Thursday, December 31, 2009

USHERING IN THE NEW YEAR

When we were young, New Years were not ushered in with booze and babes, but in a more holistic, whole-family-glued-to-TVset kind of way. It really was a ushering IN, because we received
  • capsules of INformation in Prannoy Roy's intelligently-edited and interestingly-compered year-end international and national news round-up: THE WORLD THIS YEAR. The highlight was a hilarious goof-up section of the high and the mighty.
  • a seemingly endless programme of completely INane entertainment put together on DD 1 (shabbier version) and DD Metro (flashier version). A parade of minor non-stars in spangly dresses and loud voices, a completely-unfunny-comedian-compere who could not make anybody laugh at that late yawning-hour.

We INevitably dozed off in front of the blaring TV set, only to have our INterest revived at 23:59:59 Hrs when there were really big bangs from the TV set. Rubbing our bleary eyes, we goofily grinned at each other as crackers burst and smoke billowed on the screen (and off it, too, somewhere far away from our timid small-town neighbourhood) and everybody singing off-key at the top of their voices...

...HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

STAMPED ON MY MEMORY

My elder daughter has to do a class project on stamp-collection, and we were sadly unable to find any in the house. Finally, we had a kind friend who procured some stamps of foreign countries from the Post Office. At a cost, of course.

When we were young, we went through various 'collection-crazy' phases - from stamps to coins and even matchbox covers (where it helped that my Baba was a heavy smoker and enthusiastic contributer to the cause).

Stamp collection was a hobby much-lauded by grown-ups because it was supposed to be an educational pastime. Many kids were budding philatelists, including yours truly. One cousin, coming from a more affluent family, had a proper stamp-album with sections on different countries, ready-cut pieces of special adhesive to stick the stamps therein, and whole sets of stamps purchased at a price from post-offices.

My collection was more humble, in a used school-notebook. The stamps were painstakingly collected, one-at-a-time, off torn envelopes and air-mail covers, and stuck with ordinary gum but extra-ordinary care.

I had a lot of the usual brown 25 paise Gandhiji-stamps, and another lot of one-penny (or was it five?) pastel-Queen Elizabeth stamps of England. Indian stamps dominated the album (but of course), but there were quite a few interesting ones from foreign shores, taken from letters mailed by relations abroad, or from abandoned stamp-collections of uncles and older cousins. There were triangular, colourful stamps from Bhutan and Nepal, functional-looking stamps from the glamorous U.S.A, and stamps where the letters and numbers were in foreign languages.

The true erudite philatelist would rather have one rare stamp ( a Penny Black, say) than a hundred humdrum ones. But we were philistines rather than philatelists, and for us quantity mattered as much as, if not more than, quality. So, collections were fiercely guarded and frequently counted. Exchanging stamps was a serious and competitive business, much like the Stock Exchange today.

Bright, bold, silent but eloquent, the stamps united the world in my grubby little stamp-book. In the midst of shifting from house to house, and from city to city, somewhere I have lost it. But it is a loss that I deeply regret. Because I believe although I collected stamps with a zeal as a child, I would have learnt a lot more by studying them now as an adult. But those tiny messengers of diversity and variety - speaking of lands far away and peoples long ago - have been forever lost in transit.

WHAT DID YOU COLLECT WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD?

Monday, November 30, 2009

A SOAP OPERA

The other day I was looking at some communication for Yardley Soaps, and I was struck by the irony of the quaint, ye-olde-English nineteeth-century Yardley brand being bought over by the tech-hep 21st century Wipro. But then, big-business reality is often stranger than soap-opera fiction.

I tried to recall the soaps which we used as children. Lux is still very much around, although, the stars endorsing it have changed from Hema Malini to Aishwarya, with even a Shahrukh Khan in a rose-filled bathtub (shudder!!) in between. But I prefer a gracefully-ageing Hema to a nauseously-simpering SRK any day.
Liril is a soap which has fared better, I feel, and its lemony zingy appeal is quite fresh, especially during the long, sweaty summer. Even Cinthol’s deo-range, despite the masculine magnetism of Hrithik Roshan, does not compare.

But Rexona has disappeared. While the standard pink Lux was the staple soap in our home, the green Rexona regularly graced the soapdish in my Mamabaris (mother’s maternal home) bathroom. It was a very ordinary soap, leaving the skin woefully dry in winter, but I have fond memories of Rexona just because of the Mamabari-connect.

In summer, when sweat, itching and prickly heat attacked, Maa would sometimes get the green medicinal Margo neem soap. And though the bubbles would taste bitter if they somehow entered my mouth, Margo enjoyed a sanctified status as a "GOOD SOAP WHICH CLEANSED AND CURED", so we never complained.

My especial favourite were Lavender Dew and Mysore Sandal, because they were special-occasion soaps bought during festive-seasons and suchlike. And because they had such lovely lingering fragrances. Lavender Dew, delicately mauve-coloured, smelling of gentle lavender, is now only a faint memory, but Mysore Sandal, with the more aggressive, exotic sandal-scent is still available, enduring where the former has evaporated.

There was the big and spherical Moti, which looked like a monster-pearl and which always slipped out of my grasp when I was a small girl. But it was a costly affair and lasted a very long time, which is probably why my Chhotopishi (father’s sister) seemed to favour it.

Winters, of course, were for glycerine soaps – the pure and tranparent Pears for the more affluent homes, and the murkier Chasme Glycerin for modest homes like ours.

And now, although I love my Dove and my Nivea and other post-thirty necessities, sometimes I wish I could get back those lavender and sandal days when the skin was younger and the soap seemed gentler.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDHOOD SOAP?

Monday, November 9, 2009

THE MORNING WALK - PART I

THEN :
During school vacations, sometimes my father would suddenly have the urge to go on morning walks with me and my brother. Ma (mother) would wake us all up at some unearthly hour, get us suitably attired (depending, of course, on the weather - it was sacrilege to step out in winter without being bundled up in sweaters and scarves), give us a Marie Biscuit each, and push us out of the house before, I suspect, going back to a blissfully peaceful snooze.

Half-reluctant, half-awake, rubbing sleep out of our eyes, we would stumble out, weaving through the nearly-empty roads in our neighbourhood, under the guidance of our enthusiastic leader, Baba (father).

As we left the crowd of houses behind, the gradually brightening sky showed us the way to greener fields and the banks of the Ganga. Baba always wanted to reach the riverbank - a good half-an-hour's walk from our house - to catch the sunrise over the placid Ganga's horizon. Our senses awakened to the chirruping Good Mornings of the birds and the fresh wetness of dew brushing against our legs. Masses of flowers bent over trees and hedges and tickled our noses with their scents - shiuli, rajanigandha, kamini, beli. It was, to understate, a nice way to way up all our senses.

And the high point was flopping down, all huffed-and-puffed, on the banks of the brown river, feeling the cool breeze wipe off the sweat from our faces, and lifting our eyes to watch the sun paint the eastern sky with an amazing palette of red-orange-gold-pink. The Ganga, a great imitator, would reflect whatever the sun drew on the sky, adding millions of tiny silver ripples for special effects. And a few early morning braveheart-bathers, sun-worshippers and Ganga-devotees, would step into this colour-play in the water to take their daily dip in the holy river.

While going back, we would stop at some riverside tea-stall for locally-made toast-biscuits and Baba would have a cup of tea - the first of his daily dozen-or-more.

NOW:
No birdsong. No sunrise. Maybe they happen, but morning-walkers hardly notice. They hear the latest tracks on their earphones, and see only a focussed vision of six-packs or size-zero.

And if I thought that the self was made of the mind, body and soul, then of course, I was wrong. Only the body matters, at least while morning-walking.

