Thursday, October 25, 2012

The little red howling time has come

Do you remember the tale of the red shoes. I first discovered it in the wonderful Women who run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It is a book I read and reread as I felt a close affinity with the wild woman that lies dormant in each one of us. The tale of the red shoes is maybe one of addiction and obsession but to my mind there is another subtler version that we often fail to recognise. We don those red shoes unwittingly and sometimes quite willingly but then they take over. The red shoes become an intrinsic part of ourselves and it is impossible to take them off. Vivianne Tuffnel writes : Look at your Red Shoes? Are they pretty anymore or do they drive to do things you don't like admitting. Can you take them off and throw them in the river or the fire or does the thought make you shudder. One may wonder why the these thoughts came to my mind today of all days.

A few days back was my 38th wedding anniversary. A day to celebrate some would say. Well I spent the morning in the kitchen cooking the husband's favourite dishes for a small dinner with friends. Did I do it willingly, happily, joyfully? Maybe I did. Frightening isn't it for one who things she has defended her free spirit with passion and against all odds. Then how did this happen. It all started with the husband suggesting a tête-a-tête 'romantic' dinner. I liked the idea as I cannot remember when we had such a treat. I was one of those who had a 17 day old baby on my first wedding anniversary! Ominous of times to come, to say the least. Then, surreptitiously the man of my life mentioned his favourite dish. one I cook rarely as it is tedious and not the healthiest. And then wonders of wonders the  tête-a-tête 'romantic' dinner mutated into a small dinner at home with of course the favourite dish on the menu. The chef of the day was you guessed right: me. The romantic do turned out to be a noisy dinner with nothing I liked on the menu. none of my friends that came at the end of an exhausting day! And yet I did it all with a smile as I have too many times in the past. You see like all women, I too one day got tempted by red shoes and wore them willingly without knowing that they will take my life over.

We all wear those red shoes when we fall in love, get wedded, become a mother. The red shoes do not have to be an obvious addiction or obsession. They can be subtle and crafty luring you to a life of happiness and plenty. But they came with at a price as they come with the atavistic baggage of a past where men hold the winning hand. And by the time you realise the dangers and pitfalls, it is too late, you cannot take them off and cast them away. Just like in the fairy tale. To get rid of them you have, according to the fairy tale, to accept to be maimed. A huge price to pay.

I will not pay that price. I want to find a way to take the shoes off without being maimed. I need to get free of them in my head. The first step is again taken from Estes's book. I need to make my scapecoat: a coat that  details in painting, writing and with all manners of things pinned and stitched to it all the name-calling a women has endured in her life, all the insults, all the slurs, all the traumas, all the wounds, all the scars. It is her statement of her experience of being scapegoated. ( Women Who Run With the Wolves Chapter 13) And instead of destroying it, place it somewhere I can see it every day and say to myself: Wow.You must be some woman to have borne all this.

Yet instead of learning to love yourself and make yourself heard when needed, you just fell into the trap of the beautiful red shoes you so willingly adorned one day. That is what I did too but the time has come to change and what better way than to follow the rules of Estes's wild woman:

1. Eat

2. Rest

3. Rove in between

4. Render loyalty

5. Love the children

6. Cavil in the moonlight

7. Tune your ears

8. Attend to the bones

9. Make love

10. Howl often

and as she so aptly says in the very end of her book, it may greatly help to begin with number 10!

My howling time has come.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Letter to a brother I never met

Dear Bro

Apologies for calling you Bro. Did not quite know how to address you, somehow Bro seems in sync with want I want to say to you today before it is too late. True you had a name Ramesh (son of Ram). Our parents told me that it was given to you after your death as something had to be written on your tombstone. So Ramesh was the best they could do. Wonder what your name would have been had you lived!

I also wonder if we will meet. Do siblings separated by death meet in the nether world?  I do not know. I wish one does as I would like to meet you. But believe me I have known you since the moment I was old enough to understand things and you have been a huge part of my life.

