The Twilight Years

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”
Ellen DeGeneres

 

The first time I read this quote I couldn’t stop laughing thinking what a wit Ellen was and cursing myself for never coming up with anything wittier than ‘mud in your eye’ or a tongue sticking out.

More than a fortnight back this same quote was no longer as funny but just a trigger to get me crying buckets.

You see my 95-year old grandfather, my Nanu, had gone for a walk and we really didn’t know where the heck he was.

What followed was a week of pure torture, much worse than anything the Chinese or Torquemador could have conceived (and from here say they seem to have conjured everything (in)humanly possible).

THE WAIT

Well I bet they never imagined what a fevered mind could conjure up.

Those seven days were agonizingly slow in passing. Every passing second seemed to stretch into eternity, every ring on the phone brought us new hope only to be dashed and every passing old man seemed to have more than a smidgen of resemblance to my missing grandpa.

We cursed ourselves for not being mindful enough (when in fact stopping short of strapping him to the bed we kept an eye out for his every movement from the time he woke up to giving him his meals like clockwork to not letting him step out of the house to not letting him have his bath by himself – my mother was the primary and only care giver – to bundling him up like he was headed for the North Pole to regimenting his lifestyle so he hit the sack by 10 every night) , for not getting a leash, for not getting a GPS tracker, for not installing a CCTV camera, for not telling the neighbours about the slow onset of dementia, for not putting him in an assisted care facility that would have had care takers 24/7 and so on and so forth.

THE SEARCH

And while the self guilt and mental blame game went unhindered we also filed a police complaint.

Surprisingly, the police were very co-operative. They filed a complaint after the stipulated 24 hour waiting period. They issued an all city alert.

We called everyone in our contacts across the country to help us search or aid in the search.

We went on Social media to launch a campaign called Find Nanu on Facebook.

We tweeted.

We instagramed.

We Whatsapped.

We scoured hospitals and police stations.

We went to NGOs (Nightingale Dignity Foundation comes to mind, they are doing a phenomenal job of taking care of people with dementia and alzheimers as also Auto Raja Foundation).

We discovered that there is an elderly helpline  1090 / 22943226.

We discovered that there is RVM Foundation which picks up destitutes on the streets and houses them till they find their real homes or takes care of them until alternate arrangements are made.

We made posters and plastered it all over the city, wherever we thought in our fevered imagination Nanu might have walked. You see we truly didn’t know where the heck Nanu walked to.

We hounded ex-journalist friends to write stories.

We contemplated issuing a missing persons alert on the telly and in the papers.

We planned on inserting flyers and have it distributed through local paper vendors.

 

THE LEADS (false but keeping hopes up)

And we waited.

That first call came from a girl who called at 1 am to inform us she saw someone looking like Nanu at a spot 8 kms away from our residence. SO rush, rush. Only to find it was a drunk who looked a lot like him.

Next came a call from the railway station and the hunt was on. Not him.

Then was the call we dreaded (or thought we did) from the morgue to identify an unidentified corpse. The good samaritan cop volunteered to check the body and thank God, it wasn’t Nanu.

We realised what was worse was the Not Knowing, the tormented imagination of a overtly stressed mind and emotional heart, the fact that we were snug in our beds while some one we loved and cherised was all alone battling a strange world, loneliness, hunger and thirst.

 

FINALLY

We got a message on Facebook from a stranger who urged us to go to a spot 22 kms away from our residence along with the stranger’s number and contact details.

A call ensued.

Hope had slowly receded but not quite.

We put out a message asking for volunteers so we could have more legs to cover a vast area that was park land, wooded and dark. Friends came, family rushed, acquaintances called, good samaritans volunteered.

And…

seven days after he had disappeared, my 95-year old Nanu was finally found.

Here is how….

Bangalore Mirror covered the story, the before and the after.

LESSONS LEARNT

Always treat the Elderly like you would a teenager: Tell them the Do’s and Don’ts but equip them to cope (in our case we mollycoddled Nanu so much that we never bothered telling him the location of where we stayed or the address in the belief we would always be there to take care).

Quit with martyrdom and guilt, if assisted care or old age homes will keep your elders in safe environs, so be it.

Invest a little time and effort in making sure they always have an ID card on them (a friend told me how her mother had stitched an ID tag on all the clothes that mentioned the name of her dad, who had dementia, with address and emergency contact numbers).

Invest some time in getting to know your neighbours, the local cops and the hospital. Had we told our neighbours about my Nanu’s condition of partial memory loss perhaps some one would have brought him home the minute they saw him sauntering out alone on a walk.

Invest some money in getting a GPS tracker or a CCTV camera.

And yes, social media is great to get the message viral but what clicks is Good old Print……

And the most important lesson, BELIEVE IN THE GOODNESS OF PEOPLE.

What we received throughout this terrible ordeal has been overwhelming support from friends, acquaintances and strangers. People who called and messaged each day to enquire about the progress of the HUNT, about help they could provide, who gave us tips and leads and always, always kept out hopes alive.

