Monday, September 29, 2008

please come

round room nestled amidst pine trees. window panes with rustling sheers. the sun may rise may can sit across. we can talk. i can weep you can smile. you can light the fire. i shall offer no decree. i can acuse you can close your eyes. i live you can haunt. letters lay scattered that i never sent and you never read. tea that brewed and got cold. dylan can join. roark's invited robert. its the macabre. it is barret's blabber blob. please come..........

the romantic dead

in the eerie silence of the night , with no soul a plaintive cry away, i wake up at around 2am. the occasional hound-barks by no means lull me to sleep. i think of the space empty next to mine. Monk is travelling. i dont miss the sudden rude kick in my shin. i do miss the soft rythmic breathing. it is assuring. i think of far away. i think of Diamonds and Rust. Baez and Dylon. i think of the cosmic coupling i must have read in some new age "fix your sex and marriage " stuff.... when i think of Diamonds and Rust i can feel the words of Robert Kincaid to Francesca. a sentimental tear takes shape and disappears in the white linen. i feel foolish. i realize i am the romantic dead!!!

Friday, September 05, 2008

dance versus dancer

500 calories. 43 minutes. 6.3 km/hr. i am happy at what the treadmill display console reads. uriah heep in my ipod muses about the dancer and the dance the dancer dances. and we need to choose. but may be they already know the answer. sometimes its not the person...for all his or her exsitence, that person has both white and black hues. and like memorable pictures some moments are so intense and the color of your person at that moment is so all pervasive that the color becomes the code. so the world can judge and it does. but what remains eternal is the creation of that person. you can hate it or love it but not deny it. and if that work has dedication and it has the earnest you imbue a magic. it is called "eternity". so at the end it is the dance of natraja that is famous and not so much natraja...there uraih heep... you boys knew it, dint you now???

The dovetail

waiting needs patience. patience is the mother of all virtues or so it goes... Quantum is not patient. every thing is smoothe on the surface but underneath runs these currents that tussle each other for no apparent reason. there is a need for some movement yet an inertia. this is called denial and it can be so deluging. there lies beneath the quest for unchartered yet there remains the dulcet feeling of familiarity. there is so much passion yet so much dead. dreams that are unholy yet resolute, need to vanquish the id yet resurrect the self..... it is denial???

Friday, August 29, 2008

The abode of the motley crew

You either love big cities or you don’t… doesn’t feel too right… nah….let me try again…you either love Mumbai or you don’t. I love Mumbai. Yeah that’s it.
It was not easy living mind you. Filth strewn like no other city, I can only recall the description Gabriel Garcia Marquez used for the Caribbean in “Love in the time of Cholera”. Every where your eyes rest you are assaulted by nameless heads bobbing up and down in ocean of humanity. Local trains, pollution , humidity, traffic jams , flyover construction, hawkers, human feces, abject poverty, jaw dropping wealth, nameless people, star icons, overflowing drains, Arabian Sea, AIDS activists, theatre artists, eunuchs, writers and well the list can go on…..
Yet despite utter chaos there was a cosmic rule that ran as a common thread across souls…. Work hard and smile on… the city has so much of macabre to show, so why fret. There is an unspoken code of conduct …what earned you your bread is your god and god shall never be displeased. Everything in that city begins with worshipping your god and ends with the same and there are circles of entities that ensured that whatever you do, those gods must remain pleased and bless you….
The every morning auto rickshaw ride from Bandra to Malad was not easy. No sir. It was bumpy . It was arduous and took an hour everyday one way. I stopped complaining when I met a girl in one of the offices in Mindspace who came from Panvel every day. It took her two hours and a change of two buses and two trains one way. She woke up at 5 in the morning and slept at 12 at night. Such is Mumbai. She had dark circles around her eyes, a slight frame and though mere 23, her skin told a different story. What amazed me and made me celebrate the human resilience is her smile. Or the grit on every face that I saw in the local train which I took whenever to save time or the sudden urge to save 100 bucks.

