Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan...cont

The Collaborator



It was all about location. We were between two prime targets, namely the GT Road and the railway line, both of which were main transit lines for military equipment, troops etc to reach the northern borders where the fighting was fiercely on. For some time we were sitting ducks for stray bombs that wouldn’t hit the target. I didn’t know whether I should applaud or cry...a miss was good for the country but bad for us! Then the bombs began to fall farther away from us but closer to the targets, fortunately none caused any major damages.



Mr Major lived one house away from us. I never learnt what his real name was. In fact I wonder if any one even remembered it. He liked to be called Major, which wasn’t his given name, but his rank in the salvation Army. I’m not sure if one ever “retires” from the SA, but he was no longer an active member. He and his wife lived a quiet life in a small white house with a patch of green in front, where flowers grew and a vegetable patch behind, where he grew amazingly huge snake gourds among other veggies. We never communicated with them. But with the war on and security measures being solicited through citizen awareness and participation, Daddy and uncle had to inform the people around our residential area about certain things. Besides strict observance of total black-out, there had also been issued “shoot at sight” orders by the authorities. This was when we got to actually meet with him and his wife.



I remember the day Daddy and uncle returned from a meeting with the officials, in-charge of vigilance, security, law and order. They looked serious and thoughtful. Authority was given to certain citizens to challenge suspicious persons and shoot-at-sight if deemed necessary. Since our home housed a good collection of weapons including the carbine, a semi-automatic rifle, and Daddy and uncle had defence backgrounds this authority, for our area, was given to them. For the first time we saw the rifles coming out for a purpose other than ‘shikaar’. It was unnerving. I watched as the rifles were checked and ammunition was counted and kept out.



“Will you really shoot a man?” I asked my uncle, who was the crack-shot in this family of shikaaris.


“Yes ‘Bina,’ if he doesn’t come clean. In war we shoot the enemy. But you don’t worry your head about it. We’re here and you are safe. Nothing will happen.” He had spoken too soon.



Something did happen.



From then on uncle took up his position every night on the roof of the house with the carbine, and Daddy would patrol the boundary. Grandma would also be with him. She refused to get into the trench even when an air attack was on. Except for one occasion, I never saw either of them in the trench. One night, I heard uncle loudly challenging someone. I rushed out of the house only to be sent back, with stern orders to get inside and stay in. My uncle informed my father and Grandma that there was someone in the field directly behind our rear boundary wall with a lighted cigarette. It seems the glow was very visible in the dark. Daddy also challenged the person but there was no response. Then uncle gave the warning.



“If you don’t come out I’m going to shoot.” There was still no movement or response. As uncle prepared to shoot, Grandma intervened.



“Wait,” shouted Grandma. “Give him a second warning.”



“I’m counting to three, you have been warned.” He began counting.... “One........two.......”



“No,” bellowed a voice. A dark, shadowy figure rose from the field.



“Raise your hands. Who are you?” shouted Daddy, his rifle cocked and ready.



“Major.”



“Get out here you bloody S&*^%#. And keep your hands up,” swore uncle.



By the time Major had walked to a couple of metres from the wall, uncle was down and ready for him.



Major begged and pleaded with both the men who weren’t satisfied with his explanation of what he was doing in the field with a lighted cigarette. Twice uncle lost his cool and raised the rifle. Twice my grandmother asked him to wait and make absolutely sure that he was doing the right thing. Major had said that he had gone to the field to answer the call of nature. This reason fell flat as their house had an attached toilet. He explained this away with the excuse that his wife was in the bathroom and he had an upset tummy. He kept crying and giving all kinds of silly reasons for not answering when challenged. If it hadn’t been for Grandma, he would have been shot that night. But he went home alive. Daddy and uncle were not convinced that he was innocent; Grandma was not convinced that he was guilty. The jury was divided 2:1. She kept telling her sons that rural folk are different from city people. They react differently, think differently and this was a unique situation where one couldn’t expect them to fully comprehend the emergency conditions and the implications of their actions. One should not judge them by a city yardstick she cautioned.



They resumed their positions on the roof and at the boundary wall. The next instant gunshots filled the air as bullets whizzed through the air, barely missing uncle. He retaliated with a few shots. There was a shout and a heavy silence descended. Before anyone could gather their wits, the siren went off and planes zoomed through a night sky that was dotted with red blobs of tracers and sporadic glows of anti-aircraft fire. That was a tense night, the biggest concern being for the security of the family.


We had encountered saboteurs!



When had they landed, where had they landed? Speculation was that it would have been either before Major was spotted in the field or while he was being questioned. Uncle was convinced he had hit one of them. In the morning, a reconnaissance of the place from where the men had fired at us, revealed tracks of four people and signs that someone or something might have been dragged. This incident was reported to the police but nothing about Major was mentioned. He had the benefit of the doubt.



As the events of the night were analysed it became clear that the saboteurs knew where to shoot. They knew that the more dangerous weapon was on the roof. Slowly the truth began to sink in. Later on we were informed anonymously that Major was a non-smoker and his wife wasn’t at home that night he was caught in the field. We were shocked to learn that on a previous night saboteurs had landed quite close to our residential area. But it was too late. Major had disappeared and the house remained closed for a long time.




Glossary

GT Road........The Grand Trunk Road (commonly abbreviated to GT Road) is one of South Asia's oldest and longest major roads. For several centuries, it has linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent, running from Bengal, across north India, into Peshawar in Pakistan. Today the Grand Trunk Road remains a continuum that covers a distance of over 2,500 km Within India, the major portion of the road – the stretch between Kanpur and Kolkata – is known as NH 2 (National Highway - 2), the stretch between Kanpur and Delhi is called NH-91 (National Highway - 91), and that between Delhi and Wagah, at the border with Pakistan, is known as NH-1. Between Delhi to Muzaffarnagar is National Highway 58 which further goes to Dehra doon.



Shikaaar.......hunting
shikaari.......hunter
Bina...........uncle called me by this name. He pronounced it with a short vowel sound.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan....cont

My sister makes a wish



Daddy had decided to put in his papers and take a premature retirement. Premature it surely was, he was only forty-five and had a long way to go, but his heart was set on dedicating his time totally to evangelism. So in 1965, we moved to his town in Punjab. He was going home; we were going to Never Land! Of course, the descriptions differed in each of our minds. I am not sure what Never Land signified for my siblings, for me it was rich in every way; experiences, adventure, fantasy, challenges and fun.



My eldest sis didn’t fancy it much I guess, because as soon as she completed her Senior Cambridge, she came to the “village” from her snooty school in the hills, and dashed off to Delhi to train as a nurse. This left four of us kids ( my younger brother had arrived by then) with grandpa, grandma, mummy and Daddy, the cows, buffaloes, chickens, rabbits and a dog named Tommy; fruit trees, open spaces and rolling fields. It was an absolutely wonderful life for me and my brother initially, because, we had no school to attend and the whole day was spent exploring the surroundings, shooting pigeons and whatever flew or ran or crawled, with our catapults.



I don’t know how my elder sis spent most of her time, but there were rare occasions when she would join us to spend the afternoons in our treetop getaway. We would take up books, some munchies and lemonade, and while away the lazy noon swaying gently in our hammocks that were way up in the treetop. On one such rare day, three of us were sitting around in the vegetable garden behind our house and sharing our dreams, wishes and fantasies. As we tried to outdo ourselves in our imaginations, she blurted out that she would love to see two planes right above us in active combat. My brother and I guffawed. We knew she was right off her track, because she wasn’t into these sort of imaginings. She was very “girlie-girlie” and dreamt of “sissy” things. However, we had to agree that she had indeed outdone us in ‘bizarre.’



