Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sniff Stuff

Who nose why just a smell can take you down memory lane? Is it that a particular whiff, inhaled through the nose, enters our bloodstream, hits our head, our heart, and makes itself an eternal part of the life rushing through our veins - keeping us human, keeping us alive, helping us remember?

I have always marvelled at how a fleeting smell can transport me back to an entirely different setting. I have to pick up the pieces and set the memory in place, even as the transient scent has already gone, leaving me with my eyebrows raised, my eyes squinting in concentration, and my footsteps slower. My nose on alert to recapture that elusive trigger, I try and put into thoughts what my heart and mind have already remembered and reconstructed.

Just yesterday, I was walking along Hill Road (where the hilly experience is defined by the number of potholes and not by sylvan views of mountainous splendour - this is Bombay after all) around 11.30 am. A bad time to be a pedestrian. Dodging cars, bikes, dogs, people, streetvendors. The stretch of shops I walked past were gloomy coffin-makers, frame-shops, shady jewellery stores, and dingy upholstery displays. The winter sun warmed us even as the jammed vehicles poisioned our veins.

And suddenly in the middle of it all I smelt (so quick that I may have imagined it, but why would I do so?) gulaal, or the powder colours used to play Holi. You know it don't you? That hot, synthetic smell that tickles your nose? And snap! I was back in time. Holi happens around March. The time of exams, the time of fears, the time of winter-turning-summer when you are never sure how hot or cold to feel. And I was in school uniform again, it was a Delhi winter on its way out. I was worrying about completing my revision on time. Long phone conversations on the sly where friends confessed how bad their preparation really was. Dodging flying water balloons on the way back from the bus-stop. Passing by shops selling pyramids of colour to brighten up the fading dull of winter. Half-empty school buses because everyone didn't have an exam every day. Getting to sit. Aware that the new school year would mean new faces and some missing faces.

Bombay went on all around me and I walked back home, treading a time bubble that burst when an impatient driver honked at me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Virtues of the Virtual

We frequently distinguish between the real and the virtual worlds but in the blogosphere I think the two are inextricably linked. I put a little bit of myself on this blog and leave it out there for the world to see. Some of the world drops by and leaves footprints on my comments page. I follow those footprints in various directions, walk around in cyber-circles but end up travelling a great deal. And in all this, I learn. I empathise. I react. I smile. And when the cyber-circles come knocking on my door with tags and blessings for me, I am humbled, grateful and realise why is is the world wide web. I am stuck in it. And I mean that in the best way possible.
So what is this blog blessing all about? I quote:’s a game of tag with a difference, rather than looking within, we look
outside ourselves and bless, praise and pray for one blog friend. By
participating in this endeavour we not only make the recipient of the blessing
feel valued and appreciated, but we have some fun terms of seeing how far
around the world the bloggin’ blessings can travel a and how many people can be
blessed! Recipients of a bloggin’ blessing may upload the above image to their
sidebar if they choose to. If you recieve a bloggin’ blessin’ please leave a
comment on this thread
here so that we can rejoice in just how many blessings have been sent around the world!

So who do I want to shower with blessings? The bloggers I regularly interact with know exactly how I feel about them and their writing through my comments. So this time I will 'bless' two new people.
Kathy doesn't know me, but I read her blog everyday. Caring for a father from whom Alzheimer's Disease has claimed his memory but not his sense of humour, Kathy always sees the silver lining and I wish her eternal strength to do what she is doing.
Riverbend writes only occasionally, but even so she reminds of the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Now that she has escaped war-ravaged Iraq as a refugee in Syria, she is 'free', but bears the scars of watching her home turn into a war zone. I hope she is blessed with peace and healing after all she has been through.
Neither Kathy nor Riverbend probably know I exist. But my prayers for them are a sign of how the virtual world can evoke real emotions, and how this 'web' holds us all together.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Show me the Money, Honey

(Phone rings)


"Miss Anamika?" the man enquires.


"You had placed an ad to sell your car?"


"My name is Honey. Can you describe the car?"

And so the conversation continues. I talk money. He talks less money. Finally we decide on having him come over to see the car. As I'm about to hang up, I say, "Well, alright then, thanks. Bye Honey." And in my head is this voice telling me how silly it sounds. Nevertheless, it has been said.

"Ermmm...Ma'am, my name is HaneeF".


A good friend advises me that if I call them all Honey they will surely buy my car.

Many people I told this to laughed at me for thinking his name was Honey. But I'm from Delhi, where plenty of self-respecting Punjabi men are called Honey, Lucky, Jolly and even Goldie! (And sometimes, they're called Sukhwinder, but that's no fun!)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Filmy, Very Filmy

My office was a casual place, with people bantering and commenting on goings-on, complaining about funny grammar in books being edited, and so on. People came and went. Prem Singh with the coffee. Negi to collect stuff for our typesetters. The occasional desk editor to ask about something. Santosh to clarify little matters before things went to press.

Sunaina and I worked at adjacent desks. And would sometimes (okay, often) disturb the other with a "Psstt...guess what!" or just make fun of each other. One dull day we'd been talking on and off. With my back to the office, and the cubicle wall rising to my left, I was lost in my own world - in deep contemplation about how to soothe an angry author. So when I heard Sunaina say "Mere paas kuchh nahin hai. Anamika, tumhare paas?" I only half-registered what was going on. I announced in a baritone: "Mere paas Ma hai."

Silence followed. It sank in after about 10 seconds that there was no context for Sunaina to have said that, and slowly turned. First I saw Sunaina, big grin on her face. Then I turned my head further. There stood Negi. Asking, "Mere liye kuchh hai?"

He always avoided me after that. What can I say? Yeh tum mujhe kis jurm ki sazaa de rahe ho?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Fire Fire"

Centuries ago, as a student at JNU, I giggled loud and long over a fire safety sign in our department building that enumerated several steps to safety. There were the usual suspects, such as "Do not use the elevator" and so on. But the one that took the cake was the instructive, demonstrative, and very, very practical: "Raise alarm by shouting 'FIRE FIRE'."

I thought that was the stupidest thing I ever saw.

But I remembered all that when I watched the blaze engulf a busy commercial building in Kolkata's Burrabazar area. I watched on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. And the situation only grew worse. Firemen watched helplessly. The army got called in.
Apparently there wasn't enough water.
Apparently the pump wasn't working.
Apparently the ladders couldn't reach high enough. (This is a 13-storey building in a city where the highest building is 32 floors.)
Apparently the ladder brought in from nearby Haldia did not work.
Apparently the army - brought in to control a situation that should never have spun out of control in the first place - were not getting much help from the firemen.
Apparently the army would spray foam and the fire department would wash it out. (Where did that water come from? And why were they fighting each other instead of the fire?)
Apparently Kolkata is a metropolitan city of the 21st century.

This is (one of) the stupidest thing(s) I have ever seen.

The Weekend Blogger has written about Burrabazar and you can visualise a bustling hub of small commerce, all of which adds up to thriving trade. The fortunes of a huge section of Kolkata are in ashes right now. Burnt, tattered, flooded, destroyed. So it was an unauthorised building. So what? I just cannot understand how a fire in a big city with an 'organised' government (they even have a Fire Minister!) could be allowed to rage for three whole days. The Fire Minister behaved badly (on camera) with the lobby of Rajasthani politicians who came to represent the traders' case. He had nothing to say. He had plenty to do, but was not doing it. The CM never even went to visit the site. If that is the message from the top, what will the bottom-feeders do?

Over the last few months things have gone terribly wrong in Kolkata. And over the last year or more, in West Bengal. Flooding and constant road reconstruction angered everyone. Nandigram, and Rizwanur's murder, placed the city's intelligentsia at loggerheads with the CPI(M). I think the only silver lining of the smoky cloud over this blaze is that now, another section of the population will turn against that stupid, stupid government. And do you think that might mean a change for the better?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Just a Table

When my grandparents sold their house to the builder and got a new flat on one floor, they also earned a decent sum of money along with it. This they invested, other than in the all-important task of indulging their angelic grandchildren (ahem!), in some excellent furniture. Of all those things, I remember best the dining-table.

A solid, wooden affair with a natural wood finish on the surface. Reliable and sturdy, it took the weight of the 4 dining chairs my finicky Dida loaded on it each day so that the maid could make a clean sweep below the table. Wherever I may eat, that is one table I will never forget. Other than the conventional role of a surface to eat off of, it served as my study table. Many are the times I have dozed while studying at that table. I would settle comfortably in one chair and rest my long legs on the chair across. Everyone knew that I used 2 chairs, even at lunch time. Since it was just she and I, and then my brother too, we had a chair going spare and I put it to good use!

