Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Public Diary

Social media, especially facebook, has been good for us in so many ways. We've got back in touch with old, lost friends. We get a daily peek into the lives of dear ones who live far away. We now have the power to broadcast and share ideas, have interesting conversations with people across the world at the same time, share funny jokes, book reviews, movie reviews, and so much more.

In many ways, facebook has been a catalyst of change for the politically inert Indian middle class. Maybe the day is not far when elections will happen on FB- we’ll just have to put a like on the candidate’s FB profile J

But with great power, comes great narcissism. And that is the worrying part.

We are all now radio jockeys of our own channel of life- being glib and interesting is no longer a criterion to qualify. We have the mike to ourselves, and a more or less captive audience. So, most of us make the most of it. We talk talk and talk, and post a status update for every sneeze, fart, and fleeting thought that comes in our fast swelling heads.

Some status updates that have made me boil over in the past:

‘Had a spat with my in laws. Please advise what to do.’  

 ‘Bad cold  L’.   

‘I am down and out, but will be back!’

‘The lounge at Hong Kong airport rocks!’  

‘Life sucks!’

'A healthy breakfast!' (accompanied by an ugly pic of a half eaten bowl of cornflakes)

These updates remind me of page 3 headlines like ‘Ameesha gets a pup.’ And they signify the same symptom that the Ameesha Patels of the world suffer from- a huge attention deficit disorder!

This trend is irritating, but above all, saddening. Because to me, it heralds the end of an age in which our private lives were our own, and we protected them like hidden treasure. Today we are happily violating our own privacy, sacrificing our dignity at the altar of mass attention. That secret diary that most of us used to maintain is long forgotten. It has been replaced by a hugely public diary called social media, where we vomit out our innermost thoughts for all to see and ‘like’.  

And with that also go concepts called quiet rumination, solitude, and deep thought. Because we are never alone. We are a 24x7 part of this heaving mass of online people, who (in our minds) just have to know about everything we do. Because our most beautiful thoughts are not our own anymore. They are fodder for attracting more likes and comments on facebook.

It seems to me, alarmingly, that soon words like silence, secrecy, privacy, solitude, even dignity, will be irrelevant to us- just words to look up on Wikipedia.

Is there a way of controlling this collapse, at least slowing it down? I despair.

Maybe with the ‘like’ and ‘unlike’ button, there should be others like:

‘Get a life!’
‘Get a shrink!’
‘Don’t post it, deal with it!’
‘Where’s my whip?’
‘Where’s your pride?’

And my irritating FB update for today?

‘Taking a break from work to write article. Wish me luck J’  (Please click on ‘Where’s my whip?’)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Google Mom

It is 11 in the night and we are preparing for bed. Our full time helper, Nidhi, knocks on the bedroom door and asks the usual question: 'Bhabhiji, what to make tomorrow morning?' I groan loudly. All the usual breakfast options have been tried this week, and my imagination is in hiding somewhere- maybe behind the microwave, where I last experimented with a new dish.

My husband, Kapil and I have this ongoing battle- he hates the word nutrition, because in his mind it means tasteless. And he also hates repetition. So I have to keep racking my brains to create tasty, variety-filled, nutritious meals for him. If I fail, then out come the potatoes, rice and fried stuff.

Next morning, I silently fume while he gorges on thick aloo parathas and pickle. Suddenly, out of the fog of my despair emerges a picture of steaming idlis. And where idlis are, dosas and uttapams can't be far behind. Voila! Get idli/dosa batter and take care of three healthy breakfast dishes in one shot! But wait a minute- getting batter in Bangalore was easy. Any self-respecting kirana store would sell freshly made packs. Gurgaon, where we have recently moved, is another story. Where would we get batter here? Not those ready-mixes, please. Too much preservative.

Meanwhile, my baby is another problem. We have started her on solids, but have very little idea of what she can eat. Grandparents are always there for advice, but shouldn't we have our own opinion as well? Which reminds me, Kapil has been insisting that I feed her honey and I instinctively feel that we should wait. Should I or shouldn't I? And one more thing- I need to look for a paediatrician for her in Gurgaon.

The list does not end there. Our much banged around car is in dire need of repair. Authorised dealers are an option, but would charge a bomb.