I found this picture of you today. Actually I had been looking for it for many days now. It is the only picture of you that exists. The picture was taken after your little soul flew away but you still look so precious. I wonder if you would have grown to be a handsome man. Ma said you looked like our Nana. He was quite a dashing man.

Today with our parents gone, and I hope they are with you, you only live in my memory and having reached the ripe age of 65 - you would have been 68 - I know I have little time left and want to set the records straight and leave traces of our nuclear family for others to know. It is not an ego trip, far from that. What needs to be told is that you have been a huge part of my life and transformed it in many ways. I owe you a debt of gratitude and also have a few bones to pick. I will try to be as honest as possible.

First of all I was never truly an only child. I was one with a dead older sibling. It is somewhat thanks to you that I have enjoyed the privileges an only child has, but also suffered the loneliness it entails. And because our parents were older than what parents normally are, I was thrown into an adult world at a very early age. And because you had been born and lived nine months in our mom's womb and two days in this world ma and pa had to suffer the terrible pain of losing a child which made them smother me with a love that became sometimes suffocating to say the least. But I do not grudge you that. I guess there was nothing you could have done about it.

I do not remember when exactly I came to know about your existence. I think it is when we went to visit your grave from Paris, the time we had that terrible accident on our way back when Ma was hospitalised in a small German town for weeks. That was the first time I saw your mortal remains: a grey tombstone with your name and two dates 2 days apart. You had lived for barely a few hours. Over the years the story of your  birth and death became more comprehensible. How you died because there was no penicillin in Prague because of a blockade;  how you died because of political egos between a young communist doctor and the senior old school Professor. You know he is the one who brought me into this world two years later so I guess we shared the same Doc! I was also told that the one who was to become my Godfather and worked under Pa drove his sports car at break neck speed to get the penicillin needed to save your life but it came to late. Had he made it in time, I would have had a big brother!

Ma also told me how they (our parents) had planned your arrival: the layette carefully bought at Harrod's; your education that was to be the very best at Harrow and Eaton, the dreams they must have crafted for your future. Though there were no gender determination test in those times, they somewhat knew you would be a boy. Ma's instinct I guess. In contrast when I was conceived our parents planned nothing. They were too scared to do so lest I also did not survive. No layette, no fancy school, no dreams for the morrows. They just waited with bated breaths.

I did land of this planet but again at a heavy cost. Ma was terribly unwell. Pa was the one to bear the burden. The fear of losing his wife and child's mother, the responsibility of keeping me alive and kicking whilst ma laid in a hospital bed must have been dreadful. And because the Czech Government felt responsible for your demise because of all that penicillin and doctor story, they had appointed a nurse who was like a Cerberus guarding the nursery. I was told that everyone had to boil their hands, in a manner of speech before they could touch me. Even pa! So one day he just threw her out and decided to take over and did a fab job. I am still around!

OK. All this is not about me but about you. So as I told you my memories of you in my early days were confined to what ma agreed to share and the trips to Prague to visit your grave. I must say that I was surprised at how well tended your grave was though it is in the oldest part of Olcany. It seems someone tended to you as they realised you were all alone and your family far away. The last time I visited your grave with our parents was in 1968 just before the Prague invasion. But that was not to be the last time as some years later my husband got posted to Prague. It was in 1985. I last laid flowers on your grave in 1989, 28 years ago.

I sometimes think of you and wonder what my life would have been if your were around. As I said earlier, I was an only child after a dead one and that did chart the course of my life as the parents held on to me for dear life, and thus made me live the nomadic life of a diplomat's child. It has its advantage though I did not think so then. For me life was a new school every 3 years, leaving friends every 3 years, having to make new ones every 3 years, having to discard toys every 3 years and so on. I often looked on a map at the new destination we were headed to and sometimes it looked as far as the moon for a 7 or 10 year old: Rabat to Saigon; Saigon to Algiers!

