Sunday, August 28, 2011

Eye of a storm

Asawari and I are in the eye of a storm. It is 10.26 pm, about six hours from when Irene is expected to hit Princeton town. Time for evacuation is over, advisory is to stay indoors and away from the glass windows. The New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is on a live press conference, wishing the New Yorkers a safe night. It is not ok to be outside; he is detailing assistance numbers to call, advising recharging the phones and the vehicles to be tanked up with gas. There is a posse of grim faced advisers behind him and the press is asking tough questions.

Earlier today, a note was slipped into our room from under the door, addressed to 'Dear Valued Guest.' The room would not be served on 28th Aug in the hotel's effort to protect their staff safety and a request was made, to be patient and flexible with the dining services, as the occupancy had risen substantially owing to the extreme weather conditions. 

The power just went off for a few seconds and came on again. I think we are on standby mode; the regular exterior and street lights are off but for the lone bright spot under the hotel portico. Just a while ago, we had our tiny torch dug out of the baggage and are quickly charging the computers while the power is available. 

The rain has been drumming us since late noon, a non-stop torrent. The trees sway and rustle wetly, leaves spraying droplets with every gust. There are roiling brooks in the flower beds and the parked cars gleam through their water sheaths. There is an expectant hush inside the cozy dining area where the staff is helping out in their off work clothes, nearly all of them have stayed back overnight, with some calling in their families for ease and safety.

Princeton University has cancelled all events scheduled on Saturday through Sunday, at the least until about 2 pm. We are ready with packed food from Cafe Nicole, a supply of coffee makings and computers hitched on to charging cables. Sitting here in the deafeningly silent night, with just the assertive pitter patter for background sound....there, power outage again.....there is only to wait and watch and sit it out. 

Come on Irene !!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011


It is 1.13 am here at Princeton town in the New Jersey state. I am in the hotel room, TV on and a light drizzle just past us. The college freshman I am escorting is fast asleep at the end of a productive day on campus and surroundings. A peep out of the window shows up the pretty driveway, neat flower beds and cars parked in slots…not a soul in sight. We are far far away from home.

I sit here, marvelling at the technology and services that made it so convenient for the two of us to fly in, get comfortable and move on with campus familiarization. As we disembarked from the hotel shuttle on Nassau Street and walked into the campus this morning, my thoughts were of gratitude at the opportunity Asawari had obviously created for herself. It was a quiet time on the school lawns, just days from the international student and parent orientation. One cannot be too sure if their arrival will be affected by the hurricane Irene. We were told the restful market would pick up momentum, with the students trooping in a week or so later. 

We visited the Landau, New York Camera, the CVS Pharmacy and Subway!! As also the Labyrinth Book Store, the official Princeton University Store and Verizon Wireless Store. My thought stream ran, “What a charming place! Now I won’t be all that miserable on the lonely flight home, knowing Asawari is in this picturesque and safe spot.” The campus seemed exceedingly green, its structures reminding me of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. We visited the University Museum of Art and the Rockefeller College as also Buyers Hall, her residence to be.

People have been helpful and forthcoming, going so far as to assure me they would look out for Asawari. I am so very glad I decided to come with her despite her protestations that she would be all right. I will now be able to picture her clearly when I am back home in Delhi. 

There was one humbling moment today: the gentleman at New York Camera store on Nassau street said to Asawari, "Good luck young lady for your Princeton tenure but then you don't need luck if you are here, in the first place!!" My immediate thoughts were for those who made this formidable reputation possible and their consistently remarkable work. My parental wish was for my child to internalize this endless quest for knowledge and learning.

More was to come. A pillow at the University store read, “It is hard to be humble when you are from Princeton!"

It made me smile but I hoped Asawari would keep her head firmly screwed on her shoulder, never losing sight of the reason she is here, thousands of miles away from all that has been familiar thus far. I prayed that she would remember that “from those to whom much is given, much is expected.” Here, in one of the top most institutions of the world, she would have to remind herself constantly that she is an ambassador of her country, her schools as also her family back in India.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jai Jai Jai Jai Hey!