WHAT WALKS WITH YOU IN THE MORNING? YOUR BODY, MIND OR SOUL?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

MY FIRST WEDDING MEMORIES

No, I am not talking of my own wedding (first, and only) here.

I mean the first wedding I have any distinct memories of.

It was my Didibhai's (cousin-sister) wedding, and I was all of seven, innocent-child-on-the-brink-of-precocious-giggly-girlhood.

The marriage was an 'arranged' one, in the traditional Indian fashion, but my Jethun (uncle - the bride's father) was not too conservative, and so, the groom selected was not a Brahmin like us, but from a different (supposedly lower) caste. Caste has always been a complete non-issue with me, but many regarded Jethun's decision as a bold and unconventional.

But for us, the groom hardly mattered. We were more caught up in the preparations made for the bride and by the bride.

The daily ubtan (scrub-cleaner) of milk and turmeric, which magically gave her dark complexion an amazing caramel glow.

The endless rounds of trousseau shopping - the blue-silver tanchoi benarasi (heavily embroidered North Indian silk saree), the yellow-maroon kanjeevaram (heavy South Indian silk saree), the tangails (Bengal handloom cotton sarees), and the piece de resistance - the dazzling red-and-gold Benarasi that Didibhai would wear to the wedding.

The careful but lavish purchase of gold ornaments - the patterns chosen so that the necklaces and bangles would cover her entire neck and arms ("gaa jeno bhara bhara dekhaye").

The more reckless spending on cosmetics, after endless debates as to matching shades and such like. Lakme was the company of choice, there being no L'oreal on the horizon in the 1980s.

The painstaking paisley alpana (designs) that Didia (my other cousin, Didibhai's sister) did on the two piris (low wooden stools) where the bride and the groom would sit while the priest performed the marriage rituals. Gold and red paisleys for the bride, black and silver for the groom - those lowly piris were proof of the detailed preparations made for the wedding.

The excitement over the tatvo (the display of the gifts sent to members of the groom's family and gifts given to the bride). Each tray was lovingly and uniquely decorated. Sarees were tortured out of shape to construct fantastic flora and fauna. And it was quite a disappointment to see that the groom's family had made no such effort - they had only cellotaped their gifts for us on to the trays. But perhaps their tamper-free sarees were easier to wear than the ones we gave - all creased and crumpled from being forcefully shaped like a peacock's tail!

The debates and detailing of the guest list and the subsequent selection of the design for the wedding card. And when the invitation cards came, I did my first postive work for the wedding (till then, I had been a very passive if passionately-eager witness of the ongoing bustle). I was deputed to put the auspicious sindoor-halud (red and yellow) mark on the envelopes.

The planning of the menu, the hiring of the marriage hall (it was a huge three-storey school building which they rented out for weddings - in the mornings, we played on the grounds, there were swings and slides and a huge expanse of green grass), the arrival of many of our relations, the gradual countdown to the...

D-day.

I remember the self-absorbed excitement of wearing a saree for the first time on a social occasion - it was an old maroon heavy silk saree belonging to my aunt, and it was so sturdily wrapped around me that I could barely walk. And the unfamiliar lipstick on my mouth made me so self-conscious that I could barely talk.

But the lights and the food and the hoichoi (excitement) and the novelty of everybody getting all decked-up and happy and shiny-faced made me also bubble over.

I remember my Bhai, all of three, too young to get excited or to understand fully, falling asleep in the middle of the ceremonies. Maa took him to an empty room where he could sleep comfortably, but he woke up after some time and, seeing nobody around, got extremely annoyed and came running down the stairs in his chaddies (underpants) crying loudly for my mother and disrupting the priest's ritual intonation of the mantras.

I remember Didibhai fainting during the bidaai (bride's leave-taking of her maternal home) and how Kartickda (her husband) joked later that she pretended to faint because she was embarrassed at not being able to cry.

I remember realising then that weddings were salt as well as sweet.

WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST WEDDING MEMORIES?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

THE WRATH OF THE GODDESS

As a child, my most cherished and enduring Durga Pujo memory is of the face of the Goddess.

Oh, I liked wearing new dresses and rushing to the parar pandal (neighbourhood marquee where the festive celebration was organized). I liked the happy, excited crowds, and the Hindi songs blaring from the microphones, and the smell of dhoop (incense) and flowers, and the dhaak er bajna (drumbeats), and the finery of the ten-handed goddess and her brood of four children, and the sonorous Sanskrit mantras (hyms) and the busy evenings of pandal-hopping.

But most of all, I liked to sit quietly inside the pandal at Jagruti Sangha (our local neighbourhood Pujo) and gaze at the lovely, angry face of the Goddess. Because at Jagruti Sangha, the sculptor (I forget his name) would always create an idol whose eyes shone with divine wrath. Baba (my father) used to say that this was the face of the Goddess just before she killed the demon Mahishasura – that climax of fury which led to the triumph of good over evil.

All the other Durga idols I have seen (in my childhood and even now, so many many years later) depict a calm and serene Goddess. Baba would say that that is the face of Durga after she has destroyed Mahisasura – “calm of mind, all passion spent”.

And although I love to look at the calm and beautiful face of Durga almost as much, during every Pujo I feel a deep yearning for our childhood Jagruti Sangha Durga – that trinayani (three-eyed) face compellingly majestic with its blazing eyes and gaze of furious power. That terrible, mighty beauty absolutely fascinated me, and I would gaze for hours, imprinting that face on my memory-album (we did not have a camera) so that long after Bijoya Dashami and the immersion of the idol, that face would be stamped deep in my soul in all its anger and loveliness.

I just have to close my eyes to see that face of my childhood Maa Durga again. Although the contours have become elusive, the eyes are as burningly beautiful as ever.

DO SHARE A FESTIVAL MEMORY WITH US.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

PREENING-PLANNING FOR THE PUJA

Durga Puja was definitely THE MOST-ANTICIPATED TIME OF THE YEAR for us as far as new clothes were concerned. A new birthday dress or a new Poila Baisakh (New Year) dress notwithstanding, it was only before the Pujo that we received a bounty of new clothes to delight over.

One from Ma-Baba (parents), one from Mamabari (maternal grandparents), one from Chhotopishi (father’s sister), one from Jethun-Barama (father’s brother). Sometimes this list would be supplemented by sudden extras, as when an elder cousin or uncle would join a new job, or a newly married cousin would gift us a new dress. The more the merrier, for us.

The trend for ready-made garments not having set in during that time, we were usually given dress material (cut-pieces) which would have to be stitched into garments. This implied a double happiness and a prolonged period of excitement. The first joy would be on seeing the dress material itself. And then the elaborate planning of what the dress-design should be (the Planning Committee consisted of my mother and Didia, my cousin, with us being extremely-interested audience). And then the measurement-taking (either by Maa or by the neighbourhood tailor). And then the impatient waiting till delivery day. And then, of course, the excited tearing away of the plain brown-paper wrapping of the tailor and taking out and putting on the newly-stitched miracle. With a lot of preening and pirouetting before the mirror. Total indulgence in narcissistic self-love.

Those were busy days leading up to the Pujas. The dress schedule had to be meticulously planned – which outfit to wear on which day. The simpler cotton ones would be reserved for Sasthi and Saptami, and the fancier silk ones for the more glamorous occasions of Ashtami and Navami. If there was an excess of newness, then we would plan something different for the mornings and evenings, and maybe even for Dashami, the final day of the celebrations. The most-loved garment was always reserved for Ashtami evening. And that incomparable thrill and fever-pitch excitement of stepping out in a nice new outfit, proud and colourful as a peacock, and strutting to the local Puja pandal amidst the beats of the Dhaak (drums) and the smoke of the dhunuchi-naach (a dance performed with burning earthen pots) and the music blaring from the loudspeakers. With the assured confidence of childhood, we never doubted that we would be the cynosure of all eyes.

