Friday, May 28, 2010

Where I sit every morning

This green wooden bench is my oasis. After walking briskly for a good 50 minutes, this is the lap I seek. The lush green grass soothes my eyes. The bench gives me all the solitude I need. I sit there quietly for just about 10 minutes and feel refreshed and rejuvenated. It's here that I count my blessings, say my prayers and express my gratitude. It's my peace zone.  

The hill outside my window

I am tall
Outside my window, the hill stands guard

Hasn’t moved, winced or coughed even once

It never averts its gaze; I am pinned

Under a microscope, studied quietly.

I know it watches me every morning

Waits for me to slide the window pane

Compelled as I am to pay my obeisance

To look into its eyes, for a flicker of its eyelids

Or a twitching brow or at best a smile,

Maybe a nod of approval, even a frown…

I intrude into its space, inveterate trespasser,

My vision covers the distance in a jiffy.

Its body is taken; trees abound

The sky closes in; birds hover above

The breeze whooshes, the sun peeps out cheekily.

Everyday visitors staking their territorial claim

It’s undisturbed by the invasion,

Stoic, silent, still, strong…

A wizened rishi in deep samadhi,

Clad in old earthy, welcoming robes.

It emboldens me to advance unquestioned

To rob it of its calmness, to pilfer its peace

To steal its solitude, to make it mine.

As I close my eyes and breathe deeply,

I rise slowly to a full new height

I am tall, quiet and composed.

I know I can take on the world.

I am the hill…

- Archana Pai Kulkarni

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I really look forward to my morning walks. But today, the early morning sun was merciless and the walk laborious. With sweat pouring down my body, I wanted to just give up and sit quietly on a cool green bench that was braving the heat under a shady tree. But, I persisted. Like so many others who had committed themselves to attaining a certain level of fitness. As I huffed and puffed and pushed myself, I saw this burst of colour. Cool, beautiful, spirited. It made my day. I have been smiling ever since.

What I abandoned

It's been a rather long sabbatical considering that I now have the luxury of house help and some breathing space. My hands don't look like a scourer any more, I can actually see signs of my nails growing, there is more than the pungent aroma of garlic and onions in my nose (I can feel and smell fresh, unpolluted air) and the cacophony of clanging utensils doesn't reside in my mind any more. Oh, but there's always something else to do: the books to read, the songs to listen to, the calls to make, the pending long chats with friends and the bills to pay. A friend and well-wisher gave me some sound advice the other day. She said, "If you want to be a serious blogger, you have to be at it every single day, without fail." Of course, like any other novice, I nodded my head vigorously, took a deep breath and resolved that no blog of mine would be left stranded without a post—never mind, if I am going to be the only one to read it for some time now. No, it's no state secret; it's just that I haven't yet gone to town about my new-found interest and the very few who know about it think that they shouldn't be taking me too seriously. Not that I have abandoned too many projects before but I distinctly remember one of the woolly type that I did. With great enthusiasm, I had embarked on a knitting exercise—with knitted brows too, for good measure. I was to knit a sweater for my little cousin. The wool and the needles were bought and some design books too. Only the best would do for my beloved one. I chose a fairly simple but wonderful design and with the speed of a seasoned seamstress (I don't know what a woman who knits is called....knitpicker?), I knitted the border. I was at it for an hour every day of the week, diligently, patiently. Somewhere along the way, I realised that though I loved the way the finished product would look, getting there was giving me these blinding headaches and my eyes some unnecessary stress and I didn't exactly find the exercise rewarding or rejuvenating.  I had been forewarned that after some time what looks like a highly creative endeavour is actually a mechanical, taxing exercise. This came from quitters and though I kept up the pretence of enjoying myself, I had to admit that there was a lot of truth in their observations. And, I didn't want to look or feel like a quitter myself. So, I took these long breaks—some as ridiculously long as six months and then resumed knitting again, often not knowing how to proceed. By the time I came halfway close to creating something that looked remotely like a piece of warm clothing, my cousin had grown four years older. Where, earlier, she would come close to me and ask me happily, "Are you making this sweater for me?" and beam even more when I would nod my head, she now looked at me with definite disinterest, some pity and maybe some scorn too. One day, as I held the piece in front of my eyes to survey my creative work, I was forced to acknowledge that it looked like a misshapen piece of something-that-could-not-be-named. It found its way quietly into the dustbin. The other time I had abandoned work was when I had tried to knead dough to make chapattis. I took a large plate, added some flour, poured water, kneaded some, added more flour, poured more water, kneaded some more. Either the flour got flooded or it felt too hard. The whole exercise went on till the dough assumed the size of a huge ball used by tall, sinewy basketball players. If my aunt, at whose place I was conducting this culinary excess hadn't stopped me in time, I would probably have made it to the record books for kneading the largest piece of dough on earth. I couldn't dodge this ball and the waste basket didn't have the provision to accept such monstrosities of the inedible kind. The gigantic blob frightened me and the prospect of rolling out 500 chapattis made me quake so much that I started howling loudly as if someone had abused me. My tears didn't melt my aunt's heart or soften the murderous look in her eyes, but she spared me after rolling out 10 shapeless, size 18, chapattis. I didn't even wait to see what she did with the rest of the dough.
I haven't messed up my blog yet and have no intention of doing so. This makes me hope that I will be here to talk, to share, to dare, to care day after day. And I am also wiser. These days, I buy readymade sweaters if I have to gift them. My house help makes the chapattis for the family though I can knead some really soft dough. But, I know that there are some things I won't and can't delegate. Like blogging. I'll stay here for sure.
PS. I had once abandoned Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. Am planning to start reading it again once I finish with  The Help and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and some more books. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Maid arrives!!!!

