Tuesday, 28 July 2020

I Need A Day

Just ONE day.
When I do not have to the clarion call of the kitchen obey,
When I do not have to hear my children say,
"What's for lunch and dinner today?"

I need a day, just ONE day ,
When there are no on line bills to pay.
A day when there are no WhatsApp forwards to delete or read,
A day when, with my students, to submit homework, I do not have to plead.

I need a day, just ONE day,
When no one relies on me to let the sun shine, while they make hay.
A day when I do not have to smile, come what may,
While the whole wide world is in complete disarray.

I need a day, just ONE day,
When I don't have to hear how my husband's work has been hit,
A day I can choose to spend as I see fit,
And my gas burner doesn't have to be lit!

And then, I think and I wonder, why do I complain?
From grumbling and groaning (in my mind), I MUST refrain.
At least I have a kitchen in which I can cook,
I have the ingredients to try out dishes from my recipe book!

I'm blessed my house help does on our premises stay,
I don't have to sweep and mop, dust and chop- no way!
Everyone in India has their hands in the kitchen sink,
And miss their faithful help more than one would think!

I have one hundred and fifty students to keep me on my toes,
Asking questions, be it grammar, poetry or prose.
My husband still has a paying job,
And I can churn out food at the turn of a knob!

We are STILL capable of dealing with bills,
They aren't, just yet, making us run for the hills.
And I'm glad I'm found worthy of finding solutions,
I'm happy people rely on me for quick resolutions.

God has given me the energy and the skills,
To, across the ocean, get into my mother's account and pay HER bills!
He has given me the resources to control my Skype classes,
And I'm always thrilled to see those fresh, eager young faces.

Despite the pandemic, my children are blessed to study on line,
And we have managed, by God's grace, to keep healthy and fine.
This, too, shall pass, and we WILL find a way to beat the disease,
And the much awaited vaccine will help everyone's angst and anxiety release.

Our rainbow may currently seem leached and gray,
BUT we are alive to see another day.
And that's more than many can say....

Sunday, 26 July 2020

A Legend We Called Malegaonkar Ajji

Our Dear Malegaonkar Ajji

When one is really young, one does not think of or dwell too much upon the grandparents of  childhood friends. Like the parents, the grandparents are just there. almost like permanent fixtures. You greet them politely, even as you rush in and out of each other's houses, addressing them as ' Ajji' (Grandmother in my mother tongue Marathi ) or Ajoba (Grandfather), exactly like your friend does. At that young and innocent age, children do not even take cognizance of the fact that these folks too have led full and successful lives and do have other identities, besides being someone's grandfather or grandmother! And so it was with the grandmother of one of my oldest childhood friends. (She and her Dad also happen to be our family dentists now!)                                                                                                                         

For many years, during our annual sojourns to Pune, I knew her as the erudite 'Ajji' who was always reading, either a weighty book or a serious looking magazine was a constant in her hand. When I  was seven years old, we had moved to Pune for a year to be with my grandmother, after my grandfather's death. I have a very clear memory of my mother telling me then that Malegaonkar  Ajji's late husband had been the Principal, when she and my Dad had been students at one of Pune's oldest and most prestigious colleges, Sir. Parshuram Bhau College. (Many years later, as a freshly minted History lecturer, I would land my first job at this very college, but that is a tale for another day!) I was shocked speechless when I heard this and I remember telling my mother a little later, that if my Principal and his/ her family lived just down the lane in my society and passed my house everyday, I would have died of fear every single time! I was a student of St. Helena's then and we had a very strict Principal who ruled the school with an iron fist (literally!) and we all lived in perpetual fear of her, hiding behind her car and school buildings when she passed by... So my reaction to my mother's announcement was not surprising in the least!                                                                                                                                                   My mother had nothing but fond admiration for her former Principal's wife. Ajji was one of the few women of her generation who spoke English reasonably well, despite not having attended a Missionary school! Her husband, after all, had been an English professor. Ajji was very progressive in her beliefs and always advised young mothers of the 1970s to combine old wisdom with new research. With this aim in mind, Ajji gifted all new mothers Dr. Benjamin Spock's best selling book 'Baby and Child Care'. Dr.Spock was a very famous American paediatrician. I think Ajji and my mother bonded well in those early years over the fact that not only did my Mother already have a copy of Dr.Spock's book but was also following it to a T, often overriding the slightly archaic child rearing ideas of her own mother and mother in law!                                                                                                                                     Malegaonkar Ajji, with her crisp, starched, well ironed simple cotton sarees and sharp, sparkling eyes, strode down our lane, every morning and evening. like clockwork. She voluntarily worked pro bono for the Students' Welfare Association in Pune and for many years, until she was well into her seventies, rode public buses to go there, until her children put down their collective feet and insisted that she use a car and chauffeur. The organization offers subsidized boarding and lodging and help with college fees to students who come from economically challenged families and have no place to live in, in Pune. My mother, my sister and I have been long term supporters of this organization as we knew that as long as a person like Ajji was in charge, our money was in good hands and would be put to optimum use. Ajii used to always lament that my generation did not have a 'social conscience' and every time I went to drop off a cheque to her house, she would be delighted that we wanted to make whatever little difference we could....She would be especially happy that I always donated the money in memory of my paternal grandparents and later on, my father in law too. One day, many years ago, she invited me to tour one of the hostels and meet some of the students. I saw first hand how loved and respected she was by everyone there, from the peons to the cooks in the kitchen and by the students of course. They treated her with a deference laced with genuine affection that one rarely gets to see among the millennials these days. And yes, the receipts for each donation were personally dropped off by Ajji into our mail box. My mother finally asked her once, why she took the trouble to do it herself each time, instead of just letting the office post us a receipt. Ajji answered that every rupee saved upon a postage stamp could be put to better use to meet a student's many needs. My mother was humbled when she heard this and then began following the same practice whenever she donated money online, saying she would collect the receipt later when she came that way and there was no need to waste money posting it to her! Each receipt dropped off by Ajji was accompanied by a special hand written note for whoever had donated the money from our family and my mother has preserved many of those notes....Today's fund raisers could take many lesson's out of Malegaonkar Ajji's book! My personal donations were dominated by many demands. (I was much younger then, today, I would leave it to the organization to decide what to do with my money...) " Ajji", I would say," use this only for the girl students, let the boys fend for themselves!" Or, "Ajji, I want this money to go to the blind girls you had told me about, please ensure this!" Or "Ajji, do buy blankets with this money for any girls who need them."  