Govinda Ala re!

sketchpad12Anyone who lived in Bombay in the 80’s would know what festivals were and how important they were. Deafening loudspeakers yelled at each other from different colonies. All those Bollywood numbers on festivals started from dawn till late in the night until all the neighbour’s started complaining about the volume or till Ballu (the local drunkard) was completely sloshed and out after dancing on those numbers!

Those were the times when lovers dedicated songs on loudspeakers and new love blossomed under the name of festivals.

Holi and Govinda (Janamashtmi, Dahi Handi) were my favorites.

The year started with Holi. During Holi, a huge crater would be dug in the concrete of Amchiwadi and Kiran, the taxi driver, would perform Holika Puja! Kiran transformed into a Pujari (priest) on such occasions, after all he belonged to the Brahmin family and when would all the shloka’s (chants) payback, which he had earnestly learned from his Ajoba (grandpa).

I do not remember about the rituals though but I remember, we kids use to sit around the Holika (burning campfire) and watch all the mummies, aunties and Aajjies (grandmas) come with their thali’s (ceremonial plates) and perform their Puja (rituals). The interesting bit about the entire puja were the coins that were hurled into the Holika. We would sit around the circumference of the crater and watch those coins glowing in the flames.

Each one eyeing the loot!

Come morning and we would jump into that crater even before brushing our teeth. By morning all that was left in the crater would be ashes and dark burnt coins and some grey kids! People around us would be all red, pink and violet with the holi colours but we kids would be busy collecting the coins from crater all grey! Finally the big kids would come and pull us out and take their share from the loot …that was Holi for me all grey and smoky. It was only later in college days that it turned colorful and intoxicated!

Govinda (Krsihna’s Birthday) was my favorite and probably everyone’s favorite in Amchiwadi. A lot of days went into practicing, forming the human pyramid to break the Handi (earthen pot filled with buttermilk which is tied at height.)

Now every year the lightweight Raju was the top most boy in the pyramid and had mastered the art of breaking the handi. Each year the handi went higher and higher but the Amchiwadi’s govinda (the participant of the pyramid, they are called govindas after Lord Krishna’s gang of friend’s, who use to steal butter) also never gave up… they too climbed higher and higher… sometimes the height was as high as 30 feet… the Guinness record is 43 feet! The higher the handi the bigger the prize money… each colony had their own team of govindas and each colony had their handi with prize money. All the neighboring colonies would invite other colony govindas to come and accept the challenge to break their handi… who ever broke the handi would walk away with the prize money… now this was not very simple as it sounds… the govindas formed a human pyramid… sometimes going up to six tiers but the catch here is the colony residents… they would all try and stop the govindas to break the handi by hurling water. The small kids used coloured water balloons and their enthusiastic mothers would hurl buckets of water. All hanging from their windows and balconies. Hurling water, shouting and screaming, distracting the govindas.

Amidst the chaos and excitement we have the loud speakers blaring the famous govinda songs from Bollywood. In the late 80’s every Bollywood actor from Amitabh Bachchan to Jackie Shroff had one song to their name and they too have performed the govinda stunt in their movies. In Bollywood every actor has one such song be it a govinda song or ganesh song…. all of them have danced to these numbers….and during these festivals these songs go on a loop on the loud speakers. By the end of the day I am sure everyone knew the lyrics by heart.

Now coming back to Amchiwadi… Each year Raju our master govinda would be the top guy in the pyramid and would always make sure that their team broke at least four or five handis. They all use to look forward as the prize money would help them run their homes for months. Raju was the local barber’s son, the youngest and the smartest. It was only during govinda that the people in Amchiwadi made the barber and his family feel alive. Nobody knew how many days they slept hungry or how many nights their roof leaked but come govinda, the entire Amchiwadi made Raju and his family feel important.

As I lived on the topmost house with a terrace, every year the boys use to come home to tie the handi and made sure they stacked enough water in buckets, pots, mugs and balloons… to distract the other govinda team.

One such year, I remember we decided to tie the handi really high, almost 30 feet! … Why? We had collected more cash for the prize money and we thought we can’t give the money that easy. Result many govindas came, fell, re-tried and fell again… almost all the neighboring colonies came and tried but none of them could make it. Normally by lunch all the handis are broken but it was almost evening and still nobody could break the handi… finally Raju decided that we will break our own handi… they had practiced the pyramid till five tiers but this one needed at least seven… so without practicing they went for seven… result… they all fell… they all came tumbling down like a pack of cards … everyone took utmost care that Raju fell first and was taken good care of… each time they went up, there was pin drop silence… even the loud speakers were shut but they came tumbling down.

Now I was really tired and wanted this madness to end … I was hanging from my terrace waiting for the handi to break so that the loud speakers would stop and I could get back to my studies… the rope from where the handi was tied was right under my nose. I looked at the rope and then at tired Raju .. Raju caught my eye … I smiled and he winked … Raju pleaded to his team for one last try …

And yes they did it.

There was cheering and clapping, the entire Amchiwadi was dancing… the loud speakers were louder than before and there was no end to the rejoicing… it went on till dawn.

I really wanted this madness to stop, I wanted to sleep and wake up for my exams in the morning.Had I known that the party would never end I would have never lowered the rope.


Why I don’t get lost more often!

sketchpad10Many stories are incomplete many dialogues are interrupted.

I wish I had said that,
I wish I had kissed him,
I wish I had stayed back a little more,
I wish I had gone a little further…

We often wonder what if … many such what if’s and why not’s!

I often wonder what if I had stayed back in Omaru (New Zealand) and got lost with the penguins. What if I sneaked out of the bed and took a flight to Amsterdam to meet Van Gogh. Often in the traffic on the way to office, I feel just go … go straight to the airport and take the next flight out to anywhere.

