Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mothers and daughters

(Reposted )

It must have been around 1968.

She was a junior at college and stayed in the women's hostel. Living there since she was almost 16, she was exposed to girls from different backgrounds. Her own, was that of a family that was conservative about monetary and educational matters, but a bit more open when it was a question of pursuing sports, music, and such. College was not about suddenly facing the free and wonderful big world where you did as you liked. True, there was no one checking up on her. But she had herself.

And so she would watch in amazement, as some girls suddenly picked up certain mannerisms overnight, altered their gait imperceptibly, suddenly started exchanging chemistry notes with guys in the class, who came to their hostel specially for the purpose, and wonder of wonders, actually started using the type of makeup folks used in movies.......

Where she came from, the height of fashion was making a fancy braid of your hair. Beauty routines consisted , of heating milk everyday, and applying the cream on your face, along with turmeric , which was a routine bath time thing. You never left your hair open unless you had just washed it, and it was always braided. Always. Regardless of your attire; which was severe skirts and blouses, unambiguously covering, from the neck, down below the knees, which later progressed to salwar suits and even sarees. In this environment, those of us who played badminton for the college, would arrive for practice wearing a skirt over another short culotte type sports skirt, which gave things, what you could call a "royal" flare. . You played in a short skirt, but when you stepped outside your skirt looked like a poor mans version of the queen's gown. That one cycled wearing that, was amazing in itself, but didn't help matters.

That was me, 40 years ago.
So it kind of amazed me, when , on a trip to Mumbai(it was Bombay then), my mother took me to this place in Churchgate (downtown Bombay's "boulevard"), where a tiny old French lady ran a pastel green place called" Marise Marel". The place had the sort of stuff you saw in movies, ladies sitting with curlers under hairdryers, folks getting their nails done, and several staff that looked to me like they were straight out of Hollywood. Mme. Marel gave me a look over, and wonder of wonders, for the very first time, I got my eyebrows done. Threaded. As my mother looked on, silently hoping that i wouldn't make a scene about the initial pain.

For someone who studied at Columbia University, then returned back home before I was born,
comfortable with her roots, and was a strict no-nonsense person , it now appeared that my mother was aware all along of what was happening in the world of young girls. Hitting 18 was a good time to introduce me to the idea, that originals could be marginally improved. She used to observe, read and communicate widely, and this was her way of changing in her own way, where her daughter was concerned.

Cut to 2009.

My daughter lives in jeans. Which must fit a certain way. And must have a certain color. Her table in her room has more lotions that books. And she and her friends pour over certain fashion magazines. While she knows how to cook a decent meal, and no one will go hungry in my absence, the kitchen is actually used to soak all kinds of lentils, and other stuff, that is later blended with cream or eggs or rosewater or what have you, and assorted eating items, only to be slathered on the face and dried. The days of washing your hair and then cycling around in the sun running errands for your folks as the hair dried , are over. You have driers, straighteners, curlers. I am just grateful they don't have twisters and cutters. (Maybe they do. Who knows.) Every time she leaves to go to college, she leaves behind a huge ,and I mean huge, whiff of some mild perfume, which even remains in the elevator after she goes.

I watch on. Wide eyed. Sometimes feeling stupid. Sometimes feeling grateful, that I grew up the time I did.

She recently heard of a new place that opened in the neighborhood. Its a sort of a brand name beauty place. Stark in decor, as is the current trend. With trained fellows who wash and cut your hair. Their training is through a very well know hairstylist, who frequents Bollywood stars, and gets written about for his styling. She's been wanting to try that.

It costs. Probably not more than a branded pair of jeans. Once is OK. But its not advisable to get habituated to such places, when the rest of your life is on a different plane.

She doesn't really adamantly demand, but chips away at it, little by little. Showing me ads. Telling me who else amongst her friends went there. She wants me to come with her. Naturally as the purse carrier.
We call and land up one day. She is thrilled. The equipment is different. Techniques are slightly different. There is less of a crowd. I wait outside in the lounge as she gets transformed with great wash, a cut here and a flick there. She basically has great hair quality, thanks to her minute attention to things, in the face of my very casual approach.
To me, you are what you are. To her, you are what you try.

She wants me to try the cut there. I hesitate. Costs intimidate me. Its OK for her. Her time is now. I am happy with my God given features.
I think back to the Marise Marel days. What it must have taken someone like my mother, to convince herself, that it was time to think of such things for her much more obedient, though stubborn daughter. My mother never changed her style of hair as far as I remember. It was always a bun. Even when age thinned the volume. But she indulged me later , every time I wanted to try a new cut, and was interested in things like facials. She hesitated to get one herself, but always encouraged me.My daughter emerged from the inner sanctum, looking different, but very pleased with herself. True. The cut did something for her. Maybe confidence. These times were different. Techniques had developed.Forty years later, I wondered what must have gone through my mothers mind as she saw an old petite French lady thread my eyebrows, and smile at her , waiting for her comment. To her what she did was nothing short of revolutionary. The difficult thing was to decide to go and get it done, as it wasn't a common thing in our type of society.

The folks at this place are very good at PR. My daughter is pleased about her hair. I wonder if I should give it a try. The idea takes seed. In my generation, doing these kind of things is probably old hat and routine. I am a late entrant.
We book an appointment. My daughter is relieved that her mother is finally seeing light somewhere. We walk out, her hair flying in the breeze, my own, tied in a no nonsense rubber band.I wonder how my mother felt that day, 40 years ago, as we stepped out of Marise Marel. I think she approved of the transformation. She was positive she wouldn't be getting similar things done to herself. But she was full of admiration for the little old French lady, and it was interesting to see them communicate with no verbal stuff in common.It was my introduction , by my mother, to techniques for improving on the original.

How times have changed.

My daughter was now introducing me to the same . :-)

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Growing Old


She still likes to get up and eat ice cream in the night, sometimes. She loves exercise as much as Nutella, and handles both with equal aplomb. She enjoys fruit in multiples of 1 (no fractions), and doesn't think too highly of folks who share, say an apple, which she thinks should be eaten whole anyway.

She pours over fashion pages , chuckling at outlandish setups, remembering how she saw something similar in Bandra another day; audible oohs, aahs, and aais on seeing some real dressy stuff. She will occasionally pine for an oversize handbag and fill it up with stuff she doesn't need actually, because she thinks it looks good. This despite having a huge variety of bags at home. A mental pout against some one's pooh-poohing some unjustifiably and inordinately high priced stuff. A defiant turn of a magazine page in the face of all the ugly fair-and-lovely ads, with photo shopped overexposed faces.

