Thursday, 7 February 2019

Its the Goddesses who have curly hair!

It was a hot afternoon in July. The heat inside the school bus was making everyone sweat. The hot air blowing in from the rattling windows was the only respite. A lot of water bottles were now empty. The Delhi heat had turned my cheeks red and my hair was all over the place. Finally, my stop arrived. ‘Maggi, Maggi…your hair looks like maggi noodles!’ someone commented from behind. The rest of the kids burst out laughing. I don’t remember who said it, but I do remember that I did not respond. I would have probably made a face and swiftly got off the bus.

Later in the evening, I sat on the floor, at my grandmother’s feet as she oiled my hair and tied it up neatly with ribbons into two braids on either side. She told me it will help my hair grow. On Sunday, when I shampooed my hair, it took on a totally different avatar. My mother lovingly admired, ‘The curl falling on your forehead is like that of Michael Jackson!’ I smiled. It was a compliment since at that point in time he was quite a star performer with a formidable fan following.

I happily brushed my hair that evening and went to meet my cousins. My hair transformed into a big black halo around my head, bigger and bad-er than a wild Lion’s mane. My cousin looked at me and said, ‘Sai Baba hair!’. All through my teenage years, I mostly hated my hair. Most of my friends seemed to have effortless, silky, straight hair that could be maintained just by combing.

Once I started working and earned my own money, within the first few months I blew up a huge portion of my salary on straightening my hair. My hair was so stubborn that it refused to get tamed in the first go, so I ended up getting it done twice to achieve the desired result. In the middle of the process, I suddenly saw my mother storming into the parlor. ‘What are you trying to do? You will end up going bald!’. Clearly, she didn’t like the idea of me getting my hair marinated in chemicals. She was concerned.

But, at that age and time of life, I was experimenting with my new-found freedom and my own money. I loved my new straightened hair. My curls had been hiding the true length of my hair. I suddenly had long, straight hair that hardly needed anything much to make it look like I had been to the salon. I couldn’t stop admiring it in the mirror in the first few days.

As the months passed and my curls began to regrow from the roots, the straightened part of my hair began to look lifeless. To me, it looked like it was not a part of me, it was fake. One fine day I chopped it all off, leaving me with short wavy hair. I was relieved to touch it and feel the ‘original’ stuff. Ever since then, I never felt the urge to get it straightened or re-bonded again although I did experiment with different styles and lengths. At one point I got it cut into such a short style that my husband said I looked like a boy!

About a year ago, I went for a haircut and the young stylist looked at my damp hair and said, ‘Lovely curls!’ and he styled it beautifully and naturally without using direct heat. I immediately loved the look and realized it was easy to do it on my own. More recently, I got acquainted to the CG methods and started using some of the natural products made for curly hair. While, I am not great at using it and haven’t worked hard at mastering the techniques involved, I do see a change and I like it, since it is naturally me and does not involve using heat and chemicals to punish my hair to become something that it is clearly not.

Even in movies and magazines, the models and actresses rarely have curly hair. They mostly have straight hair or stylish waves. Its only when characters have a wild side or a brave side, they are shown to have curly hair. Think of the red-haired princess in Brave or Tapsee Pannu in Pink. Mostly, straight hair is the norm, just like being a certain size, weight or height is. Anything else feels like being a minority. I do realize that I had been trying to tame and torture my hair to confirm to a certain standard, to make appear like something which it is naturally not. Now, I have accepted that my hair has a mind of its own and I am learning to give it unconditional love (in the form of CG products).

Last year, during Durga Puja, as I opened my eyes after praying and looked up at the ten-armed Goddess Durga, I noticed her hair. It was long and gorgeously curly. A childish voice inside me said, ‘It’s the Goddesses who have curly hair!’ I smiled and closed my eyes in prayer again.

Friday, 31 August 2018

The little ways in which I miss you

This write-up is dedicated to all those whose spouse has a travelling job or are staying in different cities/countries for some reason.

The kids are playing in the park. The little one is counting 1,2,3,4…20. While he covers his eyes with his small palms, he also peeps through the gaps between his fingers to see where his friends are hiding. Every time he peeps his naughty smile gives him away. All the other kids have run away to take shelter behind the bushes and pillars.

It’s beginning to get dark. I look at the time on my phone. It’s 6:50 PM. The mental calculation begins. Another 20 minutes at the most before taking the kids back home. Dinner will be at 7:30pm. They must be off to bed latest by 8:30pm. There is sanity in following a routine. It’s only after they sleep that the house will be quiet again. I can have some time to myself. Work, read, watch TV, or sleep.

