Monday, October 16, 2006

छोड़ आये हम वो गलियां...

Bhopal was so hot in September. A lot of heartache was prevented because it was impossible to step out as all of us were in the grip of flu. I had a reason to not do what I wanted to. I did not meet anyone I wanted to. There is peace in this state. To imagine them to be warm and eager, to dream that memories of me would be as fresh in their mind’s eye and as precious (Blog entry:Beeti hui batiyan koi dohraye, bhoole hue naamon se koi to bulaye…)

2, Shyamala Hills, our home for as long back as I can remember and which we left in the summer of ‘84 lies derelict. The moment we approached the rickety gate, I noticed a long snake stretched from one end to the other. At a tap, it swiftly flew into the waist-length grass. The sound of beings that dwell in the thick and humid undergrowth in jungles was all that could be heard. The house looked unoccupied (unlived?).

The garden of course is only undergrowth now. Difficult to imagine the garden we took so much pride in. The manicured lawns daintily edged with multi-colored dahlias, gerberas in winter and with the fragrant mogra in summer. Winter afternoons spent sunning in the lawn munching on guavas from the several trees around and sugarcane that bordered the south edge of the garden. Summer evenings sipping squash in the cane chairs that dug into the just-watered lawns.

The ber-ka-ped (berry tree). An entire childhood spent on the tree.

At a comfortable fork about 6 feet from the ground was my perch. I read Champak to Jane Eyre there. The fact that this seat was also in line with the dinning room window allowed me to get my food and water without having to come down and kept me in touch with the goings on inside the house, so important when you have three elder sisters!

Neither the moss covered walls nor the unkempt garden saddened me as much as the closed windows. Home was where when I returned after an altercation with a friend or a difficult exam, the sight of mummy’s pink lace curtains billowing out of the downstairs windows conveyed instant comfort. Ours was literally an ‘open house’. People walked in and out unannounced all day. Staff and students from college, our friends and neighbors - anyone. No body was not important enough to have a little chat with - the postman Allaudin, the fruit seller whom we called kelewala (banana seller) in winter and amroodwala (guava seller) in summer, the sweeper Balla ki biwi (Balla’s wife) and the bread and eggs seller, Munne mian.

The house was damp and musty inside. When I opened the door to the terrace a big, dark lizard fell on the mossy, cracking floor. From the lattice at the staircase landing, I could see the mango and the fig trees (first blog entry – Bargad Tree) crowding over the backyard. It felt too dangerous to go there.

Now the questions. Would I have been happier to see it in its lost glory? To see some children up the trees, to smell the aroma of dahi-wada and mutter paneer coming from the kitchen, to see some man typing away furiously at the window upstairs? I would have hated it. I would have grudged them these pleasures. I would have wanted it all back from them. They were mine, ours. But now, they were nobody’s. I think I got a sadistic pleasure from it just being fit for pictures to show around.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Lives of great men …

I’m not done with Gulzar Sa’ab yet. He introduced me to President Kalam recently.

Dr Kalam’s Wings of Fire has adorned my shelves for years. But space scientists and presidents are extraordinary people. I have little to identify with them. But Gulzar Sa’ab had other plans.

One afternoon he started speaking as we drove to town. He recreated Dr Kalam’s life in colors of hope, aspiration, distress, frustration and love for simple things. We cried, we laughed and most importantly we learnt - so much about life that when the CD got over we sat in the dark basement yearning for more and stepped out, I hope, humbler.

But for Gulzar Sa’ab I would never have known Dr Kalam. He would have remained a great man who sadly, could never touch my life. But he did.

The President of the nation became a simple human being, dedicated to his parents and family, attached to his small town and its people, determined to follow his dreams. I felt his pain when he lost his parents and friends and mentors, his longing for the peace of Rameshwaram, I laughed on his comments on the paan-chewing imitations of Wajid Ali Shah in Kanpur and the dog-walking sahibs in Bangalore. But what stood out were his inspirational words, specially the power of positive thinking, and perseverance.