THIS IS MY THANK YOU to all those out there who prayed, supported us and helped us sail the tide of bad karma.

THANK YOU

 

 

Getting More

I’m the one you find having long, intimate chats at parties instead of being the life of the party. You will find me snuggled on the couch with a book or two, music playing in the background and a puppy/Bambhubhai for lively company. You will find me experimenting around the house or in the kitchen before dashing off to finish that long-taken on project. You will probably find me in the same coffee shop, sipping the same coffee if you caught me there two times or more in a row. I have my favourite haunts that I haunt till they won’t let me haunt no more; my bookshops where I can get lost infinitely in its musty, dank corners or strolling through old parts of my city where I can still breathe air and not smoke.

In short, what you will realise is I easily get into my comfort zone and barely slip out of it just as I hold on to that tattered, moth-holed Tee. I’m comfortable in my skin, happily piling on and losing the pounds, laughing my way to the last paise in my account and holding random conversations with whoever is willing.

So does it make me get the most out of life or more even?

Hell, yea living in my comfort zone has kept me happy and insulated from a tumultous world that has changed from breezy, easy to a stress-ridden rollercoaster.

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This weekend I decided to expand my comfort zone a lil, well just a wee bit to try and find out how the super active hyper others live. Well, guess what they do book readings and theatre shows and meet up with friends and have long-winded dinners without breaking into a sweat. I was feeling burnt out by the time I was done with two of the above.

Well, one step at a time I say. In the meanwhile, here is what my comfort zone looks like at present 🙂

The Job’s Garden of Eden by Rachel Chitra

I stumbled across this refreshingly delightful work of writing on a friend’s wall. Turns out the author is a mad hatter with dog(s) and kid in tow living a charmed life while she moonlights as a journalist.

The post evoked great childhood memories for my mum as I read this out loud. Of indulgent parents and living in the lap of nature unspoilt and uncompromised by the baggage of modern living.

While I’m still trying to entice the author to be a guest blogger on The Glass Ceiling for now here’s her post. I can’t think of a better way to wish you all A HAPPY FRIDAY and a Fantastic Weekend Ahead.

Hope you enjoy Rachel Chitra’s The Job’s Garden of Eden with incredible photographs by Nathan.J.Novak as much as I did.

 

THE JOB’S GARDEN OF EDEN

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In our family’s private circle of church friends and relatives, my grandfather Dr E.J.C.Job’s sprawling plot of land in Mandaveli was always referred to as the “Garden of Eden.” And indeed it was an overwhelmingly lush and green spot. My grandfather was such an enthusiastic, scientific gardener that if one were to call him a horticulturist it wouldn’t be far of the mark.

Another irony is that despite my grandfather’s deep love for the soil and all kinds of flora and fauna, he spent the majority of his life on the high seas as an Indian Naval doctor. It was only after his retirement as Surgeon Commander I.N.S that he was able to revel in his life-long passion by converting his house into a veritable paradise.

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If I remember right, we had 5 coconut trees, 2 jackfruit trees, 1 really top-of-the world alphonsa hybrid mango tree, a neem tree, two drumstick trees, stalks of banana in the backyard, papaya, Ram Sita (sugar apple), pumpkins and custard apple. We also had our own lime tree and I still love the fragrance of crushed lime leaves; even today while rambling through Russell’s market I can buy a whole cartload of lemons if I spot them with their leaves intact. We also had a sapota tree and one lovely amla tree, which was nearly 2 stories high. My grandfather unfortunately cut it down later when he felt he couldn’t deal with the hordes of school boys descending on us and almost breaking their limbs in their quest for amlas.

My grandfather used to garden everyday – meticulously pruning, shaping, fertilizing and generally coaxing his wards into good health. He would also casually mention the scientific names of animals and plants as I followed him around the garden like Mary’s little lamb. For me if I can remember off-hand names like clitoria ternatea, Annona squamosa, Phyllanthus emblica (mixed up in my child’s mind as umbilical cord), Panthera leo, panthera tigris, Canis lupus, Felis catus – it can only be because like Enid Blyton I had in my grandfather a deep connoisseur of nature.

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My grandfather was also a strong believer in letting children learn for themselves. So when my 8 year old father got stuck climbing a mangosteen tree, my grandfather just casually told him to come down the same way he went up and walked off; even as my worried-sick grandmother hovered around shouting frantic instructions. My father finally plucked up enough courage to make the attempt and descended in safety. It was the same with me – when my grandfather told me not to climb the drumstick tree I didn’t heed his advice. Later when I had huge welts on my skin from coming into contact with the stem-boring caterpillars, which had made the drumstick tree their domain, he never told me “I told you so.” But there was a twinkle in his eye as he ministered to the swelling, which sealed our own private pact of discovery and growing up.

