Thursday, May 27, 2010

Always Carry Your Camera

An invitation to a seminar on photography exhorted me to ‘always carry your camera’. Good advice! You never know when and where you will encounter that special picture that you wish you had clicked. We tend to carry our cameras for events and for family pictures, but there are so many other occasions which capture our attention and demand a place in posterity.

Once, while on a shopping trip, I passed the lavish glass doors of a showroom selling chandeliers. The interior view was breathtaking but what engaged my attention were two felines. Large, well-groomed, beautifully marked and well-fed, these two stood side by side on their hind legs and assaulted the glass with their forepaws. It was a sight to behold. No amount of cajoling or fake meowing could distract them. There was something in that showroom which had engaged their attention and hence their frantic tattoo. I waited and watched, but no one came to see what they wanted. There was a food bowl kept nearby, so someone from the shop must have been feeding them and perhaps they wanted a refill. Or maybe their reflection in the glass excited interest. Whatever the reason, this was one ‘picture’ worth recording. I never saw those cats again even though I pass the showroom albeit infrequently.

On another occasion, at the break of dawn while on my way to Mass, I espied a young couple wrapped up in fond embrace. They were so engaged in their gentle affection that they were totally unaware of their unusual audience: three burly street dogs, settled on their haunches, with muzzles pointed in puzzled but hopeful attention. The juxtaposition was at the same time tender and comic and I paused for more than a moment to take it in before walking on with a lilt in my step and a curve to my lips. What a lovely start to the day.

No, I do not have these ‘pictures’ captured on film or chip. They are sketched indelibly on the canvas of memory. But, oh how I wish I had carried my camera.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Saint for Every Purpose

Being Catholic means an intimate relationship with the saints, from our christening till we depart this earth.
The first saint we encounter is the one chosen as our patron saint and this saint’s name forms part of our own. And as we grow and are able to understand, we are told why this particular saint was chosen for us – either because we were born on the saint’s commemoration day, or because the name belonged to a family member from an earlier generation, or because the saint was someone’s favourite recourse.
In Europe, the name day is more significant than the birthday because of the connection with the respective saint. My husband was thrilled to know this because his birthday and his name day are one and the same – he is named for St. Albert the Great.
But I digress. I started this piece not because of the saints we are named after but because of those we encounter throughout our lives. For example, it must be a rare person who has not pestered St. Anthony to find a lost possession. Then we have St. Christopher to intercede for us when we travel and St. Jude for desperate situations; St. Joseph for help in examinations (provided we have put in a little sweat of our own!); St. Francis of Assisi to watch over a beloved pet (if you have not read Gallico’s The Small Miracle, please do) ; the Little Flower, patroness of the missions and the list goes on. Then there are the saints connected with our Alma Mater, familiar names being: Francis Xavier, Ignatius of Loyola, Magdalene of Cannossa, Claudine Thevenet. Some are easier on the memory based on the situation and others belong to recall from the Lives of the Saints – recommended reading for every Sunday School attendee.
St. Rita, I must confess, was one never encountered till now. A bulging envelope in the Sacristy, spilling out its contents, invited curiosity. And, on exploring further, I discovered that it contained holy pictures – relics of a dimly remembered time when these were highly prized collectibles – with an accompanying biography and prayer of supplication: St. Rita, intercessor for ‘the impossible’. In present time, on our frantic planet, when everything does seem insurmountable, who could resist? I was happy to find that Rita was a saint after my own heart. A real person, who faced the kind of situations we encounter in the daily news: a forced marriage, a difficult husband, wayward sons and a life of submission. The difference lies in the fact that she ultimately achieved her desired goal through steely determination and faith-filled prayer. Firmly tucked into my hymnbook, to be retrieved in time of need, St. Rita’s picture is a timely reminder that faith, hope and charity were alive and well 500 odd years ago and should never be allowed to die.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Easiest Thing in the World

Quite some years ago, while studying at an upcountry school, the Canossian nuns introduced us to the concept of ‘one good deed a day’ with hilarious consequences. In our eagerness to impress the nuns, we embarked on a multitude of ‘good deeds’ and outdid each other in inventiveness with some not so happy results, like taking old people across the road even when they didn’t want to go!

