Generally I'm not superstitious---actually I'll purposely go against Superstition just to prove how fallacious the entire idea is---but there is one particular area where I lose this pragmatic rationalism---when India plays Pakistan in a Cricket Match!!The World Cup Fever has hit India---and how!!Everywhere one goes---Cricket takes center stageas Conversational Gambits!!When the Tournament began India was doing okay---win most and lose some!!But the Excitement reached Fever Pitch when Pakistan beat The West Indies to reach the Semi-Finals----that did it---India just had to win against Australia!!That done----it was India and Pakistan into the Semi Finals---along with Sri Lanka and New Zealand!!The first Match was Sri Lanka vs.New Zealand---comfortably won by the Sri Lankans---the next Semi Final was really crucial---India vs Pakistan!!
All the various Offices were in a quandary---people were taking the day off---and those who were refused a Holiday openly declared that they were reporting sick on that day!!The Management tried to wheedle the Employees with sops---Giant Screens,Free Food and general laxity in Discipline---but couldn't succeed!!Besides India won the Toss---and elected to Bat first---putting paid to their Plans---no one wanted to miss the Indian Batting Display!!Now any other Indian match---I don't care a hoot---but against Pakistan---that isn't a Match---it's a Battle!!
I have this Theory---proven time and again---that each time I watch these particular Matches/Battles India gets worse before it gets better----and that aspect actually frustrates me more---for according to Sudhir I lack Sportsman Spirit!!So I prefer to remove my person from the scene and sit elsewhere for the entire period---except the Lunch or Dinner Break(in Day/Night Matches)---keeping both my Fingers and Toes crossed---fearing the terrible ingnominy of Defeat against our Arch Rivals!!So all said and done that Match begain well enough but soon after Wickets started tumbling and I was in the depths of Despair!!Since fingers and toes were already crossed,I resorted to the only option left---not thinking about the Match!!!But here there was so much noise going on outside---each good stroke being greeted with a roar and each wicket with a howl---I just couldn't escape from the damn thing!!!Finally our Innings drew to a close----and theirs began!!
For me this part is worse!!For I want all their Wickets to collapse in successive Balls---a tall order!!Besides since Patience is a Virtue I sorely lack I busied myself with the Youtube Music on the Computer---my ears cocked and waiting impatiently for the Fireworks celebrating the Fall of their Wickets.Sudhir tried to involve me in the Game but I resolutely stayed aloof---for if the Pak side had to be packed off---it was necessary!!Ultimately the Cheers and the Fire Works reached a crescendo---we won the Match!!Then and only then did I allow myself to enter our Bedroom---at 10.50 p.m.!!The Match was watched live at the Mohalli Grounds by both the Prime Ministers and other Dignitaries from both Countries---and here in Mumbai the people went berserk with Joy!!!This Semi Final was even bigger than the World Cup Final for us!!The Fireworks and Celebrations continued into the wee hours of the morning---but we Indians are basically a noisy People--so used to sleeping through all types of Commotion---peacefully!!
The Circuit House,Kasauli
In the Hills and Mountains of Himachal Pradesh---Tales of Ghosts are abundant.My Amma was a "Pahadan" or Hillwoman from that Region and very early in Life we were told the methods of keeping these thwarted Spirits at bay.I never really took her seriously---till once I had reason to and how!!!
Daddy had booked us into the Circuit House in Kasauli for 10 days in Summer---and we occupied the Upper Storey.This Circuit House was a beautiful place---with typical British Raj Furnishings.Built in Wood with a Stone Foundation it had beautiful Bay windows overlooking the Garden---then a riot of Colours and Scented Air---thanks to the profusion of Flowers.Daddy and I would walk for quite a distance and he'd hire a Pony for me to ride back---walking alongside me--pointing out the beautiful views---various Flora and Fauna---the Langurs and the Monkeys chattering overhead---it used to be a special time for me!!Daddy loved Trekking in the Hills and while he allowed me to join him sometimes---on the more difficult Climbs he left me behind---something that I hated!!