Ajji always patiently heard me out and faithfully reported back to me that she had done exactly as I had asked. Today, when I think back over those years, I feel Ajji taught me a lesson without berating me even once...                                                                                                                                                    Malegaonkar Ajji raised four super successful children. They are skilled professionals and yet remain grounded in reality, simple and humble and Ajji had a big hand in making sure they turned out this way. She loved to recall a story from when they lived in the Principal's bungalow. She was in the kitchen and the children who must have been in school and college then, were playing carom in the hall. A voice called out from outside, asking for Principal Malegaonkar. The children, engrossed in their game, barely glanced out before shouting out that he was not at home. Ajji turned off the gas and ran out and asked them who had been asking for her husband. They all said it was someone wearing a 'lungi' ( a traditional Indian cotton garment worn by men, draped around the lower half of the body.) Ajji rushed out and finally caught up with the man, a little way down the road. It turned out to be the Chancellor of Madras University! His simple, unassuming, traditional dress and manner had resulted in him being turned away from the door itself! Ajji apologized to him on her children's behalf and later scolded them soundly for judging by outward appearances! Today those very boys are some of the finest gentlemen I have ever met.                                                                                                                                                Ajji was active in another organization called 'Friends Of France' and helped many exchange students to learn a little bit of our local language during their stay in Pune. Teaching came naturally to her, and knowing how interested I am in languages, she often gave me examples from Marathi for which she had found it particularly difficult to get an English equivalent. My admiration for her went up several notches. She also interviewed many famous people for a magazine called 'Beyond Friendship'. She wrote poems and articles and embroidered beautifully, another common bond between the two of us. For an Indian woman of her generation, she had truly not just broken but absolutely smashed the proverbial glass ceiling. She was a prime example for the next generations of how much one can give back to society. simply by using our physical and mental resources and money does not always have to play a role... She was a raconteur par excellence and I could listen to her stories for hours. Every time I came away after meeting her, I felt I had learnt something new, had got a fresh perspective and I hope, I had become a better person.                                                                                                                           Ajji doted on my children too and never forgot the time she had met my daughter early one evening during her walk. On being asked by Ajji where she was going, my daughter who must have been ten or eleven then, promptly answered she was on her way to buy puffed rice from the grocer,as we were making "Bhel' , a spicy, tangy snack. Then she added, "Ajji you also join us for Bhel, please." Ajji was touched by this invitation and told me when she met me next, that  I had done a great job in raising my daughter. Thanks to Dr.Spock or despite him, I wanted to ask, but didn't!                                                  
When my son was born, Ajji of course came to see him when he was a few days old. My mother expressed her worry that many Indian women  have a propensity to grab newborns and insist that they be allowed to hold them on their laps. Even in those days when Covid 19 was not even dreamt up, my mother was against the idea of exposing a new born in this way. Ajji told her not to worry and freely use her name and say Malegaonkar Ajji had forbidden anyone from touching the baby! Both my grandmothers had passed away by this time and my mother did truly use Ajji's name anytime anyone asked to hold my son and it worked wonders! My son was 'seen' from across the bedroom and thus kept safe until it was time for me to travel to Tanzania with him!                                                                   After we moved to Kenya, I always made it a point to meet Ajji every time I went home during my children's vacation. A few years ago, when I went to see her, I was shocked to realize that she had completely lost her memory...She had no clue who I was or where she was and she kept getting up to leave saying she had to go...It was absolutely heart breaking for me to see this brilliant lady reduced to this because for so many years, her activity levels and her brain power had belied her years and we had not even realized that she has crossed the age of ninety, a few years prior to losing her memory.  I somehow managed to chat with her for a short while and then fled down the stairs before I burst into tears which just refused to stop. I had only met the shell of the person I had known, respected and admired for most of my life and it was a very bitter pill to swallow.                                                               Later on Ajji was moved to her son's Nursing Home where she would get round the clock care that she needed. I visited her there for the next few years and I remember the last conversation I had with her where she told me that her youngest son had gone to college and would be back soon...he is an eminent laparoscopic surgeon, a good friend of my Dad's, one of my favourite people and he was right there but he patiently indulged his mother in her belief....The values imparted by Ajji to all her children, were clearly visible to me that day.                                                                                                                                  
 On 10th June, my mother broke the news to me that Malegaonkar Ajji has passed away on the night of 9th June. Her grand daughter told me she had just turned 99 on 13th May 2020 and was in her 100th year. I wish that Ajji had lived to be a hundred but it was not to be. During any other year, I would have been in Pune on that particular date but this year the circumstances were beyond anyone's control...I could say my good bye only from afar. They do not make them like Malegaonkar  Ajji anymore. She truly was a LEGEND.                                                                                                                                      

