younger daughter put up, on finding a book she had set her heart on, Children of the Willow Tree Farm by Enid Blyton. Though I would also issue a few books myself, I never really got much time to read. 


Still, from time to time, I did read books, more out of guilt and less out of interest. My children soon flew the nest and sometimes they would bring in the books they had got and I read them too.  But it was only after retirement that I have gone back to reading in a passionate way. Somewhere along the way, my reading tastes changed. I did not enjoy fiction, they appeared contrived but Non Fiction held a special attraction. Memoirs and biographies, travel and politics threw up something new everytime. 


During my visits abroad, I was very happy to see the number of books my grandchildren got to read, from their local library and from school, both of which provide easy access and a continuous supply of books, suitable to their ages and interests. My elder daughter, still reads regularly, and is a member of two reading book clubs. She took me to the local library where, for the first time, I read  books on the best seller list. In India, for the reader, there are books but they still come at a price. 


I will always remember that evening when my daughter placed the copy of the book Women Rowing North, in my hands. My reading buddies had suggested, the book as a sort of self help guide.  As she was leaving for work in the morning, I wondered aloud, if she could get me that book from the library. I gave her the name and waited for her message. None arrived, and I was sure they had all been issued. The pleasant surprise came in the evening. I must confess that the  book made a significant change in my attitude and here I record my immense gratitude, first to my daughter, Varsha and then to Mary Pipher for having written it.


I can't thank my younger daughter and son in law enough, for the gift of an iPad. It was the oldest version and she wondered if I could use it. Earlier, my daughter had gifted me a Kindle Paperwhite and for the first time I enjoyed reading ebooks. I had  never used an iPad and it took me a while to get technologically savvy but I'm proud to say that I finally learnt enough to be able to download books. The covid pandemic opened up new and free esites and I made the best use of them . Today I own a personal collection of titles. The latest to be added are books by Indian authors. All the books I've read this far have been enriching and very satisfying. For this I convey my gratitude to my younger daughter, Megha and her ever thoughtful gestures.


Yesterday, after one such session, I was unable to open the pages of the new book I had downloaded. To my consternation, the books I had downloaded previously also appeared blank. This was enough to shake me up. It was lunch time and my husband was waiting for me to join him. No way was I going to leave my iPad with all those books in white!  I wondered if I had inadvertently tinkered with the settings, googled for answers and just keep reading about trouble shooting. Soon I discovered that I had too many pages open on my iPad. As I closed them one by one, my books sprang back to life and I went happily for lunch, and indulged in an extra helping. But my husband had been waiting for me and I'm grateful for his support on that day and all the days of my life.  I have done something which took a long time in coming, that which I'm going to do more often, express gratitude and thanks, for just being there. 


But how can I close without expressing my gratitude to my circle of family and friends, with whom I've always looked forward to sharing my time! I have reconnected with my school friends on WhatsApp and if not for anything else, I must thank The Flock of Seventy four, for deluding me to believe I may still be that silly school girl sometimes. They  come up with new ideas of remaining connected; posting photos or names of favourite books and movies or simply zoom chats, or even birthday wishes!! No event can bypass at least sixty responses! Every effort and skill is abundantly appreciated . What I look forward to the most are the good morning waves and wishes.

They remind me of Pippa's Song by Robert Browning:


  The year's at the spring,

  And day's at the morn;

  Morning's at seven;

  The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;

  The lark's on the wing;

  The snail's on the thorn;

   God's in His heaven;

   All's right with the world. 


Friday, December 25, 2020

CHILDHOOD REVISITED

 Last children of the Raj:

British Childhoods in India 1919–1939 

Compiled by Laurence Fleming

Introduction by Mark Tully

The book is a  celebration of childhood, a fascinating compilation of 'a snapshot of memories' very much like a school magazine with photographs, of foreigners, especially English men and women who had spent their early years here. 'India is not a country that one can forget', writes one. Another says 'One could not have wished for a happier and freer childhood than to have grown up in such privileged circumstances'.


