Monday, October 22, 2012

Toughen your daughter, sensitise your son!

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, “the law is a ass — a idiot.” Dickens made one of his characters mouth this in Oliver Twist, and he was not far wrong! Especially in today’s scenario when self-styled Khap panchayats in Haryana make irresponsible statements, intoxicated with an unhealthy dose of male chauvinism, making one wonder if the 21 century is in regression, all set to scurry into the Middle Ages. Sube Singh, a Khap member, kicked up a storm when he said: “I think that girls should be married at the age of 16 to curb the instances of rape in the State.” According to him, girls themselves were responsible for their rapes, and adding insult to injury, he blamed television and movies for the incidents. “Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16, so that they do not stray... this will decrease the incidents of rape.” The former Chief Minister, Om Prakash Chautala, echoed similar sentiments when he suggested that the marriageable age of girls should be lowered to 16 to ward off crime against them. Sadly, no one has any suggestion to turn negatives into positives, to try to change the mindset of these men. They try to mask misdeeds by offering a shoddy, downright stupid solution — one which goes against the philosophy of an ancient culture which looked upon women with reverence. Just imagine the plight of a young girl, who has been brought up like a flower by her adoring parents and who suddenly gets married off to a strange man, who, by the rule of wedlock, vows to protect and take care of her. She is obviously not yet ready for marriage, and if she has to give in to her new husband against her wishes, isn’t that ‘sanctioned rape’? Is that how our girls are to be protected? The spate of gang rapes in Haryana over the past one month has provoked National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Chairperson Shanta Sinha to demand exemplary punishment for the rapists, after a teenaged Dalit girl immolated herself following rape. “There should also be a fear amongst those who indulge in such activities. They should be punished so that the girls are safe.” Aye, that’s the rub! Murder and robbery are law and order problems. Rape, apparently, is not. So rapists parade around, heads held high after their heinous deeds, while their victims cower, faces covered, self-confidence shattered as though they are the ones who are the criminals, a travesty of justice? Why does a victim have to prove her victimisation? Hasn’t she suffered enough, both physically and mentally? Especially when a local party head from Haryana, Dharambir Goyat, tells reporters that 90% of rape cases are a case of consensual sex between the boy and the girl. The solution lies in the hands of these girls, who will later be women. It lies in the hands of all parents who have daughters, and need to instil strength in them by teaching them to protect themselves from an early age. Self-defence classes should be made a must in every school, along with the three Rs and mental strength and fortitude imparted to them in their curriculum. Parents of boys have an even tougher role. They need to rid themselves of age-old prejudices and bring up their boys to treat the opposite sex with respect and care. The day women stop being the weaker sex and learn to defend themselves, society will start looking at them with new eyes. And the law might just stop being an ass! Open Page, The Hindu 21st October, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Long years of sacrifice in an unfair society

My maid came to me the other day, a worried look on her normally cheerful face. “Madam, yesterday a boy had come to ‘see’ my daughter. He liked her but his family has made the following demands.” She rattled off the list — 12 sovereigns of gold, a refrigerator, a television, a grinder, an induction cooker, a bed and mattress and a cupboard. Plus she had to conduct the engagement ceremony and give her daughter the requisite jewellery and saris that would showcase her as a bride. She was talking about her daughter, a girl whom she had scraped and scrounged for over years of slaving at people’s homes, and whom she had moulded into an engineer. She now works for a reputed company. There was a second daughter who had finished her graduation in commerce. It was an amazing tale of fortitude and struggle on the part of a mother, whose drunkard of a husband had abandoned her for another woman. He could share none of the credit as he had never been around for his daughters, nor paid a penny towards their upkeep or education. He had escaped lightly as no one ever asked him why he had absconded. On the other hand, it was his poor abandoned wife who was constantly probed about how she had managed to educate her two girls! Unfair, but true! The said ‘boy’ was a graduate in commerce, working as a supervisor. His to-be bride was an engineer with a fatter paycheck than the ‘boy’. Yet, the fact that he was the man pushed his price up to a level where his family expected the bride’s family to pay for the honour of ‘acquiring’ him. We cajoled our maid into putting her foot down. She listened with a woeful look, but had the sense to take along with her a crowd — her estranged husband, his mother and sisters, a talkative niece and a few other wallflowers to make up an impressive contingent. The next day she came back, grinning all over her face. “Everything has been fixed!” she announced. The boy’s family had taken back the demands of much of the household goods, all except for the bed, the mattress and the cupboard. The sovereigns had gone down to nine and the girl’s side had to conduct the engagement ceremony. The wedding after three months would be conducted by the boy’s side. Now there was a smile on her face, as she recounted what the boy’s mother had said to her. “The reason why we are insistent that your daughter should come into our family is because she is an educated girl.” In that one sentence lay years of sacrifice, hard work and tribulations undergone by the poor mother who had never given up on her daughters. Other mountains lay before her — jewellery, silk saris, suit for the groom, the feast and the invitations, but for today, the smile in her eyes spoke volumes. All those long years had been finally worth it! 03rd October 2012 12:00 AM New Indian Express

