Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Yakkity yak!

Some folks have it, and some folks don't! The gift of the gab, I mean! And if you ask me, it is a most useful trait to have. I could think of nothing worse than to be stuck in a lift, at a party or just anywhere, with a person who does not like to talk.

For example, imagine if you are on the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, so many floors above ground level, with the most amazing panorama spread out below you - the dancing fountains, the buildings that look like Lego pieces, the incandescence of the lights at night and the feeling that you are on top of the world.

You turn to the stranger next to you, and exclaim, "Wow! Is there anything more spectacular than this!" spreading your arms around for emphasis.

A grunt is not the most desirable of answers, is it? So you decide to plug on, and take the bull by its horns.

"Is this your first time?" A question that might sound slightly improper, but isn't.

"Humph!" the muffled sound along with the head that swivels away makes it clear that the aforementioned bull is grumpy today. Really? On top of the Burj Khalifa? Talk about not counting the simple pleasures of life! I pity the man's wife from the bottom of my heart. I can well imagine what she must have had to undergo every single day.

"Is the chicken good?"


"Would you like another helping?" 


I wouldn't be surprised if she threw herself off the Burj in frustration. 

Another simple scenario. A party is on in full swing. There are people all around, talking nineteen to the dozen, and I smile as little phrases swing hand in hand with trite pleasantries, where every one talks and no one listens. I have my own ways of beginning a conversation, and I look at the woman next to me. She is of medium height, a bit on the heavy side, looking into her glass of cola with concentrated intensity.

"Hi, how are you doing today?" I ask. Mind you, this is only an ice breaker, and to be strictly treated as one. The normal rejoinder is, "Very well, thank you!" And if one were in South Africa, the rejoinder would continue with, And yourself?" You get the point, right?

Unfortunately, we are nowhere near South Africa, and I watch in disbelief as the dam opens up, and words begin gushing out.

"Well, if you must know, I am having the worst day ever. It is my joints, you see, which begin creaking the moment I get up in the morning. My stomach has a mind of its own and let me tell you, between my bones and my digestion, I lead a pretty miserable life!" 

I try to stem the flow, but the damage has been done. The poor woman obviously has no one to talk to, because, as she adds in a footnote along with her swollen ankles, her husband lives in another city, due to work pressures. At that moment, I totally empathize with her absent husband. Till that moment, hypochondria had only been a long word in the dictionary. I now realize that its sympoms are even longer. By the time I escape, I feel and look like a frazzled cat that has been dragged backwards through a briar bush, and my husband who has been looking for me, almost doesn't recognize me. That famed twinkle in my eye seems to have disappeared for ever, under the strain of a litany of mundane, if imaginary, ailments.

Sometimes the shoe is on the other foot! There was this get together where we were a group of people on a trip together, having the time of our lives. Introductions were in full flow and there we were, memorizing as many names as possible, and trying to match husbands with wives. A pleasantly rotund lady sat next to me, and we had just got introduced. Since she had a stomach, (not having one would be a physiological impossibility, of course, but you know what I mean!), and I knew her name by now, the question leapt out. "Congratulations! When are you due?" 

Her smile vanished and she gave me a cold look. "I am not expecting, thank you very much!" I could have gone through the floor at that moment. How could I salvage the moment? In my usual oh-so-graceful manner, I said to myself!

I looked at the young boy who sat next to her, and I knew exactly what I had to say to ease the situation. "What a handsome boy!" I sang out gaily. "He looks just like your husband! The same eyes, the same nose...!"

Her look turned icier than ever, as though she had taken in out of a freezer. There was a set smile on her face, as she looked squarely at me and replied, "That is not my son, thank you very much!" 

"Oh, I am so sorry!" I fumbled.  "I guess I thought so because he is the spitting image of the man who is standing behind him. Sorry for the mix up!" I was as red as a beet by now, and tryimg to extricate one leg out of my mouth, so that I could put the other one in. 

