Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Free Stuff

Yesterday my sister sent me a message. A 16year old girl committed suicide. She could not afford a bus pass (for school, I should assume), her farmer father had a debt of Rs.12 lakh.
There is so much behind those flat sentences. The despair, the denying of self, the hopelessness. I recognise that the bus pass is  not why that child killed herself, but it was the trigger. And how much  must it have cost? Not more than a thousand rupees, certainly. How easy it is for some to satisfy a need of that magnitude. I was uncomfortably aware of this as I settled down in my fancy 3AC berth. The journey I was on was costing me about 6000 Rupees; without sacrificing much comfort, I could have done it for a  sixth of the price.
And I was to be made even more uncomfortable during the night.
Around 10 pm, some people entered the compartment, perched on a berth where a man was already sleeping and began talking loudly. They were paid meeting attendees, employed by political parties to turn up at meetings and demonstrations. They spoke of  criss-crossing the region, of sleeping in trains.
And soon I realised that they did not purchase tickets.
Now I understand travelling ticketless when desparate. I understand needing to get home, and not having the means  to do so.
I do not understand these men. They were 'too good' to travel in the general compartment. But they could enter an AC compartment and occupy someone elses berth. They were too poor to buy  tickets. But  they were comfortable abusing the TC and laughing at him. They would not drink the water from the station, but they figured out where water bottles are stored on the train and stole some. Not that they would call it stealing of course. They were entitled to do all this, they were convinced.
And near my destination, a child was dead.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Nothing makes a garden happier than the sound of hardworking bees. And that is why Mian and I have wanted a hive for a  long, long time. And just this spring, when I was out travelling, I got a phonecall from G.
"Some people turned up at our house with bees. What should I tell them?"
"Don't let them leave!" I yelped. "Whatever you have to do, just get those bees into our hive."
And he did.

Busy bees
Kumauni beehives are very different from the wooden boxes you see elsewhere. Those are too cold for the bees in winter, and the mountain sense of hospitality necessitates that they live in the house with you. The beehive here is  a small alcove constructed  into the exterior wall. From the outside, it has a small hole for access. The 'back' of the hive, the part that is in the house, has a wooden board that can be removed to access the honey.
The 'front' of the hive,which the bees use.

The 'back' of the hive,opening into our bedroom

For me, the honey is secondary. I get a tremendous amount of pleasure hearing the loud busy buzz over my salvia, my buckwheat, my flowering parsley. Garden planning is now centred around extending the flowering season for the bees.

'Don't worry about them', says Ratanda, bee whisperer and guardian of mountain lore. "They go all the way upto the forests in the Himalayas." In fact, he told me, the Queen refuses to eat till one of  the  drones feed her a bit of ice from the high peaks.

He came by a few days ago to inspect the bees before the winter, purely out of regard for them. We had long discussions about what to do if the hive was  overflowing. As it turns out, we were a little optimistic.

The inside of the bee cabin, with a very modest hive.
"Nobody works these days" Ratanda muttered. Not sure if  he meant the bees or me.
Ratan (in the cap) and G- two hardworking people

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I have been up at five every morning at home for the last six months or so.
The reason? We have a rooster.
His job is to till the garden and take care of his hens. The hens' job is  to lay eggs and till the garden.

Atleast, that's what Mian  and I thought till we realised their entertainment value. Having never had chickens before, I had no idea they have  so much personality.
The rooster for example. I have never seen him eat a grub he finds. Instead, he will call one of the hens (usually his favourite- the dark one- I am afraid) and give it to her. When a dog attacked, he fought it till the  hens got away. He's a good guy.
The hens are affectionate, in a chickeny way. They all (rooster included) come when I call. If they see me with something in my hand, they race over in a chicken waddle. They are supposed to live in a chicken tractor, but  post monsoon I've been letting them forage. There's so much lush  growth all over, it must be chicken heaven.
But no, they will come to where I am. Usually, this means the porch. Which means I either have to continually shoo them away or put up with chicken poop. They steal food from Madhu Bhaloo's porch. When she is sitting there.
But bless her, she's risen to the chicken guarding. When they give the alarm cluck, she's there before I am. She shoos her friends away from the coop. She's got a job, my Madhu.

The questions you might have:
Eggs? Yes indeed! two a day of the orangiest, yummiest eggs you ever saw. And yes, there  IS a difference between fresh farm eggs and battery eggs.
Meat? that was the original plan. And we intend to stick to it. Mian and I have been meat-eaters all our lives. It seems dishonest to say 'not these'.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Five years

And this little gang of cousins is all grown up now.  Well, almost.
Not too old to not be seduced by the magic of Harry Potter and his friends.
Here they are, 5 years after I last saw them.
Exploring castles together.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Beach date

"It was such an unexpected and lovely day; I just had to make the most of  it" said D."So we got into the car and went down to the beach together."
This attitude, of 'making the most' of  an available day and taking your love out for a date is a wonderful trait in anyone. But perhaps a little more so in D's case.
D's love is the lady I had written about earlier. The lady with the lovely smile and with the advanced dementia. D did not consider it a lovely day because of the  weather, but because she was awake and 'present'.
So he got her dressed, into her wheelchair, out of it and into the car, into the wheelchair again,and to an accessible boardwalk where the two of  them sat quietly looking at  the sea. After a couple of hours, he repeated the whole process in reverse.
When we met them a week later, he spoke with great happiness of the lovely day they had. We spoke  with her, "D told us you went to the beach. Did you have a good time?" Her face lit up. She nodded once, twice. Reached for his hand and stroked it.
These two have so much to teach me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What is my core?

The thing I fear most for myself is dementia. More than illness, more than poverty, more than death even. It is dementia. The absolute incapacitation, the dependence, the being trapped in myself. And so far, I have told myself that it is because I don't want to be a burden to those that love me. I don't want to suck their lives into my care. I don't want them to pay the price of having loved what I once was.

But  now I am asking myself if that is what motivates my fear.

I know a woman with dementia. She once was a woman who sang and danced and charmed everyone who came into her life. Now, like the Cheshire Cat, she has faded away till all that is left is her smile. But what a smile that is! A smile for everyone sees and a warm clasp of the hand. Mian and I can spend  hours holding hands with this  warm woman and reflecting her smile.

I know other people suffering from this too. And no, dementia does not transform everyone into smiling beings. Mostly it is paranoia that presents itself; sometimes anger, sometimes regrets.

Maybe this  is what scares me. If I were to fade away, how sure can I be that the last thing that is left of me is a smile?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jaane do

I was travelling in Bihar with a man I respect greatly. He was telling me about a man HE respects.

"He's had a hard deal. His only son is mentally disabled and cannot work. So the old man has to support him."
I commiserated.
And then my host went on to explain that he wanted to introduce me to this gentleman, but he was out of station.
"He has gone to visit his grandchildren. They are in boarding school."
I expressed regret at missing my opportunity, and then did a doubletake.
"Grandchildren? But I thought the son was the only child?"
And then, forgive my inquisitiveness, the question slipped out.
"Was the bride informed before the wedding?"
In answer I got an irritated flicking of the wrist and the phrase "Woh jaane do. Let that go."

And I did this time around. But that got me thinking of how very often I'd heard that phrase or its many variants.

Let it go. Why do you need to ask such things? Let it go. This is  not one of your fancy books, real life is like this only. Let it go. You are too western. Let it go. How did you become so negative? Let it go.
I am tired now.It is time we stopped letting it go.