Malegaonkar Ajji with beautiful hand embroidery done by her sixty odd years ago.

                                  Time and tide wait for no man or woman, Ajji as a young girl.                

Thank you Dr. Satish Malegaonkar, for giving me permission to write about your wonderful mother. Thank you Vishakha Malegaonkar  for sharing these beautiful pictures of your grandmother with me and letting me use them.                                                                                                                         
Thank you Dr.Kshipra Malegaonkar Panchawagh for being one of our oldest friends and so we have had the privilege of knowing your "Ajji'' for as long as we can remember...                                                                     


Sunday, 3 May 2020

Myriad Memories Mandatorily Until May 3rd 2019

                                                                   My Dad

                                                 My parents, eons ago, before I was born!

Memories are funny things. One can have a good memory, helping one tremendously while attempting an exam or one can have a terrible memory, practically guaranteeing a struggle in the aforesaid exam. And also one can have good memories or bad ones, depending on how fortunate one has been in life....These memories, especially the childhood ones, linger pleasantly or lurk malevolently in the recesses of one's mind, popping out, at times when prodded gently, at other times slowly, reluctantly uncoiling themselves, if one cares to delve a little deeper...
Today it has been a year since we lost our Dad and it is but natural for memories to flood our minds, at times, flooding our eyes, pooling in the crevices of our visages, a smile here, a tear there, a frown too because, of course. if it was always sugar and spice and all that's nice, it wouldn't be life...
My first memories of my Dad involve post dinner dessert sprees in various parts of India and I have penned these down earlier. So I'm going to dig deeper beyond my gustatory memory and see what crops up! The year was 1981, I was in Upper Kinder Garten in St.Patrick's Convent, Jodhpur, Rajasthan and I had excitedly come home and announced to my mother all the details of the picnic our class was going to go to the next day. But there was some issue with my water bottle and the heat of the Thar Desert meant no water bottle, no picnic! The very thought of it was upsetting me no end. These were the pre historic days when you could not simply buy bottled water in India! Given the chronic shortage of army housing, we lived in a rented bungalow in the back of beyond, as we waited to be allotted our house in the Army Housing Complex, and my Dad came home really late from office. On that particular day, he reached home after dark and my mother told him about the urgent need for a water bottle...He immediately rushed out to see what he could find, if anything at all. I remember feeling so guilty that he had had to leave home again just because of me...He must have hunted far and near (we had no shops in every vicinity like we do now...) but he finally came home with an oval shaped bright sunshiny yellow water bottle! He told me it was absolutely the last piece available in the shop and the little plastic cog which fits into the straw was already detached from the bottle, but it was the best he could do and it was better than not having a bottle for the picnic at all! I was so glad and grateful and even though I was only five years old, I think that was the day I realized that most parents do anything and everything they can to see their children smile again...
My first memory of Diwali is in Rajasthan too...we had finally moved into our designated house and my Dad tied long, parallel rows of string which began in our house, passed on through our front door, went across the staircase landing and continued straight into our neighbour's house! Folks brought up in the 70s and 80s in India will remember those "Burning Train" crackers, which then whizzed along those strings, powered by gun powder, until they ultimately fizzled out! What a fascinating sight it was, while it lasted...And my Dad had made it happen! What could be more wondrous for a six year old!
This past week has been hard for Bollywood, as two of India's top actors succumbed to cancer within twenty four hours of each other...So a couple of days ago, we decided to watch the movie "The Namesake" based on Jhumpa Lahiri's brilliant book of the same name, which had one of the deceased actors in the leading role. And the train accident shown in the movie, took me back to 1984, when my Dad too survived a train accident...My mother had moved to Pune with my sister and me, to help my paternal grandmother, after my grandfather's death and my Dad was on his way back to New Delhi, where he was posted, after attending my maternal Uncle's wedding. Our winter vacation was still going on but my mother was already back in school where she taught. Suddenly the postman was at our gate and he handed my grandmother a telegram which simply read, "I am safe." Ajay. Come on people, those were pre cell phone, practically pre telephone days, both good news and bad came via a physical telegram, not the app! My grandmother and I were completely flummoxed, as we could not make out head or tail of this message. My grandmother scanned the Marathi language newspaper but found nothing in it. Then she sent me to our dearest neighbours (after nearly forty five years of being neighbours, they are as precious as family!) across the lane and told me to ask them to look in the English newspaper...And sure enough, Naik Kaka (uncle) found the little news item, giving details of the train accident in The Times Of India.Thankfully there had been no casualties and it explained my Dad's mysterious telegram! That day my abiding trust in the Times began and it also explains my slight, make that strong, disdain for that particular Marathi paper...it had not covered the very important news of my Dad's train accident, an unforgivable sin in my eight year old mind! My Dad, of course, read the rather apolitical Indian Express until the end, a tad bland for my tastes...!
The following year, my Dad was posted to Pune and after a short stay in a temporary accommodation, ( it was actually a part of a palace!), we were safely ensconced in our colonial bungalow on Loop Road, off Nagar Road. Today this road is a very busy thoroughfare in my hometown, surrounded by infotech offices and posh residential buildings. In the mid eighties, it used to be deserted after 6:00 pm and we had no street lights either! We had attended a party in the Army Mess (yes located in the same palace where we had stayed earlier) and were on our way back home in our car. My sister and I had almost dozed off in the back seat,( pre seat belts, pre car seats days), though it wasn't later than 9:00 pm. Suddenly we saw a cyclist illuminated by the head lights of our car coming towards us, on our side of the road, not on the opposite side where he should have been, just before we heard a loud crash and the screech of the brakes, applied by my Dad. I can still hear my Dad's voice in my mind, telling my Mom that the fellow had come under the car. That day I knew what being sick to the stomach felt like...My Dad jumped down from the car, and peered beneath but called out to say he could only see the bicycle...then we heard a voice from the side of the road and realized the man had jumped off his bike in the nick of time...He apologized for driving on the wrong side of the dark road, but said he never thought anyone would be out and about that late! He admitted it was completely his fault but my Dad insisted on taking him to the hospital and then dropped him and his mangled cycle home...And he also paid him to get his bike repaired and explained to us when he finally came home, (my sister and I were wide awake with anxiety!) that the man was a labourer, so he really couldn't afford to get it done himself. That day I learnt how to be generous to another's fault and that human life is very fragile...
Then he got posted to Gauhati, Assam, and just before my 11th birthday, I declared that I did not want to celebrate my birthday and candidly admitted that I would rather just get gifts from my parents than have a full fledged birthday party...My parents agreed and my Dad drove twenty three kilometres to Gauhati city to shop for my gifts! I got almost as many gifts as I would have, had I invited my friends and they included among other sundry things, Swiss Rolls from Gauhati's famous bakery "Shaikh Brothers", books, a diary / planner for the brand new year 1987, along with a fancy pen and a wonderful birthday card which had a glass box painted with flowers, against a background of a deep midnight blue...I adore blue, wear blue often and am surrounded by blue in my house but my favourite shade of blue, to this day, matches the one on that card... It also said "To A Darling Daughter" and I wonder if that was the beginning of my love for alliterations, though I did not know the term then! Look at the title of this post, folks!

                                                     Shillong, Meghalaya, 1988
(If this picture would have been the Indian Government's prototype for the complete family pic, instead of the ridiculous one girl one boy pic, our population would have been so much lower! Hats off to our parents for showing the way, way back in the 70s... Two girls are also a complete family!)

From Gauhati, my parents moved to Jallandhar while I came back to Pune for High School...It was my Dad who encouraged me to travel alone by train as a thirteen year old, despite my grandmother's misgivings, across half of India, to spend every vacation with them, a journey that spanned two nights and nearly two days...Today I am immensely grateful for those experiences, for they filled me with unshakeable confidence, taught me to look out for myself during travel and to make friends with fellow travellers! And the bliss of eating pineapple ice cream, that my Dad would rush out to buy from the Jallandhar cantonment market post meals,while sprawled on chairs on our lawns, is unmatched to this day...No, Haagen-Dazs does not even come close...nor do Ben and Jerry, Vermont's finest though they may be...
It is hard to separate food from memories of my Dad...A chef par excellence, he gave me many tips and taught me many tricks, painstakingly wrote down basic recipes for me when I got married so I could easily follow them, as I was still busy studying. He bought all the cooking equipment I carried to Russia, where my husband was working then and personally bought and packed fresh spices, both whole and powdered, every time I came home, to take back with me. When he visited us in Kenya, he conducted Indian cooking classes for school mothers from other countries and they were wildly popular. I'm so glad one of his recipes is printed in the cook book compiled by the parent teacher fellowship...
He and I shared a common passion for car driving. And though a fast but skilled driver himself, he had stopped driving for the last few years. Whenever he and I went on the highway out of the city and I touched the speed limit for that particular stretch, he would always tell me to slow down, indicating it with his right hand, while gorgeous green eyes glared at me! I would always point out I was within the limit, and I never slowed down...but now I will because I have no one to indicate that I need to reduce speed, so I need to apply the brakes myself...when you lose a parent, you stop being a child to a large extent, no matter how old you are or whether you are already a parent yourself, when this sad day dawns in your life...
The other day I saw a Dennis The Menace WhatsApp forward and here is what it said:

That would be my Dad's attitude, in a nutshell, during the current, complete, Covid 19 lockdown in India! Post his retirement from the Indian Army, he loved ordering food home or, when he was healthier, quickly popping out to eat...He would have surely complained how long he needed to keep eating groceries! One of my final memories is the nurse telling me that my Dad was awaiting food from home, despite a wonderful lunch being served to all the officers who were in the Army  hospital, the day after I moved him there. It was ironic that the man who, like my son, was ready to eat out at the drop of a hat, was craving home food at the end...Exactly a year later, a certain section of India is struggling to put food on the table and the rest are cooking at home like there's no tomorrow, then spending the evening scrubbing vessels, as there is no house help coming in and desperately hoping lockdown is eased, so they can at least get their favourite food delivered at home! Oh Life! I often wonder what my Dad's take on all this would have been, posted with no holds barred on his blog " From Here And There" but now I will never know...There is no document more final than a Death Certificate, so stay home, self isolate and stay safe! Not due to force or fear, but to simply help flatten the curve.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Our Darling Mrs. Dinshaw

Exactly a year ago today, on 12th April 2019, a school classmate of mine messaged me directly on WhatsApp to say she had heard that our beloved high school English teacher Mrs. Jeroo Dinshaw had passed away earlier in the day. My first reaction, of course, was one of denial, though I knew she had been grievously ill for the past few days. In fact, a couple of classmates had especially gone to meet her during the previous week, after I got to know how ill she was and had asked if anyone could visit, since I wasn't in Pune myself, and she had chatted and interacted with them...."Not possible", I said," You must have the wrong information!" What the heart does not want to hear, the mind does not believe...I confirmed it from two of our High School teachers and then I knew the very sad news was true and it was time to break it on our school WhatsApp group....
On 15th March 2019, I had messaged Mrs. Dinshaw myself, like I had been doing every year for the last few years. It was the Ides of March, and her wedding anniversary. While teaching each batch Julius Caesar every year in school, she had never failed to point out how she had got married on 15th March, the very day Caesar had been warned against and subsequently assassinated on, and always joked how her brother had warned her husband-to-be too! On 15th March 2019, when I messaged her and told her we were all remembering her and sending our best wishes (her husband had passed away a couple of years ago), she thanked me and blessed us all...
As a scrawny thirteen year old who came back to join high school in June 1989 in Pune, after three years in Gauhati, Assam, meeting Mrs. Dinshaw and comprehending just how amazing her standard of English was, felt like being rejoined with a long lost kindred soul. I clearly remember that the first story she began teaching us on that first day of 8th grade was Saki's "The Open Window" and I still get goose bumps when I think of how Mrs. Dinshaw narrated and explained that 'twist in the tail' tale! I was spellbound and, like many generations of Helenites, immediately became a fan of Mrs. Dinshaw's for life. She introduced us to William Shakespeare that same week and as we began studying Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's England came to life! In an era when not many Indians had travelled abroad, Mrs. Dinshaw told us about her trip to Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare's birth place, spun tales of seeing first hand his home and school, Globe Theatre and his wife Ann Hathway's cottage. When I visited the United Kingdom in 1997, I missed visiting this tiny town by a whisker and when I went back to England last year, after twenty two years, ironically in the very year Mrs. Dinshaw had passed away, I was determined to make it there, come what may. Thanks to my husband's dear cousin and her husband, we did visit Stratford Upon Avon, sat upon the banks of the Avon river, knocked at Shakespeare's door, had a cup of coffee in a pub he used to visit, and thus I paid a personal tribute to my beloved teacher in my own special way. She, with her magical way with words, had brought alive Shakespeare for a classroom full of young girls , (many of whom had never left India's coral strands), on a gloomy, rainy June morning, which probably perfectly mirrored regular weather  in Shakespeare's country!
All of us were, no doubt, in absolute awe of Mrs.Dinshaw. The beloved and extremely pampered wife of a very rich businessman, she had no real 'need' to work. At a time when few women drove cars, let alone had one of their very own, Mrs. Dinshaw zoomed majestically into the school gates every morning in her Marie biscuit coloured Maruti 800, the very car most of India was dying to own, instead of the stately Ambassador or the Fiat, usually seen on Indian roads then. Chiffon sarees, deep cut sleeveless blouses that smacked of haute couture (and not of the tailor who had a little shop at the end of every Indian lane),  high high-heels, beautifully permed and set hair and a flawless milk white complexion with skin as smooth as a baby's bottom (one of her favourite phrases!) , she was the very epitome of dignified elegance and grace. She had a larger than life, very magnetic personality and fondly addressed all of us as 'her little darlings' and 'baby dolls'. We felt as if we were straight out of Kipling's books and those colonial 'baba log' (children) were no patch on us! That was how special she made each girl feel. She came from India's Parsi community, well known for their generous flamboyance, business acumen, flair for music and teaching and a philanthropy that knows no borders of religion, caste or creed....the world certainly needs more of this rapidly shrinking group...
Once Mrs. Dinshaw discovered how much I loved to read, she wasted no time in recommending scores of books to me and continuously challenging me in class by asking me to explain or interpret what I thought a particular phrase or line meant. She contributed immensely to my already stupendous vocabulary. I say so myself but in those pre Google days, I used to carry an Oxford pocket dictionary in my uniform pocket and continuously look up words I came across in the course of a day, but did not know. Asking Mrs. Dinshaw what the word 'Tureen' meant, while studying Guy De Maupassant's 'The Diamond Necklace', is etched on my mind! Once she had explained a particular word, I never ever forgot it. And yes, she also taught us how 'Guy', the name, was pronounced, and how Champs- Elysees had to be uttered too, from the same story, because of course Mrs. Dinshaw had mastered French long before I did! And had visited Paris too, which I have yet to do!
While studying Lord Macauley's Horatius At The Bridge, I got so impatient at the delay before he jumps into the river when the choice was so clear, that I put up my hand and coolly informed Mrs. Dinshaw that I found Horatius incredibly slow on the uptake! She immediately got what I meant and her peals of laughter echo in my head to this day...On yet another occasion, in 9th grade, I had been reading a book called the Devil's Advocate, from our school library and having just learned the meaning of the phrase, immediately applied it to a character in a story we were studying. Mrs. Dinshaw instantly asked me to explain why I thought so and then agreed with my logical interpretation. That, I believe, is one of the main reasons why she stood out as an excellent teacher! The ability to let a student think, explain and explore in class, in our Indian education system, focussed as it is on 'finishing portions' and setting exams, remains sadly limited in the English teaching community today.
All my English papers came back marked with the highest marks in class and remarks like 'excellent' and 'I salute you', in Mrs, Dinshaw's hand, for all the three years that I had the good fortune to have been taught by her. This would have been enough to go to anyone's head, especially a fifteen year old's, knowing how hard it was to match Mrs. Dinshaw's impeccably high English standards, but ironically it only served to make me read and study more to keep meeting those standards...and of course, she is the one who had explained the word 'irony' to us in class, which is why I have used it so beautifully here, even after thirty long years! My mother, with her penchant for storing tangible memories, actually still has my old English file but now that Mrs. Dinshaw is gone, I'm so glad she does! I can skim through those papers and go back to that long gone era in the blink of an eye...
As 10th graders, we somehow badly managed to mess up the recitation of Edgar Allan Poe's  very onomatopoeiaic 'The Bells', during our annual day, despite having been personally trained by Mrs. Dinshaw herself. Then her wrath knew no bounds and she was on the war path! Even I, who was known throughout the school as 'Dinshaw's Pet', and generally immune to her temper, got singed by it and got a tongue lashing to boot! It reduced me to tears then but I would love another scathing lecture from her now, if only to hear her voice one more time....
When Mrs. Dinshaw took leave from school in order to help her daughter, who was to have her first baby, she appointed me to teach our 9th standard class and I dreaded stepping into those large shoes! But having witnessed first hand the teachings of such a wonderful master meant the disciple did a reasonably good job,  albeit with a quaking heart, but we were all so glad to have her back! We had missed her every minute of the time she had been away. In 10th grade, she personally hand picked me for inter school elocution competitions and coached me for those and for debates too, instilling vast amounts of confidence in me and today, it is my students who reap the benefits of her labour...I always ask my students to pay heed to what I am saying NOT because I am good but because I was taught by the very best. If I can pass on Mrs. Dinshaw's invaluable legacy to the thousands of students who have passed through my hands and the hundreds who are currently passing through, I will feel I have fulfilled at least some of my life's destiny...
A few years ago, thanks to two other favourite high school teachers, Ms. Nirmala Khemlani and Mrs. Veena Thadani, I was able to visit Mrs. Dinshaw and met her charming husband and one of her grandsons too. It was such a wonderful evening in her lovely home and they were such gracious hosts. I am so glad I made the effort for truly I can never repay the debt I owe her....she saw the potential and honed my language skills into something that is now being used to help so many students who sorely need it. It was during this visit that she gave me the manuscript of a book she was writing. She told me to read it and I was deeply honoured. It is a charming tale of her girlhood and her college and courtship days, written in her inimitable style, liberally laced with her particular brand of humour. I was entranced from the word go and begged her to continue writing, even offering to transcribe it for her over Skype, as she said she was not able to type much anymore...I just hope and pray her family manages to publish the book soon, if they haven't yet. It certainly needs to see the light of the day and  thousands and thousands of her students would love to see Mrs. Dinshaw come back to life, though her own words.
In 2017, we had our mega high school 25th reunion at one of Pune's elite hotels and Mrs. Dinshaw along with our other beloved teachers, was one of the guests of honour. Despite not being in the best of health, (she was a cancer survivor),  she managed to come and for that we will be ever grateful...That was the last time I met her, as another dear school friend and I dropped her back to her house and said good bye. In the summer of 2018, I was not able to go and see her as I was busy driving my son around for a summer project that he was doing, besides teaching nearly full time in my Academy. She gently admonished me over WhatsApp, when I wished her on her birthday on 27th August 2018,  for not making time for her, as she had been waiting to see me and I promised I would see her in the June of 2019, when I would be in India next. I went back to India in March 2019 for just  two weeks as my parents weren't well but I knew I would see Mrs. Dinshaw in June, when I would be in Pune for a longer period of time....How confident one is that one has all the time in the world and so do the people around us....She passed away on 12th April 2019 and most ironically I was back in India nearly a week later, as my dad had been admitted to hospital....I was too late to see my beloved teacher, and I was not destined to attend her funeral either as I missed it by three days...I will always live with this regret....
Today, I remain cut off from 'my native land', as flights worldwide remain suspended for how long we do not know...Again Mrs. Dinshaw's beautiful interpretation and explanation of this deeply meaningful poem by Sir Walter Scott comes to mind, for though my footsteps cannot, my thoughts do turn to my native land though I'm 'wandering on a foreign strand', to my wonderful teacher's heart warming memories and her family, as they mark a year of her passing...
And yes, she wouldn't have missed the alliteration in the title, in this small and humble but heartfelt tribute to her! After all, she taught me that too!

