Wednesday, November 17, 2010

White Gloved People.

I am the newest addition to the white gloved family of Ritz Camera, America's premier place for images. This is also my foray into the profit world from the not for profit world - a world seen from the other side of the counter so to speak. Like any other business, this one too clearly grasps the twin concepts of profitability and accountability - something that governments show an extreme anathema for. In fact governments around the world collectively exhibit zero tolerance for any such thing. That said, it is often stated that clothes make a man or a woman. Well here at Ritz, the white glove phenomenon is very reassuring to all or so it seems. It somehow reminds me of the Queen and her white gloves. Metaphorically speaking we never take our gloves off. At most, they are to be hung delicately balanced in the back pocket. White gloves are every where. They are clean, cotton, ironed. I hate the idea of soiling them, but it is essential to the job of keeping things unblemished. No photograph can survive the onslaught of a finger print. While two white gloves on both hands are eerily queenly, the one glove phenomenon is quintessentially Michael Jackson. All we need is some thriller music and we are ready to roll into the moon walk, except for the carpeted floors which render this difficult. While smooth talk is encouraged, protocol prohibits even a stroll on smooth shiny floors. Barring the flooring requirements, the place is in perfect company of some real smooth talkers and walkers aka Andres who know how to go with the flow.

Contrary to self-help gurus, this is the place for transforming mere whims and fancies into real needs different from the 'neads' assessment program. This is also the venue for buyer's remorse to be buried forever, when the You and I take supreme importance. Company changes people and so I have turned from an obdurate personality to a tail of sorts, following people for all kinds of reasons, collecting pearls of wisdom from the veterans at the game. They have a disciple in me, furiously taking note of the art of closing, polishing the gift of the gab; even honing the art of backing away gracefully especially when the recognition kicks in that there will always remain some insurmountable issues that cannot be overcome. I even understand the different personalities of the kiosks, some of which respond to the finger tips while others to the click of the nails. Then there's Nikki the petite one who woks at such terrifying speeds that I get dizzy just looking at her. Unfortunately, the register still escapes me. My mind hears all kinds of sighings from impatient people and sees eyes and heads rolling. I imagine the register reacting to the scenario and flying at me with a vengeance known only to man. Mike the Manager, clearly exasperated with my shortcut methods of greetings, requests Riaz to do something or else. Riaz obliges and leaves clear red ink instructions for me on every phone which eventually help me emerge victorious from my garbled greetings. I now deliver phone greetings like a professional - with my eyes closed!

All shapes and sizes walk in. We smile and welcome them all, even people who are hungry for blood. There are some who are browsing for some solace; children who only want to lie on the glass counters, people who want cameras that are not there, others who get their high from getting a deal, comparing prices, and proving their point, people who desire all and capture nothing. As if to neutralize this, we have our very own Mark and nobody in their right mind dare mess with him. Nonetheless, most who walk in are some of the best of humanity and it does wonders for the soul. I tend to have a soft spot for the senior crowd because they look as bewildered as I do. They sympathize with me and I with them. Like them, I too could do with some of those digital photography courses at Ritz university. The Instructor is just how they should be made. He teaches stuff like I wish they had done in my own Film School. At times, professional basketball players have walked in seeking to capture their glory days on print. As much as I have been thrilled, I have to admit that mere mortals like me could do without such dwarfing experiences. I do however manage to get a signed photograph from Joe Ruklick of Philadelphia Warriors that incidentally also housed the great Wilt Chamberlain. The laboratory expert Dennis teaches me to count in 50s and warns me about an errant photograph that tries to prove its individuality every now and then. He understands those colors like nobody else does and just in case they misbehave, Dennis reserves the power to just turn them black and white. On the other hand, there is the pure joy of seeing colors tumble out in droves from the printers. There are also moments of dexterity when one makes red and blue boxes for packing photographs with memories neatly encapsulated and captured for eternity. This certainly is pure nostalgia for the good old days, which somehow renders beautiful all years down the ages.

Apparently, Ritz/ Wolf can bring you out from a depression by its imaging prowess. One does't have to visit therapists or shrinks. It's all free here from all sides of the counter. They only ask that you understand that it's all about the image(s). In the business world, the company showed how to rise from the dead by sheer tenacity and humility. They did all kinds of things to survive - bought other competitions, declared bankruptcy, went digital, introduced photography courses, hired people, fired people, initiated a new way of thought and generally went nuts about survival and growth. I think it's the perfect time for the organization to take upon itself the onerous task of restoring America's image as well, which has been somewhat damaged by some in the past couple of years. They are after all the image(s) people!

Speed is the order of the day, consequently more neurosis with saved time. Speed kills but not here. The alacrity of affairs puts one's brain to shame. But what is one to do with saved time? Now people have to think of other ingenious ways to while their time. Time in waiting was a big part of time management. So gone are the days of waiting for days on end for films to be developed, and for each negative to be turned into a positive. This is the one hour stunner, this is here, this is now; this is the moment, surely this is Zen. People feel it. I see it in the faces. The place reverberates with it. I am here for such few hours that it feels like a sojourn and so depending on the time, I vary my speed to move from one fragment to another. This is the place to bring torn, crumpled, shattered images to be restored to the pristine ones ingrained in one's brain. This is the world of magic where memories get imprinted on paper or glass to be mounted or laminated. It means everything when you reach home, settle down to open the red or blue box (proudly made in America and not China) with your hot cup of chocolate or tea or coffee and reminisce at leisure. You can finally remove your gloves and rest easy with the thought that you did just fine in life and that it has indeed been a good run.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I can't be fired...

I belong sporadically to the league of women which has been in existence for as long as men and women have been alive. It's called the league of stay-home-moms or housewives. We could have formed a regular workers' union, but that would have been been extremely detrimental to the fabric of society. As strikes and bandhs are a big part of being a union member which essentially is an arm-twisting of sorts, moms perhaps could have won on the wages deal but probably lost out on the human level. I cannot even begin to imagine the repercussions of regular strikes on a family structure. Even erratic ones would cause a pandemonium. I would have to say the reverberations would be felt in not one but many departments. Hunger and starvation would be acutely felt despite the presence of food, geography would be re-written as dirty laundry would form the newest ranges of mountains, the desert itself would settle down in the house, and fathers may never want to return home perhaps giving dead beat dads a run for their money. But these are merely the physicals. The emotional and psychological toll would be immense. On the other hand, this scary scenario may never occur, life would be bliss, and independence and survival would be two skills polished and honed to the hilt. 

