My earliest memories

Posted March 6th, 2014 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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mem1My first memory is visiting my maternal grandfather in a hospital. I only remember a single specific scene. My grandfather lying in a narrow hospital bed – somehow in my memory it is at a great height (which is possibly due to the fact that I was about 3 years and 3 months around that time).  I also remember that my grandfather had a tube inserted in his nose.   Later I found out that my mom and I had come to her house. She was pregnant with my little sister.  She came to find out that her dad is slowly losing his memory – apparently the result of a stroke. Continue Reading »

Cataloging my Library

Posted May 25th, 2010 by Deepa and filed in Books, Personal, Reviews
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Librarything pageI started my first (and only) business when I was 12 years old. Along with my close childhood friends, Priyanka and Priti, I decided to start a library.  We pooled in our existing book collection (Priti “borrowed” her sister’s collection of Famous Five & Secret Seven), Priyanka’s parents generously donated an old filing cabinet (and more importantly , the permission to keep it in their main hallway) and my father paid for our most prized possession: a rubber stamp with the words “PICK-A-BOOK CIRCULATING LIBRARY”. We had extremely reasonable rates: 50 paise for a paper back & 1 Rupee for a hard-back & you could keep the books for a week.  The money we earned would go into buying more books for us to read and then ultimately back to the library.  It was a sound business plan, reality however, didn’t quite live up to that promise. Continue Reading »

I can’t write fiction

Posted April 10th, 2010 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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When I was around 10 years old, I decided to write a story.  I have no idea what prompted the story idea. I expect I was inspired after reading Children’s world, Target and other such magazines that catered to kids. The story was about a lonely little girl whose best friend moves away and how she gets another friend. I painstakingly wrote this on two pages that I had torn out of a note-book and even illustrated it , just as it appeared in all my favourite magazines. I don’t think I showed the story to anybody. Even at 10, I knew a bad story when I read (or wrote) one and (very rightly) wanted to keep it a secret.  I was probably quite traumatized with my writing output that I didn’t think about writing anything else for a long time.

twofriends1

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Thrissur Pooram

Posted June 30th, 2009 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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After many many years, I witnessed the Thrissur Pooram again this summer.  Pooram is the Malayalam local lingo for almost any temple festival— and the one held in the town of Thrissur is supposed to be the grandest of them all. It is usually held between mid April & mid-May at the Vadukkunnathan temple in the town center.  Thrissur Pooram is especially famous for its gathering of richly decorated elephants sponsoredDSC_7022mainly by the two neighbouring temples of Parmekkavu and Thiruvambady who indulge in a friendly rivalry displaying colorful parasols or umbrellas. This is both preceded and followed by a stupendous musical display and some really amazing fireworks.  Thousands of people descend in Thrissur for the 2-3 days of the pooram to witness this spectacle creating a humongous crowd—possibly the largest public gathering of people that I have ever been a part of.

When I was in India, I spent every summer in Thrissur with my cousins. Pooram was a big part of my vacation.  Although the actual pooram lasts only for a couple of days, the excitement starts atleast a month back when the Pooram Exhibition opens. The pooram exhibition is a like a “mela” + expo where there are stalls from the smallest shopowner to relative big shots like the Railways and the big publication houses. I recall that a couple of times there was also a stall where the nearby medical college exhibited their jar of organ specimens from their labs.  In the pre-mall era, the exhibition and the shops was a big draw for all of us kids and we usually spent a couple of our vacation days and almost all our pocket money buying small knickknacks such as earrings, necklaces , bangles for the year. We would then eat some cotton candy, ride the giant wheel and religiously roam the entire grounds before strolling back home—happy & satisfied. Continue Reading »

The Life and Loves of Rumana

Posted December 12th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I have been thinking about Rumana* lately, which is extremely odd considering the last time I met her or even heard of her was in 1997. Rumana was my classmate and friend upto 10 th standard.

Most students at my school were not academically inclined. Not surprising because few of the girls ever considered a serious career, most of them were sent to school because it was free education for girls and it was something for the girls to do until they get married. Many of them talked in Hindi more fluently than in English and spent more time discussing the latest movies and fashions than looking at a book. Those who didn’t fall into that group were classified as the geeks—and there was a subtle distinction between the two groups.

