Yes, I love my curls

Last week, I was sitting in my friend’s beautiful kitchen while she was frying fish. There were four of us — talking, laughing and enjoying a drink. She walked up to me suddenly, put my hair behind my ears and told me, “Deepy, You have such an adorable face, why don’t you just tie your curly hair?” She loves me a lot and she just became the newest member of the brigade propagating this ‘tie your unruly curly hair’ philosophy.

I am the only one in my family who has curly hair. Well, it’s genetic as my father had it. Growing up as a girl with curly hair in small town India (Orissa to be precise) was not a smooth ride. To top it all, being dusky was another major ‘perceived disadvantage.’  So, wherever one went during the adolescent years, scores of self-righteous aunts, uncles looked at your hair and asked, ‘Why don’t you have straight hair?’ Or ‘Why don’t just tie it tightly (so that it won’t look like curly hair)?”

As I grew up in  pre-liberalized India, there was no talk of straightening my hair. But, then I was given numerous other names like ‘Sai Baba’, ‘Pagali (crazy) and “African”.  These name-calling were certainly not a pleasant experience for a young child but never once did I think of having  regrets about not having straight hair like my sisters. In fact, I always felt better-off when I used to see my sisters sitting in front of the mirror and laboriously applying lemon juice and egg whites on their straight hair. Mine was ‘zero maintenance hair.’

As a young adult, being in relationships, the hair issue followed me zealously. Otherwise bright, socially aware men had a problem with curly hair and constantly mentioned about tying my hair in a neat ponytail. Well, this was nothing new to me so it didn’t really affect me. I continued with what I was comfortable doing.

But it was unnerving to encounter strangers commenting on my hair. When I went to file a police complaint in New Delhi after losing my wallet and I-card, I was persistently quizzed by the official in the police station,  ‘Aap toh honge Kerala/Goa se baal jo aap ki aise ghoongaralu hai?”(You must be from Kerala/Goa because you have curly hair.” Till today, I have no idea of the connection between filing a police complaint and curly hair. While travelling in the train from Delhi-Bhubaneswar, generous co-passengers never failed to ask me that question (in between feeding home-cooked vegetable pulao and poori-alu) “beta, aap ka baal aise kyon hai?” (Why do you have hair like this?). Look out of the window, in sheer deseperation.

And then something changed in the mid 1990s. India embraced the path of economic liberalization and with the satellite television, people started noticing fashion and style trends from the West. Perming became a cool word in urban Indians’ hair & style lexicon. And then in 1997, Arundhati Roy won the Man Booker prize for her debut novel God of Small Things. Suddenly she became the poster girl (a huge amount of prize money added to the glam). For the upwardly mobile urban Indians, curly hair became a symbol of being cool, stylish, successful and creative too. Suddenly, everybody wanted to become a writer.

I remember, after a month of Arundhati’s win, I had gone to a salon in Vasant Vihar for a hair-cut. Three rich and stylish women accosted me and asked, “Are your curls natural?” When I said “Yes”, they squealed with delight, “OMG, We love it. It’s like Arundhati’s hair. You are so lucky.” I rolled my eyes in disbelief and actually basked in that compliment. Temporary happiness.

Ironically, years later in 2005, when I was travelling in a train from Jodhpur-Ahmedabad, two young engineering students came up to me and asked me for an autograph. They thought I was Arundhati Roy. I thanked God for their poor eye-sight and told them that their mistake had actually made me happy.

The curly sunshine moments have followed me even after this incident.  When I interviewed one of India’s great ad gurus and noted theatre personalities, in between our long engrossing conversations, he told me “The moment you entered into the room, I knew it would be nice talking to you.” I asked him “What made you think so?” He answered, “Your curly hair. In India, it’s not easy to be a woman with curly hair. I know, you have to fight so many battles against mindsets and stereotypes.”

Well, now I love my mop of curly hair. I can’t really remember when did I last go for a hair-cut because the standard comment of hair stylists is : “Can’t do anything to your curly hair.” I have done google search on cool curly hair styles and taken print outs to give ideas to the hair stylists. But all my diligent efforts have only made me poorer by few thousand bucks without any noteworthy result. So, I am saving the money for a pair of cool mean distressed jeans.

Has life changed for this curly-haired woman? Well, sometimes people ask me, ‘Are you an artist/designer?’ And the obvious reason for asking this question is my curly hair and huge silver rings on my fingers. Well, considering the times we are living in India now, by any stretch of imagination, a journalist can’t be an artist. Sometimes, when in a playful mood, I say, “I am a cook (not a chef).” Go, figure out, my love. If that makes me an artist.

Of course, India has loads of people who will be forever on Darwin’s first stage of evolution till their death. So, in the midst of conversations on people who have influenced us, when I say, “It’s Maya Angelou for me.” Some laugh and say, “Oh, it got to be Maya Angelou for you coz you have crazy curly hair like her. You know that African connection.”

Well, when you have poet-singer-actor-human rights activist Maya Angelou as your role-model, you always remember ‘I know why the caged bird sings.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grey love

They were on skype. He said something, she said, “What do you think? I have got grey hair for nothing.”

He smiled and said,  “With every new grey hair, my love for you grows and deepens.”

The next morning, she received an sms asking, “Wanting to get rid of your grey hair. Our product assures that. Contact us… ”

She simply deleted the message.

 

 

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)

 

 

Right to Privacy

The Supreme Court of India in a landmark judgement on August 24, 2017 unanimously declared that  individual privacy is a “guaranteed fundamental right.” I danced in joy when I first read this as a ‘breaking news alert’ on my mobile phone.  It’s a historic judgement and I am really excitedly looking forward to see its ramifications.

