The nursery is dark. Again.

We’ve left the Brat and Bean with my parents every year for a week or two while the OA and I take off on our own for a bit, after they turned one. Just to live it up, so to speak. Auli, Goa, Manali, Turkey, the US, we did it all without the kids. Of course we do lots of holidays with them through the year but that one couple holiday a year has been sacred. Not because they’re not rock solid, awesome travelers, but because once in a while the OA and I love being able to look into each other’s eyes meaningfully without someone going – “What happened? Has she got an eyelash in her eye? Why are you holding his hand? Can’t he walk by himself? Will she get lost? Arre, why’re you kissing him? You can kiss me instead.”

Except for last year when we felt a pang of guilt and ended up taking them to Bangkok with us. This changed everything. We now find we can’t take any holidays without them because the guilt just runs us through like a sword and we don’t enjoy the freedom.

We’ll be off on our annual long holiday soon and we’re taking the kids with us. But the kids had other ideas. They wanted to go spend time with the oldies in the small town. But how, when, why, I protest. There’s holiday homework to be done and swimming to do and plays to be caught…

We’ll go stay with the grandparents, they insist. You go anywhere you want, Bangkok, Madras, whatever you want.

Very nice. Nice to be thrown over for a couple of old farts. Nice for our big city pleasures to be rejected for the joys of playing with the dogs and spending time in the big old house, going from grandparent to grandparent. I was particularly reluctant this time because Chhote Nana and my mum both have broken legs and the kids are used to very active young grandparents. Chhote Nana was 40 when the Brat was born, for chrissake!  The kids called the oldies and demanded that they invite them and of course the OA and I were steamrollered once that got out.

I was a little misty-eyed at their excitement to go home. My parents’ home, that is. Every year I worry that they’ll get a little too big city. A little too stuck up for the pleasures of fish ponds and mango trees. Of walking dogs and drives into a little local market that has a queue at its one and only McDonald’s outlet. Of old people who are up with the lark and out before the nightingale makes her appearance.

It’s not happened yet. If anything, the Brat (bless his soul) gets more attached to his grandparents every year and sobs when he leaves them – something he doesn’t do when we leave him there. He is upset for days after we bring him back to Delhi and we spend a lot of time and energy cheering him up and getting him back into the swing of things. The Bean on the other hand is usually happy to bloom where she’s planted. Happy with us, happy with them, happy to be back. Except for this year. She’s slowly growing into the daughter I’ve always dreamed of, almost a friend, helping me around the house, sticking by my side, fighting with the OA over me – all this when she’s not busy fighting with me! We’re the worst of enemies and the best of friends and she’s missing me terribly this time. She wants to be there and enjoy the grandparents, but she wants me too. Obviously I can’t be on leave endlessly and working from there is just too distracting and crazy so I avoid it unless necessary.

The granders of course have bent backwards to entertain them, more so because they have broken legs and don’t want that to spoil the kids’ fun. My dad and Chhoti Nani have made up for the other two damaged oldies and taken them all over the place, evening jaunts, history walks, planting saplings, doing homework, going swimming and what not. Much more than the OA and I would have done on weekdays for sure.

To the extent that a few nights ago we were out to catch a play with the SRE and Dipali and the OA mentioned to them that he thinks my parents are the best kind of grandparents because they’re so involved and so much fun. Made me all lump-in-the-throaty because I was trying to be dismissive of their efforts and referring to them as idiots (yes, I’m a polite, well brought up daughter) and here was the son in law, ignoring his trying-too-hard-to-be-cool wife and honestly appreciating what his in-laws were doing. I have to admit that there are times I wish my parents were the old retired sort who trailed us around the country raising our kids while the OA and I raced ahead on our respective career paths. And then I feel a pang of guilt for wishing that on them. And myself. Our kids are ours to raise and its nice for them to get a holiday once in a while and then let the grandparents get back to having a life of their own.

The OA and I have spent the last 3 weeks behaving like teens so I have to admit that this life of your own business is rather underrated. Sleeping late, eating at odd hours, spur of the moment plans, cussing out idiotic drivers on the roads is all rather easy to get addicted to and thoroughly enjoyable. But by mid second week I heard that the OA was calling and speaking to the kids each morning on his way to work and I was all set to jump into the train and bring them back unreserved if I had to.

But we’ve held our horses and we have just a few more days to go. Until then, you can read some old posts on the brat breaks we’ve taken. My favourite post on this topic was called The Nursery is Dark. I’ve combed my archives but just can’t find it. :(

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/and-while-we-get-our-act-together/

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/baharon-phool-barsao/

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/going-bananas/

Rage.

I’m hopping out of the car and rushing across the street to the ATM. A motorbike whooshes too close and I jump back, only to realise it was deliberate. He’s singing a love song and leering, turning back and singing to me. Me. Does he know I have two little children sitting in the car behind me, one waiting to have his injured head tended to? Does he realise I have a full day and a full life that he is thrusting himself into, uninvited, and upsetting?

I can’t chase him with my bad knee so I smile and beckon to him with one finger, seductively. He’s shocked. It’s broad daylight and this woman is responding to him in a busy, conservative area of town. He slows down and slowly turns the bike around, unable to believe his luck. I’m waiting for him to get closer – I can’t believe my luck either.

