Friday, May 27, 2005

For my dearest Ambu Paati

The good thing about Alzheimer's disease is that you get to meet new people everyday.
Oxymoronic though it may sound, but Alzheimer’s also brings back a lot of memories. Memories of my Granny (Paati in Tamil) who suffered from the disease and passed away 7 years ago. Whew, 7 years have passed! Time flies.

During my younger years, I remember her to be a very hard-willed, self-restrained woman who drove my mum up the wall with her irrational customs. An overwhelmingly commanding personality that she had, she'd spend hours doing puja, but her attention used to be divided judiciously with an internal detector to alert her for any kind of slip by anybody in the house. Whether it was the bai who touched the curtains by mistake with her "achoot" hands or if we touched food in the kitchen and did not wash hands or if anyone ventured near where she used to dry her nine yard saris.

I, particularly, remember one incident when one fine day, our main door just refused to open. We were all stranded out of the house with the latch not working. After calling the locksmith and fixing a new latch, we figured that the old latch was all rusted up. Apparently, granny had been throwing water into the latch every night after we went to sleep because she used to see vague people touching the latch everyday. It eventually, got totally rusty and one fine day stopped functioning...:-)

She was a stickler for punctuality. At 4 pm sharp, she'd be gone for a stroll and relax in the lawns of our building complex keeping a close watch on all mamis, mamas, kids, bais, hawkers who passed by until sunset. Another most prominent memory about her was her penchant for sweets. She had a huge, huge sweet tooth and used to take 4 spoons of sugar in a cup of coffee. She did not know Hindi but she loved watching TV for hours together. She knew every Hindi actor of that time.. Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra et al..:-)

During my toddler days, my parents say I was quite a bit of her clone. All the irrational customs mentioned above were nailed firmly into my little perceptive mind. So much so that I used to perfectly implement the newfound wisdom on all who visited us or we went visiting, probably causing a lot of embarrassment for my parents. As I grew older, I grew out of all that, thankfully..:-)
Later, it used to be small bickering about this, that and sundry. Mostly minor teenage rebellions against her preposterous customs.

As I said, she was a lady of strong character. Having sired 13 children and lost her husband quite early in life, she had come a long way. In fact she got 3 daughters and a son married after granddad's death which I think, for a woman of those times, is a remarkable accomplishment. I guess, even as a teen-ager, I admired that subconsciously about her though I did have my days of tussle.

However, as she grew older, her memory started failing her. At first she used to forget little things like not keeping track of time. After an afternoon siesta, she would go brush her teeth and get ready for a bath. That time, none of us knew this could possibly be the onset of Alzheimer’s. Later she started forgetting people - children's spouses, her children too. After a point, she had no clue with who she was staying with, but kind of knew we were the ones looking after her. That was the phase I enjoyed immensely with her and it left a very very strong impact on my life. She transformed into a child, with no clue on what she was doing, why she was doing, she needed to be nursed and fed, she needed to be hugged and kissed, she had the same innocence in her eyes that of a 3-4 year old. It was the time of shaping our careers (my bro and I) and bearing the board exams and all such horrible exams, and having her around was totally therapeutic. Just minutes spent with her would make us forget all such menial worries.

On this day in sweltering 47 degrees summer in Delhi, 7 years ago, she passed away in her sleep at 2:30 am. That sight is still vivid in front of my eyes. I was by her side, holding her, looking at her helplessly, looking at dad and mum with panic-stricken eyes while they were trying to revive her. I could feel her heartbeat stop, her pulse going down steadily. It almost seemed like she was still sleeping, the same curled-up foetus-like posture, the same serene, child-like look. It was the most heart wrenching moment of my life. I don’t know if writing about this in a public forum like this with so many people reading it is a good thing to do. Maybe not. Its a feeling so personal and I don’t know if I am destroying it by putting it up here. But I couldn't let go of this day without remembering her with a tear in the eye. I miss you Paati.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Telephone and the militant tendencies

How many times have you felt like nuking some people (unrelated to the following events but someway related) -
…when you are out of town and enjoying a vacation
…when you are paving your way through bad traffic, with a signal breakdown
…when you are in an animated discussion in a meeting room with your managers and peers or
…when you are glued to the monitor breaking your head over a code which refuses to run however hard you try to troubleshoot ?
And your mobile breaks into a song, making you jump at the sudden rise in the decibel levels. And when you regain your composure and pick the call, it is some stupid dude or a lady, trying to sell you exactly the stuff you don’t want - credit cards, personal loans, car loans and such.

