Sunday, November 9, 2008

ANOTHER MILESTONE FOR RAJU

10th November 2008. Raju has completed another year. He is thirty-one today. Another milestone goes past. Another year. Another cycle of seasons. The world keeps moving.

How, one may ask, does one move ahead, year after year, on the long road of life? What is the 'zindagi ka safar' like? No two safars are the same. In some cases it is a smooth passage. Birth, growth, flowering, decay and death, all under a gentle benign sun. Those are the lucky ones who have the luxury of taking life for granted. The world belongs to them and they partake in all its glory, moving on from one milestone to another without much ado. In some – not so lucky – cases there is a bit of upheaval on this long stretch. Not always cool and shady, it turns dusty and potholed in places. And then one has to grit one’s teeth and tide over the uneven patches, praying that the journey smoothens out again.

In yet other cases it is a long, long haul. When there are no even stretches. The sun is harsh and scorching. The landscape is nothing but stony mountains and dried bramble which cuts you and you bleed. When the path is beset with obstacles, treacherous marshes and deep ditches. When it gets hard to plod along and you try to clutch at the stones that poke and jut by the side. Or the exposed roots, twisted and gnarled, that seem so sturdy but dwindle at a touch. When nothing, nothing seems to help you along, all is hostile, unfriendly, discouraging.

It has been one such long journey for Raju. A long haul without respite. There have been no roots to clutch, no straws to grab at. Only an indomitable will that has kept him going all these thirty-one years.

Let me go back in time – before the first milestone that marked his coming into the world, this day, thirty-one years ago. When he was being readied for life. When he was the size of a pea or a marble or a pebble, yet to be born. At that point, came the first blow, the encounter with rubella. The pea-sized body was still taking form, the cells still growing and splitting, the limbs beginning to take discernible shapes when the cankerous microbes invaded the pea-body and poisoned it at its very inception. Poisoned the life-stream, the brain, the heart, the liver, everything.

That was his first set-back. But he hung on. Bravely. Tenaciously. He came into this world, amid fireworks and celebrations on Divali day. Fond parents called him Timtim, thinking his eyes would twinkle like stars. Or like the lamps that glowed on that moonless night. Raju opened his eyes to the world. But the eyes would not see. For they were glazed over with cataract. Congenital cataract, symptom of the rubella encounter.

In the first lap of his race, i.e., in his first year of life he grappled with two cataract operations. The film cleared, the eyes tried to focus, but the brain did not comprehend and the eyes could not see. Yet another blow, the brain refusing to cooperate.

Raju did not follow any normal milestones. He kept his own pace. Trapped inside a body that would not respond, he fought on. The nervous system refused to cooperate but he groped his way. He did not learn to talk or to walk, or even crawl. But he tried to explore the limited area of his cot. When he became too big for the cot he was moved to a bigger bed. His hands reached out to those who tended him. He asked them for love – not in so many words but with his smiles and the noises he made.

At the age of twelve he was still a baby. But he was strong. He was healthy. He would try to sit up and drag his unwilling body across the room. Then he lost his vision in one eye. It just filmed over – a post-operative condition that can occur sometimes. That was another door closed for Raju. He still fought on. He tried to focus with the other eye, squinting at the light that streamed in through the windows. He still smiled. He still tried to reach for the light. He still gurgled with pleasure when hugged and kissed.

Then the convulsions took place and he had to be put under regular sedation. Yet Raju fought on bravely.

Around his twentieth birthday the second eye filmed over. Another door slammed shut, but his spirit battled on. The teeth decayed. They rotted and fell. The pain was excruciating. Dental treatment being impossible, he suffered on. In between the pain he smiled and was happy. His vision gone completely, he no longer tried reaching for the light. Confined to his bed, he bided his time patiently.

At thirty-one today, his body seems to fail him steadily. It causes him pain and all he can do is cry. Stiff with pain, he lies in bed patiently, hugging a stuffed toy. From time to time, when he is tired lying on one side, he cries for help. Then he is picked up and turned the other side. From time to time his needs are attended to. He is fed, washed, changed and kept clean.

He still has pain-free moments when he smiles. When he gropes for helping hands around him, holds them tight and expresses his gratitude. The body may have betrayed him but he knows there are people around him who love him. Their prayers are with him. He continues to struggle.

Like Veer Abhimanyu on the battlefield, caught in the chakravhyu. Veer Abhimanyu, destined for a particular fate because of a certain knowledge received in his mother's womb. Veer Abhimanyu on the battlefield, surrounded by enemies on all sides, luck turned against him. Arrows raining down on him. His horses killed, his chariot broken, his armour rent and torn. And yet Abhimanyu did not give up. He fought on. Bravely, tenaciously, to the end.

Raju is a valiant little soldier, he does not run from the battlefield. Even today, on his thirty-first birthday, his indomitable spirit continues to fight.

Yes, it’s been a long, long, struggle, Raju, but you are doing well. Keep going, my boy, keep going.


Raju fights on bravely.











Tuesday, November 4, 2008

PAPA TURNS SIXTY!


Jab hum hongey saatth saal ke....

PAPA TURNS SIXTY

The 13th of October came and went. No, it wasn't as uneventful as I make it sound. It was Vicky's sixtieth birthday and you will agree with me that it isn't everyday that one turns sixty. (Thank heavens for that!)

Okay, so this year we were in Hyderabad, post-Bulbul's shaadi, for the Reception from Rahul's side. That was on the 12th evening with the party continuing beyond midnight. Then we all had a piece of delicious birthday cake (prepared by Rahul's Chachi) and heralded VJ's 61st year before we wound up.

The actual birthday was the next day, the 13th of October.

"And how are you going to celebrate it, Daddy?" Bulbul asked.

Pat comes the reply: "We'll buy you some furniture for your house, baby, so that you have chairs to sit on, a bed, and some other household stuff – may be a fridge and TV, something for the kitchen, and…"

"No, but what will you get for yourself?"

"This is for myself – for my daughter," comes the reply with a cheesy grin.

"How like a parent! Please don't make a martyr of yourself, Daddy."

In her heart of hearts I could see that Bulbul was pleased. The house she and Rahul had moved into just the day before was, at that point, just bare walls and wooden doors. They had placed mattresses on the floor for a makeshift bed but that was far from comfortable. There was no other furniture. Everything had to be added. A little help from parents was more than welcome.

So the two parents, Vicky and I, decided to help the children line their newly acquired nest. We would first go on a market-survey, check out beds, sofas, dining-tables, kitchenware, etc. Before purchasing, we'd call them for a final approval because – because – you know how it is, the older generation's ideas are never the same as the young people's; tastes differ and surely they would not like to be saddled with the choice of an older generation which may – or may not – appeal to them.

Decided! We set out, Vicky and I, on the furniture hunt.

