Thursday, November 03, 2022


It is 8 PM and I am just home after a stimulating talk with a young person I met at my local library. I was actually on a walk with no intention of stepping inside the library. Library is one kilometer from home and I had planned on going all the way to the intersection from my house where 2 kilometers finish, and then come back – marking my 4 kilometers for the day. But I feel an urge to walk into the library. I go inside. It just feels good to wander among racks full of books. After I have had that bit of satisfaction, I approach the front desk person and ask her about the hold on Ajeet Caur’s ‘Khanabadosh’ I had placed. She informs me that the library system is trying to locate the sole copy of the book I have requested, and that it may or may not arrive, but that it is upto me to keep or cancel the hold request. I want to keep my hope alive, so I let it stay. I have a few more questions for her to which she responds in a nonchalant manner with a few well-practiced shrugs. “Wow, that’s a lot of ‘I-don’t-care-shrugs for one evening,” I think aloud walking sadly away from her. That is when I notice that the library has a few sales going on. Two dollars for a hardcover, and one dollar for a paperback. That is where this stash comes from today. With no credit card on me, no phone tap facility enabled, and with a mere 5 dollars bank-note in my pocket – I am going shopping toward the back of the library. I choose these three books and come back to the front desk. But I do not want to deal with the negative energy of the shruggy young lady who seems to have had a bad day. Now I approach the other staff member, a young man. He cashes me out, and I ask for another book lying behind him – the book is named – ‘Storying Violence’ – on Coulton Boushie’s death and acquittal of his killer. This case is close to my heart. I often refer to the case in the class when talking about Indigenous people and their present. This book is not for sale, but I can borrow it. I do. Meantime, the young man notices the Atwood I am buying. (Isn’t it sheer luck that I find this Atwood for sale – for TWO DOLLARS?). “Are you a fan of Atwood’s too?” he strikes a conversation. “Yes! How can you be a student of literature and not be?” I ask. And then he goes on to talk about a few of Atwood lectures he had attended, tempting me to sign up for a few myself. “I am not much interested in fiction,” he says, “just that I like what she says about mistakes one makes while writing, etc. etc.” I have no clue what he is talking about, but I like the idea of learning from one’s mistakes. “Oh, and I am also very impressed by Jane Goodall’s talks,” he continues. “I see,” I encourage him, knowing nothing about Goodall’s writing/talks. Having seen her work and admired her for it, I do know about her conservation work, and I do know what she does. “What stands out for you in what she says?” I ask him. “That human beings always find a way,” he says with shining eyes, “ I like that she speaks from a conservationist’s point of view that we may be living in the worst possible times right now - with climate change and what not, but we will bounce back. I feel a certain hope that if she is saying this, there definitely is hope.”
I look at him as he continues from across the fibre glass screen, “see I am a student of literature.” “Can I adopt you, kid?” I want to ask, but then think that it might weird him out, and I hold my tongue. “I am at the U of T and am finishing my degree in culture and history. I am not so much interested in fiction as I am in the vision of the future. Atwood and Goodall provide me with that.” “So what culture are you the most interested in?” I ask. “Maya, Inca, and Aztecs – in what is now South America,” he answers, adjusting his face mask. “Then you must have read Charles C. Mann’s ‘1491’,” I said. “No, I don’t think I have, but I would love to. Tell me more about it.” I speak a little bit about it and tell him that I seldom leave books half-read, but this one is quite taxing. I add that it is essential for everyone interested in Indigeneity, culture and history. He shifts gears a little to tell me about his project. It is about shadow puppetry in China and his fourth year paper is on the topic. He tells me that it is difficult to find scholarly articles. “There must be few takers for history, and literature courses in the university?” I say with despair for I know as a teacher in literature and liberal arts that someone speaking about literature with a shine in their eyes belongs to a dying breed. “No, no, there are quite a few of us!” he interrupts. “Like – 10-15 or so?” I joke. “See, ours is a small campus,” it seems he is apologizing for the campus. “I know ! my son goes there too, and it is not that small, is it? So how many ARE you?” I persist. “Perhaps a few hundred?” he says tentatively. Now I see that hope too ! In these weird times when universities and colleges and institutions are trying to stick to only ‘practical’ ‘job-oriented,’ ‘trade-oriented,’ ‘labour-focussed,’ courses and programs, and are trying to prove the finer aspects of life as redundant, this kid gives me hope. If today’s young people are still reading literature, and are still researching into history and contextualising it with their present, it gives me hope that we will sustain. As Dr Goodall says, humans are the smartest beings, and they will find a way to bounce back. Thank you, Michael. We need more of the likes of you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ਅੱਜ ਮੀਂਹ ਨਹੀ ਪੈਣਾ

