11

Mah Jong Maharani

The Indian Republic was in the making, only a couple of years around the corner. Maharajah’s proudly ruled and strode their vast acreages, bedecked in royal finery, unconcernedly flaunting the trappings of their lineage, their hauteur, their wealth. It was expected, since they were born to rule, their subjects born to be ruled. Genetically allocated classes, as clearly defined as night and day. The country had seen the tragedy and viciousness of Partition. The legacy left behind by the descendants of the Founding Fathers of a Trading Company. A Trading Company that owed allegiance to their liege, Emperor of the World, ruling over an Empire, living in a cold damp and distant land, spanning Continents, across oceans far away.

Into this landscape strode officers and men of the Armed Forces, squadrons, regiments and fleets recently unshackled from the erstwhile British yoke. Heroes of their native land, guardians of their freedom. Swash-buckling air force princes of the skies, dashing army olive-greened fighting fit officers of the cavalry, the infantry and the artillery, and often bearded, uniformly outfitted naval officers, in dazzling whites. All wined, dined and feted by grateful locals. Could you then, blame the wives, girlfriends and daughters, reunited with the heads of their families or the loves of their lives, after many years of deprivation and war, not to socialize to giddy heights in a recently emancipated country? In the uniformly named Cantonments, where life seemed to be a garland of heady parties.

In a post war era, where the locals all scrambled to see and be seen, with members of the armed forces, could royals be left far behind? The scene was the scorching plains of the Punjab, that land of fiercely handsome Aryan warriors, without whose deterring presence our country would have definitely been entirely overrun, many centuries ago, by invading armies from lands far away. The scent and taste of freedom was heady, to be savoured. Yet the genteel patina of Anglo Saxonian habits had not undergone the metamorphosis to ethnic crassness. Heavy Privy Purses of the royals, had not yet been snatched away by an imperious, dictatorial Brahmin Socialist. Rulers of many small Principalities, and bigger Princely States, rode exorbitantly priced Arabian equines, or were driven in luxuriously bespoke English, German and American motor cars, partaking the evening air of their fiefdoms. The better heeled in the pecking order of such royals, often took to the ozone rich air of the skies, to survey their lands. They piloted their dinky, Arial single engined planes, with or without accredited pilot’s licenses, usually with alluring female co-passengers. This, for the sheer devilry and testosterone highs it afforded them, and to keep ennui at bay.

Deeper in the southern reaches of this continent, closer to the equator, the sun burnt its inhabitants to a darker hue. Wars were not heard of here, just minor squabbles & skirmishes between non-descript royalty. More so, as the fertile plains were agrarian, where there were no marauders to fight off, so one was not of an especially aggressive bent of mind. But to every rule there is an exception, in this case, the exception was a small pocket of a startlingly different ethnic group of Southerners, inhabiting a hilly hideout in the Western Ghats, close enough to the Southern Indian Malabar coastline, as the crow flew. They might have been the Gauls of Uderzo and Goscinny fame! These people also belonged to a martial race, the men tough and good looking, lighter of skin, heavier of nose, many sporting fierce mustachios. The women, as luscious as the oranges that grew in abundance on the hill sides of the fragrant coffee, pepper and spice plantations, that supported the home economy, while most of their men folk chose to either fight for King and Country, or else to tend their plantations. Their traditional clothes bore familiar similarity to inhabitants of the desert kingdoms bordering the Sahara, their features often akin to the Alexanderian Greek invaders who had tried in vain to cross over the North Western inhospitable mountain ranges, but who had been driven back by the bitter winters that protected our land. These people worshipped a Mother Goddess, after whom their land enriching nodal river was named. Their economy rode on what they harvested from their soil. These tribal clans worked hard, celebrated harder. They hunted the teeming wildlife of bison, boar and deer, that inhabited their richly forested land, at times for trophies, more often for the table, unabashedly washing down this hearty fare, with copious draughts of alchohol, which was always an important part of any commerative occasion, be it weddings, christenings, festivals, funerals or wakes. It all called for hearty eating, generous drinking & much merriment. The genetic origins of this hill tribe, remains a mystery to this day, though a myriad theories abound.

The tale unfolds here about just such a dashing air force officer, from the hilly hamlets of coffee country, with his young wife, as dazzlingly beautiful and charming, as he was handsome. If he was a dark, broad chested man of singular good looks, she was a petite, beautifully turned out young woman. Along with the other wives and families of the Armed Forces scattered around the battered Punjab plains, life was never more exciting. But after the initial excitement of the women making new friends, of swapping strange recipes between the kedgeree of dissimilar ethnic groups, and complaining about always-busy husbands and lazy domestics, there really was not much else to do to occupy the rest of the day. Which was when the petite young wife, stepped in, and held undisputed sway. She had been recently introduced to that intriguing game, Mah Jong, and in the process had earned the affectionate sobriquet Mah Jong Maharani. Before long it was discovered that unlike the stern and silent players of Bridge, or the squabble mongers of the Rummy group, the Mah Jong players had very connival and amusingly noisy gatherings, ‘Punging’ and ‘Konging’ their way to ‘Mah Jonging.’ These gatherings were enjoyed over piping hot beverages, by ‘Dosas’, ‘Iddlis’, ‘Samosas,’ or that decadently evil ‘Devil’s Food Cake,’ served with the mandatory tin of ‘Nestle’s’ double cream. Life was a dream.