A ride to Nampally Station Road -- where we were told we'd find a lot of furniture shops -- and we began work in earnest. One shop after another. The minutes and hours ticked by. No, this shop is exorbitant. This one is shabby. The furniture of the new shop is crude. That one too bizarre. And then finally we found what the new couple may be interested in. A brand new shop that offered an opening discount. New furniture. Young owners, fairly classy, good salesmen. The adjoining shop had a decent enough dining table with four chairs. The shop across the road had kitchenware -- gas-stove, utensils, pots and pans, the works. All the shops -- literally -- within a stone's throw of each other.

What say? Okay, we agreed, and called up Rahul and Bulbul to give their approval.

By then it was well past the lunch hour. Papa and Mama were covered with a fine layer of furniture-dust and well-nigh starving! There was no restaurant in sight, just a very dhaba-like roadside dhaba, noisy, grimy, smoky, populated mainly by labour-class gentry, seemingly porters, autorickshaw-wallahs and roadside romeos. Pan stains on the walls, food spilt on the tables -- relics of earlier occupants -- and general chaos. The smell, however, was delectable. It was the kind that would revive the hungry, and sure we were starved, almost fainitng.

Fast Food Chinese Joint, so the sign board proclaimed. It seemed to be popular indeed, jampacked with people guzzling down platefuls of noodles and fried rice. Seeing that two elderly men at a table almost at the entrancee wereabout to finish eating, we stood behind their chairs -- ignoring their dirty looks -- and waited for them to finish. They took their time, lingered over the saunf, the bill, the change, et al. And then, belching loudly, they got up and began gathering their belongings -- shopping bags, parcels, and other paraphernalia. Barely had they stood up when we grabbed their chairsand made ourselves comfortable. So what if the table was still littered with leftovers, napkins and dirty dishes; at least we had a place to sit and would now be sure of being served!

Two plates of chowmein later we sauntered back to the furniture shop to wait for Bulbul and Rahul.
They arrived finally. Just as the sun was beginning its descent. Just as the birds were debating whether or not to head home again. Bulbul and Rahul arrived to put an okay seal on the furniture we had shortlisted for them.
To cut a long story short -- since brevity is the soul of wit, my dear, some purchases were made and some orders placed. Among the new purchases was a dining set -- nice mahogany colored table with four chairs. How do we take it home? Never mind, children, you go home, we will come with the furniture.

Are you sure, mom and dad? they were solicitous.

O, yes, the shop has a pickup-van; we will get the furniture loaded on it and come with it. Don't worry.
Parents are a strange breed. What do they not volunteer for the sake of their flesh and blood! Move mountains. Dig up mines. Lay down bridges over stormy waters. What we had offered to do was comparatively insignificant!
We waited by the roadside for the pickup-van.
We waited and waited. And waited.
We watched the sun set behind the furniture shop. We heard the excited chatter of birds in the trees beginning to settle in for the night. we saw the streetlights come on.

The pickup-van did not come. It is on the way, sir, said the owner of the shop.

We waited some more., sitting by the roadside on a sofa tht had been sold to another -- yet another parent waiting for a pickup-van.

The sky turned a deeper hue. IT had been a long birthday. We were tired. The chai-walla vendor supplied us some sugary tea in nano-sized plastic cups. Half the tea was soaked up by the tea-bag, but one sip of tea in each cup was still available. Pas mal!

Papa dozed. His eyes closed and head nodded over his chest.


We still waited.

And then I remembered. His birthday is almost over but no birthday picture. How can that be. Taking out my camera I clicked his pic. Lower lip pouting in sleep, eyes closed, catching a catnap on a chair by the roadside. Buses honked around us. Tyres screeched. There were loud voices, hustle and bustle.



Papa slept.

And then the picup-van finally came. Hardly a van, it was more of a tempo! a glorified scooter-rickshw with the hood removed. the dining table fitted neatly on it, so did the chairs. But what about us? How do we go along with the furniture?

Sit on the chairs, madam, the driver instructed us without batting an eye.

So the middle-aged parents climbed up -- rather, they were helped up -- and sat on the dining chairs placed in an open tempo.

Then began the long journey home.


Anyone who has been to Hyderabad knows that the traffic there is chaotic. Cars and scooters all around. Traffic lights. Policemen. Whistles, honks, shouts, swears -- you name it and we had it all engulfing us as we rode the crowded streets atop the tempo. a huge sea of traffic bore us along with bumbs, jerks and jolts. From time to time we would have to stop at the traffic lights and then we would be the cynosure of all eyes. Children pinting at us and clapping with glee, grownups suppressing a smile.

The ride became even more interesting after we stopped en route
But I am tired and sleepy now. Perhaps I should keep the rest of the story for another time. Or may be just a hint of what happened next to keep the interest alive. What say?


Once there was glass on the table top, Karim the driver told us it wouldn't be safe to sit on the idining table / chairs ans the glass may break. What then? we asked. He promptly suggested that we ride along with him, sharing the driver's seat.


Good God! The seat was small. Far too small for three adults, Vicky, Karim and I. But there was no other way, so we piled into the driver's cabin and sa on either side of Karim.


That's right! we did. the seat was small so we could barely balance half a deriere each. Jumping and joting, we started for home again. a sixty year old Birthday Boy and his ageing wife, trying not to fall off a few inches of the driver's seat, hoping that no constable would stop us en route.

Yawn! Just thinking of it makes me tired, so I think I'll call it a day. Goodnight!





Sunday, October 26, 2008

THE TRANSFER OF CATS

So how does one transfer cats from one location to another? Especially when the two locations are separated by a thousand miles or more?Bulbul has moved from Delhi to Hyderabad. As she put it, she packed her stuff, said her goodbyes, snapped all her ties, and generally got ready to put 26 years of her life behand her. Only then, she felt, she could begin a new chapter on a clean slate.

However, there was something she refused to consign to the bonfire of the past. We tried to dissuade her but she was adamant. We coaxed and cajoled. Bribed and threatened. Warned of dire consequences. Appealed to her reason. But all in vain. She would not budge. She was adamant. Will you or nill you, she would take Chhamiya and Chhori with her to her new home in Hyderabad. Chhamiya and chhori, the two cats.

But cats, sweetheart, how are you going to take them? Fly them, of course, she said nonchalantly. But think of the costs, sweetheart! Which would bring the retort -- " They are my kids. How can I abandon them?"

How could anyone argue further?

Bulbul retained the flat in Delhi for a month after the wedding. Meanwhile she moved to Hyderabad, brought in some furniture with Rahul, tried to settle in and before shifting the cats."So you wish to keep an empty flat for another month?" The landlady was incredulous. Sure, but she was doubtful. "Do you really want to keep the flat just for the cats? After all, the rental is high -- it costs hard-earned money, so...."Oh, yes, said Bulbul. The cats will stay untill I come back for them. That clinched the issue.

In between the landlady called. "Bulbul, the cats are crying too much. I ear them wailing all the time. I think they miss you. When do you plan to come and get them?"

So this weekend Bulbul flew to Delhi. she had done her homework, talked to the vet and been briefed on the transfer of pets. She had talked to the airlines and noted the necesary formalities -- the procedure involved, the costs, et al.

"Mummy, I will have to get them sedated before the flight, then put them in separate cages," she informed me.

