Saturday, January 15, 2011
God created the art of questioning to make people enquire and acquire knowledge, to go ahead in life, all cylinders firing. Today, questions have evolved into tiny pinpricks that fester when constantly touched! Fasten your seat belts, for here are some embarrassing questions people love to ask...
At large gatherings, a delicious lime-mint cooler in hand, you turn to hear an omniscient voice, “Do you know me?” You gawk at the large lady/ old uncle, as the words stick to your roof of your mouth. You hem and haw, and finally nod in affirmation. The next question blows you away! “Then tell me who I am!” Man, if you don’t know who you are, how on earth do you expect me to know? Go see a memory analyst! However, that response never comes out at the opportune moment!
“You have put on weight, haven’t you?” There is no right answer for that, ever!
Your daughter turns eighteen, and the chorus begins. “Aren’t you looking out for a good boy for her?” No, I am waiting for a Martian to come down to Earth and carry her away! Next query, “Is that really your daughter? Doesn’t take after you, does she?” The obvious answer, “Well, I do have a partner in crime actually – my husband! Maybe she looks like him!” Or even better, “No, actually she belongs to my Chinese neighbour... just borrowed her for a few years!”
“Your cheeks have filled out... don’t you exercise?” I do eat bubble-gum occasionally, you know!
Cut to weddings! The couple stand on stage receiving well wishers, when a voice pipes up, “So when are you planning your first child?” Well, err... we haven’t begun the process yet...!
From day one onwards... “Any good news in the offing?” After a couple of years, this becomes, “No good news at all?” And the killer query, “You look nice and healthy”, a euphemism for “You’ve put on weight! Are you expecting?” Yes, expecting you to please leave us alone! Finally curiosity levels reach unbelievable heights. “Do you have a problem in conceiving?” And folks talk about privacy violations on Face Book!
Questions after the first delivery are hilarious. On the 28th day, when baby is having her ears pierced, her screams are offset by an insidious whisper, “Aren’t you planning to try again to have a son? Such a pity, having a daughter first!” Quite the crime, except that daughters do remain daughters for the rest of their lives, bringing pure unadulterated joy to parents! By this time exhaustion has set in, and the question forgotten, but the sting surfaces much later!
God forbid the first grey hair that strikes like lightning! “He looks so distinguished with salt and pepper in his crown, doesn’t he? “ But, “Heavens! She looks like an old hag! Doesn’t she look older than her mother?” Gender bias, I call it! The questioner has no idea about how loaded her query is. First she calls the mom an old hag, and goes onto to dub the daughter an older hag!
Some of the other uplifting comments veer on the lightly abusive...
“Your face still looks so young, what happened to the rest of you?” Sorry, but the rest of me has a mind of its own!
“Don’t you feed your children at all?” Insinuating that you eat and they starve, but how do you explain that children can be mules at mealtimes?
“Your child has not taken after the rest of the family as far as looks go, right?” The person asking might look like the back side of a horse, but your upbringing stops you from telling her so!
And the final, unpardonable query that makes heckles rise, “How is it your children are so dark?” Wasn’t Lord Krishna, the ultimate charmer, dark? Our children, too, are beautiful, blessed with charisma, artistic talent and wonderful natures! Only, you need to have the average intelligence to appreciate them! For beauty lies in the eyes of the beholders! Unfortunately, in this case, the beholders’ eyes are weighed down by colour prejudices and sheer stupidity, two traits which God Almighty has bountifully bestowed upon them!
The New Indian Express
Friday, January 14, 2011
The candles flickered as the whole house wore a festive look. Rose made sure that every one of them was lit as it was considered bad luck to let a candle go out. She bustled around, taking care to see that all the ornaments on the Christmas tree were secure, along with the brightly coloured gifts wrapped with the shiniest paper she could find. After all, didn’t the children love gifts... even if her son Deepak was grown up now! The guests would be arriving shortly. “Ramu, have you kept the snacks out?” “Yes, madam, and I have wiped all the glasses as well!” came the smiling reply. Ramu knew how annoyed she could get at the sight of a cloudy glass.
