Dadaji: In Memoriam

12309746_10153650607650664_1614810049133160073_oYesterday, 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.

1091738_10151797257740664_692681815_oIn 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.

IMG_8458He 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.

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Sasha: Her papa’s dog

11728795_10153379730850664_6604841227787025429_oSasha. 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.

10959496_10153026705870664_4189142366839159657_nAs 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.

IMG_7359They 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.

Bombay: Bugs Bite/Bug Bites

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.

The big city.

The big city. © Ayesha Sindhu 2014

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

Bombay: Bumping Along

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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.

Window viewsThere 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

An Open Letter to Cleavage

Dear Cleavage,

Boy have you had a field day this past week. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s no denying that you’re toasted in some measure almost every day, either subtly or blatantly, through a leer or maybe an affectionate caress, sometimes by one gender, other times by both, perhaps more so in some places than others, but, I digress, what I’m getting at is this: capturing headlines outside of the riveting space of entertainment supplements is quite extraordinary. You’ve become News, you glorified chasm you!

Are props in the form of small monkeys permissible in accentuation?  © Nandita Chaudhary

Are props in the form of small monkeys permissible in accentuation?
© Nandita Chaudhary

All this chatter about a dent in fleshy matter has got me thinking about anatomical ravines. I’d say that in the female of the human species, there are two that make the cut: one in the upper torso and one in the pelvic posterior. For the sake of a pointed discussion, I will concentrate on the front-facing protrusions rather than the rear, though, believe me, the latter can make a strong case for representation if given the choice.

Back to boobage though, and I am forced to point out that my analysis of the female upper ventral region led to the conclusion that an absence of requisite fatty tissue may result in an ill-formed gorge between both breasts, affecting, most certainly, the quality of You produced. A naturally acquired disadvantageous gully of this kind can be overcome through the use of brassieres or circulation-restricting outfits capable of bringing breasts together yet maintaining the illusion of a well-formed, visually-appealing valley. However, this may not always work.

Bombay Times has done a stellar job in demonstrating this scenario pictorially in its open letter to a Ms. Padukone just yesterday. It is more than apparent that the newspaper gave coverage to an outrageously below average grade of hollow, most certainly brought on by an inadequate choice of bra/outfit, when clearly Ms. Padukone’s cleavage is capable of producing far deeper indents when photographed un-surreptitiously. Yet, TOI’s Entertainment division, in what can only be described as an act of extreme benevolence, chose to bring notice to it all the same, that too a full year after it was initially captured. As cleavage yourself, I wonder if you have suggestions on circumventing an embarrassing situation such as this, where a leading daily may be forced to ignore a poor quality anatomical gulf degraded further by doing-nothing-for-you outfits.

Actually, since you’re on it, any pointers in the ‘working it’ department would be appreciated specifically on camera angles, posture, using other less-exciting body parts like arms or knees to accentuate an otherwise unworthy cleave, and, of course, on hobnobbing with the right kind of media. After all, if there’s been one winner in this entire hullabaloo, it most certainly has been you!

Write soon,

A Wide Open Space

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

The Indian Funny Bone: Evolutionary Triumph or Surgical Success?

Image courtesy the Sachin Sharapova Trolls community page on Facebook

Image courtesy the Sachin Sharapova Trolls community page on Facebook

So, Maria Sharapova not knowing who Sachin Tendulkar is has translated into the shit well and truly hitting the social media fan. I’m not surprised. If I am, I’m hiding it really well, because, if you think about it, what does being surprised really represent? The answer is weakness. That’s right, it’s a sign of unpreparedness. To be surprised by anything would equal a chink in my armor, a gap in my ever-readiness. It would also mark me out as decidedly non-Indian, which I am not, in that I am fallible. And to display feebleness of any kind is a dangerous invitation to humor. As an Indian, I have a standard policy toward humor: I detest it.

If there ever was a stereotype of us Indians that has never gotten the recognition it deserves, it’s this one: we have NO funny bone. The jury is still out on this anatomical mystery though. Either we have them removed surgically at birth, or evolution took care of the darn things for us. As a result, we bruise easy, like over-ripe peaches. Forget the trite cliches like smelly, hairy and/or nerdy, those are so passé. The convention of the humorless Indian is far more effective, because, not only is it a long-standing trope, but, despite its legacy, it’s relatively virginal. Continue reading

I’m Not My Dad’s Princess

And I am not rueing the fact of my non-regal upbringing in any shape or form. In truth, I’m reacting. Yes, I’d say this post is a verbal up-chuck of sorts. It’s a regurgitation brought on by the consumption of a most vile read. The piece in question is, as the social media post suggests, a ‘dad’s speech at his daughter’s wedding.’ Having read it, I can only hope this is a fictitious father, an imaginary daughter, and a most made-up wedding where an unreal soliloquy went down.

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My dad and his non-princess.

