September 26, 2001

the making of a (civil) hypocrite

marriage registration: rs 3,000 only. take it or forget about it.

(continued from here)

“she’ll also get the certificate on her wedding day,” mr kale assured my father. our caterer mr kale worked at mumbai airport before he switched to full-time catering. he narrated his experiences when he and his colleagues would nab baggage-thieves who would cut the sides of suitcases or baggage at the airport…everytime they nabbed one, the general manager would smirk at them and ask “kyun? tumhara kya problem hai?” (why did you nab him, what’s your problem?)

apparently, he got a commission for letting them go. and as for the person who lost his/ her baggage, there was always the insurance that could be claimed. “and do you think they tell the truth about how much they have lost?

kuch fayda nahin (it’s all futile) madam, there is no one person who’s clean. you pay rs 3000, and you have the guarantee as well as peace of mind.”

my father did not need much convincing. sadly, most fathers don’t. for someone who has to handle a hundred things at the same time for a daughter’s marriage, and also tackle sticky government issues like a marriage certificate without which she cannot get her visa to travel abroad, one would rather pay a little extra and get the damn thing sorted out. the (marriage) registrars know this very well. and no one’s complaining, so why should the daughter care?

when my father asked me this, i said that i do. so did two of my friends who were asked to cough up rs 4000 and rs 1000 for their marriage certificate. they do not yet have a marriage certificate, because they know it is not worth a bribe. i fully agree with them, but i need a certificate for my visa, so how am i going to tackle this alone?

all our lives, we are taught at schools and colleges that it is wrong to bribe. what most of us are not told, is that to get into the institutions we study in, our parents have had to pay a “donation” to the school principal, apart from the normal education fee.

why, even my driving instructor advised me during one of my initial lessons. “don’t worry, i’ll teach you how to drive. as for passing the driving test, a few 100-rupee notes to the rto (road transport officer) should get you a license. in fact, you don’t even need to take a test!!” he said matter-of-factly. no wonder there are so many road accidents in india.

some years ago, my father told me of a police sub-inspector who reached his level by paying a rs 5-lakh token (read, bribe) to his seniors. of course, there was another father to have paid that through his nose.

there are millions of fathers right here in india who’ll give many more such instances of where they have had to pay ‘under the table’ to buy happiness or security for their children. it’s not surprising then that instead of advising us against supporting corruption, our elders are justifying why it’s “not wrong”. now we know our teachers have been hypocrites all along. even as you read this, there is someone somewhere sowing another seed of corruption in the form of a donation, a token fee, a gift or bakshish, or chai-pani.

if there is anyone who can stop this cancer from spreading, it is us. right now, i have neither the age nor the experience to convince my own father, or mr kale of how i am going to fight it, and get the marriage certificate the right way. but that will not stop me from trying.

September 22, 2001

what women want

ever since i remember, my parents have been associated with the rotary club (thane north).

however, such ‘adult’ social gatherings almost always made me feel claustrophobic (which is why i’m still uneasy at press conferences) thanks to the absence of anyone i could relate to even remotely. while i was more often a ‘forced’ spectator at a rotary event or family night hosted by the club, the rotarians’ energy for more enthused activities has never ceased to amaze me.

most typical rotarian families comprise the husband-wife couple and their two kids, maybe three — all of who are inducted in front of the entire club. soon the couple (the husband mainly), plunges into a project, leading it sometimes, if not volunteering help. as for the kids, sooner or later they learn to make up excuses for not attending a rotary meeting with their papas. some of them however, stay on to join the rotaract club for youngsters.

the wives on the other hand, or the ‘better-halves’ in rotary-lingo (aka the rotariannes), continue to attend dinners and happy-hour-rotary parties; the more sincere and social-service-minded wives though, form the rotary’s very own innerwheel club.

perhaps i can label us as one such typical rotary family — as a kid, i have been through the ordeal of sitting through club dinners, slapping my calves and ankles to shoo away the mosquitoes. when i ran out of excuses for not attending such functions with my parents, i was made the editor (my first solo break) at the rotaract club where i stayed on for six months. of course, one is not paid for volunteering for a good cause, but the experience is invaluable. it was here i learnt one of the essential skills for an editor…when i had to be absolutely untouched by emotion and dedicate an entire bulletin to a fellow-rotractor-cum-friend who died an untimely death. i observed that the initial shock of sudden death is soon taken over by a sense of responsibility — to do justice to the life lived. i was told i did a good job.

a few months later, i landed myself a job at express computer and life moved on for everyone.

