Tuesday, August 31, 2010


You hold me hostage

To let your comrades live.

But, you seek for them the


That only love can give.

Did you, too, see

A childhood playmate die?

Did you feel the fright and


Did you watch a Mother cry?

Surely, you must know

That hate imprisons still,

With bars that bind you,


To its will?

So I ask for us

The end of sorrow.

I wish for you and all the


A compassionate tomorrow.

This has been written in remembrance of those children who were held hostage and/or who died in the Beslan massacre on September 1, 2004. A photo wall of the victims is displayed at: http://www.golosbeslana.ru/pamyat.htm

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Paper Dolls

Flat and one dimensional, paper dolls are as far from the cuddly rag or plastic versions as, to use a well worn cliché, chalk from cheese. Still, they had a very firm and fond place in my childhood and, I imagine, in other children’s lives as well.

Thrown on my own devices as an only child since the nearest neighbours had no children of playing age, I spent much of my time either buried in books or engrossed in a make-believe world made a little more plausible by these dolls. They were named Nora and Tilly – blonde and brunette twins – and were published by a women’s magazine. They would be faithfully cut out every month, pasted on cardboard and dressed up in the wardrobe supplied. Soon, the wardrobes started expanding with the assistance of wrapping paper, crayons and paints and huge dollops of imagination. One could create whole environments and situations assisted by the accompanying short story, detailing the recent happenings in their lives, unfettered by time and place. To a little girl cut off from real live playmates, they were a lifeline.

Today, paper dolls have no place in a world where toys have developed beyond all imagination. My playthings were home and handmade – knitted, crocheted, stitched, crafted, woodworked, and drawn. They were unique in that they carried the label ‘manufactured with love’ and were not mass produced in some factory, churned out by the thousands on a conveyor belt. Today’s child would consider me deprived, but I certainly never felt that way.

When you have to fall back on yourself for entertainment, creativity takes wing or so I would like to believe. ‘Designing’ the dolls’ clothes allowed me, in later life, to design and stitch my own. Fashioning my make believe world made English Lit and Lang classes a fun place to be; it was so easy to be transported to foreign realms peopled by the likes of folk from Jane Eyre to Prospero. Writing an essay in class? No problem, except that time ran out far too fast!

Did I say that paper dolls would have no place with today’s generation? Well, I was happily surprised and tickled pink to find that electronic ‘paper dolls’ exist on the Net. Several websites allow you to pick and choose appearances, apparel and accessories. The child in me delighted in the discovery and reaffirmed my supposition that paper dolls unleash creativity, as is very evident by their electronic avatars!!

*I was pleasantly surprised to find 'collectors' who had scanned the Nora and Tilly pages from the W&H. Grabbed a pic for this blog - trust they will not mind!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Mouse in the House

My husband is habituated to telling me that I can be, on occasion, incredibly brilliant and also incredibly stupid!

I once allowed the neighbour’s little son to decorate a rather prominent wall in our living room with his newly gifted ‘washable’ crayons. Needless to say, the crayons were definitely not washable and the resultant mural was rather less than Picasso-esque. Incredibly stupid? I guess so, though we did have rather a lot of fun! A subsequent monsoon caused extensive damage, requiring us to repair and paint the flat. The ‘mural’ is a long distant memory and the little boy is now a grown man with other talents to boast of.

Which brings me to the mouse. While I can murderously squash flies and mosquitoes, and scream the house down at the sight of a cockroach, I can ‘talk’ to the lizards and the mice with equanimity. A negligible gift, I agree, but one that can engender little doses of humour.

I was deep in a book while sitting with my back to the TV, when I heard a scrunching, whispering sound. The TV was off at the time and the book was so interesting that it took me a little while to realise that something was out of place. I glanced up and spotted a mouse. It was dragging strips of paper picked up from an open carton full of packing material, which was awaiting disposal, and tugging them into the back of the TV! Each trip involved hopping down from the unit, scampering across to the carton near the front door, grabbing a strip in its teeth, tugging it out of the tangle, climbing out of the carton and up to the television. I was fascinated.

I called out to my husband to ‘come and see’. The explosion was instantaneous, ‘Are you nuts?!!!!’ The television was a brand new acquisition and an expensive one (for us) at that - it had been purchased by hubby for viewing the forthcoming football World Cup in full colour. But the mouse was so cute: round, brown and furry with pink ears, nose and paw tips, bright boot-button eyes and whiskers aquiver. It was a storybook illustration come alive. Cuteness notwithstanding, the technician was summoned and the mouse dishoused. A mousetrap (the wire cage kind) ensured no further incursions.