And if that wasn't enough, young Nidhi is walking around with a sullen face these days- she misses her home back in the interiors of M.P. If she leaves, it would be a calamity! I am willing to do anything to retain her. Short of adopting her- she's too fashionable and flirtatious to be an easy daughter. Or getting her married to Kapil- I mean, think of all the fried food she'd feed him! She'd not even need my permission then! No, no, no. I'll need to think of something else.

It's time to turn to Google Chrome.

The instructions on Mamta's Kitchen site are clear- soak 3 parts idli rice, 1 part urad with fenugreek seeds for 6 hours. Then grind and leave the batter to ferment overnight. Next day, make hot, spongy idlis.

Wholesomebabyfoods.com suggests oatmeal, bananas and applesauce as a first food for babies. And offers a recipe to combine all three as well.

On asking Google for the 'Best paediatrician in Gurgaon', it throws up someone who's clinic is hardly 2 kms away. And honey is a no-no, according to babycentre.com.

Justdial.com throws up a garage which is not authorised, but has great ratings and is VFM. When I call, they offer to pick the car tomorrow.

Then I get onto bookmyshow.com and book Dabanng for Nidhi and me. She is a big fan of Sallu. Probably dreams of a husband like him.

After an hour or so, I close my netbook and sigh with relief. I am all set.

The next morning, I eagerly open the vessel with the idli batter. It hasn't fermented! Will my woes never end?! Back to my agony aunt, Google: 'My idli batter has not fermented.' Pop comes the solution- add eno fruit salt. Yippee-yoodle-hoo. Things are humming along once again.

My dreams come true. Kapil enjoys hot idlis with coconut chutney, and my daughter happily eats her oatmeal breakfast.

I decide to push my luck. Trying my best not to make it an 'I told you so' moment, I tell him "Know what, I read that honey in children below 2 years causes botulism. (Oh, oh. Hope he doesn't ask me what that is. I forgot to look it up, but it sounded important enough.)" He gives me a benign look. He's too happy with the food to argue.

A half hour later, the garage mechanic comes to pick the car. He gives a modest estimate to Kapil, and benign turns to beatific.

The afternoon is spent watching Dabanng, and Nidhi is restored to her good spirits. Back at home, she's humming 'Munni Badnaam' and now seems firm in her resolve to marry Sallu.

I am on an internet induced high now. Time to celebrate. Google 'blueberry cheesecake recipe'.

The cheesecake is an after-dinner surprise. The beatific Kapil now attains nirvana. Nidhi looks at me with doe-eyed devotion. "Bhabhiji, how do you know all this?" I tell her, "Stick around with me. I'll teach you everything." Hee hee.

As they eat, I slink back to my dark bedroom and take my netbook out. I pat it gratefully. Thanks for googling me out, friend.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I have always been a reserved person. Insular might be a better way to describe it. I'm not someone that reaches out easily to people, or has lots of friends. And if it is difficult for me to get close with colleagues and other people in my social circle, then any such thing with the household help is even more out of the question, given the added reason that I have always been in jobs and hardly find the time. I have never managed, or even tried, to break the ice with any of them.

All this was true at least, till I took a break of some months between jobs. For the first time in many years, I found myself at home the whole day. It coincided with us moving to a new locality and that's when I met Aparna, our new Bengali cook.

I remember the first day she came to meet me. I opened the door and found a dark, thin, short lady in a sari standing outside. She seemed nervous and giggly; in fact I thought her a little mad then. But she had come highly recommended from a co-habitant in our apartment complex, so I decided to give her a try. But first and foremost came the tricky question of salary. My past experience with maids in Bangalore had taught me that they were pretty tough negotiators, so I braced myself for a tough haggling session. But when I proposed the salary I had in mind, she thought for a bit and said "Ok, see my work, then give whatever you want". It was unprecedented! I reeled for sometime, then asked her to start coming from the next day.

