Thursday, November 10, 2016


Dear Friends, 
my Kindle book is now available. Please Browse, read, and SHARE. I would like it to reach out to parents and caregivers who are coping with wards with disabilities.

Here is the link:

This book is about Raju, a child not born with the ‘normal’ faculties we take for granted: the ability to walk and talk, to see, to speak and hear, to go out into the wide world and live independently. He is the child of a lesser God. Was he created at a time when the benevolent powers that control the cosmos were in abeyance? Or when they simply decided to put the endurance of the human strength to test? How much, after all, would it take to break the indomitable human spirit?

This is a first-person account: as the mother of a ‘special’ child, the author wishes to reach out to other such mothers, telling them they are not alone, that there are countless others like them who carry on the same struggle with shades of difference, for each ‘special’ child is unique, has a different set of hurdles and challenges, and needs to be handled differently. Special, differently-abled, challenged, or handicapped: all these terms eventually point to the same not-so fortunate child who inches forward at his own pace, painfully crawling towards the milestones dotting a long road that stretches into forever.

Parenting a child like Raju, one is often buffeted in a gamut of emotions, conflicting, contradictory, paradoxical feelings, teetering between despair and hope, between euphoria and melancholia, between victimhood and martyr-hood. “Why me?” “Why my child?” “What did I ever do to deserve this?” Such are the questions that torture the parent time and again, questions irrelevant because there is no answer for them. The only solution, as The Next Milestone points out, is acceptance with grace. A child with disability is one who has a difficult road ahead and needs a lifetime of unconditional love and support.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Goodbye Raju


What shall I say? That I have seen death at close quarters? That I have looked at it minutely, poked and stirred and turned it over. I have dissected it like a frog in a high school lab, looking uncertainly, curiously, even disbelievingly, at its entrails, its veins, its stratified layers. 
I came face to face with death as it came to my child. Almost, almost in my hands

I gaped at it.
I did not recognize it, I did not believe it. I still do not believe it.
Tell me, someone, it did not happen.
Tell me it was a nightmare and I will soon wake up!

It was that fateful evening. Late evening, soon after one of the regular progammes we organize from time to time. We have been doing them for the last almost seven years and it is getting to be a bit routine now. Call it force of habit, working like an automaton, or just because it is expected of us, there we were, holding forth, all the oldies of the city glued to their seats, their bleary eyes fixed on the dais, their ears straining to catch each verse, each rhyme, every little nuance in the poetic recitations of their fellow septuagenarians speaking over the mike.
I was restless and tried not to show it. My thoughts were with Raju at home. Just the evening before he had developed high fever. Very high. Almost touching 107 degrees F. It was almost unbelievable. Was the thermometer faulty? Or did my eyes play a trick? But, there was no doubt that he was burning. My child’s body was on fire, or so it seemed.
It called for emergency measures. Bathing, sponging, bringing down his fever. Raju complied as we sat him up, turned him this way and that, applied wet towels to his simmering torso.
Providence brought home to us two doctors, well-qualified, experienced doctors who advised us on how to handle the situation. Close friends, they were in the vicinity and rushed over. They sat with us an hour, observed and prescribed medication.
The wet toweling continued through the night. Around midnight, when the temperature dropped below 102, I discontinued the sponges, gave him a light cover. He dozed off. I sat watching him, snoozing occasionally, checking his temperature from time to time. All night.
At 2 a.m. I brought him his bedpan and tried to make him pee. That was when I noticed his right arm lying lifelessly by his side, the elbow sticking out at an awkward angle, the arm flung away from the body. I held his hand but it seemed lifeless. I brought his arm back in place and massaged it gently. Had he broken another bone? Or some more bones? It has happened before, more than once. Or was it paralysis of the right side? I examined the hand, the forearm, the elbow, the upper arm, the shoulder. There seemed to be no fracture. He did not wince in pain. So what was it? I pulled him to a sitting position to use the bedpan but he could not balance himself and tumbled over towards the right. It was like dead weight, falling on one side. I gave him the required support, helped him pee, lay him back on bed and straightened his pillow.
We have had many such crises before. Unexplained multiple fractures, spasms and fits, and so much more that would happen suddenly out of the blue. Without warning, without notice, without any preamble. Here was another crisis. This time it looked like partial paralysis or some hidden fracture. I would call the doctor the first thing in the morning.
The night was interminable but Raju seemed comfortable. Comfortable enough. There was no fever in the morning but he lay limp. Limp and mute. The right arm hung uselessly by his side. He reached out with his left hand, gripped his right hand and pulled it back to its proper place.
In the morning the doctor looked in, examined him, his limp right arm and the right side of his torso. “Not a fracture” was his verdict. Not even paralysis. Just numbness, he said, which will go with time.
Can we massage him? Yes, he said. It will help.
So I sat next to him as the attendant gave him his morning meal. I located an old battery-operated massager and tried to use it on Raju’s right hand and arm. As I demonstrated the method to the attendant, Raju’s fingers moved slightly. Ah, I breathed again, he’s getting it back. He will soon be fine.
Any fever? No none. Thank heavens. The worst seemed over and Raju was eating again.
It was a Sunday. But the Akademi programme was slated for the evening, 4pm. Should I go? Should I not? Was it safe? I would observe, watch and decide.
By the afternoon it seemed safe enough for me to venture out for a couple of hours. Raju would be fine with the attendant.
“Call me if there’s a problem,” I instructed. “I will be back by 6 pm.”

