Sunday, October 31, 2010

That Little Bit Extra

When I picked up my weekend treat – a brick of caramel ice-cream – from the vendor, I noticed that it was much larger than usual. Sure enough, a band across the width proclaimed 20% extra. Triple scoops instead of double – somebody up there must surely love me!

And the extras did not stop there: my toothpaste tube announced 20% more on its extended length, the carton of teabags stated emphatically that two additional bags had been included, the jar of Horlicks confirmed that 50 grams extra could be found inside, and the packet of cornflakes declared that I would find extra goodness along with, of course, 10% more of those nutritious, tasty, crispy, flakes. Every item had a little extra added on without the asking – joy indeed.

October has signed off and November has signed in and the preparations for Christmas will gather pace: cards to be bought, sweets to be made or ordered, cupboards to be turned out and not just of the home but also the heart – time to review the year’s clutter and to make some extra space for those that need it. This is the season which calls for extras: a little extra love tucked in to all that we do, a little extra time and attention to those that need it and to ourselves, a little extra in the envelopes for worthy causes. And so on.

Now, if only I could find that the 24-hour day has been granted a few hours more: with my to-do list also sporting several ‘extras’, a bonus hour or two would be the most welcome extra ever.

But, in the meantime and until that happens, I shall hie me off to tackle the tasks that await. A little extra exercise won’t come amiss and will help to accommodate the surplus ice-cream!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Love, the leitmotif

Two months, give or take a couple of days, to Christmas! How I love the season for all that it means.

Birthdays commemorate the day and celebrate the person as the infant grows into the child and the child grows into the teen and then the adult. We do not return, on the birthday, to the celebration of the newborn infant except at Christmas. Christmas is unique.

Across the globe, people of all ages, all nationalities, all cultures and all creeds are aware of this one day as no other. And it is not just because of the trappings - the tinsel, the tree, the gifts, the music, Santa Claus or even the spirit of giving - which permeate our lives; it is the gift of love embodied in the infant that was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.

And this love is recalled to us so well in that evocative poem by Christina Rossetti:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

And the love of Christmas shall be the leitmotif in the days to come.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A spider’s web

Living as we do, cheek by jowl with the main road, it is inevitable that our window sills are evenly and thickly coated with dust. With the usual sigh of resignation, I picked up my duster and wet rag and walked over to do the needful.

That’s when I spotted the brand new web. Woven between sill and window frame and tucked into a corner, it was revealed in all its fragile beauty by the reflection of the sunlight on its silken surface. It was the smallest and most delicate web I had ever seen. I paused and examined the pattern of the lace and the fineness of the thread – an avid crocheter, I am always ready to admire another lace-maker’s handiwork, even if the other has eight arms to my very human two! The web was so beautiful that I decided to let it be for a while and see what else spidey would do.

Throughout the day I stopped to check, but no spider! Perhaps it was a first attempt by a brand new home-maker, maybe it was not such a desirable residence after all, or maybe the location was not quite right. Or perhaps the predator became the prey – the resident lizard’s meal.

In the interest of tidiness and cleanliness, I finally swept up the cobweb and consigned it to the dustbin. And while I did so, I remembered other webs almost certainly woven by older and more experienced spiders. Those were inevitably lodged in the corners of ceilings and were thick and heavy. It also amused me to discover the dog’s fur firmly and neatly woven into the design – a fur-lined residence. Spider’s can be inventive too!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bonus Season

Come Deepawali (I do prefer the North Indian pronunciation) and it’s not just deepas (oil lamps) and mithai (Indian sweets) that come to mind. In the working world, the season is synonymous with the much looked forward to bonus. This was the time that we indulged in counting chickens even before the eggs were laid and all of us went on wild and wonderful mental shopping sprees well before bonus was declared.

The nine to five routine is long since behind me, but there are bonuses that still come my way, albeit of other kinds.

On a visit to our Catholic bookshop to pick up Mass Cards, I browsed among the greetings and religious objects – statues, medals, rosaries, holy pictures laid out in colourful profusion on the display counter. And then I espied this little brooch which proclaimed ‘I love Jesus’. Simple but attractive, it instantly transported me back to my Sunday School days.

