Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reflections on Life, and Brinjals.

I remember holding my breath for a moment when I discovered there had been a bomb blast in Varanasi. I also remember cursing my father silently for gallivanting off to the city to watch the Dev Deepavali celebrations without foreseeing a possible terrorist attack by a bunch of lunatics, even if it was miles away from the ghats. What I do not remember, however, is asking him to bring back vegetables from Benaras, which is a city famous for things more exotic and intoxicating than, well, vegetables. And not just any vegetables, oh no. Brinjals.

And not just any brinjal, this brinjal.

This brinjal, as you have no doubt concluded, has weight issues. It probably has a varied and intriguing genealogy that I am not aware of, claiming kinship to a family of very superior Benarasi eggplants. It’s the size of a small baby, only cleaner and a lot less wrinkled. It also has personality - I feel this uncontrollable urge to carve a funny face onto it, but my mother won't let me. Since I have concluded that it is a waste of time and blogspace to try and analyse the reasons as to why I should not attack a vegetable with a knife creatively when in all likeliness it will be hacked to pieces anyway and cooked on a flame slowly and mercilessly whether I carve it or not, I will not elaborate on the cheerless lives that brinjals lead. I will leave it where it is, sitting plump and self-assured on our dining table, and throw it awed glances from time to time.

Never, ever ask fathers to bring back gifts from trips. This is what you’ll get stuck with. It doesn’t help that I am a worthless lump that finds brinjals fascinating. And I have a Hindi exam the day after. Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a toddler, when life was a lot simpler and I didn’t have to give exams and my parents loved me because they realized that the things I did weren’t exactly my fault. Like when I pulled down all the sarees from the shelf of my mother’s wardrobe and, excited because of all the colour, started rolling around in a labyrinth of long, colourful, tangled-up sarees, eventually succeeding in semi-strangulating myself. I was rescued and pacified and pampered for a while after, I’m told. But if I tried that as a teenager I doubt they’d buy it. Not that I have tried it, I’m just trying to point out the difference. And no, I do not have a twisted mind. I just do not see why I was lauded for cheating death at a time when I would've said “Goo” if you threw a word like “existentialist” at me.

But I’m rambling now. Back to Hindi. I have a whole chapter with extracts from the Ram Charit Manas, which is written in Awadhi. I’m sure it is a beautiful language, but everytime I read it out loud I find myself sniggering at how flatulent it sounds. And no, I am not cultureless. I just fail to see why Tulsidas never realized the poetic quality that brinjals exude.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


The situation has never been stranger. A little after I finished reading The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham and drifted off into a happy slumber peppered with dreams of tropical islands and vivid paintings, I woke up to find that Calcutta had, literally, gone nuts. There I was on the sofa, clutching my blanket, watching people running wild across the television. Angry mobs, burning vehicles, the works. I watched it all with a vague distaste for the excited face of the correspondent, called up a friend in Park Circus to check if she was all right, then went back to my room, and looked at a picture of my favourite Gauguin.

Breasts and Red Flowers is one of the many names given to a painting that makes me feel strangely calm, and very, very small. I’ve always loved most of what Gauguin painted, not because it’s rebellious or erratically beautiful or disturbing, but because there is so much life in it. The colours are bright, and the brushstrokes seem to say, I enjoyed painting this; this is what life should be. Even the most sedentary figures seem to breathe with a joyous celebration: they know that they have lived the way they want to, and that they have no one to answer to. No riots, no backbiting because they believe their God is greater than someone else’s, no petty rivalries that escalate into ego clashes.

The past few weeks have been so irksome, not in the sense that they’ve depressed me about the political situation around – I always knew that it was this way. It’s just that the idealist in me refuses to give up (or grow up), in spite of all the newspapers and documentaries and genocides and war novels, not to mention two years of political science as a subject. I felt so tired, so tired that Nandigram happened, and that it happened the way it did. And that yesterday’s mob had to pelt stones at people to make a stance clear. And that at the end of the day no one really cares about a political war or a protest against blasphemy, except to feel an irritation for being inconvenienced, or to worry about the people they care for who might be trapped by the disturbance.

It has been three years since I visited Kashmir. Three years since I saw a shikara laden with flowers glide across water and felt a hopeless despair that something so beautiful must be wasted for a barbed wire demarcating territories on a planet that was never ours. Yesterday I revisited that surreal holiday, so captivating and yet so distressing, and I thought again of that little flower girl on the shikara, smiling sunnily at me as I sat on the steps of the houseboat, and I wondered why I was feeling so annoyed when people there still smiled. And then, I turned to the Gauguin. Do the women with the mango blossoms think of their island as Tahiti, or home?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Don't ever babble to babies. They'll be laughing silently.

I hate attending social functions, mainly because my parents got married early. Observing their condition after I was born, all their friends took a hint and decided to maintain their sanity and singledom for as long as possible, with the result that there is never anyone my age to talk to. Of course, magnanimous Priyanka is invariably told to babysit the little kids around. What people fail to recognize is that there’s a fundamental reason to leave a nation-wide gap between me and their kids (some have realized it, though, the difficult way). Kids tend to like me, but that is because my way of handling kids is to treat them like invaders from outer space – answer all questions, explain all discrepancies, let them learn about the world around them, and make up a few things along the way. Adults, however, use a different term – Corrupting Young Minds.

I tend to go a little gaga around kids. The evil kind of gaga. I realised a long time back that the easiest way to keep things under control was to make up a hideously improbable, exceedingly fantastic game with about a hundred rules. By the time the game gets sorted out and the rules get narrowed down to about fifteen (with me protesting lustily all the while) it’s usually time for dinner. Some of the elders did complain that pretending to be an amusement park in a zero-gravity zone did not help: even though the Ferris wheel and the pirate ship were moving around in slow motion, pretending to float, they still managed to knock vases off tables. Now try telling an adult that fragile vases perched precariously on dainty lace-matted tables are just begging to be broken.

I was in the Corrupt Young Minds zone again this evening, because I was deserted by both my parents in the middle of a wedding hall. The food wasn’t ready, because it was a cousin tying the knot, and we caring relatives just had to arrive early to bicker about the table arrangements and group up into armies and try and take control of a situation that didn’t need any handling anyway. And then someone thrust this baby at me, which was a lot worse. Still, it wasn’t long before Srishti and I were fraands as fraands could be. We pretended to be three-toed sloths all evening. It’s really simple – all you need to do is look upon the world with a jaundiced eye while you’re actually pretending to sleep. You may drool into the bargain. Srishti won by a large margin, but got excused for her undeniable cuteness. Let’s not start about me. It takes me a while to realise why people tend to smile uncertainly at me from a distance and then utter a silent “phew” when they walk away. But when I do, I stop pretending to be a three-toed sloth. I am very discerning that way.

We brought Srishti back home for a while. Here are this evening’s insights into child psychology:

1) When you make funny faces at a baby, chances are it will stare at you sternly.

2) When you continue making funny faces at a baby, chances are it will try to nibble at your hair defensively.

3) When you put a hyperactive baby on a bright red bedsheet, expect a hysterical burst of giggles, followed by a fascinated inspection of the pattern on the sheet.

There's the hysteria. You had to hear it to believe it.

4) If you swing a baby around, saying, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superbaby!!!” it is equivalent to getting it hooked on drugs. You shall have to make your makeshift superhero fly till your arms fall off, or endure supersonic wails the moment Superbaby’s toes touch ground.

5) Babies put everything in their mouths. Everything. I wonder if this is the result of a latent desire to eat their tiresome parents. Does a baby wonder whether I am digestible when it eyes me adoringly?

I'm trying to stop her from meditatively chewing a magazine. She was, in effect, masticating bits of Benazir Bhutto's face. Most unhealthy.

After being kissed goodbye by everyone, Srishti was whisked away and we all paused, for a moment, to heave a little sigh and wish she hadn’t left. There’s something about babies that makes people act like sentimental idiots. It is better to have a dog, I think. At least it won’t grow up and send you to an old-age home, or turn to crime and get your name in the newspapers - if you're lucky.