We heard the roar of planes and looked up. It wasn’t unusual to see these fighter planes in sorties, as the Air Force base was quite near. There were two Gnats chasing a plane, which we couldn’t identify. It was a bigger plane than the Gnats. My brother and I were intrigued. By then they were almost over us and he yelled.


“It’s an attack, run. That’s a Pakistani plane. Look at the insignia.”



It happened in a twinkling of an eye. Before we could even digest what he was saying, the air was rent with staccato gunshots. We stood transfixed as we watched a raging dogfight in the sky. I can recall the feeling even today. It was all in the extreme...the fear, the excitement, the amazement. Then in front of our eyes, the Pakistani plane took a fatal shot and burst into flames. It careened wildly and began a wobbly descent, away from our ‘home air space,’ and finally crashed in a field not far from where we were. Our yelling had brought out my uncle, who was on one of his breaks between joining ship again. He wouldn’t believe us because by then the plane had gone down, but the trail of black smoke convinced him, and he ran out with all the others who appeared from nowhere in an instant. We followed, my brother and I.



It was a terrible sight, but not as terrible as what was to follow. We were at war with Pakistan.



I peered at my sister later in the night, when we were in the trench and our town was taking flak from an attack on the Air Force base. She smiled wanly. I knew she was thinking what I was thinking, but I had to say it.



“Couldn’t you wish for something better,” I shouted in order to be heard, through the cotton plugs in her ears.



She wouldn’t reply. Her teeth remained clenched on the handkerchief in her mouth. I stuffed mine back into my mouth as Daddy yelled a warning. A bomb exploded two hundred and fifty metres away. This was just the beginning.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan ....cont

God give me an Ark...Please!


Ours was a very religious home. Both Mummy and Daddy were strongly entrenched in the preachy kind of religion in a big way, which made it but natural that we kids came under a dogmatic training. Well, not all the children, the fourth one namely me, did have it a bit easier. It never occurred to me then that I was a privileged one. However, even though I took my father’s leniency for granted, I never expected any from Mummy. She couldn’t fathom why I was being spoiled so much by my father. If I had spared a thought for it, I wouldn’t have understood it either. At the age of six, I had other more compelling issues to think about, none of which involved mum.



With both my elder sisters in boarding school, and just my brother and I at home, I took the full brunt of her disciplining. My brother was a meek soul; quiet and docile, who wouldn’t question anything mom or dad said. On the other hand, I was a fire- brand. I’d have to ask ten thousand questions before I’d do anything, and if my questions were not answered to my satisfaction I’d argue my case endlessly. If my mother got exasperated, I don’t blame her. I must have been a handful for her. She blamed daddy, poor man, for my argumentative nature and endless questioning. I would go into a fit of giggling as she’d grumble how my tongue was growing faster than I was. This only added fuel to the fire.



My biggest rebellion against religious restrictions arose because of being curtailed from singing anything other than hymns and choruses and I wanted to belt out ‘Travelling light...,’ ‘Lipstick on your collar’...,’ ‘One and a-two, I love you..,’ So I retaliated by refusing to pray out loud. I would say that I wanted to pray in my mind. Daddy was fine with it, trusting that I would pray but mum knew it was a ruse. Anyway, my enthusiastic participation in singing at evening family prayer mollified her. I remember once she caught me in one of those rare, pliable moods and cajoled me to pray loudly. I did. It went like this....



“Jesus bless mummy, bless Daddy, bless Faith sister, bless Ruth sister, bless Jasper brother......” and I proceeded to name each of our uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, friends and call blessings on them. She tried to interrupt me, but I was so caught up with remembering names I refused to listen. Finally, when I had done with the names I had to end the prayer but I was loath to do so. I was having such a good time. So I decided to “bless the people who were in, and bless the people who were out, and bless the people who were in and out.” By the time I reached ‘Amen’ my mother was laughing so hard she had tears running down her cheeks. She never coaxed me to pray again.



We were in Cochin (Kochi) those days. This city is in Kerala and situated on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It never rains in Kerala, it pours cats and dogs. The thunder-storms and lightning scared the daylights out of me. My brother would sleep like a log through the worst storm but I’d cower in my bed or then roll into his. When Daddy wasn’t home I’d run to Mummy and climb into bed with her, clinging so tightly to her that she’d have to loosen my arms. One terribly stormy day, it was very bad. I lifted my head and peeked through the window. I couldn’t see a thing for the sheets of rain water pouring down. I lay down again, my little heart was skipping a tad too fast. I shook up my brother.



“What is it?” he asked sleepily.


“It’s very bad outside. I haven’t seen so much of rain ever. What is going to happen? Will there be a flood?”


“Could be,” he mumbled and dropped off.



I had to know if there would be a flood. I jumped out of bed and stood at the window. The garden was water-logged and I couldn’t see the low shrubs. We’re going to drown, I thought. I panicked because I did not know how to swim. At such times for some unearthly reason, the mind recalls the most impossible things. Mine called up the story of the flood from Sunday school. ‘Everyone had died except Noah and his family,’ it prompted me. Think girl. I thought. Right there by the window, I folded my hands and said my first sincere prayer, out loud.



“Dear Jesus, you promised not to destroy the world with floods. I learned that in Sunday school. I know I have been stubborn and I make Mummy angry, but I am a good girl. So please give me an Ark like Noah had. I promise I will listen to Mummy. I will pray. I will not sing the songs I shouldn’t be singing. I will not even use those bad words I use sometimes. Please give me an Ark. Thank you.”



I was so exhausted by the end of it that I slept... as peacefully as a baby. My prayer had been answered, I had been given my Ark. Faith. This was a turning point in my spiritual life.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan....cont

You Sang To Me



It all started when I was eighteen, at a dinner hosted by my parents. Mrs Joel had called up to ask if she could bring her brother David along. He had arrived that afternoon to join a new job in our city. My parents said he was welcome.



As the party progressed, the youngsters present began to sing and dance. David joined in. He asked if he could do a solo number and we cheered him on. Soon we were rolling with laughter as he sang the most hilarious parody I had ever heard. That was definitely the first time I 'noticed' him. I never met him again for months, till the big Convention. Mr Joel, who was incharge of the choir was conducting auditions. I didn't think I'd make it but I did get into the sopranos. David was singing bass. Singing practice had never been so enjoyable before.



Then the week-long Convention was over. I got busy with college and David with his job and teaching guitar at weekends. It was some time before I ran into him again.



The Youth Fellowship had to conduct the Sunday service and desperately needed someone to sing bass in the choir. One day to go, no luck. We resigned ourselves to what we had.



Each one of us was assigned some work in preparation for the Sunday Youth Service. I had to see to the flower arrangements on the Altar. The fresh blooms arrived in the evening and by the time I carried the big bunches of flowers into the church, it was already getting dark outside. I'd never been in the church at this hour and looking down at the rows of empty pews, from where I stood on the altar steps, gave me an eerie feeling which I should not have felt considering I was in a church! So I gave myself a mental kick and set to work.



Did I imagine it or was that a guitar I heard ? I turned around slowly. The pews were unoccupied. I looked further, at the Choir Stand - no one. Ghosts ! I thought and then shook myself. Can't be. This was a new building. That was a reassuring argument!! It took all the courage I could muster up, to walk down the aisle and cautiously peer into the Choir Stand. There on a bench, doubled over his guitar was David.



" It's you," I exclaimed more with relief than surprise. " What are you doing here?" I continued. He stopped strumming and raised his head and looked straight at me, he was so handsome and the way he looked at me just took my breath away.


" Playing for you," was the simple reply which got me flustered and at a loss for words.


