My biggest grouse growing up was being a Girl and belonging to the wrong Sex---being a Boy was so much more fun!!Mummy'd make my life Hell---trying to teach me to be a "Lady"---good posture and walking the straight was just the tip of the Iceberg!!At the age of 10 I learnt to grind Spice Mixes or "Masalas" on the Grinding Stone---those days there were none of those "Mixer/Grinder" Appliances---we ground our Masalas on Grinding Stones---a flat pock marked heavy piece of Basalt topped with an elongated or triangular similarly pock marked piece of Basalt on top----called "Paataa Varvantaa" in Marathi and "Sill Battaa" in Hindi---how I hated that!!Every Sunday morning was torture---if cooking Meat there would be 3 different Pastes to be ground---and so finely that if a little was dropped into the Water it would dissolve completely--leaving no Residue at all!!The same applied to grinding raw Fresh Coconut for Fish--grated and kept ready.In both cases use of Water was to be kept to the minimum---it all had to be mainly pure Muscle Power---giving me one more reason for having a Wrestler's arms today!!By now the Coal Fires were being phased out---with Kerosene powered Wick Stoves replacing them and the Pressure Cooker replacing the old fashioned Brass Steamers that Aaji had given Mummy in her Trousseau.I also learnt to chop and cut--mincing Onions so finely so as to resemble grains of small grained Rice ---and ended up almost slicing off my fingertips at times---thanks to the razor sharp knives!!
There was also the added brunt of learning to Embroider,Knit and Sew----unpicking the uneven Stitches umpteen number of times to get tiny,perfectly even stitches while Embroidering and Sewing---as for Crochet---I just never quite got the hang of it---but Knitting I took to---in the beginning grumpily knitting Pull Overs for our Cooks and Bearers under Mummy's hawkish eyes!!I also learnt the Art of Flower Arrangement---and this was a delight for I loved Flowers---besides we had loads of Varieties of these in our Garden--specially in Winter.I was a good Painter and loved using Water Colours and Oils----though Daddy encouraged me to use Charcoal and Oil Pastels too.The Nuns at School insisted on us stitching Cushion Covers,Table Cloths and Curtains---and then embelishing these with intricate Embroidery---using a plethora of tiny,even sized Stitches---leaving my fingertips smarting with Needle pricks!!
Sewing though I loved---and loved stitching tiny garments for my Dolls--gathering snippets of Cloth from the cuttings left over from Mummy's bouts of sewing our clothes.I basically loved making Patterns belonging to bygone Eras---lots of Frills,Flounces and Ribbons as well as Laces and Motifs----I also learnt Smocking from my Aunts---including Chinese Smocking!!Though I did not know it then all these Arts helped me become an efficient Housewife later in Life!!
In the 50s and 60s---even into the 70s--Women were supposed to be the Rock that Homes were built on.They were the mainstay of the Homes they ran like Clockwork---but very much subservient to Men---more so in India.In India the Dress Code decided the "Good" and the "Bad" girls---extravagant use of Make-Up and extreme Fashion in dressing made a girl looked upon as fast!!
As a child I wore only the best---both my parents were very extravagant where Clothes were concerned---besides Mummy was an expert Seamsress---all our clothes would be modelled on the Patterns published in the Imported Magazines---the Indian touch added by touches of beautiful Embroidery that Mummy did---copied from the Indian Magazines!!As I crossed the age of 13,Daddy woke up to the fact that I was growing up---and surprisingly for someone as broadminded as him---he decreed that the Tailored Sheaths Mummy made for me had to have "Salwars" or "Churidars" covering my legs---the latter being so tight fitted that in the Summer I'd powder my legs and use a News Paper inside these to help me ease them leggings over my sweaty calves---the Churidars had a tendency to get stuck there and pulling these made things worse---for they then tore----and thus too a "Dupatta/Odhni/Chunni" as the Stole was called---became a necessity too!!Here I must give full credit to Mummy---she stitched form fitting Sheaths in various Designs---but those Outfits never looked mismatched---they'd always look complimentary to each other!!I still love the full skirted look----plenty of gathers under a tiny wide belted Waist---not to forget the Flounces and the Frills!!Even today these Patterns still appeal to me---there was something irresistably Feminine about them!!Not just that I adored embroidered/frilled/flounced Blouses---specially teamed with full gathered Gypsy Skirts!!My favourites were the smocked raglan sleeved White Muslin Blouses with Embroidery---like the Hungarian Blouses----tied at the neck with Ribbons!!Besides I had a tiny waist---just 17" in diameter---though looking at it today no one will believe me---and was proud to be able to wear these---Scarlett O'Hara was my Idol---and so I loved these beautiful Clothes!!I also loved wearing another traditional Indian Dress called the "Ghararaa-Kurti" -----a wonderful full length,full skirted Pants topped by a short "Kurti" and with a 3 yard Dupatta!!!Very graceful and extremely feminine!!
However once I got married all this changed--- Skirts and Salwar/Churidar Kurtas were left behind and I began wearing Saries----with fitting Blouses that had tight sleeves covering three fourths of my arms---for Atya and her sons were very conservative!!The necks of my Blouses were frozen at 6" deep---and I was to wear Saries even at night.As a result my Parents went out and bought me 2 trunkloads of different Varieties of Saries----Cotton Voile Saries to be worn in the house---termed daily wear---casual embroidered Organdie,"Kotaah" and printed Full Voile Saries for Casual Wear-----and Silk,Chiffon,Crepe and Brocade Saries for Formal Evening and Party wear---along with the accompanying matching Petticoats and Blouses!!I still remember going to buy my Trousseau---a Parent seated on either side of me with murmurs of"Oh--so lovely--we'll take this one please!!"echoing often---taking for granted that I had liked it too!!My one defiant contribution to my Trousseau was my beautiful "Gharaara-Kurti" consisting of Pure Silk full skirted Pants in Coral topped by a Raw Silk Kurti in Ivory with Gold Motifs appliqued on it and a 3.6 yards French Chiffon Odhani bordered with a heavy Gold Border!!I was to wear it only 3 times---a day prior to my Wedding--then for an Outing after the Wedding---and finally once on my Honey Moon----it was frowned upon so severely that I bundled up the outfit in Muslinn Cloth---and packed it up!!!My waistline burgeoned from 17" to 23" and from there on it just grew and grew---today it is a Dress that I've still preserved---as a memory of my tiny waist!!
Mummy was very particular about being "Lady Like" all through the years I was growing up.She deplored my tomboyish tendencies and once I turned 13 she'd pile Books on my head and make me walk up and down the Stairs--to straighten my Spine and do away with my Slouch---which she swore I had!!The Nuns had another method---if we were caught slouching in School the Nuns would push a long Ruler down the back of our shirts---resting aginst our Spines----and since we wore belted Uniforms those Rulers stayed in place---rubbing against our backs every time we relaxed a little---a highly painful procedure!!Not just this it upset her that I always had a myriad scratches and scars on my limbs besides being tanned a deep brown!!!To remedy this Mummy'd use Home Remedies which both my Grandmas would advise her with---and how I hated that sticky goop she'd make with various Flours,Turmeric and Sandal Wood mixed with Fresh Cream as a whitening Mask!!My skin is extremely oily and all that Cream made me break out in Pimples---and thankfully this helped to spare me from Mummy's machinations!!
The day I had the Vision in the "Jwaala Maaee" Temple is deeply embedded in my consciousness!!I still remember the Date very clearly---it was 16th.May 1994 at 3.45 p.m.----and there is a reason for remembering the Date and Time.Lotta was staying with Mummy for a Week during that period in Bombay----because Mehul was in Australia for a Conference.On the 16th.May Lotta who was very hyper because of the earlier miscarriage panicked and began to get worried so to set her mind at rest Mummy took her to our Gynaecologist/Obstetrician Usha Tai---who checked her thoroughly and sent her to get a Sonography done---just to put her mind at ease.By the time all this got over it was 1.30 p.m.---and since everything was normal both Mummy and Usha Tai heaved a sigh of relief!!This had so rattled poor Mummy that she rushed Lotta to her home and duly handed her over to her MIL!!
