Friday, April 30, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 8...Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mauricio’s Mom




Last night we got to actually sit and talk with Mauricio and his mom, the other people who have shifted into the guesthouse. Since Mauricio knows English he played translator and we were able to carry on a conversation with his mom. As it turned out she has a fascination for India and surprisingly was quite well-informed about our country. She had a lot of questions about our customs, various religions, attire, indigenous spices used in our food, Hinduism, the river Ganga, status of women with emphasis on the girl-child and even about historical monuments (especially the Taj Mahal) and political figures like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Answering her queries was very interesting for me as it took me back to my teaching days. I surprised myself with my ability to recall, with accuracy, many historical facts, folk lore, customs of various communities, religious ceremonies etc. There was a lot of exchange of information as she told us quite a bit about Germany, where she had lived for some years and also about Moroccan customs she had learned about from a close friend who was a Moroccan. We had a lot to laugh about too and were generally enjoying ourselves when it happened.



I was the first to feel the swaying of the building. Seeing the panic on my face Mauricio sprang up and took my hand, Tintin had already taken my other hand. This prevented me from jumping up and running. It was a tremor. This was different. It carried on slowly for about 30 seconds in a slow swaying motion. Not again I thought. We sat it out. With four other people around me it wasn't so scary. We thought it had been a small one but as it turned out it was a 6.9 rocker, with its epicentre in Concepcion. That signalled the end of all conversation and we retired for the night.



I woke up late and felt tired. I barely had time to drink my tea when Gabriel arrived to take me to his house, and I had to rush without my breakfast. I wrote a bit, talked a bit to Roxanna. We were able to understand each other quite well through signs and a few words we understood. I rested in the early evening, as I watched the latter half of Martian Child starring Russell Crowe. Roxana had gone on a business call to Valparaiso.



After the short break I'm back at the keyboard. It’s 7.45 pm and I’m here trying to capture the moment. But I’m unable to find the spark. I feel drained. The evening signals a wan picture for me. It’s back to the guesthouse and I’ll sit alone while Tintin and Manu see to things at the apartment. The laptop would have gone with them, not that it matters so much as there’s no internet in the guesthouse. Dinner will come with them at about 10.30 or so.



Under the circumstances I’m holding on pretty well, considering the food timings going awry, lack of sleep, complete disruption of my daily routine and suppressed longings for home, family- conversations and my own bed and bathroom. Kudos girl, you’re doing great. It doesn’t matter what the others think or don’t think...Just keep the faith.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 7

The Segura Home



I’ve given a fair picture of the guesthouse earlier, so I’ll just write a bit about the room and bathroom I use. The room is small with a heavy single bed on one side against the left wall. A foot and a half across from that is a big, heavy wood, bunk-bed against the right wall. Between the beds is a foot wide bedside table. The bunk beds are directly in front of the door, which leaves little space, so if it’s dark and you hurry in you’re sure to bang your head or break your nose against it! I did contemplate putting up a warning sign that read: 'Peligro A 1 ft' then dropped the idea! There’s a wardrobe on the south wall and a big window makes up the north. It offers no view except for a peek into other apartments, if their curtains are drawn apart.



My bathroom is at one end of the tiny corridor into which both bedrooms open onto. It is a 5 and a half foot by 2 and a half foot rectangle. The shower cubicle is a 2 and a half foot by 1 and a half foot rectangle with a shower curtain to lend it some dignity! I’ve yet to have a shower here. In fact after I left the hotel I haven’t had a shower nor washed my hair. My greatest fear is being caught off-guard by an earthquake while I'm in the shower.Yes...not only you think I’m ”YUCKY”, I’m feeling that way too. But hey, I do have a wash.


This place may not be one I’d choose to live in, but this place has provided me with shelter when I needed it. I have to be grateful I wasn’t alone in my sixth level apartment when the tremors and tsunami alert happened. It was easier for me to run out here. I have only three flights of twenty-three steps to climb down. Oh by the way, the other bedroom and bathroom are many degrees better than the ones I’m using. Still I’m glad I have this one. Surprised? Because of the bunk-beds Tintin and Manu come down from their apartment to stay the night, and that’s so comforting. This brings me to the Segura’s house in Miraflores. How I went there and why I went there has already been spoken about. But this is one place that I cannot speak about as only a house; it is a home.



This is a beautiful family comprising mother, two sons, a daughter, two dogs and a cat. And last but not the least is the nana or maid as we would say in India. Roaxanna, the mother, is truly beautiful. By this I mean she is pretty and also has a very large and warm heart. A quality she has imparted to the home and the children. She works as a manager with Avon and is very successful at her job. Gabriel is the elder son and works with Ranjit and Manu at the Chile office. Although I haven’t interacted with him a lot, due to his work schedules, he comes through as large-hearted, thoughtful and hospitable as his mother. Javier, the younger son is doing his engineering in metallurgy. Since his college classes haven’t started yet he’s usually the one at home and he knows a bit of English, so we talk a lot. He’s friendly, caring and warm like the others. I like him. Constanza, is the youngest. She’s in school. I’ve only met her twice and then too for a few minutes. She’s as pretty as her mother. Daniella, Javier’s girlfriend, and I have spent an afternoon together. She’s a lovely girl; very bright, lively and pleasant. She’s studying to be a lawyer. The children here are brought up to be respectful of elders, a lot like it is in India.



This brings us to Mika, the bulldog. She’s one and a half years old, very cute in a bull-dog way and resembles a nicely stuffed bolster. Loves to be petted and is very jealous and demanding of attention. Benjamin (pron:Benkhameen) is a six and a half year old toy poodle. Very cute and exactly as his name suggests, like a toy. Both the canines are friendly and I enjoy them. Martina the cat walks in and out at will. I was surprised by her gestures of friendliness. She gave me a good look before she approached my chair. Then she rubbed herself against my leg, hoisted herself on her hind legs while resting her fore-legs on my thigh, she extended a paw indicating she wanted me to pet her. She left satisfied, a few seconds later making soft purring sounds. I thought it was an odd encounter but she repeated it twice the next day. Since I’m not particularly fond of cats, I figured she must have found me quite feline. Not very complimentary for me, if I express it another way!! The help, I’m told has been a part of the household for about twenty odd years. I can’t communicate with her very well but she takes care of me when I’m alone in the house. A pleasant lady, who reminds me of Lolita, my maid in India, and the way she used to look after me.