“Why are you so serious today? What’s wrong?” I am asked when the session begins.
I smile. “Nothing.”
The programme continues. It is a special poetry session for senior citizens. One old man after another walks up to the dais. Some hobble to the podium and recite their poems. Poems  which they feel have never been written before. Thoughts never before expressed. As one silver-haired man speaks, the others applaud. They share their experiences and are grateful for the camaraderie.
At six o’clock  there are no signs of winding up but I force them to bring the evening to a close. I am in a hurry to get home.
By the time I reach home it is 6.30. My cell phone tells me there was a missed call from Vickram who is in Delhi. Oh, well, I will call back after uploading the evening’s pics, after writing the report and emailing it to the press, to all and sundry. This is the usual procedure after every literary event.
Vickram has, meanwhile, called the attendant and checked on Raju. “He is okay,” he is told and the attendant proceeds to get Raju’s evening milk ready as I send information into cyberspace.
At 7 pm, when I am halfway through, I hear a wheezing and snorting, so I get up from the computer and rush to Raju’s bedside. He is apparently halfway through his milk but seems out of breath and is breathing heavily.
“He is weak and easily tired,” I tell the attendant as I sit by Raju’s side and place an arm around him. “Give him some rest.”
We sit on either side of Raju and stroke him for several minutes until his breathing becomes regular again and he seems normal. Then I get back to the computer saying, “Don’t give him the remaining milk if he protests. Don’t force him.” And return to the files being uploaded.
Five minutes later the attendant informs me: “Raju has finished his milk and is sleeping now.”
It is 7.25 pm now. The attendant has to go out for some work.
“If you need me, just call. I will be back,” he says.
“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “I will manage. He seems to be better.”

I am alone with Raju. There is silence in the house.  I finish my work on the computer by 7.30 when I remember Vickram’s missed call and dial his number.
As the phone rings on the other side I hear a noise from Raju’s bed – something like a cough – and get up to go and look at him.
On the other end of the line Vickram asks: “How is Raju.”
“He’s had his milk and is sleeping. I’m just going to check on him.” I walk into Raju’s room even as I speak on the phone.
Raju’s eyes are closed, his mouth is wide open. He has drooled from one side of his mouth. Actually it is more than a drool: it is a thick reddish liquid that stains the corner of his mouth and his kurta. What could it be? At the inner corner of each eye glistens an unshed tear.
“I’ll get back to you,” I tell Vickram. “Raju doesn’t seem quite right.”
With a hand-towel I wipe the teardrops in the corners of his eyes and then the drool. He does not respond. He does not react. I pat his cheek. There is no reaction, not even the slightest motion behind the closed lids.
I feel his chest but there is no heartbeat. I hold his wrist. The hands are warm but they do not respond.
 “Raju,” I call in rising panic, and touch his lips with my index finger. This is a gesture he never fails to respond to. But this time there is no answering pout. The lips are cold although his face and hands are warm.  
Has he gone? Has my baby left me while I sat just a few feet away from him, unawares? No, there must be some mistake.
Come on, baby, wake up. I pump his chest but to no avail.
I pull him up to sitting position. There is a strange flapping sound. What could it be? I put him down and make him sit up again and again there is that flapping sound. It is the lower jaw, I note; it flaps out of control. O, my child! I support his chin and prop him up.
There is a gurgling sound inside him.  My hopes soar. There is still life.
“Raju,” I shake him. But the lower jaw flaps again. Like an open window loose at the hinges, rattling in the wind.
My mind is in a tizzy. I do not know what to do. I feel like King Lear who, bending over the body of his dear daughter, refuses to believe she is dead. He calls out: “Lend me a looking-glass. / If that her breath will mist or stain the stone, / Why then, she lives.”
Get me a feather, says King Lear. If the feather moves it means there is breath in her. There is life.
“This feather stirs. She lives. If it be so,
It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt.”

Get me a feather. Raju cannot die. I touch his lips again. They have become icy. I know by now that the last breath has left my child.
The house is silent. There is just the two of us. Rather, there is just me and what is left of my son.
What do I do now? I rush out, seeking people. I bang on the neighbor’s door, babble incoherently and rush back again.

'' Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,/ And thou no breath at all? ''
There is no getting away from it. I must face reality. But, alas for the mother’s heart! Once more I pick him up and once more his lower jaw flaps. Once more I support his chin. Once more I call in vain.
It is 7.30 pm. He has been dead for about five minutes. Why, why did I not come into the room five minutes earlier? I could have held his hand while he made his journey into the great beyond. Alone, all alone. I could have placed his dying head on my lap, kissed his brow and given him comfort in his last moments. Perhaps I could have stayed the inevitable. Perhaps I could have shooed death away. I could have helped Raju hang on a little bit longer. Why, why, why did I delay?
I sit with his limp body in my lap. Like Michelangelo’s Pieta.
He is not dead but asleep. Perhaps, if I call and call enough….
He will reward me with his half-smile and a gentle pressure of the hand.
He will yawn and stretch and grope for his pillow.
And turn over and snooze some more again.

But this is not to be.
By this time the neighbors have gathered in a large crowd at the door.
Put him down, they tell me. Put him on the floor. He has to be readied for his last journey.
Place him on the floor?  No never. I will not put him on the cold, hard floor; I will not lay him at anyone’s feet.
He will have to be bathed and cleaned and prepared for the last rites tomorrow, they tell me.
Nobody will do that for him, I snap back. No stranger will touch his body. Nobody will see the distorted spine, the crooked torso and the emaciated limbs. He is my baby and I will shield him from all curious eyes. I will change him, clean him. I will let no one else touch him.
Raju is cleaned, combed and dressed again in a fresh set of clothes. He is now wearing a white kurta pyjama stitched not so long ago, worn just a couple of times. His face shines with a luminous glow. He has a remarkable aura around him now. My handsome Raju. At peace. His face radiates peace. For the first time the look on his face tells me he is glad to be free from this body that incarcerated him. Free from the pain.
Gently, very gently, we pick up his entire bedding, mattress and all, and place it on the floor. Raju is covered with a white sheet, some flowers strewn on him. The best flowers from our garden where he would sit in his wheelchair everyday. There we let him lie. In his last sleep.

Smoke rises from the pyre. He turns into ashes. He goes up with the smoke.
I sit in a crumpled heap.
I weep. 
दिल   आखिर  तू  क्यूँ  रोता  है
दुनिया  में  यूँही  होता  है
यह  जो  गहरे  सन्नाटे  हैं
वक़्त  ने  सबको  ही  बांटे  हैं  (Gulzar)
And why should I weep? Raju is no longer in this world but he is everywhere. A part of me, a part of my world for evermore. And I know he is somewhere there in a shining world, running freely, on his little feet. Little pink feet that never walked before in this world of sickness and death. He is happy. He laughs. He claps his hands. He can hear, he can speak, he can sing, he can see. He looks up to see the sun shining in a clear blue sky.
Look, look, he is running through endless fields of sunflowers, chasing butterflies.... 
मगर ये साले आँसू क्यों नही बंद होते ?

Friday, January 18, 2013

For Reasons Unknown

For reasons unknown

When passion has flown

And I have grown

Into a nagging old drone

Will you still care?

Will you still be there?

Will you still dare –

To acknowledge this crone

And call her your own?   

                                          HERE'S MY NEW BOOK OF POEMS, FOLKS!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Raju's New Shoes

10th November.
Another birthday for Raju. He completes 35 years today. My brave little soldier battles on.

