17 May, 2015

An English teacher who could yodel as well as she could teach

Pic clicked by a parent who'd come
to collect his kid's mobile phone
that had been confiscated :D
Facebook, for all its drawbacks, has been truly connecting old friends, class-mates, neighbours from decades ago and your favourite teachers from school. Even though it brings out the closet voyeur in me, I'm happy about the way it keeps me updated about birthdays of long-lost friends, anniversaries of ex-colleagues (last to last to last job!) and the retirement date of THE teacher you grew up loving and admiring.

She taught me English, taught me music as we prepped up for annual days & school functions. English classes were always fun - Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol remains etched in my memory mainly because she encouraged us to turn it into a "radio show". I grew up admiring her calm disposition, her effortless grace and her sartorial elegance. And if this was not enough, one fine day she left me gobsmacked and slack-jawed, when during a "free period" she picked up a classmate's guitar, sang "The Lonely Goat-Herd" from the Sound of Music and yodeled, yes - yodeled! Pitch perfect and flawless. She was there to comfort me at my father's funeral. She was there at my wedding as well, telling me I looked picture-perfect - just before I stepped into church to walk down the aisle (pulling my brother along with me - I was in a hurry to meet B at the altar, you see.)

It has been really difficult for me to choose favourites from among my school teachers - ours was a close-knit family, blessed with some of the most talented and loving teachers. But all my teachers from school would forgive me if I play favourites and choose Rachel Thomas ma'am over others - because I'm sure she is their favourite as well.
Students stopping to hug, kiss and
take blessings from Rachel ma'am

In fact, this was confirmed when this Friday, I decided to sneak out of office during lunch hour and popped in at school on the last day before it closed for summer break. Rachel ma'am had been given a farewell that morning and I managed to reach school just as the day got over. I walked right into the all-too-familiar chaos of students running around looking for their bus. I tried to contain the waves of nostalgia that swept over me, as I walked towards the main gate. And there I saw her, standing at the gate as row after row of her students streamed out, each and everyone of them, forlorn and bereft,
stopping to tell her how much they would miss her. I stood there for a while, not wanting to interrupt them. Now and then some students would take her blessings the traditional way - bending down and touching her feet. Others would simply hug her, at a loss for words. Every single one of them seemed to be personally affected by her retirement and the fact that they won't see her once they back from the summer vacation.

The students' sadness was only matched by the sombre mood of the teachers as they walked up to their Principal, telling her how much they would miss her constant guidance. I could have just stood there silently, witnessing this genuine outpouring of love and respect for Rachel ma'am if it were not for Shakuntala Ghosh ma'am - who called out to me and gave away my hiding place. (I love Shakuntala ma'am for the way she brought history to life for us - I keep telling my husband how much I regret opting for Science over Humanities.)

I teared up, seeing her as thrilled on seeing me as I was on meeting her. I think I had managed to surprise her by showing up out-of-the-blue. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that she actively keeps a tab on what's happening in my life (she's on Facebook too, you see.) She also confirmed the fact that Joey takes after me (please note, Mr.Husband.) I was not surprised when she told me that a student from the primary section broke into sobs during assembly that morning - because "Rachel ma'am was leaving and I won't ever get to see her again"!

Ma'am, I am proud to have been taught by a wonderful person like you. I am sure your kindness and love have touched many students, just like me. What you have taught us goes beyond books and what you mean to us goes beyond words. I'm happy that after 23 years of teaching, you are retiring this year, looking as young as you did a decade ago. May the good Lord bless and keep you, wherever you go. Love you.

"May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

30 January, 2015

The man from whom I learnt the word "malice"

It was from the editorial columns of the Hindustan Times that I learnt the word, "malice". It was the "Dirty Old Man of India" to be specific, who made me familiar with this word, as I read his weekly column, "With Malice Towards One & All." My sense of humour was largely shaped by his column - irreverent, dirty, deadpan and yes, malicious :)

So when Khushwant Singh, passed away last year on 20 March (celebrated as the International Day of Happiness, ironic, eh?), I realised that I had never read his most celebrated book, Train to Pakistan. It wasn't however until this year, that I finally picked it up, as part of my New Year resolution to resume devouring books at a breakneck speed (was temporarily halted in 2014 by Yohann, who made me a mother on 3 June 2014 :P)
My baby & my book :)

Published in 1956, the book is largely historical, drawing from the events related to the partition of India after independence. His book would haunt Indians and Pakistanis who would have witnessed and/ or been victims of the horrors of the holocaust, as his fictional story comes quite close to the facts. The partition was no longer just a chapter from my history textbook by the time I finished reading this heart-rending account of a village where Muslims and Sikhs had lived in harmony, as brothers for years, until 1947 - Mano Majra. It is quite probable that Khushwant Singh, who himself fled from Lahore when India & Pakistan were born, drew from a lot of his own experiences.