She took the cats to the vet in the morning but he explained that the effect of the sedative would last only three hours, so the injection should be given only half an hour before the flight. "Do it yourself, madam," he advised. "It's not difficult." And he explained how to administer an injection.

Horrified, Bulbul listened. She had never held a syringe before. She could not imagine poking a needle into a living creature, especially not pets who had lived with her for three years.
But what was the solution? None. So she quietly noted the instructions, collected the syringes with the injectibles, and began steeling herself for the half-hour before take-off.

The last and final call for check-in. Half hour for take-off. The dreaded moment could no longer be postponed, so she put the cat-cages on the floor, sat cross-legged before them, and took out the injections. Her courage must have failed her many times, but there was no other way.
Chhamiya was given the injection first. Then Chhori. all the while Bulbul had tears streaming down her face. The cats didn't seem to protest much.

And then, horror of horrors, first Chhamiya went limp. then Chhori. Their legs went wobbly and they collapsed on the cage floor. Their eyes, however, continued to be wide open, staring at Bulbul -- almost accusingly, she thought.

And then the look in the eyes became glassy. The pupils were dilated but fixed. The cats lay unmoving.

Bulbul was hysterical and wept copiously. People started gathering around her. At first curious, then sympathetic. Fussing, consoling. The airlines officials, the airport attendants. Bulbul continued to weep.

With two inert cats she was helped into the plane. The airhostess tried to calm her. All the other passengers crowded around her seat. After all, not every day does one encounter such unusual co-passengers on flight!

Bulbul took a long time to breathe evenly again. Altogether, there were too many things happening for the first time: a reunion with her beloved miaows after almost a month's separation, then the whole process of getting cages, separating the two, injecting them with drugs that made them seem lifeless, and -- above all -- carrying their limp bodies across the skies, wondering if they would recover again, if they would frisk about playfully like before, run around the house, mewling and caterwauling. Or, by any chance, had she administered the injection wrong? Into a blood vessel perhaps? In which case, god forbid, they would never come back to their senses.

It was too much for Bulbul and her tears did not stop until an elderly gentleman by her side, seeing that her nose had turned red and her wisp of a handkerchief was dripping, took out his large checquered roomal from his pocket and offered it to her. Bulbul then dried her tears, stopped snivelling and started talking to the old uncle who lookes so much like Papa! Besides, the cats were beginning to stir: their eyes were less glassy and she could even detect the hint of a smile on their feline faces.

Meanwhile, at the airport in Hyderabad, a two-man reception party awaited. Papa and Rahul, apprised of the emotional trauma Bulbul was going through, cooled their heels, waiting for the flight to land. A saucer and some milk for Chhamiya-Chhori.

Happy reunions and some more tears, this time with no grief, as Bulbul off-loaded her baggages and her precious cats to helping hands. All bundled into the car, they set off for home that would now have two more inmates within its premises.

This morning when I called I was told that the cats are almost normal. They have eaten some food and are now exploring their new surroundings.

Bulbul begins a new life

Bulbul is now married to Rahul. Several months of high-pitched excitement. Feverish activity. Shopping for fancy stuff and jewellery. Despatching cards. Gifts and clothes. Placing orders for food and venue. All that has now ceased. The Sangeet. The wedding. The Reception from the boy's side. All that is over and life has grated to almost a halt once more.

Bulbul has now moved to Hyderabad to begin her new life. A job transfer allows her to take her bread-n-butter along to Hyderabad. Her cats, too, will follow.

Hyderabad, here we come.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

GOOD-BYE, BOOT



We got him fourteen years ago, A tiny ball of fur that seemed to roll in all directions. Jet black with a few protruding white spots were his paws.
"Ma, look, he's got white shoes on," they exclaimed.
Despite my reservation against the canined species, Boot became a part of the family. He was devoted to the girls. They shared their room with him, allowed him on to their bed, sneaked out pieces of meat from their dinner plates for him, walked him whenever free, poured out their hearts to him when the world seemed awry, and considered him – and him alone – their greatest friend and well-wisher. He too reciprocated with those soulful eyes. He would be ecstatically happy when they were happy, ferocious when he felt they were in danger, and sad when they were glum.
Boot was an inseparable part of all their activities. Their games, their walks, their studies, their adventures, their pranks. He curled up under the desk when they did their homework. When they slept he slept at their feet, with one ear cocked up. Boot figured in all their childhood pictures. No festive occasion seemed complete without him. With time he lost his puppy fat and grew into an elegant dog, sleek and handsome. The terror of the colony, he guarded the house zealously, barked his head off at the postman, the gardener, the fruit-vendor, the cleaner, everyone. In the mango season he guarded the mango trees and when the grapes ripened he shooed away the urchins who came to vandalize. No stranger could enter the house easily. But, like Donne's lover, he had two faces, one to show to the world and the other to the ones he loved. With Bulbul and Kokil he was gentle and oh, so patient. He allowed them to pet him, tease him, frisk him playfully. As he grew older, he became more sedate and more tolerant with them. He even allowed their pet cat to paw his nose!
The years rolled by and the girls grew up and left home to seek their own place in the big big world. Boot went into depression. Intuitively he seemed to know that the world he once was a part of had changed irrevocably. He moped about and started refusing his food. Despite all persuasion and cajoling, he sulked. He started staying away from home, wandering the streets for long hours. One day when he was let out early in the morning to relieve himself, he did not return. That was on the 15th of August. The next day was an eclipse. They say eclipses bring about endings, closures, completions. (I recall, there was an eclipse also on 6th Feb this year, a date I cannot forget).
It is now several weeks since Boot disappeared. We have hunted high and low but without any luck. He simply seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. It is like the closing of a chapter. Bulbul and Kokil's growing years frozen in history forever. The present becoming the past. Packed and sealed, ready to be stored in the musty attics of the memory. A Blakean period of innocence turning into experience. A fully-rigged ship in a bottle. Remote and inaccessible.
I have not stopped searching. When walk around I keep an eye on the road – is that black shadow there, by any chance, a dog crouching by the roadside? I sometimes find myself honking mindlessly on the roads as I drive down, hoping against hope that he will hear it, emerge from the bushes and come bounding down the road. When I come home from work and unlock the door, I catch myself saying involuntarily – "Come on, Boot, come on out."
At night I still leave the gate open, on the off-chance that Boot may re-appear and find it difficult able to enter the house with the gate locked. And I still wake up nights when I imagine a scraping at the door. The scraping of a creature whose presence I had got accustomed to. A creature who was an indispensable part of our lives for fourteen years. A furry ball that grew into a loyal friend and companion until his final call came. A relic from Bulbul and Kokil's childhood now lost forever.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

poem by Mahmud Darwish

poem by Mahmud Darwish

if you are not rain, my love
Be tree
Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Be stone
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
Be moon
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon

[So spoke a woman to her son at his funeral]

Sunday, July 27, 2008

OH, FOR THE EMPTY NEST!