He quotes the words of Swami Shivananda (to Dr Kalam) after his unsuccessful attempt to join the IAF:

Desire, when it stems from the heart and spirit, when it is pure and intense, possesses awesome electromagnetic energy. This energy is released into the ether each night, as the mind falls into sleep state. Each morning it returns to the conscious state reinforced with the cosmic currents. That which has been imagined will surely and certainly be manifested...

Accept your destiny and go ahead with your life…. What you are destined to become is not revealed now but it is predetermined. Forget this failure as it is essential to lead you to your destined path. Search, instead, for the true purpose of your existence. Become one with yourself, my son! Surrender yourself to the wish of God.

The Hindustani version is called Parwaaz and comes with an audio CD, compellingly rendered by Gulzar Sa’ab.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

बीती हुई बतियाँ कोई दोहराए, भूले हुए नामों से कोई तो बुलाए...

Is it age? Looking back, seeking comfort in memories? Must be. When my married sisters came home they sought friends and teachers from school and college, lapping up the telephone directories and growing ecstatic when a chance meeting with some long lost classmate’s (who they never spoke with in school) parent took place in New Market. I had problems keeping my current friends. I ducked and hid if I saw a best-friend-in-school at the railway station and avoided alumni meets like chikungunya.

Now increasing, I’m looking back. Seeking friends. Sitting here I plan. This time when I go back home, I must do the following:

Meet Prof. Zamiruddin and Prof R P Saxena as I’ve planned in several past visits.

Meet Samina Ali’s parents. My college friend, she sang on my mehendi, got me a Bhopali jooda, the frock-style kurti and churidaar with a six-meter dupatta. She’s a Doordarshan newsreader and RJ.

Go past the Irani hotel with its dark mint walls and the front lined with glass jars full of rusks. The owner – a burly, bearded, handsome Pathan was my first crush :)

Then past Ms Nahid’s house, which remained the ultimate mystery of my school years. Just across the road from the Irani hotel (on Ibrahimpura road), is this huge pale yellow wall. A flight of stairs leads half way up into it and turns into a gray wooden door with a big chain latch. That’s all. Ms Nahid used to take the bus ahead of us and by the time our bus crossed her stop, she’d be at the door. In a second, she’d disappear. What lies behind that wall? I spent years in wonderment. This time I will 
get you a picture.

I will visit my alma mater, St Joseph’s, Idgah Hills. And perhaps show my daughter around. The stones that lined the playground where we sat eating from our tiffin boxes - the lid closed so as not to tempt the eagles that flew above and almost daily scooped someones sandwich or paratha away. 
The classrooms. Where Ms Burns smacked me for putting the glue on the wrong side of a craft work - a blue paper basket; Sr Antoinette read out my answers to the class as my face burned but heart glowed with pride; Ms Ghoshal taught History with the loud rhetoric, ‘yes or yes?’; Where Shilpa Agarwal threw love notes at me.  The corridors where Poonam Singh came running to eat halwa from my tiffin, the canteen that sold hot atta samosas, bhelpuri (murmura with runny imli chutney - just!) and orange candy...

Show my daughter the statue at Kamla Park. She has heard the story a thousand times. When I complained of Hari Moorty, the burly Malayali in my class who hit me regularly, Papa to soothe me would point at the statue and said, ‘I will make Hari Moorty, kali moorty (literally the green statue, black) and in ultimate childhood bliss, I imagined Hari Moorty standing there in the middle of Kamala Park with a pitcher on head, water flowing from it in the evenings. And of course, the pigeons decorating his fine form. He owns the Little Coffee House in New Market now. On my sister’s reco, I might also decide to show my daughter the spot next to the statue in Kamla Park where the Naga baba used to present himself sometimes as we shyly averted our eyes at the slighest sight of him from the school bus.