She's never liked the typical "ladies" bikes , and she now rides what looks like a unisex bicycle to her part time work, at dawn. Fancy squarish handlebars and all, as she bends over, her backpack clutching some decently powerful clavicles and scapulae. Keeps to her side of the arterial road outside. She did that, till one early morning Honda type, swerved left enough to graze her bike, grinned and sped away, for fun, it seems. So now she walks that part of the road with her bike on the sidewalk, and makes up by riding fast later on the inside roads.

She has always been the permanent trier. Slog, jump, sweat, speed up, and you still remain that centimetre short. Of the final winning post. Be it in studies. Be it in doing up the hair. Be it in wishing the shade of lipstick was the other one. Be it her long distance glasses which she had hoped would be totally rimless, but aren't. Be it in sports.

And she has always been that child in kindergaarten, who stopped in a race , looked back, saw her friend stuck, and went back to help her, allowing both of them to trudge to the winning tape together, long after the competitive types, had bested it....

Sometimes, life gives variety. One year she participated in a twelve hour dusk to dawn, timed long distance swimming event . She had earlier been very good about practice and warm ups, and started with no thoughts other than to keep cutting through the water, arm over arm, minute after minute, hour after hour. She swam, as if in the zone, smoothly like in 5th gear on the highway, interspersed with sips of stuff given in the water by indulgent family and friends, not losing the opportunity to demand those pieces of melt-in-the-mouth chocolate, which she was convinced , powered her, to what eventually became a win.

Unusual for her.

But she came home after a thousand pats on her back, and skeptical looks from some , to a nice cup of cocoa and a decent Sunday nap. She wouldn't have to fight for the paper. She would get up when everyone had finished with it.

This year she did the event again. A year which has been known for a huge variety of pursuits for her. The practice suffered, but the urge to cut through the water remained strong. Several potential competitors chatted and asked if she was participating. Some joked and told her they would follow her closely, and pull at the last minute. It secretly tickled, that folks should be so concerned about her plans.

Somewhere after having done 9 kilometres in the water, she was the recipient of of an unintentional kick of a strong fellow swimming in her lane. She doesn't know who it is, doesn't want to know. These things happen. She looked up at those cheering her on, shook her head, and carried on.

This time, her preparation must have fallen short. Or her initial enthusiasm must have exceeded the advice that says, start slow and steady, warm up gradually. Her arm refused to come out of the water. She tried and tried. Changed the stroke. Rested the arm and just floated for a while. To no avail. They advised her not to overstress the arm, and the pain was growing by the minute.

Physical pain hardly makes her cry, but this was unbearable . She decided to abandon and come out.

This had never happened to her, ever. She was in great pain. Physical as well as mental.

The arm took no pressure. Changing into dry clothes was difficult but managed somehow. Came back to thank her friends, and wish her participating friends.

She opened her bag. She still had her chocolates inside. She gave them to the official in the next lane, so those swimming in that lane, her erstwhile closest competitors ,could enjoy the sweetness and energy.

She was walking back amidst the trees outside with her mother, who was carrying the huge amount of paraphernalia to be taken home in the car. They stopped where her bicycle was. Her mother suggested they load it in the trunk of the car and drive home. She refused. She would cycle home. If need be walk the cycle if the arm couldn't handle it on the slopes.

But as she turned to look for her cycle key, she took a deep ,disappointed but tired breath, shook her head, and looked up at her mother saying, "You know, maybe its my body telling me it is getting old ....!"

"OLD ? AT 25 ?"...............

(This was something new. Maybe she had been reading too many magazine articles. Maybe she's been seeing older folks in gyms, struggling with the weights and arms. Maybe she suddenly has, in a way grown up a bit more. After all, you never stop learning.)

Much after a warm bath, some ointment massage, some medication , icing, and a decent light meal, she was lying down , still in considerable pain , watching some program on TV, a pillow supporting the truant arm. After a while, she struggled to get up, and went into the kitchen. She took out two bowls, looked back, and waved them at her Mom, who was awake and reading something .

Nothing like a decent scoop of chocolate ice cream, after a traumatic tired day.....:-)

Don't know who is growing OLD..... things mostly appear unchanged, anyway !

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Monday, April 23, 2012

The road much travelled .....


I've just been reading this post by GB. And recalling some things from approximately 30 years ago. Was going to comment there, but it actually bloomed into a post in the mind.  And I realized that when she spoke about her childhood/babyhood, she was talking about the time when my kids were very small. 

This was when my son was about 15-16 months old.  We had our old faithful Fiat, with proper 1 piece seats in the front and back, that lent themselves to optimum use of space. Bucket seats were not in fashion.  This facility was mostly abused by assorted people piling in, sitting on laps, squeezed into corners and so on. Seat belts and stuff had not appeared on the scene as yet.  Airconditioning was what industrialists, ministers and film stars had,  nothing could beat breezing along on the erstwhile highway with the windows down , messing up  your hair,  and  the smells changed from rural to posh as you forged south.

  And there was no concept of suddenly inflating airbags. When anyone mentioned airbags, I naturally thought of bags they provided in airplanes, in case you wanted to throw up;  though I have yet to see anyone in a plane, domestic or international, throwing up like that. Never mind.

My son loved to travel in the car, and since he was so little, naturally, he had to stand on the front seat to be able to see out of the windscreen.  His father was away on assignment, and consequent to me being the unavoidable driver of choice, I developed the habit of flinging out my left arm (we have right hand drive cars in India) in a Bharat Natyam style pose, whenever I braked, to stop my son from kind of toppling over in front of the seat, into the gap between the seat and glove compartment.  At all other times, my son stood on the seat, both hands resting on the sides, on top of the seat, leaning back, and generally observing the world as it drove, cycled, walked, and screeched all around him, sometimes dodging cows, which he thought was wildly entertaining..

We once had  to take some English friend of my husband into the city, as he had some work at a bank there as well as wished to shop for handicrafts and so on.  From where we stay, on a good day (for driving, that is) this is a one hour drive.  The friend, J, sat in the front, with me driving, and my son , in his usual position, but now with one hand on J's shoulder, and J sort of holding him,without making him feel so, and two local friends accompanied us.

  Once we passed the causeway at Mahim , the highway driving , relatively fast and smooth, was over, and it was city driving all the way. Never, at the best of times, a science, Mumbai driving, is actually an art. You kind of surge ahead, overtake folks, then some guy gets offended, and itches to overtake you. Some taxi drivers, take random turns from random lanes, and you need to anticipate them. All drivers are guilty until proven innocent.  Those cars with chauffeurs (with folks in the rear seat reading papers, and/or in chiffons), got extra  special  dirty looks.