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who's to Blame - parents, teachers or films

The killing of a schoolteacher by a student in Chennai has sent shockwaves throughout the country and sparked a debate on the ills of the education scenario. Here, students of a school in Erode pay floral tributes to R. Uma Maheswari, the victim. “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end...” Such nostalgia is wrapped around this song; those were indeed the days! A house would overflow with children, of all ages and sizes! Uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, visitors were all welcome, as enormous amounts of food were cooked in the smoke-filled kitchen, and served with affection. Children went to neighbouring homes, eating breakfast at one place and lunch elsewhere. Amazing was the rapport between cousins, as also between adults and children. The parents often didn't even know what their kids were up to, and when they were naughty, anyone of their uncles or aunts had a free hand to chide them and set them on the right track! The chiding would slide over like water off a duck's back, and off they would go, back to their tricks again! There was no time for complexes to form, as corners were rubbed off, and children learnt to face challenges with a smile. At times, canes were brandished at the backside, but after the first torrent of tears, they would be back to playing with their cousins! Sulks never lasted long as playtime was precious, and no one wanted to miss the fun! Thus, kids grew up tough, unspoilt and intrepid! So much has changed since then! Nuclear families are now cocoons with just the parents and one or two children. ‘Personal attention' has become the catchword, with young parents reading books on parenting, trying to bring up their children according to the written word. Grandparents are too far away to be able to offer nuggets of wisdom through wonderful tales of the past. So children grow up as loners, depending on their own devices, turning into latchkey kids. They learn to twist their parents around their little fingers. Guilt can often prove very lucrative! A special treat at McDonald's for having missed the school annual day, an extra bit of pocket money for a birthday forgotten! For, the parents, both working, have ‘no time to stand and stare'! New rules for GenNext Schools have also revised their rules to cater to GenNext. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has now given way to “Strictly no corporal punishment!” No longer can a teacher scold a student, or lay a finger on him, for fear of damaging the sensitive psyche of the child. Of course, when we were growing up, there was no such thing as a sensitive psyche, which was actually a good thing. For, we grew up well able to handle ourselves and the tough world beyond! Today psychologists talk about young plants needing protection to grow, and warn that negativity might maim a child's mind! So words like 'fail' and ‘poor' are taboo, and ranks have been replaced with grades to boost the child's self-esteem. The latest principle: overprotect a child to the extent that he is scared to death by any challenge — exams, competitions, a strict word, a rebuke before his peers, any kind of failure! Anything can make him go over the edge, which is mortally frightening. For, suicides have become all too common and no adult wants to take that risk. So a 14-year-old creeps up on his teacher and stabs her to death, because she wrote a few reformative remarks in his diary on his poor performance in class. A deadly rage within his bosom grows day by day, as he feels pressure on him from home and school. This rage reaches breaking point, and he buys a knife for twenty rupees and keeps it ready to be used against a hapless teacher, only doing her duty! A teacher who has worked hard all her life to brighten the lives of her students, popular amongst students and colleagues, a woman aspiring to become a college lecturer as she had just two papers to finish her M.Phil, a doting wife and mother of two daughters... a good human being, who had not lived out her life completely. The boy comes from an ‘affluent' background — he gets one hundred rupees a day as pocket money! However, does that give him the right to cut short a human life and blight an entire family? Who is to blame — the parents for wrong parenting, the teacher for having tried to give the boy a bright future, peers who often wield a frightening influence, or as the boy has cleverly said, a movie like Agneepath that provoked him to take revenge? Questions that need answers if such endemic rage is to be stopped! The Hindu Feb 12th, 2012
A TEAR JERKER: Aamir Khan’s TV show, Satyamev Jayate, has hit the small screen with shocking stories of mothers who struggled to give birth to their girl child, of the killing of unborn girls. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf Aamir introduces the subject, and lights a spark, taken on by three women who bare their souls and strip naked the atrocities committed against them. Aamir Khan is a genius! Only he could have chosen a name for his show so well calculated to touch the heartstrings of all Indians, one that aids to dredge out the latent [?] patriotism with their whole heart. At a juncture when scams are the new status symbol, when politicians have copyrights on how to talk and how not to deliver, when people cluck their tongues at corruption eating away at the nation's innards, when the common man finds life turning even more common with price rise and when the rich get inflated despite inflation, here comes a star who hits out at the very poignant, very real issue of female foeticide. Much akin to the ancient sutradhar, Aamir introduces the subject, and lights a spark, taken on by three women who bare their souls and strip naked the atrocities committed against them. As the horrendous tales unfold, tears flow unashamedly, as the listeners take in the cruelty of men, and in many cases, that of women. Aamir gently nudges and prompts them, even as he wipes away his tears, but the real heroes of his show are the women themselves. In sharp contrast, appears the DIG of Police, Sahranpur, who obviously has a big mouth and a bigger ego. He twirls his moustache and berates a poor man who has come to lodge a complaint about his 14-year-old sister eloping with a youth. With a glint in his eye, probably because he is on national TV, he barks, “Had she been my daughter, I would have shot her for the shame she has brought upon our family!” No compunction, no remorse, just a bull in a chinashop, smashing the emotions of around 50 people with one callous statement! This is regression at its worst, upholding honour killings, a barbaric tradition! Chilling clips of clinics in Rajasthan, where female foetuses are aborted with ease, and despite a sting operation that clearly reveals faces, deeds and complicity, not one doctor's licence has been revoked. The carnage goes on ceaselessly, and often, the whole staff is involved in the crime. Aamir points out that female foeticide is not restricted to the poor, but is practised with impunity in the chambers of the rich and the famous. Obviously, education has nothing to do with real learning, as all those bigots who put the blame of bearing a female child on the harassed mother have no idea that the sex of the foetus depends entirely on the father. Betraying their ignorance, they strut around, preening themselves on getting a boy and cowering like mice if the child is a girl. The saddest part is that code words indicate the sex of the foetus. Jai Sri Krishna, if it is a boy and Jai Mata Di, if it turns out to be a girl. How ironic that in such cases, the Devi, a goddess of immense power and worshipped by millions, is the epithet given to a helpless little mite who is killed in the womb! While on the topic of honour killings, we do not have to delve very far. The Aarushi case, which has turned murkier over the months, was initially termed honour killing. The ‘most unkindest cut of all' was the manner in which the media and the police crawled through the entire house after the murder, riding roughshod over any clue that was not earlier obliterated. As pictures of the young girl were plastered all over the media, the case grew more complicated, finally ending with her parents in the dock. A village in Punjab has dug itself out of the mire with one man having risen like a Colossus to strike against female foeticide. Aamir exhorts the rest of India to follow suit. He knows this is the right time to strike a chord, when his listeners are shell-shocked at the sight of a woman whose husband bit her brutally all over her face for having borne only daughters, and a doctor whose mother-in-law kicked her granddaughter's carrycot down the stairs. Are these the doings of civilised people? And even as a group of bachelors, aged 35 or so, finds no brides due to the skewed male-female ratio, a young mother on the street smiles radiantly in answer to a question whether she wants a boy or a girl. “I would accept with gratitude whatever God gives me!” Simple words, yet so meaningful! The Hindu May 13th, 2012

