If I don’t introduce a part of my life to you all that would be a sin. It’s amazing how god connects people. When I landed at Gajendra circle of IIT Madras I sat at the bus stop and stared at the two elephants there. I still remember I had a copy of “ I dare- by Kiran Bedi” and I asked god- why here? What am I gonna do in a technical institute. I hated engineers; didn’t have a single friend who was an engineer. Maybe god was smiling at me because 1.5 yrs from that day my family at IIT- Genesis is made up of engineers and scientists and I happen to be the sole PhD scholar from Humanities. How did we all meet? I don’t know? Michael says they kept referring me as chechi with Sania Mirza kind of glasses :). But today they call me peter chechi. 1.5 years in IIT has been memorable . what all we did here guys? From teaching GMC to speak Malayalam, to the quizzing saga, from Daddy’s farewell video to my surprise birthday treat. From that hell of quarrels with GMC, the day Georgy made me cry. Jils! remember playing Wolf ? The fights for not getting things done on time to the countless treats at Tiffany. The way Thomas met us at SAC while our melodious choir prac was going on, to the horrible choir performances we had in chapel.
The prayer meetings at Amul parlour and Beasant Nagar beach – Hope you all remember that. Even our darling Winie who added flavour to our family , Hima remember the margamkali stunts ? Remember the hogging at Shastra stalls, which gave me a diarrhea and Michael, an exclusive Typhoid? I still cherish the moment we all ordered Mutton Shorbas for Eldhose’s treat and how you guys looked at each other. And my Antakshri with Jumbo Sonu I was shocked to see even Ninoy was helping Sonu and I think even Thomas would have if he could add German songs :) . I haven’t mentioned anything about Tessy but that’s because I can’t describe what she is to me in words. Remember Georgy you commented Anu being a sweet girl and next days after her feminist dialogue you changed it :) . Hey remember our argument on Adolf Hitler and his personality – Faicil and Michael? To me the most embarrassing moment was when Job sir publicly said he is scared of me , and his son added each time you stare at the late comers you cant expect people not to be scared of you :)
Each time I was down I remember you guys coming and talking to me or telling Tessy to take care of me and each time u call from home even when you are on holidays I know its just not some arbit friendship guys.
Daddy when you cried seeing your video we cried too, I still do when I see it. Each time you guys irritate me and listen to my fundaes and tease me alter I know you don’t mean it. Thanks for being there when I went through tough times in this campus when I thought I would break down, thanks for being by me, praying for me and its an honour to see your names and write about you all in my blog. Hey guys do send your comments love you all.
Sometimes we underestimate ourselves, i thought i never could paint even draw a line, to hide this inferiority i would always pretend i like reading and writing. It was shameful because dad drew well so did my sister. Thanks to Nalini miss in class 9 i discovered i could paint, not that i would turn picasso but atleast i knew i could talk to colours :)
Yesterday at a conference session n Innovation , a panelist said innovation is seeing two invisible dots and connecting a line between them. His next lines struck me hard. Innovators always experience an angst not knowing what to do, this restlessness should be resolved. I dont know why i draw , what i draw, does it make sense, i never learnt anything formally. The paintings above are wall paintings done in the department of humanities and social sciences, IIT Madras. I never dreamt i would design and draw on walls, that too in an IIT. I dont care if the world critiques it, i know the days i spend working on them were most beautiful days of my life.
When this painting was coming up , they were actually two different ones and then Ms Rama suggested " How about picture inside picture" and that's how this came. It did not turn out as good as it was on paper. We were all novices painting on walls and we had a dead line, we found it exciting though mixing paints, stealing brushes, turpentine smells. Art really liberates, this was one occasion i got to meet lot of students and that led to new friendships.
I dreaded death; I had never seen anyone dying. CANCER was a frightening thought and that’s when I got a chance to do a block placement at Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvananthapuram. At RCC body parts and cancers related to them are divided from A- H so conveniently that the clerks and peons would casually ask a patient“oh is it a B case then its neck, throat, mouth related cancer”.I was in awe of the peons in my initial days there for they knew more than me.Sometimes they would even give verdicts to poor patients and their relatives waiting in OP, “chances are less, do you have a secondary growth, and oh is it hereditary??” By the time the patient reached the doctor’s desk he would be dead psychologically.