Amidst the mechanical churn of life there is a continuous blossom of spring that gave hope and determination to every one. Why, that incident of a lady travelling in the train. No place to stand, she stood next to me in the all women coach. She got in from the Bandra station where I took my train from…When the train stopped at Khar , a small girl hawking odd ends got in. She droned on about her tidy basket of clips, bands, hair accessories and bindis. She soon drew closer to the door to get off at Andheri. But a sudden surge of women got her enmeshed amongst bodies and she let out a huge wail of helplessness and terror. I saw a sudden flash of a hand , that belonged to the same woman I had mentioned earlier, draw the girl close and pull her to have her ensconced safely between the woman’s body and the coach wall. She held on to the girl and in the next station, let her off personally before quickly getting in. I was touched and flummoxed at a Davidoff perfume wearing and Dior bag clutching woman to express humanity this way. Only when I said so, did she smile and said that managing finances in a big bank was not so special as managing little lives. I got to know her designation, that of a Vice President in HFDC and the fact that that morning her car broke down and a busy schedule pushed her to take the train..
It is hearty to know that neither capitalism has completely corroded the mind of some to hear just currency tellers counting money nor has communism made such minds sluggish by continual shouting matches. There are these unsung heroes that live their ordinary lives in extra ordinary way. Why isn’t it divine to just find a smile on a face when most brows furrow thinking of destiny’s next tricks and the plots in the mind to negate those.
The ode to beauty must go to such human beings who smile despite life’s everyday challenges. I salute the spirit of Mumbai and its precious thinking minds!!! Minds that really think!! People who don’t smile to impress someone but to express life’s virtue that has pain and happiness et al.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Glint in the eye

Was in splits when Bryson wanted to look at the woods and comment like a seasoned mountaineer and trekker, with a hard glint in the eyes “ yeah I shat in those woods” or something to that effect. Man I almost came close… I pissed on a winding road between two car doors, opened to barricade and three helpful people covering me from a peek a boo of my posterior. Helpful tip from the gal with us who pulled the same stunt in Ladakh. Let’s call her …hmm… Tinkerbell . Tinkerbell (TB from now on) was celestially made to fall in love with Clicky Traveler(CT) and these two swell guys gave us company to explore the Hinterland of a Deccan State, Karnataka. Us? Why its Monk and SQ if you have forgotten…. The grand idea to go off for something unplanned germinated in Monk’s head, slowly really going the monk way of being shorn of hair, after the spitfire version of my energy surfaced and it was either a yearlong haranguing or a quick weekend trip….
You need hassle free, uncomplicated, shat in the woods variety for these unplanned low budget four day get away!! Monk in all his earnest could only recommend one member of his large friend circle … CT and his better three fourth TB …. CT is a great conjurer… he makes dull places look great in pictures and squeaky old cars fly like Sea Harriers that want to bombard evil terrorists in Asian heartland!!!! TB gave me a complex in loquaciousness… that gal spoke and laughed and demolished goodies with my kind of agility and earned herself the decree of being a woman of substance…if she really cares for that kind of brandishing !!! Remember she gave me a new perspective on bladder clearing and I practiced it on my way back from Bangalore to Hyderabad, the Land of Biryani. My gratitude to TB remains eternal on this account!!!
The tried and tested method of stinky stuff bonded me well with TB and CT…this was the first time I was meeting them and man I needed to get on beyond polite conversation…so in a fit of verbal diarrhea I exclaimed that the only woe for a travel bug bitten woman is the defecation bit. Ha then what, we got talking about fart, types of farts and shit habits…. There that did it, so we continued hogging and talking and making shit…..
As was expected from CT (Monk had set a very appropriate expectation from the offset for a change) that it will be very sudden, very unplanned and great fun. There would be synchronized open air dumping by the CT and Monk. It was just that. This time luck favored the sons of great duodenal lubrication, they were miraculously offered CCD toilets.
TB and I took turns to be gods of small things…we just peed everywhere possible….
The drive to Hyderabad to Bangalore, on Day 1 was tiring , irritating and dull for me and Monk…The start from Hyderabad was late and our car created some confusion that got us in a tizzy to show her to a technician…We could only get out of city premises by 1145 hours…mistake, huge mistake . This route of 540 odd kilometers does not boast of interesting eat outs like the Bangalore- Mysore- Kerala stretch. Most of the eating joints are unhygienic and have very dirty toilets. That dint deter us from eating at this very filthy place middle of nowhere and Monk thanked all the gods for conjuring rice, rasam, soggy papad and lots of busy flies!!