Our friend J, grew noticeably quiet as he observed me overtaking, gesticulating and glaring at taxi drivers, overtaking buses (because I knew where they would stop for passengers), and honking (sometimes in anger, sometimes to tell someone their door was not properly closed).  The quick darting around in lanes at signals, to be the first to take off when the lights changed;  being helpful to folks who rolled down the glass to ask directions from another car on the road, and trying to avoid, pedestrians trying to cross the road on a priority basis;  I don't think J heard any of the running commentary he was getting regarding the various landmarks we were passing. Two friends, sitting in the back seat, thought this was all terribly normal and boring.   

Flora Fountain, in the heart of the downtown city was still a huge elliptic roundabout, in the centre of which was a great sculpture named as the Martyrs Memorial.  Just saying.

We were in the thick on things, with taxis, double decker lumbering buses, vans and stuff, all impatiently trying to forge ahead around the circle, so they they could get on with life, when something in front of us, suddenly stopped. I braked hard. My son, fell on J's lap, knocking his specs out, which promptly fell out of the open window on to the oncoming traffic. Before anyone could react, a revving doubledecker bus, came charging up, and drove over it.

That wasn't all.  Traffic was a bit slow in the next lane after that impatient bus, and one of our friends from the back seat, quickly darted out, dashed to pick up the specs, and dashed back inside. This whole thing, that happened in a split second, was watched admiringly and avidly by various folks in buses that were stationary, and folks in other cars.

I expected the glasses to be  crushed to smithereens. They were not. The bus tyres had not made contact with the glasses. The lenses showed a crack somewhere. You could still wear them in a useful manner,  if you didn't mind looking through cracks.

J was still stunned. The whole thing was like a slapstick movie. The son simply thought it was one of those days, and struggled to stand up again, so he could see what all the fuss was about.

"Do you have a written copy of the prescription ?" I asked J.

" I do. In my wallet. But I also have a spare set of glasses in the suitcase back at the house. "  J, still shaken up.  

There is a famous optician right there in the circle at Flora Fountain. We parked. J got out of the car, in the manner of a seafarer trying to find his land legs. The son clambered out with him, as I got off from the other side. Our friends too joined us. J came around the car, stood in front of me, and shook my hand, for a decently prolonged time.  (I've seen our PM and that of Pakistan do that for the benefit of the press, each one trying to extract his hand but not willing to be the first.)

J's gesture was more heartfelt and real. He was congratulating me for driving through all this and still appearing in one piece.  We went over to the optician, who as a special request, agreed to do his lenses by the evening, so we could pick them up on the way home.

The trip home was rather uneventful, to say the least. Those were not days of traffic jams, where you could not manoeuvre the vehicle anyway, and unlike today four lanes were still four lanes, and didn't miraculously become seven.

We drove back , the son still in his usual pose, held on to by J.  The son had become fond of J,   and some time just before we reached home, kind of leaned across him and fell asleep in his lap.

Everyone was tired, with the days excitement and the traipsing around for the shopping. Just for variety, we took a longish diversion and drove J by the Juhu beach area, to show him a different Mumbai.

He saw, he enjoyed,  and we all had some great chats; but with the window on his side firmly up.  

Today, children have car seats, cars have AC, seat belts are mandatory, most cars have bucket seats, that discourage the sort of piling on into the car that we did in our younger days, and people sit sedately behind closed windows. I hear , in the US, the kids in car seats sit facing backwards.  

The cars now have hazard lights (which , for some reason, people put on while going through tunnels).

I was just thinking, that if J had his way, he would have asked me to put the hazard lights on all the time while driving in Mumbai ..... 

P. S. Just to preempt mean commenters who might be itching to comment about lady drivers, I have been driving for the last 42 years, in places as diverse as Pune, Mumbai, Los Angeles, Wisconsin, SFO, and no cop has had any reason to seriously tangle   with me. So.

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Crunch Solution...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fruits of life

(A repost)

I grew up in Pune, and have always considered myself a Puneite regardless of life stage and current domicile. My parental abode is in Pune, and I still go back there, a few times a year, sometimes for some family paperwork, sometimes for a social occasion and sometimes, because it draws me there, even though my parents are no more.

Right in the heart of the city, is what is called the Mandai, or the main organized vegetable market, a heritage structure, from the days of the British in India.

My earliest childhood memories are of accompanying my mother to this place , for the weekly shopping. Another of my childhood memories has to do with the very different take my mother had on food and diet, compared, to say, my friends' families. Thanks to an exposure and a degree (child development and nutrition) from Columbia University , back in the fifties, I was an avid guinea pig available to my mother, for trying out, what worked and what didn't.

Suryanamaskars on waking, skipping and then a glass of milk. Get organized for school. Bread, which was hitherto becoming popular then as a breakfast item, was tolerated occasionally only as a veggie sandwich, loaded with vegetables and chutneys. Sugary jams were frowned upon. Our breakfast was some fragrant and fresh moong dal khichdi with a spoon of homemade ghee, lemon pickle, with poha papad
(made from pressed unpolished rice flakes).

Accompanied by freshly manually squeezed orange juice. ( Nobody had juicers and blenders then).

And it is for these oranges, that we made these trips with our mother to the Mandai or central market.

In those days, my parents had a Hillman car, of a colour you wouldn't be seen in today. What made the car more unusual is the fact that my mother drove it everywhere. Few folks had cars, ladies did not go around driving cars all over town, they were driven. The horn was freely used, sometimes for the people on the road, sometimes for moral support to yourself, sometimes just for comfort, but it was a working system. People used to look on in complete awe as my mother changed gears, went back and forth, parked the car, and emerged from it, adjusting a sari, along with us in tow.

There used to be people available , who you could hire , for carrying the stuff that you would buy, and in our house, we children would vie with each other to carry the stuff in the market. (Ever since then , I have an inexplicable aversion to situations where you walk ahead in the market, followed, a few respectable steps behind, by a helper lady, who carries your shopping load. This is a practice still followed by many, and is supposed to be sign of coming up in the world, prosperity, the rise in your status etc etc. Today, I insist on carrying all my stuff, even at the cost of becoming clavically disbaled, so to speak. Of course, the children help when they are around).

We used to go with our mother to the market to get oranges (actually big tangerines , which are called oranges here), from the wholesale market, and they came in a wooden crate, which is where the children came in.

Those were the days when the merchants were simple farmer folk, who knew you by name, recognized your children by sight, and talked with you about their children, your children, their joys and worries , as well as yours. A particular vendor , hailing from the outskirts of Pune , was a favourite orange supplier, and whenever we were present we always got an extra pomegranate or something, as a special thing from him. My mother was great friends with this person, and would always enquire after his children and wife, and fields. He in turn had this great admiration for the "gadiwali bai" (Lady with the car), and he often admired my mother's judgement and selection of fruit.

