Thursday, December 20, 2007

Some Good Websites

Three months - a frantic run to finish PhD thesis, Mera Daghistan, a change in job and the resultant paper work, (and so many other excuses that I have forgotten now), The Fountainhead, and of course word games . And you thought I have been a real lazy bum in coming back here to update after so long? And I know you all have gone back from my page disappointed (if at all you ever felt like appointed ;) ).

Apart from the above reasons, these three months were spent hibernating. These three months - I discovered yet again that being a parent of an about to be 10-year old is not easy. I have shared her growing pains and suffered some resultant pains on my own person in the process. I have found what the expression "pain in the neck" means, because I am suffering from that - literally and figuratively. I have reawakened to what "apple of my eye" is because both my apples -Rasan and Jai - have been alternatingly sweet and sour and hence enjoyble. Oh boy, I am behaving like that incorrigible doting mother now... And to think I had logged in today to share some good educative websites for practising English Grammar and Language and Mathematics. Here they go.

I found these sites extremely helpful in worksheets for practice at the school level. Because I myself loved playing simple word games on them during the print taking process. My thanks to the creators and the people behind these sites.
It would be so helpful to people like me if you all could share some good websites about kids education.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

This Morning

My favorite treadmill in the gym overlooks an interesting segment of the road. To avoid looking at the calorie-time –distance-incline-speed panel, I usually concentrate on the people going by. Early mornings are always a familiar scene, whether you watch it from the treadmill, or from the window of your house sipping tea. Fathers with rumpled hair, sleepy eyes, nightclothes going to drop the kids on their scooters and bikes; reluctant kids hanging on to the seats, or onto the fat tummies of their still young dads who are going to flop on the bed the moment they reach back home. Rickety school buses carrying children to school-amazing how the cars and other personal vehicles come with all kinds of safety measures but the van and bus wallahs have modified the buses with seats to benches and kids sit there prone to falling in any direction should the bus take a turn. I always used to wonder where do all the old vans and discarded buses go. And now I come to know that they are employed for these “not so important” journeys. And kids going in buggies. Buggies - the very logic of which makes me cringe, but which, in any case, are better than the rickshaws manned by skeletal men who have to paddle fat men and women to their destinations. And of course, cars – driven by ill-clad chauffeurs (it being Ludhiana) and dads and moms who go to drop the kids to school.

Today, there was something special that I saw. There were five kids, probably slum kids-probably not - but definitely from lower middle class. They were all in motley dresses, not in the uniforms of public schools. One of the kids, a female, had a single crutch to support herself, and a carry bag in one hand. Other kids were younger, and all carrying school bags or plastic carry bags-obviously going to school on foot. They stood and had a deliberation amongst them over I don’t know what. Then they hailed a rickshaw that was passing by them in the same direction. I do not know what the exchange between them was, but I saw the rickshaw puller shaking his head indicating a negative response. The kids again talked to him, probably pleaded with him. After about 2 minutes of discussion, the older girl indicated to the kids to hop into the rickshaw. They all took their seats immediately on the main seat and the "tupp", and off they went.

From what I gathered with my over-oxygenated brain atop my sweating body, I presume the kids requested him to drop them to their school, and he refused. They then renegotiated and then he relented.

And I am 100 percent certain that the kids had no money between them.

Therefore, I admire the rickshaw puller, who got nothing in monetary terms from this trip, except perhaps some mental satisfaction of having helped a few underprivileged kids.

Would you, or I, or anyone else amongst us do it if we were going past them in a car ??

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Her name is Bitto, endearing term for Bitiya, as her parents must have called her when she was a little girl. I met her in New Delhi one evening when I was famished and wanted something good to eat after a whole day of rummaging through the books and shelves of libraries of Delhi. I was just walking aimlessly towards the Bengali Market when I saw her selling roasted corn cobs on the roadside.

It was a hot evening of June and Delhi walahs know how it is in June on the Delhi roads. And there she sat, in such a heat, vigorously airing the red hot coals. She had just opened her ‘shop’- if you may call the two brick makeshift stove and a wire mesh one. Under the tree that she sat, is the road that I have spent many an evening walking and smelling the great raat ki raani. It never fails to give me a nostalgic feeling for home. Coming back to Bitto, she sat there, in front of a house close to the road. I asked her to make me a fresh corn cob and after a stressful day, just sat there cross-legged, by her side, on a brick waiting for her to roast a good piece for me. In that W.H.Daviesian moment, I just stared at the cars going by, people passing by. And in their non Daviesian moment, people must have wondered what is this woman from an educated background doing sitting on the roadside with a corncob seller, apparently doing nothing. She asked me about my whereabouts, what I did, where I lived. She was suitably impressed with the kind of job I was in, and about the mission I was on in Delhi. When she came to know about my Punjab connection, she pointed out that I might be finding the corn cob too costly since we can get it almost free in Punjab. I laughed and said; no it’s no more like that. Though I myself come from a farming family, we no more grow it, so I pay roughly the same money for a feast like the one she was making for me. Meanwhile the cob was ready, she took extra care to apply more of lemon and less of salt as per my request, and I paid for it and moved on. I did not have to go eat junk.

