Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Travels Through India

Even God doesn't know how India runs; surely the country must run on autopilot because there is no sane explanation for the phenomenon. Indian Government hasn't been able to do it, foreigners haven't been able to calm it down, and travelers have gone native; then what could be the mystery for it being the way it is? It's perhaps sheer obduracy or Maya. The matter has been deftly taken out of human hands and handed over to the gods of which there are plenty; not quite as much as its population which hovers somewhere beyond a Billion. This is my land, which let me grow free; I cannot but be grateful for letting me grow in this chaos and no other one. I shudder to think what if it were Pakistan or any of the Middle East countries or even America where I would've surely collapsed under the overabundance of freedom. I truly belong to the home of destiny.

Just because I left it, doesn't mean rest of the world is not in a hurry to get there. There is no dearth of enthusiasm even though its bureaucracy tries all kinds of tricks to prevent people from getting a quick passage; fees hiked without warning, duration of stay or whether one can stay at all, made thoroughly confusing, and topping it all the impossibility of clarifying anything with the Indian Consulate. This is truly a body of miserable beings, which presents the most unsavory picture of India to the wide-eyed and innocent. Damn you is the attitude when it reluctantly hands over visas to enthusiastic but weary hopefuls. From the moment you apply for a visa to the time you come back from the bombardment on the senses, you must allow yourself pure joy because you have crossed the first hurdle.

Still, India remains one of the top destinations for seekers. This is a land of sheer contrasts with no grey matter in between. From palaces you descend into slums and that leads to Hollywood, which has a fascination for all things exotic. Roads spill with people, trains have to struggle with humans to find their own tracks, buses are bent over with the weight of humanity; there are rickshaws, cycles, cars, scooters, with people riding in them and as many riding while hanging onto them. Nobody cares; your are just one in a billion. Horns blare, bhajans sung late into nights, mullahs yell their prayers before the rooster crows, church bells ring ferociously; and so the noise goes on to the accompaniment of Bollywood music. Jo hua, achha hua, jo hoga achha hoga. Welcome to the land of Fakirs and Yogis!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Little Shop in a Banyan Tree

There it was, a tiny little shop carved high inside a Banyan tree. It is said that the Buddha achieved Nirvana under a Banyan tree and here I was at a similar tree with a little shop inside it. The little shop couldn't have been bigger than two feet by four feet and perhaps five feet in height. It was always neatly stacked with all kinds of knick knacks like cigarettes, Bidis (local cigarettes rolled in leaves), soaps, oils, incense, Paan (Betel Leaves), candy and my favorite tea rusks. It's hard to say whether I enjoyed those rusks because they were laden with motley of smells and aromas or whether I was just fascinated with the little shop in the tree. Nonetheless, inside the little shop sat a man or a woman; as a child I could never distinguish the correct placement of this person at the table of genders. He looked like a man but spoke like a woman; he was bulky like a man but walked like a woman. I was extremely mesmerized with his Betel chewing habit because when he/she spat the red juice into a spittoon kept a little distance away, it all landed perfectly inside. Those superb landings eventually became the highlight of my day as well. Along with this, I also loved to watch his/her droopy dark kohl laden eyes and listen to the soft cadences of his/her voice recite Urdu poetry.

To get to the Man/Woman, I had to climb the walls or the roots of the Banyan Tree and stand there precariously perched. The Banyan roots tired of being underground had consequently protested and become one with the branches above. If I could have even managed to crawl inside the little shop, I would have but it was impossible for a second person to be there; so I just hung on to its precipice. From there, I looked longingly at all the goodies and wanted all of them, reminding myself each time of the reason of why I was there at the Banyan Shop. With such concentration on the goodies, I could have easily scored a victory with achieving Nirvana right there inside the Banyan shop. That is, if I didn't slip off the branches of the tree. All I needed every morning were rusks with my tea, which were essentially my breakfast. The rusks were eaten after being dipped in tea much like cookies in milk.
The Banyan tree-shop was in a bustling market place which reverberated with all kinds of sounds and shrieks. This was a time when children ran around free of stranger danger; when they could buy cigarettes for adults including loose ones in counts of ones and twos; when they could forget about going back home and no one would worry; when transgender rights were unknown and when men could stand around holding each other without being called gay. This was a carefree world where horses, goats, pigeons, kites, pot-heads, drunkards, horns, cows, cyclists, carts, cars and all known humanity mingled together and became a gooey mass in old Delhi, which incidentally was also the seat of the great Mughal Empire in India from the 16th to 19th century. The ineffable British ultimately forced the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar to give up his throne and retire in a distant fort in Burma. The Emperor died there from sheer loneliness and longing. On a good note however, the old Emperor had the last sigh because all his sighing did lead to a plethora of writings and poetry for posterity.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sahara House Days ...