Rumana was different. She managed to move between both the groups effortlessly, gaining the respect and affection of all her peers. She was smart, excellent in mathematics and physics and wanted to become a mathematician: an unusual ambition for a girl her age. She was bubbly, loved to sing and dance the latest Hindi film songs especially those starring Aamir Khan. She was a misfit in her family—her elder sister was quiet and reserved, her younger sister was snooty and slightly sanctimonious, while Rumana was a bright cheerful outgoing girl. Her family was quite orthodox and didn’t allow her or her sisters any liberty and I believe that the restrictions chafed her more than her sisters, She also had another differentiating characteristic. She was always in love.

Rumana first fell in love when she was in the sixth standard. She confided in P and me that this was it. P and I had not yet discovered boys as an interesting species till then. We couldn’t figure out what Rumana was talking about but it seemed important to her that we see the guy. The love of her life turned out to be the servant boy in one of the flats of the next apartment building. The love story was simple, Zaheer played the latest Hindi film songs and struck poses from the opposite balcony and Rumana fancied herself as the heroine of the song. Even at that young age, despite a steady diet of movies where the rich girl poor boy love story ended with the poor boy discovering a fortune, I knew that this was a recipe for disaster. We convinced her that this is not a good idea and told her to be hard hearted when Zaheer played the next song. Fortunately, Rumana seemed to realize that. The next guy whom she thought she had a fancy for was Imtiaz. He followed her everyday from school to home, calling out cheesy filmi lines and drawing I & R in big hearts all over the road. I thought he was quite creepy but Rumana thought he had some potential and could be made a better person by the love of an honest woman.

That changed when she met Aman at her after school religious class. I didn’t meet him but if Rumana’s excited descriptions were to go by…he should have been a supermodel. We came to know about Aman when she announced in class one day that she was changing her name. P tried convincing her that Runama wasn’t really a name that real people had. But “Runama” was adamant. We were puzzled till she pointed out that Runama actually contained the word Aman in it, backwards. By this time we knew the drill…the madness would last a few days till someone else caught her fancy. The interesting thing to note that all these guys were in the strictly seen but never spoken to category. Elaborate fantasies were constructed, dreams were dreamt, possible scenarios were discussed thoroughly but luckily nothing was ever implemented.

All that changed with Hassan. I knew trouble was brewing when Rumana rushed upto P & me one evening after school, she had been to another school in South Bombay to set up our project for the annual Science exhibition. I wanted to know whether she could set it all up and if the model set up for a petrol station made it in one piece. But Rumana had even better news: she told me was that St. Mary’s boy’s high school was assigned the same room as us. There were about 4-5 boys from St. Mary’s…very pleasant and nice, extremely smart ( incidentally they won the first prize in South Bombay Science Exhibition ). We were in ninth grade by then, I was interested too! Rumana with her big smile and attractive face was an instant hit with all the guys. I think they saw me as Rumana’s strict chaperone friend…a role at which I was very unsuccessful given that Rumana was already on her way to falling in love with the St. Mary’s team captain. Hassan was kind of a smart aleck , and clearly not looking at a lifelong soul mate. As far as I know they did meet a couple of evenings after school but Hassan stayed too far for it to be a regular occurrence.

Now if this reads like Rumana was a silly female, I will be doing her a great deal of injustice. For Rumana was an intelligent girl, the teachers trusted her , she was elected as one of the school prefects, helped anybody with difficult subjects, and was interested in lot of extra curricular activities. Falling in love was like a chronic illness with Rumana. Take that topic away and she was a very sensible articulate young girl. She would work hard for exams, stood in the top 5 in class and was an interesting conversationalist. Looking back, I realize that this was her way of attention seeking, probably because she didn’t get much at home.

