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How to pack your life in a bag and other moving tales

Maciej Frankiewicz - The SuitcaseMy life is at it again.

You would think a child would settle it, make a homebody out of a nomad, fix my feet in the city where family and only some remaining friends were. When my daughter began pre-school two years ago, I thought this was it. We had signed on the dotted line to be Delhi dwellers forever, or at least till she graduated. Then past fifty I would become a farmer and live in the mountains, again. But forever is a tricky thing. It’s laughing behind your back as you make plans for love and life.

So here we are, on a 14th floor apartment in chilly (if you’re sitting at home) Dubai, overlooking yachts go by in one direction and an unmanned metro crossing buildings that The Jetsons swung their hovercraft around many years ago on the telly. And I’ve been cooking every single day of the one week we’ve been here, me of the never-step-in-the-kitchen syndrome. I’ve already begun an uncertain relationship with the stove. We had our first spat today. It screamed, I shut it down. Soon enough we were okay. I’m also doing the evening slides round with the girl, something we never had time for in the almost four years she’s been around.

I’m the person all the “I’m not going to do that…” things happen to. Never not going to work (current status screams ‘Not allowed to work’ on a stamped paper in case I didn’t hear it clear enough). Not leaving the country now. Not packing like a fool. One week before departure I told everyone how I had finished packing everything and things would be smooth hereon. I wasn’t going to get sentimental and try to take everything. Instead I would take the high road, not clutter our new apartment with non-essential items. Till a few hours before leaving for the airport, I was on Round 7 of the packing-unpacking routine. “I can’t live without Rebecca West’s Black Lamb Grey Falcon or the 75th Anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking. I don’t care if they weigh 3 kilos!”

I couldn’t carry everything (except those books of course). Does it matter? Can you really ever pack your life in bags? For the most part just getting up and leaving works too. We can build it here, piece by piece, not in things we buy and hang but memories of that-time-we-lived-here, however long it lasts. My last night in Delhi, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the “Why?” Why were we leaving? Our girl has seen both sets of grandparents around her from the time she was born. And isn’t family all that really matters. Why move to another city now. A better job perhaps but is it really. What if I sit on that white desk in the new apartment and can’t write at all? What if Delhi is where all the words will be? And then I slept, not fighting it anymore. This is what we’re doing right now. This is where we will be. Virtually present with families, physically present in a trio. Learning to live by ourselves, not starting out anew but moving forward.

I went to five different schools growing up. I never have a good enough answer to “Where are you from?” I am from here and everywhere else I’ve been. I am from the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, the stories I’ve heard about strangers. I am from the places I’ve seen and those that mark my dreams. This life can never be packed in enough suitcases and would do just fine without it. It is to be lived and kept in open jars. May it always spill over.

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5 Things you will NEVER forget if you EVER went to a Convent school

Before you start reading, if you were born in the 80s and went to a convent, raise your hands and say “Hell Yeah”, or more appropriately “Hail Mary.” If you didn’t, no need to feel left out. You were tortured by other adults who were not being stern (out of and) in a habit.

Even though I left a home away from home in the hill convent school more than a decade ago, here are some things that follow me around.

1. Lift Your Feet and Walk

When I see or more likely hear people shuffling about, it makes me want to stop them in their track and correct them. But I don’t, for my own good.

2. Cry for Christ

This one was left unsaid, but after reading enough pamphlets on Christ’s life and bawling at the crucifixion scene in a movie at the school theater, you’re always in readiness to cry some more.

3. Graveyard Gossip

As you must be aware, all Convents are built on a graveyard. No, seriously. A silent windy night, a back-lit statue of the Virgin Mary visible from the dormitory corridor and the glistening graveyard white is sure to make you feel like an extra on ‘Blair Witch Project’ (there weren’t any. and there was no ghost. or else, you’re it.)

4. The Forever Two Minute Meal

When you’ve got a nun parading behind you while you eat the daal-with-no-grains you learn to go faster. My personal best was going from a two hour lunch routine, which involved sitting alone at the table and looking on at nothing in particular in 1990s PC (Pre-Convent) to now eating before you can say “What’s that on your plate?”. Its fun, do try it at home.

5. Cursive is King

At and after a convent school you might begin to think that people who cannot form a word by joining letters together should be shipped to another planet. It might not be so bad. They’ll take your husband away (him with the left slant and floating letters that only martians can possibly perfect). Plus the written world will look pretty and who minds that.