“In the summer of 1947, when the creation of the state of Pakistan was formally announced, ten million people—Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs—were in flight. By the time the monsoon broke, almost a million of them were dead, and all of northern India was in arms, in terror, or in hiding. The only remaining oases of peace were a scatter of little villages lost in the remote reaches of the frontier. One of these villages was Mano Majra.”

Mano Majra lived in a bubble, away from the communal politics. Khushwant elaborates, “The mullah at the mosque knows that it is time for the morning prayer. He has a quick wash, stands facing west towards Mecca and with his fingers in his ears cries in long sonorous notes,Allah-o-Akbar....The priest at the Sikh temple lies in bed till the mullah has called. Then he too gets up, draws a bucket of water from the well in the temple courtyard, pours it over himself, and intones his prayer in monotonous singsong to the sound of splashing water."

Mano Majra lived in a bubble, away from the struggle from freedom. According to a villager, “Freedom is for the educated people who fought for it. We were slaves of the English, now we will be slaves of the educated Indians—or the Pakistanis.”

I started reading Train to Pakistan expecting a political perspective of those days. But Singh expertly brings out the human element, the social standpoint of the partition. Every character in the story, has been fleshed out in detail, yet each one of them is a stereotype of the various forces that were in play and that led to the creation of two nations. I was left unsettled and pensive by the time the story ended.

Other lines from the book that have stayed with me:

“Morality is a matter of money. Poor people cannot afford to have morals. So they have religion.”

“The last to learn of gossip are the parties concerned” 

“His mind was like the delicate spring of a watch, which quivers for several hours after it has been touched.”

This Khushwant Singh is way better than the one who wrote, "The Company of Women" - a highly forgettable book, according to me.

17 December, 2013

Who's really driving?

I decided at the ripe old age of 26 to finally learn how to drive. The plan was initially met with some resistance by my well-meaning husband who is all too familiar with my total lack of any sense of direction and my pathetic visual motor skills - yes, I'm 'differently abled' that way. But "women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” (Robert A. Heinlein)

And so I signed up for a two week course with the best driving school in the neighbourhood. On day one, with a really good teacher on my left and a nervous husband sitting at the back, I learnt the "ABC" of driving a car - about the accelerator, the brake and the clutch. I learnt how to get the car moving and how to keep it going. When we reached a bend, all I had to do was steer the wheel accordingly and the car would turn and change its course - pretty simple! Except that it was not. It was on the third day, while I smoothly turned the car around a bend and smiled gleefully at my instructor, when he told me that now I would also need to press down the clutch slightly whenever the car needs to take a turn.

“But I haven’t been pushing the clutch while I took all those turns the last two days – the car turned just fine.” I can never really accept change without figuring out all the whys and hows. 

“That’s because I have been pressing the clutch while you were making those turns. I didn’t want to flood you with too much information at once,” explained my instructor. He had been using his extra set of foot controls that are usually present in all driving school cars. And I realised that I had not been really driving all this while. My instructor could hit the brake or speed up or steer the wheel whenever he felt I could not manage on my own.

That day as my husband and I drove to work and as I mulled over the morning driving lesson, I realised that our life on earth too, is not fully in our control. We might gloat at our achievements and strut around with pride, not knowing that God is the real driver, who has been keeping us safe when we were almost going to ram into a streetlight or run off a cliff plunging into a valley of darkness. 

Those among us old enough to have experienced life’s highs and lows would be familiar with instances where we’ve often been on the brink of falling into the depths of despair, but have been miraculously pulled back to safety. It would be foolish to think that we recovered only because “we’ve always had our life in control – we know when to stop.” What many of us don’t realise is that God has an extra set of foot controls to guide the car and a ready, steady hand that reaches out to steer the wheel to safety.

My driving lessons continued quite successfully (I thought!) and after two weeks of patient teaching by my instructor, I was confident that I’d be driving to work in a few weeks. My husband, who is practical and blessed with common sense, gently reminded me that I should be practising on our own car for a while before I decide to cut my life short.