Next day, around the same time, I was with her again. Today, she welcomed me with a smile of recognition. Today she was a bit different. She had her usual one eye on a perspective customer and another, very angry one, on a Delhi Police Cop who sat in a very small and tortuous beat-box close to her station. On asking she revealed that he had threatened her with destroying her “shop” because she had refused him a free snack of a corn cob. I jokingly said “de dena tha, bhikari samajh ke de deti”. She laughed and said, she had not done her “bohni” yet, “aise kaise de deti”. I laughed and said yeah then you did right. She was in a double mind. She talked to me more like she was talking to herself, “Kya fark padta, de deti, mera bhi toh dimag kharab ho gaya tha na.” I felt she wanted me to endorse her view. I said yeah, you are right, but now that you’ve done it, let it be. And then I asked her name. We became friends. She, by her own account, is in her early forties. Clad in an old sari, dark complexioned, she smiled, most of the times-except when she was reminded of her early evening rendezvous with the cop. She is already a granny, her grandson being of 3 years. And very understandably I was amazed. She said she had gotten married when she was all of 10, and she had had her elder son when she was about 14. And I was immediately reminded of my soon to be 10 Rasan, who still feeds from my hands.

She had been widowed at the age of 20. Her younger son was two when she lost her husband in an accident. I asked, “Did you or your parents not think of your remarriage?” She said, “Yes, my parents did pressurize me for a remarriage but then I refused.” I asked why. Throwing a few more black coal balls into the fire, she said, “What would I have gotten out of another marriage? A husband who would get drunk each night? And then beat me to pulp? I would have had to bear that and earn a living also. And feed him as well. I thought I was better off without a marriage. I had had children, and I did not want to have another owner.”

Then she told me about how she has been working as a cook and housekeeper for a very busy local gynecologist and her family. I asked her about her routine and she told that she moves from her house at Narela, a sub-urb, at 5:30 am, travels by train for the good part of an hour (or more perhaps) and comes to her employer, cooks their breakfast, then supervises cleaning and washing, then cooks lunch and dinner and moves out by 6 p.m. Then as an additional source of income, she has taken to selling these corn cobs. She sits here till 8: 30 p.m and makes good money. Right opposite to her, across the road, sits her “maami” in the same business. The Maami was about the same age, very quarrelsome and very suspicious. She did not like me sitting and chatting up with her rival-niece. Bitto told me this. While chatting up with me, she kept doing her brisk business too. I admit I did feel ignored at those moments. But of course, I was only a distraction to her.

My interaction with her lasted for three days. She and I became good friends. I felt a little guilty the last two days when I could not go to see her because coming back from the JNU, I would be too late and tired to venture out for the cob. She was winding up when I reached there one day before leaving. She said reproachfully, “I had been waiting for you.” I told her I was leaving for Punjab the next morning. We talked about my children, my family, her sons, and her extended family. And we parted, saying something like, nice meeting you, see you again soon.

What struck me about her was her attitude towards life, marriage, and woman’s status. A total illiterate person, with no scholarly consciousness, and yet so liberated, self dependent, aware of her rights, bold enough to lead a single life. Her will to struggle, to give an even better life to her family-all single handedly- is a thing I would never forget. Never once did she complain of poverty which was so obvious. The worries, the tiredness that comes with the state of deprivation were all too visible on her face, but she kept a cheerful demeanor. I took this picture with her permission and she was blushing when I clicked it in my mobile. Only the blush did not show through the dark evening that surrounded us!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Strength is the capacity
to break a chocolate bar
four pieces
with your bare hands-
and then eat just one of the pieces.