September 13, 2001

all right world, wait for me!

yesterday… (and for about three weeks before)

this is not working out.

i thought that by quitting my job i would get more time for myself, and i’d be able to spend time on all the hobbies that interested me. but that’s not happening.

it’s amazing how useless you begin to feel once you are out of a six-year career and at home. why! if i die right now, no one will even know the difference!

there must be a way out. for starters, i have decided to cut down on coffee and tv.


wow! i just enrolled myself in a library, driving school and a pottery workshop. all i had to do was get out of the house!

would it be a coincidence — that the first book i came across in my new library made me sit up and realise why i was so frustrated and depressed about life? somebody had simply moved my cheese!

hmm, learning of the day:
the world does not stop for anyone. perhaps you can get off and take a break sometime.
don’t forget where you got off though; and even if you do, just jump back in. you’re sure to find out soon enough.

September 11, 2001

drama in re(a)l life

it’s been long since i watched a movie with my sister, and lajja, which was showing in one of the theatres here at thane seemed irresistable even for my chittis (aunts)!

getting an aunt or your mom to watch a movie (be it the afternoon or evening show) with you can be quite a task, with them throwing all alarm-ringed original excuses like these:
“oh i haven’t washed the clothes yet”
“i have yet to cook, and guddu will be home anytime now”
“i’m fasting today beta”
“guddu’s having his exams tomorrow”
“uncle has to leave late for office, and i just prepared breakfast”…
and so on.

actually, they would be equally interested in a movie; just that sometimes it makes them feel guilty if they rush off to watch a movie in the middle of the day, and without their husbands or children. however, if the movie is funny, interesting or woman-oriented, things can get much simpler for you. which is how it was for me…

with 30 minutes left for the movie to begin, i called up one of my aunt and told her to get ready quickly. “amma and chitti are coming too,” i lied. next, i called up another aunt, and lied again. with just 10 minutes left for the movie to begin, my sister and i left to book tickets at the movie hall. fortunately for us, there was no winding queue at the counter, partly because the movie had already begun! waiting with our eyes peeled for their auto, we finally spotted the three of them, and signalled them to rush indoors.

we’d missed 30 minutes of the movie, but it was an engrossing one. lajja (shame) revolves around one character, who, claustrophobic due to her dominating husband, runs away from home. during her journey, she comes across four other women caught in their individual struggles for their identity, and finds her own in the end.

it was only after the movie that we got a good look at each other, and all of us had a good laugh. in spite of their excuses, the two chittis and my mom had managed to make it for the movie, their hair tied up simply in a knot and sarees not-ironed. amid allegations that i’m going to spoil them during my little vacation at home before i get married, we left for our homes smiling.

it takes so little to make them happy, i thought, satisfied that my little prank had given them the break they always shy away from.

the ladies even admitted that when they awoke this morning they did not know what was in store for them.

September 10, 2001

it’s not just about song and dance

i was her worst student.

the six-year unpleasant tryst with dance in my childhood has taught me *not* to force an art down a kid’s throat, especially when you cannot explain what it can do for him/her.

i call it unpleasant because i used to dread 3:00 pm in the afternoon, sometimes 6:00 pm, when my dancemami would come home, spread out her little mat on the floor to lessen the cold from the tiled floor, where she tapped with her wooden rod chanting “tayya tai, tayya tai” to a rhythmic 16-taal beat.

i was about 6, and she taught me bharatanatyam. along with me were aruna and sandhya, also of the same age, neighbours. one wrong step, and the wooden rod would land on our feet, causing a blue-green sore on whichever toe it fell.

i wouldn’t blame her —
a) my parents wanted me to learn dance whether i liked it or not,
b) she was an ageing teacher fast losing patience; interested in earning a little money for her talent
c) i was a restless kid who only loved to wear the ghungroos because of the many bells it had on it, and the music my feet created everytime i moved them —
but well, like most kids would find it difficult to erase a painful memory out of their young lives, i haven’t forgotten my sore toes either.