Life within the walls of a Convent bears little resemblance to the world outside.

In your first years ‘on the other side’, you think everyone else needs to be “disciplined”. It’s only later that it dawns on you that the ‘cloistered’ convent taught you a language of life that is stuck in 1885. But you learn to roll with it, keeping your Nun avatar in check, but not without saying a shortened version of Our Father in Heaven for the souls of errant beings.

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Lets (R)ewind

Reunions are always fun. People have always become more/less pretty, fat, dumb, rich. And if they haven’t changed at all its the worst thing that could’ve happened to them. After the usual “Oh my god look at you”, there’s the catching up to do. I’m working here, living there, buying that house, that one’s getting married, having a baby, etcetra. Of course if you’re at somebody else’s reunion, things are a wee bit different.

You can put faces to the names you’ve heard. So that’s the host whose parents are out of town, the couple who’re leaving to get educated, the guy who married his college batch-mate, the girl who is way overdressed for the party (and whose name your husband who went to school with her can’t remember), the girl who’s that girl on TV’s sister (oh okay), the guy who asks how you met (whose surname is all you hear anyone using since his first name has been forgotten), the guy just out of hospital who has given up smoking and can’t stop talking about it and the girl your husband had a crush on at school.

When its not your reunion you’re very aware of it, from sitting on the side, smiling at others’ jokes and memories, but mostly from the overwhelming feeling of missing your friends.

When was the last time all of us were together, pulling each other’s leg, dancing like maniacs, cracking the silliest jokes, making fun of others, drinking till someone puked, singing songs till voices went hoarse and saying goodbye vouching to repeat all this soon (but never managing to).

Most of us have moved away, started our lives elsewhere, made new friends. And yet the years we spent together would always connect us. Across time, cities, even oceans (if need be). And when we find ourselves at reunions (ours or somebody else’s), there will always be a smile for that day, stories of how life has been and memories from long ago.

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The Bare-All (B)ucket List. Or simply, “My Birthday is coming, pick a cause to sponsor”. I suggest #2 or #7

These are a few of my favourite things, some of the things I want to do, at some point, before I croak.

1. Read all seven volumes of ‘In Search of Lost Time’.

I’m on the last 100 pages of Volume 3. This one is a slow train, but there’s no rush. It is oh so delightful.

2. Watch Eddie Vedder in concert.

I’ve screamed myself hoarse at The Scorpions, Iron Maiden and Metallica. Eddie Baby Call me soon.

3. Learn to swim.

Okay, in my defence, scuba diving in Havelock has been accomplished. And who cares about the neighbourhood pool. But Robert De Niro swam to safety in Deer Hunter and I feel like I should know how to do it too. Just in case.

4. Finish a Marathon.

Honestly, this one is just so that I can shut the husband and his like. I’d love to throw that in his face the next time he launches the You’re-not-working-out attack. Toddler care and driving in Delhi are legitimate workouts. And fitting into college jeans post baby-pop calls for a celebration. But I think the marathon survivor tee ought to do it.

5. Roll-on-the-floor Laughing.

I have chuckled, grinned, laughed out loud yes, but a floor-roll? Reminds me of a play I was in at kindergarten. It was based on a fairy tale in a Hindi book, the story of a princess who never smiles. Her father, the King, calls people from far and wide to make her smile. Nothing works, not even a monkey dance. And then a man walks in with a pillow disguised as a big belly. The ‘belly’ falls off and the princess laughs and laughs and laughs. I played the princess and I did laugh. So come on world, drop the metaphorical belly so I can show you how I roll.

6. Write a Book.

There are demons in my head, on the road and in the grocery store. They deserve to be heard. And if it can be Wodehouse-funny I’ll kiss my knees. Because they’re saucy and that’s where the books rest on curl-up nights.

7. Visit a new place every year.

This stuff is real. It has worked in the past. May there always be enough cash and whimsy wanderlust to support this cause. Amen.

8. Shake at least some manic depressives out of their sad skins.

Not with fake belly acts but something that lasts; longer than a hookah high, shorter than a lifetime will do.

9. Sky Dive/Bike Ride Tutorials.

Not a stickler for these but if they come my way, hell why not!

10. Kick a Bucket.

Not the metaphorical death sentence. I mean place a bright, big bucket in a field and kick the damn thing. Someone has to do it.