OH FOR AN EMPTY NEST!
Kokil has left for Singapore to do her Masters. Bulbul had left home six years ago – first for her MBA in Lucknow, then for her job. Vickram has been out of the house too, off and on, for the last four years.

So that leaves me alone with Raju and Boot, the dog.

“Oh, poor you,” my friends say, “it must be so sad, being all alone, with the children gone.” They talk about the empty nest syndrome and how it leaves parents so despondent.

I am not sad, I tell them. My daughters have grown up. They have sprouted wings and learnt to fly – finally, finally. Isn’t this what we trained them for? One day they would learn to fly and go forth into the wide world. Why then should I feel sad about it? It should be an occasion for celebration. Didn’t I leave my parents home to set up my own world? And my parents left theirs and so it goes back into history. It is the same story repeated from generation to generation.

This is how it is in a happy state of affairs. But what about the children who do not fly the nest, who cannot leave home? The ones who never sprout wings? Those who are destined to linger on in bed forever? They are the ones who do not leave the nest. They remain babies forever.

Give me the empty nest any day. Let all children be strong enough to discover their wings and fly into the boundless skies. Let them say goodbye to their parents and embark on long journeys to distant lands.

And let the parents thank their lucky stars that the children are capable of leaving home. That they have grown up. That they are healthy and strong and have now learnt to fly.

Let the parents with empty nests not weep over their loneliness. Instead let them count their blessings for they have not suffered the pain of bringing up a child who will never fly.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

When Dreams Beckon


If only life were that simple!
If solutions were easy to come by.
If dreams were to come true.
We sure would soar high.
O, yes, we would fly!

But dreams are dreams and so
They fade with the fading night.
They transport us to a world beyond but
Desert us in the morning light


They make reality bearable
Color our world for a while
We bask in their aura briefly
Ready to go another mile.


Last night once again I saw Raju in my dreams. Not unusual, this happens quite often. In my dreams he is not the way we know him in real life – unable to sit up, walk, talk, see or hear. Suspended between sleep and waking, I see him as a complete child – much to my surprise – and I wonder why I ever thought him challenged!

I saw him walking last night. I had taught him to walk and he had learnt in a jiffy. Just like that. How? Well, I stood with my back to him, told him to hang on to my waist and pulled him up – half-carried him on my back. Then I instructed – okay, Raju, now one step at a time – one two, left right, left right, follow my steps. I took slow forward steps.

And he followed. He took one tentative step, then another. And then he did not need my support. He was walking on his own. He was. And I called everyone excitedly – see, we thought Raju could not walk but he knew all along how to. And now, see, he is walking.

And then Raju could see, too. His eyes were no longer glazed. The opaque film had vanished and he was clear-eyed. Focused. He looked at me. He looked all around. Confidently.

How silly I was, I exclaimed! I spent all these years thinking he could not see!

Raju gave me hs hand and we walked along. His tiny feet were bare and I remember thinking – I must get him a pair of shoes, now that he can walk. But first a celebration to mark this milestone – Raju’s first tottering step! So what f he has taken it when he is almost 31.

But dreams are dreams and so
They fade with the fading night
They take us to a world beyond but
Disappear in the morning light

I wake with the sound of Boot barking in the lobby. He wants to go out to relieve himself so I let him out into the garden. And then I turn to Raju who is making clucking sounds in his sleep. He has a beatific smile on his face. He clutches Chimpu, the new, cuddly soft toy he has recently been gifted.

The left leg of his pyjamas has climbed up, so I pull it down and look at his little feet. The feet of a baby. Tiny, smooth and pink. They have never walked the ground. And never will.

This is reality.

What has faded was a dream!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

AND THEN WE WENT HUNGRY :(

And then we went hungry -- but only for a day. It was all for a good cause -- we were supporting PUTA in the agitation for Central University status.

Chain-fasting has been going on for more than a month now. Everyday there are at least five faculty members / research scholars sitting on hunger-strike. The venue is outside the PU Guest House, braving the heat and the dust, the loo and the occasional rain. Turn by turn, volunteers came forward to sit hungry all day under the makeshift tent in front of the university Guest House. And then Mina, Pratibha, Harpreet and I decided to sit together on fast one day.

It wasn't too bad, really. We decided on a dress code. Ahem! White kurtas would go well with the marigold garlands all chain-fast volunteers need to wear, so white kurtas it was!

And then what followed was a picnic sans edibles. Only water from time to time. It was good bonhomie, there under the Silver Oak trees, with colleagues stopping by to sign the attendance register in support of the cause. News reporters and photographers came by. So did Kokil with her camera to click photos of fasting aunties. The pic above is taken by her. The comment she made was -- "Mummy, you certainly don't look starved. In fact you seem to be having such a good time that no one will take you seriously!"

:(

Anyway, as you can see in the pic above, Mina was not there for the photo-session as she had to attend a court hearing briefly in between -- in connection with the PUTA issue to enhance the retirement age from 60 to 62 years. Here is her pic below. Any resemblance to Maharani Gayatri Devi is purely coincidental!






As they say, when you are in good company even hell becomes bearable. We were all friends there and this wasn't hell. So the day went by chatting and laughing. Kehte hain, na, pyar main rasta toh kya, zindagi kat jaati hai!

Where will our efforts lead? Can't say. One can only hope for the best, keep trying, waiting for the efforts to bear fruit!

"Let us then, be up and doing. With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait." (Longfellow)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A THANK YOU TO JANE SCHUKOSKE






I wish to dedicate this page to Jane Schukoske whom I met in Delhi yesterday.



A trip to Delhi in the hot summer months is never a welcome prospect. One does not relish the idea of getting up early to catch a jolting train to a hotter region. Moreover, for a die-hard Chandigarhian, Delhi is a nightmare. It has a temperature several centigrade higher. With its heat and dust, its noise and pollution, its chaotic bus-lanes, its nerve-wracking traffic, its tempo, it is just too much for one who is used to the green calm of the City beautiful. It s just too much for me.

But of course, there are times when one is called upon to undertake such a journey to the heartland of the country. So it was that I caught a train yesterday and was at the Fulbright House in the evening.


The occasion was a somber one – a farewell to Jane Schukoske who has served as the Executive Director of the USEFI for the last eight years. I was not obliged to attend the reception; it was just a casual, informal suggestion made to me –Jane is leaving, would you like to attend the farewell? – and I thought, Oh my God, I hate to see her go but, yes, I would like to be around to say bye to her! I have interacted with her closely over the years and have tremendous respect for her not only as the head of a prestigious institution but also as a person, as a human being.

I record here a few basic facts about her tenure as Executive Director, USEFI, and also the little gestures that made Jane such an endearing person.

In the year 2000, while scouting around for funds for our MELUS-India Conferences and also for the survival of the ASRC I met Jane several times in the company of people like Richard Cohen and the late Isaac Sequeira. The Fulbright House was then coming apart. Literally crumbling, or so it seemed. A historic structure, hard to maintain, it seemed antique and uncared for. Look at it today and it is transformed completely. Two months ago I stayed overnight at the USEFI Guest House and it was then that her contribution to the place sank in fully. While the building had the same imposing, historic fa├žade, the insides had been restored and renovated to suit contemporary standards. A brand new cafeteria on the premises, the gardens, the lawns, everything seemed new, and yet the same. The sense of history was not sacrificed as it combined with modernity. Everywhere there was evidence of a woman’s sensitivity and an impeccable aesthetic sense that could only be Jane’s.