Perhaps go to Shilpa Agarwal’s beautiful, white, slanting-roofed house, which sports her kid brother’s nameplate now. Some years ago, in the darkness of night I went and sat outside looking at the first-floor window where we used to sit on the ledge and share the heartaches of growing up.

On second thoughts, I’ll give it all a miss. The fear of being confronted with change that will shatter the beautiful past I live in, is worse than any other. Places change, people change. How after meeting them will I be able to save my memories from being clouded over by the blemished present? What if the ber ka ped from which swung all the hopes and desires of my 9-year-old heart is not there? What if a stranger's face questions? Asks who?
I think I’ll visit the galis of Chowk and old Bhopal instead and buy shiny brocade, bead purses and tea-cozies (that no one has use of now).

This is Shilpa's house. I took the picture much later on another visit.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

सिर्फ एहसास हैं ये, रूह से महसूस करो...

Look, the sky has flown from my head, its ends have been freed from the earth!

Such a beautiful image! I can almost see two ends of the sky like a huge blue sheet clipped to the earth somewhere on the horizon, suddenly released and floating free above. The words sum up happiness in delightful picturesque ness.

dekhna mere sar se aasmaan ud gaya hai...
dekhna aasmaan ke sire khul gaye hai zamen se...

It reminds me of another of my favorite Gulzar songs, O dil banjaare, khol dorian, sab khol de. O wandering heart, undo all the ties.

One of my friends tells me that I don’t understand music, because all I listen to is lyrics. And I should buy books rather than music CDs. Gulzar sa’ab’s beautiful poetry, set to music communes with my heart. For the while I’m listening, the words cocoon me blissfully and transport me to places in the mind where there is solace, serenity and calm.

We enjoy and hum these songs so often without pondering over their words. Remember Hawaon pe likh do hawaon ke naam, hum anjaan pardesiyon ka salaam (Do Dooni Char)? Just pause to run through the words and such playful images of nature will emerge that you’ll be surprised how you’ve hummed it all life without seeing those.

shaakh par jab dhoop aaye, haath choone ke liye
chaanw chham se neeche koodee, has ke bolee aaeeye
yahaa subah se khelaa karatee hain shaam

When the sunlight tried to touch the branch, the shadow jumped down with a ‘cham’ (only Hindustani can capture the sound - perhaps a payal), and grunted playfully. The dusk plays with the dawn here.

No more translations, I’m no good. August 18 was Gulzar Sa’ab’s birthday. I have no clever words to say about his poetry, his simple and beautiful persona and the tremendous strength his support lends to
Arushi, a Bhopal-based NGO. All I can do is remind you of some of his beautiful lyrics.

Ganga aaye kahan se, Ganga jaaye kahan re... (Kabuliwala)
Humko man ki shakti dena, man vijay karen, dooseron ki jai ke pahle khud ki jai karein... (Guddi)
Jab bhi ye dil udaas hota hai jaane kaun aas-paas hota hai (Seema)
Hamne dekhi hai in aankhon ki mehkati khushboo, haath se cho ke inhe rishton ka ilzam na do (Khamoshi)
Beeti na bitaee raina, birha ki jaaye raina (Parichay)
Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne
Naa jiya laage na, tere bina mera kahin... (Anand)
Ruke ruke se kadam
Dil dhoondhta hai phir wohi (Mausam)
Is mod se jaate hain
Tum aagaye ho, noor aa gaya hai
Tere bina zindagi se koi (Aandhi)
Tujhse naaraaz nahin zindagi, harain hoon mein
Do naina ek kahani thoda sa baadal, thoda sa paani (Masoom)
Mera kuchh saamaan tumhare paas pada hai

Katra Katra milte hai, katra, katra jeene do, zindagi hai
Khali haath shaam aayee hai, khali haat jayegi
Chhoti si kahani mein, baarishon ke paani mein (Izazzat)
Khud se baaten karte rehna
Mere sirhaane jalaao sapne (Maya Memsaab)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Blowing out candles

Doesn’t the heading itself convey some gloom? Lighting of the lamp is now a part of every event. We light lamps on Diwali and during most religious ceremonies. Light is associated with heat, the sun, the divine. It dispels darkness, ignorance and hatred. Nowadays candles are lit to mark every occasion – indiscriminately – rallies, protests, somber incidents like remembrances and anniversaries of natural calamities or war. So whether the occasion is happy or sad – we light a lamp or a candle.

