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Category Archives: Personal

All in a day’s work -1


 

One of those countless times when I had got busy with something else, while cooking something in a pressure cooker….the safety valve had melted.

I have been meaning to take the lid to the nearby shop to get a new valve fixed …but you know how it is.

Then this guy came along with all the paraphernalia for repairing gas stoves and cookers,accomodated on his rickety cycle.

The lid got fixed .

The burners of the stove, which too I had been meaning to get replaced as they had developed cracks, got replaced.

Took a nice sum from me on the claim that it was brass.

I did have an inkling that he was making that up even as he asked me to weigh them in my hand and emphasising how much more heavier they were compared to the discarded ones made from iron .

The valve too, he charged twice as much .I know that for sure because I had paid for an earlier replacement from the shop in the neighbourhood.

The paint came off after the first flames made the metal glow with heat .

And I fumed for a while at being knowingly taken in.

And then I thought of him, doing the rounds the whole day.

And I thought of all the merry rides we consumers are taken on by the fancy outlets and the corporate brands

And I forgave myself.

#allinadayswork

 

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My Dog..poem about lost dog by Emily Lewis


My Dog
by Emily Lewis
Have you seen a little dog,
Anywhere about?
A raggy dog, a shaggy dog
who is always looking out
for some fresh mischief
which he thinks he ought to do,
He’s very likely, at this minute,
biting someone’s shoe.

If you see that little dog,
his tail up in the air,
A whirly tail, a curly tail,
a dog who does not care
For any other dog he meets,
not even for himself,
Then hide your mats
and put your meat upon the shelf.

If you see that little dog,
barking at the cars,
A raggy dog, a shaggy dog,
with eyes like twinkling stars,
Just let me know
for though he’s bad as bad can be,
I wouldn’t change that dog
for all the treasures of the sea!

This is the poem , most of my seniors in school remember me by.

Many, many years later, a teacher from senior school, Ms. Bhagirathy, who was an aunt of one of our neighbours in Noida, came to stay with the nephew and his wife for a while. Walking past our house, she would look at me with a curious air , if she happened to spot me around.

I would exchange half a smile too, as she did look familiar.

The one day, she stopped in her tracks and said, “My dog?”

Let me tell you that this was some thirty years later.

I can just say that may be I had loved that imaginary dog very, very much and may be I had had a way of pouring my heart out , while reciting that poem 🙂 🙂

That poem had also got me my first ever trophy.

My father was very happy at my achievement and wanted to frame the moment. So, back from school, even before I had changed into my normal clothes , we set out to the “Vaman Studio” , which was where the entire town landed up for getting photos clicked and then framed for posterity.

My younger brother threw a tantrum , saying he wanted to come along and jumped into the auto , just as he was , in the midst of his barefooted running around.

Not just that, he insisted that he get into the vision of the camera lens.

To strike a balanced pose, the studio owner took out a rose from the vase on his table and asked him to hold it in his hand.

So now we have this photo in my album , to fish out when the family is in the rewind mode 🙂

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2020 in childhood, Personal, Poetry

 

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Ouch!!!!! That hurt


My teeth haven’t been giving me too much trouble all these years, except for a couple of small cavities which I had got filled as soon as I became aware of them. I have been taking good care of them, brushing them very diligently in the morning and at night. Lately,though,I’ve been giving the nightly routine a miss.

Now it appears that too much enthusiasm about dental hygiene isn’t all that good either. A few months ago, when sensitivity in my left upper canine and first two molars increased, I had a dentist in my hometown, who told me that I’d been brushing too hard and that had caused the teeth bone to be worn away near the roots. She filled it up . It took a few minutes and cost me the very reasonable amount of Rs. 900/

For the past several days, the molar next to them had become extremely sensitive and I haven’t been able to even swill water on that side of my mouth without wincing. I couldn’t put off another visit to the dentist. It got that bad.

So there I was, lying prone on the chair/couch or whatever after the preliminary questions of what brought me in etc. Then she asked me to open my mouth to have a look. To make a long story short, I wasn’t given a chance to close it till she had finished doing a root canal, measurements taken for the crown that is to be fitted on Thursday and the molar prepared appropriately for the capping to be done.

