Friday, December 15, 2000

Symbiosis

colonizers of a virgin planet.
constant companions.
of lovely long tresses.
scratch, scratch, scratch.

god! are they
breakdancing 
having sex 
digging holes
all the way to China?
scratch, scratch, scratch.

face wash, lipstick, kajal, perfume.
(scratch, scratch, scratch).
medicated oil and shampoo.

tormented writhings. 
fevered imaginings.
little settlements
– no,  whole civilizations –
annihilated.

tiny wriggling body
frantic waving legs
scratch, scratch, scratch.

thumbnails meet.
loud click.
one black dot
is now deceased.
scratch, scratch, scratch.

first appeared in Femina magazine 15 Dec 2000

105.7C

Mercury is a temperament
and Mercury can also be
a god
and a planet
But Mercury is also
a thick silver rod
encased in a glass tube
which jolts you
as 
rigours
vomitting
listlessness and pallor
simply cannot.

And Mercury is
the potent rod
that can direct you
to the dread
antibiotics
which you have long forsworn
in favour of
Alternative Medicine
and 
Natural Healing.

So he’s better now.
And I’m exhausted.
Please can I have
an antibiotic too?

first appeared in Femina magazine 15 Dec 2000

Sunday, September 24, 2000

Black booty

I walked through the door of my house, and nearly fainted at the words I heard blaring over the music system. Before I could wonder if I’d imagined them, there they came again, loud, cheerful and mellifluous: “I want to see your underwear …”
Until that moment two years ago, I had naively and somewhat egoistically imagined the generation gap to be a figment of fevered imaginations which, like Santa and time travel, simply did not exist, and if it did, merely represented the incompetence of my own parents. Even more painful was the fact that none of my children were yet of an age to be interested in anyone else’s underwear. It struck me that tastes in music define a generation as clearly as traits such as hard work, birth control, fondness for hashish or a facility with the newest technologies.
Another reminder of the generation gap came recently at the Black Country Museum in England. The Black Country, immortalised in print and celluloid by British media personality Meera Syal, is so named not for the numerous Indians who inhabit it but for its role in the Industrial Revolution. “Black by day and red by night, unmatched for vast and varied production, by any other space of equal radius on the surface of the globe,” the American consul in Birmingham declared in 1868.
The museum is set in a twenty-six-acre site and recreates the living and working conditions of those days. We went down into a coal mine, took a ride on a canal boat, visited ironmongers, sweetshops and apothecaries, saw a silent movie in a shed-like hall, and even had a lesson in a Victorian classroom where the teacher wore a black gown, spoke in a shrill falsetto, and kept a wooden cane at hand.
Much that we saw, including the cinema, buildings, and some products in the shops, were familiar to me from my own childhood. Tea-plantation bungalows and wooden-floored boarding school dormitories in the Nilgiris still retained much of the Victorian era a quarter century ago, and perhaps still do. So when we walked into a shop and one of my teenage daughters pointed at a bacon-slicing machine saying, “That must be the photocopier,” I was startled into a sudden vision of what a different world my children live in. By the time I dared to imagine such a miracle as a photocopier and could believe that I no longer needed to painstakingly write out copies of documents or roll messy carbon papers into the typewriter, I must have been in my twenties. For me the museum had been more about nostalgia than novel experience.
But in the end, the Black Country Museum presented us with an encounter which reassured us that the world is indeed a familiar and cosy sort of place. At the fossil and gift shop, there were beautiful stones for sale. When we told the man we collect stones like these from the ground around our house, he politely asked where we were from. We said, “Pune, India.” He laughed, picked up one of the stones and showed us a label which said that it had been brought here from “Pune, India.” So of course we promised to come back again soon, this time with a big box full of stones.
first appeared as a Times of India Middle on 23 Sep 2000

Thursday, April 6, 2000

Knitty-gritty

I learnt to knit when I was only six. But unlike taiji, who shares the same distinction, I was not married off shortly thereafter.
My introduction to this fine if sturdy art happened during a brief and utterly desolate period of my life in the boarding at Nazareth Convent. Yes, that same Nazareth Convent immortalised in the Booker Prize-winning God of Small Things. Everyone else in Class Three was learning to knit during their spare time and so did I.
Knitting, I’ve heard recently, can serve as excellent therapy. Some teach it to convicts and other antisocial elements in the hope of calming them down. My mother was a committed knitter. Not so much to keep her on the straight and narrow as occupation for the long winter evenings. This was decades before television came to our remote corner of the planet.
So knitting became part of my adolescent angst and I viewed with disdain people who said, “Oh isn’t that sweet, she’s just like her mother” when our every social call was interspersed with the speedy clickety-clack of both pairs of our knitting needles, and I longed to stab them between stitches. If my mother was a better, and more experienced, knitter than I, it was surely just coincidence.
But it was true coincidence that, twenty years later, the older women in my husband’s family turned out to be great knitters. This gave us at least one major binding force, and the wool market in Delhi, with acres of brilliant bales and loops of wool, was practically on the doorstep of the family home.
Over the years, I also learnt the metaphors and clich├ęs of knitting.
Knitting, for all my youth and energy, was something only tired old women did. If at all a young woman knitted, it could only mean that ‘good news’ was on the way. I was acutely aware that knitting needles could be used for purposes of excavation when ‘good news’ was actually not good news but very, very bad news indeed; as for example in the case of Noelle in Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight.
Knitting was also the embodiment of patience and I owe it my aptitude for perseverance and tedious hard work.
106, Wodehouse Road, Colaba
Now knitting is a dying art, a pastime of the previous millennium. Both my daughters were duly indoctrinated; so was my son, on grounds of gender equality. But none cared to bear the mantle of the family tradition. To them, cable only means cable television, and filet has to do with meat rather than needlework. They know nothing of jacquard and aran or other bywords of my world. Yarn shops have closed down the world over, replaced by burger joints and gymnasiums.
But knitting was always a part of my life, even during the several years when I lived in Bombay where, someone once told me, there are only three seasons: hot, very hot, and unbearably hot. It was a way to pass time between suburban railway stations. Climbing off a Local onto the clamouring platform, holding the knitting needles aloft, was always a good way to get those nimble-fingered bottom-pinching rascals skipping neatly out of the way.
first appeared as a Times of India Middle on 6 Apr 2000

Thursday, January 20, 2000

MG Road

A whining beggar child
snot nosed and bedraggled
pulled
& tugged my sleeve
and snivelled persistently
begging for alms.

Irritated, I scolded,
gestured with a warning finger,
but she begged on.
And on, and on.
And on, and on.

So I whipped out my hand,
pulled
& tweaked her black and grimy ear.

Later, when I walked,
satisfied and self-important,
back from the shops to my car,

I saw the little beggar girl
weeping by the roadside
and suddenly
she was only a wretched child,
a poor, unfortunate waif,
not loved or cherished (like mine)
not fed or clothed (like mine)

just a little girl,
sobbing, alone.

just as I had, 
when I was her age, alone.

She was an irritating pest
only by bitter circumstance
and I was flooded with remorse
for I had no sweets in my bag
to give the little beggar child.