Saturday, March 09, 2013
I guess it is our childhood that shapes us--and while Mummy liked to laugh,Daddy was the Family Joker!!his antics had us in splits.Unfortunately he was also a workaholic---so I or rather we had very little interaction with him for 4-5 years in between when he was really busy--leaving before we woke up and returning long after we'd gone to bed.Being a highly qualified Architect and one of the select Team assisting Le Corbusier, he had plenty of Projects to fulfill for Chandigarh was growing and expanding fast. So from 1959 till 1965 he was someone whom we met rarely--on some Sundays if we were lucky--and except on the rare Treks Jeanneret Uncle and he took into the Hills I too saw very little of him.
These Treks are some of my most prized Memories--frozen in Time and vividly crystal clear in my mind--I can still feel the cool Breeze on my face as I drink in the sparkling Mountain Air.The scent of the Conifers,the feel of those slippery needles underfoot,the elusive but haunting aroma of the Wildflowers I crushed under my feet and the sparkling tiny Streams tinkling in a musical Rhythm on their way down the Mountain slopes---everything is still very,very real and sharp.The Mountains were our favourite Summer haunt--and I loved going there.We'd drive there in Jeanneret Uncle's Beige Hillman--parking it at the side of the Road randomly take off up the steep mountainside.These Treks brought me closer to Nature as the two men taught me about bits of History,Geography and mainly broadened my mental horizons.The gentle Hill Folk with whom we'd interact were simple people--hard working but extremely hospitable--willing to share whatever they had with strangers like us--and without expecting a price!!I still remember the time when one old man sitting outside his cottage told my father "Sahib hum Roti aur Paani key paisey nahin letey!!" which translated means that Sir we do not sell Food and Water!!While I enjoyed these rare interludes,Daddy was changing into a brusque and impatient man and the distance between us was growing wider.Finally in early 1965 the axe fell--he was advised a Medical break because he had developed a severe bout of Low Blood Pressure and needed to rest.His yearly leave was pending---the period of it had stretched to as much as 2 whole years and while he couldn't utilise all of it,he did take 6 months off.Being unsure of Daddy's mood while he was stressed out had made the three of us view him as an Ogre----for despite disciplining us pretty severely herself, Mummy would still run to him and get him to bark ferociously at us each time we misbehaved!!Thus the thought of this irascible man being in the house all 24 hours each day was a truly daunting experience---one neither of us wanted!!
That we rediscovered Daddy once more was the unexpected Joy we all reaped--for he became a child to reach his children and connect with them once more.We just couldn't wait to rush back home--and all of us--but specially me as I was the oldest---bonded beautifully with him!!Daddy was an overgrown child--a man of unbending principles which caused him a lot of heartache---but it is something he has passed on to each one us in varying degrees--of all 3 sisters I am the worst hit.As Sudhir used to say,I view the situation as either Black or White--the shades of Grey are something that I have trouble accepting!!Not just that both he and Mummy were perfectionists and that is another thing that I've inherited in a large measure---I get extremely frustrated with my own mediocrity at times!!Daddy however thought I was a genius--he was extremely proud of my so called Intelligence--and liked to show me off to all our extended Family and his friends.As a result everyone holds my intellect in exaggerated esteem--and while I agree that I do have a good Intellect I'm definitely not a Genius!!Yes I have been blessed with an exceptionally great Memory--and in my childhood I retained entire Books that I read.Daddy would show my Memory off by flinging random sentences out of the books I'd read--and ask me to give References to the Context--which I did accurately 95% of the time.That I was and still am a voracious reader was something he was inordinately proud of--and would get me Books from the Library to read.He encouraged me to read about Archeaology and Astronomy besides great Literature--in English,Hindi,Marathi and Punjabi.History became my favourite Subject and the only subject he couldn't get me interested in was Arithmetic--the very bane of my existence!!However,1965 was one year when Daddy spent our Summer Vacation completely with us--and we travelled to Bombay together as a family once more after a gap of 5 long years!!