In between , x’rays were taken , two other small cavities discovered and filled, the gums needled to make them numb and drilling and dredging done in places which I couldn’t identify because I couldn’t feel anything. I could hear the sounds though and smell the bone particles, which I think was simultaneously suctioned by her assistant . Everything was explained perfectly to my daughter who sat there at a little distance with my grandson, as if I was not there at all and it wasn’t my mouth that was being excavated. It was more as if she was just giving a lecture to a classroom full of aspiring dentists.

My mind’s antenna kept sending signals about the need to ask her about how much this procedure was going to cost. But I was open-mouthed and my daughter was similarly dumbfounded by the constant stream of inputs .My tooth was in a precarious condition and it was the best that could she do to save it . She would try her best or else it would have to be removed and so on. While she was at it, she also discovered that the surfaces of all my molars were being flattened. Did I have a habit of grinding my teeth ? May be I did it at night unknowingly , while sleeping. No problems…she could give me something that I could keep in my mouth while sleeping , so that that piece of rubber could be at the receiving end if any gnawing was carried out.

Finally, we were seated at her table while she she was totalling up the charges and gave the calculator to her assistant to cross check. I get it all wrong sometimes , she explained. My daughter had taken out her card. I don’t know if her breath was bated…mine was.

With good reason…it was a whopping Rs. 19000/
The medicine wore off long ago , but I am still numb.
Ogden Nash couldn’t have described it better, but I have to say that his poem was incomplete. He would have added a few more stanzas had he visited a dentist in Bengaluru.
https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/it-is-just-going-to-hurt-a-little-bit/

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Personal

 

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Uppava


We had moved into our present house in 1964. It was the first one to be built on this side of the road, on which an occasional line bus droned along, on what was then a relatively large stretch of land extending right up to the river, where the mangroves grew in dark ,dense patches all along the waterfront. My father was very fond of hunting and as kids , my brother and I , would walk through the coconut palm dotted stretch , accompanying him on his trips.
My brother Niyaz is only slightly younger than me and we sort of competed and fought over most things. We had cloth bags hung over our shouldersto carry the birds that he would shoot down with his double barelled gun.They were mostly wild fowl and pigeons that nested amongst the mangroves. On days that his aim faltered he’d happy to point his gun at the white cranes which were more abundant thereabouts , in the clearings amongst the undergrowth, a little away from the river.

 
The landscape has changed drastically since then. The wide sweep of the river , where most of the young lads living in the vicinity had then learnt how to swim on their own, using dry coconuts with dried up kernels fastened on to coir ropes , tied on their backs to act as floats, is now just a tragic trickle , with many sawing mills littering the water with the wood shavings and the logs obstructing the flow and turning the river into stinking swarmy puddles.Back then, the surroundings smelt of rich verdancy , alive and elated , just as were our spirits as we romped through the grasses and creepers.

 

I remember that my father didn’t really prefer those cranes, may be because their flesh wasn’t as tender when cooked as that of the water fowls and pigeons.But he didn’t want to return home empty handed, a trait my elder brother duly carried forward. His passion had been angling and when the fishes adamantly refused to bite the bit, he would buy a few big ones from the vendor and pass them off as his own catch, which of course we all saw through. He persisted with the pretence nevertheless.

 
I think I really did partake of the thrill of observing the gunshots hit the target and the birds falling down with a slump. The task of locating them amongst the brambles and undergrowth was left to us and that provided us a lot of excitement. But I remember feeling huge twinges of remorse and sadness when later on we’d empty the bags on the kitchen floor and the birds would lie there with limp bodies and listless unmoving eyes. They would be warm still if you held them in your hands and I remember wishing fleetingly that they come back to life. The guilt lasted only for a few seconds till we were allowed to pluck the feathers before handing it over to our mother for further necessary action.

