Sunday, March 30, 2008

12-Lakh Vehicle

Back in college one joke that never got old (I hope, because I used it a lot) was "Meri 12-laakh ki gaadi aa rahi hai, with driver" (My 12-lakh Rupee chauffeur-driven vehicle is on its way). And that expensive vehicle, of course, was the good old public bus! Waiting at a swelter-shelter, hoping against hope that (a) the bus would arrive; (b) would arrive on time; and (c) would have (standing) room for us, we consoled ourselves that it was chauffeur-driven, we didn't have to worry about parking or driving in stressful conditions, and it was incredibly cheap.

Getting on a DTC bus as a student meant we had a pass, and we declared it, with not-so-subtle undercurrents of power, to the conductor when he looked towards us. "Pass hai," we'd proclaim, and that was that. He wasn't getting any money from us! Oh, the authority with which we said it! Standing at the back of crowded U-Specials, swaying this way and that with the rhythm of the bus with our feet planted firmly on the metal floor, legs a little apart to maintain balance better - these were unconscious lessons we learnt in the laws of motion as the bus trundled (or zipped) its way to College.

It was an unspoken courtesy on buses, especially our Univ Specials, that if you were so fortunate as to have a seat, you'd offer to hold the bags, books, umbrellas, etc. for the standing population. That was the least you could do. And so, we'd clamber on to the bus, regardless of heavy backpacks, and immediately look for a welcoming face on the bus - the stranger we could hand our bag to. And then, stretch out, space permitting, in the aisle, holding tight to overhead bars, bending occasionally to peer out of the windows and assess how far home was.

It's easy to forget the complete unpredictability of waiting for public transport in a place like India when you haven't depended on buses for a while. The freedom of hailing a taxi or auto at whim brings in the self-righteous feeling that our time is too precious to waste at a bus-stop. But as students, time was the one thing we had, as we chattered about teachers, books, music, movies, boys, and waited, endlessly, for when the bus would take pity on us and deliver us from the waiting. Of course, I used the bus regularly as long as I was in Delhi, and only had access to a car in the last 2-3 years.

Why am I talking about all this today? Because public transport in Dubai is terrible. At rush hour you cannot find a single taxi. I've been curious about using the local bus, and I noticed the same bus number near my house and near the office. But the local buses are not known for punctuality so I didn't know how to get one, nor could I locate the bus shelter. So last week, I just walked home from work - it took me all of 1 hour, but I did. And today, I decided that my time wasn't so precious, and when I was striding past the bus stop to walk home again, I decided to wait instead. After 15 long minutes, it came. Pakistani driver. Some polite words in Hindustani and he assured me that I'd reach home just fine. And as I stood steady in the aisle, refusing offers to share some space with seated women, I remembered all those long afternoons, when we waited for the bus, not knowing what it would be like when it came, just like the future that awaited us then.

Friday, March 28, 2008


My grandfather would have turned 94 today. Too early in life, he lost his eyesight. But when I visited my grandparents in Allahabad, he always gave me reason to look forward to opening my eyes each morning. I would wake up, a hot and sweaty little girl on an unforgiving June morning, and slip my hand excitedly under my pillow. And it would always be there - a little gold coin. Eagerly unwrapping it with fumbling, hurried hands, I'd peel away the sticky gold foil to reveal the treasure within. If my parents weren't around, the chocolate would be in my mouth before I had even brushed my teeth.

I never really had heart-to-heart conversations with him. But he was a doting grandfather - jalebis or imartis for breakfast every Sunday, when he'd walk a long way (sometimes with me tagging along) to fetch them from his favourite shop. I remember he took me to watch The Jungle Book at a local theatre. And he would make faces at my Thakuma behind her back - provoking giggles from my brother and me.

A short-hand teacher all his life, his study was a somber room, with an ancient cupboard bulging open to reveal yellowing papers, and a large portrait of Pitman dominated the wall. Long benches lined the mammoth wooden table, and when the students had left for the afternoon, this was our dining table too. Dadu would sit at the head of the table, and we, like most self-respecting Bong families, would devour aloo bhaja, aloo bhate, aloo posto and I think the fish curry had aloo (potato) in it as well!

Dadu's failing eyesight never made his walk unsure. When he visited us in Delhi, he would walk around very fast, as if to prove a point. And my grandmother, who had a leg problem, would lag behind. My brother and I would have to split up - taking a grandparent each to keep pace with! With his dhoti (no trousers for him) pleats neatly in his silken kurta pocket, he would walk steadily and swiftly, as I hopped-stepped-and-jumped to keep up with him!

The radio was Dadu's friend, and it hugged his ear for a large part of his bed-ridden life. "Yeh Akashvani hai" and the BBC signature tune were familiar sounds in the house when Dadu was around. He had been a Shakespeare fan. And in his last days, with suspected Alzheimer's and a mind dulled with age and blindness, he would rejoice afresh each time I told him that I had studied literature at college. He would name his favourites, and smile eagerly as I talked about the plays I had read, punctuating what I said with "wah!" from time to time.

But what I remember most about Dadu is his passion for aftershaves. Unable to see, his nose was his source of pleasure, and he enjoyed trying different scents each day after the ritual shave. Body talc, deodorants, after shaves - these filled up his dark world with sensations and made him smile.

He's been gone for over 3 years now, but even today thoughts of Dadu remind me of the excitement of waking up to treasures under my pillow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All in a Day's Work

The charming, spaced-out lady across the table explained conscientiously what she wanted. Her words were carefully enunciated, as English is not her first language and she has a somewhere-in-the-former-USSR accent.

"No bosoms. No bottttoms, No stuff below here," she stated, indicating her neck. And I made mental notes for this post.