So how come we blow the candles off our birthday cakes? One of the beliefs is that our wishes go heavenward with the smoke. I am all for charming childhood fantasies but this one could be better. Smoke? What goes up in smoke? Lungs? Life? Savings?

I began thinking about this after reading
this article. And while on the subject, I loved this short story.

So if you really think, candles are not meant for blowing – birthday or no birthday. We gave up this practice at home and now it feels really wonderful to leave the candles lighted - we have the larger ones around – the warmth, the luminescence is almost spiritual. What better atmosphere to create on a birthday?

Mother who grew up at Sevagram in Vardha, tells of how Gandhiji disapproved of unnecessary lighting of lamps as he believed that that oil could have been used by a poor family to cook an entire meal. Telling myself that food cannot possibly be cooked on a candle flame, I use them guiltlessly.

Monday, July 24, 2006

इतनी कुर्बत हैं तो फिर फासला इतना क्यों है?

1980. Chotu, my 3-year-old nephew asked me, "Is Vandu masi a musalmaan? She keeps repeating ‘Allah mian'." My sister was studying in a girls’ college in a predominantly Muslim locality. She would tell us how some Muslim girls came to college in burkas and once inside the college gates go quickly behind a tree to remove it and emerge in jeans and even miniskirts.

When Chotu joined school, he came back home one day all excited because there was a 'Saif Ali' in his class too. All these years he had thought I was Saif Ali!!

Bachpan ki Eid

These instances apart, twenty-five years of growing up in Bhopal taught me nothing about Hindu-Muslim differences like the years of living outside it have. Things that seemed so commonplace then, now emerge with special relevance.

That everyone preferred to call me ‘Sultana’ because I was born in the Sultania hospital. That the sepia-colored memories that lie in a tattered album at home show me in shararas stitched by Khan auntie, my godmother. And though she moved to Aligarh three decades ago, we still talked of her rumali rotis and the fine mulmul kurtas she stitched for Papa, as if it were yesterday. That Ayesha Khan, the burly Pathan with feisty sisters - Amina and Nagina - was one of my closest friends since kindergarten as was the very feminine Sameena Ali in college. That Eid was celebrated with Chacha’s big family of daughters, sons, and grandchildren. The college bus driver, Chacha was the only Muslim living on the campus and not visiting his home for sevian and dahi-wadas on Eid was unthinkable.
That on the first day of my Urdu class in college, Akhlaq Asar sa'ab, the Urdu Professor, taught the first letters - ‘Ra’ and ‘m’ - ‘Ram’, and the constant complaint of the Sanskrit teacher, Ms Neelam in school was that while Nikhat Saba excelled in Sanskrit, I trailed. Prof Zamiruddin helped kindle my lifelong passion for Frost’s poetry (my Frost site). That my daughter, who had to be delivered through the caesarian section, was on common consent that it was an auspicious day, brought into the world on Eid. I still preserve the little scrap of paper on which Papa noted the time as he heard her first cry and scribbled under it ‘Mohammed’ ‘Shakila’. 

Now in Bangalore, I find instant affinity with the Muslim shopkeepers and autowallas, when, the moment I speak, they ask me where I am from for my zubaan is so much like theirs.

