Guldasta

A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

Yours S-S-S-t-t-utteringly December 11, 2009

Filed under: family,fiction+fact cocktail,life,love,Me — gurdas @ :
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Imagine waking up to find you have lost a limb. Or that you have lost your voice. Or that you can no longer speak a single sentence without someone laughing at you.

It is not easy. It is specially difficult if you are merely 10 years old and eager to reach out to the world around you.

Somewhere around that age I started to stutter. So, because of this stutter thing, I lived a part of my young growing years “fighting” an inconsiderate world. This fight shaped me forever. That I could not care less about societal norms, that I will always fight for what I believe in, that I will be able to forgive anyone, that I will be gifted with empathy, and that I can love unconditionally are all in part born out of and/or nutured by this fight.

You have to go through fire once to know what it means to be burnt. And once you are burnt there are only two things that can happen to you. Either you will shrivel and die or you will come out brighter and purer. For reasons I do not fully understand and surely do not take credit for, I happened to emerge talking nineteen to the dozen from my state of speechlessness. I would open my mouth and incoherence would emanate. People around me would become uncomfortable. They would get embarrased as if I have dropped my pants. Some would hide their emotion and keep a straight face. Some would step away. Some would laugh. Right there. Right in my face. It is to the latter that I partly owe my triumph.

Two incidents remain etched like yesterday in my mind. No matter they happend more than 20 years ago. I was in grade six, and stood up to answer something the teacher asked. I knew the answer. I just did not know how to get it out of my lungs. But I started anyhow. And then Sunita*, a classmate, started laughing. And then another classmate laughed. And then another. It no longer mattered if I knew the answer. It no longer mattered if I did finally get it out. For all you would have heard in that classroom was laughter.

The other memory is of playtime outside my house. Probably a summer evening. My neighbours Madhu* and Nisha* and I were enagaged in small talk. Both a few years elder to me. I had this joke to tell which I thought was very funny. So I said I have a joke to tell. Nisha started laughing and said “well, we will know the end before you have finished”. I do not remember the moment exactly after she said this, but I do remember running home, burying myself in my mother’s lap, and crying my heart out. It seemed the joke was on me. I also remember Nisha running in a few moments later, filled with remorse for her words, and crying.

So, unlike most of you, I did not get my speech without a fight. And fight I did. Tooth and nail. Sweat and blood. I just did not stop talking. My teachers had only this complaint all my school life – “he is talkative”. I was obedient, polite, clean, on time, and sharp. They just did not understand why I would want to talk and sometimes get punished for it. But someone did. This half educated, barely five feet tall, and tough as a nail woman I call mother understood exactly what it was all about. No, she had no idea what was the cause of her son’s infliction. I think she did not give two hoots for the cause. But she did know something no other person knew. She never asked me to shut up. She never laughed at me. She never got embarassed if it took me ages to tell her what I wanted to tell her. She would just wait, like an angel, for me to finish. I am sure she would have waited for an eternity if I had lost my voice completely. Mothers are made entirely of the world’s most precious element. They are made purely of love.

So, riding on her love and some perseverance, I managed to come far enough to talk fluently. I still think faster than I can talk, and I can talk faster than some people can think. But once in a while I would find the disability reappear for an odd second or two and the words would jam up. People still get embarassed when that rare slip happens. And I still get “You are talkative”. But I laugh it off. For I have earned my voice.

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* names changed to protect identities.

 

Reading aloud – the sound of a fantasy May 20, 2009

Filed under: fiction+fact cocktail,life,Me — gurdas @ :

Serendipity: A chance walk-in into a bookshop. A chance sight of more than one translation of Siddhartha. An impromptu reading aloud activity by two individuals to compare the translations. Moments of bliss.

Some pleasures in life have no substitute. Like reading aloud to someone with a receptive mind. Or being read aloud by someone with a perceptive mind. I have lost count of how many times I have fantasized about this activity. And once in a while somebody would oblige me, like the other day when we read aloud passages from Siddhartha. I could try write an eulogy on the act of reading aloud, but the below excerpt from The New York Times expresses my thoughts better than I could possibly imagine.