The highest Point in Kasauli is Monkey Point---a very steep climb.Daddy decided to watch the Sunrise from there and to accomplish this he decided to leave at 4 a.m.---giving him sufficient time to reach the Peak comfortably!!Being the stubborn mule that I was---I managed to keep awake and when I heard him moving around---got dressed too!!My Plan was to shadow him till we were halfway up the Trail and then join him---for then he'd have no choice but to take me along!!I stole out after him---sticking to the shadows(learnt sleuthing from Enid Blyton's Five Findouters!!)in the Passage---till I saw the glow of a fire burning in the Fireplace below!!There were 2 stuffed Horsehair Chairs on either side of it---and in one of those a man was seated---a Britisher--reading by the Firelight!!!Feeling my stare upon him he lifted his face----which was invisible---there was nothing there!!Badly rattled and chilled to the bone I scooted back into Mikki's room---climbing into Amma's bed and clinging tightly to her!!My teeth were chattering and I shivered for a long time---the whole thing was extremely unnerving!!The next day Amma managed to piece together the entire Story---and thoroughly alarmed took me to an "Ojha" or Shaman who performed the Exorcism on me----he kept mumbling some rhythmic Chants and patting me on the head with Peacock Feathers and in half an hour he proclaimed that I was lucky---because I ran away before the "Sahib" could possess me!!This done I spent the rest of the Days in Kasauli under Amma's Eagle eye---she really kept me in her vision always!!
After this brush with the Spirit World my curiosity was peaked---and I began going over the incident in my mind----did that incident really happen---or was it my Imagination?One thing was certain---I was too badly spooked---and wide awake for it to have been a Dream!!Our old Ancestral home in Kolhapur too had it's spooky moments---the wooden Staircase creaking at night,weird shapes casting shadows on the Walls---strange sounds and grunts being heard in the middle of the night---but nothing to be seen!!Luckily for quite some time nothing happened and I grew up,married and becme a mother too--without any further sightings.By now I knew that my Sixth Sense was very strong---I would get Signs for both the Good and the Bad experiences looming up in the near Future---but these were just that---Signs.There is a Hill Station near us called Mahabaleshwar----at a distance of 6 hours drive from Mumbai.The first time we went there---I took an irrational dislike to it---though both the Girls and Sudhir loved it!!It soon became a regular Summer Destination for us on the way back from Kolhapur---and I just hated it more and more!!The whole place gave me the Chills!!On one trip I realised why-----there were certain paths there which I just dreaded---and on of these one night while returning to our Hotel after boating in the Venna Lake---I saw this woman in white----again faceless---under a huge Banyan Tree!!Luckily the Car quickly sped past the spot and I resisted the urge to turn back for another look---and the next morning we left for Bombay.
On our return home Lotta took me aside and asked me if I had seen anything---to which I counter questioned why?That was when she told me that she'd seen that Woman standing there under the Banyan Tree many times----not just that she'd also seen a man carrying Buckets of Water outside their Hotel Window from Midnight till early Dawn---that did it for me!!!From the next year we began taking our Vacations all over the length and breadth of India---and Mahabaleshwar got left behind!!
My childhood was full of things that are obsolete today.For instance our Indian Air Conditioning was superb---and scented!!!Thick "Chattis" or Woven pieces of Thatch made of the scented "Khus" Grass would be sold as Summer approached---These would be fixed over the open Windows.A constantly dripping pipe would keep these heavily soaked and moist.A Table Fan would whirr away in the Balcony facing these "Chattis"--thus blowing cool,scented Air into the closed Bedroom!!!The experience was very exotic and relaxing---ensuring a good Afternoon Siesta when temperatures soared above 45 Degrees Celcius and over as Summer wore on!!Not just this---the wonderful Earth scented Water from the Clay Pots called "Suraahees" and "Matkaas" was deliciously refreshing!!These Pots would have Garlands of "Mogra Flowers"(Jasmine) strung around their necks---perfuming the Atmosphere!!Also the Summer Nights would be spent on the Terrace under the open Sky-----Mosquito Nets unfortunately were a necessary Evil!!The Moonlit nights would be the best---all the World around bathed in a cool,clear Silvery glow----very Poetic and Magical!!