Like regular workers' unions, we do not fight for our rights for fair pay because we do not get paid in cash or simply stated we do not bring home a pay check. In reality we should get paid like the kings' physicians in the gone by era when they were paid for all the times the king was healthy (and busy with shelling out orders for heads to be crushed or brought to his majesty's presence on silver plates). When the king fell sick - well that was the time for no-payment, because then it would be clear that the physician was no good and that his powers of pre-emption did not serve the desired purpose of keeping disease away from the king. Likewise we should be paid in hard cash as long as husbands are looking well-fed and not running around naked on the streets, children are healthy and happy (?) and not going around shooting people, the house is in working order and has not been blown up by confused but fatal family activities. I know of some mothers who have been rewarded for raising the best killers and terrorists. How about for some recompense for just raising normal sane healthy children and honoring reasonable and desirable husbands. 

In all honesty, I am relieved that I do not have the sword of getting fired hanging over my head. I just want to assure people that in the past and in the current years as well, I have felt - like the rest - the point (of the sword) graze me every now and then, but have usually gotten by - tucking the sword away somewhere safe. Let's just say we can't ever be fired because we hired ourselves and at most we can fire ourselves. For most of us, this has also been a time of rumination, discovering ourselves, and finding joy in what's closest to our hearts. Nonetheless, it's not as if moms and wives of the world are sitting cozy twiddling their thumbs. We have our work cut out but we do not have to answer any one or any bosses. Neither do we have deadlines. We do not have to be told things because we usually finish our work on time despite all the mindless groanings and moanings and the perpetual questions of what were you doing at home. Well for starters, we lay the foundation for mankind, so that husbands and children specifically would be ready to take on days and life itself. We see that they are nurtured, encouraged, and ready to go.  Their nourishment is ensured by serving them cooked and ready to eat meals in clean plates, while wearing unblemished and sometimes ironed clothes, and all this in a spic and span house. We fix little hearts, broken toys, and sometimes broken doors as well. As my friend Chhabi's irrepressible Calvin said things miraculously appear when moms look for them; so we provide repeated instructions to the family on how and where to find their things. We go crazy clearing after hurricanes that hit every room of the house with a sinister regularity known only to exist in the celestial world.

That brings me to the question of whether school and education for girls was really such a bright idea. I would have done the housework as well or as badly, with or without education, and with or without an additional job. Candidly speaking, my education did not make an iota of difference in my choosing family over career and other life altering decisions of the kind. Like all things, this too was a choice. The thought of course does not include women who made the wise decision of staying single without husbands, boyfriends, or children. But perhaps some validation of moms' work at home with kids and husbands is a little over due. Yes we've heard plenty about how this is the hardest job in the world and blah blah blah. It is actually not the hardest job. It is however one that requires a multitude of skills that have to be peppered with loads of patience and ingenuity; along with the ability to multi task. It also requires a head that can spin in all directions without losing focus. At most times, the condition of moms-at-home is really akin to the Dissociative Identity Disorder, where possessing  one personality does not work. We learn to speak in tongues, use mild cajoling, even use harsher measures of spoons and spatulas occasionally. We have our free time but our work also includes late hours which extend well into the night. It is however a job that has no recognition, no incentives, no immediate returns; plus it's a job with not too many thankyous thrown in. There are no medals awarded to a mother for a job well done either. With such few options of personal gain, I wonder why this well never runs dry. On the bright side of things, there is no company that dare think of firing this brood of mothers ever. Zig Ziglar said: when you do more than you're paid for, you'll eventually be paid more for what you do; and to that I say let's keep on truckin'.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Chiropractor and I.

Lately I've been seeing a Korean Chiropractic Doctor for my back. All is well except for the fact that he and I speak two different kinds of English. Added to that is also a lisp which confounds my understanding even more. I speak a curry accent (no lisp), which is really a combination of Indian, American, and British accents. At any given time, instead of having one single conversation, we end up having two perfect conversations - he talking to himself and I talking to myself. He tells me to go to room three, I head off towards finding a room which is free and hoping to find a room which says 'free room, no payment necessary'. He catches me wandering around peeking in all rooms and guides me to Room #3. When the Chiropractor asks me questions or tells me to do something, I am either not listening or feigning understanding because my reactions are completely unrelated to the demands. He tells me to lie down on my stomach, and I slowly move to lie down on my back. I lie there peacefully with a little Buddha smile on my face till he shocks me with the question whether I would like the needles in my stomach instead of my back. I am horrified, start wailing long nooooooooooooos and slowly reverse my position. Somehow in that supine condition, my brain refuses to cooperate with any instructions or maybe I'm just naturally averse to instructions.

I lie on my stomach on a comfortable bench with my nose and face stuck in its groove, which is covered with paper that rustles with every breath I take. Somehow I cannot find a good place for my nose in that groove. I turn my face sideways to rest on one cheek and soon that ear is red and hot. Then I try the other cheek. After this I give up, because I have no more cheeks left to turn. The Chiropractor scolds me 'tham thown' (calm down) and vigorously rubs my back with alcohol and plants some needles in there. A few pricks of that nature could never make me scream. Then I feel a red warmth as well and maybe just for a moment I think I've achieved nirvana at last. 

The Chiropractor asks me if I know what he is doing. I say oh yes I am lying on my stomach. Thankfully he ignores me and says it's 'heath thethapy' (heat therapy) along with acupuncture needles. I ask how many needles and he says 10, and I say please put some more because I want to impress my macho husband who's scared stiff of needles. I'm surprised because the Chiropractor says you 'aath tho fhuneee' (you are so funny). Then when he tells me it's time for electric stimulation, I hand him a paper and pen to to write down the name of the procedure. Maybe the Chiropractor should demonstrate everything he wants me to do. This way, the last barriers of language can be safely done away with. Show me and I will never forget. Soon I hear the doctor say are you okay for the hundredth time and I'll be back. But actually he's gone to poke other patients with those needles.

Lying on the bench, with my face buried in paper - is usually a good time for me to recall my entire life and why and how I arrived here. I ask myself the same questions - why did I get married, why diid I have kids, why did I grow up, why didn't I just run away or why couldn't I find a Chiropractor who spoke like me. Every time I lie on the comfy bench, I convince myself that this will be the-arriving-at-answers-day. But it never happens. Maybe I should choose a different bench or different questions that have answers. Anyway my thoughts keep getting interrupted by the flap flap of sandals around me. The doctor insists on flapping and dragging his feet all over the office. I dare not object. After all a man armed with needles is a man to be feared. We usually complete the visit - with the Chiropractor and I having hearty conversations about politics. We discuss the ills of communism, and how some people still find it savory, the despicable Kim Jong Il (the dear leader of North Korea), the even more terrible Sr. Kim Sung (the dear departed leader), and the current Jong's sons (to-be dear leaders), who will some day inherit the country. The Chiropractor warns me that Kim Jong Il, his dad, his son - all too too too bad people. He then sends me off reminding me with 'no bend'. I hobble out imagining a life in the vertical position, stiff, unbendable, unable to sway with the wind or even retrieve my  fallen car keys. Sometimes I think not being able to bend down and pick up stuff may be a good thing. It's best to leave some some things just lying around or better to kick them gently in a place where they can't be found at all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chhaang Town Story ...