Politicians or Pedagogues?

“Off with their heads!” The Queen of Hearts is well and thriving, but would she have been allowed to survive? Lewis Carroll would have probably had to delete the interesting character that the Queen was, had he been alive in India today. In fact, a number of his wonderful creations would have had their heads chopped off, especially with the number of thin-skinned politicians and bureaucrats who seem to dominate our country, determined to rid her of her funny bone! So the Thorat committee has taken a pair of giant scissors and ridden roughshod over NCERT textbooks, like the bull in a china shop, destroying what it does not understand — the thin line between good humour and stringent lampooning! The advisers on the political science textbooks cautioned readers at the start that “the attempt is not to hand over a definite opinion to students, but to enable them to think on their own!” Mere wishful thinking, it seems as even the immortals in the rarefied realms of politics seem to have forgotten to think! Why else would such gems be done away with? A picture is worth a 1000 words, and a well-scripted cartoon makes one laugh and think as well! Yet, the snipping goes on, along with the harping and the carping, and the tendrils of gentle humour are yanked by their very roots and thrown into the dustbin. The two offending cartoons that opened a Pandora’s box have disappeared, and a number of others which have enlightened so many students are also on their way out. The reasons are flimsy — politicians and institutions may not be represented as animals (which get rid of the use of the popular allegory), regional sensitivity is paramount, the role of the bureaucracy shall not be misinterpreted and no ambiguity will be permitted! All very ambiguous indeed! So it is back to the old boring textbook that drones on and on about dry facts and trivia, and the student is at liberty to fall asleep, as his mind begins to lose that creative spark and energy fuelled by cartoons! The NCERT, which had tried to be original, has now had to backtrack, all because politicians have suddenly turned into pedagogues, who think they know everything. Unfortunately, many of them know little enough of what is happening in their own constituencies, let alone in the hallowed sphere of education. Let us applaud the lone dissenter on the committee, M.S.S. Pandian, who firmly avers, “What is perceived as ‘politically incorrect’ need not be ‘educationally inappropriate.’ The textbooks should be used as they are.” What are we finally losing out in the long run? Ever since I was able to read a newspaper, my first instinct has been to glance at the cartoon on the first page, which always evokes a smile, and kick-starts my day, along with my funny bone! Aren’t we being selfish to deny our children the same, even as we try to curb their curiosity and nip their ability to judge what is humorous and thought provoking? The Spectator Pandit Nehru loved a good cartoon, and a good cartoonist! Maybe, that is the difference between a great statesman and a mediocre politician! Open Page, The Hindu July 21st, 2012