But my husband is a gentle person. He walked many a mile, trap in hand, to release the mouse in a field far, far away where it hopefully found the right kind of home. He consoled me with the thought that it would have eventually fried inside the TV!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Way Things Are Meant To Be

You arrive at the station in happy anticipation: you are on your way from the suburbs to the city to catch up with friends. The train arrives, you jump in and luck favours you with a window seat. Soon, you are lost in reverie, soundproofed from the surrounding cacophony by your thoughts and the moving scenery. It promises to be a good day.

The train arrives at your destination, the lofty domed terminus that is a landmark in the city. You alight and are immediately jostled by the rushing crowd. You are not propelled by the same urgency and search for a spot where you can stand awhile. Suddenly, you feel a tug at your sleeve: it is a little girl well dressed, oiled hair smoothly drawn into a single plait down her back. She has lost her ‘Mummy-Daddy’ in the crowd and wants you to help. You guide her to the two women constables outside the Ladies’ Compartment and tell them the problem. They promptly grab her by the hair and administer two hefty whacks, ‘Don’t you have anything better to do than harass the passengers?’ The child wraps her arms about herself protectively while tears roll silently down her cheeks. She casts an accusatory glance, ‘I asked for bread and you gave me a stone.’ You try to explain to the constables that she did not ‘harass’ you and that she is ‘lost’. The advise you, brusquely, ‘Don’t worry yourself sister. This happens every day. These children are a menace. Just mind your belongings and walk carefully.’

Unconvinced, you walk to the Station Master’s cabin. It is empty. You wait hopefully in the doorway and soon a man walks up to you and asks what you are there for. You explain. He brushes you aside, muttering under his breath about persons always wanting to waste his time and energy. You walk away and take a furtive glance about. The girl is standing forlorn, the space around her burdened with unshed tears. You walk with leaden step to the exit and see the gun-slung constable standing there. You approach him and tell him your problem. He tells you to take the child to the nearest police station and gives you directions. What if someone accuses you of kidnapping or worse? He tells you no one will even give you a second thought. You approach the child and tell her what you wish to do. She puts her hand hesitantly into yours. After all, she trusted you once. Your instinct tells you to take her to the Newspaper’s office just across the road, but you dutifully take her to the police station. Relief. The Sub-Inspector on duty listens to you attentively. He plies you and the child with tea and biscuits. The child’s details are ascertained and her home located. It is in a far off suburb at the end of the line. There is no one to take her. You volunteer and, this time, she comes trustingly. Armed with a piece of paper, you reach her to her doorstep. She recognizes her mother and darts forward, leaving you with a sense of fulfillment. But not for long. The mother beats her about the face and scolds loud and long. She gives you a dirty look and you have no choice but to walk away without so much as an exchange of words, forget about thanks. You ponder about the vagaries of life, filled with an anger and frustration that will linger for the rest of your day and beyond.

Script for a television serial? No. This is an almost verbatim account of a friend’s experience. Seated around the canteen table, we listened on the Monday to her Sunday experience. Someone at the table spoke up, ‘We are destined to be where we are and you should not interfere with destiny. The child was meant to be lost, just as the dying man is meant to die, just as the sick are meant to be sick and the prosperous are meant to prosper. When you interfere, you push the universe off kilter and disturb the natural order of things. You must never interfere.’ I am appalled. Where is the humanity?

When I get home, I spend an uncomfortable hour or two in introspection. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? What is my life meant to be?

But that was yesterday. Today is fresh and new with much to be done. Yesterday will soon fade into distant and unruffled memory.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Shades of ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?’ Well anyone who knows will tell you that spoken English is a minefield that is well nigh impossible to navigate.

Written English is a snap and with a little practice, words can be made to trip breezily off the pen. All you need is a collection of esoteric words and phrases, culled from adventurous reading; Google them to find out the meanings and how they can be used, bung them into your sentences and, hey presto, you sound erudite! Thanks to the creative Americans, there is no shortage of new words and we have to thank them for the growing weight of our dictionaries, reverse dictionaries, thesauruses and mental baggage.