I see a man stepping out of the basement parking. Crisp shirt, formal trousers, polished shoes. Laptop bag in hand. Is it you? My heart gets hopeful. Then my mind tells me, ‘No silly, it can’t be. He’s not here. Remember?’ Yes, I do remember. He’s travelling.

Once I clear the table and am ready to switch off the lights for the night, I notice a car from the window. I try to guess the make of the car from the shape of its glaring headlamps. It’s a Honda. Not yours. Then another car approaches. This one looks like yours. My heart leaps up in hope. Then my mind tells me, ‘No silly, it can’t be. He’s not here. Remember?’ Yes, I do remember. You are not going to be back for another few days.

I call you, hoping you are done for the day but we can’t speak just yet, you are surrounded by people.

Our bed has been occupied by the kids. They told me, ‘Tumhe darr lagega akele’. Well, it’s better than going to sleep in an empty bed and feel your absence. Now that you are not here to wake me up in the morning, I pick up my phone to set an alarm for myself but end up browsing through some useless posts on Instagram. In parallel, I think about how much time I end up wasting on the phone, I could do so much more with that time. I am so addicted!

You call, we speak for a few minutes. But, neither of us are good with spoken words. So, we just talk about the kids or what you ate for dinner. More than anything we talk about, I am just happy to hear your voice.

I read a book late into the night, then get hungry. I guiltily eat some ice-cream but tell myself I deserve it. I justify the need for it. I can’t sleep if I am hungry. I read till I can no longer keep my eyes open and then drop off to sleep. Had you been here we would have most likely watched something on Netflix together. I am saving it for when you return. Also, I know that watching TV would make me stay up even longer. I can’t sleep as peacefully when you are not around.

After the kids go to school, I put some clothes into the machine for washing. At the bottom of the washing pile is your off-white shirt. I pick it up and hold it close. It still smells of you. That familiar mix of your perfume and you that I know so well. I close my eyes and enjoy the heady mix for a few moments before putting it back in the basket. I won’t put it for washing before you return. Not for any reason, but only because there are not enough of your clothes to fill the machine.

Later in the day I find a picture of us from a few days ago. I smile. Well, at least in this photo we will always be together. I share it on social media. It makes me wonder how deceptive it can be. When we are apart, I am creating an impression as if we are together. Do people use the same logic when posting photos, it makes me wonder.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

For the Love of Heels

When I was just a toddler, I had been so enchanted by a woman wearing a pair of stilettos that I had ended up following her (rather, her golden stilettos) all evening at a wedding my parents had taken me to. I had given my mother such a hard time tracking me that evening that she still remembers, laughing.

My shoe fetish, or rather the love for heels began fairly early. With me as a child, my mother often chose to walk longer routes to avoid passing by a shoe store, lest I enter and insist on buying another pair of shoes. While other kids my age were throwing tantrums inside toy stores, I was giving the puppy-eyed, please-buy-me-this-pair look to my mother in shoe shops. ‘See Ma, this fits me perfectly’ was my justification for buying it. It didn’t make me change my mind even when she said, ‘You have another pair in the same colour at home’.

When I was nine, my father gifted me a pair of glossy, cherry coloured heels from some country he had gone to. Clearly, they were big for me but that didn’t stop me from slipping my feet into them and posing in front of the mirror at home. How I waited for weeks and months till my feet grew big enough to be able to wear them comfortably. I had tried them on every few weeks to check. Ah! Sweet childhood memories of dreams getting fulfilled.

When I began working, it was the perfect time to wear smart heels every day and I did. The neat and clean office environment was perfect for wearing them without risking them getting spoilt or dirty. In my wedding trousseau, there was no place for flats. Lest anyone be reminded of the height difference between Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri when they saw us as a new couple, four pairs of heels in red, gold, silver and pink accompanied me to my new home. The office shoes (black) also joined me a few weeks later. Soon, I had a tall shoe rack exclusively for me.

Pregnancy was the game changer. Right from the beginning, I was cautioned about wearing heels. I wondered if my sudden shift from heels to flats would be the big give away even before I shared the ‘good news’ or my belly began to show. With the expanding size of my waistline and clothes, my feet expanded too. Even after months of having my baby, those shoes were too tight. I was no longer size 37. Slowly and gradually, all my heels were replaced with comfortable flats. With the need to run after and carry my child, followed by another pregnancy and baby, comfort was essential.

With the birth of a child, a mother is born. She makes a lot of changes to adapt to her new needs and that of her baby. Habits, lifestyle, food, daily routine, everything changes. New responsibilities, duties and caring for the newborn are prime. Footwear was not even the last thing on my mind. That I enjoyed wearing them once was long forgotten. History.