We had palate scalding milky tea on our way ahead and food poison inducing pakodas. We also demolished an entire plum shortcake and couple of cookies and an apple each. By sundown we were still 180 km away from Bangalore. That entailed night driving. The road is middle of an overhaul , there were potholes and everybody drove on a high beam. Add 7 hour long fatigue and 6 hour of disturbed sleep, Monk and I envisaged very horrible news traveling our friend’s circuit… but CT was our Mayday and we made it to his house at exactly 2345 hours. TB , after a day’s long work , fed our undying appetite with a homemade welcoming dinner, and after two hours of chatting and catching up we all dropped like flies to get up in the morning quite late.
On Day 2 there was still no clear cut plan of destination and after much thinking, calls and re-thinking , we all decided to go to Coorg, so we were out of the house almost at 1200 hours after a hearty brunch of dosas , palya and chutney, awesome combo, thanks to Madame Ecstasy , TB’s lifeline!!!
After some one hour on the road we re-voted for the destination and this time CT who navigated the car (get the word navigated ? well that’s because we were flying low) towards Baba Budangiri , about 200 km away.
That’s when stinky talks happened and more mindless talks, no job, no boss and no competition …clean getaway… just like Trey Anastasio croons in his number “Everything flows out right through my head”. Lunch was at a government certified vegan lunch house… four people, four meals and back to the road…. No place yet to stay due to heavy booking everywhere … my early morning ablutions worried me a bit…. But we kept driving and soon reached a place called Hassan there we spotted a manna from above…Hotel Ashhoke….TB called them and booked two rooms at unbelievable rates of just 2.5 grand a night and complimentary breakfast…we were hopeful that in Chikmagalur we may still find something to stay the night, so though dusk was not too far, we carried on. The two places Hassan and Chikmagalur, are just 65 km apart. On the way we saw a Hoysala Resort. Enquiry for rooms left us disappointed. I even tried an oriental accent but to no avail. But we still marched on to Chikmagalur and on our way stopped to take many a pictures. CT is an analog camera buff… so am I but digital ones can be handy for not very serious shooting trips and also to discern for your analog the light quality…so CT and I took many a pictures. Must say he is cool …pretty good with the light versus object thing…. CT recommended Nikon D80 and I am still hung on the Canon 400D…. both needs obscene moolah…. Let’s wait for a long time till I get one!!!
We reached Chikmagalur at around 8 or so and soon found ourselves trudging our way to an obscure Taj property…these are those leased properties that use Taj’s brand name but offer substandard facilities…must tell those guys not to dilute their brand like that, I mean 3000 for some sick buffet and no La Carte!!! Cheap wine that TB and I wasted and regular beer for Monk and CT. We drove back to Hassan at around 2200 hours and were in our rooms by 2330. We were more than happy for the pads…. Surpassed our expectations. Hotel Ashhoke was truly splendid given the circumstance and otherwise for a low budget getaway…. Hot water, spacious rooms, good service, mini bar, wake up call, clean towels, clean washrooms and comfortable beds…folks that’s not really rough traveling …. But secretly I was very happy . And complimentary breakfast that served other than the South Indian spread, bread, egg, fruit, fresh juice, chicken sausages and good coffee. Having stuffed ourselves we checked out and headed towards the real gold… Baba Budanangiri. These are coffee hills, best recommended for trekking. Legend has it that one Baba Budan, disciple of Sufi Saint Hazrat Sheikh Abdul Azeez Mecci, undertook a pilgrimage to Yemen and on returning thence , surprised his followers by some magic seeds – coffee beans…Duly planted, it gave rise to the famous coffee plantations in Hassan and Chikmagalur. It was a lovely rainy day, salubrious and green, the drive from Hassan to Chikmagalur was repetitive but from Chikmagalur to Baba Budangiri was refreshing. Narrow winding roads up the hill and coffee plantations with pepper tress. It was a perfect setting for some hot tea and spicy samosas, alas not to be found anyplace…one way its good, cuts off the crass commercialism and ecological decay by non-biodegradable waste. We started to trek up but a steady drizzling got very chilly till we hardly trekked too much and headed back more wet by rain than sweat. Our next agenda was to find a lunch place. Most of the places looked shady so we had to rely on the lone Hoysala resort. We had to call them and ask them if we could use the restaurant “Belur” therein. We were there in the nick of time to have some very average and soon gone cold lunch. The highlight was the green daal. Hot and spicy and available. Post eating we took off to Bangalore at about 1600 hours. CT and Monk took turns to drive… I was drifting in and out of sweet slumber and engaging in the general merriment. We reached Bangalore at about 2100 hours . TB being the conscientious host ordered in some very light Chinese food. Gorging which the last few days of strain surfaced. A hot shower and “ The life of others” had a soporific effect. With an early start back to Hyderabad , I had to call it a day.
The next morning, a quick packing and a sweet breakfast by TB had us ready by 0800 hours. And TB majorly embarrassed Monk and I, the shameless duo , by entrusting a lovely Goan tile on our way out. I mean we just got them some cookies and cake, which we joined them to demolish on our trip to Baba Budangiri. This is neat huh, get people cake and you munch it half yourself . Shameless I tell you, Monk and I. Anyways after a warm and lengthy goodbye we were off to tackle the 14 hour long drive to Hyderabad, boring and forlornly quiet after our three days with CT and TB. We got home late by 2230 hours. Well Hyderabad House beckoned us and we devoured Chicken Biryani like maniacs… on the way…. Jeez have you ever encountered hogs like us?
The trip was great. Bangalore is a little sad these days but Chikmagalur and Baba Budangiri was scenic, unwinding and gave one the opportunity to trek, shoot and develop a glint and say “ Yeah I pissed on one of those winding curves”…but above all it connects you to people who have an identity beyond designations in clinical glass offices….who draw their self esteem in being grounded, warm and extremely talented people. TB and Ct were so refreshing after the pseudo we come against day after day…
Let’s hope we meet CT and TB again and have very brain dead yet meaningful trips!!!!
Let’s hope we get the real glint

