Yesterday, while most of the nation mourned the martyrdom of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa K and his nine brave colleagues, and others played politics per usual, our family grieved the death of another soldier: my grandfather, Lt. Col. Badan Singh; a veteran of the second World War, a weaver of magical anecdotes, a man with a most colourful disposition. He was 97 years old, with all his teeth intact and not a denture in sight, and a repository of tales and legends only a nonagenarian could be.
Like in most relationships, ours had its ups and downs. His temper was legendary and I was no featherweight myself. It was only natural, therefore, that we had our share of run-ins, singeing loved ones and not-so-loved ones in the wake of our disagreements.
And yet, as the skin around his eyes softened in to a collection of lines, his personality mellowed too. In the man I had thought to be cast in iron, I found softened indents ready for a proverbial tickle. Little nudges made stories spring, insistent prodding brought forth sagas: of his days in a Rangoon hospital during WWII where he was being treated for malaria and the matron who admonished him for his refusal to eat, of my sister sneaking in to his room as a four-year-old in Chandigarh to bribe him with her pout for kulfis in the afternoon.
In the last few decades he lost his sight to glaucoma and the hearing in his left ear. What he didn’t lose though was a vigour for life. He didn’t trudge through his nineties, he strode through them with his back upright, even after being confined to a wheelchair. He stuck to his dictum of eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a peasant and dinner like a pauper to the last. He remained committed to fitness throughout his life. In fact, in his last few years, incapable as he was of walking like he used to, he’d lie back on his bed and cycle in position, even on the day of his last hospitalization this past Tuesday.
He was a proud man, made most proud by his children and theirs in turn. He was sharp as a tack, keeping his radio by his side at all times, listening to the news and music and refusing to let the impact of age affect the quality of his mind. So much so that my sister and I would be nervous of being caught off-guard when he asked us for our opinions on the state of things; the spectrum of his interests ranging from the American elections to Kohli’s performance in the last one-day international India had played.
As I shouldered the weight of his stretcher on its final journey to the pyre, I felt a stream of tears make its way down my reddened cheeks; the weight of realizing that our conversations were now at an end felt heavier than him. With his life lived and his journey complete, he was now headed to that unknown place of after. And as I saw the flames engulf the stillness of my grandfather, I could only think of how much richer that place would be, now that he was there.
Goodbye, go well.
As a reluctant non-vegetarian, and an incorrigible cooer at buffalo calves, the traction bovine-protection is receiving on my social media news feeds should be heartening. I must report, it is not.
From cracking done-to-death ‘where’s the beef in it’ jokes and seeing cowlicks as take-that political stances a few short months ago, I’m now at the jaw-hits-floor position when consuming my daily news staple.
That cows (and bovines at large) have captured a nation’s (with problems a plenty) imagination in the way they have is ‘beef’uddling. It seems that the cattle-lines are drawn, and we, the (hapless) people are being divided into rough, opposed categories of either consumer or protector. Where do these narrow boundaries leave people like me? People who don’t profess a deep, dark desire to eat beef and yet, tired of the vegetarians-eat-grass wisecracks are loathe to being judgmental of others’ meal preferences. And as residents of said limbo, are we automatically aligning ourselves with consumers and therefore courting a gau rakshak’s wrath? Continue reading
Sasha. A good dog, a great dog, but, most of all, papa’s dog. On Thursday last, my father said goodbye to a cherished companion, an ardent admirer, a faithful friend. She was our dog, but, really, she was always his.
Letters and grammar are incapable of capturing their journey of fifteen-and-a-half years; memories, wonderful ones at that, will have to suffice. But, the last year stands out poignantly, for it was these past months that best represent what they meant to one another.
As her hind legs began to give way, my father became Sasha’s support, hefting her body up and down stairs once they became staggering obstacles. When aches and sores kept her from sleeping, he lay by her side, comforting her, lulling her to slumber.
They had a routine. A pattern of waking, talking, being. They read the newspapers together, took afternoon naps in their favourite room, calmed each other. He groomed her to a fault, she smiled when he called her.
But, finally, they came to an understanding. A knowledge only she and he were ever privy to, of letting go. My sister, mother and I had our opinions, but, it was for them to decide.
They reached an agreement, and my father, with what I can only imagine was a very heavy heart, bid adieu to his faithful friend, his lifetime dog. A dog, whose love we had to earn, whose personality we learned to respect, but whose admiration was gained by one man alone.
Sasha. A wilful dog, a spirited dog, but, most of all, her papa’s dog.
