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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Remembering the Ides of March

She came to me when my first born was just about an year and a half old. I wanted the lil one to spend some time away from me ( or was it that I wanted some time away from her? It matters not a wee bit now) and so spread the word around that i was looking for a two hour nanny for the baby- someone who could take her out in the pram ,or to the park. Poonam appeared one November morning, almost out of nowhere,and took the baby in her arms. No questions were asked from either side. It seemed  from the first day that she had always been with me. She was young- a young bride from Calcutta; a very Parineeta looking Bengali girl ; the same cotton saree with  red border ; blouse with puffed sleeves , long plait snaking till almost her hips , kohl ed eyes and sin door . The baby was entranced by the blazing red on her forehead and would forever be trying to touch it. Poonam's sindoor came back to haunt me many a times because even  when the baby  grew up she remembered the sindoor and would look at me wistfully, hoping to see the red in my hair parting.   Every morning Poonam would come at the dot of nine and the duo would go off for their jaunt to the park. Exactly an hour later they would come back. The same routine was repeated in the evening.
Two years passed. Poonam by now was a mother too, to Piya. Her charge had joined kindergarden and was busy with school, newly made friends in the colony etc.  and so Poonam had started working in the house . Her work was perfect (till now I am looking for a maid who can do dusting like she did !) and she was meticulous about being on time. I was happy.

Some more years passed. There had been an addition to Poonam's family- she  had a son Rahul, whom she doted on. Time always wrecks changes - she was now fat ; the bengali sarees had been stowed away in the trunk which she had brought from Calcutta and she now wore the dress of Dehi-shalwar-kameez. Her work was good, not perfect , and she had acquired a temper .  I was a silent spectator to the changes , preferring to be quiet and uninvolved ( remember the dusting ! ).

Spring was in the March air . The husband and I were enjoying our morning cuppa on the terrace . I had just spotted a beautiful bird  (  very small ,red tailed ) and was calling out to the children to come running for a dekho. Just then I saw Piya standing at the gate . My blood turned cold.  Something in her face told me that the life of the teenager would never be the same . For many, many days -nay even now-I was/am haunted by the grief and loneliness on the girl's face.

Poonam had run away in the dark of the night with her neighbour . She had taken her son with her. She never came back.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Memorable Meals


The memories came later. The smell came first, wafting over the dust laden pavements, over the impatient cars, over the high-rise buildings . It pushed its way through the closed window, eager to reach me at any cost and then tantalizingly and teasingly it went away, leaving me almost the way it had found me, lazily reclining in the car seat, listening to music. But, slowly, a long buried memory raised its sepia tinted head. The memory was so beautiful that I almost pushed it back, but then like the eternal eve in the garden of temptation, gave in. The smell came back again, stronger and surer, redolent of smoked wood and simmering embers. I smiled at the slice of wasted youth .

Din-i-ilahi Akbar's  Fatehpur Sikri. University students soaking in some serious  history- and Sufi music, just outside Chisti's  dargah on a moonlit night. Food is being cooked on slow burning coal and wood. The  menu? sweet and sour roasted guava chutney, biryani cooked in a clay pot, and raita. Manna  from  heaven. A heady cocktail of  'Khwaja, mere khwaja 'being belted out by a raspy throat ; conversation laced with the impudence, confidence,j oie de vivre of the young ; biryani  cooked to perfection, with just a hint of juice , as if the flavour was so good that its own mouth watered  and the guava chutney in which a tinge of the charred clay had crept in. The smell of food roasted on a 'tandoor' will always be redolent with nostalgic yearning for simpler and therefore, pleasurable, sinful times. 

I am at a dinner being hosted at one of the 5 star hotels dotting the landscape of the capital . Everybody is making marvelous conversation with no eye contact ,because one eye is checking messages on the cell phone ( incase the aliens have landed ? ) and the other is checking what everybody else is checking out. Dinner is announced and a queue starts forming. I am behind a gentleman who has piled up his dinner plate so high that one almost offers him another one. But when my turn comes to start serving i sort of see the reason behind the fellow's seeming greed. There are just too many dishes. I count eight salads, double that number of main course dishes , some Chinese , a pasta station ,breads, rice are ,of course, par for the course. I will not even mention the desserts ( twelve ! ).Three quarters of an hour later I spot the seemingly greedy gentleman. He is still looking hungry. I give a sympathetic smile; because I am feeling the same. It takes the entire ride back home for me to figure out the answer to the question- why hunger in a land of plenty? The paradox arises because of the problem of plenty. Being spoilt for choice one is either not able to make a choice or makes the wrong choice. 

The experience of dining is not limited to only the sense of taste. It is an experience which involves all the five senses. A well laid out table, sparkling glassware, just 'so' food , will only work if the company is  enjoyable. The perfect meal to be perfect does not have to rely on numbers- it just needs to find the right balance of the aforementioned.