After that, the surprises never ceased. In the three years that we had been married we had tried three different cooks, all bad. In fact, I had come to the conclusion that there was no such thing as a good cook on hire. All the good ones chose to sit at home and cook for themselves. But Aparna was a revelation. She cooked very well, in as little oil as I had instructed her to use, and treated us with piping hot breakfast and tea in the mornings. Not only that, she would even clean the dishes and sweep the floor when our other maid failed to turn up. I could tell that even though she was poor, the quality of her work and her employer's comfort mattered much more than money. She would fret when her dish turned out bad, and I'd have to practically push her out of the door to stop her starting from scratch again. I began to admire her work ethic and soon we had developed a good rapport.

One day she had to take home a stove that I had given to her, and a bunch of newspapers to sell to the raddiwalla. She was wondering how to carry so much, so I offered to drive her in my car since she lived very close by. Her eyes went wide with astonishment and happiness, and she could only manage one word, "Thankoo!". Soon she, her daughter and I were driving to her house. On the way, she stopped and sold the paper to the raddiwalla. She took the 100 rupee note that she had earned from it, and promptly tried to push it into my palm. "But why?" I asked in exasperation. "Bhabhi, it is your newspaper that I sold, and you are spending your fuel to take us home." I realized all over again that she was quite something, this lady. She had five children to support, and I know what Rs 100 meant to her. After much persuasion she kept it and we drove on.

Soon we stopped in front of her home and her little boy ran out, delighted at seeing his mother and sister get out of a car. Before I could drive back, Aparna pounced on me "Bhabhi, you have come to my home for the first time. You cannot go away like that. What will you eat and drink? I'll get it from the shop." I was a little taken aback. I am mortally scared of situations where I have to sit and make small talk with people I hardly know. I tried to wriggle away, but she would hear nothing of it. Finally I asked her to get a Frooti and a small packet of snacks. She first settled me inside her small one-room home, which accomodated five of them. I looked around in wonder. How? How could so many people live in such a small room and have so little money and eat so little and yet smile all the time, like she and her children did? There was a slab in one corner which obviously served as a makeshift kitchen, and her husband was about to serve himself a meal of rice and some stew. Seeing me he quickly abandoned it, and came to stand by while his wife and daughter went to buy the eats. I sat down on one mattress and we waited in uncomfortable silence. I felt a little guilty invading his space, because I knew he worked in a hotel some distance away and only came home for two days in a week. Just when we had managed to start some awkward conversation about his workplace and the weather, she came back with two bottles of juice and two packets of namkeen. I think she had spent most of the 100/- on that. After pushing as much of it as I could to her children, I gulped down some while she looked on with almost maternal satisfaction.

Finally I got up and started saying my thanks and goodbyes. Her little boy jumped up and started pleading with his mother in bangla. I could guess what he was saying. "Does he want a ride?" "Yes, yes!" He clapped before his mother could answer. "Well then, hop on." He got into the front seat and made his mother and sister also sit in the car. Now, I have three little nieces who have rewarded me with delighted faces many a time. But never, never have I seen a child so utterly ecstatic. I could see that this ride was an impossible dream come true for him. He sat back quietly and grinned in complete contentment. His eyes twinkled with curiosity and excitement, but he didn't try to touch anything. I played the radio for him, and his grin widened. When we reached the parking, he got off and gave the car a longing look. Then the family thanked me and walked back, chattering loudly and happily about their experience. That day was one of the best in my life. And to think that I had almost come back without spending any time with them.

Some days later, I had to make a trip abroad. Before I left I told Aparna that I was leaving for a month, and she was to take care of bhaiya, as she called my husband. She was highly vexed at that "I know you cook nice dishes for him at times. I don't know how to do any of that. How will I know what to cook when?" I quelled her fears as best as I could and left.

When I came back after my trip and opened the door for her in the morning, I was unprepared for what came. She started scolding me in her accented Hindi: "Toom keedhar gaya tha? (Where had you gone?) Eeetna deen? (So many days?) Hom socha, kya hua? (I thought, what had happened?)" It seems she had not really grasped that I was going away for one month, and had begun to worry about me, more so when there was a story in the paper about some murders in the city. One victim's photograph looked like me, and she had started pestering my husband everyday to know when I was coming back. She had even tried to make him call me and let her talk. To top it all, she had showed the newspaper to a lady in another flat she was working in, who had assured her that the name was not mine. "So who had murdered that woman?" I asked, already anticipating the answer "Ooska to hujband kiya tha (Her husband had killed her)" I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "So you thought bhaiya had killed me?" "Bhabhi, aajkal aadmi ko dekh ke thodi na somojh aata hai! (Nowadays you can’t tell how a man is just from looking at him)"