                                Such a beautiful evening, we met that day after twenty four years!

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Work From Home

Work from home?
Work from home?

This is a concept I implemented eight years ago,
So I am completely in the know!
The power to set your own work time,
Is something that is absolutely sublime!

No students and parents to actually meet and greet,
My Skype classroom's virtual, wow, that's so neat!
And so I was in my own zen zone,
Very happy to teach a hundred plus students from home!

And then, a virus rapidly invaded our lives,
On OUR respiratory system it was sharpening its knives!
Study and work from home became the new decree,
As from schools, colleges, malls and offices folks began to flee.

Suddenly I had THREE extra people working from our home,
And every surface was covered by a medical tome!
But, about the virus, none of them gave even a clue,
The disease, you see, is absolutely brand new!

There is a huge load on our formerly fast net connection,
And our daughter's begging for a net coverage extension!
Her classes, seminars, webinars are all online,
And medical students are expected to sharply toe the line!

The daughter's college uses Moodle,
The son's classroom relies on Google,
The husband's meetings are all on Zoom,
Learning and working virtually has hit a new boom!

All these super busy folks have invaded my lair,
On some days, I just wish they would get out of my hair!
There's been an encroachment on my work space,
I'm suddenly seeing too many people face to face!

The children are scarfing down food faster than I can cook,
And, in between, they disappear into a virtual book!
Coffee shops cannot match the beverage level I currently serve,
They claim, to study and work online, it gives them verve!

But, at a deeper, inner level, I'm SO glad they are all safely home,
While the virus outside can freely rage and roam!
For, with our current lifestyle, it will have no place for incubation,
And, very soon, will face complete annihilation!

Meanwhile, also do pray, for those who cannot at home stay,
They are out there, fighting to keep our dragons at bay!
Essential services workers, policemen, doctors and medical personnel on duty,
Their dedication to service is a thing of beauty!

We must, to God, very sincerely pray,
To keep us safe and sound to see another day!
Meanwhile we will study, work, exercise, cook and eat at home,
While outside, the virus at its greedy mouth, does froth and foam!


                                                    (And DON'T let this get on your face!)

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Another Wonderful Wedding In Pre Brexit Britain