Yesterday, life changed suddenly. I would love to say 'for the better' but I am wary of throwing a party so soon. Let me wait and watch and be sure. Guess what? At around 10.30 am last morning, a woman dressed in a yellow sari and matching blouse rang the doorbell. The watchman who guards the lobby during the day had sent her because he knew that I was in trouble and needed help around the house and felt sorry for me. News had travelled to him through the society grapevine. Honestly, I've never liked the watchman. He doesn't look like he is man enough to keep a watch on trespassers or grab a thief by his throat. He comes across as someone, who'll look disinterestedly at a stranger sauntering into the building, let him explore the premises and do his job without any opposition or questioning whatsoever. The guy has apathy written all over his face. But, for some unknown reason, the residents of the building are under the needle of his suspicion. At least that's what he conveys when he looks at us from under his forever knitted bushy eyebrows. You smile at him and he goes hrrrrmmmph. It can be unnerving, disturbing and infuriating. It's as if he sits in his chair the whole day, because he's been dumped there by someone, a sagging sack, with drooping shoulders, bent back and lazy limbs. And the guy actually felt sorry for me, the stone-hearted Sad Sack, who looks like he's incapable of generating any emotions, the way he wears his face, taut and unmoving. The ogre turned out to be an angel in disguise. Never had my judgment about people gone so wrong. But, what I learnt later sort of diminished my new-found liking for the man. I got to know that he gets a huge cut out of the whole exercise. How naive I was! But then, the fact is, he found a maid for me. Went to the end of the earth to get her, he told me. I think I heard him speak for the first time that morning. I did say that he is a grump who doesn't move a muscle, certainly not a facial one. And the maid did not come with an instinct to scratch. There's no way she'll get even the seven-year itch, as she's been married for 10 long years and is divorced now.
My mom scrutinised her neck carefully to check whether she had a rash and found none. But, this time, I'd beaten my mom to it as I'd done a quick check on that at the door itself. My mom also puckered up her nose to detect body odour but gave up. She made her pass through everything but the ink blot test and smiled approvingly. For the first time in days, she looked genuinely happy. Oh, I would have rolled out the red carpet for the maid but because of the super quick exits done by those of her ilk earlier, I decided to keep the grand welcome and celebrations on hold. No, I'm not a pessimist. It's just that my experience has trained me to be cautious. In the case of my earlier house help, well begun was half done. The proverb has to be applied to them differently. Oh, they begin really well and then flee, leaving more than half of the things undone.
Today, I found the time to blog only because she washed the utensils and swept and swabbed for me. I guess that's a fairly optimistic beginning. Hope is a poor drudge's friend.
By the way, my house help goes by the name Mamta, meaning love. I hope she lives up to her name and falls in love with my mom. Considering that my mom was asking me to help her so that she doesn't feel burdened and leave is, I hope, an indication of the time to come. She hasn't spotted her scratching even once, she hasn't nagged her at all and she actually addressed her as 'my child', a demonstration of endearment that even I wasn't subjected to, not once during my drudge days. This is nothing short of a miracle! Now, what does this one have that the others didn't? Actually, she doesn't have it--the ex-factor. I think she's here to stay. Shall we drink some chilled, minty vegetable juice to that?
I am suspicious of the watchman but can't help but feel grateful to him. I smiled at him the other day and thanked him profusely. And, he actually looked at me through his bushy eyebrows and beamed. Maybe I was wrong, Maybe he has a heart. Maybe it's not the sweat money he got. Maybe, he really felt sorry for me. Maybe.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The maid saga continues