Years passed. During the eighties, my children often accompanied their grandmother, and by this time the old man knew our complete family history, of which child was where, doing what, how many children and so on and so forth. Both my mother and he were now old. His grandson was now managing the stall, and he would sit around for old times sake. Very particular about how you behaved with the customers, he trained his grandson very well, and was so proud of him, and would tell my mother about all the progress. My mother was , for a while, one of the trustees (the first woman trustee) of one of our famous ancient temples in Pune, , and this man was really proud of the fact that she was selected to help in what he called "God's work".

A couple of years ago, my mother was no more, my father was very sick, and I went with my daughter to the market to look for some good fruit for him, which could be juiced. I wandered in to the old familiar area, looking at the recent changes, and some new smart-alecky vendors on the scene. Memories flooded back, and I was looking around for a straw of memory to clutch, when I heard someone calling out my mother's name.

It was the old man. His vision was not what is was. But he saw a resemblance somewhere. He thought I was who he thought I was, but wanted to confirm, and so he asked his grandson to call out.

For a while , none of us could speak. My daughter wondered how her mother, to whom bargaining was second nature , was so quiet. He asked after my folks and when he heard why I was there, he took it upon himself to select the best fruit, often replacing stuff his grandson had casually selected. All the while talking about my mother, and asking about where the rest of the family was. He even knew that my siblings were in "Amerika", and recalled seeing their children with my mother, at the market, on one of their visits. When he heard that my son too was pursuing a doctorate , he thought it was in the fitness of things. He didn't really go to school himself, but had a great respect for learning and anyone who did serious studying. His grandson had finished school on his insistence, and only then come along to learn the business.

I was about to leave. I wished him well, did namaskar (an Indian way of greeting, with palms touching each other), when he stopped me.

"You know, your mother had a very good judgement of "excellence in fruit". She selected so well. It was something intrinsic to her. As a farmer and a fruit vendor it was a joy to do business with her. I think you have picked up some of it. Good to see that.....but you will get better with practice....." . Saying so, he handed a mango to my delighted daughter, and the the old , simple, formally uneducated man, closed his eyes, and proceeded to quote a verse from the compositions of one of Maharashtra(our state)'s most revered saints, Tukaram. It had something to do with the effort and ability to judge good fruit, and good fruit of good deeds, and with all the so called "education" that I have had, it wouldn't have occurred to me to associate all these things together....

I swallowed, totally humbled.

Nodded to him and left. My daughter and I came home with the fruit

My father enjoyed the juice .

I like to think, that besides, the taste, and the color and the pulp, there was a little something more in that fruit, that made my father happy that day. 

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Mango Icecream and Sabudana Khichadi in the time of Banking.

Back in the days when I was in middle school, the 1950's,  life as we know it now, was much simpler and slower.  The place we lived in was then considered the outskirts of Pune, and the major road passing by, Tilak Rd, was still developing. Various banks were opening branches there, with their own buildings, and even competing with each other in a very civilized way, to attract new account holders.

One such , was what I will call BOM, who succeeded in getting my mother to open an account. And she was then the proud owner of a 3 digit account number. Contrary to what one saw around or heard, my mother was very comfortable with banking procedures et al, having  learned and done so from a young age for her father. Also , folks at the bank came to know her as the lady who came driving a sea green Hillman car herself, with much honking, something unusual in those days.....

 Long queues and tokens were unheard of things, and service was so personalized, that I remember an occasion when she desperately needed to withdraw cash, but got held up somewhere in one of our schools. She made a phone call to the manager, who told her to come by when she was free, and  sign, and collect her cash.  I remember sitting in his office with her, and the manager smiling and asking her to sign here and there and handing over what she had wished to withdraw. He also smiled at us children , enquired after us , marvelled at our English.  One would often run into the bank staff on occasional Parvati Hill temple climbs. This was a big thing for Puneites then, and many folks were regular climbers. Unlike today, there was a real belief that banks helped and were on your side.....

When something was credited to one's account , bank staff then wrote proper details as to from where the stuff came. Unlike today, where  someone writes "By Tr" and you are grateful that something got credited at all.  

And then there was the occasion when my mother decided to give a treat to the entire bank staff  on a summer evening in April, once the March closing had taken place. Homemade mango ice cream, churned in a pot, by us children taking turns sitting on a stool , salt added to the ice etc, along with some wonderful Sabudana Khichadi sprinkled with coriander and coconut. And then some great traditional coffee redolent with elaichi et al.

The entire ice cream pot and a big dabba of Sabudana Khichadi was lugged to the bank after office hours, steel plates and ice cream cups were rented and  we all helped serve this and had a good go at it ourselves.

Years passed. By an by, the gentleman who was then manager, graced the highest echelons of the bank, the particular bank relocated on the same road to another building, and the customer base grew by leaps and bounds.   The aforementioned system of indicating credits as"By Tr" without details was initiated, and the bank got a earful from my mother on how it was not acceptable.  For many years after, her passbook always had details mentioned.  And the older employees of the bank, were secretly tickled when she tangled with the new style bank managers. 

Cut to the beginning of this century.  My mother was no more.

All the paperwork fell on me (and continues to still fall) being the only child in India. I was the second named on her account, and  one went about doing formalities etc.  Many of the newer staff did a double take when they saw the 3 digit account number and tried to relate it to me, and I had to tell them that it was from a time when banks begged you to open an account,  cheque books were free, and people weren't comfortable talking blithely in crores, simply because most people never saw such amounts.

Times had changed. Banks were now doing a lot more than before, a lot more id's were being asked for, there were queues for everything, and the watchman glared at you instead of smiling. Computers had arrived, consequently there were more cubicles with partitions, making communication more difficult thanks to bad customer window design. Passbooks changed in shape, machines now printed the updates, and in the great leap forward some things  (like coding rules for account nos) were missed out on.

Confronted with  some unexpected and unexplained large sum credits and immediate debits(the next day)  , all this , ongoing for 6 months, I investigated on one of my trips to Pune.  Ended up visiting the head office computer rooms, assorted in-charges. Then went to my  branch  manager, who called in a bunch of staff. I wasn't worried about the credits, but the fact that someone other than the account holder could , without holder permission, perform a debit; by calling it a "reversing"....

It turned out that it was a clear case of bad standards followed in codification of accounts. The manager guy who okayed the codes didn't have a clue. I was then in IT , realized what had happened and asked if they had a users manual from whoever made software for them. Naturally things were getting uncomfortable for the manager. The problem was ultimately detected,  righted and lessons in codificaton were hopefully learned. But the fact that animated  detailed discussions were taking place for long periods of time in the managers glass walled first floor office with other staff and me, did not escape the staff outside.

I finally left the place, the matter resolved to my satisfaction.

 As I stepped out on to the ground floor , a white haired gentleman from the staff, stepped forward. Smiled. Mentioned  my mother's name and asked if I was her daughter. (I am told there is a resemblance) . When I nodded, he smiled, and looked back at some of his colleagues, sitting in "Fixed Deposits"  , who also had smiles on their visages.