I always did whacky, all the time…

Suddenly took off to Lonavala (a nearby hill station) from Bombay rather than going to college to meet my love.

Landed up at a friends place midnight to say sorry and then drove back 50 miles.

Kept my friends waiting at home on my birthday and treated the street urchins to yummy chocolate cakes in a fancy Bistro.

Drove straight to Pushkar from Delhi 300 miles! It was better than standing in the long queue for those movie tickets.

Walked out of the hospital after a surgery and hours later I was in a meeting & next gorging at my favorite Kakori Kebaabs!

Went for a trip with office staff and then suddenly took off  to a nearby desert, calling my boss that I will not be turning up for work for the next few days!

Crept out of bed midnight and took the early morning flight in my pajamas to meet my love!

Sold my gold earrings and gave all the money to a boy singing in the train for medicine for his little sister and told my mom that I lost my earrings.

Resigned from my job one day and went to watch Vertical Limit with a friend and end up getting another job in the movie intermission.

Blew all my bank balance … got reduced to Rs 3/- and then called a friend with that from a pay phone and signed up a big deal!

Kicked a drunkard from a moving bus in dark hours in Ghaziabad! (Not very safe for girls in the night, rather anytime!)

Danced with a friend in a stranger’s wedding and ended up taking pictures and video’s … I am sure they will be wondering who the hell am I?

Go for a Christmas party and end up Proposing!

We all have stories and those whacky moments … I have endless

I never thought twice before saying or doing anything … then why now?

Have I lost my spark! that spunk or have I stopped living (at the edge)
Have I sobered, have I got domesticated?
Nope I don’t think so. I still fall in love everyday…

Now I just trip to see my little angel’s face everyday, to hug her all sweaty and smelly when she is back from school. All cuddled in bed with her, I don’t feel like creeping out. Now I like to dance with her rather than dancing in stranger’s wedding. Intoxicated with her smell and touch
…  She’s my Trip!

I know soon she will take off … and I will too!


Thoda aur sarko na – make some space!

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Thoda aur sarko na … (make some space)

Kya? (what?)

Aare thoda jagga karo … (make some space!)

This lady with a big tokri (basket of fresh, stinky mackerels) kept pushing me …

I was already sitting on top of four baskets of fish, fresh vegetables and probably soiled clothes. All dressed in my best with evening in paris, nina ricci. Now only the smell of dead blood (from those mackerels) ruled!

I was already sulking that theres no fun getting ready and traveling in Bombay local trains .. after all it’s going to be all sweat, dust and grime.. but then i had to meet Kinshuk at Hamla (naval base) …my date on a empty beach of Bombay, in the monsoons.

It was this thought that kept me going in the crowded local western railways … no I wasn’t sitting in the vendor compartment…it was very much the ladies dabba (compartment) but the wrong time… early mornings,when the fish from the docks had to reach the Bombay wallahs!

and I had to reach the beach.

Every week I took this train, to meet him. To walk on the sand and surf hand in hand, not to talk just to walk… on empty, quite shores of otherwise deafening, busting at the seams, dusty, raggy, stinky Bombay.

This was a private beach under the Defence land, no civilian had access to it and I felt privileged walking all alone in the early hours and late evening, who wouldn’t after all these are the small perks one gets to serve the nation!

Today, I was really getting irritated with the fisher folks in the train… they simply rule at this hour… they make you feel like you don’t belong, they curse you if you don’t make space for them and their stinky baggage. You can’t complain about the stink, the scattered fish scales all over or the stinky, slimy water on the floor. It’s okay if you just managed to save your self from slipping on that fish water, all you will get is toothy beetle nut juice laced grin. I always think they don’t belong here, they need to take the vendor compartment or take a tempo or anything but not the train, not a public transport at least! Each time I took the train I would sulk and complain but then finally when my station would arrive I would happily forget everything and head towards my privileged solitude. Today was no different, I jumped of the train (literally one has too if you have all the stinky obstacles and smelly hurdles)

I managed to reach my beach still smelling a bit of nina ricci and a lot of fish, but then the whole beach smells of fish.

There he was standing, waiting for me.

My whole week, I use to wait for this moment and now when I am here I don’t need to say or do anything, all I need is to be!

It was drizzling so we were told not to walk on the shore as the tide was high. I sat there on the edge of the Mess wall, overlooking the beach. I kept watching the waves leap high up and dash across the shores and sweep back sand and empty beer bottles. I could feel the salt in my hair and lips from the sea breeze. Kinshuk’s friends decided to play volley ball on the beach.Cadets usually did that in their free time. Now this was a dampener, I did not get my walk on the beach nor did I get my solitude. I wasn’t complaining as I still had my view.

As I was watching the sea rise and fall, suddenly I saw two hands jutting out of the waves in the middle of sea… first I thought it was a tree, then as I concentrated and realized it was a boy with hands waving… probably he was drowning or was asking for help… I yelled at the boys playing volley ball… I asked them to go save that boy in the sea… Kinshuk and is friend Hari, immediately jumped into the waves… they swam as fast as they could to reach the boy… all i could hear was the roar of waves … did not know what was happening… and then I see that they managed to get hold of the boy… but then I did not understand much… it was only when they reached the shore I realized that what they saved was a corpse already floating in the sea!

He was probably 12 year and his hands were stuck up ( rigor mortis) as if asking for help. That boy was all stiff and curled up! Like a log. They dragged the corpse to the shores and alerted the coast guard… and started playing volley ball again.!!

Hello is nobody going to check his pulse, is nobody going to call the doctor or the police!!! I stood there dumb! watching the routine… I did not know how to react..feel sad? that we could not save the boy, hoping had we seen him early probably we could have saved him, nobody seemed bothered… I was further shocked, disturbed. Nobody!!