I know I've been whining about the maid for a really long time. But you would too, if in the middle of some seriously challenging moment at work, you were compelled to count the number of spoons in your house. I've never done that kind of exercise before. Taking stock of the cutlery in my home from my workplace, which is a good hour-and-a-half drive away and that too when the pressure of meeting deadlines did not exactly leave room for this kind of mental calisthenics. But, this bit of unscheduled activity was not optional. It never is when I receive an order from the high command at home—my mother. A frantic call from her is always an emergency. This time, she complained of her blood pressure shooting up because one spoon had gone missing from its safe resting place inside the cutlery drawer. And let me tell you, she never misses to take stock of them at the end of every day. She was a banker; so everything has to tally. But, to fuss and hiss over a tiny little spoon was carrying things a bit too far. But, I know my mom. I also know what rising blood pressure can do to her and to me and to the temperature at home. So, I told her that not only would I check my bag, but that I would call up every soul who's ever eaten at our home with a spoon (and lived to tell the tale) to ensure that the goddamn missing spoon would find its way back home unharmed. It was wiser to count the spoons than count sheep at night because if that solitary spoon wasn't found, I was sure to lose a lot of sleep over it. At the end of a 25-minute intensive search, the spoon was located and my mom's blood pressure returned to normal. I will not tell you what happened to my boss' heart beats because of the unforeseen and highly embarrassing delay caused at work. At the end of the day, I was still counting—sheep and cows and buffaloes and herds of elephants and deer. Why? Because the maid, who was subjected to some hard-core interrogation, regarding the wayward spoon, by my mother decided to quit. She told me that she had never felt so like a criminal. This is the same maid who had declared on day one, in pure Bollywood blockbuster style, "Tum bhi majboor ho, main bhi majboor hoon." And she had thrown her head back, I suspect, a little mockingly. What an equaliser that statement was! If I had any illusions about being the employer and in a position to dictate terms, she'd shattered them with that one dialogue. Clearly, she was doing me a favour by agreeing to work for me, was going to get paid an obscene amount of money  for it and was also going to give me some gyan in return. Oh, I wanted to tell her off, and not look too happy that she was condescending to make my burden lighter. But, my nails hadn't grown for a whole two months with all the scrubbing, sweeping, washing that I had done. My hands felt like a metal scourer and my dreams had invariably begun to have a backdrop of the kitchen, the cooking platform and the sink. To think I endured all this ignominy and bullying only to be felled by a spoon! I told the lady that I was sorry if she was hurt but that she may have misunderstood my mom. But, she was clearly humiliated. Looking directly in my eyes, she hissed in Bollywood proud-destitute style, "Main majboor hoon, par chor nahin." I was touched to the quick and actually answered her back. Dialogue for dialogue. I'd to show her and convince myself too that I was still boss in my house: "Main bhi majboor hoon, par laachar nahin. Main kaam kar loongi." Even as I said it , I knew that I was erasing whatever little hope there was that she'd change her mind. And that I would get my hands back. I hoped my eyes would show the same fire as hers and my words the same sting. Deep inside my stomach, I felt a ball of fear rise. I tried to calm myself down, gave myself some pep talk. "Hey, you'll lose some weight," etc. The prospect of shedding excess baggage always excites me, but I didn't want to lose any by being a drudge again. So, the maid left, but not before telling me that she had dozens of spoons in her house and that she didn't need to rob one. Half an hour after she departed, I saw my mother emerge from the kitchen, ashen-faced and ridden with anxiety. "A ladle has gone missing." she said. Then she wagged her forefinger at me and continued triumphantly, "I'd told you so." This time, I decided not to join the search. As the once-again, new, full-time maid, I prefer to use my energy for bigger things!
Also, I eat with my fingers, these days.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