Later on, when I had managed to digest the shock and make her understand that she was never to suspect my poor husband again, I found the situation rather amusing. It was an ideal plot for an Utpal Dutt movie: Aparna spying on him from behind the door. Aparna searching the kitchen cabinets for "incriminating evidence". Aparna ladling out food to him thinking "Khao khao, khaoge nahin to polees ki maar kaise khaoge? (This I don't feel like translating)"

Though I felt sorry for him, I was deeply touched by her concern. God knows she has enough troubles of her own. She works so hard that she doesn't even have time to eat properly. And how much does she see of me? Just 2 hours in a day? Even then she cared and worried for me like I was family!

Thank God for people like Aparna. They make me feel like my life is worthwhile. Knowing her has made me a better, more open person. I know now that it is important to reach out and explore, because love, loyalty and humor can be found in the unlikeliest nooks and crannies.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Meryl goes missing

I am writing in my blog after a long time, almost a year. I want to ease myself into the habit, so will start with what always takes the least effort and gives me the most pleasure- the Meryl memoirs. This is an incident that I have been wanting to write about ages- the time when Meryl went missing. She was quite old then- around 12 years, but still as childish as ever.

It all started with papa and his open jeep. She used to love jumping on to the jeep for a ride whenever papa took it out. It happened so often that he hardly even noticed. It was one of those days, and he parked the jeep outside the bank and went in. She must have jumped down to chase something or eat from a trashbin and when papa came back, he absent-mindedly drove away.

Some hours after he came back home, mummy began to look around for Meryl and after searching the house, asked the household help. One of them said that she had gone out in the jeep with papa, and he gave a half-vague look on that "Really? Yes, yes....now that I think about it, maybe she did".

Everyone panicked and went out in search for her. No stone was left unturned near the bank or the house. People who knew Meryl in our locality- the newspaper man, the baker, the milkman- were informed and kept their eyes peeled for her. But there was no sign of her anywhere.

A whole day passed. The entire household was depressed. As a rule, my mother never cries before us. I have only seen her doing that once in my life- those were also silent tears, when her mother died. I was not at home when Meryl went missing, but my sister tells me that mummy openly wept and reprimanded my father "Where have you left my dog? She must be thinking that I am old, so papa has abandoned me. Where must she be? She must be digging for food under trash bins, and having to fight with street dogs." That was indeed a disturbing picture, for Meryl never had had to work for her food at all. And fighting for anything was absolutely not her style. The best she could do was bark really loud, and run away when things got rough.

The next day my sister persuaded papa to put out a missing ad with a reward. They decided that Meryl's age should be mentioned as 14 instead of 12 so that if someone had stolen her, they would think she was too old and give her back for the money. At this, my mother who had been sitting quietly with a long face, jumped in with a ferocious look and said "My dog is NOT old! Her age is 12, and that's what we will tell!" So the ad was posted on local newspapers and TV, with Meryl's picture and a reward of Rs. 500 for whoever brought her back.

After another day of fretting, my mother took a call from a very nervous teenager. He said he had the dog, that he had not stolen her and had found her wandering. My mother quelled his fears and asked him to bring her. He wanted to carry her on a scooter but she said that the dog was too old and should be brought in an auto-rickshaw (as you can see, the dog was old or not old as the situation demanded). He was promised that the rickshaw fare would be reimbursed, and agreed to bring her in the evening.

After a nail-biting wait (could it be a different dog? would he chicken out?) an auto-rickshaw and scooter stopped outside the house. Everyone came out to the verandah, the gate opened, and in bounded Meryl, looking as plump and happy as ever. My mother ran to her with her arms open wide "Meryl!" Meryl ran to her, side-stepped her at the last moment, and made a beeline for her ball. She ran to the lawn with her ball and rolled happily, as if nothing had happened and she was just back from a long walk. My mother ignored this non-display of affection, too relieved at getting Meryl back.

