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Thursday, 28 June 2012


Oh dear, a Mouse
When we moved into the permanent accommodation allotted to us I inherited a resident cat, who responded to the  unimaginative name of Puddy. She was an affectionate old thing and had been looked after by the previous occupants so I happily took over as her care giver.
One morning I was sitting out on the veranda sipping my morning cup of tea, when I saw Puddy rushing along with something small and black in her mouth. I grimaced with disgust thinking she had caught a mouse, but when she dropped the sodden object at my toes I realised it was just a  new born kitten. I had never seen such a tiny little thing and picked it up gingerly not really knowing what to do. I decided to make a cosy home in the guest room for my feline family and would leave a window permanently open so mother cat could come and go as she pleased.

who grew and grew into
The little one grew into this amazingly beautiful jet black tom whom I adored as my own child. Unfortunately the name that came to mind when I first saw him was what my baby was called - Mouse! I felt a deep unexplainable affinity for this animal and never having brought up a cat before I came to realise what fun, funny and entertaining creatures they can be. Once while walking home in a drizzle after a party late one night, I was met by a wet and bedraggled bunch of fur who had been patiently waiting under a bush for me all the while. I remember thinking that this did not seem to be typical behaviour for a cat, from what I had heard and read.
My friend Lalima lived upstairs and she definitely did not share the same adoration I felt for my pet. I was startled to see her in a very angry mood at my door one afternoon and asked her what the problem was. She demanded that I immediately change the name of my stupid cat and I laughed hysterically when I heard the reason why she was insisting on this. She had been summoned to her daughter Antara's school by a very worried class teacher who gently told Lalima that there seemed to be a problem. Antara was a bright girl in many ways, she stated, but  just could not understand why every time she was shown a picture of a cat or asked to spell the word, she would seriously insist that C-A-T was Mouse!
Mouse fell ill a year and a half later with some sort of bronchial problem and I was totally helpless since there were no vets around whom I could consult. My heart shattered when he died in my arms just a couple of days later. I wrapped him in a fancy black shawl and asked my husband to dig a little grave for him in the back garden. I sensed Sud wanting to say something about the expensive shroud but he saw my pathetic state and held his peace. Everyone around knew how shattered I was and I had people coming over to commiserate and say how sorry they were for my loss, as if God forbid, someone in my family had passed away.
Once I got over the grieving I felt it was somehow for the better since we would have had to leave Mouse behind when we moved out on posting, which I think would have been more difficult for me. My baby had a short life but it was a comfortable and happy one and I would never have to worry about how he was managing without his mama, or if someone was taking care of him the way I did.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Beautiful East

We were allotted a permanent accommodation after eight months in the 'basha', so could finally unpack all our worldly goods and set up house properly. We lived in Tezpur over three years, which was the longest tenure that we ever stayed in one place in all our time in the Air Force.
I loved everything about this wild and untamed land. I have never seen such strange looking vegetables and fruit or more alien creepy crawlies. I would regularly have to sweep out baby snakes that had wriggled in after a particularly heavy downpour, since I never had the heart to kill them. What did give me the creeps were frogs that almost seemed to fly through the air and stick to walls and plants and I dreaded the day one of them would mistake me for a tree!
The lush rampant beauty of the East always fascinated me and we would often drive into the picturesque state of Arunachal for picnics. Tipi was a favourite haunt, with its cosy guest house and furiously raging Bharali river. Asia's biggest orchidarium is located here as well but the more common varieties grew in natural unbridled bunches everywhere. I would carefully pry them off  huge trees and bring them home to attach to the ones in my garden where they happily flourished.
There were evenings when the air was thick with fireflies and we would sit in our veranda just enjoying this amazing spectacle. Sometimes one of these minute creatures would get into the house and I would rush around with cupped hands to try and gently catch and let it out, since the idea of this tiny marvel dying trapped indoors upset me.
I will never forget the storms in this part of the world. I have never seen lightening more jagged and beautiful or rain more torrential. Winds howled with such savage ferocity that I could not even open a door against the strength of it. Our garden chairs would fly away if we did not hurriedly drag them in, and we got to doodling identifying marks on them since some evil ladies would keep the ones in good condition and leave the 'rut-put' ones unclaimed.
We would regularly go on fishing excursions with our friends Arup Raha and Cawas Motishaw. Arup's wife Lily was going through a difficult pregnancy so preferred to stay home, while Cawas was a carefree bachelor ever ready for fun. The four of us would drive out on our motor bikes at the crack of dawn, with all our tackle ready for a day of serious fishing. We only caught one miserable little thing in all the times we went which I ended up having to gut and cook once we got home - a rather disturbing experience since I had no idea of how to go about this gruesome task.
I always tremendously enjoyed these outings and it never mattered that we were unlucky fisher folk, got bitten by leeches or chewed by  elusive 'dimdams', which were nasty little gnats invisible to the naked eye but whose bite left itchy spots which scratched for weeks after.

