Saturday, June 24, 2006

Putting Things in Order

Am super busy at the moment. A new feeling for me because most of the time I tend to be so laidback with enough time to sit and look out of the window and contemplate the world and all that. In the last few days, Sushama (my friend from Delhi who is staying with me at the moment) and I have been shopping for chairs and rugs and table lamps and all kinds of odds and ends to get the flat in shape by the 2nd of July which is when we have our first workshop there.

Meanwhile another friend, Rotna has donated me a mattress which folds up neatly into a sofa, which I've placed against the wall near the standard lamp. The major change will happen when the TV set is moved to the front room which I am going to use as my office room, making space for people to lie down for the meditations.

Am learning to be orderly and to do first things first. The new stereo has been set up and it sounds quite good - its is actually a set of five way speakers with a subwoofer (quite cheap) as a stand by. I just connect my MP3 player to it. The Real Thing will be installed when I return from Europe in October, by which time the monsoon will be over.

Sushama is really enthusiastic about doing up the place and has millions of suggestions on where to place what, where to buy stuff, whom to ask about getting furniture made. If I remember to I'll take my camera along today and take some photos of how the living room looks just now though it is still far from being complete.

Basicindia calendar of events July to December 2006 :

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Shopping in Bombay

Big Bazar was one of the first malls to be set up in Bombay a few years ago, in the area which used to formerly belong to a whole row of cotton mills which closed down. (Phoenix Mills compound as it is still called). At the time it was something to marvel at because it was one of the first supermarkets with trolleys like they have in shops in Europe. Till then shops tended to be rather poorly stocked and one had to depend on one’s visits abroad or to catch hold of friends going to Europe or America to bring back stuff you needed. But in recent years all that has changed and most of what is available outside India is also available here. You could saunter around for example, gazing at a variety of products ranging from kitchen ware to cosmetics and food. Our cook Asha was very impressed by it.

Today Bombay is crawling with malls and Big Bazar seems like a poor cousin compared to the fancier ones like "Atria" which Asha and I visited the other day, for kicks. Simbly. If nothing else we got an afternoon's worth of exercise strolling around the arcade. Much of it is still unfinished and whatever stuff is on sale is horrendously expensive. A lot of it was clothes. Jeans and tops and salwaar kameezes. The number of clothes shops never fails to astound me, for example around where I live there are hardly any good restaurants, hardly any good stationary shops or places to get down to earth stuff but - there are millions of shoe shops and clothes shops. You sometimes get the idea that in India the upper classes don’t eat food, they eat yards of silk and georgette and spangled jhig-mig saris.

Well, walking around Atria, Asha and I came across a store selling chairs. Reclining massage chairs. We decided to walk in and find out how much they cost and discovered that the cheapest one was like Rs. 90,000 and the price went up to Rs. 300,000. When the salesman tried to persuade us to just "try them out" Asha and I burst out laughing and slowly but surely backed out, saying we would definitely visit again. Like hell.

On the way down we joked about it. A small apartment in the suburbs would cost that much, we figured. I said to Asha, maybe we could turn the chair into a small portable apartment, you know, two people could squeeze themselves in the space under it and two could sit on it. It might just about hold a family of four. Asha loved that idea and cackled loud and long.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Spring Cleaning

June 8th

Finally finally finally! Have got started on the project to refurnish and re-organise my grandmother's flat where I am supposed to be moving in. The painting and wiring has been already done. Dont know if it is the weather or the Indian temperament but everything takes so long here. Even to make a simple decision like getting started. A lot of spring cleaning is still in progress. Tons of books have been disposed off. When I get started on the old junk like family photos and letters (and some awful poems I wrote when I was seventeen) etc. I often dont have the heart to chuck things out so I am making a file now of archaic documents and pictures which I can keep looking over when I am ninety five. (If I l live that long which I really doubt).

I even came across a black and white photo of my great grandmother posing against the background of some hills in Europe which she visited in 1939. Maybe it was Vienna. I know she visited it. It was a historic visit, because that was the year Hitler was getting ready to pounce on Europe and everyone knew that the brownshirts were after the Jews. My great grandfather, reasonably fair skinned (for an Indian) and with his big long nose was warned by a lot of people in Austria to lie low! My great grandmother sent a postcard to my grandmom which my grandmom never forgot and which in retrospect seemed to ring so eerily true. She wrote that it all seemed like a " picnic of horrors".The heat has eased up somewhat and there is a light breeze flowing in through the open window. And now I am going to get back to "work" which is planning some courses for the next six months.

June 10th

Still at it! More spring cleaning. Recovering more dusty files, boxes, cookery books (all out of my grandmother's chest of drawers and most of the pages slowly falling to bits), empty perfume bottles, a dubious looking folding parasol, paper knives, post cards sent by me to my grandmother from Europe, more photos of the family.... whoooo. I also recovered four ancient looking metal bedpans from one of the cupboards in grandma's room!!!! When I asked my mom about it she said they must have belonged to my great grandfather!

My grandmother's younger maid Saru helps me with all of this. I spread my grandmom's old red and black spotted sari on my lap before I start anything because the first day when I failed to do that I was covered in dust. Anyway - Saru who also likes to cook, was keen that I keep the cookery books because she likes to try out new stuff.