A few months later, Rumana & I were talking on the phone when there a cross-connection and a third person popped up into the conversation. Before I could say “wrong number” and disconnect Rumana and Arun Bhalerao were yakking away as though they were childhood pals. When the phone was disconnected, I thought that was the end of the matter till a big (and when I say big, I mean ginormous) pink Valentine’s day card arrived at my house along with a packet of KITKAT. My father handed the card over to me – in front of 20 other guests we had. All of them wanted to know who sent me the card. I took a quick peek, it was addressed to Rumana from Arun. I reassured my parents that the card was not meant for me, ( my parents were the best—they did not ask me any questions after that. Can’t believe how trusting they were ). I called Rumana immediately, she had given my address to Arun- “my parents would kill me, if they found out, was her reasoning. That evening, P and I went over to give Rumana the card. We ate the KITKAT on the way and rationalized that it counted as delivery fees. When we delivered the card to Rumana we realized that the card was just a harbinger of more problems. Arun was going to come to meet her and she wanted us to meet go with her to meet him. P & I tried hard to dissuade her but we had no way of contacting the guy. Arun actually turned out to be quite a nice guy, only he was about 21 years old. He & Rumana went off to talk for sometime, but when he came back to drop Rumana, he turned to us and blasted us for being trusting enough to talk to strangers. We watched open mouthed as he yelled at us and left. I don’t think he contacted Rumana again. Weird but true.

By that time, we were caught up in the tension and the workload for the 10 th standard board exams. Once the study holidays started, we hardly got a chance to meet. Rumana did quite well in her 10 th grade and she joined the Science stream in a good college in town. Soon, we were all caught up in the excitement of going to college, making new friends, new subjects, new rules (or no rules). I used to run into Rumana briefly at the railway station where we exchanged half hearted promises to meet up soon and rushed into trains heading for opposite directions.

When we were in 12 th , I heard that Rumana has married. I had heard rumors of her having a boyfriend but didn’t pay much attention to that. Apparantly this time, it was serious. She and the guy –Murtuza, I think eloped to somewhere in UP and got married. I tried to contact her but her parents had absolutely disowned her and had no contact information for her. I later met Rumana when I was in first year of engineering. As I came home burdened with my drafter and a roll of drawing paper, I met Rumana coming out of a grocery store, dressed in a burkha. She never used to wear one before, so I was curious. She was also 6 months pregnant. We exchanged hellos but really had nothing to say to each other. I heard later that she had a son and then another son the next year. I never met her or heard from her later.

Looking back, I attribute it all to the way she was raised. She was so starved of some affection at home that she created these imaginary guys who would lavish love and affection on her. If she were exposed to boys at a young age or atleast more boys she would have atleast chosen carefully. It is not an uncommon phenomenon. when parents cloister the children more than necessary, the kids rebel by seeing the most unsuitable partner and ruin their lives. But when I think of what she could have been, I can’t help but feel that her potential was completely wasted. I hope she is happy, wherever she is and I hope she is still in love!

* name changed blah blah

How I learnt to be a Hindu

Posted November 24th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I read this blog entry a couple of days back and remembered my initiation into the world of religion. My father was a practicing atheist so we didn’t have any obvious religions icons in my house. When I was in 4 th standard, we shifted residence from suburban Mulund to city-center Bombay Central. It was a big change for me in terms of school life: from a very South Indian school, I moved to a convent school. My father had already warned me that convent schools are tough and I would have to study harder to top my class. That was his way of motivating me to study further.

I was feeling a bit awkward on the first day of class. It was a new school, I didn’t know anybody. My class-teacher was taking roll-call and entering information about the new students into her register. Her name was Brenda Riberio and it was her first day of teaching too. To my 8 year young eyes, she seemed very old indeed but looking back she could not have been more than 22 or 23.

Ms. Brenda asked every new student about their name, date of birth, religion, parents name, address etc. She was doing a great job till she came to me. I confidently stated my name, date of birth, address, parents name…I would have gone ahead and given her the names of all my uncles and aunts and their occupation too if she was interested. She was not. But then she wanted to know more.

“Deepa, what religion are you?”

I had no idea. Being the nerd that I was, I was more upset about not knowing the correct answer to a teacher’s question than knowing my religion. “I don’t know”, I mumbled finally.

The teacher clearly didn’t expect this response. She looked up at me carefully, and asked “Haven’t your parents told you what religion you belong to?”. “No”, I replied….I was glad to pass the blame of not knowing the answer to my parents.

“Are you a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian”, she probed further.

I had never heard those terms before, so I shook my head at each one. Now the teacher was intrigued and decided to use detective skills to decipher my religion. I always wondered how she didn’t guess my religion because of my name was a dead give away. But I suppose, she, like many others, lumped all South Indians under the common tag of being a Madrasi and didn’t dissect them any further.