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Those days back then

Sitting in my closed terrace and gazing at the steady rain. He sleeps. There is so much he needs to do during the week, so I do not wake him up. The rain falls in straight sheets. Calm and beautiful. I sit in the quiet amidst the given chaos on Hill Road, but the old bungalow¸ Rebello House, that I can see from my terrace, gives me the refuge. Old house this one. Now quite mouldy. It still provides for some people who dwell therein, I see at times come and go. Young girls. Happy and private. A car cleaner, cleaning a car parked in the small clearing near the entrance under the old trees that flank the house. I have seen some playful kittens on the tiled roof of the bungalow during last summer, scrambling around their sun warmed and soporific mother on sunny days. But today it is raining. And no one is quite seen around Rebello house. There is an obscure Bay City Club that barricades the traffic on the left hand side. For some time now renovation has been carried out in the club. The loud screechy welding machines and iron rod cutters leave me gritting my teeth at times. But overall, the rain manages to cut off most of the sound. It is pouring heavily.

Something about rains leaves me nostalgic. It could be my hometown. Shillong. I was conceived and birthed there. So was my Mother. And Shillong is to rains what Sahara Desert is to sand. Cute cozy cottages nestled amidst rounded hills. Shillong is not amidst great hills but on plateaus, part of the eastern Shivalik ranges that have abandoned sky searing loft for full bodied scenic little hills. And Shabira Cot is just another little cottage. More about the in-mates later but in a nut shell, my maternal home was this charming little world of remarkable men and women. One of them is gone. My granny, Nani. She was a cookie, that one. And the raining morns were special.

The day break in Shillong would be marked by crowing cockerels. And the distinct shuffling footsteps on wooden floorings that have to belong to a person fighting sleep, battling cold and the urge to urinate. I would get up at once, wear my pull over, pull up my socks and the morning ablutions would follow. Shillong is cold almost all mornings. Sometimes bitterly sometimes not so. But every morning is crisp, fresh, and clean. Perhaps Cat Stevens sung “morning has broken” keeping Shillong in mind.