Once I had got over the fervor – and that was pretty quickly – the concept still holds me in thrall even though it is now limited to just the one good deed and probably not every day. It is amazing at how something so very small can pay such very large dividends; the dividend being very tangible in terms of joy. It could be just a smile while exchanging glances on the street or a simple please and thank you to the bus conductor or train ticket vendor. From the startled smiles and quickly muttered, ‘you’re welcome’, I realise how rarely they hear ‘thank you’ from the daily commuter. It could be that little extra in the tip and a few words of appreciation to the waiter in a restaurant or it could be taking the time to make a phone call to a senior citizen just to say, ‘thinking of you’. It could be getting down to cleaning a cupboard and finding stuff to give away (double dividend!!). Little things that make a difference.

The idea is not so much to gather heaven’s pennies for the piggy-bank but to change this world for the better in incremental and possible ways. The easiest thing in the world? Not really! When the day has started badly or something annoys or unsettles, the possibility of good deeds flies out of the window. And this is one area where charity seldom begins at home. But the flip-side is that when things are out of kilter, you can make a withdrawal from that ‘piggy-bank’ and enjoy a good deed to yourself. Indulge in that extra cup of tea, a timeout in your personal space, a phone chat to a friend – whatever takes away the stress. Because in the time honoured realm of good deeds, what goes round comes round!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Jostling on the Shelf

It started with just one. A niece in a Christmas frame of mind sent us a Poinsettia embellished mug. Too pretty to use, it was proudly displayed in the showcase. A little later, a nephew chanced upon a ‘Bonnie’ mug – the collie gazing out from the ceramic surface was an almost exact match of our beloved trike, now in doggie heaven. Much appreciated, this too was sat upon the showcase shelf.

Some time down the line, a departing neighbour gifted us a ‘Geranium’ mug because geraniums are for friendship. Since we already had abundant teacups in use, this one also found space on the shelf. Then, our college ‘gang’ met up for a reunion and, unusually, all of us were in the same place at the same time. So we decided to commemorate the occasion with, of course, a mug! Now this was definitely a collectible and on the shelf it went. Four mugs parked together in happy companionship.

And that’s when the multiplication took off. A visitor exclaimed, ‘You collect mugs!’ and promptly gifted me a memento of a trip outside of Mumbai. I also have a ‘Wendy’ mug gifted by a thoughtful niece and a ‘To a Special Aunt’ from another (the words on this one are guaranteed to keep me on my toes!). Mug by mug, the collection has built up to include one extolling friendship and another marking the anniversary of St. Xavier’s college – my husband’s Alma Mater. I do not know how many are considered a ‘collection’, but shelf space is definitely at a premium and, perhaps, it is now time to take down each mug in order to toast the giver with a refreshing swig of tea.

Till that happens, each passing glance at the mugs on the shelf recalls the love and friendship encased in happy, attractive vitreous decoration.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Just Passing By

Esperanca – where I live – is fronted by a motley strip of green which passes for a garden in the concrete jungle (a stale metaphor which has yet to find an apt replacement!). In the hurried scurrying to and fro each day, this strip is granted a mere passing glance. The roadside view is not pretty as the grille and plants are always festooned with discarded paper and plastic donated by passers-by and the customers of the paan-bidi stall and bhelpuriwala. Reaction is a resigned grimace, acknowledging the fact that, in Mumbai, garbage is public property.

Out unexpectedly early in the day, I spied a neighbour sitting on the sun-lit garden bench, engrossed in a book, in calm contrast to the bustle beyond the grille. Intrigued, I decided to join him, and what a difference the change in perspective provided: we were suddenly enclosed in a green and peaceful world. Watching the passersby was like viewing a TV screen. The ‘actors’ were in touching distance and yet apart. The plants from this side seemed happier. Looking up, I realised that we were shaded by a spreading canopy of freshly minted, spring-green feathery leaves, which filtered the sunlight. I had passed under that tree a million times (no exaggeration!) and had never noticed! A couple of cats rolled up in their daydream snoozes and a family of chirpy sparrows completed the scene. And it took a man with his nose in a book to make me see all this!

Various vicissitudes have made us take potshots, over the years, at our building moniker. Now I realise how appropriate it really is. Because this early morning encounter made me see how waiting for each new dawn is a four-letter word: HOPE .