" Oh," I blurted and turned and walked away, so that he couldn't see the puce colour that was spreading all over my face. What's he doing here was all I could think. He doesn't ever come to church. I walked back and continued with the flowers. He continued to play, and the melody seemed to seek me out as it reverberated off the walls and filled the void. So I was startled when I heard him speak just behind me.



"I see you've almost finished. Can I help you with the bucket?" he said and without waiting for a reply picked up the bucket with the left-over flowers, and walked out. I walked behind in a trance.



That Sunday the Youth Fellowship choir outdid itself with the new bass singer.



It was back to study and exams. I didn't see David for three months. With the exams finished, the Summer holidays loomed over my head in a rather dreary way.


" Would you like to play the guitar ?" asked Daddy.


" Of course, if I could that is," I laughed.


The next day my mother announced that my guitar lessons would be starting on Saturday. I gaped at her.


" Well isn't that what you wanted ? You better be punctual for practice. Mr Joel is very particular," she said.



On Saturday, as I was getting ready to leave for guitar classes, the doorbell rang. David stood there with a guitar case.


" My brother-in-law will not be able to conduct classes for a while, so he has sent me to teach you at home. And here is your new guitar. Can I come in ?"


I realised that we were still at the door. I mumbled an apology and told him to come in.



My heart was beating like a bongo. This Adonis was going to teach me how to play the guitar! It seemed like the entire universe was indeed conspiring to create some magic here.



At some point the guitar lessons took a backseat as our conversations took over. Then it was cycling, walks, movies, sitting in the coffee-shop nursing our coffees that had long turned cold.



A year later David sang the Hawaiian Wedding Song to me on our wedding night.



The years that followed were full of fun, laughter, song and romance that made the ups and downs that much lighter. At every get-together with friends and even at parties David was always asked to sing. He'd pick up the guitar and while he checked the notes and took a while to decide the song he should sing, his eyes would surreptitiously seek me out. This was our little secret and our very special moment. Because wherever David sang, whenever he sang there was always a special song for me. He would catch my eye across a crowded room and silently dedicate his song to me.



And then one day, the angels came.



David joined the heavenly choir above, leaving behind a neverending interlude. How was I to survive in this vacuum, I thought to myself. I needed strength and right then I didn't feel very strong. Neither in mind nor in body. For years he had told me over and over again that I was his strength......now I looked to him to make me strong.



I dredged the past and picked each special moment. Like pearls, one by one I strung them on the thread of melody that had bound us for fifteen years. And as I battled with denial and then depression, I managed to hang on to a sliver of sanity that kept me and my two little boys afloat.



My beautiful string of pearls will always see me through. When despair threatens to drown me, I shall finger each pearl like a rosary.



PS: I still love that old melody he was playing in the church....

Ek ajnabi hasina se, yun mulakaat ho gayi.

Phir kya hua yeh na poochcho, kuch aisi baat ho gayi....

(I happened to meet a beautiful stranger. Don't ask me what happened next, it's hard to explain, it was something like that...)






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Monday, May 17, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan....cont

On Breaking Down



I hated funerals. I never seemed to know how to express my sorrow and to what degree. Being emotional by nature I would be deeply moved by someone’s grief, however sharing it was an art I had yet to master.


Often termed "tough" by my family, I had moulded myself to live up to the impression, without consciously realizing it. My shoulder was always the Rock of Gibraltar, which gave solace to many weeping, heart-broken friends in college. Over the years counselling, advising and listening became my forte and I soon became the agony aunt everyone sought.


Marriage, in-laws, kids and career posed new challenges along the way. Each was to be met and resolved firmly, positively and cheerfully. I had learnt the art of hiding my emotions. Displaying pain, disappointments, tears of anger, frustration or grief did not become me, hence had to be hidden. At some point I became a perfect pretender.


Then tragedy struck. I lost my husband. I could not cry. I found myself incapable of expressing the deep sorrow, fear and insecurity I felt. To people I appeared calm and composed. They called me brave.


Since then, funerals became even more difficult to attend. Fortunately, there weren't any of close friends or relatives, till that day in August 2000. My sister lost her elder son to militancy in Tamenlong. My nephew was a young, brave, promising officer in the Army. Just twenty-six, he was not only the apple of his parents' eyes but also the pride of the entire family.


I did not know how I was going to console my sister, and express the deep sense of personal loss I felt. Dry-eyed, I tried the best I could. It was not difficult as both she and her husband, faced it with a stiff upper lip. I wondered if they were going through the same inner turmoil I had experienced, at my own tragedy.


Their son had a martyr's funeral with full military honours. When the buglers had sounded the Last Post and the echo of the gun salute had faded away, the flag that had draped his coffin, was presented to his parents. In the deep silence that wrapped this poignant ceremony, we heard a broken voice saying--"We bear no ill-will against those who killed our son", as they accepted the national flag.


The quiet dignity in sharp contrast to their pain-wracked faces and haunted eyes, unlocked the door on years of pent up emotions and I felt the pinprick of tears, as they welled up and overflowed.


I cried.


Unashamed, unmindful of the onlookers, I was crying not only for them but also for myself. I had learnt at last to feel pain, sorrow, anguish and to express it without the feeling that I was a weakling.


In years of trying to be what my family thought of me, I had forgotten to be myself. By reaching out to my grieving sister and experiencing her pain, I came face to face with my true self and I was not ashamed. I came away putting to rest all my fears and misconceptions. Now I no longer shy away from the onerous task of offering solace to the bereaved, it is an art, which I have mastered.


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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan ...cont

The Things People Say


My friends and neighbours are wonderful people. But the most amazing thing about them is the way they provide moral support and understanding when something goes wrong. Their language on its part, conveys in full measure, all that they intend ( and don’t intend) to say. It isn’t the fault of the speaker or the language—Oh no! It’s just that they’ve been saying the same things for so long that they’re absolutely unaware of the shocking meanings or messages their well-intentioned words often impart.



For instance, take the day my son met with an accident and broke his left arm and had to undergo surgery. I heard things like...
“That’s good, it could have been worse.”
“Oh it’s the left hand, then it’s fine. If it were the right it would have been bad.”
I’m not sure what this person meant when he said,” Chalo bahut achcha hai. Now he will become a man.” ( come on it’s very good. Now he will........)


Of course I know they all meant well. There’s never been any doubt about that!


Then there were those well-wishers of mine who helped me through my post-operation days with gems like these.....
“Thank God it was only cervical cancer...”
“You’re so lucky, you have no more worries.” A rather short-sighted conclusion, I thought.



But the remarks that were truly bizarre were the ones spoken to comfort my sister who lost her son, a young Army officer. How does a bereaved mother react to....

“ It’s good you have two sons, one is left for you.”
“It’s good he died in action, now you’ll get a sizeable compensation.”
“It’s good he died before getting married....imagine how it would be....”

They were all friends and genuinely concerned, but they did not choose their words carefully, and came across as rather insensitive people.


I’m sure these are not isolated cases. Everywhere and all the time sympathy and empathy are conveyed in similar fashion. In an effort to encourage and pour out hope and comfort to the family people put not only a foot but both feet in their mouth. Call it faux pas or whatever you may, my friends will continue to flock around me in times of distress and need, with their support fortified with ill-placed words and phrases.



I’m not complaining. And I’m not expecting them to change because they just can’t. Their way of looking at things and expressing their grief may not be my way. They think they are being “positive” and would be hurt if any one even suggested that they were insensitive. They bring me loads of comfort wrapped in mis-placed vocabulary.......but who cares if their words aren’t in place when their hearts are!