I got an opportunity to do my field work as a medical social worker at this hospital. Since I was a student and the hospital authorities felt I need exposure in all departments I was sent to every department from administration to OP , wards and even to help desk. Flocking people kept reminding me of the fact that there were more patients than I believed from ads, suffering from cancer. To give me hands on experience I was asked to sit in each clinic and department each day, though I reported to palliative care daily. OP would be full on Monday mornings with people coming for regular check ups.
I was amazed at how business minded the whole medical industry was. For instance a patient who came for chemotherapy was advised based on his income. There are treatments of various cost if you choose R 1500 one you need to take one course in three days if its Rs 5000 one in 10 days and If Rs 10000 once a month, so their treatment depended on their money and if you had no money – I have seen some patient lie in the corridor while relatives ran around begging for free treatment. Medical representatives canvassed people mercilessly to buy their products that it made me sick.
Another sight was tourists cum agents who brought patients from Maldives.This was also a business there and poor people from Maldives were at the mercy of these agents who were their middlemen to communicate to the doctors.Yet they lay there on the corridors having travelled all these hours hoping for a miracle.
I lost heart not once but many times and I wonder where god was when these people suffered. But I also saw serene, calm faces amidst this swarm which is perhaps what motivated the staf there to remain humane.Once at OP when a girl in her early twenties came with her father. She had cancer in her uterus and doctor explained if she was operated further spreading of disease could be arrested. After the whole discussion her father looked at us with great hope and asked “but she will be able to have a baby in future wont she?” I was dumbstruck, we took it for granted that he understood what it meant to operate and remove uterus. The doctor turned to me and said, take him in and counsel, leaving me to an awful situation of how to break the news.
In the palliative ward things were different, people there were brought after every treatment had failed and things were worse, pain relief and preparation to death were two goals of the palliative ward. The nurses and doctors were serene. But what made it hard to work there was that “every patient knew he was going to die” and “no patient wanted to die”.
I got acquainted with terms like death counseling and pain counseling at this place.
Sometimes listening to patients is therapeutic. They perhaps repeat the same stories that their family members get fed up with, so when we smile and listen to them their victories, grievances, anger , hopelessness , there is a relief most of them say they experience even when pain kills them. Sometimes wounds oozing and foul smell upsets the family members to sit with them. I have seen wives crying for husbands who deserted them, parents longing to see their children who don’t have time for them and grandparents wanting to play with grand children and some times all these roles gets transferred to students like us.
Each day when a patient died I have seen the fear on the faces of other patients, left behind counting their days, fearing dying, wanting to live despite the pain .Those were moments all my theories in counseling could not help me counsel anyone. Those were also days that brought me close to death, if you have sat with someone seeing them die and tried to ease their last minutes to make them feel peace you might understand what I am trying to say. When someone scared to die holds your hands and says now I am ready, and passes away, what could you say? He was brave; he had resolved the biggest crisis? He has won? I don’t know , I just know , with all the degrees I amassed , I would not be able to be that strong and death is the ultimate truth no matter how much I dread it.
I remember reading Ogden Nash's poem on visit to dentist , for some reason it happens to be my favourite too. Now Hospital visits turn me off since i was a kid. My mom was a nurse and my house was a dispensary , visitng mom frequently i hated the corridors and the smell of disinfectant , though mom worked in Gulf for British Oil COmpany's hospital and that's way superior to the hospitals here, yet hospitals i hated and prayed i never should go there.
But after joining Insti it became a regular affair i dont remember falling sick like this ever. But i never thought i would visit a gynaecologist. My poor brain felt embarassed when i was referred to a gyneac by the GP, it was like depromoting to a lower class. I found the first few minutes outside the doctor's room suffocating. Sight of pregnant women suffocate me and i was getting paranoid as to will these women think i am pregnant?
A lady's daughter saw my scan report and told to her mother in kannada is that the picture of her baby ma? i love kids but that second i felt like killing this one. i found out of my generosity, I was giving my turn to every pregnant woman around .
When finally i made it to the doctor's room she asked me three vital questions with a disgust on her face?
Married? , live in relationship? boyfriend?
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO , i said - i must have sounded like some 16th century heroine with that melodrama but i was devastated , still she wrote routine tests circling pregnancy test and some other tests.
At the lab the lab assistant asked first kid? i said i am not married . Oh i am sorry , she replied as if i am some unwed mother, i was psyched - Now am i pregnant I asked myself
And like Mother Mary i replied - " But i dont know the man"
I landed outside hospital clutching the test slip dazed to land in front of a junior who snatched it and shrieked " You pregnant" .
I am confused , i replied, lets see what reports says.......
I love colours.Anything colourful captures my attention be it clothes on racks , bangles on stand, balloons at park, vegetables in market i am in love with colours. Now that i think of maybe all my hobbies in childhood were out of fascination for colours be it reading because of the colorful pictures or painting because the way it let me play with colours or cooking because i saw it as magic with colours. I felt colors talked to me. But if you think that determines my sense of dressing or shopping you got me wrong i said i love playing with colours i could dirty any expensive fabric dabbing paint all over but i could never buy something when i enter a shop. Most of my shopping is like a strategic game plan, entry- scan- pick- shoot :)
I believe colours definitely impact your mood and thoughts , some may not agree though if you got a predisposition you choose colours that suit that mood ,I hate black and find it awful, i know the glam world calls it sexy, formal and what not i think its penetrated into our minds to believe that way i feel stuffy with black but with white i feel free , open , maybe that's conditioned too , i don't know it could be cultural.
But of all the colours you like there could be one colour that makes your day, makes you feel better, for me its yellow , some say its the colour of optimism - well i dont know i liked it even before i knew it .
So next time you see something colourful, pastries in a bakery, flowers for sale, stuffed toys of various colours,spices in jars ,fishes in aquarium, butterflies a water colour box or even the sky ! stop back and see if the colours speak to you too.
When a baby’s smile a beautiful flower fails to make you smile When you run out of words discussing your favourite topic When you missed the most awaited moment of the day When you don’t want to answer questions you are sure When you – the avid reader cannot see words on paper When having a chance to win you want to lose When the chatter and glitter of kids irritate you When you can’t look into your best friend’ eyes When getting up early morning you feel lost When unrest around you penetrates your heart When being with friends make you lonely When idiosyncrasies of life hits you hard When looking at the mirror upsets you When music seems to be cacophony When the first rains depress you When love seems to be painful When tears well up for no reason When to be lost seems bliss When people introduce you to yourself When your heart did not skip for the one you love………. It’s just not your day It’s just not your day
In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about your friend?" "Hold on a minute," Socrates replied. "Before telling me anything I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test." "Triple filter?" "That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you're going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?" "No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and..." "All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?" "No, on the contrary..." "So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, but you're not certain it's true. You may still pass the test though, because there's one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?" "No, not really." "Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?"
I was just going for a cup of coffee to a café on campus when these words struck me. I was thinking about how certain facts I should not have heard, had upset me and that’s when these words struck me. I thought of the countless people who climbed the stairs for a coffee like me did it touch them all like me? It amazing how we crave for gossip (or grapevine as my organizational behaviour class puts it) . There are times when a whole class discusses about you and you take part in it eventually to realise you are the topic of gossip indeed.
What irks us is when we become the centre of conversation. Though ideally that’s what we all like somehow when it’s a gossip it hurts no one wants to be centre of attraction then. And funniest thing is all who gossip know its an exaggerated fact, if its fact its no gossip but the pain we take to find time to discuss these irrelevant matters is amazing.
I often see people with one foot inside the room and one foot outside telling I got no time giving an ear to finish the juicy bit of gossip. I remember working in a government office 2 years back. The senior official would call up to other regional offices and supply us daily dose of inside news which he called “inside info” and we called “grapevine”. He would be more concerned on who would get into vigilance case, who would be transferred forgetting he himself was on punishment transfer, and each time I moved with a file from R.O to accountant to MC its some gossip they tell me exaggerating out of proportion and the moment I leave I was sure I would be the topic for gossip.
People tell me women gossip and not men, liars, I say and who’s this “so called people” who decide only women gossip? “The – so – called – men” now given a choice women wont admit they gossip so would men? Anyways my previous office had more men and they gossiped all the time from actresses and their hips to their senior officials and their EMA (extra marital affairs).
I remember in my MSW days my supervisor telling me when you go to the community you see people in corners and tea shops discussing issues and politics, join them and you will get a feel of the community, I took it seriously and tried, very often to find them gossiping about some smart guy they could not digest, some women they thought were too smart and then yeah the regular take on politics and who is sleeping with who, which actress is characterless.
Oh back to my coffee and the words of Socrates -What provoked me when I read this triple filter test is “ was any of these gossips useful, good or true” No not even a bit , so if I think of the hours I wasted on this crap( and I still might) , I could do another PhD. Well in an hour I got a meeting again where I will come across more gossips , Hope Socrates helps me
We fought that night too. It was about dad again…. I felt we should wait for some time and dad might give in;.He was annoyed with dad’s threats to kill him if we married.. I know that was too bad of dad to say all those... But I could not stand listening to him talking ill of dad too… he always scored a touch down bringing dad into our fights. Picturising my father as an irresponsible, insensitive man who never cared more family, and minted money. Perhaps his utopian promises of giving me a family, being a husband and a father both who my dad could never be, kept me with him these years, but last night the fight drained all my energy. I hate fighting on Sundays, simply because I get up for work with a mongoloid face and my mood swings persists till noon, it’s worse than hangover from booze, I say. I often go empty stomach after fight, and when you live all alone you cant hope for a cup of tea , unless you get up to make one.
And then Monday is “THE DAY” when corporation water reaches our “ HOLY PIPE” and that means I got to clean the kitchen. My darling room mate goes on her family visits every weekend to save this trouble.
Whom can I crib to, my parents never wanted me to work in this rural town and 'he' wanted me to join the corporate world.For the first time in life I disobeyed everyone, maybe I needed some time for myself. Monday is also a horrible day because the beneficiaries of our projects keep calling us from morning, some even travel down to this “Ethiopia” with “celestial tarts” to lure us.And our dingy office turns into a rural haat .
I waited for his call, sometimes addiction to phone develops into an auditory hallucination, I halted in between filling water to make sure I had not missed his calls. Of course he will call to apologize, he always does, but silence kills me, reminding me of my sole existence, don’t know why some called it the best music - silence between two notes , I thought . Switching on the “entertainment contraption” ( The T.V), filling water and cleaning the rooms I waited for that one call, which could make my day.
Finally it rang, making me smile, when life goes on your terms, you feel euphoric, but my smile was wiped out when my mobile displayed “H O M E”. Calls from home worried me, because I felt they would be sermons to come back home, stop working or quit my relationship.
It was my sister who spoke, she was one year younger to me but spoke like my boss, and she was so formal that at times I felt choked. She said mom wanted to talk to me just like messengers announcing the king’s presence. I knew something was coming down.
“Mole” – mom never calls me that, she never expressed emotions through words and I always blamed her for it, seems like she passed those genes to my sister too. Dad was very impressive and no wonder we struck a chord, if there was a split between us it was after I fell in love. It’s amazing how one word can trace you to numerous thoughts in micro seconds. Mom was searching for words. “There’s a bad news” she paused; I thought my brother was in trouble since I could not hear him in the background.
There was a call from Kuwait, she said and I paused, “ok dad had a stroke perhaps, he was healthy but his family had a history of Heart ailment”. "Is dad not well", I asked.
“When uncle came from church they saw him lying on bed”, she said, very restrained. Ok so did they admit him? I asked. “ Teena , daddy is no more, ‘ HE IS DEAD’.
“Should I scream or cry, should I rephrase this statement, but mom is not crying did our fight last night come true, when we were fighting was dad breathing his last breath, did he think of me???????????????????????? All these thoughts crossed in a micro second and I was yelling too.
Mom , was crying and then there were noises in background, Asha took the receiver and told me that the neighbors and relatives had started coming and she would call me later, but I am all alone so I should take care of myself.
“Take care of myself”, mom always said that- when she went for work, when we were left home all alone, she said this. Take care means, not to do anything notorious, keep safe, but what did it mean now? Water was overflowing, calling me out of my reverie. I loved being alone at this moment without anyone. I could take leave by calling office, but what will I do all alone, I tried walking to office but I was trembling, so decided to take an auto to reach a place I needed five minutes by walk.
Dead, car accident, murder, raped, how often we read this in newspaper and flip pages, there’s something intriguing about these news that makes us want to pry in insensitively, how many movies we see, these scenes flashing ruthlessly and man still clings to the belief that he will be spared.
Kiran was on the system, I pushed him aside, poor fellow was romancing with his girl friend, maybe I looked like a dead woman myself, and he dared not to ask me what happened. I opened the e paper to see the news, and there it was with a photograph “JEWELLERY OWNER MURDERED” I stared at the screen, Kiran read it too, I cried too loud perhaps, thatthe staff came running, unfortunately none could decipher the language, leaving Kiran in anguish to explain.