 Food has the potential to please all five senses at once — sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Every morsel of food we put in our mouth reassures us that our senses are intact and all is well with the world.  This is what wellness is all about. It is not just satiating the pangs of hunger but to aspire for bliss, hopefully occasionally experiencing ecstasy."

It's a lazy sunday afternoon. I am a guest of a guest at a farm house on the outskirts of Gurgaon. The food is home grown and home made. The house guests ,the hosts and the lunch guests ,all eat together. The heady cocktail of wine, conversation with an eclectic mix of people, and food that is neither over-cooked nor  over the top makes it a memorable experience.
I come back home , satiated, wanting to only curl up in my favourite corner and read. My hand goes out for a book. Unseeingly, absent mindedly I open the first book my hand touches. I read the lines and almost laugh aloud. My husband looks up .I answer his unspoken question by reading out the lines:

"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!”

Monday, March 10, 2014

What a Wedding !

There is a trilling sound somewhere -I turn my head to locate the source and realize it's coming from me. I am having the time of my life. A warm glow suffuses me as I look at the group I  am sitting with. If the makers of the Indian constitution had ever turned in their graves at the travesty of what they had so painstakingly enshrined in the preamble, they could now rest in peace. Our group was keeping the ideals of equality, fraternity, brotherhood(and sisterhood intact).All the ladies are 'bhabiji' and all the 'gents' are 'bhaisaheb'. So if one of the gent says,"bhabhiji", four heads attentively turn in his direction. Ditto for the women-one of us just has to say the magic word and four heads swivel around- stat. It is so much fun-this nameless equality.

 We are at a wedding. I gasp everytime I see an object of splendour-and since I see many such objects I spend the evening alternating between trilling and gasping. There is a huge vase -about 10 feet in height- stationed at every curve and bend. The vases look vaguely familiar- I recall seeing something like them in one of the movies  Jeetendra  made down south .But ,of course, it couldn't be- this would amount to plagiarism and one could certainly not use this word for someone who exhibited so much taste. Plus the vases are  not kept empty- no sire. Each of them has exactly 3 long  and glittering stems coming out of them. And  if I left you puzzled at the words 'curve and bend', let me make haste and explain. The organisers knew that a vast expanse of stone studded sarees and tables groaning under the weight of 15 cuisines had been done to death and so the whole venue had been landscaped to resemble gently undulating mountains (or should that be valleys?- I was always so geography challenged).It is  great fun because whenever one of  us strays , a collective coo of 'bhabhiji' or 'bhaisaheb' resounds.

 And hark !what is that I  hear-the crashing of cymbals and the beating of drums with the strains of 'azeemohshah shahenshah' ?enlightenment dawns - it is the shahenshah, oops groom, advancing to the stage. I first gasp and then trill in delight, restraining from clapping by tightly holding on to my hands because the son  and the daughter are by now giving me those ones- I  mean disapproving looks. Bhaisaheb, don't ask me which one, looks at his watch and says it is dinner time. We obediently rise to our feet and navigate our way through the highs and the troughs to the dining park- sorry, section. I can hear an enterprising mother teaching her child counting by telling the lil one to count the number of dishes.  The child kept stalling at 84- seems the teacher in his class goes off for tea break at this number and so he couldn't count beyond that!
We are almost at the exit (  made of ribbons of all the colours of the rainbow , crisscrossing each other- and almost us)when we meet the host and his wife. I gasp in envy at the layers and layers (and layers) of rope, sorry gold round the hostess's neck . Transpires that they were so involved in crossing  the mountains and valleys that they missed the 'Jaimala', and were now hurrying because they didn't want to miss the 'pheras'.  We nod understandingly and leave.
There is a stony silence in the car on our way home- just because I blurted out that I would  love to  have the same type of wedding for the daughter and the son !

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hold on fast to your Dreams- a poem

On this day, 8th of March, when the world celebrates Women’s Day, and You and I , as women , know the joys ,sorrows, and reality of being a woman, there are just some lines I want to share with you all. These beautiful lines are penned by Langston Hughes.
                                            Hold fast to dreams
                                              For if dreams die
                                      Life is a broken-winged bird
                                               That cannot fly.
                                           Hold fast to dreams
                                          For when dreams go
                                              Life is a barren field
                                              Frozen with snow. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ab Tak Chhappan- but now ? Status report on NaMo's famed chhati

There is palpable excitement in the voice as it cries out , almost in orgasmic fervour, " I'm coming, I'm coming". And come he does, rushing through  the door of  the living room  , no ordinary living room,  this being the living room of Narendra Modi. Amit Shah skids to a halt and looks questioningly at the man. The man himself is silent , sitting in an  almost cowering  manner in front of the television set. Unbidden, an image of  Seeta , of Seeta Aur Geeta fame, flashes before Shah's eyes. However, Seeta had a wicked chachi, with flashing kohl rimmed eyes, to bully her into that state , but Modi ?

