Thursday, 11 March 2021

In Dr.Bach's British Backyard

 This is a time of turmoil. For the entire world, no doubt about that...But it has been especially traumatic for 10th and 12th grade students in India. These are board exam years, the equivalent of the very British O and A levels respectively and the first lock down of 2020 occurred just when the students had started these all important grades, last March. A year down the virus filled road and there is no immediate end in sight. The exams, which should have been nearly over at this time in a normal year, are now scheduled for April and May 2021 and students are plodding on, on line, as schools have shut again after they had barely begun. Imagine the angst, the fury, the helplessness, the sheer fatigue of regurgitating the same material for more than a year, with schools now holding a third prelim (pre boards) as against one or two, which is the norm.

I am away, across the Indian ocean, but the anguish coming through in waves is palpable every time I teach these fifteen and sixteen year olds. And so I have been advising their parents about the Bach Flower Remedies, in case these weary beings would like to try them out. But WHO is Dr. Edward Bach? 

To answer this question, I need to go back exactly thirty years into the past. I was a tenth grader myself and my mother was teaching in a school in Pune. My Dad was on a field posting in far away Jammu and Kashmir, based near India's border, so stress levels were naturally high in our house. One day she came home and told me about these wonderful remedies made from thirty eight flowers, based on the states of the mind, that a colleague of hers had studied about and was successfully using for students who needed them. I am skeptical at the best of times and this seemed rather over the top to me. I did not even take this information with a customary pinch of salt...I point blank refused to believe her.

The very next day, my mother came back from school, armed with proof! She had got home the notebooks of a few of her elementary school students for corrections and she showed me before flower remedies and after flower remedies pages from the notebooks . There was a remarkable difference in the quality of work and in the handwriting too, not just for one student but for each one whose parents had agreed to using the remedies, if the child had academic or emotional issues. I could not deny what was in black and white and thus began my life long relationship with and usage of the Bach Flower Remedies, which had been discovered in the United Kingdom by Dr. Bach in the 1930s. He was an allopathic doctor himself , a physician, pathologist and bacteriologist to be precise, but realized that emotions need help too! Besides our family members, thousands of people and hundreds of students have benefitted from these remedies which are available in all homeopathic shops in India and indeed the world over, and my mother is often invited to give lectures on this topic and conducts workshops too. Her write up about these remedies and their zero side effects and addiction free usage is played on the local radio channel in our home town multiple times a year. My Dad too extensively used these for people in companies and banks where he conducted Human Resource workshops, post retirement. 

August 2019: My husband, my daughter and I were about to leave for a big fat wedding in the United Kingdom. At the last minute, my mother said to me , " If possible, do visit the Bach Flower Centre in the UK." Now this idea took firm hold in my mind, percolated through it all through our long journey from Nairobi to London and helped by Google Maps, I made the decision to visit the Centre. We had a whole day free before the wedding festivities started and my daughter wanted to visit London and take in some tourist attractions. I had seen all I had wanted to see during our holiday in the UK in 1997 and had no desire to see again how money acquired from the colonies had been splurged here nor view once more artefacts and jewels looted from India, displayed in their full glory in the many museums. And pay in pounds to see the loot? Thanks but no thanks. ( The issue of Britain paying India reparation has been officially taken up, so I'm not just shooting my mouth off here). My husband was torn between accompanying the daughter or the wife...I convinced him no harm would come to me and I had my phone which worked for WhatsApp calls and messages, when there was WiFi. I had downloaded the details of the entire journey and so I was set to go. 