In between joy and excitement,  I thought of this conversation I had with my Punjabi co-passenger during a train journey from Manmad to Jalgaon.

She: Where did you stay?
Me: Name of the hotel
She: How much you paid?
Me: The amount
She: Tax vax to hoga ji (there will be some tax amount too)
Me: The amount
She: How did you go to Shani Signapur (A place in Maharashtra, famous for its Shani Temple) ?
Me: Taxi
She: How much you paid?
Me: The amount
She: Indica? AC
Me: Swift?
She: Bhaisaab hai na (meaning my husband)
Me: Haanji
She: How many years have you been married?
Me: Years
She: Family. shamily
Me : Planning (BIG LIE)

And then the icing on the cake of right to privacy

She: I am very good at it

Me: Meaning

She: On teaching how to have babies

Me: Wow. Good for you.

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.

Grief. Political

IMG_2989

 

In the times we are living in, grief is no longer personal. It is political. Last evening, I spent hours discussing about Chinese human rights activist and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. I woke up in the morning to find out he is no more. He died of liver cancer while being in custody.

Recently I had read a beautiful story on  Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia’s unique love story published in The Guardian.  “Even if I were crushed into powder,” Liu Xiabo wrote, addressing the love of his life, “I would still use my ashes to embrace you.” If you are interested, you can read the story on the below link.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/12/devotion-amid-despair-the-great-contemporary-love-story-of-liu-xia-and-liu-xiaobo

 

 

 

Summer blues

SKY

There’s a sun and there’s an Ahmedabad sun. Our Ahmedabad sun is very active and does not believe in taking a sabbatical.  I hate summer (well, this is an under statement). I always tell my friends if I would have lived in a cold country then I would have won the Nobel prize.

My mind doesn’t work in summer. I am on a pause mode 24×7. This blog is to break the monotony. Break the horrible feeling of not writing anything.  I am only dreaming of cool mountains, crisp fresh breeze and warm cups of tea. Holidays are eluding me. I am diligently working.

I am dreaming of rains. I am soaking in the memories of Odisha’s magical rains. I am basically dreaming to escape the heat, the dust.

I know, I am lucky to work in an air-conditioned office. The other day, I just walked out of the office in the evening. It was sizzling hot even though the sun was getting ready to say a goodbye. I looked at the sky and it looked like a colorful canvas. I captured the sky in my phone camera. Suddenly summer felt soft and sublime. For a nano-second.

A digital flirt. Not a nice feeling

I feel like a digital flirt. I don’t enjoy the feeling anymore. I joined instagram few days back. Having the app on my smartphone gives me the freedom to post a photo and note from anywhere and anytime. I see the world through words. Even photographs speak to me through words.

I have an aversion of putting my own photographs. Most of my family members are intensely private people. So I don’t want to be the intruder. Selfies don’t excite me. To be honest, I don’t have the body of  Kim Kardashian.

But I have been flirting here and there in the digital world. And the destinations vary from Facebook, Twitter to Instagram.

As much as all of them allow me to express myself, there’s no greater joy than sitting in front of my computer and expressing my thoughts filling up the screen. The sound of the keyboard makes me feel alive. connected and joyful.

As I write this, I feel this space of mine gives me the feeling of home (Aah.. the Gypsy talking of having a home. But life is all about having possibilities or imagining possibilities).

I have had enough of being a digital flirt. Let me enjoy this solid feeling of being in a meaningful relationship.

And a little note of ‘Thank you’ to all those wonderful souls who have stopped by this space and encouraged me with their generosity of appreciation and heart-warming comments.

The Gypsy hopes to meet more generous souls on the road ahead.

Of Angels and Bitches

“That bloody bitch … She’s such a horrible bitch.” All through my life I have heard this about women. And both women and men indulge in ‘bitch’ talk. I have also heard people talking about having an Angel in their lives.

Angel

 

This adorable bitch’s name is Angel.  Abandoned by her mother, Angel survived on her own on the brutal streets of Ahmedabad and came to my house for a brief time before she was adopted by another family.

Angel is playful, deeply affectionate and loving. She had this habit of playing hide and seek with me in the house.

On International Women’s Day, here’s to the Angels and the ‘Bitches’  of the world — playful, naughty, loving and survivors who play a game of hide and seek with life. With a kick-ass attitude

Happy Women’s Day

The ache

rishikesh

I went to Rishikesh many years ago. I loved the cool flowing waters of the river Ganga. I love rivers, the stories they carry within themselves, the way rivers flow even as stories around them keep changing.  I found a kind of resonance with Rishikesh and its crisp air.

Years later, my friend went and stayed at The Glasshouse on the Ganges. I fell in love with the images of this beautiful property. I had thought to myself, “When I will have little extra money to splurge, I will stay at The Glasshouse with my mother.”  I wanted to indulge my mother. She had always indulged me in myriad ways. It was my turn to indulge her.

But life on most occasions chooses its own path. By the time, I had little extra money to splurge on a luxurious Rishikesh holiday, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. And the travelling never happened. Because our journey had become a difficult one. Travelling itself had become a luxury considering the nature of her illness.

Now one of my close friends has gone to Rishikesh on a short holiday. And I can’t stop think thinking about the ‘Rishikesh holiday’ I so very wanted with my mother. The holiday that never happened.

Maybe I shouldn’t have waited for having a little extra money for a luxurious stay at the Glasshouse. Maybe I should have just gone ahead with whatever I had.

Maybe I am living with too many  ‘May Be(s)’.