Its most annoying when the agents don’t check even the fundamentals before they push the buttons on their phone. Picture this:
Agent: Can I talk to Mr. RT?
Me: Hello!! Does my voice sound like a Mister to you? *Or is my voice like a male with a bad throat? Or do you have congenitally weak voice-recognition sensors in your brain?*
Agent: Sorry madam. *Absolutely no remorse* ICICI is giving you a free lifetime credit card with blah blah other features....

In other occasions,
Agent: Hello ma'm, am calling from ICICI.
Me: Ok?
Agent: We are offering a personal loan with the best interest rates and blah blah...
Me:(trying to interrupt) Well.. Err.. Excuse me, I am not…
Agent: (Taking no notice at my meek voice at the other end) Blah blah blah blah...
Me: (raising my voice a little to be sure he/she hears me) Actually, I am not interested...
Agent: (Still not noticed). We also give you blah blah payment options and some more blah EMI...
Me: *That does it*. Look, I don’t want your card.
Agent: Its not credit card madam, Its a personal loan.
Me: Ok whatever. I don’t care, I don’t want it.
Agent: Ok Madam. If you'd be interested sometime....*bang*
(I have already hung up the phone)

Some opportunist ones:
Agent: Hello, I am calling from ICICI bank, Can I talk to Mr. ABC?
Me: No, he is not at his desk at the moment.
Agent: Oh! Its alright madam. Meanwhile, would you be interested in a car loan...

Some more enterprising ones:
Agent: A very good morning to you!!
Me: *huh?* Yeah? Who's this?
Agent: Can I take a few minutes of your precious time?
Me: *your clock is already ticking, you moron* Ok?
Agent: Ma'm, I had talked to you the other day about the offer.
Me:*Ah! Acting smart, are we?* No, I don’t think so.
Agent: Wonderful! We are offering a lifetime free credit card from Citibank.
Me: Look, I already have a credit card and managing another one is an overhead for me.
Agent: If you don’t mind me asking, which card is this?
Agent: Oh.. ICICI does not give u blah features and blah blah options where as Citibank gives you ........So I would suggest you go for the Citibank card and surrender your ICICI card.
Me: *Huh!! What cheek! Not that I am fiercely loyal to ICICI and their services but someone directing me to do things was a bit too much* Look, I don’t want your card ok?
Agent: But why Ma'm, see what all advantages you derive out of it? And you can....
Me: (interrupting) I have told you in plain English I don’t want the card. Do you need further clarification?
Agent:(reluctantly).. Err.. Ok madam, Do you have any references who might be interested?
Me: *A quick mental scan through my list of dislikable people* No I don’t think so. Bye.

Some desperately honest ones:
Agent: Am I talking to RT Madam?
Me: Yes. Speaking.
Agent: Madam, we are offering you a low interest personal loan from...
Me: I don’t want a personal loan.
Agent: Ma'm pleeeeaaaase take the loan. I have to sell it to 5 people and I have not sold to even 1 person.
Me: *huh! Is charity written all over my voice or is my name numerologically giving her such signals?* I am sorry but I don’t want it.
Agent: Ma'm pleaaaase..
Me: Will you please let me carry on with my work?
Agent: (full sad and disappointed) Sorry madam.

After a point, I realized that the best practice to follow is to agree and say I am having the exact insurance policy or credit card or personal loan from the said bank. And immediately the conversation ends.

Agent: Can I talk to Mr. RT?
Me: *Sigh* Yes! This is RT *All people, caste, creed, gender are alike in the eyes of God, I guess*
Agent: We are offering lifetime free Citibank card.
Me: I already have a Citibank card, which is lifetime free.
Agent: Ok madam. Any references?
Me: No. Sorry.
Agent: Ok. Have a nice day madam.