HOW DID YOU FEEL IN YOUR NEW FESTIVE DRESS?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

THE DOCTOR IS IN

As a child I loved going with my mother (and brother) to Dr Saha’s clinic. In case you are wondering whether I was mad, let me clarify that Dr Saha (we used to call him Kakumoni – an endearment for ‘uncle’) was a qualified and practising homeopath.

I just loved to visit his small, cool-calm chamber with the green lime-washed walls, the scrubbed brown wooden benches for the patients in the outer waiting chamber, and the inner sanctum sanctorum, where the quiet, thin, reassuring-smiling doctor would sit, surrounded by glass-fronted cupboards full of thick-fat medical books and vials and glass bottles of homeopathic medicine.

Before Maa (mother) embarked on her journey through the entire family’s ailments, Bhai (my brother) and I would demand our share of ‘michhimichhi osudh’ (placebo medicine), which was basically a few dozen sugar globules that form the base (and conceal the sharpness) of most homeopathic medicines. Kakumoni always kept a bottle of these sugar globules in his desk drawer (to pacify pesky kids), and he would patiently and solemnly drop a generous dose of the sweet-nothings on our eager tongues before turning his attention to Maa.

As Maa usually came with a long list of patients (our entire family, and even long-distance patients like my aunt who lived in another city altogether) who had an even longer list of illnesses and symptoms (a very important term in homeopathy – an accurate description of symptoms can allow the doctor to treat the patient without having ever met him/her). As she began her detailed litany (with the patient doctor inserting a perceptive question at appropriate intervals), Bhai and I would wander around.

Sometimes, we went to the watch-repairing shop next door, and watched the painstaking minute craftsmanship of the watch-repairer. More often, we would go to visit the potter who had his potter’s wheel in a shed behind the doctor’s chamber. I loved to see how he would coax the clay into beautiful jars and pots on the fast-spinning wheel with his deft-gentle and always-muddy hands. His wife would take the newly-created vessels and dry them, and later put them in the oven. Some of the vessels would come out all fiery red, and some would darken further into near-black. Once the kindly potter gave Bhai and me a set of coloured clay birds (green parrots, grey pigeons, brown magpies), delighting us no end.

But we always hurried back to Dr Saha’s chamber when it was time for him to make the medicines. We would watch fascinated as he measured out different medicines from their dark glass bottles into small clear-glass phials (with cork stoppers) filled with the aforesaid sugar globules. Sometimes he would make puriyas – individual doses of medicine put in a sweet white powder (called sugar of milk - what a lovely name) and packed inside small square white papers. Each set of puriyas or phials would be carefully labeled with the name of the patient, with instructions as to when and how much medicine to take – all written in Kakumoni’s neat-minute handwriting.

And, buoyed by a final parting dose of medicine-less sugar of milk, we would happily wave goodbye to the good doctor, always looking forward to the next visit with a sweet anticipation.

DO SHARE YOUR GOOD DOCTOR MEMORIES.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL GATES

Nowadays our children have their school tiffins from healthy, sanitized lunch boxes, or from dietician-supervised school canteens. But in our unhygienic and un-health-conscious childhood, we would be allowed a once-a-week (or more, if we spent judiciously) indulgence of scandalously-unhealthy treats which tempted us just outside the school gates.

There was the phuckha-churmur-wallah and the alu-kabli-wallah (both selling sour-and-spicy snacks of chick-pea, potato, onion, tamarind, chilli powder and god-only-knows-what-else) with their fiery wares which drew us in droves as we slurped, gobbled, licked our fingers, wiped our eyes, hung out our burning tongues, and rubbed our runny noses. My older cousins often teased us and said that the dirtier the phuchka-wallah, the tastier would be his wares. The dirt of his hands (and elsewhere?) was the secret ingredient behind his mouth-watering (and eyes-and-nose-watering) recipes. But being gastronomic bravehearts, we were not deterred by such trifling rumours, and gulped down the gruesome grub to our heart's content.

There was the hajmi-churanwallah selling numerous dark and dangerous looking hajmis (supposedly-digestive-aids) and aachars (pickles) of ancient pedigree. He was such a great favourite of mine that for a long time I fantasised about marrying his son (he himself was nearing seventy), and living amidst a treasure trove of unending supplies of amshi (dried mango pickle) and kuler achar (berry pickle).

And then, there was the cake-wallah who would take down the black tin trunk which he carried atop his dirty turban, squat on the ground and open it in front of our eager eyes. Inside that plain black trunk (on which his initials would be painted in white block caps), would be a magical bonanza of colourful pastries (which we called 'cakes' in those pre-Monjinis days). The colours would be dubiously lurid, and the cakes themselves were suspiciously stale, but who cared? The crayon-pink and neon-green, and the rather more expensive brittle-brown (which cost more because it was claimed to be chocolate) coated confectionary was regarded as a coveted special treat by us, reserved for celebrations like birthdays or sports-days or result-and-promotion-days or you-are-my-best-friend-from-now-on-days.

After school, we would burst out of the confining school gates, a chattering-clattering-clamouring flock, with disheveled uniforms and inky faces, gathering in noisy, demanding groups around these treat-sellers, who dispensed dirt and deliciousness in equal degree.

WHO TEMPTED YOU WITH IRRESISTABLE TEMPTATIONS OUTSIDE YOUR SCHOOL GATE?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES

I was initiated to the eternal battle of the sexes – the tug-of-war between MAN and WOMAN – very early in life, when as a child I witnessed the almost-daily frictions between my Dadu and Didu (grandfather and grandmother).

They were never direct all-out-in-the-open kind of lung-busting quarrels (the kind I have with the spouse, unfortunately). Dadu and Didu’s fights were more oblique, masked in poiteness, full of snide repartees and subterfuge, and guerilla-like. They would usually fight over absolutely trivial matters, usually if gregarious Didu got too caught up in talking to somebody and forgot to serve Dadu his food on the dot at the appointed hour/minute/second. And taciturn Dadu would invariably strongly protest if Didu abandoned him for a few hours and went off to see films, at the local cinema hall (the now-defunct Chitrabani).

But Dadu was so dependant on his wife that he never made frontal attacks. Instead he would make increasingly incensed snide remarks about the vagaries of the female sex, especially of women belonging to ‘sambhranto paribar’ (respectable families).

We children (my brother and I, and our cousins who would come over during the languid long summer vacations) were vociferous supporters of Didu. For one, she took us all along when she went to see films. She also told us long and exciting - and more importantly unending - stories about her own childhood and marriage (which actually coincided, as she got married when she was twelve). She often gave us pocket money to buy sweets and stuff. Above all, she allowed us to play with her thinning white hair and pluck off as many as we wanted to.

Although my peace-loving brother would sometimes plead with Didu to stop arguing (“Chup karo, chup karo”), I, being the more argumentative sort, would lustily egg Didu on (in the manner of rowdy football fanatics) with cries of “Narad, Narad” (Narad is the Hindu god who loves to incite debates and arguments).

Confident of our loyal support, she hardly ever deigned to reply to Dadu’s digs, smiling benignly and uncaringly going on with her work, which mostly consisted in looking after her cantankerous husband.