And then, because I’ve never done this before, the mask slips and he sees the rage in my eyes. The bike sways as he frantically jams brakes, turns around and drives away. I drop all pretence and yell – Come back. Come closer and sing to me if you have the guts, you asshole. All I have to fight with is a wallet in my hand and a heart burning with rage. Such impotence is frustrating. He only sang a song and leered, but I’m tired of this crap.

To him, and maybe to others, it was just a man singing at me. But I am 35, I have two kids, I thought I was way past the stage where I would have ruffians on the road serenading me. At another time I might have been less outraged but I had a terrified child in the car, my heart was in my mouth as we headed to have his stitches removed (ah, yes, the Brat hurt his head on a train journey –  stitches were taken out today). My mind was with him. I didn’t have the mindspace to deal with this intrusion. I had a right to only focus on my terrified son at that moment. I’m tired of this being considered ‘merely’ eve teasing because it ruins the entire day for me.

Hopefully he’ll think twice before he sings to some unsuspecting old woman next time. And hopefully the next time I’ll get close enough to grab him by the collar, punch him in the face – and if I find the rage and the strength, kill the bastard.

They’re talking of the growing rage among men, more violent assaults, more violent rapes. Well, there’s a growing rage among women too and I for one, am so ready to unleash it. God help the next man that messes with me.

35

So my 35th came in (25.09) without the bang I’d hoped for. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t post about it as I usually do.

You read in the papers about this family that was going for a funeral or a wedding and  everyone was together and they crashed up and you say – damn… all of them injured? How tragic. *shudder*
Yes, well, that was our family. A tragedy to crown a tragedy.

We had a death in the family on the 31st of August and those who could, set out for the funeral immediately. A car carrying 8 family members crashed up – and 5 ended up in hospital with serious injuries. Little cousin J, my baby, the one I still hold in my arms and rock even though she is 20, was the one who pushed open a door, crawled out, and hailed truck drivers on the highway to help them turn the car around and get the rest of the family out. The Scorpio, if you see the pictures, looks like scrap metal. Truck drivers tore it open to inexpertly pull out some of the people who were crushed into it and caused a lot more damage to their limbs. They then rushed them to a small road side dispensary. Calls were made. Cousin J called me first and all I could hear was her sobbing, while others in the background screamed in terror and in pain. It was almost like being thrown on to the sets of a rather scary film. I kept asking, What’s wrong, baby? And she couldn’t explain, just kept crying, ‘accident, accident.’ I didn’t know where they were or what I could do to help. I quickly made the rest of the calls to my parents, to family friends, others who were close enough to help. I joined within the day, leaving the kids with the OA.

I’ve spent the last month in and out of various cities and it’s not been easy. We’ve all had a sick kid, sick parent, ailing elderly members – but having five family members in hospital is not easy. Nursing them in a strange city? A nightmare.They were all in different rooms, had different needs and now I am an expert at sponging, feeding and so on. With just three caregivers we were stretched beyond belief and sleepless, tired and worried.  All the patients had different needs, and were soon split up across 3 specialty hospitals. We went mad keeping track of them but it was worth it to get them the best treatment.

We had to stay in a hotel right by the hospital, often got back too late to get a meal, skipped meals by the dozen, survived days on roadside tea and buns because no homecooked food was to be had, slept on the floor outside the ICU, ran up astronomical hotel and phone bills, called everyone on earth to get doctor recommendations, had to buy essentials like clothes and underwear, and pillows (silly things, but things you don’t realise until you are in that position) and just kept going. Tambi flew down from the US immediately and my Uncle (Chhote Nana) took one look at him and said – Am I so seriously ill that you flew him down to say his final goodbye? No, he was not on his way out. But that’s what a lifetime of love and goodwill gets you. Your entire family around you in a moment of crisis.

Getting blood, has my God, been a nightmare (and all our friends abroad were shocked that hospitals don’t organise this). We’ve always been blood donors, which is why we took it for granted that there’d always be enough blood if you needed it. But there wasn’t at first. We mobilised blood donation on a war footing. Calling friends, who called other friends, who called other friends and found us blood in Lucknow. A miracle. A blessing. True friends. At one point I was flopped on the hospital floor, my knees aching from the stairs, when I looked up and realised that every single person in the blood bank right then, was there to give blood for my uncle – and not a single one of them was a familiar face. Forty or so strangers, all giving something as precious as blood.

I learnt something that day, that wasn’t a part of my culture – I learnt to fold my hands and say thank you. I saw my mother fall at the doctor’s feet when he came out of the OT and said that my Uncle was alive and breathing. Another thing that is not part of our culture, but comes so naturally when someone gives you back a piece of your life.

This is also that time when you realise, you are THAT generation, the one whose time has come to step up to the plate.  There is no one else to come here and handle it. The younger ones are too young, the older ones, too old. You are the one that needs to care for your children, and also tell your father that it isn’t his place to stand outside the OT and wait. To go back to the hotel and rest and that you will call him and your mother after the surgery. To tell them to put their feet in your lap and give them a foot rub after a day of standing in various queues. I also learned that you don’t have to give birth to someone to feel a fierce love, to want to protect them with every fibre.