If looks could kill, I would have been shriveled up and buried by now. The lady knotted her eyebrows, as I was slinking away. "Stop right there!" she ordered. I stopped and held my breath, as she went on. "That boy is not my son, but the man standing behind him is my husband!" Spitting image, my thoughts whirled dizzily, as I put a lid on my conjectures and beat a retreat to a safe, quiet corner.

I have had my share of close encounters when we were in the Army. As a brand new bride, I didn't know the 'D' of Diplomacy, and my poor husband had to duck often, sometimes from missiles thrown by others, but mostly at those I hurled with ease. Sometimes he would warn me not to say a thing, and I would keep that in mind so securely, that everything else would fly out of my brain. And hey presto, at the opportune moment, out would come the very thing he had told me not to let out. Many a cat I have let out of the bag for that very reason!

Of course, the day my husband yells at me for having 'yakked' too much, even as he is busy controlling the damage, I just turn to him and say with a long suffering expression, "Just you wait! One day I will stop talking and you will yearn to hear my voice again!" And instead of the prompt protests that I hope to hear from him on how he will miss my dulcet voice, there appears a glint in his eye, as he visualizes that glorious day of peace! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Xena's Passion

She was not called Xena for nothing. Her real name was Sheena, but her militant stance and aggressive attitude made her appear like Xena, the warrior princess. She was always ready for a fight, and no issue was too small for her to take up. The boys around admired her for her courage, and treated her as one of themselves. She had very few friends who were girls, because she could never imagine painting her face or wearing a feminine dress. Jeans and a T shirt, and she would be ready to take on any occasion.

In college, she was one of the rebel leaders. The glint in her sparkling eyes would intensify when she sensed a situation, and it was that glint that made her stand out from the run of the mill crowd! Xena's glint, as it was dubbed, was universally feared.

Till the day she met Rohit, the new boy in town. Their first meeting was a disaster, as they bumped into each other literally, as they were rushing to their classes. 

"Ouch!" exclaimed Xena. "Can't you look where you are going?" The boy looked at her with his grey eyes and smiled. "Maybe you dazzled my eyes!"

No one had ever spoken to her like that. Normally Xena would have clenched a fist and shaken it in his face, with the choicest of abuses. This time, however, she stared back into the grey eyes and actually blushed. People around who had ducked out of sight, expecting her to explode, slowly poked their heads out, disbelief in their eyes.

"Rohit is my name, Rohit Patel!" 

The spell was broken as Xena sheepishly said, "Hi, I'm Sheena!"

"Not Xena, the warrior maiden?" Rohit laughed. He had already heard of her. That light hearted laugh was her undoing. It did strange things to her heart, and evoked feelings that she had never felt before. 

Overnight people noticed a change in their warrior princess. She began toning down her outfits to look slightly more feminine. Her abrupt manner softened, and there were times when she wished she knew how to act more like a girl. She would glance enviously at the pretty young things who sashayed around in frilly tops and stilettos. The one time she tried on high heels, she almost broke an ankle. Luckily, it was in the privacy of her bedroom, and so no one saw it.

 Rohit was very popular among the boys and the girls. He spoke to everyone in a manner that indicated that they were all special to him. Sheena noticed the line of girls who crowded around him wherever he went. Her heart burnt with envy, every time he smiled at another girl.

He reserved his best smiles for Sheena, who blossomed under his knowing eye. The glint in her eye, the so-called Xena glint, had almost disappeared, and she was slowly turning into a more mellow and pleasant person. There were occasions when she still flared up, but these were getting rarer, much to the relief of those who had borne the brunt of her temper earlier.

Now she was head over heels in love with Rohit. However, he did not seem to notice the way she looked at him. After all, so many girls looked at him in the same manner.

College days were over all too soon for Sheena. Graduation Day was round the corner. How would she survive without Rohit? She determined to find out where he was planning to do his higher studies so that she could also make her way to the same institution.There would be no problem as he was a topper, and she was not a bad student herself.

The rumours incensed her. Rohit was seeing too much a fellow student named Monica, a meek milk sop of a girl, according to Sheena. What on earth did he see in her, she wondered scornfully. Monica was popular in her own way, and she toadied up to the teachers. She could not say 'Boo' to a goose, and Sheena had often wanted to shake her up because she was so insipid.