That was easy, wasn’t it? Oops, my phone rings again..!! *Nuke 'em all - bang bang!*

Friday, May 13, 2005

Ode to driving and its teacher

I had a one hour + long drive to work today dropping S at work in Santa Cruz and me at Borivali. As I was driving today, I realized how relaxing it is to have some music playing while cruising through potholes, wrongly named as roads, in Mumbai.

I was maneuvering through the rough and smooth and thoughts drifted to dad and his driving. To me, he is the hero, the best driver I have ever seen. Totally in control of the vehicle and knows what’s best for the car. He is an awful teacher though and has made me cry and panic on several occasions while teaching me to drive... But then which dad hasn’t... :-)
He would sit next to me in the car. And right from the time I turn on the ignition of the car, his string of issues start. I am driving too close to the pavement or I am not controlling the steering wheel properly, the vehicle is swerving, I am not applying brakes on time or I am on the wrong gear. I am not looking at the traffic behind before changing lanes or taking a turn or I am not going slowly enough over speed breakers and potholes... The list is endless.
I used to secretly wait for him to go on official trips out of station when I could slyly take the car to college. Of course mum, being my partner-in-crime and all that. But at the end of it, I, not only, learnt how to drive the car, but also know how to handle it best during the drive, the road sense, the traffic sense and everything. Mum, now, thinks I drive just like dad and that sure gives me a sense of pride... :-)

Dad is most short tempered on the road. If he sees anyone doing anything wrong, he'd slow down, make sure the cyclist or the pedestrian or the truckwalla or whoever gets to listen to his piece of mind loud and clear, no matter whatever hurry he is in. His gaalis are also quite funny. If a cyclist miscalculates and just brushes past the car, dad would exclaim, "Ghar mein bolke aaya kya?" (Translate that to tamil while in Chennai, Hindi in Delhi, Mumbai etc). Now this is a very common swearing in tamil which essentially means, that you are deliberately wanting to come under my car since you've informed home that you are gonna die today. But to a Delhi-walla, he wouldn’t quite understand what the fuss is about. “Ghar mein kya bolke ayenge?” one would wistfully wonder while dad would have finished and sped off miles. Another of his gem is to this 'huge' family of sardars, consisting of Banta Singh, his grossly overweight wife Mrs Banta Singh, their 10 year old son and some month’s old daughter who’d all be travelling in a luna-type vehicle. Obviously Mr. Banta would find it very difficult to balance his luna perfectly with the center of gravity getting displaced due to the humongous mass of flesh, Mrs. Banta Singh, riding as pillion. So while struggling to get his physics in place on the road, he'd have already attracted dad's attention. Promptly dad would scream out, "Kyon? Hum Saath saath hain?". And that would have all of us in splits including dad. Mr. Banta would be too busy to notice but we've all had a great laugh..:-)

Dad also has this most amazing way of listening to music on the road. And if they started playing Shankar-Jaikishen or Madan Mohan and such, he'd be totally tickled. He'd not only start singing the song out (which is ok, he has a good voice and sings rather well if you chose to ignore the heavy tam accent and distorted hindi). He'd then start honking to the beats of the song, totally confusing the guy behind the wheel in front of us.

As I was listening to music in the car today, I couldn’t help but realize, I have imbibed this too from him. I seem to sing out loud in the car with fingers tapping all over the steering wheel. Only thing I refrain from is probably, honking to the rhythm.
Who knows, maybe I'd start that too soon... After all hum bhi saath saath hain... :-)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Saddi Dilli

I dont even think I wanna compare the checklist in this post with what I finally did in Delhi. But nonetheless I had a blast.

It started on a slightly bad note that the ever-hospitable Rajdhani Express, as I was saying
here, reduced my stay in Delhi by 1.5 hours. I reached Friday afternoon and had A waiting for me at the ever-so-quaint Nizamuddin Station. After all those screams, squeals, hugs, preliminary catching up and mutual compliments on hair, weight and the ilk we got back to her apartment. Was pleasantly surprised to see a lot had changed between the short 3 km stretch from Nizamuddin to Lajpat Nagar - 2 new flyovers, empty roads and pollution-free breathing space.

Did some shopping at CP, Janpath and Lajpat nagar and ended up buying loads of junk jewellry, footwear and my elusive Chikan White Salwar that I was hunting for almost an era. I lazed around, I chatted up, I sacked out and I also cycled for 4 hours into the wilds of Bharatpur to seek 40+ species of birds along with my expert husband and friends. I saw the beautiful Fatehpur Sikri, the mystical Taj Mahal, I met up some of my old friends, I enjoyed the lovely weather with some moments of rain, I did pass through my old place but did not stop by. I was pleasantly surprised with the fact that though so much had changed, my memories were so vivid.There were so many things I wanted to do but this is all I could manage in my 2.75 days of stay.

Getting back to Bombay was another adventure. I was booked on Rajdhani (again!!) which I was dreading after the prior experience. My ticket was waitlisted and I reached station well before time to finally discover that my ticket was actually for the previous day's rajdhani. Much as I was happy that I was saved of all the 'hospitality', I was worried about my return back. I did some 'jugaadu' activities and managed to get some 50% of the fare back after making some convincing noises and explanations to the railway personnel. Also managed to get a flight ticket the same evening and landed back in Mumbai a tired but happy woman.

The trip was memorable, the stay was perfect, the weather was lovely and dal makhani by A was excellent (its a different thing her love for me was so overwhelming that she made it equivalent for 10 people when the said request was just for me) and the Taj was beautiful..:-)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Luxurious travel and its analogies with wedded life

I think traveling in Rajdhani Express is just like living with my MIL. Both love to feed, feed and feed without really worrying about the appetite the said party might have. Both love to pamper you crazy with all luxury available. I had one such 'gluttony' and 'pampery' trip to Delhi by Rajdhani Express on Thursday and it was totally crazy.

Digestive system is a relatively unknown terminology in the lexicons of these railway attendants. Especially for irate passengers as me, who basically like to have their moments of privacy in train journeys with no one telling you when to wake up, when to eat, when to go to sleep and such. What I love to do in any train journey is lie in the upper berth and read like a freak and sleep like I haven't slept in months. Now that was typically not the done-thing traveling in Rajdhani. I would pick up a book and in the next 10 mins I would be offered a tray full of kachoris, frooti, some farsan-type thing, chai and call the whole thing snacks. So far so good since I have had a busy day at work and I have traveled in sweltering afternoon sun from Borivali to Mumbai Central to catch the train and my stomach is growling for attention.

I start to read again and in another hour and a half or so, I am thrust upon with another tray, this time its palak paneer, daal, paratha and pulao. Wow..! I would gladly have gobbled up the food on a regular day. But not when my tummy is still busy trying to digest the kachoris which I had about an hour ago. Anyways, I manage to somehow force the food down my gullet. When I thought the ordeal for the day is over, the attendants arrive with ice cream in the next half hour.

It was the most torturous time to go through. Thankfully, it was the last item in the day. Just when I thought that I can now read in peace and harmony, the harmony part was destroyed by the follow berth members. They just shut the lights in the berth without even looking at my side. How could they for they probably thought reading is the biggest blasphemy one could commit in a train. How rude..!!
First of all I am fed up to the brim and then I am deprived of reading and now forced to go to sleep at 10:00PM. Life couldn't get more unfair!

Next morning was even better. Attendants started hovering around with tea/coffee etc right from 7:00 AM. All my plans of sleeping until late lay shattered. I sat up at 7:30AM with a frown and made myself mentally ready for yet another 'feed' session. Started with Chai in the morning, followed by some frooti-like juice in half hour, followed by omelet and bread and one more glass of chai in another half hour.

Needless to say, the number of items I ate in the whole journey easily outnumbered the number of pages I read of my book or the number of hours I slept in the train. After this severely-indulging gastronomic experience I couldn't help thinking how liberal my MIL is. She at least lets me read and sleep. :-)