Walking into a terrifying, dark nothingness

It was a sad sight! I was sitting at an eye hospital along with my mother who was due for a cataract surgery. She had decided to have it in Chennai as two of her daughters were in the city. The various tests took ages, punctuated by long waits in between to see various doctors, and we were both reduced to doing Sudoku puzzles, reading and texting. I went out to make a phone call as there was no mobile network coverage within the basement where we were waiting. As I was dialling, I saw a heart-rending sight. A young man in a red shirt suddenly appeared, holding the hand of an older woman, obviously his mother. He strode along authoritatively, as the woman hobbled along behind him. It was clear that she could hardly see anything, as she had dark glasses on. There were a couple of steps at the entrance and she stumbled over them as he did not warn her, and it was piteous to see her lifting her foot high up in the hope that it would encounter a step, where there was none. The staircase loomed ahead, and again, she almost stumbled, as she said something in a trembling voice. The man pulled her on, as she tried to slow down, turning around only to rebuke her — impatience writ large on his face. She held on for dear life to the railing that ran along the side, terrified that she would fall flat on her face. Walking into a dark nothingness can be terrifying, an occasion when one needs not only a helping hand, but words of warmth and reassurance. Wasn’t this the same mother who had helped her son to take his first fledgling steps, not allowing him out of her sight, and who had clapped when he had taken that first all-important step alone? Wasn’t she the mother who ran to pick him up when he fell, showering him with kisses and caresses when he cried? Wasn’t hers the first hand he grasped when he was unhappy, hungry, happy or excited? Could he repay the debt that he owed her, even if he had been the gentlest, most caring and loving son ever? Yet, here he was, a brute who grudged his mother the time he had to spend on bringing her to hospital. His face was like a thundercloud, and every time he jerked on the old woman’s hand, it was as if he was exacting a sort of personal revenge on her. Ironically, my mother in her 70s, who was also there for the same surgery, proved just the opposite. Feisty and independent, she strode ahead, leaving me running after her, shrugging off my helping hand brusquely. When she had turned 70, she had told her three daughters in no uncertain terms, “I can do things on my own. Don’t treat me like an invalid!” Here she was at the hospital, and each time I tried to help her down the stairs, she would give me one of her looks, and make her way down on her own. When her surgery was over, she jumped off the bed, picked up her medical files, and walked to the lift on her own steam, black glasses and supreme self-confidence in tow! New Indian Express 14th September 2012

TEDx Website Resource Person

Deepti Menon has always believed in the power of the pen. Having done her post graduation in English Literature and her B.Ed. in English, she had the option of teaching and writing, and did both with great enjoyment. She started writing at the age of ten, long before she acquired a Diploma in Journalism. She also had the advantage of being an Army kid, and later an Army wife, and loved the idea of travelling around India, meeting new people and acquiring new skills. She firmly believes that much of her personality was honed during those travels. In 2002, her light hearted book, ‘Arms and the Woman’, depicting life as seen through the eyes of an Army wife, was published by Rupa Publishers, Delhi. This was written mainly to reveal the warmth and camaraderie within the great institution. She is now working on her second book that is a work of fiction, and not- to-be divulged yet! Both teaching and writing have been wonderful learning experiences in their own ways. Teaching brought out the extrovert in her that revelled in being with children, creating that much-needed rapport and opening up their minds to not only academics, but also the little things like curiosity, fun and good humour. She loves the fact that she learnt much from her students as well! Writing has been an endless journey with its twists and turns, often leading her on to the myriad mysteries of life, love and relationships. The thrill of seeing her name in print has only intensified over the years. Today she freelances for newspapers like the Indian Express, gets an occasional piece in The Hindu and covers interviews, lifestyle articles and reviews in magazines like Inbox 1305 and Ritz. She has also written many online articles for Chillibreeze, and her proudest moment was when she won an I Pad in a worldwide short story competition. For Deepti, writing needs to sparkle with simplicity and originality, and she strives to find that one word that conveys her ideas most meaningfully to her readers. She believes that Mark Twain had the right idea when he said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” There has never been a dull moment, never time to regret, according to her, as life is truly worth living!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Lost Spontaneity in Getting Clicked!