ਤੈਂ ਸਚ ਈ ਕਿਹਾ ਸੀ,
"ਸ਼ਰਤ ਲਾ ਲੈ, ਅੱਜ ਮੀਂਹ ਨਹੀ ਪੈਣਾ,"
ਰਸੋਈ ਵਿਚ ਖੜ੍ਹੀ
ਪਸੀਨੋ ਪਸੀਨ ਹੋਈ 
ਮੈਂ ਹੱਸੀ ਸੀ, 
ਬੜਾ ਹੱਸੀ ਸੀ,
"ਹਾਂ, ਤੇ ਮੈਂ ਕਦ ਕਿਹਾ ਮੀਂਹ ਪੈਣੈ?
ਇਹਨਾਂ ਦਿਨਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਮੀਂਹ ਨਹੀਂ ਪਿਆ ਕਰਦੇ,
ਬਸ ਮਿੱਟੀ ਲੱਦੀਆਂ ਹਵਾਵਾਂ ਸਾਹ ਘੋਟਦੀਆਂ ਨੇ..."
ਕਿਹੈ ਤੂੰ ,
ਮੀਂਹ ਪੈਣੈ,
ਮੈਂ ਕਹਿਨਾਂ
ਮੀਂਹ ਨਹੀ ਪੈਣਾ।" 
ਤੈਨੂੰ ਕਿੰਝ ਪਤਾ ਸੀ,
ਅੰਦਰੋਂ ਮੈਂ ਮੀਂਹ ਦੀ ਉਮੀਦ ਲਾ ਕੇ ਬੈਠੀ ਸਾਂ? 
ਮੈਨੂੰ ਲੱਗਦਾ ਸੀ
ਮੈਂ ਸ਼ਰਤ ਹਾਰ ਗਈ-
ਪਰ ਬਾਹਰ ਬੱਦਲ ਆਏ,
ਮੈਂ ਅਸਮਾਨ ਵੀ ਘੋਖਿਆ,
ਸਵੇਰੇ ਤੈਨੂੰ ਝੂਠ ਮੂਠ ਆਖਾਂਗੀ,
"ਰਾਤ ਕਿਣ ਮਿਣ ਤੇ ਹੋਈ ਏ" -
ਤੇ ਤੂੰ ਹੱਸ ਕੇ ਆਖੇਂਗਾ,
"ਲੈ ਬਾਬਾ ਤੂਹੋੰ ਜਿੱਤੀ।" 
ਆਹੋ ਮੈਂ ਈ ਜਿੱਤੀ ਆਂ-
ਅਖੀਆਂ ਅੱਜ ਏਨਾ ਕੁ ਵਰਸੀਆਂ
ਕਿ ਸਭ ਬਰਸਾਤਾਂ ਹਾਰ ਗਈਆਂ । 
ਰਾਤੀਂ ਮੀਂਹ ਪਿਆ ਸੀ-
ਬੜਾ ਮੀਂਹ ਪਿਆ ਸੀ ।

तुम तो रहोगी न

क्यों पूछते हो -
"तुम तो रहोगी न ?" 
हाँ, रहूंगी न 
जब मेरा मकान
ईंट ईंट तोड़ोगे
तो एक ओर खड़े रहकर
तुम्हें देखूँगी,
सूटकेस में
मेरे घर को निचोड़ कर
ले जाते देखने,
मैं रहूंगी न....
वो श्रापित राजा की कहानी याद है?
जिसके बदन में कीलें घुस गयी थी ?
रानी निकालती रही,
कितने रोज़, हफ्ते, माह, बरस...
और जिस दिन बस दो पल के लिए उठी
तो बांदी ने आख़िरी कील निकाली,
जगते ही राजा ने सोचा इसी ने सेवा की है,
रानी यही है, 
राजा और बांदी को पंखा झेलने
मैं तो रहूंगी न....