Early morning, next day, I started our car, easing slowly down the road beaming confidently at the husband who had turned green around the gills out of nervousness. My confidence, however, vanished when I reached the busiest crossroads of our neighbourhood and saw a tractor gunning down towards me from my right and a rickshaw approaching us from the left. I turned frantically towards the husband, expecting him to use his set of clutch-brake-accelerator and to get us out of there and realised with mounting panic that our car didn’t come with an extra set of controls! The husband was already gesticulating wildly asking me to hit the brakes. I did what I could do best. I froze. After somehow bringing the car to a halt, we duly exchanged seats and he drove me to an isolated stretch of road where I’m polishing my driving skills these days.

Nobody, not even my husband could replace the assurance and confidence I got from the presence of my instructor and that extra set of controls he had. We often end up placing our confidence on people around us, not realising that they are sometimes as helpless as we are in difficult situations. 

Nobody, however close and beloved they are, can replace the comforting presence of Jesus. He knows what He is doing. He’s always got things in control and He will help us steer our life in the right direction. Leading a messianic life, a life in Christ, is as simple as this – realising who’s really driving and letting Him guide us – when we’re at crossroads, stuck in a jam or even cruising smoothly down the road. 

P.S: I have not even managed to drive down to church, forget driving to work. Pray for me!

17 July, 2013

How to pick a book for a vacation read?

While reading is how I often take off mentally for a vacation (“In books I have traveled, not only to
other worlds, but into my own.” ― Anna Quindlen), picking books to pack for a real vacation is an elaborate ritual that I undertake with a very scientific approach and with the Survivor - Eye of the Tiger playing in the background.  (And yes, books, not book, because I go into panic mode imagining a situation where I'm on a break and have run out of reading material - in such situations I grab the hotel's menu card - anything and start reading that. Do not laugh for this is a serious medical condition. There is even a term for it - abibliophobia!)

So as the day when we set off for a much awaited vacay started drawing near, I started fantasizing. Conjuring up images of a quaint little inn in the middle of nowhere - surrounded by beauty that cannot even be taken in at once - breathing in the sweet air typical of the mountains - the husband quiet - and I, reading. Reading without worrying about the dinner that I have not yet started making - reading without worrying about an early morning the next day.

So how do I make the all-important decision of which book to take for the upcoming holiday in the hills (okay I may be playing down our destination a bit here, but I don't want to talk about it till we get there; I'm afraid i'll jinx it.) I've been agonizing over what books (book, maintains the husband) to take with me, more than over clothes - and these are my criteria:

1. Delayed gratification factor - Don't ask me how I do it, but the only way I sometimes manage to get through the drudgery of everyday monotony, is by stashing away a book that I would love to devour immediately, but don't. The thought of carrying around an unread book and delaying the gratification I can get out of it, literally turns me on! So if i want to start my holiday on the right note, I'll pick up this temptation of a book that I've been resisting for some time. The husband often ends up mistaking the reason for the anticipation on my face, the glint in my eyes and that starts his vacation on a good note too. It's a win-win situation.

2. Plot factor - There are books that race on without brakes, hard-core page-turners that don't let me come up for air and there are books that meander along gently, evocatively, letting me savour them as their plot unfold along with the sinous curves of the mountains we'll be climbing. I prefer the former lot to jump-start my monotonous schedule, finishing them overnight.
But for a vacation, I prefer to carry books that don't make me miss the beauty around because I'm reading frantically to reach the plot's climax. The book's plot should not overshadow the purpose of the vacation. I would not want to go visit monasteries meeting gentle monks while inwardly crying for the characters in my book.

3. Beauty factor - The stories have got to be beautiful. While they should not overshadow the memories of our holiday, they should definitely work towards accentuating them. Vacation memories tinted with a beautiful story or character I stumble upon are always a bonanza. I always associate each vacations or any time occasion with the book(s) I would have been reading at the time. Memories of the last Kerala visit before I got married are peppered with fond recollections of my relatives' pampering with intermittent flashbacks from Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series and Lisbeth Salander's photographic memory. I can't think of Naukuchiatal without remembering Lenny's poignant story from Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice Candy Man. The stories should be beautiful, yes.

4. Format factor - Unless they start manufacturing Kindles that smell like books, I would prefer reading from the real thing made of papyrus. The sound of a book's spine cracking when I open it, sends a shiver of excitement coupled with pure anticipation down my spine. Now which e-book can give me that? Also, I'm a messy reader who loves to read on the pot, while eating, during my cooking sprees - who can risk carrying a fancy schmancy e-thingie to all these places?

Keeping all these factors in mind and quite unmindful of them, here's how I finally shortlisted a couple of books - it was too late to order them on Flipkart to get them delivered before we left and my tight work-home schedule left me with no time to visit a bookshop. So I made the husband visit his office library and made him read out book titles randomly, while I reviewed them online. Funny eh? No sir! I've shortlisted two books - Manu Joseph's The Illicit Happiness of Other People and David Davidar's The House of Blue Mangoes.