Just wrote my first piece for Starsports.com (where I now work). Here’s an excerpt, and below it is the link to the original piece, do check it out:
After securing third place at the 2015 FIFA World Cup, England’s women’s football team was all but guaranteed a rousing welcome on returning home. However, the English FA chose to temper the celebration of the Lionesses by reminding us of how they’d now return to their oh-so-regular roles as “mothers, partners and daughters”. Clearly, highlighting the fleeting nature of the side’s heroics was far easier than perhaps saying something like this: “Well done, team! You did us proud!”
The Lionesses are not alone when it comes to gendered appreciation. Thirty-six majors to her credit (singles, doubles and mixed combined) and Serena Williams still has to face flak. For what? Her eyebrows. It would appear that being the sole owner of 21 Grand Slam singles titles is not enough when it comes to a female athlete. The attention, unfortunately, is still focused on booty, brows and bras.
As I make my way through Mumbai’s crowded streets in my car, I’m often disarmed by the resilience of its pedestrians. Perhaps, resilience is the wrong word; it seems more aggressive than that. A left hand held out in warning and the security of being one of a horde is capable of bringing moving traffic to a grinding halt. And it does. Often. But, there’s more to it than just that. I’d like to believe my estimation that pedestrians take more risks when they see a woman motoring a vehicle toward them is the assessment of a taxed mind and not a reflection of reality. And, yet, I’m not convinced. I do find, with every passing day, that the men, women and children who lurch into the path of my speeding car perform these acts of recklessness with an ease not always reserved for male drivers. Is it a fact universally accepted that a woman will be more accommodating to these transgressions? That her ‘natural’ inclination to nurture will prevent her from mowing down jaywalking pedestrians?
I find it infuriating. As much as I do when knowing glances are exchanged when a woman’s car stalls or when I watch an advertisement that depicts a man on a motorcycle benevolently waiting for a floundering woman to reverse her car in to a parking spot, smiling apologetically at her non-honking savior the whole while.
I’ve just watched, the now banned, documentary on Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder in December 2012 – India’s Daughter. I’ve just been reminded of my status as an object: as a diamond, a flower, a nothing-at-all in need of protection. I’ve been reminded of my natural role as housekeeper and homemaker. I’ve been reminded of my female fallibility.
I’m not going to comment on the vacant eyes of a remorseless, convicted rapist and his vitriol for the female kind as he sits on death row. I’m not going to comment on the sorrow and incomprehension of a family who lost their child to a most gruesome end.
My concern is concentrated on the imminent demise of objectivity. I worry for the moderation that permits a thinking, female mind to look upon the other gender as a partner, an equal. I am disquieted considering the repercussions of pushing us, the ‘other’ to the edge. I am fearful of the combined wrath of an angered womanhood whose tolerance has been disrespected for far too long and what it will mean in the future.
In my opinion, the longer we take to reach consensus on gender equality the more we ensure it remains a chimera, to be replaced by something far less equitable. Unfortunately, for lawyers such as AP Singh and ML Sharma, the maintenance of archaic norms of gender inequality will not manifest itself in women embracing their status as protected imbeciles confined to hearth and home. The continual co-option of women’s needs and rights by men will be met with pent-up fury in the future. Innocuous and indeed legitimate demands for gender parity are forging into a groundswell that will not stay contained for long. The dam is set to burst and the waters its keeping in check are swirling with discontent. Once it bursts, equality may no longer be much more than a trifling keepsake from the past.
“…what rough beast, its hour come at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
I’ve taken to writing short notes for important days in my family’s life. Yesterday was my sister’s birthday; a sister with whom my relationship is quite indescribable. We’re yin and yang. She’s crazy to my calm; I’m the unorganized to her methodical. We’ve gone from the reluctantly formed duo of cool, grown-up and annoying sidekick, to partners in crime. Yesterday, I wanted to write for her, but I couldn’t. For how does one celebrate the gift of having a wonderful something in your own life, while others have lost their most important in a gruesome tragedy? I’m certain my sister will forgive the note that wasn’t on her thirty-fifth while I wish a most futile hope for strength to those who’ve lost children who’ll never celebrate giddy milestones like birthdays.
I have been disarmed, rendered speechless by the horror of Peshawar. To make sense of murder is difficult in most circumstances, but to understand the hatred that could cause a mass-scale massacre of this kind is, in my opinion, impossible. Who threw down the gauntlet first, who reacted next, where did it all go so horribly wrong, when did it become so heartless?
I’ve studied in Army Schools my whole life. When I read the first alert on the siege, my heart sank because I thought it was in a school here, in India. The relief of realizing it wasn’t was fleeting; it was still a school, full of kids just like I had been, sitting under cement and mortar roofs, possibly passing clandestine notes to each other while a history teacher droned on, or staring out the window waiting for lunch break and a quick game of tag. To have the echoes of laughing, squabbling children’s voices in long, dingy corridors replaced by shrieks of fear, pain and incomprehension is sickening. It makes the lump rise in my throat; it makes my heart race in anger.