We also had a lot of flowering shrubs – white, magenta & violet december flowers, gundu malli, jaddi malli (jasmine), kangambaram (red & orange firecracker flower), fiery red roses, balsam, spreading vines of pink button roses, Idli poo (jungle geranium) and abundant bushes of Vadamalli. The Vadamalli was a plant that my grandfather had never fancied much, but then nature finds its own way; and this abundant crop had grown from the discarded garland of one of our dear departed relatives.

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Come March and we had the Easter lilies! The Easter lilies adorned the edge of the lawn facing our house and my grandmother used to faithfully cut them every Easter to occupy pride of place in our drawing room. And these Easter lilies were huge ones that were almost a hand span in diameter. Now I wonder if they were that huge as a result of my grandfather’s experiments as I’ve never come across any to rival them in terms of sheer size. 

 Another lovely thing about the garden was that it was the pleasantest place to be in if my grandmother set me down to finish my embroidery or knitting exercise for the day. It used to be so pleasant to sit under the cool shade of the neem tree, with the wind tousling my hair and listening to the low hum of local gossip as our street watchmen gathered under it like me on the other side of the fence to take their afternoon siesta. Many of them used to also pluck the neem stems to use as toothbrush & toothpaste – such a healthy habit, which I never picked up because of the intense bitterness of neem.

Despite being a gardener, my grandfather never once resented the predatory and destructive activities of my cats and dogs. He always tolerated their mischief in the manner of Issac Newton and his dog; “O Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done.”

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During the jasmine flowering season, the garden smelled heavenly with the smell of ripening mangoes, the jasmine and the sweet pink button roses (traditionally used to prepare attar).We used to string together the abundance of our garden flowers to adorn the heads of our care-cell members and my own unruly, tight oily plaits. I used to love this job and one of the few things I’m good  at it – is stringing flowers together with the speed and professional ease of the road-side flower girls!

My grandfather also loved his ferns, edible tubers (maravelli kizhangu, sakkaravalli kizhangu) & kitchen herbs (coriander, pudina). We also had plenty of medicinal plants too – like aloe vera, Kuppaimeni, Kathalai, Ceylon Spinach (that I really wished my grandmother didn’t include in her menu) and Manathakalli – it must be more than 10 years since I last had those wonderful berries, but I can still distinctly remember their taste.

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One of our maids Dhanam hailed from Vaniyambadi and was a farmer herself. She used to be thatha’s assistant in harvesting our sundakka shrubs (turkey berry), grafting the rose bushes, taking a burning torch to the caterpillars on the drumstick tree, etc. But she really came to life only with our coconut tree, she would painstakingly split the leaf stalkes down with her pocket knife and hem and haw at them till they produced nice, thick broom sticks, she would fashion kitchen scrubbers from the coconut matting and little monkey faces for me from the coconut husks.   

I think for my grandparents it was a marriage made in heaven. They perfectly complimented each other in every way. Apart from their deep, abiding love for each other they were also very supportive of each other’s hobbies and interests. I can still remember how my grandfather even at the age of 70 would go clambering up a ladder with a long stick & wired net to pluck mangoes for my grandmother’s jams and pickles. My grandmother was an amazing cook, who used to produce the most dazzling array of pickles, chutneys, squashes, jams, relishes and alwa from the flood of fruits that used to descend on us with each passing season. There used to be rows and rows of salted limes or mangoes laid out on clean white sheets on the terrace, on the balcony, on the window ledges, on the garage roof to be dried in the sun and later turned into bottled goodness.  

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Before the family’s finances permitted my grandfather to pursue his medicine, for nearly a year he studied at the local agricultural college. He was passionate about horticulture and was open-handed and generous with the efforts of his labour. Every visitor to our house – would leave with gunny bags brimming with coconuts, mangoes, jackfruit or whichever fruit was in season. For some of our friends – who were not country-born – there would be this big jackfruit-cutting session with oiled knives, newspapers and cordoning off of kids and dogs with grubby paws.

I think my grandfather’s garden was a testimony of his overflowing love for plants, animals, his family and his friends and it is with the fondest memories that I view these pictures of the halcyon days.

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Hard Times

When the going gets tough get going. Nope, it’s not that oft-repeated saying but this classic Billy Joel number from the 80’s.

I was reminded of it when I watched my grandpa make a sprint to our patio to check out the peacocks. No, I ain’t kidding. We actually have peacocks frolicking in our backyard (and front too) with all the bee eaters, shrikes, racket-tailed drongos, puppies and strays, magpie robins, kites, shikaras, mongooses and even lapwings on a rainy day! And yes, my grandpa still sprints!!!

Getting Younger and Wiser

He’s 95 years young, no, not the peacock… my grandpa. He’s lived in India through pre-independence, post-independence, license raj and post-liberalisation.

To put that in context, he was a babe in the woods when the British ruled India during the 1920s. His world was a privileged one. He had a proper fiefdom with hectares of land and people at his beck and call. He ran away from home to study in Chennai since he didn’t want to be an illiterate gentleman of the farm. After all, he was just being true to himself.

