Saris and an almirah

sari (2)
(Tonight is the first day of Navratri.  I started my day on a beautiful note by wearing my mother’s this crisp, beautiful ikkat sari. I feel a deep sense of love and happiness when I wear my mother’s sari.)

Every time I look at my wardrobe before going for a special evening, my standard dialogue is “I have nothing to wear.” I stand in front of my almirah with hands on my waist, look at it closely and shuffle through the items and repeat the same line again and again almost like a faulty gramophone. It can’t be more contradictory because the shelves in my cup board are choc-a-bloc with clothes of different designs, colours and textures and handbags collected from different places. Yet I end up complaining that I have nothing.
Even as I write this, my mind goes back to my mother’s Godrej almirah. The almirah was/is always sparkingly  clean. Not a single sari could ever be found in a crumpled state. The locker was in the middle and unlike the new-age cupboards available in the market now, the length of the locker was the same as the other shelves. The locker had my mother’s saris meant for special occasions. She called them ‘bahar ka sari’ (meaning the ones you wear when you go for a wedding, for an engagement ceremony, for a musical/dance performance or to pay a visit to a relative living in a different town). During my early childhood, I clearly remember there were exactly nine saris in this ‘bahar ka category.’ This collection also included her two wedding saris and she kept mothballs to keep the insects away and for that ‘fresh’ smell.
I have always seen my mother wearing only saris. Well, I find nothing extraordinary about it though today if I wear a sari and come to my office, colleagues keep on asking me, “what’s the special occasion.. birthday ya marriage anniversary?” “Nothing”, I say with a straight face. Pat comes the reply, “Come on, it can’t be true. It got to be some special occasion for you to wear a sari.” The best (sic) comment came from a senior male colleague when he saw me wearing a beautiful hand woven ikkat sari, “oh…today MTV has become Doordarshan.” Well, my mother had been wearing saris everyday with no special occasion attached to the day.
Her other shelves included cotton saris meant to be worn at home only. The saris were always perfectly ironed, neatly stacked up in a clean vertical line. There was a different shelf for her blouses and petticoats. And it’s not just about a wardrobe or her saris. It’s also about memories tucked away comfortably lovingly in her wardrobe. Her aging and slightly yellowing black and white wedding  photographs, letters written by me and my sisters, letters from my dad when he was away from her on work and cards sent to her on different birthdays of hers over the years, special Durgapuja edition of literary magazines, medals won by us for essay-writing or for being the best girl of the school—- the wardrobe has it all. The almirah also has her gold jewellery and no matter how much we persuaded she had resisted for long all talks about opening a bank locker for storing her jewellery. It was her complete world which was so very intimate to her and to her children and in the end she could just lock it up and sleep peacefully.
One of our favourite leisure activities was to tell her to open the almirah and then all of us would lie on the bed together to have close intimate awestruck look at her world. Every time I went back home during vacations, I loved sitting in front of my mom’s almirah and looking at her new additions and reveling in the old treasures which are my memory now.   Every sari has a story of its own. Every ‘vanity bag’ of hers has a tale to tell. The stories never got boring or repetitive. And her locker had many many more saris bought by her daughters from different places of India. To be fair, my dad also had a major contribution in adding vibrant colours and hues and of course numbers  to her nine-yard collection.
And now we have many  more wardobes and almirahs in our house. My sister definitely has a much larger collection of Baluchoris, Maheshwaris, Mysore silks and Banarasis. But the romance of intimacy lies in my mother’s almirah. Not in my sister’s.
And most importantly, times have changed. She left this world in 2013. But the almirah is still at the same place where it has been for years now. I have now some of her saris in my wardrobe. And these saris are my rich possessions. I carry forward the legacy of India’s rich textile heritage.  And every time I wear my mother’s sari and walk, I feel as if she’s walking with me.
But most importantly, unlike me I have never seen my mother standing in front of her almirah and telling “I have nothing to wear.” One day when she was fighting against cancer, I had asked her about those days of ‘nine bahar ka sari’ days and she said “It’s essential to be happy with what you have.”

(A longer version of this piece was published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Mother’s Soul)

 

 

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India, a million voices

(I love India.  Deeply and intensely. I can’t imagine myself living in any other country. I love India’s diversity, its delicious food from different regions, mouth-watering mithais  (I will always go for a plate of rabri-jalebi over a blueberry cheese cake), colourful textiles,  delicate craft, the soul-soothing Indian monsoon, the large-hearted Indian Railways, the resilience of the not so privileged to wade through life with grace and grit and endearing voices laced with humor.

We are living in tough times in India now. India of 2017 keeps me awake in the night. I feel hurt, anguished at the way things are shaping up in our country. From being a multi-coloured, huge, rich, layered collage, we are being politically coerced to look at life in a monochromatic little box. I refuse to be a part of this little box.

My India is the land of Gandhi, Kabir, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Bulleh Shah, Raman Maharshi for whom there is no ‘Other’.  My India is large as the Bay of Bengal. As ravishing as the mystical Himalayas. Life is fluid here like the river Ganga, Brahmaputra, Teesta and Godavari. So also time. One doesn’t know where does time begin, where will it end.

The world is looking at India today as India turns 70 on August 15. Through a series on this blog, I am trying to look at India through my experiences. This is the first in the series) 

India is a country of voices. Silence is almost alien to our culture. Our temples are crowded. Our weddings are a lot about voices, giggles, arguments and counter-arguments. We love talking, haggling, bargaining, arguing. For nothing, economist Amartya Sen wrote a book titled ‘Argumentative Indian’. This is a collage of Indian voices which I am trying to weave into this piece. These voices are not related to each other. They are droppings from that caravan called life in India.

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We board the train from Ahmedabad, this train goes to Bengaluru via Manmad. After putting our luggage, we exchange pleasantries with our co-travellers. Suddenly all of us start feeling restless. And we discover that the AC is not working properly. Finally the coach manager is being tracked down. A lady passenger walks up to him and asks him to adjust the AC properly. The coach manager seems to be in an aggressive mood and he says, “This is how the air-conditioned coaches are like.” She gives him a stern look  and says, “Do you think that this is the first time I am travelling in an AC coach?” Well, the argument ends there. The AC starts to work in full swing. And we are all happy.

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This conversation is from my visit to Shirdi, a temple town. Everything happens around the temple. From a dusty little village few years back, it is now in the midst of a construction boom. There are hotels and there are hotels. We are walking on the main street in the evening. The sun is in a mellowed mood. Suddenly, my attention is diverted by cries of ‘Ramphal…. Ramphal’. This is the first time, I am seeing this fruit called Ramphal, it’s a much bigger version of sitaphal (read custard apple). Apparently, it’s only available in Shirdi.

And then comes a beggar woman and she probably takes a liking for me. She follows me and asks “Bhabhi (sister-in-law), please give me some thing.” Well, it definitely sounds endearing. But I am in no mood to give in. She is also in no mood to give up. Then she says, “Didi (elder sister), please give me something.” I keep on walking, pretending that I haven’t heard her. And then she says, “Madam (she gets into a professional mood), give me something.” I am impressed by her creativity and she knows her business. Even as I move forward, she walks behind me and says, “Mataji (O Revered Mother, please give me something.)”

At that time, I just couldn’t control my laughter. We are definitely a creative nation.

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There’s a young boy in my apartment who loves playing cricket. One evening, I see him walking with great confidence (wearing a helmet, pad and gloves) to play a game in the parking space of the apartment. I tell him, “Hello Sachin Tendulkar.” He looks at me,  “Na aunty, Virat Kohli.”  He’s in sync with time.

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I am in a mood to buy some traditional dolls in a local market in Ahmedabad. I ask him the price, he says “Rs 200”. I remember my mother-in-law’s wise words — “Don’t be a fool. When you bargain, just reduce the price to half and then subtract Rs 20.” I try to be wise and say, “Rs 80.” He doesn’t agree but still follows me and urges me to buy. I tell him, “Why are you following me?” He walks faster and goes ahead of me. And then tells me, “Who’s following whom? Me or you?” I start laughing and then the bargaining starts again.