One year ago, something caught my eye as I passed by a fancy shoe store. I tried on a pair of shiny stilettos after a long time. I found it odd to wear them. The arching of my foot inside them. It was a strange feeling. It was like my body had forgotten how to walk in a pair of heels. I walked like a woman who had never worn heels in her entire life, somewhat like you would have seen in some old Bollywood movies. Nothing like the girl who dreamt of wearing heels.

Now that my children are no longer toddlers and are too big to be carried, I have gone ahead and indulged myself. I have gifted myself two pairs of stilettos for my birthday. One red and another in gold. While the red one got an outing recently for a dinner, I am looking for an apt occasion to wear the one in gold. And, guess what? This time around it didn’t feel weird. It felt good to wear them like
I was getting back to being somewhat like my old self. To top it all, I found out I am finally back to my old shoe size too.

Most women make changes when they become moms. Some big, some small. Did you make such a transition with pregnancy and childbirth? Do share your thoughts in the comments section.

Post originally shared on Momspresso

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Invisible Burkha

“How come you are not taking any pictures today?”, he observed. I did not reply. Instead took out my phone to click a picture of the floral jali of the Sarkhej Roza.

“These type of floral motifs are not commonly used in Muslim art and architecture.” Does the mosque have a story like the Taj Mahal and the mosque in Mandu? I wondered. Was this too originally made by someone else that we are not aware of? Maybe. Maybe not.

I saw burkha clad women all around. The black of the burka covering everything except the face. Unifying them or should I say ‘uniforming’ them? Robbing them of their uniqueness. Hiding them. Maybe confining them? Restricting them? Or did they feel differently. Safe, covered inside the burkha? Guarding themselves from prying eyes. Some of them looked at me. Noticing that I clearly didn’t fit in. Even in a pair of jeans, short kurti and a dupatta to cover my head that I borrowed at the entrance (women must cover their head while entering) I felt exposed.  

The place is beautiful and a must visit for tourists and lovers of history and architecture. It no doubt adds to the history of the city and justifies why Ahmedabad earned the Heritage City label. But, somehow, I couldn’t completely soak in the history and beauty of the architecture. The thought of taking pictures wasn’t on the surface of my mind. My mind was preoccupied with some other thoughts.

At a large courtyard surrounded by pillars all around, a young lad in jeans and a T-shirt, sporting the latest undercut hair coloured blonde at the front told me “You are not allowed here”. When I asked him “Why? Where is it written?”, he went and checked on the board at the entrance which read something on the lines of “women with uncovered head and uncovered legs not allowed”. He left without saying anything else.

Moments before that, as I was about to enter the dargah, I was told, “Ladies not allowed!” I had backed off and busied myself looking at the multi domed ceiling while the men of my house disappeared inside the dargah.

There was a woman selling flowers for those who wanted to make an offering. I asked her, “Aapka ek photo le sakti hu?” She was surprised. Waving her hand, she told me to take pictures of the structure. She wasn’t sure why I wanted to take a picture of her and not the monument we were inside. When I did not move and pointed the camera at her, she gently smiled for the photograph. Her flowers can enter the sacred room and the flowers she touched can touch the mazhar but she cannot enter. Clearly, I found that more beautiful. 

Man enters the world through the womb of a woman and then bans the entry of women to a place of worship. What an irony.
On the way back home, while swiping through the pictures of the Sarkhej Roza a few questions came into my mind. There are so many rules for women. Restrictions. Boundaries. Dictats. Unsaid expectations.

“You are not allowed here!”

“Don’t go out at this time of the night!”

“Come home before dark!”

“Don’t wear that short/tight dress!”

“When will you get married?”

“Your biological clock is ticking. Don’t you want to become a mother?”

The list goes on.

It’s not just the cloth burka that stifles, some burkhas are invisible but heavier still. They are not seen, they can only be felt. Its weight on a woman’s shoulders. Restricting her and stifling her nonetheless.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Planting Memories

I enjoy looking at the few potted plants in my balcony. I water them every morning, look for new buds, smile at the newly blossomed blood red hibiscus flowers, notice the new baby leaves. I observe how the twin creepers of Aparajita are gradually growing and strengthening their hold around the railing. Its bright blue flowers. I sometimes even grind fruit peels and mix it up with the soil.