The teenager seemed to have grown very fond of her. He said that she had been wandering in one of the markets near the bank, chasing any vehicle that looked like a jeep. He had taken her home and named her Dixie. She had eaten all the bread and biscuit in his house- so much for all those stories of digging for food in trash. Before leaving he called out to her "Dixie! Dixie!" But Dixie was busy rolling in the grass and had no time for emotional goodbyes.

So Meryl was back after three days. A traumatic, heart-wrenching time for my parents. A nice holiday for her, with a new playmate and lots of treats. All fun and games and not a thought for her folks back home, worrying about her. Humph. But I shouldn't be so tough on her. She must surely have missed her ball...

Monday, June 05, 2006

My Goldfish Thumbelina

She was on the dining table when I came home from work- swimming in her bowl, mouth opening and closing in quick succession, a quizzical expression on her face. My maid told me that she had arrived by courier, accompanied by a card from a doctor whom I had met at a party. Apparently he was opening his clinic in our locality, and this was part of a very innovative PR exercise.

My husband was delighted to see her as he had wanted a pet for a long time. I, for my part, hated the idea of captive animals, and couldn't help feeling sorry for her. A fish-enthusiast friend advised us against releasing her since such fishes are bred in captivity, and might die in open waters. That statement and my husband’s apparent excitement settled the matter. We both assumed that she was a she, and named her Thumbelina. Every morning I would put Thumbelina’s five pellets of food in the water, which she would watch with initial suspicion but finish off by the evening. She was afraid of us and would swim away frantically whenever we’d come close to her side of the bowl. She seemed rather forlorn; I often felt like talking to her to give her company, but then would stop myself thinking it was a crazy idea.

Whenever my husband was at home, he would stand next to the bowl and observe her, at times commenting that she was overfed and had a paunch, and at times wondering whether she was in a bad mood. Within a week, even he started to feel that Thumbelina was lonely. So we bought another goldfish, and poured them together into a big tank. The new fish was conveniently assumed to be a he and named what else, but Tom Thumb. We now imagined that they were happy to have each other, and soon there would be little fish swimming about in the tank. But this fairy tale was short lived- one morning we found Tom Thumb floating on his back, eyes filmed over, and Thumbelina at one corner of the tank, looking at Tom Thumb with that ever present bewilderment on her face.

Tom Thumb had gone, and with him had left my peace of mind. I would lie awake every night, thinking about Thumbelina- alone, trapped and stifled in her glass world, knowing what every tomorrow would bring. There was no endless sky when she looked up, nor deep waters below. Every way that she went, she would have to face a glass wall and turn back. I wondered how much I was like Thumbelina- a small town child in a big city, bewildered by the traffic, the exhaust smoke and concrete structures all around. Perched high up in a flat which only showed the promise of the earth and the greenery and the skies outside, but never brought them close enough to touch or hold. Both Thumbelina and I were trapped in an alien world, swimming in the same place just to keep our sanity.

But at least it had been a conscious choice for me, one made to live with a companion who cherished and loved me. For Thumbelina, there was never an option, her world constricted by someone who liked to see pretty fish in a house. Every time I looked at her, I felt horribly guilty.

Now, it so happens that I’ve had the rare luck of being blessed with a perceptive husband, who never waits for me to put things into words. One day we were planning a weekend picnic to a river nearby, and he suddenly offered that we could let her go in those waters. I hugged him in relief and happiness, and ran to tell Thumbelina the great news.

That Saturday morning I fed her the last meal she would ever have with us, and the three of us drove to the river. We walked into the water, looking for a safe place for her. I saw a dark and shallow nook with a school of small fish, and poured her out over there. She swam about joyously for sometime and then disappeared somewhere; we waited for her to come back up, but she never did.

I came out of the water and lay down, reveling in my happiness, in the beauty all around me. I wondered whether she would die in these waters like my friend had said, but the thought did not bother me- if she died, it would be a happy death. And in a sudden rush of revelation, like a light that had turned on in a hidden corner of my mind, I knew it. If I ever had a choice of how to die, then this would be it- in this heaven, surrounded by wild flowers, trees and bushes, nothing but the rough, cool ground touching my body. The smell of the wet earth in each breath, the sounds of birds, crickets and running water in my ears, the sky in my eyes, and a smile on my face. It would all come together in one precious moment, like a symphony, making me want to laugh, cry, pray. And then I would become one, one with nature, with the earth, with my element.