So she persevered. “Ok, so what festivals do you celebrate? “

I clearly knew the answer to that one…I took a deep breath and launched into my answer “ I like festivals very much. We celebrate Diwali, Holi, Christmas and Id”.

I knew by the teacher’s expression that my answer was wrong. I wasn’t sure about the whys and the hows but I was quite embarrassed to be standing in front of the teacher for so long on my first day at school. And clearly not knowing the answers to any of her questions. My father was correct, I thought, Convent schools are tough— I already couldn’t answer the teacher.

By this time, the teacher changed her tactic, “Tell me which God do you pray to?”

I didn’t pray at all. I had an inking that it would not be the correct answer. I tried to remember who we prayed to. I remembered we had an old black and white photo of Guruvayurappan that my mother lit a lamp in front of on certain days. My father always laughed when he saw that. May be the teacher wanted to know that, I thought. We pray to Guruvayurappan, I told the teacher, a little hestitantly. Not surprisingly, the teacher had obviously never heard of Guruvayurappan.

At this point, she was frustrated and she finally gave up. “Ask your parents and tell me tomorrow”, she said.

My parents must have told me later, I don’t remember that very clearly but I soon realized I am supposed to be a Hindu. The school was run by Christian/Catholic nuns. Almost all of the students were Muslims. There were a few Christians, and they had to attend a Christian class in a different room when the rest of us had Moral Science. Convent Schools were not tougher than other schools. I stood first in my first unit test, and then I realized it was easy to do that and stopped studying. I came second in my second unit test and third in my third unit test.

Ms. Brenda Riberio always thought I was a weird kid.

Blast From the Past: My ATKT Story*

Posted May 15th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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My engineering school e-group has been sharing some wonderful old stories (some true, some exaggerated and some both!) regarding the infamous BEE (Basic Electricity and Electronics) examination in our first semester of engineering. It was rather unexpectedly tough. Tough is probably an understatement: mind-bogglingly incomprehensible might be better adjective. We were assigned a different class-room for this exam. For all previous exams, I was sharing my desk with Kunal (Gandhi). I had barely spoken to him previously (our first exams are held within about 3 months from the first day of classes) , but I realized soon enough that he was resourceful enough to devise a plan to copy from me and shameless enough to ask me to co-operate with him. (You have to realize that at this point, I had not yet encountered Pulkit’s skills: he once managed to change official seating assignments, “borrow” my answer-sheet, copy the answers and return them to me, without anybody observing it…that includes even me).  Anyway, I used to put my answer-sheets below the desk after I was done and Kunal would slide it over, copy off it and return them to my side of the desk.

For the BEE exam, the seating arrangements were changed. I realized as soon as I received the question paper that I didn’t know anything…Not knowing anything in an exam was a novel experience (at that time…I was not to know that it would be a regular feature of the engineering exam experience). I wondered briefly, if I had a temporary loss of brain-power, or if I had a different exam paper but the gasps and nervous giggles and sighs all around me reassured me that the confusion and tension was shared by the entire class.  I turned to look at Kunal, but he was a fickle friend and pausing only to give me a wide grin applied himself sincerely to the task of copying from Pooja.  I turned my attention back to the paper, I think I attempted every question in the paper… began each one of them slowly and neatly and left every single answer in varying states of completion.  I was just consoling myself with the wonderful logic:  If it is tough for me, it should be tough for others as well. But, then Anjum Ali Anwar  (IIRC) asked for an extra supplement. I think the sound echoed in the classroom.

Within a short while, the invigilator felt sorry for us and left the room, almost as though he was inviting us to pool in our collective knowledge. Everybody was looking around trying to figure out the person who looked as though they knew something about anything.  Anjum, Bijal, Nilesh and Tejas were studiously scribbling away in the front of the class-room not even pausing to look up.   Somebody from the last bench sent out an open plea for help “Does anybody know anything”?   Kunal decided to be specific and asked Nilesh & Anjum to share answers to some particular question ( I remember wondering, if he knew the answers to the other questions he did not ask Nilesh) . Anjum did not even deign to reply but Nilesh turned around and managed to convince Kunal that he was just bluffing his way through the paper.  Pulkit & Kaustubh were trying to convince me to share my paper, despite my protests that I didn’t know anything.  In short, everybody was copying: some were copying openly, some were furtively peeking at the neighbor’s paper, some were discussing solutions, answer sheets were being exchanged, but that all of us were desperately trying not to submit a blank paper.

