Saturday 14 October 2023

Where Have All The Faces Gone?

 The months of August and September,

Bring with them sullen clouds and fat, cheerful raindrops. 

Either month also brings with it, 

One of the many Gods in our pantheon,

My home state's especially beloved God, 

Lord Ganesha, the Elephant God.

After thirteen long years, I happen to be in my hometown, 

In our housing colony, and cannot help but recall and reminiscence.

The nostalgia, the memories, sometimes threaten to overwhelm...

My mother and I, we enter the venue on the dot, 

Only to be greeted by an empty hall.

The God there by himself, in isolation,

The guard tells us the ceremony 'is pushed by an hour'.

Our immediate neighbours trail in, shake their heads at the blatant exhibition

 Of Indian Standard Time and leave, saying they would be back.

Meanwhile, I take in the 'hastily cobbled together' decor.

The guard helpfully tells me he helped put it up mere minutes ago...

Time was when we, the young teens of the society, stayed up until midnight,

Decorating the Lord's pandal, hanging up streamers, sticking buntings.

The camaraderie, the chatter, the fun , the laughter,

Where have all the faces gone?

When the time came to worship our beloved God,

A dull, tired, tarnished copper plate was produced,

I could hear our God laughing at the farce. 

Then someone ran home and brought a bright, sparkling silver one, fit for the Gods.

And the worship commenced , pushed by more than an hour...

The lamp was lit, incense burned, prayers were chanted by a handful of motley folk,

So many voices who would, in years past, their timbre add, now missing...

Where have all the faces and the voices gone?

Time was when after the 'Aarti' , we would line up like little dominoes,

( Had never heard of the pizza brand then.) 

Arms outstretched, our well scrubbed steel plates clutched tightly in our hands,

Waiting eagerly to receive the venerated food offering. 

Different families would cater each day for five days ,

And we would willingly partake of the blessed food.

It cannot be denied, we had our favourites.

And the 'store bought' sweets were placed a notch above the ones

Made by harried but willing hands at home.

Today, I craved the human touch, a home made dish, 

Not the caterer's impeccable offering, but there was none.

Where have all the faces, the voices and the skilled hands gone?

No performances marked the post worship eve, 

Time was when 'entertainment ' would stretch long into the night.

Even though as a child and then a teen, I would often doze off,

Today I longed to watch a dance, a play or listen to a talk or some songs.

But everyone present  hurried home, 

They have all the entertainment they need, in their hand held device. 

Where have the all the faces, the voices, the skilled hands and the talented personalities gone?

The God and I face each other .

I ask : Where have all the faces gone?

Why does the celebration lack heart and mind and body and soul?

He seems to look back at me with a twinkle in his eye,

And says, " The Faces, the Voices, the Skilled Hands, the Talented Personalities.

Are in YOUR mind, in YOUR soul, in YOUR heart and in YOUR recollections,

Through YOU they live on,

Those faces, those voices, those skilled hands, those talented personalities have never gone... 

Wednesday 5 October 2022

A Bond That Transcended A Generation

 When a bond is to be formed, it does not really look for an excuse or an occasion, it is a simple and natural process which does not require planning or calculation or fore thought... Maintaining a bond, on the other hand, can be a gargantuan task. It depends on multiple factors and also on the people closest to the one with whom one has forged a bond. Relationships cannot sustain themselves, they take time and work and energy, but when the feelings are genuine and heartfelt, all this does not seem like labour at all!

My mother's maternal family, the Pant Pratinidhi family, who ruled the former princely state of Aundh in Maharashtra, my home state, is a large one. But the extended family is so closely knit for the most part, that often, while among second cousins, one tends to forget that it is not our parents who are siblings but it was our grandparents who were siblings....most of that generation is no more but the rest of us would continue to meet when we could, ( pre Covid), and those were nostalgic times, even as we forged new memories and children from the next generation too bonded with each other. 

And when we lost my mother's cousin (the son of one of her maternal uncles ) very suddenly, a month ago today, I felt as if one very strong branch of the family had been badly shaken. My earliest memories of him stem from the weddings of various uncles which took place during the three year stint we had in our home town Pune, in the early and the mid eighties. He also loomed large over my memories of the many ice cream parties we had at the Pant Pratinidhi  ancestral home, in the heart of Pune city. Always laughing, joking and teasing all the school going children, he and his brother ( who would pass away very tragically due to kidney failure in the late eighties) had given my sister and me the monikers, 'Rose Red' and 'Snow White'. This had nothing to do with my ability ( or lack thereof ) to blush or with my sister's complexion. We were given these grand names by our two jovial uncles, based on two of the dresses that we had worn to our maternal uncle's wedding! Frilly, frothy, organza creations, one pink, one white, they were 'every little girl's dream come true' type of outfits and we thoroughly enjoyed the attention and the nick names that were bestowed upon us. 

After a three year stint in Gauhati, Assam, where my father had got posted after Pune, I returned to complete my high school years in Pune. And came across a more sober but no less friendly version of my uncle, as it had just been a few months since his own brother had passed away. But exciting news was in the air, as he was engaged to be married and everyone looked forward to new beginnings for a family who had gone through so much already. I remember attending the wedding like it was yesterday, instead of more than thirty three years ago, and little did I know then, that his newly wedded wife, my aunt, was to become a friend for life....

 Well educated, well read, soft spoken, with impeccable manners, she was the perfect match for my suave uncle. She and I bonded from the start. May be it was because she too had left her parents and moved to our city and my parents were based in far away Jallandhar in Punjab, where my father was posted then. Or may be it was because we both were voracious readers and loved the English language. I remember bonding over my then meagre French ( I had just begun studying the language)  and her very advanced knowledge of French. Or may be it was because she was a journalist and I had started writing my first stories in third grade....Or it could be that we both had equally phenomenal memories when it came to dates and never forgot to wish each other and other people, on special occasions. My uncle, she and I had great times whenever we met, in my maternal grand mother's house in the early years and later, during my junior college years, when I used to visit their house frequently to play with their new born son. And they both, along with the baby, visited our house very often too, and she and my mother got on like a house on fire. By this time, my mother and my sister had moved back to our home town too. My father was on a field posting in Jammu and Kashmir and the baby often brought new life to our rather lonely house, every time they dropped in. 

Just a handful of years later, I was to get married at short notice, as my then husband to be had suddenly landed a job in Russia. My uncle drove with his entire family from Pune to Mumbai, where the wedding was to be held. He was entrusted with the task of escorting my husband to the wedding venue  and I have lovely pictures and a video of that occasion. Much to my delight, my husband too got on fabulously with my aunt and uncle! Once they got to know that my husband loved Indian sweets, either my mother's uncle or his son never failed to organize fresh 'Malai barfi', a particularly delicious and decadent Indian sweet, well in time for us to carry to Russia, every year for the next three years! We never forgot this sweet gesture... Like I said, relationships need investment, else they wither away like yesterday's flowers. 