Amongst Indians or people of Indian origin, wedding invites are first issued verbally to immediate and extended family, immediate neighbours, close friends and certain colleagues. Since planning and executing an Indian style wedding is a colossal task and people travel from far and wide, forewarned is forearmed!
Thus it was that my husband's boss and the owner of Kenya's top tea company that my husband works for, sounded him off in April itself, about his older daughter's wedding, which was to take place in August 2019, in London. I told my own daughter and her excitement ran sky high and she was determined to attend this wedding, especially as her college did not begin until the 1st of September. She knew this would be a really lavish and glamorous 'celebrity style wedding' and besides she had never visited the United Kingdom and this seemed like a golden opportunity, pun unintended of course, though one may be forgiven for thinking one has stumbled into a gold shop accidentally, while entering the venue of an Indian wedding! And into a designer sari shop too, for good measure!
There was the 'small' matter of visas and whether we would get them in time or would they be rejected, was the moot question. My husband and I had travelled to the UK twenty two years ago and so had those visas in our old passports, making it easier the second time round. But we were both eligible to apply from India and Kenya, and my daughter was eligible to apply from India, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates! The Indian travel agent was worried and advised us to apply from our countries of residence, (Kenya and UAE respectively), as applying from India could be a reason to reject them! Ultimately my daughter and husband, who were in India for a short time, ended up applying from Nairobi, while I applied from my home town, Pune. We spent a mini fortune, even though these stiff upper lipped folks entered our country so many centuries ago without a so much as a 'by your leave', we have to shell out mega bucks to get the documents to enter theirs....Oh, the expensive irony!
And so, though our visas were still in limbo, it was time to shop for this wedding while we were in India. Shopping in Nairobi would have meant we would have had no funds left to buy our tickets to London! We were invited for three major pre wedding and wedding events and so outfits and accessories (read matching purses, shoes, costume jewellery ) for every single outfit became essential. Suffice to say, at the end of all the shopping and stuffing heavy dresses into suitcases that seemed to have shrunk, my daughter declared that IF she ever got married, she would never have a destination wedding, as packing wedding outfits, even as guests, seemed an impossible task and imagine if you were the bride herself ! I'll definitely hold her to this IF and when the time comes...
After spending a few days in Nairobi, settling my son into his new academic year and teaching my Mom the ropes of handling the house, managing my house hold staff, and the 'how to' of teenage sitting the son and baby sitting the dog, taking a marathon twelve consecutive hours of compensatory classes on Skype to make up for my little holiday and participating in a Webinar as the chief speaker, finally we were on our way to London...
The hotel where we were put up was in a very beautiful part of London, at Kingston Upon Thames, and was located at the sight where hangings took place many centuries ago. That was where the original inn had come up, to accommodate people who had travelled long distances to witness the hangings... Rather gruesome but more grist to the mill for an officially qualified history buff like me! We were greeted by very thoughtful 'Welcome to our Wedding Weekend' hampers which had been placed in every room booked for the wedding. They had everything ranging from wet wipes to chocolates, snacks, safety pins, mini bottles of perfume, the ubiquitous band aids and many more things!
The most unique aspect of this wedding was that the girl is a Muslim of Indian origin, brought up in Kenya and the United Kingdom and the boy a British Jew and yet like all Indian weddings, no matter from which religion, so many of the pre wedding rituals were identical to those found all across India...And Bollywood of course effectively blurs all man made lines (yes, even the Radcliffe line!), with its milieu of songs and dances, which have become such an intrinsic part of Indian weddings.
The Mehendi or Henna painting ritual was the first formal wedding event and the bride's family mansion's garden with its colourful decoration of silk threads and a huge tent and stage which had been put up on the lawn, was the perfect backdrop for this rainbow hued event. Delicious food that felt like it had been flown in straight from India, right down to the Kulfi (Indian ice cream) and fresh betel nut leaves, hit all the right spots, with us vegetarians being sumptuously catered too as well. A little bit of traditional wedding songs and dances and the camaraderie of close family, friends and overseas guests made for a glorious day. It was the perfect way to kick start the celebration. We all queued up to get the intricate henna patterns done on our hands from the ladies especially invited for this occasion and got into the wedding mood, with the first fragrant whiff of henna!
                                That's NOT the bride and I have permission to post this pic!

The next event was the 'Sangeet' or the mega song and dance ceremony. Practice had been in full swing over the past many days and two choreographers had flown in all the way from India! There was the bridesmaids' dance, the parents of the bride dance, the parents of the groom dance, the bride's Uncles danced and finally the couple du jour danced, of course. After this the dance floor was thrown open for all the guests and as the DJ belted out the most popular dance numbers, it got transformed into a riot of colours, with even non dancers like my husband and me being pushed onto the dance floor. The popular Bollywood number from a super hit movie with the lines 'poora London thumakda' (all of London is dancing), was met with a huge roar of approval as it seemed so ironically appropriate for the occasion! The cuisine was street food from different parts of the world, with India predominating, of course, and the venue the very beautiful and historic Conservatory at Painshill in Surrey, with its lush expanse of green lawns and summer flowers in the most gorgeous of colours and the magically decorated hall and dining area...An enchanting evening, to say the least.

     The colours of Indian street food compliment the summer flowers, at the Conservatory at Painshill, Surrey. Note the delicate henna pattern on my daughter's hand!

                                               Recreating the street food scene at Painshill!
The actual wedding ceremony was a civil one followed by the grand finale, the wedding reception at the Hurlingham Club, set on forty two acres of grounds, bordering the Thames, at Fulham, touted as one of Britain's most exclusive private clubs. The waiting list for membership, we were told, is THIRTY years long! A couple of days ago, the club was in the news as Kate (the Queen's grand daughter in law) is taking private tennis lessons there and her three children are romping all over the grounds and no we did not bump into her when we were there! 

There's a time capsule buried right at the entrance of the club, adding an interesting touch of whimsy to an otherwise colonially correct establishment! I wonder what it says? Maybe it's,"No, though it's 2104 your turn for membership still hasn't come! Keep waiting...till eternity!"

After mingling around in the atrium, we were led to our pre designated tables in the spectacularly decorated grand salon. Everything matched the pink theme of the wedding invites, including the menu cards, the party favour boxes and the floral arrangements. One of the gifts in the box was a special blend of tea concocted for the new couple. A fitting touch, when your family owns one of the largest tea companies in Africa and is in the tea business in the United Kingdom too. The dinner was to be a pre plated one, with each delicious course being served to us in pre set plates, even as we listened to speeches by members of the groom's and bride's parties....A new experience for us but a very enjoyable one.

And then the dance floor was thrown open post dinner with everyone enthusiastically hitting the floor, with my daughter leading the pack...
And that finally wrapped up the wedding, our main purpose for being in the United kingdom and I'm going to need a couple of posts more to write about other important aspects of our trip! 
So bear with me,
This is the first of three..!
(When one visits Stratford Upon Avon for all things Shakespeare , which we did during this trip, I guess one starts ending a post with a rhyming couplet!)

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Wedding Bells And When Nostalgia Dwells On The Banks Of The Broad Brahmaputra

