memories

A Decent Burial

I have mentioned before about the fact that most of my fond memories revolve around my brother who is about six years younger than me. He’s a very special child sensitive and intelligent with unique interests.

One of few things that he is passionate about is wildlife – for years I never saw him watch anything else on television beyond National Geographic, Discovery and Animal Planet. He devours pages after pages of books on animals and birds and rattles off their Latin names and their unique behaviours in an excited tone equivalent to “everyone on earth has just landed gold”. He has always had birds as pets at home and brings up their babies and their babies’ babies with tons of love and affection. I can still remember the excited glint in his eye as a middle school-er when he discovered the first batch of eggs his friends had laid, his crushing disappointment when a clutch failed and his over whelming joy at the sight of new born chicks.

It’s amazing to see him interact with his birds – they respond to his voice, play with him, communicate their worries as parents when a clutch of eggs are laid, let him clean and monitor the health of their new born babies – birds can be so much more personal and attached than one can imagine.

When we moved into a flat of our own in Bangalore after years of travelling through cities and various neighbourhoods, one of first things that we did was to convert his balcony into a well equipped aviary complete with rounded mud pots for nests, nesting material, lovely bowls for food , a smallish tub for them to have a bath and a smaller private area for those who need some space alone because of sickness or injury or plain simple maladjustment.

One of the biggest things that this lovely relationship has taught my brother is “death”. He experienced his first encounter with this heart wrenching separation when he was about 12 years old. One of his birds had fallen very sick and no amount of care could nurse Maco back to health. It almost broke all our hearts to see Maco’s partner hover around his body, trying to wake him up. Its a scene that’s burned in my memory like no other.

After some time when Maco’s partner had reconciled, my dad went ahead to take Maco out of the aviary and proceeded to wrap him in a newspaper and a plastic bag to “dispose”.

“Dispose”??!!!! My brother was extremely angry – now combined with the sadness of this loss you can just imagine how red his face could have gone. In his own words he wanted a “decent burial” which was “respectful”.

And so this Sunday morning was spent performing Maco’s last rites. After a few minutes of searching my brother and my dad zeroed in on a burial spot on an empty plot of land. My dad dug up a small grave while my brother put Maco in. They offered a fist of earth each as a token and said a few silent prayers before covering the grave with earth. To end the ceremony, they planted a small sapling of a bush nearby over Maco’s grave.

Losing a loved one is very sad, but giving a “decent burial” full of love and respect is indeed one of the best treasures of life. It’s a lovely acknowledgment of their moving on in their journey; an acceptance of their passing into another world and a higher plane.

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HahaHeheLol

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.


The case of a false ticket

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.


Strictly Business

Conventional Logic says that people mature as they grow older – our emotional quotient graph supposedly moves upward with each passing day’s adventures giving us a bit of “gyaan”. But there are times when I wonder if this is an “upward” trend of the EQ graph or of the CQ graph (Complexity quotient graph).

Each passing day seems to make us more complex especially in day to day relationships – we become more prone to tact and diplomacy, more measured in our communication. Whereas as a child I remember having a very straightforward life, with direct relationships and simple communication – I did very well without the tools of diplomacy, arguments, tact, silence and elaborate logic. My social tools consisted of just plain truth and common sense – simple and beautiful.

A couple of incidents that took place when my brother was around five or six years old, show how straightforward social interactions can be with children.

We were new at this regular Delhi school, with regular teachers. My brother had never been an easy child for many teachers simply because he dint understand the language of authority. Complaints, cribs and regular notices were immediate defenses of teachers who lacked the competency to communicate with my brother. But this one particular time, one of the teachers decided that perhaps a visit to the Principal’s office would do the trick. “Maybe he’ll listen then”, she must have thought.

Unfortunately for her, the scene in the Principal’s office went something like this:

Principal: Raghavan, what have you been up to? Do you know why you have been brought here?

Raghavan: (puzzled) I don’t know. I have no business in the your office. I’m going back to my classes.

And before the two adults in the room could blink, he was gone – he’d scooted away to his classroom.

Needless to say I was called and questioned on behalf on my brother and a visit from my mother followed the subsequent morning. We all agreed that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way the teachers were dealing with my brother. After all being concerned with one’s own business is no crime!!

On another occasion, all kids of Class 2 were being punished for creating a ruckus between classes. My brother refused to take the punishment, he simply said, “I wasn’t making any noise, I wont take the punishment”.

On each of these occasions he was only stating simple truth, and he dint need to resort to any tact or silence.

What do you think? Do we grow more complicated in our social communication as we grow older? Do we perhaps pass over simple truth and common sense for complex social norms?


Scolding Children!!!

There is a whole treasure trove of memories associated with my brother who is six years younger than me. His quick wit, fierce independence and revolt to adult hierarchy have combined to give me some of the most memorable and loved moments of life.

I was not necessarily a naughty kid, but exceptionally clumsy. On one of those random clumsy moments when I was around 12 years old, I broke my mom’s finest Borosil piece while taking it out of the microwave. Predictably the usual scene of my mom howling down at me started playing – why did “you remove” when “you were NOT even supposed to touch”? She was mighty distressed at losing this piece, that too quite so abruptly. As with typical “mommy tirades”, this one went on and on to include detailed narrations of my numerous super clumsy moments. By the time she was on the third such story of my supreme clumsiness, my cheeks had started to burn, my eyes were flushed red and hot tears were streaming down.

Just when the scene seemed to evolve into a typical parent child confrontation of monstrous proportions, we suddenly heard a booming voice “Scolding Children??!!”. My three and three quarters foot six year old brother was glaring at my mother, with fisted hands at his hips. “How dare you scold children? Scolding children is bad. Don’t scold Akka”. It took us a minute to realize what had happened.

The tension had been broken – all the anger and tears transformed into peals of laughter. No one could argue with the wisdom of a six year old – scolding children was indeed “bad” (and unpleasant). The fight for the rights of children had no resistance, my brother had won this battle hands down.

And he claimed his prize with equal style!!! My mom had to apologize and promise my brother that she’ll never scold children again (she’s almost lived that promise though there have been minor instances).