If you have to ask you'll never know ! [L.Armstrong]... thats Louis not Lance.

Jun 26, 2009

Where were you?

When you heard that Indira Gandhi was shot . When you heard that Rajiv Gandhi had been assassinated. When you heard that Elvis or Kurt Cobain had been found dead. Why does it stick in your head ? The moment when you heard that there were blasts on the Mumbai trains. That terrorists had attacked Mumbai and were holed up at the Taj. The thoughts race thru your mind. How ? Why ? The details come in thru the TV and SMS’es . Thru phone calls from friends and family who want to know that all is OK with you. You call up anyone who may be even remotely connected to the danger zone. You wonder about the impact it will have on you, your city, your work, your play.
Later much later, when the immediacy is gone. You hear recounts of the incident. With the personal stories at the end. The reactions and the analysis. Rashômon, a hundred times removed.
On the 28th Sept 1978 we were on our way back to school after our lunch. Yelled out to my friend Aloysius [Ok Aloo] to hurry. He came out and told me that the BBC had just announced that John Paul I was dead. Did we worry about the impact this would have on the faithful? Or the conspiracy theories that would spring up? Or who would step into his shoes? No. All that mattered was whether the school would shut down for the day and whether the next day would be a holiday or not. When the announcement did come and we trooped back home, we tried manfully , on the instructions of our principal, to hide a joy that was not appropriate and display a mourning that for us that day was as distant as Mars.

Jun 24, 2009

Cry baby!

The music has gotten out of control. CD’s that are largely unused. MTV and Channel [V]. The MP3’s on the Ipod and the cell phone. Play lists on the computer. The Karaoke set the kids use. The neighbours surround sound system that has a 5.1 speaker system. It’s more like a 6.1 because it sounds like one of the speakers is in our house. The Worldspace radio, the F.M. in the car. The tune on the Aquagaurd. The tune on the same neighbours car when it gets into reverse gear. The elevator music. The hymns in church and the bhajans in the train. As we go through the day with all it’s attendant forces at play.
Of singers who mourn for loves lost , journeys not traveled , of words said and unsaid. The country singers and the rap artists. Both detailing lifes cruelties but on different canvases. The blues playing out on a rainy day. While we go from waking to REM sleep and back again with their stories being little more than the rice in our dal chaval.
I turn around from the table to see my daughter with a big fat tear rolling down her face.
“What happened Aalia?”
“It’s such a sad song”.

Jun 20, 2009

Yvonne falls the third time.

She ran. Chasing butterflies. The fall did’nt really hurt. The surprise to find herself a tangle of arms and legs was what made her cry. The scrapes on her knees were kissed over and she was up and running again. Chasing butterflies and wind up toys that moved further and faster than they were supposed to go.
He asked her to join him for an evening walk. Yes. The world was full of color. The love songs suddenly sounded like they’d been written for them. He thought so too.
Fifty years. He’d been gone for ten. The children many years before that. The love songs still made sense. The children called once a week. From parts of the world where they were raising their own. Morning mass, breakfast alone, lunch alone, tea alone, dinner alone. She kept the TV volume high. So that as she went from hall to kitchen or bedroom she didn’t loose the story. It was the swine flu that got her. The story had been in the news for the last week. Mexico, the United States, Canada. The TV breaking the news that the first case had hit India. She was on her way to the bathroom . The curiosoity to see where and when and how had made her turn and slip and fall. She tried getting up. Too far from the sofa to get a grip on the handle to help herself up. The TV had moved on to the weather. She was still stuck on the floor. One of the longest nights of her life. She must have fallen asleep for some time. The maid let herself in with the key from the neighbour. Helped her stand up and to the bed. Washed her up. [ She had been on her way to the bathroom ] Embarassed. The neighbours called the children to tell them what had happened. No, no bones were broken.
She moves more slowly now. The walking stick with her all the time. Sometimes, she sees the butterflies outside her window.

Jun 18, 2009

Twenty Questions ?