And it was not simply a nomadic life but also a exploratory one as pa insisted on going to every nook of the country he was posted to, and our mom had to visit every historical site, camera in hand: a true globetrotter! I was dragged from museums to archaeological sites and sulked all the way. I wonder if it would have been fun if you were around but then you would have been in some swanky boarding school. Wonder what they would have done with me. A boarding school or a nomadic life? I guess the later. Maybe we would have gone together on your vacations and breaks. I can keep wondering, No one will ever know. It was not destined to happen.

So after being a nomad and discovering the world and finishing school it was time for Papa to retire. If you had been around you would have definitely been sent to an Ivy league school or  Cambridge or Oxford. But for me it was back to the home land. Believe it or not they found a girls institution that was more like a nunnery where you were barely allowed out. The rebel in me was soon an adept at jumping walls. Thankfully it was only a year in hostel as by then we had our house: C 15 Chiragh Enclave. It is from this very house that I am writing to you today.

I wonder what you would have become: a doctor, an engineer or an artist? I would have loved you to become the later. But don't have hopes I know what would have happened because I had to live your life for those few moments. As I told you earlier, you were a huge part of my life and I also mentioned bones to pick! Well here is perhaps the biggest one. Our mom, bless her soul, was obsessed by the idea that her child should walk in the father's shoes: sit for the IAS and become a diplomat or senior bureaucrat. That was not my calling though I did not know what my calling was. At the time mom started her ' if your brother was alive', I was completing my Masters in French. working at the French Section of the All India Radio and had met the man I was to marry. Mom began her leit motiv of 'if your brother was alive' followed by 'he would have sat for the IAS'. It became so unbearable that I agreed to do it though I had no intentions of joining any restricting service. I failed the first year and should have left it at that but no my pride was hurt and I sat again though I had a child, Parul your elder niece, a job and a house to run. I spent many nights burning the midnight oil and passed. My name was in the newspaper and our mom was happy. I must admit she did not push her luck and compel me to join with another mournful 'if your brother was alive'! Funnily it was a total outsider who took on the cudgels. A under secretary of the ministry of home affairs hounded me on the phone to try and convince to join. It was a nightmare getting him off my back. I ultimately did though.

Mom missed you all her life and in hindsight and with the supposed wisdom of age I guess all her 'if your brother was alive' were understandable but there were nights Bro when I wished that you had lived and I died. I childishly thought that it would have made mom happier. I tried my best to fill your shoes but it was not easy and entailed me having to do many things that were not quite up my street. But I guess that was my destiny. Mom though healed all the hurt on her death bed when she whispered the following words: If I am live again I would wish for a daughter like you rather than a thousand sons. Very dramatic but one can say but to me it meant that I had filled your shoes. Today I can die an easy death.

I wonder if we would have got along as kids, as teenagers, as adults. Would we have loved each other? Would you have been a bossy brother or an understanding one? No one will ever know but I know my life would have been different as we would have had to share the love of our parents. Would they have gone gaga over you making me jealous as you got all the independence and fun and I remained housebound. Would I have been as spoilt as I was and as rebellious. I guess not. And one day you would have had girl friends. Wonder how pa would have reacted with all his traditional views. I guess ma would have supported you.

I also had to take on your responsibilities vis-a-vis our parents and look after them till they breathed their last. You will happy to know that God stood by me and I was there for both of them till the very last instant. That was the greatest blessing.

You would have had a wife and kids. Would we have got along or would I have been the proverbial nasty sister in law. I wish not but again I will never know.

Had you lived I would never have inherited this house. Would we have fought as so many do, even in our  own family or lived peacefully together. All these questions are futile and senseless but they do come to my mind time and again. So I must also admit and accept that everything I possess today is because you left this world well before your time. It is in all fairness your inheritance too! I have never forgotten that and that is why I have decided to put your picture on the wall of the house as it belongs to you too!