So, what do I get him for his big day? Another blanket? Bedsheets? Sweaters? Pyjamas? These are the usual purchases at this time of the year.

But this year I have another idea. We are going to get him shoes.  Which means he has to be taken out in the car to the nearest shoe shop, the car will probably have to be parked on the roadside closest to the store, and then I will go in, scout around for the most appropriate pair of shoes and bring it out of the shop for him to try on.

Or, if no parking is available on the roadside, another way of doing it would be to park in the parking lot, take him in his wheelchair to the store and get him to try on a pair.

A lot of planning is involved and it is clearly a major event because the last time he got a new pair of shoes was more than thirty years ago. Jokes apart, I ain't kidding. Thirty years, if I remember correctly.

What's that you say? Wretched mother, how does she bring up her child? does she keep him nanga-pair? Barefoot? Aw, poor baby!

Raju does not walk. He has never walked, and once we realized this we did not buy him shoes. Only socks. Socks of all shades and types. Thin ones or thick ones, depending on the weather. Raju remains in bed, he has no need for shoes.

When he was three I did buy him his last pair of shoes -- mustard sneakers with laces. He wore them for sometime whenever we took him out in his pram. And then he grew too big for the pram and his foot grew too big for the shoes, so I put them away along with his outgrown clothes in one corner of the cupboard. Every year, with the change of seasons, they would be aired and placed right back.

Anyway, the long and short of the story is that he did not seem to need another pair of shoes so we never got him one. And of course, he did not ask. He could not.

But, over the last year or so, there is (ahem!) a change in his lifestyle.  Since I got him his new buggy (the wheelchair) Raju has been periodically taken out of his bed for a bit of fresh air. And Shashikant, his new attendant, has been given specific instructions to walk him up and down the driveway at least an hour in the morning and evening.

The driveway is uneven, with jagged bricks and broken concrete. the wheelchair trundles along noisily, jumping and jolting. Raju seems to like it and invariably goes off to sleep as he is being walked.

The wheelchair has footrests but sometimes Raju slumps in his seat, his feet dangle uncontrolled and drag against the cobbled path. So the socks rub against the ground and wear out, the toenails become rough and jagged. From time to time Raju's feet have to be picked up and placed back on the footrest.

So, it was evident that Raju needs a new pair of shoes! Wow, such excitement! Such planning!

A plan of action is needed. A time has to be fixed. The rush hour will have to be avoided. Three in the afternoon should be a good bet. Although it is festival time, the afternoons are still not too bad and one can drive into the market, find a parking and attend to the usual shopping chores without going crazy. As the day wears on, the crowds increase and so does the insanity on the roads. That is when all the wise guys stay home.

3PM is not too bad. Raju is made to wear another layer of clothes lest he should catch a chill. He is then placed on the wheelchair to be transferred into the rear seat of the car. But he refuses to get off the chair. He does not want to be put in the car. Krishna, his nurse, coaxes and cajoles. finally she succeeds in getting him inside the car. The wheelchair is placed in the boot, Krish props him up with pillows, sits next to him, then I drive out. Slowly on the beds and curves, so that Raju does not get agitated.

Sector 15 market is our destination. The parking lot has some vacant spots and I park the car, bring out the wheel chair for Raju, but he does not wish to come out of the car now. Evidently, he has enjoyed the ride.

Krish and I try and coax him but to no avail. finally we use a bit of force and manage to get him in the wheelchair and we trundle down towards Bata. We come to a halt on the pavement outside the shop, I go in and pick out a pair. The salesman follows me out and stands watching. Evidently he is not used to a customer like Raju.

And Raju is not used to wearing a shoe, so as soon as we put the shoe on his foot, he shakes his foot vigorously and throws it off. We put the shoe right back on his foot but he takes it off again. This happens several times. By the end of it I am wiping the sweat of my brow with my sari pallu and Krish is holding on to a painful back, with all the bending forward and back picking up the flung shoes. All the while Raju has a playful smile on his face. There is by now a crowd of inquisitive passersby who have gathered to see the show.

Finally, we have decided on a pair of soft moccasins and we turn back towards the car.

But now Raju does not wish to get back into the car. He struggles to remain in his wheelchair and we struggle to put him in the car.

Finally we succeed and drive home.

Once in our driveway, the wheelchair is brought out of the boot again but now Raju does not wish to get out of the car. Krish tries but he pushes her hand away everytime. In fact he seems to pull her in, moves further inside the car, shifting as though to make place for her.