Joseph came in jauntily, as smart as ever in his pin stripes. “Everything in order, dear?” he asked, as his eyes softened at the graceful figure of his wife. She looked lovely as always, except for the finger that twisted the pallu of her sari, betraying her nervousness.
“There is no need to be tense. They are all old friends, after all!” he smiled.
And so they were! Every Christmas the same set of friends were invited, people they had grown closer to over the years. The bond had strengthened and the warmth within their hearts shone brighter than the light emanating from the candles around.
“Deepak will be late as usual!” Rose remarked. “He had rung up to say that he would be going out with his friends!” Joseph’s expression altered inexplicably, but he tactfully refrained from making a comment. He did not want to upset Rose by referring to their son. “I have made his favourite plum cake”, she went on. “Even after a hectic evening out with his friends, he will come home and eat it. He always does!”
The sound of the first guests arriving caught their attention. Rose pushed back a strand of hair from her brow as Joseph strode to the door.
“Merry Christmas! Welcome!” his voice boomed out as he held his hand out to Ashish Saxena. “Sudha, you are looking wonderful!” and so she was in a sea green sari, a smile on her pretty face. She stepped forward and hugged Rose warmly, holding out a gift wrapped box. “Sudha, you shouldn’t have!” Rose exclaimed. “Just a batch of my home made chocolates...!” smiled Sudha.
By then the next couple had walked in and the evening soon grew livelier, as they sat on the perfectly manicured lawn, savouring Rose’s crunchy snacks and admiring the sight of the beautiful Christmas tree that eclipsed everything else, casting a warm glow on the relaxed faces. Rose too had slipped into the ease that comes over a hostess who senses that her party is going well.
The conversation revolved around light frothy topics. “Have you seen Mr. Dutt’s new secretary? “ remarked Tarun Sharma, who had an eye for detail. “Quite a knock out!” The other men nodded sheepishly, casting surreptitious glances at their wives. “Go ahead, we don’t mind you admiring other women”, smiled Sonika. “As long as it ends there!” chipped in Rose. “Gosh, we wouldn’t dare...” Tarun made a mock grimace at his wife.
The candles flickered, casting long shadows on the walls of the verandah. Ramu had just given the signal that dinner had been laid out. Rose had already been inside to check out whether everything was in its place, and of course it was! Ramu was a rare treasure indeed!
Rose turned to Joseph. “When do you think Deepak will be home? I hope he does not make it too late!” There was a moment of silence as they all looked at Joseph. “He’ll come when he does!” he said shortly, and then he bellowed, “Another refill, gentlemen?”
As they made their way to the bar, Rose glanced anxiously at the ladies. She had no secrets from them as they were such long standing friends. “Joseph gets so irritable when I mention Deepak... maybe because Deepak is at that age when he is openly defiant of his father. Joseph cannot stand anyone opposing him. Maybe we should have had another child...” Her voice trailed off as she saw the gentlemen returning. Sudha smiled at her comfortingly as Sonika remarked, ‘Try not to worry too much. Fathers are prone to be heavy handed!”
“Shh... let’s change the topic!” whispered Rose as she looked around and saw Joseph behind her. “That sari of yours is really exquisite, Sonika”, she said loudly. “A Christmas gift from my husband!” The conversation wafted into a lighter mode.
Dinner was a great success. Rose had outdone herself as the guests were left all but licking their fingers. They had discarded the cutlery for the sheer pleasure of biting into succulent chunks of chicken and golden brown fillets of fish. The dessert melted in the mouth, as they lolled in the cool lawn, satiated and indolent. The candles burned with intensity, as they do when they are about to go out.
“It is almost midnight... why isn’t Deepak here as yet?” The query escaped her even before she realized it. “He’ll be here soon enough”, assured Sudha as she stole a glance at her husband. “But he is never so late. The plum cake is almost over!”