“But listening aloud, valuable as it is, isn’t the same as reading aloud. Both require a great deal of attention. Both are good ways to learn something important about the rhythms of language. But one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether the reader understands the words. It reveals how far into the words — and the pattern of the words — the reader really sees.

Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th-  and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.”

Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud

 

Who owns my car? May 1, 2008

After a long wait, I purchased a car last year. Though unpretentious, I love it for the opportunity it provided to travel new places.

I also drive it to office and park along the kerb. And this is becoming a source of amusement. Like every nook and corner of my country, there are stray dogs in the locality where my office is. The resident stray bitch gave a litter some months ago and the pups are now grown up. They have taken after their mother – shiny smooth brown coat, thin slender body and a laid back attitude towards life. It takes a lot to unruffle them.

Since summer is here, the pack is constantly on the lookout for shade to lie down and take a nap. For some inexplicable reason they have adopted the ground beneath my car as their residence. Initially, they would occupy that space when I am not around and scamper away the moment I reached close to my car. But that is fast changing.

The first change was they stopped scampering away until I started the engine. No sir, the whole act of getting in and closing doors was not enough signal for them to move out. It was MY responsibility to ensure they have enough warning and are not harmed when I start the engine and drive away. On more than one occasion, I had to talk to them and announce my presence. You should have seen the look they give me when I do that. I have to hold on tightly to self-esteem.

However, the saving grace remained that their ‘entry’ showed some respect for me; that is they occupied the space after I have parked and walked a certain distance away from the vehicle.

But that was then. Now, they stand up when they see me approaching the slot where I park. And they are already beneath the car before I have stopped the engine, let alone come out or walked away!! Come on guys, give me some space?

Thank God they cannot drive. Had that been the case, they might have as well kicked me out and taken complete possession of the vehicle. They leave no opportunity go by to give me the message that I am nothing but a caretaker who must keep the vehicle clean and ensure it is parked and ready for them before the sun is overhead.

I wonder what opinion they have of me. I doubt they consider me a threat whatsoever. I do hope that does not mean they do not respect me. And I pray that they love me.

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ps: a few months ago, when the weather was more pleasant and the sun welcome, they had taken a fancy to the roof of my car.

 

Kick it On! February 29, 2008

The year was 1985 and I was in the middle of my first crush. On a certain Ms. Rashmi, my 3rd grade Science teacher.

Sometime during those wonder years, we got our first television set. The brand, Televista, now dead for more than a decade, was a household name then. With a 20inch screen, Black&White capabilities, a blue tinted add-on screen to give some colour, and only one channel (state run Doordarshan), this marvel of technology made my home the evening watering hole for the neighbourhood.

8pm on Wednesdays were specially packed. That was when the great Indian song show “Chitrahar” was on air. Supriya, Sujata, Bantu, Pupoon, Guddi, Jhumri and just about everyone between 4 and 14 years and within 50meters of my house would assemble into a small 11feet by 11feet room. Limbs got crushed, clothes lost their shape and nobody cared who sat next to them. On days when Mom was feeling particularly happy, she would pass around those crispy crackers that slipped over a finger like a pipe. Each kid got exactly four, so that all fingers on an arm (except the thumb) got dressed in blue, green, yellow and red.

And there was one person in the room whose job was to kick hard. That person was me.

Now this TV of ours, Televista, developed a syndrome of blanking out without warning. Pop!, completely blank it went every once in a while. After it happened a few times, we discovered that kicking the legs of the table (which it sat upon) would invariably bring it back to life. The longer the duration since the last blank, the more kicks it needed. A thumb rule of 1 kick for every 10 minutes. So, if it blanked after 30 minutes of OK performance, all you needed to do was kick it hard 3 times in quick succession.

What a donkey it made of me. Standing there beside it, ready to kick whenever the screen blanked.

But as with all things children, the routine became a game. In the darkness one could hear shouts of “2 kicks!”,  “no only 1”. This put me under tremendous pressure. To salvage my honour I had to ensure I got the TV alive within the guestimated number of kicks. Over the first few weeks, the room developed a palpable tension from waiting for the next blankout. The TV grabbed as much mindspace as the programmes it displayed.