Shabira Cot resides in Laban in Shillong. Except for the first born, who died when barely a year old, my Grandparents were prolific and bore seven more kids. Four sons and three daughters. And the last one helped name the house. That last one is also my Mother. Her elder two sisters had enough of handling three younger brothers, quite a handful they were, it is said. So when came along Mom, she was named Shabira, The house was called Shabira Cot. And my Grandparents took peace and never had any more babies. I never met my grandpapa. Nani was a different story. I more than met that fiery but warm, sharp tongued but talented lady

Coming back after that little confusing detail, let me muse about those mornings. Some twenty years back. I was little. Don’t ask my age. I shall not want you to deduct how old I am now. So once Ali,the main house help, would get up after Nani would call out from her bed, he would freshen up and kick Horu, the young twelve year old help, awake. Horu (HO-ROO) literally means small in Assamese. I hated that Ali kicked Horu awake. But Horu always refused to service any of my demands. Horu was a zit in the rump. So the kicks aimed at him lost their pain for me after my initial indignation. I would howl with fury for all those irritating nothings he would subject me to. Pull my braids. Show me his tongue. Push me in the corner and keep me waiting for my early morning glass of milk.

So once the two helps would be up and about, the large electric heater would be switched on in the kitchen. This heater was around till I was 17 or so. I loved it. Brown, rusted with two big coils. On one side Horu would keep a huge ketlee ( kettle) of water and the other would have an indigenously made mesh toaster. So as the water would boil, heaps of freshly cut breads would be toasted. And slaved with butter. And placed on that old steel tray, which always looked new because of the never ending tray cloths Nani churned out. Delicately embroidered casement pieces. The hakoba and lace ones were kept for ‘guests’. ‘Guests’ were a constant fixture in that house. More on that some other time.

But early morning plaid trey cloths would suffice, placed on the trey along with a pile of saucers, three cups of tea with sugar in them and a huge plate of hot bread with soft butter. Whenever Papa would be there, he would be given milk tea, but most of the elders preferred red tea. And Papa would come home every two months to see my pretty and slowly getting rotund Mother. Papa was in the army and away for a field tenure in Tawang. Irfan was on his way. I got to know much later that Mom was expecting him. And that explains why Mum and me and of course not a very visible Irfan were living with my Nani.
I mean my parents really took my everyday post school bawling seriously. I would harp on how all other kids had “brothers and sisters” and I dint have any. So they pondered and thought they might as well have one to keep me quiet. So now Irfan was coming. Had I known he would be so tiny, evidently fragile and unable to be my playmate and the main reason why I suddenly stopped being the centre of my parents’ constant attention, I would have thought about my stupid demand. And once his milk teeth sprouted and he would bite me to massage his tickling gums like I were his teether or broke all my toys after his were long gone , I would have seriously reconsidered my unreasonable demand. Back then I was oblivious what was in store for a “BIG SISTER”. Twenty years down the line, the equation has only grown in order. He still tries my patience and generally bores deep holes in my wallet and makes it up by acting all sweet and ready to kill for my sake.

Again I digressed. So once the trey would be ready, it would be taken to my Nani. She would always rebuke Horu, the dunce, to have forgotten to give her the two empty quarter plates for which she had to remind him everyday. Sadly those days I did not know anything about Uriah Heep. But once I read David Copperfield, some two or three years down the line, and my simmering hatred for Horu The Horrible was still alive and smouldering, my mind gave Uriah Heep a twin. Horu!!! I would almost every time enjoy seeing Horu getting scolded. It was mutual. He generally tattled about me to Nani or Mom about some mischief I would make. And those days, mischief would happen even when unintentional. I was not exactly a quiet young girl. No, I was quite a brat. On retrospect no one realized how boring life can be for a young girl, with no company, all adults and a terrible tattling servant boy. Life at times was tragic. I would draw list of all misdemeanours carried out against me to show it to my Dad, who returned home, like I said every two months or so to look us up from Tawang.

Anyway , so Horu would get her the plates and after another angry prodding from Nani, two large canisters would be pulled out from under her bed. One would have cake and the other Marie biscuits. Loads of them. The cake, needless to say would be made at home and it was stored under the bed because Horu and cakes dint get along very long. The cakes would disappear whenever left in the kitchen. Poor cakes, I mean when they rather be filched by me. I must confess I did filch few cake pieces too. But even if Nani knew, she never had the heart to scold me. Everything is fair in love and war and I loved food.