Spoken English, on the other hand, can strip off the mask, leaving you exposed. It’s everyone’s clutterbumph (love the word – thank you, Paul Gallico). Thanks to the fact that the English language is heavy on adoption, we have to negotiate words culled from every language of the globe, ancient and modern. Greek and Latin are not too bad, the Indian languages are phonetic and therefore pose no great problems (except for the British!), German is another happily phonetic tongue – spoken as she is written. But when you come to words derived from French, your troubles begin. Pronunciation is diametrically opposite to the way the word is spelt, and why on earth anyone would want to do that is a mystery. Spanish (‘j’ is pronounced as ‘h’ and ‘ll’ is pronounced as ‘y’!!) and Italian (actually, not too bad) add to the confusion. Throw in silent letters and words that are spelt similarly but pronounced differently (cough and bough are good examples), add to them the staples of pronunciation exercises (Worcester pronounced ‘wooster’ and brougham pronounced ‘broom’) and you will be caught up in an inextricable tangle. Despite investing in a pronunciation dictionary, spoken English still sends me into a tizzy.

The social interaction aspect also comes into play. How does one discourse with another whose pronunciation of common words differs radically? Shades of ‘I say tom(ah)to, you say tom(ay)to’!

Peter Piper, of tongue twister fame, will probably realise with chagrin, that it’s time to stop ‘picking pecks of pickled pepper’ and get with it if he wants to orate with sangfroid and chutzpah!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


That’s me. Or as a friend puts it –I’m ‘picky’. Well that does for me too. One needs to invent words - or use slang - as so very often the dictionary does not supply one with the exact meaning!

So, why am I labeled ‘picky’? Well take buying fruit, for instance. I will zero in on what I want to buy while the fruit seller sounds off with his usual spiel on how fresh the fruit is and how he has laboured over its selection. And then I will subject the fruit to the nose test. All fresh and just ripe fruit gives off a lovely aroma, an individual scent that fills the nostrils and makes the mouth water. Fruit must pass the nose test, if I am to buy it, and the fruit seller dreads my nose because it is very finicky – the aroma must be just right and after years of sniffing, I am an expert!

The nose test does for leather too. The shoe and bag merchant is intrigued. He can argue till he runs out of breath that he is selling only ‘genuine’ leather. But then again, genuine leather has that lovely, warm whiff that only leather can give and which no amount of polish can mask. Which reminds me of a happy incident. At one of the Trade Fairs at the World Trade Centre (located in Mumbai) there was a leather goods stall representing wares from Kanpur. I lifted up the shoes on display and, eyes closed, inhaled deeply (hubby, accompanying me, was highly embarrassed). The manager trotted over and asked me if I was in the trade! (Hubby switched from embarrassed to impressed!) I explained that, in his army days, my father would buy leather from Kanpur from which my shoes would be made up by the local mochi. Today, custom made shoes are exclusive. When I was a pre-teenager, store bought shoes were considered a luxury and all footwear was sourced from the local mochi. He came, took left and right footprints, inspected the leather and departed to return in a fortnight with the final product. We would put on our shoes, which had room for feet to grow (tested by pressing hard on the big toes) and parade up and down till the comfort level was established. Those shoes lasted and lasted and lasted and were only discarded when outgrown.

I particularly remember a pair of red moccasins – fringed and tasseled – which were copied from a catalogue. They were my favourites till I read a story about a girl who demanded a pair of red dancing shoes. When she stepped into them, she was forced to dance forever and her feet had to be cut off – it was either that or a dance to the death. Stories for children are so macabre.

Well then, so I am finicky, pernickety (I love that one – it conjures up visions of a little old lady, bun skewered with a knitting pin, and metal rimmed spectacles perched on the tip of the nose!), fastidious, fussy, particular and yes, of course, picky – take your pick. They all apply.

And there’s one more thing I am fussy about and that is being forced to listen to unmusical sounds. Which is why, today, I will stuff my ears with cotton while children in schools all over India make it a point to murder the National Anthem.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Today’s Obituary Columnin the TOI informed me that a much loved colleague had passed away.

Chhoti (a nickname that connotes ‘small’) was a tall, broad shouldered, no nonsense, Parsi lady. ‘Statuesque’ is the adjective that comes to mind. I met Chhoti for the first time in very unusual circumstances. Unusual for the corporate world, that is!

I was a few months into my first job and the monsoons were unleashing their fury. An overnight downpour had flooded a lower floor in the office building thanks to an open window. The water stood shin deep and had nowhere to go. Staff were thin on the ground as public transport had come to a standstill, and there were just a handful of us who had signed in. We received the call, ‘all hands on deck and bring your wastepaper basket with you’ - WPBs in our office, in those days, were made of heavy duty plastic akin to buckets. Mystified, we wended our way to the floor in question, WPB in hand. There, Chhoti made us line up, shoulder to shoulder, scoop up the water and pass the ‘bucket’ on till the last man, stationed in the toilet, received it and emptied it. More than several buckets later, we were a tired but satisfied bunch – job accomplished! That’s when Chhoti discovered thin, puny, mini-skirted, red-gumbooted, little me. After her initial, surprised, ‘Where did you come from?’ we soon sorted out the introductions and went on from there. We never forgot our first encounter over the bucket brigade!