The house is big and spread out with a spacious drawing room, done up modestly and tastefully. There is a formal dining area which isn’t used by the family daily. There are three bedrooms on the ground floor and one on the first level all done up well and comfortably. The kitchen is big and also has the dining table where the family eats. There is a patio or covered verandah behind the house. The drawing room opens onto it. The area is a very nice place to sit, either on the garden ‘jhoola’ seat or one of the chairs around a dining table. The garden and lawn covers the rest of the land behind the house. It could be a house in Gurgaon or any other city in India except that it’s built with wood. Reminds me of the houses in hill stations like Shimla, Nainital; especially those colonial ones where the British lived.



This home has given me so much of peace and tranquillity at this time when my nerves are so jangled. I am so privileged to have met these people. Thus I see daily the way God has opened doors for me and has literally carried me when I was faint.



I almost forgot to mention the black-out on Sunday. We witnessed another very unusual thing in the night while we were having dinner. There was a power cut that blacked out almost 90 per cent of Chile. Power cuts per se are unheard of in Chile and this was unimaginable. Initially we were worried that it had something to do with a quake, but immediately realised that if there had been an earthquake we would have certainly felt it. We learnt that there was some problem with the third grid, obviously a major problem. Given our experience of India we were expecting to be without electricity for a day at least. We were proved wrong as power was restored in two hours.


I was happy the cut was timed to coincide with our dinner time or else we could have been caught in the elevator as we left the apartment to go to the guesthouse. Now that would have been frightening. If I had voiced this, Tintin and Manu would have listened with half a ear, taking it to be the wild imaginings of a terrified mind. But as it turned out someone did get stuck in an elevator and had a horrifying twenty minutes!



Mauricio and his mom were in an elevator coming down from the sixteenth floor when the power shut down. They had no idea whatsoever what had happened. The first thought that came to mind was there had been an earthquake. I can imagine what a scary situation it must have been in that dark enclosure, suspended at that height. They began to pound on the door. Somebody finally heard the racket and they were rescued after twenty minutes! When the elevator door was prised open they found themselves suspended between two floors. Getting out was also an ordeal, but they were happy to be able to get out.


PS: I did start having showers in that small shower cubicle a few days later and enjoyed it..LOL!


Glossary

Peligro A 1ft........Danger at 1 ft

"Jhoola" seat.........A garden swing-seat made of wrought iron.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Chile Diary ...Chapter 6

Mantagua



Late, that evening Mohit, who is a senior level boss in the company Ranjit works for rang up to say that we and three others could stay at another boss’s casa in Mantagua. I was so happy and Ranjit was relieved. Casa meant an independent house on the ground so no stairs for me to climb up or run down!. As we drove into the residential area I couldn’t suppress the “wow” that slipped out. This was definitely one of the better places, and a more expensive one to reside in. The house we had to go to wasn’t completed in terms of interior decoration, facade, front garden and back lawn and garden. There was rubble, wood and weeds, over-grown grass and bramble all around it. But the main structure was very nice and all the rooms which included living-room, dining room and bedrooms had the basic furniture, curtains, beds, pillows and comforters. The bathrooms were good with an ample store of towels however there was no hot water and the kitchen was fully equipped.


The tremors were mild here, and I spent a relatively calm time for as long as we stayed. Initially I fretted about no internet and TV. What was I supposed to do the whole day while everyone was at work? Relief hopped in to give me English novels from Mohit’s library and a gadget called a dongle, which connected me to the net, from Karmeshu one of the senior bosses from India, who was also staying with us. I was getting reasons to be grateful at every step which reminded me that someone up there was looking out for me.



But the most striking thing about the place was the location. These houses were built on hilly ground so the roads ran up and down slopes. Each house had well kept gardens in front of the house and behind. The gardens were ablaze with bright hues. The flowers here have amazingly bright colours. And the Pacific lay behind our row of houses. It was beautiful as the sea was near enough to get a clear view of seals swimming, yachts sailing or ships entering the port. The huge window that spread against one whole wall of the dining cum living room offered the most scenic view I’ve seen here till now. I used to sit and soak in the cool breeze as I gazed over treetops at the ever changing sand dunes that rolled down to the blue ocean. My spirit was forever hovering between the brilliant sun and aquamarine water. The breeze is always so cool even when the clear sunshine is blazing on terra firma.



Well true to nature relief isn’t a long staying pal. We moved in on Sunday night and moved out next Sunday morning. Not that we had to, in fact the boss’s family, who lived one casa away was surprised that we were moving out. But it was becoming inconvenient for Ranjit and Manu to commute to the office. Mantagua is about twenty-five kms away from Vina, so that added to the distance. Their work place is not in Vina Del Mar. To make the daily run Tintin had to hire a car for the entire week. This was proving to be very expensive. So we were back in the apartment and I had the jitters. Monday morning the tremors decided to get back in full force. Strong ones kept the count rolling to sixteen in the day. Tintin would keep calling every time one came and would find me rattled.



Finally he found a room on the ground floor at a hotel barely five minutes from the apartment. He drove down from office and shifted me there.



I slept. I slept the afternoon away.



I stayed here in the night too, alone, but it wasn’t scary. The tremors were not so frightening here as they didn’t shake up the room so badly. Still it was quite late when I finally went to sleep. What matters is that I slept well. However, the next morning saw me packing my stuff and moving to the company guesthouse. I didn’t want to leave but I had no choice. Although the room was neat and clean and had a nice attached bathroom, it was a one-star facility with a three-star tariff.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 5

Terremotto



Tea was as usual a very pleasant break, and the pleasantness stretched out to include Tintin, Gabriel and Pillar who had returned from office. A short while later Roxanna, Gabriel’s mom, also came home from work. There was a lot of laughing and joking and translation ensured I had my share of the fun too. But at the back of my mind I knew we would soon have to leave, and the thought of being alone at the guesthouse wasn’t the best thought I had had that day. However change is the only definite thing happening here, so I learnt that I would have company in the form of another employee’s mum. Relief hopped in and a moment later hopped out.


The lady was as ignorant of English as I was of Spanish. As she was a resident of this place I was informed she would be having her girl friends dropping in and a couple would also stay over. I have no problems with the social life of people, but the place is small, I write sitting at the dining table which is a part of the living room, which also has the TV which would also be the only entertainment for my new lady acquaintance. The TV plugs in to the only plug point in the living-dining room and since we don’t want to get too many things here like connection boards etc so it’s a delicate problem....who plugs what into the solitary point?