“Rose, how about some coffee liqueur for our guests?” suggested Joseph. The suggestion was turned down as they all protested that they had eaten so much that there was no place for anything more. One by one, the goodbyes were made, hugs exchanged, and they drove away into the darkness. As the last taillight trailed away, the lawn suddenly looked bereft. Rose stood, lines of worry creasing her delicate forehead, as she looked towards the gate, willing it to click open.
“Deepak...?” There was a question in her eyes as she looked at Joseph. The remnants of the plum cake were on the table still. She placed a cover over them, and then turned to Joseph who led her upstairs. There he tucked her into bed and waited while her eyes closed of their own volition.
It was only after she had slept that he went to the window and glanced out at the dark lawn, an expression of deep sorrow on his face. He had had to put up a facade the whole evening for the sake of his wife. For he knew that Deepak wasn’t coming that night, or any other night! It was on one such Christmas night that Deepak had gone out with his friends, and on his way back home, he had met with a fatal accident. His mother was waiting at home with his favourite plum cake.
Their whole world had come crashing down. Rose had had a nervous breakdown, and when she emerged from it, she had no recollection of the tragedy. The doctors had warned Joseph not to remind her of it, as she was mentally not strong enough yet to take it in. So perforce every Christmas night, the whole farce was played out with the help of his close friends, all of whom were in the conspiracy. For they all loved Rose and did not want to see her suffer.
It was time to go to bed and try to sleep. Joseph pulled the curtains across as he glanced at the lawn one last time. The candles had finally gone out.
Ask me what it is that I detest most in the world and my answer would probably be, “My glasses!” Myopia was what I was born with, and will die with, one day! These glass barriers appeared over my orbs not because I had blinding blackouts or terrible headaches. One day, I tried on Dad’s spectacles, something which was forbidden and so all the more doable, and found the world a crystal clear one! Gone were those blurred outlines, those hazy figures and ghostly shadows that populated my world. Earlier it was quite natural, when I was watching a movie, to mistake the hero for the heroine [they didn’t have size zero then except in Rwanda!]
Of course, things were not as comfortable at school when I was given the honour of reading from the blackboard, and I kept insisting that I could not possibly read off an empty board. And the worst was when I walked home after school, fervently hoping that I would not meet anyone I knew, because I would be unable to recognize them from a distance. May a time I have annoyed friends and turned them into foes, as I stared through them with ‘a curiously penetrating eye’, as they would later put it, while I would feebly try to explain that the above eye was also ‘curiously myopic’ as well. In a frenzy of despair, I would turn over a new leaf and vow to wave cheerily at all and sundry, in the hope that there would be a few chance acquaintances amongst them. This earned me many puzzled looks, as people tried frantically to rack their brains on where they had met me.
Finally the day arrived when I got my first pair of glasses, hideous thick ovals that made me wish I could disappear from behind them. Thankfully after a couple of months of misuse and disuse, they fell to pieces. A round pair of frames caught my eye next, but with my moon-shaped face and ‘cheeky’ look, the combination was definitely owlish, and I gave them up before I could begin hooting!
This was when Mum decided to step in and prevent me from any more fashion disasters. I ended up with very pretty pearly pink frames which looked exquisite, except when they were on my face. By this time, I had realised that I would have to live with glasses and decided to give them a try. Which is when my spectacles came alive! They would disappear and I would look around for them frantically, till suddenly someone would sit in a chair and CRACK, there they would be! Or I would trip over a well worn step and there they would be, twinkling brokenly at me from the ground. Very inconvenient indeed!
When I met my future husband, all I saw was a rather shadowy figure and all of a sudden, his glasses glinted. I had found my kindred soul, and the Powers-that-be ordained that we had enough power in our respective eyes to make us compatible! After marriage when my glasses continued to break of their own volition, my husband announced, “I have just the thing for you to make sure this does not ever happen again!” I was thrilled. “Contact lenses?” I whooped. Instead he held out a chain to hold up my glasses! When I protested he grinned, saying, “If I get you contact lenses, I’ll be on my knees, hunting around for them all day!” He vanished before I could throw my glasses at him!
