Life's Like That

Thursday, May 21, 2009

When I was just a little girl....

One of the greatest pleasures in my life would be to pick up the small round nuri pathor (pebbles) that lined the paths inside Victoria Memorial and chuck them one by one into one of the ponds. I think I singlehandedly contributed to the sorry state of affairs that the paths had become a few years back, with not one pebble in sight. On my last visit to Cal, however,we visited Victoria Memorial again and I was most happy to see the pebbles were back in all their glory. Though I must say, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why walking on those damn pebbles used to be such a thrill for me...they are very hard on the feet!!
Does anyone remember Gay Restaurant on Prinsep Ghat? It belongs to an era when "gay" was happy and merry and nothing more. This Gay Restaurant became Scoop eventually..when I was about...8 or 9 or 10...I think (and it alarms me greatly to think that I remember Scoop from the time it was Gay. Dear God! Am I that old really!!?). Scoop was a a 'must go must eat there' kinda place when it opened. My parents took me there and must have tut tutted about "Isssshhh dekhecho Gay take kirokom change kore diyeche" (Issssh how they have changed Gay.This was, after all, their standard line everytime we went to Scoop) but all I remember is my first banana split. One scoop each of strawberry vanilla and chocolate icecream in a boatshaped saucer over a slice of banana, drizzled with chocolate sauce and...this was the crowning glory literally... a Wafer!!! stuck into the middle scoop!!!....surely this was the manna that the gods thrived on. No gelato or Baskin Robbins of today can match up to that banana split at Scoop.
Speaking of food, you know the chinebadam (groundnuts) you get all over in Cal, but more so around Victoria, Maidan and of course Prinsep ghat? While the badam itself was nice, what made it extra special was the indigenous mix of black salt chili flakes and something else that the chine badam walas mixed up themselves and served with the badam in a little piece of paper. Crack open a roasted groundnut, slide the contents onto your palm, dip them in that salt, pop in your mouth...aaaaahhhh!! Yum!!
Also yummy was the chips that you got from the channawalas in starched white clothes and a white topi who walked the lanes of Calcutta ( still do )on hot afternoons calling out "chana garaaaaaammm" in that unmistakable way. The chana garam itself was yum, but they also served a small thonga (not thong!! Thonga...paper packet! Tsk tsk!) of plain chips over which they sprinkled black salt, chili powder and a dash of lime...yummmmmmmmm!! Beat that taste Frito Lays!! Or, ooooh.... the small red kul (ber) they sold outside school...with the black salt. I have no idea if this is still available outside schools in Calcutta, I have not found this awesome snack anywhere in Bangalore. And the jhal chips (SPICY chips) one got in the shop behind my school and the dalimer hojmi (ummm...digestive..thingies..they were soft and black and oh so yum!!) and the Phantom cigarettes. Do kids even know of their existence these days? They were these long white candies with a red tip..signifying the glowing end of the cigarette of course and were sweet and mildly minty. The done thing was to stick them in your mouth and pretend to smoke. Very cool. Oh and Chattar Mattar and Fatafat. My mother was appalled at the sort of things I ate, when I marched into a shop with her and demanded a Chattar Mattar and the shopkeeper matter of factly told me "Na didi Chattar Mattar nei Fatafat aachey." I must admit I wouldnt touch either of these today, the former was a virulent red and the latter a very suspect greenish black.
Lest you think I spent my entire childhood just eating, and eating some rather strange things at that, let me tell you I spent a considerable amount of it worrying whether God was watching me right now, seeing the mischief I was getting into, and noting it down in his book of Bad Things Bad Girls Do, so that he could punish me later. You see I went to this rather strict convent school. This one to be specific. The teachers and nuns there drilled it into heads that God was Always Watching. Our parents might not notice us stealing the last cookie from the cookie jar, our teachers might might not notice us copying our homework from the girl next to us, but God? He was Always Watching. And He would Punish us for our wrong doings sooner or later. Though I worried about this rather jobless and slightly sinister all seeing God, I never let it stop me from writing on the walls (what!? I had to educate my army of dolls hadnt I? Was it my fault then that I didnt have a blackboard? I did get one later though.) or whispering to my friend in class or breaking things or tearing things...well...ahem. You get the picture.
Some things are an integral part of my childhood. The address 18/22 /1 Dover Lane for one. Thats where I lived from the age of 8 to 16 Economic Stores (now Economic Gallery), Modern Book Store, Mohaprobhu Mishtanno Bhandar, Campari....these are some landmarks that are an part and parcel of my growing up years. I went to Dover Lane after many years to meet a friend the last time I was in Cal, and couldnt believe my eyes. Mohaprobhu has been pushed to a corner!!! The rest of that space has some sundry offices and ATMs!! Goodness gracious. Thankfully Modern Book Store is still the same. The two old men are also the same. They even keep the Famous Fives in the same shelf....second from bottom on the left immediately as you enter the shop. Economic Stores uncle is also still there and they still sell stickers!! Oh what a rage stickers were when I was in school. We bought stickers, we swapped stickers, we created sticker books, we guarded them with our lives!!
18/ 22/ 1 was the rudest shock however. The balcony where my mother had lovely plants is now full of sheets of plastic and other debris. The house itself looked dreadful. The driveway was overgrown with weeds, in some places the plaster on the walls had peeled away to reveal the bricks underneath. I really don't know what happened to it. Or the people who used to live there. The Aunty and Uncle next door, the Sinhas upstairs, Teddy the big sneakyAlsatian on the top floor...how did the house get into that state? As I walked up to the house, my feet automatically took me down the winding lanes without having to stop and think.. I passed Bangla Auntys house (Bengali tutor) , Junodi's house, Sagorikadi's house. I paused at Sagorikadi's house, wondering if I should ring the bell...where is she I wonder? Did she finally marry that weird boyfriend of hers? It was a strange feeling, walking those lanes, revisting childhood memories, seeing the house I grew up in.
All this nostalgia and silly memories...strangely, triggered by this from another era(courtesy Abhishek). I must really be getting old, I thought only really old people spent hours reminiscing about the past. Ah well..this has been a lovely afternoon alone at office, remembering the days long gone. Will post in bullet points henceforth :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Of Fathers and Daughters