However, the rumours continued. Insidious little hints that were like a red rag to Sheena. She tried to talk to Rohit, but he brushed away her concerns with his brilliant smile, and flirted with her instead. When he did so, she was the happiest girl in the world. If only he would open up his heart to her! She would make him the happiest man in the world.

But as days went by, Rohit's interest in Monica started becoming more evident. The glint was back in Sheena's eyes, and she went back to warrior mode. Finally Rohit admitted that he was in love with Monica, and Sheena screamed blue murder. 

"What do you see in her? Such a meek little creature... she is not worth your attention!" she screamed. Rohit looked a trifle embarrassed, as he took her to a quiet corner. 

"Sheena, that is what I love about her. She is not meek. She is as serene as a flowing brook. She relaxes me and I do not have to be on my guard when I am with her. I do not need to spar with her. She will listen to my every word!" He turned to her, and added, "I can never think of you in that way. You are too strong, and you need someone as militant as you are. I will not be able to handle that my entire life!"

Sheena snorted impatiently. There was no way she was giving Rohit up without a fight. She went to Monica and tried to dissuade her from the relationship. Monica smiled her guileless smile, a smile that irritated Sheena. "We love each other, Sheena!" she simpered. 

That was when Sheena decided to change tactics. If you can't beat them, join them! She befriended Monica, and ingratiated herself in her life. She knew how impressionable the other girl was. "We can be best friends, you know!" she said, putting a hand on the other girl's shoulder. Monica was flattered. Sheena normally had no patience with 'girly' girls like her!

The wedding was an event in itself. Rohit looked debonair and Monica stole many hearts with her angelic beauty. Sheena looked at them, hiding the envy in her heart. They looked so happy together. As she walked up to the stage, where the newly weds stood, receiving gifts and good wishes, Rohit looked at her and smiled. Her heart skipped a beat but she looked back at him, returning the smile.

"My best wishes to both of you! May you have a wonderful life together! Rohit, I have already given my gift to Monica!" She smiled at the bride. "Remember to use it wisely and well!" The glint shone out of her eyes, as she glanced at Rohit once last time before she got off the stage.

"What was that all about, Mona?" Rohit smiled down at his beautiful bride, when they had a moment to themselves.

"Don't you worry, Rohit! You'll find out soon enough!" whispered Monica, as she turned her glance on him. A moment passed, a frisson of tension snaked down his being as he looked into her eyes. 

He turned faint, and it seemed as if he was looking at another person. For there was a glint in her eyes, a glint that unnerved him for it reminded him of someone else! 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Wodehouse, the Funny man!

I must have been all of nine when my grandfather and I went to visit a friend of his, a spirited young gentleman of about 80, who had recently been spending much of his time in bed as he was a trifle unwell. I remember being entranced by the way he spoke, and in the quaint phrases that he used in the Queen's English. When we finally got up to go, and said Goodbye, the gentleman smiled and said, "This reminds me of something that PG Wodehouse once said. 'He came in and went out so soon that he almost met himself coming in!' I say, do you really have to leave?"
 PG Wodehouse had had such a major influence on the gentleman, and I went home, determined to delve into the works of this writer who could actually influence the way people thought and spoke! And believe me, I was not disappointed!

Think Wodehouse and an involuntary smile appears on your face. It does on mine, in any case! Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was born in the Victorian era, but there was nothing Victorian about the sheer joie de vivre that he exhibited in many of his books, especially in the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster series, where he displayed total irreverence and amazing comic timing, writing simple, funny stories that tickled the funny bone.

"I just sit at my typewriter and curse a bit."

P.G. Wodehouse

Novels, plays, short stories, magazine pieces and lyrics of songs - he tried his hand at every one of them, and successfully too. He was a keen observer of life and he was often inspired by real life people whom he put into his books. His aunts provided fodder for most of Bertie Wooster's aunts - the martinet Lady Agatha, the delightful Aunt Dahlia and the well meaning Lady Constance Keeble.

"This was not aunt Dahlia, my good and kindly aunt, but my aunt Agatha, the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth."