But it was not as if she did not take her revenge. Her way of retaliating was by making herself absent. In this, the TV set was her daily ally. Our television set occupied a place of honour in our upstairs drawing room. And every evening, without fail, Didu would wash and powder and her face and neck, wear a freshly washed and ironed white saree, tightly braid her more-salt-less-pepper hair (the evening beauty ritual of every lady of the aforementioned ‘sambhranto paribar’ – respectable families) and, politely-but-gleefully taking leave of Dadu, would go upstairs to watch whatever Doordarshan would dish out on the black-and-white TV set for over three hours. Meanwhile, Dadu got more and more restless and furious, sitting agitatedly on the bed which he refused to leave. In fact, so keen was she to punish him for his daily meanness, that she would watch incomprehensible programmes on farmers’ welfare and suchlike, just to spite him back.

And Didu had a brahmastra (the deadliest weapon of all). If Dadu became especially difficult to manage, she would pack her bags and, bidding a sweet and apparently-fond goodbye (which concealed a below-the-belt-punch), she would take off for a week or so, to visit her daughter (my Chhotopishi) in Calcutta. Dadu, quite knocked out by this sucker punch, would protest feebly, complaining of possible negligence in her absence (“Who will look after me now that you are gone?”), but Didu would go unworried and unperturbed, because she knew that my mother would take as good care of Dadu as she herself did.

Distance definitely seemed to make the cranky old man’s heart grow fonder. Because the only time we saw Dadu fussing over his wife was when she returned from her trip, rising from his bed (a very rare and miraculous happening) to welcome her at the door, taking her bag from her hand, and even switching on the fan for her to cool down after the journey (this was also a rare miracle, as Dadu belonged to the pre-electricity generation who was extremely frugal about electric consumption. In fact, he would spend a considerable time gazing in stupefied agony at the slowly ticking/rising electric meter outside his window).

The next day would be a different story though, or rather the same story, as Dadu and Didu, rested and refreshed by the break, would be at loggerheads all over again.

You know what? I think they actually relished being at each other’s throats the whole day. Some things never change!

SO, WHEN DID YOU FIRST LAND UP AT THE BATTLEFIELD OF THE SEXES?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

THE CURMUDGEON AND HIS COMFORT FOOD

My Dadu (father’s father) was a rather cranky old man. He would not budge from his position and from his habits. He and my Didu (grandmother) shared the downstairs room, which multi-tasked as their bedroom as well as the dining room (sounds strange? But then we had five rooms – apart from kitchens and bathrooms – and a dozen people, so we had to ‘kindly adjust’.)

For, as long as I can remember, he would spend his entire days (and nights) on the bed. He would sit on it during the day, peeping out of the half-opened bedside window, frowning from under bushy white brows at anybody who entered the house and making sundry disgruntled comments at the gone-to-the-dogs ways of the modern world and the 'faltu' (useless) frivolity of the modern generation. At night, of course, he slept on the bed – the only problem being that his ‘night’ began quite early. So it meant we all had to eat our supper by 9.30 pm and vacate the room so that Dadu could put off the lights and go to sleep.

In fact, the few times that he left the bed was also quite fixed – to take his bath once a day and to go to the bank and collect his pension (he was a retired school-teacher) once a month. And, of course, to eat his meals.

The times and contents of his meals were all pre-ordained and fixed – and he would not allow any alterations or adjustments – come hell or high water. He loved milk, and one invariable component of his supper was ghano doodh (condensed milk).

Now, this was not the tinned Milkmaid stuff that I loved and often stole from the fridge. Dadu’s ghano doodh was the product of almost an hour’s daily toiling over the coal unoon (stove). Didu/Maa/Sabitadi (grandmother/mother/our daily help) would put a saucepan of milk on the stove, add a lot of sugar in it and stir the boiling concoction continuously to get the desired thickness and sweetness. Sometimes, they would cheat a bit by adding a few spoons of milk-powder to make the doodh denser.

And then they would pour out the rich creamy sweetness into a big steel bowl to cool. Dadu would have it with some rice at the end of his meal, taking his time over this daily delicacy. Even when we had things like khichdi (a preparation of rice and lentils, tempered with CHILLIES and SALT) for supper, he would insist on his ghano doodh, adding the sweetened milk to the khichdi and eating with apparent relish. God only knows how horrible that hodge-podge of milk-sugar-rice-lentils-salt-chilly must have tasted; I suspect it was just his stubbornness that carried him through the taste-ordeal. He obtinately clung to his comfort-food even in the most uncomfortable of menu-situations.

And we? My brother and I would hungrily and eagerly wait for Sabitadi/Maa to finish the cooking and pouring of the ghano doodh, so that we could scrape the saucepan and have the crusty-sweet almost-solidified remnants of the thickened milk from the bottom and sides of the pan. Using spoons and, finally, fingers and tongues, we would lick the pan clean. The creamy-sweet taste was my idea of ambrosia!

DO SHARE A MEMORY ABOUT YOUR GRANDPARENTS.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

HISTORY IN PICTURES


A cursory channel-surf on the T.V showed that almost all the movie channels were telecasting patriotic films like GANDHI, BORDER, and such like. With celebrations for Independence Day round the corner, we are getting our annual audio-visual dose of patriotism – a heady mix of some-facts, some-jingoism, more-rhetoric and a lot of stirring sentiments.

When we were young, Doordarshan used to air such appropriately heart-swelling films to celebrate 15th August. A big favourite was Chetan Anand’s HAQUEEQAT, which never failed to bring a lump to the throat everytime it was shown on our grainy Black-and-White T.V set, especially everytime they telecast the song on the dying-freezing soldiers:


Kar chale hum fida jaan o tan saathiyon,
Ab tumhare hawale waton saathiyon
.


(Sacrificing body and soul for the motherland,
Friends, now I leave the nation in your hand
.) (incompetent translation by me).

But a far more potent and long-lasting source of nationalistic fervour were the Amar Chitra Katha (literally – Immortal Stories in Pictures) comics which I read and hoarded. Extremely affordable and easily available, these thin books retold history and legend in a colourful graphic form. And India, with its hoary action-packed and multi-layered past, supplied a vast storehouse of subjects.

Be it the Jallianwala Bag massacre, or the lives of Jawaharlal Nehru or the Rani of Jhansi, or the valiant deeds of pre-British-rule heroes like Shivaji or Rana Pratap, or the mythical romances of Amrapali and Nala-Damayanti, or the wit and wisdom of the Panchatantra, Jataka and the Birbal tales…the list is endless. Whenever I had accumulated the requisite sum of five rupees, I would run down to the para (neighbourhood) book shop, where a few Amar Chitra Kathas would be displayed by hanging them with clothes-pegs from a wire (in the manner of clothes drying). Flipping through a few, I would take my time choosing a new addition to my collection. And then the impatient rush home, and the losing myself in the colourful pictures, easy narration and crisp dialogues which made history come alive and which made myths appear believable.

I liked the Amar Chitra Kathas which retold the history of our freedom struggle, be it through biographies like that of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, or through incidents like the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The school history books gave us the bare facts; my Amar Chitra Kathas infused those facts with colour, vigour and voice. These books could make me gnash my teeth in rage against the evil colonial masters; they could make me cry at the courageous deeds and deaths of the freedom-fighters.

But my most-est favourites were two mythical stories – Surya [the legend of the Sun God and how the love of Sanjana and her alter-ego Chhaya (shadow) mellowed him] and Samudra Manthan [The Churning of the Ocean - how the devatas (gods) tricked the asuras (demons) by using their strength to churn the ocean (with the help of the Mandara mountain and the snake Vasuki) to get the amrita (nectar of immortality) for themselves, without giving any to them].

Thank you, Uncle Pai (Anant Pai, whose brain child the Amar Chitra Kathas were), for all the knowledge - culled from history, religion, folklore, mythology - which you fed us so pleasantly. Thankfully, these wonderful graphic stories are still available and flourishing in bookstores all over India, for generations of children (and adults) to read and cherish.

