For all my new friends who have recently started following this blog.....please start at the very beginning.....it is a good place to start to get the full impact of this fascinating tale.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Destiny



Destiny sat on her stellar throne
  in the furthest realms of the sky
    gazing into her crystal ball.
Sometimes with delight, sometimes with compassion
  she watched reckless mortals
    living lives and playing games
      with events over which they had no control.
Destiny saw a woman lean gently towards a man
  whispering to him that she loved him -
    saw the man react with surprise -
      he had never thought of her that way.
Destiny stretched pale, cold fingers
  into the silence of the night
    wishing she could deflect
      what she herself had written.
She saw the man look at the woman suddenly aware
  caught up in the web she tenderly wove around him
    loving her as he had never loved before.
Yet she belonged to another
  and they had no right
    to fantasise the way they did.
Reality became a nightmare
  as they loved with frenetic intensity
    on a path of self destruction
      they were much to blind to see.
Destiny kept vigil as they struggled to survive
  broken and tormented - paying a price too high -
    bound together always - never wanting to be free
Trying to accept that it was their Destiny.


Friday, 16 December 2011

Random Thoughts



Sick and Sin will be a tad neglected in the next few weeks because of the busy holiday season, but I will keep posting something or the other for those of my addicted followers who complain when I get tardy!
For many years I had a book by by bed which I entitled Random Thoughts. I am sharing a few of them, accompanied by my favourite fantasy art.




The amazing clarity with which memories can take me by surprise never fails to astound me. A certain piece of music, a familiar phrase, the way someone in a crowded room laughs, can take my breath away and summon back forgotten emotions. The remembrrance of a special meeting - I can recall each word that was spoken, every fleeting expression and nuance in a face that is now familiar and beloved.



The surge of pure wonder at the moment of my daughter's birth - the tears that came unbidden - the marvel of holding a new life in my arms, kissing tiny feet that had never touched the ground.



The warmth at a gesture of love from a friend, the gratitude of a comforting hug when one is saddened by the callous vagaries of fate, the laughter shared with familiar confidantes - the purity of these memories can never be forgotten.


I find I have the ability to make unpleasant memories blur away and only treasure those which comfort, warm and stimulate me.




I compare my loss to the amputation of a familiar limb. One gets used to functioning without it but not a single day passes when one is not reminded of that loss in some small way or another. 

Friday, 9 December 2011

Memories - The Ugly

Eva wins first prize!
 Trouble began in 1971 when I was twelve years old. My little sister Juliet joined Ramnee. She was an extremely sensitive child and could not adjust to life in the boarding. She cried continuously and would run away from her class just to seek me out, then would cling to me weeping piteously. Nothing I could say or do would matter to her, and I had no idea how to handle the situation. The seniors seemed to find this whole scenario most amusing and would tease my sister incessantly, calling her mean names, which would set her off howling again. It infuriated me to witness this and I began to pick defiant fights with these girls, so earned the reputation of being rude and 'too big for my boots'. The more they teased my little sis, the angrier I became, which became a vicious cycle of taunting, tears and taking up for her. Julie's class teacher, Miss Carvalho, once slapped her as I happened to be passing by. I stormed up and demanded to know what the little girl had done to merit being hit. Miss Carvalho glared at me and said to stop behaving like a 'walking peacock', whatever that meant and I was reported for being cheeky.
The next problem I had was encouraging the young 'maali' boy ! There was a  gardener who would cheekily grin whenever he saw me and I unhesitatingly beamed back. I would nudge friends and tell them to notice how he smiled, and then we would scuttle off in a flurry of giggles. Someone took it upon themselves to complain to the Principal, Sister Bernard, that I was flirting with the scruffy looking chap, and I was hauled over the coals for being a bad influence, with the devil putting evil thoughts into my head. I actually had no idea what the big deal was, but felt miserably guilty for whatever it was I was supposed to have done. 
The rebellious streak grew worse. Someone told me F&*% was a bad word, but in those days no one really knew what it meant. I sat in class one day, scrawling the word all over a blank page of my exercise book. When the nun in charge saw what I was writing, there was another uproar for my ungodly behaviour. Girls were told not to talk to me since I was evil spawn and they would all burn in hell for associating with me.It was much later that I realised the connotations of the F word but then I was just twelve and not as worldly wise as the children of today.
The last straw came when I asked one of the day scholars to bring me some cigarettes. I puffed bravely on one in the bathing room and then sprinkled talcum powder all over to mask the smell. I had no idea the stink would linger so strongly and half an hour later I was summoned again and stared at in wordless horror for the unspeakable atrocity I had committed.
Two days later I was called to the Principal's office and was shocked to find my mother there, all pale faced and shaky. My bags had been packed and I was told I was being expelled! I could not believe what I was hearing and there was no reaction that I could give, so numb was I by the whole turn of events.
A couple of months later we received a letter from the school saying they would be happy to take me back since they felt I had been taught a lesson.The inside story was that there was some internal political trouble between Sister Dominica and Sister Bernard over the Principalship, and I was made the scapegoat because of my family's closeness to the former.
 The very idea of going back made me so hysterical that my parents reluctantly agreed to let me give my board exams privately. My days in Ramnee came to an abrupt and unforeseen end and I have never been back to Nainital in all these years.
The Mikado - Annual Day Play

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Memories -The Good,The Bad

Margaret, Veronica, Loreta, Eva, Cacun, Louisa
THE GOOD

So many memories of forty years ago seem to be related to food.
We struggled to save our tuck and then would sneak off to the loos in the dorms for a midnight feast.It was not the most sanitary place for a party, but the fear of being caught just added to the whispered thrill of the occasion. A teaspoon of Feradol in the lunch break....how I loved swirling the malt around a spoon and then savouring it lick by lick - there was a certain art to the whole ceremony.  I recall the luscious meringues we got as a treat at the end of the year, for being part of the church choir. The candy man with his tin trunk filled with delicious goodies....butter biscuits, bright pink and white coconut sweets and peppermint sticks. The tuck shop, where the pocket money in those days was twenty five or fifty paisa, and if one was very rich one whole rupee. I loved GG's, which were hard, stick jaw like squares of caramel, which were ideal for pulling out loose teeth. One just had to bite hard into the toffee and the offending tooth would be left behind in the goo when one opened ones mouth.