i also have not forgotten the surprise chocolate treats, which were extra sweet because she rescued me everytime my mom was in a bad mood, and i was often at the receiving end… the most memorable one being that afternoon, when amma punished me severely by locking me up in the bathroom. i was screaming my lungs out and it was time for dance class. (okay, it was my fault in the first place… my sister and i were having one of our then-turning-regular fist-fights, but the bathroom? if it was not so tragic for me as it was then, it would have been hilarious, as it is for me now ;-)) well, so there was no class that day. dancemami was the hero of the day and she bribed me with a huge 5-star bar to keep my eyes from popping out due to all the crying (and the attention) i was enjoying by now.

i’ll also never forget her warm embrace one morning when my mom had to be hospitalised suddenly and i was too young to understand what it was all about. i must have been 8 or 9 year-old then.

two or three years later, we shifted our residence, and i switched from dance to classical music. again, it’s every parent’s desire that their child should be good at something right?

so that was that. i now dreaded 11:00 am when she would unfailingly arrive at our doorstep with her little harmonium. fifteen minutes into the session and i would doze off (sitting right in front of her!) so easily, while she continued to slap her hand on her knee singing sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa…

tch tch. i surely was her worst student.

gradually, as my schoolbag became heavier, tutions increased, and hours in the school and college library grew longer, i saw less of our dance teacher (i learnt that she had moved to madras). i also understood the importance of art in life… bharatanatyam and music remained topmost in my wish-i-had-learnt-to-do list. now i know why my parents pressed me so much years ago.

this morning, as my father was driving me to the passport office at thane, i noticed a very old yet familiar face in the crowd. i did not know whose face it was, but it made me jump out of the car even before it stopped, run about 50 yards before i finally caught up with the figure and tap her on her shoulder so i could see her more clearly. panting, half unsure, i asked her if she recognised me.

a long 2.5-second-look later, she asked me back in fluent tamil: “and how am i supposed to recognise you?”
behind her thick soda-glasses, i noticed the same unmistakable little twinkle reach her 60-percent-cataract-covered eyes, and both of us smiled.

oh dancemami, i really missed you.

ps: no i will not force my child to sing or dance. i think it’s simple…
– the first thing children learn, even as infants, is to observe and imitate their parents.
– the environment you create for your child plays an important role too, throughout his or her life.
– and thirdly, one unwritten rule of life says its never too late to learn yourself.

as for me, i cannot wait to get back to my violin classes 🙂
umm, perhaps by january, right praveen?

September 9, 2001

365 days ago…

last year i bid goodbye to the elephant god. this year, i know i haven’t lost my friend. i was content then. i am content now.

ganesh, happy birthday.

September 6, 2001

i reached bangalore via kyoto, japan!

it was something i was looking forward to. a good book on the udyan express.

i read arthur golden’s memoirs of a geisha throughout yesterday, all 496 pages of it. it was like i was under the spell of its magical colours and style. in fact, i did not budge from my seat until i had read the entire book!

i had always found the geisha fascinating. perhaps because it was a subject i did not know much about, and something so beautiful i could not touch it. i had only an idea about its beauty when i had come across a few greeting cards that had geisha women painted on it. the cards were very old and yellowing, sent to my father by nobuko otomo, his japanese penfriend (that’s what they had then, penfriends. and now we have instant messengers!). another instance was when my colleague at my ex-company, chip magazine (now digit) had been to japan and got me a surprise gift. it was geisha art again, painted on a piece of square cloth and a fan to go with. i yearned to know more, but i did not even know they were called geisha.

but this book has answered all the questions i had. i was so busy reading it…i forgot to have the yummy theplas (spicy rotis) that amma had packed for me. my father was very apprehensive when he came to see me off — i was the only woman-traveller in the entire compartment. i wasnt uncomfortable though. there are men-strangers you can converse with and there are those you do not feel the need to. then there are those in whose company you become self-conscious, and then again there are some people who can travel together in silence and yet be comfortable. i could see that my co-passengers fit into the last category. now that i did not have to task of having to start a conversation with anyone, i decided to plunge in my novel, and plunge i did!

as you travel through the adventures and ‘mis’adventures of the geisha depicted beautifully in her own voice, the biggest surprise comes in the end (the footnotes), and that is what makes this novel unforgettable. it is amazing how an american author manages to capture the graceful japanese spirit and art form so flawlessly. read this interview with arthur golden for a better idea.