Inside the offices, as I waited for the Program Officer to attend to me, I noted the easy conversation and the bonhomie among the staff. It was not hard to see that the positive vibes had percolated from above. There was this palpable feeling of oneness, of belonging to a single family, and of mutual cooperation.

Jane did it all!

I also wish to refer to an incident that told me a lot about Jane’s functional style. It was a stray complaint I made to the USEFI office. In retrospect it seems insignificant but at that point I was rattled so I had shot of a heated email to her. The response I got from her was a gentle note admitting a lapse on the part of her office, offering a handsome apology for the same. My resentment vanished immediately. I realized that I was dealing a magnanimous woman who did not hesitate to look at herself critically. She held a high office and didn’t really need to apologize. And yet, she was willing to admit a mistake and make amends! That was an eye-opener. In my estimation she soared high and I grew to respect her even more. There have never been any ego hassles with her. No holier-than-thou attitude problem. Nothing overbearing

And then, when I was working on my novel (Spots of Time) she offered to be my sounding board. “I like reading at night,” she said, and offered to give it a quick read and make suggestions. For this kind gesture I shall always be grateful. Some of her suggestions went into the revised version of the book which came out last October.

Hers must have been a difficult position – negotiating between two governments, Indian and American, but she has carried it off with aplomb for eight years. As she prepares to depart, Jane becomes a part of USEFI history, along with other Directors who have served the institution in the past. No doubt, many more will follow.

There are leaders. And leaders. Some of them make a difference. Jane has been one such person – who not only did her job but put her life and soul into it. I wonder if the future will match her contribution.

Music, when soft voices die, echoes in the memory, so said the poet.

And so your thoughts, Jane, when you are gone. Your deeds, your work, your soul. The essence of you at the Fulbright house will linger on....

I will not say good-bye, Jane, for you are in my list of permanents. And we will stay in touch.




Friday, March 28, 2008

INCOGNITO IN MONTREAL

The weather has improved somewhat. Apart from occasional snow flurries. The sun actually shines. Brightly. Coldly. Piercingly. Attacking the vision from diverse directions – the direct sunlight, the various reflections from the surrounding glass buildings, and most of all the glare from the snow that still covers much of the ground.

Temperatures are around -3 C but the weather report says “feels like -16 C” whatever that means. I guess it stands for wind-chill. The wind like a knife – Jack the Ripper’s, slicing through your guts, blowing your cap off your head, flapping against the overcoat. Pushing you down the road, if you are in the right direction.

I wrap myself up for the walk to office. Last week it used to take me 40 minutes. Now it takes max 20 because the snow has been removed from the sidewalks and I can walk faster, without the risk of landing on my derriere.

I still have to wrap up. The thermals, the sweater, the overcoat, the scarf, the cap. The hood of the overcoat keeps flying off so I’ve got this tight-fitting woolen cap. And the face freezes, so I’ve wrapped my scarf around much of my face, leaving only my nose for the fresh air. The icy fresh air. Then the goggles, to protect myself from the glare. But the icy wind still bothers my eyes and they sting. They begin to water. Arre bhai, someone will think I am weeping. I dab my eyes. The hands freeze, so I put them quickly back into my overcoat pocket and continue walking.

Four Points Hotel to my right – one of those high-rise 5 star ones. This is the very spot where I have slipped and fallen twice. There is no snow today but I am not taking a chance. I wait for the lights, cross over to the other side and continue walking.

I see my reflection in the show-window. Hey, I look as though I am in disguise! Muffled, coated,hooded, unrecognizable. I feel like a gangster in a Bollywood film. Or a gumshoe, a sleuth in disguise, going down those mean streets (hardly mean, Sherbrooke is wide and busy) in search of hoodlums. But, I wonder, do gumshoes and hoodlums have running noses? My nose, which sticks out above the muffler, is frozen and dripping. That is the only uncovered part of me now. Perhaps they have some kind of a nose-cap that would keep it warm. Accessories for Canadian weather. But I haven’t heard of anything like it.

I am seriously thinking of using a hanky to make myself a nose-bag. I have thread-n-needle in my flat. Will stitch it up, hand it around my nose, suspended on my goggles. That would take care of the drip. A nose-bag. This is urgent because if I neglect it the consequences may be dire.

I have spotted many window awnings with icicles hanging from the edges. Stalactites and stalagmites. No, those are forms of sedimentation. What I see now are drops of water – rain and ice – reluctant to let go of the ledge, hardening into icicles. Like wind-chimes, clear, transparent, they would probably riing a chime if I strike them!

But, let me come back to reality! If my nose continues to drip unchecked I am afraid there will soon be an icicle from my nose-tip, too. So, where’s my hanky. And my sewing kit. Let me make myself a nice, comfortable, ingenious nose-bag!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

ON TOP OF THE WORLD

ON TOP OF THE WORLD
My apartment is on the 22nd floor. I would have cribbed had there not been three elevators in the lobby. Elevators for which one need not wait too long.
From my window I get a bird’s-eye view of Montreal. Not so great, really, because what I see is mainly snow-covered roof-tops. Snow, snow and snow everywhere. Only the main street ahead, Rue Sherbrooke, has been cleared. The rest don’t seem to matter for they are still clogged with snow. The pavements are white, too, several feet higher than the streets. Apparently, the snow from the streets has been shoveled on to the sidewalks. (That’s what made me slip and fall yesterday.)
:(
Way ahead, I can see the horizon. The snow merging into the sky – just as the land had merged into the sea yesterday, from the plane. Somewhere down there is a streak of blue. That must be St Laurence River, so Mapquest tells me. One day, when the snow on the sidewalk melts, I will walk down there. One fine day.