"If you look like your passport photo, you probably need the trip!" This quote revived memories of posing before a camera, going through a gamut of ‘un-photogenic’ expressions! The seedy photographer in a cramped room adjusted the angles of my chin(s), patted a stray lock of hair down and barked, "Blue or white?" My confused look went down for posterity's sake. Till today I know not whether my passport photograph boasts of a blue background or white! I would rather not glance at the abomination! My driving license picture was no better. "Sit down!" As I made a move, the flash caught me in suspended animation, like a deer in headlights, or more factually, a startled fish trying to breathe! The most constipated photos were taken before tacky backdrops - a garish forest scene or an unreal Taj Mahal. The funniest were during marriage feasts, when photographers captured the exact moment when a person had his mouth wide open to gobble down that enormous, well-rolled mound of rice, or the next, when he had deposited the said mound inside, and couldn't keep his mouth closed over it! Wedding photographs were fascinating specimens with the couple enshrined in pink hearts, with warbling birds and clouds, even shots of them flying to their honeymoon in a fake plane. The black-and-white era was punctuated by grim-faced, ‘stiff as a bedpost' poses, especially in photographs of a patriarchal husband sitting on a throne, submissive wife standing alongside, indicating who wore the pants in the family! Along with the other odd dresses everyone else wore, as well! Family portraits saw a dozen senior members, parked on chairs, while the remaining sixty four stood, in various frozen poses with bizarre expressions. Most of these photographs are still crystal clear on Facebook, posted by one or the other of the babies in the picture, marked, "Guess who!" Amazing comments and anecdotes get dredged up as the elders wax eloquent on precious memories, enlivening life for the youngsters, who grin at the antics of ‘so-called’ staid uncles and aunts, often goldmines of information, like venerable elephants raised on Memorex. Have the fun and the spontaneity of clicking photographs disappeared with the invention of the digital camera. Earlier you got one picture which you had to lump - good, bad or ugly. Today, people cluck over myriad photos, delete if not good and photo-shop, if not good enough! Instagram has shrunk the world! One enhanced photograph can attract a million followers. Tag, and a bandwagon appears behind you! Every camera phone owner turns photographer, oblivious of the brilliant equipment and applications that do the trick so beautifully! However, the joy in clicking photographs is in making time stand still, especially when it involves beloved faces that have disappeared over the years. Today when I see an old photograph of my father in his younger days, and read comments posted by his loved ones, it opens a whole new chapter on a well-loved past, unravelling hidden threads to reveal the person he was much before he became my father... and that is akin to reading an Agatha Christie mystery! Thus, exciting is the giant photo album that is Facebook! No longer do old pictures moulder or get devoured by silver fish! They come alive when rejuvenated, awakening old memories and new! One picture is worth a thousand words, after all!

10th July, 2012 -The New Indian Express

THE ARMY BOWLS A MAIDEN OVER!

