Thursday, July 23, 2009

Aesthetic Sense

There is this..the Charbagh Railway station, Lucknow. Not exceptional, the helmet-like domes boggle the mind, and the paint is a trifle too new..but it does have a certain beauty, a patient, enduring grace if you will.

And then there is this. Why, why would a respected hotel choose to carpet it's meeting rooms with illustrations of stool samples during a roundworm epidemic? Welcome to the Taj Residency, Lucknow.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I got a house. The experience was such that I felt the multiverse wanted to assure me that the world isn't all bad.


After days of wandering around with a salwar kameez and bindi, I rebelled a couple of days ago. I didn't have any appointments with prospective landowners anyway, so I dressed 'normally'- cotton kurti that was just short of sheer, and wrap-around skirt. Not quite a bikini, but not quite dehradun. I am the only non-tween I have seen wearing a skirt.


Then my colleague tells me of a possible house. I go there, and that's empty, but I see a leprechaun peeking over the wall. I ask him, he turns out to be the gardener who moonlights as an agent, and he shows me a place.


By this time it is raining, and my kurti is firmly in the sheer category. I meet the landlady despite misgivings, and I get the house! No questions asked! Not too many anyways. I pay an advance on the deposit and it's mine!


So this week, I gradually move in my things..on Saturday I apply to BSNL to change my address and move my furniture. Monday onwards, I look forward to happy times without feeling the need to attach qualifiers to every wish..


Thursday, July 16, 2009

round peg, square hole

Today it has been exactly 10 days since I started house-hunting. I'm trying to focus on that fact, and not the other one, equally true, that I have 'used up' two weeks worth of Sunday classifeds with only one more to go. Since then, I have spoken to maybe two dozen people and seen around 10 houses. It is tough going..both when a house is obviously unsuitable, and when a house is suitable, but the owners don’t like you.

Last Sunday was especially tough. I walked all morning, was refused two houses I really liked, and would have been unable to stay in two others. By the end of that session, I had shoebite, a migraine, and no one had had the courtesy to offer me water. I was close to crying while tramping around, and when I came home, that's just what I did.

I had been refused one of those two houses because they wanted a couple with a stay-at-home wife (as a companion to the landlady) and the other, because they wanted a couple with a non-traveling husband ( as a watchman). Before that, I had been refused one house on the phone because of my provenance. I was upset and resentful at the end of the day. I wished that I was more conventional, more 'proper'.

This mood only lasted a day or two. The fact that even an ostensibly married couple is not proper enough put things into perspective for me. Apparently, we would have to be the traditional 'single income, two kids' family to fit in. And even that would not have been enough. In the course of this house-hunt, I have been asked my place of origin (pref: same as the house-owners), my caste ('higher' the better), my place of work (govt/bank preferred), food habits (vegetarian&teetotaler preferred), leisure habits (non-travelling required). Why even bother to fit in? and why? And fit into whose mould?

I like me. The One likes me. My family and friends like me, and like the combination of the One and I. The rest of the world can go take a hike.

After it lets me rent a one bedroom-hall-kit-bath with separate access and verandah, please. Pretty please?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

what I saw: Delhi-Dehradun

When we were children, we had a book called 'What I Saw'. The text on each page began with 'I saw, I saw' and described a little scene in a phrase or two. The main thing about the book were the lovely two-page illustrations by Mario Miranda. Lovely.

I am telling you this because the day before,I went to Delhi and back by car. I dont have stories, but a lot of images. Here we go ,then

I saw, I saw
• People. People who to my coastal-bred and reared eyes seemed as if they had stepped out of the pages of my geography text or of Geographical magazine. Crowded in markets, on the top of tankers, on carts drawn by assorted animals, home-made vehicles, cycles and on foot.
• The DIY vehicles. These are locally known as jugad (a term that means ‘sleight of hand’). All it takes to construct them is three wheels, some wood, and a diesel generator set. All else is optional. They are used as public transport and their easy acceptance on the roads of UP and Haryana is an ode to both ingenuity and tolerance.
• A black Ibis! I saw this the first time ever. And it is a beautiful bird, with it’s little black outfit, glossy red head and flash of white beneath its wings. I like the snap too..I would have wished for better clarity, but I like the way the Ibis and the Egret balance each other- the yin and yang of paddy fields.
• A mechanic holding a greasy axle in one hand and an ice-cream cone in the other. He was eating the ice cream with child-like glee and sensuality. I could have watched him all day.
• The kanwad mela in its various forms. This is an annual pilgrimage where people come to haridwar from all across the ganga basin and take some water home to bathe the village gods with. More about this later, but here is a fotu.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The shoemaker's back.