Way before I encountered the Salesians and their largesse, I was fortunate to come into contact with the Canossians. Sunday school with these nuns meant that we were the very pleased recipients of attractively wrought brooches and pendants, all with a religious theme and bearing the stamp ‘made in Italy’. Little girls love jewellery and we sported our adornments on every possible occasion. The nuns were canny mortals – they knew that even if we were tempted into doing something naughty we would be brought up short and receive a timely reminder by that shiny little ‘jewel’. One could hardly commit a ‘sin’ while prominently sporting a picture of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, a Saint or even a tiny cross!! We had to be kept virtuous for which a little bit of ‘bribery’ did not come amiss, and how we coveted those little trinkets.

Yes, I did pick up the ‘I love Jesus’ brooch in remembrance of happy times and the pleasure engendered by even the tiniest of bonuses. It is also a helpful nudge, reminding me of who I am and who I am committed to. Not all love is reciprocal, but Jesus is different – he loves me too and there is nothing quite like being accessorised with love!

Bonuses sometimes multiply: Andrea Bocelli’s gorgeous tenor is keeping me company while I write this piece. The recording is in the original Italian. Coincidence?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Delivered at the doorstep

The latest offering from Bandra Bugger (the blog!) reminded me of Indira. Indira was our fisherwoman. Sturdy of build and stentorian of voice, she brought the freshest fish at the highest prices direct to our doorstep.

My neighbour was an avid fish-eater and an excellent bargainer to boot. So, Indira would ring my doorbell (hoping to entice me with the first pick), I would ring the neighbour’s doorbell (in order to ensure a good bargain) and we would get down to business.

On one such occasion, I indulged in a medium sized Rawas (Indian Salmon) which I purchased intact – an intended treat for my husband. I placed the fish on the kitchen platform and went to fetch the required amount from my purse. I paid Indira, she kissed the notes (it was her boni or first customer’s blessing) and wished me good appetite; I shut the front door and returned to the kitchen, to clean the fish and consign it to the pot for lunch. I was stunned to find no fish. I am not absentminded and there was no doubt that I had placed the fish on the platform. Nevertheless, I checked the floor, the sink, and the stove-top. The Rawas was nowhere to be found.

It was then that I realised that our usually vocal collie, was unusually silent. Sure enough, she had hidden herself under our bed and was licking her lips over the last morsel. The raw salmon, scales and all, was now in her well sated belly – she had gulped down in a matter of minutes what would have been a substantial meal for two human adults! It was a rather expensive treat for the dog, but I was more anxious about the effect of the scales and fish bones on her health to be angry with her. Well, she never suffered any after effects; on the contrary, she was full of bounce and bonhomie. We, of course, had to make do with the previous day’s leftovers and were, consequently, not in the same good mood.

That Rawas must really have been first-rate, because Indira’s subsequent visits were always greeted with much tail wagging and body shaking, while I would get a sharp nip as a reminder to get on with it and buy the fish!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happiness is a wide balcony

This morning brought with it a heavy shower of unseasonal rain. Eager to catch the refreshing spray, I stuck my nose out as far as it would go but I was brought up short by the restraining grille. How I wished I was back on the balcony of my old home.

A balcony is like a smile: a structure with balconies has a jovial personality, or so I would like to believe. So unlike the secretive, snooty, aloof, smooth faced façades of buildings without.

As a passer-by, you gaze upwards at these projections and note the furniture and furnishings, plants and other miscellanea and take a guess at the kind of people who live there. More often than not, there will be a washing line swaying in the breeze. Perhaps a tricycle parked in a corner and some cricket bats too. Some will have chairs and cheerful potted plants. And if the time is right, there will be the folks at home taking the air, calling out to a vendor, keeping an eye out for returning kids and office-goers or chatting to another balcony.

To the inhabitant, the balcony is a welcome and well used extension. It is a way of stepping outdoors while staying at home: somewhere to fly paper planes and kites from and, in later years, to sun old bones, somewhere to sit with a friend and sip on drinks – the prelude to dusk and dinner, somewhere to go when the walls close in on you.

And when the street theater visits the locality, ‘balcony seats’ take on a whole new meaning and they come free and front-row too!

The older houses always had balconies and the architects who designed them obviously had the would-be residents in mind: living, breathing, dreaming people. The newer constructions absorb the balconies, thanks to space constraints and rising prices, and shut the occupants inside uncompromising, anonymous grilles. The graciousness of a balconied room seems to be a thing of the past.

