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

 

 

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Reach Out

The results are out. The games have ended. It is Abki baar Modi sarkaar (the war cry of the Baajpaa). A self-proclaimed chaiwalla (tea vendor) has led his party to a thumping victory – the first in 25 years- and is the star of the moment. While the reasons for the party’s victory and more importantly, Narendra Modi’s ascendancy to success is obvious ( the erstwhile ruling party’s bumbling blunders/corruption notwithstanding/nonchalance to public opinion/weak strategy/etc..etc…) what is interesting is the way Modi has reached out to the masses. A mass that was skeptical and disillusioned in the face of never-ending & never-fulfiled promises, nay rhetorics. A man who till five years back had never registered itself on the collective consciousness of a nation whose subconscious was filled with dynastic rule & the politics thereof. A man smeared with accusations of conducting a pogrom(s) in  the state he ruled. Yet such a man reached out to the masses, the aam aadmi ( the mango people?!) and the business community not only touting the development card but showing the human touch. And today, Modi the challenger has become Modi the conqueror.

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A dear friend is a huge Madhuri Dixit fan so much so that he fills his Facebook wall with pics of the Bollywood actress, tweets and blogs about the icon.  And no, he isn’t a stalker but for sure he is a walking wiki on Ms. Dixit. He  regularly gets cited in news articles on the actress. Well, what do you know! Last year, he was one among a handful who were chosen to interact with Ms. Dixit in person at her dancing show. He truly reached out to live his dream. You can read all about it here….

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” When I studied at the university Girish Karnad, you know the famous playwright and actor, visited our campus. Everyone went after him but I didn’t. Really, who cares and what’s the big deal,”  thus spake a scathing BB when I went chasing my favourite HOMP guys for a selfie this past week.

Undeterred, I beamed and cornered Rocky, the pony-tailed,  crack-a-minute host near the wash basin and gushed, “I’m a big fan of your show.  Neither my family nor I have ever missed a single episode of HOMP. You mind if I take a picture of us together.” He looks at the gushing, starry eyed woman and smiles, “No, it would be my pleasure.”  Before I could swoon overwrought with emotion I got my family to click a few snaps, dragged them out of the eatery for a few more and then introduced my 95-year old grandpa to Mayur and Rocky.

Well, blow me down. They took a soundbite from my beloved gentleman, declared he was their oldest fan to date and even went on to tweet it. For some time that day, my grandpa was trending on NDTV newsfeed. Now how cool is that?!

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For those who wondered where all this took place it was at Vidyarthi Bhavan, Bangalore’s iconic dosa joint located in Basavanagudi. And for those who don’t know who these guys are, it is Rocky and Mayur from NDTV’s Highway On My Plate, one of the leading cookery travel shows playing on the telly these days.

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My lessons learnt:

 

Reach Out and Seize the Day.

 

Keep your misplaced sense of self importance aside and cast out your net to reel in opportunities.

 

Never be afraid to dream the unthinkable, do the impossible. 

 

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 🙂

Summer Fruits

I wouldn’t want to be born anywhere but here, my India. And every time I rant about bad roads, crass people, crummy politicians, and frequent power outages I find nature’s bounty smile at me as a gentle reminder why this is mine own country.  Fiery reds fight with burnished yellow as tree lined avenues of bright yellow Copper Pod Trees and Flames of the Forest and bounganvillas of all colors (red, white, orange, magenta, yellow and pale pinks)  shine brighter and more cheerful as summer peaks.

But for me summer truly gets here when I see trees laden with mangoes tempting the kleptomaniac buried deep inside. I can’t resist the green fruit, its headily tempting aroma and its tangy taste. Ripe mangoes are good too but nothing like the tangy taste of a raw mango best eaten simply with salt and red chilli powder.

If you are heading out of the city be sure to check out the mango vendors near the toll gates who make cut mangoes seem a work of art. Thotapuri mangoes slit into ten but still held together at the base.

I thought of sharing a few of my favourite mango recipes and those of you who can steal or buy a mango or two should definitely try these out.

Aamodka

This is my version of a mango-laced vodka cocktail.