Once the biscuits, the tea, the cake and the bread would be ready, Nani would take her tea cup , take a saucer, place the cup there. Then she would daintily pick a slice of bread and take a bite. I would be busy sipping the milk I hated. Then she would call me, fold me a slice and hand it over to me. And I would blissfully munch on my bread. And would quickly take a cake slice and some biscuits before the trey be taken from Nani’s room to my uncle’s room. Oh I forgot to mention, my uncle too lived with Nani. He was unmarried and kind of looked after her. Well, he was very fashionable and would recklessly spend most of his money on good clothes. And I would love to munch my bread and tag along Horu to my uncle’s room and I would most often poke him out of sleep. He would jump and sit up with a start, very viciously tell me how inappropriate it was to wake someone like that and would dismiss Horu unceremoniously after his tea and bread and cake would be delivered. My Uncle and I shared two things in common- love for music and dislike for Horu. My uncle is tall and this is Uncle Number 4. The last son my Grandparents were blessed with. He was always running short of hair. But he was tall and had quite an arresting personality. He was always jittery when with kids because they would break into his reverie of his next big hocus bogus story that he would like to articulate. Because the real world and the imagined ones did not have too much of a difference for my uncle. But he played the guitar in the quiet cold mountain evenings when he would return from work and sang country songs and I sang along with him, and in those times I would gladly forgive his constant tame-my-niece stance towards me. And he sang well and he would often say that I sang well and I would glow with pride. Till my short span of attention would disappear and some mischief would happen and I would be banished from his room.
So while he would sip his tea and do funny antics with his voice, I would take a bite of his cake and prance around his room, touching this and that and he would be so jittery that he would get up and go to the toilet and once in a while I would hear him fart. That would lead me to giggle, eat more of his cake and go back to Nani. She would have her second cup of tea and as every time she would pour some on the saucer and slurp up most of it. I would find that fascinating. Once I tried it and spilled tea on my home knitted white sweater. Nani was livid, Mom was furious and Horu sniggered. I never tried it again. Nonetheless the art of mastering saucer tea drinking was in my agenda of list but much lower in order. There was Horu to take care of.

Mom?? I let her be. Or she made me let her be!! She would be up in our room, adjacent to Nani’s, with her morning sickness. Get up, throw up, freshen up and then have a light brew on my Nani’s bed, sitting close to my grandmum. She could not tolerate most of the odours. Poor thing looked sick every morning. I would keep looking at Mom’s face to see if I could get away with some brave confessions of some mischief I made before r, till Nani would tell me to stop staring at her daughter and let her be. I would shrug and go out of the room to the kitchen . That was where all the action was.

For breakfast, Ali would knead flour into dough with scalding hot water. How he managed such hot water, left me awe struck but I always tried to look intelligent and not show too much respect. But still the mind wondered about little wonders. He would add salt and keep kneading the dough relentlessly. His long crooked fingers would assault the poor flour and before I knew he would start making small balls out of them. I would take one or two, making Ali the Dour dourer. If Horu was a pest, Ali was sour natured. And I would make my small rooti (bread) with the long discarded rolling pin I discovered in a hidden corner of the kitchen during one of my scavenging afternoons. Ali would make some balls out of the dough bigger than the others. Place those on the wooden plate and with the rolling pin start making parathas. He would deftly apply some oil, neatly cut the spread bread from the centre to the edge, roll it like a cone and press in down to make a spiral small cake which he would spread again with the rolling pin and put it on the tawa , flip it around , apply oil , flip it many times again and keep it deftly in the thermal casserole. This he would repeat more than a dozen times till close to twenty parathas would be made. Then he would take up the smaller balls and spread them just once, make them real thin to make the famous Shabira Cot rooti. And keep them over the parathas.

Next he would bring out the chicken minced meat. He would peel and dice the potatoes real small and quickly make some minced meat with potatoes. While that would cook, he would bring some squash from our kitchen garden, wash them, peel them, slice them and make the succulent squash dish. All this great food would be made in just an hour. Once the cooking would be over Ali would bark at Horu to lay the table. Horu, in his slow way, would do the needful, simultaneously irritating me; put the table mats and plates on the table, dole out some jam, butter, jelly and the required cutlery. My Nani has lots of cutlery and crockery. Soon I would run to inform Nani, my mother, and my uncle that breakfast was at last ready. Having done my page boy duty, I would go to the kitchen with whoever of the three was first to get there.