I am what I yam: 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 ...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I am what I yam: Iron Man.

I am what I yam: Iron Man.: I finally managed to get a man excited about an iron. Many years ago, I did not mind ironing but somehow over the years, I lost the abilit...

Iron Man.

I finally managed to get a man excited about an iron. Many years ago, I did not mind ironing but somehow over the years, I lost the ability to iron a shirt in its entirety. I invariably ironed 'one' sleeve and forgot the other or ignored the collar or preferred to iron only the top part of the shirt thinking shirt tails were going to be tucked in anyway. Was I behaving like a man, doing things in a shabby manner so that I would be told to forget about it? I know I've seen sloppy behavior, told my husband just leave it, I'll do it myself. It has occurred with regularity with dishes and laundry and folding and cleaning. While the status of an entire house does not affect my husband, a little obdurate spot on an obscure corner of a wall can certainly excite his ire! 

So now, my husband has taken the onerous task of ironing his shirts himself. He will no longer let me near his shirts. He gets so happy about his handiwork that I wonder why he doesn't keep those shirts for posterity. Unfortunately, the other day our iron decided to stop working. What a shock. I immediately knew it had something to do with Made in China syndrome. Our earlier iron had lasted us for many years. Alas, those days are long gone and we have to make do with products that are cheap but do not last. I was glad the manufacturer's warranty was still there and I was at the store to complain about this misbehaving iron and of course to get a new one. Keeping my husband's disappointment in mind, I also made the brave decision of buying not one but two irons. 

My husband likes 'back up' things and has generally kept himself satisfied with these although I do marvel that he has not thought of a back up wife! I'd like to remind him  that years of marriage have dampened my status of being one-and-only-one and a back up could work for me as well. I debated between picking up a pink iron or just the good old blue. I knew if I picked up a pink one, my husband would not touch it for fear of turning into a girl. So, I got two blue irons. If only I'd known that a little iron could make somebody so happy, I would've filled the house with irons. Now my husband alternates between the two irons. I told him that maybe he should iron one sleeve with one iron and the other sleeve with the other iron. I'm sure it will be a beautiful threesome - husband, shirt, and iron; menage a trois perhaps?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Proms and Pomegranates.

This Prom thing has been going on for many days now; finally it got over a couple of days ago. Those tuxedos had to be rented and of course they had to be matched with the girls’ dresses. For a moment I thought oh wow the lads will look colorful as well. But only the vests had to match the girls’ dresses. My son Adin made sure I was there with my camera to take pictures before the Prom got under way at some place. Initially, a limousine was decided but I am pretty sure when the parents yelled at the exorbitant rates, the kids balked and rented a party bus. I helped my son with his tuxedo only after I made sure he exchanged his shoes, the kinds some men riding pink Cadillacs wear with decent one-color- shoes. Nobody noticed but Adin wore only one cufflink. As cufflinks were a new phenomenon in my house, Adin and I argued about the right way to wear them. Some of his friends thought, they went on jackets! Damn those insufferable formalities.

At the gathering before the Prom, the girls looked extremely pretty in their Prom dresses and the boys looked dashing in their tuxedos. I was impressed because the girls also braved the cold and were haughty enough not to ask for additional coverings or jackets from the boys, not that the boys showed any signs of lending their jackets to the girls. It took me a while to figure out the matching tuxedos with the corresponding dresses. The whole place was awash with color and flutter. Nonetheless, most kids had fun at the Prom. Unfortunately, much to the consternation of parents, the school authorities threw out a few of them even before the celebrations started. They must have smelled something fishy. Those school authorities with their long noses are perpetually present to spoil all teenage fun. Damn those authority figures.