And once we moved back to Pune, they got it for him every single time they visited us! Be it when my daughter was born, or when my son made his appearance in this world. Thoughtful, delightful gifts, both from my uncle and aunt punctuated these memories and the same pattern was repeated when my sister came down from Singapore, first with her older daughter who was a toddler then and later with the younger one. And when my book was published, I mentioned my fellow blogger aunt in the 'Acknowledgements' and sent her a copy, ( I could not visit, as the pandemic was raging in India), she sent a beautiful gift for me with the driver, 'to mark the momentous occasion of the publication of my book,' she said. My uncle supported her so ably in all these gestures...

Even after we had moved to Tanzania, we never failed to meet during our annual sojourn in Pune. I cannot recall this incident without laughing out loud, no matter how heavy my heart feels today. I had a cell phone way back in 2000 but Google Maps did not come into the picture until much later. So my uncle would give me directions to their home every year just before I visited, as our city Pune expanded rapidly year upon year and many landmarks near their house, which I had committed to memory from previous years, were either no longer visible or had been replaced entirely. One such year, in the mid 2000s, he had told me to cut across a huge, empty plot of land ( it's no longer empty!) so I would have direct access to their compound. I set off eagerly, with two young children in tow. All was well until I reached the field. It was dark by then and I did not realize that the entire plot had been turned into a slushy, marshy field due to the rains, earlier that day! I confidently drove on to the field and before long I was mired in deep mud! I could neither reverse nor move ahead, and the more I tried the worse it became. Panic stricken, I called up my uncle and he told me to stay put, while he rushed to my aid. His car driving skills are legendary ( as were his late brother's, I recall a drive with him as a six year old, that could have so easily gone wrong but for his skills, through our famous Western Ghats, eons before the new road was built) and in no time he had expertly extricated my car and had driven us safely to his house. I was very apologetic but we all had a good laugh about it once we reached home, where my aunt was waiting to welcome us! 

When my husband was working in Goa, my uncle visited for work and  we took him out to dinner along with another dear Uncle from the same side of the family, whose home is in Goa and whom my husband is very fond of too. The two cousins are very close and I am their niece, but some bonds do transcend a generation. Our camaraderie along Goa's beautiful shores and lush foliage and the bond my children shared with my Uncles and my Goan cousin, left a deep imprint on my heart that day...

On another annual visit, this time from Kenya, my uncle eagerly told me that he had found a new route for me to try, across another bridge, that would bring me straight to almost their door step! He tried explaining it over the phone but I felt very confused and said I would stick to the old one. After so many visits over the years, I now knew it like the back of my hand. But he urged me to give it a try and said he and my aunt would meet me at a certain point and I could follow them from there. I acquiesced and in no time I had reached their house, with no muddy adventures or incorrect turns! I will never forget the joy I felt, when I popped my head out of my car and I saw my aunt and uncle patiently waiting for me by the side of the road, in a sea of strangers. 

Some people just make you feel special and pampered, no matter whether you deserve it or not. For me, this aunt and uncle and his parents ( my mother's uncle and aunt) are one such family. Since we all share a common love of ice cream, he would ensure that he stocked up on  his latest 'find' in the field of ice cream or Kulfi ( our Indian version ), just before we visited. And if my husband was to accompany our children and me, then my uncle ensured he had a variety of Indian sweets laid out for him to enjoy....Whenever we wished each other on birthdays or anniversaries, my aunt would update me on the latest delicacy they were trying out and I would say, we have to get this when I visit you all. I knew my aunt would remind my uncle when the time came and he would make it happen! 

A few years ago, I mentioned to my Aunt that I wanted to visit Aundh with my children, as they had been very young when we had visited earlier. I said I would be happy to follow them in my car, in case they planned to visit during the time I was in Pune. My uncle went one step beyond and actually planned the entire trip on a day convenient to us all, including pre ordering a wonderful lunch and getting the strong room of the museum, which houses my great grandfather's phenomenal collection, especially opened for us. My mother's uncle who had grown up in the palace there, accompanied us and my Dad joined us too. This was one of the most wonderful trips I have ever had and my grand uncle's stories of his childhood and my Dad's photographs of the palace, the temples and the museum are the icing on the cake. All thanks to my uncle for taking time out for us.

In September 2019, when flash floods occurred in the area we live in in Pune, my uncle was the first person to call me up in Nairobi to tell me that the situation was bad and water had probably entered our compound and I should find out from neighbours what was happening. He was absolutely right and water did enter the home and we lost my car, the same one in which I had taken numerous trips to my uncle's house and got lost innumerable times too! But what's a car when we have all lost so many beloved  people in the last few years....

During the Covid years, we did not meet, of course, even though I was in Pune a couple of times. They were very firm about protecting my mother's uncle, who is now in his 90s, from unnecessary risk and exposure and I was equally strict about my mother's safety. So we were all on the same page and contented ourselves with phone calls and WhatsApp messages. 

Finally when I was in India again in July 2022, the situation was deemed safe enough to meet. We met after three long years, the last being when they had rushed to our house to meet us after my Dad's death in May 2019. This was a record for us, as we had been diligently meeting each other every year since 1989. My mother's oldest sister invited us all for a delicious meal and it was as if those Covid years melted away, as we tried to catch up on three years worth of missed conversations. We bonded over 'Bhel' ( a spicy Indian street food made from puffed rice) and what else, but ice cream, never imagining, never in our wildest dreams thinking, that this would be the last time my mother and I would meet him. We have had ice cream together for decades but that last time, on 8th July 2022, will always stand out most poignantly in my mind...

My cousin, the younger son, called me up to tell me that his dad, after nearly two weeks of hospitalization and desperate prayer, was no more. He was so calm and broke the news so gently to me that despite the intensely emotional moment, I could not help but admire him. My uncle and aunt have done a great job raising their sons. My older cousin looked after his grandfather throughout the time his Dad was in the hospital and patiently updated us all, whenever we asked.

My children sent condolence ( such a trite word, that never truly expresses the depth of one's feelings)  messages to my aunt and to my cousins, my daughter from Dubai and my son from Calgary. Unknown to each other, they both asked me later if I had got the correct information and that it wasn't all a mistake...I only wish it was....

Come November, I will be back in India and I will visit my aunt and my mother's uncle. Whom will I call when I get lost again? Who will keep my ice cream ready for me and match me, scoop for scoop? 

Bonds never die, even if they have transcended a generation, sometimes even two. And so I pray the bond between our families lives on too. 