When Holi came with its hearty, all-encompassing spirit that never pauses to think before it pulls someone into its fold, when all differences vanish among the merry crowds drenched in colour, we decided to have a Holi Milan at work. My spirits dampened when the moment they heard about it, the only two Muslim colleagues announced that they’d leave early. Out came the demons of the past. Looking forward to a Holi back then, in college, I was appalled when a Muslim classmate remarked that she was told that if the gulal as much as touches her, her skin would burn. But the warmth of Holi returned when I discovered that it was only a teaser and at the end of the day Rehman, Imran and I were the only people drenched unrecognizable in colour.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dilli ki Baarish

Monsoon!! I’ve never had to wait for it here in Bangalore the way I did in Delhi. July, August, September…and no respite from the heat. The little rain that fell did nothing to cool anything - weather or tempers. It only made it sultrier and more unbearable. Every morning I'd get up and walk straight into the balcony only to see some scattered dark clouds with no promise of rain. Boys playing football, school children dragging their bags and unwilling feet to school, joggers in various stages of dress and undress and Mathur Uncle in the flat downstairs complaining for the umpteenth time that 'Hamare Allahabad mein toh the newspaper never came so late' - and all hoping that it must rain today.

I’d sit back and remember the rains back in Bhopal, where I grew up. It used to rain and rain for days at a stretch and when it cleared, the sunlight was mild and soothing. From our home atop Shymla Hills, I could see silver streams of rainwater zigzagging down all its sides. Wild, white spider lilies bloomed everywhere and in the afternoons we went in search of mushrooms (then, toadstools now).

Fancies too would run wild. Mud castles were built beside puddles that served as moats and had cardboard drawbridges supported by pyjama drawstrings. Colorful flowers with their faces turned downward, floating on water, would be fairies swimming in pools. And thus were woven many a tale of romance and intrigue. When the daring spirits beckoned, we’d cycle through roadside puddles and splash ourselves with slush.

Then, there were the 'rainy days’. Yes, when it rained too much, (how much exactly, we could never figure out - perhaps it depended on the whim of the school authorities) it was declared a ‘rainy day holiday’. We would be waiting at our bus stop, the water running over our raincoats into our socks and shoes. When we thought we’d waited long enough, one of the us would go and call up the school and be told in a stern voice, ‘It's a rainy day holiday’. We knew from experience that almost always on such rainy days, the sky would soon clear up and it would be time for a picnic. We’d save our lunch-boxes for that.

One such morning, Vyas Uncle, waiting with us at the bus-stop exclaimed, 'It’s raining cats and dogs!’ It was a new expression for me. He went on to tell me that a slight drizzle could be expressed as, ‘raining bulls and buffaloes’. His sense of humor came to light only when I used the expression in Sister Antoinette’s English class that afternoon.

One day in Delhi, dining with my sister’s family, my brother-in-law and I were called upon to finish some pulao between us. As he unloaded a couple of spoonfuls on my plate, I covering it with my hand pleaded, ‘Bus, bus’, (that’s enough). He insisted, ‘Array abhi kahan, abhi to Dilli ki baarish ki tarahan girain hain’.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A tribute to Papa on Father’s Day

I just have to close my eyes…

Papa visiting KG II ‘D’. Mrs Lewis, my class teacher had been his student. She scurried  about anxiously telling the class to greet him with the sing-song 'Good Morning Sir, God bless you' and this and that. All the teachers in my school had immense respect for him and in class X Mrs Paul, the staid disciplinarain, asked if he was my father and smiled!! saying 'he's such a thorough gentleman :) I always felt so proud of him. But I also felt annoyed because he could never remember my class. He’d sit in Sr Lorraine’s office and after this and that, ask her casually which class I was in. And Grewal Uncle, his colleague and our close family friend even sent me picture postcards from Japan at my school address – class, section and all.

Papa smiling at me from the audience as I sang the Sound of Silence on school stage. There were 40 others :) but I was a Soprano! it seemed to please him a lot.