What did a blogger do before there were blogs? Where were the poems, the stories and the angst stored ? Are there diaries and notebooks lurking in family heirloom cupboards ? How did the boy loves girl, girl loves boy, boy leaves girl, girl blogs, stories pan out earlier ? Or the boy loves dog, dog gets run over, boy blogs ? Where were the memories kept ? Or was everything black and white ,so those shades of grey that are everywhere today, nonexistent then ? Was Filmfare enough information for Amitabhs and Aamirs fans ? Do you really think Amitabh writes his own blog ? Does anyone care that Benjamin Meyer and his lovely wife Jen, enjoys collecting Transformers and learning more about programming ? Were Sumeet mixers simple enough not to need Daves Technology Blog ? Were holidays a step into the unkown ? Or did you visit the offices of makemytrip.com or talk to them over the phone ? And when you got there did you send picture postcards whose stamps would be fought over back home ? Did the content of the postcard matter ? Was the name of the spellcheck you used Mother ? Who did you talk to when you got a cold ? Could you die from a cold ? Is there a support group for my life threatening cold ? Are support groups the new Ladies Sodality ?

Jun 12, 2009

FHC

Communion ? Communication. To commune with. The first time it happens it’s holy. And overwhelming. You have to tell your sins to a stranger. Who you hope will keep them to himself. Absolution you’re told does’nt give you a carte blanche to go forth and hit your smaller cousin again. No. Even if he doe’nt share his new bike with you ?
“ But that’s selfishness Father.”
“ God will send someone to punish him and you’re not that someone.
Three Hail Mary’s and three Our Fathers and go forth and sin no more. “
And you are given the white suit with the bow tie and the white shoes and new underwear [which was always white anyways]. So you line up outside church and march in, in procession with all the uncles and aunts on both sides of your family and all the cousins small enough who were too small to be left at home on their own and not a single one of those who were old enough to. When the priest placed that host on your tongue which you stuck out as much as you could as you had been instructed to, the earth shook and the halo fell mightily on your head. You were then dragged off to Hill studio for the requisite pictures. Before you got your white suit even more dirty. The picture had to be taken with you turned around from left to right to hide the orange Fanta stain on your left sleeve.
The only thing left to do for the party was fry the fugias. The chairs were in a circle on the terrace. The music system had been taken out from the living room [ok hall ] and reinstalled on the terrace, near the light bulb which had been tapped for electricity. The ice had been broken into small pieces and piled around the beer and cold drinks in a metal tub. The watchman had been told to keep an eye on it to see that there was no pilferage. And the chips from Blue Circle had been collected [against order ]. Uncle Ken had been commissioned to take pictures of the party. Black and white. Anyway the communion outfit is all white, so who needs color ?
You ran around playing catching cook between the chairs with the constant
‘ Don’t get your clothes dirty ‘
instruction being given by any adult who came to the terrace to check on bar arrangements, the seating arrangements, sound system, lights, pilferage of cold drinks, etc. etc. etc.
The guests came, they saw and they feasted. But they first gave you presents. Which you said thank you for and tried to not be caught in the ongoing game of catching cook before the next guest came. And when that happened you could officially call ‘Times”. The parish priest showed up. He quickly said the grace before meals even though dinner was a long way off and he had many other houses to visit. The bar got lighter by the minute. The food was photographed. You were photographed. With uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, friends.
“ No, you don’t need a photo with the dog “
The cashews were sprinkled on the rice just before dinner was announced. The real thing this time. Food ,glorious food. How do I love thee ? Let me count the ways. The vindaloo and sorpotel, the potato chops [ circles of geometric precision ] , chicken curry for which the chickens would have been happy to die, dinner rolls [ Go to A1 bakery now if you don’t know what that is ]. Pies with browned crusts that you received a slap on the wrist for, for attacking horizontally instead of vertically.
“ If you like the brown part wait till the dish is over and then scrape the bottom.”
“ But it’s My first communion “
“ The guest’s come first.”
Russian salad. Which no Russian on either side of the Volga has ever seen. Fish mousse in fish shaped dishes. All washed down by as many glasses of Fanta as you wanted. And accompanied by a steady stream of fugias that came straight from stove to table.
There hadn’t been a cake cutting earlier. Because the cake was going to double up as dessert. So you cut the cake. Without damaging the marzipan Jesus.
The aunties would be hassling the uncles to stop drinking and start eating. Finally they did. The kids would be rounded up. Goodbyes and god blesses. The remaining F & B sent down in dribs and drabs with each departing guest.
And when you were changed into your night clothes, then and only then were you allowed to open your presents. Future generations of first communicants would get PSP’s and IPods and DVD’s of Harry Potter or gift vouchers from Crosswords. You got enough bibles to put the Gideons out of business. More rosaries than you could go through in a lifetime. Even if you joined the Apostleship of prayer.
Gift coupons from St. Pauls, and three envelopes with money. Which you never saw again, because it was taken away to “ Put into your bank account “ Which even at that tender age you knew was a one way street . But what goes in must come out.
I’m waiting…