 

And then there would be the whole rigmarole of cleaning the guns with a thick viscous oil and yellow flannel cloth. The oil had a particular odour which would hang on to him for several hours…just like the “Loma” solution which came in small bottles that he would keep in a corner of the wooden cabinet which stalled the radio.He applied it daily on his hair which had grown prematurely grey and they always had a reddish tinge .His shirt collars and pillows always carried that smell. They were not unpleasnt smaells..only something that was associated with him

 

In times when girls of my community approaching their puberty were confined indoors and stopped from even going to the neighbourhood shop just a few steps away ( “akathaddakkal” , it was called in local parlance) my father had let me go to school and had let me continue my studies in college, even against the wishes of my mother who would’ve been happier if I had been married off like all other girls of my age. I’d hated going to marriages then. Not because I’m not gregarious by nature but because every older female in the gathering would make it her diligent business to remark on my unmarried status. They would quiz my mother about when I was going to be settled down. “Ini eppola? Mookhil pallil vannittaa mangalam kayichayakkaan pokunne? “, was the constant refrain.I wonder how they cooked that up. One had heard of wisdom teeth appearing only at a ripe age, but dentures in the nose?

 

In the school I was going to, we had to wear blue pinafore skirts and white blouses underneath as uniforms. The nuns ensured that they reached up to our knees, duly ripping out the hems of those that tended to reveal bits of our thighs. But an adolescent girl attired in anything other than an apparel that covered the entire length of the legs was looked upon with great disapproval by the muslim community. There were just about about five or six muslims in my class.

 

My father though, never insisted otherwise and I wore short skirts at home as well, even when I was sixteen. He was quite okay if I never covered my head with a veil as other girls did. Negligence in this regard was supposed to earn us delinquents, veils of flaming fire in the next world. He did make some lame unconvincing efforts once or twice to have me drape the end my pallu over my head when I had started going to college.( Yes..I had worn only saris to college!) But , as i mentioned, they were quite half hearted and so it happens that I’ve never covered my head.

 

And he had kept dogs in the house too which was another taboo, their moist noses being “najees” , contact with which impurity would render any God fearing muslim unfit to perform namaaz. That kept many relatives away. He wasn’t really pleasant to them even otherwise, which embarassed us no end. Thinking back though,it seems only natural that he didn’t much care for those who found many reasons to disapprove of him.

 

He had strange and strong affinities . His abuses had a generous sprinkling of anti-jew references , although he was far from being a typically religious muslim. His affection for Haji Mastan who had in those days reigned as the Bombay underworld don, was as intense as his dislike for Mrs. Indira Gandhi, being a staunch communist at heart .I don’t think the illegality of Mastan’s ways made any dent in his image of him as one who helped many an underpriviledged fellow- being in dire straits. He would  narrate many stories about Mastan’s largesse, even fib that he’d met him, which was quite unlikely, even impossible , as he had never left Kannur after he got married, to our knowledge.

 

Did he gather those anecdotes from the newspapers? I have absolutely no idea.I don’t remember being interested in anything that went as “News” in my younger days. Enid Blyton’s countless books and later on Muttathu  Varki’s “paingili” romances was fodder enough for my reading fire. Then of course there was the Malayala Manorama Weekly , which we scrambled to get our hands on , on Sundays. The cartoon strip “Bobban and Molly” and the page full of jokes in the column “Phalithabindukkal” were devoured with much more appetite than any political even that made news.

 

The Emergency , of course, was another affair, mostly because of the juiciness of the news related to the Sub Inspector of Police , Pulikkodan Narayanan’s “Roller” tactics on those he picked up from here and there during the Emergency and the disappearnce of Rajan too was more then just news. Earlier, the Naxalite phase eptomised by Ajitha dressed in trousers and shirt who roamed the forests of Tirunelli had given us its share of daily drama too.

 

My father, as expected, rained the choicest of abuses on Mrs. Gandhi. That must’ve been the time when I became a little interested in the political dramas unfolding around me. Till then, the speeches from the street corners, all rendered in the same oratorial style, all quoting earlier incidents that had happened in some particular year , all with the same modulations of voice as they sought the attention of their brethren in the countryside , were listened to as familiar noises that one would have missed had they stopped.