One morning, while looking at the plants I realized I have subconsciously chosen only those plants which I am familiar with since childhood. A red hibiscus (jaba), a basil (tulsi), Aloe Vera, Curry leaves (kari patta, while is called mitha limbda in Gujarati, although I haven't quite figured out what is mitha (sweet) about it). All the plants I now have were there in our house while I was growing up among a few others which need a little more love and care to blossom. I have chosen ones that are easy to maintain and have medicinal or culinary uses too.

My Guru (Grandmother) had a terrace full of potted plants. Watering and caring for them each day on her own.  She never really liked having a mali (gardener) around even when she was much too old to take care of all the plants on her own. I used to occasionally watch her digging up the soil, tossing in used tea leaves and crushed egg shells into the soil. As she went about her gardening, she spoke about which plants needed more or less water, extra fertilization etc. She expressed surprise about how much water the plant was "drinking" in the summer days, like they were real humans. She even told me about the prohibition on planting too much poppy during the British rule since poppy seeds can be used to make a potent drug (afeem).

She liked to have plants that either had medicinal properties or bore flowers (Roses, Dahliya, Poppy). She took great pride when her roses grew big or had a unique color. We even have a picture of her with her roses in full bloom! If she ever got a cut or a burn from working in the kitchen, she preferred to use Aloe Vera pulp over any of the medicine tubes at home. The hibiscus leaf was a great alternative to shampoo and tulsi leaves were often crushed and used as medicine for me for the common cough and cold that I was very commonly affected with during my childhood years.

At that time I did not know what she was imparting and that I was learning. While she was sowing seeds, nurturing saplings, watering plants maybe even she did not realize that she was also sowing seeds of knowledge, planting stories and memories in a child's mind. It has been over two years that she passed away but I guess she lives on in many such small ways, in the way we celebrate our festivals, the food we eat and even the plants we choose to grow and how we use them.

Sometimes, I look at my children's angelic sleeping faces at the end of a day when they have truly tested my patience ( and sometimes even convert me into a screaming mom-ster), I wonder if I am planting some seeds of knowledge and good memories in their heads. Am I nurturing these saplings the right way? Hopefully!

I guess I would find the answers many years from now...till then, we have two small elephant shaped kiddy watering cans to water my plants with.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Kuch Din to Gujariye Gujarat mein!

It is going to be close to two months since we moved to Ahmedabad but it surely feels like a lot more. It was not easy with kids crying every morning before school, missing old friends, getting small things done around the house, getting used to the new routine, home and neighbourhood. We are still getting there I would say, to still feel like we are 'home'.

In the first month of our stay, we experienced rainfall every single day. It rained in the day, it rained through the night, all afternoon and at times continued endlessly for days at varying speeds. On one occasion, we even had to rush to the kid’s school, wade into knee deep water to get them back home. The week after, the schools remained closed for an entire week!

It made me wonder how much it could rain in one place, when it would finally stop and if the entire country’s monsoon clouds had gathered over Gujarat and to an extent it indeed had and Gujarat was in a state of flood. Parts of northern Gujarat and rural areas were badly affected.

Thankfully, even after torrential rains 80-90% of the roads are still where they were and even on rainy days the area we stay in was not water logged and there were no reports of people being stuck in traffic for hours on end. This was a small miracle compared to what would have happened if Gurgaon/Delhi was to get even a fraction of this rainfall. What was even more amazing is that the first day after the rains stopped, there were people at work repairing main roads that were broken!

 After the first few weeks, I have managed to pick-up a few words in Gujarati, recognise the roads and places nearby (big thanks to Google Maps) and even manged to visit a stepwell (Adalaj Ni Vav) and Baroda, which is just two hours away via the super smooth expressway. During this time I have also come across some nuances of staying in Ahmedabad/Gujarat which might be unique to those coming from outside the state.
  • It is difficult to get a white fridge! Yes, I went to several dealers but it seems there is little or no demand for white fridges. People seem to prefer grey or dark metallic shades. Even a lot of buildings here are grey rather than any other colour. Interestingly, when it comes to cars, white is the most favoured colour. Also, the luxury car of choice here is the grand old Mercedes, rather than the more popular Audi or BMW in comparison to north India.

  •  Driving is slightly different too. Even with traffic signals on, traffic police need to be present in person to make the citizens move in a disciplined fashion. Drivers honk so much that I have come to believe that they are probably given licenses based on their ability to honk rather than drive. I really do hope this changes before my ears drums are permanently damaged. Parking is usually a challenge, with a general aversion to park in basements, even when it is available free of charge. Once you drive on the streets of Ahmedabad, chances are you won’t complain about driving in Delhi/ Gurgaon, which is famous for 'roadrage'. Even on the expressway, people tend to take the emergency lane on the extreme left to overtake rather than from the right. Surely, our Dilliwalas wont have stepped off the accelerator if they had access to such a smooth express way, but here people stick to the speed limit of 100 kms/hr. 