 A remarkable feature was that, at least one of their parents was born in India, many had grandparents who were living in India or had worked here, in various capacities. They served as  professors and teachers, nurses and doctors, they were to be found in the Army, Police, and Railways, they served as Forest Officials , Civil Servants, Missionaries, Geographical Surveyors, traders and  engineers. It is interesting to note that they lived all over India, in the North, West, East, South, in the interiors, in towns and cities, capitals and hill stations. 


On reading their accounts, it is heartening to note that their 'family life seemed idyllic, and in retrospect, self-contained'. As children, their 'parents never warned them of any dangers – they didn’t think there were any. Their memory of the indigenous population was that they were friendly and peaceful. All of them  remember leading comfortable lives, by today's standards and they were provided the services of all or several of the following- a nanny, an ayah, a cook, a gardener, a driver, a tailor and several  attendants including a cook’s mate, a butler, a water bearer,  a guard and a washerman. 


Their memories are filled with 'a glorious childhood, with sunshine, brilliant colours, multitudes of people, magic and mystery, strong scents, fabulous journeys'. They learnt to speak the local language and some grew quite proficient at it. They enjoyed playing unorganised games and several memories centre around animals.  One even mentions 'the Eastern attitude to death, which was so natural'. Some memories echo the conditions which sadly remain unchanged- of India as 'a land of contrasts, where beauty and squalor walked hand in hand with opulence and poverty'.


Several of the contributors were born in India or joined their parents as soon as they could. However, what stands out are the partings – the sacrifices made by both parents and children in order to obtain a good education. Usually, these children were sent away to a boarding school at the age of 8, sometimes, left behind in the UK, with grandparents or aunts. I can only imagine the trauma faced by both parents and children. Yet they took it all in their stride. Many of them revisited with their children  and were happy to be remembered by old acquaintances. 'In reminiscence, our time seems the most magical part of my childhood, and the pictures it has left are vivid, though fragmentary'. What a reaffirmation of the joys of childhood! '




















Monday, December 7, 2020

REMEMBRANCE

 I have just finished reading the book: CRACKING THE CODE: MY JOURNEY IN BOLLYWOOD, by Ayushmann Khurrana. It is a gem of a book, written with youthful enthusiasm, and a rare wisdom and maturity. Ayushmann's slow, steady and successful rise in stardom brought back memories of another young star, that shone bright, albeit briefly, that of Sushant Singh Rajput. From chasing his dreams to living it - Sushant's life appeared like one dream run! But it was all real, and it was there for all to see. 


Several of his videos are testimony to hours of rigorous workout he put in to maintain that chiselled handsome look. The pages in his diary reveal the hours of planning and preparation that went in, not only for the role at hand, but also to achieve personal goals. He was an excellent dancer and a connoisseur of books and comes across as an unusual combination of brawn and brain. He was a student of science, he had a deep understanding of physics, he was a star gazer.  With information available on the public domain, one could also say that he was spiritual, charitable and generous to a fault. 


The rewards of the success he enjoyed were also there for all to see. By the age of 33, he was the proud owner of the best luxury sports car available in India, a Maserati Quattroporte,  his 'time machine' the Meade 600 telescope, an expensive flight simulator, and the only Indian actor to own a piece of land on the moon. He spent his time at his comfortable Dream Home and Farm House and his entourage included his pet dog Fudge. Sadly, he did not pen his memoirs, and the details of his meteoric rise can no longer provide inspiration to pursuers of dreams . 


And that is why it was difficult to accept his sudden and untimely death this June at the age of 34.  His current partner sang a discordant tune for what she divulged did not match the image of the actor; drugs and depression, failed relationships and family estrangement. Six months have passed since Sushant's mysterious death. Transcending bereavement, his shocked  family has asked for closure as they mourn their loss. 