Papa making potato-chops in the evenings – the aroma of fresh coriander, perfectly done cutlets (never calling it tikki) with just the right amount of pepper and salt. Cooking was a major activity in our home – thanks to his love for food and the bunches of people he invited over. Once Mummy was away and I asked him what to make for dinner. The reply was ‘dum aloo’ (when my dal-chawal came out editable on lucky days) !!. To him, the test of a great cook seemed to rest on their ability to cook stuffed tomatoes. I passed!!

Papa relaxing on the sofa on his return from a trip abroad. The whole family would be summoned. If someone was late, we waited. Then he began, so I boarded the plane - from the take-off to touchdown every experience was recounted. We loved every bit. He got to travel much and would come back with a whole new world for us. We asked him for every conceivable thing from lipsticks to dolls, to cassette players and even socks. I first heard in the ‘70s my favorite band Air Supply on cassettes he’d recorded in Japan.

Papa looking at the solar eclipse through eye-wear he had created. He was against superstition and godmen. He said people who do not want to take responsibility for their actions/decisions go to swamis and gurus. If Mummy said it was not a good day to look at the sun – he would make it a point to do just that. He did not worship any gods believing only in his karma. But on Diwali, Shivratri and Janmashtmi he would perform the elaborate puja with all the rituals. It was more for us kids to imbibe tradition.

Sitting beside him in Ravindra Bhawan watching the diamond on Begum Akhtar's nose flash and wink as she adjusted the pallu over her head and rendered in her honey-drenched voice ‘ay mohabbat tere anjaam pe rona aaya…’. As children we seldom missed out on a classical performance and saw many celebrities perform – it didn’t matter if I understood anything. Enough it was to be there (and to keep still).

His angry, ‘Get out immediately’. Turning away visitors from the door – friends, acquaintances even relatives. Those who touched his feet or came with mithai – to get their marks increased. They were the only people not welcome in our house. Others who came seeking peace from their deranged minds, homeless or lonely were comforted and fed. For hours he patiently listened to them – read their writings and counseled them. Young men preparing for UPSC exams came for guidance and he gave them books and reading material that was most often not returned.

Never slowing down, never. Either away at work or busy with visitors at home. I don’t remember spending time with him much. But I will always remember and cherish what he gave me – the freedom to be me – the freedom to choose my subjects at school, my first job as a sub-editor ( he had hoped I would choose teaching), to drop my Ph D midway to pursue other trivial interests, the list is endless. Gradually, I learnt that if I did not get an answer from him on a specific problem it was because he believed that he never needed to guide us explicitly – to tell us what to do. He was sure of the upbringing that Mummy and he had given us and trusted us to make informed decisions ourselves.

Always the guide. When I took up the cause of rash driving of Red Line buses in Delhi, and others looked the other way, I felt unsure of myself. I called him and he asked me to carry on, ‘Do whatever you think is right. Why are you afraid to go to court? If anything, you’ll see how it all works.’

Always the teacher. When I was in college, on our daily walks, he talked about painters and artists, poets and philosophers. His erudition annoyed me at times. When I was going to Sanchi for a college tour, he sat through the previous evening, explaining the intricacies of the sculptures – what to look for and even explaining the Sanskrit engravings. His knowledge made me feel inadequate. I never showed him my writings. But when I realized that time was slipping away – I shared some and just before he went into hospital, he read my story, Maya, which he seemed to like.

He had several names for me – Sheffuddin is my favorite.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mango Jelly?

‘Mango jelly, mango jelly’, the child at the store was insisting, wrestling his mother’s arm. I had just bought some sweet-smelling mangoes and thinking mango jelly would go fab with it, I reached out for a pack. Lo! inside the packet lay a slab of golden yellow - paper slim layers of guess what – sticky aam papad! My mouth filled with its sweet-sour taste as the mind delved into its inner recesses to bring forth sweet-sour memories.