Serious work

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Monkey Business

We stayed in our little 'basha' for over eight months before we were allotted a permanent house. I was alone a lot of the time and found myself entertained by a band of monkeys, who arrived every few days to wreck havoc in the homes of those not on guard. My neighbour Lalima once scuttled over in complete hysteria, saying she had inadvertently left the front door open while taking a bath and a band of marauders had invaded her premises. She escaped through the rear entrance and rushed over for help. Once the intruders left we crept back to take stock of the damage. They had pried open her ration  'dubbas' and scattered the contents all over, they had raided the fridge for eggs and milk and left oily paw prints everywhere. The devastation of upturned furniture and scattered cushions was a sight that left us completely aghast and took hours to clean up.
On one occasion I was in the kitchen chopping up onions and tomatoes when I felt something brush against my leg. I presumed it was one of the resident cats and leaned down to pet it, when I discovered to my horror one of the cheeky creatures sitting placidly by my side. I slowly straightened up and then stood very still not knowing what to do. I stayed that way for about five minutes and so did the monkey. It did not seem hungry or aggressive and just seemed to enjoy leaning against my leg. Time ticked by and I began to get restless imagining myself standing like a frozen statue all day. I decided to take matters into my own hands and clutching the knife firmly twirled around with a dreadful shriek, brandishing my weapon menacingly. Luckily, friend monkey made a dash for the door instead of attacking me so I heaved a sigh of relief and got on with my culinary activity.
While taking a nap one sultry afternoon I was woken by the light fixture that hung by a wire from the ceiling, moving around strangely. My first thought was that there had been an earthquake, but when I noticed the wire being pulled into the roof, I realised the simians must have got into the false ceiling and were simply amusing themselves up there!
I discovered by chance that these crazy apes loved onions. I would throw them some and they would huddle in a group chomping away delightedly with eyes screwed tightly shut and tears streaming down their faces. It was a sight that never failed to amuse me and most of the vegetables that we got in our monthly ration usually ended up as monkey food. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Settling In

The first thing that struck me on getting off the train in Tezpur was the sweat inducing humidity, as I had never known the discomfort of living in a damp and muggy climate. In those days we did not own an air conditioner and coolers were completely ineffective in this kind of steamy heat, which was something I would have to learn to live with. The other aspect that immediately caught my attention was the lush greenery - I was intrigued by all the unfamiliar flora and dense, wild looking, tangled shrubbery..
We were given a tiny 'basha' to live in until a status house was made available These were primitive dwellings made of reinforced mud with a thatched roof, which boasted a tiny bedroom, an even tinier drawing/dining room and a shabby little kitchen. We owned no furniture and boxes were  substituted for beds and settees. This meagre accommodation was set amidst wild undergrowth and huge trees, which had a cheeky band of monkey residents whom I became quite familiar with over the months.. After the initial shock of seeing this living arrangement, I must say I settled in happily enough for the next eight months and actually grew to love it.
The first morning Sud had to report early for work and I did not bother to wake up and make him his tea. The boxes were still locked and I had planned to spend the day sorting things out. When I eventually emerged into the kitchen, I saw my poor husband had unlocked the trunks and tried to rustle up a cuppa for both of us. He had not found the pots and pans he was looking for, and I noticed much to my amusement, that he had inventively boiled up the 'chai' in a large pressure cooker and strained it with a corner of the mosquito net!
I unpacked as best I could in the tiny living space and was given help and  support from my next door neighbours Lalima and Umesh Shastri. I don't know what I would have done without Lalima, who tucked me under her wing and eased what could have been a traumatic time for me. She was the one who taught me to make the most awesome 'kheer'. I had no idea that only a small bit of rice was needed for this preparation and after a few disastrous attempts turned to her for advice. It was with great amusement that she  showed me how much was actually needed to produce the perfect dish.
Sud and I shared space with a cat and her three kittens whom I adored, and it broke my heart when we had to move out and leave them behind. The quarters we were eventually allotted already had a resident cat whom the lady of the house had been looking after. The photograph below is a rare one, since Sud turned out to have a nasty cat allergy but that was something we found out much later so these were uncomplicated and carefree times.