I have no idea why I always loved the Indian Army! Was it because of the life I lived as an Army brat, or the tales my mother regaled me with after she settled down in Kerala? My fascination continued even after I became a 'Lady Wife', which convinced me that there could be no better life than that within the giant arms of this hallowed institution, a life that taught me much, not the least being the knack to get along with all the different species that make up the human race! Mom's tales remained with me over the years, and what better opportunity to put them down on paper than this - a reunion of the very people who welcomed her with open arms as a bashful [???] Army bride? Mom [Nalini] was the first young lady to come into the tight knit 17 Engineer group, Dad [Chandran] being the first to have succumbed to the malady of matrimony. And they had ended up with no official accommodation as he was underage. Mom giggles when she says, “If it hadn’t been for the Anantharamans, we’d have had to make a home on the pavements!” Since Mrs Anantharaman was awaiting the stork, their apartment in the Honeymoon Blocks was Mom’s first nomadic home as a young bride. 21 young officers looked forward to welcoming in their 'bhabhi' by hosting a grand reception in her honour. However, high spirits and young officers being synonymous, when Mom and Dad landed up in their Sunday best for their reception at the Club, there was no sign of their hosts. An hour crept by, and then a couple more! And then suddenly a chastened group tiptoed in, looking dog-tired, barely able to keep their eyes open. Apparently they had not been able to resist placing crackers under the Commandant's chair, and the said crackers had gone off in grand style, setting off an explosion, not only under the chair, but in the senior officer's mind as well. Not surprisingly, the pranksters were taken to task by the proverbial route march! Hours later, almost collapsing in sheer exhaustion, they indulged in small talk with the brand new ‘bhabhiji’, who obviously didn’t have a clue as to why they were looking so bedraggled and worn-out. Thus, the reception was rather a damp squib, [pun intended!], but it did raise laughs ever after! 'The Man Who Came to Dinner' was one of the highlights of the tenure, and the acclaimed play needed myriad gruelling rehearsals to get its comic timing just right. Mrs. Rohini Kumar, the first lady, would herself come and supervise the rehearsals with an eagle eye. Mom had a major role as Maggie Cutler, the eccentric Sheldon's secretary, and at the end of the day, she would be transformed into a nervy young wife who had to go back home and cook and clean, unlike the senior wives who had help at home. As days went by, the sessions became longer and more tedious, and one day, bone tired, Mom broke down on stage, and walked off in a huff, despite remonstrations from the other actors, grunting, “Find another Maggie Cutler.” Back home, she burst into tears as her concerned young husband tried to stem the outburst by telling her not to worry, and to take things in her stride. Poor Dad! Being a mere 2/Lt, there was nothing much he could have done. A brave stand, considering this was the Army where seniors had the last word, after all. The bright spot was that the Deputy Commandant, Col. Jaganathan, took on the role of God-father. He came over to the Honeymoon Quarters, told Mom to pretty herself up and took her out for dinner, where he heard her out patiently. Thereafter, rehearsals were less gruelling, and the play, and Maggie Cutler herself, were a resounding success! The Commandant’s wife and the young officer’s wife thus laid the foundation for a long-lasting friendship. It was same concerned First Lady who pampered Mom when she was expecting her first born, me that is. She recollects how she lay around during her traumatic days of early pregnancy, sick to the gills and nauseous, feeling akin to Chicken Little when the sky threatened to descend on his head! After days of feeling sorry for herself, she was surprised one morning by the arrival of Mrs. Kumar, who took one look at the sorry figure she cut and barked, "No lying around, little girl. Upsy daisy!" Like a veritable mother figure, she got the young lady walking around the whole of CME, having shaken her out of her self pity and languor. The world suddenly seemed a brighter place. And that is when Mom, who had been more of a vegetarian, discovered Chinese food, and gorged on it right through the nine month period! Not surprisingly, I inherited that preference in no small measure! Certain other memories linger on in Mom's mind while staying at the barracks (officially allotted to Dad when he turned 25!) in Dunkirk Lines next to Yerwada Jail, where history had been made by the imprisonment of Gandhiji during the Freedom Struggle Days! Today she laughs with nostalgic mirth, remembering the (ugh!) carry toilets to dispose of waste, meeting lovable eccentrics like Col. Menon, who had the endearing habit of making friends with ladies only if he liked the appearance of their feet, and Mrs. Menon, who made lovely fluffy idlis for Mom when she was expecting! She chuckles when she shares anecdotes about Dad’s lively bunch of batch mates. Bill Kumar, Aju and N.R. Venugopal (16 Engrs) hold a special niche in her heart since they played ‘in-betweens’ during the courtship period of Dad and Mum. Even now there is awe and admiration in her voice (and a hint of tears in her eyes) when she talks about Chou and his daredevil antics, whose prowess on his flamboyant motorbike was proved when he drove blindfold from Dapodi to M.G.Road! Her memory of Rudy Menezes and his repertoire of tongue-in-the-cheek stories could be brought out as a whole book. The young officers once took part in a fancy dress competition where Mom was expected to help them look their parts. One young man, Vijay Kharkar, decided to dress as a nurse, and being boyish looking, decided to put stuffing under his white uniform! Hilarity ensued when the stuffing shifted position during the course of the young lady’s catwalk! These and many such memories made life worth living, and turned into tales to regale folks on rainy evenings and family gatherings! To conclude, Dad (or Sam as he was popularly called) would have loved to be part of this reunion of the 17 Engrs. Who knows, the ‘Dear Departed Four’ may be beaming down from the Heavens above, saying, “Hi, guys, we are there with you in SPIRIT!” (Pun intended) Deepti Menon (Daughter of Sam Chandran)

Heaven in a Wild Flower!