( RD, January 2007, p-75)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I am very fond of perfumes. I think I have a sample each of most of the world's best brands and I treasure them the way I treasure my books. My morning ritual of dressing up is complete only when I finish dabbing the perfume on my pulse points. If I am going out when Rasan is home, she will insist on my picking up the landline telephone receiver and putting it near my ear so that it can catch the current fragrance on it for the day. Rasan says, "That way, Mama, I can still smell you when you are gone. Whenever I pick up the receiver and dial your number, I get the feeling that you are close by." When she kisses me bye, she inhales the smell and says, it will stay on with me. She is no poet, she has no poetic expression so to say. The expression is that of a child missing her mother and thats it. But that never fails to shake the poet inside me to wakefulness to think how she feels.

I dont remember my mother ever using any perfumes. (Now I like Davidoff Cool Water Woman on her). Never saw any in her treasured red and black rexine 'shingar box' or the painted glass square box filled with the little stuff of her memories that did not mean much to me then but which I used to love rummaging through whenever I would get an opportunity. Perhaps she did use some talcum powder occasionally. But, even now, when I hug her, when I go close to her, I get to smell the same fragrance that I used to inhale when I was lying next to her, talking. Or when she would hug me briefly as a 'shabash'. I don't know what that fragrance is. Perhaps it is the smell of her compact face powder that gets into all her personality. But it always gives out a feeling of being in a comfort zone, where God was and is in his heaven, and all was and is well with my world.

My mother-in-law emanates a different kind of fragrance. Of course fragrances cannot be explained but I associate her with a great fragrance of Nivea Deodorant spray. I recall a funny incident that took place about ten years back. My regular shopping list would include an adventurous foray into the newly arrived "phoren" body sprays in my favorite general store in Jalandhar Cantt. One day Mama ( my mother-in-law) happened to be with me when I was selecting a spray for myself. She was not into such fragrances or sprays then. She said in a low voice in my ear," Roz nahaya karo ta ehdi lod na pawey." I blinked at her naughty comment and we laughed. A few years later, I found Nivea spray in her almirah and I wanted to shout out laughing. Well, for obvious reasons !! The position now is, that she cannot live without one. If she happens to catch me encroaching upon her spray, she would reprimand me promptly and I cant help but laugh. She and I share a private joke about it everytime I see her spraying it post shower. Coming back to her fragrance, everytime I go near her, I get to smell that innocent fresh fragrance. And yet, I associate that smell with inspiration, gusto and courage.

The other day I came across an anecdote in an old issue of Reader's Digest. An airwoman would come to a store every few days and go to a particular fragrance counter, smell the tester and go back. One day the saleswoman asked her if she would like to buy that perfume. The former replied that she did not want to buy it, she merely came to smell her mother's fragrance whenever she missed her. Upon reading that piece, a smile automatically came to my mind and I thought of Rasan grown big, perhaps living far away and totally into her career, going to a store and smelling some of my pet fragrances, just to make up for my physical absence.

Monday, June 18, 2007


She is a regular in the gym. She walks with a lazy step, does halfhearted aerobics, and barely moves on the bike. On the treadmill, her whole body heaves with an energy-less movement . All the exercises the trainer tells us to do are just not her type perhaps. I am poor at guessing people’s ages and therefore I had no idea about her age. She could be anywhere between 22-30 years. The day before yesterday, a little girl of about 9 years accompanied her. I presumed it was her daughter. While I was vehemently cycling away my cellulite, I tried to be social to her. Oh why couldn’t I control my big mouth… even if I thought it was her daughter, I should have shut my trap up, and kept on working out. But no, I had to say hi; I had to ask, “Is that your daughter?” Till now, I have not forgotten that flabbergasted look on her face. She responded with a cold “Nahi, she is my niece.” And I retraced my steps back to the treadmill with a sheepish, “oh.” I laughed to myself. How could I be such a fool not to notice that she was not more than 20 years old? But then I had never been in such a close proximity with her either.

I think I had ruined her day. She must have been thinking, “Do I look that old, that someone should mistake me for a mother of 9 year old?” She kept throwing sour glances to my side, perhaps thinking, “ Look at her, so fat, so heavy, and mistook me for a mother.” Breathlessly working on my aerobics, for a moment, I even toyed with the idea that if tomorrow Rasan went with me to the gym as she has been insisting on doing during these vacations, she might get back to me with , “Is that your grand daughter?” And I planned that I would say, “No, my grand daughter is slightly older” ;)