Saturday, May 8, 2010


While reading the paper, I came across an article which spoke about PLUs. Fortunately, the writer clarified that this meant ‘people like us’ and so the encounter with yet another acronym remained plain sailing. SMS has changed the way we communicate whether we like it or not. Acronyms have become part and parcel of our daily lexicon and even old dogs are learning new ways to bark!

Acronyms are nothing new. From our early math’s lessons we learnt that LCD meant lowest common denominator (though today’s generation will more easily relate to liquid crystal display or, perhaps, life changing direction?) and everyone was enthralled by UFOs while ASAP saw us snapping smartly to attention while receiving instructions. Incidentally, a neat turnaround of an acronym is the poem doing the rounds on the Internet: Always Say A Prayer!

Every newspaper and magazine article is peppered with contractions and while some of them obfuscate others resonate because they sound so apt. And as long as SMS is the preferred form of communication, we shall come across more wild and weird contractions every now and then. Cryptic codes are enjoying a field day!

And while I am at it, FYI, my favourite contraction of all time is EBBOM: Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth. Now, there’s sage advice.

Enjoy the day!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hobson Jobson

It has such a lovely ring, doesn’t it? While browsing among the shelves in a friend’s library, I came across this tome which purported to be ‘a glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases and kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive’!

Being an Anglo-Indian, I was intrigued, recalling the merriment which my parents’ very AI pronunciation evoked when it came to speaking the local lingo. To illustrate: for ‘coming’ my mother would call out ‘arthur’ for ‘aata hai’. We also had a very individual and colourful lexicon, typical of the AI family. Most of the words and phrases have now been forgotten but a couple which can still rustle up a smile, when the occasion demands, are glue-pachari and muttai pink (since these words were spoken and not written, I have spelt them as phonetically as possible).

Glue-pachari, which was usually shortened to ‘gloop’, was used to indicate the kind of visitor who seemed to be attached to our chairs with Fevicol and refused to leave. As with all children, fascinated by an overheard new word, I would happily announce to my parent, ‘Ma, the gloop is here’ much to her embarrassment!

Muttai pink was the descriptive used for the virulent shade of pink found in some sweetmeats and nylon ribbons. If a colour was a shade too hurtful to the eye or showed lack of taste, the tag ‘muttai’ would be gleefully added to show one’s strong reaction.

A favourite name and person was Mr. Jerry Puranawala, the handle given to the ‘rag and bones’ man or bangarwala. With his rusty scales, doubtful weights and measures, and gunny sack he would visit our homes on the appointed day to collect old newspapers, utensils, rags and other miscellany thus helping us clean our homes and keep the piggybank rattling.

These words and phrases had a certain ring to them and added colour to the conversation; words which have now fallen into disuse, and are rarely but fondly recalled when reminiscing with a generation that is fast departing this world. Transient words which marked a time in history.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Small Miracles

I once received a birthday card which wished me a day of small miracles: the ‘perfect’ cup of coffee to start the day, always finding my keys where I looked for them, and similar happy thoughts! Anyone who has known the frustration of mislaying their keys would know what I mean.

Today has been such a day; one of unexpected happy occurrences. Yesterday, the gas cylinder offered up its last gasp and the phone went dead. Early today, the phone rang unexpectedly - a fortuitous wrong number which signaled that the phone was now working. I promptly dialed for the gas and, wonder of wonders, a few hours later the gas man was on our doorstep with the refill. It normally takes two to three days for this to happen and that too after a couple of reminders.

Our drinking water is supplied at the doorstep in jumbo jars. It is supposed to arrive any time on the Monday but requires several reminders before it does, sometimes turning up on the Tuesday – a 24 hour delay. Today, the delivery man turned up bright and early with the 25 litre jar and smilingly fitted it for me. For once, no nail-biting delay.

Then, my friendly neighbour called the mango vendor to her door and bargained for the purchase. She won the price she wanted but found that she would need to take more than she could consume. I was glad to take the dozen that she didn’t want and I now have a week’s supply of my favourite fruit at what, in today’s terms, is a throwaway price.

A call from a faraway niece to say, ‘just thinking of you’, onions that did not get burnt, a new crochet pattern that moved forward smoothly without unraveling required - yes, the day has indeed been sprinkled with small miracles.

Well, this piece has perforce to be brief as there is a grindstone waiting for my nose. But it is a pleasant grindstone and so the day should end as well as it has begun.