Tuesday 3 May 2022

My Dad: Engineer Par Excellence And Mr. Fixit to the T!

 Three on these are not the marks of a short quiz but the number of years it's been since we lost our Dad, three years today on May the 3rd, 2022. As always, when I think about him, it is hard to imagine that he is no longer with us and lives on only in our minds, memories and in our hearts now. And so once again, as I have done on his first and second death anniversary, I have to go back to the 1970s and sift through my earliest year I wrote about my general memories of him, last year I focussed on his cooking skills and my food memories and this year I have to write about his technical skills, which were a large part of his profession and consisted of one of his favourite hobbies too! Few people are lucky enough to do what they truly enjoy, in my Dad's case, it was fixing things! 

Photography has been a huge part of my Dad's life since he was a school boy. His father gifted him a camera when he was a ten year old student at The Bishops School, Pune Camp, and he began going to the photo studio of a very good family friend of theirs, who was a top photographer of his times. Thus began his early lessons in photography and he developed such a passion for it that it was to last a life time. When he was doing the Young Officers Course in Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, he was already developing his own photographs, by converting a bathroom in our huge colonial bungalow into a dark room, as and when needed, and he used to be ably assisted by my mother. Never one to be content with one specialized skill, he decided he wanted to enlarge photos too and hit upon the idea of building an enlarger of his own, as buying one was out of question, as it was way beyond his pay grade! I must have been around four years old and as our play room adjoined the kitchen in that house, I have a very distinct memory of him rooting around in the kitchen cupboard. Then I remember him coming away with two shiny, deep, bowl like vessels and disappearing with them. I remember being upset about my mother's items being appropriated in this manner, though my mother was right there and she had no objection! 

Today, when I was discussing my memories of this incident with my mother, she told me those were two aluminium vessels with dome shaped lids, which had been gifted to her by one of my great grandmothers on the occasion of my naming ceremony! Aluminium is a very shiny metal, so my memory was spot on about that and maybe I had got upset when I saw him carting them off because those two items had been part of an occasion important to a new born me ....Memories seem to run deep into our subconsciousness, don't they?

The next day, my Dad proudly called us to view his enlarger and those two vessels had now been painted black and perched proudly on top of the whole device, which worked wonderfully well. I don't remember this, but I'm guessing I magnanimously forgave him for stealing my mother's kitchen items! Here is the enlarger, now forty plus years old and clicked a few years ago by, who else, but my dad himself.

                      Many a photo was enlarged by this device, hand made by my dad.

                        This  Bazooka like lens was a favourite with him for wild life photography!

As technology advanced, my Dad ensured he kept up with the times, and brilliantly edited his own photos on his home computer. He was also always happy to help my mother's uncle, another brilliant photographer and a very skilled surgeon as well, to edit and upload his photos, something Uncle had always found challenging, given his age. Dad's knowledge did not extend to just photography but to all the software related to photography too. It was no surprise that the very first computer, along with its witty mouse, ( I remember being highly amused by this term as a teenager) entered our house in 1990, at a time when most of India had not even heard the word. My Dad had bought it from a fellow officer who had purchased it while on a stint abroad, but had no clue what to do with it upon his return to India! 

So when something went wrong with my gynaecologist cousin's son's first birthday photographs, and they refused to reveal themselves, despite repeated attempts by professionals, she thought of my Dad! After all, all my cousins had spent their childhood watching their mothers give my Dad various electronic gadgets for repairs, the minute he came to our hometown on his annual leave. And he never disappointed them, the gadgets were in top shape again long before his leave was up...And once again, after a few hours of concerted effort, he did manage to retrieve those precious pictures, which he then saved for one set of very happy parents! 

Since my Dad was in Signals, communication was the very core of his work and he was on standby twenty four by seven. When half of India was in queue for a land line and the other half couldn't even imagine owning a phone, we had not one but often two lines, right though the 80s until the mid 90s. And there was always one extension at my parents' bedside because Dad had to be contacted at any time when the lines were down, further afield. Whenever his commanding officer ( CO) called to give instructions, my sister and I would immediately be all ears to listen to my Dad's side of the conversation. It went something like this, " Ajay here, Sir. Yes Sir! Right Sir, it will be done, Sir ! No problem, Sir! Right away Sir, copy that Sir!" We would go into fits of laughter, cramming our hands into our mouths to keep from laughing out loud, lest we be heard by C.O. Uncle at the other end. And all the while our dad would be glaring at us, even as he focussed on what was needed from him and gave all the politically correct 'colonial' responses. And guess what, if my Dad was entrusted with the task, it always WAS done, Sir...right away, Sir! 

Olfactory memory is also an important part of everyone's childhood. But while other four or five year olds might remember their mother's favourite perfume or the fragrance of their grandmother's incense sticks, I have only one smell lodged firmly in my brain, from those times. The smell of the soldering gun being used! The sticky brown ointment like cream from the tube being dabbed on to the board, the gun being switched on  and then the wires being soldered in place and the circuit being complete! Though I was very young, my dad often roped me in to hold the circuit board steady and that's why I guess I experienced this aspect so closely. I have no memory of what exactly it was that he spent so many after-office hours making, but my mother told me it was his own, powerful music system.  He had even built the speakers from scratch, getting the wooden part made by a carpenter. We had the system for years and it worked beautifully until the entrepreneur in my Dad woke up and he sold it off! Many years later, my father in law once roped in my then five year old daughter for the same task of holding the circuit board, while he soldered something he was working on. For me, the circuit was then truly complete....

His skills were not limited to just building a music system. He could play any musical instrument he laid his hands on, be it the flute, the harmonium or the harmonica! He had never had any formal training but belted out popular songs as if he had been a professional player. Ironically, in the two days that he was at home in between hospital stints in April 2019,  the last thing he ordered on Amazon ( I told you he was tech savvy and would give the younger generation a run for their money where shopping online was concerned!) was an advanced harmonica ( a mouth organ). He played one last song and recorded it too...His swan song? Today my son has that harmonica and having inherited my Dad's instrument playing skills, ( he plays the drums, the guitar, the saxophone and the flute), he is trying his hand at it.

