Friday, December 30, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
One leisurely evening a couple of days back, my husband and a friend decided to stop by at KFC and have a bite to eat. The restaurant we stepped in was at
’s famous Priya complex, which is
throbbing with life (and people, lots of them actually) at any given point of
the day, irrespective the day of the week. Priya (as it is popularly known) is
also a Mecca of sorts for Delhi’s expat community, given its abundance of
international cuisine restaurants, brightly lit and colourful coffee shops that
serve “real” coffee (unlike the sickly sweet froth they whip up at Café Coffee
Day and try and pass off as coffee), book shops, clothing stores and grocery
stores that allow you to pick up baskets and help yourself to the finest of the
fine “imported” items like Hellmann’s mayonnaise, real Gouda cheese from
Australia and Marmite bread spread (hey its expensive, but then if you want it
you’ve got to pay for it). Delhi
Coming back to KFC, the first thing I noticed when I stepped in was that there were a lot of non-Indian’s in the restaurant; one table was occupied by two black guys tucking into plates of rice and chicken, the other by a bunch of young black teenagers just being their age and the third by a group of young and giggly South East Asian girls chatting non-stop. Now what caught my eye (and eventually led to this blog post) was one of the young Asian girl’s baby -who was extremely cute, had the most adorable and chubby face, a head full of tight, little curls and was black! Now to be honest, I feel a bit ashamed to acknowledge this is writing, but I always used to think of myself as very liberal and forward thinking, but my astonishment at the skin colour of that baby versus that of its mother made me feel embarrassed at being so shallow and capricious.
I kept sneaking stares at the baby, but it’s what happened after that, stayed with me all this while. As the Asian girls got up to leave, one of the curious staff at the restaurant smiled at the baby and asked the young mother if the baby was hers, to which she happily replied that the little boy was her son. On their way out as they passed the table where the two black guys were sitting, both of them smiled at the young girl and asked her if the baby was hers, to which she cheerful nodded- what made me smile is how the black guys immediately took to the baby and started playing him, finally patting his cheek and saying goodbye.
What kept me thinking was the realization of how people so seemingly varied in culture, language, nationality and colour were essentially no different from each other; effortlessly connecting on something so innocent, so intrinsic and so human. The real beauty of all this eventually lies in how all these superficial disparities fade away with something as simple as a smile- because a smile speaks no language and sees no colour.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I’m brimming with memories these past few weeks. Not happy, not sad, just random, yet heart warming recollections that suddenly peek out at me from nowhere, surprising me and making me smile- memories from a simpler, more relaxed time; a time that doesn’t seem like very long ago. A time when we only had one channel on TV, Doordarshan, and that was enough and when Sunday morning entertainment meant, rushing back home from church service to catch Mougli and his animal friends on Jungle Book, while mum whipped up breakfast for me in the kitchen.
It’s been two years since I’ve been married and have started living a life that I earlier used to associate with “Older People”, and by that I mean working at my job, making important decisions on various matters, having an insecure moment sometimes, or suddenly being seized by frustration, and on rare occasions deciding what to cook for dinner (clearly, I don’t cook that often). Patterns of behaviour I had earlier associated with “Grown Up’s”, well, welcome to real life!
Lately I’ve been having this nagging and absurdly fearful feeling that now life is going to pass me by at such an insanely, accelerated pace and before I know it I’ll be an old, old lady wondering where life went by so hastily. And so, driven by this ridiculous fear, I’ve decided to lock my memories in words, so that when I do get old, I can go back and read, and smile, and know how wonderfully fulfilling my life has been- good and bad, happy and not so happy, laughter and tears- just as our parents told us life would be.
I was born an only child to much older Anglo-Indian parents in
a rarity in the nineteen nineties I grew up in. I remember the very shocked and
sorry responses I’d get from people when they’d find out I had no siblings, like
I had a dreadful disease or something, which at that age I couldn’t comprehend.
With both my parents working full time I spent most of my time with my reed
thin, elderly and devout Catholic maid (my parents made sure of that) from
Bihar, whom I shall call Lily. Lily, who always wore soft cotton sari’s and
perpetually smelled of Lifebuoy soap and coconut oil and whose white hair would
be tied into a tight little knot behind her head. Lily had a particularly
shrill, sing song voice and I often heard her singing church hymns in a
language I couldn’t understand, while she sat on the veranda floor in a patch
of sun on winter mornings and picked the grit out of the rice. The only word I would
catch onto was “Yesu”, which she had told me, meant Jesus. Delhi
I’m sure Lily couldn’t have been very old when she began looking after me, but to me she was the oldest person I had seen… around the house at least! She had skin the colour of chocolate, eyes as dark as charcoal and fine wrinkles around her eyes and laugh lines around her mouth- she was as quick to anger as she was to laugh. To me Lily was friend, caretaker, sibling, playmate and grandmother all rolled into one. She was the one who soothed my bruises when I’d hurt myself, amuse me when I’d play with my dolls, feed me lunch, rock me to sleep and tell me unbelievable (and sometimes scandalous) stories from her tiny little village, where apparently tigers roamed free in the jungle and where fruits as sweet as honey hung low from the branches of trees.