That's how I sound when I open my mouth and try to talk. I form the words clearly, stress on the syllables, get the intonation right and deliver the sentence with a flourish. But, all the effort is wasted as I sound like a sick frog with a broken croak. The cough's back! And this time, I've discovered the source of my by now almost chronic ailment. The maid! Rather, my absconding maids. Now, before you get any wicked ideas about how I lost my voice, let me clarify that I DID NOT scream at the maid. Do you think I would have the audacity? With tons of vessels piling up in the kitchen sink day after day, with loads of smelly, sweaty clothes to wash and large meals to cook for an ever-hungry family, I wouldn't dare. Even when my mother complained bitterly that the maid was scratching herself all day and that she was probably not washing her hands before kneading the dough for the rotis (gross, isn't it?), I shushed her. I attributed it to her over-active imagination and her allergy to live-in maids (I was trying that arrangement out for the first time). Even when the watery daal in my bowl looked suspiciously like the broth a wicked witch would cook with frogs and salamanders to poison her victims, I convinced everyone that she was merely being thrifty. That the astronomical price of daal had compelled her to make the runny concoction and that she was being kind to our pockets. That it burnt my throat as I tried to push it down with a forced smile on my face and is probably one of the reasons for my damaged vocal cords is another matter altogether. The point is that even when I wanted to throttle her or use the choicest cuss words to chastise her, I kept mum. Such is maidpower. It makes you a dumb doll. It makes you a blind bat. It makes you a deaf doormat. All because you want to be spared the mundane and pursue the creative. Well, the maid left. The next one left too and the one after that.....If ever there was an unbroken chain reaction, this was it. Like I said, I didn't say a word to the maids. My mother did. Now, now, before you pass any judgment on her, let me remind you that all mothers are like that only. Mine is no exception. She sees what I don't see, hears what I don't hear, smells what I don't smell, and speaks when I keep mum. I know now that she can't stand maids who scratch, cough, spit, sleep or get a headache and they all do exactly that. She then suspects that all of them have a dreaded disease and that they have broken into our house with the sole intention of passing it on to us. I challenge you to challenge her. It's a no-winner. She said all that should have been left unsaid (to the maids) and that has left me speechless. I cough, I scratch too (the Mumbai sun has made me break out into prickly heat). I don't spit. I sweat but use a deodorant. And I make yummy daal. So, it was decided (by my mother, of course) that I would make a great replacement, quite forgetting that I am the original who needed a replacement in the first place. At that point, I barked at all and sundry. I showed them that I could be a b*t*h. I think it's then that my throat protested and I coughed like I've never coughed before. My coughs are full of venom, anger, the helplessness of the downtrodden, the hope of a victim. And now, my voice has gone dead. I guess, all that venting has taken its toll. So, now, I am the silent sufferer from Bollywod films. Fancying myself as one helps me a bit as I go about doing my endless chores, feeling like a victim. Like the Bollywood film heroine, I hope for the day I'll be rescued from the drudgery by a shining maid in armour, who'll sweep me off my tired feet, plonk me in a recliner with a book in hand and endless cups of steaming hot tea. Till then, I'll shed a few quiet tears (I can't sing those doleful songs), write when I can, and keep praying for help that'll come without an instinct to scratch. I've done a net search on anti-itch powders and ointments. Just in case. Well, I can't be here too long. There's the floor to sweep, the dust on the furniture to wipe,'s a loooooooong list. Have to go. Cough...Crrroaaak....