We have a neat little divide in our family where everyone openly picks a favourite. My dad’s pet is Cousin J and after the accident, she pulled him into her hospital bed, broken arm and all and slept curled up against her beloved Uncle. Cousin K is my mother’s precious brat – and through the last month, she has been his strength as he is the only one unharmed in the family of four. My aunt, chhoti nani, thinks the sun rises and sets with my brother, Tambi and when he walked into her room, jetlagged and tired, she took one look at him and pain disappeared for a while. I am my uncle’s pet – with my sharp tongue and ready smile and impetuous nature, I’m everything he likes in a person. And so it was that I fell naturally into the role of caregiver for him while others organised blood, hotels, medicines, ambulances, organised our homes over the phone and fought the endless battle over insurance.

As I wiped my uncle’s mouth after a sip of  water, pressed his forehead until he fell asleep, I realised there was no way I could ever do for him what he did for me when I was a child. Everyone gets their turn to repay family debt – you just don’t get to do enough. Who is he to you, the nurses ask, because at 47 he doesn’t look much older than I probably did at that time, careworn, sleep deprived and unwashed. I looked old enough to be a wife, too old to be a daughter. I’m his niece, I’d say and they’d frown, unsure of why a niece should be so frazzled and devoted. They believed it on the days I went wearing jeans. On salwar kameez days they looked doubtful. People are uncomfortable if they’re unable to slot you. And with our varying age gaps, early marriages, early kids, its hard to put us together for a family photograph and be able to identify who the couples are and which kids belong to them. After being asked how I was related to my uncle, for the nth time, my tired retort was – He’s everything. Everything to me. Uncle, father, brother, son. As you can imagine, that answer didn’t go down too well. We’re a convoluted, complicated family and I’m unable to decipher today, what a niece’s love is meant to feel like. I just feel what I feel.

We’ve finally shifted the patients back to our hometown and I’ve had to have the kids miss school – it’s interesting how many people are so shocked that the kids are MISSING SCHOOL. I have to keep reminding people that the kids are in Class 1 and 3, not taking entrances to medical college. That a seriously injured family is a little more important than missed sessions in the sandpit. That this is an early lesson in what it means to be family. They are hanging around with me at my parents’ place while we care for all our patients. It’s been a good experience for them too, to learn consideration, to have a meal delayed, to get no attention, to fetch and carry, to know pain and sorrow up close and to be strengthened by it, to know a missing limb and not be repulsed by it. They’re doing fairly well, my little stalwarts, bringing cheer and happiness and occasionally getting away with too much TV.

Most of our other patients are healing well, but my Uncle got the worst of it and will need many more surgeries and many months before he walks again.

If I had to pick out the worst moment, it would be the one where we shifted him from one hospital to another in an ambulance that had no air conditioning. To begin with, it couldn’t leave the parking lot because of the number of vehicles parked in front of it. Cousin K sat holding his father on to the bed and I sat holding his hand and stroking the sweat off his head – unable to do much more than beg for them to start moving. At some point my parents, Cousin K, all hopped out and began to scream at people to move their bloody bikes and cycles out of the way and the frustration was palpable. As we drove down the streets of Lucknow, the siren blaring, people chatted on phones and with loved ones on the seat beside them, callously and stubbornly refusing to move out of the way. All the while my uncle was losing his life, and we were talking to him to keep him awake, conscious, alive. My parents drove along the side, my dad and mum sticking their heads out and screaming at people to move. At some point Cousin K and I dropped uncle’s hands and leaned out of the ambulance, pleading, begging, abusing people and asking them to move out of the damn way. The ambulance driver nodded casually and said – If this were a heart patient, he’d be dead by now.  Right. Good to know.

But perhaps the best lesson I learnt in all this is to be a better friend. I’ve always been the one who felt awkward to call in friends in illness and death. I’ve wanted to help but not known how. I’ve said – Let me know if I can help, and then wondered why no help was demanded. Well, I’ve learnt how to offer help now. By not offering, just doing.

