Thursday, January 29, 2009


Here's another egg memory, served with a slice of hostel-life as I lived it.

For two years (1989-1991) I lived in the Lady Brabourne College Hostel with a group of hip, hot (that's what we thought we were) and hungry (that's what others thought we were) friends. The meagre portions of indifferently-cooked hostel food barely sufficed. But we were allowed to supplement it with, among other things, eggs which we would have to buy ourselves and hand over to the kitchen staff to boil.

Now, eggs came at a fixed price (this was way before organic/free-range eggs made their debut) but in different sizes (depending, I presume, on the size and stamina of the hen concerned). The kitchen staff took all the eggs, boiled them in one huge saucepan, and left them on a large tray for us to collect. If we were lucky enough to get a large egg, we were loath to let other people eat our bounty simply because they had come down before us while we were stuck with a tiny, pebble-sized egg. The early bird would get the worm (or, in this case, the largest egg).

So, we devised a fool-proof system for establishing our ownership of any egg rightfully belonging to us. We would write our names on the shells with a ball-point pen (gel or ink pens would wash away), and then pick up our exclusive, personalised eggs, smoking hot and delicious, from the delivery-tray.

Some of us (including myself) would merely scrawl our names carefully - a utilitarian assertion of abdominal property rights.

Some creative souls would decorate their eggs with elaborate borders and patterns, taking a leaf out of the tradition of Easter eggs. These designer-eggs would be doomed, like sand sculptures which wash away in the tide, to crumble away in a bite.

A few athletic-types would crack the delicate shell while forcing their imprint on it. A similar fate could befall those who autographed their eggs with a careless flourish. (They could use the raw egg for a face/hair pack, I guess).

Whatever their size or sign, these marked-eggs were all destined, like Humpty Dumpty, to 'have a great fall' and end up in the pit (of our stomachs).


Saturday, January 24, 2009


Some like their eggs scrambled, some poached and some swear by their omelettes or French-toasts, but I’ve always loved eggs boiled and unspoiled (no salt, no pepper).

When I was a child, I preferred the whites and choked on the yolks (much as my daughters do now), but with the contrariness that is typical of me, now I prefer the fatty, cholesterol-y yellow to the bland white part.

Here’s an egg memory, served with the salt-smile of nostalgia.

Once, when we were around twelve years old, some of us para (neighbourhood) friends decided to have a picnic in a garden which was adjacent to our neighbour’s house. The grand menu was rice, dal, fried cauliflowers (picked fresh from that very garden) and dim-er jhol (egg-curry).

Everyone contributed their share of the money, and we went to the market in a big group shepherded by my mother. Our shoe-string budget allowed us to buy only one egg for each. My brother and his friend tried to augment our resources by filching two eggs on the sly, but my strict-and-honest mother made them go back immediately and return the eggs, which they red-facedly did with a garbled explanation about there being some mistake in counting the eggs, which the sceptical old egg-seller refused to believe.

On the day of the picnic, one of my school-friends turned up at the last moment, when the food had almost been cooked (under the winter sun and stirred by a pleasant breeze). An invitation had to be extended, and was graciously accepted. Some of the picnickers were worrieddal and gravy and veggies could easily be shared, but what about the only-one-apiece-eggs? All misgivings changed to smiles when my dainty and lady-like friend accompanied me to the picnic-spot, stepping cautiously over stones and tufts of grass, her two hands extended in front of her, carefully holding her entry-fee: a boiled egg.

We gave her an extra-generous helping of the curry to make up for our ungenerous thoughts.


Saturday, January 17, 2009


When I was very young, my father’s barber used to cut my hair. He, or rather they, were local barbers who made housecalls. They were a pair of brothers, one short and slight, called Shanti, and the other burlier and taller, whom Baba (my father) called Ashanti (the opposite of Shanti/ peace) for the sake of rhyme and rhetoric. Shanti, true to his name, was more timid and patient, and I preferred him.