 

P.S.: See the green badge on the right? I’m participating in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Read all about it here: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

We’re on Day 2 today with the letter ‘B’ for BucketList. Stay tuned, in April and beyond.

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A Short History of a Six Yard Love Affair

2014-03-25 23.35.53-1This was the first time I wore a saree. ‘Wore’ is perhaps not the proper word for wrapped-around-clumsily. ‘Wearing’ a saree is an art one can only cultivate with practice over time. But this picture from the early nineties is certainly the earliest recorded saree moment in my life.

Most of what followed is lost in the tattered transparent sheets of countless albums and in unopened boxes in the corridors of my mind. And yet some of it resurfaced as I began to look back at my relationship with the six yard wonder.

At a Fancy Dress event in primary school (still in the early nineties) I found myself in a plain white saree (borrowed from a nurse at the local hospital) to play the part of Lady Justice. With the customary black ribbon across my eyes and a weighing scale in my hand, I walked onto the stage very slowly, trying hard not to trip or touch anything as my head, hands and face were all covered in multaani mitti (Fuller’s Earth) to complete the look. Perhaps I won, and if I didn’t it must have made me quite mad going through all the effort for nothing.

Next we fast forward to the school farewell, our official ‘Prom Night’. I say ‘official’ because this involved the school and teachers while another ‘unofficial’ version ended up being wilder. Every school girl awaited this glorious event with bated breath and only a hint of trepidation. ‘What must I wear’ was narrowed down to ‘Which of my mother’s sarees can I rock’. For me it had begun with a close battle between a plain black chiffon with a gorgeous zari border and the make-you-blind plain peacock-blue georgette. I had always loved how elegant, not to mention sexy, the black always looked on my mother. But the blue, oh the blue. If you had the figure for it, that wrap was a showstopper. Farewell time came after my two year pizza-every-week fatty phase, so the blue won. And of course everything went as planned till I walked into the party and found a classmate wearing a similar saree. Should have gone with the black. Bah Humbug!

After that, saree moments became largely restricted to family weddings, except for two instances in college. One involved a combined birthday treat of two friends at a pub in Delhi, where “Lets all wear a saree” turned the night into the wildest time a bunch of sarees must have had. All attempts to retrieve pictures of this event came to naught at the time of going to print.

2014-03-25 23.12.12The second college-saree hoopla was the farewell. This time I had no doubts what I was going to wear…Mamma’s black and breezy yellow polka-dot wonder. College was the time I realised that for all my I-wish-we-could-wear-pyjamas-everywhere belief system, what I was really beginning to get obsessed with was polka dots. Big, small, black and blue, I have a pair of dot shoes too. And so I drove more than 40 kilometers to and fro in that crazy yellow saree, which ended its day with a “We may forget everything else from this day but everyone’s going to remember you wore this saree” from a friend donning the blue in the picture.

My own, and many other, wedding-saree-events later, we get to my last rendezvous with a saree, which was at a wedding nearly three years ago.

Over the years I have been gifted several sarees, mostly by my mother carrying the unique designs prevalent in different parts of India back from her travels. Those and countless others have been locked up in suitcases that are rarely opened. I have also gifted my fair share of sarees to others and that had been my only encounter with sarees up until now.

Then last month we had a first. At a fair, amidst the clamour of drums, music and street food scents, I fell in love.

Under a stack of shiny materials my eyes caught sight of shimmering white cloth. I bent forward and pulled it out from the layers, discovering a bright orange, pink and zari border. I ran my fingers over it, trying to identify the texture of the piece with my limited knowledge of materials. I turned to the man at the stall to clarify if it was indeed the silk I thought it to be. He nodded in agreement. I held the fabric between my fingers yet again, just to be sure.

“Where is this from”, I asked.

“Benaras”, he said, and then added, “We only bring the best from our city here.”

I didn’t bother to interrupt the sales speak. I had already made up my mind.

2014-03-25 23.17.01Nearly 25 years after I draped a saree for the first time, I bought a saree for myself, my very own Benarasi.

That same day I also lost my heart to a peacock on cotton that journeyed from Bengal for me.

This is only the beginning of what promises to be a long and fulfilling love affair.

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We Don’t Need No (Sex) Education

sex-ed-graphicIn high school, around the turn of the millennium, I attended a very heated debate.

The topic: No sex education please, we’re Indians

I can’t for the life of me remember what people who spoke for the motion had to say. They of course had to prove not just that we don’t need sex education, but that we don’t need it because we’re Indians.