 

 

 

 

Chai romance

tea

Sit by my side,

Let the world run to the coffee shops,

For their share of  frothy cappuccino,

We will sit here,

In this dimly lit room,

On the Midnapore grass mat,

I bought from the Dastkar Nature Bazar,

We will slowly sip our chai,

Mine with sugar, yours without sugar,

We will talk politics, love jihad,

GST and the times we are living in.

You and I

With a cup of chai.

When the mind cuts like a knife

In many ways, words become living beings in the course of our life journey. Words assume a life of their own when we listen deeply to our inner self.
She thinks of the word ‘Pining.’ And thinks of him. He taught her the word — through  his presence and absence.

Both of them feel they should have been together. It would have been wonderful to read, write, dissect, reflect and exchange ideas and world views. Night after night. In the midst of ordinariness of life.

Even though their  interests are different, they share a very strong sense of adaptive intellectual and cognitive connectivity. After all, all you can now only hear cacophony around you. There are so very people  with whom one can talk these days. Don’t get her wrong. She doesn’t believe in intellectualizing human relationships.

People think she’s flamboyant. They find her cool. But you see people see themselves differently. She feels the flamboyance is actually a kind of cover up for all the years of longing she has kept within her.  Lest the brutal world will shred her soul.

Over cups of black tea and Farida Khanum’s soul-stirring music, she tells to her friends, “Love and loss mean the same. I have loved only one man in my life and lost him so many times that in the process love and loss are intertwined.”

One friend asks, “What makes you stay attracted?”

“Tenacity and ability to look at the world like a sharp knife. It’s gratifying to see someone to cut the flab/the excess and hold on to the essence. Something like holding a knife and peeling the yellow skin of a mango.  A simple yet meaningful act. There’s immense beauty in it. Probably, that’s why I am always attracted to austerity, melancholy, bareness. Excess is vulgar.”

There was silence in the room. Silence can be sharp too.

 

 

 

 

Hello 2017, be nice

Am I late in writing this post? May be, I am. But I hope 2017 will give us more

moments and chances to love, appreciate, hug, laugh and wipe tears. I hope, we will

create a compassionate world. Yes, I know we have Donald Trump. But let us hope

for a better and more generous world.

(Apart from the last pic in the series, all pictures are clicked by me).

sunset

There’s a beauty in the setting Sun. And there’s an elegance in gentle touches

too.  Like the leaves in this pic. Be tender, be gentle.

little

Small can be beautiful. Small can make you feel happy. On a personal front,

I am in love with the color purple. I told my younger sister to get me a purple

lipstick (I told her to do a google search on Rihana’s purple lipstick.) She

actually did the google search before going to the market to buy it for me.

Yes,. I am now happily wearing my purple lipstick.

reflect

What’s life without reflecting? Even as you rush through deadlines, targets,

acquisitions and the like, pause and reflect. Revel in the beauty of reflections.

Don’t be in a hurry, always. Reflect.

banyan

I love Banyan trees. There’s a strong sense of history about banyan

trees. Be rooted like the banyan trees. And also give shelter to the

tired travellers. The trees in Indian cities are losing to flyovers,

apartments and shopping malls. Let us hug our trees and protect

them. We need them badly.

look

Enjoy the moment. Make friendship with nature. Nurture

this friendship and enjoy  this with your loved ones.

Most importantly, create memories.

An aunt wishes happy birthday

gogol

(Wow. That’s what people say when I tell them that my nephew Sarthak’s birthday is on December 31.  For me, you are the ‘WOW BOY.’ )

It is difficult to be an Indian kid and have only one name. Even when you live in Atlanta. In your school, they call you Sarthak. Your aai (grandmother) used to call you Babu.  Your mom, dad call you Sarthu. Simrita, your loving elder sister dramatically calls you ‘Brother.’ For me, you are Gogol (named after the famous Russian writer Nicolai Gogol).  Sometimes, we also call you – ‘The thinking boy,’ ‘The little Buddha.’