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Friday, May 14, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan.....cont

Stolen Verses



My parents were poles apart and naturally had very different ways of remembering their courtship. It brings the much quoted line, “Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus” into sharp focus. Daddy's way would be teasing, humorous, sweet, loving. Mummy’s would be in extremely sharp contrast. She would recall all the old squabbles, grouses and peeves, then she’d pout, I imagine the same way she must have done a long time back. One of her major discontents emerged from an incident involving her book of poems that she gave Daddy, instead of the chocolates the other girls gave him.



In 1945, Daddy had got commissioned and was transferred from HMIS Llanstephen Castle to join Bombay as CCO. He was called Jimmy unofficially. This is where he met Peggy, a stenographer (WRINS)



When all Jimmy’s efforts to break the ice had failed, he gave up and left Peggy to her own world, which in the office was a small New Testament. Every minute of spare time would see the little book in her hands. She would devour every line and word. She was on the way to “being saved” as they say. However Peggy outside the office was another person! Anyway, Daddy was quite impressed by this and took note of her “good character” even though her “holy cow” act didn’t appeal to his macho image. In the mean time a particular Ms Cutting made her move and caught Daddy’s fancy. Although Peggy wouldn’t admit it, Ms Cutting had ignited a spark of jealousy and Peggy decided to show another side of herself to the boss.



One morning Daddy was surprised to find a diary in his desk drawer. It was Peggy’s offering to him. He was taken by surprise and as he read the beautiful verses she had written, he was impressed. Peggy had given him her heart and soul in that book of poems. If she thought that she had executed a coup she was mistaken. Ms Cutting had the boss’ total attention. Daddy thanked Peggy for allowing him to read it and returned it to her with a word of praise for her talent. Peggy was fuming. Country bumpkin, she thought to herself. Then decided to put it back on his desk, hoping the message would be clearer this time. The next day she was in early and the book was kept on his desk instead of in the drawer. She waited impatiently for Jimmy but he didn’t come in. She got up in a huff and walked across the room with the intention of taking back her precious book. Before she could reach the desk, Jimmy and Ms Cutting walked in.



“Good Morning Peggy,” said Jimmy and sat at his desk. “Did you want something?”


“Yes Sir...N..No Sir,” Peggy stuttered. Just as she was about to turn around and go back, Ms Cutting picked up the diary and flipped the pages.


“You write poetry too? How wonderful. I love poetry and I’m sure you’ve written this for me. Jimmy, this is for me right? This is the surprise you wanted to give me, isn’t it?”


Jimmy looked at Peggy. They stared at each other and the silence was ominous. Ms Cutting also glared at Peggy. Then the quiet was shattered as Jimmy said, “Yes of course, this is what I wanted to show you but it’s not...” Jimmy hesitated a moment then added, “it’s not yet typed out. I just wanted you to read it, that’s all.”


“It’s beautiful as it is in its original form. Thank you so much for the gift Jimmy. I’ll treasure it always.” Ms Cutting took the book with her as she walked out the door.


“Look I didn’t want to give it to her. I brought her here to show her your book. Why did you have to put it on my table right now? I just wanted her to read your verses. You write so well, Peggy.”


Peggy did not wait to hear his explanation. She was already back to her work.
The rest as they say is history. Jimmy took it upon himself to make up for his cowardice and “cheapness” in gaining brownie points from stolen verses. He even joined the Christian group Peggy had recently joined. He even got “saved.” Before long, Ms Cutting was out but not forgotten because Peggy was in and she never let Jimmy forget her or the stolen verses.



This incident became a joke with us kids, but for Mummy it wasn’t funny. She never accepted Daddy’s explanation for what transpired that day way back in 1945-46. Her argument being....


“You didn’t take the book back from her. You were more concerned about how she would feel. Why should I believe you?”


I would play devil’s advocate and side with her telling daddy that he was mean.


“I’m here so where’s the lie?” he would counter.


I’d nod my head wisely and ask mom what was her problem.


Yes, women are from Venus... They’re love personified with all the add-ons.....jealousy, possessiveness, martyrdom and phenomenal memories included. They never forget and don’t let you forget either.


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The Chile Diary Chapter 16

The Native Returns



Friday, 9th April, 2010.....It’s a cold, cold day today. To me it’s winter even though the Chilean calendar says it’s still Autumn. A chill wind, started to blow last night and it was mucho frio. I had hoped for a sunny day as I have promised to put mehndi on Gabriella’s hand. The cold has got to my back and one spot on the right is acting up. I’m resting it out and hopefully I’ll be able to keep my side of the promise.



Gabriella is a pretty, young and vivacious waitress working at Manchester. She knows a bit of English so we talk whenever she has a moment to spare. Yesterday she learned that I was from India and got all excited about henna art. It seems her grandfather is Arabic and he has given her some henna. I’m neither sure about the quality of the powder nor about how to apply mehndi with a wooden pen. In India we use a cone, which makes it easier to make the intricate designs. I’ve asked her to make a paste with a bit of lemon juice and sugar. Eucalyptus oil or any other essential oil is out of the question for her. In all probability it won’t be available or then too expensive. But it all depends on my back.



Last night Tintin found a beautiful apartment to shift into. It is on 4 Norte, very central to the shopping areas and the spot where the office cab picks them up. The most important thing it is on the first level. Second it is bigger in area than the present one, which is also spacious, and it falls cheaper too. Since I won’t be here when they move into the new place, I plan on seeing it before I leave. Back home in India this would be no problem, but here one has to fix up an appointment with the property dealer first. And woe to you if you don’t keep the appointment! So now it rests with the dealer and landlord.



On Sunday we have an invitation from my friend Roxana. They’re having an asado (barbecue) at home and we have been invited too. I’m looking forward to that.




12 April, Monday, 2010....The morning dawned grey and cold but the sun has put his hat on and is out now. Our lunch was fun even though it wasn’t an asado. I suppose it would have been more fun if we knew the language. Jokes can be made and understood better if not translated into another lingo. There were only two people who knew English, Gabriel and Raphael. Later in the evening we were joined by Gonzalo who also knows English, but he walloped down his food and got into the Table-tennis fray. Still, it was enjoyable. Roxana is such a warm hostess and there was nothing left wanting in her hospitality.



The food was made by her and the menu was... Mango sour with hot, freshly baked queso-olive empanadas for starters, Baked chicken with pineapple in a cheesy sauce, Beef pot roast, whole fried potatoes, fresh salad, Chilean pan (bread) washed down with a choice of Wine, Sprite or Orange juice. Dessert consisted of three ice-creams. Lunch was served in the patio which opens onto the lawn. Great ambience too!



Post lunch saw the guys getting into table-tennis matches, as we, the girls watched and cheered. Roxana kept a steady supply of cold drinks and iced water coming to the table. Thus ended our luncheon on Sunday. Back at the apartment there was no joie de vivre with Tintin and Manu as both got into their usual phone, serials, movies mode; making any kind of conversation unwelcome. So I watched some TV, then got myself occupied with turkey (pavo) empanadas. This entailed cooking the turkey mince which becomes the filling for the empanadas. Then I folded and sealed the empanadas, wrapped them in plastic wrap and stored them in the fridge, to be fried as and when desired. We were to go back to the GH, but Manu went to bed so I decided to stay the night here. Good decision as I get the advantage of the net.



Tomorrow morning I make one last visit to Roxana’s place. She has so sweetly offered to colour my hair before I leave. Honestly, none of my Indian friends or relatives has even offered to do it even when I wasn’t able to go to the parlour due to my back problems. I feel so nice and blessed with her friendship. That’s it for now. Have to post a thank you card to Roxana.