I remember winter afternoons when she’d lay me down on a string cot in our front yard and vigorously rub warm mustard oil on my body(she didn't believe in the new fangled Johnson’s Baby products), constantly trying to get me to stay still while I giggled continuously; her calloused, work worn hands firm, yet gentle as they massaged the pungent smelling oil into my skin- it’s funny how even today the rich and balmy scent of mustard oil is capable of effortlessly taking me back to a time, when Lily would sit on the stairs with me as a toddler on her lap, assuring me that Mummy would be back home real soon.
Even after my parents were back from work, I’d still hang around Lily, following her to the kitchen and playing besides her feet while she washed the dishes. She used to tell me to go to my parents but I’d still follow her around until it was time for me to have dinner with my parents and be put to bed.
Being Anglo-Indian's, my parents only spoke English at home and I learned no Hindi, which they decided was important for me and they thought who better a person to entrust with this responsibility but Lily. But the consequences of that were not as they had hoped, and instead of learning Hindi, I picked up the dialect Lily would pepper most of her broken Hindi with and I ended up calling rice, bhaat, jhaal was my new word for spicy and to my mother’s horror, instead of learning “Ek, do, teen, chaar” I picked up Ek tho, do tho, teen tho and so on. It was then that my parents decided to pack me off to day care right next door, as they thought I needed to interact with children my age; daycare was something I was to hate for the next couple of years that I was kept there.
Lily still remained with our family, but I no longer stayed with her during the day and I would spend afternoons longingly look into the direction of our home hoping for Lily to come rescue me from my misery of being teased by the nasty little bullies from day care who made fun of me not knowing Hindi. On afternoons like that I would stand in the veranda trying to catch a glimpse of Lily, aching to bury myself in her lap and instantly be surrounded by the softness of her sari and the comforting fragrance of Lifebuoy soap and coconut oil and just be there while she patted me to sleep, telling me stories from the Bible and how Jesus gets angry with little girl's who didn’t take afternoon naps.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Feeling the brightly colored gold chain between my fingers, its deep colour and brilliance amazing me, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never received many gift from my father. The only vague memories I have are of myself as a six or seven year old eagerly opening Christmas presents laid out under the Christmas tree on cold Christmas mornings once we’d come home from church. I would enthusiastically rip off the wrapping paper to find a doll dressed in pink whose eyes opened and closed, or a little plastic doll house, too young to bother which one of my parents has chosen it for me. My father died a few months after I turned nine, exactly a week before Christmas and so the gifts I received from him never went beyond dolls, and doll houses or the occasional paperback version of Alibaba and The Forty Thieves. A book he would read to me on evenings after he’d come back from work.
The gold chain I now wore against my neck was bought by my father for my mother from
Tehran. I can imagine him
standing in the jewellery shop closely studying what he’d buy, silently imagining
what would look best on his wife and finally choosing the one that he decided
would stand out. From the chain hung a pendent which looked more like a coin from some period back in time. On one end was the head of a man
who I guess was an Iranian political figure, and on the other end was a lion
beneath which something was inscribed in Arabic. This, I guess must have
convinced my father would draw a lot of questions and gasps of admiration each
time my mother would wear it, making her feel special; as if she had
a little piece of history nestling against her neck.
I hate to admit it but I’ve always been mildly envious of my mother, not because she received gifts from my father but because she had the privilege of knowing and loving him for longer than I did. She knew him first as a friend, then a lover, and then a husband. Their relationship spanning over two decades; mine and his not even completing one. She holds memories of him in her heart sealed and so secure that I may never even be able to touch its fringes. Her recollections of him are bright and clear like the sun sparkling on a stream of cool, clear water. On the other hand my memories of my father seem shrouded in mist, most of them vivid and clear, yet a few seeping out of my memory gradually and gently. I remember him reading to me, his large liquid green eyes gently lingering over the page, patient with me each time I interrupted to ask him what a new word meant. While he read my eyes would be fixed on him, large with wonder and amazement, imagining Alibaba in a cave full of gold and precious jewels.
I have memories of the endless hours we spent in bookshops in
, my love to read as intense as his; my
mother abandoning us to go shopping. I remember myself sprawled out on a
thickly carpeted floor in a bookshop, lost in a picture storybook
while my father sat on one of the couches opposite me browsing through a paper
back he’d picked off the shelf. I recollect walking up to him and peeping into
the book he was reading and asking him how he could
read a book without any pictures. I recall how he instantly began laughing, his
lined, grave face immediately looking younger and telling me that once I’d grow
up even I’d enjoy reading books without any pictures. I remember holding his
finger as we walked through museums and churches in London , a camera dangling from his wrist as he
pointed out the elaborate and intricate engravings on the high arched domes and
ceilings; so emblematic of Roman architecture. I don’t remember him taking any
pictures, but clearly recall him encouraging me to absorb the experience and
craft a mental picture so I had something priceless to treasure all my life. Rome
It is true, I never received many gifts from my father. Not for my eighteenth birthday, not when I graduated, and not when I got my first job. But today when I look at his black and white photograph tucked away in my wallet, I see more than a serious looking man in a grey suit. I see a laughing man who loved to read and travel , who gave me his name and his features who held me in his arms as a baby. A man who taught me how to eat with a knife and fork, and how to cross the road. And today I realize that these memories are the greatest gifts he could have ever given me. Gifts that are intangible and timeless, something that is unbreakable, that will never go out of fashion, something I’ll never get bored of and unlike the clothes that I wore as a child I’ll never grow out of.