(It was routine for them…and yes it was … often in monsoon during high tide dead bodies came floating towards the shores and these Cadets usually ended up fishing them out… It was routine for them to fish these bodies out and then alert the coast guard )

But I am sure it meant something to somebody…someone’s kid, someone’s brother… Who was this boy? … How and when did he drown? There were so many questions… I just stood there watching and the boys got back to their game?

I requested that lets put a sheet over the boy to cover his body … and one of the Cadets said we don’t get a ration of sheets… we are running out of them!

I was speechless as I did not know how to react or say anything!

The Cadet informed me that these are normally fishermen and their families who go fishing and they get drowned in the high tides! These bodies come floating every second day during monsoon and its routine job of fishing them out.

I just stood there watching the corpse all bare, with waves roaring behind me and boys cheering the game.

Kinshuk immediately walked up to me, he took me aside and said ” This is your first time! ” … ” We all had ours! “

That evening on my way back home… the trains were rattling empty… it was just the cool breeze and my faint nina ricci .


Granny’s Smell

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“ No granny No! You are coming to Bangalore…”

Mane Java de! (Let me go!) … I don’t want go to Bangalore”

“ Come Granny, Natak mat kar (stop creating a scene)… you have to come with us!”

“ You can’t force me I want to stay at Grant Road with Naomi.”

A teenager kept pushing, dragging her old fragile, grey eyed wrinkled Granny in front of me while boarding a flight!

At first I thought the Granny was senile, had gone cuckoo and the young girl was trying to get her into the flight back home, but after listening to their argument I realized that the Granny was quite sane and she did not want to go to Bangalore with her granddaughter but wanted to stay back in Mumbai with her daughter Naomi, living at Grant Road.

It was really difficult for the young girl to get her cotton frock, red scarf Granny to buckle up in the seat!

Granny kept saying “ You cannot force me… you cheated me!”

Everyone on flight thought the granny had gone cuckoo and was giving a tough time to the granddaughter.

I was feeling angry with the young girl, as she was a bit rough with Granny! I was no one to judge but what ever I saw and heard I did not approve of it!

Just because she was old, just because someone else cannot take care of her, because she is weak and does not have enough money to take care of herself? Why did she not want to stay with her son? And why with her daughter? Was she ill-treated?

A million stereotyped questions came to my mind. I wanted to walk up to Granny sitting four rows in front, buckled up! I wanted to know why she was troubled… I wondered.

I saw Granny at the conveyor belt… she kept saying “Mane Java de! (Let me go!)” I brushed against her twice but did not have the courage to help her, but her smell still lingers, that old age smell that comes from old creased, weathered eye people. The smell of age, the smell of stories, the smell of years … I cannot forget this smell, my granny smelled the same.

Moist, warm and earthy!

My Crazy, Loony Granny!

Now this lady my Granny, was a tough cookie… I don’t think anybody could force her into anything, even at the age of ninety she would simply catch hold of me (I was eight!) and walk the busy streets of Bombay, often landing up on the footpath with the cyclists, all bruised! I still remember crimson blood dripping down her creased arms. Ahh! That texture would be really amazing for some of my graphic design work!

Now they say that my Granny was so feisty and courageous that she dug up her brother’s grave, to kiss him one last time. At an earlier time she did deliver her baby at the steps of the village temple, all alone using a sickle to chop the umbilical cord!

Granny always stacked some Hashish with her; village folks always had it in their metal trunks! Each time she baby-sat me, I would sleep soundly! The effect of Hashish, which Granny use to make me lick!

Granny loved me the most, but till the day she passed she didn’t know my name, she was hard of hearing and she always called me by a homophone “Ranju Baby!” I kept correcting her each time but in vein. I remember telling her its not “Ranju” it’s “Anju!” But she never got it!

Granny loved blessing as well as cursing!

She cursed her eldest son that he would go crazy like her and take the same medicines she took! It happened!

She blessed her youngest son, that may he get all the riches and lovely mansion! Bingo!

Now she blessed me “Ranju” to all riches, beauty and intelligence! It never happened?

Because it not “ Ranju” but it’s “Anju”!


Bombay Talkies!

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Bombay Talkies!

Recently Indian cinema celebrated its centenary! A lot of people said and did many things … some gyrated to the old and new item numbers, some created documentaries and some noted director’s made short stories.

So here’s my item number!

All this came back to me when I saw “ Bombay Talkies” a recent tryst by four great storytellers. I simply enjoyed the short stories presented by Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar …raison d’être … I simply related to each and every story…anyone who lived and celebrated Bombay in the 70’s could not help but relate to them!

We all have seen the street urchins singing in the local trains … and now when I think back even I had my favorite … I use to call him Jr. Altaf Raja! He nasaled the famous pardesi song each time I entered my 8.45am Andheri fast from Dockyard Road. I often use to chat with him and I also once lost my gold earning on purpose so that he can find it and sell it to pay his little sister’s medical bills.

 Today with facebook and twitter being a hangout zone even we had ours … at the community tap in Amchiwadi… all neighbor’s chatted and checked on each other while washing and cleaning at the taps… precisely at 6.30pm when the taps hissed and whistled, the municipal corporation decided to grace us with our daily supply of water.

 My favorite story was Zoya Akhtar’s were the little boy Vicky dances all dressed as Sheila! on the item number by Katrina Kaif! Well a lot of critiques have flaked and ridiculed Zoya… for her story that talks about gender and sexuality but for me it was simply a blast from the past! All I can say is that it did not matter whether Vicky was a cross dresser, gay … anything ! It just meant that he simply enjoyed dancing on female item numbers like my childhood neighbor Bandu!

I had completely no memory of Bandu until I saw this one!

Bandu my neighbor was frail thin normal twin boy of 10 years … he did not walk like a girl, he did not have any animated hand gestures but yes he had a great smile and grace. One day Bandu took the whole Amchwadi with surprise when he stepped on stage (the annual six day long Shiv Jayanti celebration). Bandu all dressed in an Amrapali (hired from Maganlal Dresswala) with along fake plate danced on the Dafliwale song from Sargam (1979). We are all spellbound when we saw Bandu. From that day Bandu was our item girl! Bandu would always be there with his dance moves! He was so gracefully and awesome that I once took training from him when I had to perform a solo dance.

I remember going up to him and asking him to teach me the dance steps of the song Nach Mayuri from the famous Sudha Chandran Starrer. Bandu readily agreed and would come everyday for the evening practice sessions where he would dance and I would simply sit and enjoy his moves… how I felt jealous at times that I could not move like him. I won the first prize but still could not match up to Bandu’s grace!

Today when I called up home to ask mom about our neighbor Bandu she was surprised that how on earth did I remember him after 26years! And guess what Bandu still lives with his family in that small 10×10 room in Amchwadi.

He is an Interior Designer but not married as yet! (Must be 36 years now) …

I wonder why?


Poster Baby!

After watching a Unicef commercial on TV, I told Xia (my seven year old daughter), that I really want to save a dying child. I really want to help a child and not simply send a donation without knowing what happened to it and did it actually save that kid in the commercial.

Suddenly a face floated across my mind, she was one of my many maids!

The day I hired her, a tall, thin lanky lady with protruding cheekbones and that typical pigmentation on her cheeks and nose (often happens to ladies in pregnancy).

Now I forget her name! And I do not want to call her by any other!

She was standing at my doorstep, looked quite sad and malnourished but had a brilliant smile on her face. It was that smile that started our relationship. I quickly hired her without checking any of her details. I was in a desperate need for a maid after Xia’s birth and there was too much work with very little help around.

The day she arrived she ate and she just ate! I thought probably that was a meal in many days! She was quick in her work and eager to help. Few days later I chatted her up and I got to know that she lived in the nearby Basti (a slum dwelling) and was abandoned by her family. Why? Cause her husband and in-laws wanted a boy child and she was a mother of two daughters! Where are they? I mean the daughters, I asked her… she had left them with her sister and had come to Delhi to work. She lived alone in the Basti in a small rented home. All this sounded very typical to me. This is what happens all the time, with poor people; was all that I thought.

What’s are your daughter’s names? “Katrina and Kareena,” she smiled! I smiled back and got back to changing Xia’s diapers.

Slowly the eagerness and briskness was turning into lethargy and slackness. All her vigor was thinning away. I often found her napping and now she looked healthier, with stomach bloating. Mamma (my mom in-law) came home visiting and she mentioned that my maid seems quite healthy than what she was! Even I realized the change in her… slowly that stomach grew bigger and bigger in the next two months! That ringed a bell! Is she pregnant? Yes she was, I had to confront her and the story spilled out that she was pregnant for the third time and that was the reason her leaving home. She feared that if it were a daughter again than she definitely knew that her in-laws would kill her little one! To escape this she had come to the Basti.

I did not know what to do? How can I hire a pregnant lady to help with my baby? Soon she will have hers! It’s not fare to make her work hard. She needs rest but she needs money too. If I ask her to leave she will work someplace else and probably even harder. I did not know what to do? She was seven months!

After a lot of contemplation and reluctance, I decided, she needs to go. I called her and made her understand that she needs to rest and not work so hard; her baby needs to be healthier. I gave her money, much more for her to survive till her delivery and asked her to go. Told her that she can always walk back once her baby and she are fit! She cried and howled, she did not want to go but I had to.

She was long forgotten and I got another maid from the same Basti, Asha, a cute chubby girl of sixteen. Asha and Xia bonded well. They often went to the park for a stroll in the afternoon.

One such afternoon our guard called up asking that there was a lady at the gate, crying and she wanted to meet me. Perplexed I asked the guard to send her up. The bell rang and there “She” was, once again. This time a tear rolling down her cheek but the brilliant smile was still there! She said the only person that came to her mind was me! My daughter is dying please help me!

I do not know what happened to me, I grabbed her hand, and walked straight to my car and asked my driver to take us to her Basti! I was in my pajamas and my driver was clueless. We kept meandering the small lanes of the never ending Basti. She kept directing my driver and it just did not end. Finally we were out of the Basti in the open fields and there on the outskirts were some ruins and broken huts… she asked to park the car there. I asked her where is your child … in that ruins. I ran inside that hut and there lay a small girl child wrapped up in an old sari. The child was not moving. She just lay there motionless. I feared she was dead. Her mother ran and shook her up… finally the child started moving and whimpering! I sighed!

The child looked like any of those poster babies that ask for donations to save a child! Malnourished, boney with big hungry eyes! Very easy to conjure up an image!

We quickly sat in the car and sped to closest clinic near my home. I walked into the reception and when I was asked for the patients name I was just going say Xia and then I realized that this time it was not my little one but somebody else’s. I did not know her name? We just wrote baby in the registration form.

I quickly ran up to my pediatrician. She asked to calm down. She looked at the baby and clenched her nose. I realized that there was a stink from the wrapped sari, probably it was not washed for a long time and the baby had diarrhea. The baby had no nappy, no diaper. She had soiled the sari. The doctor asked the nurse to clean her up and she quickly gave her saline and some antibiotics! The baby slept peacefully.

My pediatrician pulled me aside, she asked me who’s child was that? I realized that my maid was still in the car with my driver. She was too scared to come up with me, in that fancy looking clinic. I explained to the doctor that she was my maid’s daughter. My doctor questioned me that why did I come to this hospital? I could simply take this child to the nearby government hospital! Government Hospital? Where was that? I did not know, and why not this place? She said that its foolish of me to spend money on this child, such kids do not survive for long!