I put my mind back to burning my fat away and somehow the workout was over. We changed, came downstairs. She was walking with another mate of hers, and that child of course. It was hot. I felt that the child had perhaps come with her for an outing. Subjecting her to a long walk home would be a torture to her. I stopped my car, invited them to hop in. She sat with the child in the back seat. Her mate, a college girl, in the front passenger seat, started to talk, “ Are you an NRI?” I laughed, “No, I m a through and through desi.” She said, “Auntie your personality is like you came from abroad.” “No, I live here and work here,” I said, “Did you plan to make that child walk all the way home?” Now she spoke from the back seat, “ It was her choice. AUNTIE, where do u work?” I laughed to myself, here is your chance of revenge, baby. Anyways I said “I work with the technical education department.” “So AUNTIE, where do you live?” “AUNTIE isn’t that far? Do you come from that far? AUNTIE we have to go to Dandi Swami. You can drop us here.” I said, “I could have dropped you there too, but it’s a bit out of the way for me and my kids are waiting.” “Oh AUNTIE, how old are they.” I said, “My daughter is almost as old as your niece, and son a little younger.” And I stopped the car, they got down. She shut the door with, “Bye AUNTIE, thank you AUNTIE.” My kids' friends call me Auntie. So, I am used to being called one, but it was different here. I could feel the glee in her voice. I chuckled to myself. One of us went home happy at least. She had had her revenge. Now I can go to the gym guiltlessly, still see her around and smile to her.

Hisaab barabar !!!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Beauty is Power??

Scene I : Rasanmeet is to submit her Social Studies project work. She is supposed to draw a picture. She asks me and I suggest her to make any of the pictures that her chapter on THE WORLD OF GROWING KNOWLEDGE has in it. It has Gutenberg standing near his printing press. It has a picture of Indus Valley seals, an old man reading by the light of lantern, Rasan chooses the picture of a blind girl reading a book with the help of Braille and draws it on her notebook. I don't see the relevance of asking the kids to reproduce an image from the book onto a notebook that they will throw away anyway at the end of the term. Still I manage not to criticize the system of the school. She asks me what should the caption be of this picture. Her teacher has asked them to use a new slogan, and not the caption given on the book. I suggest, "Knowledge is Power" and explain how it would become a power for such a person who cannot see.

Next day, she comes home with a star on the page, a treasure to her, and a matter of pride to me.
A few days later...
Scene II: On TV-this young girl-with-a-slightly-dusky-complexion's dad has a theatre which has now failed and she wonders how she could revive it. She determines to do it anyway. Lo and behold, a cream comes to her rescue. She uses it, becomes gori over a period of 8 weeks after massaging it on her face in the movement of 8 and in her own words, gora rang and thode latke jhatke, and she is successful. Needless to say, the theatre is overwhelmingly crowded and she gets a standing ovation for I don't honestly know what. And the given slogan is , "Khoobsoorti Shakti hai", "Beauty is Power."
It was a Famous Fairness Cream advert. This cream has been promising all the Indian girls for years now that they all will become gories. And whats more, they have launched one for men too to make them Fair and Handsome. Wow!! Whatever happened to that tall-dark-handsome conveniently abbreviated as TDH by the college and university girls.
I have also been using this cream for ages now. Not that I manage to draw crowds to a theatre. It acts only as a barrier between the day to day pollution, or does it? Maybe its only for a mental satisfaction that I use it-replacing it now and then with other over the counter beauty solutions. However, let me not digress with the description of my beauty :) now.
I am not a committed feminist, nor am I against any cream. But I was horrified at the advert having been aired on POGO TV, an all Hindi cartoon and kids show channel. What is the message that is being given to young impressionable minds? That you can conquer the world if you are pretty, fair, good looking? What becomes of the knowledge part? Or you have to keep knowledge subordinate to looks? Many of my friends would say that a good combo of the two virtues would make you a winner all the way. What would happen if you had a lot of knowledge but were not gifted with the looks that kill or the physical charm that attracts others?
Is Knowledge secondary to Beauty? Is fairness (gorapan) really the key to success?