Modi looks at his confidante with stricken eyes and then points, first at the television set and then at his chest. Shah follows the finger and  looks ,first  at the T.V and then at the chest.  The television has Rajdeep Sardesai predicting a huge tally for BJP and for Modi in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A puzzled Shah looks askance at Modi. At long last NaMo opens his mouth but only to whisper, " chhati ".  Blushing delicately, Shah looks approvingly at the famed  chest. " Yes, I know, and so does the whole world and its aunt, that  it is a  chhappan inch  chest that you strut around with."  " Amit,  the vital stats have now changed. The chest is no longer 56- it has increased to 65 inches ".  " How did that happen?" " It is all the fault of the opinion polls. Every time Sardesai added a seat to my tally, my chest expanded. By the time Sardesai came to the end my chest had expanded to this size."

" So, it is 65. How is that a problem?"  Modi looks at Shah incredulously. " Problem? Not one but many. Firstly, everyone, specially staticians, will say that I fudge figures and stats. Secondly, I will become the laughing stock- who has a chest of 65 inches? not even Arnold Schwarzenegger ! lastly, what do I wear for  my next rally? I have to leave in exactly fifteen minutes and none of my kurtas fit me."

The next five minutes proved why Amit Shah is indispensable to the Czar of  Gujarat. He rushed to pick up the television remote , changed channels in a fast and furious manner , finally settling on a channel. Silently, he moved away so that Modi could also view the channel. Another opinion poll. Two minutes into the viewing the chest started deflating and was back to its original size by the end of five minutes.
You want to know what the opinion poll predicted ? BJP short of the magic figure by 25 seats. Desperately needs allies. 
Modi as P.M = no allies.
 But BJP manages to form the government.  How?  
Advaniji as P.M = allies.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Some lovely movies I have watched recently

Conversation at the dinner table  in our house mostly centres around politics and our  television viewing is also , almost always, of a political nature. However, in the last month or so , I was finding myself feeling almost exhausted watching the energetic capers of the Aam Aadmi Party and the high decibel noise emanating from the saffron camp . I think movies crept into our 9 p.m  slot  as a means of escape from this  tamasha and noise. Almost a month later, I realize that I have been fortunate enough to catch up on some lovely movies - movies that I had missed out on earlier. The movies may not all be brilliant , but they sure did the work of calming overstrung nerves.  Here is a list of some that I really enjoyed.:

Did you hear about the Morgans This movie didn’t win any awards and , as a matter of fact, did not garner any rave reviews too, but I quite liked it, although Hugh Grant, the lead actor, does walk and talk as if he has just walked off stage and into Hollywood.  In New York City, an estranged couple, Grant and Sarah Jessica Parkar,   witness a murder  and are then relocated to small-town Wyoming as part of a witness-protection program. They are forced to s under the  roof  of local married cops,  played by Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen. The rest of the movie is , predictably, about  how love rekindles between the two.
27 Dresses  A delightful story about a girl, Katherine Heigl,  who has been bridesmaid at 27 weddings and now faces the prospect of being a  bridesmaid at the 28th- her sisters  . The catch is that her  sibling is going to marry  her boss, the man  she's secretly in love with. Well , along the way she meets a columnist, falls out of love with her boss and in love with  the  columnist – an adorable character.
No Strings Attached   stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.  The film is about about Kutcher and Portman   deciding to make a pact to have  a"no strings attached" relationship, read sex,  without falling in love with each other. Of course they soon realize that they want something more than just casual sex.
You have got Mail Two business rivals, Tom hanks and Meg Ryan, who  hate each other at the office but fall in love over the internet. Loved the movie.
Little Fockers is a 2010 American comedy film and sequel to Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. It stars Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand. 