Chhaang Town is a fairly big Tibetan enclave on the far side of New Delhi or within Delhi, I can't say for sure because nothing is ever permanent in India. Anyway during the 80s this was a popular place to hang out for many, and specially the rebels, activists, and more specifically the Delhi University crowd of hopefuls and idealists, and of course the Tibetans, where they tried to build their own little Tibet and drown their loss of roots in the very potent Chhaang, a drink made from fermented rice. Tibetans have been living in India for decades and India is like home for them. They even managed to get some land, space, and freedom - which unfortunately the Chinese took but in turn spurred the Indians to give them some of what they had lost. The Indian government however didn't give them citizenship. I think, as a thank you, the Tibetans gave Chhaang to the Indian men but didn't disclose its potency.  So while the Tibetans knew how to down bales and bales of Chhaang without going crazy, the non-Tibetans like my husband and his good friends weren't quite aware of this paddy baby or tried not to show it.

The Bullet, of the Royal Enfield motorcycle family, being the preferred mode of transportation for most hot bloodied men in Delhi during the 80s and 90s, was extremely popular with the bad boys, specially for ferrying themselves to and fro from Chhaang Town. Sometimes the boys returned in one piece but at other times the bikes came back in many pieces. The latter incident was one more excuse to drink gallons of tea and other stuff at the mechanic's under the tree. Those were the days when India was free of all cops, and the atmosphere still reeked of the 60s. This is the story of one such incident when my husband Bapi, and his friend Sandy roared into Chhaang Town one morning. By the time afternoon came around, these two were thoroughly soaked in the Tibetan culture and even the natives of Chhaang Town showed concern. In the huts and colors of Chhaang Town it's easy to forget oneself and that Momos (dumplings) are usually eaten when Chhaang is consumed, specially in large quantities. 

Rebels without a cause - Bapi and Sandy.

As events would unfold, the two friends forgot to order momos and the Tibetans forgot to inform. After all, the two looked seasoned enough. It was getting close to the time of tottering out of Chhaang Town but only one could do so. Sandy had to be dragged to the bike. Many came to help and even Bapi-the-veteran needed some assistance in starting the bike but nonetheless joined heartily in the discussion of Chhaang and bikes and the deadly combination of the two. Sandy lay on the dirt in his la-la land as heated discussions flew around him and over him as to what was the best way to deposit him on the bike or whether he was in a position to be picked up at all or whether he should be moved to the huts till somebody sober came to fetch him the next day. Alcohol impairs the ability to walk but boosts the ego tremendously, something the Tibetans have been telling the world to get rid of altogether (the ego). Sandy was immune to the big ego and my husband could feel and taste only ego at that time. So, a string was got, Sandy was put in pillion, and the string used to tie Sandy loosely to Bapi who swaying a bit himself managed to hold Sandy with one hand and the bike with the other - and off the two buddies went riding into the sunset.

All was gentle swaying, occasional swerving, and purring. Sometimes Bapi would see Sandy, then at other times only his hand told him that Sandy was still there. Sandy could move in three directions - backwards, left, and right. At times he would hang backwards precariously defying gravity. At other times he would hang awkwardly to the left or right. But at all times, Sandy and Bapi managed to stay on the bike. There were some moments when even the hand of Bapi could not prevent the butt of Sandy from sliding off the seat. Nonetheless the three of them, Bapi, Sandy, and Ms Bullet kept going. There was no stopping these three. All was going well and the god of spirits was happy, when just half way home, they began to be pursued by a University bus. The bus was full of shrieking college girls. Oblivious to Bapi and Sandy who had been under scrutiny for a while, specially Bapi who was driving with one hand while holding an oscillating specimen with the other - the girls felt a compelling need to intervene. And when college girls get to that, all hell can break loose. Added to that was the passion of seeing such injustice, and boys behaving badly. The moment had to be seized, the downtrodden to be helped, and the helpless to be assisted - or their education would be meaningless in their eyes and the eyes of the world.

The bus driver was threatened, the bus stopped, and the infamous three barely managed to stay upright with all the noise and commotion that confronted them when they were rudely stopped. Sandy of course slid to the ground and lay there, while Bapi went into a state of shock. The girls came out screaming vile stuff at Bapi and the comatose Sandy. Bapi was told he was the most evil man to treat his friend so callously. How could he do it at the peril of the friend's life. The bus driver shrank or ran away, nobody knows. It was close to a blockade. Everybody wanted to help the girls. Most ignored Sandy. But really it was Sandy who had created all this fuss by his swaying and swinging and what not. Nobody saw that. Only if he had sat up straight like Bapi. Not one rickshaw but many rickshaws were stopped. Total confusion reigned. Which rickshaw would be best for loading Sandy into? The Bus driver had smoked his bidi so he was ready to go anywhere. Sandy smiled when he was hauled into the rick by the girls. Even in his inebriated state Bapi managed to stay in his shocked state. The procession started with Bapi and Ms Bullet in the lead, closely followed by the rickshaw with Sandy's hands and legs hanging on either side, and last but not in the least - by some very belligerent but triumphant looking girls in the bus. The best or the worst part of the story was that having 'chhaanged' their pockets completely, our two heroes had no money for the rickshaw and I had to foot the bill. I think those girls in the bus should have picked up the tab or taken Sandy with them in the bus. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Terrorists and Zombies don't scare me ...

Suicide bombing is fortunately the only profession that requires one to die to succeed. Actually just dying is not enough; one must blow to smithereens to be considered a successful suicide bomber, specially if eternal fame or notoriety has to be achieved. However, because the general public gets itself in a strange frenzy of fear over some very clumsy attempts of shoe bombers and underwear bombers, even a quarter of an attempt is enough to be considered successful. Any lay person could have figured that an underwear detonation is a bad idea. That is too much stripping in a very tight spot. Anyway, the outcome is not the same for bumbling bombers who will never get to see their faces on posters glorifying their deeds. The ones plastered on the walls of many cities and homes are only of dead terrorists. And so it must be true when they say that the only good terrorist is a dead terrorist. In the aftermath of such bumbling follies, plenty of ways have to be quickly found to forget and forgive and move on to the next soul-in-line-waiting-to-blow. Mind you, suicide bombing is not an easy task. To blow oneself up, is actually an art in itself. A lot of factors have to be in play simultaneously. It has to be done at the right time, at the right place, and in the right frame of mind. Any kind of indecision, dilly-dallying, panic-attacks or any such frailties  of the mind will not work. The bomb must be easily accessible as well as perfectly hidden. The suicide bomber must also walk straight and tall because if he ever happened to trip over a small rock and land in a ditch - well that would be disastrous for the mission control and the controlled, all over a small rock. 