If I can do interesting things like this at work, I occasionally have to take the dullest briefs possible, but its statements like these that lighten up the boredom. This lady's business is all about supplying mannequins for window displays (yawn). I was mentally dozing as she explained the different kinds of mannequins to us - "Zere aaar ze non-head mannequins, abstrrraaaact mannequins, forrrm mannequins and the nurrrmaaaal mannequins," she clarified, holding up pictures of each kind like flash cards. It felt like biology class. I've always found the headless mannequins really spooky - why would you want to buy something that's been displayed on a headless figure?

Anyway, so the brochure we make for her cannot display any naked mannequins. That's the UAE for you - it's as simple as that, and I guess it's understandable. So when we'd sent her a sample with nice photos of mannequins - naturally mostly naked ones - she got all panicky and called us to explain that this would not do. So now, all the naked pictures need to be photo-shopped and dressed up. No naked mannequins please, we're in the Middle East.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Legacy

For as long as I can remember, there is one thing that the women of the Bose, Chatterjee and Mukharji family have used, and which I have now introduced into the Ghose family as well. That noble item, smoothening out the creases in the linen of our lives is, tan-tan-taraaaaa:

A simple jhainta, the one here has been dressed up with my scrunchie for a festive look. I don't know what you call it in your language, but I am sure this picture will be worth a thousand synonyms.

For as long as I can remember, every morning my grandmother and mother would get up and start whipping things around them into shape. As we ducked out of range, the bed would be dusted using this jhainta, beating all creases out of it. Pillows and cushions would be walloped and plumped into the shape they were meant to be. When I grew older and began doing my bit, I realised the satisfaction of watching microscopic dust particles flying off the bed with each stroke, creating a dust haze in the morning sunlight filtering through the windows. And no bed could ever be properly made without this mandatory corporal punishment. Thwack, thwack thwack goes the jhainta, and it keeps time with the user's mood that morning. I had never questioned it, and I had always taken it for granted.

I got married, moved to Bombay, and realised that without the jhainta the bed just didnt feel properly made. I had to go out and buy one. The maid promptly took it into the bathroom and used it to wash the floor. Which is what most normal people would use it for, I guess. But my houseproud grandmother and mother had turned it into an ally in the rest of the house as well - straightening out their lives with its help. And I bought a replacement and hid it from the maid.

When my mother-in-law first visited us, she came to the room in the morning when she heard the unfamiliar thwack thwack thwack. I propounded at length on its qualities, and when I next visited Kolkata, I found one in the corner of our room, for me to use while I was there!!!

My jhainta has accompanied us to Dubai. And each morning I use it and think of the long history I am honouring with this simple act. And how, in a very special way, this is a legacy too - a little domestic tip, a secret to a better made bed, and a virtual pranam to the women who have used it before me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blogger Bother

(My comment responses appear at the end of this post)

Just a small note to all of you: For the past few days I've been having trouble getting on my blog. I can get to my dashboard (mostly), write new posts, but I cannot write my own comments in response to yours, or open my blog page at all. And no blogspot pages are loading on my computer, either at home or at work.

It reminds me of the time blogs were banned in India and we all went to to access our pages. But even that isn't working this time. Is anyone else facing this probem, especially if you are (or if anyone you know is) blogging from Dubai? And if so, any solutions/suggestions?

Comment responses:

Sandeepa: Thanks. Will try doing that. And no, "view blog" isn't working either. It's most annoying.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I watch her walk by, oblivious to my pain. In her hand is a tall, cool drink. The glass is getting frosty and little droplets of water form on her hand as she holds the glass, sipping from it occasionally. I try to attract her attention, but I can't speak. I try moving to remind her that I exist, but I seem to be rooted to the spot. How long has it been since I drank some fluids? The dehydration is killing me. I can feel that it's getting harder to breathe. My skin is starting to turn yellow. Even the ground around me feet is parched and getting cracked. In this desert land, how can she have left me to fend for myself without a drink of water for three days??? What does she think I am? A cactus? I'm just a simple money plant. I need my water.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


While I still find my feet in this new city, my settling-in was disrupted by some mental gypsy wanderings yesterday. I went off to Greece. And there was Plato propped up against a pillar of the Acropolis, telling a bunch of toga-clad Greek fellows about the ideal Republic and the philosopher-ruler. The blue sea glimmered in the background and the white-painted buildings shone in the sun. Of course, everyone was drinking some ouzo, and eating olives. Just as I was planning to join them and dredge up my memories of what Arjun Mahey taught us in first year, someone rapped on my desk and brought me rudely back to reality.

With a sigh, I got back to work on the travel brochure for "World Destinations", which is my latest assignment at work. So all of yesterday, I just wanted to be nowhere but Greece. Today, it was Jordan. After wandering through Petra, I stopped by the Dead Sea. Excuse me while I go off to wash the Dead Sea rejuvenating mask from my face.

Tomorrow, Turkey.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Getting Comfortable at a New Workplace

  1. Make sure your seat is at the correct height versus your computer screen.
  2. Personalise your computer - this involves changing the wallpaper, downloading and Smiley Central, playing around with the font of your outgoing mail signature, and naming folders of your documents after yourself.
  3. Locate and master the coffee machine/befriend the woman who makes the coffee.
  4. Get a strategically-sized waterbottle (not too big/too small) that you can refill from time to time as an excuse to leave your desk.
  5. Practice the busy face: lips pursed, eyes squinting in concentration, finger tapping the pen or on the mouse.

An office desk after a year and a half of working from home. Colleagues. Inside jokes. Sign in/sign out registers. Team deadlines. Here I come....