I’ve given the advantage to her this morning by banking on the laptop battery. But I guess her thoughtfulness prevents her from switching on the TV as I’m writing here. She tried to make conversation but it was going nowhere, so we both gave up. I continued typing and she waddled off to her room. I can empathise with her. She must be feeling as bad as I’m feeling. Uprooted from her home, which is not safe to stay in as the roof gave-in during the ‘terramotto’(Big earthquake). Her son stays elsewhere and she’s thrown in with a foreigner, so communication is non-existent. And to top it all the Indian likes to write sitting at the only table available. I suppose she’ll get the drift and switch on the TV later today or tomorrow. I’ll have to curtail my writing time to fit in with the recharges of the battery. Adjusting, adapting...hope I’m doing a better job at it than the dinosaurs.


Tintin and Manu have been sleeping here for the past two nights. I did wonder about it. I got to know yesterday, there’s an over-hanging threat of another terramotto...perhaps stronger than the previous one. I’m praying for God to keep us under His mighty panoply. I’m praying for Chile too. I want us all to go to Canada. But I leave it in God’s hands. He knows best. I better change into something decent and then I’ll tell you about the casa in Miraflores.



Monday, 15 March 2010



I didn’t get to write over the weekend. My back and knees were acting up so I was not up to it. On Saturday we went out for lunch to the food court at Marina Arauca. After sampling a few Chilean preparations I decided I’d had enough. The pork roast was fine teamed up with the browned onions. Nothing else was so amazing as to get a mention...average fair, and that goes for the desserts too.


I’ve been rambling on or meandering I should say. I still have to recount the earthquake and also tell you about the different places I’ve stayed at till now. Well, this isn’t an official record and I’ll proceed according to the thoughts and fancy that capture me. Let’s start with the abodes that have provided me shelter till date. But to get the importance of the roles these places have played I will just have to recount the terramotto.


It was a Friday and exactly a week since I had arrived. Ranjit (Tintin) and Manu had dinner with me and then left for a party at their friend’s place. I was uneasy and couldn’t sleep, so I sat like a zombie in front of the TV, staring at the screen but registering nothing. One thought kept running through my head...what if there is an earthquake? Whenever there is something I’m nervous about or can’t handle I “cast my cares” on God. So I told Him I was scared to be alone during an earthquake and if one should happen then the kids should be back.


At 3.00am both returned. At 3.34 the big quake rumbled in, shaking the house like a giant rattling a matchbox. We had only just made it to the front door by then. Tintin opened the door and held on to the doorknob with his right hand, so that we wouldn’t be locked in if the door should get stuck, while he steadied himself under the beam in the doorway leading to the living cum dining room. I grasped on to him and the wall as well, and Manu grabbed us. The quake increased in intensity and I looked around at the way the walls and the floor were jumping and shaking like a man with an epileptic fit. It went on for ninety seconds. Short period in terms of measurable time, but for me it seemed interminably long. As soon as we felt the slack in the intensity, Manu and I ran for our passports. Tintin continued to hold the door open. This was a very wise thing as many doors got jammed and the residents had to stay locked-in as the tremors picked up a bit later and continued coming in at intervals of 1-2 minutes. These unfortunate ones were rescued only when the brave concierge and his help broke open the locks.


I say we were frightened. And maybe we were, but I speak for myself when I say that on hindsight I cannot say the predominant feeling was one of fright. I was so focussed on reaching God with my plea for help, I was not consciously afraid. I also recall praising God because I heard Ranjit call out to him by name (he doesn't acknowledge him openly) I also know I was quite in my senses because I mentally made a note about where I had kept my passport. This made it very easy for me to grab it from under my clothes, without wasting any time, the moment the tremor calmed down for a few minutes.


We ran down the stairs. That was when I felt the fear. And this lent wings to my feet. My back and knees held up. Although Manu and I were not properly clad for the cold outside, we were better off than Ranjit who hadn’t even put on his slippers. He had on his shorts and a T-shirt. It was dark outside and everyone was running in all directions. Ranjit shepherded us to Manchester, a pub not far from our place. Here we met Reggie and his pals who made us as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances. The pub was in shambles but they were able to give us water to drink as we huddled into chairs in the garden. All of them kept reassuring us that the worst was over. I was shivering with fear and cold, and smiled wanly without a mite of conviction. Then realising we needed a few essentials as well as clothes to be better clad for the cold, Ranjit decided to brave it up to the apartment. He managed to get himself into warmer clothes and also brought along a few things like his laptop, money, my handbag etc. He also drove the car down and parked it outside the pub. We moved into the relatively warmer car.


I lay down on the back-seat. My back was beginning to pain. With no phone connection or means to contact our family we were sure they would panic as soon as news was broadcast. And panicked they were. Reggie’s pals kept vigil at the pub while he saw to his parents. The men assured us of protection too. That’s when I realised the dark side of the aftermath. Vandalising and looting were probable threats. It was good of them to take us under their wing.


We spent the rest of the night in the car. Morning found us searching for something to eat. No place was open except for a small bakery near-by. By the time we reached there, there wasn’t much to buy. The next challenge was getting drinking water. The only kind available was water with soda, and we were looking for ‘aqua sin gas’(water without soda) Finally we managed to get a few bottles. Late in the afternoon we bought some empanadas from Mama Rosa’s take away. She had opened shop and was doing brisk business. All this while, we were still literally living in the car.


By evening I needed to go to the bathroom. That’s when Tintin rang up another Indian colleague and that’s how we found our way to Sumeet’s house. This was a small one-bedroom apartment, but it was in a stronger building and was good for me as it was on the second level and I wouldn’t have to climb down too many steps in the event of another quake. It was already packed with other Indian employees. This was my second lesson in gratefulness. The crowd and non-functioning WC was no longer a major put-off for me. I was grateful for the bathroom and a bed to rest my back. We spent the night there and left Sunday morning.


I wasn’t prepared to stay in our apartment as the tremors continued to rattle us and they weren’t small ones too, ranging from 5+ to 6+ magnitude. This was a dilemma not only for me but also for Tintin.


“Why can’t we get a house on the groundfloor?” I said aloud, wishfully, but prayed for silently.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Chile Diary....Chapter 4 March 11-12

Tsunami


Two earthquakes, first 7.2 followed by a slightly smaller one measuring 6.9 sent me scurrying out of the guesthouse. With me are other residents too, from the apartments above us. Within a couple of minutes public address systems blare out tsunami alerts. Evacuate! I didn’t know what to do. People were running in one direction, I didn’t know why because I didn’t know the announcements were about a possible tsunami. A young mother with her baby clutched tightly to her bosom spoke to me in rapid Spanish. I nodded my head and said, “non Espanol.” She pointed to the sea, then to the people and waved her hand indicating that I should run in the same direction. I only had time to ask “Tsunami?” before she got into her car. She nodded and I began to walk as fast as I could without hurting my knees and back. There was pandemonium on the streets. People were running away on foot and in cars. The roads and pavements were overflowing with panic-stricken folk.