I did a post a long time ago on my mother and my relationship with my mother. With my father always being away on work, I guess it’s only natural that growing up, Mom was the parent I was closer to. Over the years I grew to resent Baba for never being around when I needed him, for putting way more responsibility on my 12 year old shoulders (when my sister was born and my mother was going through terrible post partum depression) than I could handle, for being too formal, for not being able to talk to him the way I talked to Ma, for being overambitious for me, for not really trying to understand what I want out of life…oh the list is endless. I’ve been rude and closed myself off to him whenever he has tried to participate in my life, telling myself and all who would care to listen how he should not try to interfere in my life after never having the time for me all these years. Basically I’ve been a rather horrible daughter to have.

A book he sent me two weeks back and a series of text messages late one night has resulted in me thinking more and more about him and my relationship with him. While I was so busy holding grudges and resenting the man for the many injustices meted out to me, he was there working his butt off trying to ensure that we had every luxury we wanted. I was so wrapped up in my own miseries and adjustment problems that I did not realize that there was now way I would have been able to handle Ma’s depression problems and a newborn baby sister if it hadn’t been for him. Those crazy nights when Ma would snap completely and the baby would wail nonstop would have been impossible to handle if my father had not been there, to calm Ma, to take the baby off my hands so that I got a full nights sleep. I remember him saying that I was mature enough to handle my mother’s depression problems and actually resenting him for saying that because to my mind, he was shirking his responsibilities towards me and not allowing me to be the kid that I was. I realize now that I am independent and mostly mature and responsible in my dealings with the world largely because of his unshakeable faith in my abilities to handle any situation myself.

He is the one I have always turned to for career advice. He has supported every decision I have made in my life, right from the moment I decided to study Humanities after ICSE to when I changed my mind about a career in psychology and decided to try Mass Communications instead, to when I abandoned my Masters from HCU for a degree from a lesser known institute in Bangalore to more recently when I was battling with the management at the most fuck all organization in the world to relieve me in time for me to join my new job.

Considering he was not too convinced about my decision to move to the fuck all organization (aside: let’s call it Round-The Clock Unlearning shall we? If you or anybody you know is planning to join a company in Bangalore that sounds familiar to that euphemism, contact me, I shall tell you 101 reasons why you need to run in the opposite direction immediately) in the first place, it’s amazing the way he stood by me. Round the Clock Unlearning harassed me to the point I was ready to run screaming from there (its somewhat of a corporate mantra for them: molest harass torture employees). For the first time in my life my father told me to walk out of there even if I didn’t have a job in hand. He went to the extent of saying he would pay me salary till I found something else…heh..can you believe it? When I found myself another job n realized I wouldn’t be able to serve the stipulated 2 month notice period he told me he would buy out my time. When at the last minute french-bearded menace at Round the Clock Unlearning ordered me to stay back till they found replacements it was Baba who put me in touch with his lawyer who told me there wasn’t a thing the company could do to stop me from leaving on the scheduled date (labour laws and all that, which evidently Round the Clock Unlearning does not believe in). I am not sure how I would have been able to handle that situation without my Dad moral and more practical support.

Baba is the one I depended upon when it came to dealing with the asshole Father Verghese in my college. When he refused to give me my examination entrance card citing disciplinary issues I knew I could depend my father to march into his office reduce him to a quivering whimpering mess and march out with my hall ticket. His faith in his daughter’s angelic-ness cannot be shaken no matter what. When it came to meeting my prospective in laws for the first time, I knew Baba would handle it wonderfully. And he did. My in laws still gush about him. He wowed the entire extended in law clan at the wedding with his flawless manners and planning of the whole wedding. So much so, that an aunt in law has quite a crush on him and giggles at the mere mention of his name. He wrote personally to Rahul’s nanima and dadaji dadima inviting them to Cal for the wedding. I really don’t know what exactly he wrote, but everybody on that side of the family was floored by that simple act and talks about it till date. I know whenever I need him, irrespective of whether Im right or wrong he will be there for me.

This has been a loooong post. Not to mention an extremely difficult one to write. I wish I had not wasted all those years being so resentful and appreciated him more. I hope to be half as wonderful a person he is. I wish I could be as effortless in maintaining relationships with people. I have been told I sound like him when I talk, I’ve been told that my sense of humor is very similar to his, I’ve been told I am as out going and extroverted as he is. Makes me very happy to hear that though I think I have a long way to go where it comes to matching up to him. If you are reading this Baba, I’m sorry for all the times I’ve rolled my eyes at you and banged the door shut on you and told you nasty hurtful things. You really are the best. I love you.