So why do I think that terrorists and suicide bombers are a dying breed? Somehow as if my mind refutes this, an exact polar opposite question comes to mind - how is it possible they multiply like rabbits? Is there a system to it? Actually these are only some of the many questions that confound me. The other questions are why is diversity missing from amongst the terrorists and suicide bombers these days? I haven't heard a peep out of political correctness and its proponents about this phenomenon. I am also getting somewhat tired of watching the same fashion in display. Because of the uniformity in thought, action, and dress amongst the terrorists, they have somehow forgotten to be novel in their ways. That checkered scarf could certainly be replaced. More over, just to break the bubble of coming up with this inhuman and cruel way to kill people, the current preferred way to kill through suicide bombings, can't be claimed as their invention either. The Japanese will have to take credit for that or maybe some other clinically depressed and drugged group could lay claim to that. As most terrorists work alone, often times I wonder why do they even waste time in marching and screaming the same slogans. It's not as if they were going to blow themselves up standing at attention or in straight lines or columns. 

In the elaborate ceremony of going for the kill, did the terrorists and their bosses happen to forget that the god they appealed for help with reining down fire and brimstone on the world, creating rivers of blood, making mountains of bones, and sending showers of fingers, teeth, and tongues - was also the same god the rest of the world appealed to for wrecking havoc on the checkered heads. Einstein's God it seems likes to sit pretty just holding the dice. Maybe using those checkered scarves as chess boards could have decided the outcome quicker. It's also not fair that the current band of terrorists with their own peculiar brand of insanity has put terrorists with other agendas around the world - completely out of business. Lack of attention or to-hell-with-you attitudes has further led to the early demise of a lot of terrorist activity around the world.
Come to think of it, if the suicide bombers were really trying to make a point, they are not there to see whether the point made its mark or not. In fact, most of them are single, educated, bored men and sadly enough have nothing positive to bestow on the next generation. They leave no money, no estates, no wills, and certainly no insurance policies for the next of kin. Whatever monetary benefits they reap is dependent on the generosity of insane and unreliable men or governments. And we all know how well governments run things. Bureaucracy is a wet rag and is bound to dampen the death rewards to the terrorists. Even plans of taking their manhood intact to the ultimate level where 72 virgins wait - don't seem to get too far. No wonder a bumbling bomber was caught with sanitary pads around his manhood. Then there is also the story of 72 virgins taking the place of 72 raisins. I understand the gross error of pitting virgins and raisins but that's exactly how things stand at the moment. The suicide manufacturing machine decided it was best to replace raisins with virgins to make the outcome substantial enough to tempt the poor sods to kill themselves. The machine also set to work on the dictionary to change the meaning of killers to martyrs. But there is no way I am listening to the machine; a martyr went to his death alone taking no one else with him. That was the only requirement of the sacrifice. Nowhere did it say martyrs please take a bunch of people or a whole lot before you go mingle with raisins or virgins. Ashwani put it aptly in a poem 'they sacrifice your life because their religion is a game and butcher people in the Lord's're feeling like a clown, men of God knocking you around'. Perhaps it's time to do some thinking and settle this issue once and for all. There is no place for religions that preach absolute intolerance, total death, and complete destruction. Emphasis on hate life, embrace death, walk as if already dead - belong in the zombie land. All I have to say is live and let live and perhaps even find a life on FaceBook for God's sake.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

To burqa or not to burqa ...

We are once again struck with controversy about the flying bellows of an absolute odious garment - the burqa. To me it's an issue of what exactly do the men like about it and more so what possibly could the women love about it - if they do? And if the women want to wear the burqa, why do they even bother to shop around in some very fashionable boutiques for some fine, sexy, skimpy lingerie, and more. Gloom and doom should be full while it lasts. If everything has to be covered up in such a severe manner then maybe even a bag or a sack cloth cut to size would serve the purpose. Anything or nothing worn under those burqas would ever make a dent in its existence. Surprisingly vote and support for the burqa is very much present and I don't understand why. Perhaps I will never comprehend this conundrum. Some women say they feel liberated. Others say they feel safe. The only thing I say is that burqa clad women look boring, caged, and pathetic. If they have a form that looks radiant then that form needs to be taken out from under the black pall. What's the point of placing big black sheets on humans unless they are dead? Somehow in our topsy turvy world, even transvestites who love everything about women have firmly rejected donning the burqa. But just in case they would have tried the burqa, they would've had the time of their life confusing the male species. Eyes peeking through the chador would have said come hither while the lifting of the veil would've suggested to the seeker to run thither. It can be a very trying time for the interested men to figure out the essence of beauty through those kohl layered eyes and loads of layers of black - if they can be seen at all. Nonetheless, under the burqa anything goes,  just as well anything can go under the burqa - perhaps one instance of perfect equality in an insane world. 

Just the other day a thought occurred; what if one used some aerodynamic technique inside the burqa, perhaps it could take to flying and take the women along, much to the disconcert of the males. It would be quite a sight to see big black things flying around minus broomsticks of course. NASA steering away from its space exploration program and with its new policy of fostering peace around the world, would be delighted to study the celestial phenomenon and its connection with fundamentalism and radicalism. The flying burqa squads would however be lost forever and what would happen to the men? Who would cook? Who would clean? Who would have their brood? Who would pick up after their shit? Well for the latter part, I could offer a suggestion which would be to develop some form of arthritis by the women, which would make it near impossible to bend and pick. The women with arthritis would truly be at par with men - whatever fell to the floor would lie there and rot its heart out or they could just kick it to the side, really just to get it out of the way for the time being. Perhaps the women could use the power of their burqas to sweep everything off - good and bad, under the guise of 'merely walking around minding my own business'. Somehow the thought of turning the burqa into a lethal weapon of destruction never occurred to the burqa clad women. Some silly men tried it but got so hot that they decided - to hell with the suicide mission, they needed to get out of the damn thing as quickly as possible. But before the suicide mission even got into effect, the burqa clad men also got some unsavory attention from their brothers something to the tune of heaven on earth and worth dying for, when the bomber had been promised otherwise. During such a time, the innovative idea of a double burqa for double protection must have taken place in the brain of the suicide bomber. That patent will forever remain in the pending stage considering when that poor sod may or may not be released from those cells specially designed for bumbling terrorists.