I had written here about my worries about his sudden disappearance. Well, I saw him at his usual spot today. And it seems as if G was right, and he had been to visit his grandchildren. His workplace is now brightened up by three girls of assorted ages who spend their time chilling out by his side.
This was the one major good thing that happened to me all week. Do you think it is a harbringer of better days ahead?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

chai and gupshup

When I moved to Dehradun, I didn’t know a soul. And then, I met enough people in the office so that I was actually saying hello and having weather-discussions with humans. But a 'social life' as is commonly understood by the term? Zilch.

Which is when I decided to create my own happenin' party scene. Taking inspiration from K&G who have a weekly pizza night, I started a monthly chai and sandwich evening. The invitees? Anyone from my office who cared to come.

Things didn’t go off smoothly all the time, of course. The first couple of times, people were not too confident of this whole 'open house, drop in if you feel like it' thing. They also did not expect that I would really just dish up chai and sandwiches and call it a party! Not that there was really a party atmosphere either. People would sidle in, sit quietly in a row with their backs to the wall, and then trickle out.

And sometimes, I was unsure too. In the beginning, and during a low period, I could not believe that people thought it worth their while to spend a couple of hours sitting on my floor. I obsessed over not having enough glasses to go around. I thought then that they come only because they feel sorry for this woman desperate to make friends. Or, as someone told me, in the hope that maybe this time, she will have some real food on the table.

One month, I didn’t host the chai-evening due to my anxiety. People came up to me and shyly asked when the next chai and gupshup session was. From this, and several little things my colleagues told me, I realised that my spartan chai evenings were actually a big part of people's social calendars- just as they were of mine. Most memorably, a colleague made me feel a little less like I was the only lonely one around by confessing that this and office-hours were the only occasions he spent time in the company of other humans.

And the life in these parties? It soon increased. People sing these days. They chat. They take it in turns to make and serve chai.

The reason I am writing all this? If you are lonesome, there are a whole lot of other lonesome souls around. Maybe you won’t make 'best friends', but one evening a month, your house will be filled with people and laughter and music, and that is never a bad thing. And it is a good thing for the others- the ones who are too shy to host it themselves. It doesn’t take much. If people want gourmet food, they will go to a restaurant. They come here for space and companionship. I have had the chai sessions on poverty-stricken days when I have not even bought butter. White bread, and tomatoes marinated in oil-and-vinegar. Bread, fried eggplant and onions. Bread and bananas, for heaven's sake. A little time, a little creativity, and a lot of attitude (They must love me) and you are good to go.

Why am I writing this today? I received the greatest possible affirmation that people look forward to these evenings. I am moving out of this house and the new one will probably not have so much space. Today the discussion - not initiated by me- is how to go on with the chai evenings. Two of my colleagues are even thinking of renting this place so that chai and gupshup can continue.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

quick update

for those who have been wondering.

My landlady and I are parting ways at the end of this month. I am now hunting for a place for the One and me.

Three things keep me going:
  1. The lying and grovelling I am doing does not define me. This is just something i need to do at the moment.
  2. It's all for a good cause.
  3. Edison once confidently reported that he had eliminated 2000 things that do not work..I have only eliminated 9 so far.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Authority, rights and the single woman

Today the High Court annulled Section 377 which criminalized 'carnal intercourse against the order of nature'. This was mainly used to persecute homosexuals, but technically also could be read to prohibit oral sex. Understandably, this is a big day for India- and not just the LGBT community. This is not just the end of a 8 year struggle for gay rights activists in India but hopefully, the beginning of the end of far too many years of judging people by one facet of their lives. It is a good thing, and I am happy.

Interestingly, today I had my own little struggle for my rights, but I have not won yet. Today was the day I told my landlady of the Wonderful One and that he would be coming here. For those who do not know yet, a single-woman tenant needs to ask her landlady for permission before she can have guests over, and permission for guests of the male persuasion is generally not forthcoming. However, I did this in as proper a manner as I could. I got my sister to speak with her to add legitimacy to the whole thing; went to her with mithai in my hands. The response? My landlady, who's 60 if she is a day, needs to ask her mother for permission! and so, I will be on tenterhooks till Monday.