It was my 13th day in office, is number 13 unlucky? It was as if god wanted me to get a job and then take dad. Dad had called me four days ago, but spoke very erratically “Now you are the responsible one, take care of everyone”, did he suspect a danger? Why had I not bothered then?
I had to do something, keep things moving, I decided to work on my files, I had to be practical, life had to move on, or I wanted to get diverted, I started reading my files, while others stared at me, all kept their files aside, talked in hushed tones, my boss called me up from Delhi and told me to go to church and call home whenever I wanted ,two liberties bestowed. I thought I should do some work if I needed to take leave ahead.
‘Mom called, this time calmer, she said I need not come home , because body would not arrive until one month because of formality, “ life must go on , she said” , a woman whose courage was my inspiration, who lost her husband , who never got what she wanted in life, who struggled against the tide, was telling me, life must go ahead” , I could imagine her face when she said this, people say I look like her, I looked at the mirror and repeated” life must go on” with a glint of tear, that’s how mom might look now, I told myself.
I called him; it was a telegram call…. Dads no more, I said, you are kidding, he said. It was difficult for him, I knew, we both knew what lay ahead without dad. I could not bear it any longer, I left for Bangalore, Oh garden city, epitome of modernity and joy to many, “with you I share a bond of pain ,for its here I departed from dad twice, once mentally and now physically.
My aunts told my co – passenger, poor girl , lost her father, the nuns in convents, kissed me each time saying poor girl , lost your father!!!. I reached home, my dad’s dream house, how he wished he would live here for years, Man always wastes his health on things he never can consume eternally and for a generation who never contributed for it. Neighbours surrounded me, many questions popped up; I realized some journalists were amongst them too. “This is the girl, elder daughter”, did dad tell mom about assets? Will government give compensation?
There is no photo with a garland, should get one, an aunt said, should get some sober colour dress for your mom too, someone else said. Inside, lay mom all helpless, she looked aged suddenly, and with her lay my brother smiling saying some stories. "He is in a state of shock, denying what happened, said a neighbour".
What should a daughter do when she meets her widowed mother first time, I didn’t learn that in grief counseling, at least an open line would do I told myself. “ Mom got up, relieved to see me, Now you have come, we will set things straight, for we have no one now, she said, making it easy for me, and hugged me tight.
First get her some sober clothes , blabbered someone, and in that season of onam when people got colorful clothes, I saw my mother walking through aisles for black and white, colours I somehow detest today. Do men wear sober colours when wife dies, I don’t know? My mother never followed all this, how helpless societal pressures make you. You daughters should wear sober colours too, remarked someone. "And why not my brother? asked my sister, go to hell, we got better things to waste money on", she snapped.
Phone calls kept pouring, Government, politicians, family friends, journalists.
When a body is dissected twice and lay frozen in an unknown land, politicians were shedding tears, asking about compensation, setting our marriage proposals and cribbing about dad’s audacity.
Now there was a family drama too as to who should take active role home, mom's side or dad's, who will get coffin, who will buy flowers, both called all officials to get security clearance when my sister and I ran up and down offices, making clearances, and arrangements. We have done everything they said interrupting what important chores we had. Flowers should look grand, and coffin should be made of teak wood, for something that had to decompose, how extravagant can we human beings are?
We did not sleep that night, I was scared if I did it would end and the day of funeral would start. Sometimes friendships are tested in adversities, with friends cleaning your house to cooking for you, you never miss family, my friends were strong enough to support me , I don’t remember when they moved in and when they did what was required , some even discussing what happens on a funeral day. Packing expensive things away from where people can access, so trivial to us at that moment though important later.
The sound of ambulance haunts me even today, its scary. And I thought I would not cry, but I never realized I would go hysteric and hide behind a cupboard, when my sister handled it so bravely. My brother said he would not join and locked himself up . Later he came down and sat with his eyes closed even when the photographer asked him to pose with dad.
Dad's sister was perhaps the only sibling of his to cry, counting stories of his childhood as we moved to the cemetery. It poured heavily that day worrying us if the burial would be a problem. Oh how dad hated things rotting in the rain. The jackfruit, sacks, coconut husk they all look yuck when they rot he would say,and now he was meeting the same end.