Dance of Shiva by Joyce Singha-Ghosh
Coming back to the strange commotion this chador has created around the world, the question to ask is, who is really getting affected by it. From all reports and historical data so far, it's clear that it's only some men, in some corners of the world, that have been actually infected by the chador virus. No immunization against this virus has been effective so far. This is also one design that has stayed constant and thus defied the fashion world. For its size - the burqa does appear and disappear at times. Women who love it around their men, suddenly discard it as soon as they are on their own. It's perhaps this inconstancy that has created this ruckus. Some say it's a religious duty others say it's a womanly thing to do; still others drag God into it as if God didn't have enough to do or not do. Perhaps they think the Almighty is lowly enough to create a stink about whether people wore clothes or not and especially something like the abominable burqa which is completely shapeless, formless and tasteless - even for God. Despite these misgivings, I still give full marks to the remarkable oeuvre of the Creator including Darwin and his theories. There is absolutely nothing in creation which comes close to resembling an object as drab as a burqa. The burqa comes with a little slit for the eyes, which is free of course. The slit actually defeats the purpose of total control by the concerned men because it allows the burqa clad women to see. If it was supposed to be a complete cover, then the men who thought of it made some gross errors. But I always thought men were a flawed lot. There is however plenty of time to rectify. They can still give up on this useless invention but then it's also hard to give up on centuries honed skills of shelling out complete bull crap. The burqa thankfully hasn't killed the women, only driven them underground where sure enough they are quietly plotting and scheming to transfer the rights of ownership of the burqa elsewhere, some time, hopefully, in this century.

Half measures never worked. In fact, a paradigm shift is required here. Sweeping changes have to be made for the burqa set up. It should be made mandatory inside and outside the home. No slits or nets should be allowed. As the vision would be severely disrupted, all work inside and outside would have to be performed by the seeing - which is the men. Consequently, burqa women will need to be carried around as the sack like outfit would make it impossible for them to do anything except hobble and shuffle. Eyes would become a fallacy for both the seen and the seeing. If men insisted on looking and imagining, they would have to develop the electro magnetic radiation energy. Perhaps in keeping with the declining economy, women of the same family or even neighborhood could be brought under one burqa just like global economy.  Most of all, as it's the men who seem to be so fond of the burqa, they should make it absolutely essential and compulsory for themselves it. If I were sure of anything in life, it would have to be the day men wore the burqa; that day would be the beginning of the end of the burqa controversy. Nary a speedier outcome could be imagined. Not only would the men outlaw the burqa, they would change the entire history of it ever having existed at all in any age whatsoever. God forbid, if He or religion ever hinted at the burqa, the men would get rid of them both faster than they would do the burqa. Another change I would like if the burqa still survived and the love for it stayed strong - is to see the burqa loving men go battle in this garment. With the new army uniform of burqas in place, I wonder if the enemy will smile at the sight of the bumbling and fumbling burqa clad men. Perhaps like in old times, the enemy would take time off to watch the fools at play, have their shots of whiskey or rum at pleasure somewhere right around the vicinity of the burqas. Now that would be fun and wars could be won through bloodless coups and battles. Peace would return once more. All this would occur over a cup of tea and a burqa.

Monday, July 19, 2010

incorrigible flirt ...

I am
with the wind 
 that moves the waters
 restless and calm
with the breeze
 that sways my feelings
 right and wrong
with the light
 that glows in the distance
with darkness 
 that leaves a footprint
with waves
 that crash
 before they reach
 the shore
with mud 
 that cakes my feet
with leaves
 that come down sailing
 yellow   green   orange
with the smell of petals
 in wet earth
with thoughts
 that charm
 my confusion
with the search
 that continues  to be
a mirage
 of people
 in deserts
 of snow ...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

lest we forget ...

forced into search
alien to their birth

more we tried 
to grapple with words
more they cringed
with fear  disgust
refusing to carry
farce of our lot
fragile selves
tied up in knots

I hear them laugh 
I hear them wail
but really to what avail
we and our
remain perpetually insane
not saying what we feel
feeling things never said

what do I do
cried the word
they took away the meaning
of my very existence
if I cannot be myself
on my word
I should be dead ...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Generation Minus TV Grows Up.

We are perhaps the last generation to boast of growing up with minimum TV - if one could ever boast of things like that. Our kids say oh you poor things, what a deprived lot. But are we really that or just lucky to have escaped the technological bombardment. TV during the 70s and especially in India was just beginning to peek its head over the horizon. It was tentative to the point of being miniscule. To make matters worse, India's media continued to be government controlled including the few hours of TV programs that were aired daily. Somehow the government missed out on this big opportunity of using TV for controlling the nation's population. This ingenuous thought of TV and population control completely escaped them.  Indian TV was so bad that had it not been a voluntary activity, the entire nation could have collapsed under the sheer weight of complete boredom and frustration with the lone TV channel. The government could have controlled its population with the silent killing technique of making Indian TV mandatory for all people - young and old, sick and healthy, farmers and doctors. It would have been way different from the very unpopular birth control methods brought on by India's now gone PM Indira Gandhi and her progeny. Like me, most of its other millions saved itself from dying of utter dreariness of TV by becoming cricket fanatics despite the fact that most matches lasted for 5 days with absolutely no outcome of any victory or defeat for either side. The public was happy, radio commentators were colorful in their analysis, and all life in the country would be successful in coming to a complete halt - not that the country needed any particular reasons or incentives to stop.

Far from entertainment, TV was full of discussions about seeds, manure, and monsoons. News covered different plans of the government - 3 year plan, 5 year plan, or 10 year plan. We the people were not sure which plan to choose or whether we should choose any plan at all. The worst was that few of us understood these plans but most of us had some vague inklings through books and of course boring discussions on TV. Personally it wouldn't have made a fig of a difference. I am in no way saying that we should have been  given the option of choosing different plans, because heaven forbid that may have aroused the nation to some sort of action. Dulling of senses through Indian TV was something Doordarshan producers and directors would have intended but the Indian public has always  been street wise and would've understood the wily nature of its government with ease.