My cell rang. Tintin’s voice brought some relief. I told him what was happening and that I was clueless where to go. He told me to look for his friend at the pub. I made my way huffing and puffing to the pub. Disappointment, it was locked and deserted. By now my throat was parched and I was almost gasping for breath.


“Stay there mama, I’m on my way.”


“No, I’m not standing here. The roads are swarming with people and cars on the move. No one’s standing. I’m not going to either,” I replied as I continued moving. I could understand the panic Tintin felt by my decision.


“Please, Mama stay put at one spot. How will I find you, if you move around?”


“I’m walking down 8 Norte,” is all I could say before we lost contact. I tried to call back but there was no network coverage. Now I was really alone. I could feel the tears welling up. Not of fear, neither of self-pity, but of sheer frustration and helplessness. I began to catch hold of people and enquire if any spoke English. Their negative replies only made it worse. I began to talk myself out of the mental state I found myself in. I began to repeat portions of Psalms 91, especially the parts that speak about God protecting us from “sudden disasters at noon” and reminded myself that He “is my fortress, my place of safety” and He would “send His angels to protect me.” It was reassuring, but the tears were already perched on the edge and I couldn’t blink them back. I kept up my slow, painful trudge. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned to find a young girl, perhaps twenty-one or so. She handed me a small bright yellow card. I took it without bothering to read it. I was keen to know if she knew English.


“Very leetle,” she smiled and I was so relieved that the tears which were precariously hanging on to the edge tumbled down.


“Tranquilla, tranquilla,” she repeated over and over again gently stroking my arm. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand what she was saying. It sounded like tranquil and the look on her face and her actions made it quite obvious.


“Yes,” I said drying my eyes.


“Yehwah is there,” she assured me in her faltering English.


“Yes, Jesus is here,” I managed to smile back at her, while sub-consciously correcting her. Once a teacher, always a teacher was the vague thought at the back of my mind.


“Okay, now...I...going,”


“Where? Please stay,” I was almost begging.


“I have.. go to..my room friend.” I nodded to convey that I understood and thanked her.


I carried on walking down 8 Norte and she turned off right. I was feeling a bit calmer now. But the tears didn’t stop and my throat was still parched and I was choking because my mouth was dry and try as I might there was no saliva to wet it. This set off coughing spells. My heart was pounding. All of a sudden I realised I had come to the end of the road, and it is a long road indeed. It ended in a ‘T’ junction. I could either turn right or left. I decided to stick with 8 Norte. So I crossed the road and stood at the traffic light. I was tired and wanted to sit, but there was nowhere I could rest my back and legs. So I continued to stand and watch the tsunami of cars and people flow past me. There was so much of noise on the roads. I was wondering what it was about the honking horns that was bothering me. It happens so much and all the time in India. Then it struck me; one doesn’t hear car horns on Vina's roads. Today was an exception. Just then I turned and lo and behold, there was the young Christian walking to my traffic light.


“Hola,” she smiled.


“Hola,” I replied. I was wondering what she was doing here. But thankfulness, more than courtesy, kept me from asking.


“You know..wherre you..stay?”


“Yes”


“I stay ..with you,”


“Okay,” I said not very sure what she meant. But gave her the benefit of the doubt and took it she meant that she’d stand there with me. Since she continued to stand beside me and also gather the latest information about the situation, I was pleased that I was right. She laboriously translated the important parts for me. The alert had not been called off but the emergency situation had passed. That was something to be happy about.


“Come..I go with you,” she said as she caught my hand and took me across the road and we walked back the way we had come.


I was walking slower now. She realised I was very tired and would stop at every traffic light for a while to give me time to rest. I later realised how wise it had been for me to keep stopping at traffic lights. It was the best way to get seen by people looking for you.


I realised I didn’t know her name and asked her.


“Magdalena”


“Joy,” I said and we shook hands and in true Chilean fashion she hugged me and kissed me on my right cheek while I kissed the air around hers.


“I’m sorry, I’m being such a pain,” I said enunciating every word as slowly as I thought would make it easy for her to understand. “I have a back and knee problem,” I said pointing to my lumbar support, which was around my waist.


“I know. I see it...I am..a..a..physiotherapist.”


We were at another traffic light, and she struck up a conversation with a young boy who had walked up and was waiting to cross the road. She wanted to know if he knew English, which fortunately he knew and a wee bit more than her. Then she asked him to tell me that I shouldn’t worry as she would take me to my residence. I wasn’t sure why she kept telling me that, but I thanked her once again and added that I knew my way home. And then Reggie, Tintin’s pub owner friend, who was driving someone to a safe place, spotted me and called out. He told me to wait and he’d be back for me in a few minutes. Magdalena and I exchanged email Ids, home addresses and phone numbers and we parted when Reggie returned. This was a strange encounter. A total stranger picks me out of the milling crowd and gives me the moral support I need. Stranger still was the fact that she stopped handing out the little yellow ‘Jesus cards’ after she found me! But then strange are the ways of god.


Tintin also reached a short while later with Gabriel, who suggested I stay at his home till the evening. For a split second I thought I should turn the invitation down as I didn’t know how I would communicate with the family. The boys were going back to the office. But I’m glad I stayed. The home is warm and hospitable. Besides it was full of people so I wasn’t so jumpy. The evening saw me leaving rather reluctantly, because I was loath to stay the night alone at the guesthouse. But as things turned out Ranjit and Manu stayed with me and though I did jump up in the middle of the night or perhaps in the wee hours of the morning when my bed was rattled, I did get some necessary sleep. My body was aching in the morning. The previous day I was in shock and didn’t realise the wear and tear my body had taken. But today is another story...it hurts.


I am spending the day at Gabriel’s house in Miraflores. It’s such a reprieve from the scary ‘home alone’ situation. I must tell you all about my stay in the Segura’s casa at Miraflores, the lovely family and pets. But tea beckons and I must go. Ciao.

The Chile Diary......Chapter 3

Departmentos, Deco and Dolor


Apartments in Chile are generally small. That’s alright. I mean, accommodation has to be available to everyone, and according to their pockets. And Chile isn’t a country that comes under the category -rich. Like India, they have a big divide between the rich and the poor, with the latter making up the majority of the population. What I find truly unnecessary in the small apartments are the big, over-stuffed sofas and beds, bulky dining table, crockery cabinet and often useless pieces of furniture placed or pushed into every nook and corner. It eats into floor space making it difficult to make the smallest of manoeuvres in the room. It almost seems that they’re psyching themselves into believing that the house is big. This, however, is how it is only in the old apartments. The newer ones are done up with practical aesthetics in place.