The husband is happy to see me so kicked about the trip. Don't go telling him the real reason, you!

10 December, 2012

The Story of a Broken Lateral Condyle Bone :(

Before: Paragliding a few days before the d-day.
Now: Grounded, literally :|
8 Dec, Delhi: It was a cold morning (like all mornings usually are, these days). As the alarm went off at 7, I snuggled deeper and pulled the quilt over her head whereas the husband, B, jumped up and was out of the bed and in his football gear before you could say “Jack Robinson”. The fact that the morning scene had played out very differently than it usually does, what with the roles reversed, should have been premonition enough for me.

But it was a Saturday, and I knew B was up and about because there was football practice that morning. The loving, sleepyhead in me wanted to ask him to come back to bed and snore together, but because we’d had a nasty little fight the previous night, the vindictive female dog in me grunted and turned my back, when he sang out a goodbye.

Half an hour later, I was up and helping mom with her pre-Christmas house cleaning, when the phone rang. Seeing it was B calling, I picked up and barked out a hello (I never let go of a fight easily, you see), only to hear him ask if I was able to put her foot down when I had torn my knee ligament last year. Fearing the worst, I asked him what exactly had happened.

“Nothing, really. I think I’ve twisted my ankle”, he said lightly, playing it down.

“Well, what are doing there?! Get your a** down here. Right NOW”, I barked into the phone. Lovingly.

B was ferried home in no time by N-A-J, a kind soul with a deep rumbling bass voice & a heart of gold. (This is biased reporting, of course)

B's ankle had swollen already and he was in no condition to put his left foot down. He was taken to a nursing home immediately. An x-ray was taken.

I learnt the name of a bone in the human body that day. The x-ray showed that the“lateral condyle” bone - the roundish thing that protrudes from either side of the foot – of his left ankle has broken off completely. It could only be fixed with a surgery that would involve wires & screws.

But what had actually transpired? B, an aspiring football player, was doing what he does best - running. After the ball, of course. The ground was slightly damp. His studs got stuck in the mud, and so did his feet. But the rest of his body kept moving ahead, at the speed of light. Witnesses present at the scene of accident, testified later that they did hear a resounding crack. Little did they know that what they’d heard was the sound of a human condyle bone breaking.

So now, B lies, with his foot in a cast, propped up by three pillows, being pampered by his family & friends, waiting for the swelling to go down, so that it can be operated and fixed as soon as possible.

25 July, 2012

I turn 26 today; I have but one regret

(This blogpost won the Women's Web "I Stood Up" Blogathon Contest. Yay!)
I was six when he came to stay with us. He was a relative, close & trustworthy enough to be allowed to share my bedroom. He was sixteen, an age when hormones are usually playing havoc with a male's sanity. But that does not absolve him of his heinous actions.

He was fond of me, quite affectionate in fact. He would buy me candies & would never hesitate to give me piggyback rides. (In retrospect, my mum should have got suspicious right then. You see, I was almost double the normal weight for a six year old :P). Whenever my mum would leave us home alone, while she ran out for   an errand, his favourite game was "tickle-you-tickle-me-everywhere". This game would be played only when no one was around, mind you.

The first night I remember, was a hot & muggy one. I was a sound sleeper then, I am one still. I was jolted out of my slumber by a particularly unpleasant nightmare of being piggybacked on a horsie that had a prickly saddle. "Night"-"mares" have had a different meaning altogether for me since then.

I drifted back to sleep only to be woken up by a searing pain. I lay awake & aware of him lying next to me, his cold hands seeking crevices in my body. I did not know what he was trying to do. He was hurting me. He knew I was awake. He tried to lull me back to sleep. I did not go back to sleep that night.

The next time he woke up, I ran crying to my parents' room, but stood sniffling at their door, not knowing what to tell them. I walked back to my room, hesitated at the door. I knew he lay awake, his prying fingers intact. I went back to my parents' door.

I was six when I had my first bad secret. Though I did not know that I'd been sexually abused, I knew that something bad had happened to me. I did not tell my mother anything, except for vehemently protesting against sleeping in my own bedroom. My mother never prodded any further. She did not know any better. I was just six after all.

I was six, too young to have stood up for myself. Too young to have brought into open his actions.

But I'm twenty-six today, in fact writing this just after cutting my delicious chocolate-snickers birthday cake.  I know that 53.22 per cent of all the Indian children face one or the other kind of sexual abuse. I know that 79 per cent of these children choose to keep quiet. I know that 50% abusers are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility.