I remember going with my mum to watch the Sunday movie on TV at her friend's house. A big chunk of  time was spent in fiddling around with the TV control buttons, the rest in pounding the TV to stop its characters from escaping from the top or bottom of the screen. A bit of the movie was enjoyed if the neighbor's crazy son didn't insist on standing in front of the screen with a pencil stuck up his nose. We were indeed lucky if he kept his clothes on for those couple of hours. Somehow we got a break from this choppy viewing when a neighbor acquired a brand new TV and an acute sense of business acumen which demanded a quarter from all the children who wanted to watch the Sunday movie. Sometime during this time, the much awaited color TV also began to rear its ugly head, and the quiet black and white rendition of the weekly Sunday night movie became too much to handle for the Indian public. Color TV meant putting up a screen that had a random distribution of bright colors - on top of the black and white TV screen. Contrary to making things nice and colorful, the event became quite gross and out of control. Firstly all people on TV including actors and actresses of the Sunday night movie fame turned into multi colored specimens with green faces, yellow necks and chests, blue hips and feet, and red in parts wherever the other colors failed. The TV host also wanted to experiment with colors every now and then mainly for special effects but I suspect it was just for evil purposes of control. Incidentally the viewing fee was also raised to two quarters. So generally one or two kids' evening used to be ruined because they had to stand holding the colored screen when it didn't fit perfectly onto the TV screen.

TV watching was indeed a family event. This was one box albeit an idiot box that most people looked forward to because it was such a novelty. It allowed one to settle in with perfect ennui that led many times to the person becoming one with the sofa as well. As years rolled by, the TV became almost like a permanent pet but one which never would've had to be taken care of or fed. Children continued to be born in the lights and sounds of TV, and many of the human race got addicted to sleeping with the mindless drone of TV. If you turned off the TV, they would immediately wake up, turn it back on, so they could fall asleep again! Slowly and steadily TV watching turned into an obsession from being merely a distraction and finally became an added limb of the human persona. While in school during the 70s, if I were lucky, I got about 3 hours of TV per week, which was the Sunday night movie. But most of the time I was grounded by the nuns so even this little pleasure remained just out of reach for me. I had to sit in an adjacent classroom while the TV blared in the school hall. If I had known the Kafka trick, perhaps I could have transformed myself into a fly on the wall and maybe even settled on one of the nun's sleeves to watch the Sunday night movie.

Now I have all the hours to watch TV but have ironically made strange rules for myself regarding this activity. Our household is regarded somewhat akin to being primitive because we have only one TV. It is also strange that one doesn't find it sitting in the living room, where it (the TV) was hoping to be made the center of attention. Till now we have been able to hold on to our stubborn ways of thinking that too many TVs in a house will take one away from reading and family time. So far, my reading is fine but the rest of the family has shifted its attention to the Internet, which I think has proven to be far more ruthless than what TV could've ever hoped to have become. Even more bizarre is the fact that the more technology reduces communication to the click of a button, the more we find it difficult to connect to ourselves and to others. I wonder if we might have lost our way in this morass of information and entertainment overload. Or perhaps we are headed to a place where each to his own would be the ultimate consciousness.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sahara House Days ...

I couldn't have asked for a more raggedy bunch of people to be a part of my life, but there they were at Sahara ready to shed off their skins and renew their lives. Sahara was and is a unique substance abuse rehabilitation house, its initial start given by Dave and Angie, two Australians with more than an average amount of commitment.  The place while being very secular also had a distinct flavor of Christianity through its program of prayers, hymns,  therapeutic spirit, meditations, sessions and of course the great tenets of hope, faith and charity. In time, Dave and Angie judiciously handed over the reigns to other Indians for all kinds of people and animals who wanted to get a taste of rehabilitation without the white uniforms. Over the years, Sahara's connection with Australia remained strong by the constant steam of visitors from the Aussie land itself. Sahara accommodated them all, along with its own, plus anyone on the periphery as well. It was a large community of motley faces and more so of all kinds of idiosyncrasies. While a lot walked in drenched with confusion and shock, the Aussies seemed to arrive with commotion in their back packs and a quest to understand humanity. Over time they managed to exchange the load on their backs with the lightness of being. Nonetheless, the  Aussies still received some rude shocks by the acute water shortage and misbehaving Indian toilets, which many times joined forces to make life in Sahara unbearably heavy. The Aussie girls however did manage to rectify this situation by setting some hearts fluttering and all would be forgiven till the next jamming time. Offering good competition to the Aussies was our very own Woo Master Gerard himself. Gerard wooed his way in and out of hearts, countries, and continents with his smile and glib talk. When he smiled we wondered what he was up to and I hope I continue to wonder about Gerard's smile.

Like others, I too was intrigued by the concept, and essentially because I had never before seen the likes of so many recovering addicts and alcoholics. That was something I had rarely given a thought to, being altogether involved with my own studies, friends, and other vagaries of life. I came to Sahara with a friend from Film School to attempt an audio-visual on the place and the process. Instead I went on to become a part of this family for many years after that. All my time after college hours was spent there. In fact, in the ensuing days, I completely forgot what I was there for. We however did manage to complete the project at some point. Like all families, this one too was full of eccentrics and crazies. From all its successful graduates, Matli the dog emerged as one of the most memorable ones. According to Ivan, 90% of the dogs in the area were his children and grandchildren. In fact, Matli was so popular that Sahara people gave Matli's name to one inhabitant who was renamed from Peter to Peter S. Matli because of the same blond color manes. There was Agha who perpetually got stuck in bathrooms, thresholds, cupboards, stairs, and could not cross roads or streets. No amount of practice runs across roads helped him. Agha still took hours to move. It would have been certainly easier to carry him from place to place. At such times Tootsie, the other dog came and helped.  Just her bark would move Agha - a man who a few moments ago would be immovable as the mountains themselves. I miss Agha and his talks and hope he's coping well. The good old Homeopathic medicine Hyoscyamus Niger would have done well for him. 

Another eternal figure Govind filtered in and out of Sahara. He was the perfect combination of a philosopher and an evangelist. If ever a need for including a special clause for Sahara funds were concerned, it would have had to be done for Govind. He wanted to get paid for 'praying for Sahara'.  When Govind lay down to sleep, people around him also slept - but with a collection of chappals. At the first sound of a snore from Govind, chappals went flying to knock out all snores from Govind. Govind remains a heart warming character and maintains his goings and comings to Sahara. There were a few from Afghanistan and much to their annoyance were simply known as Kee Gee Bees (KGB). The place had more writers, poets, actors, musicians, singers, and artists than an art school or an artist's colony itself. It had a surgeon and a dentist. It had some healers and some who planned on becoming priests as well. I'm surprised it didn't have its own post office as well. Sahara could very well have been a city by itself. Basically all the ingredients of physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and the spiritual were there in this place. This was the place where I heard different genres of  music and just being with people and songs was indeed an invigorating experience. I exchanged poetry, writing, and even art with some. Niko was one of the best artists at hand. He worked with everything from old jeans to pillow cases and I still have one of his creations. I felt at peace in Sahara; I was accepted without being invited; I became one with it without asking. 