A friend collected and gave me her air miles since I’m travelling back and forth. Now this is a blessing when time is of essence and trains not available and travel plenty. Another just came and stayed with the kids at our place on a day the OA had a meeting post their school hours and needed to leave them. She figured they’d be most comfortable in their own environment when their mother was away. A third picked them up straight from school and kept them at her place until the OA got back from another meeting on yet another day. A lot of others offered to keep the kids but needed the OA to drop and pick them – something that made no sense in a city as big as Delhi. Someone else offered to bring in dinner to my uncle every evening. This helps even now on days that there is no cook and we’re all madly rushing round. Another just comes and sits for 2 hours each evening so that all caregivers can go home and bathe, rest, just do whatever else constitutes their life and is on hold. A friend who is in the army got us a whole lot of jawans to donate blood. Another found out rates of helicopters to fly back our patients. We didn’t use it, but it was amazing to see how their brains were working overtime to help us. Yet another called a friend to call his brother who is a senior police official in the area and see if strings could be pulled in anyway. We didn’t need it, but the thought counted. Yet another bought a new bed pan (ha!) because they said the hospital ones have been used by so many people. I could go on. Someone else brought disposable glasses and plates for the attendants/caregivers/us to eat in. Another sent us aromatherapy for sleep, because most trauma patients have trouble sleeping – did you know that? Yet others offered to show the medical reports and x-rays to well known physicians they knew. Another got us a discount on the ambulance that takes one of the injured people for dressing everyday. Some have offered us a wheelchair, another has given us two hospital beds that can be cranked up and down. Others called up friends in the hospital administration – from the head of security to a low down accountant to the CEO of hospital, we had friends call each one of them and ask them to look out for us. And they did. We were the ones who got offered a little stool in ICU. So many of them offered to call up friends who worked with the insurance agency and speed up our paperwork. It goes on.
Many messaged saying, let us know if we can help. Well, here’s something I’ve learnt in the last month – I don’t know what you can do for me, so YOU let me know how you can help. And in future, that is what I will offer. Concrete help. Be it a box of pastries that the attendants can take a break with or a flask of homemade cold coffee. A care package with wet wipes and some tetrapacks of cool juice are a blessing. Every bit helps. Every bit gets them across that difficult patch. What doesn’t help is the endless text messages and long phone calls – we just don’t have the time or energy to respond, and yet we’re forced to out of civility.

I had wanted another tattoo to commemorate 35 years on this earth. I didn’t get a chance since I haven’t really been back to Delhi yet. And I’m wondering if I need it – this experience has left a mark on me that no tattoo could match.

And so on this year’s birthday post  (if you can call it that), I’m sharing a few Facebook statuses I’d put up through the last month.

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Lessons learnt in a hospital.
1. Superheroes don’t always wear capes. Sometimes they wear surgical masks and disposable gowns.
2. Call the nurse Chechi, smile at the ward boy and flirt with the plastic surgeon even if your heart is breaking and your mind with your loved one. Makes them take special care of your patient, give you extra minutes in the ICU and brightens their day. They too are sick of people crying and snapping.
3. Leaning out of an ambulance and screaming at people is more effective than a siren. Abusing them might be undignified but it is effective.
4. There is no adequate thanks for a blood donor. Folding your hands and thanking them is all you can do when you’re tired and worried but grateful.
5. College students are the happiest and most generous donors.
6. A blood bank spilling over with donors for your family says something.
7. Nothing brings a family close like an accident and a shared hospital thaali.

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A crumpled car, crow bars and truck drivers pulling him out, bleeding for 12 hours, a dirty little highway hospital. He went through it all and after 5 hours of surgery has come out alive and well… my stubborn mule of an uncle didn’t give up. Thank you all for your prayers, wishes and help.

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May those who don’t heed the siren of an ambulance, never know what it is to sit in one, hanging on to a loved one’s hand, watching in despair as traffic stubbornly refuses to give way.

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There’s a 6 year old on the next bed in the ICU. She was out on the bike with her parents when they had an accident. She hit her head – and then a bus ran over her arm. It is now in 3 separate pieces and will take a year or so to reconstruct over many surgeries. Her parents say they will have to sell their house and land to pay for it.
She screams in pain each time they give her a shot and her little body is swollen with the IVs she’s had in for days.
Even being witness to it is a nightmare. Right now if anyone who tries to give me gyaan or tell me this is God’s way of testing us or pichchle janam ka karma or paap or tries to explain or rationalise her agony in any way, I will bite their head off. This world makes no sense.
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Okay, so we’re managing, somewhat, to take care of our various patients. Just help us to get by, without asking us how we’re ‘coping up’. We’re not coping up, we’re coping. Not cope up, simply cope.

We’re going through enough trauma without having to deal with shitty grammar. Thank you.

I am now going back to the ICU and regular programming shall resume when my shift ends.
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Interesting how many people thank the OA for ‘sending/letting me come home to care for my family’. I wonder how many cows he gave my family in exchange for me.
Also, how come no one thanks a wife for letting her husband go home and help his family in times of need? Morons.

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Hospital learnings:

1.When you have a loved one undergoing surgery, an hour measures 120 minutes instead of 60.
2. Even if you’ve been married 10 years and are worried sick about said surgery, you can still have plenty to talk about with your spouse, sitting outside the OT on the floor.
3. The midnight shift is when you really need to befriend hospital staff.
4. When the staff ask you how you’re related to the man on the ICU bed, saying that you’re his niece just doesn’t seem adequate.
5. Everybody hurts. Including those who were not in the accident.
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After a long day of attempting to work from home (something I’ve done for 8 years now :-/) while the kids go on with their various activities, back from school, lunch, nap, swimming, homework, playtime, the OA collapses in exhaustion and observes – Raising children builds character.

Absolutely. That is why I am so character-ful.

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She was an elderly lady with chubby red cheeks and the cutest little jet black top-knot, wobbling in outrage on the top of her head. And she was driving my uncle nuts. He was in the bed next to hers and just as he drifted off to sleep hooked up to various tubes, his exhaustion overcoming his pain, she’d let out a loud cry of Hai Allah and wake up the entire ICU. All in various stages of sleep and pain, the other patients would yell for her to shut up.