Sometimes I come across something or other - a blouse, a particular sari - which my grandmother used to wear and I start to feel kind of sad and miss her. She was a real cute lady, about four feet eight inches at her tallest (she kept shrinking as she got old) and 96 years old when she died. An intelligent, obstinate, defiant, little chatterbox. Very advanced for her times. She couldn't stand being without company. Always wanted someone around. I was often there in the evenings, we would sit on her balcony watching the sea. I would drink my usual ginger tea and she would sip at her soup and talk of the old days and of people she knew and British rule in India.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

The crazy Media

Rahul Mahajan

The media is a watch dog they say. I don’t know about the real watching part, but yes, most certainly the media does behave like a dog for better or worse. The way it goes after people at times, has a downright surrealistic feel to it. I would even say it is depressing. I am no supporter of dear Rahul M who is now cooling his heels in Tihar jail after his champagne and cocaine binge last week and still claims to be “innocent”. (As my friend Sushama says “innocent of what?!”) But truly, seeing the way the press and TV channels behave, one gets the feeling of a huge snarling drooling canine going after a smaller snivelling cousin with the word “KILL” stamped fiercely on its brain.

Sure, I am like anyone else and the first day or two I gobbled up all the news there was to be had, and waited eagerly for more. And yes, the waiting had the same feel to it as waiting for the next episode of the “Bold and Beautiful” or this moronic serial I watch once in a blue moon these days called “Bhabhi” which is replete with wailing females and people getting shot or falling over the edge of a cliff and so on. The Mahajan serial was a bit more exciting if anything because “real life” thrillers usually double the high. But at some point I noticed it got too much, even for a “kind of soap opera friend” like me.

You begin to almost wonder whether the whole thing, every “real life” drama, all of life these days in fact is a media fabrication, for them (exactly who?) to be able to give you “news” and make sure that millions of morons will stay tuned to their channels and continue to act like morons.

To date I have not come across a single news channel, newspaper or magazine concerned with looking at the truth under the surface. The role of the media is to go after sensation which they term “the truth.” The truth is that exposure and punishment for various crimes and all the rest of it may be one aspect of getting people to reform. (Not necessarily the best I would say but well, that’s the way I think …) The other aspect has more to do with a long term effort. With education, self awareness, self respect, inner confidence which real education brings and so on, which is the only thing finally that will bring the crime rate down. Regardless of whether we are talking of drug related crimes, economic exploitation, of violence or anything else. It is the only thing too, that will make life with each other more liveable.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Old Times

I am not one for taking long nostalgic walks down memory lane. Or not frequently at any rate. I never think of my school days with tearful eyes. During our final graduation ceremony at the BIS in fact Nazneen and I were the only two dry eyed individuals and as soon as it was over, and before other people’s tears had dried, she and I almost collapsed in each other’s arms with joy at never having to come to school again and be subjected to horrible subjects like maths and Hindi. (Hated Hindi back then though now I am looking for a teacher who can help me bone up on the language so that I can communicate fluently with my non English speaking clients!)

Now and then however, it feels good to catch up with old classmates so it was fun to see Yesha again after a gap of at least six years. (We seem to meet every five or six years or so). She is flying again after having served on the ground for a few years and it being her day off yesterday she phoned and asked if I were at home because she was coming into town.

Yesha was one of those kids who used to wander around school in pickle stained uniforms and had the reputation of being somewhat eccentric because whenever she got bored during class she would wander out, run around the courtyard a couple of times and come back and quietly sit at her desk. The teachers normally didn’t say anything to her because on the one occasion when they came down heavily on her she ran back home (she lived close to school) and returned quite defiantly with her father who yelled at the principal for allowing his daughter to be tortured by ignorant teachers.

Anyway after school Yesha transformed herself into this very svelte and fashionable young woman whom you would never dream of associating with pickle stained skirts and landed a job with an airline – where she still works.

So now she sashays into the flat some time around noon. I am just done with a client and wander into the living room and no sooner have I parked my butt on the sofa than she tells me in astounded tones how very stout I have become and how she just cant get over it. (Not that Yesha herself has gotten any thinner I smirk inwardly). Well I tell myself, things haven’t changed much since kindergarten when we would inflict the cruel truth on each other several times a day ("You're stupid! No you are a FOOL!!! Your dress looks so silly" etc. etc.) and then turn our backs on each other (Katti) for a few minutes or hours.

We went to the club for lunch, where the grilled fish and lemon butter sauce was approved of, though the vegetarian speciality “Thalipeet and pitla” got the thumbs down from her. During lunch we traded reminiscences and Yesha spoke of some tips I had given her when we met in Europe in ’74 or ’75. I had apparently told her that blue jeans didn’t need to be washed more than once in six months because the dirt never showed on the outside and inside anyway your pants came into contact only with your skin and if you were reasonably regular about baths (once in five or six days?) then you were safe from being smelly.

The other bit of advice I apparently gave her (and yes come to think of it I do remember this one) was that you should never pay for your coffee when you go to one of those street side cafes. If you sit for a while someone is bound to offer you a cup. It worked for me, I know. There were any number of lonely Algerians and other expats at a loose end waiting to be entertained for the price of a cup of coffee. So one accepted the invitation gladly, one exchanged pleasantries for a while over an ice cream or an espresso and at the point when the bloke asked you out or asked you home you told him you were so sorry you couldn’t because your aged mother was waiting for you to return and fix her supper.

That was a good tip, said Yesha, except it doesn’t work so well any more. I guess you gotta be young for anyone to want to pay for your coffee. She sighed. I sighed. Then we both got up with reasonably full bellies and I dropped her off at Mahalaxmi station before returning home for a snooze.

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