Gross looking yummy 'churan'

Sports holidays were preceded by weeks of practise for races, pyramids and the PT display and were times of competitive fun. For me, the vacations meant horse riding and I spent those ten days galloping  up hill and down dale and there was nothing more I wanted from life. Except maybe suck on some 'Ziffy' tablets and eat the gross looking but yummy 'churan' we could buy on the Flats! The five day October break came just after our Annual Day concert, and that was also a time of hours of rehearsals and costume fittings, nerves and drama.
Back tracking down memory lane can immediately bring  a prickly feeling of nostalgia. Singing The Bells of Saint Mary's, our school anthem, always stirred me to the bone. The girls in the choir carolling Silent Night was something else that I remember giving me goose bumps.My recollection of  other than those in my batch is not particularly good but the beautifully melodious voice of Cacun Nathan still rings in my ears.
THE BAD
The  halls and corridors of Ramnee each had their resident ghosts and accompanying supernatural tales.
The toilets adjoining the dorms were supposedly frequented by a young lass, who had appeared to some terrified girls in a shimmery haze, floating a foot above the ground. If one had to go for a pee in the dead of night, it was customary to wake up the closest sleeping figure and whisper "Come with me to the loo". This request was never turned down and we would stumble sleepily past rows of cupboards, whose locks rattled eerily in passing, because of the vibration of ones steps on the wooden floors. I had a bed next to a window and I really did observe the shadow of a nun on the wall once - I sat up and looked around but saw no one so covered my head with the quilt and had a story to tell the next morning. It must have been Sister Beata prowling around, checking up on us, but I never noticed her and it made an exciting story!
The infirmary was inhabited by a wraith like mother and her two daughters, who some claimed to have seen wandering past the beds of sick girls who were admitted.
The graveyard was a serene and beautiful spot where strange things were supposed to happen. The gates leading to it were normally kept locked,  but on some occasions we would sneak in and put our ears to the tomb stones, since it was rumoured that one could hear uncanny murmuring if one listened carefully enough.
The music rooms were haunted by a 'sardarji' it was said and on one occasion when I was hammering away at a particularly tough piece, I heard a sniff behind me and turned around to see an old 'sardar' gazing at me with a smile. My first reaction was to throw my music book at him and the second was to run screeching to the adjoining room yelling 'Ghost, Ghost!'. It was Sister Cecelia, who calmed me down with great difficulty, and then introduced me to a very flustered and nervous Mr Virdi, who turned out to be the piano tuner!
Off course none of these spectral tales were true, but I recall the spooky sensation of sitting around wide eyed, listening to ghastly stories and narrow escapades of the few who claimed to have seen some other worldly apparitions. Back in the day there was never any doubt in my mind that every word was true, which only added to the mystique of Ramnee.

First Communion - Margie, Me, Cacun, Lulu, Veronica and Lotta

Friday, 25 November 2011

Aches and Pains

View from the Lower Field
I remember with vivid clarity the sense of complete abandonment I felt at the age of six, when my hand was put into the firm grasp of a strange looking woman in an unfamiliar habit. Having no concept about nuns and boarding school, I watched my parents walk away, my mother in tears, and in my childish mind  was convinced they had given me up forever. I could barely stand the feeling of ecstasy, when I saw them a couple of months later in our summer sports break and appreciated that I had not been forgotten.
The first few days of school would pass in a haze of home sickness. This was something I chronically suffered from, and for someone who has not experienced the actual physical sense of emptiness and heaviness, it is a sensation that is hard to describe. I hated going back to school after holidays and wept and cried as if it were the end of the world. At the beginning of term we would be dropped off by our parents at different locations, from where the nuns would take over the group for the rest of the journey up to Nanital. These clusters were called school parties. My father would escort me from Gorakhpur to meet up with the Lucknow Party. I would sit in silent misery, huddled into a corner of the  compartment, sometimes even sticking my arm out of the window, in the hope it would be chopped off and I wouldn't have to go back to school - so desperate was I. This feeling of dreadful angst would last a week or so and was a nerve wracking and traumatic time. 
House Badges - I was in the Green House, St. Anne's
My husband often asks me how I am so emotionally self sufficient. When I am ill I prefer to be left alone and as a result  am not good at dealing with sick people either, because I expect the same from them. Physical pain does not bother me and I am calm in an emergency. I don't cry easily and am not overly emotional. My reactions to news, good or bad, is more often than not understated and controlled. Very little in life fazes me - scandals and idle gossip least of all.   
I attribute this reserved behaviour partly to genetics but also in part to starting boarding school at such a young age. I had to learn to deal with personal aches and pains on a day to day basis. Headaches and stomach gripes were dealt with arbitrarily without any fuss. Cuts and scrapes were unsympathetically daubed with Mercurochrome in the infirmary, and I wandered around with splotchy red knees and elbows most of the time. A runny nose was wiped into the sleeve of my sweater and a sore throat ensured a gagging swab of iodine throat paint. Periods came and went with the accompanying cramps and discomfort and I would sometimes walk with a strange gait because in those days the sanitary pads I used, badly chaffed  my inner thighs!
I remember being cruelly teased for my Pinocchio nose and because my father was from Hungary, which meant I was always HUN-GA-REEEE! I recall reducing someone to tears chanting 'Fatty Fatty Bum Bo Latty'. Some of us formed 'gangs' and would not talk to girls from another group. There were known 'tattle-tales', 'teacher's pets' and 'tuck friends' who were scorned and  avoided. In hindsight all this seems so innocuous and stupid, but at the time was cause for much tears and heartbreak.
I do realise though that in those early years we knew nothing about each other. Somehow we never spoke about family problems or confidential matters. I think boarding was a completely different life from the one we  left behind and there was absolutely no connection between the two. Intrinsic details about classmates are  only now being made known and I find myself so often exclaiming " I had no idea!"
All companions faded away in memory after leaving school and it was only when I got onto Facebook that many unremembered names from the past cropped up again. It has been wonderful to reconnect and we do chat over the phone sometimes, though have actually only met up with a few individuals who are in and around Delhi. This is entirely my fault as I have become a bit of a recluse and don't like to travel, so prefer to keep to myself unless absolutely necessary.
 A couple of years ago I was in Calgary, Canada and was stunned when Maryse Monteiro drove down to see me all the way from Seattle, just for a cup of coffee. When my daughter got married, dear Marie D'Souza, now the famous food critic Marryam Reshii, generously offered to help with the wedding cake. Loretta Furtado has been urging me to come to Goa and Kukki Mohindra's infectious laugh has not changed over the years. Gopa Vohra was passing through Delhi a couple of years ago and I went to pick her up at the airport, where we promptly fell into each other's arms, forgetting the nearly forty years since we had last met. The unexpected strength and depth of past friendships, made so many years ago in the environs of boarding school, never cease to surprise and amaze me.  

 







Sunday, 20 November 2011

Species


Middle School Classrooms and Skating Rink (The frog dustbin was not there in my time)
The German nuns who managed Ramnee while I was there, were for the most part a rather strange lot of women. When I was young they could instill terror and fear that was like nothing else on earth. The sense of discipline drilled into us from a young age was harshly severe, and we would not dare to throw down a sweet wrapping, let alone deface school property, cheat in exams or throw attitude at the teachers - back chat we called it.
Sister Dominica was the only nun I really and truly loved. She was a close friend of Anna's, my grandmother, who had at the time taken up a job as matron in All Saints School. Granny would walk down every Sunday to visit me, and we would sit and chat in Sister Dominica's domain, the art room, in the Mary Ward building. Those Sunday mornings were always very special, as I listened in fascination to the comfortable conversations between two gentle soul mates who enjoyed each others company.
Sister Uta my second class teacher, was someone  I remember as being  warm and kind. Sister Cecelia the piano teacher and Sister Lucy who instructed us in needlework, were among the more likable nuns, for whom I  felt a certain affection in spite of  scoldings I often got from them. Sister Hermine was one of the first people who told me I had a talent with the written  word. She had an old register in which she made students write down essays that were particularly good, and I was one of the privileged few to be bestowed with that honor. Sister Josephine or Joss, was the Vice Principal and an institution in herself, who had been there for as long as any of us could remember. Sister Elygia was in charge of the infirmary and rumour had it that under her veil she had hair down to her derriere. I was not admitted sick very often, but  remember groaning loudly one night in the hope of making her come to see what was wrong with me, so I could catch her unveiled and confirm the reports. She never came to check on my pitiful moans so I could never confirm the hair-say.
There were other strange entities who prowled the corridors of St. Mary's, and  in one way or another left crazy impressions on me, some of which took me years to get over. There were those who were against any thing male and issued  instructions on how to behave appropriately if that evil genus ever crossed our paths.
 I was talking to my dear friend Kukki Raghuvanshi nee Mohindra the other day, since I could not remember the name of the nun who was in charge of the chemistry and biology labs. She reminded me that it was MaJo, Sister Mary Joseph, who had instructed her to pick up her skirts and run as fast as she could if she was in conversation with a boy and the clock struck six!
 MaJo was the one who told me about an incident that happened in her youth.She was getting off a bus with an armful of books when she stumbled and dropped the  pile into the mud. A young man leaped to her aid and helped her pick up the scattered volumes. She claimed she rushed back home to burn the offending tomes, since they had been tarnished by the touch of a boy!
 I was once asked if my father kissed me good night and when  I proudly said yes, was informed it was a sin and something that I should  forbid and never let happen.

Mary Ward Hall
We were on one of our usual Saturday walks, with one nun leading the line and another bringing up the rear. As we approached The Flats we observed a group of  boys practicing football on the field. Unfortunately the nuns had noticed them too and a bellowed command was immediately given " Girls, right about turn!". The excited 'caterpilar' had to quickly swivel around and wistfully head back in the opposite direction with only fleeting images of forbidden fruit dancing before our eyes.
We were told very firmly that touching ourselves in private places was a "shameless act" and  being good Catholic girls, would have to acknowledge these sins in weekly confession. I don't even want to imagine what the Italian priests must have thought about while patiently listening to adolescent females with raging hormones admitting to their 'shameless acts'.
Looking back at those days in Ramnee I feel it  would have been so interesting to know the stories of these solitary women who lived so far from home. Where were they from, what were their families about, what were their childhoods like, what made them become nuns - just a call from God or maybe a broken heart or some equally dire tragedy, how did they end up in India, what were their lives  all about. I think it would have been so much more enthralling to know them as human beings rather than the cold, distant, forbidding, alien species that they appeared to be.

Downstairs - Refectory. Study Hall and Tuck Shop
Upstairs - Dorms

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Ramnee


When I was growing up there were no good educational institutions around Saraya, so at the age of six I was sent off to St Mary's Convent in Nainital. 
Nainital was a hill station known for its elite boarding schools like Sherwood, St Joseph's, All Saint's and off course St Mary's, which in the latter half of the 19th century catered only to the children of British colonial officials or soldiers. In the 1920s and 30s, they began to admit more Indian students and by the time I joined we had girls who were predominantly Indian but also came from Nepal, Bhutan, Kuwait, Kenya, Nigeria and England .
St. Mary's was founded by Mother Mary Ward in the 17th century.The sisters of this congregation originally started working in Patna in 1853. The then superior, Mother Salesia Reiner, planned a foundation in Nainital to help the sisters whose health had suffered in the heat of the plains. She realized the necessity of buying an estate where a convent and school could be built, so approached Sir Henry Ramsay, the commissioner of Kumaon, who owned a large property called Ramsay Park. He agreed to the sale and in 1879 the sisters moved into the newly acquired estate. The name Ramnee is a corruption of Ramsay, as the servants working on the estate, unable to pronounce the name correctly, called Sir Ramsay, 'Ramnee Sahib'.
St Mary's was a beautiful school situated on the undulating slopes of a twenty six acre hillside amidst pine and fir trees.The first glimpse that one got of the sprawling complex were thick masses of lilac and pink Hydrangea bushes that lined the path leading up to the chapel and main office buildings The imposing edifices had old stone facades with lofty roofs and spires, some painted blue and others red.

The Chapel
The school chapel was an elegant structure, where for a few years I was motivated to pray, until the rigidity of the Catholic faith  made me ask too many questions. These were were not well received by the strict German nuns, who made sure I completely lost my faith. The rituals in those days were all conducted in Latin, and the beauty and awe of the ceremonies were amazingly soul stirring.The handsome Father Sebastian, with his one cauliflower ear, who would come down from St Joseph's  to conduct mass was quite a stirring sight as well! 
The dormitories were made up of rows upon rows of neatly made beds. We would wake every morning at five thirty and wash our faces in basins of freezing cold water which we had filled up the night before.In the months of November and December we would sometimes even have to break through a thin film of ice. Strangely enough, till today I am only comfortable when I wash my face with cold liquid! Baths were bi-weekly affairs - one 'body bath' and one 'head bath'. When it was really chilli, girls were known to slosh soapy water down the drain and not have a bath at all!
The refectory seated all one hundred and fifty of us boarders. The food we ate for nine months of the year was quite pathetic, but as we were always hungry nobody really objected. On special occasions we were served chicken curry, which we called 'crow curry' because of the scrawny servings of meat. We were allowed to get food parcels from home once in a while, and that was when "tuck friends" made themselves known. They were the ones who were only friendly with you as long as the home made goodies lasted and then wandered off to scrounge off someone else who had got an exciting package.
Beside all the usual classes we were also taught piano and needle work. Music was an optional subject and one my parents insisted I learn. Music pupils, as we were called, had to appear for the Trinity College exams once a year. I personally hated them because of the levels of perfection we were expected to perform at. I have been rapped on the knuckles, shaken like a rag doll and even once pushed off the stool by Sister Cecelia who impatiently groomed us to face the severe examiner from London. Needle work was another pain as I was clumsy and not particularly interested and was shrieked at on numerous occasion by Sister Lucy. "You naughty little scrap" was what she called us incompetent ones. Every October there would be an exhibition of the art and embroidery made during the year. It was shameful to have one's work put in the 'lazy corner', but thats exactly where most of my talent ended up being displayed!
Mary Ward Hall

The infirmary was a place I did not spend too much time in. Once every few months we were all given a shot of foul tasting, slimy Castor oil to clean out our systems and this ritual was called getting a 'dose'. We would then be seen clutching rolls of toilet paper. galloping up and down between classrooms and 'bogs' with severe 'loosies'.
The games fields were venues of much excitement where we practiced for hours for the annual Sports Day held in May, followed by ten days of summer holidays. The highlight of this event would be the Inter School Relay where we raced with the girls from All Saint's. Much to our envy they wore the shortest of shorts for the race, while we flapped along in our knee length skirts. I was a star runner and athlete for many years until Lily Rana joined school - she was someone I could never beat!
The Nun's Graveyard
We would be taken for an outing every Saturday and this was quite an exciting event. Skirts would be rolled up to make them shorter and hair would be styled with an extra clip.We would have to walk in threes, holding hands all the way, and were known as the Ramnee 'caterpillar' by the boys who were lurking around to catch a glimpse of us.
 Daily routine was rigorous and our lives were ruled by bells. A bell to wake us up in the morning, and a bell to summon us for meals. A bell to call us to class and another to announce the end of a period. A bell for play time and then again for bed time. The nun who was in charge of the dormitory often thumped us on the head with a hand bell when we were not ready in time!
 Unlike my peers, I was never particularly happy in boarding - not unhappy either, but just resigned that it was where I had to be at that point of my life. Being rebellious by nature, and never taking kindly to authority I  got into plenty of trouble and ended up badly but that is a story for another blog.


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Justice




I CHARGE YOU WITH -

MURDER - you killed my pride with one swift blow, leaving me vulnerable and defenseless.

KIDNAPPING - you snatched my will and kept it chained to your side, claiming a ransom of my 
                           desire.

ARSON - you started a fire within me that is burning fiercly with no signs of dying down.

TRESSPASS - you invaded my brain, my body and my soul - places that are usually kept well barred.

THEFT - you broke and entered, stealing my heart and my mind.

LET JUSTICE TAKE ITS COURSE


Thursday, 27 October 2011

Madhuri



Madhuri
  Years before Umrao Singh Shergill married Marie Antoinette and had Amrita and Indira, he was married to Narinder Kumari, daughter of Captain Gulab Singh of Atari. She died in 1907. They had four children together - Balram, Satyavan, Vivek and Prakash. The tales of these siblings would fill a book, and their history has to be unraveled carefully, as it is too complicated and colourful to go into without a great deal of research. Umrao Singh's eldest son Balram had two sons and a daughter, Samarjeet, Ranjeet and Sumaire. This is the story of Ranjeet or Jeeti, as he was known, who on a trip to Banares to sort out some land issues, came face to face with the fabulous and exotic Madhuri.
Sitara Devi
Madhuri was born in Banares into a middle class family. She lost her parents very early in life and was raised by her uncle and aunt. From an early age she was fascinated by music and dance, and having Sitara Devi the eminent Kathak dancer as her neighbour, meant that she could slyly peep through windows to see the famous danseuse practice her art. One morning Sitara Devi caught the young Madhuri skulking around her front door, and after making inquiries as to who the child was, decided to take her under her wing and give her free instruction.
 Madhuri was a perceptive child and blossomed under tutelage, so when a film unit from Bombay approached Sitara Devi for someone who could act and dance, to play the role of baby Shakuntala in a movie, Madhuri's name was suggested. A few years later when Pancholi Studios was looking for a fresh faced heroine for their home production they too chose Madhuri. She was whisked off to Lahore where she starred in two movies 'Punji' and 'Zamindar'. Even though acting was not a  respectable profession in those days, Madhuri did well and was determined to make a name for herself in the world of cinema. She returned to Banares when there was a short break in filming, and there was introduced to Jeeti, who happened to be spending an evening drinking with her uncle.
It was love at first sight for Jeeti and he became completely obsessed with the beautiful Madhuri. He begged her to marry him and when she told him she wanted to keep acting, he promised her he would build a studio and produce movies just for her. After initially rebuffing his advances and voicing her misgivings, she found herself persuaded by his alluring charm and agreed to marry him. They moved to Saraya where Jeeti lived in a house called 'Lal Kothi' surrounded by fields, trees and lush greenery. In spite of never fulfilling his promises to her, they lived happily for a few years and had three sons - Pratap, Tej and Bhuvan. Unfortunately Jeeti who had always been a heavy drinker began to slowly degenerate into an out of control alcoholic.
It was on a train journey to Nepal to take part in one of the extravagant family hunting trips, that Jeeti happened to meet up with a strange and fascinating man who claimed to be a powerful Tantric. This person invited him to break journey at his village, where he vowed he would reveal carefully guarded secrets about the dark arts. Jeeti accepted out of sheer curiosity and found himself taking part in  bizarre rituals where he was made to eat raw meat and drink strange potions, all whilst in a drug induced haze.  After a particularly wild night, which he claimed  to have no memory of, he was informed by the Tantric that he had slept with the youngest of his seven daughters, and was now  obliged to marry her. Jeeti managed to sneak out of the village in a panic and returned to Saraya, where he told Madhuri what had transpired, always maintaining he had no recollection of the events of that night.
Nine months later Madhuri found a young girl with a baby in her arms on her doorstep. She did not have the heart to turn her away in the freezing winter weather, so asked her in, and that was the where her life took an unexpected and unfortunate twist. The young mother was Anju Devi, the Tantric's daughter, who had somehow managed to track down her oblivious bed mate. 
Jeeti claimed Anju Devi  used black magic on him to ensure he was  completely enslaved by her. The nights saw them either drinking themselves into senseless stupors or indulging in forbidden Tantric rituals behind closed doors. He began to either abuse and mistreat Madhuri or apologise for his cruelty, begging her to never leave him.  She decided to send her sons to Samarjeet, Jeeti's older brother, who lived in Punjab, since the situation in the house was getting very frightening and morbid.
A few years after turning Madhuri's life upside down Anju Devi died. Jeeti's alcoholism was now accompanied by full blown episodes of delirium tremens. He launched himself off a hill in Dehra Dun after hearing voices in his head tell him that there was a sea beneath into which he should dive, and ended up breaking his back. He barely recovered from this when he decided he wanted to feed some wild monkeys who were talking with him and was badly mauled  by one of them. He would be at the hospital every second day with some problem or the other which Victor would have to sort out. He often said Jeeti was a most affable and intelligent man when not under the influence but such occurrences became rarer and rarer.
Years of drunken abuse and melodrama followed until Madhuri finally decided to return to Banares. Her uncle and aunt refused to have anything to do with her, since she had walked out on her husband, so she had to fend for herself. Much to her horror she discovered she was pregnant and tried every trick in the book to get rid of the unwanted foetus. She was convinced she had managed to do so, but at five months felt movement, and on going to the doctor was informed she was still very much with child. She was completely devastated when she gave birth to a wizened baby girl who also had a double thumb on one hand - who would marry her with this defect, was the first thing that crossed her mind. Sadly Jeeti did not live to see his daughter and passed away a few months after Madhuri left him.
The unwelcome little girl was named Santosh and ended up as the only one of Madhuri's children to look after her till the day she died. The three sons all ended badly with drugs and drink bringing them down. Santosh was the one who put her life on hold to look after her mother, who now was suffering from an opium habit as well.
They lived a hand to mouth existence, shuttling between Saraya and Banares and eventually shifted to Delhi where concerned relatives gave them a roof over their heads. Madhuri's addiction made things more difficult and Santosh was forced to work to make ends meet - it was again family who came to her aid.
Madhuri passed away in 2000, leaving her daughter nothing but a diary of 'shers' which she had composed along her tragic way. Unfortunately Santosh was recently diagnosed with cancer and had to go through the usual course of chemotherapy, but luckily is now doing well. In spite of living a life of extreme hardship, such a strong, positive and good human being is rare to find in today's day and age. I am proud to have her as my oldest friend with whom I  share countless memories of happier times in Saraya.