Manjuben--Lotta's M-I-L----is a great believer in "Amba Maa" a form of Goddess"Shakti/Durga" and is a follower of Jayaben---a religious Medium.On being told by Mummy about what happened she suggested viisiting Jayaben---to see if that lady could put Lotta's fears to rest---and insisted that Mummy accompany them too.On arriving there they apprised Jayaben of the situation---and then Jayaben began her Ritual---during which she went into a Trance!!!Asking Lotta in detail as to what exactly bothered and disturbed her so much---Jayaben took a length of Cotton String in her hands and asked Lotta to hold out her wrist---when Lotta obliged Jayaben tied this String securely round Lotta's wrist---all the time chanting a "Mantra".This done she told Lotta that this was a "Raksha" or Protective Charm---and The Divine Mother now had her(Lotta) in Her Care---so there was now nothing to be worried about!!Jayaben also told Lotta that if by chance this "Raksha" got lost it would replaced immediately---all Lotta had to do was see Jayaben again!!The whole thing---the Time that Jayaben tied the "Raksha" on Lotta's wrist coincided exactly with the time I saw the Vision in the Temple more than a 1000 Kms. away---and the Priest handed me the "Mouli" or Coloured Cotton Thread for Lotta to keep as a Protection Charm-----even today the whole Incident still gives me Goosebumps!!
Well the next few months passed uneventfully and the String stayed put where it belonged.A mere 27 days before Meha's birth Atya passed away---after a massive Heart Attack---though she had been awaiting the Birth of her latest new Great Grandchild---and our First Grandchild .Early morning---3.30 a.m. on December 23rd.1994---we drove Lotta to St.Elizabeth's Hospital---for her Pains had started.At the Hospital though they admitted her,they told us that it was still in the earlier stages---would take til 10 a.m. or 12 Noon for the Baby to be born.At 7.30 a.m. Ushatai Tai came to see Lotta---and announced that the Baby had moved and was now lying horizontally instead of the Birthing position----which was astounding because just 2 days earlier during the Regular Check-Up the Head had been fixed in position!!Looking at this unexpected developement Usha Tai decided to wait till 10 a.m. before taking a decision----but asked me to book the Theatre in case a Ceasarean was required.By now Manjuben had already dispatched Mehul more than halfway round Town to Jayaben's---with Instructions to drive safely but quickly---there and back!!
Jayaben was in the habit of waking early,bathing and starting her Religious Rituals by 5.30 a.m. each morning---and would finish after meditating for 3-4 hours---and during that entire period--5.30a.m. till 11a.m.--she was not to be disturbed.That day however at 7 a.m. she got up,asked for a 2 liter Bottle,filled it with Drinking Water and placing her hands over it chanted a few "Mantras".Then she corked the Bottle and handed it to her DIL---with instructions to hand it over to Mehul when he arrived.The Instructions Jayaben gave for Mehul were precise---he was to make Lotta drink a little of the Water and sprinkle a few drops over her Abdomen and Head.Whenever she drank Water it had to be from this Bottle till the Baby was born.After the Birth she was to drink from the Bottle for the next 10 days---once at least each morning and evening!!After completing her Instructions at 8 a.m. she went back into Prayer---and again became inaccessible till all her Rituals were complete!!
Mehul reached back with the Water by 9.45 a.m.---and followed the Instructions and miracle of miracles---the Baby was back in position by 10.15 a.m.----and the birth proceeded normally.By 12 noon Lotta was wheeled into the Labour Room Theatre----and for 1 hour.45 minutes after that there was absolutely no News!!Sudhir and I were like Cats on a hot Tin Roof---while Mehul was quietly wiping away his eyes---and his Parents and Mummy were deep in Prayer!!Finally Meha was born at 1.44 p.m.---and a Nurse brought Meha out for us to see---a rosy cheeked,Grey eyed Dumpling of a Baby Girl---thoroughly disgruntled and disgusted with the process of having been born----an expression fitting enough to really rival her own mother's contemptous one when she first saw me!!She had a line of tiny Red Spots---running all the way from her toes to her head---both front and back---looking bright Red and angry against her extremely fair skin!!Half an hour later Usha Tai followed---and I prostrated myself full length on the Floor at her feet in the Corridor---for that day she wore the Face of God for me!!!The Story she gave me about the Birth still sends shivers down my Spine!!!