The chain looked particularly snaky and I hated them. I got a silver chain which made me look like a merchant’s wife! A black thread and I was pronounced miserly for using a ‘shoelace’ to hold up my glasses. A dark thread with gold beads proved very distracting, as they glittered every time I turned my head. Then came the hooked varieties so sharp that they made rents in my clothes, followed by coloured beads which looked nice till the paint peeled off. When I finally got the perfect chain, it was as though I had found one of Ali Baba’s famed treasures.
Times have changed and now my glasses have become part of my persona. I have got a chocolate brown chain which is the right colour and the right length, and I wear my glasses so that I can wear my smart new chain. And maybe, I don’t mind making a spectacle of myself anymore!
City Journal, Thrissur
Graphics: Smiley with Glasses, by OCAL,
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Kids say the funniest things, as parents have realised from time immemorial. On occasion, guests are treated to an earful of uncomplimentary things their hosts have said about them. Amazing how children miss out on the good things said, concentrating on the embarassing bits to create an icy atmosphere in which stalactites form overhead!
The doorbell rings and the chirpy offspring rushes like a tornado to open it. What follows can never be imagined. “Papa, it’s the Uncle who is full of hot air!” or “The Aunty who broke the weighing scale!” One can think of better ways to start a conversation, right?
Why do children react thus? Do they yearn to be the centre of attraction? Parents are probably to blame. “Come, child! Aunty wants to hear ‘Twinkle, Twinkle...!” The little star stumbles through the rhyme, stopping after every two syllables, till the bitter end. You heave a sigh of relief, and turn to flee, when another bolt from the blue hits you. “How about “Old Mac Donald?” If the earlier was tough going, imagine wading through animal sounds that sound like nothing on earth? Especially if Mom believes in barking, braying, mooing and even hissing? Takes a lot out of you, it does!
A friend of mine refuses to take her kids a-visiting! “Never know what they might blurt out!” she shudders. She once took her daughter to a crotchety old uncle’s house, promising to sit for forty five minutes and no longer. Uncle suddenly noticed the little girl looking at her watch. “New watch?” he barked. “Do you know how to tell the time?” She nodded confidently. “Well, what time is it?” “Time to leave your house!” was the answer. “Ma said we would leave the moment you started becoming grumpy!” My friend didn’t know where to look!
My cousin was explaining the facts of life to her curious four year old niece. She made the lecture as easy as possible, ending with the physical process of childbirth. The little one’s remark at the end had her in splits! “Oh, is that why my mother tells me to sit with my legs together!”
This other little nephew had an imaginary friend. Every detail about the friend was perfectly thought out. He was very adventurous, often going on holidays, enjoying life, eating good food - living life to the hilt! The parents wondered where all the details came from, for often his imagination ran riot. Till the day he stopped talking about his friend. When prompted, he said airily, “Oh, he died in an accident in Australia!” He never spoke of him again.
Children soak up everything about them like sponges - the way their parents speak, what their siblings do or how their peers react to situations. I often lament at the way in which some kids lisp and prattle, and am urged to shake some sense into their parents. For they are to blame, as they indulge in baby talk with them, ruining all their chances of being articulate little people! Children do not need to be fluttery-eyed and irritatingly cute! They pick up language the way they are taught, and have more sense than many parents credit them with.
Kahlil Gibran says eloquently, “Your children are not your children!” but the fact remains they have been loaned to us for a lifetime. Hence, it is up to us to make good stout-hearted adults out of them. For child is, indeed, father of the man, and how he grows up will depend on how well he was brought up! So take care when you bring up your child for, one fine day, you just might want to disown him!
The New Indian Express, January 12th, 2011