Life (Re)Cycled


https://storymirror.com/read/story/english/j710n3bq/life-re-cycled/detail

Dhaarini rushed in, her school uniform all awry, her folded plait slipping out of the blue ribbon which contained it and even as she tried to dump her extra-large school bag on her study table and take off her shoes almost simultaneously, she announced loudly, “Amma!! Ajji!! I am the leader of the new environmental project for my class. Each class has to bring along all the plastic things that one can do away with at home to school tomorrow, the class which contributes the most gets a prize, and I must collect the plastics to contribute my share for recycling.”

Even as the child was chattering away, and was slipping out of her uniform, her grandmother Dakshayini, draped in a soft non-descript olive green cotton sari hobbled into the hall told the young lass that her mother was away from home for the evening hence Dhaarini was to change into comfortable home clothes, freshen up, drink up her milk and finish her homework before doing anything else.

Ten year old, Dhaarini’s enthusiasm did dip a little but in an hour’s time the young one complied with all the instructions of her grandmother and fished out a huge, black, plastic carry bag and started scouting the house for plastics which she considered dispensable. Being the only child she had scores of toys, pencil boxes, water bottles, sharpeners and clips among other paraphernalia which she merrily tossed into the bag without looking at them twice. Then she made her way to the kitchen closely followed by her granny and even as she rested her eyes on the neat stack of washed, use and throw containers which made their way regularly into their home during the days when they decided to order food or sweets from a nearby hotel, her grandmother eased them out of their position and placed it in the bag.  Then the twosome went to the bathroom and gathered empty plastic containers, frayed mugs which went into the huge plastic knapsack. Then Dhaarini climbed up the light aluminium, portable ladder placed in the bathroom and laid her little hands on an old faded and ugly red pot with a broken neck placed in the open attic in her grandmother’s room and instantaneously she heard the elderly lady forbidding her from picking it up. The child was taken aback a little, the pot was out of colour and chipped and had been around the house for as long as she could remember so she turned around to check what made the seventy year old, object to her choice of scrap plastic.

She heard Dakshayini murmur that the pot was bought by her late grandfather and hence should not be touched. The young girl did not find this statement to be explanation enough, so she reached out for the object again and this time around the objection was louder and clearer and the pot was taken away physically by her grandmother and was firmly placed on the tiled floor. She categorically told Dhaarini to keep away from the pot and walked away in a huff. The perplexed child got down from the ladder and went on pointing out that the pot was old and therefore fit to be recycled, but did not receive any response from the latter. Dakshayini plunked down into her cosy arm chair and was lost in thought with her eyes open, not looking anywhere in particular. Dhaarini took one look at her grandmother and instantly got the message that she was to leave granny alone for a while, she was familiar with her grandmother’s mood swings which were occurrences that happened once in a blue moon, but she was also sure that her grand old lady would bounce back to normalcy if left alone for a while. Even as the child tiptoed away, the older woman lapsed into nostalgia.

True, the pot had lost its use but it had traveled with her for the last forty years and held a special place in her heart. No one knew about it for the simple reason she never spoke about it.

Dakshayini was not highly educated but she had been to school for a decade and was literate in both her mother-tongue Kannada and the foreign language English. She kept tab of current events through magazines and newspapers and managed to read a couple of novels whenever she was able to lay her hands on them.  She gained a lot of worldly knowledge through her travels when she accompanied her husband who was posted in various places in South India. She was aware that plastics were not favoured by environmentalists as they were considered to be lethal to the earth nowadays. But then she had also witnessed another era when plastics captured the imagination of people in an unimaginable way. She was soon lost in an era, more than half a century ago, when she took over the responsibilities of a new bride in a large household in Rampura.

That was an age when rural and urban India used brass, iron and earthen vessels to cook their meals. A stainless steel utensil was considered to be a sissy in a kitchen filled with sturdy vessels because it lacked the strength and the endurance of being placed on an earthen hearth with a large flame. Such being the case other materials were not even considered as possibilities. When she longed for some fancy glassware in her marital home, her wish was discounted with a reprimand from her mother-in-law who was aghast that Dakshayini wanted to use glass wares which were used only by barbers of those days usually the ones handed down by the British “Mems.”