"You know what, you are just like your mother ! We knew her as a customer for so many decades .  She never bothered about posh and fancy designations and decor,  but never tolerated low standards of service, and never hesitated to straighten some folks out. We've been noticing over the last few days....!"   

Maybe this was a person who was a young new employee back in the ice cream and sabudana khichadi days.  Those were days when you stayed on and retired with one bank.

And so, despite my skirmishes, letters to head office,  and several complaints, I stay on with the same bank, with a sense of belonging, like a parent, hoping that the errant child improves :-)).

It brings back old memories.  Of my mother, the old smiling manager (now no more), today's older bank employees,  and of course, tucking in Mango icecream and sabudana khichadi, in the bank, with everyone, after office hours, on a balmy summer evening  in April, almost 53 years ago.....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lost and Found

Twenty years ago , the family had an opportunity to visit Germany for a year, thanks to an academic visiting assignment at the University there.  A memory from those days.

It is intriguing to note  the correlation between education and stress. The parents and the son, then 12, were aware of the language problem, and although one attended  German speaking classes in the heart of Mumbai for a while ( a bit difficult with kid's schools, and one's job simultaneously) , everyone except the youngest, the daughter ( 5 years of age)  was a bit apprehensive about language.

Supremely unaware of countries, distances, languages, modes of transport, she had a healthy confidence about anything and everything.  When someone teased her saying there was a problem with the aeroplane and how would she then go, she grandly announced that she would travel to Germany by rickshaw .  On the day of the flight, she filled up a big bottle with juice, and packed a tiffin box, announcing that this was,  in case the aeroplane got stuck  while "driving" and we all got held up.

While the University had many English speaking folks,and the son went to a formal school and eventually learned excellent German, she started Kindergaarten, truly unaware of where she had come. She clearly liked what she saw. She blended in so well with the kids, and was soon speaking the local dialect , inflexions and all, with her friends, sometimes while playing, and sometimes ,where she even learned to fight in colloquial German with a hefty  Yugoslavian little boy who hogged the slide and didn't allow the little girls any time there.

One weekend we were at the local equivalent of something like Big Bazaar (those were the pre-Mall days in India), but which was almost 20 times bigger , and sold everything from food, to socks to even vehicles. Endless rows and aisles, there was shopping and then there was a cafeteria where you could grab a bite.

It was around lunchtime, when it suddenly became clear that the daughter was missing. You normally saw her looking at the books and toys, or she tagged along with one of us, but she just wasn't  seen.  Her rich ebony/wheatish  , glowing complexion, and her beaming smile, and willingness to talk fearlessly to anyone in effortless German (which only her brother understood :-)...) meant she stood out.  And this was getting worrisome.

The three of us, searched for her in all the places we could think of, including near the doughnuts (the counter was taller than her), but no. All kinds of thoughts went through the mind. We then went to the store announcer to report that she was lost . We even told the announcer lady to call out and speak in German to her so she would understand that we were looking for her. Between the desperate looks on our faces, creative gestures  from me (with my bad German) and the son trying to explain to the lady , a bunch of announcements were made.  No result .

Finally, the three of us fanned out, one to the front entrance , one to the back, and I decided to go aisle by aisle to search for her. The usual aisles were checked, and I would now check out even the impossible ones like machine tools, and gardening implements, and what not. There was also a possibility that she would be simultaneously wandering and possibly just missing me somewhere.  Those were not the days of cell phones, and even if I found her , it would take a minute to run to where the rest of the family was looking for her.

 Like we have a saying in our language, all our mouths had run dry.

Almost 5 minutes later, I found her .  She was in the aisle that had all the fancy kiddie bicycles.  She was sitting on one with training wheels and fancy attachments, and trying to execute a u turn in the aisle : her way of test driving it.  The row was not meant for doing U-turns on bikes, and she was much involved in performing the minute backward and forward peddling to make the thing turn. Impervious to the panic she had caused.  

Much against her wish, I asked her to follow me to the desk. She refused to get off and rode the bike to the customer help desk.  Some lady there said something sweetly in German and lo behold, she got down from the bike. By now the word had got around, many folks were looking for her, and the family  came rushing in from searching elsewhere.

While she and her brother kind of took it in their stride, and she in particular thought unnecessary noise was being made over , what for  her, had been an excellent morning ,  this entire growing of tension, uncomfortable thoughts in the mind, and then this sudden massive release of tension, resulted in a somewhat hypoglycemic state for the grown ups.

We herded the family together, and proceeded to the bakery section, where everyone had some excellent apfel strudel , juice and the grownups gulped some coffee. Rested a bit, thanked the lady in customer service, then collected our purchases and left for home.

On all subsequent visits, the staff recognized her, and there was much smiling and ruffling of hair.

That was the last time something like this happened.  Someone mentioned to us that when you go in crowded places with small kids, it is a good idea to use a kid's leash and attach it to their waist.  You hold the other end.  

I absolutely refused.  German efficiency be damned.

Holding hands with her and  going to sections favored by her , was a better way of doing things.....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Monday, April 16, 2012

Whose Culture is it, anyway ? Yours, Mine or Ours ?

(A repost)

As long as I remember, there has been a February 14th. (Someone in the family has a birthday on the 13th)...
But its only in the last 20 years or so, that I hear it being celebrated here, as Valentines Day. And its only the last 10 years or so that certain pockets of society, and politicians have been objecting to its celebration, with a lot of violence, destruction of shops selling valentines stuff, and shouting from the rooftops. This year has seen the Ram Sene getting into the act in a Mangalore pub, beating up boys and girls, who were supposed to be drinking etc, in direct contravention, of what this Ram Sene says is "Indian culture" .....

When I was a child, explicit socializing between boys and girls was non existent. Yes, we were aware that in certain more emancipated sections of society such as Christians, the armed forces, and a few Parsees, a western lifestyle that was followed, allowed the practice of such socializing. And while my parents were extremely broad minded about us mixing with boys as a part of your school,college, sports etc, it was understood, that any extra attention from anyone, secretive meetings, fibbing to parents etc was simply not on. And we never suffered from the Friday night syndrome.

Staying away at college, traveling abroad for grad school, etc gave us a very balanced view about the whole thing, which was generally suited to the way the world and India were developing at that time as a society. But I had friends who were not allowed to talk to boys, period. I once played mixed doubles in badminton with a fellow in college tournaments, and my mother heard about it, ( with special meaningful emphasis on the fellow) from someone else's mother, both of them 150 miles away ! It is another thing that everyone who told my mother about this got a large piece of her very angry mind , as she was already following my progress through my letters, and very pleased about my participation, mixed or not..

