Monday, November 8, 2010
I was sweating. Profusely. The clock read 8:27 a.m. I was forced out of bed to be greeted by the sight of my new maid: Lakshmibai Maheshwari Kolte. Age 52. Short, fat and round, she resembled an oversized pumpkin. With a face, whose propensity was to smile at anything being said, she was standing at my door looking very dignified and humble, clutching the ugly green broomstick. Still, I was left wondering as to how I had already taken an instant dislike for her.
Her initiation into the household needed my help, according to my mother. Hence, on a Sunday, when my mornings usually start at 12 p.m. and lunch is the ‘breakfast’ I was delegated the seemingly impossible task of guiding her around the house at this unearthly hour. My visible annoyance coupled with my ghostly façade of messy hair however didn’t seem to perturb her; instead she seemed eager to engage in a conversation.
“Arre baby, aapka naam kya hai??!” she asked.
At 5ft 3 inches, I felt like a fully grown adult and nowhere close to a toddler, even though the word ‘baby’ struck a familiar chord. But by addressing me she managed to awaken me from my slumber and my wide-eyed, grumpy expressions soon transformed into a cheerful disposition as I decided to give in my name: Manjari.
“Manju bitiya, meri soni, meri baby…”, as she uttered these mutilated versions of my name, she laid her hands on my cheeks and held onto them like a carnivore clutching its prey.
Lakshmibai was the latest in the long line of kaamwaali bais, which included Sujata, Lakshmiamma, Kanta bai, Suman and Sheetal bai, to toil at my place. I liked each one of them very much except for this new entrant. Sujata was my favourite of the lot as she played ‘Doctor Doctor’ with me and got me to drink my chocolate Horlicks. I also liked Suman. She was nice but sometimes irritating as she always insisted that I play with her 9-year old son, Gajendra.
“Manju, tum aur Gajju khelo na…main usko kal lekar aati hoon. Chalega na?!” This was one of her zillion questions which remained unanswered till she left. Sheetal bai, another much liked maid, was a pakka Maharashtrian. This was unfortunate for Sheetal knew only Marathi and my mother knew only Hindi and hence, before each of them could understand what was spoken, there would be a flurry of hand and facial gestures. However, Lakshmibai seemed like a woman in her early seventies, with an astonishing quantity of wrinkles on her face and limbs. She had large ears that stuck out under wisps of stringy, coconut- oiled grey hair, and wore spectacles balanced precariously on her thin-pointed nose. Perhaps, coconut-oil was the only thing all my bais had in common.
Fortunately, after our brief exchange, my mother intervened and I was relieved of my responsibilities. But, this obnoxious lady was here to stay, as for two months she came every morning to sweep and mop, do the dishes and wash clothes. Her omnipresence in the early morning hours, was frustrating as she never failed to place my teddy bear in the dustbin while cleaning and also all the items on the floor would be generously arranged all over me while I was fast asleep and my disapproval had no effect on her- Door mat on my back as if it were a sauna belt, books on my pillow, the iron right in between my legs, and the Velcro bands to hold the curtains would inevitably make their way onto my hair such that I was left to remove them from the ruins of my hair, every single day. Two months of ridiculous behavior and I was convinced that very soon, I shall prove her unworthy of the position of honor she held. Luckily, she had her own set of vices which I had the privilege of having discovered. Hence, our ‘suitable bai’ had a long winding road ahead to prove her innocence for I was bent upon revealing her dark hidden secrets to the world. There began my mission, which I proudly refer to as the ‘Lakshmi bai-bye’ mission.
It all began on that fateful day when, I found her with my black-wallet in her hand. Hurriedly, she placed it back assuming that this ‘baby’ of a soul hadn’t spotted her in the process of flicking her hard-earned pocket money. But, I still hadn’t confirmed my suspicions. Over the week, purses and wallets were found to be open and with a lot of cash missing, we had to finally interrogate her. But, she vehemently denied all the allegations against her.
“Arre, madamji, ma kasam, maine chori nahin ki”, and tears were streaming down her cheeks. The ladies in the house were moved by her emotional outburst and hence, she was deemed innocent. But, I was still in the game.
My plan came into action the very next day- three Rs 100 notes were placed in strategic places around the house and every time she went anywhere close to them, I stood behind the curtains craning my neck inquisitively to see the thief on the prowl. But, much to my disappointment, the plan failed. Miss kleptomaniac refused to reveal her true identity- a true professional, I must say.
Help came in the form of Mahajan aunty, who otherwise was a recluse of a neighbour. Her voice- loud and hoarse - resounded through the MTNL phone as she described the mysterious disappearance of her belongings ever since Lakshmibai had entered the picture. On hearing this, a sense of realization seemed to have dawned upon my mother, who was starting to believe that our dear old housemaid wasn’t even close to being innocent.
At around 8am the next day, the entire family sat down to draft a plan to catch our beloved thief red-handed. Preethi pressure cooker was whistling away to glory in the background and the aromas from the kitchen were quite a distraction. 8:30-Lakshmibai makes a grand entry, clad in a fluorescent pink sari and with jasmine flowers adorning her grey strands of hair- for perhaps one last bravura performance and not realizing that the world was conspiring against her. She walked straight into the kitchen and disappeared into the store room for a considerably long amount of time. While we were all engrossed in ‘ideating’, the unimaginable happened.
Our most trusted, reliable pressure cooker blew its top and up went the lid, crashing into the ceiling. The most ridiculous sounds-swoosh,zzzzz, tantanantannn,-started emerging from the kitchen and hearing these, my mother, fearing nothing whatsoever, sprints into the scene of action and not realizing the wet rice strewn all over the floor, slips, slides and lands right into the kitchen cabinet open below. In the meantime, my dad, showing signs of grave concern, assumes the role of a superhero, and makes a swooping entry into the kitchen to save his better half. He is meted out the same treatment as he smoothly glides over the floor and with hands crying for help, he goes sliding into the store room. BANG! The door flies open and lo! Lakshmibehen stood there, dumbfound with a pouch containing gold bangles and cash worth 500 secure in her hands. She runs across the store room, out into the kitchen, and weehaaaa….slips, slides and her weight, garnering too much of friction, she stops and lands in the middle of the kitchen. The cherry on the cake was when the weight of the cooker, which was till then hovering somewhere in the air, made a clean landing on her head. Amidst all the hullabaloo, it was finally MISSION ACCOMPLISHED and indeed,
Sunday, July 18, 2010
“‘Flower’…that’s what my daughter’s name- Manjari- means…” I heard my mom explaining the roots and origins of my name to Mrs. Subramanian, at around 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. An annoying neighbor (her sense of timing quite explains that!!), she flashed her 32-watt smile at me constantly while flipping through my pink album that had pictures of me in a cradle decorated with 2 dozens of balloons and relatives, known and unknown, trying to catch a glimpse of the scare-crow down below..I was basically given a NAME…through this elaborate ceremony…a title that would go into every attendance register in school, onto certificates, driver’s license, hall tickets, my resume and blaah...
Amidst all this self-talk, Mrs. S thankfully decided to spend the rest of the Sunday in the comforts of her house and not in glancing at my bachcha-albums which show me half-naked!! :O :O “Bubyee, Manju beta…it was nice meeting you!!” …were her parting words!!
WAIT!!! When was the last time that someone referred to me as ‘Manjari’??!!!! Perhaps my school princi or that guy at the hotel reception... :O :O If at all you have the privilege of being my guest someday, don’t be surprised to hear the likes of ‘Manjee’, ‘Manju’…echoing through the household!! My 18 years and 9 months of existence have bestowed me with some of the best possible names…so much so…that my original identity has been lost in the process…!!! Arre…actually na…listening to someone call me M-A-N-J-A-R-I, kind of takes me by surprise these days!! :D :D
Take for instance the following:
Manjunath: the reason being…wait...do I actually need to specify??!!! :D :D
Manj: umm…no particular reason!!
Genelia: my sri lankan friends are of the strong opinion that I resemble
this bollywood actress by the name of Genelia D’Souza…crazy na??!!...me
Fungus: WHY???!!! WHY??? Chetanaaaaaaaaaaa!!! :O :O No comments!!...
Fungunath/Yengunath: Honestly, I feel like this brightly colored toadstool
Standing tall in my neighbor’s compound…everytime I am called
Puspaaaaaa: Aarghhhh!!! :O It brings back memories of the V channel
‘bai’…”itna paisa mein itna eech milega” YEWWWW!!!!
Munch: popularized by a certain girl from Ernakulam… :P any guesses??
Shweaty Shweetie: Don’t even give this one a thought!!
Nang/Nangunath: Chee Chee Chee…Must say..a lot of thinking has gone into this one!
Manchurian: Manjari+Food= Manchurian
I think that should suffice… :D :D That brings me to this question: Does my name hold any relevance today??!!! It’s quite evident..NO!!
If hamaari desi girl Priyanka Chopra could be Piggy Chops and Swiss maestro Roger Federer ‘Fed-Ex’…and size-zero (+/- 1) Kareena Kapoor ‘Bebo’…maybe..I could be Manjunath too!!! :D :D Right na??!!! After all, What’s in a name??!!!
The phone bell went ‘tring tring’…I rushed across the room to take the call…
“Is that Manjari Shankar on the line?”…Wait..WHO’S THAT??!!! :D :D
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Honestly speaking, I do look forward to train journeys; especially, when it means building new acquaintances and initiating conversations with strangers big and small, old and young. However, the freedom and solitude that the upper berth guarantees is always a welcome experience. Right from listening to music to watching movies to reading novels, all at your own discretion without anyone looking down at you; this in itself redefines the concept of choice, which is not prevalent in this big, bold and beautiful world of ours, where decisions are forcefully imposed and free will is totally absent(ooohh..my philosophy professor would surely be impressed and...so would Kant). This is perhaps, just one of the reasons why I prefer the rail-gaadi to the hi-fi, comfortable flight journeys, which are just too fast to have actually occurred in reality! Being the gregarious person that I am, such long-distance visits have always been memorable. What adds to this is the fact that being a Mumbaiyya, every place where my presence is necessary is a minimum of 24 hours away which gives me all the more time to relish the trip. The bhel-puri sans onions is the delicacy I always look forward to and the joy of spilling it all over the place while gorging on it is even more enjoyable. Chai is not my cup-of-tea but when it comes to the Indian Railways’ special cut chai, I always have one. This automatically leads to amma sharing her opinion with those around as to how her daughter, who otherwise never touches this all-time favourite beverage, is so allured by this train waalah’s speciality. Be it the chikki on Mumbai bound trains, or the mirchi bajji on the deccan trains or the cutlets and paneer on the rajdhanis, food is a different experience altogether on this mode of transport and is one factor that sets it apart from the flights, which take pleasure in serving its starved passengers (thanks to its skewed schedule), food, which is not exactly palatable. My latest addition to this exhaustive list is the pink-and-white colored Raspberry Twin Pops by Funtacy ice-creams- being low fat, highly recommended (available at the Solapur junction)!!
Khaana apart, sleeping for most part of the journey in an attempt to catch up on last week’s beauty nap, is a part and parcel of being a train traveller. Ahhh..the rugs and the pillow in the AC compartments just transport one to a different world altogether- I have had the weirdest of dreams and what is surprising is that I have managed to remember them- never has this happened before at such alarming frequency. As ridiculous as this may sound I always look forward to some ‘good’ company in my compartment if not my cubicle. But as luck may hold, I always have the sole privilege of being an audience to senior citizens or a bunch of noisy kids and parents alike or some over-zealous individuals who make their presence felt throughout the compartment. As a result the strategy I adopt these days is to check the list which has the seating arrangements along with the passenger name and age, just to prepare myself to the above-mentioned eventualities. My dad has reasons ranging from seat confirmation, size of families and their place of boarding to look up the ‘evil’ list, but I follow this tradition purely for other reasons which pertain to the age groups and hence the type of families and co-travellers; the quantitative aspect is immaterial to me, but for my dear father, it does matter.
Talking about the train ‘junta’, they are an exceptional lot. The following people have gone a long way in making my train journeys unforgettable: the IIT-ian, with whom conversations took off just hours before arrival, but we happen to be great friends now (Courtesy: facebook, orkut, gchat...), even though I shall never forgive him for having taken away the last methi paratha that I had set my eyes on even before I got to know him properly while on the train...hmpf!!...next is this old couple, the typical ‘grandma-grandpa’ types, the granny, who served me her collection of pickles and all sorts of south Indian delicacies during the 24-hour journey, was great company! In fact, we even followed it up by visiting their place in Madurai during our stay down south!!! Another ‘jhund’ worth mentioning here is this 8-member Marwari family, whose conversations and decibel levels reached such an extent so as to make me wish that the Indian Railways borrowed some of Indian Airlines’ methods of providing cotton for the security of the eardrums. But, it kind of grew on me and the fact that they had in their possession 4 tins of ‘Theplaas’ and mixture was quite an appealing thought!! And yeah, not to forget, the family which was in the leather business in aamchi Mumbai...the moment they provided their contact details, I was elated at the thought of flaunting leather bags and clutches. Had I been a kid of 6 years, my dear amma would have ensured I stayed around her and not interacted much with bhaiyyas, uncles and strangers but nowadays , when I approach someone as unknown to me as a bunch of Christ College, Bangalore students playing UNO, on a train heading for Mumbai, to kill boredom, I never think twice. Train journeys do have a story in themselves; a tale that transcends time, where people walk in and out; while some stay there forever, the rest fade in the background!!
Basically, I have enjoyed every moment of eating, talking and heehaw-ing and survived to share my experiences with you!! Looking back, I have grown up with ‘the Train’, starting with a 6-year old kid trying to push the train while seated inside while holding the window grill to, getting into a moving train and travelling alone these days with strangers for company...what a metamorphosis!! This desi-gaddi is going places and has stolen hearts in dozens. What if Lalu ji loves them and introduces matki dahi to profess his louww, we love them too. So, moral of the story:
Chuck hawai-jahaaz...train lo, train!! :D