Anyway fast forward to a few months later, to the dreaded day the results for the first semester exams were put up.  As soon as we (Vidya and I) entered the gates, we realized that something was up. We rushed to the first floor where everybody was crowded around a notice board. Ninad came towards me saying something about reserved and white patti. If I remember correctly, I think it was the first time Ninad initiated a conversation with me. But, I probably was not giving it the honor it deserved(!!!) because of the eagerness to see my results. I don’t think the idea of flunking had  really entered my head…after all I had never failed an exam before. My twisted logic was again….why should it happen this time?  But I could not find my name on the list. There was a thin strip of white paper, that proclaimed my difference from the rest of the group.  By this time Ninad, who joined me in being *different* had stopped one of the all-knowing seniors to clarify the meaning of the white patti. “Your results have been reserved”, the senior condescended to tell us. I think I even detected a smirk. Ninad and I stood apart from the group, not really sure of what to speak to each other. Around us most of our class was counting their KTs, the few who did not get the dreaded KT were bursting with happiness, and at the same time trying not to jump with joy in deference to the KT-stricken classmates.  I think there were about 8 or 10 students in our class who did not get a KT that year.  We were summoned to the Principal’s room where DJ Shah (Principal) explained to the “reserved” students that we would have to wait till the University cross-checked our results. We had to read between the lines to understand the real story.  Apparently the college had generously provided grace marks to several students in our year to help them scrape through some tough papers (read BEE); our papers were the few that was unfortunately caught in a random checking process. The university would reevaluate our papers or the checking process (not sure what it would do, how long it would take or what the outcome would be). I think it was very clear to me from that point onwards that “Reservation” was not a good solution to any issue.

Ninad & I joined the rest of our class….Many people had dispersed either to celebrate or to cry in private. There were a bunch of people still waiting around for us. Pulkit, Kaustubh, Kunal , Aparna , Vidya and some more I don’t remember now. Vidya and Aparna were talking to me very cautiously, almost in whispers as though they were scared I would burst into tears at any moment.  Kunal sat there, the only person who was gleefully celebrating his No KT status and asking me my status “ Clean bowled? Or still batting?, he asks.  “Third Umpire has to decide”, I tell him and left it to Ninad to explain the ramifications of a “reserved” result. Didn’t expect Ninad to explain it musically…or whatever passes for music in Ninad’s repertoire…”Shayad pass, Shayad fail….na re na re 50-50”, he intoned waving his hands.  Meanwhile Pulkit & Kaustubh are having a major discussion of how Pulkit got a couple of less KTs than Kaustubh or something to that effect.  Vidya and Aparna are glaring at Kunal for sounding so gleeful. I am glaring at Kunal too…for a different reason. He managed to copy every paper from me but BEE : he copies that from Pooja and clears the damn exam. Kunal, although a cad was definitely not an idiot. He interpreted my glare pretty accurately and starts laughing loudly, drawing everybody’s attention to the fact that he passed despite copying from me.  Carnival atmosphere …almost.  Vidya & Aparna get a rick so that I can go home…and escort me to the gates. At that point, atmosphere was serious and awkward (they had passed, I had not..) , I am almost longing for Kunal’s flippancy.  My brain somehow conjures up a vision of a classic filmi bidaai..emotional moment, two people escorting me on both sides.  I am trying hard to fight down giggles, maintain the solemn atmosphere and remind myself that I haven’t cleared my exams.

The last act of the drama was played out a few months later. By this time most people have come to terms with the KTs in the rush of assignments and the threat of the next set of exams looming near. It was a break between classes; I am sitting in the corner of the class labeling a few graphs for one of Pulkit’s assignments. Someone enters the class to mention that the “reserved results” are out. Ninad and I go down to check our results, along with the Return of Awkward Silences.   We made our way to the dreaded notice board again, noted down our respective BEE marks (26 and 28 for me and Ninad respectively, for those interested in details) and walk back to class. I am trying hard to maintain a dignified appearance, so I go to my seat and get back to those graphs. I silently pat myself  for almost getting away with it but…Pulkit stops by and asks in a booming voice…”Arre, tera bhi reserved tha na…kya hua ?” I glare at him (in an extremely dignified manner, ofcourse) and reply in the negative. Pulkit’s response is a reassuring but emphatic “Good!”  You will understand my confusion.., I had a KT. It was not Good.  I try to explain to him that he has committed a social solecism and Good is not an acceptable response. I was pretty sure I hadn’t get the point across when I heard Pulkit’s response, “Its nice to have company!”. There was really nothing more to say. So I sat there completing Pulkit’s graphs and gave him company as I completed the graphs, the assignment and the BEE KT!!