Adin danced with his Prom date, then took the liberty of dancing with another, then spent a considerable amount of time cajoling the prom date, then took to pouting himself with the other pouting girls, and finally declared all girls to be unreasonable and extremely dramatic. I can only imagine the girls declaring all boys to be obnoxious and unthinking and unfeeling as well. I don’t know if the protocol was for the boys to exchange vests if they wanted to exchange partners! Nobody knows when the kids got home or if they did at all. I just hope kids don’t think that school was over just because Prom was over as there are quite a few months remaining for school. Sometimes one directional brains are detected in teenagers and other times over-activity. Scientists are still working on how a teenage brain works or if it works at all. I'm just glad this damn pomegranate is over. And before I forget, damn those scientists for taking so long.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Afternoon Tea at the Admiral's House.

It was one of those typical hot summer days of Delhi. As the temperature soared, so also did our woes. The biggest of all were the dry faucets. No water meant our moving from CR Park to the in-laws house for a week. So off we went to those sprawling bungalows on Akbar Road where some of the fattened politicians also resided. As things would have it, we were living peacefully, catered to by all the stewards in crisp white uniforms with peaked caps. We, the commoners unfortunately insisted on dressing shabby or rather more colorfully than Navy white. My husband was wearing bold printed Hawaiian shorts with blue and orange leaves and I was in some deheela dhala pajamas. We essentially looked liked bums. Anyway, breaking the reverie of one such afternoon was a tinkle at the door. There was one Mrs Junior Officer's Wife come to meet my Mum-in-law. This is how the conversation played out when she saw me:

Jr Officer's Wife: Madam hain? मैङम है ?
Joyce: Jee, hain. Kaun see Madam, Choti ya badi Madam? जी हाँ, कौन सी, छोटी या बणी ?
Jr Officer's Wife: Kya matlab? कया मतलब ?

I think I detected panic in Jr Officer's wife's eyes. I thought, she thought, could there be a scandal brewing in the Admiral's house. Was it possible that two ladies resided side by side in one house? I quickly clarified the situation to Jr Officer's Wife and said that Choti Madam was the Admiral's daughter and Badi Madam was his wife. Jr Officer's Wife sighed with relief. 

Jr Officer's Wife: Kaho Mrs Junior Officer ayeen hai. कहो जूनियर अौफिसर आयी है
Joyce: Yes, Madam. जी मैङम

I went in and promptly called my husband, thinking this drama must be played out to the full. It was my husband's turn to add to the confusion when he accompanied me to the door.

Bapi: Yes Madam. Aapko kisse milna hai?  जी मैङम, आपको किससे मिलना है ?
Jr Officer's Wife: Mrs Admiral Ghosh ko bula do, abhi. Admn Mrs Ghosh को बुला दो, अभी !

Jr Officer's Wife must have detected some disorganization in our faces so made sure we went in and fetched Mrs Admiral within the next few minutes, not days. I'm pretty sure she had never hoped to see Hawaiian shorts and pajamas being paraded in an Admiral's house. Such a disgrace for Indian Navy, she must have thought. Anyway, my husband and I went in to call my Mum-in-Law aka Admiral Mrs. Ghosh. As I related the tale to my mum-in-law, she decided we continue with the game. She also immediately barred any Stewards from getting to the door. 

Stewards were those decent people in the Admiral household who not only prepared breakfast and dinner but kept all necessary appointments intact; they also polished all the brass in the house till we were ready to be blinded by the glint. These were people who made it impossible for commoners like me to eat in peace. Stewards standing silently behind my back interjecting occasionally with one arm or the other to serve or clear the table, clearly put me in a state of disarray. Nonetheless, my husband and I returned in our regal pajamas and Hawaiian shorts to confront the Jr Officer's Wife, still waiting at the door.

Jr Officer's Wife: Kya hua? Aur tum dono ke uniforms kahan hain? कया हुआ, तुम दोनो के युनिफारम कहाँ हैँ ?
Bapi: Maloom nahin. मालूम नही !
Joyce: Madam ne kaha hai thoda rukiye.   मैङम ने कहा है रुकिये

Bapi and I went back in, leaving the Jr Officer's Wife with her mouth open. We eventually came back to the door with my Mum-in-law with both of us tucked under her arms on either side. As my Mum-in-Law apologized she still refused to say I was the daughter-in-law and the other miscreant her son. As we walked to the living room, I did not get a chance to see the Jr Officer's Wife's face. 