Saturday, March 09, 2013
Where ever I may travel--far or wide--- to me India is synonymous with "Home".Guess you can take me out of India--but never India out of me!!I have had a charmed life--growing up in the erstwhile Indian Punjab and then moving on to Bombay--the Financial hub of India.It took me a very long time to come to terms with the hurried pace of Bombay life--and I missed my surroundings--specially my beautiful Mountains terribly to begin with--but insidously the sylvan surroundings of our new flat wound their tendrils round my heart--and my soul attained a certain peace!!Today I've lived here for the past 38 years this May 23rd.--and this is where my roots reach deep down below to anchor me to this 700 sq.ft. carpet flat I call home!!
As a child I grew up in the dusty Plains of North India---excruciatingly cold in the Winters and blisteringly hot in the Summers.Much to my mother's chagrin I was Nature's child--shinning up the "Neem" and numerous Mango trees that populated our Garden.As a result i had scraped knees and shins--not to mention innumerable scratches and small wounds that would sometimes develope into slightly larger issues.My interaction with the long,sharp Thorns of the hardy "Keekar" tree was a constant pain for both Mummy and Amma---for sometimes the white,slender inch long thorn would break inside my bare heels as I drew it out---and would within a week escalate into a visit to the Doctor's--for neither Mummy nor Amma could reach that deep inside with a cauterized Needle to remove it!!The Doctor would administer a local Anaesthetic and draw it out--tut-tutting all the while and remonstrating with me--educating me on the evils of such thorns turning into septic wounds!!All this was Water off my back--for I was a dreamy child--constantly day dreaming and living in a World populated with the characters from the books I read.Early years in School were my favourite ones--later Mathematics and I agreed to disagree and I could never really understand the benefits of studying Arithmetic--I mean how did doing Sums about Fractions,Stocks and Shares and Percentage affect my existence???Today I realise fully well how they do.I adored Algebra and Geometry---but I'm not a very logical person--my arguments tend to meander away from the subjects at hand!!
For me Heaven meant lying on my back under a Mango tree in the Summer,gazing up into it's thick foliage and trying to count the number of unripe,Green Mangoes hanging on it's branches.My favourite perch high up in the "Neem" Tree was lined with an old "Durrie" a thick,woven Cotton Carpet and an irregularly shaped Cushion much the worse for wear that used to cushion my spine.A nearby fork of it's branches acted as a Book shelf--and contained an assortment of Books as well as my Diary--that contained my most private thoughts.There also was a Diary in which my Poems were written---and this was my secret World--the World I loved!!Daddy had made a leafy Arbor of Grape Vines by training these over Aluminium wires over the roof of our Garage--another favourite retreat during the hot Summers----the cool dark recesses were a sublimely secret place--only had one very big drawback--one could expect Snakes--the poisonous varieties right next to you!!I have danced in wild abandon in early childhood with the Peacocks--loving the wild fury of Nature when it brought about the sudden,torrential Summer Showers-----and had fun catching wild Parrots as they swooped down to peck at the Green Chillie I held out invitingly to them!!One of these became my pet named "Mithu" and became pretty tame till one day my pet cat named "Kitty" caught him and killed him.Daddy was fond of Hunting and the surrounding Himalayan Foothills were full of Game. Quail,Partridge and Hare were the preferred Game and also the Rivers teemed with Fish.The Trout,Malli and Singhada were the common varieties--the Rohu however was the delicacy!!Till today no visit to the North is complete without a sampling of the delicious Fish Fry and Fish Tikka--the former fried in sharp tasting Mustard Oil and the latter broiled over hot coals!!