MJM was undoubtedly highly intelligent, but even she was not immune to her fan following. She was a striking woman, and carried her clothes with panache, was always aware of her appearance. Life was exhilarating. She was young, had that certain cache and all the right connections. She managed to make most of the other officers’ wives pale into dowdiness. Actually most of them were, dowdy, I mean. To give her her due, while she enjoyed being a kind of fashion icon, nothing pleased her more than taking in hand some of these simple officer’s wives, most from sheltered backgrounds, and turning them from dowds to debutantes.

In later years, with the passage of time, these were the memories that sustained MJM. Of scaling the giddy heights of being trend setter, of how people would remark on the cakes she baked, her famous parties, the manner in which she carried off her clothes…yadda, yadda yadda. But fast forward to the new century, more than fifty years on, one had to be singularly Narcissist to believe in kind hearted young kids, now grown adults, who remarked about the passage of time hardly touching her since their last meeting, in the late ’60’s? Not displeased by this fondly blatant white lie, MJM, would, with a near coquettish shrug, half heartedly demur with her complimenting admirer.

Alas, MJM was now on the shady side of eighty, and had convenient amnesia when some thoughtless lout asked her age. She insisted that she didn’t need glasses, to either read, or when she was at social gatherings. Thus, it was often that she was seen screwing up her eyes to focus on a familiar face, standing unreasonably far away from her gaze, sticking to her explanation that the sun was too bright. In more intimate gatherings, she would participate with a permanent smile fixed on her lips. Those who knew her, understood, that this meant she wasn’t able to hear a word of the conversations swirling around her. But, oh no, who said that she might benefit from a hearing aid. However, she still looked elegant, wore her clothes with that certain air,and had grown old gracefully. Not giving in to the temptation of hiding her greying hair under an improbable shade of auburn, or even a burnt sienna!

MJM no longer played Mah Jong. Her eyes were a bit rheumy, her pace had slowed down, but her smile still dazzled. She said that she had long ago forgotten all the wonderful Mah Jong ‘hands,’ and was now content keeping her brain sharp, solving those cunningly devious cross words that the daily newspapers carried. In our circle, she remained, the Reigning Maharani………

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9

A Memorable Mumbai May

It was sweltering, it was humid, was cacophonic, frenetically pulsating, and jam packed with humanity, as the city was always wont to be. It was Mumbai in May. All of the above compounded in magnitude, to a cool Bangalorean.

Working the corporate ladder however, meant a move to the financial capital of India. And so there was J, my son, on a typical Mumbai day in May, frantically looking for parking space in the southern heart of old Mumbai. His little burnt sienna automatic runabout, having survived the brush-in with a rashly driven motor bike, way back when she was new *, had also been relocated to this metropolis, from his airconditioned home town. J lived in less fashionable suburbia, close to his work place, and the south of the city was not quite so familiar. There seemed to be Mumbai Traffic Police ‘No Parking’ signs at every likely roadside parking spot. The remaining spaces abutting apartment blocks, had their self designated ‘Visitors Parking Only’ for ‘Hill View’, ‘Rajat Mahal’, ‘El Dorado,’ and similar, inappropriately named apartment blocks, none of which even remotely connected to their so-named buildings. As if by magic, in this tony locality, on a decent stretch of road, J found parking for his humble Herbie, under the cool shade of a welcoming Banyan tree. Anxiously scanning the surrounds for any discreetly concealed ‘No Parking’ signage, for the Mumbai traffic cops were a notoriously efficient force, his relief knew no bounds at having found suitable space close to his appointment. An hour later, work done, he stepped onto the road, hurrying to get to the car and back to office. Up ahead were the welcoming arms of Lady Banyan, overhanging that neat stretch of empty road-but devoid of his parked car!
A few desultory customers were hanging around the grimy chai cart parked on the pavement under this tree, shooting the breeze, sipping tea. A mangy cur was investigating the spilling contents of a malodorous cardboard carton, serving as a dustbin. It was overflowing with used plastic tea cups, biscuit wrappers, and suspect edible leftovers, swarming with flies. Nobody had noticed his vanished car. He walked ahead, asked some auto-rikshaw drivers if they could help him trace the whereabouts of his car. With a laconic twist of his head, and a wholly evil grin on his face, one of them enquired,

“Had you parked your car under the shade of that large tree, some way back from this spot?”
“Yes, yes!” Replied my son eagerly, hope swelling his anxious breast.
Another chicken for the police plucking, illustrated the man’s expression.

“There is a yellow line along that curve in this road. And this is Mumbai, mere jaan. That yellow line means ‘Parking Prohibited,’ with no exceptions. Your’s is not the first parked vehicle falling foul of the law!”
“So, now where should I look?” my son almost wailed.

“Arrey yaar, tenshun matt lene ka! Thoda aagey janeka. Vahan ek pulis tation milega. Vahin- icch pulis gaadi tow kiya hoga. Phaine bharney-ka, aur gaadi chuda dene-ka, utna icch. Kaam khatam!”