I’m not sure what I hope for in the wake of this cataclysm. Peace? Calm? Accord? They sound so trite, these words that seem to mean naught. I suppose I write this note as one defeated. I hope I don’t stay this way for long. I hope no one ever has to see a tragedy of this scale ever again. I hope…
© Ayesha Sindhu 2014
It’s sort of a running joke in my family when it comes to my issues with allergies. In 2010, while in transit to the US for a cousin’s wedding, I found myself scratching at my back and trunk with enough vigour to awaken my slumbering sister somewhere over Europe. On closer examination we found that I had turned salmon pink from neck to toe, front and back, speckled raw with a rash that was, by then, beginning to itch my throat, on the inside! Needless to mention my vacay was characterized by regular nail-clippings, long soaks in cold baths and a heady cocktail of antibiotics to deal with the fever that followed the rash.
A few years earlier I found my limbs covered in large pink splotches, raw and red enough to alarm the parents, and strange enough to perplex my medical examiners. To date I do not know what insect, plant or other species managed to engender that vile spread of rouge, and, quite frankly, I don’t wish to know.
So, it didn’t surprise me to see a flourishing crop of angry speckles forming their own connect-the-dots special on my back only two days after my arrival in Bombay. In routine fashion they then rounded the bends of my sides to say hello to my abdomen on the following day. What did surprise me was how soon into my Bombay-adventure I was bombarded by a grade-A pain-in-the-ass. Also, I worried. Could these little zits be the workings of over-active bed bugs? If yes, I was in for a mega bug-bashing marathon, one that I really could have done without on that, my first week in beautiful Bombay.
But then, my roommate assured me that she’d slept on the same bed a few times and had never been so much as tickled by a bug of any sort. Yet, my breakout résumé has (of course) requisite experience with bed bugs to its credit and I am quite certain I remember the exterminator telling me that the little shits are quite picky when it comes to choice of blood and don’t always bite everyone. So, I got the pest control people in to do a thorough examination of our sprawling one-bedroom and examine every nook and cranny to catch the buggers. False alarm! I was thrilled, until I realised the plethora of options this knowledge brought with it: they could be anywhere. The chair I sit in office, the others chairs I sit on in the office, in the fabric used to upholster the insides of Bombay’s very flashy taxi cabs, the very same cabs I am forced to use every single day. My mind was understandably boggled.
But, just as suddenly as they appeared, they vanished equally swiftly: shrinking, turning less pink by the day, till they were finally gone a week later. I no longer needed to run to the bathroom to deal with a runaway itch at work, or heartily bash chairs before sitting in them or examine the insides of taxis before choosing to get in based on the driver’s choice of upholstery: pleather or cloth. It was truly a Bombay special, a genus of bug that too was pressed for time and had other places to get to. My skin was only a way-station on the busy-bug’s grander journey in the city. After all, here, everyone has bigger fish to fry. I’m just a little kipper.
© Ayesha Sindhu 2014
It’s been another extended hiatus from the blog, and, per usual, I’m mortified. However, in a departure from my regular line of excuse: laziness/tardiness, I actually have a valid reason for not getting a chance to write. I’ve moved! My return to India, August onward, had been characterized by the usual child-returning-home rigours: there was a lot of eating, having things done for me and, of course, touching base with friends and family over copious drinks and delicious dinners. But as soon as October 20th came around, I found myself packed and moved to Bombay for a new job in a new city and facing many other novelties, as I have so found since then. The highlight of my migration has been moving in with a dear friend till I figure out other living arrangements, or till we decide to make adjustments to the current ones. There is also the unbelievable service of having nearly everything imaginable delivered to your doorstep at almost any hour of the day.
I’m planning on keeping track of the many delights and frights the city has handed me in the last two weeks and probably will continue to in the days to come, and hopefully, most of them will make their way on to the blog.
I thought I’d begin by detailing the B’s that Bombay has so far brought me: bruises, bites, bumps and banishments.
Bruises seem like a good, meaty category to start with, for, of these, I now have many. They surprise me, each morning, in the shower, burgeoning black, blue or purple mixed with yellow, depending on their exact locale. Their appearance isn’t so much to do with my obvious lack of co-ordination and legendary cloddishness, but more with the sheer inability to adapt to the much reduced space of manoeuvring that I am now living within. Case in point: the bathroom (a bathroomette really). I cannot stand in the centre of it and simultaneously stretch my arms to their full capacity (and they aren’t albatross comparable in any way) without bending them at the elbow at an approximate 45 degree angle. Quick movements in such constraints are high on the Do Not Attempt list. My brain is still adjusting. It is, therefore, not uncommon for me to bash my elbow in to a wall while retrieving a shampoo bottle or backing in to the shower-area faucet while towel drying with arms tucked to sides. Just yesterday I received a mighty whack on the forehead from the door handle while lowering myself on to the toilet seat.