At my age, one has had the run in with life. And the conclusion is that eventually and ultimately, it is the age old values that endure. Beneath all the bluff and the bugle, it is the family, the friends and a certain integrity of purpose that hold up the framework.

Take the family. We chafe at the little rituals, the seemingly cumbersome traditions, the abiding routine but they serve to keep people connected. I have often wondered and marveled at India's family oriented culture.

There was this couple I would overtake every morning on my way to the Lodhi Gardens for the morning run. The lady carried a little basket and her husband used his height to reach for flowers growing high up on the shrubs along the road. Puja flowers, undoubtedly.

I have always enjoyed the sight of young families on two wheelers, togged out in all their ceremonial glitter,on way to or from a festive family occasion, no doubt. The picnicking clans at the India Gate lawns, the farewell and welcome scenes at the Indira Gandhi airport, the charged groups at Parent Teacher meets in school, the bands trooping into religious venues and the family drama at hospitals and wedding is these ordinary celeberating or grieving Indians that keep the nation going despite the scams, the cricket losses and the Lok Pal tableau.

On this Independence day, I am in awe, not of any political leader, or sports star or a Bollywood talent. My salute is reserved for the unsung, unknown and unheralded humdrum Indian couples, the Uncles and Aunties, who work through their lifetime to raise decent families, who stay faithful to each other through thick and thin, who place the interest of their units foremost. It is these blocks of law abiding, god-fearing and aspiration filled communities that the country draws her steam from. It is their thrift, their dreams, their inherent stability that keeps the nation chugging up the growth graph. 

They are independent India's social, emotional and moral capital. Jai hey!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I have been smiling ever since I got back from Pune.

There was something magical about the two days spent in the company of old friends.

It is hard to pin. Was it the air of good natured acceptance around these friendships? The fact that an empathetic silence greeted the most vitriolic of one’s outpourings? An underlying acknowledgment of one’s struggles and the journey so far? Affection borne of having known you in those tentative yet fearless years? A stab of fond recognition at their typical gestures you once saw on a daily basis. The assurance and security of familiarity? A poignant curiosity about where life took the rest of the batch? The wistful realization that even though everyone had moved on, nothing could erase the years spent in commonality all that while ago? The notion that here were the few people who remembered you when you were haughty, eighteen  and frost-free?

I tread softly around the familiar ground! Would I have disturbed the memories, I don’t know but there was a sense of entering the time machine, like wading through a kaleidoscope of images in slow motion. I doubt if anyone on the college campus registered the two goggle eyed women running their eyes over walls, steps, trees and the pathways. There, that was the spot we clicked our famous group picture on. Here lay the steps we would sit chatting upon, between lectures. Look at the lab tables, our names might still be there, eteched on the solid wood. Are those the library steps we paused on to catch up with each other? I don’t remember all these dogs back then. Oh my God, there is the college office I dreaded going to. Let’s chat up these kids sitting outside the Chemistry department, what do they think of the college today? Fancy the Mathematics Department and was there a Psychology and Electronics wing in our days. Ah, the cycle stands…click, click, click…let’s register for the alumni association!

Twenty eight years just melted and dissolved in the first instance of meeting these people. Thank you Fergussonians for the affection, the camaraderie and the openness. Here’s wishing you all bigger smiles, stronger hearts and even better memories.

To the good old Bunwada and its fans!

I was, in fact, smiling on my way to the Delhi airport too, for the Pune bound flight.