I got so thoroughly soaked in Sahara that I felt I had to move out in my own place just to take in all its strangeness. I wanted to be there whenever I wanted. I was unable to explain to my Mum the concept of Sahara, my late hours of doing 'nothing' there and consequently arriving back at her house at weird times. But it's also when I moved out that I felt the pangs of hunger and the sheer inability to cook a meal for myself. Having been a boarder most of my life, I did not learn this essential skill of housekeeping. That is why the daily meal of daal and chaawal at Sahara was like manna from heaven. There were moments of rajma and the rare beef curry. To break this monotony Bashir the Sahara chef occasionally made 'hidge pidge' which was his hodge podge of all kinds of left overs and some vegetables. However the regular dessert of tea took the cake. Bashir was perhaps one of the worst cooks known in the culinary circles (except me who couldn't cook at all). He watered down all food so thoroughly that it was impossible to detect even the most tenacious foods. On the other hand, he put such a minuscule amount of tea leaves in the chai that at best it was just colored water. Bashir nonetheless was quintessential Sahara himself and I thought he needed to be rehabilitated the most. God alone knows what he smoked or drank but he was there and not there at the same time. I saw more dancing and singing come out from him than a decent meal. He allowed visiting Australians to take over 'Indian' cooking while he sat and smoked bidis in the balcony or just danced his way across the halls for no good reason. That was also the time when visiting Aussies would decide to help by plopping in the pot whatever was at hand. These were also the exact moments when I seriously questioned my decision to leave my mum's delicious cooking and her house. 

Hymns kept the place alive and reverberating. The boys sang loud and clear. Others moved vigorously back and forth with the rhythms. Guitars, drums, banjos, flutes were good accompaniments to the singing. There were prayer sessions and quiet times, the latter also times for quick naps for many. People filtered in and out of Sahara. Some remained at the periphery while others moved in to either work as volunteers or just hang around. Some ran away or just walked off never to return. Others stayed on never to leave. I never understood how the place ran in terms of money. But what I did understand was the deep faith that kept the place going and the knowledge that help was just around the corner. Sahara was a two or three storied rented house and many times the rent was due. But the landlord never locked its doors just like Sahara's doors were never locked. What I heard  later was that the landlord either donated the house to Sahara or sold it to them for much below the market price. At one point, I did get to see the funding process in occurrence. Some funding agency people from Australia happened to drop by. They were given moras to sit on right in the alcove beneath the steps to the house and of course Bashir's tea was served. Balancing Bashir's tea while sitting on the wavering moras was quite a challenge. During this meeting, Matli the dog and I joined in just because no one else could be found. Neville the mad-one also the one-in-charge had to be yelled for. And when he was found - came by looking more disheveled than Einstein himself. It was always difficult to explain that Neville indeed was the person that people with funds should be talking with. At all times, Neville gave the impression that he might be more interested in soccer than the funds themselves. Despite its dismembered look, the place managed to run just fine. like the universe itself, Sahara was organized chaos. Money was there when needed otherwise everybody just did without it.

Neville and other wise members of the House created Core Groups and some boys became a part of it as a mark of 'moving up' and taking on responsibilities. However, this concept needed a quick intervention as 'lollipops' or medications intended to ease the process of 'turkeying' for the Saharites were sometimes mostly consumed by the boys of the Core Group, leaving the others stranded and shivering. Serious discussions of manhandling by the soccer police were some other topics taken up by the core group. I am sure Govind would have loved to pray for such untoward activities, including the nocturnal flying chappals ones. The so called soccer police aka some resident volunteers sometimes terrorized the boys who hated workouts and soccer especially at 5 a.m. These shirkers were sometimes picked up manually from their beds and dropped to the floor. Other Core Group activities or distractions were matters of the heart and romance and how much was optimum for people still finding their way. After all, re-discovering small mercies and delicacies of life was going be the next big thing for struggling members after living a life steeped in drugs and alcohol and other such impulses of life. Anything could tip the balance of the mind and body. Leaving an old life was going to be hard work and sorting would take many months and years. Layers of self would have to be peeled off and new sensations, emotions, feelings would have to be accommodated. It was going to be the full journey of discovery. 

I regarded Neville and Ega as the first family of Sahara House. With the house crowding many times over, I often wondered about the pressures on this family. There was nothing called privacy for them. There was no point in them having even doors to their little bit of space because somebody or the other always needed to talk to Neville. I never saw Neville sleep at regular hours. On the other hand, he routinely fell asleep while talking to people. For a thin sprightly fellow, Nev carried many people's burdens and troubles with much grace while Ega, his other half carried the man himself. Only the lowly roach could displace this man. With even a hint of a roach behind him, Neville would have been the world's fastest man and could've beaten Usain Bolt many times over. Sundar and Pushpa - the other couple helped out stoically too. They let me sleep in their little space when I was too scared to stay by myself in my own house. Sundar was the other rock in Sahara House. In his own quiet way, he along with Pushpa provided the boys and girls with time, counseling, food, and some space from the crowds. I have no explanation as to how Nev had the energy to run the place, conduct early morning workouts and still play hours of soccer. I too joined soccer sometimes for pure fun and this was perhaps my first training at the sport, which I later used to volunteer as soccer coach for my sons' teams in AYSO (American youth Soccer Organization). In my short stint, I'm proud to say I had a winning record of 5-2-1. 

As part of the Sahara rehabilitation, there were additional activities of volunteer work at the Blind School and working at Tihar Jail with Lifers. Books were read to the Blind and much to the delight of the youngsters, free rides on motor cycles were given to them by the Sahara Boys. They impressed the then Police Commissioner Kiran Bedi and worked with her and her staff on the Delhi Police Rehabilitation programs. I helped out with their volunteer program for drugs and alcohol in the slum areas of Delhi. Jeeps were rented and half falling and even less prepared, we still managed to pull off skits and songs in the areas. Mike with his great height and kind demeanor let out the most delightful but deafening sounds at the drums. He remained in his own world and went out the same way.  Amongst the cacophony, the infamous dentist Dr Samson got his best sleep within the confines of Sahara. He treated the boys and girls free, which basically meant he drilled the life out of our teeth. He has since then given up teeth and pursues matters of the mind zealously. Another green horn James came in from the Gulf, liked the place, and became one of the trusted hands at Sahara. He now writes lengthy theses on homelessness. These two along with others of the fat-bad-mad ditch series bled me dry of all cash reserves with their never ending penchant for gulab jamums, ice-creams and pastries. With the amount of paet puja I provided directly or indirectly, I hope I have these devils indebted to me for forever.