Plum, as he was called by friends, had a style of writing all his own. he did not shy away from slang and abbreviations, and he put them in the mouth of Bertie Wooster, whose level of intelligence was nothing to write home about. Luckily, Jeeves, his Man Friday, had a giant brain which worked overtime, trying to keep the young master out of scrapes. 

Wodehouse peppers his books with uniquely interesting characters, and his titles are highly amusing as well - Barmy in Wonderland, Aunts aren't Gentlemen, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Performing Flea, The Little Nugget, Pigs Can't Fly, Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin, The Heart of a Goof, A Damsel in Distress, and the like. His characters were always getting into trouble or falling in love, and his plots revolved around solving small domestic problems involving obdurate aunts, timid uncles, girls with iron wills,  a variety of suitors, spoilt nephews and weak minded young men. 

I would like to share a number of quotes that left me in splits. These are the reason Plum continues to be my favourite writer. In each of these quotes, there is a tiny bite that brings a twinkle in the eye, and proves why PG Wodehouse is the writer you would go to if you wanted a pick me up in life! And these, believe me, are just the tip of the iceberg.

“As for Gussie Finknottle, many an experienced undertaker would have been deceived by his appearance and started embalming on sight.”  

“Love is a delicate plant that needs constant tending and nurturing, and this cannot be done by snorting at the adored object like a gas explosion and calling her friends lice.” 

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

“She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.” 

Carry On, Jeeves

“He had just about enough intelligence to open his mouth when he wanted to eat, but certainly no more.” 

“He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.” 

“It was a nasty look. It made me feel as if I were something the dog had brought in and intended to bury later on, when he had time.” 

My Man Jeeves

“And so the merry party began. It was one of those jolly, happy, bread-crumbling parties where you cough twice before you speak, and then decide not to say it after all.” 

My Man Jeeves

“There is only one cure for grey hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.” 

“She looked away. Her attitude seemed to suggest that she had finished with him, and would be obliged if somebody would come and sweep him up.” 

“Some minds are like soup in a poor restaurant—better left unstirred.” 

And finally, a quote on India!

“[He] saw that a peculiar expression had come into his nephew's face; an expression a little like that of a young hindu fakir who having settled himself on his first bed of spikes is beginning to wish that he had chosen one of the easier religions.” 

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Peter and Wanda had decided to come to India on their honeymoon. They had met in London, fallen in love at Covent Garden as a dulcet voiced girl sang a poignant song that they both loved. Peter had gazed into Wanda's eyes and whispered, "Will you share my life with me?" Wanda had smiled at him, her heart in her eyes, and nodded. It was a dream come true for them both.

                                                                                    Covent Garden Market in London

So now they were in India, having studied brochures and websites that extolled the virtues of the wonder that was India. Just as their hearts proclaimed that the Taj Mahal at Agra was the place where they needed to go to, they suddenly came across an advertisement that waxed eloquent over an adorable little monument that was slated as the ideal place for lovers.

"Let's go there!" whispered Wanda. "The Taj is very crowded and I would rather go to a place where we have privacy!"

"Anything for you, my love!" smiled Peter. He was in love with his beautiful bride and for now, her wish was his command.

They read up about the tiny city, which had become popular because of this particular monument. "Lovers, take heart! This monument takes your heart away along with your breath. If you are truly in love, this is the place to be!"

The monument was spectacular, a paean to love. Its white pristine beauty held the blush of a maiden's cheek within its depths. Lovers stood before it, speechless  even as they held hands, running their eyes over the smooth stone, and their hearts beat faster as they beheld the edifice before them.

Peter booked train tickets to the tiny city. "Let us travel as the locals do!" he said. They were both fascinated by India, its people, its dialects, the colour and the music, and most of all, by the fact that it was so different from London. The people were unique, and there were so many of them. The heat and the dust did bother them, but they took it in their stride, travelling when it was cooler, and keeping their skin covered with sunscreen lotion.