I am saddened by all this. This issue is not just of having the One over, though that is definitely a part of it. I am angered that we need to grovel for wanting something so simple- sharing coffee in the mornings, walking home together from work. Doesn't seem like much to ask for, does it? But I can, and will, move heaven and earth for that. The thing that saddens me is that a single woman, whether 33 or 60 is not allowed respect, not allowed authority.

Take me, for instance. I needed to get my sis, and probably will need to get my mum to speak with the landlady to 'legitimize' my love. In the course of the conversation, my landlady told my sis, " If you take responsibility for her, it's ok". What? Why? I am a sane, functional adult. Why should the person with whom I shared my childhood 'take responsibility' for me? My plan B involves requesting my boss to speak on my behalf. I know this will work. A bearded masculine pillar of local society can convince my landlady the way a female voice from 2000 kms away cannot. But knowing this, I resent it. I resent being forced to ask for help. Asking my sis is bad enough, but only from a feminism point of view. Having to ask my boss for a personal favour is a whole different kettle of fish altogether.

But I feel sorry for my landlady too. Generally, for all 'unpleasant' conversations- i.e. those that involve exercising authority- she brings in her brother as a sort of shadowy bogeyman. " my brother was asking why the rent is late", "my brother wont like it if you have guests over" etc. And today, she brought in her mother. Is it that a woman is refused authority even when a senior citizen?

Why is it that single women are considered children no matter what their actual age might be? People assume that I live off instant noodles cooked off a hotplate when they learn I live alone. No, I don’t. I stopped doing that at 17. Now, I have a functional kitchen and cook pasta from scratch on weekends. I am also aware that children aren't brought by storks or found under cabbages. Would you believe that even now relatives and colleagues change the topic and hush things up saying, " you won't understand" when I walk into a sex-related conversation?

And despite all this, I am lucky. Lucky my mum and sis love the One- if for no reason other than that they once saw him look at me with open love in his eyes. Lucky that the One understands this and is patient when far too many precious online dates are spent agonizing about my landlady troubles. Lucky that I have options.

And above all, as I write this, I think of the Sarpanch of a village I had visited to resolve a water conflict. It was a drought year, and the only water available was in a farm pond constructed by the NGO I worked for then. The main village and the harijan vasti were fighting over rights to use that water. I was upset by this. Seeing my distress, the Sarpanch told me to be glad they have something to fight over. If the pond were not there, there would be no fight, but that would not be preferred, would it?

No, it wouldn't. I am lucky.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The solo trekker

Whenever I tell people that I am off on a walk, the reactions I meet with range from dismay ("what? Alone! Wont you get bored? Wont you get scared?") to pity (poor thing..has noone to go with). Which surprises me a lot, because I would think that the natural reaction would be envy. Though I suppose that's just because I think tramping over the foothills is such an utterly fabulous thing to do.

It is definitely true that I go alone because I don’t have a standing (walking?) arrangement with a fellow trekker. But I suppose that if I did have such a thing, I would waste a lot of energy trying to wiggle out of the arrangement. Because I love, love walking alone.

And this is why.

Firstly, planning and logistics is incredibly simple. The negotiations involved are only between I, me, and myself- which is hard enough to make adding another bunch of opinions undesirable. I can change my mind enroute and no one will object.

There is no loss of izzat. I, me, and myself have seen each other sans any dignity whatsoever, which makes us pretty relaxed with ourselves. I can sit down and slide over a difficult slope, no worries. And I can be goofy. Remember the deer at Pari Tibba? I did not see it because I was gaily ricocheting off trees with the 'George' theme song in my head. Can't do that with a partner, uh uh. And the question of being embarrassed when i puff my way uphill does not arise. Just as trees that fall do not make a noise if there is no one to hear them, women saunter easily up the steepest cliffs when alone.

And on weekends, I pack away my sartorial common sense along with my spreadsheets. I am not going into details, but paint splattered kurtas are involved, and socks with orcas on them, and pink umbrellas. Be very glad I choose to walk alone.

And finally, there is responsibility. I am enough of a controlling Lady Macbeth that I prefer to be in sole charge of route planning, and enough of a Bottom that I goof up the reading of maps, instructions and signboards. When things go a wee bit awry-and they do- it is a lot easier to think that I am the only one 'paying for my mistakes'. Also sometimes, I am in enough trouble already without having to worry about the seven kinds of hell my poor friends might be tempted to pack me off to.

The downside? well, photos. This explains why most of my photos are of the scenery. But sometimes loved ones insist on seeing one in the snap. And this leads to efforts like this: