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Christmas Cheer!!

untitled-1Do you still have that little Santa which you cherish from old school days. That day when you saw the shiny shimmery decorations on the classroom Christmas tree…you found him lying below, string broken winking at you. You quietly picked it and tucked it in your school uniform pocket. On the way back in the school bus you kept feeling the pocket and waited for home to come soon. You cherished this little friend for a long time. Probably that was the only Christmas momento you always had cause nobody ever had a tree at home…it was just meant to be in schools in those days.

You looked forward for Christmas parties at school, waiting to get that ladybird book from Santa. Eat oily crispy chips and moist plum cake.

Each Christmas you looked forward to visit probably the only Catholic aunty in the neighborhood. The shiny star at her door hanging and throwing light through the patterns cut into it greeted everyone. This star always danced on the tunes of BoneyM and the Jacksons.This star gave hope that the new year is round the corner.

Each new year you looked forward to burn the old man stuffed with hay and old leftover diwali crackers. Wearing a Santa mask and your dad’s old shirt and trousers, all stitched up.

Bang at 12 midnight you lit up this old man and had a campfire with friends on that cold last night of the year.

Christmas has some very typical memories with many of us…but today with more access to things and blurring boundaries we all celebrate Christmas with all the fervor and money we have.

Today when i decorate my tree at home with my daughter…i have all the fancy decorations, lights and frost…but somewhere I remembered my little friend from my kindergarten…that little Santa winking at me….yes winking…the paint from the eye was missing.



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.

Bombay Talkies!


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?


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?

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!

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