Indian culture is a strange thing. The country is so rich in it. But that isn't the culture these so called "custodians of culture" have understood. They deal with a different culture.

It is OK, if you cavort around trees in pouring rain , in transparent sarees, in fashions that are based on fabric-famine, and throw yourself at the hero, in a Hindi or even Southern movie. It is even more OK, if you perform the sort of body movements in movies, that would make Britney Spears a nobody. You buy a ticket, go see the movie. listen to the catcalls and whistles. But if you and your friend appear to be walking together a bit too often, the "custodians of Indian culture" attack.

I honestly wish they had met my grandmother.

Born at the dawn of the 20th centrury, she was married at 13, to my grandfather, much older than her, and a widower. She was one of 9 sisters, and 1 brother, and the sisters learned the basic three R's at home, while the son went on to be an engineer. She lived at a time, when, if you had to pass through a room in the house where your husband or father-in-law was sitting, you dared not look up, you covered your head, and talking to your own husband in front of even family was a complete no-no. You ate after the menfolk did. You didn't sit somewhere with your feet up munching peanuts in your free time. . And mothers-in-law usually lived up to their standard image of being tough. And , by tradition, daughter-in-laws were troubled by mother-in-laws.....

So, not surprisingly, women of her time dedicated themselves to a lot of religious observances, which was a great education as well as a nice way of spending what little free time you had.
One of the things she followed, involved wearing of special "holy, anointed, pure, just-washed etc" sarees while worshipping and performing religious rituals. My grandmother stayed downstairs, and we had a free run of the whole place as children. Whenever my grandmother was wearing one of these special sarees, you couldn't touch her. Even if that saree was hanging somewhere to dry, you couldn't touch it. (In my language, Marathi, it was called "sowla" सोवळं ).

My cousins and I , always "accidentally" managed to touch her, more so , after we found out that the antidote was for her to have another bath. Things hanging to dry at a height, suddenly found us playing games, like jumping from a bed etc near it. When things became unbearable, my grandmother would complain bitterly to our mother, and we'd miss our nightly stories from her that day. By and by we grew up into womanhood, and I remember my mother telling us how lucky we were, not to have to follow certain customs during menstruating days. In her time, EVERYONE is the family knew , because you were made to sit isolated somewhere in the house, you ate by yourself, had baths elsewhere, you didn't wander anywhere near the gods or the kitchen (in fact sometimes you cooked your own food ), and you made sure you never touched grandma.
This was called "sitting out". (Used to make me laugh when I used to read in the papers in the US about "coming out "parties"..)
My grandmother, uneducated as she was, and very firm in her religious and social beliefs, knew how to move with the times. It did not require a special effort. Just good observation. She never made me "sit out". She never made snide comments to my mother about me cycling at all hours to go for badminton practice, where , of course, you played in shorts, but wore a long skirt over it when you cycled. She enjoyed my frilled sleeveless frocks as much as my parkar-polkas (pictured on left), and she would tell her sisters with a great amount of smugness about how well we were doing at school, and speaking in English etc etc.

When I graduated and decided to go to the US for grad school, folks got into action, filling her ears, with, amazing pieces of knowledge, like, what a folly it was to send a girl of marriageable age to the US like this. Never once did she talk to my parents about this, though she knew enough to tell her sisters etc that I had been granted an assistantship, which was great and that it was an honor to go and study like this. She was fairly old then, mostly house bound, but was part of a huge busload of folks that came to see me off when i left. Maybe some thought they would not see me again.Maybe they secretly felt I would return wearing a frock, and with blonde hair or something. I am sure there was all kinds of alarming talk in the bus on the way back, spoken loud enough for my grandmother to hear....

That I returned basically unchanged (except for shorter hair), is another matter, but that was the time, my elder brother , who was working in the US, was considered a "catch", and we would get a lot or proposals from the various girls' parents. Due to some visa restrictions, an earlier 6 week trip of my brother's had to be postponed, and this got a whole bunch of relatives and interested folks chattering.They would come to her and tell her, "what if he married a "gori" (white woman) ? Maybe he had someone in mind and that's why he was postponing . What if she is not a Hindu ? What if he secretly married her and simply landed up ? "...... The possibilities were endless, once you decided he could do lots of undesirable things.

She was then staying with us in Mumbai and her sister came to visit. Much whispering and sudden silences when we were around. Then her sister thought she could have some fun. She loudly asked what my grandmother would do, if the next day, her grandson appeared at the door with a "gori" wife ?

This was getting interesting. My grandma gave her sister a pitying look. Blew her nose. Shook her head to the side in a sort of defiant, determined way.
"Look" , she said, " You know, I know my grandson, and the values that his parents have given him. Should he come with a "gori" , I know she will have all the qualities that we look for in the eldest and first granddaughter-in-law of the family. She will have her religion , just like ours. But if my grandson has chosen her,she must be wonderful, I will welcome her with an "arti" , anoint her forehead with a red dot and grains of rice, and have her perform the house entering ritual (see above), at the door, that any new bride will perform ! She will be my first grand-daughter-in-law , I will present her with wedding silk sarees, and I will tell the world about it ! So. !

(We don't remember her sister's reaction).

It so happened that my brother came later on, and married a wonderful girl, from India, in India, and I could almost see my grandmother preening in the wedding whenever her sisters were around. She lived to see two of her grandchildren get married, but did not live long enough to see the great grandchildren.

She outlived her husband almost by 30 years. Saw a lot of changes in social attitudes, clothes, emancipation of women issues. She lived her own life exactly the way she wanted. But was very happy to be part of a society that was , maybe, following rules, that were a bit different.

30 years later today, I see the benefit of her attitudes , her courage, and her observations about how we need to change with society, tempered by the values that have come down to us.

I wonder what her take on Valentines day would have been.

And I honestly wish the "custodians of India's culture" could see her and talk to her about it.

Maybe there is something to be learnt....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Smart Solutions from the heart ....

At 75, she looked back at her life with a lot of satisfaction. At a time when norms of behaviour for a new bride in her in-law's house were fairly conservative, she was lucky to travel and set up house with her husband who worked in another town, away from home. Living with people from all over the country who came to work there, this was her introduction to the customs from different communities, that make up he mosaic that is India. Nucleisation of family life sometimes brings a different kind of freedom to a family. There is less minding of overbearing P's and Q's, and more open thinking. But she always remembered her family back home, and ensured that the children spent some fun times at their grandparents' home during the summer holidays.

Today was her little grandson's birthday. The first one after she lost her husband, ten months ago. The little boy's maternal grandparents had traveled over for the event, from out of town, and the house was all hustle and bustle with the boy's mother organizing the eats and games for the evening. The cake was home made , iced according the wishes of the little boy.