Being the third daughter in law of an orthodox Brahminical family, her frail constitution and relatively delicate upbringing did not permit her to handle the heavy kitchenware with ease. She was assigned the job of fetching water for the kitchen from the well which kept her on her toes for most of the day. She never once thought of shirking her duties but wished to goodness that the heavy brass pot used to draw water from the well could be replaced by something lighter. Her desire took shape into an obsession and then took the dimensions of a secret ambition as she longed to own a weightless set of kitchen ware day in and day out. She found it increasingly difficult to lift or set down the heavy vessels as she got weaker after two childbirths followed by a miscarriage. Every one in the family and extended family warmed up to her and offered her kindly tips on how to put on weight and get stronger. Sometimes they helped her out whenever possible but nobody really thought much of substituting lighter material, at least for drawing water from the well.

She brought up this subject whenever she found herself alone with her husband Guru, which was usually during bedtime when she became completely drained out after a day of heavy work. Guru understood her problem but was shy of being dubbed as a hen-pecked husband if he enunciated Dakshayini’s quandary in front of the family. He dismissed the idea or even the possibility of a lighter option, instead he opted for a practical and diplomatic way out of the problem by drawing at least ten pots of water for the kitchen besides filling up the cement tank for his beloved wife before the crack of dawn, before anyone else got up in the household. Though his help lightened her workload to some extent, she had to draw tenfold amount of water over the day to cater to the domestic needs of the large family. The brass pot used to draw the water weighed almost two kilos left her wanting for energy. Even as others failed to understand her crisis the drudgery worked on her mind and wore out her body day in and day out, as she went through her chores everyday.

Dakshayini’s craving for light pots and pans grew day after day though she was not quite sure how to go about acquiring them. Nevertheless she spent a great deal of time in designing her perfect vessels in her dreams and enjoyed herself in a make believe world of colourful, weightless objects which could be handled almost effortlessly. This abstract mental exercise gave her an inexplicit sense of joy and creativity and she enjoyed every moment of it whenever she was by herself.

A couple of years rolled along; but nothing much changed in Dakshayini’s life. Even as she lived in a make believe world of light materials, she was told by a visiting cousin of hers that a new material was introduced into the Indian market. It was called plastic and just about everything from toys to mugs, to bowls and pots were made from the substance. She apprised Guru of the information and he made a special trip to the city to investigate the news and came home with a red coloured plastic pot which he placed in the middle of the hall on arrival. The whole family gathered around to inspect the novel article. Dakshayini immediately understood that pot was meant for her though Guru did not actually give it to her in the presence of others in the hall. She eyed the pot from a distance without touching it and fell in love with the gift; it appeared light, bright and pretty strong too and would lighten her work to a great extent. Her dream had come true. She was elated, but she did not express her feelings because she did not want to be teased. She knew that nobody in the house could object to her using it, as Guru, the son of the house had bought it. As Dakshayini sat in the ladies quarters that afternoon after lunch she listened to every word that Guru gushed about the new fancy material. He described how the city was flooded with the material that was available in every possible shape, size and structure while she silently reveled in the fact that her unspoken vision had actually translated into reality. In fact it surprised her that she could listen to him with the same awe and without interrupting him when he repeated the same information when they were together in their room later on that day. She found it amazing that her dreams had come true and reminded Guru of her longtime fantasy ecstatically, but he did not seem to pay much attention to her claims. She swallowed her disappointment and chose not press the matter further.  After all, life became relatively easier for her as plastic replaced the heavy metals wherever possible.

Two years later, the large joint family disintegrated when her parents in law passed away and the three sons of the family decided to explore job possibilities in the cities which were on the fast track of industrialisation.

Guru moved on to Bombay with his wife and two sons. Dakshayini enjoyed being the mistress of her individual home and she learned to speak the local language and took a special interest in her sons’ education but most of all she took restrained pleasure as she welcomed stainless steel, glass and porcelain into her kitchen. Several decades later when her first born returned from the USA she procured her first microwave oven accompanied by a set of light plastic dishes that could be used to heat and cook food too. She was overwhelmed with a silent joy when she saw for herself that plastics had been designed to even withstand heating.

Life had changed for her in more than one way. She lost her husband, her first born decided to settle down abroad and she chose to stay back in India with her second son. She enjoyed the company of her little Dhaarini and participated enthusiastically in all her activities. The older woman learned to enjoy, appreciate and understand her granddaughter’s childhood which was so very different from her own childhood and those of her sons. She had mastered the art of coping with new situations in her life which was backed up by her enterprising spirit which helped her experiment, understand and give space to people, new things and novel experiences that crossed her life – with grace and dignity.

Her passion for plastics waned over the years as she became aware that the boon in her life was turning out to be a bane to the lives on earth. Plastics manifested themselves in demoniac forms and had gotten busy choking life on earth. Dakshayini was not insensitive to the ecological issues around her and was more than willing to avoid plastics and recycle them whenever possible as a rule. However parting with the old pot was altogether a different ball game. She had let go of most of her acquisitions over the years but could not let go of the pot, her first plastic pot designed in the laboratory of her dreams. It was a symbol of her ambition, success, youth, romance, emotional bonding with her late husband and most of all her vision. No, it could not be recycled!!! She could not possibly allow it to be recycled at least as long as she lived!!!

She felt relieved when she relived her past with the pot. She felt convinced that she was right in holding on to the historical object. When clarity refilled her mind she looked at the open door and caught Dhaarini peeking in to the room to check her grandmother’s mood. Dakshayini beckoned to the child lovingly and the little one who was waiting in anticipation rushed into her arms. After the youngster settled down comfortably between her knees, Dakshayini told her, “Darling, some things cannot be recycled; they have to be saved like relics or premier inventions just as they are conserved in museums. Every home will have some such piece or two which have to be treasured for various reasons. The old red pot belongs to that category, it has a story. I will tell you the story when you are old enough to understand on that day you take a decision whether you want to trash the pot or not. For the time being, let us rummage around the house once again to check whether we have left out other dispensable plastics.”

Even as Dhaarini nodded her pretty head in agreement, the clock chimed to announce that it was seven   and Dakshayini smilingly said, “Look even the bell is agreeing with us”

 

Once Upon A Time


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-in-the-middle/once-upon-a-time-764291.html

We are often told to keep the child in us alive. I have tried. It does make life lighter. We are also told reading habit can enrich our minds.  I have spent the best part of my formative years curled up with books of all genres. It has lent its wings to my imagination. I can vouch for that. However, these boons of life have a flipside too!

There are certain things which seemed so perfect once upon a time. I would have happily given a limb or two to realise those dreams. Yet when those very fantasies gain physicality today, they render themselves cumbersome.

For instance, the snow! The whiteness of it and its freezing touch which I read so often about in books fascinated me no end. I longed to live in an igloo, under steely grey skies, wearing parkas and making my own fishing hole when I needed amusement.

My fascination for white Christmases, snowstorms and hail seemed to unfold ceaselessly till I actually experienced snow. The cold, wet feeling which not only dampened my clothes and bones besides  my spirits led me to examine my weird wish which was expressed explicitly many times over when I was living in the truly salubrious weather of Namma Bengaluru all those decades ago.

As a child, I would invariably contract a crick in my neck craning at the occasional aeroplane flying in the skies. I would yearn to fly high among the clouds and help myself to a fistful of the toffees that were supposed to be offered by the airhostesses. Today, when I wait indefinitely at airports and get cramped in aircrafts that do not offer anything to soothe the sweet tooth I crave for the magic carpet!

The endless picnics, delightful tuck boxes and midnight feasts described by Enid Blyton in her various series of books left me drooling. A comic book where Donald duck and his three nephews lazed around on sun beds sipping lemonade from a lake which was filled to the brim with the drink was my ultimate food fantasy. I dreamt relentlessly about having orgies of junk food around the designer lake! I knew little about calorie intake, its effects on health and fitness.

One of the large castles, palaces, ranches, country houses, cottages and bungalows which peopled the protagonists of many stories would metamorphose into my dream home for a while till I took fancy to a new one. Those were the days when I had no inkling about real estate market, cost of interior decoration or the multidimensional aspects of housekeeping.

At the end of every fairytale in which began with once upon a time and end with lived happily ever after; I would wonder why all the stories ended the same way. Adult life changed all that and more. When life unfolded its vagaries which were always not pleasant, I long to be a child again and seek solace in the hope of a happy ending!

 

 

Public Sector Companies-End of an Era


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-in-the-middle/public-sector-companies-end-of-an-era-746322.html

Seven decades ago, India stepped into the path of progress by instituting a large number of public sector companies and factories. Namma Bengaluru has housed several of them. The coming of this sector ushered in a new pattern of work life in our city. New secular communities, colonies and tenements sprouted like mushrooms all over the place. They thrived for a couple of decades lending a vibrant vigour to the ethos of our garden city. As in all things change happens to be the only constant in life. It has not left the public sector untouched, hence we see the phenomenon phasing out ever so quietly from our lives.

The only remnants of the public sector happen to be the senior citizens who dot our city with their unique anecdotes. Though I have been privy to many of them, the one which never ceases to fascinate me happens to be the one I wish to share with my readers.

It is a well known fact that Rama and Lakshmana the protagonists of the Ramayana availed help from Sugriva the monkey- king to fight their enemy Ravana and redeem Seeta. An army of monkeys famously known as the Vanara Sena was instituted to help Rama in his mission. The ocean was crossed and the battle was fought. Rama the crown prince of Ayodhya slew the ten headed demon king Ravana redeemed Seeta. When it was time to return to Ayodhya with his wife Seeta and brother Lakshmana, he rewarded all the leaders like Hanuman, Sugriva, Vibhishana among the others but was at a loss as to how to return the favour of the members of the Vanara Sena. Then the lord said that the Dandakaranya forest would be abundant with fruits to take care of them during the Treta Yuga.

The simian army accepted their gift humbly but did not disperse as expected. So Rama told them that they could serve him as Yadava confederates when he re-incarnated as Krishna. Even as the Vanaras acknowledged the blessing gratefully, Rama felt that he had not been generous enough to see them through the wheel of time. So he said that in the Kali Yuga they would be absorbed as human resources by the public sector!

I have heard this tale regaled in jest, just to mark a merry moment. Of late, the elderly who recollect this tale do it with such a veneration which leaves the listener baffled! If the stories do enough rounds in the new tone, it will probably enter the portals of our mythology by the next half of this millennium!  Only time can tell!

 

Spending Summer Vacations


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-in-the-middle/spending-summer-vacations-732995.

The young working mothers association of our layout got together in the middle of February. I was given the privilege of being party to their brainstorming session, despite being much older.   Even as their children were preparing for their final examinations they were planning ahead for the summer vacations. Wanting to give the best for their kids they planned a short trip to some exotic destination, preferably abroad. Then they wanted to enroll the kids in a couple of summer camps ranging from fine arts, sports, soft skills, cooking et al to keep them usefully occupied. I was involved in this melee to give an unbiased picture of the logistics regarding the timings, route and to allot responsibilities to parents on picking up and dropping off  the children.

Even as each lady was vocalizing her preference, I slipped into memory lane. During my summer holidays my brother and I usually visited our grandparents, various aunts and uncles and had a good time with our cousins. Each day we would be involved in some stages of preparing elaborate ethnic dishes and savour them in the late afternoons. Then we would sift through knickknacks and listening to stories about  family heirlooms. Playing with the dog, cats and kittens, reading our favourite comic books and books from the library took away most of our afternoons. The evenings would be spent with local friends at the park. Late evenings would see us help out with petty shopping, plucking jasmine buds sorting out our stuff and so on. We would be regaled with family stories across generations and then we would spend time looking at framed photographs which graced the walls and old albums identifying the people in the stories. Power cuts which were an integral part of summers in an era which did not possess alternate power options were spent in marathon sessions of reciting multiplication tables, conjugating verbs in different languages, playing word building or Atlas and singing songs by candle light. Sometimes we wrote long letters to friends back home or copied out address books, recipes and other such inventories using our calligraphy skills to the optimum.

As I slipped out of nostalgia amidst the chatter I jotted down the ground rules that were agreed upon. The kids were to be engaged from dawn to dusk hopping from one center to another in the route where parents could pick up or drop them en route to their workplace. The budget allotted was around ten thousand rupees per child. Never mind the interest of the child or the contents of the classes. I had a good mind to tell them that I did not subscribe to their ideas, but then remembered my role was to help them organize their schedules. And summer vacation for them was about keeping their kids safe and engaged while they brought home the moolah. The sands of time had shifted, so had the idea of a vacation !

 

 

Musings on a Maidless Morning


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-middle/musings-maidless-morning-721538.html

Every time our maid takes off without compunction or notice for valid and invalid reasons, I promise myself to buy myself an Alladin’s lamp. The genie would solve all my problems. However that has remained in the domains of wishful thinking till date. I have often wondered if the brainy Jeeves could materialize and shimmer in to do my chores with the same élan with which he helps his young master to sail out of troubles. Yet the mere memory of his subtly sly ways to achieve his agenda at any cost makes me think twice about my choice.

I remember what Letitia  Baldridge once said, “ When in doubt look what everyone else is doing.” Since I know that practically everyone in my radar is bearing crosses of different densities on maid miseries, I practically have nowhere to look.  So, I decided to travel down the aisles of history and literature and tried to figure out what has gone wrong collectively with our generation of employers of domestic help? Why is it that we are not able to awaken a spirit of loyalty amongst our helpers like our ancestors did?

We certainly do not expect the likes of the nursemaid like Panna Dhai who quietly replaced her own bundle of joy in the place of the baby prince in waiting of Mewar only to be killed mercilessly. Nor do we expect a reliable slave like Jamal ud din Yaqut who stood by Razia Sultana through thick and thin.  I am sure that none of us expect the cruel alacrity displayed by Malik Kafur in the movie Padmavat when he killed two royals in response to a question that was mouthed in half jest by his brand new master.

Following feudal system or enslaving individuals or practising bonded labour is completely unthinkable, for the law of the land forbids it. Movies, soap operas and novels which showcase “old faithfuls” do not seem to have inspired the blue collared lot, nor has all the entertainment been  able to educate employers on the secret of retaining employees successfully. Common sense quotients like regular increments, generous gifts, timely loans and advance payments do not seem to change their ideas of accountability.

House helps have become a tribe who can be loved or hated but can never be ignored. It will certainly do us a world of good when we accept that they are also people like us and they do need to take off. Never mind if they disappear way too often. So the long and short of it is to just figure out a way to function well in their absence. Then, watch out for Zen like calmness that will ensconce your person once you get into the Swalpa Adjust Madkoli mode!

 

Of Epiphany and Catharsis


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-middle/epiphany-and-catharsis-710382.html

I have always believed in the power of destiny. We always meet people for a reason if only for a season. Little did I know that my physiotherapist would initiate a process of enlightenment in yours truly when he became instrumental in arranging a lectu…

Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-middle/epiphany-and-catharsis-710382.html

Teaching to Learn


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/panorama/teaching-learn-702880.html

Over the years, I have realised that no matter whatever else I do, teaching is what keeps me ticking. I started teaching primary school children donkey’s years ago since the time I was in high school. This exercise made me realise that teaching made a…

Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/panorama/teaching-learn-702880.html