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In his shoes.

Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame

 

I know now how he felt, all those years ago, when he looked up at the brick and mortar carcass that was slowly, day by day, taking the shape of his dreams. Now I know, because I find myself in his shoes.

Those were the days when he had less gray hair and generally more hair, toured the North Eastern parts of the country extensively on work, smoked cigarettes virtually non-stop and blew rings of smoke lazily into the air, much to the glee of my sister and me; those were the days when he had only one good reason to visit a by lane tucked away behind a labyrinth of lanes off the boi para of College Street – an old, dilapidated house that had been razed to the ground and a new house was slowly raising its head from the rubble much like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes of the past. This was our house. The house he was building.

I used to accompany him on many of his weekend trips to what would one day become our house, clutching on to his big finger as I hopped and ran to match my seven year old steps with his leonine strides. As we got closer to the house his steps would quicken. Finally, he would pick me up and cover the last two or three turns of the alleys that lay between us and the house, at a pace that I could not keep up with. Once there, he would turn into a very different person – almost like an impatient child who would overflowing with questions about his new toy. I remember him tugging at the iron rods clumped together to form the core of the pillars of the foundation (to check their strength, perhaps?); watched him as he ran his fingers through the cracks that had emerged on the freshly plastered walls with a look of disappointment writ large on his face; remember him peering closely at the veneer on the freshly polished doors and windows; and always remember asking myself why he chose to do so. Our visits were filled with many technical questions that I knew nothing about: slopes, inclines, thickness of the walls and strength; but behind all of these questions, the one question that I could sense was uppermost in his mind was the one I rarely heard him ask: “When will all this chaos be over and when will we get to move in?”

Our house stands tall today, with its balconies on the south face overlooking a park; the broad bay windows that let in the first rays of the morning sun standing tall and proud; and a big terrace and a narrow strip of land at the back dotted with his favourite plants and flowers. Today, my father lives with my mother in that house still, long after his two daughters, my sister and I, moved out in pursuit of our own lives.

And as our apartment is under renovation, I find myself in his shoes today. In the last four months not a day has gone by without me poking around the rubble amongst the broken walls, pile of bricks, bags of cement and stacks of plyboard. I stand there and gaze at the gaping holes that were once walls and see doors that I had so far dreamt about, look up at the cavern which used to sport a false ceiling that has been replaced with rafters, and Italian marble floors, which I believe would be better suited in hardwood. On one occasion, not so long ago, I remember the Bee and I didn’t talk to each other for three days because we could not agree on the colour of the walls in the study, he wanted a brooding midnight blue and I wanted a rusty red. On the fourth day we decided we both preferred Olive Green…

Now a lot of ground has been covered and the walls are getting their first coat of paint. I was there even today and passing by a mirror thought I caught a glimpse of my father even as I ran my hand over the fresh coat of paint, pointed out a few cracks to the masons, irritated the life out of the carpenter by asking far too many questions about the louvers I wanted and added some ‘innovative’ improvements to the bookcase they had already finished. I came away happy that my dream is slowly turning into reality.

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the face in the window

old window

Have you ever been on a bridge that runs past a house with many windows? Did you notice one particular window, only  half ajar, while the closed shutter hid the pain and the darkness within?  Did it have the hint of a curtain, once floral and bright , now dusty and faded by the western sun? Did the walls have their erstwhile glory peeling to reveal the stark, rude present and was a young Peepul starting to take control over the parapet beneath?

Was it a summer afternoon mellowing into evening? A balmy wind must have lifted a wisp of the fragrant Chameli you bought from the little boy at the last crossroad and it made you look out at the distance, at  the house, at the window. Did you see a face at that window?

Did the face look gently at you and then look away? The eyes – were they forlorn, looking out at the distant sun setting, maybe? And after you had crossed and continued, did you wonder about the face?  The aging, once beautiful face, did it have a story?

Did you keep wondering what her thoughts were, whether she sat there every evening, looking out, looking at the rush of life flowing by her window?

I have seen so many of these faces, in some of the aging cities I have visited or lived in.  A  face in a window, from a bridge or from the street looking up to admire an old house or maybe from another window across the street. Always from a distance. Everytime the  face looked the same to me. A picture of life halted, waiting to pick up the threads, maybe. Or maybe left behind to wait by her window for her future to come calling. But  always, before the story could unfold, before the face could reveal more, I had passed on.


 
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Posted by on July 19, 2009 in city, Life, mansion, Memories, Summer, window

 

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Chimera

The rain remained illusive for another day. It was sultry and late in the afternoon,  the dry cleaner was almost lowering the shutters when I rushed in to pick up my clothes.

I could barely wait to tear through the brown paper wrapping and the thread  holding it together. What lay within was a memory from a faded photograph. And when I had removed all the distractions that  came between me and the contents, there lay in my arms the soft touch of silk in silvery ivory, embellished with real zardozi and meenakari that merged into a gold and crimson border.

The picture was from a long time ago, in a distant land, a snapshot of happier times, of times when laughter was carefree, when days were careless. It had a  smiling father, young and confident of  his brood, two ruddy brats in their  boyhood and the mother, resplendent in her ivory silk saree with the gold and crimson border.

This was how he remembered  his mother, in her Durga Pujo best, her  ivory “Gorod” with the intricate needlework in zari and hints of meenakari,  her hair freshly washed and fragrant with a touch of crimson sindoor where it parted over the forehead, the flawless crimson  sindoor bindi between the arches of her brow, the younger son had shared with me. On our  first asthami morning, when he played with my washed, moist hair and chose a cream  Dhakai with scarlet and gold leaf motifs for my morning, he told me about her, her youth, her laughter and how he held only that one picture of her to his heart, of  that particular morning, from among  his many asthami mornings with her.

The last time we met,  she was sitting by her window, in a darkening room on an autumn evening. She had promised to give me a surprise and today she already had something wrapped in brown paper waiting for me when we arrived. It was her son’s favourite and she wanted me to take care of it for her, after her.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2009 in family, Kids, Life, Memories

 

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Unconditional Love

Had one of the most profound conversations with my 8-year-old last evening. 

It is one of the sultrier Mumbai evenings. Another day gone in waiting for the illusive monsoon. The Bee’s  back from his buzzing hive post a busy day, a  two and half hours of drive back to happy Mumbai suburbia, with a rusty neck and a creaky back. He has  “Fragile, handle with care” written all over him. The tiny R and the adult M keep out of his way till he’s managed to scrub off every bit of grime and sweat with the special sea salt body wash meant also to soothe frayed nerves.

Almost civilised, by his own submission, he is now ready to mingle with the two women of the house. Half an hour goes down well with  Camomile tea flowing and M and R taking turns at beating the Bee at Domino. R quickly retorts, after winning the third time in a row, “Well, what can  I say, I’m a fast learner!”  She, incidentally, learnt the ropes  the same evening!

Time the enemy! The Bee’s clock’s ticking and before long the ” Brit to the core” aura announces “It’s 9:00 already, why aren’t we having dinner?  Tiddliwink, aren’t you supposed to be in bed by 9:30?”

With that the evening reverie draws to a close and I waddle off to dish out the final meal of the day, the only one that all must sit down and enjoy together.

It’s a simple meal and with the 8-year-old  eager- beaver laying the table, serving the meal is a breeze. I take pride in dishing out the exotic Mughlai keema I’d fished out of a woman’s weekly of yesteryear and am ready to fish for the compliments as a reward of my toil.

The meal should have gone rather uneventfully. I have already started R off with her dinner before I serve out ours. She takes a couple of detours on her plate before she attacks the keema, the Bee alights to join her.

She looks directly into my eyes and asks “Can I say something?”

Generally our dinnertime conversation is breezy, so I relent.

“Ma, how will you feel if Bau and I praise something you have cooked?”

“Elated, of course!” I am overjoyed. The Mughlai keema can now become one of the standard dinner fares!

“What if we don’t tell you that it tastes horrible?  Instead, we eat it and praise it and then ask you to cook it again?”

“Well, I would think you love me too much to hurt my feelings. And it’s your unconditional love for me that makes you praise it and ask for more !” I can almost hear my heart sinking.

The sprite returns an impish smile, “I’d love to have your Mughlai keema everyday!”

I taste some, and some more to make sure it tasted the way I thought it tasted and a third attempt confirmed my fears. I’m sure the Mughals loved to salt their food while cooking.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2009 in humor, Kids, Life, Love, Uncategorized, Women

 

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