Taking the cue, J increased his pace, striding ahead, having deduced that the helpful advice, translated from the local Hindi dialect to mean, “My friend, don’t stress. Walk a short distance ahead till you reach a police station. Your car would have been towed there. Pay the fine, and have your car released, that’s all. Work over!”
A small dilapidated, but sturdily built building, circa pre-independent India soon loomed ahead. A low wall surrounded this structure, confining the fairly ample yard within, bursting at its seams with dead and dying, dusty, dilapidated and rusting vehicles, variously awaiting the sentence of the long arm of a painfully slow judicial system. My son thought that most of the original owners of the ‘impounded’ vehicles must have long gone to meet their Maker. A white lettered sign reading ‘Police Station,’ marched stridently over a flaking red painted background. Peering over the wall, there she was, his orange Herbie, one of the latest occupants of the cluttered area. The car displayed a wheel clamp, like a badge of honour, and a few new scrapes and scratches on her body. He walked hesitantly into the holy of holies, to meet the lowly of lowlies, the junior most policeman in the pecking order of the police station. That worthy who guarded the outer perimeter, to the inner power centre.
A desk stood dead centre of this room, flanked by two faded, grimy plastic chairs. A fly ridden Notice Board, displaying photographs of various offenders of the law adorned the rear wall, cheek-by-jowl with a likeness of the Father of the Nation, and the mandatory pictures of the ruling political party head honcho. A two Way Wireless Hand Set stood upright at the table corner, chattering away incoherently to itself, largely ignored by the denizens of law. One of these, occupied the chair behind the table, along with his not inconspicuous paunch. His peer, perched precariously on the table edge, was giving him, by all accounts, a minute description of the latest run-in with his ever-vigilant wife, the previous night. That harried woman apparently had not swallowed the friend’s reason for his late return to home and hearth. She had smelt the odour on his breath, of the couple of quick shots he had been generously served in that seedy little back alley unlicensed bar. She had also not missed the suspicious scent of jasmine on his clothes. She, his wife, who couldn’t afford to adorn her hair with flowers, while he wasted his money on buying tokens for some cheap tartlet? An appreciative guffaw from his corpulent companion greeted this anecdote. This man was minutely examining the contents of his wandering fingers, which had recently explored a facial orifice. My son simply stood, a mute spectator, totally ignored, waiting for one of them to notice him. It was then that he looked along the dim recesses of the far corners of the room. There seemed to be many members of the human species, sprawled on the floor. Both men and women, flouting different laws, who, not commanding the wherewithal of paying the penalty fine, now cooled their heels to sober up or mend their erring ways, in the confines of the police station.
A hesitant, “Ahemmm,” alerted the two constables to my son’s presence in their midst.

“Vot you vant, vai are you standing there?”said Constable Proud Paunch.
“Sir. Sorry for disturbing you. I can see you are busy. But may I please have a word with your good self?” responded my son, in an appropriately servile tone and manner.
“Taal me, vot is the problem?” I cannot vait the whole day phor you to esplain me the matter.”

My son, bending respectfully forward, in a rush, launched into the said problem of his towed and impounded car.

“Ah! So you are owning that illegally parked car? Do you not know that vaicles cannat be parked at your conveyance anywhere you vant?” Saying which Proud Paunch started scrabbling around for what my son thought might be his ‘Fines’ Receipt Book.
Picking up a grimy note book, he licked his fingers, and turning the pages reached the last entry pertaining to J’s crime.

“Lat us see now, vai yore car vas tow-ed.” So saying Proud Paunch, his raconteur colleague and I, trooped out to inspect J’s car.

“Car documents?”
J hurried forward, pipped-open his car with the remote key, and leaning into Herbie’s innards, opened the glove compartment with a flourish. Empty. He scrabbled about, peering under the seats, delving into every crevice and cranny for the papers. All squeaky clean, with nary a hair out of place, and no papers. Horror slowly dawned, he had given the car recently, for servicing, and not put the documents back.
In slow motion, sweat now streaming down his face, his shirt sticking clammily to his skin, J turned back to the upholder of Mumbai’s traffic rules. He explained the reason for no car documents, upon which, Proud Paunch, smote hapless Herbie with his Receipt Book, and barked.

“Tinted glass windows, out of State registration plates. No documents. Vat you mean by all this nansense? And do nat tell me that you have just recently driven in to Mumbai, I will nat listen to you. Aall will be lies, lies, lies!”

J’s mouth had opened to say exactly what he had been told, by the now very irate mind reader. He quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and holding his peace, squared his shoulders.

“Saar. Vokey! Show me your Driver’s Licence.”

In slow motion J took out this sacrosanct pan-Indian ‘Proof of Identity.’ In trepidation he hoped for a bolt of thunder to strike down his Nemesis, while handing it over.
Nemesis scrutinized the licence, his eyes opened wide, the eye balls bulged, a button on his shirt almost popped, as he swelled visibly in disbelief. As if from a distance, J heard the roar.

“Expired Licence! Expired two months back, two months? Have you no civic responsibility? I will put you behind the bar in my Station, and throw away the key! Do you hear me?”

Since Proud Paunch’s voice had by then pitched up some considerable decibels, not just J, but the entire locality would have heard the diatribe. There were a not inconsiderable number of the guilty criminal inmates and sundry passersby, enjoying this unexpected Matinee, and for free. J thought that if Proud Paunch did not have an apoplectic fit, he himself was sure he would suffer one.The policeman stormed back inside, with J scuttling behind.Settling back into his favourite chair, eyebrows raised, Proud Paunch began the negotiations, with the well worn opening line.

“Vat you vant we should do? I will book you phor many serious offences, you will have to pay a big amount in fines. Your car needs to remain here.You have to produce all proper documents, but in any case, we will be booking a case against you, for such a such offence, under Section…and……….” his voice suggestively trailed into silence.

J waiting with bated breath, wondered why there was no further conversation. It suddenly dawned on him, that he had been presented with a hot hint, and he had to bite the bait.
The parleying began.