'He' was there too and stood right across me, with dads coffin between us , a position dad always maintained when alive, he did the same when he was leaving us too .
He looked straight at me, and for the first time I smiled. He could not force me to join his paradise, when his gates were going to close. He invited me, I could see the light shining ahead, and I walked away from it, folding my hands, pressing towards my chest, turning against him…. I did not want this paradise anymore, no dreams he showed me could soothe this pain, fill this void. I looked at the sky, it was pouring heavily but, the sky was clearing, I knew what my decision was, clinging on one side of mine mom said, “ lets go , I am tired” . I did not turn back to meet his gaze, I did not believe in futile days in front of a compromising future, I had nothing to offer him, for my battle with life began here. To many cemetery is dead man's land, to me its battle field where I go each time to gain strength, from my mentor, to carry on unfinished tasks, his warrior proceeds.
I left love brutally to die and I might be held guilty but I did what was right to salvage a family and I did survive so did us all and so will you all......
He didn’t turn back either for fear he would not go back to paradise, had his door closed waiting for me.
I was excited to go for field visits this time because I was going to Kanavu, Wayanad. I had heard of Kanavu since my MSW days and hoped to be there some day. But the hectic journey from Chennai to Wayanad disheartened me. I tried packing very light but when I walked uphill I cursed myself for the contraptions I carried. The auto stopped at a house and when we asked for directions, the owner of the house told us auto would not go that route and its walkable distance, “so get down I will take you to Kanavu”, he said. As soon as the auto left the first question he asked was, did you know that Kanavu is managed by tribal children ? Yes I do, I said. Do you know their castes naykas, pulayas and parayas ?, he asked me in a demeaning tone as if these castes were all cannibals and I made a mistake coming there. I smiled and told him I am aware of what I am doing and he kindly show me the way. Its irritating when you are left at someone’s mercy in a desolate place for directions and your guide utilizes the opportunity.
There is a family staying next to Kanavu , they are from the US they will show you he said, I was already irritated with the load I was carrying and now he was sending me to another family. The word US sort of struck me because I could not believe someone from US would live here judging by how different lifestyles both the places had. He called for “ Mr Babu” from the mentioned house. A man in his seventies came out, when my guide told him I was a researcher who had come to visit Kanavu he called his wife and introduced me. He said Kanavu is two minutes walk and I could sit for a minute and talk to them. I liked the idea of resting for a minute so I bought that idea. I was curious to know what bought then here but his wife started the conversation and said we are here to meet our son who is settled here. I found that interesting, judging their US accent I tried visualizing an English speaking guy with long hair and binoculars fascinated by Wayanad roaming around doing some anthropological study.
Actually our son is here for past 7 years he left US and came here and doesn’t intend returning so we keep visiting him they said, this tore the picture I had woven a minute ago and made me curious to meet this guy. Well our son lived in a mud house, well he was into Gandhism and there we didn’t have many facilities so we shifted here to live with him for a month. This amazed me because their son could adjust to a totally different life from US and they could not, there was disgust all over their face to the surroundings they lived in.
Why don’t you meet our son ‘Roy’ they said, and I prepared to meet the long hair, bearded guy, someone like the guy from the move ‘into the wild’. From a room nearby came out a guy with grey hair, in a lungi and I was shocked because it did not match my description. After formal introduction, Roy said he did his bachelors in urban development from Stanford but now he is here doing organic farming, I could not trace his feelings was it that of a revenge to his parents, was he fed up of the US life, or just borrowing time for himself? I left them and moved to Kanavu and Roy said,will talk to you later.
Sure … I would love to I said and I meant it indeed….
I met him the next day, he was making compost. He smiled at me; there was a sense of familiarity in that smile which made it easy for me to talk. So how’s dad and mom I asked. He understood I was not asking about their health and said they don’t like it here wont be here for long. So you won’t go with them I asked? My questions were so half constructed that in normal circumstance they would look out of context but Roy knew what I was asking. I have tried it all he said, I worked for a big MNC, I went to Srilanka but this is what I like. They don’t understand they hate anything Indian; they kept us away from Indian culture I used to be embarrassed to say I have Indian friends in my gang in college. I don’t know why but, I am satisfied here now.