The guesthouse on 3 Poniente between 8 and 9 Norte, where I am at present, must be just about 750 sq ft. But it houses furniture for a place twice its size. I can’t move quickly for fear of banging into something and hurting myself. And just to make doubly sure the furnishings have dwarfed the house, they’ve put up nine oils on three walls ( the fourth wall, thankfully, is one big glass window) three of these canvases measure 16” by 20” approx and one is about 30” by 24” approx. The other five are in the range of 14” by 16”. And all have heavy frames, mostly in black. So blame the furniture and the decor if the house seems small. This is the living cum dining room that should be about 10’ by 20’ approx. It also has a big refrigerator standing against one wall. Claustrophobic!


Well, one has to adjust and adapt according to the need of the hour, and that’s what the past few weeks in Chile have been about....adjusting and adapting. It hasn’t been easy for me because it is accompanied by fear. There are too many things of an extreme nature to deal with all at the same time. Foreign country, alien culture, no knowledge of language; different time zone; different climate; different flavours in food; lack of creature comforts like maids coming in 24x7; cut-downs on self-indulgence at beauty parlours; no home tongue TV shows; no Indian news channels; no telephonic communications with friends and relatives in India (too expensive); no internet if you’re not staying in your apartment (which I haven’t been doing for a while); no hot water at times so cold showers, which aren’t really good for my bones; no stress relieving conversations with friends; no economic independence; no mobility; too much of solitude knowing that I have no options to change the situation; none of the things I was used to, like my books for meditation, my TV devotional programmes, my dictionary, my maid Lolita, my doctor; my freedom!


The psychological challenges are a part of all these tangibles and intangibles. But the toughest has been dealing with this ‘on edge’ nervous situation. My whole body tenses when a tremor shakes the place, and this has been a continuous pattern day and night, since the big one on Saturday, 27th Feb. When will it end? I’m so tired of living with fear. Fear of another massive earthquake. Fear triggered by the knowledge of my own physical limitations of movement and mobility. Fear of injuring myself and not being able to get the medical attention I need. Fear of adding more expense on the kids. Fear of becoming more dependent than I already am. Fear of losing my passport. Fear of being isolated on alien soil. Fear of not ever being able to live without fear again. But the spirit pushes against its own simmering doubts and fears. I look to God to give me courage and strength; to hold my hand and lead me, for I trust Him.


It may seem that life has become one big black thunder cloud, hovering over us threatening to burst. But in all truth there have been so many things I have been thanking God for every day. So many little things I’m grateful for especially the facilities of daily use that we take for granted.


I’m thankful for running water in the taps in the guesthouse (our apartment’s has been cut off for some days, so that damaged water pipes can be repaired) for hot water whenever I can get it, for gas which is available to us here in this temporary accommodation (we still haven’t got gas supply at our apartment, as of 10th March 2010) for fresh, hot, home food on our table, and of course for a cup of hot ginger tea with milk in the morning and hot green tea in the evening, for drinking water, for shelter, for warm beds, for provisions, for finance to procure our basic needs, for a laptop to record all my rambling thoughts, and health, medicines, even this over-stuffed old house...yes I’m grateful for this house on the second level, for wonderful children, for compatriots who allowed us to stay at their home, for company bosses who lent us their casa and company Guest House; for a pub owner who gave us shelter, protection and warm hospitality even as he dealt with his losses...for so much of thoughtfulness that we have encountered in many things big and small.


I’m also thankful that relief has been a good ‘hopping friend,’ coming in to grant us spells to recuperate bit by bit, helping us to gather courage and hold on to hope. God has been good. God has been gracious.

Yes, I am grateful.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Chile Diary....chapter 2

Santiago to Vina Del Mar



Sunday dawned bright and beautiful. This country is scenic. We started out for Vina Del Mar on an extremely enjoyable drive. Good roads, winding through the foothills of the Andes. We passed through wine country, stopping for a break at one of the vineyards called House of Morande, in Casablanca. It had a restaurant and facilities and one could buy wine too...Restaurante Y Tiende. I was amazed to see columns of white roses growing between the rows of grape vines. Beautiful! We had a light meal consisting appertifs...tostados with an exotic topping of salmon, palta and something else... followed by crabmeat empanadas and beef steak which we washed down with a Late Harvest wine.


The wide blue expanse of the Pacific which opened up before my eyes as we entered Vina was awesome. As we drove to our depto (apartment) I took in the sights along with the distinct smell of the sea carried by an almost constant, cool sea breeze. The depto is lovely too. It’s supposed to be big by Chilean standards. But I tend to compare and contrast with my Indian yardstick. So it fell short by some thousand odd square feet when stacked up against our apartment in Gurgaon. So it’s not very big but very comfortable, with matching furnishing in all the rooms, no over-stuffed or bulky beds and sofas, great kitchen with all the equipment and gadgets one would need, big windows in both bedrooms, living-room and kitchen that provided a good view. Attached bathrooms with hot and cold water just made it splendid. The bathtub was a bit tricky for me, with my physical limitations so a shower was a carefully executed task.


The living-room opens out onto a balcony. This is my favourite spot in the mornings. I carry my cup of tea with me and gaze at the sea, listen to the gulls as they swoop around the rooftops, alighting on some for a while before they make a screechy take-off again. The breeze has a nip in it that early and is very invigorating. The streets below are empty. People here don’t go for early morning walks as they do in India. Life stirs a bit later. On weekdays, one can see people scurrying to work after 7a m. But the walkers, joggers and cyclists come out after 10a m. I was amazed to see so many of them even at 11a m when the sun was a bit hot for me too. I was told these people love the sun but ‘to see is to believe.’


I’ve been here for nineteen days but I haven’t done much of the touristy things like walking around the city, buying local stuff or going for a ride around town in a horse carriage. I haven’t even visited the beach and checked out handicrafts at the ferias (fair). But I have eaten at a few restaurants, even tried sushi, the cooked variety, and gyoza which are delicious. They are dumplings like momos or dimsums but served differently. I also ate a slice of the locally made pizza called Conquistadore... well it did conquer me... yummy. My gormandising experience at a Tex-Mex restaurant was fabulous. I don’t remember the name of the place but the shrimp with pina and leche de coco was awesome, the grilled fish of the day was worth dying for, and the pollo (chicken) with tortillas was mouth-watering too. I was amused at a pub that boasted of Chicken curry and rice as a speciality of UK. The fare wasn’t bad but certainly not a curry as we know it. So their claim for their particular preparation was justified.


