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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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Grief. Political

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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.

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)’.

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.

 

 

 

 

A temporary matter

It is evening,
The street lights are on,
People are rushing back home
Some are on two-wheelers,
Some are in their cars,
Some are in autos.

Xxxxxx

They are in a cab,
One of them is going to a hotel,
The other one … Home
Sometimes homes feel like hotels,
Sometimes hotels feel like home,
Home.. Hotel.
All Temporary

He says He’s tired.
She feels his tiredness
She stretches her hand towards him.
He holds her hand,
Plays with her hand. Fingers.
He tells her ‘you have very soft hands’
She thinks ‘wish life was soft on our love.’

Plan

SHE:  I have a plan.

HE: Tell me.

SHE: I want both of us to stay in a nice, beautiful boutique hotel. I will eat a delicious dinner of mutton biryani and polish it off either with caramel custard or rabri.

HE: Then?

SHE: Then I want to fight with you from 10 in the night to 5 in the morning. I have so much to fight .. for all the 25 years melted between you and me. When the sun rises, I will hug you tightly and then sleep throughout the day.

HE : Wonderful. But I will go hungry cause I might sleep off after such a nice dinner.

SHE: Fine. But I will eat. May be not much. But the dinner has to be nice. And I want to fight and fight with you. Nice food, nice fight.

HE: When?

SHE: When the time feels right.

(In her mind, this conversation has been playing like an intimate scene from a film. And today in the Parliament, the BJP government presented the Indian budget for 2017. Lovers, county, nation, governments all are planning )

‘Home’ by Warsan Shire

No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

Your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

No one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

You have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

No one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

No one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

The
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

Or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
I don’t know what I’ve become
but I know that anywhere
is safer than here