It’s December 31, 2016. You will turn 9 today. I still remember the day when I received a call from your mom telling me that you have arrived. You and I live in two different time zones.  It was evening and I was in my office doing the pages for the next day’s newspaper. Suddenly, I felt as if I were in the clouds.  Deliciously happy and joyful.  Aah, the pleasure of having a nephew.

This is the first time you are celebrating your birthday in India. Here I am sitting on the balcony of the house which my parents and your grandparents lovingly built and writing this. In this house, we have a generation of memories (of your grandparents) tucked away in every nook and corner. And having you on your birthday in India makes me realize that we all are creating beautiful memories for the years ahead.

With your American accent, you now say, “I love India and want to move here.”  You even talk about doing home-schooling in India. In you, I see the magic called life. You take my breath away with your questions, sharp observations and your love for the wonderful world of trees, flowers, sea shells, fish and cats.  I wonder how seamlessly and beautifully you blend into the natural world. When your mother screamed after accidentally touching the tail of an overweight cat beneath the dining table, you non-chalantly said, “Mama screamed like a little gal and it was just a cat.”  When we put  fish in a water container, you said, “Look, look.. that fish is going crazy.”  You wanted a fish expert to come and rescue the female fish(es) so that they can have babies.

I am impressed by your knowledge. From the sparkling world of gemstones like ruby, topaz, sapphire to dinosaurs, you add so much to my knowledge. Talking to you, I realize I have so much to learn and unlearn too. Seeing me sipping my morning drink, you started talk about coffee beans, grinding of beans to make coffee powder. All that I can do is to look at you in amazement.

We talked about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. You told me about Donald Trump’s talks about building a wall. You vehemently said ‘NO’ when I asked you ‘Do you like Donald Trump?’ You said Hillary if elected would have been America’s first female President.

There are times when I see you lost in deep thoughts. You fit in so beautifully to the names we have for you –‘Thinking boy,’ ‘Little Buddha’.

I am amazed at how you turn away from anything that is excess. On a restaurant table full of dishes like rice, hariyali dal, mutton rezala, panner kalia, diwani handi,  chilli mushroom, green peas masala, I saw you happily savoring just butter nan, little spoons of rice and a tiny piece of chicken tikka (which came as a starter.) The overflowing table with dish after dish just didn’t excite you. To see you so happily enjoying that frugal meal felt so joyous. When we went to buy new clothes for you, you tried just one kurta and after that you were least bothered about how many were we buying for you. I marvel at your sense of minimalism. How far are you from this world of excess?  The world of excess which we adults are all mindlessly creating and feeling proud of. There’s so much to learn from you.  You reaffirm my faith that less is more. In you, I see a hope for this amazing universe.

You are an American citizen and many in this world would give up everything they have to flaunt that passport (more from Gujarat where I live). But in you, I see this ancient land called India. I know, the world is changing. India is changing too. Very drastically. There are intimate moments when I feel you are as beautiful, kind, compassionate as our fascinating, layered land called India.

When I gave you the bag of kurtas in the shop and told you, ‘This is your birthday gift’, you told me, ‘No, no I have seen this. There’s no surprise. You have to surprise me.”

I wish you health, knowledge, love for nature and people from all walks of life. And may life always spring up happy surprises for you.

I will wait for the day when you will grow up and read this blog and realize you have been a real wonderful and precious gift to all of us.

We love you deeply. Happy Birthday, Sarthak.

The secret banks of our moms and grandmoms

Honey, it’s all about money now in India. All of us are talking about money. In offices, homes, cafeterias and during morning walks too. And out mothers and grandmothers are  talking about it too. In a little different way. Sometimes sheepishly, sometimes with a little reluctance. Thanks to recent demonetization in India, many people are discovering the interesting relationship their  moms and grandmoms share with money.