Most of all I loved and still love the "Scent of India".It is really intriguing how this changes with every Season in every region.Chandigarh smelt of the Village---Dust,Cement,Grass,Cow Dung and of the bloom on the Mango trees in the Summer during my early childhood as it was in the very throes of being built.Later the Winter scent of Roses,Narcissi and Tube Roses would change the entire atmosphere into a flowery Arbor.I still remember the scent of various types of Jasmine scenting the ambience just before and during the Monsoon months--the Air redolent with the scent of these various Varieties and wet Earth--a perfume I would love to bottle and hoard!!Summer Air every evening smelt of the smoke of the Tandoors--and the warm smell of Bread--Tandoori Breads--Naans,Parathas and Rotis along with the scent of succulent Chicken and Meat delicacies.For me these were an indivisible part of my childhood--the scent of the Coal and Cow Dung fired stoves,freshly cooked Summer Vegetables--Okra,tiny Round Gourds,Ivy Gourds,Eggplants/Aubergines and various varieties of the Gourd family were daily regulars at our table.The simply cooked Dals were redolent with the taste of Butter or Ghee and an endless supply of various Squashes made by Mummy during the Winters--bottles of Orange,Lime and Mulberry would be gulped down copiously in huge quantities.There would be huge quantities of Indian Buttermilk we call "Chhaas" and "Lassi" to help us combat the heat during the day.My most favourite smell is however of "Khus".This aromatic Grass would be woven into thick sheets--and these woven sheets would be placed outside our open windows---acting like external curtains.A rubber pipe would then be strategically placed to water these and keep these wet and a Table Fan would rotate some distance away from behind the woven curtain----blowing in cool Air through the woven Grass.The room would turn into a dark,cool,scented Paradise and emerging from it into the Light would be like coming out of a very dark,deep Tunnel!!An idyllic childhood made me into a dreamer--naive,trusting and looking at the World through rose coloured Glasses!!
Friday, March 08, 2013
The Beautiful Gulmohar in all it's blazing Glory
Ritu's Chemo backlash has subsided and we are now getting to resume some kind of routine once more.She has been cleared to attend the Office if she so wants--as well other Social activities.The backlash luckily was not as violent as I had feared it would be---so that is one thing that I'm more relaxed about.Her earlier Chemos in 2009 had had minimal backlash while mine were terrible---given the more advanced stage and toxicity used.
Summer is literally barging in on us--the Tempratures are soaring and the pleasant Winter interlude has finally ended.For me these are poignant moments---for Sudhir loved to see the Seasons change.It is truly like watching a Miracle take place--the Sky changes it's hue from a deeper Cobalt Blue to a lighter Azure one which will fade into the lightest of Aqua in the height of Summer.For me it has always been wonderful to see the hot colours contrasting with the bright,blazingly brassy Sunshine of Summer.The sight of the deep Orange and Red Blossoms of the Gulmohar standing outlined in all it's glorious Beauty symbolises the Indian Summer for me.It brings back a horde of Memories---of my own childhood as well the childhood of my daughters.Sudhir and I would drive down to Kolhapur each Summer from Bombay/Mumbai.The journey those days lasted 9-10 hours and keeping Sayali busy for that period needed plenty of inventiveness.It was this same Gulmohar that granted me a brainwave.The entire route was dotted with Gulmohar Trees--some in full bloom and some just with the first flush of budding out.I told her that she was announce each Tree which was in full bloom and count these on our way Kolhapur.While this gave her something to do it was some time before Sudhir got used to her sudden full throated yells of "Doomb!!Doomb!!" from the backseat!!In Marathi the term is "Laal Bund" meaning Blood Red.Sayali could never remember the entire word and replaced it with Doomb as a shorter version!!I would also point out the various Hill Forts or Gadhs that dotted the stark Summer landscape to both Lotta and Sayali---the craggy forts rising up into the Sky in the Summer haze .The Sahyadari Range of the Western Ghats is a steep one---and has many peaks which were fortified by our ancestors in ancient times.The legendary King--Shiv Chhatrapati carved out a Kingdom based on these Forts as his base in the 1600s and gave a tough time to the powerful Mughal Empire of Delhi.The Marathas evolved into a powerful influence in Indian History---leaving a great impact on it till 1818 when it was broken by the British.This way I'd teach them both a bit of both History and Geography---telling them about the Geographical Landmarks as well as the Historical ones.I'd also string the various exploits of the Marathas into stories and they'd listen with rapt attention.The trick was to keep them occupied--for these were the pre Air Conditioned Car days--and the dry hot Wind that blew in through the open windows of the Car was blisteringly hot and dehydrating!!Besides later Ming and Tina joined us--these two mini Lhasa Apsos were blessed with thick long hair and though I'd chop their locks each Summer they still would feel the heat immensely!!