All said and done, and in spite of all the niceties that may have happened in my life because you went away, I wish you had lived as there are times I feel so lonely, particularly since ma and pa left me twenty five years ago. I so often want to share my pain and angst, my problems, my anxieties but do not know whom to turn to. I would want to believe that had you been alive, we would have been kindred spirit and comfort to each other even as old souls.

But there is more bro. Had you been alive I surely would not have had to sit for that dreadful IAS exam and given up many hours of sleep. I may still have become a French teacher and retired as a old professor, or would have changed tracks as I did and become an Interpreter and Conference organiser and remained one. But there is something that may have never happened and that is Project Why.

I have always held that every life however useless and futile it may seem, has a mission to fulfil. The best example is undoubtedly Manu who gave me the courage to walk the road less travelled. I need to add one more things to my list of beliefs and that is that no life however short it may be like yours, is in vain. Project Why could not have happened if you had not passed away. So Bro it is thanks to you that for the past 18  years thousands of children are getting an education. It is thanks to you that a over 20 kids have had life saving heart surgeries, and eight children are in boarding school. And I will tell you why.

Project Why was borne in more ways than one of the pain I suffered after our parents passed away. The extreme loneliness I felt after their demise was excruciating and debilitating and the emptiness I felt was unbearable. Love had to be substituted by love and pwhy gave me love in ample measure. But there is more. I wanted to perpetrate our father's name, something that you would have done naturally. The only way I found was to create an organisation in his name and in doing so honour him. I also set up a women's centre in mama's name ensuring thus that they live beyond me.

 Had you been alive Bro, I am sure you would have had a head for figures, and investments and handling money, unlike me who is an absolute ignoramus where money is concerned. I only know how to blow it away much to the horror and chagrin of my husband. So had you been around our inheritance would have been handled judiciously and competently. Project Why then could not have happened as I have to confess that it came into existence by my using the money pa left - and I mean the capital and don't frown - to keep it alive for the mandatory three years before one can accede to funds. And then whenever there was need I merrily dipped into the inheritance till it dwindled. I know I could not have done this had you been around. But Bro I think papa and mama must be happy with the way their money has gone as it has brought smiles to so many little faces and fulfilled so many dreams.

So you see Bro, your tiny life of two days also has a mission and I do hope I have fulfilled it and honoured your name.

I am who I am today, because of you and for that I will be always grateful.

Till we meet


your sister Anou

Sunday, August 19, 2012

rabat circa 1960

I needed a picture from our Rabat days for a post written of the pwhy blog! This was the only one I could find in a hurry. This picture must have been taken on Gandhi Jayanti as mama has donned her khadi sari. I am in my usual party attire a nice frock with a stiff petticoat as was the fashion then. Come to think of it I just had 2 party outfits: one dress and one Indian outfit. In those days it was a cream satin gharara with a lace kurta and a velvet maroon coatie. Eeks but believe you me at that time it was a prices possession that came out on important occasions when I stood with my parents at receptions and parties greeting guests. Being an only child of parents that were 2 generations older, this was par to the course. Never mind if I was just 7 or 8 or older, I was part of the trio that was our family.

I remember how I had to curtsy to each guest and say the appropriate greeting: Excellence if it was a Minister or Ambassador, Monsieur for others. I never erred. I had been well trained. Curtsies were de rigeur in those days. I guess they are laughable now.

Mama's sari is one I had forgotten though I wore it many times in my late teens when I had decided to adopt the Indian look. It was cream khadi with a maroon pattern border and the blouse was of the colour of the border. I wonder where it is now, must look for it. Tatu, as I called my father was always in a black or shite suit with a Nehru collar and shining buttons. In my eyes he was the best looking man! I also remember the dress I am wearing. It was pale yellow and had a bright red ribbon and flower motives. I loved this dress and must have worn it zillions of times till I grew out of it and the next dress arrived.