As the jeep travelled up the mountains from Tezpur to Tenga, in Arunachal Pradesh, the river sparkled alongside as the sun rays glanced off, creating little silver droplets that flashed like dragon flies in the breeze. On one side, the mountain wall rose, grey and forbidding, while the valley dropped away in all its glory, on the opposite side. Tiny wild flowers grew in nooks and crannies, creating a colourful tapestry in hues of sunny yellows, blood-hued crimsons and blushing violets, reminiscent of poet William Blake’s evocative images. By evening the mist moved in, casting a pall, imperceptibly growing in intensity, till the road seemed to disappear! The clouds had descended to almost ground level, and the driver could hardly see where he was going. My husband got down, and walked alongside in the dark, guiding the jeep by following the luminescent road markers that had been put in by some canny soul in the past! After a night's stay in Tenga, we drove on, crossing the Sela Pass at a height of 13,921 feet, the highest point of the trip. The drive was spectacular; the view took our already depleted breath away, even as waterfalls gurgled down the rock front at regular intervals, till we reached Tawang, which bordered China. Our eyes were caught by whole areas covered with chopped down tree stumps. History had it that, during the 1962 Indo- China war, all these were cut down by the Chinese who had wandered all the way into India, felling trees in their wake! So what we were looking at was a graveyard of trees, as it were! The Madhuri Lake, so called after the movie Koyla was shot there, starring Madhuri Dixit and Shahrukh Khan, was an expanse of light grey, striking against the deeper grey of the sky, and its waters shone like a mirror, with little herds of yak that grazed by its banks. The scene was ethereal, almost like a mystical painting in hues of grey, ivory and silver. Gazers on had forgotten the actual name of this picturesque lake, which was Shungetser Tso, preferring to use its more glamorous counterpart. The pine groves that encircled the lake gave it a quaintly picture postcard appearance, casting their balmy fragrance around as well. What amazed us was the sight of a row of tree trunks sticking out piquantly in the middle of the lake, casting an unbroken row of reflections that enhanced the mysticism of the lake. Apparently, this lake had been created after a flash flood in 1950, when the waters changed their path and gushed their way around the trees in the adjoining areas. The impression we took away in ‘our inward eye’ was one of a serene untouched land, dotted with colourful prayer flags that pointed us towards the world famous Tawang Monastery, the tuneful sounds of the gongs, and smiling Buddhist monks in maroon robes, which made us feel that ‘all’s right with the world’! 4th prize winner in the Tiny Tales Contest

BONDING WITH THE BEST – RUSKIN BOND!

Ruskin Bond came into Chennai with a bang, enthralling one and all with his trademark sense of humour and his cherubic smile. He was here in connection with the Landmark Ruskin Bond Tour, to launch his latest book. In 1992 he won the Sahitya Akademi Award for ‘Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra’, followed by the Padma Shri for his contribution to Children’s Literature in 1999. An interview with him seemed to be a dream come true, and he did not disappoint! My Father and I: “My father was the one who gave me that little nudge towards writing. I wrote in little notebooks, as he regaled me with stories to stimulate my imagination. I recall reading Kipling’s ‘Phantom Rickshaw’ and my father taking me along the market in an actual rickshaw. He ran a little Girls’ school for the Royal family in Jamnagar. At the age of four, I sat with the princesses and learnt to read and write. When I joined school, I found myself far ahead of my peers who were still learning their alphabets. Inspiration: Inspiration came from books, a great escape after I lost my father. I immersed myself in reading Dickens and the Bronte sisters. I was twelve when I came across Wuthering Heights, and I sat up all night reading it. Strangely enough, last month, I picked it up again, and once again, I found myself sitting up all night in a leaky room. It had lost none of its intensity, and I enjoyed it even more this time. When I was a boy, writing was considered unfashionable. I was asked often, “Why do you want to waste your time? Join the Army instead!” Thank God I didn’t, for otherwise, the Army would have been in bad shape!” [With a twinkle in his eye!] “In my youth, I wrote for an adult readership. Ironically, it was only when I was middle aged that I began to write for children. Over the years, the two divisions have merged. It is easier to write for adults, as they tend to put up with me as I waffle along. With children, you need to capture their attention and pull them into the story, through that one character they can identify with. Nature’s Favourite Child I escaped Delhi in the 1960s and lived in a cottage near a forest in the mountains. I encountered panthers, leopards, birds and even a stray bat in my room. When young, I took these wild creatures for granted, unaware that a day would come when they would slowly disappear. I have often been called the ‘Resident Wordsworth’, but I prefer the poems of Walter de la Mare, Mansfield, John Clare, Robert Frost, as also RL Stevenson’s ‘Child’s Garden of Verses’. My Victorian Grandmother I had a strange relationship with my grandmother, a strong and good person, who lived in Dehra Dun. I still eat whatever is put in front of me, which was one of her rules. “No seconds, if you don’t behave!” She believed that children should be seen and not heard. One day, just to provoke her, I tore her curtains. As a punishment, she actually made me sew them up in big clumsy stitches. Being a rebel, I promptly cut down all her sweet peas. She never forgave me for that and cut me out of her will!” [Smiling] The India I Love “While in England, I was homesick for India – my friends, familiar faces and the places I had grown up in. In India, one is never alone as there are always people around. One might die of a hundred things here, but never of boredom! In contrast, life in the West is monotonous. I love the little seaside resorts, the out-of-the-way, neglected places that dot India. Two years ago, I discovered Gopalpur on sea. I can lose myself in hill stations like Dalhousie, Mussooorie and Ranikhet. I grew up in Army cantonments like Ambala and Meerut, rare spots which still preserve green and open spaces. Many of my stories can be traced back to these picturesque spots. From the pen to celluloid ‘A Flight of Pigeons’ was made into Junoon by Shyam Benegal, a film that did justice to the book, and brought out its lyrical qualities. ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’ was a short story which I had to expand on. In some ways, the story got a little lost in translation, and the black comedy ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ had more black in it, than comedy! ‘The Blue Umbrella’ was also turned into a film which won the National Award for Best Children’s Film. Other Interests Apart from writing, I enjoy reading, going for long walks in the solitude of Nature and watching old movies on TCM, right from ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips’ to ‘The Shop Round the Corner’. I also enjoy the old Nelson Eddy musicals from the 1950s. On Chennai: I visited Chennai about seven to eight years ago, but just for a day. This time again, I am here only for a day and a half, to launch my latest book. So I have not seen very much of the city. Hip-Hop Boy and Other Poems When I was in Bhubaneswar, I saw some young boys doing the hip-hop in the rain and was very tempted to join them. However, it would have looked odd, so I put the idea into a poem, which is how the title of my latest book on poems for children came about. The poems are all about childhood, nature, growing up, and are a mix of old and new pieces.” Two hours had flown by, and I was still under the spell of the master story teller, a spell that stayed with me long after I left. And that is the essence of Ruskin Bond!