The Walker

It was a Friday night, and we had finished a late and heavy weekend dinner. My husband had plonked himself down in front of the TV, refusing to budge even an inch. The night outside was cool and tempting, and I decided to step out alone for a walk.

The compound around my apartment complex is around half a kilometre in circumference and has trees lining it all along, creating a breezy and pleasant track for walkers and joggers. It seemed like I was the only one out- hardly anyone was visible, apart from the security men at the entrance gate. I took a right towards the basketball hoop set up for the resident's kids, and moved on to the rear pathway of the compound.

I enjoyed my solitary stroll, breathing in the scented air from the flowering trees, till I heard footsteps behind. Great, another crazy one out at this time. I could see the shadow of the walker behind me, the sound of the footsteps almost in synch with mine. I expected him to overtake me sooner or later, and my thoughts drifted. When I reached the front of the compound again, I realized that my fellow walker was not behind me anymore. I gave it no more thought, thinking that he might have taken one of the small side doors into the building. Greeting the security men as I passed, I decided to walk another round.

We had just got married and moved into our rented flat, and my mind was constantly occupied by thoughts of the next piece of furniture or fabric to buy for our new home. As I approached the rear walkway again, I was thinking of visiting the nearest store for bed-sheets and foot-.....those footsteps! I looked down at the ground, and the shadow was there again! What had been a pleasant realization of having company in my first round now turned into something different- when did he come back? I walked on, an unknown feeling of dread in me not letting me look back, and the shadow never overtaking me. I looked to the right, at the balconies and windows of the flats, to see if there was anyone in sight. There was no one, and most of the lights were off. I looked to the left, at the high wall of the compound and the buildings behind it. Not a soul in sight. I looked down at the shadow again, and imagined it catching up with me, closer and closer by the minute...was that the wind, or it's breath on my shoulder?!

I had broken out into a cold sweat now and was almost at a half jog. I tried to imagine who it might be behind me. No, with the shadow looming behind, never catching up, but always there- the question was not who, but what?! Someone who had died here? A dead cousin? A long gone friend? Why was it coming behind me? Did it want to tell me something? Or did it…no, no, not that! Images flashed in my mind- images of a horrible death, of my mangled body being discovered in the morning, hanging from a tree, or maybe lying on the roof of one of the parked cars. The shrieks of the discoverer, my husband in tears, calling my parents, not knowing what to tell them. I blamed myself for coming out so late in the night, blamed my luck, blamed us for moving into this flat. My bladder was bursting with my fear now, and I had tears in my eyes. Why God, why me?! I had done no wrong to anyone!

As I approached the end of the pathway, something inside me snapped. I had to turn around and face it! I had to know! I abruptly turned, a whirlwind of possible images flooding my mind, till my eyes focused. As if in slow motion, I saw the thing behind me smile and greet me, and then turn away. Starting his beat back to the other end of the path, to his obscure bench hidden behind the bushes, was the watchman for the rear compound.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Jhatpat Baingan- for Mother

Some days ago our cook went missing, and the onus came on me to fix a quick dinner. As is my habit whenever I am flummoxed, I called my mother- "Mummy, what can I make with Brinjal that is quick and edible?" Pat came the reply- "Make Jhatpat Baingan!" After I had got over my bouts of laughter, I got the recipe from her- shallow fry hing, garlic, dry pepper and turmeric; add brinjal, potatoes and tomatoes, some water and salt to taste, and close the pressure cooker lid. After one whistle, the miracle is done. While I was cooking, the smile never left my face.

I am married and my three siblings are 40 year olds with kids now; but a problem of any magnitude in any part of the world, and a prompt call is placed to mummy who sorts it out in a matter of minutes. Recipes are given, clothes designed, medicines prescribed and bickering couples put in place, all by that one lady sitting in a remote corner of India.