By this time my maid had gathered courage to come up with my driver. The doctor advised her to take good care of her child’s hygiene and medicines.

I bought all the prescribed medicines from the pharmacy and handed them to my maid.

Few hours later I dropped my maid back to her Basti with her soundly sleeping child and gave her some money that would keep her going for some months.

I just sat in my car and meandered out of the Basti!


Wanderer…

Mama use to call me dhoor! (Wandering dust) … he knew me so well!

I always have wandered… in my thoughts, in relationships and literally too!

I wandered in my Amchi Wadi collecting anything and everything that caught my fancy! When mummy took her afternoon nap… that was the time I slipped out into my adventurous trip of collecting aluminum foil, red and blue stripped milk bottle caps, colourful broken glass bangle pieces to make a kaleidoscope which pappa had promised and which never happened! Scrambling through wriggly Bombay monsoon earthworms to get those shimmery colourful glass bangle pieces (worn by my Marathi neighbors), from below the drain covers … I do not know how and why but that was the spot where I always found them!

I collected Monty uncle’s cigarette stubs too. The filter’s made a lovely sponge bedding for my dolls. I quite liked the activity of removing the sponge from the used stubs. The tobacco smell was quite intoxicating and I remember it was Four Square!

Once I came home elated with my pockets full of black beads, very excited and happy. Mummy got wild, threw them immediately.

I did not know that goat’s droppings looked like beads!

Pencil shaving also figured into my collection. In a vain attempt to make rubber (eraser)! Eraser from pencil shavings?

Recipe for creating Eraser:
Ingredients: Pencil shaving and Milk
Method: Mix and freeze!

So simple… but it never happened! We never ever figured why the rubber never happened? Probably we did not know the right proportions of milk vs. pencil shavings.

The afternoon naptime was also our playtime. Games of the 70’s were chor police, laghori, dodge ball, stappo (hopscotch), Queen of Sheba, and Goldspot!

What was playstaion or gameboy?

I often use to play marbles with the now Shiv Sena turned boys! I played with them then but then when I became Muslim girl I do not know?

I always use to chase all the young boys away and fought for kites that got tangled in our television antennas… I did not know how to fly a kite but I loved to collect the one’s that got tangled in our antenna!

We girls, a bunch of us from the second, first and ground floor played in the passage of the old and the new annexe buildings, known as Chaggan Mansion! The first floor passage was our den. During the hot, humid Bombay afternoon, when all mummy’s and grandma’s had their siesta, we girls came out to play in this passage … Bombay never had gardens or playgrounds … at least not where I stayed! Building passages were our play area, recreation zone. We girls often ended up fighting and neighbor’s came out yelling! Often we use to gossip and share secretes on that first floor passage.

The passage corner was also my haunt for collecting cigarette stubs thrown by Monty Uncle. Monty Uncle with that skull tattoo.

I remember Shalini, describing how she saw naked Monty Uncle humping over Pam Aunty. Shalini was Monty Uncle’s, domestic help and our playmate in the afternoon. We did not have to imagine Pam Aunty (Monty Uncle’s wife) naked cause she always was… in her see through nighties and deep necks!

Monty Uncle had quite a home! A small one room kitchen with a balcony. He had split his one room into two by a crafty, wooden partition. One part was the living room and the other a bedroom. He created great wooden masterpieces in his balcony turned workshop. The most interesting bit about his home was a hammock that hung across his bedroom over his bed! After what Shalini described, I always imagined Monty Uncle and Pam Aunty in that hammock and little Shalini sleeping below that hammock watching them!

Monty Uncle had an amazing pet… Peter Repeater the parrot! Peter was quite a prized possession in the Monty Uncle’s home and it was evident from the spot he resided. Monty Uncle had carved a fancy high, stool to perch his cage right outside the door. Peter the Repeater had a nice big cage all to himself on that fancy stool …we kids often use to tease him, probe him to repeat after us and feed him green chilies! I have heard people parking their dogs outside their doors, they are good guards but Peter was no less… whoever visited the door, Peter would screech and say “Hello aunty, Hello aunty” and I am sure that Monty Uncle and Pam Aunty would get alerted and jump of their hammock!

I often wandered to my storeroom, to a lost forgotten Godrej Steel Cupboard. There were many interesting things stored and forgotten. Some bottles of Chivas Regal and White Dog (gifted by my aunt from Canada… pappa never drank them but gifted them to his business associates), some porn magazines (belonging to my new young cousin brothers who stayed with us then) .. old fancy bell-bottom pants, funny conical padded bras, and all that 70’s stuff… Pictures of mummy in fancy frocks and pappa in smart shades. I loved to check out those old photographs and fancy clothes. I was quite amused by one black and white, Russian porn magazine. It was full of pictures. A story about three nude ladies and a fully clothed, three-piece suite-clad detective. Every time I wandered to the cupboard I found new booties!

One fine day … pappa came home and announced that he was shifting the Godrej Steel Cupboard to our factory office. When the Cupboard reached the factory, the guard called up pappa and announced that the workers have found some liquor bottles and he could only save a few from them…rest are all gulped and finished!

I wonder did anyone find those Russian Ladies?


RIP: Rest in Peace

My school was always in a hurry to pass me out! Mummy applied for LKG. (Lower Kinder Garden) but for god knows what reason I started school with HKG. (Higher Kinder Garden)! I never got to play with the wooden dollhouse that the LKG kids played with… I regret it till date!

My teachers very soon recognized my talent for art and drama, they started awarding me with many certificates and prizes and also extra work for set decoration and projects! In dramatics, I could not do much as I had to stay back after school hours and home being away from school it was difficult! But yes I was shortlisted by a famous director (those art movie types, who make international movies for film festivals and those which nobody gets to see) for a lead role! I did a couple of auditions and guess what? I was rejected for being fair. A dark-skinned leading news daily editor’s daughter got the role (without auditions, just had to name her father!). They said they wanted a dark and dusky girl (that’s how Indian girls looked in foreign films!) How I hated my self for being fair, in the otherwise “fair and lovely” using India.