You need: a slice or two of raw mango (I prefer the Thotapuri variety since it isn’t too sour) cut into small cubes; 30-60 ml of vodka (depends on how strong you want your drink to be); 1 tbsp of mango slush (I prefer Maala’s mango slush); soda; 1 tsp of honey (increase it if you want more sweetness); ice cubes; mint leaves; 1 chilli slit; chaat masala

Method: Mix honey, vokda, mango slush, ice cubes, mint, slit chilli in a cocktail shaker. Shake. Shake. Shake. Transfer  all but 1/4 of the concoction to a high ball glass.  Now add soda and chaat masala to the cocktail shaker along with the 1/4 concoction and shake. Transfer to the glass and stir with a spoon. Add the cut mango cubes and serve chilled.

Caution: The raw mango with the chilli will give a pleasant buzz

 

Aam Chutney

You will need 2 Thotapuri mangoes; Mustard Oil – 3 tbsp; Salt to taste; Chilli powder (1-2 tsp depending on pungency level); Asafoetida/Hing (a pinch of two);  Methi/Fenugreek seeds (1/4 tsp); Mustard seeds (1/4 tsp); Turmeric (1/4 tsp)

Method: Grate Thotapuri mangoes. Heat oil in Kadhai (wok) to smoking point. Add mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Once it crackles, add hing and the masalas. Either reduce heat or remove from stove before adding masalas else it may burn. Then add the grated mango and salt. Mix well.

Note: Chutney can be refrigerated. If storing outside increase quantity of oil by another spoonful or two. Goes great with rice.

 

Aam Soare (Mango curry)

You will need  Thotapuri mango (1 or 2 slices cut into large cubes); 2 tomatoes finely chopped; 1 big onion coarsely chopped; curry leaves; fenugreek/methi seeds; mustard seeds; garlic pods – 4; turmeric powder (1/4 tsp); Chilli powder (1-3 tsp depending on pungency); salt to taste; Cooking Oil (2 tbsp)  to temper

Method: Heat oil in kadhai.  Add mustard, fenugreek seed and after it crackles add garlic pods and curry leaves. Then add chopped onions and fry till brown (not burnt brown but light brown). Add chopped tomatoes and roast till oil seperates. Now add turmeric powder and mango cubes. Pour 1.5 glasses of water and simmer till mango cooks. Add chilli powder and salt according to taste. Simmer for a few more minutes till the raw smell of chilli powder gives way to the fragrance of the curry.

Serve hot with rice or idlis or dosas.

Aam rasam

You will need  Thotapuri mango (1/2 mango cut into medium-sized cubes); curry leaves; tomatoes -2 big; mustard seeds; hing/asafoetida; red chillis-whole; garlic-6 pods; a small ball of tamarind soaked in water (extract pulp); jeera/cumin seeds (1/2 tsp); peppercorns (1 1/2 tsp); salt to taste; 1 spoon ghee (clarified butter); Eastern rasam powder (or MTR or Aachis or any brand of rasam powder)

Method: Pulp tomatoes, garlic and 1/4 piece mango together in mixer or food processor; grind jeera and peppercorns together; Heat  khadai to smoking point. Add mustard and curry leaves. Once it crackles add ghee. After ghee heats slightly add red chillis and hing. Stir in tomato puree  mix and tamarind pulp. Add 2 glasses of water, jeera/pepper mix, rasam powder and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and finish it off with garnish of coriander leaves.

Can drink hot since it is a great remedy to counteract summer cold else serve with hot rice and ghee with papads (poppadums) on the side.

 

Note: Unless mentioned chilli powder refers to red chilli powder; Mustard seeds for tempering can be either 1/4-1/2 tsp ; hing is a pinch; salt is to taste since it depends on individual

Bon Appetit, and enjoy the Indian summer 😀

 

Live In the Moment

Election fervor has overtaken most of India, in fact all of it. I hear random strangers discuss the ultimate outcome. I hear housewives discuss the pros of electing Modi and the cons of having a third term of the Congress. In the midst of this are radio ads that say Carpe Diem since it’s IPL season too. So that’s another frenzy that’s fast catching on.

For this is India, where we are quick to embrace the new, cast out the old, encompass the good and discard the bad. I love my country, or can’t you tell.