She remembered the last birthday, when her husband had distributed the prizes to all the little ones who won in the games, with the birthday boy holding his hand, jumping in excitement as his friends rushed up to get their prize. Late that night, after everyone had left, the little boy had sat with his grandfather, and opened all his fancy presents, both of them admiring the stuff, as the ladies were organizing the left over food and the mess in the living room, that remains after some boisterous 7 years olds have finished with it.

Traditionally , every birthday, an aarti was done for the little boy. He sat on a "paat" , east-west facing always; and every year, the two grandmothers, his mother, any aunts who happened to be there, as well as the household help lady who was like a family member did the aarti. His face would gleam in the light of the oil lamp, as he beamed at the ladies, and they would apply some vermilion and turmeric and rice grains on his forehead.

She sat to the side today, and watched the hustle and bustle of the preparations. She never ever sat idle and her hands were always busy with something like shelling the cardamom, or peeling cucumbers or boiled potatoes , or whatever was the requirement of that time.

The boys mother did the aarti. Then his maternal grandmother , who was nearby , did her turn, and she looked around for the other grandma. She was watching them all, an indulgent look on her face, some old memories bringing an occasional old thought into her eyes, and she smiled at the little boy.

"Aji, come, its your turn !" and he looked expectantly at her.

"I need to just get done with this for your mother", she said, " You all carry on "....

The boy's other younger grandmother understood, but didn't agree with what was happening.

Widowhood was a new factor now, and at 75 years of age, all the old customs came back to the elder grandma.She wouldn't do aarti for the little boy. It wasn't auspicious. Her heart didn't agree at all. But her head was in the grips of age old tradition.

"Tai, come , its your turn now. Its OK, we will do the cardamoms later. " the younger grandma said, trying to act casual. The little boy was not to know why his older grandma was hesitating.

She went to the older lady and spent some moments cajoling her into doing the aarti.

"No, No. Its OK. You carry on. My mind is not in it." she said. The older lady , acutely aware of her widowhood, was trying to exclude herself, thinking her participation would be unlucky.

Her daughter-in-law went over. She and her mother insisted that the older grandma participate.

"You know, Aji has to do aarti for her grandson. Its your blessing, and see, he is waiting. How can the birthday be properly celebrated otherwise ?" . And saying so, the younger grandma held the hand of the elder one, and escorted her to where the little boy sat.

Aji looked very gratefully at the ladies, her face a fleeting mixture of sorrow and joy, and slowly took charge of the aarti plate , and shielded the lamp with one hand. She bent down to apply vermilion and turmeric and rice to the little boy, and did the aarti.

The little fellow had a smile on his face, eyes twinkling, and he seemed to be holding something half hidden in the folds of his shirt, which was not tucked in yet. Sometime during the time that the ladies were busy convincing the elder grandma, that no taboo or tradition, irrespective of marital status, could stop a grandma from doing aarti to her grandson, he had quietly got up, grabbed his grandpa's photo from the side table, and was clutching it tight in his hands. The family was complete ......

She straightened up from the aarti, passed the paraphernalia to her daughter-in-law, so the lamp could be kept in front of the Gods, and looked at the younger grandma who was standing beside her. They both had tears flooding their eyes. They had no words, and none were needed. They suddenly decided there was some stuff that needed their attention in the kitchen /balcony etc and slowly made their way there.

For the little boy, something had changed. He was a big boy now. He knew that God had taken away his grandpa almost a year ago. He suspected that his grandma was missing him on this day. So he did the obvious. Grandpa watched , as grandma did the aarti, and the little boy was pleased.

His grandpa would be watching the entire birthday, from the frame on the side table .

The little boy's mother thought she noticed an extra smile playing on face in the photograph.

The two grandmas were at peace in their minds.

They couldnt get over the amazing solution offered by their little grandson. ....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Beautifully Happy ? or Happily Beautiful ?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I know.

If only the left brain stayed out of the beholding.

And one man's beauty may be another man's irritation.

Or so it seems.....

She comes home all excited.

They are now doing some full fledged projects at her animation school. Each one has to select a category, and has to, according to some prespecified size norms, create things like posters, hoardings, visiting cards, letterheads, banners, PR gift items etc...after choosing a subject.

She has some in mind, and she rushes home from a very early morning class. She needs to discuss this with someone at home. Toss ideas around. A few lobs and drops and maybe one or more smashing ideas will make it across to those waiting to see.

"Social" or "socially relevant" is a nice broad category. And she wants to make a project to promote adoption , as a social cause. That will be her term project.

She isn't one of those perennially social aware , theoretically highly enabled, verbalizing types. But she herself is adopted, and has seen life on both sides . The early life, which she hardly remembers. And her life within a family where she is always a star. She knows she is adopted, has been aware of it since the "traumatic teens", except her trauma was more to do with weight issues. Today, she is at peace with herself, thrilled with her weight loss, and tickled with compliments on her choice of clothes :-)

Every festival season, she, along with her family, makes a visit to an orphanage where they distribute sweets, gifts, and play with the children. At the end of the visit, she reluctantly says goodbye to the children. She enjoys organizing games for them, talking to them, indulging them, and playing with them a bit, too. And the little ones there, from a crawling baby to a young 3 year old pretending to play cricket using a broken doll as a ball, then get back to their life, as she returns to hers.

She has come up with a wonderful poster with faces of little children all over in the background, some male-female signage hazily drifting there, and amidst various information on institutions handling adoption, a wonderful well known poem , that places the child , not in a womb, but just above, in the heart/below it.

A child, not "expected", but "selected".

Her family watches. Amazed. She suddenly gets a new idea. Google to the rescue. A drag here. A Click there. A critical look. A hint of a smile.

Late into the night, she is done.

She rushes in to class the next morning. The teacher needs to see what she has come up with . The various items may be required to be redesigned. He will comment and suggest. She is supposed to implement.

They say some colors are to be avoided , depending on the subject. Red is considered a "danger" color. You never have that in a place where you convey something childlike and peaceful. Blues, Greens, pale yellows, some pink. So she has heard.......

Her instructor looks at the prepared stuff. Shakes his head. Looks at her, then back at the monitor again. She needs to listen carefully. He will be the one grading her. And he acts tough with those that don't follow .

"The children in your poster, look too happy. It can't be. They almost look beautiful. Change that. You know street children ? Well, that's how the children should look. They are in an orphanage , remember ? How on earth can they be and look so happy and smart ?"

He looks up, and adjusts his tie. Shakes his head. Looks at her to ask if she has understood. He is already late, and must check out 3 more students.

She quietly looks down. Closes her file, Extracts her CD. Packs up her paraphernalia. Wordlessly nods, with apparent respect, something she has learned in the existing schooling system.