This was the moment they had been waiting for. "Guide, Sir, madam!" came a nasal voice, "I will tell history of love story!" They had listened to his strange singsong English, as he told them the story of the beautiful princess who had fallen in love with a charming pauper. "Her King father angry! Not allow their marriage, but Princess not listen. She ran away with pauper man, and they came here, to this monument. They holding hands, closed eyes, and prayed. When eyes opened, they saw a bag of gold in front of them. They took it, and become rich. Finally King father agree!"

The guide stopped his tale and pointed at the gate. 
"You go there! Close eyes and pray! Maybe you get gold. Or blessing! Good for your love!" Peter gave him some money, saying, "Thank you, my friend! That was a very interesting story!"

It was time to go in. They went to the gate, and obediently closed their eyes. Holding hands, they stepped in, and began walking towards the white monument. Holding their breath, they stood for a moment, eyes closed, savouring the moment. 

"Let us open our eyes at the count of three!" whispered Wanda. It seemed sacrilegious to talk loudly in that sacrosanct haven of love. People were milling about them, but they were in their own little world, as they counted softly. "One, two and three...!"

They opened their eyes and looked at the white monument in front, and suddenly they both gasped in surprise. "What the dickens!" Peter exclaimed. Wanda just stood in silence, as she read the words that had been sprayed across the smooth white stone.

                                                                     Chunmun loves Gopal!

The vandals had surprised the visitors once again!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

'Upar Wala'

When I was young, I would go for Hindi movies, and stare entranced at the beautiful people, scenic locales and improbable situations that ensued. Often, there would be an old mother who would suffer in silence, and invariably sob, "He upar wala, meri raksha kijiye!" "Upar wala, please protect me!" I was at that age when I didn't understand who this 'upar wala' was, and my eyes would go up to the roof of the house where she stood, trying to locate a superhero, probably crouching on the roof, ready to spring down and come to her aid.

This 'upar wala' could help and hinder, bless and curse, work miracles and make people's dreams come true, according to all the good people in the movies - old mothers and fathers, idealistic young people and the superstitious, all of whom longed for a piece of the 'upar wala's' mercy.

As I grew older, I began to suspect that the 'upar wala' actually referred to God in His heaven - a God who saw the truth but waited, allowing the wicked to flourish for a good part of the movie, before He brought them down with one clean swipe. Much akin to the Bard's quote - "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,/They kill us for their sport." In this case, the killing was for our sport as well, as we waited with bated breath for something really bad to happen to these reel life villains.

Then came the dialogue that became very popular - "Upar wala jab bhi deta hai chappar phad kar deta hai!" When God gives something, He does so open heartedly. I pondered over the word 'chappar', substituting it for 'chappal', wondering why on earth God needed to tear His footwear, and whether He actually wore any. None of the pictures of Hindu deities I had seen ever saw God wearing anything on His feet.

It was when I watched the poignant movie 'Anand' where Rajesh Khanna, the then heart throb, made the most beautiful dialogues come alive, including the one which made his death in the movie such a tear jerker, that my grey cells began to work, along with my over active tear ducts. 

"Zindagi aur maut upar wale ke haath hain jahapanah, use naa aap badal sakte hain na main, 
Hum sab toh rang-manch kee katputliya hain, jinki dor uparwale ki ungliyon mein bandhi hain
 Kab kaun kaise uthega, koi nahi bata sakta."

These lines compared the 'upar wala' to a puppeteer, and even as I wept buckets of tears in that last scene, force of habit made me look around for that elusive person crouching on the rafters, this time much akin to Spiderman, I guess.

Much later in life, I read Shakespeare's 'As You Like It', and was made to memorize 'The Seven Ages of Man', 

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."

By now I knew for a certainty that the 'upar wala' was no fiddler on the roof, but the Almighty Himself who sat in His lofty heaven and made sure that all the men and women were merely players who had their exits and their entrances.

I had also understood that 'upar wala' does not merely remain on top, but is found everywhere - in every pillar and every place, and that He is omnipresent. 

And that He had the perfect plan for each one of us, even though He sometimes took us the long way around, and confused us a trifle before we reached our destination!


  ‘Tales that Entail’ by Jaseena Backer is an anthology of stories that are hard-hitting and realistic. Right from the first story, the auth...