This brings me to the end of my Chile Diary. I fly out on the 14th of April. I know I’ll miss this beautiful city, despite the constant fears of tremors and quakes that I experienced. I’ll miss saying “como estas?” and replying, “Estoy bien.”

glossary

Mehndi...........henna. It is applied in intricate designs on hands, arms, feet and even as tattoos these days. This is a custom application on many festivals and an important tradition of Indian weddings, where the bride's arms, feet and calves are covered with finely executed patterns.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 15

Easter week and farewell parties


6th April, Tuesday, 2010......It’s been a while since I wrote anything....anything at all. Almost the entire Easter week went away in suspense. I was to leave Chile on the 3rd, as I have mentioned in one of my previous entries. Till Thursday evening we were still not very sure about my ticket. Then finally we were told that it couldn’t happen and now I’m looking at this weekend, probably Saturday, as my day of departure. So I wasn’t in the mood to recount much. Wednesday saw Manu and I doing a bit of shopping. Nothing much and I could hardly walk or stand. It wasn’t a very pleasant spree for me. We visited just one shop so that speaks for itself.


Thursday Tintin had an off, half of which he spent seeing to some of his pending work. Then in the afternoon we went to Lider to buy some things like essences and peppers, which I wanted to take back with me. From here we went to the mall across the street called Marina Arauco, checked out a few things I liked, then went to Ruby Tuesday for lunch. Fortunately they have Wi-Fi so I could check my mail too. I had a sumptuous meal starting with Thai Phoon Camarones (breaded shrimps, Thai style) followed with a Loaded Potato and fresh salad. A fresh strawberry-lemonade washed it down. While we were here there was a tremor (5+) but I didn’t feel a thing. I was blissfully oblivious of everything except the laptop and my blog and writing site. Actually I was feeling quite happy and calm, so I suppose it numbed my senses.



From here we retraced our way back to where I had found a couple of things I wanted to buy, picked them up and returned home. I enjoyed this day thoroughly. A farewell dinner had been planned by Tintin and Manu so they had invited Roxana and her family too for dinner. I rested at the guesthouse, in order to be better inclined physically and mentally to handle the evening.



Ranjit had left the choice of the restaurant to Roxana and she led us all the way to Valparaiso. A few yards from Pablo Neruda’s house stands a sea-food restaurant called Oda Pacifico, and this was our destination. I was disappointed by what I saw, and so were Manu and Tintin. It was a nondescript building, poor facade, and resembled one of the humble dwellings around it. (Valparaiso is made up of an economically weaker section of society)

“Yeh toh dhaba hai,” I whispered to Manu.

“I know,” she whispered back.



We would call it a dhaba in India. A dhaba is a wayside eating place. It’s simple and very basic. Usually these places are set up along highways and are frequented by travellers and truck drivers. Many dhabas have earned a name and permanent customers because of their excellent food. I couldn’t bring myself to accept that this was her best, but gave her the benefit by telling myself that probably the food was out-of-the-world kind.



The Manager welcomed us and led us through the pub at the front, passed the kitchen and pantry and what we found at the end of this tour took our breath away. There before us spread out in all its splendour was a restaurant with a splendid view of the city and port below. Awesome! Everything then on was fabulous. We thanked my friend profusely for her excellent choice. The food by Chilean standards was indeed great. But dessert outdid every ‘dulce’ experience we’d had till then. It was 1.00 am by the time we got home. Thursday was a resounding success and one of the rare days I have enjoyed so much in Vina.



Good Friday dawned bright and clear. Manu and Tintin were up unusually early......Oh no, the religious day had nothing to do with it; luncheon at home was the reason. I had invited Rekha and her family for lunch. Rekha and her husband were visiting their son who is a big boss in the company Ranjit works for. Since both Tintin and Manu declined my offer of help, in any form, I was left to my own devices, which weren’t many. But being me and finding ample number of bananas, enough sugar and vanilla at my disposal in the 3 Poniente dwelling, I got cracking.



My earlier plan, as conveyed to Tintin had been Caramel-bananas served with vanilla ice-cream. But he vetoed my culinary offering and announced that vanilla ice-creams weren’t available here. I didn’t believe him you know; how can a country that grows vanilla not have an ice-cream of the same flavour! But truth turns out stranger at times and I made the dessert despite all Tintin’s admonishing and well, he found vanilla ice-cream. I even pushed myself between the two cooks (Manu & Tintin) and made my famous sour-sweet green chillie dish! (khatti-meethi hari mirch)



Lunch again was finger-licking delicious with the superb butter-chicken Tintin makes, mixed vegetable, dal fry, khatti-meethi hari mirch, pudina chutney, raita, fried rice, chapattis followed by dessert. Palates were titillated enough by the delicious aromas, to work up ravenous appetites and we had great conversations too. Another very pleasant day went by. Saturday was an easy day. We ate Friday’s dinner for lunch, and still had quite a lot left over. At the food court where we had papa fritters for dinner, we found a willing party for Friday’s leftovers; A few Indian youngsters, who work at the same place as Tintin. Boy! Were we relieved!



Easter morning found me up early, fresh and keen to go out in the day, perhaps to visit one of the churches and say a prayer. It didn’t happen. We stayed in, and I nibbled on some marzipans, jujubs and Easter eggs made of chocolate...dark and white. In the evening I bamboozled Tintin to take me to the beach so I could at least say I’d been on the beach. Can you beat it, the beach has been lying there, five minutes from my door, since the day I came to the guesthouse on 3 Poniente 10 Norte, and I hadn’t even been there to gaze at it. Anyway, we clicked some pictures, peeked into the feria stalls, ate some cotton-candy; I got more on my face and hair and clothes than in my mouth. I washed it off with soda...yes ‘agua con gas’ as plain water isn’t available on the beach. We even bought a mathi like object, which did taste like a sweet mathi. It is called ‘palmyras’ and is made of refined flour, and rolled out into seven-inch roundels and fried. Then it is sweetened with palm syrup.



It was time for dinner and we drove around looking for parking space near the restaurant. We finally found a spot and it just happened to be in front of a showroom that was still open for business. Shopping is therapeutic and can always lift one’s spirit, if the shopping’s for you. And so it was. The showroom was selling Patagonia Argentina woollens. Talk about a good day...this was it. I’m sure I was tired when I walked in but quite the uplifted one when I walked out. Our dinner at Delicias Del Mar added the cherry. Now we were absolutely ready for home, as Monday loomed large after the long weekend.



Glossary

Dulce.............sweet

Dal...............lentil made with spices and a typical (spluttering)seasoning

Khatti-meethi...........sour-sweet

hari mirchi.............green chillie

Raita.................yogurt mixed with anything one chooses to add.....could be cucumber, boiled potatoes or just onions and tomatoes, even fruit. With a sprinkle of salt and some Indian seasoning.

Mathi............a crisp fried savory. Sweet ones are made on particular festivals.

Chappati.........Tortilla kind of flat bread, made of whole wheat flour.

Pudina chutney........fresh mint ground into a chutney.


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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 14....26 March 2010

Boarding Pass to the rescue


Yesterday was a cold foggy day. Back in the guesthouse I curled up on my bed. I was hungry and cold and waiting eagerly for dinner. But home-cooked dinner wasn’t on the menu. We went out for Chinese. Awful! So we opted for Italian at Fellini. Yummilicious! I had a dish called Camarones al Pil Pil, which I washed down with sips of Pisco-sour. Pisco, I’m told is a Chilean drink which the Peruvians claim as theirs; A highly disputable claim according to the Chileans. It tasted like a wine but isn’t a wine. I liked it. The drink however is strong, a bit too strong for a teetotaller like me. It’s made from grapes which I suppose accounts for the wine like flavour. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal which I couldn’t finish, Pisco included. So the shrimp was packed as a take-away. The Pisco was wasted.