On dull evenings, it doubled as a makeshift TT table. My brother and I would roll up a bedcover and place it as the net and play a boisterous game of TT, fielding the ball from under bookshelves, the toilet, the balcony, and from under the folds of a long-suffering Dida's saree.

I used to take pride in being the one to clean and polish up the dining table, soaping and gently scrubbing, then turning on the fan to dry the surface and resting my cheek against its squeaky clean, smooth surface.

That table hosted many huge dinner parties, birthday meals prepared with love and care, family reunion meals where maangsho (mutton curry), aloo-posto, tomato chutney and various other family favourites held pride of place. It was covered with plates bearing crisp motorshuti kochuri along with my 18th birthday cake. It was the site for the feast on my father's 50th birthday. It was the stage on which Dida presented her love for us all.

When she could no longer live on her own, she moved in with my parents, who were by now back in India. And so the 4-seater table was now where 6 people ate. My parents, my newly-widowed paternal grandma, and my Dida. Odd chairs and stools and occasionally even cartons served as the two extra chairs, but we all ate, elbow to poky elbow, at the same table.

Eventually my parents moved from a government house to their own 'dream-house'. I married and moved away, and the table's biggest supporter was gone. A practical lady, Dida recommended a new table. A new dining table was commissioned. Dida's dining table now lies in the store-room, a tablet to memories and happy meals shared by all of us.

I suppose it is silly to be so sentimental. Maybe life is too short to get attached to things. But we're only human. And we have memories for a reason. So that the past can be special and give us things to think about and smile over. I know I can make a story out of anything and find reasons to be sentimental about it. That's just how I am. As I said in my last post, it's time to move again. In May last year, I had written about how I hate moving around and want to stay put in one place, but that is, sadly, not to be. Oh, I know people who will always live in the same place envy me. But it's the grass-is-greener syndrome.

Anyhow, so it's time to say good-bye again. To some people, to a lot of places. And to sell off some possessions. And Eve's Lungs left me a comment saying it breaks her heart to sell things that she has used. That got me thinking about things that I have been terribly attached to and I decided to write about the table.

I tag Eve's Lungs, Orange Jammies, Sbora, Dipali and Diligent Candy to write about one material thing that holds many, many memories for them.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Making a Sale

You sweep everything off the dining table. Arrange the 4 chairs around it so that they are each positioned exactly in the middle of the side they belong to. You remove all things that could get in the frame of the picture. You switch on the lights so that the glass top sparkles. You angle your camera and click. Uh-oh, what's this? A greasy thumb impression? You're too lazy to wipe it. So you click from another angle (God bless digital cameras) and ensure the spot doesn't show this time. The table looks rather bare, you realise. You look around for inspiration. The flower vase with yellow chrysanthemums appeals. You place it in the centre of the table. Marvellous! Not only does it look good, it brings out the yellow in the checked pattern of the upholstered chairs. What a lovely touch, albeit unintentional!

You upload the picture on and Craigslist. You make the table sound absolutely irresistible. It looks so good that you hike the price by another 500 Rupees. Hell, you'd pay that much for it!

Now, the fridge.'s moving time again.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Pleasant Piper

He walks down the lane below my house, playing his magical music. The notes make him a pied piper and I, a little child, follow him from one window to another, seeking with my eye the man who speaks to my ears. A stack of flutes dug into a barrel balanced on one shoulder, he tunes out the world with his breath and his fingers as they dance over the bamboo flute at his lips.

The street dogs stare sleepily at this apparition. Traffic, car-horns, fireworks, squabbles and birds they are used to. But this? It is a sound they have not heard before. Their sensitive ears are soothed after the fireworks of Diwali, Christmas and New Year, and they rest their heads on their paws.

The much-louder sounds of children playing are drowned by his steady, sweet notes. There is a wistful resignation in his playing. He knows no one will really buy his flutes. He knows the tunes are not his, even if it is his life-breath that he puts into them. He knows that his playing may fill his family’s ears but not their stomachs. Yet he plays. For he has nothing else he can do. And because he does not care what people think, his music hypnotises.

He wends his way far from where I can hear him. But in my head I complete the song. And in those few seconds, I have thought of nothing but the music. A moment of purity in a crazy day. It keeps me sane.