The beautiful Natural Surroundings I grew up in are today a part of the Past---thick Pine and Fir Forests and Wild flower scented Hiking Trails,clear,pure Water from the tumbling Mountain Brooks---and the clean,pure Air----all are a part of a bygone Era----belonging to Yesterday!!
Childhood is the relatively care-free period of one's Life---and the Joys of discovering new Facts are very fascinating---these are new only to the child experiencing them---but old hat for the World at large!!On my 5th.Birthday Daddy gifted me a "Movie Theatre"----made out of an old Cardboard Box.He had cut out the Lid to form a Screen---and made holes in the two sides corresponding to these.Two sticks were fitted in those Holes---these held a long strip of Paper!!!Daddy had cut out strips from the "Illustrated Weekly of India" Comic Page featuring The Phantom's Exploits,painstakingly stuck these together over a strip of Paper to form entire Episodes---which were then carefully stuck on and rolled over the stick on the right hand side---the end firmly stuck to the stick on the Left hand side.By twisting the left hand stick the Paper Strip would unfurl and I could view the entire episodes in actual Sequence----God alone knows when he found the time to do all this---for he left before I woke up and returned after I went to bed!!When my Lotta was a baby he made a Clown---it's face was a cut out of Lotta's face---and each time she pulled a string attached to it---the Clown would dance--moving his arms and legs in rhythmic movements!!She adored it---it was her favourite toy---a gift from her darling"Aabuja"!!!Unfortunately he died young--aged just 53 years on 15th.October 1974--when she was 3 years old and Sayali just 25 days old!!I really wish that both of them had known him and he them---for these two were the only Grandchildren my Parents were destined to have!!
I have always considered myself extremely lucky to have been born when I did---the experiences of Nature that I have enjoyed have given me a Treasure Chest full of Memories---Peacocks dancing wildly under the deep Purply Black Clouds roiling over head with Lightning dancing and flashing in their depths---the sudden rush of early Summer Hail Storms---huge balls of Ice hitting the Earth wit a terrific Rat-a-Tat-Tat staccato beat---the musky smell of fine Sand swirling in through crevices in Doors and Windows during an"Aandhi" or Sand Storm blowing in from Rajasthan--the grainy taste of it on the tip of my Tongue---and the warm Earthy smell of the thirsty Earth soaking up the Summer Showers---all these faces of Nature have really given me indescribable Pleasure!!!My beautiful Bluey-Purple Mountains and the beautiful clear Starry nights I slept under---all have enriched me in many ways.They have taught me to love my surroundings with a Passion and have given me an eye for Beauty--be it a fertile Valley or a stark Desert--Nature is just so very awesomely beautiful!!It also taught me to love my Country with a fervent Passion---while I love travelling---India is the ONLY place I consider HOME!!
Mummy and Prabha Maushi were like Sisters---but had a very different approach to Life!!!Mummy was a perfectionist---getting her approval was frustrating----but Prabha Maushi---Pra Maushi for short---was easy going---and so we'd home in on her each time we wanted to have our Experiments in Cooking!!!Poor Pra Maushi's kitchen ould look as if a Hurricane had hit after we finished---but she never complained!!Both Anju and I were blessed with extremely thick,long Black hair---but washing it out and then detangling and combing it out would be a nightmare!!Mummy'd liberally pour in the "Amla"(Indian Gooseberry)Oil--home made with loads of Ayurvedic Herbs and Amla---a beautifully scented Oil----she'd apply so much of it that it ran down in rivulets down my Face--and then comb out the Tangles---jerking my head this way and that as if I was a Rag Doll---how I hated those 15-20 minutes of Torture!!Pra Maushi on the other hand applied just the right amount of Oil---finger combed the hair first to untangle it---and then combed through the Tangles so gently that one didn't even realise when she was through---very smooth!!Funny thing is that while I preferred Pra Maushi---Anju preferred Mummy--so we'd crossover on Saturday nights---sleeping over in each other's homes!!