Raju does not talk but he has his own way of communicating what he wants to Krishna.

We leave him in the car for a while. A bit later perhaps he will agree to come out of the vehicle.

Today, on his birthday, he is wearing his new pair of shoes and a new sweater. He does not kick of his shoes, He seems to be happy with his new sweater.

We walk him up and down the drive, click photographs of him, and fuss over him.

There is no cake. He cannot eat it. There is no party but he does not complain.

I spend a few quiet hours by his bedside. Ensure that there are fresh flowers by his side. Perhaps he will get the fragrance of the tube-roses and the chrysanthemums. But perhaps he won't.

He does not complain. He does not make any demands.

Achha ladka hai!

An Angel out of Heaven
(for Raju)

If you were green
You would sprout from the seed
And morph
Into a seedling
A sapling
A plant
A bush
A tree.

If you were the wind
You would blow
Strong or harsh
Gentle or slow
Rise high or low
Touch or caress
Or tease
And go.

If you were a bird
You would grow
Feathers and claws
And a beak
And a tail
And wings
And fly
Into the sky one day.

If you were the kid next door
You would ask for more
Be messy
And pesky
And nosy
And rude
Imagine yourself
Quite, quite a dude.

But, trapped in a time warp,
You were made for love –
No demands,
No commands
Eyes mute and inert
A mind without a motor
A boat without a rudder
A machine without controls.

You are not a tree that grows,
Nor the wind that blows
Nor the bird that flies,
Nor the kid next door.
But an angel out of heaven
A soul without a blemish
A child so special
A baby forever.

Sunday, June 5, 2011



Iqbal is dead. Tall Boy has been kidnapped.

What’s this I’m talking about?

Tall Boy is the Ritz we bought last year. A shiny Blue Ritz that the adverts described as “Tall Boy model with K2 Euro Engine”. Since then it was Tall Boy, a much pampered addition to our G 10 household.

As for Iqbal, he was a neighbour in Manimajra. Young, handsome, in his forties. He and Vickram had begun working together about ten years ago. They were almost inseparable for some years, working hard, travelling places, getting orders, eking out a living. Work became play and the bonhomie between them extended to both families that came together as a close circle. Then life took another turn. Vickram went to Vietnam for a spell and Iqbal moved to Canada with his family. Temporarily, he said. He planned to return after his children were settled in professional schools.

If only life were so easy! Iqbal fell seriously ill. A sudden, advanced stage of cancer, so they diagnosed it. The family returned sorrowfully to India and watched him waste away. The handsome face grew withered and pale. The sturdy body was racked in pain and began to shrivel up. They did the rounds of doctors, chemo, radiotherapy and whatever was advised. Nothing helped. The shrieks of pain grew louder. The limbs became twisted and deformed. In his last few days he was a caricature of himself, a huge, helpless subhuman mass of skin and bone. Death came almost as a relief, leaving behind a void that would never be filled.

The company had to be closed. The rented office space had to be surrendered. Vickram had kept it thinking that some day Iqbal would recover and perhaps they would begin working together again, revive the good old times. But that was not to be. Now the assets had to be disposed of, the desks, computers, air-conditioners. Vickram tried to put it off. Then, finally, he steeled himself and set out in Tall Boy to close shop. With a heavy heart he handed over the space to the landlord. Keep the desks and chairs, he said. We will take the computers and AC.

The AC and computers loaded into Tall Boy, Vickram drove into Iqbal’s house and began to unload. Tall Boy stood in the driveway, the boot and a door still open.

It was not all that easy. In the midday heat, perspiring freely, he tried to get the computers working again in what used to be Iqbal’s study. As Vickram mopped his brow, flopped in a chair, he heard the engine rev up and rushed to the window. It was Tall Boy, its tail-end disappearing around the drive. The car had been stolen.

What then? Did he run up and down the street trying to follow it? Or did he stand aghast at the gate, gaping with unbelieving eyes?

I am away from home and will never know. All I know is that he called me and asked me the registration number of the car.

Which car? I ask. And he says: the Ritz. It’s been stolen. What’s the number?

I do not remember the number. Nor does he. What do we do now?

Think, he tells me. Try and remember.

You try, I tell him. I can’t. All I remember are the last four digits.