 

He had never gone to college. His spoken English was stilted and I was not just a little embarassed whenever he visited the school and insisted on conversing with the nuns only in English. I was a good student and they would look happy to be talking to a parent of one of their brighter products. As far as I was concerned, I wanted him to keep the visit as short as possible. Just a couple of years ago,on a visit to Achyuthan Vaidyar’s house( he owns a small ayurveda shop next to our house) , I was pleasantly surprised when he fished out an old autograph with my father’s testimony, recorded in flawless English with a hand that had a flourish that would be the envy of many who had attended an English medium school and done many many pages of cursive writing. The citation was about Achyuthan Vaidyar’s prowess as an Astrologer and the accuracy of his predictions

 

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My father would often make some predictions himself, one being that there would come a day when I would feel grateful for being given an education that would help me stand on my own feet . I would never have to be “mautaaj” (I’m not really sure if that is how it is to be pronounced . I think it means “obligated” ) to any one’s “khairaat” , which I think means charity in urdu. “Write it down in your diary in “swarna lipi” (letters of gold) , he’d add and i would want to retort, which I never did actually, “So what’s the big deal? That’s what all parents do!”

 
Now i know..and my eyes turn moist with gratitude . Why this sudden surge of memories ? Because this morning’s papers had many columns dedicated to protests here and there in Kerala against consumption and sale of alchohol.

 
My father died at the age of fifty five, that’s a year younger than I am now, just nine days after I got married. My kids never got to see him. My friend Venkitesh, who had known him from his visits to our house during his college days , as my younger brother Arif’s fellow SFI comrade, calls him a failed Sultan. He died of liver cirrohsis.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in childhood, Personal

 

The Circle of Life


Some days are like no other
Perched on a rainbow ,up high.
Some nights are made for slow slumber
On soft magic carpets that fly.

Some moments you know you’re in a circle
Spinning through a point that repeats
And you smile with a touch of wisdom
As the past and the future meets.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Personal, Reflections

 

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Catharsis


I’ve been working on myself
The unplastered walls
Exposed to the elements
Were slowly crumbling to dust.
The cracks in the door
Had let in the wintry wind
And on its heaving hinges
No more could I trust.

Dirt had been blowing in
And settling in heaps
The corners were all swamped
With dead, decaying leaves.
The air, it was so sullen
Insidious insects swarmed
And the bats hung so listless
Below the window eaves.

I’ve been working on myself
Trimming all the trees
Hacking through the undergrowth
Plucking at the weeds.
Fumigating the rooms
Letting in the air
Cleaning up the shelves
Where the termites breed.

Painting all the chairs
Rubbing out the stains
Sweeping out the debri
Left by gnawing rats.
Throwing out the garbage
Left stinking on the sink
Beating out the dust
From the carpets and the mats

I’ve been working on myself
Filling up the cracks
Arranging all my stuff
Neatly on the racks.
Lighting up the rooms
Dispelling the dark
Decking up with flowers
Bringing the music back.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Personal, Poetry

 

Soap making tales


Yesterday was a happening day. I joined my brother-in-law in whitewashing the walls of the kitchen and those at the back of the house and I made soap

No I didn’t have to bribe him with a half chewn apple or marbles or bits of string . But there is something to that story of Tom Sawyer , the one where his aunt had asked him to paint the fence and the smart kid got his friends to do it for him and ended up with a lot of knick-knacks too in the bargain. If you keep watching that swish of the brush on the walls , it makes you want to do it too. My brother- in –law gets bugged by the fact that the guys who are generally called in to do this work ,act so pricey and hard to get. So he does a lot of stuff around the house , on his own, like digging up the backyard when it gets full of weeds after the rains , whitewashing and painting and so on.