So many times have we wondered how someone as smart, talented and beautiful as her could sit at home and still be satisfied! But when one sees the way she utilises her creativity and time, one is left in no doubt whatsoever. Very few moments in her life are dedicated to leisure- a free afternoon brings her scissors and sewing machine into action, and a designer salwar suit takes form from an old sari which I would have given away to my maid without thinking. I have lost count of the times that I have been asked which boutique I bought my dress from, and replied proudly that it was designed and stitched by my mother. My most special memories are of days in school and college when I'd come back from a tough exam and find my favorite rasmalai or rasgullas on the table, all whipped up by that magician at home; they were better than the best of KC Das, mind you! Her knitting designs are to be seen to be believed, and not to forget, she is a very talented singer! Her wit and repartee make her a formidable opponent in any discussion. I remember a time when in the midst of a heated argument between my parents, I came to papa to get my report card signed. He shouted, "Go ask your mother who your father is!" Now, any other decent lady would have been reduced to tears at this, but my mother calmly pointed me to our ugly gardener outside and asked me to go get my card signed. That was it- the whole family rolled on the floor with laughter, papa included and reduced to tears all right.

She has always been a fiercely protective mother to all of us and especially to me, her youngest. I was born very sick, and doctors had no hope for me. She fought fate and nursed me right back to life. I was 4 when she fought again, and succeeded in getting a re-test for a dictation which I flunked because I did not feel like writing at that particular time- she informed the hapless nun from Kerala that pronouncing 'twenty' as 'twendy' was no way to stimulate a child into writing. A few months ago my husband & I had problems with our landlord, and she demanded his phone number to put him in place. We were greatly amused and needless to say, didn't share his number for fear that the poor chap would never be able to take another phone call without wetting his pants. She has always been there to support us as we face our battles in life; of course, she'd fight all of them herself if we'd only give her the bloody sword and sit back!

The cherry on this very special cake is a balanced head on her shoulders, which makes her a sounding board for her entire family. She has managed a household bustling with four children (not counting papa), a number of pets and all the accompanying responsibilites with love, sensitivity and sensibility, without ever showing a hint of strain or overwork, and still finding the time for all her creative outlets. How she does it all, I have no clue. But I do know that if she was not my very own Mommeeeee, I'd envy her like hell! And for the record, the Jhatpat Baingan was brilliant.....

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Meryl learns to bark

For people who want an introduction to my lovely labrador, please read 'Meryl enters our life'.

Meryl's life was perfect, we imagined- she had a loving family, and lived in a house with a huge garden. In that garden she chased around crows, hid bones in the mud, and rolled in the grass the whole day long. And since she showed no talent or passion for anything besides food and play, she was kept off all the serious work that dogs have to do at times- like learn tricks, play watchdog etc. For Meryl, every day was a holiday.

But every silver lining has a cloud, and Meryl's life had one too. She could not bark. She could growl, guffaw, and cough. But she could not bark. In the first year of her life she would often run behind our other dog, Chubby, when she barked and chased stray dogs, trying to imitate her. But all that came out was some sound with the accompaniment of air, like a 'foof'.

My mother's theory was that the air came out because Meryl's face had a lot of loose skin like other labs, which was filled with air. The rest of us said that the simple reason was that Meryl was a nincompoop. My mother stuck to her guns however, and kept trying to teach Meryl to bark. After many failed attempts and 'foof's, Meryl was nicknamed 'Fufu' and left to her own devices.

One summer night, the much awaited miracle happened. Our bedroom and our parent's bedroom had a common balcony, and we had left the doors to it open as it was very hot. The two dogs were sleeping out there. Late in the night, Chubby let out a solitary bark. And as always happens in a colony with many dogs, all her canine friends started howling and barking in unison. All that is, except Meryl. Now, I am sure that one cannot feel more left out than this. A late-night barking party, with every dog who is somebody attending. And the dog sitting beside her leading the pack. Imaging the sense of futility, the sheer frustration at not being able to get a sound out!

After the barking ended, all was silent again for a minute or so. We had all been awakened by the commotion, and were tossing and turning to get back to sleep. Just then, Meryl let out a low growl, followed by a louder and more assertive one. And then came a big, wholesome, 'WOOF'. This was it! The whole family got up in their beds to give a sitting ovation to Meryl! She was so taken aback by our reaction that she let out another tiny 'woof' and kept quiet for the rest of the night. From that night onwards, 'Fufu' could bark as well as any dog. But the name stuck for the rest of her life.