A college reunion is quite akin to an emotional spa. Renewal follows the sloughing and the mental dusting. Lo and behold, if there isn't all of a sudden, a brand new reference point.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pact and peace

The year was 1983.
Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi had surrendered, Ardh Satya had received the Filmfare Best Film award and India had won the Cricket World Cup at Lords under Kapil Dev.
It was also the year before the fall of the iconic Fergusson Banyan Tree in Pune; on this fallen tree was pictured a song in Ketan Mehta’s ‘Holi” during 1984.
Those were the years when the Pune colleges hosted an international student body made up of the Iranians, the Mauritians and reps of a few African nations. And of course, there was India’s first privately governed college, consistently ranked among the country’s first ten ever since, an institution that gave us two Prime Ministers, its founding fathers amongst the pioneers of the Indian National Congress: the Fergusson College, Fergusson College Road, Pune 4.

We were a bunch out there. Sitara, Annie, Ulka, Warsha, Sadhana, Sujata, Iran and Miriam…..and there were the gentlemen, Yudhvir, Nitin, Girish, Anand, Taposh, Shanky, Ronny…..

The Fergusson College of 1980-83 spilled over to ‘Vaishali’ across and extended to the Deccan Gymkhana area. I rode a chocolate brown Hero Majestic Moped back then, carrying Sitara as pillion many a times on our merry way to Pashaan. There were the long Physics chalk and talk sessions, the gorgeous Botany lecturer and the dreary labs; a quick dash to the LR (Ladies Room!) and the meandering pathway to our ‘Peru wallah’ providing the breaks! Winnie Paranjape, Ujjwala Samarth and the stunning Chitnis sisters come to mind. I liked walking into the college through the girls’ hostel wing for some reason. ‘Chashme Baddur’ had the college crowd in splits and theatre was pretty visible on one side of the building.

I experimented with the tube and harem pants and the dhoti salwar. Warsha’s unmistakable perfume still wafts in my olfactory memory bank. In comparison with the air today, it seemed a lot calmer back then. We were studying but I don’t recall any keeling over. Of course, there was the small matter of comparison with the self-perceived, ultra-cool Wadia College. They looked down upon us, calling us a ‘school’ disdainfully. Our parking lot would be packed with bicycles; there were no cell phones or ipods. The library was huge and cavernous; I remember the long winding staircase. And the only time I lost my way into the college canteen, I had Yudhvir ask me, “What’s a nice girl like you doing here?!”

Courtesy Ulka
I have since met a couple of Fergussonians in these twenty eight years past and have liked them all. But my fondest thoughts are reserved for the ones who journeyed through those halls with me, in the years 1980-83. Those are the Steel Magnolias I am on my way to meet this coming weekend at Pune. There is the excitement of homing in to an age and time that launched us all into our adult lives. My batch mates have since fashioned careers; they have worked at jobs and raised families.  They have gone out and made their own differences in the world. They have made their pacts and their peace with lives. They are two score years and more, a little beyond half-way home. It is time to revisit and re-enter the door we walked out of, back in 1983. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why Moms cry

Thank You Mom

Why are you crying?" he asked his mom.

"Because I'm a mother," she told him.

"I don't understand," he said.

His mom just hugged him and said, "You never will!"

Later the little boy asked his father why Mother seemed to cry for no reason.

"All mothers cry for no reason," was all his dad could say.

The little boy grew up and became a man, still wondering why mothers cry. So he finally put in a call to God and when God got on the phone the man said, "God, why do mothers cry so easily."

God said, "You see son, when I made mothers they had to be special. I made their shoulders strong enough to carry the weight of the world, yet gentle enough to give comfort. I gave them an inner strength to endure childbirth and the rejection that many times comes from their children.

I gave them a hardiness that allows them to keep going when everyone else gives up, and to take care of their families through sickness and fatigue without complaining.

I gave them the sensitivity to love their children under all circumstances, even when their child has hurt them very badly. This same sensitivity helps them to make a child's boo-boo feel better and helps them share a teenager's anxieties and fears.

I gave them a tear to shed. It's theirs exclusively to use whenever it's needed.

It's a tear for mankind."

-- Anonymous