I must tell you how the Shrimp al Pil Pil is made...or how I think it is made. A lot of olive oil is heated up. A lot of garlic is chopped with a big red chillie. This is tossed into the hot oil which is on simmer and immediately followed by the shelled and washed camarones (shrimp). The oil is taken off the heat. The shrimp is allowed to stand in the oil for a while so that they get cooked. The shrimp used in this dish are a size smaller than medium. It is served in a bowl with oil et al. That’s what I deducted and Tintin endorsed. I plan to make many different Pil Pils....chicken, fish, cauliflower etc.



A new development in my ticket bookings highlighted what I already firmy believe, that God is watching out for me. The travel agent called very early in the morning to say that a hitch had developed as the records in Brazil showed that I hadn’t boarded the LAN flight to Santiago. The implication being that I had stayed in Brazil illegally. It was providence that my intuition prompted me to keep my Boarding Passes. I can recall how I pondered over throwing away the boarding passes. Something strange, considering such things are discarded as soon as one has reached one’s destination. But this time I gave in to my inner voice and kept the boarding passes, though I admit, I did feel a bit stupid retaining them. However after I heard from the travel agent about this new development, I don’t feel silly at all! A scan has been sent to the travel desk, I pray things are smoothened out and I have no trouble getting a return ticket.



As of now I have no idea when I’ll be leaving. They’re trying for the 9th of April, let’s see.



No, 9th April isn’t my day either. After a lot of running around LAN finally accepted the fault was at their office in Brazil, as their office at destination Chile had indeed registered me on the particular plane, and they agreed to issue my ticket, but the SA airlines declined to issue a ticket from Sao Paulo onwards, quoting the same reason. I believe the GRS is a system of booking tickets common to all airlines worldwide, and the failure of the machine to register my boarding became an issue again.



For some reason my trip to Chile has become a test of faith for me. It’s the first time I’m travelling abroad alone, and so much is happening. I quote Psalm 91 and Psalm 121 with trust and faith that my Lord never sleeps and he’ll keep me safe and secure through the entire journey back to Delhi. I’m physically worn out. Tired.I hum an old, melodious but lonesome song...



Koi humdum na raha, koi sahara na raha
Hum kisike na rahe, koi humara na raha.

(I have no soulmate, nor do I have any support.
I belong to no one, and no one belongs to me)

Kya bataoon main kahan, yunhi chala jaata hun
Jo mujhe raah dikhaye wohi taara na raha.

(How do I tell where I wander aimlessly
My guiding star, that showed me the way, is no more)


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Friday, May 7, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 13... 21 March 2010

Flight



Last night as I lay on my bed trying to rest out the headache, I felt a tremor. I was so exhausted and fed-up with the situation, that instead of jumping out of bed and making a dash for the front door,I just got up and sat down and said to myself, “Kis, kis se bhagein? Kab tak bhagein? Kahan bhagein? Kis ke paas bhagein?” I was very tired.


The mobile phone rang. I knew it would be Tintin. He asked me if I had changed into my pajamas. I hadn’t. We were to go out for dinner. We went to a place called ‘Wok and Roll.’ I wondered if this name was born out of some imagination or lack of it! It did aspire to make the most of punning! You see the restaurant served Thai and Japanese food. I was content with appetisers. So my meal comprised two different chicken satays. One supposed to be Thai and served with peanut sauce that was not what we were used to having. It was a kind of yellow curry with a few peanuts tossed in. The Japanese one was good. The other dish was shrimp tempura that looked great but turned out to be oily and thick with batter. But all in all it was a great dinner.



Through the course of the dinner I was wondering why Manu was having dinner with us when she was dressed and ready for a ‘girls’ night out’. I was informed that she would be joining her friends a little later. It was already past midnight by then, but not wanting to be too inquisitive, I quietly speculated on how late “a little later” was. As we waited for the taxi to come I gathered proffered information. The girls would first go to a discotheque, shake a leg then try their luck at the Casino. The discos here began filling up after midnight and the Casino opened after 1.00 am! I realised I was really out of sync with the life of youngsters. At our time discotheques closed at midnight and as for casinos; we read about them, we saw them in movies but we didn't visit any because there were no casinos to go to!! I was dropped home and Tintin and Manu left.



During the week that followed I made pollo (chicken) pullao and tamatar kuchumbar for my Chilean friends. They enjoyed it. They found the arozz (rice) I had used very deliciously different. I had used Basmati. The rice eaten here is of a thicker grain and different in flavour. It came as a big surprise for them that I had bought the Basmati rice from Lider, a super-market here. I decided to expose them to some more of my culinary skills and made Caramel Bananas, which I must mention is my own concoction conjured up, way back in the 1980s! This is one dessert that has always titillated palates. So it goes without saying that it was a finger-licking hit. The recipe was asked for and willingly given. Three cheers for the chef. I’m planning to make some sweet gujjias and mince gujjias (Indian Empanadas) for them over this weekend. Let’s see if I can do that. By now I’m sure you realise what big foodies we are :D



We’ve been looking around for apartments on the first level and in the process have seen some very nice ones on the fourth level. It seems the local folk have vacated the higher floors and moved to the lower floors, so it is difficult to find one for ourselves. I had already decided to ask for my date of return to be advanced. So the request was put to the company boss for approval. A day was available, Saturday, 3 April. I received this news with mixed feelings yesterday. My stay here, under the present circumstances is proving to be hard not only on the kids but on me also, not to mention Gabriel’s family who have been playing host to me so graciously for so many days. So it provides relief for all that I go back to India. But for me the ordeal doesn’t end here. The happiness of ‘flight’ will diminish when I reach India and find I no longer have a home of my own. So I will be relying on the hospitality of friends; my only hope is that I get my Canadian visa soon. Right now I’m planning a trip to the markets on Saturday and Sunday to look for gifts for people back home and some stuff I’d like to carry for myself.


Glossary

Kis kis se bhagein?.......... How many things will I run from?

Kab tak bhagein?......................Till when will I keep running?

Kahan bhagein?.......................Where do I run to?

Kis ke paas bhagein?........................To whom do I run to?

Chicken pullao....................an aromatic preparation of rice and chicken with spices and saffron.

Tamatar kuchumbar.............a kind of tomato salsa



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Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 12

The mom's guests



I set up my computer on the dining table and began to write. If I was looking for common sense to guide the mom and her guests, I was disappointed. Common sense was very conspicuous by its absence. They continued to sit around the table and chat in that high pitched sing-song way most Chilean women use. My head was beginning to ache. Just as I thought I should pack shop, the jing-bang got up and left, mom included. I broke into a Hallelujah chorus! About half an hour later they trooped in and the women began setting the table for tea. It was past seven in the evening! OMG! I moaned, not again? The gossiping, laughing and chomping went on and on. I glared at them from time to time but it was useless. Their total concentration was in the cake, bread, ham, palta, crackers and butter and tea and cold drinks they were walloping, as they kept up the steady high-pitched conversation. By now my head was really throbbing. I held my temples and looked directly at each one. I saw their mouths open and close but I couldn’t hear them talk. It was time for me to get up. I wasn’t in good shape and if I stayed longer I knew I’d say something and it wouldn't be anything very nice. I didn’t feel very appreciative of the mom right then. She should have warned me it would be an 'extended lunch' or better still an 'eat-a-thon.'



I discovered today that Indian beauticians were way ahead of their Chilean counterparts. And charged so little for the work they did. I needed to give some attention to my feet, so Manu took me to a place near-by. I got a pedicure done for eight thousand pesos, which roughly converts to eight hundred rupees, for half the service rendered in India. If it weren’t for my back and knees that prevent me from cleaning my feet thoroughly, I’d skip the pedicure in Chile. India, India.....things are so much more affordable back home. (Thank God Roxanna coloured my hair at her place) Manu warned me not to even try the manicure. After the pedicure I wouldn’t have any way.