She had only two men (about my age) to attend to her and they stood at a safe distance, looking helpless. She’d yank off her oxygen mask and push it up on her head like a party hat and say – ‘Look, this little trickle? It’s getting to my nose. This is where I will wear it.’
Every day I’d flirt, smile, beg, plead, charm my way through doctors and nurses and ward boys, into the ICU to feed my uncle (against the rules) who was being troublesome in his own way and refusing to eat.

We approached her out of sheer selfishness. To get her to BE QUIET for a while, so that my battered, bruised, weak uncle could get some sleep. I know Ma had a little more love than I did – she feels strongly for all old people after she lost both her parents.

We acted chatty and held her hands in a friendly way, to keep her distracted so that she didn’t pull off her oxygen mask, we rubbed her arms that were sore and red from days of IVs, I gave the nurses a break and fed her after I’d fed my uncle, I chatted with her while they changed her diapers. I’d tell her that she must have been prettier than Mumtaz Mahal in her youth. And she’d say, Get me off this bed and I’ll take you shopping for the best chikankari in Lucknow.

She began to look out for us and we grew attached to her.

I’d pass her sons in the corridor and waiting areas and glare at them until one day I couldn’t take it anymore – Can’t you be a little more helpful? Why do you just stand and stare when she’s yanking out tubes and pulling off oxygen masks?
They shrugged helplessly- She’s a ladiss. We don’t know what to do with her.
I never berated them again.
For a few days after I left the Lucknow hospital she kept asking for me.
She died on the 14th.My mother sobbed. I was too tired of death and pain to cry.

Her son calls my mum every few days, offering to come down from Rae Bareilly, arrange for blood, give us money if we need – says he will now help us get my uncle back on his feet since he has no one else. We need nothing, but it’s good to hear from him. He refers to my mother as Ammi too.
Everyday there is a little hospital story to tell.
Moral of this story? Hospitals are not the place to get attached to people.

The “Just Married, Please Excuse” Contest

So, the very funny Yashodhara of Y On Earth Not, has a book out. I expected nothing less from her. Although how she managed three kids, a job and brought out a book, will always be a mystery to me. Titled Just Married, Please Excuse, it is pretty much autobiographical, telling the tale of Yash and Vijay’s courtship, and the early years of their marriage. While I’ve had the pleasure of learning her voice through her blog, nothing prepared me for the book. Kahani mein action hai, emotion hai, aur drama bhi hai. I’ll admit I wasn’t too excited before I picked it up, because hey, I read her blog… I know how this story ends. But it’s a whole different thing to have the gaps filled in and handed to you in the form of a book.

I read it through the night, fully knowing where it was going. And I guess that is the triumph of her writing. It keeps you engaged and amused to the very last page. I’m not going to tell you anymore – so buy the book.  What I will do though, is tell you a story of the OA and I, just after we got married. But before that, some stories from the week just before we got married. This is an entry for a contest she is running and since I love Mamagoto’s food enough to sell my kids and park myself there for a lifetime, I’m participating in the hope of winning a meal. Yes, I’m cheap like that.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that the OA and I had a rather filmy love story. Dashing Hindu boy meets shy Christian girl. Pursues her until she gives in. Suddenly realises he should have been working on his parents instead of her, but it’s too late. Boy’s parents dig their heels in, boy decides to follow his heart and the girl. Boy and girl struggle to put him through post grad college and true love triumphs.

This is where this story begins. Convocation was over and as he tossed his cap into the air, I felt a surge of pride. We’d done this without anyone else. A lot of other students had significant others attending, but they also had parents. We were a lonesome twosome with no adults (I still thought of myself as not-quite-an-adult) there for us. Our wedding was a week later so his parents were at the height of their outrage and mine were busy organising the event.

The next day we had a train to catch back to my hometown. Two heavy suitcases dragged to the gate, friends hugging at every step, congratulations being shouted out (he was the first getting married straight off campus), plans being made… and we were late for the train by, oh.. about an hour already.

As the cab pulled in to the station we heard the train whistle. We had it all planned. He’d rush ahead and pull the chain to stop the train. I’d follow with the coolies and the luggage. He raced off and I started running, urging the coolies to keep up. We jumped down on to the filthy tracks, clambered on to the next platform and repeated the exercise until we reached the correct platform. As I clambered on to the last filthy platform, my hands a mess, my teeshirt filthy, the train jerked to life and phlegmatically began to pull out. I screamed for the OA, frantically looking up and down the platform. He was nowhere to be seen. And then I saw him wave in my face as his coach flashed by me. “Throw me that suitcase,” he yelled. And I made the coolie throw one in. The train chugged on, picking up speed and I made the coolie throw the next one in to another coach. By now the OA was far ahead, while the other coolie was running alongside, collecting his earnings and giving change. I kept running along, realising (to my horror) that the end of the platform was nigh. I might have made a jump for it but the heavy bag on my shoulder would weigh me down. I needed someone to pull me into the train. But the love of my life, soon to be husband, was riding a train and disappearing into the sunset – without me.