Santosh

A sample of Madhuri's poetry:-

Bahut bechain hu, thoda sa muskurane do
Humsafar door hai, tasauvar to saath rehne do.
Hulk bhi sook chuka, saaki bhi saath de na saki
Hamare ashk se khali hai jaam bharne do.
Dubne wale ko tinke ka sahara bhi nahin
Toofa e kashti - langar to haath rehne do.
Jala hai pankh, shama se bhi kuch malaal nahin
Sahar kareeb hai, kuch der aur tadapne do.
Katib dekh kar haalaat khud bhi rone lage
Hame ab ashk se kuch apna haal likne do.
Na kehe sakunga ki apno ne kya diya hai sila
Vazu mein mai ko lekar namaaz padne do.
Jaam khanke na kahin, kuch log kabr mein soye hai
Akela hu, hame apna toh kabr bharne do.
Chirag mazaar pe "madhu" ke naam kabhi roshan ho
Bahut thaka hu, mujhe ab chain se so lene do.




Saturday, 22 October 2011

Growing up in Saraya

Sanam on an old 'shikar' trophy

The Majithia family who originally hailed from Majitha village of Punjab, settled in Uttar Pradesh when they were gifted the land by the British for services rendered. Not only that, they were also bestowed with the honorary titles of "Sir" and "Lady."  All the acreage now known as Saraya or Sardarnagar was forfeited land originally owned by Babu Bandhu Singh,a freedom fighter in the days of the Raj, who was arrested and hanged in 1857.
Sir Sunder Singh Majithia had three sons, Kirpal, Surender and Surjit. It was Kirpal who had convinced Victor, my father, to settle in Saraya and begin anew after Amrita's tragic passing. When Kirpal died, Sir Surender Singh took on the onus of looking after the family interests  of sugar mill, distillery and vast farmlands, which were held under  trust. Surjit Singh went into politics and was India's deputy defence minister under Nehru as well as the first ambassador to Nepal.
Kirpal had two sons Gurnihal and Dalip. Gurnihal and his wife Rupi were also extremely close to father. She recalled an incident that took place when she was driving with him in the family Rolls Royce to attend a wedding in Amritsar. They had refuelled along the way when suddenly smoke began to billow out of the bonnet, and the car caught fire due to a short circuit in the engine. Father  pushed Rupi out of the car and then had to physically stop the excited villagers from trying to put out the flames, because the possibility of the petrol tank bursting posed a serious danger. As they helplessly watched the car burn, father patted his pockets and  remarked with great annoyance that he had left his cigarettes in the inferno and did not know where he could get more. Rupi was absolutely livid because all her jewellery, heavy saris and priceless fur coat had been incinerated in the blaze and there was this man bemoaning the loss of his precious smokes!
Gurnihal was bemusedly known for his affinity to anything 'blue'. When he died, Rupi asked father to dispose of his collection so it would not fall into the wrong hands. I had no idea the hoard was kept in a tin trunk in one of the spare rooms, and when I innocently and curiously opened it one day I had my first introduction to the big bad world of naughty stuff. 
Sir Surender Singh and his wife had no children and were affectionately called Big Uncle and Big Auntie by the family. Big Auntie lived in 'purdah' all her life and only a few outsiders had the privilege of face to face encounters - my father off course, being one of them. On the occasions when she glided up in her Humber for a visit, all the men folk had to discreetly scatter out of sight. Her visits caused much excitement as she always carried a  small, beautifully carved, filigree box filled with silver coated 'elaichi' and 'supari' which we were allowed to dig into as  special treat.
One year Easter and April Fool fell on the same day. My mother was completely taken aback to receive a beautifully wrapped gift from Big Auntie with a shiny, purple egg plant in it. She did not know what to make of this present and was too embarrassed to ask why she was at the receiving end of such generosity, when she finally received a giggly phone call which solved the mystery - it was an April Fool's joke.....Easter egg.....egg plant....