This post, believe it or not, has been almost two years in the coming and, as I was reminiscing with my mother of how I almost didn't make it to the Gauhati wedding, I thought it was high time I wrote about what was a very emotionally charged time for me...
The invitation came on WhatsApp and as I had always sworn I would attend this particular wedding when it took place, I was all set to buy my airline ticket and I mentioned this to my daughter over a phone call. But my departure coincided with her arrival for her visit home from college, for the December break, for the very first time since she had left. She pleaded with me to not go, as she wanted me to churn out all her favourite food from my kitchen. Since my children were born, I have stopped gallivanting around the globe without a care in the world, and this would have been a first for me but I gave in, albeit with a heavy heart...I decided not to buy my ticket and stay at home and cook for my daughter instead. A week later my daughter called up (a more mature sense seems to have prevailed!) and said, "Mom, please go, we will manage..." My joy, in a very cliched manner, knew no bounds and I immediately asked my Dad to do my bookings, as Indian web sites were showing better rates when accessed from India, for what would be nearly a twenty four hour journey from Nairobi, as I would be travelling to the North Eastern part of India. Sadly, my super tech savvy and pro at online bookings Dad messed up one part of my multi sector booking, giving me the very first indication that all was not well with him... It was during this trip that I went home to Pune for a few days, after the wedding, and saw first hand how fast his health had deteriorated and I pushed him to get tests done, followed by subsequent hospitalization, which bought him some more time on Earth...Bottom line, if you think something is wrong with your own, your partner's or your parents'/ in laws' health, it usually is...Follow your gut, don't let denials from them (or yourself) cow you down.
But I digress. To get back to the wedding, and why this visit was so important for me, I need to go back more than thirty three years.
10th July 1986: The day that we had been anticipating for long had finally dawned. My Dad had been posted to Gauhati in Assam and it was time to bid goodbye to our beautiful colonial bungalow in Pune and to our dear Army-family neighbour and her two daughters. I still remember Ruby Aunty, illuminated by the headlights of the Army jeep that was to drop us off to the Railway station, tears glittering in her eyes, as she held her two young daughters close by her side, along with a plastic bucket my Mom had given her at the last minute and which she had insisted on paying for...All our trunks with our household items, books, toys, our car, bicycles and my Dad's motorcycle had gone on ahead much earlier and all our personal items were to go with us in a few suitcases, accompanying us on a journey which would take four days and three nights and two train changes, to a place we had never seen in our lives. Such is life in the Army but it does foster life long friendships!
My sister and I had been eagerly awaiting our first glimpse of the mighty Brahmaputra. My mother had told us that it was India's broadest river and at some places you could not see the other bank if you were on one side! I put each river, whose bridge our train trundled over, through what I call to this day, the 'bank-visibility test'! We spent nearly three very amazing, books and great friends filled years in Gauhati, a beautiful, rain drenched really green city, though a sleepy little hamlet then, in comparison with my comparatively huge home town. It is a testimony to the deep and abiding friendships we formed then, that we had remained in touch with all our close friends for more than two decades, by snail mail, as FaceBook and WhatsApp came into our lives many years later. The bride to be had been my mother's student in Nursery school in Gauhati and they had visited us a few times in Mumbai and Pune over the years but we had never made it back to Assam. The time had finally come and my mother had landed into Gauhati a few hours before my fourth and final flight touched down, nearly a day after I left Nairobi, which was nothing compared to the four days it had taken us from Pune, way back in 1986...
1st January 2018: The first shock came when I popped out of the airport, ( the same airport that I had taken my very first flight from in 1989, when I left Gauhati), and I saw a KFC outlet with Colonel Sanders looking straight at me. Since the airport had been practically next door to my Dad's Army unit, the only army officers I had ever seen in the vicinity all those years ago, were him and his colleagues...Well, it looked like globalization had not left this once pristine corner of India untouched.
I had told our hosts, (the bride's parents, both professors and Heads of their respective departments at Gauhati University and both also from my Alma Mater, Deccan College, Pune, who incidentally also happen to be on my personal list of my top favourite people in the world), not to bother to send anyone to pick me up and I could take an Uber, as I knew the road to their house like the back of my hand, considering that our former school was in their neighbourhood. I had spent three years going back and forth everyday, on that very road. They disregarded my request and sent a kind colleague to pick me and it was a good thing they did, because a whole new by pass had cropped up which I had known nothing about. It hit me then that nearly thirty years IS a long time...
Anyone who has ever attended an Indian wedding knows how quickly one gets enveloped by the warm and welcoming atmosphere. Old memories get a new life and lots of new friends are made and how do you know the bride/ groom stories are exchanged over multiple cups of masala chai (spiced, milky tea) and Indian sweets and savouries, a staple during weddings, even as everyone pitches in to help as much as they can. Women resplendent in sarees of the most vibrant hues and since this was Gauhati, women draped in Mekhela Chaddars, (which is the North Eastern variant of the saree), of pure Assam silk, with the most intricate embroidery, were at the wedding and it was a visual treat for my eyes. As a pre teen, all those years ago,  I had never realized how eye catching this garment is and how beautiful the women looked in it...Wedding songs rent the air and the smell of henna and fresh flowers permeated everywhere,  mingling with the aroma of all the delicacies especially cooked for the wedding. Glass bangles in all the colours of the rainbow tinkled, gold and diamond jewellery added lots of bling and bindis adorning foreheads twinkled brightly. I was so glad I was able to attend this grand wedding ceremony. I had known the glowing bride since she had been a really tiny tot and it was a pleasure to see her on her big day. The groom was a Canadian boy, so every Indian ritual had to be explained to him and his friends who had accompanied him from across the Ocean and that added a lot of fun and camaraderie to the event. The bride's girl friends from Canada were all dressed in her generous mother's sarees for the wedding reception but they carried off the outfits so well that it was hard for the rest of us to believe that they were wearing Indian clothes for the first time in their lives! The added bonus was that the main wedding day was also my birthday, so I got to celebrate it in Gauhati after twenty nine long years, with my mother and old friends and new!
Two of my new friends have already visited us in Kenya and we, in turn, have been invited to their home in the United States. It was also great to connect with our hosts' house help who had been with them all those years ago when we were kids and she had been slightly older than me then and now was the mother of a smart young son.

                                                                     Wedding Hues

We got a bit of time in between the celebrations to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. My mother and I walked the roads of the suburb where we were staying. We used to pass this junction every day on our way to school and back but could barely recognize it now, due to the numerous cars and bikes that kept traversing it. This was where we used to halt once a month after my mother, who used to teach in our school, got paid and she used to buy buns for all of us army brats in the Army Bus! Sadly I could not find the bakery but even today the whiff of freshly baked buns takes me back to my Mom's pay day in Gauhati...I remembered a store called Paragon which, to this day, has me hooked onto deep fried white chick peas but I have never eaten any to beat the ones that store sold. After asking a few people, we managed to find our way to Paragon and believe it or not, there sat the chick peas in a glass jar, just like they used to, thirty years ago. I never buy anything without checking the manufacture and expiry dates but I trusted this store implicitly from my Gauhati days and immediately told the person there to sell me everything which was in the jar! He was surprised but complied and then it was sheer bliss to crunch and much those spicy, sinful chick peas, even as the flavour exploded on my tongue, exactly like it used to, every month, all those years ago.

                                                    Maligaon: So quiet then, so busy now

                                                      My pocket money drainer!

                                          Fried, spiced white chick peas, I'm addicted for life!
(Connoisseur's tip: Haldiram's Masala Chana comes a close second to Paragon's chick peas' virtues!)

Our next stop was my sister's class mate from Gauhati school days and good friend's shoe store in Maligaon. When we asked for the younger brother who had been my mother's student, the older one who runs it now came out and though it was hard to reconcile the little boy we had known with the strapping young man in front of us, we explained who we were and he remembered immediately! I'm sure he felt the same as he had last seen me as a super skinny thirteen year old...He immediately contacted his sister and though she was busy in a conference, she made it a point to come and see my mother at the reception venue the next evening, after a long day's work, as my mother was leaving the following day. She later took me to her own home too. Such are the old ties that tightly bind...