Look at the photographs on your computer, he says. You may find the number somewhere.

Try the insurance guy, I tell him.

Inane conversation.

Have you filed a report? I ask.

How can I when I don’t have the number?

Okay, let me think. I will revert.

I sit and meditate under the rhododendron tree outside the IIAS. Then I go into the library and look up back files on my laptop. No photo to be found. I take out the portable hard disk and try again. Finally two photos are located. Tall Boy in all his splendour, on the road to Shimla last year. Another one of Tall Boy with Vickram leaning against him outside Applecart Inn. I note the number – CHO1 AA 1159 – and sms it to Vickram.

Now what?

The report is filed. We wait for further action. Fingers crossed. Will Tall Boy come back?

I try and look at the larger picture. Losing a car is a big loss no doubt. But there are bigger losses in the world. Ships sink, monuments get razed, people die. Tsunamis happen. Floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions. All sorts of irreversible damage. What cannot be cured must be endured.

And then I think of another disturbing issue. Tall Boy was parked in the driveway of Iqbal’s house. Everyone in the locality knows that Iqbal has passed away very recently. And yet someone, probably someone from the neighbourhood, stole the car from that very house. A dead man’s house.

To me the thought is revolting. It is like stripping off the shroud of a dead man. It appals me that human beings can sink so low. Stealing from the house of a man whose funeral pyre has barely cooled! It is unthinkable. It is obscene.

I do not know which anguish is greater? The personal loss of Tall Boy? Or the stark reality that human beings can be so depraved?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Winged Intrusions and Postcolonial Bulldozers

Of Winged Intrusions and Postcolonial Bulldozers

You’ve got to be in this shit mood to upload such a shit kind of blog entry. A mood that originates in the misdemeanor of a fellow human being, made worse by the onset of a migraine that shows no sign of abating. Further aggravated by these wretched birds which insist on building their nest atop my AC. All my efforts at demolishing encroachments of my space have come to nought. I have almost been reduced to a scarecrow, sitting in heat and dust, morning and evening, in the balcony, intermittently emitting cries of “shoo-shoo” and “hush-hush” to scare away those winged trespassers. At first it was pigeons that went gutter-goo all over the place, destroying my peace of mind along with my mid-day siesta, not letting me read or write. I bought some wire meshing, got labourers to fix it around their sitting place. The pigeons stopped coming after a few days and I heaved a sigh of relief. But only for a while; soon it was jackdaws who found a crawl-space under the wire meshing and started collecting twigs, odds and ends for a nest. My scare-crow act began again. The height of outrage was when I saw bird-footprints on my laptop the other day.

Looks like something HAS to be done now. I have to protect my territory against winged intrusion.

But let me not get distracted. Wallowing in this black spell, let me continue about my shit mood and what initially caused it. Actually it dates back to a symposium I attended recently.

So what does one gain from yet another symposium? One more line in the CV? A certificate? Some more jargon? Some new ideas, possibly. Some happy reunions and some new associations.

The names of some new bimaaris, too. Like this time I discover there is something called bursitis. Bursitis did not figure in my vocabulary earlier.

Ganga Bai (lemme just call her that! it makes her sound nice and 'desi') suffers from bursitis. It has something to do with the inflammation of the hip bone, or the bursa, or whatever. Apparently it does not affect a persons ability to speak, judging from the manner in which Ganga Bai did not give her vocal chords even a minute’s rest through the forty-eight hours of the symposium.

Inadvertently Auden comes to my mind. According to Auden all ailments are psychosomatic. So if a person breaks a leg, he probably wanted to break someone else’s leg and that caused him to break his own. And if you have a bad throat, Auden would say that you probably told lies, and so…. I am not sure how it works, and I don’t know how much one need believe in it but Ganga Bai's bursitis would probably be explained by Auden in the most interesting way possible. Perhaps she wanted to do a thumka – filmi style – or perhaps she resented the pelvic thrusts of Elvis or Michael Jackson, or whoever! Or may be she wanted to do a belly-dance. Or a jhatka, matka….

Until you actually meet her you simply cannot imagine that people like her exist on the face of the earth. True, her reputation travels everywhere before she does, but despite all forewarning, an encounter with her is like running into a heap of detonators that explode into your face. Like a mini-boat running into an iceberg. Or like a butterfly smashing into a bulldozer. Or like a honey bee falling into a tank full of hot, melted tar! She is like all of these – tons of fireworks, a titanic-like menacing iceberg, a bulldozer, a tankful of liquid tar. She is like all of these and much more.