The real real last act of this entire drama was the BEE KT exam, As an anticlimax, it was an extremely simple exam (or we had really studied, who knows ) and all of us who did take the exam passed with flying colors. Thankfully that was the first and last of my KTs.  And  also the end of this really long story….

*Note:  ATKT is a term that means Allowed to Keep Terms that allows the poor engineering student to cram for one additional paper that he/she failed in the previous year in addition to all the papers for that particular year, thus avoiding a beneficial time off from studies (or a year drop). Various people call it Aaj Thoda Kal Thoda or After Trying Keep Trying. Log use pyar se KT bhi bolte hain

** Note…No hard feelings…no intention of hurting anybody….best of my recollection…..blah blah.

Another Bout of Nostalgia

Posted March 13th, 2004 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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This time it is those fun days as a teenager when you discover boys!

Now fortunately our colony had an extremely convenient tradition. Nobody knew how it originated by it was never ever broken. The colony had a huge play ground in the center surrounded by a number of apartments. Between the ground and the apartments was a road where all the colony residents took their daily “rounds”. Which means every single evening most of the residents would walk round and round, encircling the central grounds religiously but that was not all. The “rule” was that the girls always walked around clockwise while the guys walked in the anti clockwise direction. These rounds were something everybody did…with variations in time according to age. Kids would take rounds around early evening, teenagers between 6 and 7, unmarried adults after around 8 when they returned from work or colleges and parents took their nightly constitutional walk at about 10 pm after dinner.

Flashback to 1991: The guy staying below P’s house just discovered that he is interested in P. Being typical teenagers, all his friends can do is to howl and comment loudly each time they spot P. Which was often for if you remember the “ground rule”, we would pass each other twice on each round and therefore several times each day. So this continued for a few weeks. Raucous laughter and a volley of comments, many of them unintelligible, from the guys. Although we did not care much for the comments or the cackle of laughter that burst from the group each time we passed by, we could not say the same about the attention. Not that we were exactly naïve or innocent either. Our replies ranged from dignified stares, to fuming glares and sometimes the occasional repartee that is when we understood what the comment was. Of course the moment we passed the group we would be giggling away and trying to predict the reactions during the next encounter.

So this continued for a few weeks. One Saturday afternoon, the three of us had nothing to do. P’s sister was watching “ Maine Pyaar Kiya ” for the 23 rd time. She was in love with Salman Khan. We were not. We were more interested in the guy staying below. We were getting tired of the same old routine and wanted to spice things up a bit. So we decided we should devise some way to meet this Romeo…Well if he needs a helping hint or two we were more than willing to provide it. So we decide to take matters into our own hands and arrange an intro…”accidentally” of course.

We quickly eliminated the thought of meeting him when he was with his friends. The best thing we decided was when he was alone and we were all together. That gave us the advantage of numbers 3 to 1. So we devised this rather ingenious idea. Since P’s house was directly above our Romeo’s house, we thought that if we dropped something from the balcony it would fall right onto the parapet near Romeo’s house. Then all we had to do is go to his house and innocently ask for that item, setting up a unique balcony scene. We argued for hours on what the item would be. Possible a piece of cloth. That seemed natural… Make it appear as though it had fallen off from the clothesline. A handkerchief was too filmi . Also we did not want to give the wrong idea by dropping any piece of our clothing. It had to be a towel. We hunted around for a relatively new towel and pushed it off P’s balcony after surreptitiously checking for P’s sister or other inquisitive neighbors. We watched with bated breath as the towel fell down to its final destination. When it finally landed on the parapet we were at first relieved and then in advanced panic mode.

We ran down the stairs and stood outside Romeo’s house. Debated for a long time to ring the bell or not. We arranged for the lift to be on the same floor in order to make a quick escape if things didn’t work out. Then gathering up all our courage and assuming a nonchalant air, we rang the bell and waited for Romeo to open the door.