My hair fell almost upto my knees---and was very thick but very fine in texture.Due to this it always seemed as if I had back combed my Hair to form a "Bouffant" or "Bird's Nest " on my head!!!The Nuns were very strict with us---we HAD to tie 2 Plaits which had to be doubled up and tied with Black Ribbons--we called this style the "Cocker Spaniel's Ears"!!!Doubled up also my Plaits hung down to my waist like thick,heavy ropes of Hair---my friends called me "Rapunzel" in fun!!One of the Nuns----Mother Marcia---felt that I back combed my Hair---and one afternoon on my way back to Class after Lunch she caught hold of me and unplaited one Plait---ran a comb through my Hair---and on finding nothing---tried to help me plait it again---an impossible job for me because of the thickness of the strands!!!Finally she allowed me to just manage my hair somehow----terribly untidy looking---but it couldn't be helped!!Later when she met Mummy during our Concert she complimented her on her Stamina---in plaiting my Hair daily!!
All three of us had fabulous Hair---but Mikki's was the best of all---long,thick,Black and lustrous---but by the time Mummy realised it was sapping her growth it was too late.Mikki didn't go beyond 5'2"!!However today thanks to Mumbai Water all 3 of us have only a fraction of our Hair left---but the thickness of even Mikki's reduced Hair will still give a young lady heartburn---it's still full and thick by normal standards!!Mikki's Hair wouldn't be washed in Winter----it required 3 days of Sunshine to dry!!!Since every time it snowed in the Mountains it rained in the Plains---this was left unwashed---cleaned with hot Towel Baths instead on Sunny Days!!Towels would be wrung out in hot Water and then Mikki's Hair would be divided in 3 layers---the bottom layer would be scrubbed first,then the middle one and finally the top layer---then each layer would be rubbed with thick dry Towels to soak away any moisture left in the Hair----an exhausting Excercise for Amma and Mummy!!!Poor Mikki then had to sit in the Sun the whole day---just to dry out!!
Daddy and I were "Buddies"---in all his Projects he involved me----and I involved him in mine!!!Both my Parents were extremely artistic---they'd dressed me up as "Rose Red" in a Crepe Paper Dress they sat and fashioned together---I must have barely 2 years old---and I walked away with the First Prize----the Dress was carefully packed in Tissue Paper for quite a few years---don't know where it went---perhaps lost when we shifted and relocated!!Daddy had fashioned most of our Furniture himself---out of Wooden Crates and Planks---and then painted it over---including our Bamboo Sofa set---each Sunday he'd enlist me to help him tighten the "Nevaar" a woven Indian Cotton strip---a number of these were woven together to form the base over the Bamboo Frame!!Not just that--we'd put up Shelves or make a Canoe--stretching the Oil Cloth tight over the light weight wooden frame!!!I could row really well---but couldn't swim!!We'd walk approximately 7 miles each evening--walking from our home to the Sukhna Lake--then walking the entire length of the Promenade and back--getting home exhiliarated by the brisk pace!!
I was Daddy's "Pathan"--a wiry 90 lbs.but with an Elephant's strength!!I could lift upto 70 lbs easily---a little more with a little effort--and was very active in Athletics---my favourite Sports were playing Badminton and taking part in Discus and Shot Put Throws.I also loved to take part in the Long Jump and Javelin Throw---and was the Captain of the Red Team in my Final Year in School.Each time Daddy went out of Town on a Tour it was my job to check the Doors and Windows---for Mummy was petrified of Robbers and thieves!!!So was I---only it was below my Dignity to admit to Fear---it still is---my cool and calm demeanor makes people think about how brave I am--while I'm literally quaking inside!!
