12

Dusshera Devi

I was away on a break from my humdrum existence. I was still floating on cloud nine, having recently returned from a long holiday in the Land of Hope and Glory. In that country, as in most of the developed world, everything worked like clockwork. Right from the time when, if you called their police for help, or just by dialling ‘911,’ for any other sort of emergency. It was a given that you received a response within minutes of your call. Government mandatory documents or payments are online. No time-wasting tramps to government offices, begging and beseeching the powers-that-be, to release the requested documents to us as the bonafide applicants. All transactions are lucidly transparent, and the exact amount is expected to be directly paid online into government accounts. Ho! Hum! If such practices were followed in India…then life would be really boring, I am guessing.

I put away my memories of recently visited rose-tinted economies. Sigh! Unfortunately, I was forced to make a visit to one such den of Indian inequity,the Regional Transport Office. This department is second in line in infamy, only to the top-of-the pops-land-deals Department of Revenue. Girding my loins, I resolutely set out that day. A less doughtier soul than I, might have had second thoughts on entering the hallowed portals. Not me. I reached my destination. Before me stood this multi-storied, decrepit building, complete with it’s ubiquitous embellishments of peeling plaster, fungoid paintwork,and broken windows and drunken doors hanging rakishly askew, on their rusty hinges.The building had “government office” writ large upon it, in invisible ink.

I needed to visit a department on the top floor, and not seeing a lift, I trooped up the narrow, winding staircase, with broken and chipped treads.En route I was accosted by dubious looking men, asking me,”Medaam! You want DL renewal, RC book updation, address proof, change of address yaanyting alse, I can do.” These were the “Yaygents”, in the local language, “Agents”, if you like, in the Queen’s English.They were the life blood of such offices. If you wanted any routine endorsement done on your Transport Department documents, these were the Fixers. They completed the job in under the given time-frame…for a hefty commission. Multiple visits were unnecessary, nor rubbing shoulders with the milling millions. Short of changing your country of birth, your ethnicity or your face, everything else was taken care of. Sweeping the dubious aside, I continued my climb. I meandered past grimy walls, pan stained corners, garbage strewn spots, even a locked door, with a sign proclaiming it to be a “Public Toilet.” Fleetingly I wondered why the powers-that-be wasted their time in hanging such a sign.In most instances our noses lead us unerringly to such public conveniences. As to why these toilets, meant for the public, needed to be locked, that was beyond me. By the time I reached the third floor, I was hot, and very nearly, bothered.

On an earlier visit to this office, I had handed in a document for renewal. Sweating humanity, all male, milled about me. Various ripe odours assailed my nostrils. Of the great unwashed, of sickeningly overpowering, locally manufactured, “Old Spice,” cologne, or of what somebody might have eaten earlier that day, for breakfast! I stood in the scraggly line, an apology for a queue, to break into which, many of my countrymen take pride upon themselves to frequently do. There is no such thing as “your personal space” in public spaces, in our country. Maybe because our population exceeds a billion, maybe because our’s is a true democracy, and “your space” also belongs to the “publics,” again, as said in local parlance. I had all my supporting documents for the renewal, neatly compiled, pinned together and had gone to the correct department and the exact counter, to hand it over for processing. My turn came, the self important ‘Case Worker’ behind the counter looked up, then beyond me. He saw that I was not accompanied by any likely looking ‘Yaygent,’ and promptly lost interest in me, as I was not a potential contributor to his secret retirement fund. Mr.Self Important leisurely engaged in light-hearted banter with a loitering colleague, answered a call on his mobile, solicitously enquired of his caller, “Thindi aiyata”, which would loosely translate into, “Hello! How are you?” He ignored me. I stood my ground. He eventually decided I had been made to wait a fair amount of time, and curtly asked for my documents. Handing them over, I waited. He read. The next moment my papers were flung back across the table to me. In thunderous tones I was informed that as my documents were not properly pinned together, I was merely wasting his time, apart from preventing him from carrying on with his work. I realized that my mouth had fallen agape at this unexpected tirade, so I hurriedly instructed my jaw to shut it. I gathered the by now scattered pages, to rearrange the sheets. I was trembling at this unwarranted censure, trembling with rage, at a public servant’s shameless greed and frustration at my not being his pigeon for easy plucking. In loud and very clear tones I demanded what Mr.Self Important thought of himself by his outrageous behaviour, considering his pay packet was the fruit of my hard work and taxes. Since by then I had exhausted by meagre command over words in the local language, and yet having many mouthfuls to spew at Mr.Self Important, I continued, in full spate, in English. I informed him that his job was to serve us, the members of the ‘Publics,’ for which he was suitably compensated, and not to bully us in a bid to reduce us to quivering blancmange. So there! You could hear many pens drop in the hushed silence that followed . The motley office staff craned their necks to see which mere woman had dared raise her voice against powerful Mr.Self Important. A man with an air of being the Supervisor, apprehensively emerged from behind the nether regions of a dusty cupboard, a file folder in hand. A lone fellow sufferer from the outer ring of fellow applicants was heard saying, “Yes Saar! Aall these peoples are the same, not satisfied with their pay, they want us to come through Yaygents, yand then they can get their commission.” Heads swivelled, Mr.Self Important turned a visible shade of puce, looked around shiftily, and tried retrieving his earlier blustering self important position by pushing a few pens and papers fussily around his table. On his Supervisor’s advice, he sullenly handed me my receipt. Bout One to Mr.Self Important.

I had waited patiently for a week, extended this to ten working days, and after a wait of three weeks and no document, I had embarked, a second time earlier this morning, upon this fact finding mission.  The extended festival week end, of one of our Indian festivals, Dusshera, had concluded recently. Ironically, this was the festival symbolizing the triumph of Good over Evil. Embodied by the Goddess Durga Devi. On this visit I headed to the top of the food chain, to the office of the head honcho of the Transport Authority. His fluttering minions were largely ignored. I knocked, and walked into a large official, opulently decorated room. I was pleasantly surprised at the courtesy shown me by the government officer. Reading through my letter of complaint, the boss was most apologetic. After hearing me out, he rang for a senior assistant staff, ordering him to escort me back to the concerned department, have the staff there look into my problem, and report back to him without delay. Quite mollified, and inwardly exulting, I set forth to get justice and my work done. The flunky, my letter now in his hand, ushered me solicitiously out towards our new destination. In the corridors of power, many supplicants there were in our path, who upon seeing Big Boss’ flunky, fluttered around him, making breathless, earnest enquiries about their own pending jobs. With a regal dismissive wave of his hand, saying “Later, later. Saar has ordered me to escort this Medam to get her important wurk done first,” the flunky swept them aside. We proceeded to our destination, with a determined section of the die-hards hot on our heels. We reached a room, that looked familiar. It was Mr.Self Important’s department. I was invited into the holy of holies, faintly protesting that I was quite comfortable on the other side of the counter, in the supplicants enclosure, meant for lesser mortals of the helpless public. The flunky wouldn’t hear of it.”Remember Medam, that Saar was very particular that your wurk is satisfactorily completed?” I adjusted my halo, and walked into the den of iniquity. I looked curiously around for Mr.Self Important, and thought we passed a familiar, but cringing figure, now resolutely turning his face away from us. On closer examination the hallowed precincts of this department looked even seedier, if that were possible. Mismatched, ancient wooden office furniture, work tables, complete with baize green table cloths hanging to the floor. How convenient I thought. Maybe the origin of that term, “under the table,” for ill-gotten gains, must have been coined at just such a place. But one would have to be a very brave soul to have the temerity to lift the cloth off such tables, to peek into the treasure troves lying beneath! To get back to unraveling the mystery of the return of my document. I was hurriedly offered a chair, by many of the staff. I had concluded by then that that Mr. Self Important and his cronies had decided to teach, in the first bout, this mere woman, a lesson in harassment. My Self Addressed Envelope, a part of the required supporting ‘documents’ in my original application, with my completed form, was ‘found’ under a pile of papers, and displayed to me with nearly an exultant ‘abracadabra.’ Feigning ignorance of ever having made my acquaintance, Mr Self Important tried explaining to me that the Transport Department had not delayed returning my papers on schedule, by postal delivery. “See Medam,” said he, pointing to my envelope, “Look, look! It is saying here ‘Door Locked’!”  I understood that this legend explained to me, meant that there was nobody at my home address to sign and take delivery of the letter. Since my stamped envelope was merely for ordinary postal delivery, and did not require a signature in acknowledgement, I was stumped for words,at their quick-thinking reply, to absolve themselves of any wrong doing. I asked for my document, and hastily signed a paper saying, “Hand Delivered to Consignee.” With my precious paper safely in my bag, and in silken tones, I fired a parting salvo at the bower, scraper and hand-wringer, now handing my document back. “Sir. My mobile number is written on this envelope, along with my address. So was there any reason that I could not be informed over over the phone about the document being ready?” Bower-Scraper was not fazed at this nugget of obvious information. Not missing a step, and in admiring tones he replied, “Medam you are great!” In wonder, I thought, “Full marks for chutzpah!”
Dusshera Devi triumphed. She had won the Final Bout. The winner’s bell was ringing.

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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!