You see we did most of our daily eating bit on the large family table in the kitchen and not in the dining table in the dining room. For one, the kitchen was cosy and second my Nani could sit there and supervise the cooking which was quintessential for her. And she would sit on the head of the table, where porcelain chrome colour bowl with warm water would await her to dip her hands and perfunctionarily clean them. I would follow suit. Only the elders got dedicated fresh finger bowls. The younger ones would quickly dip and get down to the basics. It was a norm followed in most houses in Shillong because after the British left India, most of the tribal work force who did not inherit estates or legacy, started working in Indian households. Several of such servants worked at our place before Ali the Dour and Horu the Horrible came in. They were primarily responsible for sharing tips with most house matrons and wives and by and large most families in Shillong had imbibed a large proportion of British habits. Like the trey cloth bit, and kettle bit, four post beds and many other details. However, food was most about what piqued my interest and having seated next to my Nani, opposite my mother, I would get down to eat.

The parathas, steaming hot and soft would be handed around. Next the minced meat with potatoes and the squash preparations would follow. Meal times were the only time when I was quiet, focused and absolutely angelic. Baring few incidents, most meals went without having to remind me of minding my Ps and Qs. The minced meat with potatoes would have a dry consistency and the squash was slightly gravy-ish. The squash would particularly have small whole cloves of garlic. The jam and the jelly would always be served in small porcelain white bowls and the butter in a cut glass butter dish. Jam, jelly, spicy preserves and pickles were Nani’s specialty amongst other culinary wonders.

Jam would be made from the fruit and jelly from the juice of the fruit. Both required tremendous amount of patience to be cooked in large cauldron like pots. And would be cooled and jarred in large bottles. From there they would be spooned out every day for daily consumption.

After I would quickly gobble up one paratha with the minced meat with potatoes and the squash preparation, I would have one rooti with the jam du jour. I always like the jams better than the jellies because they were more crunchy and yielding. Jellies were slightly more solidified. Sometimes when the regular jams would exhaust, fruit preserves of slightly spicy-sweetish flavour would be served instead. Preserves like pear with cinnamon and ground pepper and the famous plum with red chilli powder were often served. I long for those even now.

I do not know what was larger; the hearts of the people in Shabira cot or the kitchen, but in the far corner of the kitchen, a long table and a bench was placed. There Ali and Horu sat and ate along with all of us. There was an unspoken belief that the family that ate together lived together. I guess that’s why Ali, later looked after Nani on her deathbed much better than a son would.

I always felt I and Horu contended for a wee bit more jam to establish our supremacy over the other and both liked to believe the other got less. So our constant bickering and “getting evens” would continue. There post meal, Horu would quickly scurry to get the chrome bowl for Nani with fresh warm water and the small aluminium mug with more warm water to assist Mom wash her hands. And then he would grudgingly help me wash my hands too. Tea would follow again.

So those were my idyllic days. Long gone now. That same kitchen, where sumptuous food would be cooked, served and eaten, I have not visited for so long. We are eleven grand children. All of us have lived some parts of our infancy in Shabira Cot. Rains are a part of everyday life in Shillong. The kitchen would have clothes line drawn from end to end, above the heater, where all the baby clothes damp and necessary would be dried. The warm cosy kitchen is so nostalgic, where new years’ cakes were baked and iced and served, the kitchen where feasts for marriages, births, birthdays, Eids and milads (Muslim social get together) were cooked. Where plans for everything big and small was carried out. How can I not love it and miss it painfully. Irfan came along soon. We moved away. Horu found a girl, moved out, got married and I heard four years back, he died of consumption. Ali got married and has two kids and lives in the outhouse. My uncle got married, lived there for a few years and he too moved out of that house with his wife and child. Uncle number three, his wife and three kids moved in. And now Nani is gone. I miss her at times and her knack to spruce me up. Make a lady out of me. And give me a bite of her tea soaked biscuits in the morning. Giving in to my cajoling to draw the impossible fox my insane drawing teacher told me to draw as my home assignment. Giving in to my pleas to tell the Arabic teacher who always came on bright Sunday mornings to teach me Arabic, precisely when Doordarshan would air Mickey and Donald.

I never really learnt the art of “saucer tea drinking”. But I mastered the art to deliciously recall those memories of Shabira Cot, twenty years later, on a Saturday Monsoon morning, alone in my terrace of my Mumbai home, having just red tea and nothing else.