Monday, April 09, 2007


IT was about two months ago that I first discovered it. I was taking my scooter out of the parking shed of my college. Peering close to the rear view glass, I wanted to admire my looks before covering the face in the daku-hasina style. However, I was in for a shock. The upper eyelid of my right eye had a grey eyelash. I thought I was mistaken. It was perhaps a reflection of the light. Perhaps it was shine that made it look whitish. Nooooo, I inspected it closely and there it was, staring me in my face. My feet went cold, my hands went numb, and my brain went dull.
A grey eyelash?
Right away?
In the thirties?
Aint it too early?
Well, but there it was, the bitter reality. With leaden feet, I kick started my scooter, absent-mindedly put on my glasses, and forgot to drape my mulmul da dupatta over my head. Who cares for the damned complexion when you have a grey eyelash? Let the dust get into the skin.
A grey eyelash?
I tried to shrug it off, so what, the grey hair have to catch up after all. And sooner or later, I was going to have one of those dreaded grey eyebrow hair, but a grey eyelash?? However much I tried to wean my thoughts away, that grey eyelash would come back – a horrid view sure it was.
I wanted to call up Mahesh then and there and yell “ Mahesh, I got a grey eyelash.” Then thought the better of it. Let him discover it. He wouldn't mind giving me a patient hearing but I was having mixed feelings. What if he starts to view me as an old woman? After all, no man would like his wife to tell him that she has a grey eyelash. Moreover he has his own struggles with the graying of hair. He inherits it from his mother, I from my father. Perched on that seat of scooter, heading home, I thought of the day when I had first discovered a grey strand in my head. It was in 1992 I guess. Shocked sure I had been, but I attributed it to studiousness, and dexterously covered it with henna (those were the days when hair color was considered a “bad bad” thing). I often tell Mahesh that by the time I am 40 most of my hair would have turned grey and then I will not color them red or black, I will color them grey, as would become a graceful old lady. And then people would come and say, your skin is so young, you don’t look a day older than 40.
How good to look one’s age!
But a grey eyelash????
I could not resist telling him, though I told him only about a month later. His reaction was, "acha?" And thats it. And it prompted him to console me by telling that he understands how horrible the first discovery can be. Bless him for that. My Knight in Armour always comes to my rescue !!!
Everytime I see the mirror, I want to avoid it. But somehow it sometimes fascinates me to see that grey eyelash that is known only to me, and now to Mahesh. Well, I have made peace with my grey eyelash since. I am ok with it now. Guess it will have more friends soon. Very chivalrously I wait for them.

Did someone mention aging gracefully…??

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Jai’s Worries

They say, worries start as you grow older. Jaiteg is going to turn 5 this April 11th. He is already worried. He is worried about the content of sugar in the foods that he eats.
It so happened that one day his didi and I were talking about the bad sugar- sugar that might kill if habitually taken in large amounts. And Jai was close by, he immediately shot a question, “does one die with sugar?” “Yes,” I said, “but only if you take too much of it. And it kills slowly. It’s not like it will kill one today”. But a child is a child. Everything else got awashed from his little head. The “killing nature of sugar” stayed back in his mind. He said, “Mama I have eaten sugar today. Will I die?” Oh dear dear. I wanted to hug him and tell him “maa sadkey, why would you die.” But I told him “no, you won't. Because you keep walking and running about so it gets burned by your body and it wont do you any harm”. But boy, he was worried. And the devil of a didi he has got, she said, “Yes Jai, the sugar is not good for you”(she can herself consume chocolates in wholesale if given the opportunity). Jai was upset, visibly upset. So he started to take extra precaution. That night, he took a stroll. It was so funny to watch him take a walk in the living room with his small legs while we dined. He was walking briskly to and fro - in an obvious effort to burn any kind of sugar that he might have in his system.
And this was not all.
He had overheard me telling Rasan that too much of salt, especially the one we consume with chips and packaged snacks, and the salt she likes to lick with her fingers after dipping the wet finger in the salt container, is bad. Here was another cause of worry for him.
This is all what happened bout 15 days back. Then onwards, he likes to make it doubly sure that the food does not contain either sugar or salt. He has stopped eating chocolates, samosas, chips, and, by God, every kind of junk because they might contain sugar or salt. He does not want cold drinks anymore. Even while he can see his didi or her friends and even his friends sipping away at the fizzy drinks, he makes no show of any greed. Last weekend, when I offered him some soda drink – just so the paneer pakoda he ate could be digested easily, his response was very grown up. “I don’t take any junk food, tuhanoo pata ee ai na.”
If, by chance, he has no option but to consume sugar, he makes sure that it is God's sugar (natural sugar) and not insaan wali cheeni. He always want to know if the salt contained in what he is eating is in moderate amounts or is too much.

My tragedy is that I cannot laugh, for fear that it might make him feel he is not being taken seriously. I know he will grow out of it. But it makes me feel good that he is watching everything that goes into his mouth.

Friday, March 09, 2007

On This 9th March

At times
The moments spent alone
To understand our loved ones
Far outnumber
The moments spent together
With our loved ones.

At times
The walls erected around us
Of brick and mortar
Are far easier to scale
The ones we erect against
Our own flesh and blood.

Fathers are
Not to chide
Or to restrain
They are there
Just so
We don’t fall apart.

They say
It’s a small world
You went
And the distances became