Oh Romeo, Romeo however would you woo Juliet today?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our most precious asset

On Christmas Eve, after a month of cleaning and polishing and changing the furnishings, we eagerly unwrap the figures that make up the Nativity scene. It is most precious in our eyes and it is with the greatest reluctance that we confine it once more to its storage space after Epiphany.

Our first crib set, as a married couple, was a housewarming gift from a sister-in-law. Plaster of Paris is not the most durable of materials and though we were very careful, the crib soon wore battle scars – chips, nicks and peeling paint. And then baby Jesus lost his nose in a minor accident.

That was when we decided that we needed a new crib and it was the first item on our shopping list when we had the good fortune to visit Vienna.

We scoured every shop and paused at every window that carried a display and there were plenty of them even in the month of August. But the Nativity scenes on offer were either too expensive, too fragile or did not meet our idea of feature and colour. Just when disappointment seemed to be at its most crushing, a kindly nun directed us to a shop off an alley behind St. Stephen’s in the city. We decided to make one last foray and were rewarded beyond our wildest dreams.

The shop in question had on display the most exquisite hand carved wooden Nativity Scenes. The work of monks tucked away high in the Alps, each piece was finished right down to the tiniest detail. It was love at first sight. But when we heard the cost, our hearts sank: each individual piece carried a steep price tag and we needed several pieces to complete the picture that we had in mind.

The salesgirl must have been an extraordinary individual. She allowed us to handle each figure and take our time over it. Then, she suggested that we should pick out piece by piece the ones that we wanted and she would keep totting up the amount. And that is what we did. When our wallets had reached fraying point, we asked for the final total, counted out the Schillings (the Euro had not yet made its appearance) and hurried home with our precious package.

Back at the convent, where we were staying, we unpacked the figures, set them out on the dining table in the refectory and arranged them according to their appointed places. It was nearing dusk. A visitor picked up a lit candle in a little wooden stand and placed it near the crib. The parish priest brought out his guitar and we gathered around and sang Silent Night in its original German version – Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. The memory still gives me goose bumps: the joy and sharing of Christmas came to us early that year.

Most people invest in stocks and bonds and gold. We invested in love.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My nephew who blogs

Technically speaking he is my husband’s nephew since he is his sister’s son. In India, however, anyone who has the advantage of ten years or more becomes a complimentary uncle or aunt anyway. So there!

The blog which is now in print has made news and how. The language is strongly flavoured, redolent of the precinct and the patois – a sort of sorpotel/vindaloo meets prawn balchow meets custard pudding, all washed down with kokum sherbet. There is a pungency in the message and a sweetness in the memory which allows the encounter to linger satisfyingly – like a cordon bleu banquet - long after bidding the blog adieu. The analogy to food is deliberate – EIs excel in this department and the ability to provide a good meal is more often than not the yardstick for prowess!

There is no doubt that he is a denizen of Bandra, but that he has chosen that peculiarly AI epithet ‘bugger’ tickles me no end. Whatever his reason, this is one bugger that has done Bandra real proud. And to know so for yourself, do log on to:

Bon Appetit!

A Shift in the Season

The heat is stifling and the sweat factor seems to indicate that summer is still at its height, but this is October and as the evening shadows lengthen, and the darkness of night lingers on into the early morning hours, we know that winter is on the horizon.

And the onset of winter is a reminder that Christmas is coming. Christmas, that most wonderful time of the year!

As I scanned the books on offer on the British Council website, one title leapt out at me – ‘Letters from Father Christmas’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. Promptly requested and as promptly delivered, I now have some delight-filled reading in the week ahead.

It was not just the seasonal title that attracted me; I, too, have corresponded with Santa.

And here’s how it came about: a magazine I was browsing through featured a story about how children the world over wrote to and received letters from Mr. Claus. And, fortunately, the article also provided the address. Here is the letter I sent:

Dear Father Christmas:

It is so good to know that you are still around. Some people say that, like Tinkerbelle, you will exist so long as someone believes in you - well we believe in you and hope you'll be there forever.