There are plenty of Memories of the strawberry blonde Tina--fondly called Da Tuna by the girls--half out of the front window on my lap!!She was fat,cuddly and heavy---and the constant effort of trying to haul her in gave me great excercise for my arms--and muscles like a wrestler's!!Ming was more disciplined--he'd curl up in the centre of the backseat and snooze or just poke his disdainful nose a wee bit out of the window on either side--he never played favourites between the girls.Tina on the other hand had lots of attitude-----there were certain things that she loved to complain long and loud about!!During our journey Sudhir had to ensure that the speed never slackened,that we did not pass any Trucks for she hated the smell of Diesel exhaust---and that we took regular halts for plump,rounded little Da Tuna to stretch her fat little legs as well as relieve herself!!I have yet to see any female Dog so obsessed with her looks--a truly vain little b***h!!Ming on the other hand was wiry and springy-----a live wire who just couldn't sit still!!
Despite the extreme heat, those drives were the best---passing dry bare Hillsides full of dried Brush onto lushly Green Fields of Sugarcane--the way the Soil changed colour--from a dry sandy hue to a nondescript Brown and later to a rich loamy Black--I loved it all!!Sudhir and I would sing our favourite Songs--both Hindi and Marathi with a sprinkling of English ones too---his mellifluosly tuneful tones mixing with my off tune ones--but both of us having a ball!!The girls would also join in--at times purloin the stage by singing their own medleys--there would be "Maria","The Sound of Music" and "Edelweiss" from the 'Sound of Music',"Feed the Birds","Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
" and "A Spoonful of Sugar" from 'Mary Poppins' as well as some Hindi and Marathi songs too.Those drives are today saved in my Memory--bathed in the afterglow of nostalgia these are some of my most precious moments archived in my mind.
There was something timelessly primal and right about it--I felt a part of my Country,it's History and the Landscape---one with my environment!!Those days we were young and hardy----both Sudhir and I enjoyed the Heat,Dust and just being alive with gusto.The beautiful expanse of an Indian Countryside baking in the Summer Sun has to experienced--for no Picture or Photograph can capture the intensity of the ambience ever!!
Sunday, March 03, 2013
My Friends and Me in our Condominium Compound--May 2011
Left to Right:Fatima,Kishori Ben,Mitra,Kanta,Radha Ben,Ritu and Me.
What you are all seeing is my group of Friends--there are a few of them missing but we have over the years become a pretty close group.There are a few of them missing in this Picture---Pushpa my closest friend,Anuradha almost a foster niece,Vijaya my neighbour who lives opposite me,Bhabhiji who lives just above me and her DIL Sonia as well as Shashi Tai form the entire group.I wouldn't place them in the same category as my friend Pushpa--who is like an older sister to me or Anuradha who has become like a niece instead of my next door neighbour---but the fact that they are there is one of the comforts of my life today.After Sudhir died, this Group began by holding my hand and now we've all progressed to being each other's support system!!Today each one of them is volunteering to help out with their time--for instance they've shown a willingness to sit with Ritu while I run my errands so that I can do so without worrying about her---and also to sit with her during the Chemotherapy in the Hospital--a process that can last upto 8 hours!!Each one of these women is willing to do her share to help me out and it is this support that I value.The feeling that I can fall back on these people--because they live in the same Condominium does raise my confidence level!!The feeling of not being alone means a lot to me---and while I may not need to take them up on their offer I still am grateful to them for offering the instant reassurance that I'm not alone till the rest of the Family reaches me.My sisters-in-law--both Sudhir's sisters Kunda and Suhas as well as Nina his sister-in-law live in the Suburbs and given the Traffic situation can take hours to reach.Besides all 3 are much older than both Ritu or me---a fact that has not stopped them from offering their whole hearted support!!At the moment Mikki sat through with Ritu on the 28th.February during the first Session of Chemo--next one falls on the 21st. March when Mikki will be in Singapore on official business.Hopefully someone from Ritu's Office will help out--and guess we'll get through that as well.Man is a social animal and these social relationships are as important to nurture as are Blood ties--for we never can stand alone!!
Friday, March 01, 2013
The axe has finally fallen--Cancer has been confirmed.My sister Ritu has been advised 6 cycles of Chemotherapy and these hopefully will work on the Cancer in the Lymph nodes.The first Chemotherapy cycle took place on Thursday.Now we are coping with the aftermath of the treatment.Thank You, all my very dear SP Friends for praying for her.Your continued support and Prayers will help to get her back on her feet very soon.I am also very grateful to The Almighty for being with me and holding my hand to lead me out into the Light of Hope and soothing my mind and soul and restoring a normalcy to our daily routine.
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