I was tickled to find samosas are not only available in the markets here but are also sold by the same name. I even ate some at Manchester, the pub with the English version of chicken curry. Here it was surprisingly a veggie samosa stuffed with a potato filling, served with a sour-sweet mango dip that was a slightly sedate cousin of the Indian sweet mango chutney. The samosas tasted good but they were too oily to the touch as well as to the palate, unlike the original Indian ones.


I discovered a Chilean equivalent of the samosa or gujiya. It’s called ‘empanada.’ It’s an authentic dish and not a take-off on our samosa. It comes in different shapes and sizes but are mostly rectangular. Queso (cheese) is always used no matter what the stuffing is. The vegetarian one, I saw Manu eat, was filled with cheese and mushrooms. The non-vegetarian ones have anything from sea-food to red meats and white meats. Like samosas or gujiyas, empanadas are also made by rolling out maida dough into thin pasties which are stuffed with anything you like and then sealed at the sides and deep fried or baked. Chileans love their empanadas just as much as we do our samosas. They even have restaurants devoted entirely to empanadas.


I like fish, shrimp, prawns and crab all of which we get in India. But my one lament had very often been that they weren’t as fresh as I’d like them to be. Even in Mumbai and Cochin, restaurants couldn’t serve fish or prawns as fresh as they are here. I’ve only had such fresh sea-food at home when the boys went fishing; or when in Cochin fisherwomen carried the catch of the day to our doorstep, early in the morning. At times the fish in the basket would still be alive.


The fruit here is good, but certainly not as fresh and good as the tall claims. At least not in the Malls where we buy our fruit and vegetables, perhaps like the Alphonso mangoes in India the best stuff gets exported. The wines here are also claimed to be the best. However not being a connoisseur of wines, I shall not comment on that. The bakeries are great. The various breads, cakes, pastries etc are certainly very palatable. We get some of the vegetables we are familiar with and some with which we aren’t. I have ventured to buy a packet of some sort of beans that looked interesting, because they have a nice shade of green and they are big; bigger than any I’ve ever eaten. These are not in pods they are sold shelled. Well, they’re still safe in the packet they came in. I’ll record the feedback once I get them into the pan, over the fire and down my gullet.


I must not have done anything a regular tourist does but I have moved around quite a bit, living out of a suit-case and polythene packets. I’ve shifted to four different dwellings in nineteen days; experienced living in a casa (independent house) in a posh area, stayed half a day and a night in a one-star hotel room with a three-star tariff; a night in a tiny apartment with nine other people, six of whom I didn’t know; and the fourth place is where I am sitting and writing at present. It’s a depto, but unlike our apartment block it isn’t a high-rise building. It has just four levels and I’m on the second level. Level over here is what we call floors in India.


It’s an old building with old fixtures and facilities. It has no view, as the windows open out to high-rise buildings that surround it. So it has sunlight shining only in the master bedroom, and that too from 7.oopm onwards. But since I do not occupy that lovely room for me the sun shines nowhere. The gas stove is old but a lot like the ones we still have in India. Only here there is no gas lighter. You either have self igniting stoves or then use matches. It’s been ages since I used a matchstick to light anything. It was funny. There’s no automatic hot running water. There’s an odd gadget on the wall in the kitchen. It has a big switch which has to be turned on. This opens the flow of gas, and a lighted matchstick is then thrust into an opening at the bottom of the gadget and voila a blue flame erupts. This will heat the water for you. I’m still wary of this foreign object and don’t have the nerve to tackle it. Thankfully the ‘nana’ (domestic help) came in yesterday, and lit the flame and so it burns like the Olympic flame or the Amar Jyoti, till someone turns it off.


Before you get all kinds of wrong impressions about my gipsy status, let me mention a massive earthquake measuring 8.8 at the epicentre in Concepcion. This shook us up. We’re fortunate to be safe. But I will elaborate on that tomorrow.


Glossary

Amar Jyoti.........the flame that burns constantly.


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The Chile Diary

19th February, Friday 2010 onwards......


I heaved a sigh of relief as the announcement on the PA system confirmed the end of a long journey. The LAN Airlines plane was going to land at A Merino Benitez Terminal Intl. I was in Santiago, Chile. I looked out of the window at the sparkling lights; it was better than a naulakha haar; it was a whole naulakha saree. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and ‘click’, the image was captured in my mind forever. And yes the relief too! But relief isn’t a long-term friend here in Chile. It prefers to hop in and hop out. My first encounter with it was waiting to happen. As I switched on my cell and selected my service provider, I was greeted with a definite message that I wasn’t registered with the only one name that popped up on my screen. I swore, oh yes I did, at Airtel India as ardently as I had blessed them till Sao Paulo, Brazil. I couldn’t communicate with Tintin and Manu, and the rest of India. Okay, don’t panic I whispered to myself. Get through the formalities and then start the dumb-charades.


I was registered for wheel-chair assistance, thank god for that, so I was usually the last person in and the last person out. This was a small price to pay considering the great deal of help all that assistance was. Not too late I was in the chair and being wheeled through immigration. It was as quickly seen to as it had been with all formalities at all the airports, from IGI Delhi to Chatrapati Shivaji Mumbai, and O.R. Tambo Intl Johannesburg to Guarulhos Intl Sao Paulo.


At Santiago, there'd be a small delay as my declaration of carrying condimentos required a quick look at the relatively small packet of masalas I had packed. I say small because given our Indian penchant for carrying our food and spices wherever we go, it’s needless to elaborate on the shapes, sizes and contents of a Desi’s spice-bags. So the surprised look on the face of the man inspecting the goods was justified. I thought he was a bit suspicious as he looked at me with a crooked smile. Just when I thought he was unnecessarily going to waste time opening up the other bag too, he decided that I was too pathetic a sight and waved me along. I must have been a very sad sight to behold in all that beauty; especially considering I put on a hang-dog expression and sank into the wheel-chair, to beg sympathy if not empathy from the hardest of hearts. Don’t get me wrong, the chair was necessary...the expression wasn’t.


So here I was, cleared by immigration and ready to be picked up. I was wondering whether it was time to start waving my hands and contorting my face and concocting a language very much like English except for the vowel ‘o’ appended to each word. I decided to put off the act for a while and check if familiar faces were at the door. To pump up the positive energy I even conjured up images of two happy Indians smiling broadly and rushing to me with their arms spread wide to embrace me.


“Senorita”....


“No... No,” I reiterated, “it’s mama in Spanish too.”


“Non Espanol?” an unfamiliar voice fell on my ears and very non-Indian face materialised before my eyes. It was the attendant and we had been in front of the exit door for a couple of minutes I think.