In this strife torn world, it is consoling to know that at least once a year people the world over pause to remember, even if just for a day, that all men are brothers. Hopefully, sometime, somehow, somewhere this small spark that is kindled once a year will burst into flame and then it will truly be Christmas everyday! Till then, we look to your presence, which symbolises the spirit of love and caring, to make sure the spark is kindled again and again on this very special day - Christmas.

I am too old for toys but I have one request - a small friend of ours would be thrilled to receive a letter from you, so please write to….

May peace and joy come to you and also to Mrs. Claus, the Elves, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen and Rudolph!

Cordially yours,

And here is the reply that was received:


I am writing this letter to you surrounded by snow and the Northern lights of the Finnish Lapland. This is my very own place which my gnomes and I call Korvatunturi. Did you know, by the way, why I have always lived in Korvatunturi? Let me tell you a small secret: Korvatunturi is the only place where I can hear the wishes of all people from all parts of the world. That’s why this place is called Korvatunturi – it’s Finnish and means ‘Ear Mountain’ – and if someday you come here as my guest, you’ll see with your own eyes that it’s like a giant’s ear.

You can’t imagine the hustle and bustle going on here right now. From morning till night I read children’s letters and wishes and give instructions to my gnomes who then make and wrap thousands and thousands of Christmas presents. Often we blow out the candles only when we can tell from the position of the Northern lights that it’s past midnight. Then we take a short nap, but at exactly five o’clock in the morning we are up again, spooning up the delicious porridge cooked by Ma Christmas, only to resume our busy work for the day.

This time I have really happy news to tell you. In the midst of the nightless summer night, a cute little reindeer baby was born here. My gnomes promptly named him Baby Rudolf, because his nose glows red like a fire engine. This Christmas, Baby Rudolf is still too dainty to join me on my trip to distribute Christmas gifts, but maybe already next year you can see two red nosed reindeer in front of my sleigh; Rudolf the daddy and Rudolf the baby.

Finally, I would like to remind you of an extremely important thing: please remember to be kind to all people and animals, and to protect nature. If you promise to be nice, I promise to do my best so we all can have a real Christmas feeling in our hearts.

Jaulupukki (which is Finnish for Father Christmas!)

In Germany, they want to abolish Santa Claus as we know him because they feel that he is a far cry from St. Nicholas, the original on which he was modeled. No doubt, the Santa in the stores and malls is all about publicity and sales, and Christmas has acquired commercial overtones that have no real connect with the reason for the season. But that is our fault, not Santa’s. Perhaps a better alternative would be for children to be re-taught that Santa will bring them something only if they are good and do not indulge in the constant, insatiable chant of “I want!!”

It would be a sad day indeed when the big fat man in the jolly red suit is cancelled from the Christmas itinerary. A little bit of fantasy that ‘gladdens the heart of childhood everywhere’ can surely not be so wrong?

And if Santa aka Father Christmas is good enough for Tolkien, he is good enough for me!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When something creaks at night…

As a child, I was wonder-struck by my mother’s tales of encounters with ghosts. Apparently, she had at one time or the other lived in a haunted house - one of the bedrooms in the rambling structure which housed my grandparents and family was witness to a suicide and the resultant restless spirit. My mother recounted the experience in a matter of fact manner which made it all the more plausible: every detail was noted and included atmosphere, sounds and scents, all of which came ‘alive’ at night. And she remained tenacious of the account even in the face of my father’s scoffing. He put it all down to an overactive imagination, indigestion, bad drains and the creaking that defines all old structures.

I did not possess my father’s phlegmatic attitude to the spirit world and, though nighttime brought its own terrors, I was thrilled to be once removed from an encounter with a real ghost!

That was until I had my own experience.

Our school in Bareilly was housed in an ancient structure which was once the summer residence of minor royalty. It had outlived its useful life and was ruled dangerous. A new school building was erected; we were duly shifted out, but the old structure was not demolished and we were sternly warned of dire consequences if we went anywhere near it. Well, we were playing hide and seek and my friend and I decided to duck into one of the disused classrooms – no one would dare to seek us out there! Suddenly, we saw Mother Superior bearing down on us threateningly and we fled. Seconds later the slab fell – we had missed certain death by a hair’s breadth. Under the impression that Mother had met a gruesome fate, we ran for help and straight into the very same Mother Superior; she had heard the sound and had come to investigate. Imagine our consternation! She was alive and we were in no doubt about it. It needs to be said that she was a very tall, very thin (even slightly cadaverous), Italian nun with a complexion that matched her bleached habit. She was the epitome of a ghostly presence, except for the fact that she had a lively and engaging nature.

