Not so long ago laughter – voluminous, throaty, uncontrolled – had not really been an incessant part of my life. Yes, I was happy and did have “32 sparkling teethy peals” but then HahaHeheLol would become one of my greatest friends and treasure in life only in the December of 2003.
Although it may seem fairly recent if one compares it with human lifespan, I know that the events that took place in the winter of 2003 will remain one of the most QTOLish moments of my life. Just to clarify, I was doing my masters at TISS in Bombay which doesn’t have much of a winter – so this had nothing to do with the weather.
But then it had everything to do with the spirit of Christmas. Having spent three years previously in a Catholic College that gave me the joy of being a part of all the fun and festivities, I was feeling sad about missing out on all of that in TISS. Thankfully though, the campus did have Christmas celebrations and most importantly everybody seemed tuned into the Secret Santa game. “Yippie!!”, I thought and smiled to myself. “Some things in the world continue to be sane”.
Masters in Social Work turned out to be much much harder than I had thought. Apart from tons of assignments, academic pressures and blues of being away from home, the atmosphere was extremely tumultuous. The world suddenly seemed a little too upside down for comfort (note: it already was, which is why many of us were there at TISS – ‘to change’). Each day presented a bunch of new realities that we were supposedly being trained to analyse and develop strategies for – from communities living on garbage dumps to facing an eighteen year old lecherous boy as a ‘child with rights’. By the mid of first year the meaning of ‘develop strategies for’ on campus emerged as endless nonsensical debates, generous amounts of ambiguity and extremely polar ideas. TISS at this point was like being in the company of an eclectic group of beings who’d have issues with the fact that something was a ‘non issue’. The most cliched question of the moment was always ‘But who decides?’, indicating the ever lasting ambiguity of individual freedom versus working in the interests of people. In short every single conversation would begin and end in concentric circles. Now if one adds a dollop of hostel woes, ranging from ‘smoky reeking corridors’ to ‘sleeping with bright lights and loud noises’, to this already confusing and tumultuous situation – you’d understand why I was yearning so much for a game of Secret Santa.
So on this lovely December 2003 afternoon, in a rather unpleasant DH (Dining Hall), we all had to pick small chits of paper with names of people who we were to adopt secretly – and send them gifts, goodies and letters, or torture them till Christmas eve. Soon I became a temporary mother. But then there were unfortunate souls whose names had not been picked. An ominous poster declaring their orphanhood was put up, requesting people to adopt. The idea of two children dint appeal to me, so quite frankly I still don’t know why I adopted ‘HahaHeheLol’. It just took a small suggestion from rather cute and diminutive neighbour Chandni and I had a daughter who was going through as much of a cranky bad patch as I was. Perhaps, this is what is called destiny.
Over the next few weeks, I don’t know what got into me, I sent my child loads and loads of handmade gifts with lovely handmade paper in numerous varieties. Even a small silly note would be laboriously made, I spent hours together each night getting my act to make each day special for my child. It was midnight oil burning at its best. No , this wasn’t a competition, and I dint even know ‘HahaheheLol’ – in fact we had not even exchanged pleasantries. But somehow her booming laughter, excited ‘show off of gifts’ in class, her small notes drizzled with a hundred ‘lols’ – these smaller things just made my day. This world of sheer joy, laughter and child like excitement seemed so far away from endless debates and assignments. And yet it was so truly life like and so much ‘human’ in essence.
I even sent her an embroidered handmade paper folder!!!
Neha and I got to know each other pretty well through that game and we’ve shared a lovely friendship ever since. We’re so connected that one would think that perhaps there is a mini device that aligns our wavelength and thoughts together. We go crazy over little things, laugh like raccoons over frivolous stuff, love the quaint and argue like children. The Internet’s biggest boon has been the fact that I have been able to share the same amount of space and time in spite of the distance – over email, IM or this blog. I continue to receive virtual or sms notes splattered with dozens of smileys, hahas, hehes and lols.
Thanks Neha, alias HahaheheLol, for all the laughter and joy you bring into my life.
Holidays at our ancestral home in Kulithalai would always be filled with lovely incidents – moments that you can look back on years later and smile.
My brother and a cousin, Sridhar, both kindergartners at the time of this incident, had gone snooping around the largish family house, while another older cousin, Krishna and I were buried in our books. As the older kids we indulged in more discipline and sitting tolerance while we waited for our daily dose of snacks at regular intervals. Obviously the two smaller kids left to entertain themselves indulged in a variety of unconventional games, from poking toads in the back garden, counting cobwebs in the attic to collecting weird shaped stones.
Life was beautifully lazy and the day just seemed to fit into this description till my chitthi (aunt) spotted some figures peeping into the well in the front yard. Soon she figured that what seemed like “peeping” from a distance, was actually “throwing” rather enthusiastic “throwing”. My brother was busy emptying packets after packets of something while my cousin was egging him on “Pooduda Podu” (roughly translating as “Throw, come on throw” in English).
“Oi, you kids scoot from here. What do you think you’re up to?”, my chitthi called out. She approached the well and let out a horrified scream.
The well had transformed into a massive bucket of froth!! The kids had emptied a few packets of Wheel detergent powder into the well!!! It was simple enough for them to give blank stares and get inside the house quickly for some delicious food.
