Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ten years of 'Of This and That'

Ten years ago, after much encouragement from friends in the virtual world, I posted my first ever post on this blog.
I don't write often enough now, the busy-ness of life often has me composing blog posts in my head and never writing then down. The desire to do so remains, and yet gets subsumed by so much else. 
The patterns of internet usage have changed so much in these ten years. 
Technology has me writing this post on my phone, accessing an entire world from a device somewhat larger than the palm of my hand. Some things are truly amazing. 
Even now, though, what I really want to express on the tenth anniversary of my blog, is my gratitude for the love and warmth that came my way over these past ten years, the support offered during some very difficult times, and love and friendship that transcend time and distance. I'm looking forward to finally meeting friends as yet unmet, soon. 
Let's see what the next ten years bring!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Some thought on reading Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory

The Partition of India is a painful memory for many people who have lived through it, or have heard about it from their family members and friends who witnessed those terrible times. Although my natal family was never displaced, I wonder what traumas my parents were witness to. When my parents came back to stay with me in Kolkata, after I had recovered from a bout of typhoid, my father suffered from auditory hallucinations, the most fearful and frequent of which were the screams of a young woman being burnt alive. Fortunately, these ended after a home visit by a psychiatrist and subsequent medication. I often wonder if he had witnessed any such event, at any time in his life, or if the hallucinations were a product of a fertile imagination and/or a chemical imbalance. In his eighty seven and a half years he must have witnessed some traumatic events, and yet he was, mostly, a cheerful and gentle soul. It was much too painful to ever ask him if this trauma was based on a reality he had witnessed...

In her book, Aanchal Malhotra finds that material objects have tremendous value in invoking memories, many of which have been long suppressed in the busy-ness of daily living. Her story begins with the gaz (yardstick) and ghara  (metal pot shaped like the earthenware matka) at her maternal grandparents' home, older than the family patriarch, her grand-uncle, brought by his parents
at the time of Partition. She writes: "This was the first time that the importance of material memory truly dawned on me- the ability of an object or a possession to retain memory and act as stimulus for recollection. But more curious than this unexpected revelation was the context in which it had arrived. Despite the fact that I was born and raised in Delhi- a city thick with Punjabi migrants who had flocked here after the Partition from across the border- as well as that I was a descendant of migrants on both sides of my family, this desire to study the Great Divide had never been as strong in me as in that brief encounter withe the ghara and the gaz." And yet, it is when her paternal grandmother tells her how, as a young child, she was sent by her mother to ask a relative for five rupees, and was refused, shedding tears at that memory of extremely hard times, that Aanchal sits with 'a void in my heart for a memory that is not mine. In this instance, I am just a listener, a passive contributor to the vulnerable act of unfolding a painful past...........am I an intruder?'
             In nineteen chapters, in interviews with people from both sides of the border, as well as with an Englishman who was born and served in India, who considered it to be his first home, Aanchal evokes memories from material objects of various kinds. The chapter titles are evocative:
The Light of a House That Stands No More: The Stone Plaque of Mian Faiz Rabbani,
Hereditary Keepers pf the Raj: The Enduring Memories of John Grigor Taylor,
Utensils for Survival: The Kitchenware of Balraj Bahri,
Gifts from a Maharaja: The Pearls of Azra Haq,
The Dialect of Stitches and Secrets: The Bagh of Hansla Chowdhury,
Stones from My Soil: The Maang-Tikka of Bhag Malhotra
and several others.

Each individual, and his or her family members, help to weave a densely detailed tapestry of the Partition. All the stories of displacement, are, of course, painful, but one of the most extraordinary is one wherein the protagonist leaves his home fearing for his life, as a massacre has taken place there, and comes back to the same area as a refugee. He receives, ultimately, the documents for the land, but never the land itself. And yet he rebuilds his life and his home, and has served his country in his own way. "We, my family and I, have done it by staying here, staying true to this land. India is my country, regardless of my religion. I live in unity with its people; I don't create disorder of initiate violence. I respect it. And so I have served it all these years in my own way."

Each story is poignant, many are uplifting. The pain of displacement is immense. Displacement by a natural calamity,is, perhaps, more easily acceptable than man-made displacements. Involuntary uprooting is immensely painful. We must remember the pain of these displacements so that we do not replicate them.And yet, sometimes, in order to keep on living, to move on, forgetting the pain of the past is also necessary. This is described with great poignancy in the nineteenth chapter.