It was Romeo’s sister who opened the door. We plunged into the rehearsed story of the towel and looked around for Romeo to appear. He was not there. We smiled some more and asked for permission to retrieve the towel from the balcony. Romeo still absent. We even peeped into the rooms we passed on our way to the balcony. In all our calculations we did not take care of this “missing” variable. Fortunately Romeo’s sister did not bother to ask why three people needed to retrieve one towel.

That was the end of our attempts to meet Romeo. But the rounds continued for a few more years, the comments petered out till there was a time where we did not even notice the group.

Caught With Pants Down

Posted February 17th, 2004 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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11 Standard. First month of junior college. Physics lab.

We were grouped 3 or 4 to a table and assigned some Physics experiment to perform. The professor demonstrated the experiment and sent us off to get the readings and write up the results. I went off to my table and soon we were busy trying to get the readings. It was early days in college so all of us were enthusiastic and wanted a chance to actually perform the experiment. We were almost done when I felt something was wrong with my dress. The salwar cord was usually tied pretty tight around my waist and now I could not feel it any longer.

I squirmed around trying to feel my pyjamas without being obvious. The squirming was obviously not a good idea for it slipped down some more. The material was one of those smooth silky type. The first thing to do, I decided is to stop it from slipping any more. …It already was halfway down my hips. Arrest the motion. Now. Standing didn’t help. I had to sit somewhere. Dhake one of my 2 lab partners was using the only chair around the table. I ask him to get up.

“Abey Dhake uth”. I command

He is not interested. “Nahi.”

Ouch I probably used the wrong tone earlier. I pitch my voice a note lower.

“arre uth na, I want to sit”. … . “Please” , I add almost as an afterthought.

No go. Dhake does not even look up. “Go get another chair … there are a few chairs in that corner”

Damn him, if I took two steps more my salwar would be near my ankles. I give him a few menacing glares but he is oblivious to the situation and is trying to calculate his standard deviations. He wanted accurate results ….he had already explained about the sins of manipulating measurements earlier: in great detail .

By now I was panicky….what if it slipped down totally. I would never be able to come to class again. May be I should try to see if seats were open in some other college….What should I do?

I spot Bini at the nearby table. I call out to her. She is busy trying to flirt with the hunk in her group. “Wonder why the hunk is in her group and I get stuck with Dhake. The nerd. Now the hunk would have given me his seat . No on second thoughts I don’t want the hunk to know about this. Oh hell I have to do something. Quickly.

I decide to use the full power of my lungs.

BINI.

Man I really do have power there. Bini turns around. In fact her entire group looks at me. Hell even Dhake looked up. She frowns at me and nods in the direction of the hunk. I get the message but I am desperate. I wave at her gesticulating madly. She obviously decided that my need is greater than hers and comes over, frowning at me.

I whisper the entire ram kahani to her. ….She steps back and looks at me critically. Oh yeah its loose. And your top slip is rather short isn’t it. Why don’t you sit down?

I glare at her. I start the story all over again. About how I need the chair and could she please go and get one for me from the corner.

Why don’t you ask Dhake to get up?

By this time I am too scared to be furious. I patiently explain again…how Dhake’s lack of chivalry and his erratic standard deviations.

Oh he will. “Aye Ajit (oops oh yeah that’s Dhake’s name!!!) , tu ek chair lekar aa please. Give this chair to Deepa. Poor thing she has a terrible stomach ache . Can’t you see how she is clutching her journal to her stomach”

Dhake looks at me and almost falls over in trying to give me his chair. I was not sure what did the trick. Bini’s pseudo saccharine voice or his dread that I might end up doing something totally inappropriate in a physics lab.

That was one problem solved. I sat there without moving till the lab hour ended. Now it was time to go to our classroom…How would I go up? Evidently I needed to tie this thing up. Now Ruia college ( atleast in those days) had very few rest rooms. The lady’s room was on the third floor and the physics lab on the ground floor. The question was how would I climb three flights of stairs with a salwar already dropping off to mid thigh.

So there we were a group of 8 girls surrounding me in a tight circle, with me in the center hopping gingerly up each step clutching my stomach.. It was a slow procession The comments from my so called friends did not help. With each comment and the resulting giggles, it only ended up slipping a little more. We did not reach the third floor. It was all over by then. The salwar was near my knees.