“Non Espanol, only English,”


“Ahh,” he stretches the word dramatically.


“Non Eenglish, only Espanol,” he smiled pointing to himself.


So how do you know how to use “only?” I didn’t enunciate that but conveyed it through my vacant stare.


He rattled off something, punctuated with looks at the door. I understood that he wanted to know if any of the name cards that were being waved in front of me by travel agents, had my name on it. The agents themselves were keen to know that. God knows how exasperating it must be for them too. I glanced at the names, none resembled mine so I craned my neck to look around the bearers of the placards and behind them, but no familiar face came into the periphery of my view. I shook my head and launched into my game of dumb-charades. It wasn’t so difficult to convey I needed to phone. He grabbed the chair and rolled me down to the public phone. He stretched out his hand for the coins. I nodded my head, took out a few dollars and showed him I needed to get change. He understood the situation quickly and well and was getting bugged. But I was his charge and he couldn’t abandon me. So he rolled me back to where we had entered the exit lounge. There was a small counter there selling knick-knacks. Things travellers would need. He explained to the sales-girl that we needed change in pesos to phone. She told him that I’d have to buy something first. I went for water, as I realised I was thirsty. We got the change and whizzed back to the phone booth. I had become quite a familiar figure in the lounge already. Two tries and he got the number. The kids were just entering the airport. They had driven down from Vina Delmar, after work. They told me to park myself outside the door. A bit of sign language and the attendant got it. He seemed relieved. I hated to tell him his duty wasn’t over yet. So I let him take all the extra change that was left from the phone money. As he pocketed it quickly I noticed the change of expression on his face. He didn’t think I was such a big nuisance after all. But relief is nobody’s bosom pal. And he was without it in seconds.



While we waited, his body spoke. Body language is wonderful, it tells you what the person won’t. His body language conveyed that he was quite fed-up of me. He didn’t have anything against me but why out of all the attendants, did he have to get stuck with me. And how come no one was there to take the invalid off his hands. Why should I come to Chile if I needed a wheel-chair and that too with no knowledge of Spanish. Yes, his body was doing a lot of talking. It kept me amused.



“How long,” he finally spoke directly to me.



I didn’t understand the words but made a guess it had to be about time. I lifted my right hand and showed him my five spayed fingers and said “minutes,” hoping his knowledge of English had one more word along with ‘only.’ He shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips. The body had taken over. This was better. I imitated him ditto, in an effort to show him that I understood how he felt. Then a voice, familiar voice, called out “mama” and Manu came running with a broad smile and hugged me. The vision was half true...there was only one Indian! My attendant beamed, I felt sorry for him again. He didn’t know how the appearance of one Indian was going to bomb his happiness. His relief died a premature death. See I told you it isn’t a long-term friend in Chile. Manu asked him to stay till Tintin brought the car to the entrance and I could get up from the chair and into the car. He looked so miserable. I took out a dollar and quietly slipped it into his hand. It worked like a temporary pain-killer.


Some minutes later a car drew up and Tintin’s big frame alighted. The happiness was almost communal in its proportions. Attendant happy, wheel-chair occupant happy, daughter-in-law happy, son happy and standing a couple of yards away two policemen were also happy; temporarily as it turned out, by God’s grace. I couldn’t walk straight as my back hurt and my knees weren’t doing too well either. Finally I was settled in the front seat, the attendant had a decent tip in pesos added to final relief, and we were set to start. The two happy cops waved us down.


“S***,” exclaims my son. “Challan katenge!”


Kyun, galat park kiya kya?” I ask.


Nahin, bas waise hi.”


“They’re the same here too!” I exclaim.


By then the burly one was at the door. He began speaking in Spanish. Tintin answered in Spanish. Then the cop took off in Spanish at a speed that could be challaned. Tintin didn’t get it at all. He asked the man if he spoke English. “Non,” came the quick retort. So using whatever little he knew of the local lingo, Tintin explained that he worked here. They asked him for identification and license, which he provided. Burly cop took it to not so burly cop and he checked it out pronto. “Clear” was the report. The collective sigh of relief was audible. Later I learnt that the cops here were incorruptible, not what one can say about our Indian force. Truth is not only bitter, it is sad too.


Now we were on our way to our hotel, Holiday Inn Express. My theory about relief was gaining confirmation quite fast. We took a few wrong turns too many. If it hadn’t been so late in the night I could have counted it as a sight-seeing tour. But it wasn’t that bad. I was happy to be off the plane and with people I knew and better still who understood my tongue. The room was very comfortable; Big and with all the amenities in place and functioning. I was so glad to be able to stretch out on a bed. We would be here till Sunday noon.


Glossary

Naulakha haar...............a necklace sparkling with diamonds

Challan katenge.............They'll fine me for something

"Kyun, galat park kiya kya?"...............Why, did you park in the wrong place?

"Nahin, bas waise hi".....................No, just like that ( for no apparent reason)

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan....cont.

Mamingala, Padmini and Peggy


Ever since I was a little girl and heard about Mamingala, Padmini and Peggy I’ve been intrigued by the story that crosses over the borders of two countries; India, and erstwhile Burma. How did these three people get along with each other? Did they even know each other well? Perhaps each one lived individually but all together in one house? Intriguing I must say.


Before I go any further let me remind you that my mind has been weaving tales in and around these three ever since I was introduced to them at seven. I still wonder about these girls who grew into women. There wasn’t much divulged to me but whatever was, fascinated me and does to this day. I wish I could find someone who would tell me more; someone who knew the truth.


In the meantime, I weave my tales around the existing facts as they were told to me. I do not hold myself to speak only of facts because I must build the story based on my premises and surmises. I’ve tried to be logical and rational in my imaginings, but if you find it preposterous, just stop reading...I’m not going to stop writing this. It’s too haunting and I have to get it out of my system. Hopefully it will give me some inner peace.


Mamingala .......The grand-daughter of Ubadoon, a prominent member (Gen Secretary) of a political party in Burma. I wasn’t told the parents names or the complete name of the grand-father. This was one of the main reasons for me to suspect that something or possibly everything was not quite right in Mamingala’s world.


Mamingala’s mother’s name was kept a secret but her beauty was extolled. It seems that she was extremely beautiful and had a complexion like exquisite porcelain. Her hair was very long and black and fell like a cascade to her calves, when it was not bundled up into a bun on her head. She lived a lavish and luxurious life, waited on hand and foot by maids. She loved her cigarettes, which she smoked in slender holders and chocolates were never far from her. There was always a box kept within arms’ reach. Besides her hair she had captivating eyes in an oval face. She had doe-eyes which slanted, ringed with long curling lashes. She loved jewellery and had a large collection of diamonds and Noga rubies. About Mamingala’s father not much was divulged except that he was a diamond merchant who came to India for business. Mamingala was born in a hospital in Madras, now known as Chennai.