So Carpe Diem it was…

Bambubhai and I decided to do a quickie road trip seeing it was a long Easter weekend. He had forgotten the hunter’s blood (his camera has been gathering fungii now for over six months) while I had to answer nature’s call (my last trip to coastal Karnataka was refreshing and I was still spinning images in Hi-Def color in my head).

We set off at 7 in the morning in spite of firm resolves & alarm clocks to get out of the house by 5. You see the city is blistering hot right now. A few kilometers on any of the highways or expressways and you will start seeing mirages (which I thought till last year was only a phenomenon in the desert).

Thankfully the crores of rupees spent by central and state governments have made the intertwining National & State Highways a joy to drive on for most part. Nearly 45 kms out of the city and we started to see drongos, sparrows nestling in tiled roofs, kids playing with gay abandon, men gathered in the chowk reading papers, women working in the fields or washing clothes (yes, even here it is the woman who bears the brunt), cows grazing, goats and hens cutting across roads, riot of colors every few kilometers as women spread fresh tomatoes, onions, potatoes, ladyfingers (okra), brinjal, doodhi (louki/bottle gourd), coriander, mint, curry leaves, cucumbers and fields of grapes, bottle gourds, marigolds, mangoes….Ahhhhh, mangoes.

If only Bambubhai wasn’t such a stickler for rules!! Green trees with their branches invitingly bent towards the road laden with mangoes, big green mangoes…Wild mangoes, Baiganpalli and Totapuri. The delicious fragrance of mangoes, the sight of those beautiful green fruits was just too much to resist but the only problem Bambubhai insisted on revving up the car the minute he saw the King of Fruits for he knew he had a kleptomaniac as company.

The last time I stole mangoes it turned out as yummy, enticing chutneys on my dining table loaded with the goodness of asafoetida, turmeric, chillis and salts. Hot rice and the mango chutney mom cooked..I was in heaven.

Onwards we went past the mango fields to travel slow on roads that were half completed. Huge boards proclaimed a 27 lakh/32 lakh/43 lakh/etc…. project that the government in its senses saw fit to leave incomplete. So a tar road beckons you invitingly to explore it farther and when you do you are betrayed on to mud roads.

This is what we the electorate vote for every 5 years. Betrayal.

At least nature kept/keeps its promise.

Summer brings the bloom to indigeneous trees on Indian roads. While the eucalyptus looked unadventurous and boring we saw Flames of The forest all red and home to zillions of parakeets, koels and crows (alright the number is a mirage in my highly-imaginative mind, and well numbers have never been my strong point).

We lost our way and kept to the meandering roads to be greeted by a temple in the middle of nowhere. That is the beauty of India, you are never alone. God is around to (mis)guide you but then this is probably when man takes on God’s role. Every village has its own deity that adds a mystical beauty to the place. We came across old wrecks of what must have been beautiful temples once ravaged by time and neglect. We came across brightly festooned temples with color papers and strings of flowers draping the courtyard, where sweet vendors plied their over-colored sugar candies and puffed rice and farsaan.

We saw even saw a grey francolin dancing across the road and nearly ran over it. We braked the car to see the rum bird doing a rummy dance across the fields and then all we heard was the rustle of dry leaves. A hilarious sight worth capturing, only problem neither of us had taken our camera.

The meandering road led us to a marsh. A MARSH where trees where half buried in water and looked lost, like it was meant to be in a Harry Potter movie but was transplanted to this spot on the highway where vehicles (trucks, canters, bikes and cars) sped at high speed and never-a-one stopped to admire this lil spot of tranquility. What we saw shocked us more. There were egrets, cormorants, herons, grey herons, coots, wild ducks and more happy nestling. (No, this wasn’t the famous Ranganthittu bird sanctuary and it made this sight so much more amazing). We stayed here rivetted till the hot sun started pelting us with sweat down our brows and making our clothes unbearably sticky. We reluctantly moved onward.

We came across stores that sold farm fresh mushrooms. We came across rabbit farms. We saw poultry farms and hatcheries.

To think forgoing sleep meant so much more than a bad headache.

To think Living in the Moment had such untold joys.