So who or what did we see? Was it our imagination? Or the play of light and shade on the falling storm of dust? Or was it really our guardian angel?

Time passed, memory grew dim and there were no further personal encounters with the spirit world. And then they had to go and make Poltergeist !

Now, I lie awake with every creak at night hoping that it’s just the sign of a building showing its age. Blessed are those who have never known a ghost!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

He had to change schools?

Tom Daley is 16 years old. He is also a gold medallist at the CWG 2010 in synchronized diving. He also had to change schools because he was bullied – other students chucked stuff at him, emptied his pencil case on the floor and threatened to break his legs!

Enough said.

Foolhardy, frivolous and fun?

Dare and double dare? Heard that one before?

My father told me about a dare which he once carried through (yes, he had an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes!). When he was a very junior officer in the army and stationed in Delhi, his batch mates dared him to drive his jeep into the Officers’ Mess. This entailed taking the jeep up a considerable flight of steps leading to the entrance and then into the dining hall. Not one to say he couldn’t do it, my father took on the dare and carried it through. This was corroborated by another officer who was party to the event, so I know that it really happened!

Dares were silly things: challenges between friends which could be ridiculous, hilarious, and hair-raising but very rarely downright dangerous. They may have entailed breaking the rules but never the law. They ranged from putting frogs in the teacher’s desk (been there, done that!) to hanging unmentionables on the Institute’s flagstaff. None of the dares we undertook had tragic consequences; they only earned mild censure (apart from adding to ‘hoary legend’). What is more, the challenge was undertaken willingly – even with a tinge of excitement - and without coercion. Invariably, the challenger and the challenged were partners in crime as well. Those were the times of naïve, even foolish, audacity and derring-do.

There were no fast cars (thanks to no money), no drugs, no alcohol, no guns. And some dares had happy outcomes too. My father was at one time a chain smoker. Then his batman (not the caped crusader but an attendant attached to an officer posted at camp) dared him to give up. It wasn’t easy (and he couldn’t cheat because the batman was virtually his left arm) but, as already stated, my father couldn’t resist a challenge and he gave up smoking for good. The batman lost but got his bottle of rum anyway. Two winners!

Challenges tested one’s mettle. Challenges could be remembered with a grin and sometimes a grimace (did I really do that?).

Where did things go wrong? When did challenges turn criminal? When was innocence lost?

I once read an article on ‘Why toy guns should be banished’ as it was felt that such toys were responsible for turning men into killing machines (published a generation ago, it did not ‘implicate’ girls). The author argued the point back and forth and concluded that even if toy guns were banned, all the child had to do was point two fingers and say, ‘Bang, bang, you’re dead!’. Boys will be boys.

Perhaps what we thought was innocent fun was not so innocent after all. Perhaps it was the precursor to more inventive and even more dangerous dares. Or was it?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Growing a Thinner Skin

Ragging – that initiation ‘ritual’ that triggers perverse imagination in the ragger and cold sweat in the victim. Why does it exist?

When I made the transition from schoolgirl to undergrad, my father made an appointment with one of the nuns at the college to tour the premises. It must have helped that her surname too was Grant. We were taken around the classrooms, the library, the dorms and I remember fish tanks with goldfish. All through the tour, my father gently probed and Mother Grant responded with a running commentary. Then my father asked about ragging. He had been a boarder - school and college – and had received his fair share. He did not want me to experience a similar fate.

What my father did not know was that I was no stranger to being ragged. A new school and a new girl in the class, I had to ‘prove’ that I fitted in. It started with little things – an exercise book extracted from the bag and ‘lost’, being locked in the toilet and made late for class, ink splashed on the uniform - and then graduated to being suspended over the parapet on the second floor above ground level. I was eleven years old. I sobbed my way through the year but I did not tell. Ratting was one degree worse than cowardice.

College was a romp. We were all new girls together and being day students, the seniors were not interested in us. The hostelites had a different story to tell. The sensitive ones suffered; the tougher ones laughed it off – it could not be cured so had to be endured.