Roy’s father interrupted us and Roy left. His father looked pained, why don’t you stay here isn’t this a wonderful place I said to initiate a conversation. Oh no, imagine if I have a cardiac arrest. Nearest hospital is at Calicut and I have lived there for 40 years I can’t leave my friends. He had chosen his lifestyle over his son and that was a firm decision, I didn’t see the logic in he forcing his son now. Roy returned and his father went away as characters enter and exit in theatre on stage, this theatre was their life and I a guest actor.
They want me to settle down but that to an educated Christian girl, Roy said, now you look at this place and tell me how many girls would prefer this place. And my choices are not suitable to them. This part startled me, if he had chosen his life why was he bothered about what they thought about his life partner, was he moving away from them physically and still dependent emotionally, I don’t know, I don’t even know why they all chose to speak to me so openly. This was the first time I silently observed a family, listened to their stories without offering advices and getting involved. That night Roy and I spoke a lot on organic farming, literature, movies, youth in India and US, he seemed happy and cheerful. We conveniently did not confront many issues, like I understood he didn’t like questions about future and I did not entertain personal questions but we had a lot to talk leaving all that. He was curious about my research and asked me to write about it to him. When I left Roy, he gave me his contacts and I knew I would stay in touch with him and there was more he would tell me.
This is one of my favourite childhood stories. My mom was a great story teller and I was always amazed at her experiences. She had a peculiar way of telling stories to children , each and every experience of her student life in Indore and her work in Bombay she told us children so vividly that we could picturise those places and incidents in our little minds. This story however she claimed actually happened to her and is no fabrication. So I will just try putting it in words avoiding any fabrication. This must be in the late seventies when mom joined Holy Spirit hospital Andheri, Mumbai then the mighty Bombay. The hospital was run by Sisters of Holy spirit congregation and mom’s sister was a nun from that community. It was a vast plot which was more or like a jungle near to airport and earlier was a cemetery. It used to be windy and at nights the doors and windows opened and closed making thud sounds like in horror movies. And they had no milky white lights those days so in night shifts you had those dim lit bulbs and since it was a missionary hospital they had very few staff. Mom says those days in emergencies nurses had to go and fetch doctors from quarters and many nurses have seen a headless man walking among bushes and many have fainted out of fear too. Mom recollects to have seen black cat with a bell around the neck jumping in front from no where and vanishing suddenly. However mom says she was never scared and always tried telling her friends never turn back when you hear foot steps and if you fear then you were paralysed so be brave. She says there used to be a sweet smell like that of cigar or cigarette burning at nights and clubbed with footsteps it made people feel that these were some male ghosts.
As many medical students and nursing students do for fun to test courage once mom’s friends took a bet to sleep on the stretcher because it carried dead bodies’ people were quite scared. But one lady once took this challenge and dozed off. All heard her yelling and went to the room and she was found dishevelled. She said she found a burning cigarette in her pocket and got up and someone tried strangulating her. Now was this a prank or her mind working no one knew.
Now the real story starts here. Mom is the heroine – she had night duty and there was a lady very serious and was expected to pass away any moment mom checked on her and went to next patient. As she stepped out she saw a man in suit with a bouquet walking towards this lady’s room. Since it was late night and guests weren’t allowed mom wondered how he got in. Mom asked him who he was. He said he was the patient’s husband and came to take her with him. Mom said he could not do that perhaps he is unaware that she is seriously ill and cannot be discharged. Mom asked him to be with her in her last moments and left. When she came back the patient had passed away. Mom went to the bystander waiting outsider and enquired where the patient’s husband was. The bystander said the patient’s husband was in military and died years ago. Mom gave the description of the person she saw a stout guy with a bushy moustache in suit . The bystander said the description matched but the person had died years ago. Mom must have felt dumbstruck not understanding whether her tired mind was playing games or did she really speak to a ghost? Mom claims it’s a true story though I argue it must have been a hallucination .