We’re almost a decade past that day but the debate continues.

So what makes sex so un-Indian?

Some people will tell you that talking about sex to teenagers is not in line with our culture and traditions. That is a very valid point in a country where child marriage and female-feticide is apparently more in line with our ‘heritage’.

The debate should have never been about whether we should educate youngsters about sex but about what is the best way to do it. Parents often argue that sex-ed classes make no sense as children then start ‘thinking’ about something they shouldn’t be. Wake up mamas and papas, teenagers are anyway thinking about it, but its about whether you want their information to be from Google or you.

I remember the sex-ed class during my penultimate year in school. Girls and boys were segregated and two women from a local NGO came in to tell us all we wanted and needed to know. I faintly recollect certain diagrams being drawn, a classmate asking about why virginity was tested the way it was when we could very well ‘lose’ it while cycling and much ado about contraceptives. I also recall that when the boys were having their ‘session’ we had to go in and get our bags and there was a lot of giggling and awkwardness around the whole deal. I got back home that day and related the whole thing to my folks, sounding all wise about it…made easier by the fact that they’re doctors and I was talking in medical terms.

As it turns out sex-ed classes aimed at teenagers are not a crash course in Vatsyana’s Kama Sutra. Nobody is telling them that sex is great or how it should be practiced for a pleasure-filled life. The argument runs that teaching teenagers about safe sex means giving them the green signal to ‘experiment’ since it’s all safe. Fears emanating from the idea that sex education leads to promiscuity are not well founded.

Adults can’t continue to be prudes all the way. Teenagers across decades have commonalities. But the differences are just as obvious. It doesn’t work to get all nostalgic and think “we got along just fine without our parents telling us anything about sex”. While controversies around this concept continue, so do the increase in stimuli in a teenager’s world. Gone are the days when the first main encounter with giggle inducing topics was the biology class on human reproduction. Television is passé. The world wide web is the answer to all questions, innocuous and otherwise. And controlling access to the same is that much more difficult.

Teen-age continues to be tricky business. So the question really is, are we going to lay out the right information from a trusted source or have them shoot in the dark till they hurt themselves too bad. And teenagers aren’t the only ones who need educating. Parents and teachers require some lessons in dealing with boys and girls who’re too young to vote but old enough to be opinionated about all else.

We certainly can’t turn condom toting sex educators in a day.

In this country where sex is still a dirty little three letter word, getting past pre-conceived notions of adults is going to take much more than prescribed sex education school textbooks for their children.

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A Class Apart

If you must run into someone from your past it better not be your Physics teacher. At least it better not be my Physics teacher. She and I only agreed to disagree. Of course if you’re standing in the Men’s section of a clothing store giving your opinion on something that in all likelihood is going home in the backseat of the car with you and your man, then there is no one better to run into than your middle school English teacher.

Ah those glorious days when all English teachers loved me and there was no one else I’d rather meet at a PTA. Now after all these years I recognized my past perfect teacher in a glance but stepped in front and politely put her name in with that all important question mark in the end. She smiled that smile from years ago and there was all the catching up to do. Not that I’ve invented anything since I last met her but there was the obvious recap. To my “And you’re still at school?” she replied “Once a teacher always a teacher”. (I decided not to break the moment up with examples of teachers-turned-something-else). So after I had said all I could given the lost time of the past years she wished me the best (while I swallowed the “Ma’am are you on Facebook?” question) and I got back to the good trouser-bad trouser game.

Over the years there have been so many types of teachers in my life that I could make a not so subtle version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly about my relationship with them. And when I look back there’s no doubt about who I’d rather run into. There’s my first class teacher in boarding school or any of the English teachers over the years or perhaps the man whom I gifted a copy of To Sir with Love (with a special note), not knowing a better way to say thank you.

What’s common among the teachers I miss is that in some way they shaped who I am. Amidst all the confusion of growing up and learning new (and often) un-exciting things, there were those who stirred my mind with ideas that went beyond classrooms and textbooks.

Lectures were always of two types: the ones I ran away from (given half the chance) and those I ran to. The former were presided over by those to whom I’d dedicate Another Brick in the Wall. The latter were given by people I’d be more than glad to run into years later, especially when I’m trying hard to steer clear of dark sarcasm and thought control in the Men’s section of a clothing store.