  • Ice-cream everywhere! The frequency and the ease with which you will spot ice-cream parlours (Havmor) is much greater than ATMs and medical stores. There are numerous stores that exclusively sell ice-cream.

  • There are certain unique practices too which are new to me, such as, taking footwear off outside homes, stores and even clinics. Most homes have shoe racks placed outside the entrance and sinks fitted right in the dining room for washing hands.

  • Lastly, there are certain grocery items that I was used to and never could have imagined I would not get at the neighbourhood super market for instance– Nestle Dahi, Ananda paneer, breads from Britannia/English Oven or any of the major brands. But, there are alternatives that quickly take that place and this is the land of Amul, so I have been introduced to a wider range of Amul products than I ever knew existed. Amul even makes cookies...did u know?

I also see influence of neighbouring states, Rajasthan and Maharashtra here, in terms of clothing, buildings, and celebration of festivals, but surely Gujarat does have its own distinct flavour.

I am enjoying the benefits of staying in Ahmedabad. Everything is within a span of 2 to 10 kilometres. There are new places to explore on weekends, I am enjoying cleaner air (let me not talk about the hard water here), driving on emptier roads (since I stay in a newly developed part of the city), listening to Gujarati radio (with Bollywood songs), waking up to the calls of peacocks and chirping of birds. I can even hear the train go by on silent nights. Sighting peacocks, mongooses, langoors and even nilgais around the area is not uncommon.

 I am in the mood to enjoy whatever Gujarat has to offer, culturally, historically, gastronomically, and emotionally. And I would encourage my friends to come visit us. Just like Amitabh Bachchan says, “Kuch din to gujariye Gujarat mein!”

Ladies: The shopping is good too, especially for ethnic wear with plenty of exhibitions to go to.

Here's another post on Ahmedabad that I had written sometime ago.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Goodbye Gurgaon!

It’s 5:29 AM and I am awake. Actually, I have been for the last hour or so since he left for the airport. The same feeling of ‘now you are in-charge’ envelops me. It’s the ‘mode’ I put on whenever hubby is away. I tell myself, you can easily sleep for one more hour, but no, my brain refuses to oblige. (Before I got married, I was determined not to be like my mother, a little too alert and anxious when my father travelled, especially though a teen’s perspective. But, as time passes I see myself gradually becoming more like her.)

It’s too early to get out of bed, the kids are asleep, the house and the world outside is silent. With my eyes closed and body still (like I am still pretending to sleep) my mind begins to wander. I think new thoughts and bring back old memories. Some memories are easy to find, like they are on the top shelf of my bedside drawer, but others are lying in the bottom shelf, hard to retrieve, dusty and takes time and effort to pull out.

I think about the last ten years of our marriage and even the time before that. All the years I have spent in Gurgaon, right from the time I was a school girl and Gurgaon was like a budding city with a few residential buildings and even fewer corporate offices. Where finding snakes and mongooses was a common phenomenon. Schools and hospitals were numbered and the bus journey to my school in Vasant Kunj took 20 minutes. The construction of the highway had not begun and to travel to Delhi using public transport (Haryana Roadways) was an adventure in itself. Sounds unbelievable, no?

I witnessed how it grew from being the real “gaon” to the “global village” that it is turning out to be with world class schools, offices, restaurants, shopping centres, hospitals (not to mention traffic and pollution levels). Similarly, it watched me grow from a school girl in uniform, to college student, to office goer, to married woman, to becoming a mother-of two. I have called Gurgaon home for more than 18 years. Right from passing out of school, college, university, job, marriage and motherhood, this has been my base.

I would not have been thinking about it as I had never in all these years, for I had taken it for granted. Even the thought of living in another city never crossed my mind…till a few weeks ago. Soon, it will be reality. It will be time to pack our bags and move. This is more unbelievable to me than the transformation of Gurgaon. Nowadays, I look at everything through the lens of ‘What am I going to miss?’ and I see a lot around me that I am going to miss very dearly, including a lot of friends and family.

It’s 6:30 AM, hubby has boarded the flight and the kids have begun to stir….

P.S: Hubby is moving to a role in Ahmedabad and we are moving with him. The city is not alien to me having visited the city several times (and blogged about it) since my in-laws stay there. My mother says, “After 10 years of marriage, you are moving to your sasural.” Indeed, I am.