This flat is somewhat bigger than the one I first went into – on Rue St. Urbaine. It has a separate kitchen (but nothing in it, other than a few pots and pans). A queen-sized bed, an easy chair, small dining table with two chairs. Some linen in the cupboard. Enough space for luggage. Free internet access. Not bad!
What I like best is being way up here, on top of the world.
“Consider this and in our time
As the hawk sees it or the helmeted airman:
The clouds rift suddenly – look there
At cigarette-end smouldering on a border
At the first garden party of the year...”
(Auden)

What I also like is the fact that the building has a gym, a sauna, and a pool. So whenever I feel the need for physical activity I can go down and work out. Great! I can do this so long the snow keeps me house-bound!
I shall have my time to myself here.
“And I shall have some peace [h]ere, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.”
(W.B. Yeats “Lake Isle of Innisfree”)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

WELCOME TO CANADA


WELCOME TO CANADA
“You mean to say people actually live there? Down there, under the snow?”
I am aghast. I have heard of the cold, inhospitable conditions but nothing has prepared me for this.
The entire countryside, as far as the eye could see, is one huge sheet of white. Not a uniform, wrinkle-free white but an uneven, lumpy, blanketed white. Like a bed left unmade. Or rather like a bedcover hastily pulled over a huge mess on the bed. The way it is in the children’s room once they hear my car honking round the corner.
So this is Canada. My first glimpse of Canada. It still looks virginal. Unexplored. Untouched. Thou still unravished bride of silence. Foster child of silence and slow time.
The smoother portions of the white sheet below tell me that a lot of it is water. Apart from this distinction it is hard to tell where the land ends and the water begins. It is all white, white, and white.
And yet, under the uneven blanket there are all those millions who breathe, live, work, jostle for space. All those who engage in affairs of the state, engage in the daily rat-race for food-clothing-shelter, aspire towards goals, personal or otherwise. There are some straight black lines below that indicate roads which have been cleared. But these are few. As the plane hovers over the city I note that traffic flows over just a few major streets. The rest, apparently, have not been cleared. What do those prople do? Those whose houses have been effectively sealed by the snow? I wonder.
Once I am outside the airport I pull out my diary to look at the instructions. Take shuttle to Downtown terminus – Beri Uquaam – then cab to Rue St. Famille. Hang on to cab. Pick up apartment keys at the realtors, proceed to Rue St. Urbaine.
There are mounds of snow on the roadside. At least three or four feet on either side. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow....” I have never seen so much of it.
The cab stops outside the realtors.
“Hang on, young man,” I tell the dark, smiling cabbie as I step out, look up and down for an entry point into the building. He comes out too and says – “From here ma’am.”
His finger points at the three-feet high barricade along the road.
“Huh?” I do not understand. Am I supposed to plough through the barrier?
Or perhaps dive into it with a Shammi Kapoor style “Yahoo” and swim across?
No, I do not feel so adventurous. It is my first day – no, my first few moments – in Canada and I would rather play safe.
“Here, ma’am,” he points to a faint track of footprints in the snow. So someone has walked across before. I feel somewhat reassured and make my way forwards, one cautious step at a time. The snow looks so delicious. I scoop up a handful of the powdery stuff and drop it again. It is dry. Like the grains of sand. Sybil, Sybil, what do you want? A long life, my lord, long years of mortal existence, as many as the grains of sand in my palm. They don’t say grains of snow. What then? Flakes, perhaps. But these in my palm are not flakey. They are more grainy. And yet not like sand. More like... what should I say? Cottony, perhaps.
I see the smile on the cabbie’s face, smile back at him, and move ahead towards the doorbell. A tall – O, my god! How tall she is! – efficient-looking woman called Jacqueline hands me the key and I make my way back to the cab, my shoes sinking deeper into the snow.
I don’t like Rue St. Urbaine. There’s something not nice about the building. It reminds me of the character-less, humdrum buildings meant primarily for refugees or asylum seekers. Come on, I tell myself as I tip the cabbie and take the elevator to the fourth floor, give it a chance. Let me not be prejudiced.
I take the elevator to the fourth floor. An old toothless man rides the elevator with me. He is bent and holds a sick-looking dog on a leash. Actually the dog looks healthier than his master!
Mine is a one-room apartment and the room is small. There is sufficient space for me to navigate to the other end, put down my heavy bags on the floor, laptop on the little table meant for the kitchen, and handbag on the bed. I survey the scene. Not bad, I guess. Small, but tastefully done up. The kitchen is stocked with rice, sugar, tea bags, cereal. The fridge has some eggs and bread.
I make myself some tea. The cup I reach out for is cracked from top to bottom. I don’t like it. Bad omen. Let me put it away, in a far corner.
While the tea brews I head for the loo which is only slightly bigger than an oversized cupboard. As I turn to shut the door, I collide into the shelf jutting out.
The face that stares at me over the washbasin is red-eyed and flabby. The mouth droopy, the skin dry and fatigued after more than twenty hours of flying. I splash some cold water on my face, dab it dry, peer again at the mirror, and try and mend the ravages. Meanwhile the washbasin has overflowed on to my shoe. There’s a puddle on the floor that I now have to avoid.
This will not do. I really don’t like it here, I tell myself as I sip my tea. One month in this hole will be impossible. Must find another way out.
Let me first go and report at the institute. Sure, I will walk. Don’t I have a map?
Map, yes. And it is just 1.6 miles away. It will take me at the most fifteen minutes to get there. Oh yes, it will be a nice walk. Cool and refreshing. With the pure driven snow on either side of the road. Welcome to Canada, it seems to say.
With a spring in my step I start for Concordia. One springy step and then another. And then another.
And then I slam on my breaks for I have felt the ground beneath my feet move a bit. It is the snow, hardened into ice that makes me skid. Oops, I’d better be careful. I walk with measured steps down St. Urbaine, towards Rue Sherbrooke. Once on Sherbrooke, I realize that I am on one of the main streets of Montreal. Wider, busier, more activity. More commercial complexes. I walk along the side-walk, choosing my steps one at a time. It is cold and I do not have gloves. So I thrust my hands into my pockets, button up my coat with the hood up, muffler tight around my throat, and move on.
It all happens in less than the twinkling of an eye. My right foot slips on ice and I find squatting on the snowy pavement. Bewildered, uncomprehending, unsure whether I should get up and dust the snow off my clothes or first take stock of the situations, check that I haven’t broken any bones. The rump hurts and my right elbow has taken the impact of the fall. But I can move my feet, my knees, my arms, so – thank god – no damage!
A passerby helps me up with a smile. I smile back, noting the dimples in his cheeks and rub my back ruefully, complaining: “Your country ain’t all that kind. I’ve just landed here a couple of hours ago!”
“Welcome to Canada,” he says as he picks up my bag and hands it back to me.


Girte hain shah-sawar hi maidan-i-jang main. Who tifl kya gire jo ghutne ke bal chale!



PS:
This is not for me. Give me back my bright sunshine and the hot winds. The dust and the grime. Give me back the heat that slaps me in the face when I walk down the road, the sweat that trickles down my spine. The mosquitoes that sing nightly in my ear. The power-cuts and the shortages. The walks in the Santi Kunj and Nirjhar Vatika where I don’t have to mind each step I take.
I miss my Chandigarh.
I realize that I love my India.

But this is just the first day. Canada might get better, so I guess I shouldn’t lose heart!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

AUTUMN LEAVES by B. S. Tyagi. (Hindi)


BHIM SAIN TYAGI -- World's Greatest Dad


This is me with my Dad,
Lt.Col. (retd) Bhim Sain Tyagi
(1923-2008)

The pic was taken exactly a year ago, in Feb 2007.



After ailing for about four months, let down by failed kidneys, undergoing dialysis twice weekly, swinging between despair and hope, my Dad passed away on the 6th of Feb. The cremation, the immersion of ashes in the Ganga, the Chautha – all that is over now. What is left is one huge hole. They say time will fill it by and by.
I had a very special relationship with him. Was the only one who lived close by and spent the maximum time with him.
I am sharing with you a note that I read at his Chautha – the prayer meeting for the peace of his soul – along with two of his poems, one in in English and the other Hindi (translated as “Autumn Leaves” on another page) .