Chhoti ruled the Filing Department with a rod of iron and a formidable memory. She was also responsible for doling out the stationery. Woe betide the hapless staff member who misplaced a stapler or a punch or for that matter used up a steno pad well before its appointed time! But she was a loyal friend and a very helpful colleague. She also had a wry sense of humour. Everyone – temporary or permanent – who passed through the portals, encountered Chhoti at one time or another. And everyone who did would definitely remember her. Unforgettable – that was Chhoti!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Eating Ice Cream

Such a delightful experience! Or so one would like to think

A now grownup niece reminded me of a rather fraught episode. She had come visiting on a weekend which I should have been spending at home. Unfortunately, I was summoned by the powers that be and so to the office I went, niece in tow – she must have been around eleven at the time. She had a ball, as all children do in a grown up’s world, twirling on the chairs, stapling and punching paper, and making phone calls. Work done, I took her for an ice-cream treat. She opted for a jumbo cone and once she had been served, we hopped into a cab to take us home. Suddenly, I discovered that she was eating the cone from both ends, juggling the melting drips not very successfully. I had a dreadful vision of a sticky, ice-cream coated rear seat and a raving taxi driver and also an ice-cream covered niece and a not-too-happy sister-in-law. Luckily, my handbag always contains a surplus of tissues (it’s a female thing) and I spread them generously around, covering seat and lap. We reached home safely and my niece topped the ride with a triumphant, ‘told you so!’ – confirmation that her way was the best way to eat ice-cream in the cone!

On another occasion, when at a very enjoyable meal with a family at their home in Barcelona, ice cream was served as dessert. A tray with several medium sized plastic containers (a little larger than the single serving) was placed on the table and, as guest, I was asked to go first. I looked at the flavours on offer, chose one, opened the lid and tucked in. Conversation flowed, some in brisk Catalan and some in English, so it was only a little while later that I looked up and noticed that I was the only one eating while all the others were watching me with great interest. I asked for the reason but was told by my host to carry on. The ice cream was melting and I had only a little way to go, so I scooped the cup clean to resounding applause!! My host then explained that the custom was to serve a couple of spoons from each cup onto the place and pass it on. No one had ever finished a container all by themselves and they were wondering if I would make it!! They were astounded that I did. For the rest of my visit, I could not live the experience down. Every time we visited an ice cream outlet, the family would purchase their requirement and request a separate large tub for me telling the vendor, very firmly, “She really loves her ice cream!”

And this reminds me of a happy quote from my collection: Since God is watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining! (The author is Anon and quite a prolific author he – or she – is too!!)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Instant Inspiration

There is nothing like a walk in the locality or a shopping spree to inspire titles for a blog. Take for instance : ‘Wrong Way Down a One Way Street’, ‘Why is Everyone Wearing What I Can Never Find on the Rack?’ and ‘The Detail is in the Rear’.

Colaba is crisscrossed by quaint and sleepy by-lanes and every local worth his or her salt knows these familiar shortcuts. All of them are designated one-ways. And just as you are blithely sauntering across the road, a demented pizza delivery boy will come roaring down on his motorbike from the wrong direction. The fact that I have not yet been ‘delivered’ to heaven is testimony to my nimble footwork. Yes, here we look both ways before crossing a one way street!

Most of the retail outlets here are normally unaffordable except to the exceedingly rich. Come the monsoons and every glass frontage sports sales stickers offering from 50% to 70% off on merchandise. This is the time to wade in and pick up the labels you would love to flaunt and I succumb weakly. The shops are full to capacity with purposeful women rummaging the racks. I look at all the lovely outfits but the problem is that they are all on the shoppers’ backs! The stuff on the rack is not worth a second glance (no wonder it’s on sale). I look, drool and depart. I have never yet found the courage to walk up to another shopper and say, ‘Where did you get that outfit?’ though I did have the unnerving experience of someone swiping my blouse which I had slung over the cubicle door for want of a hook on the wall.

Walking on the Causeway is a very crowded experience. One has perforce to amble which provides opportunity to observe the rear view in front – all shapes, sizes and varieties of embellishment from slogans on T-shirts to detailed embroidery, fancy buttons and imaginatively bound tresses. But some rears raise ‘uh-oh’ moments – doesn’t anyone look at both sides in the mirror anymore?

Such distraction brings with it a heavy price. Disregarding my own oft and vehemently reiterated advice, I step forward without looking down. Next title? They forgot to remove the puddle!