Get out there you and see the world in all its glory. Carpe Diem!

 

Note: All Bird IDs courtesy Bambubhai. I’m but a disciple of the great one..

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.

 

 

 

Quick fixes

It is easy to get rattled when your beliefs are constantly ridiculed by your ‘supposed’ support system. It is also easy to let your ego get in the way of your goodness and good sense. Easy way out, step back before stepping in. Take a deep breath and take it easy. Here are my quick fixes, banal though some may be but they always perk me up.

A Hug, a kiss, a snuggle: 

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Am blessed to have a grandfather who still cares and understands. His wisdom and grace humble me and make me look beyond my small universe to the vastness of endless possibilities.

Walk in the Park or Jog around the neighbourhood: 

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There is nothing like the breeze gently blowing your face, the earthy smell of leaves on wet  ground and the sight of tall, majestic trees that have probably been around much before I did. Nature clears the mind, cleans the heart and soothes the soul. Breathe in.LIVE.

And you would surprised by the hidden treasures your by now familiar neighbourhood still has. I was for sure. I found quaint temples, a tea shop that sells cheaper eggs and a couple of adorable beagles 😉

Watch a movie

Now I don’t know about you but when I’m lost I don’t want to watch a maudlin tear jerker or a preachy ‘all will be well’ sorta movie. What I would like is a movie that takes me away to Smiley land and give me a fresh perspective to boot. Here are a few of my all time favorites

Arsenic and Old Lace: One of Cary Grant’s hidden gems where a gaggle of cooky aunts, a wicked step brother and his own eccentricities keep you in splits all through the movie.

Golmaal : Stellar casting of Amol Palekar, Utpal Dutt, Bindiya Goswami and Deena Pathak transport you to age of innocence where a moustache can determine your identity as opposed to the biometrics these days 😉

Chupke Chupke: Again this was a casting coup if ever there was one. Imagine having Amitabh Bachan, Dharmendra, Asrani, Jaya Bahaduri, Sharmila Tagore, Kestu Mukerjee and the sweetest Om Prakash together in a frame. This divine comedy is sure to tickle your laugh tracks and make you look around for doppelgangers ‘coz all of us have that annoying know-it-all brother-in-law or that sweet Bhabhi or that handsome prof.

Khatta Meeta: Ashok Kumar and Pearl Padamsee rock this movie and the rest of the crew provide a good canvass for these two central figures to shine as they unite to bring together warring sons and daughters together. While Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal 3 tried bringing this theme back, it is no patch on the original.

Padosan: Ek Chatur Naar badiya hoshiyaar sings a bucktooth, pony tailed Sunil Dutt while Kishore Kumar goes Ae gaare, arre jaare to poor Mehmood. If there is that one defining moment in Hindi comedy this is it.

Chasme Baddooor: Ms. Chamko. Yes, indeedy nobody can rival this classic Sai Paranjpe comedy with my all time favorites Farooque Sheikh and Deepti Naval with the rest of the gang (Rakesh Bedi, Ravi Baswani, Saed Jaffrey). Now if only life were this simple!

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Give me some feel good moments from the Middle East says the consummate PR played by Kirsten Scott Thomas and what her team gives her are images of bombings and more bombings. This is Brit Humor at its best.

The World’s Fastest Indian: Watch Sir Anthony Hopkins in one of his best performances as he shows humor, determination and indomitable courage to make you smile and get inspired to be better

The Sting: A stellar cast has you applauding as they try to outwit the mob.

Marley and Me: Marley, Marley, Marley

To Be or Not to Be: Mel Brooks has given a plethora of outstanding comedies including The Thirteen Chairs, Blazing Saddles, The Silent Movie, History of the World and so many others but for me To be or Not To Be captures his brilliant satire, quirkiness, slapstick comedy and wit! This is the quintessential Mel Brooks.

Seems Like Old Times: Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Charles Grodin take you to a place where everything falls apart but gets better all at once. Good old fashioned romance meets goofball comedy. 

See No Evil, Hear No Evil: Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor have you in splits from the opening credits itself. This is a movie that will take you out of the most downcasting moody blues you may have. Just be sure to have a wad of tissue since this epic comedy will have you clutching the sides of your stomach and crying out in howls of laughter.