2

Of Misogynists and Lawyers

For starters, I presume that you all have your sun glasses on while reading this? You see, I am bathing in the reflected glory of reading in a back dated issue of a National Daily, that an old college girl pal of mine, now in the Foreign Service of our country, is swanning around the CPSA ( Chauvinist Paradise of Saudi Ahbria), rubbing shoulders with the rich & powerful, without even the semblance of a top-to-toe burqa! Said classmate has been officially chaperoning the nation’s leading political leader’s wife, who has also, reports this Daily, been accorded a similar rare privilege. In CPSA country, with their ultra repressive regulations for women, these ladies may as well be running around like two Empresses with New Clothes! This, while the economically erudite politician husband was squeaking his way through innumerable, groveling public speeches, shuffling around, wooden faced & sotto voiced, gracing every planned social engagement, in his bid to woo for his Homeland, monetary largesse and benefits from the oil rich CPSA. This rare no burqa ‘honour, ‘ wasn’t even accorded to Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton in earlier times, I continued to read in the National Daily. Hmmm! Now, that set me wondering whether the citizens of our country should be cock-a-hoop about this last mentioned observation! Do you think that the CPSA powers-that-be are implying that while the two white American women might get inappropriately treated on account of their beauty & sexuality, our own dusky skinned female citizens wouldn’t appeal to the oily (pun intended) Sheikhs? I think that that our Fourth Estate should take up this comment and start a Diplomatic Discussion, at the very least, on Twitter!

Talking about certain foreign States and their condescending views about the frailities of the female sex, let us not fool ourselves. Men in certain pockets of our own ancient civilization are not very far behind in supporting the views of the CPSA. A few years ago, I needed to visit my country seat, as I fondly refer to my home town in the hills. I was accompanied by my son, and we had certain matters to discuss with our Advocates regarding a forthcoming court matter, of which I was to be (not self appointed) the Main Protagonist. Son and I walked into our lawyer’s office. He waved us in to the inner chamber of his office, since he was in discussions with another chicken-to-pluck, in the outer chambers. In the Sanctum Sanctorum, sat our noble & respected, Lawyer Senior. Most good Brahmin Hindus worth their salt, especially venerate their fathers. Lawyer Sr.(LS) was busy punching the hell out of a trusty old typewriter. A desk top computer, largely ignored, adorned the table, placed amidst scattered heavy legal tomes. I think it might have actually been doubling up as a paper weight, so little used did it look. In sign language, LS indicated that we should seat ourselves. Thereafter, Muhammed Ali continued his punches & jabs as if we didn’t exist. In the meanwhile our Lawyer Jr., Mr.Eyes Closed, having finished with his meeting, indicated that we should repair to the outer chamber which we did. Did I forget to mention that son of LS, Mr.Eyes Closed (EC), got that handy name because of the manner in which he conducted his conversations with me? Well then, EC sat opposite us, looking expectantly at Son to launch into the reasons for the visit. I, meanwhile, lowered my bulk gingerly, into one of the few old cane chairs opposite him, doubting the said chair’s ability to bear my weight! Son sat next to me, and began his politely worded, previously rehearsed, discussions with EC. And EC very politely answered ALL son’s questions! The very same questions which I had asked him a week previously, to which he declined enlightenment! Instead, EC, frothing down the phone lines, had curtly informed me then, that if I wished for further explanations and answers from him, why then, I could choose to Take My Case Elsewhere! Howzzat? To add insult to injury…when Son tried telling EC that I was understandably nervous about the forthcoming Court Hearing, where I was being thrown to the Opposition’s legal Roman Lions’ den, as in the district’s Civil Court , he all but guffawed (with eyes closed) and asked Son, “Why should your mother be nervous? Tell her that she has to just truthfully answer any questions put to her in the Court. She has given only true facts, so she has nothing to fear.” You might have noticed, in all EC’s conversations, I was referred to in the Third Person–as if I were an insignificant part of the decrepit seating in the room. Why, not even present there! EC’s Phantom Client. To give Son his due, he did try to, a bit feebly, as I protested later to him, draw EC’s hallowed attention to my presence, in order for EC to converse directly with me. But EC would have none of it, he was made of sterner, pure Dravidian Brahmin genes. His eyes remained firmly closed, probably wishing this mere female away from his presence. Anyway, we had been earlier advised, that LS & EC were canny lawyers, and knew their iddlis, and we should stick with them, allowing them their foibles, as long as they were committed. So we left, having done just that, remaining their clients. I tell you, folks, EC was like a purring feline with Son, again naturally, as he was the male of the species. Females be damned!

The mystery was later revealed to us, just as I was beginning to wonder, that with EC’s strong apathy to me, where our case would stand. An acquaintance of our’s told us that LS, EC & Sons had a reputation of being known MCPs & misogynists, for reasons best known to themselves. They were unable to deal directly with women, all women, not just this Phantom Client. In Small Towns, in true orthodox tradition, women are worthy only to cook, feed, and housekeep for their menfolk. Not to unusually, think for themselves, leave alone stand up in witness boxes to be cross-examined! If only I had known earlier how dismayed our Advocate’s were to see a mere female representing the case they were handling at court. And that their spotless and well publicized reputation might well be hanging by a thread, resigned to losing their carefully built up image. I might have switched to another member of the Legal Fraternity. Alas! Anyway, I stuck it out, so did they, and we came up trumps. We triumphed. Was it their brains or my feminine chutzpah, I leave that to you to decide……..

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.