So thus went my day. No more to write, so I’ll wind up. Then what? As usual stare at the walls and then lie on my bed and try not to think sad thoughts. For some reason these words of an old Hindi song pop up in my mind.....



Aye mere dil-e-nadaan, tu gham se na ghabrana
Ek din toh samajh legi, duniya tera afsana.

(O my naive heart, don't let sorrow worry you
One day this world will understand your story)

Armaan bhare dil mein, zakhmon ko jagah dede
Bhadke huye sholon ko, kuch aur hawaa dede
Banti hai toh ban jaye, yeh zindagi afsana.


(In a heart full of dreams and expectations, allow a bit of space for hurt and pain. The embers have burst into flame, fan them a bit more. If your life has become a story, let it be so)

Faryaad se kya haasil, rone se natija kya
Bekaar hain yeh baatein, in baton se hoga kya
Apna bhi ghari bar mein, ban jaata hai begaana
.

(Nothing comes from complaining and tears bring no results. These are useless things and nothing is achieved by it. In a split second even our own become strangers)

Aye mere dil-e-nadaan, tu gham se na ghabrana
Ek din toh samajh legi, duniya tera afsana.


(O my naive heart, don't let sorrow worry you
One day this world will understand your story)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 11

Hitches and Glitches





I had many apprehensions in coming to live in Chile. I even recall repeating that I was scared. Unfortunately the people who surround me either think in narrow grooves or are eager for fresh gossip. So everyone, without exception, wanted to know why I was “scared to live with my son.” I had mentioned nothing about my son. The inference was absolutely wrong and born from deliberate misinterpretations. I shook my head wearily and smiled to myself wondering how it was possible for them to constantly dig for gossip and create mountains out of non-existent mole-hills, endlessly; tirelessly for years and years. But many people thrive on malicious, irresponsible natter.



I had to answer their queries. But I myself could not understand why I was using such a strong term for my apprehensions. I wasn’t able to put my finger on the reason of my fear. Why was I scared? It isn’t in my nature to be “scared” of travelling to a new, unknown territory. Nervous, perhaps yes, but frightened? No, it was definitely too strong a word to describe what I was feeling about my pending foreign travel.



I made sure to shoot down the insinuations and gave all the practical reasons I had, to feel nervous about. I was closing home in India. Everything I had worked for and built laboriously and lovingly through the years was gone. I would have no home to return to; No place to call my own. I had left myself bereft of all options. Wasn’t that a scary situation? It certainly did sound like one to some, who agreed while the others realised there was no story here and directed their minds to more material gains from my rather hasty departure from India. They weren’t disappointed in this. There was a lot they liked in my home and a lot they carried away. But I still wasn’t so sure if this was the reason why I was scared.



One month later, with the benefit of hindsight I realise it must have been intuition. I had been begging Tintin to let me stay in India for about three or four months more. I even wanted to try for my Canadian visa before I left my homeland. This provided me with an option. I wasn’t easy with the haste. There were many questions that were either not being answered satisfactorily or answered too soon. Four weeks later, of which three I’ve spent being in a refugee status, stressed and in nervous tension, I know why I was positively scared to come here. I’m isolated; physically; emotionally; spiritually. I cannot get through to my own. But surprisingly the Chileans can feel my anxiety. They have been warm and supportive; friends and strangers alike have extended encouraging moral support. Nevertheless, Chile has been scary and terrifying despite the warmth and help extended by the wonderfully hospitable people of Vina Del Mar.



The latest information that was conveyed to me yesterday was that I wouldn’t be able to fly out to Canada from here. My return ticket had been already booked by the company. So if I did not use it Tintin would have to bear the cost of the same. The company refused to change the destination to Canada. That was fine with the boys, but fortunately we found out that a particular document, necessary for my Canadian visa, which was in the vernacular would have to be translated into English and notarised too by a govt certified notary. My papers had still to be submitted. Thank God for that. Getting a document in Hindi translated into English in Chile would have been impossible. At least now I can think of returning to India and presenting my documents to the embassy there.



Many important details were not pursued earlier making me a pain not only to myself but also to others! I was shunted here to settle for good as a dependent. Now Tintin finds out that too will not be possible as birth certificates of both mother and son are required to prove biological relationship. This means that both the certificates must have the child’s name too. Well at the time of my birth and that of my sons, birth certificates did not carry the name of the child as children in India were named formally only after a month or two. So it would mention a girl child or boy child born to so-and-so on such-and-such date at such-and-such place. And this is how ours is too! I’m sure I’ve made my point clear about my intuition of “scary” situations turning up with all the haste. I remember telling my son and his wife that they were “jumping to X, Y, Z before going through A, B, C.” Well short-sightedness has taken its toll.



Granted the Earthquake of this magnitude could not have been anticipated, but the quake situation is constant and so a problem coming up with me being left alone almost all the time should have been anticipated; the problem of language and communication should have been anticipated; my need for company, entertainment is real and should have been anticipated; that I’d be a part of their outings if not all the time then quite often, at least till I settled in properly, was also very obvious given the situation and should have been anticipated; These are predictable situations. Previous knowledge grants that this isn’t the best place to leave me alone.



That’s the mood Saturday sees me in; Despondent and disappointed. But one must go with the flow....always. I am in God’s hands and though I might feel let down at times that’s not the permanent attitude. My sons are trying to do the best they can, and I appreciate all that they are doing, it’s just that they are too headstrong to listen to reason at times. I still have hope. “God will show the way, where there seems to be no way......” It’s only ten past one in the afternoon. I have a long day ahead of me.



Early morning Tintin and I went to see the house on 15 norte. It is beautiful. It’s built on a rocky hill and made in the terraced style where the houses are built along the slope of the hill and do not rise up in one big, perpendicular block. So it seems to be a hill of jutting terraces. The terrace gardens add to the beauty. Although it is smaller than the present apartment, it has been planned so well to provide small but sufficient space for a neat living-dining room, small but adequately planned kitchen, two bedrooms, bathrooms, walk-in wardrobe. The furniture has been selected with taste and keeping the limited space in mind. The best part of it is the terrace in front. The location is great, the view simply amazing. The minor hitch is that the landlord is renting it out only for ten months, from March to December. This means another change of house at the end of the year. The major hitch is it’s on the fourth level. And being built on an incline, each level has a longer flight of stairs than one would normally find. So this one is ruled out.



The other mom staying here was trying to ask me something. The only word I could comprehend was “problema.” What now, I thought while I threw up my hands and shook my head and smiled a helpless smile, hoping she’d understand that the only problem was that I couldn’t get a word of what she was saying. She caught on and indicated that I should wait till she got her son on the phone. Now I was sure she had a major problem and was keen to know how it involved me.



As it turned out she was getting her friends over for lunch and wanted to know if that would be a problem for me. And if necessary, she would call off the lunch. I told her son that since I was, at the time of speaking, a permanent fixture at the dining table I’d be the problem to his mother and her friends. And since I was in the mood to write I had no time limits, I could close shop in ten minutes or continue till evening. If the group could carry on around me, it was fine with me. They could carry on with their lunch. This brought an overly demonstrative response of gratitude from the mom who hugged me and kissed me profusely!