There is also the ‘remembering to walk over the plywood plank placed at the base of our front door to prevent the entrance of mice and other rodents in to our ground floor apartment’ that I conveniently forget while rushing out the house in the early hours. Stubbed toes and battered shins have resulted from this misdemeanour.
Our kitchen, okay, that’s pushing it already. Our kitchenette is marvellously cogent in demanding adherence to its dimensions. Its walls seem to bend forward to whack you on the behind in case you dare forget how little it is. It also uses the appliances, dishes and cupboards that have taken up residence in it to enforce these strictures. An innocuous hug to my room-mate resulted in a resounding thwack against a kitchen shelf, whose space I was clearly imposing on.
It’s taken two short weeks for me to understand and adhere to Bombay’s limited space story. The city, in all its colour, vibrancy and non-stop activity, is unbelievably rigid in that it has only so much to offer when it comes to area. I’m only hoping to find my own little nook in its sweep and stretch, enough to call my own and feel like the city’s too.
© Ayesha Sindhu 2014
Gurgaon: Gone Girl
I lived away from it for two years, and I’m moving again next week, but, for the last seven years, I guess I’ve been a Gurgaon girl. “Why?” is a question I often get when details of my residence are revealed, usually from the Delhi set, ensconced in their two-syllable capital colonies, Gee Kay, Def Col, VeeVee et al.
Truth be told, my parents couldn’t afford realty in Delhi when my dad retired from the Army. Gurgaon, as a suburb to the cap, a burgeoning metropolis, christened with an enticing moniker (“Millennium City” my ass), was also affordable. So, we moved.
My relationship with the city since has fluctuated. There are days I love it, when our compound’s resident peacock lands heavily on my sister’s balcony to eat the bajra we leave out for him, and the sparrows, the greater coucals, the doves, pigeons, hoopoes, babblers, flycatchers and robins who make their rounds morning and afternoon. When monsoon nimbus rolls across the Aravallis and the grey of the sky presses up against the green of the range.
There are also days I hate it, when I’m driving home at night and have to throw cars of clearly inebriated men, hanging out their windows, leering, catcalling, off my trail by way of sneaky, no-indicator turns and braking too often. When I find myself in mile-long traffic snarls outside the city’s most elite schools, because mummies, daddies, drivers and maids are parked anywhere and everywhere in their big cars, engines running, interiors chilled, waiting to whisk their poppets away before the dust and grit of the city can lay a finger on them.
Gurgaon has problems. However, to the shock and horror of many, blame can’t always be placed on the bogeymen of the Gujjar, Jat and Haryanvi ilk. Sure, you’re bound to have your city sensibilities offended by one of each (yes, they are not one and the same thing) at some point if you make your way over, but to think that G-town’s troubles are limited to it’s agrarian heritage, is to be gravely mistaken. Its problem is also its wealth. The many-figured MNC salaries that beget cars, chauffeurs and high-rise condos, and impenetrable bubbles that permit un-engaged maneuvering through the city’s limits. Gurgaon, like many other Indian cities, seems to have been created with a determined view to upturn Marx’s theory of base and superstructure. Therefore, it is glitzy in that it has super-sized shopping malls, swanky office complexes, and a hub for all things culinary. Yet, it is beset with sub-standard roads, unchecked construction, and haphazard urban development.
Undoubtedly, a coveted land bank, only increasing in value with every passing day, has rendered a large section of the native populace wealthy over-night. The money has brought access to the city’s venues of entertainment, but not necessarily associated etiquette. This clash of cosmopolitan and rural-wealth is only a garnish on the mish-mash that Gurgaon is today.
I voted this past week in the state’s Assembly elections; a first for me. However, I am not naïve enough to believe a cast of the ballot will bring immediate and sweeping changes to the cityscape and its people alike. Don’t get me wrong; I won’t be one to complain if it does. My real hope though is that a change in governance may jumpstart a much-needed revolution in an apathetic citizenry. The kind of transformation that will look upon a bribe-accepting public official equally at fault as one’s own chauffeur when he goes against traffic for “a little way”.
For how does one really measure the exact degree of rightful wrong? Gurgaon, in all its dust and dazzle, is as much the product of absentee administration as it is of an uninvolved community. Perhaps dismantling or at least re-assessing our ideas of probity may in turn lead to ostensibly unrelated change. In the interim we’ll continue to hear stories about horrid Haryanvis and their uncouth ways, and almost nothing about the couture-clad city folk who have bore-wells in their backyards and complain about the city’s water troubles.