And then, DDLJ style, a hand shot out of the coach and a stranger’s voice called my name. It was not the OA’s hand – the OA’s ugly, stubby fingers cannot be mistaken and this was a beautifully made, strong brown, male hand – but I didn’t care. I grabbed hold and the hand pulled me in with little effort, just as the platform came to an end. I gasped in relief and looked up at my rescuer in surprise. Who could he be? He was the OA’s batchmate and had taken the liberty to help when he saw me in need. I thanked him profusely and headed off to find the OA and tell him what I thought of being thrown over for a couple of suitcases of books.

Of course, being the OA and I, we were as disorganised as ever and the reservations had been done too late, with the result that we had only one berth to share all the way back. The last couple of days in college had been stressful and he looked exhausted, so I generously forgave him and obligingly squeezed myself into a corner so that he could get some sleep. The hours flew by and we pulled into another station. He opened one eye and I asked him, solicitiously if he’d like a cup of tea. He nodded, turned over and went back to sleep. Telling myself that the poor man needed some TLC, I headed off to hunt for some tea. I found one chaiwala eventually and he was mobbed. I waited my turn and as he handed me my cups, he said, “Madam, isn’t that the train you were on?”

Were on??

I turned around to see the train was pulling out of the platform and leaving me behind, for the second effing time that day. Flinging down the hard-earned, steaming cups of tea, I ran along the train again, the speed just that bit too much for me to risk my life. I hoped and prayed that the OA had realised I was not on the train and was looking for me. I should have known better.

Once again, a voice called my name and the now familiar hand popped out. I grabbed without a thought and jumped on to the train. The OA’s friend had seen me get off the train and realised I’d not got back on when it started. I pledged my firstborn to him and rushed to wake the OA and tell him of how misfortune was following me. He opened an eye, heard me out and then, disappointment writ large on his face, said, “You mean you didn’t get any chai?”

At that moment I deeply regretted not having managed to get the chai. I could have flung it in his face.

And yes, dear readers, I married him inspite of that. Shoulda married the other guy. He’s married too, now, by the way. Too late.

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But picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

The night before the wedding we were a raucous household. Family from all around the world was staying at our place and of course the OA too. He had to be, considering he had nowhere else to go. He was part of my mehendi, I was part of his cocktail party. As we called it a night, happy and exhausted, my Uncle who was down from Australia after a gazillion years, recklessly volunteered to make breakfast and his desi favourite, mango lassi for everyone. But he needed some help. The distinct lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the family didn’t deter him. Finally, the OA, drunk as a skunk and always up for anything food related, offered to help. Yes, you can always tell which ones are not related to us by blood, because they enjoy cooking. No one in my bloodline is a happy cook! Heck, that’s why we live in India and hire people to do it.

Anyhow, he woke up at the crack of dawn and began to help Uncle. I, naturally, after all that   train-chasing, was getting some much-needed beauty sleep. An old family friend came by to see us in the early hours of the morning. She was too old to attend the wedding and reception at night, and wanted to wish us in advance.

Ma settled her into the living room and said she’d just sent someone to wake me up and I’d be awake and down in a minute.

The lady nodded understandingly and said, ‘What about the groom? Where is he?’

Oh, said Ma, he’s in the kitchen.

Right, said the sweet old lady… ‘having breakfast, I suppose?’

No, said Ma. She is honest to a fault. “He’s cooking it.”

It would not be an exaggeration to say the old lady almost fell off her chair.”Look, I know his parents are against the marriage, but surely you can’t treat him this way because he has no one standing up for him!”

I still split my sides laughing over this one. And yes, of course we cleared that up.

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Now while the idea was not to ill treat the OA because no one was standing up for him, we’re not the sort of family to stand on ceremony and give him son-in-law treatment either. And that is how he found himself on the railway station with my brother, at the ungodly hour of 4 am, picking up family coming in on a delayed train. Everyone was pulling their share of weight and I don’t think either we or he, even considered doing it any other way.

My grandmother and her siblings arrived and my brother introduced the OA by name to them. They weren’t particularly enthusiastic in their greeting and the OA and my brother put it down to age and exhaustion on their part. A lazy red glow spread as the sun rose and they drove home in silence until my granduncle asked my monosyllabic brother if he could take him to visit his old college, in our hometown. This is how the conversation went.

Granduncle: I studied in this city, 45 years ago. Do you think you could take me to see my old college?

Tambi: Actually Thatha, we’re pretty busy with the wedding arrangement and your college is on the outskirts of the city. We may not get the time.

Granduncle gesturing towards the OA: What about him? Can he take me?

Tambi: No, Thatha, he doesn’t know his way around the city. He’s not from here.

Granduncle, looking disappointedly at the OA: Oh I see. Is he here to attend the wedding?

Tambi (master of understatement) drawls: I sure hope so.

Yes, yes, granduncle realised his faux pas later, but this story has given us many a merry evening.

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And now finally, so that I don’t get disqualified on the technicality that I’m not married during these tales, I’ll share the honeymoon one.

When I met the OA and fell in love, I was rather in awe of him. He was older, wiser… and I thought he’d take care of me. Yeah, Sound of Music hangover. And to his credit, he mostly does. Except for when he doesn’t.