Sanam in the garden
Surjit had three sons, Sati, Guggi and Bunny. Sati in his youth was quite the lady's man, but when he married his wife Manju he gave up all his errant ways and turned to religion and the family business. Guggi was a simple minded soul who could not hurt a fly.His marriage was arranged to the strong and beautiful Gurpreet who looked out for him all his life. Bunny was just Bunny....wine, women,antiques and cars were what he lived for and we were all convinced he would wrap himself around a tree in one of his fancy vehicles once too often, and that would be the end of his story. He did not know anything about antiques but bought them anyway. When he invested in two valuable Ming vases, one of the older ladies in the family was heard to snidely remark  "The only thing Bunny knows about Ming is that it rhymes with his Thing!' He never read a book in his life, but would order them in different sizes to fit the shelves so they would look impressive. We were rudely refused when we asked to borrow any, since that would spoil the symmetry of the display! Bunny was married to the gorgeous Shelley who tragically committed suicide in 1987.
Then there was Franky, Kirpal's nephew who lived in Deokahi which was a couple of miles from Saraya. Franky enjoyed his alcohol and was quite the man about town, seducing many a village belle in the surrounding sugar cane fields. He married the tough and no nonsense Balraj who put an end to  his drinking and philandering and even bashed him up once in a while. We were teasing him about this one day when he sheepishly smiled and said " Once in a while I still get 'soozled' and then I beat her!" 'Soozled' quickly became another word that was added to the Egan Lexicon.
My father delivered Balraj and Franky's first born, and when we went to see the baby I was curious to know why the child had such a strangely elongated, misshapen head. I was told it was a forceps case and every thing would return to normal in a few days. Franky was doing a lot of sculpting in those days, in spite of repeated warnings from his mother-in-law that it was not an auspicious activity to do while his wife was pregnant. He naturally ignored these old wives tales, but nearly fainted in shock when he saw his son, as he was convinced his mother-in-law was right and maybe his chipping away at wooden blocks was the cause for the bizarre shaped head!  The baby with the alien looking pate is today a handsome and talented actor in Bollywood.
Saraya was a  strange oasis in the backwoods of Uttar Pradesh. Someone once asked me what the mystery was behind this private paradise - the women were all beautiful, the cars were the fanciest - a Ferrari, a Porsche, an Alfa Romeo, a Jaguar and a Rolls Royce, were some of the vehicles that made up the fleet, which even today are not so common on the roads of Indian metros.

Tweed
A Cessna and Twin Beech landed on a tiny little private runway. Our idea of fun while growing up was to go up for a joy ride in one of the planes and dive bomb unsuspecting, terrified villagers. One afternoon my friend Santosh and I had taken out father's noisy old Jeep and were racing up and down the airstrip just for fun. We were pleasantly surprised to see the people on the side of the road waving at us in an unusually friendly manner and happily reciprocated the bonhomie. The gesticulating got wilder and wilder until I realised poor Sati was circling overhead in his aircraft, wanting to land and the friendly signalling was just folks trying to get us off the landing field!
Saraya also had a private stretch of railway line that networked through surrounding villages."Tweed", an 1873 Sharp Stewart 0-4-0, which was once claimed to be the oldest commercially working steam locomotive in the world, plied these lines bringing in the sugar cane from surrounding fields during the  season. We would sometimes hop on and enjoy a sooty, noisy ride  for a couple of hours. "Tweed" was quite a celebrity and every winter we had gangs of "loco nuts" from all over the world coming to admire and photograph her.
Sanam and Begum the Afghan Hound
Rare and expensive breeds of dogs freely roamed the grounds of the estate and I grew up with Great Danes, Poodles, Rottweilers, Bassets, Afghan Hounds, Setters and the usual Labradors, Alsatians and Boxers. I was the only one who picked up 'roadies' much to the amusement and sometimes disdain of the rest. 
The family elephants would be saddled up for an amble once in a while and these cross country excursions were always thrilling outings. When the last of the elephants Nainkali died, it seemed like the end of a fabulous era to me.
Sanam at the swimming pool
The lush gardens that sprawled around the bungalows could have been taken out of a Good Housekeeping magazine. The palatial homes were decorated with trophies of past 'shikars,' and shared wall space with exquisite Persian carpets and  priceless Shergil paintings. Most of the houses had their own swimming pools, and even though they were surrounded by mesh fences, it was quite common to be splashing about with frogs of various sizes,  which the young men would gleefully catch and try and stuff down our costumes!
The photographs I have put up were all taken when Sanam was a little girl, but things were exactly the same when I was growing up. It was an idyllic childhood and I am glad my daughter could experience a few years in Saraya before the Majithia family fell apart due to inheritance disputes, my father died and my mother moved away to Deolali after living there  forty six years.
I have heard that the whole property is  in a state of neglect, with the once grand bungalows now  only home to termites and white ants, and the swimming pools almost impossible to find in the wild jungle that has crept in. I will never go back because I want to remember the place as the wonderful haven I spent half my life in. I would rather not spoil those indelible memories by seeing all the depressing changes that have taken place there in the last few years.

















Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Trepidation



I have lived long enough not to ask questions
to which there are no answers -
I have lived long enough not to ask questions
whose answers I do not want to hear -
I live in fear of empty places
at the end of a journey -
I live in fear of darkness
beyond the curve of a lonely road -
I live in fear of silences
so deep and filled with menace
Where the only sound that reaches me
is the frantic beating of my heart.
I have lived long enough to know
that happiness is an illusion
And yet I live in fear of never finding it -
Even though I know it is a dream I pursue.