Just as an aside, we made a trip down memory lane to visit his Chennai roots. You can read more about it here….

There was no saffronisation though people were rigid in their religious beliefs. My grandpa was a staunch believer in the Congress party and the ideals it stood for. So he participated in the Salt Satyagraha, albeit on the sea shores of Chennai. He spent a brief spell in jail as a freedom fighter. There is a photo of Gandhi and Nehru together addressing one of the freedom struggle movements here.  Now, he reads the magazines and papers, and watches the news on TV but he abhors politics. He has seen and lived with people of a better breed, who stood by what they believed!

As I go through old albums I come across a ticket stub for a cruise ship bound to Australia. There is a post card datemarked circa 1940s with an address bearing the same street that my brother resided in 70 years later (Though both these glories actually are that of his brother).

He recollects how people would bow before him because he was a zamindar (landlord). Society did not believe in dignity of labour and people still lived in the varna system, he says. Yet, he worked along side his ryots (farmer).  There is a weathered press clipping where my grandpa is extolled for using the latest technology (irrigation at that point in time) on his farm. There are certificates bestowed on him by various agricultural institutions including for skills he mastered in silk worm rearing.

Perspective aplenty

There were no malls when he was a teen or a sprightly man living through his 30s, 40s and 50s that charged Rs 120 for a plate of idli/vada or a Sukhsagar by the sea in Jumeirah in Dubai. Instead what he had was an anna to buy himself a hearty breakfast of puri/bhaaji, dosas for lunch and a ride back home with some change left over. Wow, 1 anna got so much more than what Rs 100 gets me today. Again, to put this in context one anna is probably worth 6 paise today. LOL, we don’t even have ten paise and 100 paises make one rupee. And even the 1 rupee has become obsolete.

My old gentleman was and is a tough nut.

He married for love, not an arranged nuptial which was all the rage then. His wife was a socialite (so he says) and she was always impeccably groomed. She was a baker and she inspired women to come into their own through baking, agriculture, sewing and other handicrafts. So what??! Remarkable, I say, considering this was the 1930s when women were not expected to do more than bear children and slog over wood stoves from four in the morning to twelve at night. Society was patriarchal, not matriarchal.

When the going gets tough, he got going.

He lost his land in the land acquisition act. From being a gentleman farmer in his fiefdom he came to the big, bad city where he reinvented himself to become a manager in the transport & logistics sector. He travelled from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He got his children the very best he could offer from imported biscuits to Sharbati wheat, even then called grains of gold.

From a man who held on to his conservative beliefs, whether religion or women’s rights, today, he is the more progressive individual I have met. Unfortunately, his kids never enjoyed that mindset but we grandchildren do. There is nothing we can do or no one we can beat, so thinks our grandfather.

As I stare at hard times progressing steadily into my 30s I falter and fall. Losing a job, battling health issues, struggling to meet financial commitments, getting a start-up off ground and still staying focused on the positives becomes tough.

But heh, one look at this diamond in the rough and I know I have what it takes to meet life head on. After all I’m of his stock.

 

 

 

Conforming to Stereotypes

With every passing year I find stereotypes increasing rather than decreasing, this in the time of globalisation and homogenisation seems ridiculous. A funny post that went viral since it appeared on Buzzfeed brought this thought to fore and what tickled my funny bone is this ‘

26 Questions People From India Are Sick Of Answering.’

Seriously, coming from a nation that thrives on conforming to stereotypes (I’m sure quite a few brickbats are already aimed my way) this was funny to say the least.

Attend any social event in India, and here is a list of personal favs that get thrown your way:

1. Where do you work?

2. You married? (if you forgot to tie your hair up or are wearing a harried smile)

3. Why not? (the inevitable follow up)

4. How many kids ? (If the answer to  question #2 was yes)

5. Why not? (If the answer to question #4 was No)

6. Do you know….(this will be followed by names of X,Y,Z depending on whether your gender is XX or XY and ‘I can introduce you..’ or “Do you know Dr. X, Y,Z  (obviously infertility experts) and both these responses depend on what your answers were to questions #2 and #4).

7. OMG and your parent are ok with it (this if you are married out of caste or to the same gender or have just accepted a job overseas and you are single, female that is or anything else that is out of the normal social norm )

Now if you think this is complicated, read on..

Your barrage of well meaning relatives (definitely not friends) will ensure you never forget to (try and) confirm to the stereotypes set for you.

If you are 35 and above: should be married with children

If you are 30 and above: should be done with education and have a steady, well paying job and not be a stay-at-home dad (let me know if there are others)  or if you are still pursuing education and have no clear career goals ahead of you

If you are nearing 30: should show maturity (meaning no bushman look or romping up hills on enfields or legging it out at all nighter rock concerts with just your pals and beer for company)

If you are self-employed: until you can preen that you may very soon be related to the Ambanis or the Birlas better to keep it under the carpet unless you are ready for ‘You know, during my days….(followed by stories of triumph/how-to-do-it-better/how to avoid failures/etc…etc..)’