The game grew. Some of my friends started demanding for the “right to kick”. I acquiesced, reluctantly. I am sure that TV of ours gave back more than its value. It provided exercise, healthy competition, better footballers and real fun.

In all the fun, nobody gave a thought to the table. I am informed that the table stood the acid test of being kicked for about 2 years. After which we replaced the Televista.

Where is that table? I must say “thank you” to it.

 

The WC and the guard December 3, 2007

I had purchased an apartment last year and, as the building nears completion, some families have moved in. I decided to move in only when the building is fully done. But I am involved in issues of common maintenance and upkeep.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog: the common water closet (WC), its usage, and maintenance.

The ground floor is dedicated to parking and there is provision for a guard room which has an attached WC. Who would have thought the WC would reveal as much as it did how people think and if I am say so, what ails the Indian’s mindset.

My neighbours in the building (some 5 other families) have a major grudge that people other than the guard use this common WC. I on the other hand thought that was exactly its function – that anyone who attends or visits our building and does not have access to the apartments should gladly use our common WC. And since it is in our building, we should be keeping it as clean as we would the bathrooms inside our apartments.

But was I wrong!

Everyone else was of the view that allowing anyone other than the guard to use the WC was unacceptable. Here’s more or less the conversation that took place yesterday during a flat owners review meeting:

Mr. X: And there is the issue of the common WC

Mr. Y: Yes, yes! We should lay down strict norms and ensure the guard does not allow anyone other than himself to use the WC.

Me: I think we need to use a softer approach and one which is both practical and human. I am uncomfortable that someone visiting our building who has the urge to answer nature’s call be refused to use the WC. It is almost inhuman.

Mr. X: You do not understand. The servants and labourers misuse the WC and dirty it. If we enforce upon the guard what is expected then the WC will remain clean.

Me: The best way to keep the WC spic and span is to lock it and not let anyone use it. Not even the guard. (Continuing) On a more practical note I think we need to accept that the WC will get dirty and will demand frequent cleaning. I suggest we simply do three things (1) Ensure we supply adequate cleaning material for the common WC (2) Tell the cleaning person to give the common WC a little more effort (3) Tell the guard he must make all possible efforts to keep it clean and convey the message to whosoever wishes to use the WC

Mr. X: That way we will soon have people from adjoining buildings also using our WC!

Me (I wanted to say “so what?” but toned down to say): We can ask the guard to not allow that. However, we cannot create a fight over it.

Mr. Y: Why should we be concerned? What were these people doing before our WC?

Me: We must accept that going to the toilet is not an act of fun. One needs to do it when one needs to do it. So, either we make our WC available by choice or someone will use it by ‘stealing’ or worse, not use it and take the call in public view (which is a common sight in India).

Mr. Z: The guard will still allow people because it involves his relationship with some of the people working in our building. However, if he knows we discourage this, he will limit the use to minimum.

Me: I again disagree. What you are saying is we force the guard to cheat. We know he must allow some people and at the same time we are telling him not to allow anyone. So, each time the guard allows someone, he knows he has cheated. Which in turn means he will come to dislike the WC. Which in turn means he will disown it. Which in turn means he will give two hoots whether it is clean or not.

Me: I believe we must give the guard the “ownership” of the WC. He is expected to allow anyone. At the same time, he can take the call of not allowing someone who he knows is not taking due usage care. We make the guard the owner and that automatically makes him responsible for cleanliness. Our job is simply to review and supply cleaning material.

They were staring at me as if I was talking Greek.

The gentle argument continued and I was out voted 4:1. It was decided that the guard will be asked not to allow anyone to use the WC.

I came out amused and saddened by this instance of short-sightedness and policy “made to fail”. We were simply creating a liar out of the guard. For no fault of his. We know what is going to happen – many people other than the guard will use the WC.
And what do we do – we do not provide to counteract the truth, we simply make a policy to circumvent the truth. How I wish we had been proactive. What stops us from going so far as to laying an award for the guard if we find the WC as clean as expected? An award of 450 rupees a month would mean just 50 rupees extra contribution for each apartment owner. The benefits are far outreaching than a clean WC. The guard gets more responsible and it will show in his other duties. But most of all, we create a system which functions on its own force.