One of the delegates recalls her last public appearance at another Indian university: GB reportedly came like a tornado, scolded everyone roundly and left. Scolded roundly – a term most appropriate if ever there was one! It suits her to the T. She is round. Round-faced, round-bodied, big round eyes and a round head. Ms Roundhead is an old woman now but she still spits fire every time she opens her mouth. She is an angry old woman on a lone crusade against the ills of the world.

“Why then, is she rated so high in academia? Why do people invite her?” I am curious.

“Why do people invite circus animals?” pat comes the reply from a fellow delegate. “Entertainment. Pure entertainment. Behold a real, live, fire-breathing post-colonialist. A dinosaur from prehistoric times who refuses to move beyond her first golden utterances. Look, she still has some spark left. Poke her and she responds. Actually, even if you are decent with her, she still gets provoked, much to everyone’s amusement.”

I look forward to meeting this extraordinary specimen. The host introduces her as one who is hard to describe. Like Captain Ahab of Moby Dick, a godly-ungodly creature who manages to unsettle all and sundry. I look at her again. She must have been a beauty in her days. The kind of classical beauty that (as Yeats lamented) gets ruined in politics of the market-place. With her ravaged beauty, she still makes an impact. The cruel sneer of the mouth does not strike you at first. But, more than Capt Ahab she reminds me of Laloo Prasad. The same hair cut, the same round face, the same disgruntled pout. And when she begins to speak, the same arrogance and disdain.

The mind of man, said Yeats, has two kinds of shepherds – those who move and trouble and those who hush and console. Willie Yeats probably did not know about lady-shepherds who can only grumble and scold and whine and crib. Which, incidentally, reminds me – when I first heard of GB she was described as the “Maud Gonne of Deconstruction” and a “much married woman” who had chosen to use as a suffix her firangi husband’s name (sure, she must have her reasons!) and became GBG i.e., Ganga Bai Goldsmith.

GB is unhappy because bursitis has chosen to make its home in her hip and the hosts in Vadodara are doing nothing about it. She is unhappy with the western world (which has actually given her an identity, name and fame for the last fifty years). She is unhappy with the Indian government which has done nothing to assist her in her social work in Bengal. She is unhappy with her recent experience in Bangalore where some people accused her of being an Orientalist. She is unhappy when someone is nice to her: she takes politeness and good manners as evidence of sycophancy. She is intolerant of everything and everyone – intolerant of those who are courteous as well as those who criticize her. She seems to have a tremendous grudge against people who are not malcontented or disgruntled with life. “Where is your passion?” she asks. "How can you be complacent?”

GB is GB and nothing doth please her. She is convinced that she – and only she – is right. All the books that we (wretched, ill-informed scholars in India) read are wrong, so she says. She pounces on one delegate for pronouncing ‘incipit’ with a /s/ sound instead of a /k/ sound. Later on, the delegate verifies that it is indeed the /s/ sound but when GB had pounced on her she was effectively silenced by the verbal deluge.

In another instance, GB quarrels over etymology: she insists that ‘gna’ has no roots in Latin or in Sanskrit. Again, a later investigation proves that the great madame is indeed wrong! She berates those who use phrases that they cannot explain. Yet she herself uses terms like “reproductive heteronormativity” (whatever she means by that) as though she were talking about the teddy bear’s picnic.

When asked to explain what she means by “the poetry of the decimal system” she embarks on a leisurely cruise around the proverbial mulberry bush, cleverly throws around some words and phrases without giving any definite answer. Man, you gotta give it to her! She is clever, she is articulate, she never runs out of words, and she is ruthless.

People humor her the way they would a mad woman. For whoever wishes to take up cudgels with one unhinged? Her words are poison darts dipped in acid. She is caustic and dry and ruthless. She never spares an opportunity to run others down, telling them they are wrong and she is right. The manner in which she roundly scolds everyone is inane and it is not surprising that people, after greeting her effusively in the first instance, soon clam up, refusing to enter into an argument.