In the India of then and even in the India of today, for reasons I personally fail to understand, owning a car or up grading to a better version, is considered a huge deal. Maybe this attitude stems from our socialist policies of the 60s, 70s and 80s, when everyone was in a queue to buy a simple Lambretta or Vespa scooter and only the 'lucky' few owned cars. Well, my Dad got his hands on a used but fantastic car in the early 1980s itself and the model was called the Hindustan 14. It resembled  the car in 'Herby Goes Bananas' and I absolutely loved it! He was often found to be tinkering with the car's engine and the bonnet was popped open more often than it was not! In the late 80s, he even changed the colour of the entire car from a silver blue to a dark blue, which he told me was an " Oxford Blue". Well, given the fact that he was an artist too and very skilled at painting pictures, it wasn't surprising that he knew his colours well. He certainly wasn't a person afraid to experiment. This car carted us and our friends around and moved all across India with us, until he decided it had grown too old and it was time to bid it goodbye. The car he drove for over fifteen years was an Indica and as he became unwell, nothing I said could persuade him to sell this truck-like diesel engine car and buy something lighter and easier to drive. He took care of it like a baby and so deep was his knowledge of cars, that no mechanic ever dared pull a fast one over him, every time the car needed some repairs. We had no choice but to sell it after he was gone.... here he is with his car and sure enough, the bonnet is open! I believe he loved the engines more than he did the cars themselves! 

And having a particularly skilled engineer Dad meant that we never had to miss our favourite Sunday morning television serial in the late 80s, in case of power cuts, which were frequent in Gauhati, Assam, where we lived then. He would simply pull out our 'Herby's' battery, connect our small black and white television set to it and lo behold, our television miraculously had power, with all the Army kids thronging to our house, once the news was out!

Many men bake these days but how many 'make' the oven they bake in? My mother, a good baker, had a traditional round 'Bajaj' electric oven, common in the Indian homes of the 70s and the 80s. But she had a deep hankering for the 'rectangular, upright ' oven of her childhood, but with a twist! Her mother's colonial oven had been one that worked on a wood fire, hers of course would need electricity. While on one of our shopping jaunts to Gauhati city, a few kilometres away from the army and air force station he was posted to then, my Dad came across a decades old rectangular oven, albeit one that was designed to work on a kerosene stove. I clearly remember it sitting in the shop window, a dusty old thing. But his uncanny eye spotted its potential immediately and he bought it without batting an eyelid. And then he set about converting it to an electric one, right from designing the circuit to locally procuring the materials he needed . He succeeded and how! Some of the best cakes I have ever eaten were baked by my parents in that oven, which was truly a labour of love by my Dad.

                    It looked something like this and is a hundred plus years old today! 

If baking was my Mother's forte, sewing like a professional was ( and still is!) her fondest desire. So with that in mind, my parents bought the much in vogue in the 80s, the sewing machine called the Singer Fashion Maker! My contemporaries will remember the Singer advert which showed the fanciest of clothes being stitched in the least possible time. Well folks, we actually had that beautiful, shiny white machine in our home, and all our fancy clothes were designed by our mother but were still stitched by the neighbourhood tailor! This was because that machine had issues since day one! Either the thread would get jumbled, or it would get cut, or the cloth would get stuck or the motor would stop, you get the picture! Now this was a challenge like no other for my techie Dad and he set work at once. Countless hours were spent after office, trying out each 'foot' that came with the machine and made different types of stitches. He analyzed and evaluated each action and its repercussion, before giving my mother a list of Dos and Don'ts and making her practice under his eagle eye. Thus, he trained the machine to behave itself and we had no further trouble. And a decade and half later, when my mother had progressed to newer and fancier machines, she gave me that one and I happily churned out soft toys for my toddler daughter on it. I used to look at it bemusedly as it purred along, for I well remembered its antics before my Dad had tamed it! 

And the knowledge that that machine had imparted to him stood him in good stead, when he was posted to Jammu and Kashmir again, later in his career. Someone had ordered many brand new fancy sewing machines for the unit but no one knew what was to be done with them. So my Dad demonstrated how the machines were to be used and showcased all the fancy stitches that could be produced. The women of the unit were suitably impressed and the machines were sold off in no time, thus freeing up unit money! Truly, there was nothing he couldn't turn his hand to.

And then there is the story of how my Dad lost out on his Engineering Drawing Gold Medal. This one I do NOT remember as I must have been barely three, but my mother tells the tale often enough for me to see it in my mind's eye. All the officers of his course were doing their engineering in the College Of Military Engineering, ( C.M.E), Pune. It was rather far from my grandparents' home but the day of the submission, my Dad was staying at home and drove across town to college  and unfortunately got caught in a rainy squall. He  was completely drenched by the time he reached and his drawings were a damp, sodden mass too. His fellow officer and good friend ( he retired as one of our top Generals) told my mother later that the minute he saw my Dad looking half drowned, holding his wet drawings, he knew the gold medal was exclusively his! Otherwise, no one came close to my Dad in engineering drawing, but fate had conspired otherwise that day...

I do not need to see a gold medal to understand how technically skilled my Dad was... I witnessed it all my life, until the day he passed away, three years ago today.

Friday 18 February 2022

Of Bakes, Kitchen and Classroom Stakes

 As the academic year in India draws to an end,

Your keen ears, to my rant, please do lend.

When the pressure in my classroom becomes too much to take,

I run into the kitchen and begin to bake. 

As I, unsalted butter and brown jaggery do cream,

I begin to let off some steam.

The end of an academic year in India is chaotic, to say the least,

To feel a semblance of control, I sometimes try to whip up a feast.

Morning, noon and night, students with doubts do me bombard,

Even as I ensure my cake tin is floured.

Just as I feel I'm being driven around the bend,

A new student query pops up, saying many others do me recommend.

As I begin to fold in the peanut butter and whole wheat flour,

Other students begin messaging about final exams that were smooth, by far.

A pinch of baking powder and of baking soda, a dash,

A cup of hot milk, some curds blended in, and the cake's oven-ready in a flash.

My just home from school teen will smell it from the door,

Even as my kitchen clock strikes four.

I'm refreshed and ready again to conduct my next academic batch,

And my wits with my razor sharp students, to match.

Then a thought strikes me, we'll be empty-nesters soon,

So how will my kitchen, to me then prove a boon?

Neither my husband nor my mother nor I can afford an extra kilo or two,

And my canine kid's diet is always planned through and through.

There won't be much in the kitchen for me to chop, mash and pound,

But I can hope and pray my daughter, by then, might just be around!

Then I'll enter the kitchen in between classes with renewed zest,

And will feel once again, truly blessed.

I'm an Indian to the core,

Cooking for the children is never seen as a chore,

And with a plethora of food varieties, it's never even a bore.

I'm so glad that in Kenya, my classroom and kitchen share a door!

                                              Wholewheat peanut butter and jaggery cake, eggless. 

Recipe on popular demand!

2 cups whole wheat flour OR 1 cup whole wheat flour plus 1 cup Ragi ( nachni) flour, 1/ 2 cup unsalted butter or ghee ( clarified butter) , 1 cup powdered jaggery, 3/4 cup peanut butter, 1/ teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, a few drops of vanilla essence 1/2 cup curd, 1 cup warm milk. For a coffee chocolate variation, add 4 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa and a few teaspoons of instant coffee.