Thursday, 13 October 2011

Egans Don't Cry

In Later Years, Victor, My Father
Victor, my father, was an extremely strong person both mentally and physically. He did not have any belief in God or religion, and was of the opinion that if there was an Almighty, and He was fair and just, then humanity would be judged on deeds rather than how many times a prayer had been repeated or a holy shrine visited.
 He was extremely impatient with those who fussed about trivial aches and pains and always made light of his own problems. He was known, trusted and accepted for his gruff bedside manner and no nonsense attitude, because he was an exceptional doctor. "Egan's don't cry!" was a phrase I grew up with and often heard when I was blubbering about something inconsequential.
I remember a time when the area was being terrorised by a vicious 'langur' who was randomly attacking passing vehicles and biting unsuspecting people. No one wanted to confront the problem because of the belief that monkeys are avatars of Hanuman. One morning as father was driving off to work in his open jeep, the simian pounced on him and tore open his arm with its massive fangs. We rushed to the hospital to make sure he was alright, only to find him dispassionately stitching up the mangled wound himself, without any help or anesthesia. All he had to say was that he hoped  the villagers would see sense and destroy the animal before it seriously hurt someone else. It became a ritual over the next couple of weeks, for me to accompany him to the hospital, where I watched in fascination as he jabbed himself in the stomach with the anti-rabies shots sans any theatrics or drama.
Father always claimed he would never retire voluntarily and often stated "The day I stop working is the day I die!" The only time he missed a few days was in 1986, when he had a nasty fall and broke his hip. As soon as he was able, he insisted on Tara Babu, his assistant, driving him to work with his plastered leg protruding out of the side of the jeep. It was only when he slipped and broke his other hip in 1996, ten years later, that he was laid up in bed for a prolonged spell, which proved to be the beginning of the end. I never heard him groan or complain, though the indignity of ill health and dependence on others was the worst form of suffering for a man of his nature. "Yoy" he would mutter under his breath once in a while, which was the Hungarian equivalent of ouch or our desi 'hai hai' but that was all we needed to hear to realise he was in agony.
Victor and Eva
 Even at the age of eighty four, before his second fall, father was still going to the hospital every day though his working hours were getting shorter and shorter. He insisted on always driving himself, and when people saw the old jeep trundling along they would scatter to both sides of the road to give him clear passage, as they knew he could not see as well as he used to. He had developed cataract in both eyes but never had them operated on as he felt it was a waste of time and effort.
Unlike many people I know, my father had no fear of death, and towards the end of his life he often said he was prepared to go anytime.He had always been a firm  believer in euthanasia and Derek Humphrey's The Final Exit was a book we had both read and discussed. I was initially chilled by the concept, but later came to believe in the principals of this controversial topic.I was convinced that if we could choose to put a beloved animal down to end its suffering, it was as important to give a human being the same respect of choice.
Towards the end of his days, father was suffering a great deal and I would spend as much time as I could sitting by his bed and talking about all manner of things, past and present, until he would tell me he was exhausted and needed to sleep. In the course of one of these conversations he asked if I would assist Tara, in expediting his departure from this world. He said it was just a question of time for him and he was fed up of living in such a debilitated, painful and pitiable state. He had worked out the medication to be administered and assured me that it would be a most serene and tranquil end.
 His heart-breaking appeal made my blood run cold  and I found myself sobbing in his arms telling him how much I loved him, how much I needed him and how I could not imagine a life without him. He held me gently till I had calmed down and then said "Do you hear yourself? All you have said is I, I, I. Why don't you stop a minute and think about how I feel in this hopeless situation."
I was far away in Adampur when he passed away a few months after this distressing incident. I still feel I broke his trust and let him down that day, because I could not be there for him in the way he needed me to be. My love for him was deep and strong but selfish, and when it came to the crunch I did not show the altruistic strength that he expected from me.
But Egans don't cry.....

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Regret



There was a time a million years ago
When I thought the moon and stars were mine alone.
I thought I could capture moonbeams in my hands
And hold them there forever.
Stars were mere playthings - sparkling toys -
Out of which I fashioned crowns and such.

Now a million years later -
I see the moon and stars so cold and distantly mocking -
And yet I might have had them today
If I had only known the value of moonbeams, stars and......love.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Menagerie


Garden in Winter
 Growing up in Saraya was a fantastical experience.  We lived in a huge old fashioned bungalow surrounded by a wildly beautiful garden, with hundreds of different varieties of flowers, potted plants and fruit trees. We grew our own vegetables, and the pleasure of plucking fresh  produce is something I still miss. Home made peach, strawberry and mulberry jam, Rosella jelly and tomato chutney were made as a routine and sadly so much taken for granted. When I was young, carnations had the most wonderfully spicy, clove-like perfume, which I don't find in the hybrid varieties today. A trip to the nursery will find me burying my nose into the foliage, hoping to get a whiff of the past, much to the amusement of the 'maalis' in attendance. Sometimes I still manage to  catch the faintest hint  of this long ago scent and these particular  'gamlas' are quickly picked up and treasured through the season.
Our house in Saraya was a completely crazy one because of our fanatic love of animals. My mother Nina, was the bird lady and I was passionate about everything that crept or crawled. Victor, my father, hated the idea of birds in cages, so all the ones we had flew about an open windowed house. If they wanted to leave they could, but surprisingly most of them chose to stay. It got so bad that neighbours used to think twice about coming over, because they never knew when a feathered friend would perch on shoulder or head and leave a little 'poopy' gift there.
 At one point of time apart from the dogs, we had Abdul and Zia the Bulbuls, Small, a Weaver bird and Tikki the squirrel, who all had run of the house. Small had a little tree in a corner of the room, with the typical 'baya' nest hanging from it, into which she loved to twine hair, thread or any other scraps she could find. At Christmas time we would leave bits of tinsel scattered about which she would hastily pick up to decorate her home with. Abdul would have a bath in cupped hands held under the flowing bathroom tap, pick food out of  plates and lay on her back in our palms for a tummy scratch. Tikki was one of the most ferocious little animals I have ever encountered and people whom she took a dislike to were very nervous when she was on the prowl. We were all at the receiving end of her moodiness at one time or another but she was such an eccentric little character that we adored her anyway.
 On one cold winter morning I walked into my  parent's bedroom with a cup of tea and found much to my amusement, father lying in bed trying to read the newspaper, with the wall mounted reading lamp behind his head switched on. He had Abdul *eggled up on one shoulder, Zia snuggled under his chin and Tikki lying spreadeagled like a little bear skin on top of his head, with her tail draped between his eyes and over his nose. They were all there for the warmth of the light bulb and he did not dare move, lest he disturb their morning bask in the artificial light.
The locals knew that whenever a baby bird fell out of its nest or an injured dog was found they could bring it to Dr Sahib's Kothi. I would pick up all the hurt puppies and bring them home, and never once do I remember my father saying I could not keep them. He would come back from the hospital with bottles of Ascabiol to treat their mange or vitamin drops and antibiotic shots if they were needed.
Whenever we were in Lucknow I would beg father to take me to Nakhas, which was the big animal and bird market. I would insist on buying the scruffiest and most diseased looking specimens and bring them home to treat and then set free. Through the years I have picked up rabbits, turtles, guinea pigs, a mongoose, mice, rats and countless birds who would have badly damaged wings and feathers from the glue used to snare them. Father would always lecture me on how I was abetting a criminal act, since needy folks would continue trapping these wretched creatures to cater to people like me who bought them. I would beg and weep and tell him it was the last time ever and he would  end up reluctantly relenting.
 On one occasion mother and I were at the Gorakhpur railway station waiting to catch a train to Lucknow, when I spotted the tiniest of puppies playing around with a piece of string on the platform. I immediately rushed to pick her up only to be confronted by a growly father who insisted we had enough animals in the house already and said I must try and find a good home for her elsewhere. I did make a few half hearted attempts at doing so while in Lucknow, but the return journey saw the little mutt tucked under my sweater in the vague hope that father would not spot the bump when he came to receive us. I thought I had got away with the subterfuge, until he put his arm around me and gently told me to let the little pup breathe from under my pullover. He knew I would never have the heart to give her away and all was in readiness at home - bed, food and water bowl. She was named Taffy and a more intelligent, adorable and friendly dog I have yet to come across. She did not leave my side for the next sixteen years and I haven't been able to love another dog with the same intensity ever again.