Poor as church mice, we took a bus from Delhi to Manali for our honeymoon. Hopes of a knight in shining armour were dashed to the ground rather rudely as the knight stuck his head out of the bus window and emptied his the contents of his stomach across the hill roads. I watched curiously, wondering how he could throw up more than he’d eaten in the last 6 meals put together. The only explanation was that he’d thrown up his intestines too. But I dutifully got him water, washed his face, begged someone to give us the seat up front and tried to (wo)manfully raise my shoulder as high as I could to give him a head rest. Too drained to care, he slept. Around us other honeymooning couples billed and cooed and necked. I adjusted the smelly puker into a corner and resigned myself to a rather unromantic couple of hours.

Half way through the night the bus stopped. It was eerie. The sounds of the jungle came closer. I woke up and being the nosy person I am, checked out the bus. There was no reason to stop. No roadblock, nothing – and the driver was missing. I waited for someone else to make the first move. Three old ladies, sisters on a holiday together, hobbled off the bus to get an explanation. It turned out that the driver had decided to strike because he was being made to work overtime and not being paid for it. He laid out a blanket off the edge of the road and was snoring before we could say ‘Manali.’

The old ladies realised they needed numbers and came back to recruit from the hordes of youngsters in the bus. Shy young brides looked up at their husbands in awe as the men got up and stretched and swaggered, ready to get down and take on the lone driver. One of them called out to the OA to join them. He opened half a bleary eye and chivalrously volunteered, “Let my wife handle him. You won’t need to send anyone else,” and went back to sleep.

Yes, yes, ladies and gentlemen, I still honeymooned with him. Not just that, procreated and continue to live with him. A silent, suffering woman, that’s me. The only good that came of that night, is that we still dine out on that story.

The filmy post

So I have to ask. Zeenat Aman or Parveen Babi? My vote for Zeenat Aman – more refined features, better body.

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Just saw DDLJ being advertised for the nth time on TV and realised I’d happily watch it again. It was our generation’s Sholay. Fans of Sholay, don’t lynch me, I think Sholay is the best too. But it reminded me of a really funny incident.

I had learned about this rather prim British game from my grandmother’s youth and happily shared it with the rest of my social circle. It was called Fish Pond. A bowl would be placed in the centre of the room and we all got paper and pens and could drop in anonymous notes. From the timid confessions of love to the most nasty stinkers (but mostly love notes), everything made it’s way in there – and everyone knew if a note was meant for them or not. Soon it became a staple at every party. We’d walk in, drop our notes in the bowl, party, sing, dance, eat and then one of us would read out the notes while the rest would try to guess who had written them. A fitting end to every party.

And then Raj and Simran took the Euro Rail into our lives and everything changed. That evening we played Fish Pond as usual and note after note was read out – all addressed to Raj from Simran and from Simran to Raj. After the first note, I looked up and grinned at the childhood sweetheart thinking it was from him to me. The blank look on his face alerted me to the fact that it wasn’t. A look around the room showed similar looks. Only the person who wrote it knew who it was for – the intendeds were all confused. And so on it went. Thirty notes from and to Raj and Simran. After the first few minutes the humour of the situation sunk in and we roared with laughter. By the end it didn’t matter if the right person got the message. All that mattered was that we’d all imagined ourselves the love struck lead pair of the hit film.

*wipes tears* What’s your funniest Bolly real life moment? Aneela and Dipta are barred from participating. Oh what the hell, jee lo bachchon. Tell us about it.

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I watched Delhi Belly and loved it. I promoted it loud and long on my Facebook page too. The music was fantastic and so was the movie. I know a lot of people took exception to the cursing but I felt right at home! They were talking about a certain section of society and the language was as authentic as it gets. You can’t come from Uttar Pradesh, study in Delhi University and work in media and be a stranger to abuse. I’ve heard the most creative and finally when I realised I wasn’t going to smoke, touch alcohol or play cards in this lifetime, I decided the least I could be an expert on was cuss words. A woman’s got to have some vices!

Two minutes into the movie and that could have been my life 10 years ago. Although a lot of it looked like it had been shot in Bombay or any other part of the country, definitely not Delhi. The bachelors in a filthy flat – check. My brother objects but I have a very clear memory of once walking into his flat and washing a bowl of something indescribable, other than the maggots crawling out of it. After that he and I moved in together because getting his flatmates (lovable though they were) to keep the place clean was a challenge. And we kept the barsati as clean as possible we could with no water -yes, water shortages and Delhi are synonymous. I recall buying 20ltr jars of mineral water to bathe in. I’d go to the parlour down the road and get them to shampoo my hair for Rs 50 once every week or so because I was sure I had layers of shampoo settled in there. Yes, short of washing our arses with OJ we did everything else.

Even if you’re not from Delhi but have watched Dilli 6 you’ll remember the terraces all cheek by jowl. Well, here’s a confession. At night we’d come back from work and prowl the terraces, jumping from one roof to another, hunting for a water tank that was open. And then we’d pass buckets and rob water for our early morning ablutions. The more adventurous would just stand right there and have a quick bath, dressed in shorts and vests as we all used to be. Once I remember the guys getting into the tank to rob the last couple of buckets at the bottom of the syntex tank and eventually just having a nice old tub bath inside it. I am horrified at the thought of anyone doing it to us today, but in those days, we were young and wild and everything was fair. Everything unacceptable was a dare and anyone who didn’t fall in with the plan, fell off the charts.