Method is in the poem! Bake at 180 degree fan,  for an hour or until dry in the centre. Cool, cut and enjoy!


Sunday 26 September 2021

For Months So Stressed, Then One Day Doubly Blessed


                                     The Dream they had seen.... the boy in his White Coat! 

More than six years ago, in May 2015, my sister in law came to visit us here in Nairobi for the second time and she had three of her friends in tow. I knew that with eight of us in the house, my class schedule, cooking and taking my guests sight seeing and for shopping in between, meant that I, along with my regular house help, needed an extra pair of hands. And so through my then house help's contact, a young girl, in her early twenties, entered our lives and for the next few weeks helped out as and when needed, until the guests left. Subsequently, school closed for summer and the kids and I left for India. In the interim, my regular house help who was an older lady, had a stroke (she recovered later but was unable to work again) and so by the time I came back from India, the young girl who had been a part timer, now joined us full time. Was she sent to me to pave the way for what was to happen in 2021 or was I sent to Kenya, way back in 2011, to ensure a certain event took place smoothly in 2021? Only God can answer that question, but honestly, what were the odds that this girl, with a brilliant younger brother, would come into MY orbit, a place devoted almost solely (pun intended!) to education? 

For the next two years she worked sincerely and honestly for us. She grieved with us when the meritoriously won medical admissions of non resident Indian students were arbitrarily and unfairly cancelled and rejoiced with us when our daughter secured a place the following year, in a medical college in another country. Most folks who want to do medicine don't get in the first time around, let alone twice!

All this while, her  younger brother, who lived with her and was a year older than my son, continued to shine academically and did very well in the 8th grade Board exams, which are mandatory in the Kenyan system. I had never met the boy but I supported him in whichever way I could, with books, shoes, clothes and then he won the Member of Parliament's scholarship for the four years of High School. We all celebrated with her that day, in 2016. And then with her brother settled for the next four years, she got married.

In 2017, we moved houses and she moved across town with us but soon left for a maternity break. My daughter, though away from Kenya, cried buckets that day and I too was very sad to see her go. We kept in touch and I sent gifts for her baby boy when he was born. Soon it was 2019 and my Dad was hospitalized and I had to  urgently leave for India for who knew how long...My husband was very busy, my son was in high school and there was only one person I could trust to care for my canine kid, manage the house and cook Indian food, while I was away...I called her back.

After my Dad passed away and I brought my Mom back to Kenya with me, our house help too was full of grief and tried her best to make my Mom feel comfortable here, without me having to say a word...One day I asked her what her brother planned to study once he finished high school. " Medicine", she said. I was taken aback as I know, first hand, how difficult it is to get admission and how long and expensive the whole process is....but I said a few encouraging words and kept following up on her brother's progress. 

In March 2020, the pandemic hit, Kenyan schools closed and her brother was back in the village with their mother, in despair, as it was his 12th grade board exam year, but he was not ready to give up on his ambition. He continued studying at home with a few other boys. My own mother was stuck in our home town during the lock down but she wanted to encourage a group of the village boys who were studying together. So she announced a small cash prize, in my Dad's memory, for the boy who would get the highest marks in the test the boy's cousin, who is a teacher, had set for them that particular week. This boy won hands down and we sent him the money but large hearted as he is, he shared a part of it with the other boys! That was the day I decided I would do my best to help him. Little did I know then what that would entail and just how many people the world over would be involved!

 Schools in Kenya finally opened in January 2021 and the board exams were held a couple of months later, with results being announced in May 2021. My house girl was so terrified of the results that she asked me to check them online, just like I had done for his 8th standard board exam results! And here is what I saw! ALL As!

And here is the SMS I received after the results, from a boy I had never met but five years earlier, had sent a dictionary for, as my house girl had told me he needed one. I had forgotten all about it, but he hadn't!

Once the results were out, I was after their blood to keep checking admission applications, requirements and last dates. Due to Covid, everything was online and this boy, back home in a remote western Kenyan village had to go by bus, to a Cyber Cafe in the closest town, every time he needed to check or update anything to do with the university admission. With gadgets popping out of our collective ears, strapped to our arms and glued to our eyes, one truly wonders at the disparity....But one saving grace was that as he had topped his school and county, he was gifted a Laptop by the County Governor, just a few days before he moved to Nairobi.

The admission results were finally out and he had secured a place in Nairobi University's prestigious MBBS ( Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) program. My house help's screams of joy rung around our compound, startling my mother and our neighbours too! Then I began pushing him to apply for the County scholarship and to see if the Member Of Parliament whose office had sponsored him in High School could do so again. The County office kept telling him his name was on the list of applicants but there were no funds and disbursal of scholarships would be delayed. Meanwhile the last day to pay the fees, 13th September was fast approaching, with no money from anywhere in sight. The boy's father had abandoned the family long ago to set up house with another woman, and my house help is now a single mother too, supporting another sister who is in High School, along with her own son, on the salary we pay her. The boy's mother ekes out a living by growing her food on a small piece of land in the village,  and has no income in cash...Where would the fees come from? I finally told him it was my personal guarantee that his fees WOULD be paid on the due date and he would start university this month.

Seeing how upset I was about the lack of the promised scholarships and the prospect of the child losing his seat, my husband said he would pay the fees and my mother too said the same. In the past, my parents have paid the fees for many students doing their engineering, nursing, teaching and other degrees in India, including our house helps' children and other needy students. But I wanted a long term solution as this is Kenya, everything is at least thrice as expensive as India, it is a long course, the requirements are many and we are here only on two year permits....I had to build a community for this boy and we, by ourselves, had to be the last resort.

In desperation I messaged a friend who is part of an education board and asked her if there was any way I could go and meet someone in the M.P's office. It turned out she knew the M.P personally and she spoke to him and got me an appointment for the next day, which was Friday, 10th September. I was beyond grateful! As my house help and I made our way to the M.P's office, I told her to send the boy to the county office one last time to ask about the scholarship, before he came to Nairobi, the following day. The answer, which came even as we were waiting for the M.P, was the same: funds delayed.

My house help and I waited for nearly four hours but the Honourable M.P was delayed in his other office. Finally I had to leave as I had a meeting with my son's cricket coaches, which had been scheduled days earlier and then I had to rush home to teach a class. But I managed to explain the case to the office manager and his assistant, pointing out they had funded the boy throughout high school and asked if there was any chance they could continue the same for university fees. I could not let this boy lose this hard earned seat! They politely pointed out that they had been allotted funds only for needy school students but were suitably impressed with the boy's grades....I left and finally two more hours later, my house help managed to meet the M.P. He listened to the whole story, took down her number and promised her he would be in touch. 