She has spent a large part of her life waxing eloquent on subjects like “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Ironically, she herself is unwilling to let anyone else speak. The slightest sign of someone trying to wedge in a word brings a sound tongue-lashing from Ms Roundhead. Like the Ancient Mariner, she holds you with her tongue. You try and edge in with a word, an exclamation, a sigh but she pounces on you like a cat-in-waiting. She claims to be a great supporter of the downtrodden, the marginalized, the oppressed. Yet she silences all opposition. Yet she repeatedly harps on her high-class Brahmin Bhadralok background. Yet she talks about her well-connected and highly-placed siblings.

She seems obsessed with Amartya Sen. Thank God, she says, my parents did not find a nice Bengali groom for me: they would have found me someone like Amartya Sen and I cannot imagine a more boring life than being Amartya Sen’s wife! She repeats this more than once in the course of forty-eight hours. Is it some kind of wishful thinking? Or some suppressed desires? Mr Amartya Sen, are you listening?

She says she works at the grassroots – teaches in eleven schools in Beerbhum, in the rural areas of Bengal. But when a young Bengali scholar asks for specific details with the intention of visiting the place, she freezes and withdraws. Why, Ms GB? If you talks so much about your social work in India, why do you wish to hide the specificities?

I have been warned about her so I consider myself fore-armed. Yet she pulls the rug under my feet. First she attacks me for my bad pronunciation. I do not retaliate. I have been groomed in the rigorous Vipassana tradition that strongly advocates “don’t react”! So I paste a fixed smile on my face and listen to her attentively.

My restraint rattles her. She attacks my professional credentials: “Ha, you and your various fellowships? Your American Studies Associations! What do they mean? You value them because they give you some kind of acceptance in America. The Americans give you some recognition and you try to please them. They pat you on the back and you get taken in. You do not know that they jeer at your back!”

I am aghast. I have never thought on such lines before. “No,” I stammer, “I get enough recognition in my own country….”

But she snaps: “Oh, don’t you tell me about your country. It is my country too.”

“No,” I begin again, “What I meant was…”

She pounces again: “See, all your sentences begin with ‘no’. You are incapable of any positive thinking.” Pleased as punch, she continues her tirade.

Enough, I think. This can’t go on. This can’t be real. Atithi deva bhavo – this is the tradition we have been groomed in. She is a guest of my host and I should not embarrass my good host. So I deliberately keep mum. Instead I pull aside a chair to make way for her. Perhaps we can move towards lunch.

She finds another reason to scold me. “You think you are doing me a favor by making way for me?” she almost barks. “I can help myself.”

“Yes, of course,” I humor the crazed woman, switch off all reason and allow her to ramble on.

Bursitis and postcol. A deadly combo!

By the evening I have GB oozing out of my head. I try to avoid dinner but there’s no getting away. So I take a chair as far as possible from Bursitis. It isn’t easy because there are many others looking for a far corner.

The next day I leave early – before I can set eyes on her. Before she holds me with her tongue again. Before I am stupefied into silence with her verbal diarrhea.

At the airport I collapse on seat in the lounge, turning the two-day encounter over with my friend. Soon it will be time to board and I decide to visit the loo one last time.

“Take care,” my friend jokes. “You may bump into Bursitis again.”

“Good God,” I exclaim. “If I see her again I’ll scream.” And I head for the loo.

A minute later I rush back into the waiting room, shrieking my head off.

“What happened?” people crowd around me in alarm.

I recover my breath and explain to them that I had almost stepped into a humongous lizard hiding behind the door in the loo. Huge, creepy, slimy lizard, the size of a water rat.

My friend collapses laughing: “Oh, I thought you had run into Ms Roundhead.”

The shrieks meant for GB were indeed directed towards the fat rat-sized lizard in the Vadodara loo. Now what would Bursitis call it? Surrogate multi-normativity? Or what? Or would she invent some more jargon for it?

Not much difference between the reactions evoked by Bursitis and the Loo-lizzie!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zandu Balm

...and the stench of his zandu balm assailed my senses and I was in a quandary whether I should smile and say "hi sweetie, good to see you," or if I should give into my immediate reflexes and simply hold my nose tight to protect my olfactory buds lest I should swoon into senselessness.

He explained that he had come fresh from the orthopedic who had spent a good half hour rubbing something like Zandu balm into his aching lower back..

hm-m-m-.... Plausible explanation but something in the romance seemed to suddenly wilt. The evening suddenly lost its bright orange glow and the sun sank quietly and unobtrusively into the western horizon.

For me the evening was over. Zandu balm had scored its victory over my passion.