We found an empty teachers room near the zoology lab in the second floor and I ducked in and literally pulled up my pants. That was the last I ever wore that particular salwar kameez . Also I ended up “giving away” that hunk to Bini.

Train Tales

Posted December 2nd, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Every Mumbaikar worth his salt has a few vignettes about the local train travel. Without further ado here is a bunch of travel tales I remember.

There was the beggar child who taught us the value of inflation about 7 years back. As a rule, I never give alms to beggars and definitely not to children who beg. The lady beside me did not possibly have that rule so when a grubby child begged her for alms, she carefully removed a 25 paisa coin and put that in her begging bowl. The child fished the coin out of his bowl and gravely inspected it for a few seconds. Then he replaced the coin in the bowl and brought out another coin and offered it to the lady. It was a 10 paisa coin, Before the lady could respond, the urchin said an unemotional ,”rakh lo” and went off. Nobody around knew what to say at that moment.

Standing at the railway platform you can always differentiate between the veteran travelers and the novices. As soon as the train is seen entering the platform, the veteran ladies loose their lethargy and adopt aggressive postures. The sari pallu or the the dupatta gets efficiently tucked to one side, the handbag is firmly clasped, there is a quick check to see whether the necklace/chain that they are wearing is shoved inside the dress/blouse and if necessary it is held on to. The eyes dart here and there quickly to check for any potential pick-pocketeers and then zero in on the train door not resting till they have got in and find a place to park both the feet. Once that’s done, the quickly scan the train for any possible seat…The rule is 4 to a seat.. It doesn’t matter if the previous three incumbents are obscenely fat but if there are only three, they shamelessly squeeze in for the 4 th seat.

Sometimes I have got the chance to teach a virgin train traveler the ropes…It is always fun to see the horror on their faces when they see their first crowded train and it is remarkable to see the ease with the become pro travelers after a few days. The first person that I taught about train travel was a school friend called Somila. To my horror, despite being a Bombayite she had never traveled in a local train till her 8 th standard.

Priyanka and I decided to immediately rectify that. As 14 year olds we were not exactly pros ourselves so we made the mistake of going towards Churchgate in the peak morning traffic and trying to get down at Charni road station. We calmly bundled her into the train at Bombay Central Station, despite her shrieks at seeing the crowd and even managed to push our way to the opposite side. Getting down was another story altogether. We told Somila to stick behind us and just come with the flow. However after getting down at Charni road we turned behind to see that there was no Somila. All we could see was her bag jutting out of the crowd and weak cries from inside. So we pulled at the bag till Somila emerged and yelled at her to push her way out before the train started. But Madam was waiting for a clear path ,which clearly was not going to emerge. So Priyanka asked the ladies to just throw her out of the train…Thankfully the amused ladies obliged and just as the train started to move Somila landed with a thud on the platform. What I have never forgotten was how she got up from the sprawling position. With both her hands still on the platform she gave her head a little toss and flicked her hair behind and then remarked “Mera hairstyle ekdum bigad gaya hoga.” . We burst out laughing. We retuned back home by cab. Somila paid.

Eunuchs in train always frightened me. Admittedly they are still not my favorite co-passengers but they are not always a nuisance. Sometimes they are ready to fight for you. The people I really dread on trains are the infamous fisherwomen. Enrage them slightly and you get the full knowledge of all the latest abuses in their vocabulary. A lady next to me learnt this the hard way…Dressed to the hilt, she boarded the train only to find the entire central area occupied by a couple of fisherwomen with huge baskets and the whole compartment reeking of fish. Not exactly comfortable traveling…this lady gave a couple of irritated glances at the fisherwomen and then committed the cardinal sin : she wrinkled her nose. That was enough to infuriate our friendly fisherwomen. They showered so many abuses on the poor lady that she was almost shrinking in the corner. The abuses ranged from how the rich folks can eat the fish but can’t bear the fishy smell to the comments on the size of her heels and the nature of her entire family.

That was when the eunuch in the compartment decided to join the melee. In strident voices she started yelling at the fisherwomen, quickly took the spotlight away from the frightened lady. Soon there was a yelling match with both the parties enjoying themselves thoroughly, the rest of the public had an enjoyable drama to while away the tedious journey and the person who started the whole proceedings managed to get down at her station calmly while the fight in the train continued.