I recently happened to read a Malayalam book titled “campus ormakalude pusthakam”. It was a compilation of write ups by different writers on their college days, mostly in the 70’s and 80’s. It was very different from my college days. Though I belong to this generation, I never felt I belonged here, I don’t think I enjoyed my college days due to this feeling of non belongingness. When I was young and watched famous movies on college life in the eighties I idealised college life that way and when I read this collection I realised this is what I wanted from my college life. But my first year in college life was the most boring one yet it was my first encounter with life of youth in Kerala and I welcomed all those experiences good and bad but they did help me be who I am today. I felt proud to be one among the lot who enjoyed college life at pre-university level. When I saw my counterparts in school uniforms and imagined my siblings being pained in school even after 10th I took pride in the fact I was free after 10th to wear colour dress, to bunk classes and loiter( well we loitered inside the campus those days and hardly had money to roam in the city), to discuss politics and cinema at canteen, to beg for votes and get ragged , though I knew all this was short lived and at times meaningless I enjoyed floating with the crowd who had locked up “ reasoning skills” for two years labelling it freedom and with them I floated too……
As every teenager who found freedom all of a sudden mixed with an urge to define one’s new identity formed gangs, I found 6 girls with whom I became friends. Coming from the gulf I looked like a gulf baby weighing 68kgs so no doubt I was to be ragged. Ragging was no big deal, some of my friends got away buttering and some got ragged for being stern. In our gang we had two tom boys; one was a dog lover so we called her dog J. She would look at any guy and say “hey he looks like a cross breed of a dachshund and boxer together”. The next tom boy was more like the leader in the group , she in fact wore her father’s jeans and gave a cold stare to any guy, Now we were hardly 16 and most guys were shorter than her she took full advantage of it and exerted her frame to give an imposing look. Next was a Muslim girl who loved Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Akhthar and prayed India lose matches against Pakistan. She lived on fried fish and started every sentence with two words “Allah or Padachon”. The other two were like twins; one was the daughter of a lawyer a sophisticated female who taught me about Loreal and Maybeline, she was class conscious and into fashion shows in college. I remember trying to sell her dad a computer shield as a part time job as well as sales promotion for my cousin. Her father asked me if my dad wasn’t earning enough and why am I a girl , a daughter of an NRI from a well to do family doing this menial job.I felt bad then and never ventured for anything like that but now that I think of it , it makes me puke at his dumb , chauvinistic thoughts. I had not been introduced to feminism then. The fifth member the twin I was referring to was a Muslim girl who was loyal to our fashion girl. The last member was a Brahmin girl shortest in the group who wore tight dresses that would attract any guy and pretended she never knew, we were together known as “ dynamites” – I don’t know why though I too agreed for the name and put up the tough image and out of loyalty to group even wrote it on walls.
An unforgettable event in my pre-university life apart from college elections, politics, NSS and whistling at college day was “Valentines day. Nah…. No romantic experiences … in our college, college union used to sell small chart paper cards for Re.1 each and people could write messages to whomever they liked. I too wished to get secret admirers and when the box came to our class prayed for it. Ms Fashion got 3 cards none of my friends got, Then suddenly the guy who had the box called my name, I was thrilled to know there was a card for me. When I opened it read
“You’re slender hands like French beans, your breasts like ripe mangoes, your eyes like mulberry and your butt like melons makes me uncontrollable”.
Without me realising I started to cry. I stopped wearing frocks thereafter, my friends consoled me, I felt conscious about my gulf baby image and started to diet but that was not all.
We made a list of all potential enemies and waited for the next year, we bought hundred cards and wrote in all possible awkward handwritings and waited to see their expressions. From the guy who commented Ms fashion in Hindi class whom we nicknamed ‘frog’ to my rivals in campus politics , to guys who ragged us in NSS and even their friends who flirted with us we spared no one. The note written below is the famous of all which I wrote with Ms Fashion. It won’t give the feel it had in Malayalam still I will try my best to translate it.
“Darling of mine”,
I know you turn back in Hindi class to affirm your love for me. I am yours and I pledge that in the name of each an every acacia tree on this campus, that pond of ours with the crocodile, and that stale sambar of our canteen. You are mine and mine alone and if you dare look at any other girl I will commit suicide jumping into that pond .
Poor fellow was so shy and would turn back in Hindi class to figure who out of the 100 girls wrote to him and Ms. Fashion and I would hide and laugh behind our books. The conditions of all others who received the cards were more or less the same. Some would stare at us in corridors and we could feel their eyes asking ‘was it you’? And we walked with pride of having done a heroic act and smiled reciprocating those glares which meant” Girls can have fun to you losers”.
Years have passed away , my sister went to the same college, the acacia trees, pond still remains there, canteen has improved I hear, no more politics in campus and no valentines cards I was informed. But as I pass the campus today even today I feel those mischief and fun reverberates .