Saturday morning rolled by and there was no word from neither the County nor the M.P and no money. I had already spent sleepless nights where I had chalked out what I would do if we ever faced this very scenario. I had spoken to the Fund Raising site in India which my son had successfully used to raise fees for the engineering student in our home town , during the pandemic, the previous year. They pointed out they could release funds raised only to Indian beneficiaries, whose names were on the admission documents or to their close kin or directly to Indian universities. Then I had researched foreign fund raising sites but not all released funds to Kenya. I finally found one which did but they would release funds only after thirty days. My husband held off paying our credit card bill in case we fell short, since the donations from my friends in Europe and the United States would not be released in time. I had also opened a PayPal account and visited Safaricom twice to activate my M-PESA account, which I had held off doing for the last ten years in Kenya, as PayPal releases funds here only through that. I had to link the online fundraiser to PayPal, as that would free up some of the money faster. I decided to use my mother's account for donors in India who trusted us and I had spoken to my Chartered Accountant back home about taxes on donated funds. He had pointed out there was no exemption and my mother very graciously allowed me to use her account and she would pay the income tax on the raised money from her personal funds, as they would be clubbed with her income. For the donors in Kenya, I had decided to share my house help's number so they could send her any amount they wished to directly, and the money would be ready when needed. So Plan B was more than ready in my head and unfortunately, the time had come to use it. 

By early Saturday evening, once I knew for sure no scholarship money would be immediately forthcoming, with less than thirty six hours left to pay the fees, I launched the fund raiser. It took a few hours for it to be approved, but by close to midnight Kenya time it was finally active and visible! I immediately shared it on FaceBook . Then the wait began and I woke up on Sunday morning with some hope in my heart and my mother and I shared it across the few WhatsApp groups we are a part of and my mother also sent it directly to a few people! 

Our students and a few generous friends in India NEVER disappoint and many donations came through into my Mom's account. A few friends from Nairobi too sent money to my house help. No amount was too big or too small and we were grateful for every single rupee or dollar or Kenyan shilling...One of my Yoga teachers saw the link on FaceBook and asked me on WhatsApp what 'our' target was ... I was so touched that she had automatically included herself in this fund raising effort...She said she would visualize the goal and we would surely reach it. She sent a generous donation and also told me, if we fell short, she would pay ALL the remaining money that would be needed. I was stunned but I assured her that my mother had already told me she would do that herself but then she simply said, "Aunty and I will share that amount then, if needed." 

On the online fund raising site too, money was coming in, with a few of my childhood friends and a school friend who is a doctor herself in the States, contributing, along with a few people from Kenya. By Sunday night, in less than twenty four hours of making the fund raiser live online, we had more than enough funds for fees ( nearly USD 1580, which is, Rs.1,16,000 approximately, before deduction of the fund raiser website charges) the hostel room and for a few other college supplies. One generous gentleman from Kenya, whom I do not know personally, donated and left a note that we should contact him in case there was a shortfall in the fees, he would put in the remaining amount! AND we had a list of people who had messaged to say they would contribute on Monday morning. For the first time in many days, I went off to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Empathy is a double edged benefits others but can be agony for the empathizers themselves as we are able to put ourselves in other people's shoes only too perfectly. And trust me, those shoes pinch.

I had asked my house help to get her brother, who had arrived in Nairobi by then, with her the next morning as we would go and pay the fees in the bank branch closest to our house, as soon as I finished my Monday morning Kundalini Yoga class. I never miss any class if I can help it, and that day was no exception. Coincidentally, it was with the same teacher who had offered to pay the shortfall in fees, if any! Even as the class was on, ( at at around 9:00 am Kenya time, my house help popped her head in and excitedly told me that the M.P had called. Then she shut the door again. I didn't think much of it and wondered if he had called to ask if she had managed to collect the fees as that was the last day to pay...As soon as the class was over, I excused myself and told the teacher we were leaving to pay the fees and promised to update her. She wished us luck! 

Then I came out of the room and saw that my house girl was nearly delirious with joy! She showed me an SMS which had come at 8:59 a:m. The Honourable Member of Parliament had paid the ENTIRE fees for the first year of University from his PERSONAL funds! I was shaken to the core. What a truly honourable man! It was as if a load had rolled off our collective backs. The first thing I did via Facebook and the WhatsApp groups, was to ask folks to stop sending money, as the fees had been paid. Now we had enough from the fund raiser, to pay for the hostel room, scrubs, white coat, medical tests, eye check up and spectacles, stationery, printouts, legal notarization fees and some amount would be left over as a buffer for the following year, in case the County scholarship did not come through at all. A few folks insisted on sending money even then and we told all the others that we would surely ask them during the second year, if required. There is truly no dearth of generous folks around us....A friend passed by to personally drop off her donation, even after I had stopped the fund raiser, saying students have many needs besides fees, and we could use her money for anything. So I gave her money, along with the amount donated by my mother and our two generous children ( BOTH of whom had separately told me, that since I have access to their bank accounts in India, I could just take whatever was needed, and even break their fixed deposits if the necessity arose, but paying fees on time was very important... I was moved, to say the least!), to the boy, to buy a basic smart phone and a few other things that are essential for life in a hostel. This friend met the boy and gave him some excellent advice, critical for students starting a new life! I was so grateful that this busy lady spent many precious minutes talking to the boy. Another kind friend from India gave permission to use her money to buy clothes for the boy, now that the fees had been paid! One does not realize as one goes about one's cushy life, how much a child needs and how expensive everything is... I certainly realized it while handling donor money, weighing the pros and cons of every item, seeing where we could save, what was essential and what was frivolous, hunting for a reasonably priced notary ( met a lovely lady advocate!), the cheapest government hospital for all the medical tests needed for admission, a value for money phone and giving whatever items I could spare from my house, just to save more donated money for next year.

I had given our night guard the responsibility of tracking down the boy's Kenyan Identity card, as it was critical for admission and had been delayed due to the pandemic. He went and met a very efficient lady on a high post in the relevant office, who managed to expedite the process and in three days he had collected the card for the boy, foregoing some of his precious day time sleep! Help is not always monetary...and so many people we don't even know personally have helped us in this entire process. I wanted the boy to have the right spectacles before he started classes and even those were delayed due to non availability of blue block lenses, but my optometrist managed to finally deliver them yesterday, so he can carry them with him to the hostel tomorrow, since he won't visit his sister again anytime soon. 