He would usually come on Sundays, carrying his small wooden box with a top handle, and one of the straight-backed dining chairs would be brought out in the open cemented courtyard, ready for all the family members (men or children) who wanted a shave or a haircut or theirs nails trimmed (for the stubborn male-nails, not for our tender-tips-and-toes, which were cut by Maa)

My Dadu (granddad) would sit first, and Shanti would carefully trim his scanty white hairs (on head, ears and nostrils – which fascinated us) and shave his wrinkled-wobbling cheeks tenderly and reverentially. Then Baba and Jethun (father and uncle) would come, and Shanti (or Ashanti) would be more robust and talkative, swiftly stroking the sharp blade down their cheeks and chin and briskly wiping the lather on a flat piece of leather, neatly paring their stubborn nails and giving them a joint-hand, chop-chop-chop head-banging massage.

Bhai and I would be the last, and we would sit under the sun, with the sparrows and magpies watching us warily from the trees in the garden surrounding the open courtyard. We would be wrapped in a huge white cloth tucked around our scrawny necks and Shanti (but never his brother) would chop away merrily with his scissors, giving us a brain-rattling massage at the end, and we would look down ruefully at the shiny black locks of hair fallen on the ground, and then up at our reflections in Shanti’s small spotted mirror.

These reflections would be unvarying – Bhai was always getting a crew-cut (which meant that merely a millimeter of his curly hair would remain on his head) and I would get a “boy’s cut” (inch-long curls all over my head).

I had to wait till almost my teens to enter a proper parlour, but that’s another story.


Saturday, January 10, 2009


My elder daughter is busy with her term exams and I am busy sharpening her pencils into pointy tips and arranging her erasers and rulers in her Mickey Mouse pencil box every evening.

She has an array of colourful pencils in shades ranging from frosted silver to warm yellow-orange.

We were less fortunate. I can remember only two varieties – the red-and-black-striped Natraj pencils, and the white-with-pink-flowers-and-green-leaves-patterned Camlin Flora ones. My cousin, Dadabhai, who was an engineering student, used some dull yellow pencils for his drawings, but they were forbidden stationery, and all we got were soon-to-become-unusable butts and ends.

Interestingly, though, we had a wider range of erasers, which we called “rubbers”. There were the plain Janes, white, rectangular and unscented (the type I now buy in bulk, because my daughter loses them at an astonishing rate of one a week). They did their work well, and quietly disappeared, unloved and overused. And then, there were the coveted ones, in various shapes and colours – from strawberries to shoes and other 3-D shapes – which we collected and cherished, hardly ever using them. Not that they were particularly efficient at their work, being more of lilies-of-the-field, “who toil not, neither do they rub” (to twist The Bible a bit). Their attraction was their shapes and scent – a uniform, synthetic-sweet smell which we inhaled deeply before turning them round and round lovingly and putting them back in our pencil boxes. And then we took out the plain white ones when we needed to rub out something, which was pretty often.

There’s a morality tale here, isn’t there?


Thursday, January 1, 2009


When we were in school, new years were ushered in sedately, at least in our home. No wild night out, no cheering boozily, no getting-your-bottom-pinched by unruly revelers in Kolkata’s Park Street.

New Year Eves were spent in front of the television set, along with family members, munching on leftover Christmas cakes and savouries, curling our toes under comfortably-wrapped shawls.

There were two must-watch programmes on TV – both provided by the one-and-only Doordarshan.

One was the much-awaited annual news round-up, THE WORLD THIS YEAR, ably anchored by the iconic suave and smiling Prannoy Roy. This was a special extension of his weekly news programme, The World This Week, and was a very good cut-and-paste rehash of important national and international news and newsmakers, with a section on hilarious snippets of global and local bloopers (tailormade for a certain President when he was probably a babe in the bush).

The other programme was a long and meandering countdown to midnight, comprising songs and dances by various established celebrities (few and far-between) and wannabe non-celebs (too many by far), along with stand-up comics and put-you-to-sleep comperes.

We never did go to sleep, though. We forced ourselves to sit through the countdown, dozing off now and then, and waited till the magic midnight strokes to jerk us fully awake. The noise on TV met the bang of crackers exploding outside, and we would then go to bed wide-awake with excitement, happy to sleep late the next day, which was a holiday; happy to greet a new year which seemed to be so full of promise, full of exciting offerings which would let us be a little more grown-up.