DO SHARE YOUR MEMORIES OF PATRIOTISM.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

THE CASE OF THE MISSING EYEBROWS


Growing up in the 1970s and early 80s meant that I regarded women with impossibly thin, plucked and arched eyebrows to be the epitome of style and glamour. I would often spend hours looking at myself in the mirror, turning this way and that, dissatisfied with the thick, dark pair of eyebrows nature had given me. I would frown fiercely at my reflection, and wish I could change myself here, or there, and this included my beetle-brows.

Being eleven years or thereabouts, a visit to the beauty parlour was absolutely out of the question. And if there were any tweezers in the house, I was not able to put my hands on them. But determination and ingenuity led me to a solution. Not really a happy one, though.

One day, I filched a jar of hair-removing cream (one of those foul-smelling Anne French depilatory-concoctions), carelessly left on the bathroom shelf by Didia (my elder cousin). I had seen enough ads on television to know how to use it. Or so I thought.

Taking a bit on the spatula, I carefully applied it in a line to the lower portion of my eyebrows. Then, after waiting impatiently for the requisite ten minutes (as stipulated on the label of the jar), I used a rather grubby hanky to wipe off the nasty-smelling goop.

Only thing was, the cream had spread somewhat from its intended destination, and I ended up wiping off a large part of my eyebrows. I stared in horror at the mirror, and a pair of uneven, thin-to-the-point-of-disappearing eyebrows reflected accusingly back at me.

But the damage was done. While no roving talent-scouting photographer spotted me (or ‘discovered’ me as the next super-model, much to my secret dispappointment), my cousins and friends mercilessly ragged and quizzed me about my emaciated eyebrows. But being stubborn (and miserably shell-shocked at my new alien-from-Star-Trek-look), I never revealed how exactly I managed to uproot my bountiful harvest of brows.


To her credit, my immensely wise and reasonable Ma (mother) did not force me to confess, merely raising her own (plentiful) brows and consoling me, “Don’t worry, they’ll soon grow back.”

And so they did, of course. But after I had to spend ten days looking like a perpetually-astonished plucked chicken. And enduring utter ‘alien’-ation and secret guilt. All of which gave me a lifelong determination not to tamper too much with nature.

DO YOU HAVE ANY SUCH COSMETIC MIS-ADVENTURES TO SHARE?

Monday, August 3, 2009

EXAM ECCENTRICITIES

My daughters are having their first-term examinations, and I am all tired out with study-supervision, pencil-sharpening and all that. Thankfully, they are too young to be burdened by any sense of fear or nervousness about exams.

When I was in high school and college, exams always made me high-strung. Especially the big, career-deciding, life-changing ones like the tenth-standard (ICSE), twelfth-standard (Higher Secondary), graduation (B.A) and post-graduation (M.A) exams.

Like most of my friends, this fear and uncertainty made me a prey to all sorts of superstitions and strange practices, which I would follow obsessively.

I was always (and still am) a late sleeper, preferring to study during the night. Often, I would while away the day reading storybooks or newspapers, flipping cursorily through my books, dilly-dallying till after supper, even when the exam was on the next day. Then, when the tension would reach fever-pitch, and time would be running out at the speed of Usain Bolt (or Carl Lewis, the world champion runner of the 1980s-90s), and the rest of the family would be settling down to sleep, I would take out my books to study in earnest. My best and most concentrated study would be done in these final few hours before the exam, when it would be dark and quiet and undisturbed-except-the-ticking-of-the-clock, and I would barely sleep the night before, catching a few winks as the dawn-sun reddened the horizon.

I would sometimes meticulously prepare small chits with important notes minutely handwritten (no micro-xerox for me). I would stuff them into pockets and other hidden places, saying to myself that if I forgot something, I could always go to the washroom and take out the chit to aid my memory. But, funnily enough, the very act of writing the chits would aid my memory so much that I have never needed to take them out and cheat during any exam (as we used to say, God promise, that's the truth!).

Bolstering my confidence with these invisible chits, I would also take along a huge (and very visible) bottle of water mixed with Electral (a rehydrating salt) to the exam hall and sip from time to time, quite in the manner of tennis players who sip re-energising drinks during match-breaks.

Many of my schoolmates came to exams accompanied by their mothers/fathers/both/more. I remember one classmate particularly. During our twelfth-standard exams, she would come with an entourage of two. Her anxious father would be holding her books in front of her at eye-level, while she would hurriedly read aloud from them, swaying her body to-and-fro in rhythm with her sing-song chanting. Why couldn't she hold her books herself? Because her equally-anxious mother would alternately rub and massage her hands with a hot towel (preparing her for the marathon three-hour writing sessions), and would take some home-cooked food from a huge tiffin-box and push them into her mouth (during the pauses in her sing-song memorising). The rest of us would pause in the middle of our own last-minute frantic studying to watch this amazing spectacle. As we grappled alone with Economics, or History, it was fascinating to watch this two-parent-team preparing their daughter like a star-athlete, all three of them swinging like a trio of pendulums.

My poor mother, in an unusual outpouring of maternal concern, had decided to come during the break on the first day of my tenth-standard ICSE exams, lovingly carrying an apple and some hot home-cooked food. Unfortunately, I felt that I had not been able to write that day’s paper as well as I had hoped to (it was English, my favourite subject). And so, being touchy and extremely superstitious, I forthwith banned her from accompanying me to any other exam in future.

I always carried a huge number of surplus pens (fearing that the ink would run out sometime during those two/three/four hours of manic scribbling). But perhaps the oddest quirkiest thing I did was to make my watch go ‘fast’ during the exam. I would start the exam with my watch 10 minutes ahead of the actual time. As the exam progressed, I would randomly keep turning the hands of the watch five minutes ‘faster’ from time to time, till I lost track of how 'fast' it actually was. Often, by the end of the exam, my watch would be over 45 minutes ahead of the actual time (if my exam ended at 1 p.m, my watch would show 1.45 or even later). I don’t really know why I did this. Perhaps I wanted to cheat time, perhaps I wanted the false but reassuring security of feeling that there was still plenty of time left. Because for me, exams were always a race against time.

And another final quirk. After the exam, as we all left the hall exhausted but relieved, friends would inevitably ask, “How was the paper?” Some deep sense of uncertainty and insecurity would never let me say, “Good”. I always, for all my exams, said “So-so”. Because for me, the exam was not over till the results were declared, and I dared not boast about my performance till the proof was in my hands.

WHAT SUPERSTITIONS DID YOU FOLLOW BEFORE/DURING/AFTER EXAMS?

Friday, July 24, 2009

A STITCH IN TIME…

In school, we had a subject called SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work). It involved a lot of craft-related activities, and, later in senior school, some social project work. Being lazy and self-absorbed children, we dismissed the subject as Some Useful Periods Wasted.

I did not really mind wasting the period by making pencil-holders by wrapping colourful paper around old talcum powder tins, and other fanciful and useless things like making prints with cut slices of ladies’ fingers (the vegetable) and onion-halves.

What irked and bothered me was the compulsory sewing projects we girls had to undertake. I remember we had a lady teacher teaching us the subject for a few years, who would insist on all the girls sitting and learning various kinds of stitches. The boys, lucky idiots, were spirited away to some unspecified location, where they made unrecognizable clay models and wood-carvings.
We were stuck in the classroom with the needle often stuck in our fingers (especially in my hands, which seemed to be all thumbs). The simple run stitch seemed deceptively easy and my fingers would run away merrily with the needle, till the stern teacher would look over my shoulder and point out the unnecessary necessity of each stitch being of the same size and equidistant from one another.