The prevailing inflation was crippling. The present government had done nothing to help ill paid officers of the law, make a decent living. He had hoped to have bought himself that snug little cottage in his village. But that was a distant dream, as how was he expected to produce the money to pay for it. His monthly pay packet barely lasted through the month. And then there was the small matter of paying the local Councillor to put in a word about his tranfer to the Central Business District. It was supposed to be El Dorado for the police.

“Sigh!” but I am a hohnest officer.” What am I to do…….you tall me?”

They went back and forth, and finally after many hours, for that is what it seemed to J, both sides arrived at a happy figure. Notes changed hands, one minute in my son’s out held fingers, the next whisked under the table, like a Houdini’s sleight of hand. Obviously, Proud Paunch had had occasion to practice this art regularly for many years. Thereafter the policemen’s entire demeanour changed. He solicitously offered my son many bits of seriously sage advice.

“Drive slowly. Do not run a red light, or break any other traffic rules. Next policeman will not be so kind as me. Sunna?”

He heard and left. J wearily extricated his car from the dusty confines of the station yard, after chasing away a few street dogs who were catching forty winks under it’s shade. It was past 1 PM, and he was to have been back in office hours ago.His head was splitting, as much from the sun as from the events of the day. Hunger pangs emitted sonar pings from the innards of his digestive system. He needed a long cool drink, and some food to help sooth the gripes of acidity. He was driving into Mumbai’s suburbs. Many famous Bollywood stars and cricketers had palatial mansions in this area. A small “Multi Cuisine” restaurant caught his eye. He knew that the fare that they offered their hungry customers would be high on refined flour, swimming in oil and loaded with taste enhancers, and taste of neither robust Anglo Saxon, Satvik Hindu, nor true blue Asian cuisine. He was beyond caring. He was fortunate to find a small deserted side road to park his car. He walked wearily into the cool, dim restaurant interior and ordered his meal.
Quite a while later, headache gone, his frayed nerves combed back into place, and with a gentle, contented burp, he walked out to finally drive back to work. He knew he would have to give a very convincing explanation to his boss about how a minor appointment could be stretched so long into early evening. Anyway, the alleyways afforded more secluded parking, but he seemed to remember parking his car much closer to the lunch place. Ah, maybe he overshot the road. He turned back, retracing his steps, and saw the post box at the head of the road that he had parked his car.But this was a one way, narrow street.

“Was the ‘One Way’ sign there earlier?” thought J.

He didn’t remember noticing it! He turned into this road, and thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him. Or maybe that recently imbibed thirst quencher was, well, rather strong. But no, his eyes hadn’t played tricks. Horror dawned-his car was gone, vanished. Not even a farewell drop of oil marked the spot he had parked her. This time round Mumbai’s traffic police had thoughtfully chalked directions on the road surface,about the Police Station which now imprisoned his car. His Herbie’s adventures had beaten all odds.
The tale provided me good entertainment at parties for the rest of the year….!

* My post, “Madame Siddons”…featured an earlier anecdote about Herbie.

14

Her Incredible Journey

In many a person’s passage through life, certain circumstances, certain happenstances, certain individuals, or even certain of god’s better creations, stand apart. These come and they go, much like meteors.

They sometimes leave an indelible mark on our psyche. One such unique creation was Patch.Dog Running

Being a family of animal lovers, we had recently suffered the heartbreak of losing two similar members. A Daschund, ‘Frankfurter,’ he of Teutonic-Dravidian origin, and ‘Jigme,’ who was a gentle Lhasa Apso. Not directly in the line of succession to the benevolent tribal chieftans reigning over the Himalayan ranges of our country, but Jigme was regal enough, nevertheless. Franky looked proudly Aryan, and understood Tamil, as he was tutored by his loving Tamilian caregiver. He routinely responded to party tricks such as, “Prangee, pilate kondavva!” A loose translation from the Teuto-Dravidic tongue being, “Franky, bring your plate!” Or, “Prangee, po-lamma?” “Franky, shall we go?” etc. And Jigme? Well, he spoke the lingua franca of my neck of the south Indian woods, the Queen’s English. So conversing with him needed no interpreters. I resolutely informed the children that I was emotionally drained by our losses. Hence, no more canine additions to our family.

Destiny had other plans. My teenaged kids and I had noticed this bag of bones, from time to time, sidling out from the building under construction next door. With her udders not quite sweeping the ground, her hip bones jutting out above her tail, the two sides of her belly very nearly concave, each miserable rib on her could be counted. The poor creature couldn’t have been more emaciated if she’d tried. She was more white than black, with black patches smudged at random over her dull lifeless coat. A black nose, a white muzzle, two apprehensive toffee brown eyes under beetling white eyebrows, peeped at the world through the black patches on her face. She had recently littered, and my interested teenagers correctly assumed that her pups were housed somewhere inside this building. She was the understudy to the building’s Watchman, on twenty four hour duty. Not a strange vehicle, nor any stranger, could use our road without this black and white fury shooting out of her shelter, chasing them off her territory. She took her duties very seriously, and all in exchange for inadequate handouts of food thrown erratically her way, with the accompanying kicks that were a given, from her usually inebriated owner. Her motherly instincts were strongly atavistic. She scavenged for morsels all the time, everywhere, any time, in struggling to ensure full bellies for her brood. In her search for nourishment and scraps she was ably assisted by my kids. I hardened my heart to cringingly appealing toffee eyes, choosing to ignore the many plates of food that I knew my two children secreted out of the house. “Feed her if you must, near her building, but not near our gate,” was my war cry. “I don’t want her stepping inside. Not another dog.”