Eva with Tich and her beloved Taffy
 Father would always sleep with the dogs on his bed. He would be curled up like a prawn in a corner of the mattress, while the dogs sprawled comfortably around him. This annoyed mother who could not bear the grit and mud they bought up with their dirty paws, so an  ultimatum was finally given - dogs or her! A compromise was agreed to wherein the beds were separated so the dogs could still sleep with him while mother's sheets stayed clean and crisp.
Father would always give the dogs a sliver of cheese  after each meal, which mother also objected to, since she claimed it was too expensive to be feeding the dogs with. Father pointedly stopped eating the product while making sure the dogs still got their daily ration, until mum threw up her hands in resignation and did not protest anymore.
With all these creatures in the house there were the inevitable tragedies. Little Abdul drowned in the toilet bowl one night and Mum had to take Calmpose to get over it. One of the servants shut the door while Small was sitting atop it and the Calmpose strip came out again.  Zia flew away and never returned - no Calmpose this time as we hoped he had found love in the world outside. Tikki died of old age after producing many little ones in a wooden box we had put up for her in the mango tree outside the window. For years we were discomfited by a lingerie thief who stole our sexy stuff off the clothes line, and could never figure out  who would have the nerve. A certain amorous neighbour was glared at with disgust and suspicion but never confronted for lack of proof. When we took down Tikki's humble abode we found years of of missing underwear stuffed cosily into it thus letting aforesaid amorous neighbour off the hook and finally solving the mystery!

* Eggled was an Egan word describing the feeling of a warm bird snuggled into the hollow of one's neck feeling like a soft boiled egg. Egg and snuggled became eggled.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Maybe


MAYBE

Maybe if you could have known the girl-child
who grew up alone and laughed too little -
Maybe if you could have been there to help
when she was raped and torn and bleeding -
Maybe if you could have seen the child-woman
who dug at hope with bitten fingernails
and clawed people so they wouldn't claw first -
Maybe if you could have known
all the half people who were me
You wouldn't smile and call me silly
when I hold you close and say
You've made all the difference.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Laughing Matter



Victor had the innate ability to make people roar with laughter at the most awkward times. For a man with such an irreverent sense of humour, who could make the most outrageously funny statements, few people actually remember seeing him laugh out loud himself. Whatever he said was with a completely dead pan expression which somehow made the impact of his words even more hilarious.  
Victor played bridge at the Gorakhpur Club three nights a week with a group of his friends who were avid about the game, and this routine was inviolable no matter what the circumstances. On the rare occasion when for some reason the foursome was incomplete,  they would  reluctantly join the 'puploo' table to wile away time.
There was a particularly featherbrained lady, the wife of one of one of Gorakhpur's' leading contractors, who got on every one's nerves. At the beginning of a deal she would stuff the colored chips deep into her over flowing bra, defying the men to take whatever she owed. Luckily for her, the gentlemen were too polite and embarrassed to oblige.
One evening Victor and his cronies were deeply immersed in a rubber of bridge, when the aforementioned  lady waddled into the card room and in a shrill falsetto demanded to know what the four men were doing. Victor did not even glance at her as he retorted "Masturbating under the table!" Paroxysms of  mirth followed this remark as the lady stormed off  with an indignantly quivering bosom, never to play cards with any of them again!

Fooling Around
 There was a childish game we enjoyed with my father called King of Spain. The rules were elementary -  two people holding lighted candles had to stand at opposite ends of the room facing each other. They then had to walk towards each other very slowly, and when nose to nose one had to say "The King of Spain is Dead", while the other replied "Long Live the King". It was as simple as that, but the whole ceremony had to be done with a completely blank face - no smile, no emotion. My father would take up his position with such a grumpy and disgruntled expression, that hysterical giggles welled uncontrollably even before the ritual had begun. He would glower at us with a down turned mouth, which was the cause of more merriment and crazy cackling. The end result would be side splitting convulsions while he stood  grimly and patiently, holding the candle waiting for one of us to compose ourselves and join him. I have actually witnessed my grandmother Anna, wet her pants because she was shrieking with wild laughter and could not contain herself.
Years later, when I  had a daughter of my own I was often the target of my father's dry humour. I had once gone into the bathroom to change a tampon, when my two year old Sanam, barged in and asked what I was doing. I casually replied that I was using a tampon, and as she was not curious about it I presumed she had forgotten the incident. A few months later, on a visit to Saraya, I noticed her sitting on the carpet stuffing 'Swad' sweets into her pantie. I asked what she was trying to do and she solemnly replied 'I am using a tampon!". I was slightly worried and asked my father if he thought she could unwittingly do any damage to herself by playing like this. He thought it highly unlikely but dryly added, " In any case I have never heard of anyone losing their virginity to a Swad!" I felt a second of exasperation at his matter-of-fact impassivity about his granddaughter, but the comical remark got to me and  unrestrained laughter followed.
We were always an extremely close family and laughter was an integral part of my growing up. From my father I learned to find humour in even the most unpleasant circumstances, and this ability has got me through many trying periods of my life.  After he died, the Majithia's were very keen that all the last rites be performed according to Sikh tradition, and the immersion be done at Hari Ke Patan where others of the family had been sent on their way. My mother and I were flown to Ludhiana in Sati Majithia's private aircraft with Dad's ashes in an urn sitting between us. We disembarked and began walking away from the aircraft, when I realised the vessel was still in the plane, as we each thought the other had picked it up. I turned to mum and said "Oh dear, we have forgotten Dad". We shared a soft chuckle while relatives looked on in shocked disapproval at our lack of respect.
We were completely shattered by my father's death, but humour had always been so much part of his life  that it seemed quite natural to share a laugh even though he was not present anymore. He would have expected nothing less.....