The "Yatra" was a highly fulfilling experience for all of us---the discomforts of Bad Food,early morning starts and long hours in the Bus were soon forgotten---all one remembers is the camaraderie among all the people of the Party---bonding into a single Family!!Even today we meet and keep in touch!!Memories of the chanting of Mantras in the Bus to pass the time during the long hours still rings in my ears---the Hill Roads were barely broad enough at places to hold only one Vehicle----and it took hours of manoevering to get Vehicles past each other.The Natural Beauty of the Himalayas was mesmerising---and often we 25 were the only Human Beings in the vicinity----leading us to believe in Timelessness---a blending of the Past with the Present!!!I still recall the early Dawn at Kedareshwar----the deep Blue Sky overhead----Mountains draped in pristine White Snow touched here and there with splashes of Rose and Gold---the hushed Silence---all bespoke a Super Natural Power---felt palpably all around---surrounding one with the reassurance of God IS!!!
However my run ins with the Mendicants opened my eyes to the fact that Blind Faith is not Faith.The very fact that God saw fit to bless us with the Power to Think meant that one should follow only the True Path---herdlike following of Rituals and certain Practices of Worship did not really involve Faith--these were just mechanical routines followed through without actually understanding the significance of the Rites.My relationship with The Almighty moved up another notch----He/She became my Best Friend---my closest Confidante!!I started communicating my Thoughts---and I stopped offering Bribes as well.I stopped asking for Favours in return for certain Religious Rites---on the contrary I began praying for Strength to bear whatever the Future held for me---and for The Almighty's Hand to rest on my head---always!!Slowly my intense sessions of offering "Pooja" for hours on end reduced---I turned towards acknowledging The God within---following the "Ahum Brahmaasmee" practice.If I'm an image of the Lord then so are others---and by respecting them I worship God---for He resides in every animate and inanimate object---for these are all His Creations.
My Dreams continued and many things I dreamt came true.The most memorable Dream was just before my Grand Daughter's birth.Lotta lost her first child in the 3rd. month of her Preganancy---making her nervous about carrying a Baby full term.In early April 1994 I started dreaming of a Temple in the Mountains---a Flame would flare up and I'd hear a Voice calling me there.At first it was very vague but as mid April neared the Vision cleared and I could identify the Temple---"Maa Jwaala Mukhi" or "The Goddess of The Flame Tongue"in the Himalayan Foothils near Hoshiarpur.Around this time Lotta realised that she was preganant again----and the call of the Deity grew louder each night--for now it became a daily Vision!!Finally I made reservations to go to Dharamsaalaa for our Summer Vacations---and despite a piteously weepy Lotta protesting against being left behind in such a precarious stage----I dragged a reluctant Sudhir who was terribly worried about her there willy nilly with me as well.Sayali and Ritu were with us---and once there we hired a Taxi to take us Sight Seeing---the Temple being one of the "Sights"!!
My sense of urgency grew as we neared the Temple and when we alighted at the foot o the Path i literally flew up the steep Slope as if I had wings!!Once inside the Temple I placed all the Offerings I'd carried for the Deity in the hands of the attending Priest---and the entire Crowd of Devotees surrounding me in the Sanctum Sanctorum just faded away!!!There was just She, me and the Priest left!! The Priest placed a Holy String called "Mouli" in my outstretched Palms and told me that I was not to worry---my daughter was in Her Protection and everything would be smooth sailing---we were all totally blessed by the Goddess!!
By now Sudhir,Sayali and Ritu had passed into the Courtyard---and when I didn't appear they came back looking for me---and found me standing there--near the Railing staring intently into the Flame rising from the Crevice in the Rock---entranced!!Sayali shook me---and that brought me to my senses----and the first words I uttered were to Sudhir"We're getting a Grand Daughter---that's what She told me!!"