If you are a woman: should be married but if you are single (shouldn’t be divorced or have live-in boyfriends in either case pretend to live in their version of reality and not yours)

If you are a man or woman with relationship with the same sex or intercaste marraige or inter-religious marraige: well, nothing more to be said about it…

I SNUB YOU, you just broke all the sterotypes

and darlings, more power to you!!!!

P.S: Do share your list of fav’s too

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The Spotted Devil and Permaculture

I have never seen mum so happy to get back from a holiday and needing a holiday from a holiday.

She has been glued to her favorite soaps trying to catch up on what she missed, whatsapping her fav. people, having hot water showers and just putting her legs up.

Grandpa is busy strolling around our house with a wistful sigh at times. He misses the greenery and the cicadas and the sound of silence.

As for myself, I still can’t get over the fact that I actually managed to trace Gummalapur and be a part of this awesome experiment of giving back to nature what rightfully belongs to her, the forests!!

Meet Navzer and Shahnaz Kotawala, the sprightly, bubbly Parsi couple with ever-smiling faces and a warm hug to all their visitors who come to volunteer at their forest farm.

Navzer & Shahnaz An ex-Air Force officer, Navzer is the brain behind this venture, while Shahnaz is its heart.

Located nearly 54 kilometers away from Bangalore at the edge of the Thally Forest Reserve, Navzer and Shahnaz’s forest farm – Gowri Navadarshanam- is a part of the Navadarshanam campus and ideal for people who want to get away from it all.

The reward: you are away from any wisps of modern technology and right in the lap of nature. And you get to taste some yummy Parsi food, home made jams and pickles.

It is back to basics.

You learn to sleep listening to the sounds of the Cicada and the rustling of leaves.

There is no AC or fan. Phones don’t work and neither do laptops and i-pads. The farm is powered by solar energy.

You will not find leaky faucets here nor hot water taps. Every drop of water is precious. Rainwater harvesting is the main source and the farm is monsoon dependent.

Your day starts at 6 am or earlier if you want it to. You can help Navzer in his daily chores around the farm or help Shahnaz prepare the breakfast and clean up the garden.

Irrespective of what you opt for one thing is certain, this is an authentic experience.

The farm itself is spread over 6 acres, of which the couple has inhabited nearly 2 acres with their beautiful English-type cottage, with high ceilings, a huge kitchen, a well-appointed living room, a lovely loft, their sleeping quarters, a guest room and  a room stacked high with carton boxes, groceries and other precious items that makes surviving on this farm easier.

Thanks to Organic Terrace Gardening and Shankary I was fortunate to experience permaculture at close quarters and in a very small way contribute a wee bit to reforestation. Permaculture, a concept propounded by Bill Mollison, Sepp Holtzer and David Holmgren,  is a contraction of the word “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture.” What Navzer and Shahnaz have tried in their forest farm is be true to the principles of permaculture. They grow their own food, conserve ecology and our precious natural resources.

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If you think it is easy, just think again.

Imagine having to look after poultry, milk cows, feed ducks, fend off poachers who try to lop off sandalwood and teak trees on the wilder part of your estate; lack of water due to 2+ years of bad monsoon means you create your own drip irrigation system, a system for rain water harvesting so your vegetable patch and fruit orchards receive enough water to give you tomatoes, broad beans, french beans, different types of limes, okra, cucumber, lettuces of different varieties, oranges, guavas, pomegranates, pumpkins, papayas, onions and herbs such as thyme, dil, basil, mint, coriander and curry leaves; wash vessels with the precious little water available; tap solar energy to cook and power the few equipments you have on the farm; wake up every morning irrespective of ill health and do all this with a single farm hand to help!!

Incredible, but true. And this is what Navzer and Shahnaz do. You can read more about this dedicated couple here.

They welcome volunteers to help. You can write to them at nfkothawala at gmail dot com or call 86757 88769 (handset) or 92436 04508 (fixed line).

EPILOGUE:

On my last day of the farm I took out ‘In The Jungle’ by Kenneth Anderson, an Indian born British writer who wrote about the Jungles of South India. I was deeply engrossed in Ghooming the jungles when I felt a tap on my shoulder and jumped.

The previous night, mum had said she saw two fiery greenish-gold eyes stare at her from the windows. I told her it must have been the family’s pet calico cat but secretly hoped it was either a leopard or a panther she may have seen.

Anyways recovering from the fright, I looked up to see Navzer standing with a smile, “Wait here, I have something to show you.” I was still trying to recover from the tap when he walks in, holds out a diary, points to an entry and asks, “Who do you think this is?”

In bold script was written the legend, Don Anderson.

I nearly fell off my chair.

The DON ANDERSON, actually stayed at their farm a few years back.

Don Anderson is Kenneth Anderson’s son and features very prominently in several of his stories. In fact, I had completed a chapter in which father and son go hunting a leopard. When I reveal this to Navzer, he smiles indulgently and asks, “Do you remember crossing Gummalapur?” “Of course, I do. How can I forget since you used it as a landmark to direct us to your farm.”