We had been put up at a hotel in Kingston Upon Thames, South West London, for the wedding. We took a bus from right outside the hotel to Kingston Upon Thames railway station and here we parted ways. I took a train to London, Waterloo while the other two took one to London, Charing Cross station. I was on my own now, setting off on an exciting adventure in the land of the Famous Five. Since my journey had been mapped out by me on my phone, I had all my tickets ready and just needed to change trains. I disembarked at Waterloo half an hour later and then hopped on to a train to Reading, a journey which would take an hour and a half. Memories of very dear friends of my parents came to mind as this is where Uncle had come in the early 90s, in pursuit of a Ph.D. all the way from Gauhati, Assam. At Reading, I trotted off rapidly to the other platform to catch the train for Didicot Parkway, which is the closest main line station to the Bach Centre . Time was of essence, trains are not too frequent and so I could not afford to miss my connections. I made it and half an hour later, I found myself at the bus stop outside Didicot station. The bus service to Brightwell -cum -Sotwell, the village where the Bach flower Centre is located, runs only once every hour, so I was paranoid about missing the bus, as taxis are very expensive and buses are safer too. I kept asking if the bus was ready to go yet and finally the gentleman at the depot, whom I had been plaguing, told me he was the driver of the bus and there was no way he would leave without me! I heaved a sigh of relief and settled down to wait. Dr. Bach, of course, would have given me a dose of Impatiens! 

I finally hopped into the bus but alas, the London Oyster transport card did not work in this region and the driver did not have change for five pounds. He waved away my money ( which I offered again before getting off, which he refused to take again) and thus I hitched a free ride to the Bach Centre. The grace of Dr. Bach....

Fifteen minutes later the driver signalled to me that my stop had arrived and so I got off,  right in the middle of a lonely country road. I looked around but did not see any signs for the Bach Flower Centre. I could see some houses across the road, so I crossed over to the other side and began wandering around, in vain. Not a soul was to be seen. I had no WiFi. I began to despair that I would probably have to turn back without visiting the Centre, after having come so far. Finally a car turned into the lane where I was wandering and I did something one must NEVER do. I flagged down a strange car. The driver was a young boy and he stopped when he saw me waving desperately. I explained that I was looking for the Bach Centre, he promptly pulled out his phone and searched and then told me to head down the road where I had got off from the bus. I thanked him and he zoomed off, while I scuttled rapidly away to the main road. Ten minutes of walking and nothing in sight... I was nearly in tears by now. With the hot August sun beating down on me, I was berating myself for having ventured all the way here alone. I truly needed Bach's Rescue Remedy at that precise moment. Finally I saw some signs of life , a Dad wheeling a kid in a pram. Somehow men with a kid around seem safer to approach but of course that's never a guarantee. I asked him if he knew about the Centre and he told me to go further up the road and then take a right turn. I marched off again and a couple of wrong turns led me down a narrow path, deep into a wooded area. 

I was not far from Wallingford, where my beloved author and the Queen Of Murder, Agatha Christie had lived for a while and all those murders that happened in the woods in her books came to mind. Remember, I was also in the land of Jack The Ripper. The Bach remedy Mimulus was definitely the need of the hour.... I got a grip on myself, turned around again and reached the main road, almost expecting Christie's famous detective Miss. Marple to pop her head up across a garden wall, and finally stumbled upon the right path. There it was in all its glory, Mount Vernon, the well preserved 19th century cottage and the home of Dr. Edward Bach, surrounded by a rambling yet lush garden, with flowers peeking out from all corners, in myriad hues.

                                                   Mount Vernon, the Bach Flower Centre.

Twenty eight years after we had begun using the Bach Flower remedies, I was at THE place where a lot of the research had been done by Dr.Bach himself and where the remedies used to be manufactured until the demand increased so much that they had to move out commercial production to a bigger place in the 1990s. But classes are conducted here for those who want to learn more about the remedies and visitors like me continue to be enthralled by glimpses of the things that Dr,Bach used, his books, his research papers, his  typewriter, even a beautiful blue pottery plate. A gleaming copper cauldron caught my eye and I wondered which remedies had been frequently brewed in it by him. The whole atmosphere is imbued with calm and there is a sense of trust, as the two people on the premises simply went back to their work, leaving me alone to wander through the rooms. This, I felt, was the very essence of the work Dr.Bach had done and what he had wanted to convey to human kind as a whole...