It is a labour of love by this young author. I can only imagine how painful it was for her to hear all these first-person accounts of one of the most traumatic event of India's history.
This is a book to cherish, to read and re-read.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017


As the youngest sibling,
I was a jealous little cat.
Eleven years older than me,
our brother was
almost an adult,
possessed of many skills
that we couldn't even aspire to,
in a league of his own.
But my sister: my sister
was only two years older
two years and two months older,
to be precise.
And those mere two years
granted her privileges
that little me craved.
I wanted to be older,
and smarter, and taller,
and prettier.....
It all seemed because
of her being older.
(She had her own
jealousies, of course.
I was younger, hence
spoiled, lazy.
I had nicely shaped fingernails
compared to her stubby ones).

And now, now that
I'm a few days older than she ever was,
ever can be.
It's not fun at all.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Scent of Privilege

The RE has reverted to type, and is, once again, only Sometimes Resident.
The house is tidier, and emptier.
I even watch TV, sometimes.
And I do go out and meet people.

Since we moved here, we have not employed a regular, full-time driver. The RE drives us most places, and if required we have an agency who provides drivers for the day, as required. We have been using this facility since we came here, and are familiar with several of these young men.

I had to go out for a family function yesterday, and young M came to drive our car.
When I sat in the car, he asked me if I'd be offended if he asked me something.
I told him to ask away.

He asked me if I could give him the wrapper of the scent I had used, so that he would know what to buy.

I happened to be using Kenzo's Electric Wave, a gift from my younger daughter.

I told him that it was a gift, that my daughter had bought it while living abroad, and that it wouldn't be available here. I didn't want to say that it would also be much too expensive for him.

It was heartbreaking, the privileges which we so unthinkingly take for granted.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dholak drumbeats

The well travelled dholak
started out from Indra Market, Noida
hired for a few days
for a family wedding
in distant Mangalore.
Thanks to airline mendacity,
it first flew to Bangalore,
bussed it to Mangalore
where we tunelessly
sang to its mellifluous beats.
(The groom and family
were perhaps
zapped by our dholak traditions!)
We didn't have the energy to bus
back to Bengaluru airport
after the wedding
cars were hired
(expensive business, that.
Rotten Spicejet)
The dholak came home,
to my home, as the
daughter who had hired it
didn't think it worth while
to collect the mingy balance
from the shop
(the deposit was the cost of the dholak)
We changed flats last year
and then it moved
to our basement store room
with the empty trunks
and cartons of cassettes
and the grandchild's high chair
and bath tub
and other sundry items
useful and useless, but not yet

And then our niece
needed a dholak for
an informal celebration
at her home,
for her daughter's wedding.
So the dholak travels
across town,
and is celebrating a wedding
once again!
And then the bride's uncle and aunt
host the mehndi at their home
and the dholak visits their house too.
No, it doesn't attend the beautiful
monsoon wedding in Goa!
It comes home after the mehndi,
in the boot of the car,
and stays there
as the basement key is upstairs.
One trip to the hospital
for Chacha's knee check-up.
It goes riding to Connaught Place
bouncing on the speed breakers,
and visits a Noida mall,
for Chachi's final shopping .
I finally take the key downstairs
and put it back in its place.

Let's see what it celebrates next,
and when...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Utterly delightful recipe videos: Bong Eats

In all my years of blogging and internet surfing, I have come across many interesting recipes, both as written blogs and as videos. Some food bloggers are now dear friends.

Here, though, are old friends whom I knew in the real world, in a brand new avatar.

I am absolutely delighted to share with you here the link to a great new favourite: https://bongeats.com

I am not a Bengali, though I love several Bengali dishes, and have lived in Kolkata for years.
I am a vegetarian.
I usually cook regular desi meals.
I rarely cook from a recipe.

Why I love Bong Eats:

The format of their videos:
You only see a pair of hands working out the recipe.
No face, no voice, no accent to contend with.
All instructions are written, succinct and to the point, including timings.
Most ingredients are accurately weighed out in grams.
The ones that aren't will be a particular number of an item:
say, two green chillis, or one cardamom.
They give detailed instructions on how to precisely cut ingredients for each recipe.
Equally detailed recipes or links to recipes for typical Bengali spice mixes.

The absolutely wonderful Bangla music that plays in the background.
You know that the creators of these videos truly love this fabulous cuisine.

They usually post a new video every Friday.
Do follow, and do try their recipes: you cannot go wrong.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Lifetime Ago: Sisters in the park

These photographs were taken sometime in the early 1960's, on a sunny summer day in London, probably by my brother. It's been two years since my sister left us...