“Well,” he says, “This is the very Gummalapur where his story the Leopard of Gummalapur is set in. In fact, Devinakottai is located close by from here. ”

And to think I had pestered the members of the Kenneth Anderson Society to help with tracing the routes of all KA’s adventure, and here I had, inadvertently stumbled upon one of his maneaters!!!

The Maneater of Gummalapur: The Leopard of Gummalapur, also known as the Spotted Devil of Gummalapur was a maneater responsible for the deaths of 42 people in the villages of Gummalapur and Devarabetta in southern Karnataka. There is a wiki. KA was summoned by the District Magistrate to hunt down this leopard and he was successful in his third attempt.

While I was unable to go to Devinakottai since Bambubhai had to drive us back from Anekal and hates night time driving we plan to make it the next time. Watch out for a post devoted to the KA circuit soon……

Till then, Happy Ghooming 😉

Work Ethics

The earliest memories of my demure, 5’4″ mosima (grandmother) are always associated with sunrises, woody smoke, cotton sarees and the fragrance of Charmis cream. 

I’m nearly five I think, my summer holidays have just started and I burrow myself deeper into the thick blanket mosima has wrapped around me.

No books to be bundled inside my canvas bag, no homework to be checked by a hawkish uncle, no poems to be learnt by rote and no tests around the corner.  I will away the chirping of the sparrows, the woody smoke from the kitchen and the  morning light I knew awaited me. The chill of the morning along with the rhythmic snoring of my grandpa was enough to make me glide back to sleep where I knew I would dream of books piled high along with hot samosas and Boost.

But rain or shine, holidays or school my dearest would be up before the cock crowed. Yes, we had roosters at every corner in Bangalore then along with cowsheds. My city was truly a garden city. My road was lined with yellow and orange champa trees, their fragrance intoxicating and heady in summers; gulmohars in resplendent red during the monsoons and always, mosima pottering around the house like a goddess. She was omnipresent.

In the kitchen, making breakfast and packing lunch for a family of 8 that sometimes expanded to 15 and more. In the garden, watering her beloved papayas, pomegranates, banana, jasmine, hibiscus and all the other myriad bushes and trees that dotted our small plot. In the veranda giving a bowl of egg and milk to a stray dog we had adopted. She wasn’t a dog lover but there was just no way she could refuse to care for yet another creature. To her all of God’s creatures were to be loved and nurtured. She would be in the backyard serving coffee to the old lady who helped with cleaning vessels and washing clothes. To the market she would go with her cloth bag and me in tow. At times, I would accompany her on a 6 km hike to our ration shop to buy the monthly groceries of rice, dal, oil, sugar and wheat.

Till the day she was admitted to the hospital where she breathed her last my dearest never wearied of fulfilling her duties to her family, her neighbors and the ones she cared for. 

Always the first one to wake up and the last to sleep. Non-complaining, ever-smiling, quick with a hug and a patient ear. Non-judgmental and driven, to be the best she could for us, her thankless brood. 

Now as I pour over management books and read articles galore I realise my dearest had the traits of a successful entrepreneur and an inspiring leader.

  1. She worked harder than the rest of us, whom she united as family
  2. She never asked but gave willing of herself and commanded us with a gentle smile, never a tear or a threat
  3. She was always willing to give a second chance and yet another chance till proven wrong
  4. She was driven by an inner moral compass and higher principles
  5. She never advised without being sought
  6. She never sat on judgement but stood by your side to pull you up and get you going

As I look around me at  papers piled high, clothes strewn around, empty bottles of water and the clock ticking by I see a sweet lady pick up and arrange with nay, a murmur nor a rebuke.I hear her sing, cook and clean with never a care for her aching body or thankless brood (smaller though it be) and I think to myself, I can’t go wrong. For my mother carries on where mosima left off.

I have a long way to go but I know the work ethics I have imbibed from the women in my family run deep within me.

As I trace my career,  adventures in living, challenges and triumphs I realise it is my mosima I look to for inner strength and retaining my authencity of who I am and being the best I can be; of staying true to myself and bouncing back every time I fall.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be gorgeous, brilliant, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. …As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

 

 

 

 

Rediscovering my roots: Chennai Express

“We are leaving for Chennai Thursday. No ifs and buts. Keep yourself free,” my uncle tells me.

I hang up and mentally start ticking my never-ending check list…apply for leave; create acceptable reason for leave; calls with the team; finish incomplete documents; visit my never-friendly bank; ticket printouts; stock weekend groceries; yadayadayadayadayahhhhh….. you get the picture.

4.30 am on a Thursday morning. Backs packed. I board the taxi with mum and grandpa (nanu). Suitably excited.

“You don’t spend. You just come. Let  mum and grandpa decide the itinerary. You don’t think, just relax and enjoy the trip,” these were my uncle’s strict instruction.