was it because of the book’s engrossing nature, or was it the character of nitta sayuri, i don’t know. but i had the strangest recollection of dreams last night. even as i awoke this morning, it took me a while to re-orient myself and realise that finally, i was in my favourite city, bangalore 🙂

September 4, 2001

sometimes, let your heart do the talking…

since it was not possible for her to leave deepu unattended at home, amma’s innerwheel club members had two meetings at home last week. this gave me a glimpse into how they operate and the activities they are into. well, given their limited capacities (tight budgets, stingy or reluctant sponsors) and restrictions (time: all members are housewives home-makers first), i must say they’re trying their best.

one such project overdue was, to demonstrate how chalk is made at the home for the mentally retarded in thane. this would serve as an active pastime for the patients in the asylum, a new addition to their other activities such as tailoring, making bed and pillow covers (and painting on them), knitting, making cloth from cotton yarns, punching files, and printing.

i found it interesting, and i was curious to know more about the patients; how many of them are cured after treatment; how many of them go home; how many of those cured return to the hospital rejected by their families…
i asked if i could watch the demonstration too, and the ladies were only happy to take me along.

we were three. the innerwheel club secretary, sunanda patwardhan – a social worker (all of over 70 years into her small active frame), and me. i was told that visiting hours were from 10:30 to lunch time. after that, the patients are apparently given a mild sedative to relax them, and they ought not to be disturbed then. i am not a doctor, but on human grounds, what kind of a life would that be…when almost 20 hours of a day are spent without interaction – sleeping, or under a sedative.

i had to face many more questions, when the huge metal gates to the mental hospital opened, revealing, to my surprise, a vast refreshing green maze dotted with little houses for the patients, and long mud pathways for them to walk on. the air was so peaceful that had it not been for the towering gates, i would have thought it was igatpuri’s meditation ground.

we were led to the male ward where the demonstration was scheduled. i could see many aged men, engrossed in spinning yarn out of cotton, weaving cloth, or some simply silent and staring out of the window. when we entered, one of them looked up curiously from his work, smiled as if introducing himself and saying he was happy to see us, and got back to his work. while mrs patwardhan explained about chalk moulds and the right consistency of plaster-of-paris required for making the chalk, i studied all the ‘patients’, their innocent eyes looking back. i saw how helpless they were and wondered how anyone could label them as ‘mad’. do they even know why they are there?

these are some of the figures i learnt about the place from one of the doctors:
– 1,400 patients are treated in the hospital.
– apart from the stay, the government provides free meals for them twice a day.
– there are only four attendants for both the wards, making it difficult to cater to the needs of individual paitents
– after a treatment that varies from 10 days to even three or four months, the patients are allowed to go home.
– later, monthly routine checks are carried on them as per their individual requirements.
– often, family members of the patients return them back to the hospital on some pretext or the other, some even are thrown back in within an hour of going ‘home’
– only 3 percent of the patients so far have successfully returned to (read, been accepted by) their families.

wouldn’t it be helpful if the hospital itself held a sort of session for the seemingly ‘normal’ family members, so they are taught to accept a sick parent, or a sick brother? the doctor just shook his head helplessly: “they don’t have the time or inclination, and we don’t have the money.”

during our conversation, i sensed somebody behind, and i turned to look. it was the old man who had introduced himself just a while ago. he perhaps had been standing there for a few minutes, because he seemed to be taken by surprise when i suddenly turned. now, he just stared, as if he was caught stealing. i too wasn’t ready for this; i had startled him and now had no clue about how i should react. should i turn away, pretending i hadn’t seen him, or should i open a conversation with him? what if he did not understand me?

as i stared back at him, something about his eyes caught my attention. they were very afraid, but yet so clear, almost twinkling. just then, he blinked nervously. amused by the situation, i smiled. i’ll never forget what happened next. i actually felt his smile reach up to his eyes! just like a little child’s. he was so touched by a simple smile, he laughed playfully, and rushed back to his friends.

i turned back to the doctor, fighting back the painful lump i felt in my throat, as he continued, smiling. “oh, you’ve just met the oldest and the friendliest patient in our hospital. sadly, he does not know where he used to stay, and no one has ever come to take him home.”

i wish i had made up this story.