My little niece watched on with great amusement as I splattered the walls with my adept brush strokes, pitching in now and then with her expert comments. The upper portions of the walls were done by my brother –in-law , as I was a little jittery about getting on to a ladder and balancing the tin of whitewash with one hand , while applying it with the other. What with my mother confined to the bed with a broken femur and me already fifty five, I didn’t want to risk a fall. My niece, whom I hadn’t spared from listening to all my trekking stories, quipped..”Hmm …Nacha says she climbs mountains ..but she can’t even get on to a ladder!!”. You want to keep your head on your shoulder?…Have a kid around you.

But a kid is also a kid . Staying close to me as I moved along the walls, she cracked a joke that may be I should make a profession of it. I went along with her and said..yeah, I’ll never go hungry if I finish off my savings , as I can always take up white-washing. The poor thing thought I was being serious and after a few moments of silence, warned me that I shouldn’t get the idea that it was going to be easy. I’d find it really tough if the house was big, she said.

About the soap making……well, I’ve been wanting to learn that for quite a while. I managed to get a soap-making sample kit from the Shastra Parishath office here in Kannur. It’s really easy. All you have to do is to mix caustic soda with a little water in a plastic or steel vessel (Lye) and when it cools down ( the chemical reaction gives out a lot of heat and the soda can burn your skin..so one has to wear gloves) add oil to it and keep stirring it till it gets to a “gooey’ consistency. That is the basic “saponification “ process. Then you pour it into a mould and let it dry. You can use the soap only after about a month so that it “cures” properly.

The soap kit I bought also had something called “filler”. The guy at the office wasn’t sure about what it was , but made a guess, possibly the right one, that it was boric powder. I had added this , as per instructions, to the oil , before mixing it with the lye. You can add colour and a little bit of aromatic oil for the fragrance and there it is , your soap is ready.

Reading up on the internet, I came across various recipes , including herbal soaps, coconut milk soaps and so on. I guess the quality of the soap depends on the kind of oil you are using (I used coconut oil) and the rest of the extra stuff you put in. I remember buying a few cakes of home made soap from a member of the “Kudumbashree” project here in Kerala, (which was launched as a part of poverty alleviation programme) which has scrapings of coconut in it. I’m really very excited at the prospect of all the experimenting I’m going to do ,once I get back to Delhi and find out from where I can get to buy “caustic soda”.

While making soap, I also realized using a soap to wash one’s face or hands or while taking a bath is just a matter of habit and convenience. Years ago, my mother would only use powdered “moong “ dal ( a kind of pulse) to scrub herself and for her hair she used aloe vera pulp or the viscousy extract of hibiscus leaves. I have used that too, in my childhood as would so many of our generation. The oil that is used in the soap or the other additives used for giving it the moisturizing effect like glycerol or coconut milk , can be applied directly on the skin , right? And for the cleaning and exfoliation of dead cells , home made stuff, like wheat bran, powdered pulses etc are actually more effective. But who’ll be bothered with all that in these times of “instant” everything. When the Delhi winters make feet extremely dry, so much so that my heels start cracking, I regularly use a mixture of glycerine and rose water. Have found that much more effective than any other foot cream. I use it on my hands too , so that it doesn’t get as wrinkled as an ninety year old’s.

A friend of mine commented on a status update about creams that are supposed to lighten skin colour ( which is an obsession for many in this sub continent , thanks to the premium on beauty , aka a fair skin, a concept we keep being bombarded with through one advertisement after another) that what really attracted her to all these so called beauty products , was the fragrance and I think she is right. A paste of pulses definitely will not smell as good as a fragrant soap. So all we have to do is to look around for a fragrant bath oil and we could do away with all those fancy soaps , which promise so much. Really, how much can it do when it stays on our skins for just a few moments before we wash away the lather?

I’m sure the same applies for all those creams. The basic ingredient would be Vaseline or something like that and the other ingredients like fruit pulp extracts or herbs could all be used independently and directly , with better effect, I’m sure . Ah…but the fragrance.

Seriously, we shoudn’t be allowing all these commercial giants of the cosmetic industry to numb us into believing whatever they say. If we have to use soaps, let’s make them on our own, I say. At least we will know what we are “pampering “ our skins with.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Personal, Reflections

 

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