Sunday, February 01, 2015

when the phone splashed into the bucket !

It happened last weekend early morning when I was about to start the laundry. There was a bucket half full of warm soapy water in the bath tub. I know I should have left my cell phone on the reading desk, but I didn’t, and SPLASH ! it fell into the bucket before I could say Jack Nicholson. And along went my heart ! I quickly retrieved it (the phone) from the bucket – and guess what another smart thing I did? I kept it (the phone again, not the heart) under running tap water (cold, mind you) for fifteen seconds, to get rid of soapy water, and then shook it so that the water could be dislodged out of its speakers and the charger vents. My heart broke - again, again and again as the water droplets escaped the phone.
Cursing myself vehemently, and preparing from within for its demise, somehow it struck me to quickly sync it with the Macbook so that I don’t lose the data, contacts, photos and my apps. I mean imagine my genius and on-the-spot-solution-finding-capability. Thank you very much! The blasted phone took its time and I expected it to die quietly anytime. It didn’t.
The syncing done, I remembered the rice jar solution for wet phones. Just to remind you, that while I was busy handling this catastrophe all alone, the rest of the family was blissfully asleep. Placed the phone in the jar, and hid the jar inside the deep drawer of my desk lest someone should wake up and get curious about my precious phone ringing in a rice jar.
By now, I was mentally exhausted. Like the proverbial ostrich, I hid myself in the blanket, and slept while the rice presumably sucked away the dampness. After about an hour, I took the phone out from the auspicious grain jar. Aha, it was still breathing. The music, however, refused to play through the speakers. “Ey lo, it IS sinking, Mampi. Thank God you had the foresight to insure it against water damage.” Yes people, I had allowed myself to be talked into purchasing that insurance. I silently complimented myself - alone again, of course. A voice from inside said that I should tell everyone what has happened. Then thought the better of it because then they will all, in future, refuse to obey the rule that no one is allowed to take the phone to washroom. So I stayed mum. Meantime, I restarted the phone, and voila, the speakers boomed in all their glory.
It was last Friday morning. Friday is here again. The phone is still working.
Miracles happen!
Disclaimer : This post should, in no way, be considered a show off of my 64 GB Gold iPhone 6 that survived the dip in the holy laundry waters.

I Jiggle, therefore I am

I was afraid, shy and scared of doing lunges today when the trainer asked me to try doing them with support first.
“The knee will hurt.” 
“Don’t worry, you can stop where it gets too much.” 
It turned out that my technique needed work. The moment I understood how I was to consciously use the hamstring of my back leg, and put minimal pressure on the knee of the front leg, and was to spring back to starting position instead of trying to balance myself on the same position of a lunge, I was in that Eureka moment. And I was unstoppable. After three long years, I did three sets of unassisted lunges-and I was giggling!!
Yes, I can !
And then I stumbled upon this video. And did my entire cardio on a repeat of this video and audio, and talked to myself.
“YES, I am imperfect. My tummy comes in the way when I do my abs, my flexibility has waned – my fault, I didn’t work on it for so long. Cellulite has piled on; the knees were almost going to give up because my quadriceps were getting wasted. The equilibrium needs to be worked on. My left side has grown weaker as compared to the right side, so when I do free weights, the left arm sometimes wobbles. I am not as swift in my workout as I was. Sometimes the assisted chin dips machine scares me, and I barely scrape through the workout the trainer has designed on that machine.”
“NO, I don’t give up. I do my best to suck the tummy in to cover the full range of movement that I must. I finish the reps that he wants me to do. I make sure I do everything the right way, I make sure I do everything that is planned for that hour. I modify the grip in the deadlift so that the CTS suffering wrist doesn’t weaken. The knees have to be strengthened. I will not live half a life. I sweat, I pump myself up, I tell my body – you are luckier than so many – you can work out, you can do what you want to do, you will do more than your mind had looked forward to.”
Yes, I smile through my workout, I laugh, and I enjoy it. Those endorphins calm me down – make me feel a part of the bigger picture.
I don’t like the way the body looks but that’s the only body I have – and I better love it . And for the love of it, I better work on it !!
I am one of these girls, I am all these girls.
Yess !!!
I rock !!!

Friday, July 25, 2014


Before selfies became an art, a photographer’s research area, a psychologist’s study, they were something that we did covertly. The duck face selfies, the funeral selfies, and the half naked selfies that essentially are supposed to centre around the new ear ring - are a relatively new fad. Long before these trends became popular, we had the silent, hidden, old fashioned, selfies –not called selfies but selfies they sure were. Yes, I clicked my first displayable selfie in 2005 or 2006. And when I displayed it shyly to my husband fishing for a compliment, he asked me, “Motte, did you smile yourself?” I mean he didn’t say did you smile FOR yourself? He asked did you smile yourself? I knew what he meant, but I asked, does someone else smile for you? And gall aye gayee ho gayee, but naal di naal meri lassi ho gayee. ( That picture not displayed here. I don’t want any riots on FaceBook. As it is, the world doesn’t seem a very safe place to be anymore.)

A few weeks ago, at a wedding, when I thought I was nicely dressed up, and had some tolerable makeup on, and when I thought it was a good occasion to get myself clicked, I handed over the phone to Rasan to click some nice pictures of mine. She is the one who gives me all my cover pics for the FB, she is good with the camera. However, only she knows or God knows what happens when she is clicking me. She forgets all her art. Or perhaps the teenage is fast catching up with her? I thought she would act like the paparazzi, and click some pictures when I was not looking, and in the process capture some nice shots to keep. What she came up with was some real ugly mug shots with my chin drooping, eyes popping, my fat displayed and hair disarrayed. Thank God, she didn’t make a point of taking the picture of the right ear. Then I called out to Jai, and he is, as you know by now, being raised as a mercenary kid. I had no money to spare, so he didn’t do a good job at all.

Finally I had to resort to, yes, clicking selfies. With age fast getting on to my side, my needs are also diminishing. I just need an angle that shows off a dimple and a mole, perhaps the one from where the cheek looks slightly thinner, chin singular, eyes slightly bigger with eyelashes prominent (sans that grey eyelash, of course), hair less grey and neck slightly longer – and the dupatta has to be in place and the background people have to be minussed. That’s all that a girl asks for.

Vanity, ah vanity !!

P.S. – By the way Microsoft word still shows selfie as a non existent word and gives me “sulfide,” “sulfite,” “sheltie,” “self,” “shellfire,” as alternatives. More on this later, I like "shellfire" !! But I wonder why selfie has not joined the MS Word default vocabulary.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Jai's Lunch Boxes

Jai forgets his empty lunch box (god knows if he leaves it empty or throws his lunch away and then on purpose forgets his lunch box) daily at the school. I end up buying bulk packs of plastic sandwich boxes to compensate. And I have been requesting him to bring back those 10 odd boxes.

Conversation today:

Mampi-Would you bring the boxes back or you want me to show up at the school, yell at you and then bring those boxes back?
Jai- (hands folded) please !!
Mampi- No drama ! Would you or would you not, dude?
Mahesh - (who happened to be around when this conversation took place, in his usual polite tone) - the boy said he would bring the boxes back !
Mampi- (ignoring the father) I am talking to you Jai, would you or would you not ???
Jai- (quietly) You heard the Rooster !!

(For the past three days, Rasan has been roaming about with a book on Chinese horoscopes - Going by the year of birth, Jai is a Horse, Mampi and Rasan are Tigers, Mahesh is a Rooster )

(May 15, FB)

The Martian Rooster

So while I was busy acting the good mommy and the witty mommy, and was posting stuff about his kids, the Resident Rooster was readying for the flight. He informed me two days ago that he plans on buying a one way ticket to Mars. I don't know where he heard it from that there are 40 men and women (they are all Indians of course; maybe there will be more now that there is apni sarkar in the centre) who have bought this ticket. I searched the internet to discover that people are indeed vying for that one way ticket. Now how he would get that ticket is entirely his problem. I, like a true bhartiya pativrata nari, offered him my company. He, in his quintessentially polite way, said, "Mampi, you, precisely, are the reason why I want that ticket !!!"

So much for selfless love !! Bah!!

(May 23, FB)

The Procrastinator

Mampi-Jai ! Stop postponing things. (in Punjabi I said, 'ਪੈਰ ਘਸਾਉਣੇ ਬੰਦ ਕਰ')
Rasan- Jai, you are so lazy. You while away your time doing nothing.
Mampi- Jai ! You are such a procrastinator !!
Jai - What is a procrastinator??
Mampi - Go look up in the dictionary.
Jai - I don't have the time !!

Rasan chokes on the morsel in her mouth and yells (not subtly at all), "Irony Irony." She has been reading 'Macbeth' lately. Thank God she didn't yell "Blood, Blood!

(May 31, FB)


Narinderpal was hardly 4’-8.” Her face was small, dark wheatish, and she would tie her very curly, very black hair in a plait. She gave the impression of being a little school kid – only until she opened her mouth. Her voice was too heavy for her height and looks.

We were together in the GNDU campus during our M.A. days. I was from Goraya, so I had to live in the university hostel. She was from Sultanwind, and still liked to live in the hostel. The top floor of the B wing ( I think it was B) was assigned to our class. Her room was right opposite the shared washroom, so we would often stop by to say hi to her. Her smile would extend right into her small deep-set eyes.

She idolized me – I never thought I was worthy of her attention, or of her hero worship, but she somehow looked upto me with a certain devotion that would invariably leave me slightly embarrassed. It never flattered. Sincere though they always were - I was always looking for ways to escape her compliments. She would love the way I made notes, love the way I planned my studies, love the way I carried myself, loved the way I handled the stage – but I somehow always wanted to escape that praise.  She would like to walk with me, but I was always kind of self  conscious walking with her –she was so short and thin, I was taller and plumper. (okay, fat perhaps)

She had a huge crush on our very handsome teacher who taught us "Saint Joan." Oh my, didn’t we all? She would look at the tall Sardar with moonstruck eyes while he would animatedly deliver Joan’s speeches and Bluebeard’s exhortations. (Why did I always think Bluebeard must have looked like him?)

M.A. I happened, and then M.A. II flew by. My father passed away just two months before our exams were to start. Narinder would offer support whenever she would find me sitting and crying alone in my cubicle. She would force me to come to her room, and would talk to me. I still remember she said, “Manpreet, you will die crying, stop this and focus on your exams now.” I would be amazed to see where she got the courage to scold me. I had always respected her, but she became some kind of a go-to person in those days. We somehow finished our exams and parted ways, with promises to write to each other. Yes, those were the days when we would actually write long letters to friends.

I began writing to her, as I wrote to all my friends during the hot summer days awaiting results of M.A. She would write back in her small, neat and emphatic handwriting. Then her letters stopped coming. I still wrote – angry some times, anxious at others – but I kept writing to her, asking her - "Narinder - Nanni/Nannu (we used to call her) - where are you? What's happening?"

Three months, or was it four months? I received a letter from her brother. It read something like, “Dear Sister, who are you writing all those letters to? She died three months ago!!”

I did not have the courage to ask what happened to her. I just wrote a letter of condolence to him.

She stayed on, in my mind, I always wanted to write about her, her voice still is around me. We were never very close, but she somehow still lives somewhere in my heart.

(June 13, FB)


Am I the mirror in which you wanted to see yourself ?
And on purpose you shattered me? To see your multiple selves ?
So why does it now scare you to hear that nightly noise from those numberless shards?
(June 21, FB)

Moms and Chaos

Jai is getting ready for school. His father is with him, sitting cross legged on the floor. Jai puts his foot with his shoe on, on his father's thigh. "Papa, tie the laces."
"Am I your servant?" retorts the father. "Well, that's what fathers are for," the boy is quick. Meantime I reach there and overhear the talk. "Aha, so what are mothers for, my sweetiepie ?" I ask and plant a noisy kiss on his unwilling cheek. "Mothers are for chaos." he is ready with the response.
"Umm, to remove the chaos from your life, right?" I ask, expecting him to say, yes, fathers cause the chaos and mothers tackle it.
"To remove some and to create most," he says dispassionately.
I am ready to shed tears !!! Bade beqadar ho ke tere kooche se hum nikle. Swere swere !!
(posted on June 25 on FB)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dear Life - Alice Munro

Alice Munro builds her stories the way Jackson in her story Train renovates the barn and the farmhouse. She finds a good foundation and then repairs and builds the walls and then works on a sound ceiling. You are willingly trapped in the story, and yet you are free to go. There are no doors. At times, there is no foundation, she just waves her hands and behold, there is a house!

I just finished reading Dear Life (Penguin 2012).

The stories are snippets from, before and soon after the Second World War, and of the mid twentieth century - my favourite era.

Her characters are real- from day to day life. At times, they look like me, like you and you wonder if you had ever met her, if she had seen you inside out – from up close, close enough to know you and to write about you. 

Some of the male characters you hate but you love. Harris is the poet Greta’s longing who surprises her by reaching Union Station. Howard is the crafty architect who eats his cake, has it, and stashes some for the future too.  Uncle Jasper is the expert doctor and the imposing husband. Another doctor decides to marry the young teacher, and chickens out at the last moment to abandon her, eventually bumping into her years later on a Toronto street.
For me, it was the same as when I left Amundsen, the train dragging me still dazed and full of disbelief.
Nothing changes really about love.” (Amundsen)

Her women are marvelous. Lilian - the supposed blackmailer, Corrie - the blackmailed, Greta - the passionate poet married to an engineer, Aunt Dawn- the repressed housewife – I love the scope of Munro’s vision. Leah, the shy girl who somehow unexpectedly transforms as the scandal maker, a villain and the temptress; and ‘my mother’ who with her two children, leaves her loving but boring husband to go to live in a trailer for an exciting life with Neal, the theatre artist who eventually abandons her with a new born baby – both are unrepentant but lonely.  Belle, the lonely farm girl, amazes you when she reveals that she has been an alumnus of Bishop Strachan School, and her father had been a reporter for The Toronto Evening Telegram and an unpublished novelist.  

And I have not talked about many others. Somehow her women emerge stronger than her male characters. Is she biased?

For four days, my house did remain unkempt, food was hurriedly cooked, shower postponed with excuses of ‘just another story and then I am going,’ and kids not yelled at for watching endless episodes of Pokemon or staying on Facebook well past their curfew time – that is what your pen does in my life, Ms Munro.

Its all about -
“She was a certain kind of woman, he a certain kind of man”.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The English Patient

The novel had been on my reading wish list for a long long time. Finally finished reading it. And I loved it - in parts. The part on bombs, while very comprehensive, frankly did not interest me. I devoured the passages about human relationships and love. Loved Kip, got intrigued by Almasy and Caravaggio, adored Hana and admired Katherine. I wanted to post many many small bits from the novel. But somehow after some time, I forgot to put markings in the novel and lost the pages. Here are a few of the selections - in random order.


“She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water.” (238)

“Women want everything of a lover. And too often I would sink below the surface.  So armies disappear under sand, and there was her fear of her husband, her belief in her honour, my old desire for self-sufficiency, my disappearances, her suspicions of men, by disbelief that she loved me. The paranoia and claustrophobia of hidden love. (238)

Death means you are in the third person.” (247)

“If I gave you my life, you would drop it. Wouldn’t you?” (145)

“- the old guy upstairs is asleep. Hana’s obsessed with him. I am obsessed with the sanity of Hana, I’m obsessed with my ‘balance,’ and Kip will probably get blown up one of these days.” (121)

“I’ll rewire him in the morning.” He puts his left hand on her shoulder. (115)

“… Could you fall in love with her if she wasn’t smarter than you? I mean, she may not be smarter than you. But isn’t it important for you to think she is smarter than you in order to fall in love? Think now. She can be obsessed by the Englishman because he knows more. We’re in a huge field when we talk to that guy. We don’t even know if he’s English. He’s probably not. You see, I think it is easier to fall in love with him than with you. Why is that? Because we want to know things, how the pieces fit. Talkers seduce, words direct us into corners. We want more than anything to grow and change. Brave new world.” (120-21)

Words, Caravaggio. They have a power. (234)

“This alcohol will probably kill me.”
“Nothing will kill you, my friend. You are pure carbon.” (109)

“You have to protect yourself from sadness. Sadness is very close to hate… if you take in someone else’s poison -  thinking you can cure them by sharing it – you will instead store it within you.” (45)

How did you hate me? She whispered. You killed almost everything in me. (257)


The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
Vintage Books Canada Edition, 1993