Those naughty afternoons when Mother went off to sleep giving us strict instructions to not make noise, to not step out and to not eat any more. But bored with the fights over Chandamama and Ludo, we hadn’t much to do besides raiding the fridge and the jaali ki almari that had all the home-made treats - besan ladoos, namkeens, matthis and shakker-paras. One greedy afternoon, my sister and I stole and finished a packet of aam papad – nearly finished – but then we thought that if we left nothing maybe it wouldn’t be missed at all. We were right.

A couple of days later, Sis proudly claimed she could make aam papad. I challanged not because I disbelieved her but because of my craving for aam papad. She took out a mango from the fridge after close examination. Leisurely, she went on to wash and dry it. She rolled it between her palms till its insides became a smooth pulp. Then pressing around its eye, just a little, she discarded the first white fluid – which mum said causes acne. She took enough time to create that air of mystery that experts have which frustrates you but keeps you still and quiet lest you disrupt a great creation. With flourish, she squeezed out the thick pulp on a hot griddle. What happened next the mind chose not to remember – maybe the swishing of the griddle woke Mother up. The aam papad sure did land in the garbage bin for I don’t remember having eaten any home made ones, ever.

Another time, I accompanied Mother and Bua, my aunt to the supermarket. Bua was not keeping well and could not climb the stairs so I was left with her as Mother went off to the floors above. I was discreetly told to keep an eye on Bua who was a diabetic and could not keep her hands off sweets. As soon as Mother disappeared, Bua dear disappeared. Before I could panic, she reappeared with a thick slice of aam papad. She tore off a small – a really tiny bit - and thrust it in my palm and hurriedly finished the entire pack herself. I made sure everyone came to know of it.

Mango jelly can never capture the essence of aam papad. It can never bring back such vivid childhood memories nor reveal your fondness for people lost to you. It’s dreadful to call aam papad, mango jelly.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Bargad Tree

Sitting under the sweeping Bargad tree, I looked up at the little red round fruit hanging from its branches. Tempting these might seem to others, but I’ve tasted the fruit as a kid and know that the outer shell is sour and the inside full of poppy like seeds and fuzz. But it brings back memories of a particular day when mother would worship the banyan tree. It was called ‘Bargadahi’ and the offerings consisted of sweet puris and gulgulas – made of jaggery and flour that looked just like the bargad fruit, only so delicious that whole thalifulls disappeared in minutes.

For years, a distant cousin of mother would get her a branch of the banyan tree on Bargadahi and she would perform her puja. If he got late in sending it, mother would scold him lightly and he would proceed to tell his tale of difficulties. It was recounted to each member of the family.

It so happened that one Bargadahi neither Mamaji turned up nor was the branch sent. Mother was piqued but wouldn’t say so. She instructed Bai, the maid, to get a branch from somewhere and went on to do her puja.

A few months later, Mamaji arrived for rakhi. Mother was still sour and at the appropriate moment commented how little ‘Diddi’ mattered to him as he did not even remember her on Bargadahi and how she had to wait till it was almost noon and then send the servant to get a branch and how her puja and everything else got delayed because of it. Mamaji was aghast. He took us out and pointing to her potted Rubber plant said he thought mother had a bargad growing right there in the porch. The whole afternoon was spent in hearing his defense.

Mother rushes to conclusions easily. She decided that it was pointless to depend on Mamaji or for that matter, on anyone and so a banyan sapling was bought and planted just outside the backyard. From then on, every year on Bargadahi, the tree wore a festive look with roli (vermillion) smeared on it and moli (the red thread) tied around its trunk. A small diya also stayed lit a few hours after the puja.

Now, visiting the house 20 years later, I walked around to the backyard as the house was locked and saw the sprawling bargad majestically standing, its aerial roots touching the ground. Wonder if anyone still remembers to worship it on Bargadahi? Do kids still wait for the puja to get over to pounce upon gulgulas?