The real project of the day had however just begun. As the news of the latest prank spread, no one thought of scolding the kids. On the contrary, everyone seemed quite entertained in spite of the mammoth task that was ahead of them – the well needed to be rid of all the soapy water. My dad and my uncle began emptying out all the water, while the rest of us watched the show. I dint think it was possible for a well to be emptied!! It took several hours for them to successfully skim off the layer of soapy water. In the process they discovered quite a few random objects like a soap bar, a mug, a soap box which had found their way into the well.
Though no one was admonished for the prank, you can be rest assured that the Wheel detergent packets at Kulithalai have never been anywhere close to the well since that day. In fact no one ever knows where they are hidden, away from the prying eyes of pranksters.
I had always thought that there was only way to eat an ice cream out of a cone. Start from the top by licking the ice cream scoop and finish by chewing the cone all the way to the bottom. My amma had told me very strictly that this was the proper way – “clean and no spilling”. The right speed of ice cream licking was also equally important, it had to be fast enough to prevent the ice cream from melting and slow enough to savour the taste.
But while attending a largish family wedding in Srirangam when I was around five years old, my cousin busted the myth of “one clean way of eating cone ice cream”.
She was as old as me, but seemed far more experienced when it came to enjoying ice cream in a cone. She said she could eat it bottom up – eating the cone first and savouring the ice cream last. Another interesting technique involved pushing the ice cream all the way to the bottom with your tongue, this again ensured that you ended with the yummy taste of delicious ice cream. She also pointed out that one could always just eat the ice cream and throw away the cone, although I wasn’t convinced about this being another technique. Apparently one could also wait for the ice cream to melt inside the cone and drink this like some kind of a shake. Again, I wasn’t sure if the ice cream would melt on the “inside” or “outside”.
But it was clear that she had experimented with several different innovative ways, this made me feel jealous and unsettled. So highly unsettled that I decided to ignore being a “good obedient girl” for a while. She promised that she would demonstrate at least one of the techniques in the evening when the ice cream vendor usually did his rounds.
The wedding was over and it was time for the quick afternoon resting followed by some good ice cream for the kids. Most kids opted in for the Chocobar, while my cousin and I went in for a scoop of chocolate flavour in a cone. I decided to try the bottom up approach, not too experimental yet unconventional.
Of course my cousin had to first demonstrate and prove that it was a method that actually worked. So she took a neat little bite of the cone’s bottom. Well, nothing awful seemed to happen. I was of course licking my ice cream away, I would switch to the bottom when I was convinced that everything was under control in the alternative method. My cousin progressed quite seamlessly to about the quarter of the cone. “See, I told you, nothing will happen. This is the best way to eat cone ice cream”.
I considered for a second and was just about to switch, when I suddenly saw something dropping out of her bottom side of the cone. She had chewed up to half of the cone and the ice cream had started to melt!!! I was rapidly licking away mine, biting the cone while watching her struggle to keep her technique going. Her ice cream starting dropping from the top half as well, and over flowed on to the sides. Her brave efforts to save the yummy scoop dint work and in the next couple of minutes it was all over her dress with a larger generous portion plopped on the muddy road.
I was starting to feel much better, after all my conventional method gave me the joy of eating an ice cream. But then she threw a coup and took me by complete surprise. She started to cry, actually, make that “wail”. Soon a group of concerned adults surrounded her. “Poor kid, her ice cream melted, let’s buy her another one”.
What??!!! Here I was, a good girl eating ice cream the proper way and she was the one getting all the attention. She got to choose a bigger and better Cassatta. After all the adults had to give her the best deal to make her stop crying!!
I consoled myself by saying that at least I hadn’t spoilt my dress and that I dint suffer from any ignorance – there wasn’t any bottom up approach of eating cone ice cream.
The unassuming gullible Mama (uncle) was traveling with his four year old nephew – their destination was a few hours away, and Nikhil was already getting restless. He was just into kindergarten and wanted to have some fun….what could possibly be a fun thing do on a train?
Just as his imagination started to run, a middle aged man in a black coat holding a bunch of papers appeared – it was time for the routine ticket checking. Just as Satish, the uncle supposedly “in-charge”, reached for the ticket in his pocket, Nikhil held Satish’s hand firmly. The kid pulled out a shaggy piece of paper from his pocket instead and handed it over to the Ticket Inspector. “Here’s our ticket.”
The Baffled Ticket Inspector said, “No no, this cant be the ticket. Please show me the real ticket”.
Nikhil, “No no, this is the ticket”
Ticket Inspector, losing his patience by now, “This is not a real ticket, I cannot accept this”
“No, this is the real ticket. Please take”. A volley of such no-no’s followed interrupted by some scuffling with Satish Mama and his requests for being allowed to fish out the real one from his pocket. But would this bored kid listen? Nikhil persisted with his argument, though finally within a couple of minutes the “real” Indian Railways ticket emerged.
Needless to say the Ticket Inspector moved on as quickly as possible rather relieved but still flustered.
Nikhil was smiling though. “I was just having some fun Mama” he said with a naughty glint in his eyes.