The party settled down, Bapi and I left the living room to come back in with some tinkling cups and saucers to complete the pretty picture of two Navy ladies having their afternoon tea. When finally my Mum-in-law formally introduced us, there was much tripping, sitting, standing, fumbling, jumbling and a few gasps as well. Let's just say the Jr Officer's Wife's face did not look relishing at all. I wouldn’t have minded staying and saying 'yes madam' the entire evening but my husband decided it was best we retired to our room if the two Madams didn't mind. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Ride in the Admiral's Car.

I was getting married in two days. My father-in-law was coming for a little talk with me in two hours. My husband-to-be disappeared on his Bullet (motorcycle) in exactly two minutes. Not a very auspicious beginning but I stayed brave. I saw a gleaming white Ambassador arrive adorned with a whole bunch of fluttering flags. Then I saw white shoes emerge followed by white pleated trousers, then white buttons, and then a white hat. I saw all these white things marching up to my little pad. I was expecting a normal looking father-in-law not an Admiral in full Navy regalia. Nonetheless, I welcomed the Admiral and gave him a little stool to sit on. For the entire time of the Admiral being there, I was transfixed by the rickety condition of the stool, which threatened to crumble any time. Perhaps the Admiral too realized that and recommended we go for a ride in his car. I couldn’t agree more and so we marched down the steps to the waiting car. I counted the first salute from the chauffeur; there were many more to follow. 

I sat in one corner of the seat and the Admiral in the other corner. Then the Ambassador speeded down the road and what a spectacle that was. Any time the gleaming thing stopped, I saw regular traffic police salute the car and then the Admiral smartly return the salute. Somewhere I thought I should do the same. So while my father-in-law returned the salute from one side of the car, I returned the salute surreptitiously from the other side of the car – to everyone and no one in particular. I was amazed at how shabbily the traffic treated the traffic cops. No one paid any attention to the traffic cop and he was just pivoting round and round with his whistle. I thought he had gone mad. Then suddenly he spotted our Ambassador and blew his whistle for so long that all traffic stopped out of sheer surprise. He saluted and our car breezed by. Boy, was I impressed!

To break my reverie of such traffic surprises, I heard my father-in-law say ‘do you know what you are doing because my son doesn’t, neither does his mother and nor do I’. I thought he should have added my name to the list as well. Then I heard him ask how were we both going to support ourselves, where were we going to live etc. Frankly speaking, I hadn’t thought about such existential questions before. Suddenly, these became very concrete much more than the pending marriage itself. I thought I should impress the car and the Admiral and almost told him that I was working for UNICEF and that when I stopped, his son would find work and that the hole er the one-room pad would suffice and that men and women somehow found a way to get by. Thankfully enough I said nothing. In fact, I joined the Admiral in wondering as well. My mind had also begun to wander about what exactly was the correct way to do the Navy Salute. Was it palm up or palm down or palm straight out. Was it on top of the nose or the forehead or on the side just near the ear? God, was my mind confused? Damn, I could’ve at least asked the Admiral’s son about it.  But the Admiral’s son was absconding and here I was trying to learn the salute and how to descend gracefully into marriage. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Duality of being Indian.

The duality of nature is in the core of an Indian. It's there and not there as the Indian nods his head both for yes and no. We speak like that as well, no? Whatever has to happen will happen and we are the legitimate children of destiny; yet we start collecting even before we are born. Despite the belief, families and parents have already decided the course of life for their children, aided by pundits and horoscopes. Children are born, not knowing if they will be that perfect one or the horror of horrors. It's all Karma yet we continue to kill our baby girls and burn those women on the pyres of piety, honor, and greed. Woe to the world which stays stuck in the many zeros of their debt in trillions; we Indians are different - we marvel at the very concept of zero that one of their own discovered many many centuries ago. We claim many 'firsts' but don't take responsibility for the mayhem and filth in the streets. We worship the Mahatma but continue to wage communal wars in his birth place.