After the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8, many households are now seeing something which is really ‘note’worthy. My friend’s 82 year old granny has just handed him over her priceless Rs 23,000 to him so that he could deposit in the bank. My friend tells me with a sense of utter surprise ruling his voice, “Never knew aai (in Odisha, we call maternal grandmother as ‘aai’) had so much of money with her. Now, I understand how she always managed to give us (her grandchildren) money to eat aloo chop and rosogulla or to buy new clothes for our birthdays.”

Just two days prior to the demonetization, when my friend’s father had asked his wife (my friend’s mom) whether she had some extra money with her, she had refused point blank telling she had no cash lying with her. And when the demonetization process was announced, she had no option but to reluctantly hand over a stack of crisp Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes to her husband as the scrapped notes need to be either exchanged/deposited in the banks.

Well, I am a great admirer of mothers and grandmothers who manage their households with great caution and loads of charm too. They can put any finance minister to shame. Not many of them earn a regular income.They manage to save the money from their household budgets. They save the money the receive from their loved ones on special occasions.Their saving smells love. And their precious savings is put in their secret little banks tucked away carefully in cupboards, in between silk saris, in little pouches or purses. That gives them the freedom to pamper their daughters, sons, grandchildren, domestic helps in myriad ways and once in a while for their own shopping too. Thanks to their secret wealth, many of us have enjoyed loads of chocolates, ice-creams, samosas, new clothes, shoes and the like.  Aah, the pleasure of receiving money from your mom, aunt or grandmom. No salary slip can match that pleasure.

Even as I am writing this, I am fondly remembering  my mother’s secret bank. A couple of days after she passed away,  while arranging her wardrobe I found many little purses, colorful envelopes containing cash. If I remember correctly, I found cash worth Rs 32,000. And then I also remembered  how my mother used to give me cash during my annual visits to buy something for myself and my husband. Giving me money was one of the many ways to express her love for me.

.So, let us celebrate the secret banks of India’s mothers and grandmothers. Homes will not feel the same without this fabulous wealth. These little secret bank makes us feel so rich. And so loved too.

A love note to Autumn

There’s something tender about autumn. It’s that season of the year when even betrayal feels sublime.

There’s an autumn within all of us. There’s a tenderness in all of us.

We just need to express the autumn within us.

Be tender, Be soft. Be mellow.

Like the sun outside my office window.

Life feels beautiful.

Autumn, my lover. Thank you.

I am happy to feel your tender presence in times of global warming.

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It is complimentary

There were 11 of us on a trip to Udaipur, the beautiful city of lakes. We were staying in the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) hotel. In the morning, me and my friend went to the cafeteria for a cup of tea. As we were waiting for our tea to arrive on the table, the restaurant manager told us, “You are staying here, na. The breakfast is complementary.”

I immediately called up one of my fellow travellers on his mobile phone to share this good news. The ‘hangover man’ sleepily answered his mobile phone. “Breakfast… no. I want to sleep till late. I just don’t feel hungry.”  I told him, “The breakfast is complimentary.” With that magical sentence, everything changed.

In less then 10 minutes, the ‘hangover man’ along with many ‘birds of same feather’ arrived in the restaurant with a big grin on the face. Ready to savor the complimentary breakfast. Did anybody utter the word, ‘Sleep-deprived?’ Or ‘just not hungry.’

Well, the story did not end there. The breakfast buffet had an array of parathas, upma, poha and bataka vada. They filled up the plates with generous helpings. And suddenly one of them discovered that ‘The omelettes were also complimentary.” In no minutes, they were all queuing  for  omelettes. The parathas, upmas, pohas were abandoned in no time.

P S : Some days ago, I had gone to a restaurant. The chicken sizzler came with a cola pitcher. I told the waiter, “I don’t drink colas.” He gave me one of those looks and said, “It’s complimentary.” I told, ‘Well, I don’t drink colas.” He again told, “It’s complimentary.” I let the cola to grow hot till he realized the seriousness of my refusal.

I wish the sizzler was complimentary.