To me this episode is a mirror to how India functions. From the Parliament, down to nine apartment buildings like mine.

In India, we want to assert our rights on people less empowered than us. We will not provide for what is bound to happen. We will simply create enough laws so that accountability goes for a toss and everyone wins by lying and cheating.

That’s why the country has gone down the flush pipe of a WC.

 

The rebellion of 1994 October 16, 2007

“You cannot start a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘because'”, Mrs. Pandit said in a reprimanding tone as she stared me down.

“Yes, I can”, I said, half expecting to be thrown out of the English Language class. I proved her wrong and she acted hostile for the complete week.

The year was 1994 and my romance with the Queen’s language was at its peak; thanks to the delightful masterpiece “Modern English Usage” by Fowler. I was blind to everything else, including fear of getting into the bad books of the teacher I secretly revered. Mrs. Pandit and I had a strange chemistry. I was never absolutely sure we liked each other and yet at times we were falling short of breath expressing our admiration for the other. She disliked my guts and conspicuous rebellion of some of her language dictums. I disliked her ice-cool demeanour and almost invincible command of the language. I was stubborn, she was stern. Fireworks were guaranteed each time we crossed paths. And the class enjoyed it.

She knew the pride I took in my knowledge of some of the finer nuances of the language. I was embarrassingly bad in certain areas but endearingly elegant in others. My essays never got what, I believe, they deserved. However, once in a while she would write an encouraging remark to keep the rebel within limits. A classic example of carrot and stick approach. But she was good, really good. I hate admitting this, but back then, she was probably better than I.

We also connected outside school. Her elder son was my classmate in previous years so I would visit her house. She used to visit my immediate neighbour and once in while say hello to my parents. God, did I cringe when she did that! And what the hell were my parents doing making small conversation with a sworn enemy?

We parried, cut and medicated each other. Until one day I crossed the line.

I loved the last row of the class. Distant from authoritative teachers, full view of the class crowd and endless gossip on who is going around with whom, the upcoming football match and everything in-between. If there is Heaven on Earth, it had to be the last row of a classroom. That day Mrs. Pandit was spoon-feeding the class with her masterly understanding of Macbeth. While she droned incessantly, trying her best to get some sense into my classmates, I, with my buddies, was lost in ‘personal’ conversation. We did not hear the class going silent, nor did we see them turn and stare at us, some even giggling. Bloody perverts.

“Sunil, Sandeep, Gurdas!”, boomed Mrs. Pandit from beside the blackboard.

“Uh”, said all three of us, coming out of our intense whispered discussion of a certain ‘Miss’.

“It seems you’ll do not need my class”, she said more like a question which should not be answered.

But that was a crazy day and we were heady with spicy stories.

“Yes, we can do without this class”, one of us said. Which one I do not recall.

Followed by an uncomfortable silence as the weight of that sentence sunk into the room. Mrs. Pandit for a second appeared baffled and we could feel ourselves becoming terrified.

“OK, out you’ll go”, said Mrs. Pandit

We walked out with a smirk. We were shit scared but when you have rows and rows of girls waiting to see what happens, there is no option but to act like a man.

“Damn” we said the moment we were in the corridor and out of earshot.

The class ended in 25 eternal minutes and Mrs. Pandit walked out without even a glance at us. This was going to be nasty we thought. Our weekly timetable had the first period as English on four out of five days. The next day Mrs. Pandit walked in and immediately said “OK, out. And go straight to the Principal’s office. I have informed her of what happened yesterday and she would like to talk about it.”

We walked out, not exactly smiling this time. And went straight to the office of Mrs. Datar.

“So, is it true that you informed Mrs. Pandit of not needing to attend the Literature class”, purred a cool Mrs. Datar, clearly enjoying her morning at our expense.

“uh, hmmm Yes”, we said in unison as if that will allow for individual pardon.