Here is a land that worships the female form but nobody wants girls; it's the boys they are pining for; with the result the female gender will eventually dissipate and boys and men will be forced to turn merry and gay. That's good for the gay community, the world will chime but then Indians are not gay, at least not in the open. Men have wives and children and boy friends on the side. Families of such confused (foolish) men continue with their pilgrimages to Shirdi Maharaj and life in the land of a billion people goes on as long as the status quo is maintained. After all, one son is a doctor and the other son will be an engineer, if he doesn't stray on the gay path. In maintaining its status in the world, India will send its girls to colleges; it may frown upon sleeveless blouses and shirts but will keep its promises to the male gender of providing well-educated girls for their households. The girls needn't bother with the pretense of work; their dowry and fair looks will make sure of that. The darker ones need not bother with marriages; they are used to every prejudice there is.

Continuing with the binary nature of things, the two studies of medicine and engineering from the two institutes of Harvard and Oxford from the two countries of USA and England will lead Indian sons to become doctors and engineers. There are no other known disciplines or professions or educational institutions in India. That is where the prosperous will go; that is what Indian children must aspire to. Heaven forbid if teaching or theater or art or culinary work is mentioned. We don't do that kind of stuff in India; that is only done in the West where incidentally most well off Indian children will head to anyway  to get their masters and doctorates in medicine and engineering, after their parents have railed and ranted about the abominable culture of these countries! Consequently one in every five doctors in America will be Indian, but here he will have to ensure himself against the ire of patients who may not see him as god and when that happens, Indian parents and families will curse that goddamned West.

But just in case an obdurate child who wants to learn cooking (whoever heard of that) parents will ignore that as a passing fancy hoping that eventually that fancy will morph into business and ownership of all the restaurants in the world. In all this limited space of aspirations, the possibility of Shah Rukh Khansama and Meenakshi Khandarni of Bollywood will continue to bring in a silver lining through film mania but then the above two film stars knowing the wheeling and dealing of the film industry will eventually want their children to practice the safe and proven lines of medicine and engineering! There are other opportunities of IAS and IFS but these two are usually connected with politics along with the other activities of maiming and killing your opponents (common activity prior and during elections). Two new opportunities of becoming rich and famous opened up through Kaun Banega Lakhpati and Kaun Banega Crorepati but these are likely to fade because they go against the grain of the duality of Indian nature; you cannot be poor and win and there is no way you can aspire to be what you want to be - unless you want to be a doctor or an engineer of course!  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dentists and New Delhi Cops

What could Dentists and Delhi Cops have in common? Come to think of it, the two fields of medicine and crime couldn't be further apart. Then too, there's something sinister in the way these two groups operate. Both delight in knocking people's teeth out. For those not familiar with Delhi Cops, here's the scoop. Delhi thullas are notorious for their vision of a crime-free society. No, they don't believe in rehabilitation through talks and discussions and workshops. They just beat the crap out of people and hope they will get many more chances to do it again if the miserable souls didn't learn their lesson. The old saying in Delhi still stands 'may your enemies never visit a cop station'; the notoriety of cops is that solid.

Anyway, the similarities between the two groups - dentists and Delhi cops are plenty. Both delight in knocking people's teeth out - dentists take their fee upfront while Delhi cops wait for later with the added threat of taking the entire jaw out. If lucky, Delhi cops will retrieve your knocked out teeth from some corner for an additional fee while Dentists will willingly give you new teeth - for a hefty fee as well. There is however one small difference in the way of operation. Dentists will make you lie around squirming under bright lights while they prepare their drills and grills just behind your back when you think they're going to grind your entire being. Delhi Cops operate in dimmed lights and just take a hammer or a boot or a fist and in one clean sweep knock out which ever tooth or teeth are in view. In short, discretion is the difference.

It's really very disconcerting to visit dentists or cops. The only one who does not emerge without a smile is you - the one whose teeth get knocked out. At the dental office, you have been rendered numb and cannot smile or eat or drink for a few hours. At the Delhi cop station, you have been reduced to a pulp and cannot do the additional thing of cursing along with the inability to smile, eat or drink for quite a few days. On a good note however, you will eventually feel stronger and emerge brimming with self confidence. Perhaps feeling lighter in pocket may also contribute toward a light bounce in life. After all, not many can survive this kind of an onslaught and not smile, with or without teeth. It may also call for a new kind of New Year resolution to take better care of your teeth.