 His Friends and fans from all over the world, initially clamoured for answers. They reinvented themselves as warriors and fought for justice over social media.  Overnight fan groups were formed and twitter was abuzz with news and views on his untimely death. The Central Bureau of Investigation has stepped in and is investigating the matter. As I await the findings, I only wish that Sushant Singh Rajput is in a better place. RIP, SSR. 


Monday, November 30, 2020

Jamshedpur Diaries

I have just finished reading "Bihar Diaries" by Amit Lodha, a policeman, who writes about the nexus between the the police, politician and criminal and about his success in eliminating criminal gangs in the state. The 90's were tumultuous times for the state and Jamshedpur too bore the brunt of criminalisation. Inspired by "Bihar Diaries", I write about my experiences, after almost half a century, about run-ins with criminals which disturbed our peaceful existence. 


To begin with, newspapers reported incidents of kidnappings and dacoity on a regular basis. One came to learn that Kidnapping served many purposes, from obtaining easy money to a coveted bride or groom of choice, anyone could be snatched at gunpoint. The other profitable haunt of criminals was the train. 


During one such night journey to Patna, as the train slowed down, my mother awoke to a strange sight. The comforter, protecting my sick father, was being pulled out of the window. Had my mother delayed even a moment in raising the alarm, my father would have had to spend a cold sleepless night. It took a whole compartment to pull it back. 


Another favourite of the train pirates was the Bokaro Allepey train, the only train, in those days, travelling to South India. On one such occasion, my grandparents were travelling by themselves to Chennai. The dacoits jumped into the compartment as the train slowed down on the outskirts of an approaching city. They passengers were forced to hand over everything of value - wallets, handbags, purses, money and jewellery, of course, at gun point. My grandfather had already surrendered his purse, still he approached the robber, waiting to disembark. He spoke to him kindly, "Look son," he said kindly, "just give me 10 rupees from my purse. I'm travelling with my old wife. In case my son is late, we can at least have a cup of tea". The robber returned my grandfather's purse. He had made a very good killing. And as quickly they had entered, the robbers vanished into the darkness as soon as the train gathered speed. 


 When the all clear signal sounded, my grandmother finally removed the shawl covering her head . Only then did one realise that she was not merely protecting herself from the cold, she had covered her ears nose and hands, bedecked with diamond jewellery. I was sure that information about the South Indian women's love for jewellery must have reached the ears of gangsters. Sporadic cases of loot were often reported. A Tamilian friend of ours, recently married, was returning late one night from the club. He stopped his scooter to remove the logs blocking his path. They had been waylaid and the terrified new bride handed over the little but expensive jewellery she was wearing. 


We had been hearing of thefts in our area. But nobody took them seriously because we were so used to the safe and comfortable life in the Steel City. Then news trickled in that a family in KD Flats had been robbed. But information was scarce and people were  reluctant to believe such news. And then it happened in my house; I was very young and didn't understand the gravity of the situation but I recall it today with great trepidation. Early one morning, possibly between 2 and 3 am, I woke up to commotion in my house. My parents were dazed, they were in a state of shock and bewilderment. My mother was crying and gently rubbing her red bruised neck, from where her gold chain had been ripped free. She had felt someone standing behind her, cutting the chain and pulling it, she tried to scream- but no sound escaped her lips, her throat had gone dry. The thief jumped over my father and this woke him up. He screamed. 


My parents were asleep in their bedroom, they preferred sleeping on the floor. My sister and I were in the other room, my grandparents were asleep in the third bedroom. Listening to my father's screams, my grandfather switched on the light and rushed out from his room. My father pointed towards the side door screaming, "He went that way". Father and son rushed out and found the grill door wide open. It was a heavy iron door and it had been unlocked. We kept asking and listening again and agin and when the first lights appeared, our neighbours rushed out. Only then in the light of dawn, did we see the bunch of keys lying on the stair case leading to the flat above. My mom was sure that there were at least two of them and then we discovered that they had entered our ground floor house by removing an iron rod from the toilet window.