How to lose a guy in ten days  An extremely clever, funny movie. Kate Hudson is a young journalist who longs to cover political stories, but in the meantime she finds herself writing  a fluffy advice column for a women’s magazine. She soon finds herself writing an article called "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days". Andie reveals how she will actually start dating a guy and drive him away but "only using the classic mistakes women make".
At the same time, Matthew McConaughey is trying to  pitch for  advertising  diamonds and explains to his boss and co-workers how "a woman in lust wants chocolate, a woman in love wants diamonds". When they question Ben's knowledge about love, Ben bets he could make any woman fall in love with him if he wanted to. If he can make any woman fall in love with him before the upcoming company ball, in just 10 days, he can head the advertising for the new diamond company.
 Hudson and McConaughey are delightful.
The Accidental Husband  A radio talk-show host who specializes in repairing damaged relationships finds her life suddenly turned upside down when a listener, who took her advice and later regretted doing so, resolves to take revenge on the misguided love doctor.Stars  Uma Thurman, Colin Firth.
Sleepless in Seattle  A recently-widowed man's son calls a radio talk show in an attempt to find his father a partner. Lead actors are  Tom HanksMeg RyanRoss Malinger. Music is amazing.
Life as we know It Two single adults become caregivers to an orphaned girl when their mutual best friends, and the child’s parents,  die in an accident.
Stars: Katherine HeiglJosh Duhamel  
Stepmom   How a terminally-ill mother, Susan Sarandon,  has to accept   the new woman, Julia Roberts,  in her ex-husband's life, who will be the new stepmother to her two children.
Had a good weep in this one.
Suburban Girl A Manhattan based  book editor,  Sarah Michelle Gellar, finds her take on the game of romance changed after she lures the attention of an influential older man., an extremely attractive, Alec Baldwin .
Nine Months is a 1995 romantic comedy film directed by Chris Columbus..
Child psychologist, Hugh Grant’s, ideal romance with ballet teacher , Julianne Moore,  is turned upside-down when the latter gets pregnant. Too uninvolved with Julianne’s needs, Grant  parts company with her but when he sees an ultrasound of his soon-to-be-born son, he decides that it's time to take responsibility before it's too late.
Valentine’s Day  A story intertwining couples and singles in Los Angeles , with break-ups  and making -up based on the pressures and expectations of Valentine's Day.. Has an ensemble cast of Julia RobertsJamie FoxxAnne Hathaway  , Ashton Kutcher.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Dream Win

The regret in my voice is genuine as I turn down my friend's invite. "  I would have loved to be there but there is something urgent I need to do .  I have to write an essay for the India Today Conclave". " Wow! you are writing for India Today". Is that a touch of disbelief in her tone? But there is no time to ponder as I try and set the record straight. " Actually, it is a contest and I have to send my entry in for that...".  " That sounds great. India Today, huh. Good Work" .The call ends and I get distracted by the sight of an over active squirrel running all over the woollies that  have been  put out to soak in the sun before being packed away.

It is early evening before the essay comes back to my mind. There is a flurry of activity as one dishes out instructions to all present , alas! only son and maid, that one is not to be disturbed as Very Important Work is going to be done . So, the laptop is opened and I come to the home page of the weekly and , for the fifth time, check out the bait dangled before the contenders for the prize. Yes, it is there , as promised- win a pass worth INR 1 lakh and get a chance to hobnob with the movers and shakers. Fifteen  minutes go in agonizing over  my wardrobe for the 3-4 days of the conclave. The matter is settled by the realization that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, good enough for my debut in high society. For once there is no procrastination in taking action and in one fluid motion I gather my bag, car keys and myself and head out to shop for some decent clothes.

Post dinner goes in explaining to the husband why I had to do what I had to do. In short, doing  the non doable. " You don't want your wife to look like someone swept in from the streets, do you? specially in front of Amitabh Bachchan ? and Deepika Padukone ?"  He looks at me , you know the way husbands look at their wives, in an exasperated manner and says, in an exasperated tone, " you have not yet won the prize."
I look at him , in a way I have perfected for him, all pityingly and forgivingly ( for being from Mars ) and announce grandly, " that is going to be so easy for me - gifted as I am with a flair for writing and with a flair for..."  I stop in the middle of telling him about all  my gifts and flairs because he has picked up the newspaper and buried his head, all ostrich like, in the newspaper.

Morning sees me all charged up. I instruct the maid to dust the study table in my daughters room. I have decided that that is the room best suited for pursuits of a literary nature. Why? well it is tucked away in one corner , has three walls painted white, no not white but ivory white , to soothe a taxed brain, and one wall  yellow - to re energize a tired brain . Of course, it also helps that the daughter is away and  not there to question 'why my room?' Anyways, I am set,the photon is inserted and a new word document opened. Then I realize that I don't know what the topic of the essay is. So, the magazine's home page is opened. The topic is lovely- 'what winning means to you'. I hum a tune as I think of winning moments, alas, not many. I get the perfect opening sentence and am just about to close the home page and come back to MS Word when my eyes fall on the last date for submission of entry.

The husband looks at the spread on the table for dinner- his favourite dishes. Everything is going well and I have managed to keep the conversation centred on Modi and cricket when , drat it, the son says- all casually and in a unusually chatty manner, " mom, you wrote the essay?"

I have to then tell all- that yesterday was the last day for submission of entries.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Two beautiful poems

Have you read anything more beautiful than these lines? 
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom. 
If You Forget Me  by Pablo Neruda
I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.