LT.COL. BHIM SAIN TYAGI (Retd)

His name may not be familiar to all for he kept a low profile although he did a lot more than many others. Lt. Col. Bhim Sain Tyagi retired from the army at the age of 48, an age when he thought he could contribute his best to the world, so he decided to pursue his studies. He enrolled in Panjab University's Dept. of Laws, received his Law degree, and practiced for a while. His aim was philanthropy, and he wanted to help the poor and needy, all those who were unable to afford the hefty fees that legal procedure demanded. Thus, after serving the armed forces for more than two decades, he began a career in social work, fighting battles for the less privileged.

Simultaneously, he floated a society for relief, education and service to the people and opened up a school in the Madras Colony adjoining the Panjab University. It was a success and very soon another school in a different area came up under his guidance. Then another and another. By the end of it, Col Tyagi, with the help of his society, CARES, was running as many as eleven schools for the children of migrant laborers and other poor sections of society. He would collect funds from the Red Cross, from Social Welfare Departments, from philanthropists and others who would willingly donate for a noble cause.

This was not all. Col. Tyagi had a passion for writing. While still in the army, sometime in the early ‘sixties, he had penned a few collections of short stories in English. Being equally skilled in other languages, he wrote verses and stories in Hindi and Urdu too. The earliest collection was "Usha and Other Stories". His love for his village Hathwala, in Haryana, is evident in his non-fictional prose "A Few Pages from the History of Haryana" and in his novel "Quicksand of Time". With "Bandar ke Panje" and "Braiy Ruksat" he established himself as a significant Urdu writer. While holidaying with in Mauritius, he wrote "Tales from Mauritius" and "A Bunch of Stories". He also contributed to the genre of children's fiction with his "Poems" for all ages. His Hindi and Urdu poems were published in "Zindagi Guldasta Bhi Hai". In October 2007 he published his sixteenth (actually he had lost count by then!) book, an anthology of poems entitled "Sardi ki Shaam" (Hindi). He did not go for any hype; he did not ask for publicity or recognition. Some discerning bodies however – like the Urdu Academy – took note of his work and gave him an award but it did not mean much to him for he believed in the idea outlined in the Gita – that one must do one's duty and forget about it, without hankering after rewards.
Firmly believing in the immortality of the soul, he was prepared for his final departure and would often quote the lines: “I have warmed my hands before the fire of life, / It sinks and I am ready to depart.” He had bequeathed his perishable body and its organs to the PGI. The Eye Bank came to collect his donation when the time came, just as it had collected the eyes donated by his first wife when she had died, way back in 1979.

There is no denying that Bhim Sain Tyagi belonged to a vanishing breed of intellectuals who believed in high thinking and simple living. Ask him a question and he would have the answer – a living encyclopedia, if ever there was one. He was also an active Vipassana practitioner; he – with his wife Sudha Tyagi – showed the path of meditation and enlightenment to many others groping in the darkness. Actively involved in the functions of the Maharashtra Mandal and the Tyagi Sabha of Chandigarh, he had a circle of friends whose lives had been touched by the sunshine of his presence, who loved him dearly and have gathered here to pray for the peace of his soul. The guiding spirit behind all those who knew him, he may not be present In person today but those we love never go away. They walk beside us everyday, unseen and unheard, look down at us and smile, still loving, still a part of this beautiful world made even more beautiful by their good deeds that light up our lives.

Excerpt from a poem written by Bhim Sain Tyagi:

The Eagle’s Death

‘Tu Shaheen hai, parwaz hai kam tera’....

One fine day, the king of skies, the Eagle,
Having flown, floated, swooped and turned
Having done the ‘kam’ assigned by God
Selects the peak, the highest ledge
Or a lonely branch of a barkless tree
By snow and storm long beaten dead
Alights on it, its wings widely spread

Then it slowly folds its tired, creaky, wings
-- Which takes some time. Having done that
It puts its beak in the feathers on its chest
And then it closes its old Eagle eyes.

The snow, the storm, the deadly things
That were waiting behind the rocks
Come and gently pat and nudge
Saying, “Well done! O King of Kings”

The body falls ahead by gravity
Earth to earth returns, grain to grain
But the spirit soars towards the sky
High, higher, still higher it goes
The King of Birds, the Eagle, flies again.

















Saturday, January 19, 2008

MORE ABOUT MY BOOKS

Spots of Time: A Novel
Published by Graphit India, Chandigarh

When Priyadarshini Pannu, erstwhile editor and creative writer, decides to settle down in the outskirts of Chandigarh, she anticipates a quiet life with little excitement. This is the place where she hopes to resume her creative writing and produce another bestseller. However, as she works in a study overlooking a busy residential colony, she is inadvertently sucked into the lives of the people surrounding her. In particular, she finds herself drawn to Anamika Mehra who lives in Twitter House just across the road.
Spots of Time, interspersed with a sprinkling of verse, traces the interweaving stories of these two women, moving back and forth in time, progressing through flashbacks and reminiscences. Tangential characters emerge from the margins, come to the foreground with their own stories, and then recede. As the story unfolds, the various pieces of the collage are linked together by the narratorial consciousness that observes, assimilates and records a myriad different experiences, ranging from professional hazards in an academic environment to more agonizing issues of parenting a special child while coping with personal aspirations and ambitions.
The narratology is metafictional; the master narrative holds together several embedded little stories and yet is a coherent whole, inlaid with literary allusions, traversing an extensive terrain, from a tiny colony of the City Beautiful nestling in the Shivalik foothills to far-off places across vast oceanic distances.

Critical Opinions:
Spots of Time captures a writer's life of long, quiet struggles and turning points, a dance of familiar continuity and surprise. The characters in the novel are as close and real as neighbors towards whom the reader feels affection and curiosity. It is wonderful to see a Fulbright alumna who has varied academic interests contribute her own novel to the genre of Indian Writing in English.
(Jane E. Schukoske, Executive Director, U.S. Educational Foundation in India)

Spots of Time is about a small world with a big heart. It is a story which has been told with spontaneous eloquence. It stirs and moves as the main characters encounter life-altering situations, and shakes the reader as they find solutions that are at once mature, stoic and brave. The author’s world, in fact, is akin to R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi with its own ambience, wit, compassion, location details, charming touches and human concerns that are easy to identify with. The book leaves the reader in a state of delightful contemplative silence; a silence which reverts again and again to the nuances that colour the spots of time on human lives.
(Ashwini Bhatnagar, author and journalist, former Books Editor, The Tribune group of newspapers)

This new novel by Manju Jaidka is complex, nuanced, and sensitively written, with a great attention to the awkward details of everyday life. The revealing image of contemporary India it presents will not only add an important dimension to new fiction appearing from the subcontinent, it may help to problematise and deepen the very precepts underlying these fictions. Straddling the territory between fictional fantasy and factual document, it makes for intriguing, and often unsettling, reading.
(Jeffrey Geiger, Director of American Studies, University of Essex, Colchester, UK)