Over the years, Sahara continued to grow and branch off into many other avenues.  I last visited it many years ago. The old fellows had left, some with whom I had shared much time, books, meals, tea, and music. Many of them are healthy and doing well. Others felt the need to go back to Sahara to recuperate.  Some picked up their lives where they had rudely interrupted it while others gave their lives a completely fresh start. I've only experienced  good in Sahara. That is why any criticism of it appalls me. Some say they became stagnant in Sahara and that it didn't prepare them sufficient to go out into the world. But a place is only a place. Whatever one finds there is only what one puts in there. How much can be done or what can be done is also dependent on the receiver. Sahara remains for me pure and unsullied. The good it it did (and does) far surpasses the little it may have occasionally missed. I hope to return there some day, take some sessions, meet its new recruits, help give the place a fresh coat of paints, drink some more tea, perhaps make a film without getting distracted, and even change the lollipops to the gentler homeopathic remedies (I am a Homeopath now). Perhaps my own kids can find it in their hearts to volunteer there one day. Sahara was not just a place for me - it was a concept complete with a sprinkling of the best and the worst of life. May it always continue to flourish - one never knows who might head there. Sahara House was indeed an insane place - yet provided enough sanity to last us a lifetime.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Memories of Sophia School Boarding ...
(Sophia Girls School, Meerut, India)

Sophia Girls School or Sophia Convent School or Sophia High School was part of the bigger picture of Sophia School in Ajmer (Rajasthan). I always regarded it as the best one from all the branches. On its one end was the Boarding House and on the other side of the Boarding was the Cathedral with its lovely incense and other aromas of flowers, perfume, smells of wood, and people. There were sounds of chanting and bells and Anglo Indians in their berets and scarves. I may still have a few holes in my knees from kneeling there for hours plus poking my hands through the rifle holes in the benches. Meerut was the starting point of the Mutiny. The priest heard all our confessions of cursing the nuns, peeking under their veils, fighting with friends, throwing unwanted food under the table, stealing pencils, and tales of other such transgressions. I may have imagined the priest telling the nuns and perhaps a smile or two being shared, but I couldn't be sure. We were told our confessions were safe with the priest; in return for saying a few Hail Marys, Our Fathers, and some other prayers, we were assured absolution. I suppose we thought we could go on doing whatever we were doing and get our souls cleansed every week.

In the Boarding, it wasn't long before we realized the difference between the rich girls and the regular ones. It was all made evident by the nuns hovering around the rich ones, overlooking their minor transgressions. I as a child, who noticed any discrepancy in treatment, saw this as gross injustice and not fair. But then who could ignore the delicious packets of fruits and nuts straight from the Gulf. Other parents brought sacks of rice or flour or daal as gifts for the nuns. Nonetheless, the focus was always school and studies. I too got busy with just that - worked hard at my studies, played all the sports I could, did all the dramatics to entertain the nuns, drew all the cards for the millions of feast days for the nuns (The nuns were named after particular saints and whenever that saint had his or her feast, the respective nun celebrated too.) Skits had to be organized, dances choreographed, songs practiced, and special cards drawn by hand. At the end of it all, everybody was happy including the saints and their namesakes.

Thus we Boarders ambled along in our ways - some straight and others crooked. Once the nuns locked up a whole bunch of us in the changing room. We called it the linjerie pronounced in the Indian way linjiree, otherwise known as Lingerie around the world. The nuns were as ignorant as us of the French and their language. Of course nobody gave a damn about the need for relieving. We however managed to devise ways of doing that. Bottles were used and urinals were made from cardboard. Even without the stars, the night was spent in total wonderment and abandon. For the Boarders, school Fetes were a good time for experiencing some freedom and of course looking at boys from St. Mary's. The nuns actually thought we would turn into alcoholics when one of us won a bottle of beer. In our minds we got perfectly drunk after consuming a few sips. Saturdays were days for walks and it didn't matter when we occasionally walked into some beehives. The bees died anyway after stinging us and the nuns took the whole puffy lot and threw us in the mosquito ridden sick room. There we got malaria along with the stings. But it didn't matter because that meant no school. What was a little shivering and chattering? We grew stronger with each attack and Dr Shome said so too. The Doctor was a fossil but was also a benign man. For us in school, anybody over the age of 15 was really old and fit to be a fossil. We must have been hardy kids because I don't remember any of us being diagnosed with any horrible diseases. Castor oil was free for all, whether we wanted it or not.

Sr Aloysia was perhaps the kindest of all nuns and when she left, I felt her absence acutely. She was truly my protector. There was another nun who felt a strange kinship with me and that was because we both shared a perennial sinus problem. A couple of them however loved to pinch us on the arms or whack us with their strings. Sr Yolanda was the horror of all horrors. She was as big as a mountain and the school thundered when she walked. She banned me from living or rather dramatics because I refused to go for the page boy role in the school play. It would have made sense because in school I did look like a little boy. After all the dramatics I was into, I thought I should have bagged one of Jane Austen's five sisters role in the play 'Sense and Sensibility'. What I didn't realize was that I neither had the bosom for required corsets to rest on nor the long hair and certainly not the pretty face of the Victorian ladies. Heck I probably could have made kites out of those corsets!

Despite all the regimen of the school and boarding, we came out alive and kicking and I in fact got kicked out of the boarding house itself. If there were any self made people, it was us the Sophian Boarders. We plodded on without any parental help with learning how to tie shoe laces, taking baths the right way or even brushing our teeth. We had no shoulders to cry on nor even a single chance of throwing tantrums. We had no colored pictures for our projects nor the choices for choosing fancy pens and pencils. I learnt to hold my pee as well as the tears. We fought with each other but also learnt to get along. We kept our passion for reading even though our novels were routinely confiscated by the nuns. In short we learnt things the hard way because that was the only one available to us. We probably will not know how much we all depended on each other for simple pleasures and succor. We heard the best music, danced to our hearts' content and sang happily even the sad songs just because we didn't understand the lyrics. Sophia School and the Boarding did what it was supposed to do - moulded us wherever it could and the rest we found what we wanted to find. Above all, I was glad to be a part of it. It was indeed a big part of my education, my growing up, and in making me who I am. And I of course remain what I am.

Choir Photo: Sangeeta, Manpreet, Monica, Brenda, Joyce.