Then came the working world. Once again, one was the new girl in a set environment and one had to run the gauntlet of the subtle and not so subtle ‘initiation rites’. You remained the outsider until the insiders decided to let you in. After I got over feeling sorry for myself, I decided to get on with the job and never realised that I had become an insider till I left the organization and my ‘worst enemies’ expressed regret! Did my earlier experience of being ragged come in handy? I think not. Every such encounter hurts in its own way.

The insider-outsider attitude is not new. It is generations old. The tribal world has some of the most cruel, life threatening initiation rites – the passage to adulthood is an act of survival. And the civilized world is no better. Scratch the surface and you’ll find out; public transport is a good place to start! Till you become an accepted ‘regular’ in the compartment, you will know the sharp elbow, the not so subtle insult and the very edge of the fourth seat!

But I digress. Ragging is deliberate, premeditated, planned and considered a privilege by its perpetrators. But is it a rite of passage? A time honoured tradition? Does it make or break character? And are the ragged entitled to wear a badge of honour?

I would have to state my answer as a resounding NO. It may be a tradition but there is certainly no honour and I do not think there is any merit in being a victim either. I cringe when I now remember the abject obsession to be an insider at school. Thankfully, the past is over and I have moved on.

No one should have to face humiliation for the sake of another’s amusement. And no decent human being should expect to be so amused.

Time and maturity bring us to the realisation that we are all included; no one is an outsider in God’s perfect plan for our great universe and we are ‘fitted in’ exactly where we are meant to be. By being inclusive we learn to be sensitive to the other; there should really be no need for a thicker skin. If only time did not take so long to teach us so. And if only those who rag could realise that they are really wasting their time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Blogging is hard work!

Sometimes you have an idea, but it doesn’t always pan out. When you sit at the keyboard, the words just refuse to flow. At other times, thoughts unbidden just pour forth and the fingers are hard-pressed to keep pace.

Take last Sunday, for instance. I had noticed an advertisement adjuring students to avoid ragging and to report incidents, if any, in order to nip the practice in the bud. I thought back to my own student days and remembrances of being ragged and decided to blog about it. But much though I had to say, the words remained locked inside.

And then, I found myself smiling to myself over the cat and mouse incident and humming to the CD playing a much loved track. Before I knew it, the words found themselves on the page and my blog was done.

Not all writing is that effortless. I often go through the piece and agonise over whether the readers will get the same picture that I have visualized in my mind’s eye and am trying to share - whether the words are apt, whether the piece is too long or too short, whether the language is too dated (though that is almost a given, given the years to my credit and my preferred reading!), whether I have been able to infuse a little bit of humour (the leaven in our daily loaf!) and whether the reader will be pleased to read.

This puts me in mind of a quotation from my collection : I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope…. and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities – Theodore Geisel

Ragging is one of life’s realities and, unfortunately, there is very little laughable about it. Hopefully, I will soon be able to share my thoughts and stir up some positive vibes.

In the meantime, my present thoughts are happy ones and so this is my offering for the day.

Why 99%? Because anything worth doing usually requires 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration though, in this October heat, it sometimes seems like one hundred percent sweat even when doing nothing!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

May I have your opinion?

Everyone likes to be popular and none more so than companies which have products on the market. They positively wallow in popularity. You will see ads plastered with the slogan ‘Voted the most popular by….’ And the products range from shampoos to car tyres to newspapers and sometimes even educational institutes!

Every now and then the credentials to popularity will be bolstered by a mention of the polling agency, the demographics of the people polled and the total number culled from a ‘random sampling’. This random sampling covers some remarkable people – opinionated certainly - but anonymous and faceless nonetheless.

So I asked my neighbours, “Have you been polled?” They shook their heads, “No!” I asked my friends: “Never!” they replied. I chatted up my fellow passengers in the train compartment – now there’s a more than average cross-section for you – and brought the topic round to opinion polls. Had anyone been polled? Some had been accosted by college students asking what brand of detergent they used and were proffered an unbranded powder to test. But had they been asked searching questions about shampoos, newspapers, tyres, et al? The general response was a definite negative.

So, who are these sapient people who get to tell us which is the best product for us to buy, which paper to read and which institute to study at, among other things? I have a sneaky feeling that they must be the ‘Great Indian Family’. After all, the pollsters must possess that uncle’s sister-in-law’s cousin brother’s son’s girlfriend’s mother who is quite capable of having her say!