At night there’d be no electricity and we’d sleep out on the open terrace. Rows of bare mattresses and a guitar strumming softly under the night sky. Yes, the party shifted to our place. People would float in and out and bike and car keys passed around with no fear. One day I recall two guys walk in and sit in a corner, roll a joint and then leave after a while. Later we wondered aloud whose friends of friends they were, only to have everyone shrug. Apparently we’d just been used! This is around the time the whole Kala bandar scare happened and terrified of getting carried off by a monkey man, prone to hallucinating after a couple of bottles of rum, we all shifted back into the barsati, preferring the stifling heat to terror inflicted insomnia.

A few nights ago Dipta and wife, the OA and I and some other friends were lazing around after a potluck dinner. And we began to swap stories of our youthful misdemeanors. I waited for the boys all to hit me with their worst. And I kept waiting.  Suddenly realised that I had the worst stories to tell, sweet innocent that I am, simply by virtue of the company I kept. Very few of the horror stories had me featuring in a starring role. Even so, it’s unnerving to realise that you have the most evil stories to relate compared to the others’ blameless, unblemished lives.

Which is why I watched Delhi Belly with something akin to relief. So we were not the worst. There were people who had obviously done some terrible things in their own time which is where the idea came from. Walk into any media house and the photographers will be rather like Kunaal Roy Kapur. Irreverent (except for the guy who almost dropped his camera when a celeb we were interviewing let her dress slip down to give us an eyeful of err.. you know), wicked sense of humour and always sleepy or hungry! Imran reminds me of my ex, again, a media guy who was freaked out by the thought of me actually being serious enough to want to get hitched! And Vir Das was well… Vir Das.

Some of the humour was slapstick, some of it was totally lost on the junta around us, like the one about the banana looking happy because it was about to be eaten and the earring being an accessory.

I am also amazed by the number of people who actually called/mailed me to ask me what the big deal with the Bhaag DK Bose song was. How many of you really didn’t get it? And no, I am not explaining on the great wide web. I have to draw the line somewhere!

The line is an old schoolboy joke in UP. The original line going Bhaag *beep* ke, aandhi aayi. I recall school friends saying it to this particular friend who was the butt of every joke. Funny, crass, brash, big built, pistol wielding, he was my favourite champion. Once I lost my temper with the boyfriend and this guy looks at me and goes – Want me to throw him in the fish pond?

Yes, I nod, spoilt brat that I am.

He promptly grabs him and throws him into the pool, headfirst. Thankfully Ma walked out right then or the poor boyfriend might not have lived to tell that tale. So our pal stops mid-throw in shock and hangs on to him by the legs. And there is the boyfriend, hanging upside down, head inside the pond, choking and spluttering. Me glaring balefully and believing that he is getting his due. Ma screaming in terror and scared of grabbing in case friend loses balance and lets go. And friend looking at me and saying – I threw him in because you said, I’ll yank him out only if you want, never mind if Aunty kills me after this.

Ma came at me with the fury of a 1000 snakes and I reluctantly told him to pull the boyfriend out. Boyfriend came out soaked from head to chest, spluttering and choking.  And this friend pats him on the back and says genially, in lieu of an apology, “Never mind yaar, you’re a Bengali; you should have just eaten some fish.” And all this while the rest of our gang sitting around watching and splitting their sides laughing. Happy days. And yes, the boyfriend continued to date me inspite of that episode. I’m lovable and forgivable like that.

Anyhow, some years ago that madcap friend of mine fell out of the second floor of a building and is in a wheelchair now. As the hall around me was exploding with laughter when the song started all I could think of, wiping tears away, is how time has passed and how he will never again bhaago, aandhi or no aandhi, wheelchair bound as he is. The song was not so funny anymore.

I also watched Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Another three young men, except this time so out of my realm. Making big bucks, deep sea diving, buying their wives Hermes bags. The movie had everything it takes to be a hit – decent music, interesting locales, eye candy (I got my money’s worth the moment Hrithik took off his shirt) and emotion, drama and romance. But it didn’t hit home the way Delhi Belly did for me. Gross, scatalogical, crazy, avenging boyfriends, crazy media parties, makes ups and break ups, communication breakdowns, love, fights, misunderstandings, pranks, that was the story of my youth. Not this sanitised, privileged, landscaped, clean story. Our friends were more likely to wash their butts with your orange juice than screw your girlfriend.

Even so, I am currently listening to this song from the movie on repeat. How can you not? The words are beautiful and Mohit, the true love of my life is singing it while Farhan and Hrithik, the other true loves of my life gladden the eye. As for Abhay, he needs to rethink his roles. He came across as annoying, effeminate and witless. Even his hairy chest couldn’t redeem him. His voice was the most annoying aspect and that is saying something when you’re sharing screen time with Farhan.

 

Anyhow, paisa vasool on both counts. Delhi Belly for taking me down memory lane and ZNMD for letting me aankh seko as the UP term goes. I leave you with my current favourite item number. Ignore the tacky video and just get up, push your chair away from your desk and shake your booty! Goodnight folks.