After entering, they must have used a flash light, gone from room to room and by chance, found the house keys. A wrist watch and some cash was also missing. And we were sure chloroform was used, because we didn't seem to find our bearings for a long time. My grandfather insisted on reporting the matter to the police, against good advice. The policemen came, went around the house and enjoyed a cup of coffee. "Tell us, whom do you suspect? We'll catch the culprits immediately!" This was their refrain and after three visits to the police station, my grandfather gave up hope. We got no help from any quarter, but the robbery in our house was neither the first nor the last carried out by the gang. 


Later, some well meaning friends told us that a young man named Biru (name changed) was involved in that gang. He had somehow managed to befriend my authoritarian grandfather. He used to visit our house often and had won us over with his friendly and helpful ways. Once, he even insisted we attend  his brother's wedding reception. Strange enough Biru never ever visited us after the robbery and this made us suspicious of his involvement. 


Soon after, a particularly violent attack was unleashed in a locality nearby. The victims were again another ordinary Tamilian family like ours. One night, about half a dozen masked men, made their way across the river on a cloudy, starless night, cool, yet heavy and dark. The men were on a mission- they were each assigned a task. A couple of them broke into the corner flat, their target. They had bolted from outside all the outer gates of the surrounding flats, arresting the people inside. So even when the neighbors heard cries for help, all they could do was scream some more or throw down pots from their balcony. 


The masked men broke open the door and confronted the frightened family. The most terrifying one looted the 70,000 Rupees withdrawn from the bank that morning towards construction of their home. Then the retired father and son were  bludgeoned and thrown out of the house. The daughter-in-law hid in the back yard and silently removed all her jewellery and dropped them gently  into the dark coal shed. Misreading the silence, the mother in law emerged from the bathroom and the last of the masked men decamped with whatever jewellery she was wearing . He disappeared into the dark night along with the others, crossing the river and making good their escape. It took a long time for help to arrive and by the time I went to meet them the next morning, the men had been hospitalised in a serious but stable condition. The women were shocked, it was they who narrated the details to the neighbors and policemen.


I'll never forget my visit to Baba Dham, the holy shrine in Deogarh, Bihar. After having sought the blessings of Baba Bholenath, we were on our way back home. It had been a long winding and tedious journey and as soon as we boarded the train from Deogarh, I fell asleep. I woke up suddenly, something seemed amiss. There was an eerie silence broken by screams and shouting in the compartment. I sat upright in the middle berth. A young man kept calling out to me, "Bhabiji, Bhabiji, get down". He was already hiding under the lower berth.  My husband was crouching and so were most of the other passengers. The young man continued screaming, "Bhabiji, you are too brave! Please duck before you are hit".


Only then did I understand the enormity of the situation. I saw two armed guards of the Railway Protection Force and they were pulling down all the shutters and the train was screeching to a halt. We heard gun shots and the policemen were returning fire and a pitched battle was going on. The armed bandits, hiding somewhere in the dark, firing indiscriminately at a moving train. This time, a failed mission. Finally the all clear signal sounded and normalcy returned. 


I remember the case of a dynamic young IPS officer, a doctor by education, posted as city SP, Jamshedpur. He was successful in controlling and decreasing crime rate during the 1990s, when crime was at its peak. This much is fact. But the rest of what I write is all heresay. Much like Lodha, he had been assigned the task of nabbing a dangerous criminal, who was on the run. During one of his official briefing duty, he found the criminal enjoying political hospitality. The policeman resigned immediately, joined private service and then plunged into politics, and was elected Member of Parliament from Jamshedpur Lok Sabha Constituency. 


There are so many childhood memories like these, that you just want to keep going back to, no matter how old you become. When I look back, in spite of it all, everything still seems alright. I would never trade my childhood days for anything else in the world for I realise how lucky I was. I can't even imagine what my life would be like, if I had a different childhood, if I had lived in a different town or met different people!