                                This store did not change and connected us to my sister's friend!

                                                 On the banks of the great Brahmaputra!
 (And I stole these lines from our school song, else I would have written an alliterative 'broad Brahmaputra'!)

We also took some time out for shopping, drove along the Brahmaputra and were awed by it, bought some wonderful fabric, shawls and other souvenirs like the famous Jaappi, the woven straw hat of Assam, and the Gamcha , a hand woven cotton embroidered towel, from Pan Bazaar and Fancy Bazaar. I also bought some gold plated stunning Assamese traditional jewellery. My mother even bought an orchid plant for our garden in Pune! When we lived there, we would traverse the twenty three kilometer distance to the city centre only once every few months and our main haunts were the bookshops (many of my books have Gauhati, Assam written on them, with my name and the date!) and the famous bakery, Shaikh Brothers. Their fresh bread and jammy Swiss Rolls were a special treat for us, even as we eagerly dived into whichever new book we had started reading first, the minute we got home. My sister and I used to cut off the raised mound at the top of the unsliced loaf, dividing it between the two of us, irritating my Dad no end because then every slice had a crust only on one side!

                                          The small but sweet indulgences of my childhood

 I had planned to stay on for a couple of days after my mother left, as I wanted to catch up with my school friends and indulge myself with a few more nostalgic visits in Gauhati. I volunteered to drop her to the airport, and on the way we visited another of my mother's Gauhati friend's at her brother's house, where she was staying. Gaur aunty belonged to Gauhati and had been our first neighbour in our Army-Air Force housing complex there, as her husband had been in the Indian Air Force. I had met Aunty just a few months ago when I had dropped my own daughter to college in Dubai, as her daughter (my childhood friend!) stays there now and she and her family had already visited and stayed with us in Nairobi. (The world is very small!). But Aunty and my mother met after nearly thirty one years and it was very emotional. Today, my daughter is friends with my friend's twin daughters and so the relationship forged so many years ago in Assam continues in the United Arab Emirates.
The next day I began my solo adventure! I had hired a trusted cab driver for two days, recommended by my host, Tamuli uncle. My first stop was the famous Kamakhya Temple, a stone's throw from their house. I had last visited this temple as a ten year old child but I had vivid memories. After seeking blessings from the Goddess and admiring the temple architecture, I was ready for my meanderings into the past.

                                                                      Kamakhya Temple

I asked the driver to take me to Mountain Shadow, our old housing complex, into which so many of my pre teen memories were so deeply entwined. As happy coincidence would have it, one of my Dad's old students, (he had coached her for the Defence Forces entrance exam), also a friend of mine, was now an Air Force officer and was posted to Gauhati then. She had given instructions to the guards to let me in at the gate. Otherwise, gaining access to a protected area would have been next to impossible! By yet another unbelievable coincidence she lived in the same block of four flats that we had lived in, just below our old house! So when I went to meet her, I entered my own old gate, and passed the very spot my friends and I had spent countless hours playing happily, our only worry being 'Hope there's a delicious dinner ready on the table when we get home...'

My beloved balcony at 3/2 Mountain Shadow, where I spent countless hours studying, reading and doing embroidery! The only thing's that's changed in nearly thirty years is the colour scheme...

My next stop was the area just behind our old house, where the new Institute was being built then. Our favourite game, as a group of pre teen boys and girls was playing hide and seek in the newly dug foundations of this building. I did not know then that I would see the completed building only in 2018! We had spent many hours in the old bamboo structure, watching poor prints of Bollywood movies on an old VCR, while guzzling down soft drinks of a dubious brand, something I won't let my children touch with even a barge pole in this day and age.

                                          The 'new' Institute, which is now thirty years old!

Then I asked the driver to drive towards our shopping complex, ' Anarkali', which had housed, among other shops, our grocer cum haberdasher (the Brit meaning!) where I used to buy cloth to make clothes for my doll, marbles, Parle sweets, Cadbury's and Amul chocolates, birthday gifts for friends and other sundries, the Air Force canteen, the Air Force Women's Welfare Association Shop from where I unfailingly bought my parents birthday and anniversary gifts every year from scrupulously saved pocket money and a sweet meat shop where a person called 'Babloo' made the most delicious samosas I have tasted to date. Sadly all the civilian shops had been moved out of the complex and when I asked about Babloo, I was told he had passed away. The bare look of the complex brought a quick tear to my eye, it had been buzzing when we left. I had cycled here numerous times to buy something or the other and later ridden my Luna there too...
Then we drove to Gauhati University and I directed the driver to take me to the Professor's Quarters Area. Most of my close friends had lived here, as their parents had been professors at the University and thanks to all that snail mail, I still knew their house numbers by heart! Though they had all retired and moved out by now, I spent some time gazing at the house where I had had my first sleepover ever (after begging my mother in school itself to let me go directly to my friend's house. That friend visited me in Pune with her family from the U.S, in 2017 and they stayed with us!), at the houses where my Dad had dropped each girl home in our car, ( a luxury in India in those days), on our way back from the birthday party of another dear friend, who lived in Gauhati City.
And then it was time to meet my school friends! We had arranged to meet at a restaurant in town and this was the very first time I would be eating at a restaurant in Gauhati… It wasn't the norm when I was growing up and our only forays out were to the Army mess for a party, or dining with another Air Force or Army family in their home or an annual picnic on board a cruise boat, on the Brahmaputra. I was very excited to meet all these ladies whom I had known as pre teens and never met since. I was especially touched as they had all taken time out from their very busy schedules just to meet me, as per my convenience. It is hard to catch up on thirty years worth of news in three hours but we managed to make a good headway. And most of them  knew a lot about me, thanks to my blog! They refused to let me pay for my share of the lunch, saying it was their treat as I was the visitor! I felt so humbled by their magnanimity and was doubly glad I had carried tiny souvenirs from Kenya for them all. The years just rolled away and it felt like we were sharing a classroom again. We were certainly as noisy as a bunch of middle schoolers!
My final sojourn of the day was at the house of my friend's parents who lived a little away from the town, in an area unknown to me. Luckily for me, another school friend lived in the same area and kindly consented to come with me. We ended up going to meet Sharma uncle and Aunty together and also got acquainted with my friend's sister in law and niece! Though my friend lives in the US, her parents had arranged a quick dinner for me in their beautiful bungalow. So much hospitality warmed my heart...
All too soon, it was time to board my flight to Pune and then a few days later to Nairobi...I bid goodbye to my warm and wonderful hosts and to the new couple. It was only thanks to them that I had been able to make it back to this lovely city, got to be part of a fabulous wedding and to relive  bits of my childhood again...
My only regret? I waited nearly thirty years to make this trip happen, but better late than never!

      Goodbye green Gauhati! I hope to get my husband and kids here for a visit someday soon...

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