Holi always reminds me of Ritu's love for "Puran Polies"!!She just adores these---and Mummy's "Puran Polies" were truly superlative---soft and melting in the mouth!!!Each time Mummy made these for certain Festivals Ritu'd create a scene when the last few were left---laying claim to all the Polies left---throwing an irritating Tantrum to get her way!!Finally Daddy got fed up of these Tantrums---and decreed that Mummy would make these for Ritu alone and feed her these till she refused to eat any more!!!So this experiment was put into practice---every week Mummy'd make stacks of these in large numbers---and Ritu would be fed these for Breakfast,Lunch,Tea and Dinner----in six months we all got fed up of these to such an extent that even today I can't eat more than one at a time!!!Madame Ritu ate her way merrily through these for a full year----that's when Mummy gave up--she was fed up with making these constantly!!This regular practice made her even more proficient---and Ritu more addicted---even today she can put away 3-4 at a single sitting!!!The Plan backfired---and how!!
Mummy's best friend was Prabha Maushi---another Mumbaite.These two women were so close that we thought Prabha Maushi was Mummy's younger sister!!!Her husband Madhu Kaka was an Architect too and she got married a year after my Parents.Their daughter Anjali(Anju) was born a year after me,son Rahul a year after Mikki and a second daughter Gaouri a year after Ritu----thus we were all evenly spaced out and considered ourselves first cousins---and share that same bond even today!!Gouri and I were specially close----and from my age of 4 her age of 3 we began studying Classical Indian Dance together----she and I both learnt the Bharata Natyam together.Madhu Kaka belonged to Dewaas in the State of Madhya Pradesh and was very close to Kumar Gandharva---a very famous young Singer.This gentleman would visit Chandigarh frequently to perform at the Tagore Theatre---and would put up at Madhu Kaka-Prabha Maushi's home----there used to be impromptu Recitals or "Mehfils" in Prabha Maushi's home----lasting till early hours of the morning.All of us children would try to stay awake but would nod off---being carried to bed by our fathers----still dreaming of that heavenly voice washing over us!!Our Parents were regular visitors to the Jallandhar sangeet Sammelan---Kumar Kaka supplying the Passes and thus we'd all of us be Amma's responsibility for the better part of the Week till the four of them were away!!One memory of this couple really styands out--bringing a smile to my lips even today!!The "Bread Wallah" would come by on his Cycle with the daily quota of Fresh Bread every evening----and it was such a delight to watch him smoothly and evenly slice the soft,warm Bread Loaf into slices of equal thickness---with infinite ease!!It was as if the knife was sliding through Butter!!On Saturdays however he had instructions to deliver 2 Loaves instead of the usual one---and that too unsliced!!Once the 2 Loaves were delivered and the Bread Wallah left---there'd be a free for all---with each one of grabbing the Loaves and tearing off the Crisp Crust---leaving the soft Bread untouched!!When the entire Crust was consumed,Prabha Maushi'd placed the Bread in the Bread Bin---and next morning it would be broken by all of us into tiny crumbs----to be made into Spicy Bread Upma!!This simple Breakfast dish was and still is one of my favourites---and Prabha Maushi made it perfectly---even today the taste of her Upma lingers on my tongue!!
Anju and I were inseparable---partners in many things---but mainly in Dance.Our Dance Teacher was a Bengali---and thanks to him we gave written Exams to get our Degrees or "Vishaarad" in our chosen field---"Bharat Natyam".We were regular Stage Performers on various occasions--taking part in different Variety Programs as well as the Maharashtra Mandal Programs.I gave up after my marriage but Anju continued with her Dancing---and today teaches Dance in a Girls High School--as well as giving Stage Shows in Dubai---where she lives with her husband.Both her daughters are married and well settled--both being well qualified Career Women---we've all come a long way from those days!!!