The Carry On series: If you want the best of British Humor, this one’s for you. The Carry on franchisee with Sidney James, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey and the rest of the gang will have you rolling up your eyes and slapping your thighs as you laugh along with the parodies, and digest their satirical wit and bawdy humor. My personal favorites: Carry on Up the Khyber, Carry on Doctor, Carry on Cruising and Carry on Nurse.

Doctor in the House: This was my introduction to Dirk Bogarde as Dr. Simon Sparrow and the irrepressible James Robertson Justice as Dr. Lancelot Spratt. Perhaps I would have been more serious as a student scholar had I seen the Doctor series much earlier, just so I could work at St. Swithin’s 😉

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 Exiled Prince

Back in the days when we had only Doordarshan, television was a weekend treat filled with:  Star Trek, the Enterprise starring Capt. Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Starship enterprise crew; Mickey Mouse cartoons in black & white; Vinod Dua and Prannoy Roy debating it up if it was election time and none of that ‘The Nation Wants to Know’ crap either; Indradhanush; Surabhi; Nukkad; The Old Fox; Target; Didi’s non-stop nonsense; several other Transtel-broadcasts that I can’t even remember except for the Transtel logo and all those feel-good serials not to forget the educative regional language movies on Sunday afternoon complete with subtitles. Here is where I discovered the beauty of Indian cinema, folklore, celebrated authors and unbelievable directors and casting crew. Kathasagar with its haunting music, and it haunts me even today, was good week day viewing if one’s parents deemed it right.

My mosima (nani/grandma) who was never a telly buff all of a sudden began wrapping up work early on Sundays. And this meant she woke up at 4.30 in the morning to make breakfast, the day’s non-vegetarian repast and a light snack. Waking up at this witching hour was worth all her while since a new phenomenon had just struck Doordarshan.

She went into raptures as she saw the handsome prince with his sober voice and the beautiful and dignified princess who later became the queen transport her into the realms of mythology meeting divinity. Ravindra Jain’s melodious voice sent her into raptures as she wiped her hands on her cotton saree and sat down in front of our Uptron TV to watch the RAMAYAN. The Story of the Exiled Prince replete with moralistic tome and values that define mankind was so enthralling that I remember her breaking a coconut when Arun Govil in his Ram avatar graced the telly. Such was the adoration that Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan wrought on devout viewers. According to statistics this was the longest running Telly Series at that point and had more than 100 million faithful followers. Twitter that!!

Ever since, the Ramayan has always been Arun Govil and Deepika as Ram and Sita. Though I did not appreciate the Ramayan but increasingly became rather more fascinated by Dara Singh as Hanuman and the pyrotechnics that Indian television industry was capable of the story never rang true in later years when I repeatedly, and at near-bodily harm, questioned Rama’s pose as the Maryaada Purushotham. How can a man who is willing to test his wife at the behest of a washerman (dhobi) be a Maryaada Purushotham I questioned by mum only to be rapped soundly on the head with a ladle.

In later years, I read CR’s Ramayan and liked the central character even less while my fondness for Ravana grew slowly but surely. Call me the misguided, misplaced 21st century feminist but for me Ravana represented more of a Purush (man), and a Uttam (superior) one at that!!

I stopped reading the Ramayan by choice though I had to read it at intervals thanks to some moral science and language classes.

Would there ever be a better version of the Ramayan and will some one dare spin a modern take on it I wondered?

To my pleasant surprise I have come across several.

Even more surprisingly the Exiled Prince may get a futuristic treatment if the opening chapters of the Crystal Guardian is anything to go by where the mystery of the Crystal that has been guarded closely for eons is about to be unveiled. Rama is the warrior prince who will embark on an epic journey to find the Crystal of Creation which may change the destiny of human lives for ever.

I hope the book lives up to the precursor I had the opportunity to read. The Exiled Prince may hit the stores sometime before the end of the year.

I’m not very sure if my mosima would have liked the Indiana Jones meets Star Wars new-age Ramayan , but my 13-year old niece to whom I read excerpts of the book can’t wait to read the rest of it.