I might not have stood up back then,but I stand up today for all young six year old children, girls & boys; boys too. I want parents to face this elephant in the room. Sexual abuse of children is prevalent, maliciously so.

I watch my nieces, six & two years old,like a hawk. I know that there are dirty old men and women lurking around, I have clearly spelt out to the elder niece the difference between a bad touch & a good touch. She knows she can come to me & share anything that makes her uncomfortable.

He thinks I was too young when he did what he did. He knows he left no proof. He's right. There are no tell-tale fingerprints & the likes left all over me. To that, add the fact that I kept quiet all these years - it was the perfect crime.Welcome to the world of sexual abuse.

He may or may not stumble upon what I've written. But this is not for him. I'm writing this to let those who read this know that in a room of twenty people, ten would have been sexually abused in their childhood by close relatives or friendly uncles or lascivious teachers. Teach your children, nephews, nieces, younger siblings to speak up, to stand up & raise their voice if they feel they're being exploited in any manner.

Writing this for catharsis & as a part of the  "I Stood Up" Blogathon by Women's Web.

20 July, 2012

Hair today, gone tomorrow!

Women! What could you say? Who made 'em? God must have been a fuckin' genius. The hair... they say the hair is everything, you know. Have you ever buried your nose in a mountain of curls... just wanted to go to sleep forever? 

Al Pacino immortalised these words in the 1992 movie "Scent of a Woman" & also broke my heart when as a jaded 18 year old I watched this movie & realised that no man would ever get to bury his nose in my non-existent "mountain of curls", because,let's face it: those prickly and scant bristles that grew out of my scalp could not really accommodate the nose of a man. 

My mother tells me I was a completely bald & slightly overweight baby. I can proudly claim that these things about me did not change for the next 25 years!

Having grown up watching Bollywood movies of the 80s & 90s, my eyes would remain transfixed on the luxurious,glossy manes of the leading ladies as they were wooed by the macho heroes in gardens & around trees with flowers & bees for company.

Then there were my girl friends in school, all of whom seemed to have an abundance of hair that required just a single twist of the hair-band to hold them in place. And I would trundle around, bob-cut in place, without the option of haughtily tossing my hair around like other girls as they flirted with the boys.

By the time I turned 16 however, I decided to grow my hair out, so what if they were as scanty as the greenery in my neighbourhood, as wispy as the tufts of Old Man's Beard that often floated into my balcony.

That was just the beginning of my hair problems. How else would one define the dilemma I would often find myself in when stuck with a mop of hair that would lie long, limp & lifeless. Undeterred, I soldiered on, growing my hair inch by inch - only to tie them up in a messy knot every time I stepped out. After all, you flaunt it only if you have (enough of) it, right?

I was 18, I was in college, I met the love of my life -in other words- I met the man who magnified my hair troubles by passionately declaring a couple of weeks into our romance that he absolutely loved long tresses on women. His words & the Al Pacino's dialogue haunted me every time I brushed my hair & grimaced at the the sheer volume of the strands left behind in the brush.

"Oliver Herford couldn't have said it better - A hair in the head is worth two in the brush", I would mock myself mercilessly.

As our romance flourished, the volume of my hair diminished. No, there was no relation whatsoever between the two phenomena :|

I turned 22 & wiser and realised that if I couldn't as much as control my hair, how would I ever go about controlling my life! They say that life is a maze full of struggles & impasses until you find a hairstylist who'd smooth away all your tangles as would a straightening iron.

And that is what happened with me. Through twists & turns in my life, which I can only term as fortuitous, I landed up at a saloon and met him. All I remember is gliding over to him as if in a dream & being guided into a chair more ergonomic than any I've encountered in all the office spaces I've been in. I spelled out my hair-woes to him. He listened, as would a priest in a confessional. And he pronounced his judgement: Length was something my hair could just not carry off; did I trust him enough to get bold with my hair. "I do", I whispered. He took over from there. My shoulders relaxed, I felt the tension ease out from them, down my fingers. I felt my worries float down along with my wispy hair that he, so deftly chopped away. His voice was gentle, the staccato notes of the scissors re-assuring.I closed my eyes & let myself go.

A year before I was born, Vogue quoted Givenchy thus - Hair style is the final tip-off to whether or not a woman really knows herself. 

When I opened my eyes to look at the woman who stared right back at me, I knew I had found myself; and that was the end of my hair problems!

This is my entry for a contest by Dove & Indiblogger : ‘My Beautiful Hair Story’. You can vote for it, if you like it :)

And girls who want to become more "hair-aware", check out the Dove Hair-Aware App to know better!