Bambubhaibatliwala had other commitments so I was game for an all-expense paid trip where the most I had to think would be to chose between dosa and pongal-vada or staying back in the hotel and snoozing or braving the heat to explore the local market, and going back to being a child. Eh, I was game and visibly excited!!

5.15 am and we are at the city railway station, the old gate. Uncle with a rucksack waiting for us.

We board the Shatabdi which is just veering into the station. I check for our names and find we have been allotted separate seats, yay!!! Now, I can pop the earplugs and snooze away for the next 5 hours.

Settling in

Settling in inside the Shatabdi

We stack our bags on the rack, and I settle down in my chair. My uncle beckons and I sit next to him. He has negotiated with a fellow passenger to exchange seats. Jugaad, i tell you!!

I look around, pleasantly surprised. Is this the new Indian Railway?!Wow.

No cockroaches.

No rats.

No lizards.

No pan-chewing, tobacco-spitting stains.

6:00 am: Shatabdi leaves Bangalore City Railway station and we are off to Chennai.

6:02 am: Bottled water arrives

6:35 am: Napkins and a tetrapack of juice is served

7:00 am: Breakfast is served

8:15 am: Biscuits and tea/kaapi served

9:00 am: The Day’s newspaper is handed out (you have a choice of Deccan Chronicle, DNA, The Hindu)

9:15 am: Self trying to sleep cuddled on dear uncle’s shoulder

9:30 am: Shaken up by dear mum to look out window at beautiful green fields, which are admired and eyes shut

10:00 am: Stench hits nose; Eyes open and look around…huh, flatulence

10:15 am: Eyes still open and wandering around; Look up to find a squiggly apparition dancing in the loft

Ratatoutille

Ratatoutille

10.15-10.30 am: Self excitedly points to four-legged mammal, the vahan (vehicle) of our elephant-headed God Ganesh.

More fingers are pointed and everyone now looks to loft.

The mammal scurries up and down.

Screams heard.

Pantry boy comes running out.

Mammal scurries around and finally decides to head to the next coach.

10:30 am: Self reclines further into chair and closes eyes

10.40 am: nudge, nudge

10.50 am: Heading slowly into Chennai Central

10:56 am: Chennai Central

Hop out train along with bags and parents. Uncle busy finding out taxiwallah.

Chennai Central in the background

Chennai Central in the background

Mum embarks on a narrative retracing her countless journeys that took her to and from Chennai Central to other parts of south India; her childhood; her teenage years; her marriage; kids and now after 3 decades she is back in Chennai.

BTW, when in Chennai, always use the Fast Track. They are the old reliable. Good drivers, great service and reasonable fare.

Onward to the hotel we stayed at Egmore. No more on the hotel. Disappointing experience and a total rip-off. Charged for 3 days*2 nights stay (AC accomodation) and the darned AC never worked once. Only bitter taste to an otherwise fabulous trip.

So why did we head to Chennai when summer was almost at its peak? Where we mad? The answer:

96-year old Grandpa's roots

My 96-year old Nanu’s (hi)story began in Chennai where he stayed and finished his schooling before falling in love with mosima (my grandma) and settled in Kyasapura (his ancestral village)

Tracing my Nanu’s History. Shri. Shankar Prasad Mishra….

His Home: Singanna chetty strt, Chintaadripet

Pan

His old school : Pachaiyappa’s,  one of the oldest educational institutions in Chennai; more than 2 centuries old; my grandpa studied there in the pre-independence era; He participated in the freedom struggle, notably the salt march where freedom fighters gathered on the marina beach to show their solidarity with Gandhiji, when he set off on the Dandi march

Emotionally Charged!

Emotionally Charged!

Standing inside the quiet quadrangle of Pachiappa’s School bang in the middle of a bustling Broadway market, which was  packed with people, pen shops, flowers so fragrant you would get dizzy, fruits, people and more people, was stepping back in time.

Nanu identified his headmaster circa 1937, a Mr Mudaliar who hated grandpa’s guts since he refused to speak in Tamil. The rickety wooden floors, the green board, plaques that decorated the corridors with medals and honors and awards for students past, photos of celebrations and important occassions…. it was an emotional moment.

The rest of the travel was rediscovering old world Chennai where people still respectfully address you ‘aiyaa’ or ‘amma’ (Sir/Madam); where flowers are not just jasmine or rose but garlands of kadambam (my mum’s eternal favorite) which is a mixed garland of henna flowers, champa, jasmine, kankambaram, green leaves similar to tulsi but of a more heady aroma; mangoes native to Tamil Nadu; where every street corner has a small shop selling piping hot kaapi; idlis with moliga pudi; plain dosas with atleast 3 varieties of chutney; vadas; pongal-vada; Raagi (which I discovered was Vivita…my childhood memories triggered..lol); where the veggies delight: Ambika Papad Depot; Gandhiji Sweet Bhavan; Sarvana Bhavan; Vasanta Bhavan and so many countless more, and where temples lurked after every winding alley and where mum and grandpa had smiles, exaggerated gestures, laughter and stories for every step your foot took.