A GREAT AFFINITY – RUSKIN BOND

Ruskin Bond breezed into Chennai, launched ‘Hip-Hop Nature Boy and Other Poems’, and waltzed into the hearts of his fans. The Ruskin Bond Landmark Tour saw a horde of admirers, jostling to have a chat with the amiable, pink-cheeked author. “I do feel ancient!” he remarked, when a girl asked him about generations of readers coming together. He soon had the audience lapping up every word. He wrote his first story in Class 6 in an exercise book, and featured his teachers in it. His master found it, read the piece and announced, “Bond, you’re wasting your time!” He tore the story up, consigning it to the dustbin! “So friends, if you write, leave your teachers out!” was Bond’s advice. ‘Room on the Roof’ was first published in London, and also serialized in the Illustrated Weekly. “I was thrilled to see my name in print!” Apparently, he had picked up the weekly, in which the first instalment had come, with illustrations by Mario.”I looked around for a friend to share my elation with. A cow on the road sidled behind me, snatched the magazine and chewed it up! High appreciation indeed!” Bond’s straitlaced grandmother had four daughters and one son. “My uncle divided his time among his sisters, till they left for England after Independence. He followed them there, but turned into a cycling postman, opening and reading other people’s letters. Uncle Ken, who is always in hot water, is modelled on him.” Bond loves watching the musicals of the 1950s. “But it would be a grave mistake to ask me to sing! Birds fall silent, cows rush across the road and cars crash!” His choir mistress once remarked, “Bond, you look charming in your choirboy’s costume. So stand with the singers, open your mouth, but ensure not a sound issues forth!” And there he was, waiting to burst into song! “So you could call me a failed opera singer!” he grins. Once he went into a bookstore to look for one of his books, a slim volume, hidden below the Khushwant Singhs and the RK Narayans. He surreptitiously pulled it out and placed it on top. The store owner noticed this, and remarked, “Yeh nahi chalta!” Just to teach him a lesson, Bond bought his own book! A pen and paper person, Bond owned quirky typewriters to prove his point. “My first typewriter was missing the letter ‘B’. So after I typed out my entire book, I filled in all the ‘B’s painstakingly.” His German typewriter had the letter ‘Y’ in the place of ‘Z’, which transformed ‘Zanzibar’ to ‘Yanyibar’, another glitch he needed to sort out! His ghost stories are legendary! One poem he read out was ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ He clarified, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I keep seeing them! I actually make them up!” When asked if he had ever written a detective story, he nodded. “I wrote one long ago, but my readers guessed the culprit by Chapter 3!” He offered a few nuggets of wisdom to young writers. “Put down what you see or read in a journal and be interested in the world and its people!” So was it a case of saying, “My name is Bond, Ruskin Bond!” He countered that by talking about his uncle, a namesake of James Bond, who was a dentist. When he passed away, his nephew wrote his epitaph: “Stranger, approach this spot with gravity. James Bond is filling his last cavity!”
Published in the New Indian Express