The stem stitch and chain stitch were all right, I suppose, if you overlooked the variously sized links of the chain, or bits of the stem. The criss-cross herringbone always made me cross, although I enjoyed the neatly laid-out patterns of the cross stitch where I had only to follow the design laid out on the graph and where the stitches would automatically be of the same size, because the cloth itself was woven like a grid.

But I was completely flummoxed by the really intricate stuff like the neat hem stitches, buttonhole-stitches (my holes looked as if they had been forced by a particularly belligerent big button), French knots and the tiny satin stitches. I was really really bad at the fine art of needle craft, which was fairly surprising because both Maa (mother) and Didia (my cousin) spent long hours discussing patterns and colours and creating delicate gossamer embroidery on many of our dresses. Unfortunately, my admiration did not progress to emulation, and I remained handicapped at handicraft.

And so, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the stern sewing mistress left our school and was replaced by the affable Maity Sir, who taught both Bengali and SUPW. I put away the handkerchiefs with the uneven half-finished hems, and the round wooden embroidery frame and VIBGYOR silk threads. And happily spent the rest of my SUPW periods making unproductive and silly stuff like soap-gardens (where you had to stick paper flowers and leaves on wires into the soap and make a fancy fence-border with pins and garish plastic ribbons). Horribly tacky stuff, but easier to tackle than sewing.

DO SEW A MEMORY TO THIS POST.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

LADIES WITH THE LAMP(S)

Power-cuts (load-shedding in local parlance) were a regular part of our daily routine when we were growing up (it still is, in most parts if India). Now we fight the darkness with generators and emergency power supplies provided by the housing societies. Then, our weapons were kerosene lamps wielded by the ‘ladies’ of the house. The men would usually sit still, or, at best, provide match-boxes or fumble for torches. It would usually be Maa (mother) or Barama (aunt) who would move sure-footedly to the window sills and light the lamps kept there, dispelling the darkness like Goddesses of Light.

There were three types of kerosene lamps used in our house.

There was the all-glass lampha (lamp), where the glass chimney was supported only at the base, which was also of thick glass. They gave a clear unhindered glow and were kept in the sitting-room, dining table and bedrooms (which doubled as study-rooms for us, with a wooden table placed in a corner next to the bed for that purpose). Being regarded as rather fragile and easily breakable they were generally not subjected to too much movement, but remained in their appointed place and shed a bright yellow light which allowed us to read or eat (and pick out tiny bones from fish-pieces, served with curry at supper) without taxing our eye-sight.

Then, there was the sturdier ‘hurricane’ or lanthan (lantern), where the glass chimney was encased in a supporting criss-cross metal wire, and which had a metal base. This wire formed shadow lines where the light fell and so it was not the preferred choice for light-intensive activities like reading or eating. It had a handle which could be held (and swung a bit, when the elders were not looking) and it was used in the kitchen and for going to the bathroom or toilets.

If the authorities did not deign to deliver us from darkness at bed-time, and the power-cut continued beyond that, then the lamphas would be extinguished or the lanthans left to burn very dim with the wicks lowered. Sometimes, Maa would light a small kupi, which had a tiny tin base and a small chimney and which gave a very faint light, which was regarded as a frugal compromise with the darkness at sleep-time (I could not find any suitable photo of this economical object which is still very popular in West Bengal villages).

The flames would inevitably lead to a gradual accumulation of soot which would darken the chimneys. A weekly job was the cleaning of the delicate glass chimneys with soapy water, gently patting them dry and fixing them back on the lamps. This ‘handle-with-extreme-care’ chore was performed only by Maa and Barama (or Sabitadi, the household help) and we would watch fascinatedly from a safe distance. We were allowed to move nearer when the lamp-bases were refilled with kerosene. As Maa unscrewed the base caps and poured the flammable liquid through a dingy green plastic funnel, I would bend low and inhale deeply. It might sound slightly crazy, but the sharp smell or virgin kerosene was (and is) one of my favourite smells (along with boot-polish, so now you know what an olfactory idiot I was).

One of my distant relations (the elder sister of my uncle’s elder daughter’s husband – if you want the Indian happy-extended-family exact definition) lived in a flat in Kolkata crammed with beautiful antique objects. On one of my several visits there (accompanying my cousin sister – in the approved Indian extended family tradition) I noticed, and immediately coveted, a blue Chinese porcelain lamp. But such delicate contraptions were for decorative display only. Because when the inevitable power-cut happened, it was the nondescript Indian-made sturdy lanthans that helped us to battle even the sophisticated South Calcutta darkness.

ANY MEMORIES OF HAND-HELD WEAPONS OF LIGHT? OR ARE YOU LUCKY ENOUGH NOT TO NEED THEM AT ALL?

Monday, July 13, 2009

MY MOST EMBARRASSING FAN-TASY

(Almost) Everybody goes through a FAN-tastic phase in life. One, at least. Or several, as in my case. Over those awkward, gangly-gawky growing-up years, I have been a fan of several different people from several different professions. Actors, singers, authors, sportstars…you name them, and I have had them up on my walls or deep in my heart.

Sometimes the adulation-relation has been a lifelong one – I just can’t get enough of Mr Amitabh Bachchan, for example. Or Agatha Christie.

But sometimes, the passion has been short-lived. And the intensity has been completely inexplicable once the phase passed. (OH MY GOD, HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN SO-O-O CRAZY ABOUT SO AND SO?) I have done this from oooh-to-eeks deflating journey quite a few times, actually.

Take the eminently-nonentity Rahul Roy. When he first appeared in the movie AASHIQUI, strumming a guitar and lip-syncing to the nasal-but-memorable songs by Kumar Sanu, floppy hair hiding half his face (and covering up for his complete lack of expressions), it was fan-dom at first sight for me.

I was all of seventeen, living in a hostel with a gang of girls (all in their swoony-moony adolescence), and completely swept off my feet by this screen-hero who waited for his girl with a bunch of flowers outside her typing school, who came from a broken home and hated his dad, who cried like a child in his mum’s lap when love seemed to turn sour.

Teenage romantic filmy classics like BOBBY and JULIE were before my time. For me, and some of friends in Lady Brabourne College Hostel (Lopa, this is for you), it was this ordinary, sensitive and vulnerable hero of AASHIQUI, who believed in love, not violence, who ruled our hearts and raced our pulses. We bunked college several times to watch and re-watch the movie. In fact, I think we saw it seven times in all. Six times at the theatres. And one time in a riskily madcap adventure.

Around eight of us had slipped off from the hostel with no intention of attending classes, intent on catching the matinee show of AASHIQUI once again. But the show (at the now-defunct LOTUS cinema, I think) was, as the board proclaimed, HOUSEFULL. Then one of us said that we could go and ask the nearby video-cassette rental shop if we could hire the AASHIQUI cassette and watch it at their shop premises, since it was not possible to watch it at our hostel. But the shop-owner did not grant us our request.

Very dejected, we dragged our feet outside the college, unwilling to go in. We loitered outside the strangely-named stationery shop, DOLPHIN (located close to our hostel and much frequented by us) and poured out our woes to the sympathetic young (and nice-looking) owner.

The chivalrous fellow immediately offered to help us damsels in distress. He invited us to his house (a three storey mansion right behind his shop), sent someone to rent the cassette and showed us the movie on his drawing room television. He even treated us to colas, a luxury for us perpetually cash-strapped hostelites.