As for the man or woman on the street, I cannot speak for them. I know that I have never been ‘opinion-polled’. Have you?

Monday, October 4, 2010

While Walking the Dogs

Our niece walked through her front door, face suffused with suppressed amusement laced with a tinge of indignation. “Wait till I see that Uncle Albert!” “What’s happened?” “I have lived on this street all my life and this is the first time that the mochi, the chanawala, the fruit man and the paanwala, and sundry other people have called out to me!!”

I guess I should start at the beginning. We had moved in temporarily with our niece; we meaning my husband, our two dogs and I. My husband was away for the day and the niece had volunteered to walk the dogs – something my husband enjoyed and indulged in three times a day. Since we did not join him in this pastime, we had a lot of learning to do! Our niece – a dog lover too – was happy to be led by the large collie and the little pom while following their usual route. What she did not expect was to hear herself being hailed every so often with the call, “Uncle kahan gaye? Hell-ow Bonnie, hell-ow Sweetie.” To say that she was taken aback would be an understatement. Apparently, my husband had made friends with everyone on the block in the space of just a few days.

I was to discover still more. I undertook the ‘night shift’ and last walk of the day. And I was duly greeted by every watchman at every gateway. Since my four-legged companions insisted on completion of the route before turning back toward home, I followed them gingerly through dimly lit alleyways. I did not have to worry about safety: the collie’s size and the pom’s bark were sufficient to the task of safeguarding their mistress. Also, the policeman on the beat had apparently made their acquaintance. Somewhere along the way, two scantily clad women heavily made up and leaving no one in doubt about their occupation swooped noisily on the dogs, cooing and fussing over them, calling to them by their names.

When hubby returned the next day, I was waiting for him. “I can understand the vendors and the watchmen. But the ladies of the night? Really!” “What can I do, they wanted to pet the dogs,” he replied with a sheepish grin, “they mean no harm.”

All future walks, whenever I stood in for my husband, were always eventful, with new ‘friends’ to greet: the elderly gentleman on his morning constitutional, the schoolchildren all vying with each other to shake a paw, the street urchins and other dog walkers. I began to look forward to these sociable encounters.

This was a side of my husband that I was happy to discover – the ability to ‘walk with crowds and keep his virtue or walk with kings and not lose the common touch’. Very few have the gift.

And it is a lovely feeling to know that I am watched by friendly smiles when I venture down the street, even though Bonnie and Sweetie are no longer around.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tom and Jerry

Make that Thomasina. The church cat is no stranger to the maternity ward and at least two litters of kittens have scampered around the environs of the parish house. She must be particularly well fed, because her ample, rounded belly caused me to tell our priest that she looked rather pregnant. His reaction was an alarmed, ‘No, no it isn’t possible. She’s been operated.’ But he did hazard a furtive second glance in passing. Time will tell!

She was sitting in the church compound next to a tiny black mouse. They were eyeing each other, sizing up the situation; no aggression was indicated but there was a certain feeling of suspense in the air. The mouse moved, and the cat bounded after it, but playfully. They both sat down and faced each other. The cat patted the mouse on its nose and then looked at it. The mouse for its part began to look a little puzzled – was it intended to be breakfast or not? It could have made a break for it - there are ample bushes and ground holes in the church garden - but it seemed drawn to this unusual feline. And so they sat in silent communion (or mutual admiration?). I had no clue to the mouse’s gender; perhaps they were sisters under the skin? Or, perhaps, this was the local version of the lion and the lamb!

And to add to the general feeling of bonhomie, it is rather appropriate that my present listening is a duet by Placido Domingo and John Denver – Perhaps Love. The voices are beautiful, heartfelt, soulful (I could go on, but I won’t) and the lyrics complement my thoughts:

Perhaps love is like a resting place
A shelter from the storm
It exists to give you comfort
It is there to keep you warm
And in those times of trouble
When you are most alone
The memory of love will bring you home

Perhaps love is like a window
Perhaps an open door
It invites you to come closer
It wants to show you more
And even if you lose yourself
And don't know what to do
The memory of love will see you through

Oh, love to some is like a cloud
To some as strong as steel
For some a way of living
For some a way to feel
And some say love is holding on
And some say letting go
And some say love is everything
And some say they don't know….