Dr,Bach's Workspace

Then it was time to head out into the garden where all the thirty eight flowers, from which the remedies are made, grow in wild profusion. Magical pathways lead visitors up and down the garden, towards a little pond which has an inviting bench, allowing one to sit down and reflect, not just on the beauty of the garden but on the miraculous marvel that these remedies truly are.

Mimulus and Cherry Plum, two plants from which two popular remedies are concocted , grew by the stone edged pond. Very charming! I bumped into another family there who had come all the way from South America to visit the United Kingdom, were Bach Flower Believers too, and hence had come to Mount Vernon. 
Much as I wanted to linger in the garden and examine each plant, bush and tree, time was running on and I had to head back. I bought a few souvenirs from the tiny shop there for myself, my mother, my sister and two friends ( mothers of our former students! ) who had gone out of their way to help us during my Dad's illness. They embody the spirit of Dr. Bach for me. 
As I walked back to the bus stop, with many a backward glance at the house, I thought of the countless people Dr.Bach had helped throughout the world, more than eight decades after his death, and his quote came to mind,   

"Healing with the clean, pure, beautiful agents of nature is surely the one method of all which appeals to most of us” 

- Dr,Edward Bach, 1936

38  Beautifully illustrated flowers, from which the remedies are made, line a wall in Dr.Bach's cottage.

If anyone would like to know more about the remedies, please click on these links. If you know me personally, get in touch, Mom and I are  always happy to help, for free!

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Of Smoky Tea and Smoked Lungs

 One of the last series which I binge watched on Amazon Prime, with my daughter, before she left for college last month, was 'Bandish Bandits.' It is the story of a family which has developed their own school of Indian classical music.  It has been shot in in Rajasthan, India's desert state, with its vast tracts of dry, beige-yellow sand and an arid landscape, with thorny, dark green acacias scattered sporadically over the vista. The entire story plays out against the backdrop of the imposing and stunning palaces and forts of Jodhpur, (also known as the Blue City) in Rajasthan, built by the Rajput rulers of yore. 

Now the very mention of Jodhpur is enough to send me spiralling back into early childhood and here I was actually seeing the city again, through the cinematographer's eyes. Since my husband heads a tea company here in Nairobi, my current life is seamlessly merged with tea: sales, targets, profits, losses due to Covid et al. So, as the first visuals of Bandish Bandit began streaming across the television screen, I excitedly turned to my daughter and said, "You know, I had my first cup of tea ever in Rajasthan!" 

My mother comes from a family of coffee drinkers. Her father, wife and older daughter in tow, after a Masters In Business Administration from the University of Kentucky in the United States, way back in 1946 -48, returned to India. He was soon hired by a coffee growing firm and they all lived on panoramic coffee estates in the heart of southern India. So of course they drank nothing but freshly roasted, ground and brewed, top quality coffee. If I were lucky, my mother occasionally put a pinch of instant coffee in my morning milk...

But tea was an almost completely unknown entity in my life until I turned six. My paternal grandmother was a die hard tea drinker (see my post My Grand Mother's Ginger Tea) but she was to introduce me to her milky, sugary, shot-with-fresh-ginger, concoction much later. The honour of serving me my first cuppa goes to a humble but generous tea seller in Rajasthan's breathtaking 'Golden City', Jaisalmer.

This trip to Jaisalmer was also the first road trip of which I actually have memories...The very first one had been at the age of six months, on the highest motorable road in the world, at Leh Ladakh in Kashmir, where my Dad had been posted then. And so we travelled from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer where my Dad had some work and were soon safely ensconced in the Army Mess. In between sight seeing and a wee bit of shopping, my sister and I spent most of our free time swinging on the mess gate. And right outside the gate was the tea cart! If my memory serves me right, my Dad probably bought us all some tea from the vendor on our first day there, because I distinctly remember having a whole glassful in one of those glass tea tumblers ubiquitous to tea sellers in India...And then the fun started in the days that followed! The tea would be bubbling merrily away on a charcoal stove, spiking the air around us with the deep aroma of freshly pounded cardamon. And whenever the tea seller had more customers than there was tea left in the kettle, he would pour out the last remaining bit into two glasses, one for my sister and the other for me. Then he would start the whole process of boiling a fresh pot all over again, while we eagerly hung on the gate for the next bit of dregs coming our way! Note that tea in India is boiled, not steeped! And thus began my lifelong long desire for smoky, cardamon infused tea, which my husband brought to life again for me, nearly four decades later...

A few months ago, my husband was watching a food show where he saw a tea cart, complete with the little charcoal stove of my childhood tea fame! We already had a little Kenyan charcoal 'Jiko' which we use to roast aubergines or tomatoes. (Only rarely, we are aware of the hefty carbon footprint of burning too much charcoal or wood for too long). And so he decided to make some tea on it. We also had little terracota tea glasses, reminiscent of both our childhoods, large chunks of which were spent travelling on Indian Railways, courtesy the Government Of India. Tea in trains, before the scrouge of plastic hit us, would be served in these little earthern pots which, being eco friendly, could safely be tossed out of the train, mud to mud again...They also lent their own delicious earthy, flavour to the unique train tea! 

                                            A warm melange of Kenyan tea and Indian spices! 

And the tea boils, don't miss the cricket practice net in the background, both colonial hangovers!

He recreated to perfection the spiced, soul satisfying cardamon tea I had long craved, imbued with  slightly smoky flavour, by virtue of being boiled on a charcoal fire. Since then, it has become a Sunday morning ritual, carbon footprint not exceeding a few tiny lumps of charcoal. And the best part is we are using Kenyan tea, one of the brands his company makes. So I'm giving back to Kenyan economy, in my own small way, always one of my primary goals towards our host country.

If tea was on the cards, could the favourite tea time snack from my home state be far behind? Boiled, spiced potato cutlets, traditionally deep fried in a gram flour batter and sinfully served popped into tiny, freshly baked white flour buns, with fresh, fried green chillies and dry coconut chutney, liberally sprinkled with red chilly powder, on the side...Vada Pav! I managed to recreate this all time favourite in a healthier manner, shallow frying the cutlets in a special, scalloped pan meant for another recipe and replacing the white buns with sesame topped brown ones. The taste of my motherland unfurled itself on my taste buds...

                                                   Tea, terracota tea cup and a traditional treat!

A short while after we had begun our tea ritual, restrictions on restaurants in malls here were lifted. When my husband and I were out grocery shopping in a mall close to home, my eye fell upon a group of nineteen or twenty year old Indian origin students, seated close to each other in the food court, with little thought for social distancing, beer bottles lined up on the table in front of them, masks pulled down around their necks, nonchalantly blowing smoke rings into the air, home from their expensive universities abroad, for the Covid 'holiday'.... 

I was truly glad that my own 'smoke and beverage' craving was limited to 'smoky tea'!


Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Why Sending A Child Off To College In The Covid Era Is Akin To A Daughter's Indian Wedding In The Days Of Yore

 When the colleges in the United Arab Emirates closed with a couple of days notice, back in early March 2020, we flew out our daughter to Nairobi within thirty six hours. We knew that the world was in for a long haul, airports would soon close the world over, like they already had in parts of Far East and South East Asia and she would surely spend the next month at home, if not longer. It turned out to be a span of five and a half months! Four months of on line college and exams and a month and a half of vacation...

But we knew with equal certainty that the Arab Emirates would be one of the first to open too, given the resources they have at their disposal to carry out rigorous testing and sanitization procedures and their insistence on strict adherence to rules. And so we set about ensuring that we did everything within our power so that she would test negative by God's grace, when the time came and would be able to go back immediately when recalled.

How, one may ask, does this compare with organizing a wedding for a daughter in India, through an arranged match, say sixty, seventy or more odd years ago ? Read on! 

Since we did not know when she would have to go back but knowing testing negative for Covid would be mandatory, we minimized or in many cases terminated all external contact. Our staff was moved into the housing on our bungalow compound way back in March itself, for which I am very grateful. Using public transport has proved to be one of the fastest ways in which Covid spreads and house help, security and garden staff  in Nairobi comes from a long way off, unlike in India where they live close enough to walk to work.Even when my husband went back to work, or I sporadically went out to buy groceries, going straight into the shower became the norm upon return home. Our son, once his tennis coaching and cricket camp resumed, had to follow the same rules. 

Our daughter, of course, was not allowed to leave the house at all for the first four months, to keep her safe for her own sake and for the all important third year of medicine final exam. Then after a quick trip one morning, after her exams were over, to buy some skin care essentials, she stayed home again until the time came to visit the clinic for antigen and anitibody testing needed for clinical rotations. Finally she went for the all important Covid test seventy two hours before departure! In India too, after a certain ritualistic ceremony, which is held a few days before the wedding, traditionally brides were not allowed to leave the home. Today we can see how cleverly our ancestors  managed to keep the very young bride-to- be safe from many diseases, just before D day, as there were no vaccines centuries ago. Today we call this home isolation.

Once the college sent the new academic year schedule, buying the ticket was possible only after getting written approval via mail, (valid for just three weeks), from the Emirate that issued her resident visa. So finally we had a date in hand! This was much like getting grand parental approval before setting the wedding date...In the India of a few decades ago, no step was taken without approval from the 'elders' in the family and that was exactly our position, we could do nothing without permission from the concerned authority!

We had a date but who knew if the flight would take off? Cancellations, delays and re bookings are the norm rather than the exception, since international flights have haltingly (pun intended) begun, post lock downs... Much like an arranged marriage of yesteryears, someone, often from the groom's party, calling it off for some reason, either obscure or genuine, was always highly likely! So whether things would actually materialize on the given date, was anybody's guess. We were in the same boat. After five and a half months of non use, last morning I was checking Flight Aware every thirty minutes, to track the flight and ensure it was still departing as scheduled. Every time I called the airline, Emirates in this case, I was told, as of now it is as scheduled but we cannot say what may happen....For remember, a cancelled or delayed flight would mean a very expensive and rather painful repeat of a Covid PCR test, results being valid for tests done a maximum of ninety six hours before flying. It would be like losing money already paid to caterers and the wedding hall booking deposit! 

Brides buy trousseaus. And comfortably off brides of long ago were not even allowed to step out of their homes to buy sarees and jewellery. The sarees, gold jewellery and silver ware was brought to the house by the saree shop owner and jeweller respectively and selections were done there in the comfort and safety of the home. In our case, we did not have a trousseau but a whole arsenal against Covid and the accessories were protective ones! I got her a brand new thermometer, disposable gloves and packets of masks which consisted of African print cloth ones, the KN 95 for days when mingling in a crowd at the hospital would be inevitable, the surgical ones for regular use and of course the N 95 mask, deemed safest for air travel! Huge refill bottles of the trusted Lifebuoy sanitizer and small bottles to tuck into her purse and cabin baggage and a bottle of Dettol Handwash were given to our Covid warrior in training. The N 95 mask, purchased in Kenya but manufactured in Singapore, actually cost more than my daily wear wedding ring did more than two and a half decades ago...though gold was much cheaper then and I have simple tastes! Then came the face shields to use during travel. Here too we bought her two each, of two different types. She was surely spoilt for choice, like the brides  of yore must have been! The scrubs needed for hospital were promptly delivered home by a tailor who specializes in making them, after I sent measurements and her colour requirements to him, over Whatsapp. No prizes for guessing the colour, if you know her! Black.

Since brides were very young, usually teenage girls, it was assumed they would be at the in laws' (read mother in law!) mercy when it came to food. They wouldn't be able to express their food preferences and wouldn't be immediately able to cook either. So it became the norm to send the girl's favourite dry, savoury snacks which would last and lots of sweet meats too. Thus, lots of boxes and bags of goodies always accompanied the bride. We were no different. Certain that she would need to quarantine for a few days, whether imposed by the authorities  or self regulated, as going out and about for a few days, even for groceries,  after travelling is absolutely not advisable, the food planning was done carefully by me. Rotis, Methi (Fenugreek) parathas (both Indian flatbreads), spicy puris (puffed. fried balls of dough) were made, cooled and then packed in sets of ten, to be frozen immediately on arrival. Dry, spiced potato was similarly packed in containers after carefully draining out the excess oil. My husband bought lots of dry packaged Indian snacks, chips, nachos and chocolate. Bottles of her favourite beverage, Krest Bitter Lemon, ( also bought by my husband, I root for plain water) had to be left behind due to extra baggage weight, thanks to her heavy weight course books! Excess weight, no matter which kind, is a problem unique only to our times...

Traditionally, taking kitchen ware was a must for any Indian bride, no matter that there wasn't an inch of space left in her husband's ancestral kitchen. We too sent items she could use in the eventuality of quarantine or more lock downs. A rice cooker, a hand blender and a new knife will be added to the items she already has in her hostel flat. Things we do not usually send had to be sent this time due to the long period that she had been away and also keeping in mind the extra sanitization needed due to the on going pandemic. So a large bottle of  Savlon, the antiseptic, a bottle of multi vitamin pills, a packet of machine autowash Ariel detergent, kitchen scrubbers, Dettol wet wipes wended their way into her suitcases.

Since every Indian worth his or her (Tata) salt, no matter where in the world he or she lives, currently leaves everything out for decontamination for many hours, every surface in our house was covered with things that had to be packed. Bags bursting with necessities lined the corridor floors. Checklists of documents needed, like approval from the UAE authorities to travel, quarantine and health declaration forms to be printed and the all important Covid report, an extra copy of her ticket for my husband, in case after dropping her off, he was stuck in traffic, when the Covid night curfew timings for Nairobi kicked in, were kept handy. We were ticking off and cross checking or adding to the list, as new rules kept appearing on websites. Very wedding like. If you have ever been to the bride or groom's house before an Indian wedding, you will know exactly what I mean! 

Good wishes had started pouring in from relatives and friends who knew of her imminent travel. And we, the parents, were anxious until the aircraft actually took off, as rules and requirements are changing on a daily basis...And then, like the bridal party relaxes only once they know the bride has reached her new home and safely entered it, we did too, once she exited Dubai airport, without any hurdles. Just twenty four hours earlier, a group of Indians had been refused entry due to permission mix ups, so our feelings were justified...

And just like the parents of yore, we do not know exactly when we will see her again. Young brides had to depend on the good will of their in laws to be allowed to go back home for a visit, after the wedding. We are dependent on the mutation of the virus and the arrival of the vaccine.Will she be  home in December like every year, or will the virus continue rampaging unchecked, making travel inadvisable? 

When a child leaves home, he or she leaves a gap that cannot be filled. Once a bride of long ago was firmly ensconced in her new home, her parents would anxiously wait for a'positive' report, as per the common misconception ( pun intended!) that an heir apparent would once and for all seal and strengthen their daughter's position in her household.

We, on the other hand, are eagerly awaiting YET another negative Covid report ,before she will be allowed to enter the portals of her college and the teaching hospital....

Our canine kid is already eagerly anticipating her favourite person's return....Much like the canines of yore, I'm sure. No matter what else may have changed in this world, the fidelity of this species hasn't and never will! 

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 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!

In Dr.Bach's British Backyard

 This is a time of turmoil. For the entire world, no doubt about that...But it has been especially traumatic for 10th and 12th grade student...