Hmm, anyways thank god I was not chosen otherwise today I would have been one wannabe star struggling to do mainstream cinema!

Well I caught up with drama at home! There was enough to keep everyone busy.

My school days were also responsible for me to getting closer to Maji (my mummy’s mum!). I had a teacher in my third grade; she thought that I needed extra attention in my studies, so she called me to her home for tuition with extra fees! I wonder then what was the tuition fee that my school charged. Weren’t they supposed to teach me? Anyways, this meant I had to stay at Maji’s home, which was closer to my teacher’s home. I use to visit my home in the weekends! Dongri was my new home for a year!

One year I gorged the yummy food (especially the fish fry) that Maji made for me with her yummy home-made masalas. I wore two contrasting plaits, thick and thin, Maji was getting old and she sat with me in the verandah to comb my hair… always confused with my plaits. I remember Maji’s hands smelled of roasted cumin seeds … she always did. She use to sell home-made masalas for a living (true mistress of spices!). I loved to weigh the masala in that small weighing scale and pack them with cotton thread. I felt useful and enterprising.

Maji was proud, feisty old lady, respected by family and the community. Maji ran the house single-handedly, which once housed some ten kids ranging from age 10 to 35. Those were the times when mother and daughter delivered their babies together. Those were the times when a young widow of 18 (with a small child) got married to a man of 40, already fathering 5 kids, the eldest being 18! Those were times when nobody raised questions on such complicated relations… brother getting married to sister’s daughter, 14 year getting married to 50… everything was accepted but today that same generation cannot understand gay marriage?

Maji was quite traditional but yet modern in her thoughts… she called me Zeenat Aman, she found me radical in my ways like the actress was in Bollywood in those times. I always had a different point of view than the rest in the family. I wore short pants with utmost ease and walked the densely populated burqa clad Muslim neighborhood in Dongri. I never bothered about my surroundings; I just did what I had to…

My bond with my Mama (mum’s brother) also grew stronger in this one year. Mama and Maji were the lone survivors in this house, which once was full of chaos, laughter, and fights when all the kids stayed together… slowly they all left some with their wives and some with their husbands… now the house at Dongri was just left with Mama and Maji. Yet Maji had her kids coming to her daily… everyday someone or the other would land up during lunch. Maji always cooked extra she knew she will always have company during lunch.

Mama stayed with Maji but he never was around… he just use to visit the house to have a bath and change his clothes, those white trousers and white shirts with colorful handkerchief around his collar. He would always come for dinner and buy milk for the house. He would take all the kids for an evening stroll, to buy milk and on the way back buy balloons from the vendor standing at the corner of the street. I always would buy the round apple-shaped one and my sister would go for the regular one!

Mama never slept at home… he went to the Dargah to sleep with his friends … I do not know, but they all say that once Mama had a fight with his father and from that day till the day he died he never slept at home. Maji and Mama never spoke much but I knew they cared for each other the most. Mama was not born out of Maji, he was the stepson, yet Maji when died left a big share for him. Mama and Maji shared an amazing relationship. Mama never got married. He never wanted to leave Maji and go. Maji in return never showed, but she cared for this stepson the most!

Maji died of lung cancer, that too a sudden one before anyone could understand what was happening. I was suddenly called back from school to the burial ground. I saw all her ten kids … crying, I kept deciding should I cry or just stand there watch her go… do I need to cry to tell the world that I will miss her or should I think about the time I spent with her… I was confused, I held my sister’s hand and just stood there watching … all her kids were there, some born out of her some step … but the tear I saw in Mama’s eye was real and I could just relate to that.

My trips with Mama in the Dargah were very close to my heart… Dargah happens to be our family burial ground too. Mama now used to go home less and spend more time at the Dargah… Maji was at the Dargah now! I use to go and feed the fishes in the pond in the Dargah. Mama use to take me to the graves of Maji and his father. They were sleeping next to each other. I often use to go to meet Mama there… after college, after marriage, and I always saw Mama at the gate of the Dargah and he would take me in, give me money to buy me something … he always did, he always bought me goodies, some times balloons, sometimes toys and many times interesting knick knacks from the second’s stall, which his friend use to have. Our school bus use to pass through the Dargah gate where Mama often waited for us and showered chocolates through the bus window.

I last remember Mama crying, he had lost his one leg due to Gangrene. He was in crutches and he told me, I do not want to die with both my legs amputated… I was numb…did not know what to say. Mama was addicted to drugs (I do not know which substance he was addicted to but doctor’s said that they were killing him slowly).

Dargah was a place for many drug peddlers… many stayed there along with mama and many a times they hid the dope in the graves, when raided. Mama, I do not know was amongst them or just a bystander, but I know that I lost him because of that.

One day I received a phone call from mummy and she told me that Mama, passed away in the wee hours. That day I cried and howled because I knew I had to!

Today Mama who never slept at home is sleeping next to Maji at the Durgah!

Mama use to call me dhoor! (wandering dust) …


Mom’s the word!

I know mother’s day is yet to come but my little thank you comes a little early!

My Darling, damp mummy is a hard core romantic and a live wire! Today I am really grateful to this aspiring mom who gave us all that she had to make what we are today! Best of the fashion, best of the schools, best of the college and today best of her prayers!  I know every mom does that, but trust me my mummy is special, nobody does the way she does … true Bollywood style!

My play school (you all know from the forbidden forest) was one of most sought after schools in Mumbai. They said that if you got through this one then you are sorted for life! A bit exaggerated, I know.