As I pointed out to my Kundalini Yoga teacher, if I had bunked class and left earlier with my house girl and the student to pay the fees, they would have been paid twice as the M.P had given NO indication whatsoever that he would pay, the money would be stuck in the university account, until who knows when, and we would have been left with barely anything for the hostel and all the other myriad expenses...As she pointed out to me, "Kundalini Yoga doesn't just wish for miracles, it relies on them!" 

And a miracle, aided by God, many generous donors and a very generous Indian educated Kenyan M.P, it certainly was.... After months of being stressed, this deserving boy has been truly blessed! And since then he has appeared for the County scholarship interview too and if he is awarded that scholarship, his fees for the next few years will be taken care of and all the remaining donated money will be used for hostel costs for next year. Will he be thrice blessed? We will know soon...but we will never forget how donors from across the world, regardless of their religion or country of residence or origin, saved the day for an unknown, economically challenged Kenyan boy who will, one day, be a doctor...He starts his first formal day of classes tomorrow, orientation got over last week! Wish him luck!

And the boy's mother who is very thankful and grateful to you all, sent me this gift from her village, red beans and peanuts... She said she has nothing but she was crying all the time, while we were organizing the fees....A person who shares with others what little he or she has, NEVER has nothing... How I wish you all could taste these Kenyan Kidney beans... I used some today and we had our lunch with a full heart...

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Ink Dots On The Quick Sands Of Cyber Space

 For the last few months, from Google Mail just one message has frequently come,

Which makes me want to, in the opposite direction, run.

"You're out of storage space",

And thus to delete some mails began my race. 

"Buy Storage" was the message that would repeatedly flash,

Was this a gimmick to make me part with my hard earned cash?

I'm a Microsoft fan, Hot Mail is my lifeline,

So why should I give Google even a dime?

(Though recent marital allegations against the Windows founder have shocked me to the core,

I still remain staunchly faithful to the Microsoft store).

Classes on Skype, an Android phone and an HP lap top,

An expensive, half eaten Apple has never made my heart stop.

Every day, after classes, I would spend minutes ten.

Deleting mails from the G Mail den.

When I reached 2019, mails from my Dad snaked their way through,

The number of mails from him just grew and grew.

He remained a G Mail fan until the end,

Though "Out Of Storage" messages were currently driving me around the bend.

2019, 2018 were mostly about blood count reports,

The Lab kept us in the loop so we could, our parents, from a distance support.

Suffering from Deep Vein Thrombosis, some had been forwarded by Dad himself with pride,

To show that with INR tests ( prothrombin time) he was making many a stride.

As I delved further and further into my box of mail,

2017, 2016, messages from the time he was fit, began flooding the computer on a large scale.

All the Human Resource programs he had pan India conducted,

He had, with pictures and write ups, meticulously documented.

Then showed up his blog, " From Here And There",

Where he often wrote about life's incidents, unfair and fair. 

Reading those again brought a quick tear to my eye,

Well, I'll be honest, I simply began to cry.

When a person is dead and gone,

The written word does one beckon,

Into times now well and truly past,

Who knew that particular mail would be his last?

2016 2015, then came photos he had clicked of the times we had had fun,

And then mails about all the work for me he had done.

From something simple like a passport scan,

To the more complicated attachments from the dreaded tax man.

More mails followed of scans of insurance payments and property taxes,

Of forms and details of my former educational franchises. 

In those days, I just had to him a mail shoot,

And all my issues in India magically got the boot!

Tech Wizard, crazy Army Colonel, and also a Colonel's son,

He knew how to automatically get things done. 

2014, 2013, 2012, then followed mails of his travel itineraries,

His fear of flying meant road and rail were the beneficiaries!

'Perfect travel planner' describes him well,

Those mails, if published today, will surely those destinations sell.

I couldn't bring myself to hit 'Delete',

Without those, my memories of my Dad in cyber space wouldn't be complete.

I'd only heard about footprints in the sands of time,

To be born, to live, to die is life's rhythm and rhyme.

But then in these past few days, I have discovered ink drops scattered across G Mail,

Can be as poignant as hand written letters in the era of mail by the snail!

Today, as I, to manage our 'Empire' in India, struggle,

And as I, my Mom's bank work, donations, insurance, taxes, simultaneously juggle,

The tiny but persistent thought begins to niggle:

Indian children, no matter their age, really do their parents 'for granted' take,

Our parents' motto is," Anything and everything for their children's sake"! 

I had not realized  how much I had relied on my Dad,

Until Google forced me to check what all in my mail box I had....!

This tiny vignette from my mail box gives a small glimpse, the mails ranging from my Dad's travel plans to Kanha Tiger Reserve, to some life certificate needed by the Life Insurance Company of India for my daughter, to the quotation to get some Air Conditioners installed at home in India, a scan of a picture of my father in law with a former American President that my son urgently needed for his 6th grade social studies class, to some post office investment forms I get the picture! 

Monday 28 June 2021

Happy Birthday, Girl!

 Sanjana, our daughter, came into my life at a time when I was buried neck deep in academia. I was in the middle of my first Masters degree then. Commuting back and forth from the university, in my home town, on a two wheeler, staying up at all odd hours to study and asking my doctor if walking up and down in the garden, studying from a book in my hand counted as a 'walk', because I literally had no time during the pregnancy, with exams looming over my head, to even go for a 'proper' walk. She was a 'surprise' baby but had timed her entry into the world so beautifully that I never missed a day of university nor of the 'Advanced Diploma in Italian' I was pursuing then. I went on to top the course, with one hundred percent marks in the finals. In fact, when fellow students called me up to come and  collect the diploma, I had to tell them I was due soon and was avoiding commuting long distances in the final month and would someone please collect it for me. To say they were all shocked is putting it mildly, no one had even guessed I was expecting, when I had last seen them a couple of months earlier. So studying was definitely encoded into her very DNA and needless to say I had a very smooth and easy pregnancy. 

A few days before she was born, my husband had to go to Dubai for a job interview. So, interestingly and most ironically, our baby's first 'shopping', which included a designer Pierre Cardin baby carrier, uncommon in the India of more than two decades ago, was done in the United Arab Emirates. Little did we know then that a mere eighteen years later that baby, by another twist of fate, would end up there to pursue her Bachelors Degree in Medicine and Surgery. My love of chocolates and ice creams is legendary and so of course my husband grabbed all the chocolate he could buy, before he came back to India, just in time for her to be born. I spent the entire weekend, 27th and 28th June, gorging on chocolates and I often tell Sanjana that the weight of the chocolates pushed her out on 29th June, sooner than my original due date of 3rd July. Medical science may not buy this theory, but I definitely do!