The picture also brought back memories of our house in Rabat. 1 rue de Kairouan.I remember the swing that was in the basement where I spent hours and hours swinging and playing with my many imaginary friends. Imaginary friends are a must when you are an only child. As I swung higher and higher I could be an air hostess, a teacher, and God knows what else and I would even talk to myself for hours.

Was I happy? Yes I think I was or would like to believe I was!

To be continued

Friday, August 3, 2012

did i do the right thing

When this little Angel landed in my life all broken and burnt and with his life hanging by a string, I simply knew I had to save him. There was no question about it. None at all. At that time saving him meant giving him back his little life, healing his wounds, easing his pain and smothering him with love. It was not easy but it did some the Gods were on my side. The child that had been declared moribund by the hospital and sent home with a death sentence refuted all prognostic and decided to live. With every passing day, despite excruciating pain, he cooperated in every way. He bore the pain of his dressings, gulped the chicken broth, ate whatever we gave him and fought his battle like a brave heart. Soon he was smiling again and as the bandages came off one after the other and the scars began to look less scary we all heaved a huge sigh of relief.

The years passed. Slowly we discovered the sordidness of his life: his parents' drinking, the lack of stability in their life, the lack of money for food, the brutal beatings. We tried to address them one at a time: gave the mom a job, got the little family a decent room, pitched in when needed but the bottle was too big an adversary and things began to fall apart. That is when I realised that mending the family was not the way to go. Harsher measures were to be taken as everything was falling apart. Visits to the cop station in the middle of the night; violence at homes, nights spent without food and strange men appearing with regularity. And above the innumerable visits to doctors and hospitals as the bonny fellow had fits and breathing problems and was pumped with steroids. This had to stop!

A feverish night spent on line looking for options bore its fruit. I found a rehab centre for the mom and a boarding school that took children from age four. It was summer time and school would open in a month. Utpal aka Popples spent that time at home. I spent the month wondering I was doing the right thing by sending a baby to school. At that time I was still hoping that the mom would clean up and taken on her responsibilities with a little help from us. School day dawned and the wails were heart rendering but the little boy, a survivor by nature settled down in an amazing manner. I on the other hand had a tough time as I bore the guilt of sending a baby into the big world. I dealt with it my way: I wrote my first book, Dear Popples.

The years went by but not without their share of problems. The mom relapsed again and again. Her erratic behaviour started taking its toll on the little boy and I had no option but to approach the authorities. The Child Welfare Committee named me person deemed fit to look after his interests. The court appearance was the last time the little boy saw his mom. She simply vanished. Utpal tried to deal with the sudden departure, one for which we adults had no answer. His behaviour changed, he was aggressive, demanding and quite unmanageable. We had to seek professional help and we did. Utpal is now under medication and goes for regular therapy sessions. He has accepted the departure of his mom but now wonders who does he belong to, who is his family.

This is the first time since the day he fell into my lap more than nine years ago that i wonder whether I did the right thing in saving him. Cruel words you would say but real ones. Saving a child means walking all the way. It is not a legal piece of paper with words like person deemed fit written on it, or oodles of funds that can buy every and any thing. No saving a life means being there at every moment. Saving a life means breaking every fall, soothing every hurt  answering every question no matter how difficult it may seem. Popples has told me more than once that I am old and I will die. It is a very important question for him as he wonders what he will do when I too disappear one day leaving him alone. The problem is that I can excpect others to care for him the way I did. I am overjoyed when I see how well my grandson and him get along. But will this continue as they grow up? I do not know. I only know that I have to secure his future no matter what as otherwise I will not be able to ever face myseld let alone face my Maker. I can only beseech the God of lesser beings to show me the way!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fist day at school

Today was Agastya my grandson's first day at school. I mean school in India as he lives in the US and has come home for a couple of months.The past couple of days were spent trying to coax him to go to school, and the little three and half year old did play the game and promised to go. There was of course a shopping spree for bag, bottle, and lunch box all depicting his favourite cartoon character of the day: Chota Bheem!