Mamingala’s story ends soon, with her mother abandoning her. She was left in the care of the Matron of the hospital where she was born. The matron was a friend. Whether theirs was a patient-nurse relationship or they were friends before Mamingala was born, is not clear. But the matron finally took the abandoned baby under her wing. The reason for her being so cruelly left behind, was said to be because Mamingala was dark. This seemed so untrue because she was fair. I would protest at this and remark at the frivolity of the reason. But later on, many reasons for the reason, popped into my head. My speculations were logical but cannot be substantiated.


Padmini...They called Padmini a very lucky baby. No, she had no near death situations preceding her birth nor any infections or disease that she had overcome. She was a small little bundle lying in the nursery with all the other new born babies, and looked much like them, except she was the fairest of the lot. What separated her from the other babies was her very distinguished visitor who came to see her almost every day. The lady would be accompanied by her woman attendant. She never stayed very long but gave generously to the nurses and servants caring for Padmini. She loved the baby, even though it wasn’t hers. In fact she had named her Padmini. She wanted to adopt her. She conveyed this to the Matron.


“Your Highness, I love her too. Besides, her mother left her in my care. Please don’t take her away.” The Matron was distraught.


“Think it over. I will not insist if it means so much to you. But give it a thought. She is my child already, my little Padmini,” she said looking lovingly at the child who lay oblivious of the manner in which her fate lay in the balance...between life in a palace with a Maharani and a not so opulent but very comfortable life with a Matron.


Mrs D’sylva, the Matron, looked at the Maharani as she made her regal exit. She was worried. Baby Padmini slept peacefully.


Padmini’s fate was decided. The Matron took her home. She was a well-to-do lady of ample means. Her husband had been a doctor and they owned a big bungalow. She had grown up children of her own but she did not believe that Padmini would have a secure and happy life in the palace, so she adopted her. The Maharani would be the only one who would care for Padmini she thought, and who knew the ways of the palace and royalty. Their whims and fancies were as changeable and unpredictable as the weather.


And here ends Padmini’s short story. I was curious about the queen who’d visit her. But although her visits were spoken about, I was made to believe that no one knew why she came or why she named the child or even why she wanted to adopt her. I never did believe that.


Peggy...
“I don’t want to go to boarding school,” wailed little Peggy, as her mother petted and consoled her. Once again she repeated all the pros of a residential school, hoping that Peggy would calm down.


Peggy was an adopted child. Her mother had brought her home without consulting her own kids and the big age difference didn’t help. They were grown up and although they weren’t mean to Peggy there was no bonding either. She was accepted as one of their mother’s whimsical philanthropic gestures. One they would have to live with and tolerate.


Boarding school was the best option under the circumstances as Peggy was growing up and beginning to notice and resent the way she was isolated from the other children in the house. So she was packed off to Bangalore, with promises of frequent visits.


Peggy D’sylva passed out from school and returned home. Her mother had selected a few colleges for her to choose from. But Peggy had other plans. She was going to join the WRINS. Her mother was shocked.


“What are you going to do there, Peggy?”


“Work, of course,” answered Peggy matter-of-factly.


“Yes, that’s clear to me young lady. But as what do you intend to work as? You go through your college and then join the Force.”


“No, I don’t want to go to college. I’ve already applied for a secretarial course with Pittmans. I’ll be a stenographer.”


“Do you know how much they pay stenos? You silly girl, you spend more in a month than they’ll pay you in two.”


Peggy stood her ground. She was as stubborn as the proverbial mule.


Peggy D’sylva joined the Navy. She moved to Bombay now known as Mumbai. Along with her went Mamingala and Padmini. She never did leave them behind. Over the years it became quite easy to see the traces of each.


Mamingala was a snob and very fastidious. She was also very stubborn, wanted a lot of attention and was self-absorbed. She was fashionable and loved to dress well. Her favourite haunt was The Taj Mahal Hotel. This is where she’d go for breakfast or even a cup of coffee. Even then the hotel was a five-star hotel and not one where a mere stenographer would go. But her mother sent her an ample allowance every month. Her mother knew about Mamingala’s love of the good life. This was Mamingala’s strongest phase.


Padmini was very much a South Indian. She’d lapse into a distinct southern accent. Her gestures and expressions would be different. She’d tell everyone she was a Tamilian, and look directly at them defying them to disagree. No one dared to, even though they’d carry big question marks in their eyes. Padmini could pass off as a Burmese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean or any such race but certainly not a Tamilian! The food she’d eat or serve would be South Indian fare and she’d discard her airs and dig into the rice with her hands. Padmini’s influence grew stronger than Mamingala’s over the years. She even decided the people Peggy should befriend. Needs no saying, all were from South India. Padmini was defiant. She was rigid and had a smouldering temper. She could be mean and even unscrupulous on rare occasions. Padmini was also a doomsday prophet. She was negative about everything.


Peggy was the jovial, funny, giggly Anglo-Indian girl. Her foster parents were of Portuguese descent and their way of living was westernised. She’d be free with her expressions and speak only English and treat every other language, especially Hindi and Punjabi, with disdain. She’d inform everyone that her mother tongue was English. Some of the everyday terms she’d use are still typically Anglo-Indian ones and I’ve heard them used only in these homes. The food would be continental, or Chinese or Goan in flavour. Peggy could be shy and took offence easily. She loved to sing and write poetry. Peggy could be quite immature at times and would even compete with youngsters.


As life took her on a roller-coaster ride, the first casualty was Mamingala. I was sad to see her go. She was the one who added a bit of style and spice to Peggy’s life. Padmini held on tenaciously. I think Peggy liked her a lot. But as she succumbed to ill-health Padmini departed leaving behind Peggy. When Peggy died, she died alone.


I have theories about my mother’s birth and parentage, but these are not based on proof. I’m sure each one of you will draw conclusions from existing knowledge and known facts. I too have been doing that for years, trying to complete the jigsaw puzzle, but it remains incomplete. I kept asking my mother for the truth but she wouldn’t tell me. Probably it hurt her too much, or the resentment and anger hadn’t died and she couldn’t reconcile herself to the abandonment. My heart has always been heavy with her concealed pain. I wish she had spoken about it and released the agony; thus saving herself the confusion about her identity and living her life as the person she believed she was.

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