And then one day folks it was, Show Time! That fine morning, Patch, for the kids had named her so, trotted to our gate, with her eight, yes, eight, plump pups hotly in pursuit. A prouder mother was never seen. No wonder she always looked starving and emaciated, she had given her all to her babies. By this time of course, my children had fed and nourished Patch back to some semblance of caninehood, and her pups too were not forgotten. It was amazing what a difference just regular meals, over a couple of weeks, could make to a dog. Patch had flesh filling out all those concave hollows, and smoothing over her rib cage. Having weaned her voracious puppies, her figure had nearly returned to that of a curvaciously fit canine. She was a transformed personality. There was a sheen to her previously lusterless coat, not only because the kids had introduced her to her first bath. These ablutions were initially fraught with apprehensions about its success. Patch was convinced that she was being led to the slaughter, and growled, howled and barked blue murder. After squealing her way through every mug full of water, a rigorous scrub down with a medicinal soap and anti louse shampoo, Patch and the kids emerged in wet triumph, a gleaming, squeaky clean whiter than white dog, and decidedly bedraggled humans. What was also revealed was her doubtful lineage. Some Dalmation?

Dalmation Patchs' Incredible Journey PIJAssociated to the many black spots under those layers of grime and dirt! That rangy stride, was there a hint of a hunting hound? She was an interesting potpourri. Patch was now refreshingly huggable, and got a lot of those from our family. A newly acquired swing to her gait, her eyes unhesitatingly looked every human in the face. Her tail, which appendage had emerged from between her legs with her new found poise, was held high, like a standard. Patch’s ‘make-over’ was complete. Or was it? It was then that we noticed that all things being equal, there were a few inherent flaws in her genes. Patch didn’t quite have 6/6 vision, in fact she had a decided cast in one of her eyes, which gave her an eternally enquiring gaze from a tilted head. Also, no amount of calcium syrup with which we thoughtfully augmented her diet, had succeeded in making both her ears reach to the skies. One ear flopped down, while the other remained disreputably aloft. But that smile, oh that grin, that split her long muzzle in two, nothing could beat that.

She had by then, decided that our family needed being taken under her wing. She had to only see one of us, and a smile lit her up like a lighthouse. If any of the family chose to visit in the neighbourhood, Patch was our self appointed outrider. She would jauntily lope ahead, tongue lolling out, chasing a lowly stray out of our path here, flushing the odd bird, that dared to stray into our path, there. Once my mother had gone visiting a neighbourhood store, to reach which, she had a busy road to cross. No amount of firm admonitions made Patch return home. She resolutely ignored my mother ordering her back, pretended instead to investigate an interesting scent, and then did an Usain Bolt across the thoroughfare, adeptly avoiding all vehicles, and disappeared around a building. Shopping over, my mother emerged from the shop, to discover a long suffering dog, waiting patiently outside the store, to escort her home. Fellow mongrels she chose to totally ignore, choosing to believe that she was born to the Purple, and so for her they did not exist. But if a dog with an obvious pedigree was being walked, that always reduced Patch to a fawning, grovelling cur. She was a shameless social climber, who loved rubbing haunches with rich and famous canines. She performed for their edification. She pirouetted, she cavorted, did a belly up, a coquettish flick of her fore paws, a few steps to the front, a quickstep back. Her repertoire was endless. Everybody knew Patch was ours. “Uh huh? Since when?” “Oh! Never mind.” But the dog walkers, they all loved her obviously sycophantic antics with their charges.

Resignedly, I faced facts. It was high time to put an end to Patch adding her periodic gifts of puppies to our locality, apart from them eating us out of house and home, inspite of officially belonging to the alcoholic watchman next door. I called up the local Animal Shelter, with a request to them to send their ambulance for the pick up of a mother dog and her pups. No, I didn’t have any dark and dubious intentions. I merely wanted Patch neutered, reunited with her watchman, and the pups put up for adoption. The pick up day dawned, with the kids darkly muttering, sotto voce, whether they would ever see Patch again. Dog Mongrel and Girl PIJAnd I secretly hoping that some kind soul visiting the Animal Shelter would fall hopelessly enough in love with Patch, to adopt her. Mother & pups were shoved willy-nilly into the ambulance, and I was assured by the driver that after another pick-up of an injured cat elsewhere in the city, they would drive straight onto the veterinary hospital and animal shelter, which was about ten kilometers away.

The friendly staff at the animal shelter had been informed that Patch should be returned to our neighbourhood only after she was fully recovered from her surgery, which meant that she should be away at least about two weeks. Imagine my surprise when, after barely a few days, my mother called me up at work, informing me that a dog, looking suspiciously like Patch, was seated expectantly outside our front gate? Quite irate at the Shelter having flouted my express request, I called them up immediately, set to do battle. On my enquiring of them the reason for releasing Patch so soon after her admission, I was emphatically informed that they had not done anything of the sort. In fact a few of her pups had been adopted, and they were in the process of scheduling her surgery. Patiently I requested them to get to the bottom of the confusing business. Within a few minutes, I got a very worried Shelter staff calling me, to say that Patchs’ wire-meshed enclosure and cage door were securely shut and locked. It housed a vanished dog! Her remaining pups were in their cage, but no mother dog nuzzling them there. While back home, my mother was petting and feeding choice scraps to a smiling black and white ‘Dalmation,’ with a face-splitting grin and a furiously wagging tail. “Elementary, my dear Watson!” Patch had obviously clawed and climbed her way out of a 6 ft high, wire meshed,secure enclosure, without a backward glance at the gene pool she had abandoned to their fate. Houdini had escaped from the confines of the Animal Shelter. A place, where she had been taken to in a vehicle, as opposed to being walked there. She had then traversed miles of a large city’s bustling roads, circumvented strange scents, stranger sounds. Dodging traffic, hostile canine street packs, cruel humans, she had headed to her sanctuary, her family, our house, much like a homing pigeon with an inbuilt GPRS, but safely home she had unerringly reached.