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To Sit or Lie

PART I TO LIE

Ok, so a while back a close relative commented: “Why do you share your private life out there? You facebook, you blog, you twitter, you comment, why you twit? Why do you randomly seek attention instead of just living your life?”

Ok, so admittedly I was perhaps going overboard. Not that I was tweeting or facebooking about every single loo stop or vocalising the existential angst that hits you living in a city that corners you with its filth, aggression, numbness, insensitivity and so on and so forth..

But yes, I was quick to share my thoughts, and happiness and the angst that came at times as I see a (sane) society I once knew crumble and erode.

No longer was I safe to take my nightly strolls alone or even accompanied by my mum or go out for a drink with a male friend or catch up on a movie in a dark cinema hall or visit the coffee bar down the road or go jogging in the neighbourhood park.

2 eyes weren’t sufficient any more.

I needed compound eyes.

I was equipped with a pepper spray, a taser gun (i wish), a marriage certificate, a mangalsutra, toe rings, a ferocious dog on a long leash, headphones to plug into my ear, coolers, a bottle of bisleri, a heavy handbag…..

And no items listed above were not for seeing/quenching thirst/pleasure/answering curious looks/questions/exercise.

Oh no, these survival articles were to maim and mutilate; to deaden the senses; to ward off any male that leered or pounced in the dark or otherwise.

And I did go off facebook and twitter and didn’t blog as much. After all I’m a girl, ok, a woman – the weaker sex….and I didn’t want nor crave unwanted attention.

5-year old girl raped; 23-year old brutalised, raped and succumbs; 25-year old raped; 3-year old molested; and I lost count after a spell. Age didn’t matter and neither did the fact that they were ‘accompanied by male companions’ or were ‘decently dressed.’

Skewed sex ratio across the country; increasing rich-poor divide; mass migration to urban centers and exposure to urban culture resulting in culture shocks; shift in male-female roles; lack of education; north vs south; societal change; changing moralities; regressive society; confused rural male/uneducated male/unemployed male; changing female mindset; independent women waving a red flag to CRM/UM……and so on and so forth went analysis after analysis on the sudden explosion in violent sexual crimes against women.

Part II – To Sit

Do I join the protests?

Do I vent my anger?

Do I sign up and share links?

Do I pray to God that when I get pregnant it shouldn’t be a daughter in my womb so I don’t unleash this insane world on her?

Or do I harness my strength as a woman and unleash the generations of collective wisdom and empower my child irrespective of whether it has a XX or a XY chromosome?

Teach them the to Do the Right Thing, Stand Tall, Believe, Be Good, BE A MAN (in Kipling’s words) and Be the Best of whatever they chose to be or do

Sensitise them to a new world order where gender equality can be real and not dictated by khap panchayats and politicians seeking to bank roll their votes playing (preying) on increased crimes.

That it is ok to iron blouses and buy sanitary pads if she is unable to without being hush hush

That it is ok to do the 3 am call when the cries wail out in the night and not roll over and play dead while nudging the better half out of her sleep to play care taker.

That it is ok to wash plates and keep the house clean and take the garbage out and shop for vegetables and plan the evening dinner so the lady can get some precious me-time too.

That it is ok to not get married, travel the world instead and opt for a high powered job, buy a house, and pursue dreams

That it is ok to bring home someone from the opposite sex or the same sex as a life partner if they mutually respect each other and Trust each other and can live a life in harmony

THAT IN THE END ALL THAT MATTERS….is what you made of life for yourself and for others in the short time you had
….that someone somewhere sheds a tear or sports a smile or passes a sigh when you are no more in fond remembrance of all the nice things you did
….and that is all there is to it

‘Tis so easy

to forget all the things you set out to do

to meet all the people you wished you could

to be the person you want to be

to love like there is no tomorrow

to live like today is your last

…….

I’m living my lives through movies learning and unlearning habits and attitudes; shedding a tear, sporting a smile; looking around with eyes anew; reaching inside to bring back the me i used to know before ugly things gave me crow’s feet and all-knowing eyes – before frown lines appeared above my brows – before i learnt to say why instead of how; when giving a hug did not mean i want something from you; early mornings did not mean work; late nights did not mean fights.

…..

Vibrant colors are no longer repulsive; greys no longer dull. Far away is no longer out of mind; sleeping next to the same being is not monotony. Silence is not killing; chatter does not maim. Happiness is not on a wishing tree but in the smiles of beings around. Happiness is knowing there are some things you can take for granted in an ever transient world…..

the greying hairs on your folks’ head belies the oceanic love and trust they have in you

the image looking back at you from the mirror trusts in you to be loved, to be good, to be happy

night is followed by day yes, but for every day there is, we need a night too

it is easy to forget, but just as easy to remember…..

……

there is a higher force

guiding

watching

loving

caring

….

God bless!!