Jun 3, 2009

The mountain came to Mohammed...

Thursday was a holiday. Every Thursday. Because the Jesuits in their wisdom realized that schoolboys need a break after three days of school. Or did they need a break from the boys. So on Wednesday night we were allowed to stay up a little later. Most Thursdays were our own. To ride our cycles and shoot pigeons.
Unless the barber came. He was a thin man. All dressed in white. With a black hat. And an aluminium trunk. Bent over , a little . The kitchen stool was hauled out of the house. Yesterdays newspaper was spread out on the staircase landing. The stool then took centrestage, and you the chief protagonist sat on the stool. Three steps on the flight leading upwards, the barber placed his trunk. The lid flipped to reveal combs , brushes, scissors, cut-throat razors, creams and a white sheet. The sheet would come out and be draped around you with the tightness at the neck that threatened the oxygen supply to your brain. It had to be. Otherwise the cut hair would slip thru. He’d then ask you wheter you wanted your hair cut long or short. Long. These were the days of the Beatles and Peter Frampton. He’d snip away. While yesterdays headlines slowly got obliterated. When the cutting was done , he’d take a little steel cup ( Ok Vatee ) out of his trunk. He’d then head to the kitchen door for the required water. And you would hear your Mother tell him as she returned his water filled vatee that ‘Short’ was the order of the day. Between the devil and the devil and the deep blue sea.
“Baba [ We were all called Baba ] Mummy says short”
Damn. Goodbye John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Ok but not too short.
So the vatee would be put on hold and the scissors and comb were pressed into service once more. When Long had been morphed into Short and the days head lines went from , Black and White and Read all over, what is it ? To just Black.
Then the vatee was called upon once more and he’d lather the back of your neck. He’d strop the razor to an edge Maugham would have been proud of. Those little bristles at the back of your neck did’nt stand a chance. You held that sneeze while he had that razor going. The razor went back into the trunk and the brush came out. Loose hairs brushed away, the brush went back and the powder tin came out. To reveal powder and puff. Which would be dusted onto your freshly shaved neck. The powder tin went back in and the mirror came out. He’d hold it up in front of you so that you could partake in his masterpiece. From all angles. He’d go behind you and the ballet would unfold. Of you trying to see the reflection of the back of your head in a mirror held behind you without turning around so much that the object at the focal point of the mirror changed. The toga then came off and you would arise. And while you went to the bathroom and looked at your head for twenty minutes running in the mirror, he was busy. Packing up his trunk so that brushes and razors would hold their assigned place in the universe even after the trunk went from horizontal to vertical. Packing up all the hair in yesterdays paper. Collecting his payment from Skinhead sympathetic parent. Who would be yelling at you to go for a bath immediately.
‘ Do you want to get barber’s itch? ‘
No. Then hurry up and have a bath.
And he’d be gone. To more heads that needed lightening.
After the washing was done you were instructed to hang the clothes out on the line.
I will, but where’s the stool ?