Mummy too wanted her daughters to study in this playschool with the forbidden tree and a leaking fountain, but ….yes every story has a ‘but’ and without these ‘buts’ you never reach anywhere! Well our ‘but’ was the principle of this playschool, Ms. Kanga. (A petite Parsi lady in pretty sleeveless frocks and varicose veins.) Ms. Kanga had a rule that all the kids admitted in her school should have ‘English speaking’ parents! Well, mummy and pappa both were well educated ‘but’ in ‘Gujarati medium’!

‘English speaking’, ‘Gujarati medium’, these terms I am sure we all Indians (who live in many states and speak many languages with many dialects!) know very well!

‘But’ mummy did not give up. The application form was rejected and mummy stormed straight into Ms Kanga’s office. Ms. Kanga refused to budge and so did my mummy! The decibel levels went high and one can imagine how high when one Parsi* lady argues with another Gujarati* lady! Mummy was shown the door but mummy being mummy refused to budge from her place. She decided to stay putt in front of the school gate next to my forbidden forest tree! Standing in the hot sun, in the admission month of June.

To add to the drama, Mr. Rain Gods also decided to add some special effects in the already filmy scene. Mummy got completely drenched and soaked in that already damp maxi, but she did not budge! She stood there right in front of the school gate with Ms. Kanga’s office window open.

Mummy’s stunt worked, Ms. Kanga, really got moved. (these Parsi’s* don’t watch a lot of Bollywood movies. They are still stuck with ‘Gone with the winds!’). Ms. Kanga rushed out with a towel to dry mummy up. She got her in her office, dried her up and quietly handed her the admission form!

p.s. Years later my cousin visited the same play school for her child’s admission. She mentioned my mummy to Ms. Kanga (who was really frail and old now) and she still had memories of mummy. She told my cousin that, I have never ever come across a Mother like her in my 80 years!

*Disclaimer: offense regretted.



The Forbidden Forest Tree!

I watched those Makoda’s (big ants) crawling up and down, looking ever so busy on the big old tree. Tree like the ones you see in Harry Potter Movies. But yes, in those days you did not have Mr. Potter or the Forbidden Forest, but the tree looked just from there! (trust me)

I loved (sadistic pleasure) watching the ants and it made me itchy all over, but I loved itching too… this tree stood right in the middle of my playschool with a dead pond and leaking old Victorian fountain. The fountain piddled and formed ghostly patterns. My playschool, a small cottage (bright coloured) in middle of an unkempt garden of a big ruined mansion. The tree, the fountain and the mansion all added to the drama to create the perfect settings, for my ever dramatic life!

Each day, I would go down on my haunches and settle at the roots of this tree (from the Forbidden Forest) and would get transfixed at those ants, marching up and down. I really don’t understand (today) why I did that, but it was almost a ritual that I followed.

“Anju…anju… anjudi… lets go”, mummy would call and I would only respond after the third or the fourth “Anju!”. I would go running to her and hug her. Mummy always came to pick me up from school. Mummy in her long, floral maxi and a duppata (sometimes matching sometimes not)…but she always looked pretty! After all she was My Mummy! Each time I hugged her I use to get the whiff of the “Surf” (washing powder) smell from her damp maxi! Damp? Yah she use to often come to pick me up after finishing the laundry. How I hated that smell of damp cloth and surf then and now I long for it!! Mum no longer washes clothes, washing machines and maid servants have taken over!!!

Precisely this is the first ever memory of my childhood, my haunted nursery (with the Forbidden Forest Tree) and my pretty, damp mummy!!

From there memories keep flooding in, me dancing in my bare minimum (frilly chaddis); kicking the door and singing “ yaar dildar tujhe paisa chahiye… pyaar chahiye ya laat chahiye”.

How can I forget forcing mummy to buy me boiled eggs from a local vendor outside the country liquor bar!! “Mummy… Mummy I want it,” and mummy pulling me away from the vendor getting all embarrassed and red!! The local drunkards use to hang out there to buy eggs and roasted pappads, a little something along with their local narangi drink (homemade cheap liquor). The local bar was a taboo for ladies and I kept pestering mum to buy me those eggs! Finally she would reluctantly buy me one. It was not more about the eggs that caught my fancy rather it was the egg vendor’s mobile shop that intrigued me! I quite like the mobile shop. The egg vendor had a cane cone structure tied up with strings at the center. On the cane a big aluminum thali (platter) with white table tennis look alike eggs lined and arranged neatly. Now when I think back I feel the vendor must have been from Kolkata/ UP Bihar (though Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are two different states in India they often are called as conjoined twins).  That was the time when the entire Bombay (now called Mumbai …sorry I will still call it Bombay) was swarmed by these vendors coming down from their respective states with their local art (cane cones) to sell their goodies like Bhelpuri, Pani puri, Vegetable chutney sandwiches, and some lone ones like my egg and papad guy selling it in front of the local wine bar! ( I often wonder why they are called wine bars when they hardly have any wines being sold there…all they have is addha’s (half’s) and pavva’s (quarter’s) of cheap rum and whiskey.

Those are the only times when I use to eat eggs …I don’t eat them anymore!

My childhood memories are filled with humorous anecdotes, some funny some not so funny but always amusing!

We use to live in Amchi Wadi ( name changed so that I do not have any complications with any political parties/ngo’s or any residents), on a ground floor chawl in a home not bigger than a match box (that’s how my husband described it, the first time he saw it). This match box was 10x16sq feet in area! Well I could call this home, a hen’s coop in some respect as it was often visited by Ramdev Uncle’s (my neighbour) not so friendly hens, who where often chased by the lone cock (full of testosterone) of the colony. These hens would come in a flutter and mess the entire home. It hardly took them any time to helter-skelter the place! Mum use to get wild, and would chase them out… she had sworn to turn them into Tandoori some day! (That was Bombay in the 70’s)

Speaking about amicable neighbors I remember Mr. Yadav picking up a fight with Thomas Aunty! (well it sounds funny I know a male name to a female aunty, but that’s how we kids use to call her!!! All the married males in the neighborhood were uncles, unmarried were Bhaiya’s. Married ladies were aunties and unmarried ones were Didi’s … that was so simple rather than remembering complicated names like Dhanalakshmi Vaidynathan!!)

One afternoon, Mr. Yadav (very docile one) went charging up on the first floor chawl to Thomas aunties home. Why? Aunty was pounding red chilies in her pestle and mortar and she forgot the law of physics, that “every action has and equal and opposite reaction!” Aunty with all her might (84kgs) banged the little chilies so hard that her floor and Mr. Yadav’s ceiling gave away!!! A big slab of plaster and concrete fell on Baba Bhaiya, who was napping at that time after a hard day from college!

Mr. Yadav was a proud father to Baba Bhaiya who was studying in the college to get a degree (so that he can replace his father’s job in the government office). Baba Bhaiya’s afternoon nap was very dear to the Yadav family as he was the only heir to that government office seat!!

Yadav’s daughter, Vidya, a tall, slender, fair, long single plated UP girl! Stood next to me watching the fight….oh how I loved her home stitched floral frocks with side pockets. I always admired Vidya and her frocks very simple, neat, charcoal flavored!!! (they did not have a LPG connection, her mom used charcoal and wood for cooking). Mummy never got me those simple frocks!!! She always made me wear the latest fashion from Bollywood!!! Any new movie with Hema Malini or Zeenat Amaan was released and there a new dress from my masi (mum’s younger sister) and mom’s home production, for we girls!!! You name it and they stitched it, from halter necks to backless, from jumper suits to frills all over!!! We were clones of those bollywood actresses!! Well we were admired the most too but how I longed for those simple floral side pocket frocks like Vidya. Vidya Stood there watching the one day match between Mr. Yadav and Thomas Aunty …so I did I but I kept admiring the frock!

We kids had a blast watching Yadavs and Thomas fight. The best scene stealer was Baba Bhaiya’s Amma (Mrs. Yadav), who kept howling and beating her chest, as though her dear son (the only heir to the government office job!!) had passed away. Well it almost looked like one, since Baba Bhaiya was sleeping with a white sheet covered from head to toe. (Like the last Hindu rituals). The obedient son in Baba Bhaiya refused to budge from the bed with all the plaster and concrete on him till the fight was settled and Thomas Aunty came the swept the entire mess.

Talking about the Yadav’s I remember Mr. Yadav’s younger brother’s family – Doctor Babu’s from UP. The entire family was known as Doctor Babu’s Family! Doctor Babu ki Amma, Doctor Babbu ke Pappa, Doctor Babu ki Bahen. Sadly there was no Doctor in Doctor Babu’s Family! Doctor Babu was a young 14 something, healthy chubby lad always in half pants ( khakhi shorts) and printed white shirts. Doctor Babu’s Amma (zealous and ambitious) was the one to christen the family with that name. Amma always wanted Doctor Babu (sadly I do not know his name, that’s the only name we knew him by) to become a “Doctor” hence she kept calling him Doctor Babu! How Doctor Babu wanted to wear full pants (trousers) rather than the half pants but we was not allowed by Amma. Amma never let him wear full pants as he had to pass his exams to earn the full pants! Amma had high aspirations, but I am sure Doctor Babu never wanted to become a “Doctor” … all he wanted was to wear full pants, play with other boys and fly kites!!

Few years later I heard, as I had shifted away from that chawl to a bigger flat (Pappa was getting richer!!) that they found Doctor Babu hanging from my play school’s Forbidden Forest Tree!


The Good Girl

The Good Girl

“Let me try no… please I think I will fit …please mummy please”, I kept begging with mummy but she refused.

“Aare nai na babba, you take this ‘Naughty Rabbit Dress’…the other one is for Shelu… she will fit and she is my good girl!”, mummy said handing me the light blue dress (with a white bugs bunny embroidered on it with the words ‘Naughty Rabbit’ encircling it.)

I so wanted that ‘Good Girl’ dress. It was a beige and brown sleeveless dress. A happy looking girl embroidered on it with the words good girl printed across a colorful rainbow..

I loved the seven colors in the rainbow and I really really wanted it so bad but it did not fit me. It was loose and big and a perfect fit for my elder sister Shelu.

I kept sulking the entire way back in the taxi… mummy bought ‘The Good Girl’ dress for Shelu with that beautiful colorful rainbow and I got the silly ‘Naughty Rabbit’!

We went home and Shelu really loved the ‘The Good Girl’ dress .. she was beaming with joy (and she literally beams with her deep dimples when she smiles!). When she wore the dress I realized that yes mummy was right… this dress was actually for her Good Girl, Shelu. With her two long plaits, neatly oiled she so very much looked like the happy girl under the vibrant rainbow. It seemed as if it was made for her.

I feel ‘The Good Girl’ effect lasted forever with Shelu, very sincere and honest in whatever she did or said. I have never seen her do any mischief or any harm to anybody. She was always the well behaved and well mannered, it was the Naughty Rabbit who did all the wrong things and all the mischief.

I remember it was me all the time running and jumping but she was the one who use to fall and get stitches. She was the one who use to pray hard and study harder. She was the one to teach me dance moves and I use to win all competitions. She was better in drawing but I got more certificates. She was always better in everything … She indeed was mummy’s ‘The Good Girl’.

I now wonder what if ‘The Good Girl ‘ dress would have fit me?

p.s. My cousin burnt a hole in the ‘Naughty Rabbit’ dress while ironing, even before I put it on, I wore it nevertheless, secretly happy…


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