When we returned to the hostel, giddy with another dose of Rahul Roy’s maudlin heroics and the Dolphin-owner’s generosity, we were severely scolded by the rest of our friends for being foolish enough to enter a stranger’s house. “You could have been raped, or kidnapped! The cola could have been spiked, you idiots!" they scolded, and not without reason.

But, being fan-atics, we paid no attention. Head in the clouds, we wore our fan-dom badge proudly and loudly, defending Rahul Roy against charges of non-acting, silly-sissy hairstyle and suchlike.

Once, my friend Lopa and I, the giddiest-headed-ever fans of Rahul Roy, walked straight up to a BATA shoe-showroom glass door, kissed the life-size poster of Rahul Roy smack on the lips (he appeared in ads for North Star shoes and apparel) and walked off again, much to the open-mouthed incredulity of the security guard. But then, fans are supposed to be crazy.

Thankfully, though, the Rahul Roy phase soon wore off, although I valiantly tried to keep the flame alive by faithfully watching his next few quite-unwatchable movies, and I mourned (a little) his passing into obscurity. Imagine my embarrassment when he turned up decades later, chubbier-than-before but as wooden-as-ever, with the trademark floppy hair in place, in that terrible reality show for all kinds of has-beens and never-was-esBIG BOSS. And he won it, too. Everybody teased me about my old and near-forgotten crush on the now-portly (non)actor. I almost died cringing.


DO YOU HAVE ANY FAN-MEMORIES WHICH NOW MAKE YOU CRINGE?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

CASH OR CHEQUE? OR DIRECT CREDIT?

Recently, the television channels have been beaming this nostalgic, retro-looking ad for Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate, where a dhoti-clad man is given a wad of currency notes by his Boss, "Banke, tumhara pagar (Bankey, your salary)" and the chorus breaks into the happy-go-lucky jingle, "Kuch meetha ho jaaye, aaj pehli tarikh hai (Let's celebrate with something sweet, it's the first day of the month)" - the "meetha" obviously referring to the chocolate.

When we were young, my Baba (father), who was an engineer working with the West Bengal State Electricity Board, would come home all happy and flushed on the first (or second, or third) of every month, one hand joyfully holding up a celebratory cardboard box of mishti (Bengali-style sweets) and the other hand cautiously clutching his trousers-pocket, which contained his monthly salary in cash (less the amount spent on the aforesaid sweets).

Most of his trousers had a special inner pocket (hidden under the lining of the front pocket) sewn on to them specifically for the purpose of guarding the salary - it was always paid in cash those days. As he usually travelled by local train, he had to be aware of pickpockets, who did brisk business in the early days of each month. In the crowded trains from Sealdah to Barrackpore, you had to take every precaution to guard the amount in your secret pocket.And that four-figure amount (which now looks almost impossibly meagre) was sufficient to provide for a family of six (my grandparents, parents, brother and myself) - food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare and the occasional indulgence like the box of sweets.

The box usually contained the lethally high-calorie and syrupy "atom-bomb mishti". Perhaps Baba felt it was appropriate to start each month with a big-bang splurge. Sometimes, especially towards the end of the financial year when tax-cuts truncated the take-home pay, he would be more prudent and come home flourishing an earthen pot (a BIG one, mind you) of rasogollas (the famous Bengali sweet made of cottage-cheese balls boiled in sugar syrup).

For us, however, the effect was same. The beginning of the month meant a worthwhile wait for Baba to come back from 'office'. Sometimes, he would come late, because he would refuse to board too-crowded rush-hour trains. He would let the crowded ones pass, before getting up on a train which had space to sit, which made it difficult for pickpockets to pilfer your salary. But, late or not, come home he would. Spreading happiness and sweets. While we carefree-ly chomped on the calories, Maa (mother) carefully counted the currency and put the notes in various envelopes (for various household expenses) in the money box in the almari (cupboard).

Today, our salaries have increased by a few more zeroes at the end, and they are conveniently credited to our bank accounts. But the tangible thrill of clutching a fistful of hard-earned, my-own money and the small but immediate pleasure of splurging on a treat for myself and my loved ones has perhaps decreased to zero.

ANY FIRST DAY, CASH-PAY MEMORIES?

Monday, June 29, 2009

SCRATCH AND WIN



Although I have always felt that ‘scratch’ sounds rather offensive, I have felt that winning something for free was a splendidly fun thing to happen – a pure slice of luck, based not on any achievement of the receiver, but solely and wholly on the munificence of the giver.

When we were children, it was customary for us to visit our mamabari (mother’s brother’s house) once a week. Usually it would be a Friday or Saturday afternoon, and we would return home in the evening. Walking towards the bus-stop from mamabari, we would inevitably stop at a shop selling soft-drinks and cigarettes. Baba would buy his usual packet, and light up one cigarette from the smouldering coil of coconut-rope hanging beside the shop precisely for this purpose. And we would clamour for our weekly quota of empty calories – I would have my Goldspot which left my tongue all orange and my insides all bubbly and happy, Bhai (brother) would have a bottle of the more substantial Milkose (chilled milky drink) or some mango-flavoured syrup.

Once, the manufacturers of Goldspot announced that under every cap (of the bottles), there would be a picture of some character from Jungle Book (of the Rudyard Kipling-transformed-by-Walt-Disney-variety). If we managed to collect the requisite unhealthily-high number of such caps, we could exchange them for posters and caps and other unnecessary but tempting things.

It seemed a perfect case of scratch-and-win, or rather, poke-and-win. I would grab my Goldspot, ask the shop-keeper to hand over the cap, poke out the rubber lining from under it, and…become the proud possessor of a tiny, crinkly-edged picture of Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Ra and their other jungle-pals.

But my once-weekly quota made for a very slowly growing collection. To add to my impatience, my brother flatly refused to switch over to Goldspot to aid the growth of my cap-collection. Finally, after quite a few weeks of solitary cap-collecting, the shop-keeper came to my rescue. On hearing about my plight, he reached down, and from the debris at his feet handed me a whole bagful of soft drink bottle caps, which included a very large number of Goldspot caps as well.

I was overjoyed at my sudden bounty and spent a blissful hour or so poking out an entire jungle-full of pictures from under the caps. In fact, so pleased was I with my dozens of Sher Khans and suchlike that I totally refused to part with them for the sake of a piddly poster or two. And so, the means themselves became an end for me, and I kept my plastic menagerie for a long long time, fingering their crinkly circular smoothness and smelling their faint orangey tang.

Alas, Goldspot has long breathed its last (being a victim of global business politics – its owner, Parle Agro, sold the brand to the cola-giant Coca Cola Company, whose orange brand Fanta gradually pushed Goldspot into obscurity and annihilation). But the scratch-and-win freebies are flourishing, the latest, in my case, being a blog-tag awarded to me by Double Dolphin.

I quote: ..."the rules:


1.link the person who tagged you.


2.copy the image above, the rules and the questionnaire in this post.


3.post this in one or all of your blogs.


4.answer the four questions following these rules.


5.recruit at least seven (7) friends on your blog roll by sharing this with them.


6.come back to BLoGGiSTa iNFo CoRNeR (please do not change this link) and leave the URL of your post in order for you/your blog to be added to the master list.


7.have fun!..."


The person who tagged me is Double-Dolphin (on 22June2009). THANKS! (AND I did not have to scratch, either!)


I BLOG, therefore I HAVE WON! And the seven people who get the award are:

Zillionbig, Aparna, Sujata, Jyothi, SGD, Swaram, Nona.

REMEMBER ANY SUCH INSTANCE WHEN YOU, ER, "SCRATCHED" AND WON?

Monday, June 22, 2009

MY FIRST 'PRIZE'




The first ‘prize’ I won was actually a ‘Second Prize’ (prize given to somebody who stands second in the annual class examination).