The dreaded day dawned and there were tears and entreaties that would make any heart melt, most of all Nani's vulnerable one. But I held strong and took him to school scurrying away before the howls. But my brave boy settled down after a few tears and had a great time. After school ended there was of course the promised trip to the toy store.

First day at school brings many memories: the first day of my 2 daughters, Utpal's first day and funnily enough a long forgotten memory of my own first day at school in Paris. My elder daughter's first day at school was handled by her father as he was the one who dropped her at school after dropping me at my place of work. As far as I know she settled down fast setting the tone for an ace academic career. The younger one's first day or should I say days at school were a nightmare. Wails, and cries all handled by grand mom, grandad and the loving nanny who braved all weather and sat under a tree in front of the school.

Utpal's first day at boarding school was heart wrenching. He was just 4 and had lost everything: his mom, his home, his life. For me it was the toughest decision of my life. My heart wanted to keep the little fellow with me and smother him with love but reason told me otherwise. What was needed was to secure his future. I must admit that I took a long time recovering from that first day!

But strangely Agastya's first day at school brought back memories of another first day:mine! I had completely forgotten that episode, episode it was. We had just landed in Paris circa 1956 and I must have been around 4. My mom decided to put me in the public creche on rue Roquepine (I googled for it and realised it still existed). I howled and howled for days and my poor mom had no option but to take me out. Few days later she put me in a private school St Marie de Passy and the spoilt brat that I was took to it like a dream.

As life does come full circle as my younger daughter went to the smae school year slater in 1993!

I have lived a hell of a lot of first days at school.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

the curious case of the green churidar

I do not know if it is old age, or the fact that from one day to the next you don the title of Senior Citizen, but for the past weeks I have been flooded by memories long forgotten. Many happy ones but some I am not that proud of.

Some days back my younger daughter asked me if I had one of her churidars in my cupboard as our clothes do often get mixed up post washing. This has been going on for quite some time and come to think of it we do wear each other's outfits quite often. My daughters have never found it odd and neither have I.

But this time the word churidar set of a Proustian reaction in my mind. I was transported to circa 1964 when I was 12. We were in Saigon no Ho Chi Min Ville. Those were the days of navy blue school uniforms and a few party outfits. The latest addition had been a green churidar kurta bought at Cottage Emporium. It was at that time a very prized possession. Mama always wore saris. Not quite always as I have seen pictures of her in trousers in the snow, but somehow in my memory she was always draped in her beautiful saris. On that fateful day, on a whim I guess, she decided to try on my new green churidar set. Mama was petite and did fit in the said outfit. She must have been tickled pink as she proudly walked into my room to show me how she looked.

I am not proud of what happened after. I threw a fit and starting crying and did not stop till she removed it and came back in my room in her sari. She quietly opened my cupboard and placed it on the shelf and left the room. I was sulking on my bed.

I must have apologised but have no memory of it. I sincerely hope I did. But I was a spoilt brat, spoiled by the abundant and unequivocal love bestowed on me my my wonderful parents. Today when I look back on this incident I wondered what it was that made me behave in such a terrible way. Was it that mama was no more mama when she wore my clothes? Had I an image of her that I did not want blemished. I know I was not a mean soul so there must have been a deeper reason, one that I cannot still understand.

My daughters have never grudged me wearing their clothes. I am ashamed of my behaviour and think it is time I apologised to mama. I know she has forgiven me. I can feel her presence.

RIP Dara Singh

Dara Singh movies are not of the kind I normally see, yet believe it or not, I have seen umpteen Dara Singh movies way back in 1974. It was my courting days and these movies played in morning shows which was one of the places young couples could go and share some private times. Well the choice was between the soft porn South Indian movies with unbelievable titles like Her Nights, Gori Miss and so on. You would agree that one was better off watching Sikande-e-Azam or Sat Sumandar Par! And it was in one of these movies that my then boy friend proposed to me and I accepted! So you see Dara Singh has a very special place in my heart. May he rest in peace.