Monday, 29th June,1998: Of course I had a problem with the date! I knew at least four other people who were born on that day, all fantastic people ( you ALL know who you are!), but like with our son five and a half years later, I wanted a 'fresh' date for our baby. I was willing to settle for 1st or 3rd July (2nd July is my late mother in law's birthday) but was I given a choice in the matter? No! Just after dawn, on a wet, rainy, soggy, blotchy, dreary Monday morning, my amniotic sac broke and a short while later, just as the sun burst out from behind the clouds in a blaze of glory, my husband, my mother and I drove to the hospital.

The doctor said it would be a couple of hours before I would be moved to the labour room and mercifully a private room was available, so it was alloted to us. I was highly irritable because I was forced to lie down and wait quietly and lying down is not something I do easily! I'm usually to be found actively working, studying, cooking, embroidering or reading at the very least. By the time my son was born, ( do read 'Happy Birthday, Child!'), the doctors knew me and my pattern better, did not impose 'lying down' on me and I was happily strolling around, until they told me to step into the labour room.

That long ago monsoon Monday morning was also when we discovered I had inherited my mother's, maternal grandmother's and great grandmother's pattern of naturally painless deliveries. So I never had any so called 'labour pain' but my daughter, after her stints with wailing, screaming women, in the ObGyn wards of her medical college hospital and summer internships in Pune, refuses to believe me. All I felt was the painless pressure to 'push' but of course the doctors, all three of them, while clustered around me, in the labour room, gave permission for that only in the final moments.

And so much to the astonishment of the doctors, in a surprisingly very short labour for a first baby, to the tune of gentle rain beating down outside, Sanjana was born well in time for me to have lunch at my usual hour of 1:00 pm and leaving the medical staff free to have theirs on time too! Those who know me well, know how particular I am about my meal timings and it looked like our new baby had heeded that too! I had hoped that my newly developed voracious appetite would abate, now that the baby was out, but no such luck. I couldn't wait to get into my room and tuck into a good, hot lunch. I had missed breakfast that morning! The second time around I made sure I had had my breakfast before we set off for the hospital. But I was still starving after our son was born, again well in time for me and the medical staff to have lunch, so that plan didn't work! 

So impressed were the doctors by my calm demeanour and my casual conversation with them at the height of labour, on topics like why episiotomy is not a choice in India, APGAR scores and later why a vaccuum was used for the delivery, that one of them actually went out and complimented my mother on such a daughter! I think, they all, like my daughter many years later, had rarely encountered such a naturally painless experience and couldn't believe it had nothing to do with me or my pain bearing capacity, per se. More than five years later, just after my son was born, in just fifteen minutes of painless labour, the same lady doctor would go on to tell me that with 'my ' pattern she would have had twelve kids! I was ready to hop off and walk to my room after our daughter was born and I had been tidied up, and asked them if I could but the horrified nurses restrained me and transferred me to a stretcher and then I was wheeled to the room. I did not make the mistake of even asking this question the second time around, but quietly gritted my teeth and bore the indignity of being wheeled around on a stretcher, when I felt perfectly fine.

Sex determination tests are, of course, banned in India for reasons well known to all of us, but I instinctively knew beyond any shadow of doubt that we were having a girl. So after anxiously asking if the baby was fine, I only perfunctorily asked my husband what it was. He gave the expected answer and it felt so good to be proved right. And of course all my baby clothes shopping featured pink very predominantly! That very same daughter doesn't approve of associating colours with gender today, but what can I say, I'm old fashioned that way....

Interestingly, she was the only girl born there that day, the rest were all boys, six or seven of them, and one of the nurses had the audacity to tell me that I should have had a boy, just as I was being taken, sorry 'wheeled' to my room. I am rarely rude and usually remain calm but discrimination against women is a 'no holds barred' topic for me. I had just had a baby, less than an hour ago, but that was no deterrent for me to turn around and give her a tongue lashing I'm sure she remembers to this day. I angrily pointed out that what she had just said was the root cause of India's skewed sex ratio, one of the main causes of female foeticide and all the other issues that a son centric, patriarchal society brings in its wake, pun absolutely intended. I pointed out women are the backbone of any society, the very fabric that weaves the two genders together and she should champion the cause of the girl child, not make people hanker for sons. She was duly apologetic, but I wonder if my words resonated in the air that day and permeated into my new born baby's body, mind and soul because today, anyone who knows her, will tell you she is one of the strongest feminists they have ever encountered. Her Senior Seminar topic, when she graduated from High School, was 'Making Misogynistic Monsters' and centered around how a male dominated society contributes to creating men who think they are a cut above women. It was very well received and her paper was among the top ten papers and her presentation made it to the top ten too, a rare honour! 

It wasn't until we came home with her three days later, that I realized I was solely responsible for a newly minted, helpless human being ( my husband left within a couple of weeks to start his new job)  and the saga of caring and nurturing continues to this day...

Soon after, I started my second year of my first Masters program, and so this was a child who spent her neo natal months surrounded by my books. Later when she began sitting up and then toddling, I had started my second Masters and yet again she was surrounded by my books and now hers too! But she was a calm, steady child who loved to eat, be read to, and played quietly by my side, for hours at a time. My research papers and heavy historical tomes would be scattered all around us in her room, but she never even touched or tore anything. I often tell my son it was a good thing she was born first, because had he been born first, I would have had to abandon my own studies and take up cricket as a full time occupation. This boy, born, while India played Australia at Melbourne in February 2004,  began batting as soon as he could sit and I spent hours bowling to him for years, until he began school at the age of three. And, mind you, I had to stand and bowl, sitting and bowling did not cut any ice with him...He began speaking really early, saying a few words at the age of seven months, and one of his first words was 'stand', if I had the temerity to sit down even for a second. Our daughter, on the other hand, inspired by and enamoured of my parents' wonderful dacschund, Speechka, declared at the age of five that she wanted to be a vet and coolly informed Speechka's vet, our beloved Dr. Dhokrikar that she would take over from her one day! She also added, as a side note, that she would call Dr. D to step in whenever she went for a 'modelling' assignment! To say I was embarrassed by her five year old precociousness would be putting it mildly, but our vet was highly amused. Well, she ended up studying human medicine but still loves dogs more....And everyone tells me she could pass off an a model, but mercifully for me, she doesn't model! 

Today is the first birthday I have spent apart from her since the day she was born, so I felt I owed it to her to write her 'birth' day story! When I celebrated my 23rd birthday, she was already in my arms, as a tiny baby! Does she think she could be responsible at her age for another human being? As she very candidly and characteristically put it, in language I disapprove of ( swear words, I did warn you, I'm old fashioned!), when I asked her, " Hell, no!"  

But then she was such an amazing baby, that she made it very easy for me! 

Where Have All The Faces Gone?

 The months of August and September, Bring with them sullen clouds and fat, cheerful raindrops.  Either month also brings with it,  One of t...