I was as putty in Patchs’ paws after her incredible journey. Quickly we completed Patchs’ official paper work. A generous wad of crisp currency notes changing hands with her watchman owner, was all it took. Easy peasy. Patch was now legally our’s. We were a complete family again.

14

Thereby Hangs a……Coffee Berry Tale

 

Ancient Greek philosophers, those learned ancestors of our world, in their wisdom, derived ideas or styles from a broad and diverse range of sources. They selected doctrines from various schools of thought, and in a combination of the above, threw up the word eklektikas. In much a similar manner, I oft consider myself an eclectic daughter of India, but specifically a native of coffee berry country, or that pocket in the Western Ghats of southern India called Coorg, or Kodagu. And, ‘Why is this so?’ you well may ask.

My parents are from Coorg. My father joined the armed forces soon after his university education earned him a Masters in Economics. He served his King and Country, as he joined the British Indian Army before Independence. He was typically Coorg……tall and broad. But also good looking, running to nose, which denoted his ethnicity, exceedingly urbane and very well read. Traditionally, the men from this niche in the hilly tracts of the Western Ghats, more often than not joined the Armed Forces, or else did what came second nature to them, grew coffee, cultivated rice, pepper, cardamom, and oranges. The armed forces may have welcomed these stalwarts of Coorg, as they were usually well built in stature, in large part maybe because they ate a high protein diet, which was suited to the cold and hilly tracts of their motherland, as also for the rough and tumble of this soldierly calling.  My mother, a beauty with much brains, not to be left behind, won herself a Merit Scholarship in Junior College, for topping her class in English, which saw her graduating with a Bachelor of Honours Degree in English. Many years after the end of World War II, this swashbuckling young officer of now Independent India’s Indian Army, returned on Home Leave to Coorg. While on leave, he chanced to meet this Beauty With Much Brains, at his brother’s house, and in true Mills and Boone style, swept her off her feet. He triumphantly bore off his new bride to his regiment, in the high northern borders of the country, and thus began their new life together.

In time, I was an addition to my parents ….their only one. Alas, even swans have ugly ducklings, and there I was. My mother used to say that she had always wanted a chubby baby, and a slender teenager. I needed to be different I guess, as I was this sickly, puking infant and a plumply, rounded teenager. I moved with my parents from one Army Cantonment camp to the next, from one new school to yet another, wherever my father’s transfers took him, but always in the north or central parts of the country, never south. As a result, I had the good fortune to enjoy the friendships of people from various parts of our land. My closest school friends remain my closest friends to this day. My father retired, we moved back to our roots in the south, like homing pigeons. As the saying goes, “blood will out!” I had inherited my mother’s love of the English language, my parents’ love of reading, which metamorphed into my choosing to also study English for my Bachelor’s degree. Somewhere along the way, I also discovered a passion for putting my thoughts down on paper. So while I had not genetically inherited much from my erudite and handsome parents, I did discover in me the urge to write, and took to it, much like the ugly duckling to water. I have never looked back. I write whenever the Muse strikes me, with no ambition to publish my work. I write an eclectic mish-mash of everyday mundane & mediocre incidents, of the idiosyncrasies of people and circumstances. Over the years and along my journey, I wrote of life’s experiences and those of the people, strangers, friends, acquaintances, that I chanced upon the way. I write for the sheer joy and love of writing, for the pleasure it gives me.

 

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25

Taamara of Troy

I have never been the deeply maternal sort. So when my daughter announced her pregnancy to me a few years ago, I was kind of looking forward to grandmother-hood with decidedly mixed feelings. Soon after, she presented me with this red-faced little bundle of grandchild, and thus began my journey into slavery. Of course the transition period of conversion between practical matriarchy and slavery took a few months. The root cause of this journey was Taamara, my little lotus.

By the time Taamara was old enough to be left safely in my care for a few hours, she had wound her tiny little fingers very firmly around my heart. From the top of her head of dancing brownish curls, to the tips of her dusky skinned tiny feet, she was truly delicious, as only a grandchild can ever be. Even at this young age, she had a wicked sense of humour, and knew when she had her audience charmed, and would chortle and gurgle with glee when we would burst into laughter at her childishly impish witticisms. I was bewitched. Thereafter, every step she took, every glance she looked, every sound she made, was unique, was amazingly brilliant-to a besotted grandma. By the time she began talking, there was no looking back. She never stopped, talking, I mean. She could talk for hours, which we discovered for ourselves on a long road trip out of our city. She spoke non-stop for a major part of the journey, and only stopped because she fell asleep. By the time she was a little over two, she had mastered four syllable words, and used them almost as expertly as that of any reputed television channel’s News Anchor. With her increasing vocabulary, was her increasing confidence, and my, what a poised young lady she was by thirty months. Among her parents’ circle of friend’s children, she was the only girl, and the youngest. So at any given time, she was surrounded by this gaggle of boys, of all ages and sizes, all of them hell bent on engaging her attention, and hanging on her every perfectly articulated word.She had by now graduated into being permitted, under Parental Control, to watch ethnic folklore and fairy tales, on DVD. Her hot favourite was the animated version of the ‘Jungle Book.’