“Fine then. Starting today, you are excused from the English class for literature and language until the end of this year”, said Mrs. Datar.

We looked at each other bewildered. That’s it? What kind of punishment is that? Will we get to appear the yearly exams? What of the board exams right after that?

“Your attendance will be marked and you will be allowed to take all exams as usual”, continued Mrs. Datar. What’s the deal with teachers and mothers? Can they hear us think?

We walked out of the Principal’s office hesitantly, unsure whether this was a victory or a defeat. And went straight to the boy’s toilet to relieve ourselves of the nervous mass collecting inside us. Only then did we speak our first words.

“Do you think they will call our parents?”, I asked, remembering that the enemy had sweet access to my camp.
“Let them call if they want”, said Sandeep. Sure! I thought looking at him with a grimace. He had parents who gave two hoots to authority. Mine looked at school like a temple.
“Boss, my dad will throw me out”, said Sunil, hardly audible. Was he choking on himself?
“You come and stay with me then”, said Sandeep, as if that were a real possibility.
“Ya sure. Out of class, out of house and staying with you. What next? We marry each other?”, replied Sunil, regaining some of his famed acerbic humour.

But nothing of that sort happened. To the contrary we made further enemies with our bold demands. The first period (remember was mostly English) begun at 8:20am. The library opened when it struck 8:40am on Mrs. Basu, the librarian’s, wristwatch. We made a case that we had nothing to do and the library should be made available so that we can utilize our time better. Like we really wanted to. An order was passed and the school library started opening at 8:20am, much to the displeasure of Mrs. Basu.

For the next 3months we did not attend any English class. But did keep up with Mrs. Pandit’s notes with help from our only true sympathizers, other backbenchers. All three of us did well in our exams. I excelled in English and topped my batch. But I never approached Mrs. Pandit with my feat, feeling somewhat shy and guilty. On the last day of school, she called out to me in the corridor and congratulated warmly on doing so well in her subject. I think I did not receive that compliment very graciously. Because I knew, if not for her firm guidance, I would never have come so far. And I knew that she knew this. But we did call peace and wished each other well in life.

As time passed I was left with only sweet memories of Mrs. Pandit and we kept in touch one way or the other. Last year (2006), when visiting my hometown, I called Mrs. Pandit and proposed we catch-up. She sounded eager and we fixed a rendezvous that I come down and pick her up from the school where she was vice-principal. I was there well before time, and we spent memorable hours chatting at her place over a cup of tea. She had aged and become more beautiful and earthly. And she thought I had grown into a peaceful, and loving person. I was flattered by that observation. My English teacher was still teaching me, about the language of life and love.

I never fully fathomed the above episode. Mrs. Datar was not known for her kindness and the ‘punishment’ she doled out that day in 1994 was unusual. What had transpired between Mrs. Pandit and Mrs. Datar for her to give us that strange punishment? I will never know. Maybe I will ask Mrs. Pandit when I next meet her.

Lately, Mrs. Pandit has become more visible with a blog and profile on Orkut. She writes moving poetry and “Eternity & other poems”, a compilation of her works, was published by Writers Workshop. The hardback volume is a beautiful maroon red cloth cover with gilded lettering and traditional geometric border. It has a special place in my bookshelf.

 

A dialogue between husband and wife, Part 4 October 5, 2007

This is the 4th and concluding part of the dialogue. For part 1 go here, part 2 go here and part 3 go here.

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“Ladoo! which world are you in?” asked a bemused Sanjeev, his face like a child who has caught his mother eating cookies on the sly.
“I saw you staring at our wedding picture with a look that was rather funny”, he said in a jovial tone.

“Sorry love, I had drifted away. Thank God!”, said Nandita

“Thank God what?” he said sounding very curious.

“Nothing, just a bad day-dream. Let me hurry and set our breakfast. I am famished”, said Nandita, rising from the sofa.

“Hello? it’s Sunday. Remember, my day of setting the breakfast?? You seem really lost. Are you OK?”, said Sanjeev, now sounding doubtful and a little worried.

Nandita smiled and sank back into the yellow-blue pillow covers on the sofa.