The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers: An Academic Satire
Published by Graphit India, Chandigarh

Literary history tells of genial satires that aimed at laughing away the imperfections of the world. Cervantes, for instance, with his Don Quixote, is said to have smiled away the follies of Spain. Going back further in time, we know of Horace and Juvenal who used the satiric vein to critique the ills of their times, the former in harsh, biting attacks, and the latter using a mild, genial satire. The object was the same – to present a dystopia in order to explore the possibilities of an alternative.
The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers, winding in and out through the corridors of an institution of higher learning, uses the comic lens to look at some of the flaws in the academia. What happens, for instance, behind the scenes in a major university? Who are the power brokers? What are the politics that operate in the system and at what different levels? How are appointments and promotions made? Is there any fair-play or justice? These are some of the questions raised in this play. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problems highlighted here are found on almost all campuses, in India and abroad.
The aim is not to target all academics, universities and colleges as corrupt but to take a peek at their not-so-pleasant side which, with a little effort and commitment, may be cured if we have the will to do so.
Critical Opinion:
"Manju Jaidka's The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers captures the essence of contemporary academic life, exposing what goes on behind the scenes. Good comedy crosses borders; hers travels well. It will delight audiences in Chandigarh, Chicago, New York, New Delhi, and elsewhere."
Howard R. Wolf
Emeritus Professor and Senior Fellow
Department of English
The State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNYAB)

BATCH OF '74

This is about a get-together we had on 18 Jan 2008. A bunch of us got together at the Students Centre in Panjab University. What we had in common was a shared 2-year period, 1972 to 1974, in the English Dept of PU. Altogether we were 14 who met over a cup of coffee. Pinka could not join us as he was tied up at the last minute. The rest are mentioned in the poem given below.

A shared time
In a shared space
Nudging and jostling
Side by side or face to face

We walked in step through two brief miles
Before we went our ways
To the North, to the South
Or East or west.

The sandstone buildings stood where they were
The sky was blue
The palm trees swished silently
The Gandhi Bhavan
The Students Centre stood firm
Nothing changed.
They all waited for those who had left.
For them to take
A backward look.

The Sukhna dried up
And filled and dried
Many a time – year after year.
The Madhya Marg aged too,
Grew wider, more crowded and noisy.
Sector 17 got focused around a Pedestrian Plaza
The triumvirate – Jagat, Kiran, Neelam – added to their tribe
And spread to the suburbs a Fun Republic.

Typewriters gave way
To computers
Photocopiers to internet
Love-letters and roses
To emails and s-m-s-es.
The palm trees stood mute
Witnessed it all – and waited.
For one day they would come back.
They all do, sooner or later.

A decade passed
And it was the Blue Star in Orwell's year.
Another decade, and another.
Time rolled by.
1974 became history,
Hazy and misty, a fading memory.

So the batch of 74 –
Some stayed put
And some went away
Only to return.

One of them trained in Pinkerton's Academy and came back as the Big Boss, flourishing a feathery cane.
Another gentle one went West but, bored with the Longhorns, came back like the tide, again and again, when the seasons changed.
One went down under, teaching literature to the Joeys, but got back again, for an annual pilgrimage home,
Mandy the Boy settled in the "Paris of India" where no one needlessly would remind him of his gender.
Sudhir, our Pataudi, gave up cricket and retired to his counting house dreaming of England all the while.
Dewey took on the role of Santa and resolved to spread the word of Love in the City Beautiful.
Some, like the two sisters, withdrew to the margins and began new lives.
Meera buried her nose deep in correspondence, Ranjana in books.
Sanjiv stayed put, bowing and smiling, honing his public relations.
Time rolled by.

Then, one day,
One cold, misty morning
One hazy, drizzly Spot of Time
They all awoke
Rubbed their eyes and looked up ---

The sky was a dull grey
The palm trees swished silently
The Stu C stood waiting
With the circular ramp snaking its midriff.

Nothing had changed.

The Coffee House was dingy
Its plastic chairs grimy
BUT the coffee smelt good
When raised in a toast
To the times that were

A sip, my friends, for the good times.
Another, and yet another.
For we have walked a while together
We will walk awhile together.

Let us walk another mile together.












Saturday, January 5, 2008

SPOTS OF TIME


BOOK LAUNCH

On the 20th of October 2007 I launched two books that I had written some years ago. One of them is a novel entitled Spots of Time. This book took almost a decade to write. It underwent many changes, many lives. kabhi toda gaya, kabhi moda gaya, sau baar isse yoon joda gaya. Finally it saw the light of the day on Oct 20, 2007.
The other book is a play in two acts. Entitled The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers, it is a comic satire that talks about what ails an institution of higher learning. The script was written about four years ago but, like Spots of Time, it was gathering dust ever since.

The books have been published by Graphit India, Chandigarh.
website http://www.graphitindia.net/
email: vipul.kataria@graphitindia.com
Ph: 91-172-3244117

The books were launched by the VC of Panjab Univesity, Prof RC Sobti, in the presence of my long-time friend and now the Chief Advisor to the UT Admistrator -- Pinka Mehra, one of the nicest guys I know.



This is me with Pinka! He has changed somewhat since I first knew hm -- almost four decades ago. Time flies, doesn't it?


Chairing the Book launch was Meera Malik, my friend and colleague in PU. Meera and I (along with Pinka) were class-mates at the Master's level (in PU). So it was a reunion of sorts. Also present were some other old class-mates. Diwakar, for instance, who owns Dewsun, the gift shop in Sector 11. Kitty and Baby Grewal, the two sisters, Mandy the Boy (thus called because there was a Mandy the Girl in our class, too) came with his wife, Kiran.

My colleagues from MCMDAVC were there, so were several friends and senior faculty from PU. It was an excellent gathering held at the Central State Library. Praveen Khurana, the Library In-charge took a personal interest in the even and made it a success.

The book-reading went off well, the highlight of the event being that when I finished reading, Prof Sobti himself decided to read a few pages, appreciating and commenting on what he read.

My only regret was that my Dad could not make it to the bok launch. He was too ill. Chi, my sister from Delhi, stayed home with him. Soni and family had come down from Delhi, so had Bulbul. It was Nani's birthday, too, that day and she was indeed dressed like a birthday girl! Vicky sat next to Nani. It was houseful, not even standing space. Bulbul and Kokil took a lot of pictures.


That was one memorable spot of time.


HE RULES MY WORLD

This is me with Raju.

My life, I would say, revolves around him, hovering around him, sometimes by his bedside, sometimes away from him, miles away but actually not so far. Sometimes in my dreams, and nightmares sometimes .

In this wide wide world there are people and people. Some you meet briefly, some for longer spells, some you walk awhile with you then part company, leave you stranded, musing and alone.

But some stay with you forever.

Raju is what gives my life its special-ness. Defines my existence, shapes my destiny. I did not seek him, I did not ask for him. He came to me and now he is mine. The king of my world!