A friend visited me once, with her gawky fourteen year old son. He would have put a shrinking violet to shame. So shy was he that he did not utter a word, unless directly addressed. I was talking to the mother, with her son seated silently on a settee across the living room, as communicative as a rock.

Into the room swept Taamara, in search of me, and espied instead, the Rock. Her curiosity aroused, she stood expectantly in front of the teenager, giving him the clear unblinking, unabashed once-over, patented perfectly by the under-threes. He didn’t budge, he didn’t talk, he didn’t even breathe. The Rock just ignored her. Now, for a girl who was used to being quite the diva, with her exclusively male fan club, this behaviour just wasn’t on. That’s when Taamara shifted into over-drive.
“What’s your name?” No reply.
“My name’s Taamara.” No response.
Unfazed she switched tactic, turned smartly about and did a fast step.
“Hup, two, three, four! Hup, two, three, four!” for about ten turns, under this squirming Rock’s nose. Not even a muscle twitched on his inscrutable face.
Since the ‘Jungle Book’ enactment of “Colonel Haathi” training his soldierly herd, hadn’t had the desired effect on the Rock, Taamara changed tactics, yet again. She doesn’t have her Grandma’s genes in her two-and-a-half foot frame, for nothing! She switched to the fabled monkey act, which was a sure fire rendition, enough to strike terror into the most famous Brave Heart. She did a couple of leaps and cartwheels in front of the Rock’s settee. No Siree-he wasn’t impressed. She swirled like a dervish, hither and yon, around the living room, setting the city alight, with her long monkey tail spitting ‘flames’, as per the fable. The Rock’s heart remained untouched. He yawned, decidedly bored!

Sighing, Taamara then clambered on to the settee next to the Rock, and settling uncomfortably close to him, and with the same clear, unflinching gaze, gave him another once over. In her piping treble, she lobbed the ball a second time, into the Rock’s court,
“What’s your name?” Again, no response.
Being made of sterner stuff, she went on to her next question,
“You know to which school I will be going?” Not interested, conveyed the Rock’s expression.
“Do you want a chocolate?” was this little Eve’s ultimate apple. Silence.

By that time everybody in the room was sliding to the edge of their seats, having bitten their nails down to the quick, wondering what the result of this one-sided interaction, was going to be.

Fond grandmother that I was, I waited in trepidation for Taamara to get her first come-uppance.
Unfortunately my Lotus had a pressing social engagement, a birthday party, so her father had come to pick her up. The final scene of this clash of personalities had yet to unfold. We waited, we all waited. I took her away to change her to her party clothes, and after her transformation was complete, she raced back into the living room in unmaidenly haste. Heaving a sigh of relief to find that the Rock hadn’t vanished, Taamara delivered her coup d grace. She stood in front of this quivering jelly of fourteen year old. She stuck out one foot, shod in hip Diesel sneakers, and with her hand on her hip, looked expectantly up at him for approbation. Her look said it all,
“What do you think of this package buddy?” conveyed her expression. It was too much for the Rock.

The visit ended. Mother and son left. He a speechless, shattered teen. He’d been worsted by a thirty month old!
And Taamara? Well, her faith in fourteen year old wimps is yet to be restored!

10

Exodus

The parents had temporarily migrated to the cooler climes of their country seat. We had made our home together in the city. So, I was on my own till their return, at the end of their mandatory two months.

My father, now a nonagenarian, and a retired Indian Army officer, who had seen action in World War II, was naturally of the Old School, and spent his time between his coffee plantation in a neighbouring coffee growing district and our home in the city. For his two month sojourn, my father packed more files & documents, usually in triplicate, than the Honorable Central or State Government Ministers & their entourage’s combined laptop memories!

The day of my parents’departure was a sight to behold. My father, always carried two large, unwieldy soft-top suitcases, each securely fastened with a railway travel type chain, complete with 9 lever [original] Godrej Navtal lock. Also,approximately, four to five briefcases, of assorted vintage, with different life expectencies. These briefcases usually being freebies presented by various companies, to his employed grandchildren, and hastily gifted by them to him, bore descriptive advertisement taglines. These were happily accepted, and used by their grand father. He,who saw no reason to cringe or quail, his advertising of consumer durables of a varied range. The offenders often bore the logos, among other FMCG products, of the market leader in pain balms, the printer-of-computer-printers–recently introduced into the country, the numero uno of Time sharing Holiday Resorts at which the who’s-who of India, vied to sun tan, and a milk flavouring product, which, if you believed what the cricketer of a bygone era toothily announced on television, was the established nonpareil of malted beverages. The balance files that couldn’t be fitted into said briefcases, were tied up with tape, not red, and stacked next to aforementioned luggage. My father also had his trusty portable Swiss typewriter (circa 1963), a set of golf clubs (circa 2009), contained in the largest golf bag that Tiger Woods advised. Secreted under the car floor mat was this trusty, rusty khukri-dagger-for self-protection, maybe for hand-to-hand commando style combat? If this khukri even nicked the intended victim, it would surely entail that he would die a prolonged and mighty painful death, from blood poisoning. Dad’s contingency funds, those were the days before ATMs & Cards littered our present day landscapes & highways, for this 5 hour road trip, were carried in innumerable, preferably small denomination, currency notes. This bulky leather bag, was firmly tucked under his shoulder, from the moment he boarded his car in the city up to when he disembarked at his country home in the hills. The sum total of his wife’s luggage? The ubiquitous ‘VIP’ suitcase, cabin baggage sized .

The following was my father’s PBL (‘Procedure of Boarding & Loading’) his car, for the non-stop ride, from his house in our city to the cooler climes of his country house. First, all his luggage had to be piled in a heap around his feet on the front verandah of our house. He started by ticking off the pieces of packed luggage earlier listed by him, as the driver loaded it. If any forgotten personal effect had to be added to his suitcase, then he would take out a humongous bunch of keys from the safety of his pocket, said keys being safely attached by a strong buckle to his belt. He would thereafter search through all the key numbers, till he found the one that unlocked! I never had the heart to tell him that anybody could just knock him over with a finger, and grab the keys from him, if they so desired. Personally, if I were the intended thief, I would merely carry off his suitcase! Neither could I tell him, in all likelihood, that nobody would be stealing anything of his on a non-stop car ride either! My mother, and her suitcase? Well, with much grumbling about her luggage, he would be be kind enough to allow her a tiny bit of space in a corner of the backseat! On reaching journey’s end, the same procedure for unloading and baggage claim would be followed!
That tale does not qualify for another narration.

18

Madame Siddons

I have been driving since I was in diapers, well, almost. After sixty, one lives in a happy haze of long ago memories. That day, I had taken a bit of time off, and much against my policy, borrowed my son’s brand new car, to nip across to look up my grand daughters who lived close by. I am a self admitted fast, and also by self admission, competent driver. But seeing that I was using a borrowed car, Michelle Schumaker was being extra cautious, and toodling along at a sober, grandmotherly pace towards my daughter’s house.

As if in slow motion a scene from an action movie unraveled before my eyes. Hurtling towards me was a white taxi cab. A second cab, overtaking the first, seemed to be drag racing with it. And horror of horrors, from out of nowhere, or so it later seemed to me, I saw a motorbike overtaking both cars, completely in the wrong lane, and riding at break neck speed straight at me. By this time, I had slowed to a crawl, pulled over and stopped, nearly climbing the pavement in the process. Once I saw the bike rider applying his brakes, I waited for the inevitable. The bike’s wheels ‘locked’, sped into a side skid, the passenger catapulted through the air, the rider clung on to his bike, till he flung himself off at the last moment, only when realizing that he, along with his bike, were heading straight under my stationary car. This they both did, with gut wrenching sound effects from my hapless car..

 Before you could say, “What the *^>@!,” out of the roads and footpaths, crawled the ghoulish Accident Scene Rubber Neckers. Each had his own learned opinion to deliver. Thick & fast flew varied views, delivered in Hinglish, Tamil, Telegu, and Dakkhani -that marvelous patois of Nawabi Urdu, colloquial Hindustani with subtle undertones of Kannada. Mobile phones appeared as if by magic. Camps were formed. One Camp, championing the cause of all down trodden two wheeler riders. The other, espousing the pitfalls of being a lady driver, and of a Four Wheeler, no less. “Don’t worry, Saar, She will admit her fault, couldn’t she have “yepplied breaks’(sic)?”

 I was in total shock, but managed to open the door of my car. My first priority was to check if I had to go the hospital with an injured patient, or locate the closest mortuary, before surrendering myself to the Police. My son’s, till not-so-long-ago new car, I noticed was looking decidedly pigeon-toed, her bonnet had a lovely dimple which would have made the Shehzada of India weep, while her right headlight was merrily twinkling glass confetti all over the headlight assembly. The plebian two wheeler rider lying motionless under my car, for most of that time, was thankfully, not dead. He was just recovering his breath under the bonnet, sniffing the innards of the under chassis, the oil sump & the front shock absorbers of my car, all for free. He had actually been struggling to extricate his motorbike from under the car. Adrenalin kicked in, my foggy brain cleared, if I did not act fast, I knew that the scraggly gathering of ‘my’ Camp supporters too would swell into an irrationally irate mob. My Madame Siddons (that yester year Diva of the London Stage) act kicked in, and I gave the performance of my life. I began shuddering silently into a tissue, soon this turned to sobs, after which I informed all who were within earshot, that it seemed as if I was having palpitations and about to swoon. Their expressions grew anxious, many of the Rubber Neckers slunk away, lest they be called as witness to a fatal traffic accident. A few of the doughtier die-hards hung back.  Feebly, I made a few short calls, to rustle up the Cavalry. These arrived, the first contingent, my son & his friends, the next the local traffic police.

In next to no time, all was well with my world. The car needed towing away, the bike impounded, and the errant motorbike rider hauled by my knights in shining white armour, to cool his heels temporarily behind bars. It was with a sense of vindication that a fine was slapped against the rider. My prowess behind the wheel, restored to its earlier levels, and my driving skills much appreciated by my Camp Followers with, “Medam, inspite of being so yelderly, you have yemazing control over your vehicle!” A turn around, high praise indeed!

My ruffled feathers restored to order, my dignity intact, I simpered in matronly modesty. I was just getting set to sign autographs, when my son yanked me back rudely to reality with a, “Come on Ma, let’s hit the road!” Resignedly I gave the police my best regal wave, and Madame Siddons went home to regale the family about her mishap.