Anyway neither of us had to bother about it. The Indian group comprising us, had a lunch of rajma-chawal and after a short nap left to pick up my track pants and buy some stuff for the house. The other mom’s guests hadn‘t arrived till then. By the time I returned here at six in the evening the guests were leaving. What a relief! I thought it had worked out fine for all concerned. But that was the forethought. Once again I have to remind you that ‘relief’ isn’t a long-term companion in Chile. I walked into the house to find there were still more people in the house, and although I hoped against hope they would leave, they didn’t.


Glossary

Rajma-chawal.............Rajma is red kidney beans cooked with spices and tomatoes to make a thick gravy which is usually eaten with rice (Chawal)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 10......March 20, 2010

A fish-bone in the throat



Yesterday marked one month of my stay to the day.


I landed in Chile on a Friday on the 19th of February. Yesterday was also a Friday. Bonus... Tintin had taken leave and we had lunch at SixBar, a restaurant specialising in Peruvian and Japanese cuisine. It’s close by so we walked down. It was a celebration of sorts. We had some roasted crunchy maize and salmon tempura while we waited for our order of camorone (shrimp) tempura for starters. Delicious! We walloped it down and waited patiently for the main course of roast pork accompanied by ‘terrine papa y chutney de mango.’ We had asked that the meat be well done so I enjoyed it. Two glasses of chilled ‘pina’ juice washed down the meal. Terrine papa is a dish made of slices of potato (papa) wrapped in a bacon rasher and baked. This is eaten with mango chutney. Now it was time for dessert. Tintin chose one that translated to ‘Volcano of chocolate’ but changed the order when he was informed it would take fifteen minutes and opted for the trilogy of chocolate. What no one told him was that this would take twenty minutes! I’m not very keen on desserts and asked for a plate of cut fresh fruits. Boy! That was a meal.



The cab we had called for was waiting and we drove to Lider, a huge market which would be called a mall in India. It’s a lot like Spencer’s in Gurgaon, only three times the size. The only reason we were here was to get the length of my track pants altered. Once that was done, we had nothing but window shopping to do, which I couldn’t do much of as my back and legs didn’t hold on and I needed to sit. So I leant against a pillar and waited for Tintin to finish his window-shopping. Then it was back to the guesthouse for us. I was tired and lay down. Tintin promptly went off to sleep. The rest of the evening went off dozing and waking, till I got quite fed-up with staring at the ceiling and walls.



It was 10.30 pm when Manu walked in with dinner. We ate and talked a bit. At about midnight, she felt like eating ice-cream. Since it meant a long walk to 5 Norte, I was obviously not included in the midnight jaunt. But I was too nervous to be left alone at the guesthouse for two reasons; First, I wasn’t sleepy and with no TV or internet, I had nothing to take my mind off tremors and quakes. The second, the other mom wasn’t in and I didn’t want to be alone. This didn’t please Manu evidently, so I suggested they drop me at Manchester, where I could drink some coffee, plug-in the laptop and check my mail and chat with some friends. This didn’t please Tintin.



Anyway, with no definite alternative being decided on, I was hovering in the living room wondering how I was going to deal with the situation, when both of them herded me out of the house, I tagged along. To cut a long story short, I couldn’t walk the distance. Manu was upset and made no bones about it through a silent protest. She walked yards ahead of us like a thunder-cloud waiting to burst. Tintin had to bear the brunt indirectly while I felt as unwanted as a fish-bone in the throat. I don’t blame either for feeling the way they felt about me at that moment. The day ended on a sour note and it doesn’t make me happy, because I know it was I and not my son who was the irritant.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 9, 18th March, 2010

'Dying' To Feel Great



I didn’t write here yesterday so will update today. First I must declare I had a hot shower in my miniscule shower cubicle! It was getting impossible to bear the itching and abominable dandruff that was growing on my head. My precious hair was already in trauma, and falling by the hundreds every minute. For me not washing my hair every alternate day makes not only my hair itchy but also me to feel dirty. So I woke up quite early and while Tintin was still around at the guesthouse, hurriedly shampooed and bathed myself. My eternal fear is that I’ll be in a quandary if the house shakes when I’m in the shower. But here the problem doubles as the bathroom isn’t connected with the bedroom and is also too small for me to dress inside! Anyway, I managed and that’s one major accomplishment for me. I thought I’d repeat the performance this morning but woe is me, I woke up too late for anything but a quick wash and change of clothes. I had barely rinsed my tea cup when I saw Gabriel’s white car drive up to the gate.



Yesterday also brought for me help in the area of hair colouring and a trim. A couple of days back, I just happened to enquire if Roxanna knew a place where I could provide the colour I had bought to get my hair dyed. I added that I also needed a trim. She beamed at me with a broad smile and said she’d do both for me.


You will?” I enquired apprehensively, stressing on the pronoun.


“Aha...me,” she said reassuringly.



Javier, who was sitting and listening to our exchange, must have heard the doubt in my voice because he informed me that his mother was trained. She was a professional. Wow! I thought to myself, things were getting better. So yesterday saw me with my L’Oreal dark brown hair colour, which I had purchased in India; a freshly shampooed head of long hair and more happiness than I ever thought I’d possibly feel for a hair colour and trim!


The colour was applied as I watched TV and also cut out raffle slips (900 of them) for the big Avon raffle today. Roxanna informed me that the dye would be left for fifteen minutes before washing. I was a bit worried about that. Forty to forty-five minutes is the time the beauticians kept it on my head, in India. I was quiet for a while. Then I thought that it made no sense to zip my lip and let all the work she was doing go in vain. So I told her it would have to be on for forty-five minutes. Going by the size of her widened eyes, I knew she was pretty shocked.



“Your hair will fall out,” she exclaimed.



“No, it won’t. It hasn’t till now. Indian hair needs more time I think,” I smiled. She wasn’t convinced.



As she went on with the colouring process, I decided to check out the application information hoping that the application time was also mentioned. Hallelujah! It was. I showed her the printed pamphlet. She saw the numerals 45(minutes) and only then did she believe me. The alarm signalled washing time and I was led to the bathroom. But due to my lumbar problems I couldn’t bend over the tub in the bathroom, so Gelda, the nana, washed and shampooed my hair in the kitchen sink! Roxanna who had gone out for a while returned and trimmed off about three inches of my hair. I was feeling so nice. I think it was extremely kind of her to accommodate me in this manner. There are angels all around me.



Yesterday I also brought some kaju katli ( an Indian sweet made out of crushed cashew nuts and milk)for them. Manu’s people in India, had given it to someone from the company, who was in India on a business trip. As expected the ‘vark’ (silver foil) which decorates every Indian mithai, made them wary of eating it. It took a bit of explaining and convincing to get them to eat it. The internet provided immediate information about cashew nuts, the main ingredient used in the preparation of the sweet. As for me I ate more kaju katli than I normally would, in one go, back home. Mithai,(sweets) even our favourite ones, would be lying in the refrigerator so long that eventually it would go to Lolita before it got unfit for consumption. I suppose just as ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’... scarcity makes the taste buds water. Ha! Now that’s an original one from my pen.



I was surprised to hear that there was quite a strong tremor last night. I was feeling unusually tired and sleepy so after Tintin and Manu had dinner with me and went back to the apartment for some time, I dropped off. The cell woke me up. It was Tintin ringing to see if I was alright. He didn’t enlighten me when it became obvious I had no knowledge of the tremor. I promptly went back to sleep. Even though I woke up late this morning, I’m still feeling tired. I’ll wind up my typing and take a break after I wrap up this chapter. The good news on the house-hunting front is that there is a visit scheduled for Saturday, to check out a place on 15 Norte. Let’s see if it’s good.



Martina, the cat was extra loving towards me today and even wanted to climb up on the table and inspect the laptop. That’s it. Cervical vertaebras or more aptly the cervical discs are acting up. Need to stop.


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