All the way home in the bus, she keeps wondering, her thoughts careening through highs and lows, in sync with the potholes on the road.

Was something wrong with her vision ? Was she missing something ? And why was her instructor putting street children in an unhappy slot ?

Street children had parents. Parents who were worried , but helpless; and so the children grew up before their time. Became street smart. She has seen street children in trains. They were tough, but full of empathy for those in a similar boat.

The children at the orphanage where she visited, were simple children who enjoyed the security of a wonderful roof and a feeling of innocent friendship with those around them. They enjoyed decent clothes, meals, careful attention , festival sweets and learned to listen to those older to them.

And they were happy. She should know....

And so she is on the horns of a dilemma.

Should she sit and explain to the instructor, that what he was suggesting was simply not true? She had her unique experience. She had been there, done that. Happy children on the poster would draw potential adoptive parents to the place. What he was suggesting, besides not being true, would keep people away......

He was the sole instructor responsible for the grade, and thence the certificate. Was her ability to clarify and explain things going to be useful ? To a person, who, in an effort to hide his ignorance about the topic, was blithely giving , authoritatively, just plain wrong advice ? Would he be honest enough to credit her with using her actual experience, even though it was completely opposite of what he was advising ?

So she came home that day. Quietly searched again. Dragged, clicked, moved, and placed things. Automatically. She had other subjects to study. She'd submit the project like he wanted, take his grades, and finish, and get her certificate. And she would be alert and careful, if she ended up having to take another software topic with the same instructor later.

She'd finish off her assignments, submit and get her grades. She'd acquire her qualification, and leave.

One thing to learn was the software. The other thing you learned was how much importance to attribute to what someone said, whether it was right, and how much time to spend in rebuttal, particularly in a closed system.

She kept the old poster.

Made another one. The sad variety.

Then very quietly, she deleted her name which she had signed at the bottom right corner.

He might think this poster was beautiful. He beheld. It was his eyes.

She did not. She kept the old poster with her, with the happy children, and her signature at the bottom.

She thought that was wonderful. She too beheld. With her own eyes. And would continue to do so.

They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Sometimes, though, one wonders if the eyes are open............. 

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Dark and Lovely....

If you play the word association game with the words "dark and lovely", specifically amongst folks from India (possibly my age, though I am unsure about the newer IT generation), I am willing to wager anything, that nine out of ten folks will quote the poem by Robert Frost, that every Indian knows was the late PM Jawaharlal Nehru's favourite :

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,

and miles to go before I sleep.

If the game participants were to be international, the associations would be drastically different. Besides the woods, there are lots of other things that are dark and lovely. People. Women. Etc.

But for some companies , the phrase is almost persona non grata.

"Fair and lovely" is a complexion cream marketed by Unilever in the Indian market. The ads show various girls turning lighter, around several shades in , say 7 days, and going on to become air hostesses, actresses and so on, teaching a lesson to folks who initially rejected them.

Another facial bleach cream shows a darkish lady sitting in economy class in a plane , whereupon, the oxygen mask falls only in front of her. (her face is dark, the bleach has oxygen and she turns fair on applying the bleach. Voila ! No oxygen mask, and her neighbor smiles at her........)

Notwithstanding the crass stupidity in these ads, it is very clear, that the majority of the Indians have an obsession with fairness. As in complexion. (And we wont say anything about matrimonial ads. Everyone looks for "fair and homely".... as if "dark and homely" are mutually exclusive)

This then, doesn't remain "fair" at all , to those, who are, are melanin empowered, so to speak.

And so we come to the story of a girl, who was destined to be part of a family, where her only sibling was very fair. (Actually, fair here is being used as an attitudinal description; it is beside the point that he was also very fair complexioned; that most of India would see it as a "white", is a given).

When she was little, she oozed confidence. Least bothered with eye-crossed visitors who tried to figure out the complexion difference in siblings, she simply thrived and enjoyed being at home, playing, school,friends, grandparents, eating, teasing, being teased, fighting..exploring.... everything.

School was a bit different. For one thing her brother went there. She was an adopted child, and some of the teachers, to the consternation of her folks, actually came up them, in a pssst kind of way, to complain about something , and ended up saying, "after all, her culture is different from her brother's....! Some worldly smart(!) types even asked her parents why they didnt "get" a fairer child !
In this narrow and unenlightened environment it wasn't long before nosey classmates and other girls queried her about her inborn inability to match her brother in complexion, no doubt after hearing some elders talk.

Her melanin empowered skin was building up resistance power in more ways than one. Tormentors were labelled yellow and green by a little girl who refused to give up. She swam a lot. And suffered the least trauma , amidst a bevy of girls, who went into a depression over a 10% change
,in their complexion,for the darker, over the summer in the pool.

Teenage happened. Days of doubts. Obsessions with various types of organic facials made from fruits and grains. Awareness of pseudo utopian images in leading Indian women's magazines , that existed only for advertisers. By and by , all that swimming, good diet and those homemade natural cleansing agents, started showing results.

She didn't become "fair" in the Indian sense, but her skin and hair had a great glow, and she became a confident young woman, comfortable in her own skin.

Such is the obsession with fairness in India, that her parents were cautioned, by highly educated (!) neighbors, about sending her for swimming "lest she turned "black""......and television now had a daily serial where a bunch of sisters, one very fair and one dark, went through life, the fair one sailing through everything and the dark one having to fight....

Family and well meaning folks had been telling her, since she was a child, that darkness was a state of mind, not a complexion. There were plenty of "fair" folks with very dark minds. And vice versa. And as she grew up, she started believing that.

And so she doesn't really worry about her color any more.

She has grown up, in more ways, besides calendar years....

She is learning graphic design and animation now as she completes her college graduation on the side. They are learning some Adobe Software and she often has assignments.

Yesterday I saw her fooling around with Photoshop, and I heard her chortling away.

I went to investigate.

"You know, you can change people's complexion in Photoshop".


And she did some choosing of tools from a menu, and swishing around of the mouse, as her own childhood photo got modified into a "fair version". Everytime she created, a still fairer version, she would crack up, into peals of laughter....

The whole thing was so entertaining to her. She changed complexions till she would have probably given a Punjabi Kudi or Marilyn Monroe a complex.

Then she changed things back.

Looked up at me. Wrinkled her nose.

Nodded approvingly, and said " I think I like it as is , the original is the best....... don't you think so ?"

That's what called, Being Digitally Dark and Lovely.

Being strong and mature enough, to keep yourself digitally unchanged.

I bet Adobe chaps never thought of this psychological use of Photoshop. Maturing by Photoshop.

And Dark and Lovely isn't about Robert Frost, and folks trudging through woods , counting their miles before they sleep.

Its about this Dark and Lovely girl, going from strength to strength....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with