I was in Class IV (fourth standard), and it was 1984. Nowadays, many schools do not award prizes because, apparently, such practices foster unhealthy competition, but back in the cheerfully elitist 1980s, nobody bothered about psychobabble.

At the end of every year, sometime after the annual exam (which ruthlessly tested our knowledge of whatever we had learnt during the entire year – which meant several whole books to mug/memorise/remember and a whole lot of trauma), we would all stand expectantly in the assembly (morning prayer time) and our Head Mistress, the redoubtable Mrs Enid Isaacs (called ‘Izac aunty’ by all Modern School-ers), would be present to hand over the prizes when the names of the students who had ranked Third, Second and First in the exams for each class would be called out. Third, Second and First – in that order.

And, invariably, the prize would be some storybook tied up in red satin ribbon with a label pasted inside stating that so-and-so had won the ---- prize in the Annual Examination for the year ----.

The storybooks themselves were not the attraction (in our school, nobody ever got an Enid Blyton, who was about the only author whose books we eagerly read at that age). It was the slow, careful untying of the satin ribbon, and the gleeful pleasure-pride of looking at your own name written in curly letters on the label pasted bang on the first page, signed and sealed by the school authority.

In my Fourth Standard Annual exams, I ranked second (the First Prize going to a girl called Nandini, who obligingly left school next year, so that I managed to win my first ever First Prize in the Fifth Standard – so my second prize was actually a First Prize, just to confuse things a bit more.). And so, in front of the whole crowd of politely-clapping students, I - flushed, proud, thrilled-to-the-core and expectant - walked up to receive a be-ribboned edition of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, ‘original and unabridged’.

Now, I had never before heard about the author (a famous-if-feckless eighteenth century dabbler in various literary forms, he was well before my time), I did not even know the meaning of the word ‘vicar (and when I did look it up in the dictionary, neither the concept of ‘priest’ nor ‘village’ interested me), the old-fashioned language and slow pace of action defeated my enthusiasm after the first few pages, and the lack of pictures did not help.

So, after a lot of smiling and sighing and smoothing my hands over the label and displaying the prize to all and sundry, my prize book gathered dust in it pride of place on my bookshelf, while I went back to my Enid Blytons.



P.S: Much later, as a college student, I have atoned somewhat for my early neglect of the affable Goldsmith (who lived imprudently and died in debt), by reading and enjoying his lively rom-com play She Stoops to Conquer. But I never did manage to make full acquaintance of the simple and pleasant Vicar of Wakefield.



P.P.S : Nowadays, winning virtual prizes do not need all-year studying, serious mugging ('by-hearting', as my students say). Only the graciousness of fellow-bloggers suffice, as proved recently by the mysteriously named Miss_Nobody, who has generously given this blog OneLovely Blog Award, prompting me to write this post. Thank you.

WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST ‘PRIZED’ MEMORIES?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

FOUR-POINT SOMEONE


No, the reference here is not to Chetan Bhagat’s IIT-reminiscing bestseller FIVE POINT SOMEONE. Peter Rozovsky, who writes a full-of-twist-and-turns crime-fiction blog, has forwarded an interesting four-cornered meme. Digging into multi-cornered memories and fancies, I came up with:

Four Places I’d Like to Go, or Things I’d Like to Do:

1. The British Isles. Of course, in the 1990s, most students of English Literature in India were fed on an almost-exclusive diet of British fiction (as opposed to writing in the other Englishes), and so I have grown up visualizing (and being forced to write long answers about) Shakespeare’s London (and Stratford-on-Avon), Wordsworth’s Lake District and James Joyce’s Dublin and the place near Westminster Abbey where all the famous poets are buried (to name just a few of the Eng Lit hotspots). Besides, when I was in school, my Pishi (father’s sister) got herself photographed standing beside the wax statue of Indira Gandhi at Madame Tussaud’s, and I’ve always had a yen for doing such deliciously desi touristy things myself.




2. Switzerland. The Hindi movies of our childhood might be set in Mumbai or Delhi or anywhere else in sweltering India, but most of them would zoom straight to the snowy Alpine slopes for a song. And the unskilled-in-skiing heroine would tumble straight into the hero’s arms, and the cold weather would be a nice excuse for a cuddle. So environment-friendly, na?




3. The United States. Which we called “Aay-mey-rica” in unsophisticated Bengali. Associated in my childish mind with Walt Disney and Disneyland. And a Bengali translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin which wrung out a flood of my tears. And HOLLYWOOD highlighted against the hills. And then, in university, with the Great Gatsby and the “green light at the end of the dock”.




4. And Enid Blyton’s books (like The Caravan Family and Five Go Off in a Caravan) have made me yearn to have a holiday meandering through the countryside in a horse-drawn caravan (with bunk-beds and neat shelves and a cooking stove).

Four Places I Have Lived:

1.Barrackpore
2.Kolkata
3.Mumbai
4. -----
(my imagination may fly, but the body had been fairly rooted)

Four Places I Have Been on Vacation:

1. Digha. My first visit to the sea. Digha was empty and unspoiled then. And I collected so many tiny colourful shells.
2. Darjeeling. My first visit to the Himalayas. The sharp frosty cold. The warm delicious momos. The white-crowned majesty of the Kanchenjanga peak.
3. Benares. Crowded with people making a living out of religion. Not really my cup of tea.
4. Goa. Blue sea. White sands. Quaint churches. Lovely people. Heaven!

Four Food or Drinks I Have Liked:

1. Fish. Especially freshwater fish. Especially silvery Ilish bought during a boat-ride with our entire family (father, mother, grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousins) on the Ganga on a long-ago New Year’s morn.
2. Rezala (a yogurt-based mutton preparation perfected by the Muslim Nawabs) and Roomali rotis (handkerchief thin wheat flatbread) at Shabbir’s in Kolkata, a Durga Pujo treat given annually by Baba (father).
3. The kuler-aachar (sweet-sour berry pickle) and aamsi (sweet-sour dry mango pickle) bought from the vendor with the little wooden pushcart on the long walk back from school.
4. Natural’s Ice-cream. The sweetest, creamiest, fruitiest, yummiest thing in Mumbai.

Four Books or Movies I could Read or Watch Again:

1. All my dog-eared, much-thumbed, yellow-pages-falling-apart Agatha Christies.
2. The Harry Potter series for their intricate simplicity.
3. Sholay. The drama, the comedy, the romance, the banquet of emotions. And every time I do, I never fail to cry at Jai’s (played by Amitabh Bachchan) sacrifice and death.
4. Dr Spock’s book on Baby and Child Care. Endlessly fascinating for the last eight and half years. (Just kidding).

Four Works of Art Before Which I’ve Stood (or Sat):

Since I’ve never seen any really famous work of art up-close, I thought I’d mention four works which I’d love to stare at.
1. Michelangelo’s Pieta. How can marble express such pity and tenderness?
2. John Everett Millais’ Ophelia. How can such overloading of earthy details be so ethereal?
3. Claude Monet’s Waterlilies series. How can one subject produce so many variations?
4. Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. A perspective-puzzle or a new truth?

Four Figures From the Past Whom I’d Like to Watch at Work or Meet for Dinner:

1. Shakespeare at work on King Lear.
2. Cleopatra arming herself in glamour and guile.
3. Charles M Schulz at his studio, discussing the daily Peanuts-dose of innocent wisdom.
4. Rabindranath Tagore sitting under trees with his students at Shantiniketan.





Four People I Think Might Take it Upon Themselves to Take Up This Meme:

(Feel free to alter/add/adjust at will. Anybody else can also join in).
Suranga


Kavi


Santanuda


Pradipda.