The speech seeks to ratify every unfortunate stereotype ever associated with a woman, specifically an Indian woman, and more generally with other fellow females who form part of patriarchal cultures. To summarize: the dad thinks his daughter’s a “princess” and wants her treated like a “queen” post marriage. For this he “begs” that her husband’s family, or, as he puts it, “the family for her” ensures her happiness. The tone is ingratiating and the “please keep her happy” refrain is nothing short of nauseating. The kid comes off as some insipid, voiceless lump in desperate need of being protected for she is oh-so “fragile” and someone who appears to be still in the process of becoming a full-fledged human being. Continue reading

To my Mother, in Appreciation

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To you, Ma, on your birthday.

A new post on the blog has been overdue by a few weeks. Much like my mother’s first pregnancy was with my older sister, Priyanka. Nearly six years my senior, she had apparently settled in for the long haul, finding the float in amniotic fluid rather comfortable, and chose to occupy the premises beyond the assured nine-month stay. Her eviction was rough, scary enough for my parents to consider a triangle as an appropriate symbol of their family dimension. Lucky for me, they opted for geometric progression and I became the fourth point in the parallelogram that we are today. Yet, as a two-dimensional figure, made up of two intersecting sets of parallel lines, no single point carries the defining weight of this flat shape. And yet, as reflective of my family’s dynamic, it is imperative to point out that our quadrilateral does have a lodestone, a point of gravitational pull, a nucleus, a center. This point is my mother.

Yes, I’ve read paeans to mothers before. They are often trite, overbearing and aggrandizing. And, as I write this I become increasingly aware of how this may seem much the same to others. Still, I write, because for the many wondrous things in the world that can be expressed in the absence of words, there are as many that can’t do without.

I suppose this is a note of appreciation then, for my mother’s many amazing traits, her annoying ticks, her sacrifices and her selfishness. For being the receptacle that has absorbed my fears, my anger and my thoughtlessness. For not being my friend and telling me off, putting me in my place and reminding me that I’m not yet her. For her strategy of silence in dealing with venom, for making me realize I don’t want it to be mine. For the love she shares with my father and for the hope that I’ll find a love like that too. For the things she enjoys and I don’t, for the ones we love together. For being an individual, for being herself, for being everything to her family. For the things she hopes for my sister and me, for her disappointment in knowing we don’t share her enthusiasm. For her pride in her children, for voicing her dissatisfaction with them. For showing me who I’d like to be, for showing me who I’d rather not. For the trust, the encouragement, and the criticism. For her worries and concerns, for demonstrating what it means to be a parent, for letting go, for always being there.

For everything, mama, that makes you, you.

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

 

Keeping Abreast of Game of Thrones

(Note: A few spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched episodes 3 & 4 of the fourth season)

The web is littered with reviews of Oathkeeper – the latest episode of season four of Game of Thrones. There’s much talk of deviance and departure from original plotlines. Not having read any of George RR Martin’s work I really can’t tell the difference. I must admit that it’s an interesting and almost enjoyable experience not having to compare the original to the adaptation. As someone who refused to watch, and/or be in the company of those who had watched, the Harry Potter movies before I had read the corresponding novels, spending my Sundays evenings consuming something with no existing point of reference is refreshing.

And, yet, I too find in this fourth installment of the fourth season a sort of departure from previous episodes. It is in the absence of many, often unnecessary, visuals of female breasts. If there is a show that seems to have a minimum breast-per-episode quota, I would have to say it is Game of Thrones. I was, therefore, surprised – I’m still figuring out if pleasantly or otherwise – at the tawdry display of the mammary kind in the new episode. Unfortunately, the scenes ‘demanding’ female nudity in the show seem to be tilting from the space of intimate consensual acts (based on emotion, finance or exchange of power) into that of sexual aggression. Need I mention the hair-raising, incestuous, sexual encounter between Jaime and Cersei in the last episode? In Oathkeeper too, the insertion of breasts into screen space was part of the rape and pillage of Craster’s daughters/wives by the rogue Crows. It is a worrying trend, perhaps highlighting the subtext to all wars and struggles for power. Continue reading

The Problem with Potential

In second grade, while studying at the Saudi Arabian International School’s British chapter in Riyadh, I wrote a poem on a fictional pet – a dog, whose name I don’t quite remember now. I rhymed recklessly, alliterating awkwardly, without knowing what any of it meant. At the Parent Teacher Meeting at the end of the semester, my class teacher, Mrs. Carter – a wonderful New Zealander – read the poem out to my parents and ended by telling them I had ‘potential.’ In retrospect, I can see how that moment was a definitive one in my life’s trajectory. My parents now looked upon their precocious, seven-year-old, who spoke British to them, as different. I suddenly had ‘potential.’ This is not to say that they considered me lacking in basic intelligence before then, but only that my abilities now carried the additional weight of capability.

IMG_3951Many years later, when I was taking those god-awful Board exams back in India in the tenth grade, the untamed nature of my potential ran counter to almost everything else that seemed important to my fifteen-year-old self: waxing vs. shaving, boys, bras, movies, music, menstruation. My exam results were dismal and my parents and others, who were now aware of my wit and my intellect, felt I had not failed just myself, but I had failed possibility. Continue reading